Commentary & Analysis Bringing you the latest and up-to-date news from the Middle East. We go one step further, facilitating a better understanding of the issues facing the Middle East. Wed, 26 Nov 2014 15:49:51 +0000 MEMO en-gb 'Terrorist' list destroys integrity of UAE MEMO CommentaryThe first thing that catches the eye about the newly-released United Arab Emirates list of 83 "terrorist organisations" is its broad sweep. It contains Islamic institutions from across Europe, the United States, the Middle East and Asia. Although patently absurd, the list does possibly have the unintended effect of reinforcing the common myth that all terrorists are Muslims. Not a single Jewish organisation was mentioned, despite the violent campaigns waged by some of the Israeli settlers' groups against the Palestinian inhabitants of occupied Jerusalem and the West Bank, and daily assaults on the sanctity of Al-Aqsa Mosque.

On one level, the UAE list speaks volumes about those who have compiled it. It tells the story of a country that feels, at best, terribly insecure and, at worst, at peace with neither itself nor its neighbours. Moreover, it suggests a state that is lacking in confidence so much that it sees the modern equivalent of reds under every bed.

In the absence of any tangible and verifiable evidence of a terrorist threat to the UAE, the list appears to reflect a fear of change on the one hand and fixation with its Gulf neighbour, Qatar, on the other. Whereas the latter has openly supported the popular uprisings for democratic change across the region, the UAE adopted the exact opposite stance. It chose, for example, to offer sanctuary to remnants of the Mubarak regime.

In the circumstances, it was only a matter of time before the rulers of the UAE, like their Egyptian clients, launched an all-out attack on the Muslim Brotherhood and groups associated with it. So while the list of 83 groups includes the likes of ISIS and Al-Qaida, the real target is undoubtedly the Islamic movement.

Earlier this year when Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron announced a review of the Brotherhood's activities it was believed widely that this was undertaken in response to pressure from the UAE and Saudi Arabia. In August, the Financial Times reported that the review had concluded that "the group should not be labelled a terrorist organisation and in fact [...] found little evidence its members are involved in terrorist activities." One government source told the newspaper that "Sir John [Jenkins, Britain's ambassador to Saudi Arabia] will say that the Brotherhood is not a terrorist organisation. The Saudis and Emiratis will then be very upset with us."

Since then, there has been a flow of media "leaks", notably to the Daily Telegraph, which asserted that the government was about to enforce measures against 60 British organisations with links to the Muslim Brotherhood. Lawyers acting on behalf of the movement had no doubts that the leaks were all ordered to put pressure on the government to alter the report with a demand that the Jenkins Report be published in full and in its original form. It is in this context that the UAE list appears to be part of a carefully-choreographed attempt to twist the British government's arm.

At this point, the old saying, "people who live in glass houses should not throw stones" looks to be very relevant. While the UAE has compiled its colourful list of "terrorist organisations" it has some explaining to do about its own distinctly murky affairs in Libya, Tunisia and even Oman, a fellow GCC member.

In January 2011 security officials in the sultanate told the Oman News Agency that the authorities had arrested spies "belonging to the state security forces of the UAE targeting the regime in Oman and the mechanism of governmental and military work." In August, The New York Times cited four senior American officials who reported that Egypt and the United Arab Emirates had launched airstrikes against Islamist-allied targets in Libya.

Still more recently Al-Jazeera broadcast a documentary on the assassination of Chokri Belaïd, the Tunisian politician. The programme highlighted a telephone conversation with Belaid's driver moments before he was shot. The call originated in the UAE. Many Tunisians now believe that the politician was murdered to provoke anger and opposition to the then ruling Ennahdah Party; public anger and political opposition were duly provoked.

In the chaotic world of the Middle East it is very easy to play the terrorism card. Leaders, past and present, use it instinctively to silence dissident voices and discredit political opponents. At other times, it is used to cover up internal failures and win western support. As such, it is losing its ability to shock; "terrorist" doesn't really mean anything when it is bandied about so liberally with neither rhyme nor reason.

Indeed, so far, the UAE list seems to have failed to impress even the American and British governments. Both have requested explanations as to why respected civil society groups in their countries have been designated as "terrorist organisations".

It takes no great skill or intelligence to compile a list of alleged terrorists when no evidence has to be produced to justify it. A much more difficult task is to prove that those named on the list have been involved in terrorism or pose a threat to the territorial integrity of the UAE.

If anything, the government in the UAE is looking in the wrong place for such a threat to its sovereignty. According to the Emiratis, the islands of Abu Musa, Greater Tunb and Lesser Tunb have been "occupied" by Iran since the early seventies; shouldn't the Gulf state be focusing on discussions with Tehran rather than seeking to discredit popular civil society groups? In behaving like a playground bully, the UAE has destroyed whatever integrity it may once have had.

]]> (Dr Daud Abdullah) Commentary and Analysis Wed, 19 Nov 2014 18:08:41 +0000
Bomb attacks in Gaza are a sideshow which won't divert attention from Al-Aqsa Just when the new Al-Aqsa intifada was gathering momentum the homes of senior Fatah officials in the Gaza Strip were bombed this week. Those responsible must be rubbing their hands with glee as the finger of blame was pointed immediately at the Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas.

Neither Fatah nor Hamas stand to benefit from an armed confrontation in Gaza or anywhere else for that matter. So, in the absence of any hard evidence about the Islamic movement's involvement, the focus of the investigation must surely turn to the "sleeper" cells of Israeli collaborators in the coastal enclave.

Apart from disrupting attempts by both factions to consolidate a functional national unity government, Friday's attack, if mishandled, could regrettably serve as a useful distraction from the worsening security situation in occupied Jerusalem. However, from a purely pragmatic point of view it would be stupid for Hamas to antagonise Fatah at this time when the latter's cooperation has become crucial for the procurement and delivery of aid for the reconstruction of Gaza.

In the event, sources in the besieged territory point out that the attack could actually be linked to the ongoing power struggle between Mahmoud Abbas and the disgraced Fatah official Mohamed Dahlan. On the night prior to the bombings there were reports of clashes between the supporters of both men at Al-Azhar University in Gaza, a traditional stronghold of the secular faction.

Still, there are other lines of inquiry that must also be pursued rigorously by security officials in the Strip. As the explosive devices did not result in fatalities and caused only limited damage to property, it could well be that the attacks were staged in order to send a strong message to Fatah and Hamas, or for any number of other reasons.

In the few days before the explosions Abbas came under increasing pressure from Benjamin Netanyahu to end what the Israeli prime minister described as "incitement" against settlers in the West Bank and Jerusalem. Despite the widespread publicity given to Netanyahu's claim, only the most naive would give any credence to it. After all, had it not been for the security coordination between Abbas's Fatah movement and the Israelis, the situation in the occupied West Bank would be very much different today. Thus, instead of pretending to blame Abbas, Netanyahu should actually thank him for suppressing popular dissent amongst Palestinians and maintaining the status quo.

Meanwhile in Jerusalem, where Abbas's writ has absolutely no effect, the resistance to Israeli attacks against the integrity and sanctity of Al-Aqsa Mosque continues to grow. Hamas has publicly claimed responsibility for operations carried out against Israeli soldiers.

As long as the Israelis continue to desecrate Al-Aqsa and its compound the situation is set to become even more incendiary. Far from subsiding, Palestinian outrage will grow in direct proportion to every act of Israeli provocation.

Israel's closure of the mosque and daily attacks on worshippers have convinced many in Palestine and beyond that the conflict has now taken on a distinct religious character. The inability of the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah to protect the Islamic sanctities has belied its claims that Jerusalem will become the capital of the future Palestinian state. A Jerusalem without Al-Aqsa would be like a body without a soul.

While President Abbas continues with his rhetoric about UN initiatives and statehood, Israel's messianic government is busily engaged with legislation to divide the mosque so that Jews can have access through all its entrances and worship in it every day of the week, except Friday.

The attacks against Fatah officials in Gaza have thus come at a convenient time for Messrs Netanyahu and Abbas. While the former will certainly use them as a smokescreen to divert attention from his policies in Jerusalem, so too will Abbas find them a useful distraction from his failure to protect Al-Aqsa.

In addition, by implicating Hamas in the attacks in Gaza there will be added pressure on the authorities in the territory which will embolden Abbas to demand, like the Israelis, the disarming of the resistance groups. In that way, Gaza will no longer be an "existential" threat to Israel and, like the West Bank, it will be brought under Palestinian security forces that exist to serve the occupation.

There is a huge flaw in this thinking though. Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa are bigger than any single Palestinian faction. Mahmoud Abbas may not acknowledge this, but the Israelis do. Justice Minister Tzipi Livni warned last month that Israel was "a step away from a national conflict turning into a religious one", which will make the Israeli-Palestinian conflict a war between the self-declared Jewish state and Muslims the world over.

For all its worth, the struggle in Jerusalem has transcended the mundane issues of inflation, development and capital flow. Accordingly, it is fool-hardy on the part of Ramallah to suppress popular protests in the West Bank in order to prevent Hamas from gaining political and popular support. This is a narrow-minded approach.

The attacks on Al-Aqsa have ignited a fuse and there is no turning back. No sideshow in Gaza will be big enough to divert attention from what is happening to the Noble Sanctuary.

]]> (Dr Daud Abdullah) Commentary and Analysis Mon, 10 Nov 2014 12:22:52 +0000
The problem is not Netanyahu; it's the US and Israel's special relationship MEMO CommentaryNot for the first time the Obama administration and the Israeli government have been hanging out their dirty linen in public. On the face of it, the Americans are said to be livid with Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu's illegal settlement expansion in Jerusalem. The problem, however, runs much deeper.

While the Israelis try to explain the crisis as simply bad chemistry between Netanyahu and Obama, at the heart of it is the 'special relationship' to which the Americans have irrevocably wedded themselves.

The fault-lines in this curious relationship are never far below the surface. They are a constant source of tension and embarrassment for the Americans because they cannot reconcile their international drum beat for human rights and democracy with bank-rolling Israel's subjugation of the Palestinian people.

So how did the world's dominant super-power find itself in this mess; where it blindly follows, often against its proclaimed laws and values, the whims of a client state that is unapologetically racist?

Last month, Israel's President Reuven Rivlin decried the increasing wave of racism and violence against Arab Israelis in the self-styled Jewish state. Addressing the Israeli Bar Association in occupied Jerusalem he said:

"We are fools to make such irresponsible statements or to remain silent about them. Hateful calls of 'Death to Arabs' were not spray-painted on neglected walls in the dead of night, but spoken loudly and clearly, in the light of day."

Surely the authors of the American constitution, and the patriots who died for its independence, would have regarded support for such indignities as a betrayal of all that they stood for.

Ever since Netanyahu announced his plan to construct an additional 1,060 housing units in Jerusalem, relations with Washington have gone from bad to worse. It became all too apparent during Israel's Security Minister Moshe Ya'alon's recent visit to the US. Despite strenuous efforts, he was denied meetings with senior US officials.

In public, both sides have been at pains to limit the damage. While the Israelis claim that the real target of the snub was not Yaalon per se but Prime Minister Netanyahu, the Americans, on their part, were equally quick to plaster the sore.

On Wednesday, the Obama administration dutifully distanced itself from a media report that described Israel's prime minister in stridently 'undiplomatic' language. The report by the Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg quoted an unnamed US official who described Netanyahu as "a chickenshit".

Predictably, the White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest made the public believe all is well. While admitting that differences currently exist, he asserted that relations with Israel are "as strong as ever". Short of making a full-blown apology, Earnest denied that the unnamed official's views were indicative of those of the administration.

As an individual, Netanyahu may have appeared spineless; he has on countless occasions pandered to the demands of the settlers in order to save his political career. However, on balance, it must be said that Israeli officials are never afraid to criticise and even rebuke US officials; whether they be Secretary of State or the President. On the other hand, it is the Americans who have demonstrated a penchant for ambiguity and making statements under the cover of anonymity.

Ultimately, Israel will be the loser from this current spat. Americans, it seems, are growing increasingly tired and fed up with the bizarre relationship in a case of the tail wagging the dog. It is one that is certainly not good for their image, and highly detrimental to their international interests.

As it struggles to secure its share of global markets, investments and resources, America can ill-afford to be seen as being a purveyor of injustice. For fear of being seen as guilty by association European countries are today lining up to recognise the state of Palestine, in spite of US-Israeli opposition and rhetoric about the peace process.

Danny Ayalon, the Israeli diplomat and former deputy foreign minister admitted that the growing crisis in relations with Washington is threatening Israel's interests. He explained that:

"There is no doubt that there is a very bad thing happening at the level of relations between Israel and the US... When the relations become really bad, they would certainly have significant repercussions, and could shake the American public opinion out of favour with Israel."

In due course, Benyamin Netanyahu will leave office, but America's problems with Israel will persist. That is because his successor will, almost inevitably, be even more extreme and derisive of international norms. No president after Obama, however sympathetic, would be able to convince the American people that they must prop-up a 21st century colonial enterprise. It runs contrary to their beliefs, their ethos and their history.

Furthermore, with all that is happening in Syria and Iraq, the last thing Americans want is to become entangled in a religious war, the type of which Israel is dragging them towards. Israel's attempt to seize Al Aqsa Mosque, the third most sacred Muslim site, will lead to unimaginable consequences that would make Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria all look like a picnic in the park. An honest and dispassionate reappraisal of the special relationship may just prevent that from happening.

]]> (Dr Daud Abdullah) Commentary and Analysis Fri, 31 Oct 2014 14:29:14 +0000
Like ISIS in Iraq, settlers in Jerusalem must be stopped Are there similarities between the so-called "Islamic State" in Iraq and Syria and the self-styled "Jewish State" in Palestine? Quite a few. For a start, both thrive on religious bigotry and pursue exclusivist, expansionist and repressive agendas. Everything taking place in Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa Mosque today underlines how very little distinguishes the two.

There is one major difference, though. While the Jewish state enjoys the political, economic and military backing of the West, ISIS is fought against, as it should be, for its heinous crimes. Furthermore, just as the Kurds and Arab tribes of Syria and Iraq have the right to resist ISIS, so too do the Palestinians in occupied Jerusalem have every right to resist Israeli oppression.

For several months now there have been almost daily clashes in Jerusalem. The Israeli media have taken to describing events there as a quiet "Intifada". They have been a response to and consequence of the excesses of Israeli settler-vigilantes backed by the state.

Reports that the Knesset will next month vote on a draft law to partition Al-Aqsa Mosque have raised the stakes to critical levels across the occupied territories. But this is not all.

The seizure of Palestinian homes by Jewish settlers in Silwan, south of Jerusalem, has also brought tensions to the surface. It is there that more than 30 illegal settler families have been preparing to occupy apartments seized in the area during the past three months.

The odds against them are enormous but the Palestinians are not pinning all their hopes on support from any of their immediate neighbours or those further afield. "We Palestinians are not depending on the Arabs or Muslims at the present time," said Shaikh Ekrima Sabri, the imam of Al-Aqsa Mosque, "because they [the Arabs] are also busy in what is called fighting terrorism and they don't know that the Zionist occupation is the real terror."

Israel's ambition to seize Al-Aqsa is as old as the occupation itself. It is one that Palestinians have thwarted successfully over the years. Short of imposing a blanket ban on all Muslims visiting the mosque, Israel has resorted to every form of repression and subterfuge to change the status quo therein. This has only increased Palestinian resolve to ensure that the sanctuary remains the collective heritage of all Muslims.

Under the pretext of the observance of Jewish religious holidays, the Israeli authorities close the mosque repeatedly to Palestinian worshippers. And just as ISIS has attacked Christians in their churches in Iraq, Israeli forces have attacked Palestinian Muslims with tear gas and rubber bullets in Al-Aqsa Mosque. They have evicted Muslims forcefully from the site, seized control of its main gates, and allowed only Jews to enter and "worship".

ISIS has evicted the Yezidis from their villages in Iraq; similarly, Israeli settler organisations backed by the army continue to evict Palestinians from their homes in Silwan.

These acts of aggression are often portrayed in the Western media as the errant practices of fringe elements in Israeli society. This is, however, an obscene misrepresentation of reality. When the government funds the settlers and ministers participate in their actvities this can only be described as state policy. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, indeed, has personally given orders to suppress the Palestinians who are seeking to exercise their fundamental human right to worship in their historic mosque.

Israel is relying on Western support and Arab preoccupation with their own crises, as it did during its war against the people of the Gaza Strip and other misadventures. Netanyahu interprets international and Arab silence as a green light. In fact, he is in a hurry to complete the imposition of Israeli "sovereignty" over all of Jerusalem before the Palestinian Authority makes any further moves at the UN.

It is regrettable that the PA is still not acting with the sense of urgency that the situation requires. While President Mahmoud Abbas calls on Palestinians to defend Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa Mosque, his security forces suppress any effort to resist the rampaging settlers.

To the same degree that Western governments, the Vatican and other religious institutions have condemned and opposed ISIS, as they should, the time has come for them to stand up to Israeli bigotry passed off as democracy.

No country in the world has recognised Israel's unilateral claim to Jerusalem and its religious sites. On the contrary, it is still overwhelmingly recognised as an occupying power. The rights of the civilian population and the duties of the occupier are well documented in international law.

As a belligerent occupier, Israel can only requisition land and carry out physical transformation in the occupied territory under two conditions: if there is an "urgent military necessity" or if the change "benefits the local population". Neither holds true in the case of Jerusalem and so, for this reason if no other, the international community must act to uphold its will and the rule of law. The self-styled "Jewish State" must be tackled in the same robust manner as the equally self-styled "Islamic" version in Iraq and Syria. Anything less makes Israel's international backers complicit in its constant breaches of international law.

]]> (Dr Daud Abdullah) Commentary and Analysis Fri, 24 Oct 2014 16:17:57 +0000
Egypt's rehabilitation suffers a major setback MEMO CommentarySupporters of Egypt's President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi had much to celebrate after his maiden appearance at the UN General Assembly last month. For them, it was a turning point that completed his transformation from military general to international statesman. The former army chief was so assured of his apparent arrival that he even used his UN speech to announce that Egypt was seeking a non-permanent seat on the Security Council. This confidence was clearly misplaced and premature.

Amid growing reports of Egyptian military involvement in Libya it was no wonder the bid was unsuccessful. This, however, was not the only setback for Egypt's new rulers. September's hubris has all but evaporated with the announcement this week that the Carter Centre is closing its office in Egypt and will not send a mission to observe this year's parliamentary elections.

If nothing else, the move has confirmed the ongoing international dissatisfaction with what the organisation founded by ex-US President Jimmy Carter described as Cairo's "crackdown on dissidents, opposition groups, and critical journalists, together with heightened restrictions on core freedoms". It is the Carter Centre's aim to "to fight disease, hunger, poverty, conflict and oppression around the world"; clearly, what is happening in Egypt does not sit well with such objectives.

Simultaneously, the decision was also an indictment of the Obama administration, which chose to deliver a new consignment of Apache helicopters to the Egyptian military and ignore the plight of US citizen Mohamad Soltan, 26, who is fighting for his life after spending the past 263 days in prison on hunger strike. He is accused by the military-backed regime in Cairo of "spreading false information" to the media.

The delivery of the American helicopters coincided with a new security crackdown against students, political dissidents and opposition forces in Egypt. Scores of students have been wounded and detained on campuses across the country.

Under the Leahy amendment which was first introduced in 1997, both the US State Department and the Department of Defence are prohibited from providing military assistance to foreign armed forces which violate human rights with impunity. The appalling human rights record of Al-Sisi's government has been well documented and called into question by several national and international organisations.

While Egyptian officials have tried to put on a brave face in response to the closure of the Carter Centre, they cannot pretend that it is business as usual. There is no doubt that the decision not to monitor the elections will reinforce concerns about Egypt's commitment to a genuinely inclusive democracy.

For the time being, Al-Sisi may appear to be ensconced safely in the presidential palace, but there are still obstacles ahead. For one thing, he desperately needs the support of a functioning parliament and government; he has to be sure that they will pose no threat to his tenuous authority, or opposition to his policies.

In order to ensure that this is the case, Al-Sisi has tailored electoral law to fit. It grants the president the right to appoint 27 members of parliament (five per cent) and that 420 (77.8 per cent) must come from single member districts contested by individual candidates, with 120 (22.2 per cent) from party lists.

Already a number of former army officers have thrown their hats into the ring. They include the failed presidential candidate General Ahmed Shafiq; Major General Murad Muwafi; former Chief of Staff General Sami Anan Sami; and former Egyptian Intelligence Agency official General Hossam Khairallah.

Although no date has yet been set for the polls, real concerns about the process have already emerged. The changes in the electoral law stipulate that the votes will not be counted in the secondary committees but only in the main committees. This has given rise to questions about transparency.

As Egypt inches toward its proposed elections, the similarities with Hong Kong have not gone unnoticed. Just as the Chinese leadership has set out limits on who can run in 2017for the role of chief executive, Hong Kong's top position, so too in Egypt has the former army chief Al-Sisi taken all the steps necessary to determine the composition of the next parliament.

Given the carefully choreographed nature of the process, the Carter Centre had no choice but to withdraw. Its credibility is sure to have been at stake were it to endorse a process that is so manifestly selective rather than elective.

To some, whether the centre monitors the elections or not may all seem rather academic. However, the reality is very different. President Al-Sisi has spent tens of millions of dollars on public relations initiatives to gain acceptance and respect abroad. The last thing he wants, or needs, is a damning report or snub by a prestigious institution such as the Carter Centre.

The closure of its office in Egypt will not bring about an immediate end to support for Al-Sisi and his government, nor will it stop the election parody from taking place. It does, however, set back Egypt's efforts to be rehabilitated and gain acceptance among the family of democratic nations. As for the Obama administration, its calls for universal suffrage in Hong Kong will continue to ring hollow when deference is shown to the sham that passes for democracy in Egypt.

]]> (Dr Daud Abdullah) Commentary and Analysis Sat, 18 Oct 2014 15:54:25 +0000
The deadly crossing is an international disgrace MEMO CommenatryDeath in the Mediterranean is no longer the exception; it is the norm. More than 3,000 would-be immigrants have drowned trying to cross into Europe this year alone. Recent estimates suggest that the number of those who actually made it has risen to 130,000 in 2014, up from 60,000 last year. While some have undertaken the perilous journey in pursuit of a better life in Europe, the vast majority are fleeing the wars that are spreading across the Middle East and North Africa. With the onset of the latest US-led Middle East war it is inevitable that the numbers will rise.

Iraq and Syria are not the only conflicts contributing to the exodus. Other regional struggles are displacing thousands. Whether it's the insurgency in the Egyptian Sinai; the sectarian confrontation in Yemen; the tribal wars in Libya and Somalia; or Israel's wars to expand and cement its occupation, they have all had the same consequences, including mass migration to Europe.

Most of the 3,000 refugees rescued by the Italian coastguard in the weeks prior to mid-September were Palestinians and Syrians; among them were pregnant women, children and even the disabled. Whatever commonalities the Mediterranean boat people may share, the Palestinians are unique in one respect. The vast majority are fourth generation refugees and their tragedy goes back to a common cause; the Israeli occupation and ethnic cleansing of their land. Their ongoing misfortune is also a consequence of Israeli policies. While the Palestinian refugees fleeing from Syria are denied their right of return to their homeland, the inhabitants of Gaza are besieged and bombarded so that they might leave.

Notwithstanding this fact, other regional actors have also contributed to the ongoing Nakba (Catastrophe). Unlike their Syrian counterparts, Palestinian refugees from Syria have found it much harder to relocate in Lebanon and Turkey. Enticed by human traffickers, many have invested their life savings or incurred debts in order to head for Europe.

In Gaza, the chair of the Oversight Committee in the Palestine Legislative Council, Yahya Moussa, accused the Israeli occupation authorities of instigating the migration of young Palestinians through a combination of harsh economic policies and military aggression; many have indeed decided to leave. This is a manifestation of what the British House of Commons Select Committee on International Development in 2004 described as "a deliberate Israeli strategy of putting the lives of ordinary Palestinians under stress." Zionist ideology calls it "silent transfer".

Since the end of the latest war on the Gaza Strip the number of such young Palestinians trying to make their way to Europe has risen. Living conditions in the devastated enclave are not for the faint-hearted. With the fast diminishing availability of safe drinking water the UN reckons that by 2020 Gaza will no longer be liveable. Worse still, unemployment in Gaza now stands at 36 per cent; the figure for the occupied West Bank is 27 per cent.

While the flight of young Palestinians from Gaza continues to make the headlines, the larger numbers leaving the West Bank go unreported. Either way, all those who perish in the Mediterranean or end up in European detention centres are victims of an entirely avoidable man-made catastrophe. Both the Israeli occupiers and the human traffickers who profit from their misery are culpable.

The record numbers of crossing attempts and deaths in the Mediterranean must elicit an urgent rethink of policy in the MENA region and across the EU. As a major trading partner, Europe could do much more to halt Israel's deliberate strangulation of the Palestinian economy in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. By tacitly accommodating Israel's siege of Gaza they have in effect contributed to the intolerable conditions that are forcing young Palestinians to try their luck on the high seas.

From a purely economic point of view it would be more cost effective if European countries were to break the Israeli siege and enable the Palestinians in Gaza to live decent and dignified lives. In the case of Italy, for example, the $12 million per month being spent by the government on rescue operations could be reduced substantially and the money put to better use.

Regional governments can also play a more constructive role. Although the Egyptians have acknowledged that a "mafia network" is operating the human traffic across the Mediterranean, efforts to crack down can best be described as half-hearted. It is unlikely to be stopped completely without the consent and approval of Israel, which is the real beneficiary of "transferred" Palestinians. So terrified is the government in Tel Aviv about the presence of Palestinians in their historic homeland that it not only forces them to migrate, but it is also now contemplating restricting the birth rate of those under its jurisdiction.

As for Palestine, the flight of its young people, many of whom are university graduates, is nothing but a national disaster. No faction should try to score political points with the issue. The mudslinging, accusations and counter-accusations by Fatah and Hamas are counterproductive and only serve the interests of the occupation.

In as much as Hamas has stepped up security controls to stem the haemorrhaging of people from the Gaza Strip, the problem requires a comprehensive approach that includes economic as well as political measures. Sadly all of these will be insufficient as long as Israel's occupation persists. And with the spread of war and associated violence in the region, many more seem destined to die in the Mediterranean or be thrown into detention camps or prisons somewhere in Europe, when they all deserve to live in dignity and happiness. To let them gamble with their lives on the deadly crossing is an international disgrace.

]]> (Dr Daud Abdullah) Commentary and Analysis Thu, 02 Oct 2014 10:43:52 +0000
Why is Abbas refusing to sign the Rome Statute? This is the question that is etched on everyone's mind. If there is only one issue that Palestinians agree upon today it is the need for President Mahmoud Abbas to sign the Rome Statute. That would clear the way to file charges in the International Criminal Court (ICC) against Israeli officials for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity.

By stalling the process Abbas has committed three cardinal errors. First, he has enabled Israelis to escape punishment; second, he has undermined and squandered the international support for Palestinian rights; and third, he has failed to answer to the call of the ICC and the Assembly of States Parties (ASP) issued one year after Palestine became a non-member state of the UN.

On 27 November 2013 the ASP to the Rome Statute adopted a resolution inviting "States not yet parties to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, to become parties to the Rome Statute, as amended, as soon as possible."

In an obvious attempt to clear the air once and for all, the ICC's Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda wrote on the Guardian's Comment is Free pages an article headed "The truth about the ICC and Gaza". She confirmed that "Palestine could now join the Rome Statute" after the UN General Assembly had formally recognised it as a non-member state on 29 November 2012.

As it stands, the onus is squarely upon Abbas personally. In a letter to the Paris-based legal firm Gilles Devers & Associes, which is acting on behalf of the Palestinian Authority, Bensouda said on 14 August, "In accordance with article 7 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties (VCLT), only the Head of State, Head of Government and Minister of Foreign Affairs are considered lawful representatives of a State by virtue of their functions and without having to produce full powers, for the purpose of expressing a State's consent to be bound by a treaty."

Despite the overwhelming support among Palestinians, the Director-General of the human rights organisation Al Haq, Shawan Jabarin, explained that in the past the PA had deferred its signing of the Rome Statute because it was unwilling to anger Israel, America and some European countries. At other times it claimed that it was awaiting the agreement of the Palestinian factions, particularly Hamas. Abbas insisted that the resistance movement should give a written undertaking of support to approach the ICC, acknowledging that it bears full national and international responsibility for the consequences.

In late August, Hamas duly signed the document as stipulated but still no steps have been taken to sign the Rome Statute. With this agreement from Hamas it seemed that Abbas would have no further excuse for not putting his signature to the document. All that is needed is a formal letter from the Palestinian president to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon announcing that Palestine has accepted the Statute.

So, could it be that Mahmoud Abbas is himself afraid that he could be prosecuted? That may be so. This is a constant ploy used against him. In April of this year at the International Criminal Court (ICC), an Israeli lawyer, Mordechai Tzivin, lodged a complaint against Abbas and nine members of Hamas for war crimes, crimes against humanity and crimes of aggression. This did not deter Hamas from signing the agreement. On 3 September, The Israel Law Centre announced that it had formally requested the ICC's prosecutor to open an investigation into war crimes committed by Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal during "Operation Protective Edge", Israel's brutal military attack against the civilians of the Gaza Strip.

According to the Rome Statute, the ICC's jurisdiction includes individuals who are citizens of a state that has ratified the treaty, individuals who commit their alleged crimes on the territory of a state party and cases referred to the ICC by demand of the UN Security Council. While the ICC's chief prosecutor may under article 15 initiate investigations against those who have committed serious crimes without a formal request from a state or a concerned party, the PA does not have the luxury of time to wait for this to happen.

For Palestinians living under Israeli occupation, signing up to the Rome Statute has been long overdue. While they have no illusions that it will bring an immediate end to their suffering and Israeli crimes, it would mark a major step towards that end. Currently, many Israeli officials will only travel to Europe if they are granted special diplomatic immunity from prosecution under Universal Jurisdiction Laws. The long arm of the law is finally catching up with them but, as Mary Robinson, the former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, once said, "The ICC will work when you, the eyes and the ears of the international community, observe, defend, report and inform the rest of the world about what is happening."

For the Palestinians, it will work when their president, Mahmoud Abbas, overcomes his deep-rooted fears and places the interest of his people above all else.

]]> (Dr Daud Abdullah) Commentary and Analysis Tue, 09 Sep 2014 10:39:18 +0000
Running out of options MEMO stickyIsrael's inability to crush the Palestinian resistance in Gaza has triggered renewed efforts to end its war. While Britain and France spearhead a European initiative to obtain a UN Security Council resolution, Egypt is making yet another attempt to "mediate" a ceasefire. Whichever way the pendulum swings, Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must feel encouraged. Israel holds the record for the highest number of Security Council resolutions vetoed in its favour, thanks to the US.

Now Egypt, under the former military chief Abdul Fattah Al-Sisi is, like Israel, equally committed to defeat the Islamic resistance movements in the embattled enclave. Had it not been for an accident of geography it's hard to imagine any significant role for Egypt in the current impasse. Many in the region, including Hamas spokesmen, often make patronising statements about its importance, which may have had some relevance in days gone by. Sadly, the Egypt of today has different priorities and Palestinian freedom is not among them.

One of the great ironies of Egypt's "mediation" role was highlighted last week when a court postponed the trial of deposed president Mohamed Morsi on charges of espionage on behalf of Hamas. This was presumably done to allow the current negotiations to continue. Having declared Hamas to be a terrorist entity, no one thought that the time would come when the same officials who took that decision would welcome senior Hamas personnel in Cairo.

Try as they might, it is clear that regional and international actors cannot sidestep the resistance and achieve peace in Gaza without talking to Hamas. Even the US, which claims that it does not do business with "terrorists", have had to open up channels of contact, albeit indirectly through third parties. In fact, throughout the previous rounds of negotiations, US officials were coming and going from Cairo in quick succession.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu's political options have been decreasing as fast as his military choices. His grovelling praise for Israel's Arab allies are hardly worth the effort since none of these, including Egypt, is in a position to fulfil his immediate need, which is to restore a sense of normality to Israeli society.

Netanyahu's worsening relations with Washington, and President Barack Obama in particular, are no secret. US Secretary of State John Kerry's scornful outburst on a hot mic in July revealed the level of dismay in Washington when he mocked Israel's killing of four little boys playing football on the beach as, "A hell of a pinpoint operation".

As for Obama, the memories of his November 2011 exchange with former French President Nicolas Sarkozy are still fresh and relevant. When Sarkozy described Netanyahu as a compulsive liar who he couldn't stand, Obama lamented, "You may be sick of him, but me, I have to deal with him every day." If that was his position three years ago one can only imagine what it is today after all the lies and broken promises made to Kerry during the negotiations.

The more the Israeli leader becomes isolated and estranged from his western counterparts the more outrageous his claims become. The assertion that there was somehow a link between Hamas and ISIS was as ludicrous as it could get, but there was more to come.

He has claimed that Israeli intelligence has prevented a Hamas plot to stage a coup in the West Bank. It doesn't take much to work out that this was timed to influence the outcome of negotiations in Cairo. For all its stupidity it was undoubtedly intended to create friction between Hamas and Fatah and undermine their unified stance at the talks. Indeed, Israel would dearly love to see a repeat in the West Bank of the bloody in-fighting that took place in Gaza in 2007.

The notion of a plot to stage a coup in the West Bank, though, actually beggars belief. Normally coups d'état are carried out against real governments to acquire real power, not against entities that are under occupation. There are simply no incentives or benefits to be accrued by a Hamas coup in the West Bank. Moreover, if the PA's President Abbas should be wary of anyone it should be Israel, not Hamas. It was the Israelis who, ten years ago, incarcerated the late President Yasser Arafat in his Ramallah compound until his death in suspicious circumstances. No wonder Abbas has moved his family to Jordan and spends more time abroad than usual.

If it was intended to be a distraction, Netanyahu's coup d'état claim has failed to divert attention away from Gaza. As the search for a truce continues, on what basis will it be formulated? For sure, both the Security Council and the Egyptian "mediators" will seek a formula based on containment and stability, which is code for returning to the status quo in place prior to Israel's attack. This, however, is hardly a formula for the Palestinians who seek freedom from a brutal military occupation. They simply cannot and will not be contained any longer. There is, accordingly, one option left for the mediators: lift the blockade and end Israel's occupation.

]]> (Dr Daud Abdullah) Commentary and Analysis Tue, 26 Aug 2014 16:13:59 +0000
The days of open-ended Palestinian concessions are over Commentary and analysis stickyEven after its collapse, the Cairo negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians were, perhaps, the most important in many years. For the first time ever, Palestine Liberation Organisation/Palestinian Authority negotiators were joined at the table by representatives of the armed resistance movements, notably Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Thanks to the Israeli war on the people of the Gaza Strip, the Palestinians are united in their immediate demand for an end to Israel's aggression and its eight-year blockade of the enclave.

Reflecting on these developments, Khaled Meshaal, the head of the Hamas political bureau, said that he has no doubt that this latest battle in Gaza will shorten the journey towards achieving the prime Palestinian goal of ending Israel's decades-long occupation. "Whatever you take away from the negotiating table," insisted Meshaal, "is a consequence of your position on the ground and the outcome of the balance of power in the field."

Hamas's position on the ground today has changed drastically and so too has the balance of power. Not only has the movement repelled the Israeli ground offensive, but, equally importantly, it has also repositioned the Palestine issue and that of the blockade firmly at the top of the regional and international agenda. Even the Obama administration now recognises the need to end the collective punishment that is the disgraceful blockade.

In the past, Israelis milked the so-called peace process and negotiations to present themselves as straightforward and reasonable people who sought peace but couldn't find willing partners among the Palestinians. Now, by rejecting the legitimate demand to end the blockade, they have exposed themselves as nothing less than serial aggressors.

In Gaza, Palestinian citizens insist that they have made every possible sacrifice and will, as a consequence, accept nothing less than the unfettered opening of their borders, seaport and airport. As an indivisible part of Palestine, they believe that the Gaza Strip is entitled to have access to the outside world.

To the same degree that Israel's 2008/9 Operation Cast Lead ended the political career of Ehud Olmert, so too Benjamin Netanyahu's Operation Protective Edge is threatening to bring his career to a close. Having spent an estimated $2.5 billion to $3.6 billion in the first four weeks, Netanyahu can ill-afford to fund a prolonged campaign. Already, the financial cost is beginning to have a negative impact on the lifestyle of Israel's consumer society and the country's 2015 budget deficit is expected to rise significantly. Sooner or later Netanyahu will have to pay a political price for jeopardising the social comforts of Israeli citizens.

The position of President Mahmoud Abbas, is no less tenuous. True, Palestinian control over the land, sea and air space in Gaza will carry the symbolic trappings of sovereignty, the ultimate achievement that he has laboured for. However, even if this comes to pass, many Palestinians will view it as a vindication of the resistance agenda and not Abbas's negotiating strategy. That in itself is enough to damage his leadership position.

Ultimately, Israel will have to make concessions. As part of its psychological war against the Israelis, Hamas is keeping mum about prisoners of war and the remains of soldiers killed. There will obviously be a price to pay for their return to Israel. Already, Hamas has demanded the names of Palestinian collaborators in return for Israel's dead soldiers. The chances are that if Israel hands them over, no one will ever want to collaborate in future; if it doesn't, its demand for the return of its troops' remains will be ignored.

In this context, there is also the future of the settlements that form a belt north of the Gaza Strip to consider. Given the inability of the Israeli army to guarantee their security, Netanyahu has no choice but to meet the demands of the Palestinian resistance if he really wants the settlers to be able to return to their homes.

This is the changed situation on the ground that Meshaal alluded to. The balance of fear and deterrence is now evenly spread. Just as the Palestinians in Gaza must live with the threat of F16s and drones, so too will Israelis have to put up with the fear of resistance fighters coming out of tunnels under the border with Gaza.

The new realities in Palestine have shaped events and influenced popular thinking well beyond the region, despite Israel's well-oiled propaganda and war machines. Universal demands for justice in Palestine can only grow stronger. Even if the demonstrations in cities around the world peter out the support for Palestinian rights will continue to be manifested in the fast-growing international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign.

For sure, neither the resistance nor negotiations are ends in themselves; they are both means employed by the Palestinians to achieve their strategic national goals. To the same degree that there has been a shift in the military balance on the ground, there will be a shift in the negotiating balance that must be capitalised upon. When the parties finally return to the negotiating table one thing will be certain; that open-ended Palestinian concessions to Israel are a thing of the past.

]]> (Dr. Daud Abdullah) Commentary and Analysis Wed, 20 Aug 2014 10:26:06 +0000
Livni exposes Egyptian-Israeli collaboration... again Tzipi Livni may no longer be Israel's foreign minister but she still has a capacity to cause diplomatic tremors. Last weekend she did just this by declaring that there was an agreement between Israel and Egypt to strangle Hamas. Since there was no official affirmation or denial from Cairo, despite calls from Hamas to do so, Livni's remarks evoked a flood of commentary. Few doubted that there is indeed an Israeli-Arab axis, spearheaded by Egypt, whose immediate aim is to dismantle Hamas' control over the Gaza Strip. Ultimately, it also seeks to eradicate from the region all structures of what they call political Islam.

In her heyday as foreign minister Livni secured in December 2008 what was perceived as the green light from the Mubarak regime to launch Israel's Operation Cast Lead against the Gaza Strip. Standing beside Egypt's then foreign minister Ahmad Aboul Gheit, the former Mossad operative vowed to retaliate against Palestinian rocket attacks. 'This is something that has to be stopped, and this is what we're going to do.' This, to all intents and purposes, was the declaration of war which began two days later.

Despite the absence of an explicit, official response from the Egyptian authorities there were indicators of how Livni's remarks went down. Supporters of the regime dismissed them saying that they were so accustomed to such Israeli claims that these latest didn't merit a response.

Notwithstanding, an item posted by the military spokesman Lt. Col. Muhammad Samir on his Facebook page the day after Livni made her declaration did highlight to some measure the current level of collaboration between Egypt and Israel. He noted that the Egyptian army had destroyed a total of 1,659 tunnels in the border area between Gaza and Egypt; a feat which the Israelis themselves could not have pulled off from their position on the northern and eastern borders of Gaza.

What the officer did not concede, however, was that this was largely due to American assistance. Since 2008 the US had given the Egyptian army equipment worth $23 million to identify and destroy the tunnels, which for the past eight years have been the lifeline for Gaza's population.

Furthermore, in one year since the overthrow of Egypt's civilian President Mohamed Morsi the regime in Cairo have closed the Rafah crossing for a total of 320 days. The reason, they claim, is to counter security threats in the Sinai.

Apart from the tunnels and Rafah crossing, the Egyptian authorities had yet another lethal weapon in its arsenal. That was the state-backed media, which during the same period revelled in an orgy of anti-Hamas vitriol that reached its climax with their wholehearted support for the latest Israeli onslaught on Gaza. In a country where press freedom has long been dead and buried, such ranting could not take place without official approval and support.

Undoubtedly, the easiest way for Egypt to dispel Livni's claim and reassure the besieged Palestinians would be to open the Rafah crossing. Until this is done they will be seen as complicit in the crime of collective punishment of the Palestinians in Gaza. Their only offence is that they voted for and continue to support Hamas, an off-shoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, which the Sisi regime is determined to destroy.

With this outlook Cairo, like Tel Aviv, was never favourably disposed to the recent reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah. Not that they favoured Abbas any more than Hamas. So instead of encouraging Palestinian unity they not only played on the differences between Fatah and Hamas, but equally between Mahmoud Abbas and his arch-rival Muhammad Dahlan.

While Egypt had nothing to gain from this connivance, Israel remained the sole beneficiary.

For their part the Palestinians have never concealed their unease with current Egyptian policy. Instead of supporting them against the Israeli occupier they have acted, at best, as hired intermediaries and at worst as willing partners in Israeli crimes.

In the aftermath of the military campaign the political battle will be long and protracted. Having failed to achieve their declared objectives the Israeli government will rally its regional and international allies, as Livni suggests, to secure maximum political advantage.

Meanwhile, in Israel the long daggers are already out for Netanyahu. His opponents maintain that victory cannot be measured by the number of Palestinians killed but in the achievement of stated objectives. Israel's declared objectives were; the destruction of the tunnels; ending the rockets; and destruction of Hamas. By their own admission none of these have been accomplished.

As for their unannounced goals, they are to do with the unfulfilled Zionist dream in Palestine. A reading of Israel's media during the last month was dominated by the rhetoric of ethnic cleansing and territorial expansionism that has long been associated with the Greater Israel project. It is simply mind-boggling that Egypt's rulers, and those who support them, are oblivious to the fact that their countries are also slated for occupation given that Greater Israel expands from the Euphrates to the Nile.

]]> (Dr. Daud Abdullah) Commentary and Analysis Tue, 12 Aug 2014 11:36:13 +0000
Gaza between Latin American solidarity and Arab deceit MEMO CommentaryAfter almost one month of unspeakable Israeli savagery, Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah has finally decided to break his silence on Gaza. While some may say it is better late than never, others insist that it's too little too late. Whichever way it is viewed, the grudging official Arab response to the Israeli aggression is a far cry from the emphatic reactions from Latin America.

Collectively, the failure of the League of Arab States to convene a summit on Gaza was not simply a dereliction of duty but even complicity with the aggressor. Its members' inaction is nothing but a betrayal of their treaty of joint defence which reads, in part: "The Contracting States consider any [act of] armed aggression made against any one or more of them or their armed forces, to be directed against them all."

Where are the signatories who pledged that, "in accordance with the right of self-defence, individually and collectively, they undertake to go without delay to the aid of the State or States against which such an act of aggression is made, and immediately to take, individually and collectively, all steps available, including the use of armed force, to repel the aggression and restore security and peace"?

Although the Palestinians never expected a military response from the decrepit regional organisation, it goes without saying that there should have been an appropriate response given the scale of the crimes committed in Gaza.

Not one capital, for example, has had the courage to do as much as even threaten an oil embargo on countries supporting Israel. At a time when relations with Russia are at an all-time low and the flow of Russian gas to the west hangs in the balance, the timing seems perfect to exact political concessions from Israel's western allies.

That is not likely to happen in the immediate future. In the case of Saudi Arabia, even if it feels that it is incapable of making such a stance as was done in 1973, it could have easily ordered Egypt's Al-Sisi regime to lift the criminal siege of Gaza and allow its people to live normal lives. Sadly, even that is too much for Riyadh.

It is no wonder, therefore, that Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu and his aides have continued to gloat about their emerging strategic alliance with "moderate" Arab states in the fight against "terrorism". That, of course, is the west's and Israel's inaccurate euphemism for legitimate Palestinian resistance to a brutal occupation.

Having lost the military campaign as well as the battle for global public opinion, Israel claims that it is fighting Hamas, which the United States and the European Union view as a terrorist organisation. It took offence at the stand taken by several Latin American countries, claiming that they were once plagued by terrorist groups and should therefore stand by the government in Tel Aviv.

This simplistic approach did not wash in Latin America where five countries - Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, El Salvador and Peru - recalled their ambassadors from Israel. After the 2008-09 attack on Gaza, two countries, Venezuela and Bolivia, broke diplomatic ties with Israel. One common thread running through these responses is that Israel's systematic and deliberate targeting of civilians in Gaza is both unacceptable and unjustified.

Not for the first time Israel's isolation and pariah status was confirmed on 23 July when 29 members of the UN Human Rights Council voted to investigate its onslaught on Gaza. Only one country, the United States, voted against the resolution; no surprise there.

Will the Palestinian Authority now take advantage of this groundswell of support? Will it accede to the Rome Treaty and thereafter take its case to the International Criminal Court? Despite popular demands from his people to do just this President Mahmoud Abbas continues to procrastinate, leaving many to conclude that he is also complicit in the aggression on Gaza.

Back in October 2009, the PA took the controversial decision to delay a vote by the Human Rights Council to endorse the Goldstone Report. It chose instead to accept a US document that nullified the PA's opportunity to prosecute Israeli officials at the ICC. The American document stated: "The PA will help to promote a positive atmosphere conducive to negotiations; in particular during negotiations it will refrain from pursuing or supporting any initiative directly or indirectly in international legal forums that would undermine that atmosphere."

Clearly the failure to prosecute Israeli officials for war crimes and crimes against humanity is not because the process is exceptionally difficult. It is simply because there is a lack of political will on the part of the Ramallah authority.

However, the PA is not alone. In most of the 22 countries that make up the Arab League there is a staggering lack of political leadership. Unlike Latin America, where political leaders feel committed and accountable to their people, in the Middle East it's all about protecting personal and family fiefdoms. Any claims to the contrary are deceitful. It is no wonder that over the past six decades the League and its members have failed to achieve what the resistance in Gaza has done in one month.

]]> (Dr. Daud Abdullah) Commentary and Analysis Sun, 03 Aug 2014 12:13:20 +0000
Netanyahu needs a lifeline MEMO CommentaryIf war is a continuation of politics by other means, Israel's aggression on the Gaza Strip has been a political disaster. Apart from its mass killing of civilians and destruction of homes, the Israeli army has accomplished nothing to write home about. On the contrary, it has suffered heavy losses, particularly among its elite Golani brigade. This failure on the battlefield has rendered Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu incapable of imposing the settlement he wants.

With the growing number of casualties and near paralysis gripping Israel, time is against Netanyahu and his war cabinet. After weeks of threats to widen the ground offensive, the Israeli troops are still stalled on the borders; unable to go forward, and too embarrassed to withdraw.

In the past, Israel has relied almost exclusively on the Egyptian intelligence to deliver its 'security' needs in Gaza. However, with the coming to power of the former head of military intelligence, Abdul Fattah Al Sisi, Netanyahu hoped that the time had come to make a decisive blow not just against Hamas in the Gaza Strip but the Palestinian national project as a whole. His gamble has proven to have been a grave blunder.

Whether he was fed misleading intelligence or the lack thereof, Netanyahu has evidently misjudged the changes taking place in the region. Buoyed by the support of the Egyptian regime and its backers, the Israeli prime minister concluded that Hamas in the Gaza Strip was sufficiently isolated and weakened by the siege that it would not be in a position to resist an all-out assault.

Alas, much to his chagrin there are other regional actors with the political will and courage to back the primary demands of the resistance - an end to the aggression and a lifting of the eight - year blockade of the territory. Both Qatar and Turkey have been foremost in this regard.

Even though it is important to ensure to open the borders and allow the unfettered delivery of food and medicine, their demand is much greater. The ultimate goal remains an end to the Israeli occupation and freedom for Palestine.

While not seeking to circumvent or exclude Egypt, Qatar and Turkey have emphasised that Gaza must not become a theatre where Al Sisi settles his political scores against the Muslim Brotherhood. Likewise, they insist, that the Egyptian intelligence should not be allowed to play rival factions within Fatah against each other (notably Dahlan versus Abbas), or Fatah against Hamas. Despite claims about security concerns, Netanyahu's decision to launch his attack on Gaza was actually an attempt to ruin the reconciliation agreement between Fatah and Hamas. In fact successive Israeli governments have, since 2005, acted to detach the Gaza Strip from the rest of Palestine, geographically and politically.

The political fallout for Netanyahu's latest adventure will have far-reaching consequences, domestically and externally. He will have to take full political responsibility before his people for this military humiliation. The world's most 'moral' army has exposed itself as a merciless killer of women and children. Meanwhile, despite the disingenuous 'claims' of being branded as 'terrorists', the resistance in Gaza has inflicted military losses on Israel; much more than it has disclosed to date.

After three weeks of relentless bombing, Israel is now further away from its political objectives than it has ever been. Its leaders can shriek high-sounding demands but within themselves they know these are all meaningless and unattainable. Those who echo these demands are equally deluded.

Accordingly, Netanyahu's demand that the resistance in Gaza be disarmed sounds more like a desperate cry for a lifeline rather than a serious political proposition. It is, besides, a crude reminder of all that has gone wrong in Palestine. The country which possesses the fourth largest army in the world is demanding the disarmament of the resistance simply because it wants to remain an occupying power.

There could only one response to this farce. As long as Israel maintains its military occupation, there will be Palestinian resistance.

Despite the heavy loss of life and property the resistance in Gaza has changed the direction of the Palestinian national project. It has to all intents and purposes, created a new reality and opened up opportunities in Palestine. In spite of their little means and many enemies, it has shown what can be achieved when there is strong political leadership and a willingness to sacrifice. Surely, if it had the support it deserves much more could have been achieved. But even if the world were to abandon it, it is determined to go it alone.

There is no doubt Israel's prime minister is in dire need of a military victory of sorts before he decides to climb down from the high horse which he mounted. Unfortunately for him, the days of free political concessions to Israel are over. The next battle is almost now certainly not for the defence of Gaza but the liberation of Palestine.

]]> (Dr. Daud Abdullah) Commentary and Analysis Tue, 29 Jul 2014 17:08:26 +0000
The Arab Zionists and Gaza MEMO CommentaryBad faith and defeat have underlined their record in Palestine. Israel's vainglorious Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu describes them as his friends. In the Gaza Strip, Palestinians denounce them as yesterday's men who wish to be relevant today. With every victory scored by the resistance it has become ever clearer that there is no future for the Arab Zionists who have thrived on Palestinian misery for generations.

On 15 July Israel's Channel Two carried a report of a secret meeting in Paris in late June between Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and the foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates, Abdullah ibn Zayd, to discuss how to eradicate Hamas from the Gaza Strip.

According to the report, the Saudi and Jordanian foreign ministers were also in Paris at the time, where they met with US Secretary of State John Kerry to discuss developments in the Middle East. In the end, it was agreed that Israel would execute the military operation against Hamas while the UAE provided the funds.

The only notable absentees from the Paris meeting were the Egyptians. It appears that their participation was so assured that they required no meeting to persuade them. Moreover, since they are in no position to act independently of their US and Gulf paymasters their presence in the French capital was deemed unnecessary. All that was required from Cairo was that it kept the Rafah crossing closed and coordinated with Israel when the assault began.

Two days after Israel launched its offensive on 7 July, Egypt announced the destruction of 19 tunnels on the border with Gaza. Once the civilian death toll in Gaza began to rise Cairo proposed a "ceasefire initiative" knowing full well that it would be unacceptable to the resistance groups in Gaza, not least because they were neither party to the discussions nor offered guarantees that the blockade of the territory would be lifted.

In effect, the Egyptian proposal gave Israel more time to finish the job. The involvement in its preparation of Tony Blair reinforces this view, given that in 2006 as British prime minister he had refused to call for a halt to a similar Israeli attack on Lebanon in the hope that his friends in Tel Aviv would be given enough time to crush Hezbollah.

Gaza has had more than its fair share of Israeli aggression in recent years. However, what distinguishes this latest attack has been the level of regional complicity. The role ascribed to regional governments has varied from active collaboration at one extreme to tacit approval on the other. Egypt's double-dealing was always crucial. While it drummed up support for its plan, it turned the screws ever tighter on the Rafah crossing, denying entry to European and regional medical teams sent to help the victims of Israeli brutality.

After two weeks of relentless bombing from land, air and sea, it is clear that Netanyahu has bitten off more than he can chew in Gaza. Despite claims that the Israeli ground offensive has started the facts disprove them; Israel's soldiers still remain holed-up in and behind their tanks and artillery on the borders of Gaza, unable to push more than 300 metres into the enclave. Egypt's former military chief and now president, Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, had apparently given Netanyahu his unreserved support and assurance that the operation would be short and that the Israeli forces would be able to pull out with ease. That has turned out to be a deadly miscalculation.

Faced with a rising number of soldiers killed in action, calls are now being heard in Israel for an inquiry into this latest fiasco. With the capture of a soldier by the Ezzedine Al-Qassam Brigades the pressure on the Israeli prime minister will intensify in coming days.

Despite its superior US-supplied hardware, the Israeli army seems reluctant to take on the highly motivated, well-trained and disciplined resistance forces. After staging a series of daring commando raids behind enemy lines they have left the Israelis demoralised and confused. Hence, the feted Israel "Defence" Forces (Motto: "Purity of Arms") have resorted to indiscriminate attacks on civilians across Gaza.

Even though Israeli spokesmen claim that Hamas is using civilians as pawns, the massacre in Shujaeya demonstrated that the opposite is true. In an attempt to pressure the resistance the Israeli army refused, for several hours, to grant access to the Red Cross to evacuate the dead and injured.

Many have drawn parallels between the 1982 massacre at Sabra and Shatila in Lebanon with the massacre at Shujaeya. The bloody, mangled bodies are, undoubtedly, similar. Perhaps the only major difference on this occasion is that whereas in 1982 it was the Maronite Christian forces who collaborated with the Israelis, today it is the "Muslim" Arab Zionists. Having planned and collaborated with the enemy to attack the Palestinians when they broke their Ramadan fast, they can only be described as "Muslims"; their real status is becoming clearer.

The systematic massacre of civilians in Gaza over the past two weeks was by no means the work of a strong or "moral" army. It could never have happened without the betrayal of the Palestinians by the Arab Zionists. Even so, this latest aggression is heading toward one result; a humiliating defeat for Israel and its allies. Their fatal error is that they misjudged the nature and capability of the resistance, which has seen the prize of freedom closer than at any other time in this long-running conflict.

]]> (Dr Daud Abdullah) Commentary and Analysis Mon, 21 Jul 2014 12:06:56 +0000
Abbas has lost his people's trust and seems more irrelevant than ever MEMO CommentaryAfter his pathetic remarks concerning the Gaza Strip, it's hard to see how Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas could ever regain the confidence and trust of his countrymen. His admission of failure to do anything for the people of Gaza and claim that they are just fuel for the "merchants of war" have provoked widespread condemnation.

On the face of it, the latter remark seemed to be a calculated slur against Hamas and the other resistance forces. Not surprisingly, it was met with undiluted scorn, for when Israeli officials announced a few days earlier that they had a "bank" of targets that included the Hamas leadership, Ismail Haniyeh responded quickly that the blood of him and his colleagues is no more valuable than that of the children and women who are being killed.

A few days later, three of Haniyeh's own relatives were killed. The message was clear; in Gaza, everyone is paying the ultimate price for life with freedom or death with dignity. After all, as far as Palestinians are concerned, Israel makes no distinction between civilians and combatants.

Mr Abbas is not only out of sync with the embattled enclave. In the West Bank, even from within his own Fatah movement, there was also dismay and derision at his comments. Hussam Khader, a member of Fatah's Revolutionary Council, went as far as to assert that the resistance in Gaza will succeed, and that Abbas will leave office.

No politician, however gifted and experienced, is immune from making media gaffes. However, showing such a lack of sensitivity and disrespect for one's people is never acceptable. Hence, the recent suppression of West Bank solidarity rallies for Gaza by Abbas's security forces, held in Hebron and Nablus, was deemed to be utterly disgraceful.

Regionally, the official Palestinian position was considered to be even more scandalous. According to Morocco's Foreign Minister, Salah Al Din Mizwar, his country had put forward a request for an emergency meeting of the Arab League's foreign ministers to discuss the situation in Gaza, but President Abbas asked for it to be postponed.

Given the savagery of the Israeli aggression against Palestinians this intervention by Abbas was nothing but an abdication of duty and a pitiful attempt to ease the international pressure on the Israeli occupation. Despite tenuous claims to be their leader, the Palestinians in Gaza recall with bitterness Abbas's refusal to visit the territory both before and after the reconciliation agreement. His indifference to the plight of 40,000 government employees who have not been paid their salaries for months has not helped his popularity.

Of course this is not the first time that Abbas has turned his back on the people of Gaza in their hour of need. In January 2009 he refused to attend a summit of Arab states to discuss Israel's so-called Operation Cast Lead, a brutal 21-day bombardment and invasion which left thousands of Palestinians dead or wounded. In his absence, it was left to Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal to address the summit.

Reacting to this latest attack on the Gaza Strip and events across occupied Palestine, Meshaal sent a stark warning to the Israelis: "Within a short time, you will not find any Palestinians who dare to talk about a state based on 1967 [borders]." This was a reference to the existing faux diplomatic formula that limits the territory for a Palestinian state to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

As it now stands, even with its limited resources, Hamas has managed to transfer the struggle to the territories occupied in 1948. Although the home-made rockets have not caused damage anywhere near the carnage that Israel is inflicting on Gaza, they have paralysed the whole country. Millions of Israelis scutter to bomb shelters and tourists are leaving in droves, causing substantial harm to the tourism industry.

By the Israelis' own admission, what Hamas has achieved in one week the combined armies of the Arab states have failed to do in six decades. When the movement warned that it could bomb Tel Aviv within one hour with its J80 rocket, named after assassinated Hamas commander Ahmad Al-Jabari, it was clearly not grandstanding. Not even the vaunted US-supplied Iron Dome missile defence system could prevent the attack.

If Hamas can strike at will and at targets of its own choosing, then it could develop the capability to achieve its declared strategic objectives. This is a major headache for the Israelis. Since their intelligence agencies and spies have no idea where the missiles are made and stored, there is now talk of the Israeli government offering the resistance millions of dollars to disarm. That is how desperate they are, and how much of their bombast is pure folly.

It is now self-evident that the resistance groups in Gaza have actually created unprecedented conditions that place President Abbas and his negotiating team in a favourable position, but will he exploit the growing deterrent capability of the resistance to his own advantage? Highly improbable. Old habits die hard and as far as Mahmoud Abbas is concerned his hatred of Hamas blinds him to the possibilities to advance the Palestinian cause, so he will continue to grant free political concessions to the Israelis, incapable of thinking beyond his nose. For this reason, his comments and unwillingness to challenge Israeli hegemony make his position increasingly untenable. He is more irrelevant than ever before.

]]> (Dr. Daud Abdullah) Commentary and Analysis Sun, 13 Jul 2014 15:58:31 +0000
As Palestine simmers, calls for mutual restraint are both predictable and unjust MEMO CommentaryDuring the past week much has been written about whether the long expected third intifada has started. Opinion is still split down the middle. Despite the differences there remains a strong belief that given the appalling inhuman conditions in the occupied Palestinian territories it is not a matter of if, but when, the eruption will happen.

Amid all the confusion, one thing is certain; the next intifada will not be like the first two. For a start, it will not be confined to the 1967-occupied territories but will engulf all of Mandate Palestine. Secondly, the next round will not just be against Israel alone, but also against those who collaborate with the occupation forces.

For several years now the territories have been simmering with tensions provoked by the combined assaults of Israel's government, army and settlers. They have made life a living hell for Palestinians. When it has not been the theft of land, it's been the bulldozing of agricultural land, house demolitions, arrests, detention, torture and ultimately extrajudicial killings.

People can only take so much before a response has to be expected.

One reason why some observers believe that the third intifada has started stems from the role of Jerusalem. Unlike other cities in the occupied West Bank, the Palestinian Authority has absolutely no presence in Jerusalem. As such it cannot intervene there to suppress anti-Israel demonstrations as it does in the rest of the West Bank, to Israel's benefit. In other words the Palestinians in Jerusalem are much freer to resist settler attacks and provocations.

Fearing that the unrest was spiralling out of control, President Abbas last weekend sent two aides, Sultan Abu Al-Aynayn and Uthman Abu Gharibah, to Jerusalem to implore religious and community leaders there to calm the situation. That mission failed spectacularly and any plan to send another in the near future would be pointless while Israel's aggression against the largely unarmed civilians in the Gaza Strip continues.

Oft-regarded as the heart and nerve centre of Palestine, Jerusalem has throughout history been in the forefront in the resistance against foreign conquest. It was here that the second intifada erupted in September 2000 when the notorious Israeli general and war criminal, Ariel Sharon, made a provocative intrusion into Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Today the immediate cause is even more compelling. The recent burning alive of Jerusalemite teenager Mohammad Abu Khdair seemed to be the final spark to set the atmosphere alight.

Despite Al-Aqsa's distinguished status as the third most holy mosque in Islam, the life of a single Palestinian youth is even more sacred. Hence, it was for this reason that the streets and alleys of Jerusalem and its environs have witnessed the worst outburst of public anger recorded in recent years.

In many ways, living conditions for the Palestinians in Jerusalem and its suburbs are worse than they were in 2000. They have no control over their economy and their freedom of movement is curtailed and dictated by the Israeli occupation.

The events of recent weeks have shown that no military force or power can suppress a people who desire freedom. After enduring 47 years of life under Israel's brutal military occupation, it appears that the Palestinians in the West Bank and Jerusalem will take charge of their destiny regardless of the direction in which the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah chooses to go.

Nothing reinforces this conviction more than the inability of the PA to protect its people from the ravages of the settlers, despite President Abbas's proud claim that security coordination with Israel is "sacred". No political rhetoric can now conceal the fact that this so-called "security coordination" is, in reality, a business relationship whereby the PA provides services to the occupation and it receives in return a handsome payment from Brussels and the Washington. It is a "sacred" cash cow.

This Intifada Al Quds, as it has been already dubbed, could still be different in other ways. If the PA stands in its way as Abbas has said repeatedly that it will, then ultimately it too will become a target of popular discontent. While this may be portrayed as retrogressive, it may be a necessary step to regain Palestinian rights.

The groundswell of anger that has been building up after years of deception and betrayal by "friends" and foes alike has reached its limit. Armed with a vision and an unstoppable will, Palestinians in the occupied territories know that the prize of national liberation will never be granted; it has to be taken.

The White House and EU are already calling for restraint from both sides. This was not only predictable but unmistakably unjust in what is a clear asymmetric conflict. The truth is that such calls will never realise even the most basic of Palestinian rights: the right to life and happiness. Worse still, they will never be respected, or trusted, as long as these same power-brokers continue to provide Israel with the diplomatic cover and military hardware to suppress Palestinian aspirations.

]]> (Dr Daud Abdullah) Commentary and Analysis Wed, 09 Jul 2014 12:35:04 +0000
Why Al-Sisi should not be appeased MEMO CommentaryWestern appeasement of Egypt's former army chief is as reckless as it can get. European leaders should know from their own history that appeasement only whets the appetite of despots, wherever they may be. In the case of Egypt's Abdul Fattah Al-Sisi, he did not relent after he got away with the military coup and the 2013 massacres in Cairo.

Whether as a temporary policy or a long-term strategy, appeasement is neither good for Egypt nor the region. Cairo's repressive policies under Nasser and then Sadat, which gave rise to a first generation of takfiris (Muslims who pronounce other Muslims to be infidels), have returned with all their ferocity. It is now only a matter of time before the consequences are manifested in the emergence of a 21st century generation of takfiris.

The chances are that they may prove to be the most violent and extreme than any other the region has seen, a rating held currently by ISIS, whom adversaries label as "takfiris". Already, observers attribute the extremism of ISIS to the ill-treatment of its leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi at the hands of his American jailers in Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison. On his release, he told them, "I will see you in New York."

The flood of condemnation at the jailing of three Al-Jazeera journalists seems to have been too little too late. Despite the stark warnings about the danger to press freedom after last year's coup, western officials placated the Egyptian military. From day one TV stations and newspapers were closed; journalists were detained, press offices were ransacked; and broadcast equipment was destroyed; Al Jazeera's Cairo bureau is a case in point. From July 3 to date, 14 journalists have been killed and 90 remain behind bars; that's what Al-Sisi's Egypt means by press freedom. Its descent into this despotic state was both predictable and avoidable; its cheerleaders and apologists, in Egypt and abroad, now stand indicted.

As for former army chief Al-Sisi himself, he continues to espouse ideas that, at best, betray symptoms of megalomania; at worst they reveal messianic tendencies. His well-publicised dreams about holding a sword with the words "there is no God but Allah" inscribed in red still prompt debate. Under normal circumstances, that and the outlandish claims of his media and religious entourage would have been dismissed in the western media as lunacy. On 11 May, for example, the Egyptian newspaper ElFagr ran an article under the headline, "Sisi has met God twice." That coincided with the appearance of a video clip of the preacher Saad El-Din Al-Hilali speaking before a large crowd at what appears to be an Interior Ministry function saying: "As God sent two prophets on a mission before, Moses and Aaron, here came Al-Sisi and Muhammad Ibrahim [the interior minister]." One only need to recall how Iran's former president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was pilloried mercilessly whenever he referred to the coming of the Mahdi and the end of time to see the double standards of Western journalists and politicians alike in their dealings with Al-Sisi.

More recently, the Egyptian president has claimed that the security of the whole region lies on his shoulders. It would do western leaders good to interpret this claim correctly. Under the usual pretext of fighting "extremism" and "terrorism", Libya's failed coup leader General Khalifa Haftar announced recently that he was willing to cooperate with Egypt in this struggle. Such statements must sound like mood music to some western officials, especially the likes of the former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who told a TV interviewer: "Right here in Egypt I think it is fundamental that the new government succeeds, that we give it support in bringing in this new era for the people of Egypt. And, you know, we can debate the past and it's probably not very fruitful to do so, but right now I think it's important the whole of the international community gets behind the leadership here and helps."

With friends like these fully behind him, Egypt's former army chief may well feel encouraged to intensify his campaign to suppress freedoms at home and embark on regional adventures. Since these will inevitably be geared towards the reversal of democracy and bolstering of dictatorships across the Middle East the consequences are predictable: more destruction, mayhem and chaos. The events in Iraq bear ample testimony to this likelihood.

At the heart of today's turmoil across the region is Western preference for Middle Eastern "strong men", the code word for despots and tyrants. After the democratic uprisings of 2011 this option has become discredited and wholly untenable. It is only by support for genuine democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights that the region will enjoy stability and progress.

This week's jailing of journalists in Egypt was both shocking and instructive. It was a sharp reminder of all that can go wrong when despots are appeased. They not only turn against their own people but also their friends and supporters. There are Egyptian journalists who now languish in jail even though they supported the coup. Egypt's descent into this state of tyranny was avoidable; if only the cheerleaders and apologists had realised their folly and withdrawn their support. It is still not too late for them to do so.

]]> (Dr. Daud Abdullah) Commentary and Analysis Fri, 27 Jun 2014 18:02:30 +0000
Contentious article could lead to yet another tragedy for the Palestinians MEMO CommentaryThe Palestinians have learnt from experience to be wary of political initiatives "Made in London". They have witnessed how projects from the Balfour Declaration to the Oslo Accords were incubated in Britain's capital and have had devastating consequences. Hence their alarm was perfectly justified after the publication of an article titled "The Two State-solution: The Way Forward" in the Fathom web-based journal, which is linked to the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre (BICOM). It purported to set out the terms of a final peace agreement between the Palestinians and Israelis.

While many academic papers on the conflict often go unnoticed, anything written in the name of a Palestinian ambassador is bound to attract attention and be scrutinised. That is exactly what happened in the case of the article published by Fathom on 12 June and attributed to Palestine's Ambassador to the UK, Professor Manuel Hassassian and Professor Rafael Cohen-Almagor, an Israeli academic based at Hull University.

Many of the proposals cited in their article were a rehash of clauses either from the ill-fated Oslo Accords (1993) or the more controversial Geneva Accords (2003). However, there was something which was new and hugely disturbing to many Palestinians. Under the subtitle of "mutual recognition", the article states that "Palestine shall recognise the Jewish State of Israel." This, of course, was a major bone of contention throughout the recent negotiations; the PLO/Palestinian Authority delegation had time and again reaffirmed that they were not prepared to offer such recognition.

In February, during Al Jazeera's Head to Head programme, Mehdi Hasan asked the PLO's chief negotiator Dr Saeb Erekat whether he was prepared to recognise Israel as a Jewish state. "I will never recognise Israel as a Jewish state," he insisted. When asked why not, Erekat replied, "Because I have already recognised the state of Israel's right to exist in exchange for future recognition, in 1993." Was the veteran Erekat speaking in his personal capacity? No, he explained. "I'm saying that on behalf of 11 million Palestinians. I'm their Chief Negotiator." Significantly, Prof Hassassian was himself a member of the panel on that occasion. So what has changed that led to last week's article?

Nothing, apparently. Ambassador Hassassian has issued a clarification pointing out that the offending article was actually written by Cohen-Almagor, who published it and added Hassassian's name after he had commented on the draft.

A statement posted on the Palestine Embassy's website noted: "The PLO recognises the State of Israel and not the Jewish State. [Ambassador Hassassian] strongly opposes the recognition of a Jewish State because it denies the right of return and jeopardises the status of 1.5 million Palestinians holding Israeli citizenship."

Meanwhile, the pro-Israel publishers of the article have lavished the ambassador with praise, claiming that he is the first Palestinian ambassador to advocate publicly recognition of Israel's "Jewishness".

The controversy surrounding this article will surely continue to rumble on until there is absolute clarity from the Palestinian leadership. Until then, the nagging doubt will persist that this was in fact a testing of the water by elements within the PLO.

As it stands, not even the summoning of Ambassador Hassassian to Ramallah would be enough to quash suspicion. It should be recalled that the publication of the article coincided with a meeting between the PA's Foreign Minister, Riyad Al Maliki, and Israeli negotiator and Minister of Justice Tzipi Livni in London last week.

Hassassian's clarification is, of course, welcome. Nevertheless, because of his official position as the representative of 11 million Palestinians, both he and his political bosses will have to do much more than simply decry the matter as a "terrible misunderstanding" about which the ambassador had been "tricked".

If he was not a co-author of the article as the embassy statement suggests, then at the very least he must demand the immediate removal of his name and a public apology from the author and publishers. If they fail to comply with this demand the ambassador and PLO should initiate legal proceedings.

The issue of recognition of Israel as a Jewish state was just one of several highly contentious issues featured in the Fathom article. Its proposals on Jerusalem, refugees, water, security and education are all shrouded in misleading and ambiguous language. The history of this conflict is replete with papers written by academics. They have often appeared initially as "unofficial" studies only to end up as official documents and points of reference.

If the controversy surrounding this latest article is not dealt with openly and properly, it may also be adopted as a point of reference in future negotiations. This, no doubt, would be yet another tragedy among many for the people of Palestine.

]]> (Dr. Daud Abdullah) Commentary and Analysis Sun, 15 Jun 2014 17:56:00 +0000
Hamas and Fatah still have a mountain to climb MEMO commentary stickyEven in the best of times it would take much more than good intentions and hope to make the unity arrangement between Fatah and Hamas work. Both parties have managed, thus far, to avoid the external meddling and pressures that have derailed previous agreements. Their ability to continue doing so will now be tested to its limit on two fronts: the Rafah Crossing between Gaza and Egypt, and security in the West Bank.

On the former, it seems that Egypt literally holds the key. This, however, is only partially true. The regime in Cairo is, perhaps, even more committed to security cooperation with Israel than the Palestinian Authority (PA) is. Indeed, newly-elected President Al-Sisi is hugely indebted to Israel for its staunch political support from the time that he toppled democratically-elected President Muhammad Morsi with his military coup almost a year ago.

Despite assertions that the government is committed to opening the Rafah Crossing under the new unity government, Cairo will, inevitably, come under Israeli pressure to extract maximum concessions from both Hamas and the PA. Already, Israel has called for the disarmament of Hamas. As far as President Mahmoud Abbas is concerned, he will be nudged vigorously to return to the negotiations unconditionally, if only to create the facade that they are working towards a just settlement.

Given the untold human suffering caused by the siege of the Gaza Strip, it would seem that it's an open and shut case that the Egyptian authorities will end its contribution towards the collective punishment of the 1.5 million Palestinians living in the enclave. However, this is a regime that cares very little about its public image and international standing. Only a few countries are well positioned to bring pressure to bear upon them. One such broker is Saudi Arabia, which financed the coup that brought Al-Sisi to the presidential palace. Riyadh is unlikely to respond to a call for an easing of the siege while Hamas continues to exercise influence on the ground. It views Hamas as a natural extension of the Muslim Brotherhood, towards which the Saudis, like Al-Sisi, have a visceral antipathy.

According to official figures, there are about 15,000 people now registered in Gaza to travel; they include thousands in need of medical treatment abroad. On top of that, after two devastating wars imposed on it by Israel, Gaza's fast growing population faces a chronic housing shortage. More than 180 construction projects have been suspended because the Egyptians and Israelis are blocking the delivery of essential building materials, with a serious effect on Palestinian unemployment.

Despite these obstacles, officials in Gaza are trying to put in place a mechanism that will allow the free movement of goods and people on both sides of the border. Unlike the past seven years, they seek an arrangement of participation and inclusion of all forces. Furthermore, they have demonstrated considerable flexibility by expressing a willingness to discuss with Fatah a possible role for EU monitors.

Meanwhile, in the West Bank the challenges are equally formidable. Growing support for the prisoners in Israeli and Palestinian jails is testing the ability of both Fatah and Hamas to maintain cordial relations. There are some 127 administrative detainees held by Israel who are approaching their 50th day on hunger strike. A number have already been hospitalised. Instead of allowing solidarity protests, the Ramallah security forces have sought to suppress demonstrations and arrest activists. Israel has overtly encouraged the crackdown, claiming that Hamas is poised to take over the West Bank. It has passed a new law prohibiting its president from granting pardons to Palestinian prisoners. If approved by the Israeli parliament this would be yet another blow to the 5,271 prisoners and 191 administrative detainees in Israeli jails. The consequence could be a ground-swell of popular outrage.

Contrary to local custom and traditions, PA forces recently attacked a women's demonstration in Tulkarem. They manhandled some of the women, ripping off their hijab, claims Ikhlas Al-Sayed, the wife of Abbas Al-Sayed, one of the most prominent prisoners held by the Israelis. That may well be the tipping point. Some of the victims now hold President Abbas personally responsible. There is a growing perception across the West Bank that Abbas is not doing enough to help the cause of the prisoners. This was reinforced substantially when he made his controversial decision to abolish the ministry of prisoners' affairs.

Even so, it's not just about Abbas; the relatives of detainees are urging Hamas to adopt a more proactive stance towards the situation in the West Bank. This will, undoubtedly, add further strain to the fragile reconciliation agreement.

Despite the signing of the Shati agreement and formation of the national unity government, Hamas and Fatah both still have a mountain to climb. Time seems to be running out; without an opening of the Rafah Crossing and an end to the security abuses in the West Bank, the agreement will not be worth the paper it is written upon. While it may be too early to pronounce judgement on the new government, the writing is already on the wall, and it doesn't make pleasant reading.

]]> (Dr. Daud Abdullah) Commentary and Analysis Mon, 09 Jun 2014 09:11:51 +0000
Make or break time for President Abbas Memo commentary stickyOn the eve of the swearing-in of his new government, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas seems headed for the biggest test of his political career. Not only has the Israeli government barred ministers from the Gaza Strip from travelling to the West Bank for the occasion, but it has also launched an international campaign to boycott and threaten the new government. This is a huge test for Abbas; it is also a test for the international community, which faces a moment of truth: is it ready to support the Palestinian right to national unity or not?

Quite rightly, Ramallah has dismissed the call by Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for a boycott of the new government. Presidential spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh explained that the world community had encouraged and welcomed the steps taken by President Abbas to unite the Palestinian people. Besides, he has given ample assurances that the new government will be one that is independent of both Fatah and Hamas, comprised solely of technocrats. After reaffirming his commitment publicly to all the agreements signed by the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), Mr Abbas went even further to address Israeli concerns by pointing out that he regards ongoing security cooperation with Israel as "sacred".

In reality, the formation of a national unity government is just a tiny step in the healing process for Palestinian society. Reconciliation between rival parties is one thing but it would be meaningless if it does not transcend the political arena to reach every facet of social life. Can Abbas last the course? Many doubts persist. For one thing, he has a record of caving in to Israeli and US pressure; there are already worrying signs of déjà vu in all of this.

Nothing underscored this more profoundly in recent days than the Palestinian president's decision to abolish the ministry of prisoners' affairs which was formed by the late Yasser Arafat in 1998. At the time, it is believed that Arafat did this largely in response to pressure from the Palestinian public, many of whose sons and daughters were incarcerated in Israeli jails. It is worth recalling here that, since 1967, around 20 per cent of the whole Palestinian population has been detained at one time or another, a total of 750,000 people.

Naturally, therefore, Mr Abbas's decision to dismantle the ministry has provoked outrage not only from Hamas but even from within his own Fatah movement. Across the board the decision has been seen as unnecessarily provocative, not least because it undermines Arafat's legacy. Worse still, the move is seen not as an attempt to rebuild the Palestinian Authority, but to placate Israel.

Furthermore, implicit in the move is an acceptance of the Israeli view that the prisoners are "terrorists" and not freedom fighters or political prisoners. For the thousands of prisoners' families throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip, this will remain unconscionable forever. President Abbas is walking into a high-risk confrontation with his people on the one hand and his Israeli interlocutors on the other. Sooner or later, he will have to choose between Palestinian rights and Israeli dictates.

Hardly a day passes without a member of the Netanyahu cabinet demanding the total annexation of the West Bank, including Jerusalem with all its Islamic and Christian sanctuaries. The most recent was a call by the Israeli Foreign Ministry's judicial consultant, Ellen Baker, for the adoption of the recommendations of the Levy Committee Report which does not recognise the West Bank as occupied territory or the settlements as illegal under international law.

Back in January 2012, Netanyahu commissioned retired Supreme Court of Israel Justice Edmund Levy to head a committee to examine the issue of settlement building in the West Bank. On July 9, 2012, the Committee, published its report, concluding that Israel is not an occupying power, but has sole sovereignty rights over the Palestinian territory.

In the coming days, Israel will, no doubt, step up its pressure on Abbas by calling for an international boycott of the technocrat unity government, perhaps of the type imposed on the Gaza Strip for the past 8 years. Moreover, it will use the spectre of Muhammad Dahlan to threaten Abbas with an imminent coup. This stands to be counterproductive, as it will leave Abbas with no other option but to forge ahead with the national reconciliation project whilst simultaneously purging Fatah's ranks of Dahlan loyalists. The latter process, in fact, has already begun. Although the EU has indicated that it will work with the newly-formed unity Palestinian government, there is no doubt that it too, like the PA, will come under enormous pressure from Israel.

Meanwhile, it is not clear whether the US will support Netanyahu's outlandish demands. Some officials in Ramallah believe that by inviting prime minister designate Dr Rami Hamdallah to Washington the Obama administration is contemplating recognition. Officials apparently need his personal assurances about Palestinian recognition of Israel. If only to expose US deceit, Dr Hamdallah must take the opportunity while he is in America to demand Israeli recognition of the Palestinians' right to live in freedom in their own land.

As for President Abbas, he must rest assured that he enjoys the unqualified support of the vast majority of nation states, unlike Netanyahu, who relies solely on American political muscle. Like the late Yasser Arafat, however, this may well be his last showdown for which he may pay with his life. In the end, though, he stands a good chance of emerging with his honour and legacy intact.

]]> (Dr. Daud Abdullah) Commentary and Analysis Mon, 02 Jun 2014 09:52:59 +0000
European fine of Turkey over Cyprus unlikely to make much difference MEMO CommentaryThe decision by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) to impose a compensation fine of €90m on Turkey for its 1974 "invasion and occupation" of Cyprus is unprecedented. Experts believe that it could pave the way for similar punitive measures against Russia for its involvement in Crimea. That being so, there is an equally strong case against Israel for its invasion and military occupation of Arab lands in 1967.

There is, no doubt, a fundamental difference in the Palestinians' case that must be underlined. For them, compensation or damages is not their driving motive; it never was, and never will be. They simply want to be freed from Israel's military occupation. In fact, there has been from the very beginning a universal consensus on the illegality of the Israeli occupation. Its Palestinian victims who are now scattered across Europe must therefore test the Strasbourg court to see whether it is willing to apply the law in equal measure, without fear or favour.

Philippe Sands, an international law professor at University College London, said of the ECHR judgment: "It's a strong signal that the passage of time will not diminish the consequences or costs of illegal occupation... I would imagine it opens the door to claims arising from that kind of occupation. It signals that the court will not back off on issues like this over time."

The court's judgement stated: "After all, there is punishment for unjust war and its tragic consequences in Europe." Naturally, some may be tempted to argue that Israel is not part of Europe. That may be so in theory but the reality is much different. Javier Solana, the former EU foreign policy chief, explained during a visit to occupied Jerusalem in 2009: "There is no country outside the European continent that has this type of relationship that Israel has with the European Union. Israel, allow me to say, is a member of the European Union without being a member of the institution. It's a member of all the programmes, it participates in all the programmes."

One of the points raised in the judgement was that Turkey has refused to respond to repeated calls for the full implementation of previous judgments concerning its invasion of Northern Cyprus. Here, the same can be said about Israel's occupation of the occupied Palestinian West Bank and Jerusalem. Observers have stopped counting the number of resolutions passed by the UN condemning Israel's occupation as illegal and an affront to the norms of civilised conduct between peoples. All of these repeated calls have fallen on deaf ears.

Whether it relates to the issue of its occupation - the longest running in modern history - or its perpetration of war crimes against the Palestinian people, there is no shortage of excuses and reasons for exemptions in Europe. Take the case of Tzipi Livni, who ironically holds the post of Minister of Justice in Israel. She was, this week, granted special diplomatic immunity by the British government in order to avoid arrest for suspected war crimes. Like the Greek Cypriot families who sought justice at the ECHR, Palestinian families similarly have filed cases in London against the Israeli official for her role in her country's bombardment of Gaza in December 2008 and January 2009. The usual reason given for this special exemption is that legal proceedings will jeopardise "peace talks" with the Palestinians. For whatever reasons, the Strasbourg court made no such linkage in its ruling against Turkey. Sinan Ulgen, the director of the Centre for Economic and Foreign Policy Studies in Istanbul observed, "It's unfortunate that this decision has come to pass at the present time not only because there are negotiations on the island."

On a related level, the timing of the ECRH ruling seems all the more unfortunate given the fact that Ankara has adopted what it calls a "zero problems" policy with its neighbours and the world. To this end, it has sought to resolve its long-standing problems not only with the Cypriots but also with the Kurdish and Armenian people. Having cut inflation by 55 per cent since coming to power in 2002, the last thing the ruling Justice and Development Party wants is an international dispute that would undermine its economic success. The country has an economy that is growing faster than China and attracts a significant amount of international business interest.

The fact that Turkey has already announced that it will not pay the fine is unlikely to result in a major diplomatic row with the Council of Europe, a 47-nation body that recognises the court's jurisdiction. That is the current situation, at least for now. European economies are already threatened with destabilisation because of events in Ukraine. They can ill-afford, therefore, to ostracise Turkey, which is not only a major economic partner but a key member of NATO.

Just as it has bent over backwards, time and again, to accommodate Israel's illegal occupation of Palestinian land, Europe may well consider doing the same for Turkey, if only to secure the EU's own interests.

]]> (Dr. Daud Abdullah) Commentary and Analysis Thu, 15 May 2014 12:58:14 +0000
The EU should not be sucked into Egypt's 'Dirty War' MEMO CommentaryThey could have gone to another friendly city in the Middle East or Europe, but a group of leading Egyptian opposition figures chose Brussels to launch their initiative to restore the democratic path spearheaded by the January 25 Revolution. Being the headquarters of the EU, the underlying intent was clear; to ensure that their message resounded in the corridors of European decision-making.

Putting aside the politics and tangled economic interests, there is much more that binds together the people on both sides of the Mediterranean. They share a common humanity that recognises the inherent dignity of all people, among them the right to life, liberty and security of person. Alas the systematic rape of civil liberties and freedoms in Egypt now threatens to undermine the foundations of peace and justice that lie at the heart of the relationship.

The case of the Al Jazeera hunger-striker Abdullah Al-Shamy epitomises the Egyptian tragedy. After refusing food for more than 100 days his physical functions are now in a state of rapid decline. Yet his mental capacity remains as clear as ever; he is focussed and persuasive, one of four Al Jazeera journalists – prisoners of conscience – incarcerated simply because they refused to compromise the ethics of their profession. A letter smuggled out of his cell was sent to the EU and speaks directly to Baroness Catherine Ashton, Europe's High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.

From the darkness of his prison cell Al-Shamy said that he came to know that the European Union has decided to monitor Egypt's upcoming elections and that Ashton was happy with the steps taken by Egypt toward democracy.

"I am sure, deep down, she must realise that the basis for any democracy is the freedom of press," he said. "How can Ashton, I wonder, trust a democracy without a free press, at a time when I am facing a slow death alongside other journalists?" It was an honest question which deserves an honest answer.

In closing his letter, the newly-married journalist again addressed Cathy Ashton, asserting that everything comes to an end and history will only perpetuate the courageous stands one takes: "I think it is not too late to take such a stand."

Implicit in the entire text of this letter is an ominous reminder that should any harm befall him, his jailers will bear criminal and legal responsibility but the EU will share the moral responsibility.

The case of Abdullah Al-Shamy and all the victims of the 3 July coup is no less tragic than the tens of thousands who were "disappeared" in Argentina during its "Dirty War" between 1976 and 1983. There, the military dictatorship led by General Jorge Rafael Videla led a brutal campaign against left-wing political opposition. It is estimated that between 10,000 and 30,000 people were killed.

Argentina cleared the way for other right-wing military dictators to commit similar crimes; Chile under Augusto Pinochet is the most notorious. In this they were supported by the Reagan administration in the US and Margaret Thatcher in Britain. Even after Pinochet's 1999 arrest in the UK, Thatcher stood by the former dictator shamelessly.

There is a chilling and macabre parallel between the Argentinian junta and its Egyptian counterpart. While the former projected itself as a regional vanguard against left-wing politics, the latter has taken upon itself a mission to eradicate the Muslim Brotherhood from Egypt and other parts of the region.

In Latin America, right-wing dictatorships looked to the Argentine military for operational support and techniques. Similarly today, anti-democratic forces across the Middle East, including Israel, view the Egyptian military as an indispensable ally. They court the Cairo regime not to liberate Palestine, but for help in reversing the popular demands for democracy and change.

Ultimately, the generals who led the military dictatorships and committed gross crimes against humanity had their reckoning. Some, like Videla, died in a prison cell for their crimes. Of course, their political masters and backers like Reagan and Thatcher were never brought to justice or asked to account for aiding, abetting or supporting these infamous regimes. Similarly, those who back Al-Sisi and his clique may also never have to face the music, even if many thousands more are detained, tortured and killed.

The EU may insist that it will send monitors to oversee and bless the farcical presidential elections, but the spirit of Abdullah Al-Shamy and all the other prisoners of conscience overshadows such a clear condoning of what has taken place in Egypt since last June, massacres and all. Al-Shamy believes that the prisoners are "walking a path that will make the future better than the past... and... it will be a happy one indeed."

Who can disagree with them? Justice always trumps injustice and is the bedrock of a genuine democracy, something that Cathy Ashton and her advisers should reflect on as they give their blessing to Al-Sisi and his brutal military coup.

]]> (Dr. Daud Abdullah) Commentary and Analysis Fri, 09 May 2014 11:34:44 +0000
America is torn between its own interests and Israeli demands MEMO CommentaryLike previous agreements, the Palestinian reconciliation deal has been described as "historic". Officially, the damaging political split between Palestinians is over, but will this latest agreement be any better than the Cairo (2011) and Doha (2012) accords? The signatories, Fatah and Hamas, are committed in principle and in writing, to make the Shati Declaration different. Two countries, however, stand between them and success: the US, which stopped short of condemning the agreement but expressed its "disappointment", and Israel, which is opposing it virulently.

America and Israel stand alone, as they usually do on Palestinian affairs. Strong support for the agreement has come from China, Russia, Turkey and South Africa. Contrary to its customary position of tagging along on the coat-tails of the US, even the EU welcomed the deal. According to Michael Mann, a spokesman of EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton, "The European Union believes that the reconciliation agreement between Fatah and Hamas is an important step toward a two-state solution." International support for the latest agreement was in effect an acknowledgement that not only is reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas a popular national demand but also that no progress can be made towards a resolution of the conflict without Hamas on board.

Caught unawares by the speed with which the agreement was concluded, the Obama administration now finds itself torn between Israel's damaging demands and the more constructive approach of fellow members in the International Quartet.

On their part, the Israelis were disappointed with the "weak" American stand. One senior official said: "The Americans need to make it clear to Abbas that this is a red line – he just can't associate with Hamas. We don't accept that the Americans are talking about the policy of the unity government once it is formed, and are ignoring the fact that this is an alliance with Hamas."

The fact that Washington has refused to condemn the agreement is of itself significant. After all, it was Israeli officials who have undermined and wrecked the laborious diplomatic efforts of Secretary of State John Kerry. In January 2014, Defence Minister Moshe Ya'alon disparaged Kerry's efforts saying that they stemmed from an "incomprehensible obsession" and "a messianic feeling". Meanwhile, the extreme right-wing government led by Benjamin Netanyahu has continued to build settlements on Palestinian land, in defiance of the US. Earlier this month, Israel refused to release the fourth and final batch of 106 Palestinian prisoners in accord with an undertaking given to Kerry after the resumption of the peace talks in July last year. Israel's serial breaches of trust and bad faith have done enormous damage to US credibility and interests in the region and beyond.

If the entire world can recognise that Palestinian unity will advance efforts towards regional peace and stability, why can't the Americans? The spurious label of "terrorist organisation" ascribed to Hamas has absolutely no meaning to the Palestinian people nor the international community. The senior PLO negotiator Saeb Erekat was spot on when he told the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahranoth that the Palestinian Authority does not view Hamas as a terrorist organisation and that the "real terrorism" is the construction of settlements in the occupied territories.

Having visited the region more than 10 times since July last year, John Kerry must be acutely aware of the huge level of support there is among Palestinians for Fatah-Hamas reconciliation; it is, first and foremost, a national demand. Both movements have by far the largest support among Palestinians at home and in the diaspora. Neither can supplant or get rid of the other; as such, support for their reconciliation makes perfect sense, especially as the Israelis have always accused Fatah of not representing all Palestinians. It would, therefore, be in America's best interests, and to its credit, if it were to support this process, given that there is overwhelming opposition among Palestinians for an extension of the current negotiations.

As it stands, both Fatah and Hamas are in desperate need of reconciliation. After two decades of negotiations, Fatah has been reduced to the status of an out-sourced security arm of the occupation, a humiliating reality that many in the West Bank can no longer tolerate. Meanwhile, in Gaza, Hamas's governance of the territory has resulted in an Israeli-led siege that has turned the enclave into a giant prison. However bad their circumstances may seem, though, neither Fatah nor Hamas can afford to view the deal simply as a tactical move. It can and will only succeed if it truly becomes a strategy for national liberation.

Without the malicious interference of Israel and its supporters, the Shati Declaration of Fatah and Hamas could yet be the most important step undertaken towards the restoration of Palestinian rights in decades. The region has had more than its fair share of wars and bloodshed because of this long-running conflict. The US must, therefore, resist all Israeli demands to sabotage it and instead lend all its political weight to regional and international efforts to ensure the agreement's success.

]]> (Dr. Daud Abdullah) Commentary and Analysis Mon, 28 Apr 2014 10:21:55 +0000
The EU and Middle East democracy MEMO CommentaryIs there any difference between the forthcoming presidential elections in Egypt and Syria? The Europe Union apparently believes that there is. While the EU has dismissed the Syrian process as a "parody of democracy", the European High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Catherine Ashton, conveyed an entirely different outlook on the election in Egypt during her last visit to Cairo. "The EU hopes that the next phase of life in Egypt is going to be very positive," she stated. That said, the policy of isolating the Syrian regime on the one hand and rehabilitating the Egyptian junta on the other defies all logic because their records on human rights are equally awful.

Appalling human rights records aside, the Assad and Al-Sisi regimes share another fundamental trait. They both represent the Middle Eastern norm of democracy by selection rather than election.

In the case of Assad, his rapid rise to power in Syria was literally accidental, coming about after the death of his elder brother in a car accident in 1994. As fate would have it, he returned to Syria to attend the funeral only to find that in less than five years he was fast-tracked through the ranks of the military and the Baath Party to become the president by a special referendum in 2000 after his father's death.

From his obscure position as a trainee ophthalmologist Bashar was promoted to the position of tank battalion commander in November 1994. In January 1995, he was made a major in the Presidential Guard and in July 1997 he was promoted again to the rank of lieutenant-colonel and named commander-in-chief of the Republican Guards. The rest, as they say, is now history.

In Egypt, the scenario is different, but only marginally so. After toppling the elected civilian government last year General Al-Sisi promoted himself to the rank of Field Marshall. Now with less than a week to go to the deadline for the final submission of documents by presidential candidates, Al-Sisi remains the sole contestant. His nearest rival is Hamdeen Sabahi, who has only managed to secure 17,000 out of the required 25,000 signatures to support his candidature. If things remain as they are, Al-Sisi will emerge as president by default.

To his supporters at home and abroad it matters little how the president-in-waiting comes to office; what is important is that he gets there, by any means necessary, even if he has to deny others the right to contest the election. It was not surprising, therefore, that the Alexandria Court for Urgent Matters ruled this week that no current member of the Muslim Brotherhood or defector would be allowed to stand in the presidential and parliamentary elections.

The former minister of defence who claimed that he had a mandate from the majority of Egyptians has suddenly become afraid of facing his political adversaries in free and fair elections. Even if the Muslim Brotherhood chooses to boycott the elections, which they might as well, the right of citizens to vote is a core feature of the democratic tradition. For this reason, several constitutional judges in Egypt, as well as human right organisations, have denounced the Alexandria court ruling. One constitutional judge, Thawrat Badawi, pointed out that no court, from the lowest Court of Urgent Matters to the highest Court of Appeal has the right to issue such a ruling.

To justify their support for the junta in Cairo, European politicians and officials, notably the former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, claim that the aim of Islamists across the region is to exploit the democratic process to gain power; once that is achieved, it is claimed, they would resort to dictatorship. Blair et al still support the generals who seized power in 2013, as if they have ever embraced democracy! The fact is that they deposed Mohamed Morsi because they wanted to restore their six-decade military rule which was interrupted by the January 25 Revolution.

Of course, the Sisi camp will argue that the Muslim Brotherhood is a "terrorist organisation" and that disqualifies its members from standing for public office. Notwithstanding that none of its senior leaders have ever been convicted of such serious charges in a legitimate court of law, even if they had, it should not constitute a reason for their disqualification.

Just one day after the coup in Egypt, on 4 July 2013, the European Court of Human Rights passed a judgement in the case of two prisoners (Gladkov and Anchugov) against Russia. The men had complained that their disenfranchisement had violated their right to vote and had prevented them from participating in a number of elections. The Court ruled that there had been a violation of Article 3 (right to free elections) of Protocol No. 1 to the Human Rights Convention. It noted in particular "that the applicants had been deprived of their right to vote in parliamentary elections regardless of the length of their sentence, of the nature or gravity of their offence or of their individual circumstances."

Surely it would be an act of gross hypocrisy for European officials to support the denial of these democratic rights for Muslim Brotherhood members who were not even convicted when such rights are guaranteed in Europe. Do they believe that the principles of human rights are not universal but instead vary from one continent to another?

European support for Middle Eastern dictatorships has, historically, been premised on the assumption that they would deliver security and stability. Not in their wildest dreams should they now expect either to be achieved in Egypt by supporting a regime that is so similar to the brutal dictatorship in Syria. Just as the EU has condemned the "parody of democracy" in Syria, so too should it now do likewise in the case of Egypt. Failure to do so will expose even further Europe's hypocrisy and double standards when it comes to human rights abuses and democracy in the Middle East.

]]> (Dr. Daud Abdullah) Commentary and Analysis Wed, 16 Apr 2014 17:52:45 +0000
Britain's Brotherhood inquiry: Another blow to democracy? MEMO CommentaryA week after over 500 anti-coup protesters were sentenced to death by Field Marshall Abdul Fattah Al Sisi's regime in Egypt, the British Prime Minister David Cameron has launched an inquiry. But, it's not the inquiry one might expect, an inquiry into human rights abuses in Egypt by the military regime; it is in fact an inquiry into the Muslim Brotherhood's activities in the UK.

Since the coup last July, the military regime in Egypt has pursued a repressive policy against the Muslim Brotherhood. Although the Brotherhood won five elections and became the first democratically elected civilian government of Egypt, they were ousted from power by a military coup after just a year. The military regime, keen to hold on to their power, have set out to dismantle the Muslim Brotherhood and remove them from the public sphere in Egypt. Over 1,000 people have been killed since the coup, thousands have been arrested and imprisoned. Many of their members and supporters were among the 529 Egyptians who were sentenced to death last week. In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood have been now been outlawed and designated a terrorist organisation, facing persecution worse than that which they faced during Hosni Mubarak's presidency.

And it's not just in Egypt that the Brotherhood are facing persecution; autocratic regimes across the Middle East have lent their support to Al Sisi and his military regime. Two key players in the MENA region, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have taken steps to ban the Brotherhood in their countries and designate the group a terrorist organisation. When the Arab Spring led to the overthrow of some old autocratic regimes in the Middle East, others who were still in power became increasingly nervous. As the democratisation process appeared to go from strength to strength concerns about the new political order became ever apparent. Last year's coup was then a convenient turn of events for those regimes that worried democracy could spread and take hold in other countries.

The Saudi and Emirati support for Al Sisi and opposition to the Brotherhood, did not come as a surprise, but the UK's opposition to the advancement of democracy is rather perplexing. The UK has always been a supporter of democracy; the revolutions after the Arab Spring were widely hailed as bringing about a new era of democracy to the Middle East. Yet, after the coup last July Britain seemed to have a change of direction. The government refused to acknowledge that the ousting was a coup, government ministers would not use the term and officials said that they hoped a new government would be formed quickly. Foreign Secretary William Hague said that the UK would not take sides and whilst the UK did not support military interventions they would be dealing with the military regime as the government of Egypt.

Since the coup, the British-Egyptian relationship has continued to develop undisturbed by the human rights catastrophes taking place in the country. Yet despite this there have been a number of pro-democracy campaigns and protests in London, with Egyptians based in the UK's capital calling for a return of the legitimate democratic government to Egypt. It seems now, that some months after the coup, the government have been handed 'evidence' relating to the Muslim Brotherhood's activities in London.

A spokesperson for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office said "The review will assess the MB's impact on and influence over UK national interests, at home and abroad; its wider influence on UK society, culture and educational institutions; and key allies' approaches and policies...Given the importance of the Middle East to British interests, the Prime Minister believes that the Government needs a thorough understanding of the organisation and its impact - both on our national security and on our interest in stability and prosperity in the Middle East."

The Gulf's association of the Brotherhood with terrorism seems to be catching. Although the British government has not accused the group of terrorism the announcement of the inquiry has been based around "alleged links with extremism", citing the attacks on tourists in the Sinai. It should be noted though that those very attacks were carried out by a Salafist organisation active in the Sinai, Ansar Bait al Maqdis, who took responsibility for the attack. The Muslim Brotherhood in fact condemned the attack, describing it as cowardly and offering their condolences to victims' families, hardly the actions of a group responsible for "alleged links with extremism."

A slightly more surprising element of the inquiry are the individuals who have been chosen to lead it. The Foreign Office confirmed that the inquiry would be led by the UK's ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Sir John Jenkins, but did not explain how or why that decision was reached. The ambassador to Saudi Arabia is an interesting choice, given that Saudi was the country first in line to support Al Sisi and his new regime and the first to designate the group a terrorist entity outside of Egypt. The Saudi - Britain relationship has always been close, but it has been no secret that the two countries have been getting much closer. As Louisa Loveluck pointed out in the Daily Telegraph "Last month, BAE systems, the British defence firm, finalised a deal on the price of 72 Eurofighter Typhoon jets it is selling to Saudi Arabia." It seems inevitable that the British inquiry will be taking their cues from their colleagues in Saudi - how independent an inquiry it can be when Saudi have already made up their minds seems not to be a real question.

It's not just Sir John Jenkins who seems to be anomalous, another key figure expected to play a role in the inquiry is Sir John Sawers. Sir John Sawers the current head of MI6 was an ambassador to Egypt between 2001 and 2003, during the era of Tony Blair's close relationship with Hosni Mubarak. The former ambassador had close links to the Mubarak regime and was a foreign policy adviser to Tony Blair. Tony Blair has yet to give his thoughts on the inquiry, yet it is undoubtable that he will hold back. Tony Blair has always had close ties with autocratic regimes; the Sisi regime is no different and he has already waded into Egyptian affairs putting his weight firmly behind the coup regime. His lack of support for democracy and the parties that are democratically elected in the Middle East is well documented. Hence his support for the anti- Muslim Brotherhood campaign is inevitable. What influence, if any, Tony Blair will have on the inquiry is as yet unknown.

Although this is the first inquiry into the MB in the UK, it has clearly not emerged out of nowhere. Britain's burgeoning relationship with the Gulf has had an obvious influence on this and it is likely that some of Cameron's cabinet would fully support a ban of the MB. With support for Al Sisi coming from a number of disparate elements (from the Gulf through to Israel) it is unsurprising that those countries friends' in the Cabinet would push the Sisi agenda. This inquiry seems, therefore, to be part of the wider Al Sisi strategy to dismantle the MB, not just in Egypt but wherever they might be. Although sources have said it is "possible but unlikely" that the Brotherhood will be banned in the UK, the timing of the announcement does indeed suggest that there has been some pressure on the UK from outside sources.

A number of commentators and Middle East watchers have noted that the inquiry is a worrying sign that David Cameron is succumbing to pressure from his colleagues and confidants in the region. Oliver McTernan, co-founder and director of Forward Thinking, said "I think it is unfortunate that the Prime Minster seems to have conceded to pressure from outside to launch such an inquiry. I have no doubt if it is a fair and objective inquiry it will once and for all dispel the misperceptions and prejudices that have prevented successive governments from engaging with members of the Muslim Brotherhood as responsible citizens and residents of our country."

With David Cameron pushing for the inquiry to be completed by the summer, there will undoubtedly be further pressure on those leading it to come to their conclusions as quickly possible. What those conclusions will be are hard to foresee. It is hoped that the inquiry will be an independent inquiry and will tackle the issues fairly, without undue influence from outside sources. But the nature of the inquiry itself is indeed a concern. Britain has always been a beacon of democracy, support for democratisation in the Middle East seemed to be an inevitable part of that process. In turning their attention to the Muslim Brotherhood, the British government are putting their weight firmly behind the undemocratic coup regime of Al Sisi and his generals and ignoring the democratic will of the Egyptian people that brought the Muslim Brotherhood to power in the first place. Were they still a party of government there would not be an inquiry into their activities, yet the coup has rearranged the chess board and left Britain unsure of its own commitment to democracy.

]]> (Middle East Monitor) Commentary and Analysis Tue, 01 Apr 2014 17:02:20 +0000
Egypt's kangaroo court death sentences are truly grotesque MEMO CommentaryIt was not just the numbers that shocked the world but the manner in which it was done, when Judge Saeed Yusuf Al-Jazzar took just two sittings to sentence 529 Egyptians to death. Those convicted were accused of participating in a demonstration in Al-Minya province in August 2013, which led to the death of a police officer. They were protesting against the massacre of hundreds of fellow citizens days before in Cairo's Raba'a Al-Adawiyyah Square. Lawyers for their defence were barred from entering the court, let alone making a plea on their behalf. Whether or not the death sentences are upheld or commuted to life imprisonment, this ruling has set Egypt firmly on a course of lawlessness and self-destruction.

With the exception of the Stalinist, Nazi and Khmer Rouge regimes, there are no examples of such rulings in modern history. Field Marshall Al-Sisi and his aides have thus joined the ranks of infamous tyrants.

Judge Al-Jazzar, whose name, ironically, means "the butcher" in Arabic, acquitted the director of security and a police officer on 15 January last year, both of whom were accused of killing 25 protesters in Bani Suwayf. If there is anything called justice in today's Egypt it is clearly reserved for the remnants of the former Mubarak regime, the military and security apparatus. It is definitely not for ordinary citizens.

Three conclusions can be drawn from the summary judgement handed down in Al-Minya: that it has driven the final nail into the coffin of Egypt's criminal justice system; that human rights are only for those who support the 3 July coup; and that the undeclared purpose is to remove all opposition before the Field Marshall completes his seizure of power in next month's presidential election.

Apart from its callous disregard for internationally-recognised standards of law, the ruling speaks volumes about the decadence that pervades Egyptian public life. In other ways it also exposes the depth of insecurity and paranoia that has taken hold of the regime. Since its seizure of power, the military has failed to stabilise the country and create a climate for economic recovery.

This latest travesty can only undermine further all efforts for national reconciliation. At best, it will, instead, reinforce the very divisions and polarisation which Al-Sisi himself promised to alleviate.

For ordinary Egyptians the political aim of the court ruling is as clear as its legal invalidity. Many believe that it is intended primarily to silence and terrify opponents of the regime, and, by so doing, clear the way for the enthronement of Field Marshall Abdul Fattah Al-Sisi as president of the republic.

None of this, however, will end Al-Sisi's nightmare, for he cannot envisage himself being president while Mohamed Morsi and the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood are imprisoned. They may be physically absent from the political arena but their presence is felt in every calculation the would-be president makes. Hence, the emerging view is that the death sentence handed down on the 529 protesters is actually intended to prepare the ground for a similar verdict against Morsi, in particular, and the senior leadership of the Brotherhood in general.

Either way, Al-Sisi emerges from this scandal looking considerably weaker, despite having all the instruments of state repression at his disposal. His perversion and use of the criminal justice system to bludgeon political opponents wipes out the "strong man" image that the Egyptian media often ascribe to him. He is, in reality, weak and insecure.

Whether the sentences are carried out, in what manner, and how soon, all appear to be in the hands of Al-Sisi. Indeed, many believe that Judge Al-Jazzar could not have issued such a sentence in such a manner without the highest approval. Even if he chooses to commute the sentences and use the victims as scapegoats to blackmail the opposition, the horses have already bolted. No state, rich or poor, can enjoy social concord and stability in the face of such unbridled injustice. Egypt is no exception and as such can only slide further into the abyss of civil strife.

Even by the ghastly standards of Egyptian persecution the capital punishment for 529 people in one ruling is without precedent. None of the military courts that were established by General Gamal Abdul Nasser in his campaign against the Muslim Brotherhood ever issued such a grotesque verdict. That a civilian court should now do it leaves one in no doubt about the depth of the corruption within which the judiciary has plunged itself.

Many parties, local, regional and international, have played a role in creating the unfortunate crisis in Egypt. They were all driven by a combination of ideological prejudice, political short-sightedness and utter disregard for the rule of law. By subverting the will of the Egyptian people they have broken Egyptian society and history will forever hold them all responsible.

]]> (Dr. Daud Abdullah) Commentary and Analysis Tue, 25 Mar 2014 21:46:55 +0000
The demise of the GCC MEMO CommentaryThe obituary was short and candid. We regret the passing of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC); may it rest in peace. Though terminally ill for some time, some of its members opted for an assisted death when they pulled their ambassadors out of Qatar. Thereafter, the chief of the Dubai Police Force, Lieutenant General Dhahi Khalfan, called unrepentantly for the formation of a new cooperation council to include Saudi, the UAE, Bahrain, Egypt and Jordan.

In his attempt to justify the need for this new strategic council, which omitted Qatar, Kuwait and Oman, Khalfan warned that in the absence of unity the 'Safawi' (Shi'ite) plan for the Gulf would be implemented. A new council, he argued, is needed to protect the Arabian Peninsula.

There is, of course, a noticeable disconnect between the official rhetoric and policies. Immediately after the United States and its negotiating partners, known collectively as the P5+1, reached an interim agreement with Iran in November last year several Arab countries rushed to normalise diplomatic relations with Tehran. Despite the grudging welcome given to the agreement by the Gulf States, the UAE was actually the first to do this. The country's Foreign Minister, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, visited Tehran on 28th November.

In mid-January, King Abdullah II of Jordan followed suit when he received Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Amman. Thus, after six years of frosty relations, Jordan and Iran decided to exchange ambassadors.

Then came Morocco in February 2014; four years earlier it had broken-off diplomatic ties with Iran for allegedly meddling in the internal affairs of Bahrain. Suddenly, as a show of goodwill, Rabat extended an invitation to Iran to a meeting of the Al-Quds (Jerusalem) Committee, which oversees Muslim interests in the holy city and supports Palestinian aspirations to a state with east Jerusalem as its capital.

The upshot of all of this is that the more Iran's relationship with the west improves the greater its acceptance becomes in the Gulf and across the region. With specific reference to the interim agreement an official Saudi statement read, "If there was goodwill, this agreement could represent a preliminary step towards a comprehensive solution to the Iranian nuclear programme."

If the GCC fears were really about a nuclear-armed Iran dominating the region it seems strange that its members should create the very conditions for those ambitions to thrive. The growing rift between Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE and the other members of the council has done precisely that. Within a week of the withdrawal of the ambassadors from Doha, President Hassan Rouhani of Iran showed up in Oman. The declared result was a billion dollar agreement by which Iran would supply Oman with gas through an underwater pipeline. In geo-strategic terms the strengthening of bi-lateral cooperation between the two neighbouring countries cannot be underestimated since they control the two sides of the Straits of Hormuz through which 40 per cent of the world's oil supplies passes.

This is not the first time that the Gulf States have miscalculated and created openings for their rival Iran. They supported the US invasion of Iraq which divided the country along sectarian lines and led to the installation of an Iranian-backed regime in Baghdad. Wittingly or unwittingly, they are creating a vacuum in the Gulf.

Never one to miss an opportunity, Iran, according to some reports, has contacted the Qataris to offer support and assistance after its row with its fellow Gulf States. While there is nothing to suggest that Qatar will change its policy toward the Iranian-backed regime in Syria, for example, it is nonetheless conceivable that the government in Doha would look favourably upon Iranian overtures. For one thing, this would allow for the resumption of relations, not least in the production and export of natural gas. Qatar, it should be recalled, has since the end of the 1990s pursued a policy independent of the GCC towards Iran. So if the Saudis do bar them from using their air-space, as some reports suggest, Doha may turn to Iran.

As it stands, all that is left now is the formal burial of the GCC. Saud Al-Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister, has made it clear that relations with Qatar will not change if it does not change its foreign policy. That is unlikely to happen. Doha has insisted that the "independence of its foreign policy is a non-negotiable issue."

While no member of the GCC has called explicitly on Qatar to change its media strategy and reconcile with Egypt's military regime, there is no doubt that this is a fundamental demand. The reticence in Doha is as palpable as it is understandable. They understand fully that the Egyptian military is incapable of taking strategic regional decisions independent of Israel. As such, Qatar, it seems, would do much better by staying out of the proposed new council, of which apartheid Israel will be a member in all but name.

]]> (Dr. Daud Abdullah) Commentary and Analysis Wed, 19 Mar 2014 16:16:33 +0000
This new axis to defeat the Brotherhood will go the way of the old MEMO CommentaryThey originated in different capitals but all were linked by a common cause: Egypt's proscription of Hamas "activities" on its territory; Israel's announcement that it intercepted an Iranian ship laden with missiles "intended for the Gaza Strip"; the withdrawal of three GCC countries' ambassadors from Qatar; and Saudi Arabia's classification of the Muslim Brotherhood as a "terrorist" organisation. Taken together, these mark the public unveiling of the region's newest geo-political axis.

Since the collapse of both the self-styled "moderate" bloc in 2012 and the Syrian-led "resistance" front, the region has been in a state of flux. In the case of the former, the search for a new configuration started in earnest immediately after the fall of the dictatorships. At the time, plans were announced to incorporate Jordan and Morocco into the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Despite a general acceptance by the founding member states, the project was put on hold, apparently because of fears among GCC members themselves that they would be called upon to bail out failed states, as the EU had to do for Greece.

Now, as the rift between Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and UAE on the one hand and Qatar on the other continues to widen, new reports have emerged of a Saudi-led initiative to recruit Egypt into the ranks of the GCC. However, even with the financial backing of Saudi Arabia and the UAE, this ambitious move may well end up like the plan to incorporate Morocco and Jordan. With a population that is twice the size of Morocco and Jordan combined and an economy in tatters, the prospects for the adoption of Egypt look bleak. Unless, that is, political considerations are given precedence over all others.

In terms of their orientation and policies there is nothing that distinguishes the newly-emerging axis from the pre-2011 'moderate' bloc. As it was in the days of Hosni Mubarak, it's members remain preoccupied, to the point of obsession, with concerns of security and "fighting terror". All were committed partners in the US global "war on terror". They still, to this day, remain staunchly committed to the enterprise.

Before the collapse of the dictatorships, the Arab League provided a ready platform to promote reactionary policies on regional issues, most noticeably on Palestine. It was the failure of the League to have any relevance and the success of the Muslim Brotherhood that ultimately forced the Saudis to sponsor the spread of Salafist parties in the Middle East.

In Egypt, such parties collaborated with the military to unseat the elected government. Their hubris and honeymoon in the limelight is not expected to last long. They are mistrusted deeply in the west and in Washington in particular, where there is a now a concerted drive to promote what is described as "Sufi Islam" as an alternative to political Islam. This poses a moral and ideological dilemma for the Saudis since they have always viewed Sufism as bordering on the fringes of deviance and heresy.

Nevertheless, it is not what divides this new odd alliance that is important, it is what unites them and, in this context, they are implacably opposed to what is called political Islam. That is the political reformist movement inspired and led by the Muslim Brotherhood.

In Egypt, the junta-appointed judiciary declared the Brotherhood to be a "terrorist" entity in December, even though the trials of its members on "terrorism" charges were incomplete. The country's new rulers then submitted a memorandum to the Arab League calling for the adoption of this designation based on a 1998 protocol to combat terrorism.

Curiously, one of the most distinguishing features of the new axis is its increasing collaboration with Israel. Cooperation with, and acceptance of, the apartheid state has become so crucial that the conviction of Israelis for espionage in Egypt did not in any way affect Tel Aviv's ties with Cairo. On the contrary, they became stronger. Meanwhile, although nothing has been proven against Hamas, apart from media propaganda, legal measures have been taken against the movement.

Back in November last year, the Sunday Times in London reported that the Israeli intelligence agency, Mossad, was working with Saudi officials on plans for a possible attack on Iran if the nuclear talks with the west failed. The report added that Riyadh had already given the go-ahead for Israeli planes to use its airspace in the event of an attack.

There are inherent contradictions and weaknesses in the new counter-revolutionary alliance which will, in the fullness of time, lead to failure. Whatever security concerns they may have, its architects will remain forever tainted by their alliance with apartheid Israel in its attempt to prolong the brutal military occupation of Palestinian land and defeat the legitimate resistance movements. Having gone against the undoubted aspirations and will of their people, they will become increasingly irrelevant in the region and dependent on foreigners for support. As for the Islamic movement which has emerged from the grassroots, and is of and for the people, it will continue to grow in strength and influence, regardless of the persecution it's members face. There may well be a new axis on the block, but it stands to go the way of its predecessors in the region, a way of failure and ignominy.

]]> (Dr. Daud Abdullah) Commentary and Analysis Fri, 07 Mar 2014 17:56:14 +0000
Egyptian regime surrenders last semblance of independent thought MEMO CommentarySince the July 2013 coup Egypt's judiciary has undergone a complete transformation. Once renowned as a pillar of justice, it has become a rubber stamp used by the military junta to settle political scores with the Muslim Brotherhood. The decline reached its nadir this week when a Cairo court began proceedings to declare the Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) a "terrorist organisation".

Given all that has happened in the last seven months it would come as no surprise if the court does rule against Hamas. In so doing, it would mark the end of Egypt's journey from being a champion of decolonisation to being an instrument of the apartheid state of Israel.

Is it a coincidence, therefore, that the military regime's efforts to outlaw the Palestinian resistance movement should coincide with attempts by Israel to impose its sovereignty over Al Aqsa Mosque? It most certainly is not.

With no obvious policy to confront Israel's Judaisation of the Islamic sanctuaries, the Egyptian ministry of religious endowments has taken the shocking step of dissolving the Council for Jerusalem. The ministry claimed disingenuously that the body was formed by the Morsi government for the purpose of serving Hamas and not the Palestinian cause.

Contrary to the way that the Egyptians would like it to appear, this step was seen exactly for what it is: a spineless surrender to the occupier and disregard of their duty toward Jerusalem at one of the most critical moments in its history. That is the general consensus about this shameful decision. The regime in Cairo has surrendered the last semblance of independent thought and action.

However, we should not be too surprised, for this is a regime led by the "Camp David Army", as it is known across the region. Time and again it has proven that its raison d'être is to protect the Camp David Peace Treaty with Israel even if it entails denying Palestinian rights.

That the court proceedings against the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas came one week after coup leader Field Marshal Abdul Fattah Al-Sisi visited Russia was part of the choreography. Egged on by his legions of yes men in the media, Al-Sisi wants desperately to promote his own personality cult linked to the late General Gamal Abdul Nasser. The latter turned to Russia after the Suez crisis and developed the Egyptian army with Russian arms and expertise from then until 1973.

When Al-Sisi visited Moscow last week supporters of the junta were quick to project it as an attempt to defy America. Nothing is further from the truth; the Russians, for sure, did not see it that way. They have no illusions about the degree of control exercised by the Pentagon over the Egyptian military. Thus, reports of a major arms deal were all wishful thinking, so the Americans duly dismissed them as such.

Since Camp David the US has not only armed the Egyptian army, it has also indoctrinated its top brass, including Al-Sisi. He could not have gone to Russia without the express approval of his masters in the Pentagon. Only one outcome was possible from the visit; the procurement of tactical weapons to crush the internal opposition: tear gas, rubber bullets and the like. Instead of having any strategic importance, it is believed that Al-Sisi's visit was actually undertaken at the behest of the Americans to lobby the Russians to put pressure on the African Union to end its post-coup boycott of Egypt.

Indeed, as soon as the field marshal had returned from Moscow the head of South Africa's State Security Agency visited Cairo. The junta, it seems, is well aware that if the AU is going to change its stance on Egypt, it needs to win over Pretoria. That is unlikely to happen, because the South African government has taken a principled stand not to recognise regimes that stem from the military overthrow of elected governments.

Africa will have no truck with the designation of the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas as terrorist organisations. It may, however, be endorsed by the few Arab countries which sponsor the coup.

Ultimately, no one will benefit more from the designation of Hamas as a terrorist organisation than Israel. It would be welcomed in the apartheid state as an important step to undermine the resistance and tighten the siege on the Gaza Strip.

As far as the junta is concerned the current court case is yet another desperate move to gain international acceptance, this time at the expense of Hamas and the Palestinian people. Not even the Mubarak regime went this far. Clearly the purpose is not just to marginalise Hamas as a movement but equally to sow discord among the Palestinian people and force them to surrender to Israel.

Instead of achieving its aims, Egypt's looming designation of Hamas will actually distinguish the men of words from the men of action. Everyone will have to decide where they stand. Most importantly, the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah will be forced to reveal whether it sees this as an opportunity to make temporary political gains over its main rival or whether the move is viewed as a threat to the efforts for national reconciliation. If it opts for the former, it too will have abandoned any pretence of independence in what it says, thinks and does.

]]> (Dr. Daud Abdullah) Commentary and Analysis Fri, 28 Feb 2014 11:46:42 +0000
The media needs to understand reality, not a general's dreams Mohammed MorsiSomething remarkable happened in Egypt this week. The military junta that deposed the country's first democratically-elected president, Mohamed Morsi, and is now putting him on trial for a plethora of politicised charges, not only filmed the president meeting with his attorney to discuss legal strategy but also released the tape to the public.

Why didn't this send shockwaves through the Western media and human rights circles? The president has not been allowed to have the normal level of access to counsel. One would have expected news stories to focus on this vulgar breach of confidentiality when he was finally allowed a few minutes with his attorneys to prepare for court.

Some journalists chalked this up to the "normal" excesses of military juntas that cannot reasonably be expected to adhere to international standards of rights let alone civility, but there were a number of other promising angles to cover. For a start, the banter and frequent laughter between the president and his attorney were striking given the treatment to which Dr Morsi has been subjected. He seemed not only in high spirits but also in command of his jailers. At one point an officer walked into the room to tell the president that the presiding judge was ready for them. The president dismissed the officer, saying, "Tell him we'll be there in fifteen minutes."

Or one could focus on the integrity of the president. He is completely dismissive of all the legal proceedings against him except for a notice received from the public prosecutor that they will investigate him for financial corruption. The president is adamant that in this one case he must have access to his legal counsel to prepare a proper financial disclosure because, "God knows, but the people must also know."

Another interesting line was the president's analysis of the general who ousted him. He asked incredulously whether Al-Sisi is serious about pursuing the presidency and leaving the military. He also asked why the man felt the need to promote himself to the rank of Field Marshal. Both the president and his attorney see this as the general's attempt to bring himself out from under Morsi's shadow.

Yet another story exposed by this tape is the extent to which the junta still fears Morsi's influence. The man once mocked by his political detractors as a "spare tyre" and "lacking in charisma" commands so much respect that he has to be placed in a soundproof enclosure during the trial. He cannot receive visits from legal counsel or family members because, as his lawyer puts it, one word from him could set off street protests and "the street is already an incredible mess".

Instead of exploring these or other interesting issues brought into the frame by the release of the tape and by its contents, followers of the situation in Egypt were shocked by the coverage of several media organisations that simply toe the junta's line. It seems that they did not check the dialogue independently.

The junta's line is that the president is "broken" and asking for "money". It is shocking how they have deduced this from a conversation where the president instructs his lawyer to demand the court to overrule the draconian measures instituted by prison authorities whereby they have refused to accept deposits from Morsi's family into his prison account.

Egypt's prisons provide very limited food and almost no services to a prisoner free of charge. Prisoners have to purchase food from the canteen using a prison account. The junta apparently wished to humble the president by blocking him from receiving funds that he could use for such purposes, and broadcasting to the public his protest against these conditions. To call him "broken" for protesting against this treatment is more wishful thinking than accurate reporting.

These biased media outlets also report that the president admitted the defeat of his supporters and agreed that their protests are futile. This is in reference to some dialogue where the attorney said that negotiations with the military are needed because the current strategy is not "producing results". The president's response was that they are not producing results "for either side".

At that point the president brought up Al-Sisi's promotion to Field Marshall and told his attorney that the general should be worried because having led a coup he is now likely to be subject to a coup. It is clear to anyone who reads the dialogue that the president is sending a message. Far from admitting defeat he actually told the general that he, more than the pro-democracy camp, needs to seek a negotiated solution before it is too late.

It has been said that one should not explain by malice something that may simply be explained by incompetence. Those Western media outlets that have swallowed the junta's line wholesale, seemingly without checking the original video at all, appear to be engaging in very sloppy journalism.

In this they do a disservice not only to Egypt but to the international community which needs to understand the reality in the country and to distinguish that reality from a petty general's dreams.

]]> (Middle East Monitor) Commentary and Analysis Fri, 14 Feb 2014 14:33:02 +0000
Settlements give the game away; Israel wants all of the West Bank MEMO CommentarySoon after the signing of the Wye River Agreement in 1998 Israel's minister of infrastructure in the first Netanyahu government, the late, unlamented Ariel Sharon, urged settlers to "seize the hilltops". What followed was an explosion of Israeli settlements across the occupied West Bank. Sixteen years on, as US Secretary of State John Kerry makes another push for an agreement on his peace plan, Israel has again ratcheted up its land-grabbing campaign. The political and humanitarian consequences are countless and far-reaching.

Politically, Secretary Kerry's ambition to have a final agreement within nine months was, from the very beginning, unrealistic. Now in the wake of Israel's continued pillage of Palestinian land he is said to be considering a deferral until the end of 2014. Fixing ad hoc dates that are divorced from reality can, however, be dangerously deceptive and misleading.

It is one thing to "mediate" from the comfort zone of a hotel in Jerusalem or an office in Ramallah; it is quite a different matter to experience first-hand what it means to be a Palestinian in a village wrecked by Israeli demolitions. Thus, it seems quite reasonable that Mr Kerry should, on his next visit to the occupied territories, trek to the outskirts of Ramallah, Hebron and Bethlehem and witness for himself the damage done to Palestinian agricultural land by the settlers in their hideous race against the agreement clock.

Such a direct encounter with the "facts on the ground" would, within minutes, confirm that peace cannot be imposed from above, especially in this poisoned climate. Indeed, in the same way that the secretary state had the vision to send his assistant, Victoria Nuland, to Kiev's Independence Square to show solidarity with protesters, he could also ask her to visit the occupied territories and accompany the US-made bulldozers as they wreak havoc and destruction in Palestinian villages.

The obvious difference between the two scenarios is that whereas the protesters who brave the cold in Kiev chose to do so, the Palestinians who sleep out in parts of Jerusalem do not do so voluntarily. They were evicted forcibly from their homes.

For the hundreds of victims who spent years working and saving to provide homes for their loved ones, the impact of their demolition in unimaginable. Spare a thought for their wellbeing and the future of their children. In many cases they have suffered multiple evictions and displacements. Inevitably, the convenient official explanation is always that the Palestinians had no licence to build or that the demolition was done to protect Israel's security and the security of its citizens.

Of course, this systematic destruction of homes could not take place without the approval of the Israeli government and by association the indifference of the US. In 2013 there was a 127 per cent increase in the number of demolitions in the Jordan Valley compared to 2012 (from 172 demolished structures to 390); the Bedouin and herding communities in the Negev and Jordan Valley were the worst affected. Already, the pattern has continued into 2014 with demolitions taking place at an alarming rate in Al-Jiftlik Al-Mustafa (Jericho), Ein El-Hilweh in the northern Jordan Valley and Jabal Al-Mukabbir in Jerusalem.

Like ostriches with their heads buried in the sand, none of the parties involved in the current "negotiations" are willing to admit that Israel does not recognise the Palestinian people or their rights. In fact, most members of the present Israeli government believe that all of the land, from the river to the sea, is the Land of Israel. Furthermore, they view the West Bank as a crucial source of water. That is why, throughout all negotiations, including Camp David with the Egyptians, they have always insisted that no agreement should enable the Palestinians to dig wells in the western, northern and eastern slopes of the West Bank because it will impact negatively on the Israeli wells along the Green Line inside Israel. At present, Israel accesses 90 per cent of the water from the West Bank.

Since the French Socialist Jean Glavany MP published his report on the theft of Palestinian water two years ago nothing has changed. If anything, they have got worse. Back then Glaveny pointed out that water had become "a weapon serving the new apartheid". To illustrate his view he noted that, "Some 450,000 Israeli settlers on the West Bank use more water than the 2.3 million Palestinians that live there." While in Israel the consumption is 266 litres per person per day, in the occupied territories the average is no more than 15 litres per person per day.

Despite the reports in the Israeli media that Mr Kerry has accepted most of Netanyahu's demands, the latter is still stuck in the past, pursuing the same policy that he endorsed through Sharon in 1998. The proliferation of settlements and attendant destruction of Palestinian homes is simply his way for sabotaging Kerry's efforts. The latter must surely be asking himself: what do the Israelis really want? The truth is that many of them don't know themselves. What is well known, though, is that they don't want to withdraw from the land they acquired by force in 1967 and have occupied and colonised ever since. The settlements give the game away; Israel wants all of the West Bank. If Mahmoud Abbas hasn't smelt the coffee by now, he never will.

]]> (Dr. Daud Abdullah) Commentary and Analysis Thu, 13 Feb 2014 15:12:30 +0000
As the military feathers its own nest, democracy can wait MEMO CommentaryThe charges against deposed President Mohamed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood co-defendants are a sad reminder of all that has gone wrong in Egypt since July last year. Those indicted include dead and imprisoned Palestinians who are, nevertheless, still accused of taking part in an operation to free Morsi from the Mubarak-era jail in which he was imprisoned. The prosecution officials appointed by the army officers running Egypt have given open clear notice of their dishonest and irrational nature.

Long before they actually appeared in court, the accused were tried and convicted by the state-controlled media; no sub judice rule to regulate the publication of matters under consideration by a court operates in Egypt. The political motives of the charges are obvious and transparent. No attempt has been made to establish a relationship with law or due process. It was all about exporting the Egyptian crisis to Gaza, distorting the image of the Palestinian people and scapegoating the Muslim Brotherhood to justify the coup.

Still outcasts at the African Union and shunned internationally the military junta is desperate to gain legitimacy, financial aid and international acceptance. Hence it has become increasingly reliant on Israel and the likes of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair whose neoconservative tendencies become more obvious by the day. Some apologists have even taken to the airwaves to assert that Israel is the biggest democracy in the Middle East and its political establishment has been dominated by generals for decades, so why shouldn't Egypt's?

Demonising Hamas and the Palestinian people may just be enough to ensure Israel's continued support but it is certainly well short of what is required for international acceptance. Indeed, Israel itself is in need of acceptance and its influence is limited on the world stage. Nowhere else is this more visible than within the UN, where Israel is gaining pariah status. By aligning itself to Israel so desperately, the Egyptian junta has joined the exclusive rogue states club.

For a regional government or its supporters to use Israel as an example of democracy is contemptible. They pay no attention to the racist rhetoric that comes out of the Knesset or the odious realities of life in the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, especially for the indigenous Palestinians.

Why should so-called Egyptian liberals propagate myths about Israeli democracy when even Israelis shatter them? Retired Major-General Shlomo Gazit said revealingly, "You have to understand that the military in Israel are first and foremost a trade union, they're interested in their own survival." Gazit, a protégé of Israel's most famous general, Moshe Dayan, admitted that the country possesses no political system to match the influence of the generals. "We have an extremely weak political system that is incapable of standing as a counterweight to the military and that is not capable of coming up with alternatives that are not military alternatives," he insisted.

Even though it has one of the best-equipped armies in the world, with nuclear and chemical arsenals to boot, Israel still cannot bring itself to accept one quarter of its population simply because they are not Jews. Hence, it passes laws almost weekly to exclude "the others" and ensure that the state's "Jewishness" is preserved.

As an army of conquest formed in 1948 out of a number of terrorist gangs and militias, the so-called Israel Defence Forces became immersed in national politics to ensure the survival of the state. Since then it has influenced political trends (such as the settler movement), shaped internal policies, dominated the national budget and operated a large part of the economy.

However, even if Egyptian generals have adopted a similar degree of interference in their own country's national politics, what need or justification can there be for this brand of "military democracy"? Egypt's is neither an army of conquest nor occupation.

Incredibly, the same army which has grandiose aims to monopolise domestic as well as foreign policy-making claims rather pathetically that 31 Hamas members crossed into Egypt, overpowered the guards and military intelligence officers and seized control of the border in less than an hour. What's more, the great Egyptian military claims that the Hamas men then crossed the Sinai Peninsula to the Suez Canal, overpowering soldiers and sailors on the way before fanning out across the various provinces where they controlled a number of prisons and freed 20,000 prisoners. No wonder the Israelis describe the Egyptian Army as a paper tiger, fit only for brutalising unarmed and defenceless civilians.

It is both disheartening and, indeed, appalling to see young children idolising this army's senior officer, standing next to his photo with jackboots on their heads. A truly revolutionary army would never encourage or condone abuse of vulnerable civilians, young or old. After all, the role of the military is to serve and protect the people, not to enslave and dehumanise them. This is why in real democracies, like the United Kingdom, they are referred to as the armed services and their budget is allocated by the state. It is increased and reduced according to the state of the national economy. There is no secret or hidden military economy in a genuine democracy.

As such, unless and until civil society in both Israel and Egypt develop institutions capable of controlling their armies and ambitious generals, their claim to be model democracies will always ring hollow. Equally importantly, western voters must wake up to the reality of what their hard-earned taxes are funding through "aid" to the governments in Egypt and Israel. While one wages a war of attrition against its own people, the other perpetuates a conflict with the Palestinians to spread the myth of a permanent "security threat" in order to fleece western taxpayers. As Major-General Gazit said, his fellow officers are only interested in their own survival; democracy can wait.

]]> (Dr. Daud Abdullah) Commentary and Analysis Sun, 02 Feb 2014 15:56:53 +0000
Israel's brinkmanship over Gaza MEMO CommentaryThere is nothing imaginary about Israel's threat to attack Gaza. It is real; both the Hamas-led administration and civilian population in the enclave have had to live with it increasingly since 2007. Although the sabre-rattling from Israeli leaders is indeed menacing, developments on the political front seem no less ominous.

Having inflicted seven years of collective punishment on Gaza's 1.5 million people, Israel and its allies, it now seems, are about to make yet another attempt to unseat the Islamist government elected by the voters of Palestine. Never one to miss an opportunity, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced from Davos that a political shift has taken place in the region and that Arab governments now view the Muslim Brotherhood, and by definition Hamas, as a threat.

This is the logic that currently informs Israel's hostility toward Gaza's administration. Political and military officials led by Defence Minister Moshe Ya'alon are all singing in harmony. For better or worse, they believe that most Arab countries are far too busy with their own internal problems to bother themselves with the Gaza Strip.

While Israel expects the active complicity of Egypt's military regime, it is, at the very least, hoping that others will remain silent, if not offer tacit support. This is, of course, a risky strategy because right across the region people are seething with frustration and anger at the way their aspirations and human rights are being trampled upon.

Much depends on how events unfold in Egypt. If the military regime manages to stabilise the country, Israel will be emboldened to launch its long-promised assault knowing full well that the army leadership in Cairo would turn the other way. However, should the current unrest in Egypt escalate, Israel would have to postpone its Gaza offensive because it would almost certainly inflame further social unrest in Egypt. As it stands, the Israelis' friend and ally General Al-Sisi is just barely hanging on to power, albeit with lethal force and draconian laws.

Militarily, no one should question the preparedness of Hamas and the other resistance forces, but even with their battle-hardened brigades, they will do everything possible to spare their weary and besieged population from the ravages of yet another war. Not that they would capitulate if one was imposed on them.

However, having played a key role in ousting President Mohamed Morsi in Egypt, recent undertakings by the UAE have aroused concern. On this occasion it is the Emirates' alleged use of aid as a means to undermine Hamas. If confirmed, this would be an affirmation of Israel's latest demand of the resistance movement - "security for food".

Following the high profile visit of senior Fatah officials to Gaza last week, reports abound that Al-Sisi has stipulated that the delivery of Gulf aid to the enclave must be delivered and administered by Fatah officials. It is believed that renegade ex-Fatah official Mohamed Dahlan brokered the agreement with the Egyptian junta during his recent visit to the country.

Sources in Gaza have, however, downplayed the importance of this development and explained the visit by Fatah officials as part of the ongoing push for national reconciliation. One of the requirements of the proposed reconciliation is that it must lead to general elections in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Thus, if it is seen that Fatah has been instrumental in breaking the Israeli blockade, it is possible that people will be inclined to vote for them.

Despite their long-standing opposition to reconciliation, it seems that even the US is warming to the idea; not for the sake of the Palestinian people, it must be said, but because it is necessary to give a veneer of legitimacy to the agreement that Secretary of State John Kerry is seeking to conclude. In the event, the PA would be able to assure the Israelis that they actually represent all Palestinians and there can therefore be closure to the conflict.

All of this is based on the notion that the blockade and its destructive consequences have diminished Hamas's popularity. For its part, the movement claims that without public support it could never have governed Gaza for eight years, in the face of such a siege. Indeed, Hamas asserts that its steadfast adherence to its principles since its inception has worked in its favour. On the question of public support, Hamas notes further that it is Fatah's popularity that has suffered because it allowed itself to become the security arm of the occupation in the West Bank and failed to deliver on any of its promises throughout 20 years of negotiations with the Israelis.

A military battle may be looming on Gaza's horizon but the political battle has already begun. Israel's war rhetoric, backed by sections of the Egyptian media, is clearly an attempt to divide and polarise Gaza's population. Once this is achieved the blame will be laid at the feet of the resistance movements.

With the drums of war beating and uncertainty accompanying them, one factor remains constant: when the Israeli state finally decides to launch its next attack it needs no pretext or provocation. It will do so according to its own calculations and desires. Its objective will be to change the balance of power in Gaza while incurring minimal damage and pain to itself; this is almost impossible for Israel to achieve. As one Hamas official noted recently, any attack would not be 'a picnic', for Palestinians or Israelis. Israel knows that it will have to pay a price for its aggression, but is it ready to do so? We have to wait and see.

]]> (Dr. Daud Abdullah) Commentary and Analysis Mon, 27 Jan 2014 08:58:15 +0000
More of the same as Israel bites the hand that feeds it MEMO CommentaryHas the Israeli government crossed a red line in its dealings with the US? It is a reasonable assumption after Defence Minister Moshe Ya'alon's recent derisory comments about Secretary of State John Kerry. The public insult was not an errant expression of ingratitude by a lone wolf, but part of a pattern that is symbolic of Israel's attitude towards it "closest ally" and, it must be said, biggest supporter. Because there is something called national pride and honour, many Americans must rightly feel aggrieved, despite Ya'alon's subsequent apology.

More than most, White House officials have not forgotten the disastrous press conference between President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after their summit on 20 May 2011. The president told journalists candidly, "Obviously there are some differences between us in the precise formulations and language, and that's going to happen between friends."

Then, in front of the world's cameras, Netanyahu reprimanded the president thus: "Remember," he declared, "that, before 1967, Israel was all of nine miles wide. It was half the width of the Washington Beltway. And these were not the boundaries of peace; they were the boundaries of repeated wars, because the attack on Israel was so attractive. So we can't go back to those indefensible lines, and we're going to have to have a long-term military presence along the Jordan."

White House officials recall that in private Obama was so offended that Chief of Staff William Daley was moved to convey this to Netanyahu's aides. When the Israeli leader sought a second meeting with the president to patch things up, his request was refused.

The continuation of this outlandish impropriety is becoming intolerable and causing Americans to re-think the relationship. While the administration may be dragging its feet, civil society institutions have started to take meaningful steps. The growing calls for a boycott of Israel in American academia and among different church congregations demonstrate this trend. This no-nonsense approach to Israeli indiscretion, which was long seen as peculiar to Europe, is now gaining ground across the Atlantic.

In his newly-released memoirs, former Defence Secretary Robert Gates recalled how he was so annoyed by Benjamin Netanyahu's arrogance and garish ambition that he suggested to National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft that he be barred from entering the White House. Underlying this disaffection is what Gates describes as Netanyahu's ingratitude for all that America has done (and continues to do) for Israel.

Taken altogether, this latest scandal must leave no doubt in Secretary of State Kerry's mind that although the attack may seem personal it does reflect an entrenched tendency on the part of Israel to bite the hand that feeds it.

Ya'alon's offensive remarks as quoted in the Israeli daily newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth were clearly not the type a client should make about his benefactor, at least not in public: "Secretary of State John Kerry - who comes here determined, who operates from an incomprehensible obsession and a sense of messianism - can't teach me anything about the conflict with the Palestinians."

Although the exact motive is open to debate, the remark was enough to draw a response from State Department Spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki, who described Ya'alon's remarks as "offensive and inappropriate, especially given all that the US is doing to support Israel's security needs".

During the past year Secretary Kerry has made ten visits to the region, criss-crossing capitals trying to drum up the support of Arab leaders to pressure the Palestine Liberation Organisation/Palestinian Authority to recognise Israel as a "Jewish state". Several media reports suggest that he is succeeding in this regard.

Castigating the secretary of state for being "obsessive" is understandable, but the accusation of "messianism" is a different matter. The fact is that although the "restoration" of Israel in Zion is fundamental to messianic thought, this goal is "not for the sake of the Jews", as Barbara Tuchman points out. Indeed the return or restoration envisioned by messianism is only in terms of a Jewish nation converted to Christianity. Hence, many Jews view messianism at best with suspicion and, at worst, as abhorrent.

So far there is no evidence to prove that John Kerry embraces messianic thought personally. However, there is no doubt that it is spreading in America. Last year George W Bush signed up for a fundraising event for the Messianic Jewish Bible Institute, an organisation which aims to promote the second coming of Jesus by converting Jews to Christianity.

In October 2013, the Pew Foundation found that twice as many white evangelical Protestants as Jews say that Israel was given to the Jewish people by God (82 per cent vs. 40 per cent). The study went on to assert that such Protestants are more likely than Jews to favour stronger US support for Israel.

In diplomatic terms Moshe Ya'alon's remark was "no less than an atomic bomb dropped on the sensitive zone of Israeli-US relations". Its impact will cast a shadow beyond Tel Aviv and Washington to include all the other capitals involved in the phoney peace process. When the dust settles, no one must be under or encourage any false illusions. For if Israeli officials can treat their "closest ally" in such a scornful manner, what will the future be like for the Palestinians?

]]> (Dr. Daud Abdullah) Commentary and Analysis Fri, 17 Jan 2014 11:35:19 +0000
Like lambs to the slaughter, the Palestinians are sleep-walking to disaster, again MEMO CommentaryIf he succeeds with his current "peace" initiative, John Kerry would have killed three birds, not two, with one stone. With the stroke of a pen his "proposed framework" will not only dissolve the Palestinian refugee issue but also deactivate Israel's so-called demographic bomb. And for good measure, Israel would be allowed to annex the settlements of the West Bank. That would give them a semblance of the legitimacy they lack.

The Palestine Liberation Organisation and Palestinian Authority position is ambivalent. Not for the first time, they appear to be sleep-walking into a diplomatic trap; an Oslo-type transitional agreement with no identifiable end. While the Kerry framework may seem marginally better than what Ehud Barak proposed to Yasser Arafat in 2000, in reality it is worse.

At Camp David, former Israeli Prime Minister Barak proposed that Israel should annex 9 per cent of the West Bank. That included the four main settlement blocs of Gush Etzion with Efrata; Maale Adummim; Givat Zeev; and Ariel, as well as sovereignty over part of the Jordan Valley for twelve years. The Palestinian team at Camp David rejected the "offer". Shlomo Ben Ami, a senior Israeli negotiator at the US discussions remarked later, "If I were a Palestinian I would have rejected Camp David as well."

Today, Israel is proposing through the Americans to annex 6.8 per cent of the West Bank, with a military presence in all of Jordan Valley and the rest of the currently occupied territory. Days before Kerry's arrival, Israeli media had revealed the content of his package. Though presented as American ideas, they are by their very nature patently Israeli in origin. After all, there is a long established tradition in the relationship between the US and Israel that no American president should undertake major policy shifts without first consulting Tel Aviv.

Consisting of nine points, Kerry's "framework" is not even an interim agreement. Instead, it is, according to State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf, simply intended to serve as "a guideline for addressing all core issues". Two points, on territory and refugees, are inflammatory. They are seen widely as an attempt to solve Israel's so-called demographic problem and forestall the Palestinian refugees' legal right of return.

The details of Kerry's framework as made public in the Israeli media includes the suggestion that 300,000 Palestinians are "transferred" from Israel to the State of Palestine; the ethnic cleansing of historic Palestine is to continue. That being the case, there is deep suspicion, and fear, about the PLO/PA and their ability to preserve Palestinian national rights, of which the refugees' right of the return is paramount.

Although Palestinian negotiators had previously denounced the idea of a population transfer as a "racist" demand by their Israeli counterparts, in private they have failed to oppose the idea. In a meeting on 13 November, 2007, Dr Saeb Erekat told Tzipi Livni, the then Israeli foreign minister, "If you want to call your state the Jewish state of Israel you can call it what you want." He compared it to Iran and Saudi Arabia's definition of themselves as Islamic or Arab.

By "transferring" hundreds of thousands of Israeli Arabs to the State of Palestine, Israel would be taking a giant step toward its dream of becoming an exclusively Jewish state. Indeed, the calls for recognition as a state for the "Jewish people" and the threats to ethnically cleanse its Arab population will certainly continue to become louder and more menacing as the prospects of creating a Palestinian state dwindle. Mr Kerry is hastening this outcome, perhaps unwittingly, since his framework would leave the Palestinians in four disconnected Bantustans: Jenin, Nablus and Ramallah in the north; Bethlehem and Hebron in the south; Jericho in the east; and Qalqilya in the west. Altogether they constitute no more than 40 per cent of the West Bank.

By supporting Israel's maximalist demand for 60 per cent of the occupied West Bank, the US is creating the very thing it wants to avoid; a perverse state in all of historic Palestine where a shrinking population of Jews dominate a growing number of Palestinians.

America's dilemma stems from the fact that it wants to be all things to all men and this is impossible. The US can't be the chief advocate of Israeli supremacist policies and at the same time be an honest broker for a just resolution of the conflict. In any case, Israel will not relinquish its territorial and imperialist ambitions; and nor will the Palestinian people surrender their right to return, in spite of Mahmoud Abbas and his negotiating team.

If there is anything to be learnt since the Oslo Declaration of Principles 20 years ago it is the extent to which America is prepared to bend the rules of international law to fulfil Israel's security demands. Since these are insatiable, it is clear that another secretary of state will come back to the region 20 years from now to propose yet another interim framework of the same failed ideas. Watch this space for the next chapter of this increasingly sordid tale. Like lambs to the slaughter, the Palestinians are sleep-walking to disaster, again.

]]> (Dr. Daud Abdullah) Commentary and Analysis Mon, 06 Jan 2014 18:17:39 +0000
As the junta hurls its stones, it will be swamped by the Brotherhood's fruits MEMO Commentary by Dr Daud Abdullah"Be like the fruit tree," advised Hassan Al-Banna. "When people hurl stones at you, off-load your fruits on them." This was one of the guiding principles that the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood instilled in its members during the formative years. It is perhaps one of the reasons why successive Egyptian dictators were unable to destroy the movement. It is certainly a principle that has become increasingly important today, as it faces its first "inquisition" of the 21st century.

In some respects the current wave of persecution seems like textbook tactics. An anecdote recorded by Abdul Latif Al-Boghdadi in his memoirs (Vol.1, p.146) explains this vividly. He was one of the original ten members of the Free Officers Movement and Egypt's minister of defence in 1953-54. At a meeting convened by Gamal Abdel Nasser on 21 March 1954 attended by Al-Boghdadi, Hassan Ibrahim and Kamal Hussein, Nasser revealed that he was responsible for six bombings of public installations. He claimed that a return to parliamentary rule at the time was pointless and that it was necessary to create a climate of chaos and uncertainty so that people would feel a need for someone to protect them.

Was last week's bombing of the security building in Mansoura a similar "false flag" operation? We may, perhaps, have to wait for some time before an insider writes his own memoirs to find out. Whatever the motive, it is evident that Egypt's new military rulers are failing to impose their authority on the country. Their decision to declare the Muslim Brotherhood a "terrorist organisation" was, in the grand scheme of things, a reflection of the despair that has overtaken the junta as its members try to assert their absolute control over a people who refuse to be subdued. More importantly, it was also a belated admission by the military of its political bankruptcy and inability to learn from its own history.

If Nasser, with all his charisma, ruthlessness and acclaimed popularity, could not eradicate the Muslim Brotherhood, it is hard to imagine what chance the current shadowy military junta have. In March 1954, when Nasser's campaign of terror failed to produce the desired results, he sent missives to Hassan Al-Hudaybi, the then supreme guide of the Brotherhood, who refused to leave prison unless the false charges against the Brotherhood were dropped. On 25 March 1954 the Revolutionary Command Council issued a public statement allowing the Brotherhood to resume all its activities and restored its confiscated wealth and property.

The Brotherhood went on to play a crucial role in resisting Britain's ambitions over the Suez Canal in the run up to and during the 1956 tri-partite aggression known in the UK as the "Suez Crisis". The movement's political differences with Nasser were put to one side for the greater national good.

By declaring the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organisation the present junta has played its final card. The leadership has done everything to quell the ongoing popular protests against the coup which robbed the people of Egypt of their democratic choice: detentions, extra-judicial killings, charity closures, media censorship and shutdowns, and the seizure of assets and bank accounts. All, it would appear, to no avail.

Without a credible investigation the charge of terrorism will be, and is, viewed with scepticism. Instead of caches of arms and explosives, all that has been confiscated from the Brotherhood are its schools, hospitals, charities, businesses and financial assets. Their closure will no doubt add to the misery of millions of Egyptians who are impoverished by the corrupt establishment that mismanaged the country for decades and is back in business under the junta.

Politically, the situation is set to become worse. With the terrorist designation the junta has effectively cleared the way for the notorious baltagiya – the government-endorsed thugs to attack, burn and loot the property of Brotherhood members and other opposition forces.

If the measure was intended to clear the way for the junta before the upcoming constitutional referendum, it is likely to fail. There will be no endorsement "mandate" for what is an act of political banditry.

Even the once pro-coup 6 April Movement has condemned the measure and defended the Brotherhood. This is only one indicator of how the junta's policies are backfiring and winning more support for the Islamic movement. The much publicised mantra that Al-Sisi and his cohorts want all political forces to participate in their road map to democracy and reconciliation has now been damaged beyond repair. Once again, they have misread the Muslim Brotherhood. Initially, they hoped that after the coup the Brotherhood's members would walk away and count their losses. Neither they nor the Egyptian people who voted for the movement adopted this course of action. Instead, they have resisted from day one.

In the absence of the rule of law, freedom and democracy in the country, a solution to the Egyptian crisis remains remote. Regretfully, the great champions of democracy in the West have been complicit in the subversion of Egypt's nascent democratic transition. Hatem Azzam, a leading member of Egypt's Anti-Coup National Alliance, reported that European officials at a recent meeting threatened opposition groups in Egypt to accept the fait accompli or face an "Algerian-type scenario". Neither scenario is likely, for the simple reason that members of the Muslim Brotherhood have been well-schooled over many years: as the junta and its accomplices hurl their stones, they will be swamped by the movement's many fruits.

]]> (Dr. Daud Abdullah) Commentary and Analysis Sun, 29 Dec 2013 18:38:38 +0000
As boycotts mount, Israel is running out of friends MEMO CommentaryIsrael's international isolation has finally become a reality. Within the past week this was cemented by the absence of senior Israeli politicians from Nelson Mandela's funeral, followed in rapid succession by the decision of the American Studies Association to impose an academic boycott of Israeli universities and institutions. To many observers, it now seems as if the activist raindrops are turning into a boycott flood. Israel is running out of friends.

The mere fact that Israeli journalists are themselves discussing the growing boycott in their columns suggests that something serious is happening; bravado is giving way to sober reflection. The boycott campaigns which began to take shape towards the end of the second intifada have taken on a whole new dimension. Far from being confined to settlement produce, they are now, slowly but surely, being extended to Israeli produce per se.

Even governments that have invested much time and resources to achieve a just peace now concede that it has come to this because of Israel's constant shifting of the goal posts. Back in 1993, the six final status issues were identified and agreed upon with the signing of the Oslo Accords: borders, Jerusalem, refugees, settlements, security and water. Benjamin Netanyahu, the country's incumbent prime minister, has introduced a seventh, which is recognition of Israel as a "Jewish state", and then, most recently, an eighth; the right to station Israeli soldiers in the Jordan Valley.

By dragging out the negotiations, Israeli leaders believe that they can hoodwink the world into thinking that they are serious about pursuing peace. As the saying goes, you can fool some of the people some of the time but can't fool all of the people all of the time. The boycott genie has been unleashed and it now seems unlikely that it can be put back into the bottle.

A growing list of countries has announced a variety of measures against Israel. A newly-released Israeli report noted that South Africa has refused to import products from the Dead Sea because they are from companies operating beyond the "Green Line". Pretoria has gone even further by informing a number of major British and French companies of its intention to stop doing business with them if they continue to trade with Israeli settlements. In the same breath, the European Union High Court has ruled that produce sourced from the settlements are not Israeli and therefore should be banned from Europe. Just a few weeks ago Romania decided to stop sending labourers to Israel after the government in Tel Aviv refused to give guarantees that they would not be employed in the settlements.

Of course, Israeli officials, deceived by their misguided hubris, may not ascribe much importance to these developments. They are, though, genuinely fearful of the economic ramifications as more and more Europeans are boycotting not only settlement produce but Israeli goods as well.

Recognising the growing isolation it now faces, some of the marginally more rational Israeli politicians are desperate to rebrand their country's image. Their recent retraction of the controversial Prawer Plan which sought to "relocate"' - Israeli-speak for ethnically cleanse - thousands of Bedouins from the Negev is one example. Within the ruling Likud Party there is a debate as to whether it should continue to align itself with the notoriously racist Yisrael Beitenu Party led by the newly-rehabilitated Avigdor Lieberman.

Thankfully, the world knows window-dressing when it sees it. Such policies will not conceal the naked racism that pervades Israeli society against non-Jews and even against Jews of non-European origins, despite the token exceptions to this rule.

As it sleepwalks into the depths of international isolation, few in Israel or outside can explain its self-destruction rationally. While some ascribe it to narrow-minded ethnocentricity, others put it down to short-sightedness; either way the consequences are the same. Ironically, others could point out that Israel losing its historical compass. Was it not the revisionist Vladimir Jabotinsky who warned his fellow Zionists that every indigenous people will resist foreign domination?

There are at least 20 different boycotts against Israel now in place because of its policies. As long as it continues to deny Palestinian national rights it will continue to witness a reversal in its standing among the community of nations. As long as it defies the International Court of Justice with the construction of its apartheid wall and occupies Palestinian land, it will see the accumulative payback for its policies take effect in the boycott movement. That number of boycotts looks set to increase.

Today Israel is not just at odds with its western allies, including the Americans, it is also in a state of perpetual confrontation with them and, indeed, with a large section of the international community. It pursues negotiations not to resolve the conflict but to prevent more isolation and buy itself more time to create colonial facts on the ground. For now its dilemma may seem to be merely political and image problems but sooner or later it will begin to feel the effect of the boycotts and sanctions on its economy. Only then, perhaps, will the Israelis come to their senses. Only then, perhaps, will we start to see genuine sincerity about negotiations towards a just and lasting peace. It is certainly running out of friends but, if it is not careful, Israel could also be running out of time.

]]> (Dr Daud Abdullah) Commentary and Analysis Fri, 20 Dec 2013 11:19:43 +0000
Palestine is still on its own long walk to freedom MEMO Commentary stickerThere are certain events in the life of nations that define their history for generations. In South Africa, the 1960 Sharpeville Massacre and the 1976 Soweto Uprising are prime examples. In Palestine, Israel's wilful killing of four Palestinian workers in December 1987 ignited the First Intifada (Uprising) and changed the course of the Palestinian struggle forever.

The comparisons are apt. Sharpeville give birth to Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation), the military wing of the African National Congress (ANC), in 1961, which kept up the pressure on the apartheid regime until June 1976 when the Soweto Uprising erupted and sent several other townships into a spiral of rebellion.

As in South Africa, there were deep seated social, economic and political factors inherent in the Palestinian experience which made the Intifada inevitable. It was from this charged political climate that the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) emerged to become a major political force on the Palestinian scene. Almost thirty years later, Hamas has gone on to develop a military capability that allows it to resist the Israeli occupation as well as pursue the goal of national liberation.

Ultimately, this is as far as the comparisons can go. There are significant differences too. For a start, the ANC never gave up the option of armed struggle before the goal of national liberation was achieved. In Palestine, however, the negotiations which started in Madrid in 1991 were used as a pretext to quash the Intifada then at its height; armed resistance was abandoned by the Western-backed Palestinian leadership. That is still the case today, despite their failure to deliver on any of the promises enshrined in the Oslo Accords and national liberation is still a dream.

Former Hamas spokesman Ibrahim Ghusheh recalls in his newly-published memoirs how intense pressure was brought to bear on Hamas at a meeting convened by Sudan's President Omar Al-Bashir between Hamas and Fatah just prior to the Madrid Conference. The aim of the meeting, wrote Ghusheh, was to force Hamas to join the Palestine National Council (PNC) and then attend its planned meeting in Algiers, where the PLO leadership intended to endorse the decision to go to Madrid. In the event of any agreement with the PLO, having Hamas within the PNC would have made the Oslo Accords look as if they were endorsed by the Islamic movement.

In its early stages, the Intifada was referred to as the "Mosques' Intifada" because of the noticeable influence of the Islamic movement in the occupied Palestinian territories. It was later referred to as the "Stones Intifada" in recognition of the weapons used to confront Israel's military might.

Everyone was taken by surprise by the uprising's scale and intensity. The occupying Israeli power believed wrongly that after the humiliating defeat of 1967 their colonial project in Palestine would never again be challenged by either the Palestinians or the Arab states. They reckoned that the defeat of the official Arab armies in the Six-Day War had put an end to all forms of resistance.

They were wrong. Out of the rubble of 1967 a new generation emerged; they were not the defeated generation, psychologically or politically, as was often presumed. The regimes around them were, but they were not. They have come of age today.

As for Hamas, it has survived, despite the extra-judicial killings of its historic leadership; despite the siege of Gaza; and despite the attempts by the Israeli occupation to besmirch and isolate the movement with the ‘terrorist' label. Since the Intifada catapulted it on to the political scene Hamas has remained an indispensable factor in the complex Palestinian equation.

Today it appears that the pre-Oslo scenario is about to repeat itself as Israeli officials point out openly that that they will not sign a deal with the Palestinians if Hamas is not on board.

The failure of the US-sponsored negotiations have left Palestinians bitterly disillusioned and aggrieved. On the other hand, the achievements of the Hamas-led resistance, notably from Gaza, have made them optimistic that they can realise their dream of being free in their own land; not because of US impartiality but in spite of Washington's bias as a dishonest broker.

For the people of the Gaza Strip, this 26th anniversary of the First Intifada has a special meaning and significance. Just as Soweto formed the crucible from where the South African Uprising of 1976 erupted, so too Jabaliya refugee camp in Gaza became the launch pad of the 1987 Intifada. It was from there, in Gaza, that Hamas announced its arrival with its first communique on 14 December 1987.

The Soweto Uprising of 1976 laid the foundation for the long but ultimately successful international boycott and sanctions campaign against the South African apartheid regime. Although the Palestinian Intifada pricked the conscience of the world community in 1987, this never developed into a similar international boycott, possibly because the priority for campaigners at the time was to defeat South Africa's heinous political system. Now that it has been dismantled the world must turn its attention to the last remaining bastion of racial domination, Israel's occupation of Palestine. Justice and liberation for the Palestinians is long overdue but notice is given to the world that whether they get on board to defeat Israeli apartheid or not, the Palestinians have the courage, patience and determination to continue with their resistance, in their own unique style, on their own long walk to freedom.

]]> (Dr Daud Abdullah) Commentary and Analysis Thu, 12 Dec 2013 12:33:33 +0000
Freedom and justice remain illusions in Kerry's new-old package MEMO Commentary by Dr Daud AbdullahUS Secretary of State John Kerry's current visit to Palestine was foreshadowed by a familiar dark cloud; every such high-level American visit results in more pressure on the Palestinian Authority. This one will be no exception. Washington is desperate to placate Israeli anger over its deal with Iran. As has happened so many times in the past, Palestinian rights will be sacrificed for Israel's security wish-list. Freedom and justice will remain illusions in Kerry's new-old package.

Israel wants to remain in full control of the occupied Jordan Valley and maintain a permanent military presence there. The Palestinians, on the other hand, are insisting that the Jordan Valley should remain Palestine's natural border with Jordan and that they should have sovereign control over it. Their ability to negotiate this outcome seems as unlikely as ever if the scandalous reports that Jordan has endorsed the Israeli plan are true.

While the Americans have acknowledged that their latest plan includes long-term security arrangements for the West Bank and includes the Jordan Valley, chief Palestinian negotiator Dr Saeb Erekat has denied any knowledge of any such proposals.

During an earlier round of negotiations in October, Israeli negotiators offered to transfer sovereignty of the Jordan Valley to the Palestinian Authority, which would then lease it to Israel. To their credit, the Palestinian representatives rejected the idea. The picture has now changed dramatically amid reports that Israel intends to build a security wall 200 kilometres long down the Jordan River in the north to the Dead Sea in the south.

The dilemma now confronting the PA is entirely one of its own making. It was those now running the authority who secretly negotiated and agreed to the Oslo Accords, which divided the West Bank into three administrative areas: A, B and C. They conceded to Israel that it should remain in control of Area C, which is not only illegally occupied territory but also constitutes 61 per cent of the West Bank.

According to the accords, Palestinians are not allowed to build in Area C without a permit from the Israeli Civil Administration and, as is the case in so many other parts of the occupied territories, that is extremely difficult, if not impossible, at the best of times. However, the "understanding" was that Israel would hand over the territory to the PA gradually as part of a final agreement, except for parts mutually agreed upon. By seeking to keep those parts of Area C along the Jordan Valley apologists for Israel argue that it is simply acting according to the letter, though not the spirit, of the agreement.

Sadly for them, the entire Jordan Valley constitutes 30 per cent of the West Bank and is home to at least 56,000 Palestinians. Its naturally irrigated land is very fertile and has the potential to be developed into a virtual bread basket and source of vital revenue for the future Palestinian state.

Although it has been publicised as an American proposal, Mr Kerry's blueprint has all the hallmarks of something cobbled together by the Israeli military. In fact, the US initially held the view that an international force should be stationed along the valley. It has clearly now caved in, yet again, to Israeli demands. If accepted in its entirety, the plan would see Israel also having total control over the air space of a demilitarised Palestinian state and the right to establish early warning posts in strategic zones within it.

In order to appear fair and committed to a just peace, Israel is offering the Palestinians 1 per cent of Area C to establish a few agricultural projects. According to Maariv newspaper these will be funded by the US Agency for International Development (USAID). To add insult to injury, Israeli military officials have made it clear that even though the land set aside for such projects would be allocated to the PA, it would remain under Israel's sovereignty.

The gradual transfer of Area C promised under Oslo never took place and, in the meantime, access to the area for most kinds of Palestinian economic activity has been severely limited. On the other hand, Israel has more than 400,000 illegal settlers in the occupied West Bank, including Jerusalem.

Area C is vitally important for the economy of any future Palestinian state. Apart from its vast agricultural potential, there is also scope to engage in mineral exploitation in the Dead Sea, as well as mining and quarrying, construction, tourism, telecommunications and cosmetics. For the moment, such development potential is all academic.

The current proposal delivered by Secretary of State Kerry represents the American vision of what the status quo would look like after a final agreement with the Palestinians. However, it is nothing but another attempt to corral the Palestinian people into a glorified reservation while the rest of their land and resources are plundered. It is hard to imagine a more humiliating and undignified scenario after two decades of negotiations. The sad reality is that if the PA cannot stop the construction of settlements in Ramallah, the latest of which has just been announced, what chance does it have of exercising sovereign control over the Jordan Valley?

The only tangible result likely to emerge from the this latest US proposal is a reframing of the Oslo Accords. On this occasion "Palestine" will not be called a national authority but a state. In the end, the Palestinian signatories to any such document will merely be confirming their status as the enforcers of Israeli security policies upon their people and the occupation will continue. Freedom and justice will remain illusory.

]]> (Dr. Daud Abdullah) Commentary and Analysis Fri, 06 Dec 2013 14:12:32 +0000
Israel moves from rejection to obstruction of peace MEMO CommentaryThis week's decision by the Israeli daily Maariv to publish a report which claimed that John Kerry supported the organisers of the Freedom Flotilla was significant in many respects. Above all, it confirmed the growing rift in US-Israel relations and exposed the shift in Israeli policy from one of rejection to open obstruction of peace. This policy is pursued not only with regard to Palestine but towards Iran as well.

In recent weeks Israel and the US have been locked in a war of words over the negotiations between the P5 plus 1 countries and Iran. Tel Aviv is vigorously opposed to any agreement that would see sanctions relaxed in exchange for Tehran curbing or freezing parts of its nuclear programme.

As it stands now, both parties, America and Iran, are in need of a settlement. Public opinion polls in the US show that there is considerable public opposition to a military strike. In this light, the Obama administration, it seems, has decided to pursue a diplomatic settlement with Iran, even if it is a half-baked one. It adopted this course despite strong Israeli opposition and attempts to scupper any rapprochement between Washington and Tehran.

Ostensibly, the American stand is dictated more by necessity than choice. The country has been exhausted by its wars over the last decade. The international crisis provoked by the Syrian chemical attack demonstrated that there is simply no appetite for another war, even if it is limited.

On the other hand, Iran is also a tired nation, brought to its knees and broken by decades of sanctions. While the nuclear programme is undoubtedly a matter of national pride for the Iranian people, it has, at least thus far, brought more harm than good.

Unable to influence the White House on Iran, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has of late turned to Congress and the pro-Israel Lobby. It is an old tactic that he has used with some success in the past. In February 1998 during Netanyahu's first term in office and two days before the Clinton-Lewinsky affair broke into the public domain, he met privately with Jerry Falwell and other evangelical leaders in Washington. The purpose was, according to Falwell, to mobilise the evangelical churches against American attempts to force Israel to give up more Palestinian territory in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Falwell declared that there were about 200,000 evangelical pastors in the US and he was going to mobilise them to use their pulpits in support of the State of Israel.

Ultimately, all the Israeli fuss is essentially about a short-term, reversible agreement in which Iran is supposed to freeze its nuclear programme for six months. In exchange, some of the sanctions will be eased.

Other signs of unease in the relationship also surfaced this week when Secretary of State John Kerry told the Israelis of a possible third intifada in Palestine if the negotiations fail. America will not be able to help if the Palestinians decide to take their case to the International Criminal Court, he warned.

In September President Obama told the UN General Assembly, "Real breakthroughs on these two issues - Iran's nuclear programme, and Israeli-Palestinian peace - would have a profound and positive impact on the entire Middle East and North Africa." Within the State Department itself, the predominant view is that any progress on Palestine would help to resolve the Iranian problem.

Shortly before this year's General Assembly, the PA had decided to resume negotiations with Israel, for a maximum period of nine months. The about turn was taken despite Israel's rejection of two of the three conditions stipulated by the authority: to consider the 1967 borders as the basis of negotiations; an end of Israel's settlement construction programme in the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem; and the release of the pre-Oslo prisoners.

Since agreeing formally to release 104 pre-Oslo prisoners in four stages, Israel has released two batches. On each occasion, it announced massive increases of settlement expansion, under the deceptive guise of what is called natural growth; in other words, housing units. Indeed, it pledged to do the same for the other two stages of the prisoner release deal. This has given the impression that there was an agreement of some kind between the Israeli government and the PA to link prisoner release to settlement expansion; the Palestinian Authority has, of course, denied such a connection.

Israel's stand on peace has not only been a constant source of embarrassment for the Americans but has also been detrimental to US interests. The verbal confrontation has gone so far that even the newly-reinstated ultra-extreme foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman has urged his government to avoid spats with the US over its policy on Iran's nuclear programme. Moreover, if Washington capitulates to Israeli pressure on this occasion it would forfeit a golden opportunity to be part of a regional solution and not a cause of regional problems.

]]> (Dr. Daud Abdullah) Commentary and Analysis Fri, 15 Nov 2013 16:34:12 +0000
Why the Egyptian junta's PR blitz in the west is failing MEMO CommentaryNothing is working for Egypt's military junta. They have dug themselves into a deep hole and can't get out. Minister of Interior Muhammad Ibrahim is frustrated by his inability to quell the unrelenting torrent of protests across the country. Threats of lethal force have failed to deter tens of thousands from taking to the streets on the eve of the 'trial' of ousted president Mohammad Morsi. Now that the controversial court has begun its proceedings, the protests can only become bigger and more intense.

The dreadful conduct of the regime has not gone un-noticed abroad. Internationally acclaimed columnists from the New York Times and Washington Post in the US, to The Guardian and Financial Times in the UK, churn out an almost daily commentary on the strangulation of Egypt's budding democracy.

Soon after toppling the elected civilian president, minister of defence Gen. Abdul Fattah Al Sisi announced a road map to return the country to democracy. This catchphrase was obviously selected to create a veneer of authority and sense of direction. Like all the other road maps promoted in the region, this is also seen as a charade designed to cover up an agenda based on deception.

Three months after the coup, Egypt's military rulers are still struggling to win outside support for their action. In recent weeks they have embarked on a public relations blitz with a steady procession of delegations to western capitals. These missions are failing spectacularly. In London, an attempt by a Tamarod founder, Mohamed El Nabawy, to convene a seminar at the prestigious School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) descended into a farce and had to be abandoned.

Undeterred by the fiasco, the junta has decided to focus on safer channels. New reports have emerged of contacts between Egypt's foreign minister, Nabil Fahmy, and the Foreign & Commonwealth Office in London to coordinate a visit by a diplomatic delegation that includes members of the Egyptian Popular Current, which is led by the failed presidential candidate Hamdin Sabahi. Outside of Whitehall, this initiative is not expected to have any impact on public opinion, not least after the state run newspaper, Al-Ahram, confirmed that the Popular Current will form a coalition with the controversial Rebel (Tamarod) group in the upcoming parliamentary elections.

Several factors underscore why the junta's public relations drive is stalling. The first is its dependence on Israel; a country which despite its claims of being the region's only democracy has a well-documented record of human rights violation and institutionalised racism. Today, Israeli leaders act as the primary advocates for the continuation of American aid to the Egyptian military.

Across the board, there is widespread mistrust of the junta's ability to manage, let alone revive the Egyptian economy. With more than forty per cent of the population now living below the poverty line; inflation spiralling; investors fleeing and factories closing; the country's economy is on a life-support system. Few investors and donors are willing to put their capital here. It is simply too risky and doesn't make good business sense.

Saddled with its commitments to revive the ailing economies of Greece, Spain and Portugal, the EU is in no position to rescue Egypt from economic collapse. The Arab Gulf, which backed the coup, have themselves come to the realisation that they cannot continue to bail out a country as large as Egypt. Indeed, not all the members of the GCC have healthy economies. Bahrain and Oman, for example, are struggling; a fact which makes them more naturally entitled to assistance from the richer UAE and Saudi Arabia.

Another reason why the junta is failing to win sympathy and support lies in the fact that westerners are acutely aware of the real causes of Egypt's discord. There is, indeed, universal recognition that what is at stake is the subversion of an elected government and its replacement by a military junta fronted by civilian foot-soldiers. None of the ambiguous phrases such as 'war on terror' and 'road map' have concealed this fact.

Finally, western observers of the Egyptian scene know that this is not a political conflict with the Brotherhood per se, but rather a counter-revolution led by an army that is determined to protect its vast vested interests. The Financial Times noted; "Hardly a day now passes without some indication of how the new Egyptian regime seeks to erect a military-police state, crushing those who dare oppose it." It added, "But General al-Sisi would be making a big mistake if he thinks his current popularity provides a sustainable basis for authoritarian rule."

In the US, the New York Times viewed the rehabilitation of Gen. Mohamed Farid El Tohamy as one of the clearest signs of the counter-revolution now underway in Egypt. Not only is he seen as the quintessential Mubarak man, but also a guardian of the system of corruption and impunity that characterised that era.

As the political crisis within Egypt deepens with the show trial of the democratically elected president, the junta will, in desperation, become even more repressive. Clearly the purpose of the 'trial' is geared to gain through a court what the coup makers crave most and what they have failed to not achieve by force – legitimacy. Under its military junta, Egypt's international isolation is set to continue until the will of its people is respected and upheld.

]]> (Dr. Daud Abdullah) Commentary and Analysis Mon, 04 Nov 2013 12:47:28 +0000
Israel enters dangerous uncharted territory in Jerusalem MEMO Commentary by Dr Daud AbdullahAs happened in 2000, the Palestine-Israel negotiations are about to end with another eruption of civil unrest because of Jerusalem. The main difference on this occasion is that the parties have not even begun to discuss the Holy City because Israel, with typical contempt and arrogance, has declared unilaterally that Jerusalem is off the agenda. It has, moreover, stepped up its campaign to divide and seize control of Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third most sacred in Islam. Even the oft-pliant President Mahmud Abbas now acknowledges that this trajectory is leading to a religious confrontation. Though fundamentally correct, Mr Abbas's remark will ring hollow as long as he continues to negotiate on other issues.

The notion that the current US-led negotiations will lead to an independent Palestinian state is delusional. Israel's coalition government has made it abundantly clear that it does not intend to have a Palestinian state in the West Bank. Likud-led, it is, after all, the true inheritor of the revisionist Zionist policy articulated by the then Prime Minister Menachem Begin in 1978 when he insisted that Israel would only concede "autonomy for the people but not for the land".

On the immediate issue of Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa Mosque, Israel is now seeking to confine it to limited rights to worship for Muslims, given on its terms and according to its will. This was represented in a bill proposed by the Deputy Knesset Speaker, Moshe Feiglin (Likud), to regulate the times and space usage of the Noble Sanctuary. In recent months, extremist settlers, accompanied by Israeli soldiers, have carried out almost daily incursions into Al-Aqsa Mosque, either to conduct Jewish religious rituals or raise the Israeli flag and taunt the Palestinians.

This is new and dangerous uncharted territory aimed ostensibly at divesting Muslims of ownership of the mosque. More directly it would render the role of the Palestinian Department of Religious Endowments utterly redundant and replace it with a special commissioner appointed by the occupation authorities. In effect, the plan is to place Al-Aqsa Mosque under the control and supervision of the Israeli Ministry of Religious Affairs. That, Feiglin hopes, will normalise the current practice of Jews entering the mosque at any time of their choosing accompanied by a heavy security presence.

Whether the Israeli desecration of non-Jewish religious sites in Jerusalem had anything to do with Pope Francis's decision this week not to meet Benyamin Netanyahu is not known. Whether he was responding to the calls from fellow Christians in Palestine is not clear either. However, what is known for certain is that Palestinian Christians and Palestinian Muslims are all vehemently opposed to the current Israeli provocations in Al-Aqsa Mosque.

This week, the Christian-Islamic Council for the Support of Al-Quds and the Sanctities issued a statement warning of the Israeli plan to divide the mosque, which would allow time and space for Jews to worship to the exclusion of the Muslims who own the site as a religious endowment. Likewise, a statement by Jerusalem's Grand Mufti, Sheikh Mohammad Hussein, condemned recent Israeli plans to build a temple on top of Al-Musalla Al-Marwani, a prayer site located within the Al-Aqsa Mosque complex. This musalla constitutes one-fifth of the total area of the sanctuary and many see this as a first step towards full control by the Israelis.

The Israeli government's policy as pursued by Likud activists and illegal settlers is evidently based on the presumption that the region's governments and people are too preoccupied with their own problems to bother themselves with what happens in Jerusalem. Jordan is burdened with the fall-out from the Syrian conflict and its own political paralysis; Egypt is unstable and dysfunctional; and Saudi Arabia, the region's power broker, is mired in a bitter rivalry with Iran and a worsening dispute with the Americans over Syria. The Israelis will view this as a historic moment that they must seize as such a "perfect storm" may not come along again for a long time.

Israeli designs in Jerusalem were given a huge boost by the overthrow of Egypt's President Morsi in July. For the first time, the leader of the Islamic Movement in Palestine, Shaikh Raed Salah, has told Al-Jazeera this week that he was in regular contact with the Morsi administration to develop a popular international alliance to protect and preserve Jerusalem's Islamic identity. Several of his attempts to visit Egypt for this purpose were scuppered by the "deep state" now running Egypt; the last time was just three days before Morsi was overthrown.

It goes almost without saying that Al-Aqsa Mosque is threatened now more than at any other time since the occupation of Jerusalem began in 1967, yet no one can predict the consequences of Israel's attempt to seize full control of this Islamic sanctuary. While no individual leader or country is capable of reversing the imminent danger, everyone shares a collective responsibility. The marches organised across Egypt on the last Friday of October under the slogan "The steadfastness of Suez is our way to Jerusalem" may be the beginning of the sort of popular response that is needed and has not been anticipated by the Israeli occupation.

]]> (Dr Daud Abdullah) Commentary and Analysis Fri, 25 Oct 2013 17:11:13 +0000
Death in the Mediterranean must give new life to the Palestinian refugee issue MEMO CommentaryRampant political instability and deadly civil wars in the Middle East have turned the Mediterranean Sea into a graveyard. More than 500 refugees have been drowned while trying to cross into Europe in the first half of October alone. The exact number of fatalities may never be known because many undertake the perilous journey in secret. A growing number of Palestinians, mainly refugees from Syria, are among the victims of this risky exodus. Their situation is exceptionally tragic given that they are third and fourth generation refugees, descendants of those ethnically-cleansed from Palestine in 1948 by the nascent state of Israel and denied their legal right of return ever since.

Whether the ill-fated ships were seaworthy or not is a moot point, as is whether or not the last to be sunk, in which some 200 Palestinians drowned, was attacked by armed Libyans. These are mere consequential facts, not causes.

Like the rest of the Syrian population, the Palestine refugees have been affected critically by the conflict. Almost all of the refugee camps have witnessed mayhem and widespread destruction. Today the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) estimates that 235,000 of the 529,000 registered Palestine refugees in Syria have been displaced internally. Ninety per cent of the refugee population, the agency confirms, are in need of urgent assistance. Meanwhile, some 70,000 more have fled to neighbouring countries, mainly Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Libya and the Gaza Strip.

Significantly, a quick glance at the UNRWA website shows that there is not a single Arab country among its top ten donors (the agency is funded entirely by voluntary donations from UN member states). Not only have the League of Arab States failed to protect refugees and provide humanitarian assistance, despite its much-publicised pledges, but some of its individual member states have also adopted policies that are blatantly anti-Palestinian. They seriously limit Palestinian options, forcing hundreds to attempt the hazardous Mediterranean crossing in search of security and a dignified life.

As the civil war takes its shocking toll in Syria, neighbouring countries have tightened border controls to stop the flow of refugees. In Jordan, for example, the authorities have announced that Palestinian refugees will no longer be allowed to cross its borders.

Under its new military rulers, meanwhile, Egypt has given in to Israeli demands to tighten the blockade of the Gaza Strip. Those refugees who fled the Syrian inferno in the hope that they could return to the sliver of their homeland free of a permanent Israeli presence have now been denied access by their "Brothers" in Cairo.

In Lebanon, the picture is equally disheartening. There, Palestinian refugees face a raft of bureaucratic obstacles. Treated as if they are tourists instead of refugees fleeing a civil war, they are called upon to produce entry visas and documentation to prove that they have relatives in the country. Many view this as a sinister excuse to keep them out. Even if they do manage to enter Lebanon, they find that Palestinians are barred by another "brotherly" Arab government from working in around 70 professions in the country.

If ever it was needed, last week's tragedy in the Mediterranean is compelling proof of the vulnerability of Palestinian refugees, their diminishing options and growing desperation. The recent disasters bring into focus their exceptional plight as they continue to require protection in the absence of a just solution to their exile which is now in its seventh decade.

According to UNRWA's Commissioner-General, Filippo Grandi, "These dreadful developments underline the importance of ending hostilities [in Syria] to avoid tragic loss of life… This very complex crisis has a Palestinian dimension which must be addressed."

Closer to home, the tragedies throw the spotlight directly upon the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), which prides itself on being the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. At the very least, the PLO must seize the opportunity to advance the cause of the refugees so that they can exercise their right of return.

Both the circumstances and manner in which the refugees died in the Mediterranean must serve as a turning point so that some good comes out of the tragedy. Henceforth, nothing should be done, at the negotiating table or elsewhere, to undermine or jeopardise Palestinian repatriation and restitution of stolen land and property.

Surely the entity which caused the problem in the first place, the state of Israel, must be held to account. It would be a travesty to the memory of the victims if the Palestinian leadership was to capitulate to Israel's current demands to abandon the right of return and recognise Israel as a Jewish state. It must never be forgotten that these men, women and children died on the high seas not only because their land is occupied, but more importantly because they are barred from exercising their legal right to return and are persecuted in the places in which they have sought refuge.

Without a resolution of the Palestinian refugee problem on the basis of international law, Europe will, regrettably, witness many more of these appalling tragedies, with bodies washing up on its southern shores. Even with such unfavourable risks, many refugees appear to have decided already that it is better to take the chance to try for a secure life in Europe rather than die in their wretched camps.

Inevitably, many more will perish while attempting to cross the Mediterranean in unseaworthy boats. If the mounting losses are not to be in vain, death in the Mediterranean must give new life to the push for a just solution to the Palestinian refugee issue.

]]> (Dr Daud Abdullah) Commentary and Analysis Thu, 17 Oct 2013 09:42:34 +0000
100 days of pure farce MEMO CommentaryIt has become an almost established tradition for political analysts to review the first 100 days of any president or administration. This is the case with elected governments as well as those that are unelected. Egypt's controversial and shadowy military junta is no exception. In its case, it is absolutely necessary to do a thorough appraisal both because of the manner in which it came to power and the consequences of its policies. On 11 October, Egypt's de facto military rulers will mark 100 days in office.

It is not just political commentators who are fixated with the occasion. Social media activists are also gearing up with plans for various forms of protest.

To add a sense of balance and context to the assessment, the rule of the deposed elected president Mohamed Morsi must also be revisited. The overall picture after comparing the two is likely to make very uncomfortable reading for those who openly or tacitly supported the coup.

Since 3 July, more than 6,000 Egyptians have been killed by the army and security forces with over 15,000 injured in the bloody crackdowns and dawn raids, which are still continuing. The Egyptian military is engaged on what can best be described as a war of attrition against its opponents and critics.

During this short period, the country seems to have changed beyond recognition socially, economically and politically. Once a proud beacon of Islamic learning and civilisation, Egyptians are being told today that their religion is backward and a source of retrogression. Those who buck this trend are liable to end up in prison, undergo torture and even lose their lives.

On the surface, this appears to be done to placate Egypt's raucous liberal and secular forces. Now that they have been outfoxed by the army it has become palpably clear to everyone that the sole beneficiaries of the "popular" coup are the military elite.

The facts speak for themselves. Economically, the country has registered losses in excess of 200 billion Egyptian pounds, according to the Coalition in Support of the Legitimacy. Since 3 July, Egypt's National Railways Authority has revealed that its losses have amounted to 190 million Egyptian pounds as a result of the stoppage of services.

By the beginning of September, the respected British magazine The Economist Intelligence Unit's liveability survey had, for the first time, placed Egypt last on a list of 140 countries around the world regarding standards of living. Experts predict a deficit in the general budget of around 240 billion Egyptian pounds at the end of the financial year.

Meanwhile, negotiations with the IMF have ground to a halt; international companies which provided employment for tens of thousands of local workers have pulled out of the country, partly in fear and partly in protest against the coup and its grisly human rights record. The textile, automobile and electronic industries have all suffered badly, but the tourism industry is perhaps the sector worst affected by the coup. Several countries have issued warnings to their nationals not to travel to Egypt. The country has suffered a sharp drop in the number of tourists, costing the state millions of dollars in lost revenues.

Deposed President Morsi was no paragon of success. He admitted as much when he told a rally of thousands at Cairo Stadium on 6 October 2102, "What has been achieved is not enough, of course, but what has been achieved by professional standards is about 70 per cent of what we targeted during those 100 days." His critics claim that his estimate is overblown.

During Morsi's first hundred days in office, the Egyptian Centre for Public Opinion research, Baseera, conducted three opinion polls on presidential job approval ratings. They revealed that Morsi enjoyed a high approval rate, with 78 per cent of respondents happy with his performance, while only 15 per cent disapproved; 7 per cent weren't sure.

In One opinion poll conducted at the end of Morsi's first hundred days, respondents were asked if they would re-elect him and 58 per cent said that they would; only 18 per cent said that they wouldn't, with 24 per cent unsure or whose decision depended on the other candidates. That approval rating of 58 per cent was actually higher than the percentage of votes which won him the presidency.

None of these indices apply to the junta because they were not even elected.

In retrospect, Morsi's fatal error was his controversial constitutional declaration of 22 November 2012, in which he sought to safeguard his decisions from judicial review. This caused his approval rating to drop to 57 per cent, 21 percentage points down from his "100 day" rating. Although this improved slightly to 63 per cent after he made a public u-turn, the damage was already done. He never really recovered.

In the end, though, Morsi's flaws and failures pale into insignificance when compared with the trauma of the past 100 days. The military junta are not the only ones that should be held responsible; the cheer-leaders who clapped and the hangers-on who canvassed to feather their own nests all have questions to answer.

Basic questions, such as: What is the status of Egypt's tourist industry today? What has the Sisi-led government done to alleviate the suffering of the 16 million Egyptians who work in this sector? After 100 days of blood-letting and carnage can anyone truthfully say that Egypt is a more harmonious and cohesive country, or is it dangerously fractured? Has its international standing improved? Or has it become a pariah on the African continent and among the wider community of nations?

Only honest and bold decisions by the junta and those who back them can pull Egypt back from the abyss and turn the 100 days of pure farce into something much more positive for all Egyptians, not just the elite. The countdown has started and the clock is ticking.

]]> (Dr. Daud Abdullah) Commentary and Analysis Fri, 04 Oct 2013 11:36:05 +0000
It's time for Obama to put fine words into action MEMO CommentaryPresident Obama's address at the UN General Assembly must have been a welcome relief to Egypt's de facto rulers. Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy described it as "positive" and reflective of "an objective treatment of the situation in Egypt". With an almost unrestrained euphoria the junta which toppled the country's first elected civilian government regarded the speech as a ringing endorsement of their repressive policies.

After taking his country to the brink of yet another major military intervention in the Middle East, much of Obama's speech was directed at the region. Despite claims that south-east Asia had become the predominant focus of US foreign policy the address confirmed the enduring strategic importance of the Middle East.

No one expected Obama to demonstrate any creative thinking on the region's long-festering conflict in Palestine. Predictably, after the tiresome ritual of reaffirming America's unfailing commitment to Israel's security, the president offered equally customary platitudes about the Palestinian people's right also to live in security and dignity.

What was of major concern was the way that he addressed the on-going crisis in Egypt.

In some respects it was not what was said in the speech as much as what was not said that is the issue. When Mr Obama highlighted, quite rightly, Syria, where "peaceful protests against an authoritarian regime were met with repression and slaughter", he could have mentioned the Egyptian coup-led government's murderous response to peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations, but he didn't; he chickened out. It is as if the massacres in Rabaa Al Adawiyya and Al Nahda Squares had never happened.

"The United States will maintain a constructive relationship with the interim government that promotes core interests like the Camp David Accords and counter-terrorism," he said. Earlier on in the speech he reminded the gathering of world leaders that, "The United States of America is prepared to use all elements of our power, including military force, to secure these core interests in the region." Now we know who is directing his foreign policy.

Let's be honest; this was a green light to the Egyptian generals that they have a mandate from America to govern however they like, as long as it is done in the name of fighting terrorism and protecting the Camp David Accords, for Israel's benefit, of course.

"Our approach to Egypt reflects a larger point," confirmed Obama. "The United States will at times work with governments that do not meet the highest international expectations, but who work with us on our core interests."

Then came the Orwellian double-speak which laid bare his hypocrisy for all to see: "Nevertheless, we will not stop asserting principles that are consistent with our ideals, whether that means opposing the use of violence as a means of suppressing dissent, or supporting the principles embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights."

The message was all too clear: as far as Egypt is concerned, America's "core interests" take precedence over the basic principles of international law. At least he was honest enough to put it in that order. Nobody can now say that America's claim to uphold universal values is a myth; it will always be conditional.

Obama admitted that the interim authorities in Cairo have "made decisions inconsistent with inclusive democracy - through an emergency law, and restrictions on the press, civil society and oppositional parties." Here's the but... "Mohamed Morsi was democratically elected but proved unwilling or unable to govern in a way that was fully inclusive." His speech could have been written by or for General Abdul Fattah Al-Sisi.

If the US president had an issue with that shortcoming, then what about the unelected generals; have they shown a willingness to govern in a way that is fully inclusive? The answer is obvious: no, they haven't. What the generals now governing Egypt have done is arrest more than 15,000 Egyptian citizens and kill thousands more; declare the Muslim Brotherhood to be illegal; and close down scores of media outlets. If this is Obama's idea of inclusiveness then God help those who are excluded.

By bending over backwards to accommodate the Egyptian military junta, Obama has reinforced the popular perception across the region that US foreign policy is contradictory at best and duplicitous at worst.

There is serious discomfort with the Obama approach to the Egyptian question. Senior Congressmen like John McCain and Lindsey Graham have made clear their revulsion with the military subversion of Egypt's democratic process.

The picture emerging from Washington is alarming, though not entirely surprising as Obama approaches the middle of his second term. According to a USA Today/Gallop poll, in 2009, 66 per cent of Americans acknowledged that Obama was making more effort to foster bipartisan policies in Washington than his Republican counterparts.

Today, things have changed markedly and there are concerns not least among many career military officers who now believe the incumbent Obama administration has monopolised decision-making within a tight circle dominated by civilians. Not only do they engage in endless debates but worse still they seem to be unwilling or unable to formulate decisive policies.

Back in Egypt, Obama still has many questions to answer. He reassured the UN General Assembly in New York that the US would continue to engage with and provide leadership in the Middle East. "Sovereignty," he insisted, "cannot be a shield for tyrants to commit one murder." Or, we might add, be an excuse for the international community to turn a blind eye.

Will he now stop the murder carried out with his blessing and halt Egypt's dangerous slide toward absolute tyranny? It's definitely time for Obama to put fine words into action and let human rights and international law trump injustices and those pernicious "interests" that he holds so dear.

]]> (Dr. Daud Abdullah) Commentary and Analysis Thu, 26 Sep 2013 16:25:22 +0000
The hyped "Gaza state" in Sinai is a diversionary smokescreen Even by their dreadfully low media standards, it was the most ridiculous attempt to mislead public opinion. Many viewed it as an insult to the Egyptian people's intelligence. The "it" to which I am referring is the exclusive story published in Al-Watan newspaper on 10 September. The offending report written by Usama Khalid claimed it had obtained documents and maps confirming an American-Israeli plot to establish a "Gaza state" in the Sinai. Since then, it has unleashed a flood of commentary; most without any attempt to critically examine the author's basic claim or the facts.

According to Al-Watan, the "new project" was drafted in Israel and proposed in secret by the US to European and Arab states, the most important of which were Qatar and Turkey. This, by itself, was enough to raise a red flag. For any and everyone knows that Saudi Arabia is the most important US Arab ally, so it seems rather odd that they were not consulted whereas the oft recalcitrant Qatar was.

The "new project", the author says, was the brainchild of Prof Yehoshua Ben-Arieh, a former rector of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The project seeks to solve the central issue of the Middle East without Israel having to make a single concession, entailing a three-way exchange of land between Egypt, Israel and Palestine.

The obvious aim of the article was to discredit the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and its Palestinian offshoot, Hamas. Both movements have never concealed their objective is the total liberation of Palestine, from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. This has been a cornerstone of their political thought and conduct.

At the height of the 1936 uprising in Palestine, the Brotherhood's founder, Hasan Al-Banna, wrote in Al-Nazeer magazine [25/3/1937]: "Palestine is not the case of a specific geographical entity; it is rather the case of the Islam that you embrace; Palestine is an injured part of the Islamic body; any part that doesn't feel the pain and suffering of Palestine doesn't belong to that body or structure."

His words were not empty. One decade later, during the 1948 war, whereas seven Arab countries could only deploy 24,000 fighters in Palestine, Al-Banna in October 1947 pledged 10,000 members of his movement as a first contingent. When he approached the then Egyptian government to allow the volunteers to cross the border it refused.

The position of Hamas is equally clear. Central to its ideology is the belief that all of Palestine is Arab and Islamic land. Hamas' leader Khalid Meshaal recently wrote, "resistance to the Israeli occupation of our land is the strategic means of achieving our goal, which is liberation…"

This approach of the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas to Palestine contrasts markedly to that of the first Nasserite government in Egypt. In June 1953 it agreed to an "American Sinai project", succumbing to huge international pressure and in order to avoid Israeli revenge attacks against Gaza or a war with Israel that it was not prepared for. The project aimed to resettle some 12,000 Palestinian families in north-west Sinai. The Palestinians, on their part, opposed the plan with mass demonstrations that continued until the project was finally dropped.

Needless to say, Israel has never given up on the idea of trying to resettle the Palestinian refugees and dissolve the Palestinian issue. The idea resurfaced in 2004 when Ariel Sharon proposed to withdraw from Gaza and his national security advisor, Giora Eiland, agreed on condition that the withdrawal is part of a larger plan. The latter proposed that Egypt concedes 720 sq kilometres of the Sinai extending along the Mediterranean coast from Rafah in the west to El-Areesh. In return, Egypt would get a piece of the south-west Naqab and be joined by land to Jordan by digging a canal ten kilometres long from east to west, five kilometre away from Ailat, under Egyptian sovereignty.

In April 2010 the Palestinian writer Bilal Hassan cautioned against this Israeli alternative to the two-state solution. Today, senior members of the incumbent Netanyahu government are openly denouncing the notion of a two state solution, in spite of on-going negotiations.

On a popular level, the Palestinian people have never ceased their opposition to the resettlement scheme. Indeed, throughout their six decades of forced exile they have rejected resettlement - tawteen - in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Egypt and of course, the Egyptian Sinai.

Earlier this year, on 29 March, Gaza's prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, affirmed in a sermon that, "Our people especially those in Gaza are not looking for a place in the Sinai. Our people were the first to defeat the resettlement projects in Sinai."

In the case of Egypt's elected President Muhammad Morsi, all the evidence suggests that far from conceding any part of the Sinai he was actually seeking to implement a strategy for its development and security. Toward this end, a number of major investment projects in the Sinai were approved by the council of ministers with a total value of 4.4 billion Egyptian pounds.

That the media brouhaha over the so-called "new project" should coincide with the resumption of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations is not fortuitous. It raises suspicion as to whether there is any acceptance of the idea in official Egyptian and Palestinian circles.

If any party is in need of such a project at this time it is Egypt's military junta. Entirely lacking international credibility and internal legitimacy, any overture that appeases Israel and the US would help to consolidate its rule. The Al-Watan report asserts Egypt would get major economic concessions from the US for implementing what is essentially the exchange of regional land. Under the circumstances, allegations of the Muslim Brotherhood's involvement in the scheme appear to be an attempt to find a scapegoat for what would be the ultimate betrayal of the Arab and Islamic nation.

With regard to Hamas and Gaza, one does not have to look far. The sudden influx of cash from the UAE into Egypt has been accompanied by the rise to prominence of the pro-Israeli agent provocateur, Muhammad Dahlan, in the Egyptian media. Since fleeing Gaza in 2007, hundreds of his loyalists have been stationed in the Sinai waiting for the opportunity to topple the Hamas administration.

Since becoming the frontline of resistance to the Israeli occupation, Gaza under Hamas' authority has become more of a strategic headache for the Israelis than it ever was. After fending off two all-out wars they have displayed a military capability well beyond the expectation of their adversaries, which allowed them to impose their own conditions for a ceasefire in 2012, with the support of President Morsi's government.

If Egypt's neo-Nasserites were really concerned about the future of Palestine they would do everything in their power to consolidate the resistance in Gaza. They would open the borders and allow the flow of food, medicine and everything else needed to develop the territory. But, after committing so many atrocities against their own people, it is all too understandable why their media should now create this diversionary smokescreen of a "Gaza state" in the Sinai. Everything that has taken place in the region since December 2010 gives hope that such demagogy will not fly.

]]> (Dr Daud Abdullah) Commentary and Analysis Fri, 20 Sep 2013 16:14:25 +0000
Al-Sisi is no Gamal Abdel Nasser MEMO Commentary by Dr Daud AbdullahOne of the great myths-in-the-making doing the rounds in Egypt today is that General Abdul Fattah Al-Sisi is a latter day Gamal Abdul Nasser. This may be a fair comparison if Nasser's legacy is seen only through the prism of his confrontation with the Muslim Brotherhood. Since Al-Sisi's vendetta has extended to a large swathe of the Egyptian population, though, the comparison seems wholly inapt. Furthermore, the respective approaches of each general towards Israel and their support for the Palestinian people also appear to be at odds.

Apart from their vicious feud with the Brotherhood, there are, admittedly, some similarities, particularly in their methods. Both leaders relied heavily on propaganda to consolidate their military rule. One of the most engaging commentators of the Nasser era was Miles Copeland, a former US Vice Consul in Syria and a founding member of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Having lived in Egypt throughout the period, he asserts in his book, The Game of Nations, that he had probably seen more of Nasser than any other westerner. Censorship and state propaganda, he noted, were used routinely to discredit enemies and justify harsh punishment.

Copeland recalled that the American ambassador in Cairo, Jefferson Caffery (1949-1955), had arranged for the "loan" to Nasser of the leading practitioner of "black" propaganda in the western world, Paul Linebarger, who was an OSS propagandist during the Second World War. He showed Nasser's government how to damage "hallowed figures" such as Muhammad Naguib. The same techniques are still being used today to vilify opponents of the coup.

During those early days, Nasser's Revolutionary Command Council drew up one list of media correspondents, foreign and local, who could be trusted and another of those who could not be trusted. Inevitably, they favoured the former. Prominent among those favoured by the Nasser regime was a certain Mohammed Hassanein Heykel and the Amin brothers, Mustafa and Ali. The former is believed to have played a major role in bringing down Egypt's first elected civilian president, Mohamed Morsi.

Supporters of the July 2013 coup which toppled Morsi are not the only ones to sing Al-Sisi's praises. In Israel, he is celebrated with such passion that The Times of Israel warned on Monday that the creation of a Nasser-type personality cult around Al-Sisi is not in Israel's best interest. Since Nasser had an image of being the historic enemy of Israel among many Arabs, the newspaper warned it would be dangerous to cultivate such a figure in today's climate of regional uncertainty.

Like his predecessors, Al-Sisi's primary concerns are two-fold: to preserve his grip on power and avoid any confrontation with Israel. In the latter instance, however, he has gone much further than any other in trying to cosy up to the Israelis. In his desire to reciprocate for the Israelis' support and lobbying on his behalf in western capitals, Al-Sisi is going to great lengths to victimise and humiliate the people of Gaza.

In reality, the period of courtship between Israel's military and intelligence establishments and their Egyptian counterpart is over; their marriage has been consummated and the honeymoon is well and truly under way. This is the message coming from the Israeli media. Some describe the relationship as even stronger than that at the time of Hosni Mubarak.

Is Al-Sisi acting in Egypt's or Israel's interest? It is logical that a strong and secure Palestine would be the first line of defence for Egypt's national security. Although Nasser did not deliver on his promises to liberate Palestine, he never saw himself as an enemy of the Palestinian people, in whole or part. By its actions against the Gaza Strip, Al-Sisi's coup regime has done just the opposite. He has, for all practical purposes, joined forces with Israel against the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, something that Nasser never did. For this reason, Al-Sisi is in a league of his own and is putting Egypt's security on the line for Israel.

Whatever his shortcomings and miscalculations, Nasser seemed to put Egypt's interests first. When the Americans and British started discussions in March 1953 about the formation of a Middle East Defence Organisation (MEDO) along the lines of NATO, Nasser dismissed it out of hand. Copeland recalls that Nasser didn't want any part of it, nor was he concerned about whether Britain had bases in the region, as long were they were not in Egypt.

Nasser did want US military aid, however, to boost his internal security and make his army a "proud army". Copeland noted, "If his army was to have any military mission at all it would have to be against the Israelis or against one of the uncooperative Arab countries, not against the Soviets or any European power."

Towards the end of 1951 a special team of experts from the State Department, the newly-formed CIA and the Defence Department were assigned to study the Arab-Israeli conflict and to work out solutions, "whether or not they fitted orthodox notions of proper governmental behaviour". Because of its influence on other regional states they decided that Egypt was the place to start.

About his protégé, Copeland says, "I had a feeling throughout that had Nasser not been born our Game would have had to create him just to have a leader who, although non-existent at the moment, was natural to the Game and was sure to pop up sooner or later."

Given the manner in which US intelligence has played with Egypt's military elite since 1952, to focus on the person of Al-Sisi could be fatal. He, like Nasser, is a prototype to be used in the shady Game of Nations. In Nasser's time the west needed a certain type of Arab leader who could rant about Israel and imperialism. Today, a different type of figurehead is needed by the west, not to champion the Palestinian cause and confront Israel but to normalise relations with the Zionist state and subvert Palestinian resistance. He is certainly no Gamal Abdel Nasser, but step forward Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, the west's new man of the moment.

]]> (Dr. Daud Abdullah) Commentary and Analysis Tue, 10 Sep 2013 18:34:54 +0000
Wall Street Journal report says a lot about the state of Saudi-Qatari relations Qatar & Saudi Arabia flagsIn a Wall Street Journal article last week, three journalists reported on Saudi Prince Bandar's play for authority in Syria. The journalists were unable to contact Prince Bandar to interview him directly for the piece, but in the article they reported on one of his recent missions, in which he had been working to secure the removal of Bashar Al-Assad. The article reports that Prince Bandar has been "jetting from covert command centres near the Syrian front lines to the Elysee Palace in Paris and the Kremlin in Moscow, seeking to undermine the Assad regime."

The article provides an insight into the intentions of the Saudi regime and its efforts to influence events in Syria, stirring up quite a controversy in the days that followed.

The journalists Adam Entous, Nour Malas and Margaret Coker revealed that Prince Bandar had taken "a swipe" at Qatar when he said that the country was "nothing but 300 people … and a TV channel," reportedly also saying "that doesn't make a country." The quote was attributed, in the article, to "a person familiar with the exchange." Prince Bandar's comments are not unexpected; there have been a number of reported power struggles between the two regional players, Saudi and Qatar, for some time now. Differences over Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, and Palestine, to name just a few, have coloured the relationship between the two governments. When the quote by Prince Bandar was reported, Qatar's foreign minister responded via twitter saying that, "one Qatari citizen is worth an entire people and the Qatari people are equal to an entire nation." He added, "This is what we teach our children, with all due respect to the others."

Qatar did not release an official response, despite the foreign ministers tweets, and Saudi Arabia has declined to comment on the story. Two days after the story broke, the Saudi News Agency reported that a Saudi official had denied Prince Bandar's comments. However, when MEMO contacted the Wall Street Journal journalists behind the story they confirmed that the sources behind the account of Prince Bandar's words were knowledgeable and reliable, and that they were sticking by their story. The journalists' confirmation of the account reveals much about the Qatari / Saudi relationship today.

Tensions between the two governments have recently become heightened over Syria. Whilst both countries want Assad gone, there is no agreement on who may replace him. The Saudis have raised concerns that if they cannot influence it otherwise, an Islamist government could come to power in Syria. This is the primary concern behind Saudi's involvement in Syria and explains its support for American military intervention. Saudi has been urging America to take a stand on Syria. In fact, Prince Bandar is reportedly close to the administration and has been in constant contact with the Americans on the issue.

While Qatar is also opposed to Assad and is keen to see him removed, Saudi Arabia has been concerned by Qatar's lackadaisical approach to Islamist governments. The Qataris have not opposed the formation of Islamist governments in other countries in the region as Saudi has done, and the Saudis fear that if the Qataris have any influence on events in Syria, the same could be repeated there. The Saudis also believe that the Qataris (along with Turkey) are arming the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood.

The two governments have been battling one another for power in the region for some years now. However, since the outbreak of the Arab Spring, the intensity of their power struggle has deepened. In Yemen, recent reports indicate that Yemeni politicians are drawing closer to the Qatari regime, as illustrated by President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi's visit to Doha before his visit to Washington. While Yemen was previously seen as a Saudi stronghold, the Qatari's have been increasing their influence in Yemen following the Arab Spring revolutions of 2011. Saudi Arabia has expressed unease at the situation and Saudi press reports indicate that the country is unhappy with the growing influence of Qatar in Yemen.

In Palestine, the Qataris and Saudis have been vying for power through their respective support for Hamas and Fatah. The Saudis are bank rolling Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah in the West Bank, while Qatar has pledged, and delivered, large infrastructure development projects to the war torn Gaza Strip ruled by Hamas. The Qataris, who have been close to Hamas for some time and have allowed them a base in the country on various occasions, have been seen as supporting the government in Gaza over and above the Fatah-led administration in the West Bank.

In Egypt too, there has been a struggle for power. The Saudi influence behind the recent coup against the Muslim Brotherhood has been all too obvious. Saudi Arabia presented serious financial rewards to the coup government in Egypt, around $5 billion, whilst Saudi's allies, the UAE and Kuwait, offered an additional $3 billion and $4 billion dollars respectively. Prior to the coup, Qatar had not only provided political support to the Muslim Brotherhood and their democratically elected government, but had also invested $8 billion in the country.

Since the Arab Spring, Qatar has backed a number of the newly formed Islamist governments, supporting their ascension to power. Despite the instability in the region, Qatar has continued to back the Muslim Brotherhood and their affiliates throughout the Middle East. Saudi Arabia meanwhile, threatened by the trend towards Islamist governments, has largely opposed these new governments. Concerned that the Arab Spring and Islamist governments threaten the existing models of entrenched royal power in the Gulf, Saudi has wanted to see the continuation of autocratic regimes in the Middle East.

And it is because of these competing political interests that the two governments have been vying for power in the region. Although both governments want to assert their influence, Qatar has taken to supporting the new post-Arab Spring players, whilst Saudi attempts to hold on to the old regimes. Syria, now at the centre of unrest in the region, is a key asset to gaining further influence. Although the two countries initially worked together to arm the rebels in Syria, the Saudis were unhappy working with their rival. It was at this point that the discord, as reported by the WSJ, broke out between the two, and Prince Bandar insulted the Gulf nation.

Given that the journalists have now confirmed Prince Bandar's quote was attributed to a reliable source, it will be much harder for the Saudis to deny it and perhaps harder for the Qataris to ignore. Either way, tensions between the two will almost certainly increase.

]]> (Middle East Monitor) Commentary and Analysis Wed, 04 Sep 2013 14:21:23 +0000
Don't write-off the Muslim Brotherhood just yet MEMO CommentaryIt is more than ironic that the success of the Muslim Brotherhood has been a cause of its misfortune. After winning five elections since 2011, its detractors in the military elite have cracked down on the movement. However, past experience suggests that it is likely to emerge from this current crisis even stronger than before. Its Supreme Guide Dr Muhammad Badie explained the secret of the movement's success with his now famous saying, "Our peacefulness is stronger than the bullets."

When Badie made his remark at a mass rally just after the July 3 coup he was not exaggerating. He was, indeed, speaking from personal experience. As a 22 year-old he was arrested at the height of the 1965 crackdown ahead of the 1966 execution of Sayyid Qutb, one of the most influential of the movement's writers.

That was followed by the Six Day War of 1967, which proved to be an unparalleled national disaster for Egypt. It exposed the weakness of the state and unleashed a storm of popular discontent. Calls were raised for change and the restoration of national dignity. The military regime was held responsible for the loss of some 20,000 Egyptian lives as well as the Sinai Peninsula. In the aftermath, Israeli troops were stationed on the east bank of the Suez Canal, just 105 kilometres from Cairo.

Many ordinary Egyptians saw the humiliating defeat as a form of divine retribution for the crimes committed against the Muslim Brotherhood. Deputy Supreme Guide Dr Rashad Bayoumi, who was detained with Dr Badie, spoke of his encounter with his torturer, a certain Shams Badran, in the 1950s: "He tortured me himself and when I told him to fear God, he replied, 'I will put God in the cell next to you if he comes down here'." Such were the depths of depravity and inhumanity Brotherhood members faced.

During the early seventies many who survived the prison sentences of the 1950s and 60s were released. The Brotherhood thereafter embarked on a process of rebuilding. Tensions with the military lurked beneath the surface. As a banned organisation, it was denied the right to spread its Islamic message openly.

This repression actually served as a catalyst for the movement's popularity not only in Egypt but across the region as well. Because Egypt was seen as the home and epicentre of political Islam, the resurgence of the Brotherhood greatly disturbed regional authorities, as well as their foreign allies. All were wary of the intellectual and political implications of its growth.

One area where this was especially manifested was in Palestine, which has been a central concern of the Muslim Brotherhood ever since it was founded by Imam Hasan Al-Banna in 1928. The involvement of the Brotherhood in Palestine can be traced back to 1935 when two senior members, Abdur Rahman Al-Sa'ati and Muhammad Asad Al-Hakim visited the Holy Land in August of that year. Some accounts recall that a small number of Egyptian volunteers actually entered Palestine and participated in military operations in the north of the country during the 1936-39 Uprising.

With this sort of background it was no wonder that the Brotherhood denounced the 1978 Camp David peace treaty between Egypt and Israel. Then under its third Supreme Guide, 'Umar al-Tilmisani, it declared the treaty to be a betrayal of the Palestinian people and their cause.

By the 1980s, the Muslim Brotherhood had come of age politically. Its members participated in the 1984 elections, despite the raft of conditions and restrictions imposed upon them. Being unrecognised, they cooperated with the Wafd Party. The main demands centred on freedoms and rights; the revocation of the ban on the movement; and social and economic reforms.

Meanwhile, the exiled members of the movement invested in a number of projects in the Middle East and other Muslim countries. These included hospitals, schools and publishing ventures. So successful were these initiatives that the regimes of Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak left no stone unturned to seize their assets and proceeds wherever possible. Many observers point out that the ruling military elite viewed the Brotherhood's economic success as a direct challenge to their own substantial economic interests. Indeed it is believed that part of the army's opposition to President Mohamed Morsi was based on the fact that he tried to break the military stranglehold on some sectors of the Egyptian economy. The recent appointment of military governors in the provinces is one example of the army's attempt to regain the initiative and protect its leaders' financial interests.

The political history of Egypt for most of the last century has been overshadowed by the struggle between the army and the Muslim Brotherhood. Tensions between the two were always difficult to conceal or control. This latest encounter which saw the arrest of thousands of Brotherhood members and supporters is in every respect a continuation of the Mubarak era.

Shortly before his own detention Dr Badie recalled that during the Mubarak era some 35,000 members of the Brotherhood were tried before military courts and sentenced for a combined total of 15,000 years in prison. Just as he emerged from prison in the seventies to breathe new life into the movement, a new generation has already taken up the challenge of filling the vacuum created by the absence of their jailed leaders.

Since 2011 the youth of the Muslim Brotherhood have gained a wealth of experience at the local community level. Throughout the struggle of the revolution and the recent turmoil they have refused to be drawn into an armed confrontation with the military; the tragic example of Syria serves as a strong deterrent. Yet by their peacefulness they are continuing to gain support for their movement and its renaissance project. It is truly ironic that this success is the cause of the Islamic movement's current misfortune. History shows that this is cyclical, though, so don't write off the Muslim Brotherhood just yet.

]]> (Dr. Daud Abdullah) Commentary and Analysis Thu, 29 Aug 2013 10:55:16 +0000
The Numbers Game in Tunisia: Nawaat Estimates as a Case Study Tunisian Bardo Square sizeThe numbers game was an important part of the 3 July coup in Egypt, implicating the army, political and youth groups involved in the 30 June demonstration, local media, some international media as well as certain western politicians and commentators. A similar game can also be perceived in Tunisia. As protests and counter-protests continue in Tunis, wildly differing numbers continue to circulate with rival protests using inflated and downplayed numbers ranging from 10,000 to 500,000 for the very same gathering.

The Tunisian multilingual blog Nawaat published estimates of the 3 August 2013 pro-government gathering in the Kasbah Square and the 6 August 2013 anti-government gathering in Bardo Square.

For the Kasbah gathering, Nawaat's conclusions are the following:

  1. "The surface area of the Kasbah square AND the adjacent 20 Mars Street is 23,650 m2", which according to the site is a generous estimate, since it does not exclude the stage, sound equipment, martyrs' monument, trees, benches, etc. Nawaat refers to Google Planimeter for their surface area conclusions.
  2. "Crowd behaviour experts adopt the average of 1.5-3 people per square metre" - According to Nawaat reporters, protesters' density was high near the stage, but "average to low as we get further away", justifying the adoption of an average of 2 people per square metre.
  3. Nawaat concludes that the number of protesters on 3 August was between 35,475 and 70,950 protesters, and that "the most correct estimate is thus 50,000 based on the average of 2 people per square metre".

For the Bardo 6 August gathering, however, Nawaat's techniques are strangely dissimilar:

  • The surface area of the Bardo square is taken as 11,000 m2 (no mention here of fountains, trees, stage, etc)
  • The diagram used for the number estimate includes additional areas including adjacent streets which together add up to even more than the central square: 17,475 m2.
  • Curiously, when calculating the average density of protesters in Bardo, Nawaat declines to use the same estimate based on "crowd behaviour experts" used in the case of the Kasbah square. Instead of using the estimate of 1.5-3 people per square metre, they curiously stretch the density to 4.5 protesters per square metre throughout the whole of Bardo square. The density then reduces to 3 people per square metre outside the square, then to 2/m2 further away then finally to 1/m2 more than a kilometre away.
  • The Nawaat final estimate for the number of protesters in Bardo on 6 August is 95,000 protesters.


A number of questions pose themselves:

  • What is the basis for a very conservative estimate of the Kasbah Square area, and on the other hand a very generous estimate of Bardo Square?
  • Why is a density of 2 protesters per square metre adopted in the case of Kasbah (initially 1.5-3, but the average of 2 was concluded by Nawaat to be "the most correct"), and an unprecedented 4.5 protesters per square metre adopted inside the Bardo Square? Are the Bardo protesters assumed to be half the size of the Kasbah protesters?
  • Moreover, why are Kasbah protesters restricted to the square (while hundreds of images exist of protesters filling the surrounding areas all around the square); and on the other hand why are there significant areas (greater than the Bardo square area and containing more than the protesters estimated within the square itself) included in the Bardo protest area estimate? In fact, no aerial image supports the suggestion that half the protesters were outside the square or that protesters did spread out to adjacent streets over such a long distance. There is no proof that protesters covered a significantly extended area beyond the square, and there is certainly no proof that significant areas beyond the square contained the high density of 3 protesters per square metre adopted by Nawaat for an area as large as 7,325 m2 (as well as an area of 6,350 m2 containing an alleged density of 2m2).

Alternative Calculations

To address these intriguing questions, we use the same tool mentioned by Nawaat - Google Planimeter - to calculate the areas of the two squares. Google Planimeter gives us the results below:

  • Bardo Square = 3,000 m2
  • Kasbah Square = 25,600 m2

Using the very same tool, the area estimate we obtain for Bardo Square is very different from Nawaat's, reaching around a quarter of the area estimate reported by Nawaat for Bardo square. We use two other programmes to calculate the Bardo Square area, the results are below:

Google Planimeter
Tunisia Bardo Square area - 3013sqm - Google Planimeter

Daft Logic Area Calculator
Tunisia Bardo Square area - 2922sqm - Daft Logic

Free Map Tools
Tunisia Bardo Square area - 3071sqm - Free Map Tools

The same tools give the following area estimates for the Kasbah squares:
Tunisia Kasbah Square area - 25591sqm

To avoid polemics about whether any side streets were full and how large those outside were and how full they were, and to avoid polemics about the density of protesters in either gathering, we make the following assumptions for both gatherings:

  1. That the bulk of protesters on both occasions were within the squares.
  2. That the same density estimate of 4 protesters per square metre can be used for both squares.

These produce the following numbers:
Kasbah: 25,000 x 4 = 100,000 protesters
Bardo: 3,000 x 4 = 12,000

The above are very conservative estimates. There is a great discrepancy in the Bardo estimate. If we double the area estimate to give the benefit to the claim that there was a large overflow into surrounding areas, and use a generous area estimate of 6,000 m2 (which agrees with a quick naked eye non-expert estimation that the Bardo square is at the very most less than 4 times the area of the Kasbah square), this still gives us a MAXIMUM number estimate for the Bardo gathering of 24,000 protesters.

Our questions to Nawaat, leaving aside its inclusion of such large overflow areas around Bardo, remain the following:

  1. How do you explain that your estimate of the area of the Bardo Square is half of the Kasbah Square, which is unsupported by even a cursory look at the two squares?
  2. How do you explain your choice of a reduced protester density of 2 p/m2 in the case of Kasbah and an unprecedented high density of 4.5 p/m2 in the case of Bardo?
  3. How do you explain your conclusions of a number of protesters at Kasbah that is half the number of protesters in Bardo (50,000 vs. 95,000)?
]]> (Middle East Monitor) Commentary and Analysis Sat, 24 Aug 2013 17:43:45 +0000
Israel chooses military rule over democracy Israelis did not have to wait long to find another 'national treasure' in Egypt. For several weeks now their national media has been awash with commentaries on Egypt. Most showered General Abdul Fattah Al Sisi with praise for his 'bravery.' Not for the first time, an Egyptian military general has been elevated to the status of folk hero in Israel. Al Sisi comfortably won the plaudits because he reversed Egypt's march to democracy.

The overriding argument to emerge from Israeli officials, past and present, is that stability in Egypt is much more important than democracy and human rights. For Muhammad Morsi there was no question of choosing between the two; they complimented each other. This position, coupled with his Islamist origins, was reason enough to depose him.

More than the Gulf States which financed the coup, Israel has emerged as the principal beneficiary. Hence they welcomed the brutal suppression of the sit-ins and lobbied western governments to support the coup leaders. Abraham Ben Eliezer, the former defence minister, was unapologetic when he told The Marker that it was in Israel's interest for the military to remain in power in Egypt.

Western condemnation of the atrocities perpetrated by the army and the Mubarak-era thugs was dismissed by Israeli officials and analysts. The Jerusalem Post pointed out that Israel feared such condemnation would weaken the new military-backed Egyptian government and strengthen the will of the Muslim Brotherhood. It thus recommended that the West abandoned its support for democracy and stop Egypt from falling into the hands of local and global Islamists.

Similar sentiments came from academic circles. Prof Abraham Ben Zvi of the University of Haifa wrote in Israelhayom that the coup paved the way for a new Middle East that was less extremist and more sympathetic to the West.

As for former justice minister Yossi Beilin, he went even further by suggesting that the US Congress should give President Obama special discretionary powers to change the law in order to allow the continued flow of aid to Egypt; even after its military deposed a civilian government.

In Washington, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) made no secret of their opposition to demands to cut aid to Egypt. In July, they lobbied and defeated an amendment sponsored by Sen. Rand Paul aimed at suspending aid to Egypt. In a letter sent to Sen. Robert Menendez, chairmen of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, AIPAC claimed that the amendment "could increase instability in Egypt and undermine important U.S. interests and negatively impact our Israeli ally."

That the Israel lobby should campaign on behalf of the Egyptian military is quite remarkable. If nothing else, it confirms the degree to which Israel and its operatives in Washington are convinced that the Egyptian army in its present form would never wage another war against them. The Ramadan War of 1973 was the last.

While they can neither trust nor rely on civilian politicians - especially those of the Islamist tradition - Israelis have absolute faith in the leadership of the Egyptian army. It would be suicidal for the latter to contemplate a war given that all of Egypt's defence systems are made in America. President Morsi addressed this anomaly when he declared we will produce our food, produce our medicine and produce our weapons. In hindsight, that was enough to disqualify and overthrow him. He was not the man; Egypt must remain forever trapped in a cycle of dependency.

No amount of US or European military aid will compensate for the damage done the Egyptian army after the 3 July coup. Whatever its leaders may claim, the fact is they have emerged from this mess in a much weaker position. By launching a bloody war of attrition against their civilian population they now have less time and resources to spend on training and improving their military capability, much to the benefit and satisfaction of Israel. Their aim was always to weaken Egypt so that it would never be in a position to play any meaningful role in the future of the region, especially with regard to Palestine. In fact, a weakening of the Egyptian army means that the balance of power in the region will remain in Israel's favour for a long time.

In the interim, Israelis will continue to profess that they are the only democracy in the region. And despite all its virtues they would never support or encourage it spreading; that would result in the empowerment of the region's people, acting through their elected parliaments. It would change the nature of relations between Israel and its neighbours to one of mutual respect instead of hegemony.

For now, Israel will continue to champion the cause of the Egyptian military not because they love them but only because they protect its political and security interests.

]]> (Dr Daud Abdullah) Commentary and Analysis Thu, 22 Aug 2013 17:24:04 +0000