Articles 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, 07 Oct 2015 08:22:03 +0000 MEMO en-gb Refutrees: Reconnecting Palestinians to their roots RefutreesIMAGES

Over the course of the past year, we have heard UNRWA warn about the shortage in its budgets and the affect this will have on the aid it can provide to Palestinian refugees, Refutrees is a grassroots organisation set up to ensure refugees are self-reliant and not dependent on international aid.

Set up as a sustainable project that gives Palestinian refugees the ability to be independent and also reconnects them with their land and farms, the organisation helps refugees return to the traditional farming industry. Its name - which combines the words refugee and trees - stems from the organisation’s desire to maintain and nurture the bond that Palestinian refugees have with their land and agriculture.

Inspired by Founder and Director Lamya Hussain’s academic research, Refutrees grew out of Hussain’s fieldwork and the interviews she had with Palestinian refugees across camps in the West Bank, Jordan and Lebanon. Hussain found existing development projects incapable of addressing community-based needs.

Having completed a Masters in Environmental Studies and a Graduate Diploma in International Humanitarian Law and Refugee Studies, Hussain set her sights on creating an alternative to existing projects that recycled dependency and failed to address issues of health, environment, planning and sustainability. The vision Hussain had aimed at ending reliance on donors.

At the beginning, Refutrees received huge support from Hussain’s long-time mentor Professor Fahim Quadir and friend Kofi Achampong. Both joined its Board of Directors and helped create the organisation and register it as an official entity in Canada. Hussain admits that it was a slow process but gradually she has been able to recruit young, like-minded individuals that shared her vision and ideas. “Today, we have a diverse team of architects, environmentalists, lawyers, engineers and academics that contribute and volunteer time in project design and implementation.”

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To date, Refutrees has only focussed on Palestinian refugees. The organisation’s limited capacity means it is unable to work with others but Hussain hopes this will change in the future. She hopes to work with Syrian and Iraqi refugees.

Although the organisation prioritises women and farmers, Hussain admits: “We understand their specific status and encourage their participation in our projects. But we cannot assume a role of women rights advocacy or empowerment unless we critically embed ourselves within the more traditional fabric of local NGOs.”

In spite of being Women's Entrepreneur Day (WED) World Ambassador at UN, Hussain has to constantly remind herself and the entire Refutrees team that they are limited in their ability to intervene. “We support and extend energies where we can to stand with women activists and networks but we never duplicate their efforts or compete for resources.”

Working closely with refugees and developing Refutrees has been “an incredible journey”, according to Hussain who recalls all the moments of joy and adversity that shaped “our collective understanding of the people and places we work at. For me, refugees are real heroes that are challenging global perceptions of identity, citizenship, borders, and governance. They teach us the most complex and mind-boggling things that push us outside our comfort zones in order to try and comprehend what ‘displacement’ can do to one person, family or a community.”

The most powerful or memorable moment during her long journey with Refutrees includes the many encounters of “shaking hands, pats on the backs from ordinary people in the communities we work in.” For Hussain, nothing stands out more than any other as every completed project provides a new memory. These are the moments that Hussain feels are the real motivators for the team to continue working and keep “striving to change the ‘greyness’ of camps into communities where families grow, children play, youth can hangout and the elderly can watch a new generation foster.”

Refutrees’ most recent project “Kale Project Palestine” is one that is more significant to Hussain as it started with great challenges in altering the community’s mindset around kale: a rough and bitter plant. “We also had to be careful how we plant, grow and harvest the crop in the soil, water and climate conditions in the West Bank. Nonetheless, we were successful in producing at least three different varieties of kale and created a small and active kale lovers community.” The team’s next step is to train female farmers to grow kale and link them to smaller local markets. Additionally, Refutrees hopes to uphold organic standards and create greater awareness on the health and nutritional aspects of kale.

The organisation is currently undergoing some changes; its team will soon launch their “Labour for Love” series. This will include new projects that will build on the group’s existing experiences to address community issues of water, waste, urban planning and agriculture. Hussain is hoping that Refutrees can challenge traditional development and how it operates in the Middle East.

Between the war and the policies that are designed to perpetuate dependency, complex poverty cycles and neo-liberal reforms, the Middle East is extremely vulnerable, she explains. “Refutrees has the potential to grow and alter how communities are designed, planned and built, in particular refugee communities. We hope that in the next decade we will challenge citizenship and identity politics across borders and help create opportunities for displaced people to live in communities that are not designed to isolate and exclude people.”

Find Refutrees on their website, Facebook or follow them on Twitter.

]]> (Raya Al-Jadir) Middle East Tue, 06 Oct 2015 15:55:55 +0000
A new intifada? You're asking the wrong question Palestinian man being arrested by Israeli soldiersOver the last few days, one question has been repeated over and over again: are we witnessing the beginning of a new intifada in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT)?

It is understandable that people are asking this: more than 500 Palestinians were injured in confrontations with Israeli occupation forces in the West Bank over 72 hours – a third of whom were shot with live ammunition or rubber-coated metal bullets.

Since last Thursday, four Israelis and four Palestinians have been killed in different incidents in the West Bank and Jerusalem. The latest fatality was a 13-year-old Palestinian boy, shot and killed by an Israeli soldier in Aida refugee camp in northern Bethlehem on Monday.

But debating whether or not the ongoing clashes constitute a third intifada is less useful than an assessment of the facts, an important part of which is the data we have for violence in the OPT, both by Israeli occupation forces and the Palestinians resisting their presence.

In 2015 to date, 30 Palestinians have been killed, and 8 Israelis. A comparison with 2014 figures is not so helpful, because of two major Israeli offensives: ‘Operation Brother’s Keeper’ and ‘Operation Protective Edge’. In 2013, however, 38 Palestinians were killed and 4 Israelis.

Graph 1A database maintained by the Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic intelligence service, is a useful barometer of the level of Palestinian resistance in the OPT (once you get past the absurdity of Molotov cocktails targeting an occupying army being described as ‘terror attacks’).

Over a 12-month timespan from September 2014 to August 2015 inclusive (see Graph 1), the number of Palestinian attacks in the West Bank does vary, but has tended to range at between 100-150 incidents per month (targeting both occupation forces and settlers).

Graph 2Graph 2, meanwhile, shows the number of ‘firebomb’ (i.e. Molotov cocktails) attacks recorded by Shin Bet over the same 12-month period. Again, there is no obvious, steady increase – though in East Jerusalem it is possible to discern a marked uptick in recent months that has been maintained.

Finally, in Graph 3, we see the number of Israeli raids on Palestinian communities, as well as how many Palestinians have been arrested, and injured. Taken together, these three graphs defy attempts to identify a straightforward trend or pattern.

Graph 3The bigger picture, however, shows a clear increase in the number of Palestinian attacks on Israeli occupation forces and settlers. In 2011, Shin Bet recorded 320 such incidents in the West Bank: in 2012, this rose to 578, and in 2013, to 1,271 (including a five-fold increase in the use of firearms).

The relatively small number of Israeli fatalities in recent years - including, in 2012, a year when not a single Israeli was killed in the West Bank - can obscure this increase in Palestinian resistance (note that the vast majority of recorded ‘attacks’ are stone-throwing incidents or Molotov cocktails).

There are a number of factors at play here. The lack of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority is part of the story, of course - but more significant is the main reason for this collapse in the peace process: an Israeli government ruled by the right and extreme-right.

Netanyahu, Naftali Bennett, Moshe Ya’alon, Miri Regev, Ayelet Shaked - the Israeli cabinet is packed with politicians whose commitment to Palestinian statehood is suspect or explicitly non-existent - but whose dedication to the colonisation of East Jerusalem and West Bank is a matter of record.

When Yair Lapid is the voice of moderation inside government, and Isaac Herzog is the face of the ‘opposition’, you know things are bad. Many Palestinians gave up on the official ‘peace process’ track a long time ago - now even the die-hard believers are doubting what these talks can achieve.

Meanwhile, the various aspects of Israel’s apartheid regime remain: settlements grow, land is expropriated, Israeli forces kill civilians with impunity, Palestinians languish in Israeli jails, homes are demolished, settler violence continues, and Palestinian freedom of movement is restricted.

On the other hand, Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority’s political leadership and security forces are still opposed to a broader uprising. As Amira Hass put it, “Fatah’s shaky political condition precludes the convention of regular conferences, let alone the conducting of a new intifada.”

Writing in August, Mouin Rabbani pointed out how, for “most of the past decade”, the Palestinian Authority (PA) “has been systematically conducting offensive operations…against its own people and precisely in order to obstruct the emergence of a serious challenge to Israel’s occupation.”

It is those areas where PA forces wield less influence or are absent, such as the West Bank refugee camps, Area C, and most notably East Jerusalem, which have seen more consistent and intense confrontations with Israeli forces.

The factors Rabbani identified in the summer “that together conspire against renewed rebellion” have not disappeared. A groundswell of public support for a wider, more sustained and organised uprising, especially coming from Fatah activists, could change this, but it is unclear if this will materialise at the current juncture.

We have been here before. The Israeli media asked “Is this a new intifada?” as early as March 2006, almost a decade ago. A third intifada was described as “inevitable” but “not imminent” in 2011, “inevitable” again in 2012, while in 2013, an Israeli commander announced it had already begun.

Is this a new intifada? Simply put, it is too soon to tell, but probably not. However, rather than worrying about definitions or labels, it makes more sense to focus on the reality on the ground. This tells us that a new tide of Palestinian rebellion has been rising for the last few years, for the quite obvious reason that occupation, colonialism, and apartheid produces resistance.

]]> (Ben White) Debate Tue, 06 Oct 2015 14:58:48 +0000
Russia’s invasion of Syria and its strategic impact on Turkish national security Russian MiG fighter jetDespite the fact that President Vladimir Putin claims that his invasion of Syria and military activity in the country aims to combat Daesh, the Russian airstrikes targeted various groups of the Free Syrian Army in a number of provinces. Furthermore, military analysts stress that Moscow’s announced motives are not in line with the advanced air defences placed by the Russians at Humaimam Base; they cannot be directed at Daesh because the extremist group does not possess any aircraft or missile systems. The real purpose of these systems is the establishment of a full air buffer zone in the area, which has coincided with NATO’s withdrawal of its missile defences and Washington’s initiative to withdraw its Patriot missiles from the Turkey-Syria border under the pretext of modernising the batteries. This was followed by the withdrawal of the only aircraft carrier in the region, leaving the air space east of the Mediterranean open to Russian aircraft.

Strategically speaking, US actions can be explained as an attempt to make Syria bait for the Russians in order to drag them into the Middle East, given the region’s complexities and contradictions, and involve them in the regional problems in an attempt to break the link between Moscow and China and distance Russia from the vital Pacific region. The purpose of this is to single out the Chinese dragon, which poses the greatest threat to US strategic interests.

Putin has relied on China’s understanding of his invasion of Syria and its support in the UN Security Council. He also relied on the Russia-Iran coalition and coordination because he knows that Tehran does not want to wait for the Americans to continue their game of restricting what can be done in the area. Instead, Iran prefers to coordinate with Moscow to arrange its upcoming regional role. Russia and Iran are in agreement about speeding up a resolution of the Syrian war and sharing the cake, while the US and Europe have adopted a completely opposite strategy. They are not in a hurry, and Obama even made a statement saying that the war against Daesh may last twenty years.

There is talk about a new Baghdad alliance in light of the establishment of an intelligence information centre by Russia, Iran and the Iraqi and Syrian governments, as well as Hezbollah, under the pretext of the war on Daesh; such talk is premature. In addition, Russia is re-planting itself in the region through its renewed strong relations with Egypt, which has openly supported its invasion of Syria; the government in Cairo claims that it will contribute to the elimination of terrorism. Perhaps Russia is counting on arranging a better relationship with Saudi Arabia if it is successful in reaching a political solution for Syria without the inclusion of Bashar Al-Assad in the medium term. However, what will Russia’s military presence in Syria mean in terms of strategic consequences for Turkey?

It is clear that the Russian president, along with the Iranians, is aiming to restore his country’s Tsarist glory and dreaming of reviving the age of empire following the failure of the nation-states established by the 1916 Sykes-Picot agreement. He is cooperating with the Iranians and supporting them in their measures to revive the Sasanian Empire. This has encouraged Tehran’s mullahs to declare war on the Arab world and try to encircle it. It also explains the Orthodox Church’s blessing of the Russian invasion of both Crimea and Syria and to regard it as a holy war. This is not strange for this church, as it still calls Istanbul “Constantinople”, the capital of the Orthodox world that must be liberated from the Turks.

If Russia manages to occupy Syria and stay there, then it will have more or less surrounded Turkey on three sides: Crimea in the north, Armenia in the east and now Syria in the south. Russia’s armed presence in Syria is no longer limited to one military base in Tartus, so it has become clear that this is a long-term project across the whole country; the war on Daesh will dictate this. The attempt to penetrate Turkish air space was a test to gauge Turkey’s readiness and sensitivity, as well as the extent of NATO’s support for Ankara. I believe that these violations and provocation will continue under the pretext of being “accidental”.

With coordination between Russia and Israel on one hand and Russia-Iran on the other, the Iranians’ introduction of ground forces to fight in Syria suggests that there will be a full-blown siege of Turkey. Herein lies the greatest challenge for Washington, Paris, London and Berlin in their dealing with Putin’s attack and its effects. Will they stand with Turkey, which has protected their eastern borders with the Russians for the past six decades?

It is clear that the Russians are taking actions based on strategic rather than tactical motives and objectives. Their motivation will not be curbed by a few billion dollars in trade or sanctions which did not deter Iran, let alone Russia.

The Turkish leadership’s desperate attempt to separate economic relations from political pressure, making trade exchanges a source of hesitation and a hindrance in making firm strategic decisions, will have catastrophic consequences that will threaten Turkey’s security.

The time has come for Turkey to resist America, just as Saudi Arabia did when the Yemeni conflict started to have an impact on its security. Turkey, the large and powerful regional force, should take bold measures with regards to the Syrian crisis, not by entering the war directly, but by backing the Free Syrian Army with qualitative arms that will enable it to confront the Russian and Iranian invasion. By doing so, it will protect its history, people, the unity of its territory and its own strategic security.

Translated from Al Khaleej Online, 6 October, 2015

]]> ( Mahmoud Othman) Europe Tue, 06 Oct 2015 14:54:58 +0000
Israel’s role in the Guatemalan genocide Nick RodrigoOn 1 September, Alejandro Maldonado was installed as Guatemalan president. The choice was controversial due his role in nullifying the conviction of former dictator Efrain Rios Montt, who had been sentenced for acts of genocide during the civil war. This thirty-six year war was a particularly brutal episode in Guatemala’s troubled postcolonial history and still leaves deep wounds, particularly on the collective psyche of the country’s Mayan population. Israel’s support of Guatemala government forces during this time is an example of Zionist foreign policy at its most calculated.

During the 1960s the entrenched status of servitude and poverty for Guatemala’s Mayan peasantry led to a series of armed and unarmed insurrectionary movements in the countryside. The state responded with unbridled brutality, attacking anyone deemed to be a dissident, including Mayan activists and trade unionists. In 1982, a coup brought Rios Montt to power; in the same year an Inter-American Human Rights Commission issued a report pointing the blame at the Guatemalan government for thousands of illegal executions and missing persons in the 1970s, particularly against campensinos and Indians. The following year Montt deployed the “Firjoles y Fusiles” (beans and guns) campaign which was essentially a scorched earth military programme against “unruly” villages. Taking on the tactics of his predecessors, Montt entrenched agricultural resettlement schemes into the military’s counterinsurgency plans. His successors emulated his pacification techniques in an attempt to destroy indigenous life and rural existence, replacing it with agricultural cooperatives that maintained the feudal status quo. By the time that the UN had brokered peace in 1996, the UN-backed Historical Clarification Commission estimated the total number of deaths at around 250,000. The report, in line with the findings of a Catholic Church-sponsored truth commission, found that the state’s military operations had a disproportionate toll on indigenous communities, including more than 600 massacres, but also incidents of torture, rape and forced displacement.

Rios Montt finally faced justice on 10 May 2013. Convicted of genocide and crimes against humanity, he was sentenced to 80 years in prison. Dozens of survivors gave testimony at his trial; some were women who had been raped repeatedly, others were children when the Guatemalan forces attacked their villages. The killings, displacement and disappearances carried out under Montt and other Guatemalan leaders could not have been conducted to such effect without the special relationship that the country enjoyed with Israel, which extended from agricultural assistance to counterinsurgency techniques.

Beans, guns and training: Zionist support of Guatemalan state repression

Six years before the “Beans and Guns” campaign ripped through Mayan village life, the Israeli government initiated a two-year programme for Guatemalan officials to study agricultural schemes in Israel. The Kibbutzim pioneer culture of Zionism shares much with the Gaucho frontierism of colonial and postcolonial Latin America, and in the 1978-1979 period, about 1,000 Guatemalans were trained by Israeli settlement study centres in Rohovot and other areas. When the Guatemalan congress gave Israel its highest honour in 2009, the speaker commented, “If there is thriving agriculture, it’s an Israeli contribution.” In reality, there is no thriving agriculture which benefits Guatemalans today, with hundreds of thousands of rural families dependent upon aid.

By the late 1970s, reports of human rights abuses by US-trained and armed Guatemalan soldiers were causing headaches for the Carter administration in Washington; the US congress subsequently suspended military aid in 1977. Within months, Israel had stepped in to fill the void with President Ephraim Katzir signing an agreement for military assistance. According to the Stockholm Institute for Peace, Israel supplied Guatemala with $38 million worth of arms during the civil war period. This included Arava aircraft, artillery pieces and gunboats. The Galil assault rifle, an Israeli-made weapon, was standard issue for the Guatemalan army by 1980, with the state owned small-arms production facility in Alta Verapaz producing its ammunition under Israeli licence. Indeed, corporate enterprise was a significant aspect of Israel’s involvement in the Guatemalan civil war, with a number of Israeli firms active on Guatemalan territory, providing services ranging from military equipment to radar control systems to water development projects. Israel also utilised its shadowy arms industry to avoid embarrassing the US, often shuttling arms to Guatemala through intermediaries, normally retired generals and “securocrats” with dual nationalities. In June 1977, Barbados customs agents discovered a shipment of 26 tons of arms and ammunition destined for Guatemala from Israel in an Argentinian cargo plane; similar shipments were discovered in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Reagan’s election in 1979 and his policy of containment in Central America were exploited by Israel. The late Ariel Sharon engineered a relationship with the US in which Israel would carry out much of its dirty work in the region, in a bid to cement a closer relationship and align the countries’ geostrategic interests. This included funnelling weapons to Nicaragua and El Salvador. In a special report by the New York Times in 1983, it was noted that Israel had a role in supplementing US strategic interests.

Israel had contributed considerably to Guatemala’s counterinsurgency programme by the late 1980s, with at least 300 retired and Israeli government affiliated trainers active in the country, passing-on expertise on everything ranging from computer tracking of insurgents and activists through complex snooping techniques, to training elite troops known as “Kaibiles” for the rural pacification programme.

Nicaragua vs USA: The framework for reparations from Israel

In the International Court of Justice case Nicaragua vs USA, America was forced, due to its military and paramilitary acts in Nicaragua, to pay compensation to the Nicaraguan people. There are a number of merits from this ruling which could be used to draw up a case against Israel. Under paragraph 220 of the case it notes that states are obliged to refrain from encouraging a party to commit violations or provide concrete assistance: “The United States is thus under an obligation not to encourage persons or groups engaged in the conflict in Nicaragua to act in violation of the provisions of Article 3 common to the four 1949 Geneva conventions.” Under the Basic Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Remedy and Reparation, it states:

4. In cases of gross violations of international human rights law and serious violations of international humanitarian law constituting crimes under international law, States have the duty to investigate and, if there is sufficient evidence, the duty to submit to prosecution the person allegedly responsible for the violations and, if found guilty, the duty to punish her or him […]

Israel’s work in providing Guatemala with military advisors and technical assistance to Rios Montt could constitute such “assistance” for a Guatemalan to conduct genocide and violations of international humanitarian law.

Solidarity of rights

What is most remarkable about the tactics used by the Guatemalan government against the indigenous communities is how much they emulate strategies used by Israel to control and break those under its military occupation. Development towns and forced displacement are official policy used by Israel against its Bedouin population; a scorched earth policy was deployed in South Lebanon; counterinsurgency techniques used by the Shin Bet are deployed to stifle popular protest by Palestinians. Truth, reconciliation and reparations are amongst the hardest of socio-legal programmes to implement. It has been a long and torturous process for Guatemala’s impoverished and marginalised communities to extract confessions from those guilty of atrocities committed during the war. Any admittance of guilt from Israel, in complicity with Guatemalan state crimes, will be difficult to ascertain. Israel’s intricate web of lobby groups, as well as one of the strongest legal defence teams in the world, would make the task difficult. Nevertheless, by bringing a case to the ICJ, a deeper bond of solidarity between Guatemala’s oppressed peoples and their natural allies in Palestine could well be fostered.

]]> (Nick Rodrigo) Americas Mon, 05 Oct 2015 17:24:00 +0000
Egypt supports Russia in Syria Tariq Al HameedIt is interesting that Egypt has announced its support for Russian intervention in Syria. “The information available to Egypt through direct contact with the Russian side affirms Russia’s eagerness to counter terrorism and restrict its spread in Syria,” said Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry. “Russia’s entrance, given its potential and capabilities, is something we see is going to have an effect on limiting terrorism in Syria and eradicating it.”

This statement means that there are some serious points of dispute with Egypt. There is the problem that Egypt believes that the Russians are serious about combatting terrorism, despite that fact that the Russians are bombing the Syrian opposition and only targeted Daesh in 5 per cent of their strikes. The other problem is that these Egyptian statements show leniency - I will not say sympathy - towards the criminal Bashar Al-Assad. The statements do not suggest that his crimes are the reason Syria is where it is today and that Assad is the official sponsor of terrorism and the reason for the emergence of Daesh.

This Egyptian position reveals the problem of Cairo not concerning itself with the Russian-Iranian coordination to support Assad, especially since Damascus is under Iran’s protection. Does Egypt consider this enough of a guarantee to combat terrorism? Or to protect the unity of the Arab state?

It must be said - better late than never - that there is a real flaw in the understanding of the Syrian crisis in Egypt, both politically and amongst the elites. Egypt is not Syria and Tunisia is neither Libya nor Yemen; there is no one resolution for all of the crises known as the Arab Spring. As such, there is no consistency in the positions and events, except with regards to stopping the bloodshed and preserving the state, not the head of the state, especially in the case of a criminal like Assad.

What some people in Egypt do not bear in mind is the fact that Assad’s army is sectarian, and has now been supplemented by Shia and Iranian militias as well as Russian forces; it is different from the Egyptian army.

They also do not realise that Assad is being assisted by Iran and its supporters to torture the Syrians, unlike the Egyptian military council which supported its people and took action under this cover, thus affording it Arab support. However, in Egypt, they are also unaware that Assad, who has caused the death of a quarter of a million Syrians and displaced millions of others, heads the first Arab government to resort to a foreign country to attack its own people, after having resorted to sectarian militias. Again, this is not the case with Egypt.

Nor do some people in Egypt keep in mind the fact that foreign military intervention in the region has never helped any country. This is actually occupation rather than liberation, as was the case with Kuwait, and at that time there was an international coalition to free it.

There was no benefit from the American occupation in either Iraq or Afghanistan and the Russian intervention will benefit neither Syria nor even Assad, just as the Iranian hostility has not benefitted anyone in the region.

Hence, the Egyptian position is strange and a concern for those counting on or hopeful for the country. I must say that politics are not arguments and nor are they black and white. There are a lot of grey areas and, in Syria’s case, there is also a lot of blood red.

Translated from Ash Sharq Al Awsat, 5 October, 2015

]]> (Tariq Al Hameed) Africa Mon, 05 Oct 2015 17:16:04 +0000
Egypt's coup regime has devastated its own people in Sinai Asa WinstanleyA new report by Human Rights Watch has cast light on the scale of the Egyptian dictatorship's crimes against its own people in the Sinai region.

The report on forced evictions in the Egyptian town of Rafah says that "at least 3,255" homes, businesses and other local buildings have been demolished by the military since it came back to full power in the coup of July 2013. Innocent people have been forced to move out of their own homes, often at extremely short notice and with little or no compensation in return.

The report opens with a moving quotation from one of the local people who has suffered at the hands of the military in this way, reflecting on what she lost: “I myself used to make food and tea for the soldiers and they came and sat in the shade of our olive tree when the sun beat down on them... My mother told me: 'The tree is your responsibility. I fed you from it and raised you on it. Even in times of war, we lived from its oil when nobody could find food.' Now there’s nothing I can do but hold the tree and kiss it and say, 'Forgive me, mom, what can I do.'"

The town of Rafah sits near the border with Palestine, close to the Gaza city of the same name. Historically, these two places were one city, but as the saying goes, these people did not cross the border, the border crossed them.

The Israeli siege on Gaza, most viciously enforced since 2007, has meant that underground tunnels have often become a lifeline to provide basic provisions and supplies all-too-often denied by Israel's clinical and sadistic punishment siege which is intended to put Palestinians "on a diet" in revenge for voting the wrong way in democratic elections back in 2006. The tunnels have also been used by Palestinian resistance factions to bring in weapons in order to defend the small coastal territory from Israeli attack.

But since the Egyptian military came back into direct power in the July 2013 coup, it has cracked down on the tunnels more than previous administrations, destroying and closing off many of them through flooding.

The coup of General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi was brutal, and has brooked no dissent. Protesters were literally shot off the streets, with more than 800 being murdered in one day in August 2013. One of the consequences of this bloodshed has been an unfortunate flowering in the activities of armed insurgent groups in the Sinai.

Initially known as Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, one particularly deadly group has now sworn intelligence to the so-called Islamic State, renaming itself the Sinai Province. It is this group that it's though was responsible for a deadly attack in October last year in which 28-31 soldiers (reports varied) were killed.

While this group is of course a genuine threat, the response of the Egyptian state has been nothing short of collective punishment against the entire civilian population of the area. Not only will this make things worse, but the way they have gone about it makes it seem little more than a pretext to get away with things they wanted to do anyway.

Satellite imagery examined by Human Rights Watch and published in the report shows that entire areas of Rafah have been bulldozed and blown-up by the army in order to make way for a "buffer zone," between Egypt and Gaza.

The Egyptian military and its propagandising media outlets claim this is because of "terrorists" smuggling in weapons from Gaza which are then used to attack Egypt. But there is no evidence whatsoever of this.

Indeed, Hamas, the Palestinian resistance group which controls Gaza has repeatedly made its antagonism towards both al-Qaeda and the so-called Islamic State clear in words and deeds. Islamic State declared war against Hamas earlier this year and Hamas has fought against it and prevented it from taking root in Gaza, as I reported in May.

While Hamas and other resistance factions have used the tunnels to bring weapons into Gaza, there are no credible reports that show weapons have gone in the other direction as the Egyptian regime has claimed. And considering the state of outright war between Hamas and Islamic State, the claim makes little sense.

What does seem clear, however, is the fact that the Egyptian regime, with the encouragement and military aid of the US, is wanting to do Israel's bidding in the region.

As Sisi is quoted in the report: “When we take security measures in the Sinai, those measures confirm our sovereignty over the Sinai, which is part and parcel of Egyptian territory. We will never allow anyone to launch attacks from our territory against neighbours or against Israel.”

As my colleague Ali Abunimah has put it: "Sisi’s subservience to Israel is certainly an extension of the anti-Palestinian policies adopted by Egypt’s ruling elite since the two countries made peace in the 1970s. But Sisi, in particular, owes a debt of gratitude to Israel lobby groups including AIPAC, which urged the US administration of President Barack Obama to back his coup regime."

The enforcement of these powers' cynical self-interest will only boost the malign interests of groups like "Islamic State" in the long run. Only the return of democracy to Egypt could begin to put things right.

An associate editor with The Electronic Intifada, Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist who lives in London.

]]> (Asa Winstanley) Inquiry Sun, 04 Oct 2015 10:20:53 +0000
South Africa’s pro-Palestine movement - struggling to repay the anti-Apartheid solidarity debt Martin JansenBy the early 1990s it seemed that significant progress had been made to reach agreements in what were considered to be the world’s three main political hotspots – Northern Ireland, Palestine and South Africa. Several decades of liberation struggles were suddenly catapulted towards real possibilities for attaining the end-goal. This was largely due to a changed international political climate arising from the collapse of the USSR and its satellite states in Eastern Europe, effectively putting an end to the Cold War. Negotiated agreements between enemies was the order of the day resulting in South Africa having its first democratic elections in April 1994 and coinciding with the signing of the Oslo Accords between the PLO and Israel. The Oslo Accords ensured Israel’s recognition of the PLO as the official representative of the Palestinian people accompanied by the establishment of a Palestinian Authority (PA), effectively institutionalising Israel’s colonial occupation over the Palestinian people and land with the PLO’s collaboration and a surrogate state, the PA.

In the case of South Africa, its ruling class, dominated by white monopoly capital, had already decided by 1985 that it had to deal with the leading party of the liberation movement, the African National Congress (ANC) and settle for black majority rule. Its shift in position was not pushed or precipitated by any democratic, moral or human rights imperatives. Rather, typically it was driven by the economic crisis that had impacted on white fortunes since the 1970s and getting worse, aggravated by a shrinking domestic and international market. The latter in particular was biting hard due to the success of the international Anti-Apartheid Movement (AAM) boycott and sanctions campaign and the significant psychological blow suffered by the Apartheid regime with its military defeat at the hands of the MPLA and Cuban soldiers in Angola. The AAM ensured that by the mid to late 1980s, international boycotts in almost every sphere of cultural life such as sport, music and academia were effective, along with governments and international institutions such as the UN adopting resolutions and legislation enforcing economic sanctions and embargoes that also deprived the Apartheid regime of acquiring arms to suppress uprisings internally and wage war along its borders.

The Anti-Apartheid Movement was strongest in the countries where it mattered most - Western Europe and North America - because these powerful imperialist nations had historically been the most ardent supporters and defenders of Apartheid South Africa. Their shift against Apartheid can be attributed mainly to the strengthening of the AAM internationally, particularly in North America and Europe along with most African states and their people.

Black South Africans, particularly the ANC, are indebted to the AAM for contributing to the liberation of South Africa. However, the reality in relation to a reciprocal involvement in the Palestinian struggle against Israeli colonial occupation does not reflect this. This is despite the fact that the ANC enjoyed a direct alliance with the PLO whose support included arming and training soldiers of the ANC’s guerrilla army, Umkhonto weSizwe (MK). “We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians,” said Nelson Mandela, reflecting and acknowledging this history, committing the ANC and his government to supporting efforts to liberate Palestine.

This political alliance was actually more profound than simply mutual support since the apartheid Israeli and South African regimes at the time had uncanny similarities in their settler-colonial roots, their establishment in 1948, their oppression and treatment of the native populations, direct economic relations and military co-operation with mutual admiration among their leaders. The South African Jewish community has historically been the biggest supporter and financial contributor - in proportion to its size - to the Zionist project since the establishment of the state of Israel, particularly through the Jewish National Fund.

In full view of the ANC, though, the Zionist support in contemporary South Africa has strengthened and even extends to young South African Jews serving in the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) - illegally in terms of SA law - and literally acting as the IDF’s poster boys. Not a single Zionist has been investigated or prosecuted for this.

Little wonder then that leading global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaigner Omar Barghouti was more than exasperated in disbelief and disappointment upon meeting ANC and government leaders in South Africa over a year ago. He genuinely struggled to comprehend and understand their complacency and refusal to act in any substantial way in solidarity with the Palestinian liberation struggle; this despite the fact that they are in power and had a strategic seat at the UN Security Council at the time. The prevailing view of many in the BDS movement was clear: who was better to lead the campaign against Israeli apartheid at this level than the ANC and the South African government?

South Africa’s Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) has long understood that in view of the relative weakness of the Palestinian masses compounded by the poor leadership of its dominant political parties, their struggle has to rely disproportionately on mass international solidarity. Moreover, given our history of a successful struggle against Apartheid oppression and white supremacy that relied on a strong global movement, the ANC government had a special contribution to make to advancing Palestinian liberation. We, along with many solidarity activists, had a reasonable expectation that the ANC in government would lead this struggle in the corridors of power of international institutions such as the UN and its Security Council.

Alas, this was not to be and, to-date, South Africa’s ANC government has neither done anything significant in solidarity with the Palestinians nor committed itself to do so, let alone support BDS. It has not even been prepared to wage a diplomatic battle at the UN despite having at its disposal a range of international resolutions and conventions that oppose Israel’s colonial oppression of the Palestinians.

Over the years, the PSC in South Africa has met with senior ANC officials to propose that they adopt BDS and legislation supporting it in order to compel South Africans, particularly big business and institutions, to isolate Israel politically and economically. Together with other solidarity organisations, we have also petitioned the government to stop using companies such as G4S, Caterpillar and Cape Gate which bolster Israel’s repressive apparatus. The ANC government has consistently ignored and refused these calls.

Even in the wake of Israel’s August 2014 attack on Gaza which resulted in another genocidal massacre that destroyed thousands of lives, the government refused even to accede to the demand to expel the Israeli ambassador. At a meeting with South Africa’s deputy minister of international relations a few months prior to this, the response to our demands was that the government needed civil society to ensure sufficient unrest and protests by South Africans to assist ministers in rationalising a more proactive BDS stance internationally. Yet, the temporary mass solidarity movement that emerged in August 2014, culminating in the biggest ever mass march to Parliament in Cape Town, with over 200 000 people on the streets, was insufficient to push the SA government to take concrete action in support of the Palestinians, not even significant humanitarian support. That was left to NGOs to do. What are we to make of this?

The ANC, like its nationalist counterparts in Fatah and the PLO, has always been a party led and dominated by middle-class interests, even in periods of heightened popularity during mass uprisings such as those in the 1980s. Liberation for the middle class from conditions of colonial oppression is not the same as for the poor and working class masses who invariably suffer the most. For middle-class nationalists it is and has been about removing all impediments and obstacles for them to survive, prosper and thrive, and open up possibilities for elevating themselves socially towards the dominant capitalist class. In the case of both the ANC and PLO it directs them towards joining and becoming dependent on the global class of monopoly capitalists and getting closer to their political representatives, the imperialist states of the USA and Western Europe.

The ANC, especially its top leadership, is in now in real terms closer than ever to big business in South Africa which is in no small measure supportive of Zionism and Israel. This is epitomised by South African President Jacob Zuma reportedly enjoying close personal and family business ties with wealthy Zionist arms dealer Ivor Ichikowitz of the Paramount group of companies. The ANC leadership, including the country’s first post-Apartheid President, Nelson Mandela, enjoyed a similar cosy relationship with Ichikowitz. Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa has a myriad of business ties within major local and global companies such as McDonalds.

The bottom line for us and the global Palestine solidarity movement is that the ANC and the current South African government cannot be relied upon to play any meaningful role in supporting the Palestine liberation struggle.

Despite the dire genocidal situation of the Palestinian masses we need to accept the long and hard road of mass mobilisation, organisation and a resolute uncompromising global struggle for one unitary and fully democratic state within historic Palestine for all who live there, to which all Palestinian refugees will be allowed to return, as is their legal right. The global BDS campaign offers us the direction and platform for achieving this but it needs to be led and supported actively by a much more proactive Palestinian grassroots, working class organisation and movement of activists.

The author is director/editor of Workers World Media Productions in Cape Town, South Africa. He formerly held positions of leadership in the Plastics and Allied Workers Union and the Chemical Workers Industrial Union (CWIU). He has represented the CWIU, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), the Labour Research Service and Workers World Media Productions at various national and international meetings and conferences.

]]> (Martin Jansen) Guest Writers Thu, 01 Oct 2015 06:00:00 +0000
Israeli apartheid week takes US campuses by storm Dr Sarah MarusekThroughout the months of February and March, students and activists around the world are organising activities for Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW), which aims "to educate people about the nature of Israel as an apartheid system" and to build support for the "Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign as part of a growing global BDS movement."

Across the US, so far at least 23 cities have formally announced IAW activities this year, with more groups adding their programmes each day. Because university calendars are not universalised, this means that activities are generally spread out across several weeks.

IAW in New York and New Jersey kicked off last week and will continue into next week. This year's programme includes demonstrations, film screenings and a number of lectures, including talks by renowned journalists Ali Abunimah and Max Blumenthal, as well as more creative forms of outreach and protest like Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) creating a human apartheid wall at Brooklyn College, or the "BDS on Broadway: An anti-Israeli apartheid musical walking tour" organised by the New York chapter of Adalah.

Events will be held in the streets, at churches and on various college and university campuses across New York City, including John Jay College, Brooklyn College, City College, Hunter College, Columbia University, New York University and The New School.

SJP is coordinating many of the campus programmes around the country. As MEMO has previously reported, American students who speak out for justice in Palestine are often unfairly targeted by university administrations, which attempt to silence any critical engagement of Israeli occupation and apartheid. Even lawmakers seek to limit academic freedom when it comes to Israel. For example, city officials threatened to withhold funding from Brooklyn College when its SJP chapter hosted a BDS discussion featuring prominent Palestinian activist Omar Barghouti and respected critical scholar Judith Butler.

Israeli apartheid week takes US campuses by storm - Human Apartheid wallCarlos Guzman, a student activist who has been involved in organising IAW activities in New York City for several years and who is also helping to coordinate the national campaign this year, told MEMO that last year the students at Brooklyn College created a wooden apartheid wall for IAW; however the college administration has since introduced new guidelines that explicitly forbid student groups from using wood or plexiglass to make any type of structure. The students ingeniously responded by creating a human apartheid wall.

Brooklyn-based activist Naomi Allen took part in the action and reported to MEMO that: "Brooklyn College SJP brought an apartheid wall to campus, a brilliant visual aid to the Israeli occupation for students who had never seen such a thing before. While about 20 students stood holding hand-made panels with pictures and slogans about the occupation, human rights and equality, others handed out Palestinian loss of land cards and flyers explaining what the apartheid wall means to Palestinians and how it disrupts their lives, threatens their livelihoods and steals their land. Hundreds of students, passing on their way to class, stopped to look and ask questions, to take flyers and express their amazement."

Other notable IAW events that have already been organised in US cities include activists demonstrating in Washington DC outside the annual meeting of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, by far the most powerful arm of the Israel Lobby in the US.

Students at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York created an apartheid wall highlighting 58 Israeli laws in particular that discriminate against Palestinians in the occupied territories, the structure physically emulating the actual apartheid wall that encloses the West Bank.

Students United for Palestinian Equal Rights at the University of Washington in Seattle launched their own version of an apartheid wall on campus in collaboration with the Chican @ Student Movement to draw the connections between the apartheid wall in Palestine and the Mexican-American border wall. As the Electronic Intifada reported earlier this month, one of the two main contractors for Israel's apartheid wall won a multimillion dollar contract in February from the US Department of Homeland Security to provide surveillance systems along the Mexico-US border that were tested on Palestinians.

And in Cambridge, Massachusetts the Harvard Palestine Solidarity Committee launched a testimony campaign, posting notices on the doors of Harvard undergraduate student halls, asking questions like, "How have you experienced apartheid?" or "What does apartheid mean to you?" The university's student newspaper reported that "Black, Latino, LGBTQ, Muslim, Jewish, working class, gender minority, disabled and Palestinian students [were] asked to grapple with a problem that exists not only" in Palestine and South Africa, "but also right here at home." As Carlos Guzman noted, this was an "engaging way of connecting struggles and making people think about what apartheid means to them and how they personally experienced discrimination in some way."

For more information or to announce your event, visit the USA IAW Facebook page.

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]]> (Dr Sarah Marusek) Activism Thu, 06 Mar 2014 11:07:02 +0000
An anonymous source '...sadly, professionalism has been lost amid billions of banknotes which have transformed the pen...'Anyone who denies that the Egyptian media, in both its visual and written form, is suffering from a professional and moral crisis is either too stubborn and proud or deceitful and glorifies unrighteousness to promote it as the truth. This has caused the cards to be mixed up and unrighteousness is now promoted as the defence of the right of media, which is demanded by everyone. It may be repetitive to mention that the freedom of thought and speech (which has now become a deplorable term due to the fact it is used by so many manipulative tongues that know nothing other than the language of lies, deceit, and incitement) is one of the foundations of democratic systems used to reveal corruption or immorality. However, all this is happening under the umbrella of law, which unfortunately is absent from Egypt. Following the glorious January revolution, Egypt has become a victim of the media funded by foreign countries that resent the revolution and are afraid that it will spread to their own counties and dethrone them. Moreover, such countries do not want to see Egypt regain its strength and glory and reclaim its historical and pioneering role in leading the Arab and Islamic nations. As such, billions of dollars are being pumped into establishing newspapers and opening television stations at a time when several factories and companies have been closed down and thousands of workers let go.


The media invasion in Egypt has also brought in new rules and creative media methods that utilise unsporting, criminal and internationally illegal weapons that violate media laws and norms. They were also inspired by Nazi Minister of Propaganda, Joseph Goebbels' saying "Give me media with no conscience; I will give you people who are unconscious." This is the path they took and were able to achieve quick success in the beginning of the invasion after dressing Mubarak's corrupt journalists in the robes of revolution and perseverance, even after they had praised him throughout the revolution. This process of clearing reputations was just the beginning of the brainwashing of the people, easing into their main goal for which the current media invasion was launched, which is to ultimately take over the people's consciousness and form new ideas against the revolution turning it from the people's revolution into a conspiracy carried out by the Muslim Brotherhood to seize control of the country.

These ideas have emerged in foreign-funded newspapers that are rewriting the history of the revolution and using their smart bombs to hit the body and mind of the revolution and ultimately kill it. In their new version of the story, they write that those who overthrew Mubarak were not Egyptians but members of Hamas, the military wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, who opened the prisons, destroyed buildings and killed the supporters of the revolution. This immoral and unprofessional nonsense is a disgrace to the revolution; a waste of martyrs' blood and a disregard of the people wounded and disabled during the revolution who sacrifices greatly for the sake of a greater cause – the freedom and dignity for the Egyptian people. However, this misguided media that promotes lies and fabrications does not care about such causes and reports such falsehoods by quoting "anonymous sources". This is the new fad that has plagued the media in light of this obnoxious media invasion which has completely distanced it from professionalism. A basic rule of professionalism is to verify a story from at least two sources before even thinking about reporting it. However, sadly, professionalism has been lost amid billions of banknotes which have transformed the pen, which God Almighty swore by, into a tool for the propagation of lies and delusion and the spread of discord in the country. Under the banner of such "anonymous sources", corrupt newspapers report artificial battles between the presidency and the various state institutions; sometimes the battles are with the army, and at other times with Al-Azhar or with the police, etc. The purpose of this is to turn all parts of society against the elected President, as well as the Muslim Brotherhood, who also haven't been spared from these "anonymous sources".

Media which blurs and distorts facts must be addressed by the honourable people of this admirable profession. I realise that there are positive attempts from some colleagues protective of the profession, and whose hearts are saddened by this decline and fall of their colleagues who have stained the profession as a whole. They are now trying to pick up the pieces and set things right, however how can these diligent attempts succeed when those controlling the media are the students of "Goebbels" who taught them to lie. Moreover, millions of pounds are being used to blind them and turn them into political leaders after abandoning the profession and indulging in politics only for the purpose of overthrowing the Muslim Brotherhood. The irony lies in the fact that they are the ones who have fallen after the people have seen the truth of their ways and their ugly faces were shown, but the Muslim Brotherhood will not fall; (And the unbelievers schemed but God brought their scheming to nought: for God is above all schemers.)

]]> (Dr. Amira Abo el-Fetouh) Letter from Cairo Wed, 22 May 2013 16:02:14 +0000
The question of the third intifada Oraib Al-RantawiThe issue of the moment is the question of an impending third intifada. Are the events taking place in Jerusalem and the West Bank heading towards another Palestinian uprising? What are the opportunities and the possibilities? What are the obstacles and the challenges? Who is working to prevent this from happening and who is working towards encouraging such an eventuality?

The truth is that the Palestinian situation, especially in the occupied West Bank, has become more complicated and this reality has prevented us from finding any straightforward or easy answers; in any case and under any conditions it would be a mistake to underestimate the possibility of events unfolding where there will be a third intifada. There are many factors contributing to the outbreak of an uprising in the occupied territories and these are currently restrained by a low ceiling. The Palestinians have many reasons to break through this ceiling and head for the streets in protest.

Israel has closed every window of hope for the Palestinian people; there are currently no portals leading to a brighter future. All the pathways to freedom and independence for a viable future state have been blocked. This does not stop at the growing expansion of the settlements or the daily violations of Al-Aqsa Mosque, or the siege imposed on Gaza; in truth, it goes beyond all of that. There is very little left for the average Palestinian to lose.

In addition, there is the bloodshed that has occurred in light of Palestinian division and the absence of national unity. This requires a new strategy because the cause has been abandoned and this reality is among many factors causing the average Palestinian to feel as though he has nothing left for himself. Many have come to realise that they must take matters into their own hands and demand that their voices are heard and that their rights are given to them in the face of all these closed doors and pathways.

The question of Jerusalem and the rights of its citizens, as well as its sanctity in both the Muslim and Christian traditions, has been transformed — because of the Hashemite Kingdom’s sponsorship — into not only into a bone of contention between the Palestinians and the Israelis but also between the Israelis and the Jordanians. Palestinian Jerusalemites have been ringing alarm bells time and time again in the past few months, and are doing so today, but the city has been demarcated and divided between occupation forces and settlers on one side and the Palestinians on the other.

Even so, this does not mean that we are headed towards an intifada, for the question at hand is far more complicated than this. We have gone through many points before and any one of them could have been an indication of another uprising, but it did not take place. Our expectations have exceeded far beyond this with three wars in Gaza, human rights violations and abuse of Palestinian Jerusalemites in Al-Aqsa, all of which have failed to ignite the fuse. Indeed, Israel’s brutal, lawless ways have become the norm for Palestinians in their everyday West Bank life.

However, recent events have affected the way in which we have started to interpret the effects that the Israeli occupation has on Palestinian life and human rights. We are now in search of a new social and political structure that will enable us to combat the security apparatus, although the catalyst for this was the fateful broadcast of a tape showing Israeli policemen severely beating a boy from Bethlehem a few weeks ago.

Yet, with all of these factors there are still those who believe that the current violence taking place in Jerusalem and the aggression taken out on Al-Aqsa is different to that which we have seen in the past and that the third intifada is undoubtedly on its way. Is this the case?

I believe that there are visible differences between how things are taking place this time around in comparison to the previous rounds of violence; the responses of the people in Jerusalem and those in the West Bank differ, for a start. The current public mood is tense, especially within the upper ranks of Fatah, but Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas did not flick any switches in his recent speech at the UN, although he did shake up Israel’s sense of security by threatening to detonate a metaphorical bomb. Moreover, Israel’s arrogance may be the straw that breaks the camel’s back since Abbas has made no promises to keep the lid on popular anger for much longer. All of the tension that currently exists indicates that there is in fact an impending uprising on the horizon and that the chances for confrontation may reach a peak as chaos continues to define this political game.

In light of the ongoing division between the two main Palestinian factions and the sense of fear that has overtaken both parties, there is no doubt that a dark period awaits us. Fatah is not comfortable with the escalation in confrontation that Hamas has been promising the West Bank, especially at a point when many agreements are contingent upon a longstanding ceasefire in the Gaza Strip. It seems as though the leadership in Ramallah has considered the Hamas call for resistance in the West Bank to be a veiled threat to the Palestinian Authority under the pretext of standing up to the occupation. In short, Fatah believes that Hamas is planning a coup after which the latter will gain control of both Palestinian territories.

Yes, it is true that the president of the Palestinian Authority stood in New York and declared that it is no longer obligated to abide by the Oslo agreement, and that there is also a threat to dissolve the PA itself and thus bring an end to security coordination with Israel, but Abbas has yet to carry out his threats. This has more to do with the PA’s delusional outlook that there is still room for negotiations and a two state solution. Even as it waves its last playing card in the air, the PA does so under the false assumption that there will be regional and international initiatives that will change the status quo.

For all the reasons mentioned above it seems as though a third intifada is a possible scenario but it’s not the only one. There are many others that we must not underestimate. It is as if there are initiatives taking place to create a sense of calm between Israel and Palestine and to achieve economic peace and stability as well as a long-term ceasefire in Gaza. The goal is to buy more time in an effort to prevent a comprehensive explosion. As for the two state solution, it is no longer going to be the pacifier that satisfies the Palestinian people’s emotions, as many now believe that this option is a thing of the past and is no longer viable.

Translated from Addustour, 5 October 2015

]]> (Oraib Al-Rantawi) Middle East Tue, 06 Oct 2015 15:53:01 +0000
Britain’s approach to Yemen has been both naïve and duplicitous Sanaa, YemenThe British government resigned itself to war in Yemen long before the Saudi-led coalition carried out its first sorties against Houthi-held targets in March this year. That's according to a series of damning British government documents I have seen regarding “Friends of Yemen”, a diplomatic effort supposedly spearheaded by Britain to aid peaceful transition in the country. A joint initiative between the Republic of Yemen, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the UK, its last meeting was in September 2014.

Following the disruption of an Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) attack on an airliner bound for Detroit on Christmas Day 2009, Britain convened a meeting on 27 January 2010 which launched Friends of Yemen. Plans were already being discussed for such a group, according to the Foreign Office, and the foiled plot merely acted as a catalyst.

The basic idea was for Friends of Yemen to provide a forum which would bring the Gulf States together with the Yemeni authorities to maintain the momentum on both political reconciliation and aid pledges, while galvanising the international community to give generously.

Nine months later, Britain’s Foreign Secretary, William Hague, co-chaired a meeting with his Yemeni counterpart Dr Abu Bakr Al Qirbi and Saudi Arabian Deputy Foreign Minister HRH Prince Turki. Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt MP and Minister of State for International Development Alan Duncan MP were also at the meeting. While the situation on the ground was tense, the discussions focused on preparing the country for IMF funding, de-radicalisation, promoting dialogue and dealing with some key infrastructure issues.

An aid package was put together gradually from amongst Friends of Yemen’s impressive membership, which included the Sunni Arab states, the US, France, Russia, Germany, Denmark, Indonesia, Italy, Malaysia, Czech Republic and South Korea. International organisations included the League of Arab States, Delegation of the European Union, Gulf Cooperation Council Secretariat, Islamic Development Bank, International Monetary Fund, the Organisation for Islamic Cooperation and the World Bank; the UN also pitched in.

In 2011, as President Saleh faced street protests and the country slipped further into instability, Friends of Yemen decided that attempts at peaceful dialogue weren't worth it. All meetings for that year were cancelled. Later, the Gulf States put through their own proposal for transitioning Saleh out of power, while the UN appointed its own special envoy. The dream of a grand transnational union of countries aimed at addressing Yemen's crisis was crumbling.

By May 2012, the group had agreed to meet again. That meeting focused on how to support the GCC transition plan, while a second, held on the fringes of the UN General Assembly meeting in September, discussed delivery of an $8 billion international aid package. Much of that money was never to arrive. Further meetings held in 2013 noted that only one in five of the dollars pledged had actually made it into Yemen, while only half of the pledges had actually been approved formally. To make matters worse, the political and security situation in Yemen was deteriorating rapidly.

I have seen an independent analysis of Friends of Yemen conducted by a Foreign Office analyst in Whitehall. “By the September 2013 meeting,” it noted, “the scale of political divisions had become apparent, and the National Dialogue Conference was already by then a number of weeks late in concluding... What perhaps was becoming clear was that Yemen is entering a further phase in political transition to which Friends of Yemen would need to adapt.”

Friends of Yemen hoped to maintain influence over the NDC through accelerating the delivery of aid. Yet progress on this crucial area remained glacial. A particular problem was that the same states who had designed the transition process, the Gulf countries led by Saudi Arabia, were amongst the worst offenders for not delivering on their aid promises.

Leading the pack, while also co-chairing Friends of Yemen, was Britain’s ally Saudi Arabia. By September 2014, Friends of Yemen reported that only thirty per cent of the three billion dollars Saudi Arabia had pledged two years before had actually arrived. Kuwait had promised $500m of which just $10m had been transferred, and none of the UAE's $150m had been made available. The Arab Fund, which had promised a further $500m, had delivered just $6.5m.

In stark contrast, 70 per cent of the Western aid packages had been delivered, with the notable outlier being the World Bank, which had delivered just under a third of the half a billion it had pledged. Britain pledged $300m and had duly delivered over 90 per cent.

Having failed to deliver their promised aid, Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf States would soon begin a bombing campaign in Yemen which extended gradually to target Shia mosques and cultural sites, inflicting civilian casualties and ensuring a ticking-off from the UN, which had previously sat alongside Saudi Arabia in Friends of Yemen. The military campaign continues to provoke controversy, particularly with regards to Britain’s silence over alleged abuses by Saudi-led forces.

Behind the scenes, Friends of Yemen is considered by Britain’s Foreign Office as a waste of money. Funding for the programme was ranked in the two most recent value-for-money assessments as “B” - “Moderately not meeting expectations”.

Fulfilment of each country's commitments agreed at Friends of Yemen meetings was described as “varied, with most experiencing delays”. Feedback collected from foreign office officials about the efficacy of these meetings was deemed “mixed”. A second internal assessment, published by the British government in January 2015, noted that “high-level (foreign minister or equivalent) attendance at the Meetings has been progressively declining since 2012.”

The reasons for the failure are clear. Aid-led engagement with Yemen has always been problematic; the West gives aid to Yemen because it wants to thwart the rise of AQAP, but this creates a perverse disincentive for Sanaa never to fully remove the group from the scene. For credibility, Friends of Yemen relied on the Gulf States, which could only ever represent one side of the peace process and proved duplicitous in promising aid which never arrived. The power balance between the two chairs, Britain and Saudi Arabia, was also heavily tilted in favour of Riyadh, at a time when London was desperately trying to complete a series of multi-billion dollar arms deals that provoked simpering obsequience to Saudi interests rather than the necessary tough rhetoric from Whitehall.

In theory, Friends of Yemen still exists, though it has no further meetings scheduled. Its profile in Westminster is clearly miniscule; in June, Keith Vaz MP had to write to the Foreign Office Minister Tobias Ellwood MP to enquire whether the group was even still active. “The UK remains committed to the objectives of the group, and the important co-ordination mechanism it offers,” was the answer. Far from a British and Saudi-led international effort to achieve peace in Yemen, the group has become little more than a secretariat for chasing the Gulf States to make their aid payments; given that they have just invaded Yemen, this looks unlikely to be done any time soon.

Britain is thus left looking, though earnest in intention, a little naïve to have ever co-chaired a group with Saudi Arabia. It is also a little duplicitous for giving such enthusiastic support to the new Saudi approach, which includes what increasingly look like serious war crimes being committed by Britain’s former partner for peace.

]]> (Alastair Sloan) Europe Tue, 06 Oct 2015 09:36:50 +0000
Obama in limbo while Putin strikes US-backed Syrian rebels Residents of Kafranbel in Syria protested on Saturday against Russian airstrikes.

The United States has failed to protect its allies in Syria. Russia’s airstrikes, which aim to empower the embattled dictator Bashar Al-Assad, have killed any hope for a political resolution to the conflict. Regional powers, including Turkey and Saudi Arabia, are likely to respond with military force to counter Russia and Iran’s influence over events in Syria.

“There’s no other solution to the Syrian crisis other than strengthening the effective government’s structures and rendering them help in fighting terrorism,” Russian President Vladimir Putin told Charlie Rose in an interview on 28 September. Two days later, Russia’s jets carried out their first strikes in Syria, declaring that Daesh was the target. Prior to the start of the airstrikes, Russia spent several weeks deploying fighters in Syria and building up military bases in the western coastal region.

According to its foreign minister, Russia intends to “weaken” Daesh by targeting the group’s strategic positions in coordination with the Assad regime. However, Russia’s airstrikes have not actually hit the militants; instead, they bombed positions held by opposition groups in Homs and Hama, some of whom are believed to have been trained and equipped by the US.

Over 30 civilians were reported to have been killed in the first Russian attack on Talbisah, Homs. Suhaib Al-Ali, the spokesperson of Homs Liberation Movement, one of the major rebel groups in the province, said that his group was targeted by the Russian airstrikes on Wednesday. “We don’t have any advanced anti-aircraft weapons, only heavy machine-guns,” he explained. “But they couldn’t make any advance on any front.”

Caption: Residents of Kafranbel in Syria protested on Saturday against Russian airstrikes. Photo courtesy of Kafranbel Syrian Revolution.

Putin is facing increasing criticism from Western and Gulf leaders over his military campaign in support of the Assad regime. US officials have raised concerns that Daesh/ISIS is not present in the areas hit by the Russians. On Friday, Barack Obama criticised the Russian involvement, suggesting that its airstrikes are only “strengthening” ISIS. However, the US president has made it clear that America is not going to confront Russia directly over its air campaign in Syria. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, meanwhile, added to the criticism, suggesting that Russia had committed a “grave mistake” in bombing Syria. The Russian deployment has coincided with the Pentagon withdrawing US Patriot missile defence system from Turkey’s border with Syria.

Samir Nashar, a senior member of the opposition Syrian National Coalition, told MEMO that there are talks between Saudi Arabia and Turkey to take joint action in Syria. “With the Russian intervention, I believe that we have strayed from the political solution,” he said. “I see that the military track is more of a possibility, as the political track is retreating.”

Russia’s presence in Syria may prevent the establishment of an ad hoc no-fly zone, a motion that has been discussed among regional and international powers to protect civilians and shelter Western-equipped opposition forces. Nashar thinks that Obama is hesitant to take any action against Russia and noted that the current US administration has no clear role nor strategy in Syria. “The United States is completely powerless.”

The Saudi Foreign Minister, Adel Al-Jubeir, insisted that Bashar Al-Assad has no future in any resolution in Syria. Reports indicate that more funds and advanced weapons are likely to be delivered to Syria’s rebels from regional powers in order to balance the present situation. Saudi Arabia has also been weary of Iran’s involvement in the region, especially after Tehran’s re-engagement with the Russians through the establishment of a joint intelligence operations room based in Baghdad, which also involved Syria and Iraq.

Syria represents a strategic interest for the Russians. Since the 1950s, Moscow has invested heavily in the Ba’ath Party in the region and in the Assad family in Syria; arguably, it is too late for the crumbling status of the regime to be saved.

In a speech weeks before the deployment of Russia’s military personnel in Syria, Assad declared that his forces lacked manpower, even though his army has been reinforced by thousands of fighters from Iran, Iraq, and Lebanon’s Hezbollah over the past two years. Some observers have argued that Russia’s support for the Syrian regime is not meant to enable Assad to regain control over the country, but to serve Moscow’s intention of maintaining a foothold in the regime’s military institution.

That doesn’t wash with Syrian opposition groups though. “The mission of the Russian airstrikes is to extend the lifetime of the [Assad] regime,” concluded Suhaib Al-Ali in Homs.

Abdulrahman al-Masri is an independent journalist based in Canada. Follow him on Twitter @AbdulrhmanMasri.

See also:

Syrian opposition chief slams Russian-Iranian ‘occupation’

Erdogan: Russia made a 'serious mistake' in Syria

Assad’s winning hand: what Russian involvement really means for the Syrian civil war

]]> (Abdulrahman al-Masri) Americas Mon, 05 Oct 2015 11:30:46 +0000
Israel is a threat to the entire region Asa Winstanley

The Zionist project represented by Israel is a fundamental threat to the entire Middle East. Despite the attempts by Arab dictators to demonise Palestinians and downplay the threat from Israel, many remain unconvinced.

In 2013, Saudi Prince al-Waleed bin Talal told former Israeli prison guard Jeffrey Goldberg in an interview that "the threat is from Persia, not from Israel". The increasingly open nature of the Israeli alliance with the Gulf dictatorships is helpful in the sense that it clarifies things that many have long suspected.

But the way Israel has behaved historically throughout the middle east will not soon be forgotten by those who have been its victims. Israel occupied south Lebanon for decades and was only driven out in 2000 by a successful armed resistance campaign (although some small border territories remain illegally occupied by Israel).

Despite the way the Palestinian struggle has become the most iconic one against Israeli occupation and apartheid, there is no denying the reality of the threat that Israel poses to everyone in the region.

Historically speaking, Israel has started wars with every single one of its neighbouring countries, and has also been involved in covert and overt military actions in many other countries of the middle east, and even around the world, including military support and arms trafficking to repressive regimes in Latin America and Africa (including mutual support for the apartheid-era regime in South Africa).

As brilliantly documented in Shlomo Sand's impressive book The Invention of the Land of Israel, the Zionist project has always been deliberately ambiguous about just how far its territorial ambitions reach. To this day, the state has no formally declared borders.

As Sand shows, Palestine “never served as a homeland for the ‘children of Israel,’ and for this reason, among others, [in the Hebrew Bible] they never refer to it as ‘the Land of Israel’” but as the land of Canaan. Later Jewish religious law “does feature the debut of the term ‘Land of Israel’ ” but, Sand explains, this was a “holy land” rather than a “homeland”. Most Jews did not seek to live there.

Zionism, the political movement, later sought to reinterpret Biblical stories for their own ends. Early Zionists drew on God’s promise in the book of Genesis to give the mythical patriarch Abram’s children “this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates” in modern day Iraq.

In 1897, the same year as the first Zionist congress, Israel Belkind (“the first practical Zionist”) drew a map: “ ‘The [river] Jordan splits the Land of Israel in two different sections,’ asserted Belkind, whose assessment was subsequently adopted by most [Zionist] settlers of the period” .

David Ben Gurion, the future first prime minister of Israel and the leader of labour Zionism, later scaled back this more expansive conception of "Israel", which threatens colonial Israeli occupation of countries from Egypt in the west, up to Iraq in the east.

But Yigal Allon, another leader in the supposedly left-wing labor Zionist movement, would, as late as 1979, refer to historic Palestine as "the western land of Israel." Implicit in that statement is the perverse idea that the modern state of Jordan is the "eastern land of Israel".

In other words, the indigenous population of the region should be driven out and/or live under the rule of Israeli occupation. The logo of the Irgun, the pre-state right-wing Zionist terrorist organisation that specialised in massacring Palestinians, clearly reflected this territorial claim, showing a map of Palestine and Jordan (then Transjordan) together as "the Land of Israel". The group was integrated into the nascent Israeli army following its foundation in 1948, and today a museum in Tel Aviv is still dedicated to the extremist group.

But the even more maximalist, Egypt-to-Iraq vision of the "Land of Israel" has not gone away. Today one group of Jewish extremist settlers defines the “Land of Israel” as stretching “from the Euphrates to the Nile.” This would mean Israeli occupation of parts of Syria, Iraq, Egypt and the whole of the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip and Jordan, and probably parts of Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Kuwait.

While this so-called Sanhedrin council of Jewish "sages" currently has no formal power in the state, the interests of the so-called Temple Movement it represents are entirely sinister. This group of Jewish extremists wants to demolish the al-Aqsa mosque, Islam's third holiest site, and replace it with a temple.

Fanatics like Rabbi Yisrael Ariel lead these groups, and he has openly called for genocide of non-Jews across the entire region. Many such rabbis receive state backings for their work and military backing for their followers' provocations on the al-Aqsa mosque compound.

As the tendency of Israel is to drift more and more to the right and more and more towards war, it must be recognised that Israel is a threat not only to the Palestinians but to all the peoples of the region.

An associate editor with The Electronic Intifada, Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist who lives in London.

]]> (Asa Winstanley) Inquiry Thu, 01 Oct 2015 09:20:11 +0000
Rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Muslim Brotherhood provokes Egypt Alan GreishIn early February 2014, Saudi media outlets published a royal decree that stated the Kingdom’s decision to jail any individual who affiliates himself with a religious organisation for a period of three to 20 years. This decree applied to religious organisations characterised on the state, regional or international level as terrorist organisations. The individuals who risked prosecution were not only those who affiliated and identified ideologically with the organisations in question but also those who sympathised with their ideologies in any way. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia had previously expressed its support for the July 2013 military coup in Egypt, which led to the ouster of the democratically-elected Muslim Brotherhood president, Mohamed Morsi, and his replacement by the then Minister of Defence Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi.

After more than 18 months and a change in the political scene and atmosphere, Riyadh is now welcoming and hosting officials from Hamas, the Tunisian Ennahda movement and even the Yemeni Hizb Al-Islah, all of which are affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood in some form. Moreover, unlike its Emirati counterparts, Saudi news sources have begun to deal with and portray the Muslim Brotherhood in a drastically different way than they have in the past. This change of sentiment is more than likely due to Saudi Arabia’s geopolitical strategy and its ties to the status quo in the region; regional relations with the Muslim Brotherhood have begun to change as a whole in recent years. In the 1950s and 60s, the Kingdom became a place of refugee for key figures from the Muslim Brotherhood who were being targeted by authorities in Egypt, Syria and Iraq. During the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, the Kingdom and the Brotherhood upheld a united front to fight the invasion under US sponsorship; however, the first Gulf War from 1990 to 1991 and the end of the Cold War put an end to this accord.

In 2002, the former Saudi Minister of Defence, the late Prince Nayef, stated in a Kuwaiti newspaper that: “The Muslim Brotherhood are the reason behind the majority of the problems in the Arab world and they are the cause of many problems in Saudi Arabia. We have supported this group more than necessary and they have destroyed the Arab world.” The prince also noted that the Muslim Brotherhood did not express their support for the Kingdom during Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait; however, what he failed to mention is that the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood supports the establishment of an Islamic state but on an electoral basis, which differs from the visions of most Gulf kingdoms. In fact, to further prove this point, one must note that the Muslim Brotherhood supported the demonstrations that swept Kuwait in the 1990s in support of a constitutional monarchy.

From 2011 to 2013, when the Muslim Brotherhood expressed its support for the revolutionary movements in the region, Saudi Arabia experienced a wave of fear at the possibility of popular support for democratic yet Islamic groups in power. And yet, it did not take long for Saudi Arabia to turn its fears and concerns towards Iran and how to counter the Islamic Republic’s rising influence in the region. The Kingdom began working towards building a “Sunni front” by focusing its efforts on countries such as Iraq, Syria, Palestine, Lebanon and Yemen in light of the increased risk of the impending nuclear deal between Iran and the 5 + 1 and a breakthrough in relations between Washington and Tehran. In light of all these developments, Riyadh began to explore new channels to communicate with the Muslim Brotherhood, following the realisation that the Brotherhood was no longer the biggest threat to the Kingdom. According to sources close to the Brotherhood, communications began to blossom in the final months of King Abdullah’s reign until his death on 23 January, 2015, and further developed after the ascension of King Salman to the throne. The reconciliation process has been further aided by King Salman’s Saudi-led military campaign in Yemen, as well as his awareness of the importance of developing a Sunni front in the region.

Rapprochement began on the Yemeni scene, while the Brotherhood’s regional allies who were also participating in the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen supported it. The Yemeni-based Al-Islah party, which is affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, has been one the main forces combatting the Houthis on the ground in Yemen from the very beginning and has therefore found itself to be a crucial part in the Saudi-led coalition. Al-Islah has played an undeniable role under the leadership of General Ali Mohsen Al-Ahmar. After coalition forces gained control of Aden last August, they appointed Naif Al-Bakri as the governor of the city. Al-Bakri was a former member of Al-Islah and his appointment angered both the UAE and the United States. Other Islah leaders such as Abdul-Majid Al-Zindani have taken refuge in Saudi Arabia along with several other members of the group. It is important to note that their presence in the Kingdom was banned as recently as last year.

Syria is the only example of an Arab country where Saudi Arabia actually worked to overthrow the regime after months of uncertainty. Like the Turkish government, Saudi officials remain wholly committed to bringing down the Assad regime despite both French and American apprehension. In Ankara, a new Islamic front has emerged with the hopes of uniting Islamic powers. This united front does not exclusively include the Muslim Brotherhood per se, but also Jabhat Al-Nusra, which is the Syrian branch of Al-Qaeda.

The most recent example of these developments is the Kingdom’s shift in its treatment of Hamas, a group that has long been on the black list for its relations with Iran. Hamas has expressed its proximity to the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria and elsewhere, and claims its relationship with Tehran is based on the fact that the Iranian government has provided the group with a great deal of undeniable logistical support. When it was announced that Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal had gone on a state visit to Iran, he was subsequently invited to visit Saudi Arabia in July 2015. While there, Meshaal met with the King and the Crown Prince, which not only ended years of strife between the two parties but was also the reason for Iran’s backlash against the Palestinian group.

The Vice President of the Iranian parliamentary committee, Mansour Haghighatpour, had the following to say in response to Meshaal’s visit to the Kingdom: “This would not be the first time that Hamas commits an error of this nature… they have previously been warned but they clearly do not understand the message. If they do not take heed and move in the right direction they will no longer be able to use that which has been afforded to them by the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

More importantly, Egypt is just as, if not more, disturbed by this rapprochement as it has implemented a continued siege on Gaza and closed more than 3,000 tunnels. Egyptian officials became even angered when Tunisia’s Ennahda leader Rachid Al-Ghannouchi visited Riyadh last June and stressed the importance of rapprochement between the Muslim Brotherhood and Cairo. The Egyptian regime has done nothing but emphasise their belief that there is virtually no difference between the Muslim Brotherhood and Al-Qaeda or Daesh, the same equation that the Israeli government uses in its treatment of Hamas. The Egyptian regime derives its legitimacy form the belief that it saved the country from the likes of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Officials have denied any deterioration of relations between Riyadh and Cairo, claiming they have many shared interests. Never in the history of Egypt has the media been this loyal to the regime, not even in the days of Gamal Abdul Nasser. Weekly political newspaper, Rose Al-Youssef, published an article by journalist Ahmed Shawki Al-Attar regarding Meshaal’s recent visit to Saudi Arabia in which he declared: “The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has betrayed Egypt”. Al-Attar subsequently called for restoring ties with Iran and was supported by famous journalist Mohamed Hassanein Heikal who reiterated the same sentiment in the Lebanese newspaper Al-Safir.

Although Egypt was supportive of the idea of Saudi intervention in Yemen, it remains opposed to the notion of sending ground troops, as the Egyptian authorities remain very conservative when it comes to tactics on how to overthrow a regime. Despite this, government-owned newspaper Al-Ahram crossed a line when it published an article on 9 September in which journalist Makram Mohamed Makram denounced those who support “the American project to divide the Middle East”. Makram went a step further when he saluted the Syrian army for defending its land and declared that Syrian refugees were not running away from Bashar Al-Assad but from Daesh. He condemned those who supported the endeavours of the Free Syrian Army, which he views as an extension of the Muslim Brotherhood. In summary, his article also declared: “Whatever crimes Al-Assad commits pale in comparison to those that are committed by terrorists.” We know by now that true friendships are not affected by rumours. Saudi Arabia and Egypt must deal with their differences accordingly and this statement specifically refers to Cairo as it stands under the shadow of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Translated from Al-Araby Al-Jadid, 29 September 2015.

]]> (Alan Greish) Africa Wed, 30 Sep 2015 15:35:17 +0000
Five Reasons Why Al-Aqsa Mosque Is Under Threat Palestinians inspect the damage at the entrance of Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem's Old City following clashes with Israeli riot police on September 15, 2015. Palestinians and Israeli police clashed at Al-Aqsa mosque compound for a three days during the Jewish new year.1. The ‘status quo’ is already changing

In 2014, almost 11,000 Jews entered the Al-Aqsa mosque compound. This represented a 28 percent increase from the previous year – and almost double the number of Jewish visitors in 2009. While in 2012, Jewish activists entered the compound on average once every 2 weeks, in 2013 this had become once every 4 days, and in 2014, closer to every 2-3 days.

The UN has described how this week’s confrontations were preceded by “three consecutive weeks of [Israeli forces] preventing all Palestinian women, as well as all men under 50, from entering Al Aqsa Mosque Compound during the morning hours, to secure the entry of settlers and other Israeli groups.” Last week, the Israeli government outlawed two Muslim groups, “informal movements of mostly Arab women and elderly men”, who protest Jewish activists’ visits to the compound.

2. The extremists in the Knesset

Almost a year ago, on 30 October, 2014, and for the first time since 1967, Israel closed the compound to all worshippers for an entire day. Shortly afterwards, amid similar tensions, an article in Ha’aretz pointed the finger of blame at “the Israeli right-wing politicians challenging the decades-old status quo.” It went on:

Until a few years ago, any talk of change at the Temple Mount was a surefire sign of religious madness, the stuff of eccentrics and the certifiably insane. Not anymore. These days there appears to be a wider acceptance for a Jewish Temple Mount, tracking Israel’s right-wing shift and the erosion of its resistance to messianic rhetoric.

The paper also noted how MK Miri Regev had chaired 15 debates in the previous year on the subject of allowing Jews to pray in the compound. Regev, from the ruling Likud, is now Minister of Culture.

Right-wing Jewish activists’ demands range from the formal sanctioning of Jewish prayer in the compound to the physical destruction of Muslim places of worship. Organisations advocating this latter goal receive funding and support from government ministries and the Jerusalem municipality.

In 2013, the then-Housing Ministry (now Agriculture Minister) Uri Ariel called for a Third Temple to be built on the compound, a promise he has since reiterated. Economy Minister Naftali Bennett has also suggested greater Israeli control over Al-Aqsa, while in May 2014, Likud – and Labor – MKs proposed a change to the status quo that would permit Jews to pray at the compound.

3. The Hebron precedent

In 1994, a Jewish settler shot dead 29 Palestinians in Hebron’s Ibrahimi Mosque. In response, however, Israeli authorities “forcibly partitioned [the mosque] with settlers being given most of the space.” As Ali Abunimah has noted, this is “a precedent many Palestinians fear the Israeli occupation will one day try to repeat at Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa Mosque.”

4. Why trust Netanyahu?

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has stated that Israel does not wish to change the status quo at the compound. But why believe him? From his double-speak approach to Palestinian statehood to the pride he has taken in undermining the Oslo Accords, there is good reason to be sceptical about the Likud’s leaders assurances.

5. The wider context in Occupied East Jerusalem

While this may not be about Al-Aqsa specifically, it is essential context for this last week’s events. Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem is 48-years-old, during which time Palestinians have suffered from land annexation, colonisation, discrimination, and repression.

Last month, Israel detained 150 Palestinians in Occupied East Jerusalem. A third of arrests took place near al-Aqsa – dozens more were detained in Silwan, Issawiya, Wadi Joz, Sur Baher and Sheikh Jarrah. Israel also banned 37 Palestinians from al Aqsa for periods ranging from ten to sixty days.

In late August, at least 20 Jewish settlers moved into a 12-apartment building in Silwan, a step which “nearly doubled the number of Jewish settlers in the neighbourhood.” It did not take long for the settlers to be attacking local Palestinians – protected, of course, by Israeli forces.

Clashes between Palestinians and Israeli occupation forces are commonplace. Yet the response of the Israeli authorities is to authorise the use of live fire and to target East Jerusalem’s Palestinian residents with policies that even the police acknowledge constitute “collective punishment.”

]]> (Ben White) Debate Fri, 18 Sep 2015 15:12:04 +0000
The right of return; a forgotten issue Dr Ghada KarmiNo issue has been so much at the heart of the Palestine cause, or so resistant to resolution, as the right of return. Palestinians world wide see it as the basis of their case. Enshrined in international law and historical precedent, it has acquired an almost sacred quality for Palestinians, an untouchable right that no one can dispute. Generations of refugees have been reared on the expectation of return to their homeland. Their position derives not only from natural justice, but is also underpinned legally by UN Resolution 194, passed by the General Assembly in December 1948. It called on the newly-formed Israeli state to repatriate the displaced Palestinians “wishing to live in peace with their neighbours... at the earliest practicable date”, and to compensate them for their losses. A Conciliation Commission was set up to oversee the repatriation of the returnees. Though never implemented and frequently ignored since then, Resolution 194 has remained the legal basis for the “right of return”.

Yet, far from this fundamental plank of the Palestinian case being recognised as such and forming the core of any final settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, ignoring it has become the norm in political discourse. It simply either does not feature any more, or if it does, it is mostly as a bargaining chip in Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. The marginalisation of this fundamental right is not new; it started soon after the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, when the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) began to consider the possibility of setting up “an authority” on any liberated part of Palestine. Prior to that date, Palestine’s total liberation had been the PLO’s aim and this would mean the return to the homeland of all displaced Palestinians. By the late 1970s, though, the idea of partial liberation had developed into the aim to create a Palestinian state. In 1988, the independent “State of Palestine” was declared by the PLO on the 1967 territories, confirming the official Palestinian acceptance of the two-state solution that has been with us ever since.

In 1992, at the Madrid peace conference that followed the Gulf war, a so-called multi-lateral track was established without reference to the refugees. After protest by the PLO the issue was included, but Israel insisted it would refer only to those displaced by the 1967 war, and not those displaced in 1948 when the state was created. The whole thing came to nothing in the end, largely due to disagreement with Israel over definitions. The 1993 Oslo Accord took UN resolutions 242 and 338 as its basis, both of which deal with the refugee issue obliquely, and make no reference to Resolution 194. The issue was relegated along with others to “final status talks” between Israel and the Palestinians which have never been held. Palestinian acceptance of the Oslo terms, as well as the two-state solution, inevitably excluded the right of return, though this was never admitted explicitly. Talks at Taba between the two sides in January 2001 were a slight improvement; the Israelis offered a recognition of Israel’s moral and legal responsibility for the refugee exodus of 1948, but there would be no right of return to Israel, and the rights of Jewish refugees from Arab countries was brought up as if it were an equivalent issue.

A certain official prevarication about the Palestinian right of return first became apparent in 2002, when the Palestinian Authority is reported to have proposed dropping it as “an obstacle in the talks”. By 2011, when the revelations about the Israeli-Palestinian peace process between 1999 and 2010 were published by Al-Jazeera and the Guardian newspaper, it became clear that the Palestinian leadership was indeed prepared to cede the right of return in its negotiations with Israel. They agreed that only a token 10,000 refugees and their families would return there, and that Israel could not be expected to compromise its Jewish character by taking in any more. These offers were made without authorisation from the Palestinian people, let alone the refugees; in fact, Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, told George Mitchell, US envoy to the peace talks, in 2009, “On refugees, the deal is there.”

To assert against this background of appeasement that the right of return is the sine qua non of any solution to the Israeli-Palestinian problem is viewed today as “unrealistic” and old-fashioned, even an obstacle to peace, as if the passage of sixty-seven years had disqualified the Palestinians from entitlement to their homeland. Israel, conversely, shows no such ambiguity in its perennial and unambiguous rejection of the right of return. Through this process, the Arab discourse about the right of return has become deliberately vague, responding to Israel’s anxieties. The latest obfuscation of this right, supposed to lure Israel to the negotiating table with the Arabs, is the Arab peace plan, first devised in 2002. The plan included an ambiguous clause about the return of the Palestinian refugees, but without specifying whether refugees were to be "returned" to Israel or to the Palestinian state that would be created. No details of numbers of returnees or mechanisms for their repatriation were provided, but the plan spoke of achieving “a just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem to be agreed upon in accordance with UN General Assembly Resolution 194.”

When Israel was founded in May 1948, many Western states saw it as a moral and necessary act to compensate Jews for the damage inflicted on them by Nazi Germany. A faraway country, Palestine, in a backward region, mostly under Western control and without the capacity to resist, must have seemed an ideal refuge for the stricken European Jews. As all Arabs know, in this euphoria of settling the post-war Jewish refugees and at the same time solving the centuries-old “Jewish question” which had plagued Europe and its Jews, the West ignored the cost to the native population of Palestine.

The resulting tragedy for the Palestinian people has been documented endlessly; despite Israeli propaganda to the contrary, this was both inevitable and predictable, given the determination of Israel’s founders to create a state for Jews in a land that was not Jewish. They recognised from the beginning that they would have to reverse Palestine’s demography, by converting the existing Arab majority into a Jewish one. As Yoram Bar Porath put it bluntly to the Israeli daily, Yediot Ahronot, on 14 July 1972, “There is no Zionism, colonisation or Jewish State without the eviction of the Arabs and the expropriation of their lands.” Rafael Eitan, Israel’s Chief of Staff, told the New York Times on 14 April 1983, “The Arabs have no right to settle on even one centimetre of Eretz Israel.”

This thinking inevitably caused the flight and expulsion in 1948 of between 750,000 and 900,000 native Palestinians, three-quarters of the total population of Mandate Palestine. A third of them had already been evicted by Jewish militias before Israeli statehood was declared, in line with Zionist strategy, and it was this Palestinian dispossession that formed the background to Resolution 194. Israel rejected UN demands root and branch, even though the terms of its admission to UN membership required adherence to UN resolutions, including 194. When the UN Mediator for Palestine, the Swedish diplomat Count Folke Bernadotte, who was appalled by the refugees’ plight, tried to push for repatriation in line with Resolution 194, dissidents from the Irgun terror gang under Menachem Begin (who later became Israel’s prime minister) assassinated him in September 1948. Nothing since has succeeded in shifting Israel’s opposition. In sixty-seven years, it has not repatriated a single refugee or even apologised for its deeds in 1948, demanding instead that the refugees settle in other states and find compensation from international funds.

There is no doubt that this Israeli obduracy, supported by powerful Western states, has persuaded many in the Palestinian leadership to compromise on the right of return. And no wonder; every serious peace plan since Resolution 194 has foundered on the refugee question. Today, the refugee camps appear to be a permanent feature of the Arab countries in which they were established. The refugees and their descendants number some 5.8 million, living in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, as well as across the West Bank and Gaza Strip, suspended in an anomalous existence, all too often without rights or a future. By what logic could the displaced Kosovans be repatriated in 1999, or the displaced people of Bosnia-Hertzogovina be offered return and compensation under a strict international administration with built-in monitoring, while the Palestinians remain in limbo?

Watering down the right of return, and pandering to Israel, is not the way to solve the problem. Only solutions that can reconcile the right of Palestinian return with the existence of an Israeli Jewish community which, whether we like it or not, now exists and has acquired rights too, can succeed. The two-state solution, currently promoted, cannot do this. There is only one solution for this sixty-seven year old impasse that addresses the rights of Palestinians, Israelis and the needs of justice. Difficult as it is to envisage, only a unitary state in Israel-Palestine can encompass the returning Palestinians and ensure the continued existence of an Israeli Jewish community, however egregious their presence in that land.

Neither side can win the war over exclusive ownership of historic Palestine. Israel’s attempt to do so has only caused unending conflict and suffering for Palestinians and the rest of the Arab world. The UN made Israel and must now unmake it, not by expulsion and displacement as in 1948, but by converting its aggressive and hate-filled legacy into a future of hope for both peoples in one state. If that happens, the Palestinians’ right to return will have been fulfilled.

Ghada Karmi’s latest book, ‘Return: a Palestinian memoir’ is published by Verso.

]]> (Dr Ghada Karmi) Guest Writers Tue, 01 Sep 2015 06:00:00 +0000
Palestinians call for protests against US military aid to the Israeli occupation Dr Sarah MarusekSince the US-sponsored peace negotiations between the Palestinians and Israel recommenced last summer, Israeli forces have: authorised the approval of several thousand illegal settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories; launched the construction of twice as many illegal housing units as in the previous year; forcibly dispersed a peaceful protest camp in the Jordan Valley; violently suppressed the nonviolent demonstrations that happen weekly throughout the occupied West Bank; demolished hundreds of Palestinian homes and structures, with demolitions now at an all time high, leaving entire families homeless and exposed to the cold; arrested hundreds of Palestinian children and thousands of adults to be held without charge or tried in Israeli military courts; and killed dozens of Palestinians in raids in the West Bank and airstrikes in the Gaza Strip, which also injured several thousand.

In addition, Israeli settlers living illegally in the occupied Palestinian territories have carried out countless attacks against Palestinians, for example uprooting olive trees, burning cars and painting racist graffiti on homes, mosques, churches and schools. According to the Associated Press, UN figures published in January show that the annual rate of Israeli settler attacks against Palestinians has almost quadrupled over the last eight years.

Meanwhile, Palestinians were responsible for the deaths of six Israelis throughout all of last year; and militant groups in Gaza, a territory that the UN has warned may soon become uninhabitable due to the draconian siege imposed by Israel, consistently fired rockets at Israel, none of which caused any significant damage or injuries. In December, militants also planted a bomb on a bus near Tel Aviv, with no injuries reported.

Of course, all suffering is painful, but the systemic nature of Israel's violence against the Palestinians and the suffering caused by the Israeli occupation of Palestine is extreme.

And yet, the US Congress has decided to place conditions on US aid to Palestine, not Israel, when it passed HR 3547. Furthermore, the bill HR 3868, or the "Palestinian peace promotion and anti-incitement act," aims to further cut development aid to the Palestinian Authority, apparently because it has not done enough to confront incitement against Israel at a time when Israeli forces and settlers are committing daily crimes and humiliations with impunity.

To provide one example of the power imbalance, according to Haaretz newspaper, Israeli police recently summoned a Palestinian photographer who lives in occupied East Jerusalem for incitement because he posted on his Facebook page that the mayor of Jerusalem is "the mayor of the occupation". The Israeli newspaper suggests that this view of East Jerusalem is more than justified when the Israeli authorities expel Palestinians from their homes, settlers illegally take over Palestinian neighbourhoods and Palestinian houses are demolished.

The new legal efforts to restrict US development aid to Palestine illustrate why so many people also say that Washington is an occupied city: the actions of US politicians clearly indicate that their primary allegiance is to the government of Israel.

US development aid to Palestine is currently about $440 million annually, slightly less than previous years allegedly due to budgetary constraints. This aid is subject to a wide range of restrictions and conditions to make sure that the Palestinian Authority spends it in a manner that Washington and Tel Aviv fully approve of.

On the other hand, US military aid to Israel is $3.1 billion annually, and with supplemental programmes, despite the budget cuts, this year US military aid to Israel amounts to at least $3.6 billion. Furthermore, the Congressional Research Service notes that: "Strong congressional support for Israel has resulted in Israel receiving benefits not available to any other countries; for example, Israel can use some US military assistance both for research and development in the United States and for military purchases from Israeli manufacturers. In addition, US assistance earmarked for Israel is generally delivered in the first 30 days of the fiscal year, while most other recipients normally receive aid in instalments."

But despite the vast discrepancies that already exist between US aid policy towards Israel and Palestine, some American lawmakers have decided that it is appropriate to further undermine the Palestinian position while the US-brokered negotiations are unfolding.

The Times of Israel newspaper reports that HR 3547 is a package of several appropriation bills, one of which seeks to limit aid to Palestine by guaranteeing that: "the Palestinian Authority is acting to counter incitement of violence against Israelis and is supporting activities aimed at promoting peace, coexistence and security cooperation with Israel." The US Congress approved HR 3547 with the federal budget at the end of last year.

Subsequently, the bill HR 3868 was introduced. According to the Congressional Research Service, this bill is more targeted and "expresses the sense of Congress that the Palestinian Authority has not lived up to its agreements with Israel to end incitement and should do more to prepare the Palestinian people for peace with Israel." HR 3868 has been referred to the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, where it currently awaits further discussion.

The emergence of these two bills while negotiations are taking place under US auspices illustrates that American lawmakers are not interested in brokering a peace that even remotely resembles a just peace. However, they also appear at a time when Washington is becoming more and more isolated in its unquestioning support for Israel. The international community, and increasingly Western corporations, officials, churches, academics, artists and citizens, are voicing their concern and joining the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, as called for by Palestinian civil society.

Now, Palestinians are also calling upon Americans and internationals to protest against US military aid to the Israeli occupation on what is known as America's Tax Day, 15 April. The call from the Popular Committees of Palestine, which coordinate the nonviolent resistance against Israel's apartheid wall and illegal settlements, can be accessed here.

In reality, Palestinians are also resisting against censorship across Western societies, because politicians and the mainstream media rarely focus on the stories of the occupied. As Iyad Burnat, head of the Bil'in Popular Committee against the Wall, explains: "Most of the American people are unaware that the Palestinian people live under the Israeli occupation rule, and are also unaware of what is happening to the Palestinians, from killing to destruction to theft of land, and building of settlements and building of the apartheid wall." The censorship is due to the disproportionate influence of the Israel Lobby, so "the American and European media do not show the true suffering of the Palestinian people under occupation, and all of that under the explicit support of the US government."

Furthermore, whenever Palestinians do try to raise their voices to communicate their oppression they are brutally suppressed. After Israel occupied the West Bank in 1967, the authorities passed "Order No. 101" or the "Order regarding prohibition of incitement and hostile propaganda actions". According to +972 Magazine, this order dictates that any assembly, vigil or procession of ten or more people requires a permit from the local Israeli occupation forces commander and imposes ten years' imprisonment on violators. While the order applies to all Palestinians who live in the occupied Palestinian territories under full Israeli military control, Israeli settlers are subject to Israeli civil law.

This means that under occupation, it is illegal for Palestinians to protest against their occupation, while Israeli settlers are granted extraterritorial rights to openly demonstrate in support of their illegal settler movement. Furthermore, Israel uses American weapons funded by US taxpayers to ensure that the Palestinians remain silent.

Israeli forces regularly use overwhelming force to suppress any form of protest inside the occupied Palestinian territories, turning nonviolent demonstrations into clashes where "non-lethal weapons" result in mass casualties and even death. Indeed, a recent report by Amnesty International entitled "Trigger-happy: Israel's use of excessive force in the West Bank" finds that Israeli forces often resort to "unnecessary, arbitrary and abusive" force against nonviolent protesters. Burnat describes how in his village "peaceful demonstrators were killed by weapons made in America." This is powerfully documented in his brother's Oscar nominated film Five Broken Cameras.

Burnat continues: "Many peaceful demonstrators were killed in many places in Palestine by American-made weapons, and many international activists have been participating in these demonstrations in solidarity with the Palestinians; some were wounded or detained and in some cases were killed like Rachel Corrie, who was deliberately driven over by an American-made bulldozer while trying to prevent the destruction of Palestinian homes." The call for internationals to join Palestinians in their protest against US military aid to Israel is a call to end the Palestinian suffering under Israeli occupation.

Although resistance is a long and difficult struggle, Palestinians also know that justice is inevitable. The BDS movement and the tax day protests aim to make Israel's occupation of Palestine unprofitable, using similar tactics that helped to dismantle South Africa's apartheid regime. Waiting for peace is no longer an option—direct action is required. As Burnat notes, "The last country to stand against the discriminating regime in South Africa was the US, and it is the only country that has not yet boycotted the Israeli occupation."

]]> (Dr Sarah Marusek) Activism Tue, 04 Mar 2014 16:47:55 +0000
Oh Jerusalem! We have stopped counting on the Arab leaders to do anything but have high hopes of the Arab people to wake from their long slumber and rise in support of Jerusalem and liberate it from Israeli desecration.It has been 46 years since we lost East Jerusalem; Israel seized control of it in 1967, annexing the eastern half of the city illegally almost straight away. Israel celebrates this painful memory by holding an annual celebration in which it emphasises that Jerusalem is the "permanent capital" of the state. Each year, Israelis rub more salt into our wounds by erasing the city's Arab and Islamic landmarks, falsifying its history and "Judaising" the occupied territory.

This year, Israel celebrated the establishment of illegal Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem, making the point of only inviting non-Arab Israelis to move there; Arabs are still a majority of the city's population. The government has also allowed Jewish settlers to enter the courtyards of Al-Aqsa Mosque under police protection, and have allowed Israeli police officers to wear their uniforms in the mosque, although this was prohibited in the past. Moreover, this year, Israel has continued its rogue actions by arresting the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Muhammad Ahmad Hussein; this is a dangerous escalation in an attempt to silence any critical voice calling for the defence and protection of the religious sites in Jerusalem.

All this has occurred without any external Arab interference. Even the statements of condemnation, which the Arabs are known for using to conceal their weakness and failure to do anything, have not been made. It is as if they have abandoned their religious, moral and national responsibilities and have surrendered to the oppressive Israeli occupation. Have the Arab leaders forgotten that Jerusalem is an Arab and Islamic issue before a Palestinian issue? Where has the Islamic passion gone; where has Arab chivalry gone? The Israeli occupation is desecrating Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Grand Mufti is arrested before their eyes, and they do not stir or bat an eyelid. They stand by silently while the Arab territories are seized, historical structures are demolished and Arab street names are "Judaised" by Israel's occupation authority in an attempt to establish "facts on the ground" that will be difficult to change. Since the complicit international community has been silent in the face of all these violations, do not wait for them to support us in our cause; their position on Israel is linked to America's unshakeable backing of Israel and its blind advocacy of any measure the Netanyahu or any other Israeli government takes.

However, we cannot blame the US; all the blame and shame is on the weak, corrupt Arab regimes which have dropped the Palestinian cause off of their list of priorities and forgotten their religious and national duties. Instead, they have chased after their personal interests; some fearing for their throne, others fearing for their emirate and sheikhdom; and yet others trading the Palestinian cause for the preservation of their presidency. It is painful and lamentable that these kings and presidents have behind the scenes contact and relations with the Israeli enemy, and work on gaining their approval ultimately to please America, which guarantees their place on the throne, forgetting that God gives power to whom he pleases, and takes it away from whom he pleases, not America or Israel.

We have stopped counting on the Arab leaders to do anything but have high hopes of the Arab people to wake from their long slumber and rise in support of Jerusalem and liberate it from Israeli desecration. The youth of our nation should mobilise to protect Jerusalem in their millions; the true struggle is in the Holy Land, as foretold to us by Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). One day Palestine will be free, from the river to the sea, and Zionism will be no more. Until then, we must all do all that we can to protect Jerusalem and its people from Israel's brutal occupation and oppression.

]]> (Dr. Amira Abo el-Fetouh) Letter from Cairo Thu, 16 May 2013 15:45:00 +0000
Russian airstrike in Syria: Saving the world from freedom and dignity Russian airstrikes on Kafranbel

Russia’s military intervention in Syria has been sold to the world as action against Daesh but it is now clear that the real targets are anyone but the militant group. On the first day of the airstrikes, 65 people were killed, the vast majority civilians. The casualties of these airstrikes are added to the estimated 200-300,000 casualties of the Syrian conflict – 95 per cent of them caused by the regime of President Bashar Al-Assad, according to the Syrian Network for Human Rights. Activists uploaded videos of a child injured by the airstrikes in Talbiseh and a mosque destroyed in Jisr Al-Shughour as a result of the strikes, but they have broadcast many such videos in the past, when Al-Assad’s planes dropped missiles, barrel bombs, and chlorine and mustard gas on civilian towns and villages, and been ignored by the world’s media.

The Russian airstrikes struck targets in Idlib, Hama and Homs provinces. The targets included Talbiseh, Rastan, Latamneh and Kafr Zeita. These towns are not well-known in the west but Syrians know them as centres of peaceful protest against the regime following the outbreak of the Syrian uprising in 2011 and later as sites of massacres in which dozens of people died as the Assad regime took revenge on its own people. Another town attacked by Russia - Kafranbel - has a symbolic significance as the “pulse of the Syrian revolution”. With its innovative protests featuring English-language banners held every Friday for the past four years, this small town told an uncaring world what Syrians were thinking.

Russia, it seems, wants to finish the job that Assad started but is unable to complete. After a long publicity campaign in which Putin’s government tried to present itself as saving the world from Daesh, receiving the backing of the Russian Orthodox Church in the process, Russia admitted that it was targeting groups with no connection to Daesh. A spokesman for President Putin said: “These organisations are well known and the targets are chosen in coordination with the armed forces of Syria.”

What he didn’t say was that the nearest Daesh position to any of the areas Russia attacked on Wednesday and Thursday was 55 kilometres away. This is anything but an anti-Daesh campaign. Daesh was driven out of the province of Idlib in January 2014 by the very same rebel groups that Russia is targeting today. The Assad regime, like the Russian government, would like the world to believe that it is fighting Daesh but in practice it has left the group to itself, allowing it to take over most of eastern Syria.

The groups targeted include included Tajammu’ Al-Izza, the Homs Liberation Front, Suqur Al-Jabal, Ahrar Al-Sham and other groups, most of whom are part of the Jaish Al-Fateh coalition. Jabhat Al-Nusra, a group with links to Al-Qaeda, has been loudly trumpeted by the world’s media and is also present in the areas targeted by Russia. What the media doesn’t usually say is that no more than ten per cent of the Syrian rebels are members of this group and its connections to Al-Qaeda are tenuous at best, with most of its rank-and-file motivated by opposition to the Assad regime, not affinity to Al-Qaeda’s ideology.Protesters in Kafranbel

The United States has publicly criticised the Russian airstrikes, calling them “indiscriminate” and saying that they will only “fuel extremism”. However, the Russian strikes come days after a summit between Presidents Putin and Obama and despite the US’s rhetorical opposition to both the Russian strikes and Al-Assad’s regime, there is in practice little difference in the two countries’ policy towards Syria. The US has carried out its own airstrikes in the province of Idlib against fighters with no connection to Daesh – killing dozens of civilians and on one occasion 25 Free Syrian Army fighters.

Despite constantly proclaiming, since the beginning of the Syrian uprising in 2011, that “Assad must go” and that “his days are numbered”, the general consensus among Syrians is that the US is tacitly supporting the Assad regime. To say that the US’s supply of weapons to rebel groups has been meagre is to exaggerate their importance. The US has actively prevented the rebels from acquiring anti-aircraft missiles, which would both save the lives of civilians targeted by Assad’s (and now Russia’s) airstrikes and be a real game changer. If they have had any effect at all, US arms supplies have served simply to keep the Syrian conflict going rather than to help the rebels achieve victory – a victory that the US has already said it doesn’t want to see. The US and its allies have also refused to impose a no-fly zone despite the pleas of the White Helmets - civil defence workers who save the lives of people trapped under the rubble of the Assad regime’s indiscriminate barrel bomb strikes.

Russian and US military leaders are now in “de-confliction” talks to ensure that their airstrikes in Syria do not overlap and they do not accidentally clash over Syrian skies. Before the airstrikes began, Russia also held talks with Israel, apparently obtaining a green light for strikes on rebel held areas.

Following the Russian airstrikes, the Assad regime is now gearing up for a major assault on rebel held territory, assisted by Iranian, Iraqi and Lebanese sectarian militias. If the regime’s previous record is anything to go by, the inhabitants of these areas await a horrifying fate – the regime is not averse to committing field executions, killing children and burning people alive.

]]> (Amr Salahi) Middle East Mon, 05 Oct 2015 13:47:58 +0000
Russian political supremacy in Syria Abdul Sattar Qassem

Russian support for the Syrian regime has not stopped since the start of the events in Syria. Russia has not stopped providing political and diplomatic support for the regime. Russia even used its vetoing power in the UN Security Council to defend the regime. It is difficult to image the regime surviving this entire period without Russian and Iranian support, and it is also difficult to imagine the opposition’s and militias’ survival without the Arab, Turkish and western support. However, Russia has been very cautious in its tone and continued its support quietly without noise or threats, and it proved its strong presence on the military and diplomatic levels.

Russia is now stepping up its measures and actions in support of the Syrian regime under the umbrella of the war on terror. By doing so, it is breathing life into the Western diplomacy which is gradually becoming aware of its failure in Syria, forcing it to start rethinking a solution that restores peace in Syria and perhaps in Iraq as well.

It seems that Russia’s calculations regarding the Syrian issue are more practical and accurate than those of the West because they are linked to, not overtaken by, the wave of hostility and hatred. Russia’s calculations were not random or impulsive, nor were they motivated by Arab whims or internal Arab hatred. They remained characterised by caution until the Russians assessed the situation to be suitable for them to take a leading position in Syria, and now they are leading matters and the Western countries are now trying to catch up with them.

There are factors that helped the Russians take the opportunity to prove their strong presence not only in the Syrian arena, but in the Arab Muslim region as a whole and in the international arena. Such factors include the following:

First is the failure of the war on terrorism. Westerners, Europeans and Americans were unable to defeat terrorism since the invasion of Afghanistan. Instead, terrorism spread across the entire world and has reproduced in a cancerous manner, making it so that no country in the world does not worry about potential terrorist acts in their territories. The obsession with terrorism haunts both the people and the governing political systems. The Western countries have reaped disturbing negative results from their war on terror and now, after all these years of chasing terrorists, they are less safe and feeling less reassured. This makes the Russian approach to terrorists stronger in terms of logic and more acceptable in the international arena.

Russia has said on more than one occasion that terrorism stems from a sense of injustice, oppression and the sense that the Western countries are taking advantage of people and countries. It suggested the establishment of equality amongst the people as the best way to reduce and eliminate terrorism.

As an alternative to the Western vision, Russia is now raising the slogan of combatting terrorism, but not by means of foreign troops, rather by strengthening local armies that fight terrorism. This is because these armies are more capable of dealing with the internal affairs than foreign armies. This means that Russia prefers to back the Syrian and Iraqi armies to beat the terrorist organisations in the two countries.

The second factor is the failure of the Western coalition in its war on Daesh. Despite the fact that this coalition, led by the US, has been launching airstrikes on Daesh for over a year, it has not achieved any tangible results. Daesh is still strong on the ground and is capable of achieving military progress from time to time in Iraq and Syria.

Many doubt how serious the US and its allies are about the war, as they may want Daesh to remain strong in order to justify future military measures, such as ground military intervention, the elimination of the political government, etc. If Russia says that it is working on combatting terrorism, then the West and their Arab and European allies have failed, and therefore they cannot confront Russia’s approach.

Thirdly, Russia is not interested in a new Cold War with the US and it is fully aware that the US is not interested in this either, especially under the current circumstances. America is suffering from major economic and financial problems and is also suffering politically and diplomatically because the international arena has somewhat narrowed.

Therefore, Russia prefers to take quiet actions, without calling attention to itself or flexing its muscles in a move unfamiliar to them in order not to provoke the Western countries. The Western countries generally are not interested in engaging in a competition or conflict with Russia in order not to sustain more losses, or at least to avoid a long list of secondary concerns that distract it from the national interests and concerns of its own people.

The fourth factor is the Europeans’ distraction with the two issues of terrorism and refugees. Europe is very busy at the moment with terrorism, which is posing an internal threat, and with the influx of refugees. The Europeans are feeling the danger of terrorism more than the Americans due to its geographical proximity to the Arab world. They are now bearing the burden of the Arab refugees who are flowing in by the tens of thousands.

The Europeans are concerned for their social fabric, which may be influenced by other cultures and infiltrators in the ranks of the refugees. Therefore, the Europeans do not have predispositions to go along with the US policies, which are sometimes aimless.

Fifthly, the Europeans and Americans have not yet formed a clear vision for Syria that can be implemented on the ground. Since the beginning, they have been hesitant in their measures to overthrow the regime and in providing military support for the armed and terrorist groups.

The West does not want Bashar Al-Assad to remain in power, but they also do not want an Islamist rule to be established in Syria. They are unable to find an alternative to the regime and the opposition, so they continue to be hesitant and unsure. On the contrary, the Russian vision is very clear and is in line with international law.

Since the beginning, the Russians stuck to the people’s right to self-determination and to choosing their leaders, and have maintained that President Bashar Al-Assad remains in power by the will of the people and that he will depart with this same will. The Russians stood in the face of those calling for the fall of the regime, as they had a strong excuse supported by international acceptance, making the Russian argument stronger than the Western countries’.

The sixth factor is Russia’s awareness that America is not interested in participating in a war in Syria. The US has failed in its wars in general. It failed in Afghanistan, Iraq, its war on terror, its airstrikes on Daesh, and the American people are not inclined to support new wars in the region, especially in light of the financial crisis that still has not gone away.

The Americans have paid the price dearly, both in the form of lives and money, in fruitless wars, and they emerged unvictorious and without achieving their announced goals. It is not easy for an American president to justify a new war in Syria to their people. The Russians are aware of this and therefore have predicted that increasing their military support for the Syrian regime will not drag the US into a confrontation in Russia, neither in Latakia nor in any other place. The Russians feel that America is, to a large extent, restrained by its repeated failures and by its people’s position, which rejects more wars.

Seventhly, the US made deals with Arab countries playing important military, security, arming and financial roles in Syria. A number of Gulf countries specifically are still contributing to the fuelling of the internal war in Syria. These same countries are defending the establishment of a democracy in Syria while they themselves lack democracy and have tribal political governments that belong in the dark ages.

America’s deals with the Arab countries have harmed the American argument in the international arena because those who defend democratic values must defend them everywhere, not in some places and not in others. This always raises the question: Does the US really want to establish a democracy or is it using democratic values to achieve personal interests, not out of interest or care for the people? As evidenced by the American policies in the Arab region, America was not too far from supporting Arab tyrannical regimes, and it had, in the past, headed to Syria to participate in the war against Saddam Hussein in Kuwait. What made tyranny acceptable at that time, but unacceptable at other times; the lack of principles in establishing international relations.

The Syrian regime was unable to resolve the battle in Syria in its favour and the war is still rabidly ongoing, the price of which is being paid by the Syrians. All of the Russian and Iranian support over the past years did not enable the regime to achieve victory and Syria still suffers from continuous destruction. Since the beginning, the Russians have been talking about the importance of dialogue amongst Syrians, considering it the only way to stop the war and bloodshed. The Arabs and the West were not convinced by this argument and preferred to stick to the departure of Al-Assad as a precondition for starting dialogue. The positions are starting to change now due to the spread of terrorism and the influx of refugees, and the Western countries, along with Turkey, are reconsidering their previous positions. We are starting to hear statements different to what we had heard in the past.

It is important that the Russian policy took advantage of the developments, including the support of some Western countries for some terrorist organisations in order to force the search for a resolution for the Syrian conflict. They have justified their growing support for Al-Assad based on the policy of containing terrorism. Of course the Russians are interested in eliminating terrorism, just as the Europeans are, due to a large number of Muslims in Russia, as they may be influenced by terrorist ideology and may cause trouble for Russia.

Russia is intensifying its military efforts in Syria in order to push the European countries and their Arab supporters to encourage internal dialogue. Russia hopes that its policies in Syria will pressure the armed groups to accept dialogue with the presence of Al-Assad at the negotiations table and to cut financial and military aid to Daesh in both Syria and Iraq.

The logic of power has been historically stronger than the power of logic and it is possible for the Russian strength to change the logic of the warring parties in Syria and the foreign forces participating in the Syrian arena. If the West is not interested in a confrontation and Russia is not interested in pushing matters to the edge, then it is highly possible for the various parties to succeed in holding internal Syrian dialogue that will produce a result accepted by everyone.

Therefore, it is possible that power and strength will achieve what political and regional policies and balances were unable to achieve and may restore stability to the Arab-Syrian region. Power is sometimes necessary in order to bring wisdom to minds and to search for solutions to problems via practical means far from intolerance and the complete exclusion of others.

Translated from Al Jazeera, 29 September 2015

]]> (Abdul Sattar Qassem) Europe Thu, 01 Oct 2015 15:04:38 +0000
Palestinians could learn from Bolivia’s indigenous movement Egyptian forces flooded smuggling tunnels dug beneath the Gaza-Egypt border

Bolivia’s 35-plus indigenous nations make up over 60 per cent of the country’s population and have a long history of struggle with the state. This has linked material grievances to the ethnic segregationist system, which emerged after the arrival of the Spanish in the 16th century. Palestinians, who are witnessing the plundering of their natural resources, particularly water, by a military occupation with overt commercial interests, could learn much from the Bolivian indigenous movement, which defeated a move to privatise water in 2000.

Infrastructure of dissent

The emerging feudal economy in postcolonial Bolivia centred on the mining industry and the seizure of indigenous lands by a rapacious hacienda creole class. In order to facilitate the incorporation of indigenous peasants into the emerging mining economy, rigid racial categories arose in which indigenous peoples were deemed eligible only as labourers, with no access to membership of the full citizenry. This contributed to the emergence of an indigenous class movement in Bolivia, which centred on a crystalizing infrastructure for dissent. This informal infrastructure was based upon the multi-faceted institutions of the tin-miners’ movement/indigenous agrarian class, and was informed cognitively by an Andean culture of insurrection, drawing on the memory of King Tupaj Aamuru’s gallant stand in the face of Spanish colonial forces. Radical ideologies began to blossom from this infrastructure, which drew on facets of Marxism and indigenous anarchism, fastening a renascent indigenous identity politics onto material realities. This indigenous dissent manifested itself at varying moments across the 20th century.

The water wars

By 1999, the neoliberal counter-revolution of the 1980s had consigned vast swathes of Bolivia’s indigenous peoples to abject penury, with 80 per cent of Quechua living in poverty. Financial accountability to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) through structural adjustment loans meant the infiltration of a market logic into Bolivia’s domestic politics. In 1999 the multi-billion dollar international corporation Bechtel drew up the Aguas del Tunari, with local Cochabamba officials. Bechtel and its co-investors were granted control of Cochabamba City’s water company for forty years and guaranteed an average profit of 16 per cent for each of those years. The resultant 43 per cent increase in water rates for the poorest families pushed the unions and indigenous peasant class over the edge. In 2000 a series of pitched battles, strikes and walkouts by trade unions and other organisations was staged which came to be known as the Cochabamba water war. The central organising actor was the Coordinadora, a coalition of irrigators, coca growers and coca cutters. One of the central tactics used by the Coordinadora was roadblocks, one which had been part of the resistance repertoire of the miners’ unions during the 1970s. After months of coordination, demonstration and state retaliation, representatives from Bechtel fled the city and then the country, and President Banzer was forced to cancel the contract. Cochabamba reacted with jubilation, with Coordinadora leaders flying back from remote prisons in Bolivia’s interior to a heroes’ welcome.

Grassroots mobilisation had faced down the government of a dictator, and overcome the power of one of the world’s largest corporations. It also brought the insurrectionary nature of indigenous politics into sharper focus, and more coordination. By 2002, Evo Morales, leader of the coca growers’ unions, ran for the national presidency as head of MAS (Movement towards Socialism). Linking neoliberalism to the regulation of access to resources for Bolivia’s poorest made him a standout candidate, and he was duly elected in 2005

Four years later, the long battle for equal access to natural resources secured a legislative victory with the passage of Bolivia’s “plurinational” constitution. This guaranteed the right to water on the “principles of solidarity, complementariness, reciprocity, equity, diversity and sustainability”, whilst also passing provisions relating to the equitable and sustainable use of Bolivia’s resources and the reacquisition of land for indigenous use.

Water in the West Bank

In the occupied and colonised West Bank, one manifestation of the apartheid reality for the 1.7 million Palestinians and 628,000 Israeli settler-colonists who live there is the unequal access to water. On average, a settler lives on 350 litres of water per day, whereas Palestinians live on an average of 73 litres; for the 113,000 Palestinians not hooked up to the water grid, it can be as low as 20 litres. Access to water is monitored tightly by the occupation regime, which has intertwined with the economics of occupation to limit Palestinian access.

Under Article 40 of the Oslo Accords, Israel recognised Palestinian water rights in the West Bank, but it did not take into account the excessive allocation of water to the 179 West Bank settlements, with no cap on their water supply. Oslo allocated 80 per cent of the water pumped from one of three underground water reserves to Israelis, and only 20 per cent to the Palestinians. The deal also created the Joint Water Committee (JWC), an Israeli-Palestinian body in charge of every water project (Palestinian and Israeli) in the West Bank; it is subject to the power imbalances which characterise the PA’s relationship with Israel since the former’s inception. Israel has effective veto over any water project, a veto not accorded to the Palestinians. This has resulted in a high number of Palestinian water projects being delayed and rejected between 1995 and 2010; only one Israeli project was rejected during this time.

Delays and rejections are carried out at the behest of an array of complex military orders, which have governed the West Bank since 1967. Military Order 92 transferred full authority over all water concerning issues in the West Bank from various local utilities to an Israeli official appointed by the military commander for “Judea and Samaria”. Military Order 158 introduced a permit system for all water projects; permits must be obtained when approaching the JWC. Finally, Military Order 291 declares all water resources to be the property of the State of Israel.

Privatising water: a free drink for the occupation

In 1982, Israel’s Mekorot water company took over responsibility for the water resources in the West Bank; by 2007, the company was state-owned. For Palestinians not linked to the water grid, mostly in Area C, water must be obtained from Mekorot filling stations. The most common form of dependency is through Mekorot-supplied Palestinian water institutions. The 80:20 water supply means that Palestinian water institutions have to purchase water from Mekorot in order to supply their customers; the water is often from aquafers in the West Bank. In short, Palestinians are buying their own water. “The lack of availability of Palestinian water resources has led to chronic shortages among Palestinian communities in Area C and a dependence on Mekorot” commented a UNHCR report. “Mekorot supplies almost half the water consumed by Palestinian communities.” Not surprisingly, Mekerot’s equity stands at $1.58 billion.

Infrastructure of dissent and the possibility of a “water intifada”

Since Oslo, the infrastructure for dissent which has characterised Palestinians’ relationship with Israel has become disaggregated, with the leadership class falling in line with the occupation through micromanagement of its most egregious consequences. The impending environmental security crisis which faces Palestinians over their access to water, is unprecedented; in the Gaza Strip, the situation is even worse.

Power must be reclaimed at a grassroots level, through the resurrection of the ideals of “Sumud” (steadfastness), which drove the first intifada. Fastening these ideals onto the seizure of water by the Israeli occupation could galvanise a new movement, which brings other material realities into the forefront of contemporary Palestinian resistance. The indigenous movement in Bolivia ground the state to a halt by reacting to a new phase in their centuries-long oppression — the privatisation of their water. By resurrecting the ideals of insurrection, which has characterised contemporary Palestinian nationalism, a new phase in Palestinian resistance could emerge; one which links the occupation to the fundamentals of life in Palestine.

Nick Rodrigo is a research associate at the Afro-Middle East Centre in Johannesburg; his writing has appeared in Al-Araby Al-Jadeed.

]]> (Nick Rodrigo) Americas Tue, 29 Sep 2015 10:58:05 +0000
Israel's dystopian dictatorship Asa Winstanley

Israel takes great pride in its propaganda claim to be the "only democracy in the Middle East". This is something it bangs on about at sanctimonious length in every international forum it has access to.

As well as being totally false for Palestinians (more of which below) it is entirely hypocritical. In reality, Israel has long had an important role in supporting, propping up and being in tacit or open alliance with the region's worst dictatorships and human rights abusers.

The undemocratic regimes in Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia for example. But it also includes the Iran-Contra episode of the 1980s in which Israel was recruited by the US to sell weapons to Iran; the profits were used to aid the terror war of the right-wing Contra army against the revolutionary government of Nicaragua (the US President at the time needed to get around Congress, which had imposed some limits on aid to the Contras after the record of their war crimes became impossible to ignore).

The Hashemite monarchy in Jordan has, despite some conflicts, too often served as a buffer between Palestinian anger and resistance, and Israel. The Black September war of the early 1970s being only one example. More recently, the Jordanian regime has played a key role in training anti-democratic, pro-imperialist forces in the region, such as when it trained and armed the Palestinian Contras led by the former Gaza warlord Mohammed Dahlan, whose failed 2007 coup attempt in the Gaza Strip (backed by Israel and the US) was nipped in the bud by forces loyal to the elected Palestinian Authority government of the time (led by Hamas).

The record of the Israeli alliance with the Egyptian military regime is well-documented and long standing. It goes back to Anwar Sadat, and the unequal peace treaty he signed with Israel. It only flourished under Hosni Mubarak, another unelected dictator. In 2011, when a popular uprising finally unseated Mubarak, the Israeli press was a sight to behold, as Israeli politician after Israeli politician worried and fretted about "our ally in Cairo" being pushed out. They need not have worried too much, since the Deep State apparatus soon reasserted itself, with the military maintaining a grip on power throughout the all-too-brief budding of democracy, and fully reasserting control by brutally crushing all dissent, gunning protesters off the streets and kidnapping, disappearing and now threatening to execute the first democratically elected president, Mohammed Morsi.

The links between Israel and Saudi Arabia are less well known, but in the last few years have become increasingly open.

The kingdom of horrors and executors is the fount of the worst religious fanaticism in the region, its extremist vision of Wahhabism spreading malignly across the world. All of this is backed by the imperial power in Washington DC and its minor allies such as the UK, but also increasingly Israel too, as I have reported before. For all the cant about wanting to spread "western values" of democracy and human rights to the region, the western powers in fact prop up some of the most regressive forces in the world, and then act all surprised when such support ends up indirectly fuelling hideous chimeras such as al-Qaeda and the so-called Islamic State.

But not only is "the only democracy in the Middle East" a total hypocrisy of the worst kind, it is also a complete lie.

For Palestinians living under the Israeli regime, Israel represents nothing less than an absolute dictatorship which has complete say over every aspect of their lives. Israeli democratic institutions, such as they are, are largely restricted in law and in practice to Jews only. Only a handful of recent examples is enough to demonstrate this.

Last month Mahmoud Tamimi, a young Palestinian protester in the village of Nabi Saleh was kidnapped by Israeli soldiers during one of the village's weekly protests against the encroachment of nearby Israeli settlements (which are illegal under international law). Yet he still festers in the dungeons of Israel's farcical military courts system.

An anonymous Italian volunteer with the International Solidarity Movement who was arrested at the same time as Tamimi reflected on the apartheid nature of this dystopian regime, by observing that he was soon released and acquitted of the false stone-throwing charges, only a day later.

Tamimi, on the other hand, because he is a Palestinian with none of the basic legal rights Israeli law has established under its civilian courts system for its citizens, will be waiting until the end of October (a full two months after soldiers arrested him) to even hear what he is accused of.

Another example, that of 24-year-old Mahmoud Nasser serves to show the Orwellian world of the Israeli injustice system, and the arbitrary nature of life as a Palestinian under Israel's permanent military regime.

The Shin Bet (Israel's secret police) has, using conveniently vague language, accused Nasser of "posing a security threat to Israel". But even in the kangaroo court of the military "justice" system, the judge (who is a soldier too) decided there was not evidence against him. Bizarrely, rather than Nasser then being released for lack of evidence, as one might expect, the court imposed prohibitively expensive "bail" conditions on him anyway, which in effect could lead to him being imprisoned for 18 months or more, essentially because an Israeli spy agency decided it could.

As the ISM (which is raising funds to try and release Nasser) correctly puts it, in fact: "what [Israel] constitutes 'a security threat' is interpreted extremely broadly. A variety of actions is criminalized, including non-violent political and cultural expressions, such as putting up posters, writing political slogans, carrying a Palestinian flag or attending a demonstration."

And of course Israel's military regime is all-to-often deadly for unarmed Palestinians going about their daily lives. Only last week Israeli soldiers in occupied Hebron brutally murdered 18-year-old Hadeel Haslamoun.

None of this is the behaviour of a democratic country.

An associate editor with The Electronic Intifada, Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist who lives in London.

]]> (Asa Winstanley) Inquiry Mon, 28 Sep 2015 15:12:24 +0000
Egypt’s mitigated constitution Wael Qandil

Is Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi so afraid of his upcoming parliament that he gave instructions to start the campaign of “we got stuck with this constitution”, suggesting that it is time to overthrow or remove it?

The information available about the formation of the next Egyptian parliament indicates that it will be a tame military parliament loyal to Al-Sisi that will not stir trouble if it is controlled from the core. Such control can be achieved by hindering anyone who thinks of contesting the candidate list that was formed under the direct supervision of Al-Sisi’s son. The list is made up of the remnants of the tyrant military state, including retired generals, saboteurs and thugs that have been around since the youth of Kamal El-Shazly and Safwat Al-Sharif.

This information also indicates that the majority of the figures, parties and groups who had a hand in the 25 January Revolution have announced that they will not participate in the elections after they realised that the process of planning and engineering the electoral arena was carried out in a manner that will achieve Al-Sisi’s intentions. Al-Sisi insisted on the need to unite in one candidate list in order to ensure that the parliament achieved is on the same page as the general and that, therefore, will not pose a threat to Al-Sisi or cause him any trouble.

So, what is pushing Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi to tamper with the constitution on which the masses demanded a vote during the time leading up to the parliamentary elections?

Al-Sisi’s hints at potentially amending the constitution coincided with the announcement of the list of unified military police candidates that they would adopt the phrase “we will amend the constitution” as their campaign slogan. This suggests that the next parliament agrees with the general’s desires to tamper with the constitution, meaning that the battle is not between the powers of the president and those of the House of Representatives but between the people and the rulers of the country.

The issue is that this is not the first time Al-Sisi has tampered with the constitution with the goal of intimidation through the parliament. Several months ago, during a Ramadan dinner party, he said: “I say to every Egyptian that this constitution is very ambitious and if the powers outlined in it are not used wisely and nationalistically by the parliament, it could greatly harm the citizens and Egypt. We will not make extraordinary measures, I guarantee this. The parliament’s performance may be very dangerous, either deliberately or not, and it may ruin everything we are working for.”

Was Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi and his media hypnotised or sedated when they got stuck with the constitution, after being told that it would mitigate the political tension and act as a vaccine against terrorism? Did they later wake up to find that the country is facing the danger of drowning, in exchange for the constitution and parliament to float?

The proof of this is the fact that Al-Sisi’s media machine is trying to distract the people of Egypt and divert their attention from discussions and debates regarding the relationship between the president and the parliament, as outlined by the new constitution, and to create the illusion that the parliament’s powers may hinder the president. This is being done in order to divert their attention from Al-Sisi’s true motives for tampering with the constitution. This is an old story that has been repeated on many occasions: the drama between the president and the general has existed since the time of Gamal Abdel Nasser and Abdel Hakim Amer, and Hosni Mubarak and Mohammed Abdel Halim Abu Ghazala.

Now we are facing a constitution that includes an article customised by Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi from when he was defence minister. He had been content with leading the coup and had announced that he had no intention or desire to become president. This is how he passed the article necessitating the approval of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) for the appointment of defence minister.

This article suggests that it is not the constitution that Al-Sisi’s camp feels that they are “stuck with” but the defence minister. If we consider this in coordination with the leaks regarding the relationship between Al-Sisi and his defence minister, and in light of Al-Sisi’s promotion of his brother-in-law to Army Chief of Staff, we can conclude that the desire to amend the constitution stems from a spurning of the current defence minister more than from the line we have been fed about being afraid for the state.

Only time will tell what will happen in the senior leadership ranks in Egypt. As for the facts on the ground, they suggest that the first article in the constitution of Al-Sisi’s authority should read: “Egypt is a farcical and ludicrous state and its president is from North Korea.”

Translated from Al-Araby, 18 September 2015

]]> (Wael Qandil) Africa Fri, 18 Sep 2015 08:38:12 +0000
Israeli bulldozers are back in Beit Jala Olive trees being uprooted in Beit JalaIn 2004, I wrote an article about the story of Nabil Saba, a man from Beit Jala whose family was expelled in the early 1970s to make way for the Israeli settlement of Har Gilo. When I first spoke to him some 11 years ago, confiscation of land for the Apartheid Wall was well underway.

“The Wall has taken the land from the people of Beit Jala”, Nabil told me. “They have put us all in a prison. There is no land left for Beit Jala. We are in cantons, ghettoes, now.”

Visiting Beit Jala last week, this grim assessment is only confirmed. There is no more room. If people are building, they are building up; the price of land and property continues to rise, and the town, like so many other communities in Palestine, has no solution to apartheid’s tightening noose.

In the last few days, the bulldozers are back at work in Beit Jala, uprooting olive trees and preparing the way for renewed construction of the Wall. Israeli occupation forces oversaw the removal of dozens of ancient trees and the levelling of land, while the Palestinian owners were kept away.

For nearly a decade, residents have tried to resist Israeli plans for the expropriation of their land and the construction of the Wall. The 2006 Israeli military order revealed that the Wall would include Har Gilo settlement on the ‘Israeli side’ and separate Beit Jala from the Cremisan Valley, where dozens of Palestinians own land, sandwiched between Israeli colonies.

The landowners’ legal action was joined by the Catholic monastery and convent located in Cremisan, supported by the Vatican. In April 2015, Israel’s Supreme Court, sitting as the High Court of Justice (HCJ), gave hope to the petitioners by demanding that the occupation authorities “swiftly reconsider the various alternatives for the separation fence route in this section.”

Yet just weeks later, Israel’s Defense Ministry declared that it would continue construction of the Wall along the proposed route, with the exception of 200 metres next to the monastery and convent. Then in July, a bitter blow; the HCJ gave the green light for work on the Wall to go ahead.

The HCJ’s ruling was greeted with dismay by the Palestinians in Beit Jala. It was also condemned by the UK government and the European Union, with the latter expressing “deep regret and concern” at the court’s decision.

If built, this Barrier will severely restrict access of 58 families from their agricultural land and profoundly affect their livelihoods. It will also involve a further encroachment on Palestinian land close to Bethlehem, an area already severely affected by settlement expansion, thereby increasing pressure on the Palestinian population living there.

Stretching out across a hillside overlooking Bethlehem, the small town of Beit Jala has lost a considerable amount of its land over the years to Israeli colonisation; as of 2010, roughly 9 percent of its total area was taken up by settlements and Israeli military bases established over the years.

After 1967, a huge chunk of Beit Jala was expropriated as part of Israel’s illegal and unilateral expansion of Jerusalem’s municipal boundaries: Gilo settlement was subsequently constructed on these lands. In 1972, on the top of the hill, Har Gilo colony was established on land confiscated from the likes of Abu Jamal’s family; close to 1,000 settlers now live there.

Under the Oslo Accords, almost two-thirds of Beit Jala’s land was classified as Area C, where Palestinian construction is severely limited or impossible due to the discriminatory restrictions imposed by the Israeli military regime. Along with the Wall, the town is now choking under Israeli apartheid, unable to naturally expand.

Beit Jala’s story is a familiar one. Some 210,000 Palestinians live in the Bethlehem governorate, in addition to more than 100,000 Israeli settlers in 19 illegal colonies and outposts. More than 85 percent of the region is designated as Area C, and, according to the UN, less than 1 percent of this area “has an outline plan approved by the Israeli authorities allowing Palestinians to build legally.”

56 kilometres of the Apartheid Wall slices through the greater Bethlehem area, and it will ultimately separate 12 communities from the rest of the governorate. It is a microcosm of the Wall as a whole, whose route is twice the length of the 1967 ceasefire line (the ‘Green Line’), 85 percent of which lies inside the West Bank.

Justifying renewed construction of the Wall in Beit Jala, Israeli authorities cited the familiar security rationale. Even taking this argument at face value, the Wall is illegitimate; as the International Court of Justice stated in its advisory opinion, the Wall impedes “the exercise by the Palestinian people of its right to self-determination” and threatens to establish “de facto annexation.”

Yet the security rationale – cited in court by Israel’s Ministry of Defense, and repeated abroad by the country’s lobbyists – is deeply flawed. The route of the Wall and public statements by Israeli officials make it clear that the Wall has always been about colonisation and demographics. The bulldozers working once again in Beit Jala are a reminder of this reality, and of Israel’s ongoing impunity.

]]> ( Ben White) Debate Thu, 20 Aug 2015 11:33:41 +0000
Israel shows its true colours as use of the A-word increases Chris McGrealIt's difficult to say exactly when the taboo was broken.

Was it when former US President Jimmy Carter put the word "apartheid" in the title of his book to sound a warning to Israel? Was it when South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu said the situation in the Palestinian territories struck him as worse than the white racist regime he'd lived under? Or was it when the A-word began spilling from the lips of former Israeli prime ministers?

Chris McGreal is a reporter for the Guardian who was based in Johannesburg during the last years of apartheid and in Jerusalem during the second intifada. He is now reporting from the US. Before joining the Guardian, Chris was a journalist for the BBC World Service in Mexico and Central America during the 1980s.

Chris McGrealIt's difficult to say exactly when the taboo was broken.

Was it when former US President Jimmy Carter put the word "apartheid" in the title of his book to sound a warning to Israel? Was it when South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu said the situation in the Palestinian territories struck him as worse than the white racist regime he'd lived under? Or was it when the A-word began spilling from the lips of former Israeli prime ministers?

A decade ago, pointing out the parallels between the policies of successive Israeli governments and the political system of the old South Africa generally invited abuse and scorn. Uri Davis did it in his landmark book Israel: An Apartheid State in 1987. Others ventured there too, but pro-Israel activists on the right and left worked hard to delegitimise discussion of the myriad of similarities by dismissing it as unworthy of serious debate or claiming it had the stink of anti-Semitism.

I know this because in 2006, as a reporter for the Guardian who worked in Johannesburg and then Jerusalem, I explored the apartheid parallel in a couple of long articles (to be found here and here) prompting a predictable barrage of denunciations. The soon-to-be editor of London's Jewish Chronicle compared me to the Holocaust-denying leader of Iran: "Other than the desire to drop a nuclear weapon on Israel, there appears to be not a cigarette paper between McGreal and President Ahmadinejad."

The Board of Deputies of British Jews sent a delegation to confront the Guardian's editor and created a small stir by swearing at him.

A pro-Israel pressure group in the US, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (Camera), filed the longest submission in the British Press Complaints Commission's history, running to around 35,000 words. It was a brazen attempt to impose an invented history, even going so far as to deny Israel's persistent and well documented obsession with demographics and the number of Arabs in its orbit, as well as laying amorphous charges of "denying the historic rights of the Jewish people" and "showing contempt for Zionism".

Tellingly, Camera – which bears the hallmarks of a Jewish supremacist organisation in its contorted defence of settlers and occupation - argued that discrimination against Arabs with Israeli citizenship was legitimate if it was by private organisations.

The PCC ruled against the group on every part of its complaint and added a heart-warming coda about freedom of speech. That touched on the real issue. Camera wasn't interested in accuracy. It wanted to harass, intimidate and shut down any talk about Israel and apartheid.

These were standard tactics.

Camera took a full page advert in the New York Times to denounce Carter for his book, "Palestine: peace not apartheid" and set about harassing his publisher. A group of American Jews filed a federal lawsuit seeking millions of dollars in damages on the grounds that the former president's book "misled" readers with information that "defamed Israel".

Archbishop Tutu, a courageous leader against apartheid, was the target of a sustained vilification campaign. Alan Dershowitz, the American constitutional lawyer and self-appointed defender of Israel who once said that "there is a special place in hell for Jimmy Carter", accused Tutu of being an anti-Semite and "one of the most evil men in the world".

This kind of aggression was driven by particular alarm over the sticking of the apartheid label on Israel because it challenges the myth that decades of occupation, settlements and denial of many basic human rights are a necessary evil that the Palestinians have brought on themselves. If Israel is deliberately imposing a form of apartheid, then something else is behind it; racism.

The attempt to hold the line that there are no grounds for discussion of apartheid in Israel was breached fatally when the country's own political leaders, former intelligence chiefs and parts of its media began touting the idea. They included former prime ministers Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak. Barak warned that so long as Israel governs the Palestinians and Palestinians don't have a vote, "that will be an apartheid state."

Ami Ayalon, the ex-head of Israel's Shin Bet intelligence service, has said that his country already has "apartheid characteristics."

The idea has even strayed into the highest levels of the US government. Last year, Secretary of State John Kerry dared to warn that Israel risked becoming an apartheid state if it didn't end the occupation. Kerry was forced to apologise for using the A-word but he did so in a manner which suggested that he regretted the political backlash not the thought.

The only thing Kerry got wrong was the tense. The risk is not of a future apartheid state. It's already here and increasingly difficult to deny. The inexorable expansion of Jewish settlements, the construction of the West Bank separation barrier to grab yet more territory and the carving out of the de facto Palestinian Bantustans are there for all to see.

Some of the most powerful politicians in Israel no longer even bother to pay lip service to a two state solution buried under a rising tide of Jewish nationalism and overt denial of the right of Palestinians to a say in the system that rules over them.

In the face of this, the perennial apologists for Israeli government policies have set up a new defensive line. Some are now prepared to acknowledge that there is indeed something resembling apartheid in the West Bank but insist that there are no parallels within Israel proper. It's a convenient distinction because it perpetuates the lie that systematic discrimination in the occupied territories is the product of conflict with the Palestinians when it is has been rooted in Israel's treatment of its own Arab citizens for decades.

Its falsity has been made blindingly clear by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's party and its allies in government.

There has been no shortage of racists in previous Israeli administrations which tolerated ministers who advocated ethnic cleansing, who called Palestinians a "cancer" and "lice", and who made it clear that Israel's Arab citizens remained on sufferance. But they generally paid lip service to the rule of law and Israel as a democracy.

Now even that is being stripped away. Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, a former director of Netanyahu's office, has had no compunction about expounding her views in support of the colonisation of Palestinian territory, that there should never be a Palestinian state or that the entire Palestinian people are "the enemy".

Shaked, though, represents something more. As justice minister she is at the forefront of a political movement that unashamedly subordinates Israel's already compromised democracy to the grab for land and Jewish domination.

Her particular target is Israel's Supreme Court which has had the temerity to rule that the country's Arab citizens have equal rights. Many Palestinian Israelis will tell you that they don't in practice and the highest court in the land has been cautious to ensure that its rulings do not go too far to challenge systematic discrimination. But even that has been too much.

With a background in the tech industry not law, Shaked came into office saying that she would not allow the legal system to "eat away" at the power of the politicians.

The Israeli right has grown increasingly exasperated with the Supreme Court. It was particularly angered when the court struck down a decades-old system of discrimination which permitted residents of smaller towns and villages to veto potential Arab neighbours. It was also used by the state-run Israel Lands Authority to reserve vast tracts of the country for Jews only and to keep Arab citizens confined to towns with bad infrastructure, fewer jobs and second-rate schools.

The court ruled that the system of "admissions committees" was illegal after it was challenged by a Palestinian-Israeli nurse. The decision sent a shudder through the Israeli right. Local councils cooked up new rules for residents of their towns, such as demanding service in the military, knowing that only Jews are conscripted, and requiring pledges of support for "Zionist values".

Leading rabbis issued a religious ruling forbidding houses to be rented to non-Jews. One rabbi said that it was to stop "Arabs setting down roots in Israel." Another defended the measure by arguing that "racism originated in the Torah."

The ruling coalition in Israel's parliament rushed to circumvent the court ruling, passing a law which legalised the committees and permitted towns to turn away potential residents who "fail to meet the fundamental views of the community" or do not fit into its social fabric. The loose wording of the law deliberately left room for creative interpretation.

MPs were frank about the intent. One of them, David Rotem, said that it would ensure that there were towns for "people who want to live with other Jews." He advanced the unusual argument that freedom means deciding who can live on your street. "In a democratic state," he explained, "each one of us has got to be allowed to choose who he wants to be his neighbours." Other MPs said openly that Arabs should not be regarded as full citizens.

Tel Aviv's Haaretz newspaper described the admissions committee law as an "outrageous attempt to preserve Jewish purity." A former cabinet minister put it another way. It was, he said, "a law that reeks of apartheid.".

The legal and political struggle over acceptance committees kindled a campaign to amend Israel's Basic Law, its de facto constitution, to subordinate equality of all its citizens in favour of stipulating that the Jewish majority has superior rights. Among other things, the changes would require courts to put Jewish identity before democratic considerations in cases about equal rights.

Netanyahu gave his endorsement to the change that would define Israel as "the nation state of one people only – the Jewish people – and of no other people". The right-wing economy minister and leader of the Jewish Home Party, Naftali Bennett, backed the amendment by saying that Israel should have "zero tolerance" for the aspirations of its Arab population.

Now Shaked wants to weaken the powers of Israel's Supreme Court to ensure that it does not again rule in favour of equality. At least equality for Arabs.

None of this has anything to do with occupation. It has everything to do with apartheid.

]]> (Chris McGreal) Guest Writers Sat, 01 Aug 2015 06:00:00 +0000
The struggle for collective rights unites all Indigenous peoples from North America to Palestine Dr Sarah MarusekThe UN has declared 2014 to be the "Year of solidarity with the Palestinian people", a move that reflects the rising level of international support for equal rights and justice in Palestine. But while this is certainly a welcome development, we must also recognise that the liberal framework underpinning the UN and international law, which the Palestinian Authority and international activists are both increasingly calling upon, prioritises individual rights and national sovereignty within a bounded geographical territory, whereas the Palestinian cause is actually a struggle for the self-determination of all Palestinians, no matter where they happen to live.

This is why it is so important that communities that have been subject to similar forms of collective oppression throughout history, and which continue to suffer today, are also increasingly mobilising in support of the liberation of Palestine, from South Africa to India to North America. The struggle for collective rights unites all Indigenous peoples, and while the struggle against oppression and for liberation is something universal, when the oppression is collectively based, liberation must also be collectively realised. Thus those seeking universal liberation are uniting in the fight against colonialism and imperialism, the frameworks of collective oppression.

While the American Studies Association dominated the headlines last month after it decided to endorse the academic and cultural boycott of Israel, following the precedent set by the Asian American Studies Association in April 2013, shortly afterwards the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association (NAISA) also announced its support for the boycott campaign.

According to Indian Country Today newsmagazine, the leading independent news source providing a national platform for Native voices and issues, the NAISA declaration of support states that: "As the elected council of an international community of Indigenous and allied non-Indigenous scholars, students, and public intellectuals who have studied and resisted the colonisation and domination of Indigenous lands via settler state structures throughout the world, we strongly protest the illegal occupation of Palestinian lands and the legal structures of the Israeli state that systematically discriminate against Palestinians and other Indigenous peoples."

There are many reasons why supporters of Indigenous rights would stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people. Of course Palestinians are indigenous to the land of Palestine, but we should not forget that this is a movement seeking to empower all those who continue to be collectively oppressed by the colonial and imperial projects, ultimately securing rights for all humans.

The struggle against colonialism and for Indigenous rights in the Americas has been going on for centuries. As Native American author and political activist Ward Churchill testified to the New York session for the Russell Tribunal on Palestine in October 2012: "By the beginning of the twentieth century the population of American Indians in North America had been reduced by roughly 95 per cent from the onset of the European invasion some 300 years earlier." The European settlers achieved this mass genocide – the near eradication of all Indigenous peoples of North America – through the systematic killing, displacement and quarantining of Native Americans, as well as the destruction of their livelihoods and ecosystems, leading to disease and environmental degradation.

Churchill stressed that this history of oppression continues, with rampant poverty, unemployment and preventable diseases afflicting many American Indian communities today. This is because the colonial project never really ended: "The status of American Indian peoples as sovereign nations has been recognized 400 times over through the ratification of treaties by the US. Nonetheless, the US has unilaterally asserted jurisdiction over all remaining Indian territories within its claimed boundaries." Furthermore, by repeatedly enforcing policies that undermine the collective aspects of Native American cultures, the US has become more effective at confronting their resistance.

Churchill ended his testimony by saying that much of the American Indian story "will resonate with considerable familiarity among Palestinians. While the particulars are in many respects different, the effects suffered are entirely similar."

Indeed, there is growing level of solidarity between the Indigenous peoples of North America and Palestine. In addition to the NAISA endorsement of the academic and cultural boycott of Israel, in December 2012 more than 100 Palestinian activists and 50 solidarity organisations signed onto a statement of support for Indigenous rights and Canada's Idle No More movement in particular, which stands firmly against colonisation, racism, injustice and oppression.

In a recent issue of Jacobin magazine with a special focus on Palestine, the editors argue that: "Building a European state outside of Europe meant the destruction, expulsion, or assimilation of Indigenous people, what the historian Patrick Wolfe has called the 'logic of elimination'." Although they are making a particular point about Palestine here, their argument works just as well for North America. However, the editors also warn us that it is unwise to take this comparison too far. At heart this is not only a question of American and Zionist settler colonialism, but also a global North-South struggle, which means it is similarly a fight against the oppressive forces of global capitalism.

Because as the editors also point out: "Israeli Jews - especially those from North Africa and the Middle East - can also be an oppressed class in historical Palestine. We ignore them at our peril, for any change that doesn't also pass through the prism of the minds of the Jewish working class would be a revolution from above: an imposed decolonisation."

Focusing on the struggle for justice in the periphery highlights the class dynamics and the racial motivations of the settler colonial and imperial projects, universalised by global capitalism, and helps us to confront Israel's "Redwashing" campaign – using Indigenous spokespersons to cover up Israel's on-going occupation of Palestinian land and the violations of Palestinian rights.

Palestinian scholar and activist Sa'ed Atshan suggests that "Redwashing" is yet another part of the government's "Brand Israel campaign, which not only obfuscates the reality of Israeli colonisation but also works to sever Palestinian links with other Indigenous peoples while also aiming to secure Indigenous support for Zionist settler-colonialism in Palestine."

That the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs calls its public relations effort "Brand Israel" is apt, because this terminology illustrates how the campaign parallels the logic of capitalism. Corporations spend vast amounts of resources to shape their public images to generate more capital, all the while exploiting their workforce and the environment. Likewise, Israel spends vast resources to create the illusion that Israel is a democracy to further entrench the Zionist project in Palestine, all the while exploiting a peace process that prolongs the occupation and denying Palestinians their rights.

Furthermore, Israel's efforts to co-opt Indigenous peoples in order to legitimise its occupation of Palestine are often embraced by colonial elites with particular interests. Atshan explains that: "We find colonial elites among Native Americans, for example, pushing for Native participation in the US military to support its imperialist endeavours, while colonial elites among Palestinians, including in the Palestinian Authority, serve as subcontractors for Israeli colonisation."

Although many colonial elites may still live in the geographical periphery, they have symbolically placed themselves in the centre by building fences around their privileges, whereas those who are struggling for a new global politics seek to enlarge the circle of humanity, not contain it. As Atshan told MEMO, "We need to understand the transnational networks in which settler-colonial states are embedded. Too often we look at internal dynamics of settler-colonial states without examining how these states are connected by common and shared and interlinked processes. The global military industrial complex and prison industrial complex come to mind."

By focusing on the global processes at play, this also reminds us that the global struggle is continuous, despite any given political setback. Atshan points out that: "The analogies between the Native American reservations and the fate of Palestinians often assume a static reality of the Native American experience. It takes as a given that the US settler-colonial project has prevailed and that Native American spirits have been crushed. It erases a rich history of Native American resistance and resilience that continues until today." The documentary film Kahsatstenhsera: Indigenous Resistance to Tar Sands Pipelines, produced by Indigenous organiser Amanda Lickers, is a fine illustration of this on-going resistance against global capitalism and for Indigenous rights.

Connecting all of these struggles has never been more urgent. As the Palestinian supporters of Idle No More urge, "Now is the time – from Canada/Turtle Island to Palestine, we must all be 'Idle No More', and take a stand: against colonialism, against occupation, and for self-determination, sovereignty, rights and justice for Indigenous peoples." Indeed, for all peoples.

]]> (Dr Sarah Marusek) Activism Mon, 27 Jan 2014 14:09:48 +0000
We have forgotten Palestine! "We have no more time to waste; enough is enough. We must rise to support Palestine before we lose it in these meaningless negotiations"We Arabs have unwittingly fulfilled the dreams of the Zionists. We have regressed and become distracted with our own internal issues and foolish disputes within the borders of our own countries, and lost sight of our most important issue. Although, Palestine is still in the heart and soul of every Arab, unfortunately we have done nothing effective for it. We are no longer moved by what the Zionists are doing and destroying in the occupied Palestinian territories, nor do we care anymore about the thousands of Palestinian prisoners detained in Israeli prisons. We don't even bat an eye when we hear about their hunger strikes or about them dying in Israeli prisons. We are no longer concerned about the excavations and tunnels being dug under the Al-Aqsa Mosque; the first qibla, the third holiest site in Isla and the site from where our beloved Prophet took his night journey. All this is happening before the eyes of the Islamic nation and no one is taking action! We witness the humiliation and torture of our fellow Muslims by the Zionist soldiers on our television screens, and we frown upon it, but we do not get angry; we do not revolt! Where has the passion for Islam gone; where is the anger of the Muslims whose sanctities are being dishonoured?

Is it possible for us to lose sight of all this in favour of our meaningless internal conflicts? Even though it appears we have forgotten about Palestine, is it really possible to overlook it? This question reassures me and gives me a glimmer of hope. Prophet Mohammad's nation must wake up, pull themselves together, and rise again to defend their honour, pride, and dignity; they must liberate Palestine from the river to the sea. I am not one of those people who have been chasing after the mirage of empty negotiations ever since the Oslo Accords in 1992 which were falsely labelled peace talks. This was a way of distracting the Arabs with delusions until they had finished carrying out their evil plans including the completion of settlement construction on seized Palestinian land, and the Judaisation of East Jerusalem with a view to completely take over the entire.

However, we are too busy with our sectarian and denominational disputes that the Salafists consider to be the cause they must fight to the death for. They view this as a holy war, and forget that the true holy war is the war against the Zionists in Palestine as stated by the Quranic verse "[And We said] If you do good, you do good for yourselves; and if you do evil, [you do it] to yourselves." "Then when the final promise came, [We sent your enemies] to disfigure your faces and to enter the temple in Jerusalem, as they entered it the first time, and to destroy all that fell into their power with [total] destruction."

We do not have the luxury of starting new pointless negotiations such as those being planned and prepared for at the moment. It is now being claimed that the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, whose term ended years ago, has come to an agreement with the Israeli side to swap land between the two states. Hasn't "Abu Mazen", who is living in a stupor, learned the lessons of the past taught to him by Sharon who is still stronger than him even though he is in an actual coma? Sharon rooted the concept of meaningless negotiations which has now become the chosen method used in Israeli policies which seize, loot and murder, and know nothing of dialogue and peace. Their hands are blood stained because all they have ever carried is a rifle; they have never carried an olive branch, but instead they kill olive trees.

When will the Arabs realise this and wake up? We have no more time to waste; enough is enough. We must rise to support Palestine before we lose it in these meaningless negotiations.

]]> (Dr. Amira Abo el-Fetouh) Letter from Cairo Wed, 08 May 2013 16:52:06 +0000
Assad’s winning hand: what Russian involvement really means for the Syrian civil war Soviet made airforce fighter jet

The civil war which has ravaged Syria since 2011 is at a turning point. On Wednesday, Russian fighter jets launched the first airstrikes of what announces itself as a long campaign to prop up the faltering regime of Bashar Al-Assad and prevent further enlargement of the Daesh zone of influence.

The airstrikes represent the first example of direct Russian military engagement beyond the old Soviet Union borders since the disastrous invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, which saw the Red Army retreat following a decade of guerrilla warfare led by US-backed guerrillas, the so-called Mujahideen.

The intervention is apparently justified on national security grounds. With hundreds of Chechens and Russian Muslims from the Caucasus fighting amongst the ranks of Daesh, President Vladimir Putin has described the elimination of the group as a priority to protect his people from well-trained and motivated jihadists going back to Russia. Despite scepticism and outright opposition from Western diplomats, dozens of airstrikes have been conducted by the Russians across Syria.

In an attempt to avoid interference with Israel’s military operations, Putin discussed the matter with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The two agreed on a mechanism to avoid trading fire accidentally. It is well known that Israel has been targeting various armed groups threatening to overrun the Golan Heights as well as Hezbollah fighters assisting Assad’s forces amidst souring relations with Lebanon. Armed with Israel’s green light, Putin gave the go-ahead.

Contrary to initial reports from the Kremlin, the airstrikes appear to have been directed not at Daesh targets, but rather at a range of rebel groups opposed to Assad’s regime. Amongst these were CIA-trained “moderates”. Instead of opposing Daesh, Putin’s goal seems to be the restoration of Assad’s control over his country.

In a separate but related event, Al-Jazeera reported on Thursday that hundreds of Iranian troops have moved to Syria. Together with Tehran-backed Lebanese Hezbollah and Assad’s army, Iranian units are supposedly preparing a ground offensive supported by Russian airpower. These will probably target, once again, rebel groups other than Daesh.

Iran has backed the Syrian regime openly since the early stages of the conflict; however, until now, Iranian assistance was restricted to financial support and the deployment of military advisors. Participation in combat operations would mark a significant escalation in Tehran’s involvement. Similarly, Russia’s direct engagement departs from the financial, military and diplomatic support which has been propping up the Syrian regime since 2011.

The coordinated offensive against moderate groups attempts to polarise a conflict that has so far been characterised by a multitude of warring factions. By reducing the number of players, one reduces the number of possible winners. In this manner, Russia, Assad and Iran hope to force the West’s hand and guarantee the Syrian regime’s victory. Reports of a forthcoming major ground operation backed by Russian airpower indicate an attempt to reduce the number of possible victors to two: Assad and Daesh.

The Kurdish option, of course, was never really an option. Supported by US-led airstrikes, the YPG has proved to be a formidable military force; nonetheless, Kurdish rule over Syria would be obstructed internationally by Turkey and domestically by ethnic tensions, resulting in a highly unstable arrangement.

Once moderate forces have been excluded from the conflict, the West, faced with the choice between a supposedly Islamic “Caliphate” run by bloodthirsty extremists and a brutal yet “moderate” dictator, will have no other option but to cooperate with the Syrian despot to ensure the end of Daesh. Mounting efforts from the US, Russia, Syrian regime forces and Iran will eventually defeat the militant group.

Having undermined any other viable alternative to his rule, Assad will gradually re-establish control across the vast swathes of land that are today held by rebels. Turkish opposition to the establishment of a Kurdish State south of its borders will provide the international pressure needed for the Syrian regime to reach a power-sharing deal with the Kurdish forces controlling a significant portion of the country’s north. Such a deal might include self-governing arrangements similar to those between the authorities in Erbil and the Iraqi central government in Baghdad.

The coalition that has gathered against the threat of an Islamic Caliphate in the Middle-East would be embarrassingly outmanoeuvred by antagonistic figures such as Assad and Putin. Presumably, the restoration of the Syrian regime would, most likely, mark an acceleration of western disengagement from the region.

As a result, Russian foreign policy could affect Middle-Eastern political dynamics to a far greater extent than it does nowadays. Moreover, the Kremlin would keep its cherished military bases along Syria’s coast on the Mediterranean and Moscow’s success in ridding the world of feared terrorists would legitimate the more assertive foreign policy which has characterised Putin’s rule.

Perhaps more importantly still, Assad’s return to power would allow an increasingly prominent role to be played by Iran in the region just as it re-engages with the global economy. Across the Persian Gulf, the Saudis would see their influence wane as the Sunni kingdom’s proxies are defeated in Syria and its long-time ally, the US, distances itself from the region.

Andrea Alari is a graduate in Philosophy, Politics and Economics and a keen observer of Middle-Eastern Politics.

]]> (Andrea Alari) Middle East Mon, 05 Oct 2015 10:56:46 +0000
Corbyn must oppose an attack on Syria; lives may depend on it Alastair Sloan

The Labour Party has changed forever the way that British foreign policy is conducted. This process has taken nearly fifteen years and began with Tony Blair's hysterical reaction to the 9/11 attacks in 2001. It continued with Ed Miliband's unprecedented parliamentary victory against Syrian intervention in 2013. It has been completed through the election of Jeremy Corbyn, a long-term peacenik, who has said that he is ready to apologise on behalf of the Labour Party for its small but important role in the invasion of Iraq. The circle has been completed.

These three characters do not see eye-to-eye, and their motivations for making these ground-breaking changes were and are not always clear cut. While they each appreciated the gravity of their own choices, they could never predict the circumstances surrounding the choices future leaders would have to ponder.

Tony Blair's role in this was inadvertent. Through the invasion of Iraq in 2003, he set a precedent for wars going wrong. With the ineptitude and mendacity of his spin doctors, he demonstrated that even Western liberal governments frequently lie about why we are going to war. His actions highlighted the dangers of unconditional Anglo-American friendship through his pathetic simpering under the boot of George W. Bush.

Ed Miliband's was far more deliberate. Talk to Conservatives and you'll hear that his opposition on Syria in 2013 was a cynical party political move, a despicable act of self-interest that sacrificed the Syrian people to unabated bloodshed. Talk to pro-war Labourites and you'll hear that Miliband simply made the wrong call. Regardless of why he did this, the vote had two effects. First, it suggested that cross-party support for military action proposed by the sitting government was, since Blair's flagrant mistake, no longer assured. This is undoubtedly “a good thing”; Labour MPs, their more sensible Conservative counterparts and much of the military establishment agree that opposition to the plan was justified because there was no clear long-term strategy. Intervening may have saved lives, through good fortune more than good planning, but it most likely would have made the situation a whole lot worse. Second, and more worrying, it made Cameron cautious of going to Parliament for his permissions. The recent drone strikes in Syria, and rumours of a Number Ten plan to continue such a programme, are a grim indicator of this.

Finally, there is the role of Jeremy Corbyn; his long-standing objections to Britain's post-Empire violence stem from a genuine sense of personal responsibility. Like Corbyn or hate him, he is a principled man. His record on standing for peace is unparalleled in the British parliament.

What these three men have changed is quite simple; they have broken the consensus convention on foreign policy, the idea that political parties should not quibble between each other over matters of national security and so present a united front to the British people whenever we go to war. Breaking this assumption that we do not debate about going to war is essential.

In general (and there are exceptions that prove the rule), domestic policies, no matter how poorly formed, are unlikely to unleash the kind of chaos on humanity that foreign policy mistakes can and do. Health service waiting lists can be uncomfortable, and occasionally extremely dangerous, but lengthening them through poor management of the NHS will never come close to wreaking the kind of havoc that this nation has imposed on the people of Iraq or Libya. House prices may rise and fall, but an expensive mortgage doesn't really compare to a Reaper drone accidentally blowing up a group of innocent women and children. We may talk of reform of the House of Lords, or moving constituency boundaries; of dithering between technicalities in election law; but Britain is unlikely to be invaded, abandoned, and then have Daesh establish itself in Kent.

In short, the stakes involved in foreign and defence policy are higher than any linked to domestic issues. As such, having political consensus between the two major political parties on national security issues should never, ever have been the norm. The people who bear the brunt of our foreign policy mistakes may not be British, but they are people nonetheless; they are innocent people who we claim to be “helping” when we arrive in tanks and fighter jets and drones, but who we abandon the minute that the war turns sour.

Jeremy Corbyn appears to have learnt from Blair's mistakes and Miliband's prototype model of opposition, and is now ready to oppose the government fully and properly on issues surrounding war.

Unfortunately, he has chosen not to make the apology for Iraq at this week’s Labour Party conference, despite it being trailed heavily by the media. His Deputy Leader Tom Watson, who voted in favour of the invasion and was ambiguous on whether the Chilcot Inquiry should go ahead, is believed to have influenced this decision.

This is an immense disappointment. Corbyn's spin doctors told the media that they did not want it to overshadow his other announcements. He chose instead to make comments about Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, and Britain's “uncritical support” of these strange regimes. That is a start. Yet as Britain hovers dangerously close to more military action in Syria, the new Labour leader must use the unusual legacy of his predecessors to best advantage; lives, albeit not British lives, depend on it.

]]> (Alastair Sloan) Europe Wed, 30 Sep 2015 12:15:44 +0000
Canadian Elections and Middle East policy: plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose Dr. Philip Leech

It is election season in Canada. On 19 October Canadians will cast their votes to select representatives for the federal Parliament in Ottawa. According to recent polling it’s going to be extremely close. The campaign, thus far, has mostly focused on Canada’s declining economic fortunes (having recently entered a recession) and a long running corruption scandal surrounding a former Conservative Senator and what the Prime Minister’s Office knew (or did not know) about it.

Until recently, however, Foreign Policy has been a minor issue in the campaign. But what can we expect from Canada’s next government? While we don’t know who will win, we can perhaps, briefly look back on the last decade of conservative rule in order to sketch out an idea of what the ground will be like.

A “Middle Power”

Much of the academic literature on the subject categorises Canada as a ‘Middle Power’. Essentially this term means exactly what it sounds like: Canada does not qualify as a superpower but is more powerful than most states. Historically Canada has focused on multilateralism – cooperation with other like-minded states – as a means of maximising its influence on the world stage.

Canada’s emphasis on multilateralism is demonstrated by its formal participation in a range of different supra-national institutions including NATO the Commonwealth, La Francophonie and the Organisation of American States. Canada was also founding member of the United Nations and, until five years ago, it had consistently enjoyed an elected seat on the UN Security Council (its failure to be re-elected was a significant embarrassment for the Harper government).

In a 2012 article for the Journal of Canadian Foreign Policy, Costanza Musu suggests that in most of its multilateral endeavors Canada has situated itself somewhere between the US and Europe, though it also maintains strong bi-lateral relationships with many of the states across the region. In recent years, however, while the Conservative government has not totally departed from this position it has adopted a different, more hawkish, line on some issues.

Neo-conservativism and the Middle Power

The current Conservative government, led by Stephen Harper, came to power in 2006, bringing to an end 13 years of rule by the Liberal party. For most of that time, Canada was led by Jean Chrétien (prime minister 1993-2003) who kept the country out of the War in Iraq. Canada did, however, participate in the NATO campaign in Afghanistan.

While in opposition the Conservatives had backed both wars. Moreover, in general, the party was espousing a line much closer to the kind of neo-conservative ideology of the Bush administration than the old-style Tories of the past. Largely this was a product of splinters and shifts within the conservative movement at a federal level, which led to a merger between two right wing parties and the ascendency of Stephen Harper to leader in 2003.

Harper’s political roots were in the ‘Canadian Reform Conservative Alliance’, the more populist of the two parties, which had its political stronghold was in the oil-producing province of Alberta. Though his party won only a plurality of seats in both the 2006 and 2008 elections, Harper carried this agenda forward into office. In terms of the effect of this on foreign policy:

What was elitist is now populist; what was multilateral is far more bilateral; what was co-operative has become assertive; what was – you name it: global security, global governance, conflict resolution – is now trade before all.

Canada’s policies toward the broader Middle East were representative of this populist conservatism. Under Harper the government sought to bolster stable regimes, mostly through trade relations. It signed a multibillion-dollar arms deal with Saudi Arabia, launched a Free Trade Agreement with Jordan and, in 2012, opened an embassy and trade commission service in Qatar.

Harper’s Canada was apparently also quite belligerent. The mission to Afghanistan was extended, Canada joined NATO’s campaign against the Gadhafi Regime in Libya. Ostensibly Canada went even further even than the UK as Canadian forces undertook airstrikes against Daesh in Syria. However, it emerged recently that Harper’s bite hasn’t matched his anti-Daesh bark. In particular, while the US has launched more than 2300, Canadian forces have participated in a meagre four.

Commitment to Israel

None of this, of course, represented a major shift from a ‘Middle Power’ approach that put Canadian Foreign Policy somewhere between the Europeans and Americans. On two interrelated issues, however, Canada stood apart from its traditional allies. These were (a) support for Israel and (b) opposition deal between Iran and the P5+1 (UK, US, China, Russia, France and Germany) of the development of Iran’s nuclear capability.

With respect to both of these issues, the Harper government adopted a rhetorical approach, which aligned, more or less fully, with that of Israel’s Likud government. Harper himself set the tone for this in 2010 when he clarified that he would support Israel internationally even if the outcome of this was detrimental to Canadian interests (he was referring to the loss of the UN Security Council Seat mentioned above).

In 2012 Canada provided proof of this pudding, when it became one of only nine states at the UN General Assembly to vote against the elevation of Palestine to de facto statehood. Moreover, John Baird – then Foreign Minister – delivered a blistering speech strongly in support of Israel.

Canada opposes this resolution in the strongest terms … As a result of this body’s utterly regrettable decision to abandon policy and principle, we will be considering all available next steps.

Other steps taken by the Harper government included a muted response to Israeli settlement building and a fiercely pro-Israeli line during both the 2008-9 and 2013 bombardments of Gaza. The government’s line also conflated support for the pro-Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Campaign with anti-Semitism and terrorism. In his 2014 address to the Knesset, Harper said,

Most disgracefully of all, some openly call Israel an apartheid state… It is nothing short of sickening.

However, it was on the Iran nuclear deal that the government appeared to disavow the middle course between Europe and the US. While the Europeans backed the deal unanimously, and the Obama administration defended the deal from congressional opponents, Harper promised to maintain Canadian sanctions and continued articulating fiercely anti-Iranian rhetoric.

What is the rationale for this move? According to Christian Emory, a lecturer at Plymouth University, suggests that it may be understood from a realist perspective:

Canada can afford to take whatever position it likes without it having a decisive impact. The difference between this government and previous ones is that it sees Canada’s lack of leverage as an opportunity to pursue ‘principled policies’ that play well to its domestic base.

In other words, Harper’s Government would pursue short-term populism whenever the opportunity arises.

Politics of fear

Another area where the government has pursued a similar ideological line – and with much greater conviction – is in the domestic sphere. Given that this agenda has framed a large proportion of Canadian political discourse over recent years, it stands to reason that these policies will have a significant impact on what the country will be like after the elections, no matter who wins.

In particular two controversial laws – C-13 ‘The Protecting Canadians from Online Crime Act’ and C-51 the ‘Anti-terrorism Act’ – vastly increased the ability of the security forces to act against whatever it saw as ‘threats’. According to some interpretations these bills grant Canada’s already formidable spy agencies “incredibly expansive powers, including water boarding, inflicting pain (torture) or causing psychological harm to an individual”.

C-51 has been roundly criticised in the media. But most relevant to this discussion is what C-51 means for activists that oppose the Canadian government or its particular stance on the issue of support of Israel. According to CBC news:

The Harper government is signalling its intention to use hate crime laws against Canadian advocacy groups that encourage boycotts of Israel … Such a move could target a range of civil society organizations, from the United Church of Canada and the Canadian Quakers to campus protest groups and labour unions.

These are ominous signs of how “free expression is tribalistically manipulated and exploited” by this government and how this overall strategy of fear mongering frames Canada’s responses to a range of issues.

Refugee Crisis

Until recently the staggering and on-going humanitarian catastrophe in Syria – had not featured much in the campaign. However, the heart-breaking image of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi’s body – and the accompanying rumour that his family had been denied asylum in Canada – changed all that.

While Tom Mulcair, the leader of the NDP, nearly broke into tears when speaking in response to the image and the Liberal Party leader, Justin Trudeau, called for his rivals to set aside party politics in order to address the crisis the government’s response was very different. Harper answered with some misleading figures that exaggerated Canada’s role and, very quickly, he to moved the discussion back to the territory of fear:

When we are dealing with people who, in many cases, a terrorist warzone then we are going to make sure that we screen people properly and the security of this country is fully protected.

This is despite the fact that security experts, including a former Ambassador and Director General of Consular Affairs, suggests efforts to screen refugees (beyond the level that is already undertaken as standard) is useless in such cases where the numbers are so high.

[The Government of Canada] blowing smoke at us when they’re using the security issue to keep going very, very slow … if we talk about the Syrians alone, can you imagine going to the government in Damascus and asking them for information about the people who want to leave? Any information is highly suspect … basically you don’t [do security checks] when you’re dealing with such large numbers. That’s how we’ve dealt with it in the past and how we should deal with it in this case.

What to comes next?

If the conservatives win, we can obviously expect continuity on all/most of these issues, with the odd exception that might be driven by shifting circumstances (for example: perhaps a back down on Iran sanctions as the deal becomes mainstream and possibly a more aggressive tone designed to protect the domestic oil industry in the wake of the current downturn).

Under the Liberals, Trudeau has vaguely suggested that a government that he led would repeal some parts of Bill C-51. He also promised to end the military mission against Daesh and restore Canadian relations with Iran. As a result the Liberals have come under fire from some right wing groups, including advocates for Israel. This comes in spite of the fact that Trudeau lined up behind the Harper government and Israel during the last bombardment of Gaza.

Another, fairly predictable blind spot comes in the form of policy towards the Gulf States. The Liberals have also spoken out on human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia, but given the broad international consensus that lets the Saudis get away with murder (literally, both in Yemen and at home), it is likely that a Trudeau-led government would not challenge this.

The NDP have adopted a similar approach to the Liberals – and in opposition to the government – on most issues, albeit usually with slightly stronger rhetoric. This is, to some extent, a departure from the party’s traditional position, to the left of its opponents. Its shift rightward, particularly on issues of human rights and advocacy for the Palestinians, has been of great disappointment to many activists. Indeed last year some of the party’s offices were the target of an occupation in protest.

Many ascribe this shift to two factors: a change of leadership, brought about by the death of its charismatic talisman, Jack Layton, and the opportunity for potentially attaining real power which has encouraged the party to ape the behaviour of Britain’s Liberal Democrats in 2010. Indeed, according to some reports the party has effectively purged candidates that are supportive or sympathetic to the Palestinian cause.

Thus if either of these two parties win, or if they form a coalition (which may be a real possibility) we can certainly expect some changes – on the nature of the campaign against Daesh and on the relationship with Iran – but viewed in the broader context of Canada’s foreign policy towards the Middle East and North Africa it is likely that there will be a return to its more traditional role as a Middle Power. As one great critic once put it: “The more things change, the more they say the same.”

The author is a visiting research fellow at the Council for British Research in the Levant. He is on Twitter and his academic profile is available at

]]> (Dr Philip Leech) Americas Mon, 28 Sep 2015 11:59:20 +0000
Israel's 'Prisoner X2' revealed? Asa WinstanleyIn 2013, the Australian press broke the story of Israel's "Prisoner X". Ben Zygier was an Israeli-Australian who had become a Mossad agent. But he was effectively disappeared by the notorious spy agency after allegedly betraying its secrets.

Zygier supposedly hanged himself while in Mossad custody in 2010, though the clouds of doubt and uncertainty still hang low around the case. Such was the secrecy enveloping the case that it was only three years later that the Australian press broke open the story. The Israeli press had been totally banned from speaking about the case, and at first his name was not even known, leading to the designation "Prisoner X".

Last week details emerged of a "Prisoner X2" – allegedly a double agent working for Iran inside the Mossad.

Ever since the Zygier case reached the world media, talk of a "Prisoner X2" has been ongoing. But this month the American journalist and blogger Richard Silverstein, citing an anonymous "knowledgeable Israeli security source", told some of what is known about his story and revealed that "X2" was allegedly a double-agent for Iran.

The imprisoned agent, dubbed "Aleph Aleph" (Hebrew for AA), was profiled by Haaretz reporter Amir Oren, who interviewed the agent's wife. But, according to Silverstein, "This story so troubled the censorship unit, headed at the time by Brig. Gen. Sima Vaknin-Gil, that Haaretz was forced to pull it from its website after just a few hours. It was never published in the print edition."

Silverstein published a copy of the censored story on his website.

"AA" was sentenced in secret to 14 years imprisonment. He had apparently been imprisoned long before Zygier, and was only dubbed "X2" because knowledge of his existence reached the press later.

He was exposed in 2004, the same year that a CIA spy network in Iran was entirely exposed due to a CIA blunder. Silvestein speculates that the two incidents may be linked.

It's hard to know the facts when we don't even know the agent's real name. But what all this does illuminate for us, once again, is the authoritarian nature of the military censorship regime that Israel operates.

While Israel often boasts of being "the only democracy in the Middle East" the reality is quite different. In fact, for Palestinians in the West Bank, Israel operates an entirely undemocratic regime more akin to a dictatorship. Israel is not a democracy. It is more like an ethnocracy, where those of Jewish origin dominate over the indigenous Palestinians.

The murder this week of 18-year-old Hadil Salah Hashlamoun by Israeli soldiers at a checkpoint in Hebron is only the latest such example of this. The soldiers shot her and let her bleed to death for more than 30 minutes. They then lied about the killing, claiming she had had a knife. Such justifications after the fact are habitual from Israel.

Israel's media complies with the military censor because of pressures on it from both the state and society. The few decent journalists who work in the Israeli press are treated as outcasts and marginalised. Indeed, the dissident Haaretz writer Gideon Levy is now so often attacked by Israeli citizens angry at the basic humanity he shows towards the Palestinian people, that his paper had to hire bodyguards for him.

The military controls every aspect of Palestinian life in the West Bank, and it enforces the brutal siege on the Gaza Strip. Palestinian citizens of the state too have reduced rights, albeit in not such as obvious way.

But the military ultimately also controls the Jewish Israeli media too. This is not the behaviour of a democratic state: to be able to withdraw articles that it finds disturbing.

Neither is it the behaviour of a democratic state to disappear its citizens and try them in secret courts. That is how dictatorships act.

As Silverstein puts it well: "Lest we think these two stories have exhausted the list of those guilty of betraying Israeli intelligence, Zygier’s attorney, Avigdor Feldman, insinuates that there may be even more such cases unknown to the Israeli public. Which raises the question: How many people can a nation 'disappear' before it sheds the pretext of democracy and becomes a national security state, at best, or a police state, at worst?"

The Mossad, Shin Bet and other Israeli spy agencies are brutal death squads that often act with impunity all around the world, with a long and brutal history of murderous acts targeting Palestinian intellectuals, leaders and resistance fighters. It should come as no surprise then, that it brutality extends further.

An associate editor with The Electronic Intifada, Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist who lives in London.

]]> (Asa Winstanley) Inquiry Sat, 26 Sep 2015 12:12:18 +0000
‘Tunisia needs justice and transparency, not forgiveness for a corrupt elite’ Since the law was proposed there have been a number of demonstrations held under the slogan, 'We will not forgive' - photo of Tunisians protesting the Government's Economic bill

"No to despotism and reconciliation with corruption!” chanted demonstrators in the heart of the capital of Tunisia last weekend. Many demonstrators held signs with similar messages or waved pictures of secular politicians Chokri Belaid and Mohamed Brahimi, assassinated in 2013. Hundreds marched through the city, to be met by a heavy security presence surrounding the ministry of the interior. “We have to speak out,” said one protester. “The revolution isn’t over. We need to continue fighting for Belaid and Brahimi.” Human rights activist Wafa Ben Hassine also joined the demonstration. “I wanted to keep a thread of the revolution alive,” she said.

The protest was against the controversial economic and financial reconciliation bill which was presented by President Beji Caid Essebsi and approved by the government before being submitted to parliament on 14 July. If passed into law, it will clear businessmen and politicians accused of corruption in exchange for their confessions and return of misappropriated funds. According to the government, the law would boost the country’s struggling financial system, as the returned funds would be injected into the country’s economy. The secular political party Nidaa Tounes, which won the election in 2014 and is in a ruling coalition with the moderate Islamist Ennahda Party, stands behind the law.

However, to many Tunisians economic reconciliation is a slap in the face. “We need justice and transparency,” said one demonstrator. The economic reconciliation law will provide the opposite, she argued. “It is a way to free a corrupt elite from standing accountable for their crimes.”

Since the law was proposed there have been a number of demonstrations held under the slogan, “We will not forgive”; the Manich Msemah (I will not pardon) movement was formed to encourage people to stand up against the law, which is not only facing criticism from the general public but also from the powerful UGTT trade union, lawyers and opposition members like Hamma Hammami from the Popular Front. Other political parties are also opposing the law, including Al Joumhouri, Ettakatol, the Democratic Alliance, the Democratic Current and the Echaab movement.

Some argue that the law will not only hurt the country’s transitional justice process and reconciliation but also the work of the already-challenged Truth and Dignity Commission. Its President, Sihem Ben Sedrine, told the media that the bill “destroys the transitional justice process” and added that it will ensure impunity for crimes like financial corruption and abuse of public property. The truth commission is an ambitious attempt to investigate crimes committed since 1955 with around 16,000 testimonies collected from almost 60 years of totalitarianism. Despite facing criticism, the truth commission is entering its second operational year. Even so, the new economic reconciliation bill may be the commission’s biggest challenge to-date.

The draft proposal also comes at a fragile time for Tunisia’s democratic transition. Habib Bourguiba Avenue had been cleared of traffic for a week due to security concerns involving threats against the capital’s vital institutions. The precaution is the latest following the terrorist attack which killed 38 people at a beach resort in the tourist hotspot of Sousse. The attack came shortly after the country experienced more murderous terrorism at the country’s famous Bardo Museum. Since then, a state of emergency has been imposed, providing the government with powers including being able to ban demonstrations in the name of maintaining public order. A recent report from Human Rights Watch suggests that demonstrations opposing the economic reconciliation bill have been suspended and unlawful force has been used to disperse peaceful protests. The rights watchdog called on the Tunisian authorities to investigate the police violence and make sure that these acts would be accounted for.

The violence by the security forces did make some Tunisians afraid to attend this weekend’s demonstration. “My friends told me not to come,” says 20-year-old Souha Khemiri. “They thought it too risky.” The delay in receiving the green light from the authorities made people worried that it would turn messy, but Khemiri went along hoping that it would remain calm and peaceful. “The aim is to get the law withdrawn,” she explains, holding a banner criticising the state of emergency’s ban on demonstrations and freedom of speech. Even though she is only cautiously optimistic, she still argues that one of the benefits of the country’s new democratic order is that politicians now are forced to listen to the people, which is why she is hoping that the demonstrations will make politicians re-consider the bill.

For many Tunisians the crackdown on freedom of expression and what many consider pardons for an elite accused of stealing fortunes brings back memories of the draconian practices from the oppressive days of ousted President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. “Still, even in its mildest form, the bill would be a symbolic step away from holding the former regime accountable,” argued Ben Hassine, although the activist would have liked to have seen a more unified demonstration. Its disorganisation led to a divide between protesters, instead of one unified march there were three scattered groups, split between different political parties. “None of which reached the critical mass that some of us wished to see,” she pointed out. “The fracturing of the march into political camps spoiled its very purpose, to show the unity of Tunisians in opposing this bill.”

]]> (Christine Petré) Africa Wed, 16 Sep 2015 11:10:01 +0000
Self-pity and privilege: Etgar Keret and Israel's 'liberal left' Etgar KeretEtgar Keret, according to some, is "the most loved and widely read Israeli writer working today." Hailed as "one of the most prominent Israeli writers on the international literary scene", Keret has recently published a memoir, his first non-fiction book following five short story collections.

To mark its release, Keret is doing the media rounds, where a recurring theme has been, in the words of The Guardian, "the difficulties faced by the Israeli left." In fact, the real 'difficulties' faced by the so-called Israeli left are all self-inflicted – as Keret himself ably demonstrates.

Keret's view of the conflict is shaped by an all too familiar false symmetry. In an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times in July 2014, reflecting on the recent killings of three Israeli youths in the Occupied West Bank and Mohammad Abu Khdeir in East Jerusalem, Keret wrote the following:

On the surface, the security situation was stable, but with the peace talks cancelled and the general sense of was clearly only a matter of time before a murderous act would take place, to be countered by another equally murderous act.

"The security situation was stable", Keret wrote. In Tel Aviv, perhaps, but in the first five months of 2014, Israeli forces killed 22 Palestinians (of whom 17 were civilians). There is not a single reference to the ongoing military occupation in the entire op-ed.

Keret's narrative of one "murderous act" countered by another, is echoed in his October 2014 correspondence with his friend Sayed Kashua. Here, he describes the "history of this conflict" as one of "missed opportunities, shows of distrust, and lack of courage on both sides throughout the years."

Keret yearns for "peace", but offers no practical steps for how to achieve it – and is vague about what it even means. There is no doubt, however, about his opposition to boycott, which he has described as a form of "arbitrary collective punishment" analogous to Israel's demolition of Palestinian homes.

Extraordinary comparisons aside, Keret is clearly ignorant of the basis of the call for an academic boycott, namely Israeli universities' well-documented complicity with occupation – institutions he defends as "one of the few remaining bastions of the liberal left."

Yet Keret has also admitted that he is personally "not willing" even to "boycott settlements" in the West Bank. For Keret, "there's nothing easier than boycotting. Boycotting is basically saying I'm going to sit on my ass and do nothing."

Tell that to the Israeli artists for whom boycotting the settlements incurs financial, professional, and even legal, risks. International artists too, join the boycott at the expense of lucrative contracts and a backlash from Israel's friends and allies.

Despite that, many are indeed joining the cultural boycott, a tactic Keret also criticises as ineffective: "When people don't come to perform in Israel, nobody gives a fuck." In fact, the Israeli media often covers cancellations and boycott endorsements, while the government and advocacy groups have mobilised significant resources to combat the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign.

Boycotts, a time-honoured tactic whose strategic significance Keret is either unwilling or unable to comprehend, are dismissed on the grounds that they are an ineffective, lazy option. But it is difficult to identify what concrete steps he believes can be taken in order to affect change.

In an op-ed in The New York Times this week, Keret bemoans the fact that an "anti-violence, anti-incitement demonstration" in Tel Aviv failed to attract a big crowd. He does not explain how standing in Rabin Square for a few hours is more effective or less 'easy' than backing the Palestinian boycott call.

Last December, Keret advised his "left-wing neighbour" to vote in what he described as "the most important elections in Israel's history." But what were the alternatives to Likud? The Zionist Camp, whose leader Isaac Herzog has boasted of being "more extreme than Netanyahu"? The enfeebled Meretz? Or perhaps the Joint List which, for all its achievements, will remain marginalised?

Asked by Newsweek to explain his optimism, Keret reveals that the real hope for change in Israeli society is, in fact, himself. "I have this hubris", he replied, "that I think if I could get each and every person in this country in a room and talk to them for a few hours, then—I'm not saying they would think what I'm thinking, but maybe I can make them see reality in a new kind of way."

On another occasion, explaining the rationale for a book co-written with his friend, Palestinian writer Samir El-Youssef, Keret wrote the following, instructive remarks.

But if you can take people who regard the situation as simple and show them something more complex—if you can confuse them and introduce some ambiguity to their point of view—that's the best you can do. And if it doesn't help, at least it will make us feel better.

Reading Keret's op-eds and political interventions, we come to the conclusion that the real crisis is not that faced by the colonised, brutalised, Palestinians, or even Jewish Israeli society in general, but rather it is the crisis faced by himself, the burdened, angst-ridden writer.

Take, for example, his July 2014 piece, penned as Israel's bombs rained down on the Palestinians of the Gaza Strip. Here he boldly declared: "I am willing to fight" – but for what? Not, in fact, for the right of Palestinians to play on a beach without being blown to pieces, but "for my right to express my opinion with the same ferocity that the I.D.F. is now showing in Gaza."

For Keret, the Palestinians are relegated to the margins, while he, the wry, self-deprecating, author, is at the centre, a discursive displacement that confirms the colonial situation in which he writes. As Udi Aloni wrote last year, "[Keret's] symptoms are the same as those suffered by most of the Israeli-Jewish left: They don't see Palestinians as subjects in the struggle, they only see themselves."

Keret complains that he is "caught between a rock and a very hard place", and told The Guardian that "in Israel people would boycott me saying I'm a traitor, and overseas people would boycott me because I'm Israeli." In fact, as was later pointed out, "regularly featuring" on the front of the second most-read newspaper in Israel hardly constitutes a 'boycott'.

Keret's books are highly popular in Israel, and he is a past recipient of the Prime Minister's award for literature and the Ministry of Culture's Cinema Prize. No wonder then, that Keret is not particularly concerned about being deemed "controversial" by those, he once jestingly put it, who doubt "evolutionary theory."

Keret's fiction may well sparkle, but his politics is tired, typical of the bankruptcy of an Israeli liberal-left that has no road map out of the settler-colonial cul-de-sac it has played its own part in creating. His insistence that the "solution" can be found in "compromise" and "dialogue" is not just platitudinous vacuity; it is an abdication of responsibility from a position of privilege.

Keret was born in 1967: a Palestinian born the same year in the West Bank or Gaza has only ever known a military regime. "Although I sympathise with the Palestinians' fight", Keret said recently, "I can't say I'm pro-Palestinian. I'm not pro-Hamas, pro-gay persecution, pro-terrorist attack." It is with sentiments like these that Israel's 'liberals' make the case for a boycott better than anyone else.

]]> (Ben White) Debate Fri, 07 Aug 2015 10:41:40 +0000
Turkey's growing unease about the consequences of the Syrian crisis Professor Özden Zeynep OktavSyria was once the jewel in the crown of Turkey's "zero problems with neighbours" policy. However, the Arab Spring and Syrian revolution not only devastated that policy but also led to a big economic burden stemming from an ever-increasing number of Syrian refugees fleeing from the brutal violence and crossing into Turkey. The Syrian crisis also crystallised Turkey's Achilles' heel, Kurdish separatism, and the Sunni-Alawite split as the spillover effect of the Syrian conflict became more and more evident with the appearance of new, and unwelcome, neighbours along the 900 km border: the Jihadist groups Al-Nusra Front, ISIS and the Democratic Union Party ("Partiya Yekîtiya Demokrat" or PYD, the Syrian branch of the PKK).

This article will mainly analyse two issues which have endangered Turkey's border security as well as its relations with neighbouring countries and the West: the Syrian refugee problem and the Kobane crisis. Both are of vital importance as they are related directly to Turkey's very sensitive domestic political issues.

The Syrian refugee problem

On 29 April 2011, when Syrian civilians started to seek refuge in Turkey, they were only 252 in number and were settled in temporary camps. "As their numbers grew towards the end of 2011, the government extended 'temporary protection' to Syrian refugees, the only country to do so in the region. This was a reflection of Turkey's open door policy, its policy of non-refoulement and its commitment to ensure basic humanitarian services to refugees."

From the Turkish officials' perspective, that open door policy showed that "even facing massive inflows, it is possible to uphold a humanitarian approach and enact policies that prioritise the needs of refugees, rather than treat them as a threat to state security."

However, with the lingering diplomatic process, Turkey's attempts to create a global coalition that would stage strong opposition to the Assad regime in Damascus remained fruitless and the number of Syrian refugees increased in an unprecedented way due to the escalating war. Turkey has come face to face with both security and economic challenges. For example, Turkish funds for humanitarian assistance to Syrian refugees exceeded $2 billion by the end of 2013.

Since August 2012, the Turkish authorities have started to put restrictions on official entries of Syrians without valid passports in order to provide more space for the refugees in the existing camps. This has led to the creation of makeshift camps on the Syrian side of the border with Turkey. To accommodate this situation, the Turkish government has also put in place a "zero-point delivery system" whereby humanitarian help is delivered to the border with Syria, to be picked up by Syrian organisations and distributed to people in need on the other side.

Despite such humanitarian efforts by Turkey, its credibility on international platforms has fallen on the basis that the jihadist groups were provided by Ankara with "light weapons [and] bullets and were treated at Turkish hospitals in Hatay".

Many alleged that due to the open door policy, not only Syrian civilians but also rebels - including jihadists - could move freely in and out of Turkey while officials looked the other way, because the Jihadists fought against the Asad regime efficiently. As such, Turkish officials' claim that Ankara continues to pursue a peaceful solution to the conflict rang hollow.

As the war in Syria escalated, and the lack of international consensus to act against Assad became more and more evident, the two new actors, the PYD and ISIS, arrived to set Turkish alarm bells ringing.

Assad promised to give autonomy in an area covering six districts in the region, including Haseki, Ras Al-Ain, Afrin, Darbasiyya, Ainal-Araband and Kamishli.

From Ankara's perspective, at a time when Turkey has been trying to make peace with its own Kurdish population, the PYD's aspirations to gain autonomy aiming at a probable independent Kurdish state which would have access to the Mediterranean was unacceptable. In a region under PYD control, the PKK would have the ability to establish a strong foothold and lead to a serious border security issue for Turkey. This perception of Turkey has led to Kurdish resentment on the Turkish side of the border, especially against the policy-makers of the ruling AKP. This confrontation between the Kurdish Democratic Peoples' Party in Turkey and the AKP government became most evident when the Kobane crisis arose.

The Kobane crisis

With the brutal fighting initiated by ISIS against the Kurds in Kobane in October 2014, another big wave of Syrian refugees flooded to the Turkish border, and the Kurds in Turkey wanted to join the PYD forces in their fight against ISIS. However, due to concerns in Ankara, Turkey did not want to act to prevent the events in Kobane. This led to unprecedented protests in dozens of Turkish cities. Ankara's concerns were manifold. First of all, from the government's perspective, both the PYD and ISIS are terrorist organisations and the pro-Islamist Kurds opposing the PKK should have been taken into consideration on the eve of the general elections. Second, despite ongoing negotiations with Kurdish leader Abdullah Öcalan and the peace process, the Turkish government did not want to support the PKK openly as many in Turkey were still very sensitive and approaching the ongoing negotiations from a nationalistic perspective. Third, the Kobane issue also had the potential to trigger a civil-military confrontation as the Turkish army was quite sensitive and uneasy about cooperating with the PYD, a branch of the PKK, against another terrorist organisation, ISIS.

Last, but not least, many in Turkey believed firmly that the situation in Kobane was a tool in the hands of Washington to intervene in Turkey's PKK/Kurdish problem and was acting as a champion of Syria's Kurds.

Despite so many concerns about the crisis, Ankara consented unexpectedly to the Peshmerga forces' passage to Kobane to fight alongside their ethnic brothers. The Turkish government thus put an end to its ambivalent policies towards the crisis by allying with its sole brotherly neighbour, Iraqi Kurdistan. The government thus aimed to "overshadow the PKK's military success in Kobane vis-à-vis the Islamic State organisation, to address international criticism and to strengthen the position of Barzani's KDP among the Syrian Kurds."

Concluding remarks

When looked at closely, it can be said that among the other regional countries, Turkey, as a front-line state, has been the one most effected in a negative way by the Syrian crisis on many levels: political, economic and security. Most important of all, the Syrian revolt not only provoked its domestic political issue but also led to a deterioration in its relations with the West by enhancing Turkey's feelings of mistrust toward the United States as well as the European Union.

Despite many miscalculations and wrong strategies by the government in Ankara, it should be borne in mind that the Turkish people passed a very severe test by approving the AKP government's "open door policy" by which they believed that the lives of hundreds of thousands of Syrian civilians – including women and children – would be saved. During the Kobane crisis, two hundred thousand Kurds were allowed to enter Turkey overnight. Today, the number of Syrian refugees exceeds two million. In a nutshell, Turkey, when compared with other countries where Syrian refugees are sheltered, such as Egypt and Jordan, for example, is the only country which has provided the most humane conditions for the refugees; this demonstrates that Turkey has prioritised humanitarian policies over its strategic interests, despite its growing unease over the consequences of the conflict across the border.

Professor Özden Zeynep Oktav teaches in the Faculty of Economics & Administrative Sciences, Yildiz Technical University, Turkey.

]]> (Professor Özden Zeynep Oktav) Guest Writers Wed, 01 Jul 2015 06:00:51 +0000
The Israel-Palestine 'peace process' as a capitalist metaphor Dr Sarah MarusekMEMO published an article recently by Egyptian scholar and diplomat Abdullah Al-Ashaal about what he calls the disastrous "bartering policy" framework of the ongoing negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. In theory, the way this framework is supposed to work is that both parties have their sets of demands and both are expected to make certain concessions.

However, Al-Ashaal makes the important argument that, during these negotiations, "established Arab rights are being bartered, such as security in exchange for freedom, even though the people need both." After all, human rights are inalienable, so how can they be bartered?

Of course, bartering is a system of exchange that predates the money system. Traditionally, it involves trading services or goods between individuals or groups. Al-Ashaal, though, suggests that the Palestinians are "providing one thing in exchange for another" kind of thing altogether, an unequal exchange quite different to bartering in the traditional sense of the term.

For example, he argues that: "The bartering policy started when UN Security Council Resolution 242 was issued in 1967. This resolution linked Israel's withdrawal from the occupied Arab territories to the recognition of Israel and normalisation with it."

Here the Palestinians are expected to exchange some rights in order to secure others, even though all are enshrined as rights guaranteed to all humans.

On the other hand, Israel is merely "conceding" to abandon one aspect of its criminal aggression: seizing all of Palestine in 1967. What is a concession for Israel is only the undoing of one illegal and unjust act, without ever addressing the crime of expelling 750,000 Palestinians from their lands during the Nakba in 1948. To put it another way, a burglar cannot enter a house, steal everything inside, and then instead of being held accountable in some way, expect negotiations with the homeowner that result in the burglar returning only some of the items, in what is described as a "concession", while the homeowner is forced to make another kind of "concession" altogether by agreeing to allow the burglar to keep some of the stolen goods. The homeowner ends up surrendering some rightful claims to win others, whereas the burglar concedes only what he or she acquired unjustly.

This is an excellent point that Al-Ashaal is making about the Western sponsored "peace process". Israeli settlements are illegal, so why are the Palestinians expected to give up anything in return for their dismantlement? And why is their ongoing existence even a possibility? This is not a framework for peace, but a framework that sanctions and legitimises Israel's criminal actions.

This is where I would like to diverge slightly from Al-Ashaal's analysis, and suggest that the reason for why this is not the traditional system of exchange is because it is not really bartering at all, but instead something more akin to capitalism.

This may require a creative, and perhaps even unscholarly, leap in manipulating Marxist theory, and so I apologise to those Marxists who will take offence. It is not a perfect comparison; however, trying to make it does help us to understand how both systems are exploitative.

To understand how the "peace process" could be seen as a metaphor for capitalism, we must first start by recognising that Israel has capital and the Palestinians do not.

In capitalism, those with capital, or money, trade in commodities for no other reason than to generate more money. In other words, capitalists are not actually interested in the commodities they trade, but only in selling them to accumulate capital. Furthermore, the accumulation of capital is limitless, which results in cycles of destruction in order to create new markets.

In the capitalist system, the labour that goes into producing these commodities is also a commodity to be bought and sold via wages. Because the accumulation of capital is limitless, capitalists force workers to work longer and harder to produce more commodities in order to generate what is known as surplus value, or profits, resulting in an exploitative system.

Now, Israel is not really interested in Palestinians or their lands. Its concern is expanding the Zionist project. That is why so many Palestinian villages under Israeli control have been completely destroyed and yet the land is now vacant. Palestinian researcher Salman Abu Sitta has meticulously mapped out the villages of every refugee forced to leave Palestine during the Nakba. His findings illustrate how not only has nearly every trace of the native presence been erased from the landscape, which is why this qualifies as ethnic cleansing, but also how most of these lands continue to be uninhabited today and remain under state control. The land is not really the issue, but rather control of the land and the removal of the people. Capital here is sovereignty over Palestine.

|And while Palestinian lands and resources may be finite, Palestinians see Zionism as limitless, especially when during each new round of negotiations Israel changes the parameters for what it will take to establish an independent and autonomous Palestinian state, negating past agreements, all the while expanding settlements and further entrenching the occupation. This is why Israel's demand to the PA has escalated in recent years from asking for recognition as a state, which is a legal definition the Palestinians have already accepted, to recognition as a Jewish state, a religious/racial/political definition the Palestinians refuse to accept, because if they do recognise Israel as a Jewish state, then they would be sanctioning the occupation to be, in fact, endless.

So, in a way, Israel is using the "peace process" to perpetuate a system of creative destruction. By constantly changing the parameters that form the basis of any agreement, the negotiations become endless and the occupation continues indefinitely; all the while Israel maintains its international image as a potential broker of peace, not the perpetual warrior that it is.

Ever since the "peace process" established the Palestinian Authority (PA), the Palestinians have also been providing the labour that sustains the expansion of Zionism. Israel outsources its policing and security to the PA, which prevents the growth of a resistance movement in the West Bank. International aid to the PA also tries to buy popular support for the negotiations. Meanwhile, the PA's commitment to the negotiations buys additional time for the construction of more illegal settlements, which tragically are sometimes even built by Palestinians themselves. Whenever the PA deviates from this framework, its wages are withheld, as happened when President Mahmoud Abbas lobbied successfully for state recognition at the UN General Assembly.

Furthermore, the Palestinian negotiators are expected to help consolidate the Zionist project by sacrificing Palestinian rights. Indeed, when you think about it, the "peace process" has also rendered Palestinian rights into commodities. Palestinian rights are no longer considered fundamental moral and ethical entitlements that are guaranteed to all humans, but instead commodities to be exchanged, whose usefulness is determined solely by the Zionists in respect to the survival of Zionism. And because certain Palestinian rights are more threatening to Zionism than others, like the right of return, they are given more value and thus become more expensive to acquire at the negotiating table. At the same time, Israel and its Zionist allies force these highly valued "Palestinian commodities" simultaneously into an equal exchange relation with "Israeli commodities", which only undo selected crimes that the Zionist project can persist without.

During this negotiating process, rights that hold qualitative value are disfigured into quantities and things. For example, the right of return is transformed into a negotiable number, say a handful of refugees, and exchanged for maybe dismantling some settlements. Or the significance of Jerusalem is reduced to granting the Palestinians bragging rights to a name, even though the capital of Palestine is pushed into the eastern suburbs, or what US Secretary of State John Kerry calls "greater Jerusalem".

In this way, the right of return, where all humans have the inalienable right to return to, and re-enter, his or her country of origin, which for Palestinians is also enshrined in UN resolution 194, and the rights of equality, citizenship and sovereignty, are no longer non-negotiable human rights, but instead Palestinian commodities to be exchanged for Israeli commodities that undo small parts of, but do not challenge, the oppressive conditions of the Zionist occupation.

Furthermore, and perhaps most importantly, Marx's critique of capitalism includes the key observation that the social dimension of commodities becomes obscured. In capitalism, a commodity's value is represented solely by its monetary worth or exchange value, even though it also has significant qualitative value that derives from its use, as well as the social labour that went into making it and the social relations of production in which that labour was performed. As a result, commodities (including labour) are de-historicised, or severed from their history. Fetishising commodities in this way, or only valuing the price tag and the pleasure derived, conceals the exploitative system of wage labour that is required to produce these commodities.

For example, today we do not buy clothing thinking about the unsafe conditions of the factory workers making them, let alone the meagre wages of those who tend the cotton and silk farms, or the sickness of those mixing the industrial dyes. Nor do we consider how many hours without break somebody has to drive in order to deliver the clothing to our local shop. We only look at the price tag and whether or not we like the item; if it will give us pleasure.

In the case of Israel and Palestine, what is being concealed by the "peace process" is the history of Israel's ethnic cleansing of Palestine in 1948 and 1967, resulting in the forced exile of millions of Palestinians today, and Israel's continued occupation of Palestine ever since. The social relations of occupation are obscured. However, this history is why the right of return is so important for Palestinians. Yes, we all have this right, but it means something very different to refugees than it does to expatriates or people who live where they were born. When the right of return is made into a commodity, the social relations and this history are hidden. What it boils down to is that the historical conditions of Palestinians, who have suffered and continue to suffer from displacement, exile, occupation and oppression, are outside the framework of the "peace process".

And when the dismantlement of settlements is made into a commodity as well, this conceals the racism and violence that have inspired and continued to inspire the Zionist project. The colonial impulse that leads one people to settle on another people's land is left unquestioned, and thus uncontested. Dismantling some of the settlements merely becomes a price that the occupier pays.

While this metaphor is imperfect and has its limitations, thinking about the "peace process" in terms of the capitalist system does help to show us why pursuing peace without equality and justice will never work, just as pursuing political rights means nothing when we are so economically and socially unequal. Thus, in the same way that Marxism calls for a revolutionary movement to dismantle the capitalist system and create a new set of relations based on equality and justice politically, economically and socially, so too must a revolutionary movement undo the framework of the current Israeli-Palestinian "peace process" and replace it with a historicised understanding of what needs to be done to realise equality and justice. Only then will peace ever be achievable.

]]> (Dr Sarah Marusek) Activism Mon, 13 Jan 2014 11:41:33 +0000
The time of false leaders "It is ironic that they used to call it "Mubarak's corrupt judiciary" and yet are now fighting to keep it in place"We live in a time of media and moral laxity so, in Egypt, we must expect the illogical in every aspect of life; yesterday's friend is today's enemy, and yesterday's enemy, who you sought to overthrow with the help of yesterday's friend, is now your friend and the victor that you carry on your shoulders. The television screens are filled with images of this false leader. Moreover, his speeches are given airtime, presenting him with a golden opportunity to enhance his reputation, save face and escape justice. The latter has, in the process, been dealt a deadly blow and is now part of the political bazaar in which the entire country is living. Such schizophrenic behaviour plagues what the media calls "the elite and political forces" but should not block the revolution and its goals.

Since the beginning of the revolution, we have been demanding a cleansing purge of the judiciary, media and Interior Ministry, and the isolation of the Prosecutor General. This demand is still there, as can be seen from the posters hanging in Tahrir Square, which was the stronghold of the genuine revolutionaries before they were infiltrated by the remnants of the former regime. It has now become the den of the counter-revolution, aided by yesterday's friends who share a hatred for the Muslim Brotherhood to the extent that they are prepared to see Egypt sink if it means overthrowing the elected government. Love of country has been outweighed by their hatred for the Islamic movement and their own self-interests.

The scourge of corruption has reached every level of Egypt's institutions, including the judiciary, despite some honourable judges campaigning to liberate their posts from political interference. "Justice is lost in Egypt," said one such judge in Tahrir Square recently. Sadly, though, the same man has joined those who he accused of corruption and has become an icon of the old regime's remnants.

Similarly, we see former members of parliament who presented draft laws to reform the judiciary before parliament was dissolved but who are now shifting to the other side and warning against any action to purge the judiciary. It is ironic that they used to call it "Mubarak's corrupt judiciary" and yet are now fighting to keep it in place.

Other political figures and intellectuals who once called for reform of the judiciary became the first to attend meetings of the Judge's Association even though they used to call them "the den of corruption". They are also calling for the return of the ex-Prosecutor General, the same man who they accused of accepting "gifts" (a euphemism for bribes) from news organisations. Logically, they should be more convinced than ever before of the need for reform, which they demanded in the past. Instead, we see them turning against reform.

This is indeed irrational but it reflects the time in which we live. The political arena is now a circus in which respectable opposition has been turned into sad acrobatics and u-turns by the false leaders we see in Egypt today. Every time we try to reform the country's corrupt administration, they object, claiming that the country is being "Ikhwanified", the Ikhwan being the Muslim Brotherhood. This weapon is used to blackmail the real authorities, which are, unfortunately, giving in to it at the country's expense. When such chicanery is allowed, we are all the losers.

]]> (Dr. Amira Abo el-Fetouh) Letter from Cairo Wed, 01 May 2013 12:05:50 +0000
Listen to Syrians: The media jackals and the people’s narrative Dr Ramzy BaroudImagine the Syrian war from the point of view of ordinary Syrians from a variety of backgrounds. They are most likely to offer a different perspective and to hold entirely different expectations than most other parties involved.

A resident of Idlib, a villager from Deraa, a housewife, a teacher, a nurse or an unemployed ex-prisoner from anywhere else in Syria would distinguish their relationship to the war in terminology and overall understanding that is partially, or entirely, opposed to the narrative communicated by CNN, Al-Jazeera, Russia Today, the BBC, Press TV, and every available media platform that is concerned with the outcomes of the war.

These media tailor their coverage and, when necessary - as is often the case - slant their focus in ways that would communicate their designated editorial agendas, which, unsurprisingly, is often linked to the larger political agenda of their respective governments. They may purport to speak in accordance with some imaginary moral line, but, frankly, none of them do.

Surely, the stories of ordinary Syrians are not prepared in advance or communicated via press conferences in so articulate, guarded and predictable a manner. That is a job that has been reserved for, and perfected by, politicians who represent countries with palpable vested interests in the war.

But how could a story that is so thoroughly covered and discussed round the clock in so exhaustive a fashion be so far removed from the reality at hand?

Of course, there is no single truth in explaining the war in Syria, and not even an unmitigated people’s narrative can change that. The Russians, for example, justify their latest intervention as needed action to stave off the progress of Daesh, although the Russians themselves are accused by everyone else, save Iran, that they are targeting other opposition groups. The Russians, in turn, accuse everyone else, but Iran, of either initiating the problem in the first place, empowering or funding Daesh, or failing to do anything meaningful to bring the war to an end.

If seen from others’ perspective – the Arab (especially Gulf countries), Turkey, Iran, Hezbollah, Jordan, the United States, European countries, and so on – every country seems to communicate their understanding of the war, thus explaining the nature of their involvement by using all sorts of upright and righteous rationales. It seems as if they are all united by their love of the Syrian people and the sanctity of their lives.

However, considering that over 300,000 Syrians have been killed in the war so far, with many more wounded, and six million becoming desolate refugees, one can be certain of the fact that none of these governments actually care for Syrian lives, including, sadly, their government and the opposition. To be less crude, we can be certain that the survival of the Syrian nation is not a top priority to those who are using Syria as a ground for their proxy war.

Those who perished in Syria have been victimized by all warring parties, and the bullets that killed, the shells that devastated neighbourhoods, and the rockets that randomly toppled homes originated from too many directions to count.

In other words, there should be no room for polarizing narrative in Syria any more, as in good guys vs. bad guys; evil regime vs. opposition or terrorists vs. a sovereign government; or regional forces that are attempting to invite stability and peace vs. others espousing chaos.

These thoughts, and more, crossed my mind as I began recording the experiences of Syrian and Palestinian refugees who managed to cross to Europe via Turkey and Greece. After reading countless articles about the war, listening to a thousand news broadcasts, consulting with dozens of ‘experts’, Arab and non-Arab alike, I found the hours I spent with the refugees far more enriching and informative.

When it was explained to me, for example, how the Yarmouk siege came about, and after I crossed referenced the information with other refugees – who may hold a different political perspective on the war – I found out that our understanding of what took place in the refugee camp was almost completely misguided, or rather, politicized - thus slanted, self-serving and generally untrue.

Khaled’s journey from Damascus to Idlib, Homs, Hama, all the way to Qamishli, then to the Turkish border deprives the narrative from its polarization; he was a target for everyone; indeed, his suffering continued even when he crossed the Turkish border, took a boat to Lesbos, attempted to enter Macedonia, then Serbia, and so on. It took him four months to reach Sweden, with about ten different stops in different jails.

His narrative contained no references to good guys vs. bad guys, in any collective sense. Any act of kindness he encountered on his journey was surely a random one, and depended entirely on the goodness of ordinary people, like himself.

The same sentiment was conveyed through Maysam’s story, whose peers at the Syrian Red Crescent Society were arrested and tortured because they treated fighters from the Free Syrian Army at the Palestine Hospital. She fled before the mukhabrat came looking for her at her house in the Zahra neighbourhood in Damascus.

Many more are no longer able to convey their own story of the war because they were killed, either by Syrian Government forces, the opposition, other parties or US-led airstrikes. A particularity moving account was of the execution of a 16-year-old girl in a public square near al-Hajar al-Aswad, after she confessed to be a ‘spy’ for the regime. The ‘confession’ was exacted after she was shot, point-blank, in the palm of her right hand. They claimed that she placed GPS devices in opposition areas so that the Army may guide its missiles based on signals it received. The Syrian Army’s barrel bombs, of course, are not smart bombs and, in fact, none exist. The child was shot in the face six times.

Ordinary Syrians’ narratives are often used in media coverage of the war, but in a selective fashion, never in an honest and true sampling. Al Mayadeen’s version of ‘average Syrians’ is almost entirely different to that of Al-Jazeera. Syrians are used to supplement existing media agendas, as their country is used to advance political agendas.

When the war is over, the warring parties will reach the conclusion that they have either achieved their objectives or can no longer do so; only Syrians will be left to put their lives back together. When the remaining dead are buried, the missing found or declared dead, the prisoners released or kept indefinitely, only then winning and losing will cease to hold any meaning at all.

The tragedy in Syria is that the war fought in the name of the Syrian people has little to do with the rights of the Syrian people; and the voices of Syrians are either entirely neglected or used and manipulated to achieve specific political ends. And when it is all said and done, the media jackals are likely to fan the flame of some other conflict in some other place.

Certainly, it is already late for too many Syrians whose stories were buried with them, but it is not too late for many who are still alive. We need to listen to the Syrian people, who have been at the receiving end of death, but are yet to articulate their own aspirations for life, and their ongoing tragedies.

Dr. Ramzy Baroud has been writing about the Middle East for over 20 years. He is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author of several books and the founder of His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story (Pluto Press, London). His website is:

]]> (Dr Ramzy Baroud) Middle East Sun, 04 Oct 2015 12:05:22 +0000
Europe’s ‘refugee crisis’ is an exercise in Western propaganda Migrants trying to enter the UK but caught by UKBA

When is a “swarm” of migrants not a “swarm” of migrants? When Western Governments have oil and gas on their minds. It’s amazing what a difference 5 weeks can make in the world of Western politics and media.

On the 30th July, British Prime Minister David Cameron, commenting on the “migrants” trying to enter the UK via Calais after 9 people had died trying to get through the Channel Tunnel, described them as “a swarm of people coming across the Mediterranean”. He added that, “Everything that can be done will be done to make sure… British holidaymakers are able to go on their holidays."

Fast-forward to the 3rd of September, and the same David Cameron, commenting on the death of 3 year-old Syrian “refugee” Aylan Kurdi who died trying to cross the Mediterranean, said: "As a father I felt deeply moved… Britain is a moral nation and we will fulfil our moral responsibilities.”

The right-wing tabloid newspaper the Sun used the word “swarm” 7 days before Cameron to describe the Calais situation, but in the wake of Aylan’s death launched a campaign to “help thousands of kids like drowned migrant boy”.

One could be forgiven for thinking that Cameron and the Sun were referring to two different topics, not the singular ongoing plight of millions of people in the Western-induced bedlam of the Middle East and North Africa. While the prime ministerial and media change of rhetoric was staggeringly obvious, the reasons for their sudden attack of scruples are less so.

Regime change in Syria has been an objective of the West since as early as 2006, as a WikiLeaks release published on 17 September appears to show. There was talk of using the media to cause Bashar Al-Assad to act “irrationally”, and intentionally stoking the historical tensions between Sunni and Shia, with Iran being the leverage.

In 2011, WikiLeaks revealed that the US had been financing Syrian opposition groups, right up until September 2010, including an anti-government TV station. In 2012 a “treaty” between Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey (with alleged support from the US and Britain) was agreed, with the aim of overthrowing the Assad government.

The British parliament voted not to carry out airstrikes against the Syrian government in 2013, after a chemical weapons attack purported to have been by troops loyal to Assad in Ghouta; the actual perpetrators have never officially been identified. Next month, a vote is likely to be take place again, although this time it will be under the premise of halting the refugee crisis by combatting Daesh.

The reasons behind nearly a decade of attempted regime change in Syria are, of course, the same as with any other nefarious Western meddling in the Middle East’s affairs: energy, Russia and the US dollar.

In layman’s terms, Syria under Assad is the last outpost of the fight against Western imperialism in the Middle East. While other Frenemies-turned-Beelzebubical leaders (think Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi) have been dealt with (and the failed states left in their wake allowed to fester), Assad is a perpetual thorn in the side of the free-marketeers pillaging regional resources.

The crux of the matter is that Assad put paid to the construction of an oil and gas pipeline which would have ended Europe’s reliance on Russia for its natural gas, by refusing to sign an agreement with Qatar; instead, he opted for a partnership with Iran (oddly, after which the civil war in Syria intensified). While the construction of the latter had previously been put on hold, it was quietly announced in July that Iran was forging ahead with a trunk-line to supply Iraq with natural gas; in theory, this could be the beginning of an Iran/Iraq/Syria pipeline.

Is it a coincidence that the rhetoric surrounding the “migrant crisis” was ratcheted up at the same time as this move? Whatever the truth of this might be, the most sordid aspect of the current “refugee crisis” is the West’s lack of concern for people’s lives, which is the exact opposite of the narrative that we are being fed.

As Dr Nafeez Ahmed wrote succinctly in the Guardian in 2013 before he was mysteriously dropped by the newspaper: “It is this — the problem of establishing a pliable opposition which the US and its oil allies feel confident will play ball, pipeline-style, in a post-Assad Syria — that will determine the nature of any prospective intervention: not concern for Syrian life.”

We are being led to believe that this sudden humanitarian emergency is due to the ongoing civil war in Syria and the march of Daesh, and that, as David Cameron put it, “Our goal remains to support the development of a secure, stable and peaceful Syria.” This is simply not the case, nor is this crisis “sudden”.

At the start of 2015 there were an estimated 1.5 million Syrian refugees in Turkey, which has operated a half-hearted “open-door” policy on migrants, neither granting them refugee status nor turning them away; they are referred to as “guests”.It’s this almost factory-farm approach that has led to the desperate scenes we have witnessed this year, with the latest figures showing a staggering 73 per cent of these “guests” now trying to reach Europe from Turkey as they have essentially been left to rot in the latter which, ironically, is a member of the duplicitously named “The Group of Friends of the Syrian People”.

To say that this was not a deliberate plan by Turkey, its megalomaniac President Erdogan (who has his own interests in garnering public support of late) and the Group of Friends of the Syrian People would be naïve in the extreme. As has been documented, the West has been actively financing and supporting the “opposition” in Syria, and Turkey specifically has been accused of allowing supplies to cross its borders and fall into the hands of Daesh.

As the public enthusiasm for war has waned in the wake of the Iraq scandal and the chaos that Libya was left in, the West’s only hope has been to tug relentlessly on its citizens’ heartstrings. By simultaneously fuelling war in Syria and allowing the desperate people trying to escape it to be herded into the “Gateway to Europe” unimpeded, a near stage-managed humanitarian crisis has been created, one to which the only solution now seems to be Western intervention in Syria.

What’s so dismaying about the situation is that Syrians are by no means the only refugees caught up in this, whatever Western mainstream media may try to force down our throats.

Around 54 per cent of the refugees who have attempted to find a safe haven in Europe this year are from Syria; 13 per cent are from Afghanistan; and 7 per cent are from Eritrea. However, the devil is in the detail. The number of Syrians has spiked over 20 per cent since June, whilst the percentage of Afghans, Eritreans and other nationalities has remained broadly static; no-one appears to be questioning just where these additional “Syrian” refugees, who were presumably “unidentified nationalities” before, have appeared from suddenly, unless someone at the UNHCR is particularly bad at compiling statistics.

This whole, utterly tragic situation begs us to ask, when will the citizens of the West notice the abhorrent manipulation to which they are perpetually subjected?

I am no supporter of Bashar Al-Assad. However, I am even less of a supporter of our contemptable Western governments, media and corporations, and their flagrant disregard for human life, and its use as a means to increase their own power and wealth. Assad may be a murdering autocrat, but our “superiors” do much the same under the veil of spreading democracy.

The “refugee crisis” and its victims are just more pawns in the never-ending strategic game of nations, keeping a select few in the wealth and level of power to which they have become accustomed; and the apathetic, unquestioning public are becoming complicit.

Dead children washed up on the beaches of holiday resorts? Oh well. At least you may get a few Euros off your gas bill next year. It’s a small price to pay.

]]> (Steven Topple) Europe Wed, 30 Sep 2015 09:31:09 +0000
Corrupt authority in Egypt and the inevitability of the revolution Former MP,  Hamdi al-Fakharani

Egypt may be unique in modern history as an example of a state governed by a corrupt elite and tyrant authority. Corruption has struck almost every state institution, from the top to the bottom of the hierarchy. The uncovering of recent corruption cases was a necessity in order to put a veneer of respectability over the military government, but there is no doubt that any leadership of any aspect of government in Egypt must be corrupt in order to stay in power. This was evident in the appointment of the new prime minister, about whom I have written before regarding the gas deals that violated and wasted the rights of Egypt and the Egyptians to a dignified life. These deals exhausted national resources in an unprecedented manner.

Those monitoring events in Egypt are probably shocked, not least at the arrest of Hamdi Al-Fakharani, who is accused of being the cause of charges being filed against Egypt in international bodies. As such, the government now fears for the atmosphere conducive to investment in the country, because any Egyptian investor with a foreign dual-nationality can file a lawsuit in international courts and Egypt could be fined millions of dollars, which happened in the case of Waguih Siag in Sinai.

Now Egypt is being taught a lesson in the world economic system since the Egyptian judiciary does not govern foreign investors and so international law has more authority than state law. There is no doubt that any foreign investor can win any international dispute as long as the law and the administrative backwardness in Egypt continue to clash.

It is interesting to note that during its year in government, the Muslim Brotherhood’s officials were not involved in a single corruption case anywhere in Egypt. The coup-led government was unable to prove any corruption despite the fact that the movement’s members were under round the clock surveillance by Egyptian intelligence. Given the obstacles put in its path by the deep state remnants in the intelligence services, army, police, judiciary and media, the movement made measurable improvements in the lives of the citizens. Even the enemies of the Brotherhood admit to this. Such progress included supplies of essentials, self-sufficiency in wheat production and introducing modern databases for the first time by using smart cards for the distribution of bread and petrol.

We can conclude from the issues which see the light of day that corruption in Egypt is actually intended and allowed to spread. No force can affect the links and relationships of this corruption. It has become a doctrine adopted by the military leadership in Egypt in order to control the corrupt leaderships. In intelligence terms, this is known as controlling the client, as there can be no leadership out with the control of the military council. The same occurred during the time of Gamal Abdel Nasser in order to control senior officials.

Corruption in Egypt is occurring under international auspices because it undoubtedly causes the decline of the national economy. As such, it is very important as far as international forces are concerned in order for the Egyptian economy to remain enslaved to their control.

There is no doubt that corruption destroys economic foundations and increases the gap between rich and poor in society. Nevertheless, corruption will push Al-Sisi and his military council to destruction. They are following in Hosni Mubarak’s corrupt footsteps but they have not learnt from his disasters. The government will, therefore, collapse; it is a long-awaited inevitably. With equal inevitability, the revolution will continue and succeed in its aims.

Translated from Arabi21, 14 September 2015.

]]> (Mostafa Mahmoud Shaheen) Africa Wed, 16 Sep 2015 08:51:00 +0000
Western bombing is only helping Daesh Asa WinstanleyThere’s been much talk by political and media elites in recent days about the supposed need to start a bombing campaign in Syria targeting Daesh, the so-called “Islamic State”. By now, this is a depressingly familiar drumbeat for war.

In 2013, the UK parliament surprised many by derailing the prospect of British bombing of Syria, explicitly targeted at the regime. For a time, it even seemed that this decision had even put the American war machine on the back foot.

But since September 2014, the US has, in fact, started bombing in Syria – but targeting Daesh. And, more recently, the details of what appears to be a covert British role in the bombing campaign, in defiance of Parliament, have slowly emerged.

In July it was revealed that British pilots took part in US-led bombings in Syria. And on Monday, the government announced that it had assassinated two British citizens in a drone strike in Syria. These actions has set a disturbing precedent, and sets Britain on a path already forged by the US and Israel.

The British military has now taken upon itself the right to target and kill its own citizens at will. A state that did away with the death penalty decades ago has now resumed its practice – but without even a trial.

While it's clear that Cameron is pushing for war in Syria, it also appears he has already surreptitiously entered it. As if the bloodshed in Syria is not already bad enough.

A key element in the most recent drumbeat has been the role of reactionary tabloids such as The Sun and the Daily Mail. They have astutely and unscrupulously pushed to divert and twist an outpouring of popular support for the most desperate refugees (many of whom have been fleeing Syria), into popular backing for war. “Bomb Syria now,” screamed the front page of the Sun on Sunday; adding that it would be “for Aylan” – a reference to Aylan Kurdi, the tiny Syrian boy whose washed-up body on the shores of Turkey caused an outpouring of sympathy around the world.

These despicable manipulations aside, what are the facts on the ground? What has been the result of the Western bombing campaign targeting Daesh in Syria?

It’s been almost a year since the US started its air campaign in Syria, and if the aim has been to destroy Daesh, it has been a total failure. In the last year, Daesh has not only stepped up its brutal executions against the civilians and combatants it captures, it has also made gains in the territories it occupies.

An air war by a foreign imperial power such as the UK cannot defeat a fluid entity like Daesh. And a ground war by a foreign imperial power would be an even worse disaster. As bad as things are in Syria, they can still get worse.

The reason for this is that the inevitable deaths of civilians that Western bombing campaigns have been causing in Syria actively help Daesh to recruit. They are able to use such incidents to call on new fighters from around the world, such as the two young men the government announced it had assassinated on Monday. There will always be more recruits to take their place, unfortunately.

Western involvement in the complicated, multi-sided war in Syria only helps to prolong it. As the utter destruction of Iraq caused by the 2003 invasion shows, such interventions have far- and long-reaching reverberations.

Only this week, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (a pro-opposition exile Syrian group based in London) reported that US-led air strikes in Raqqa had killed 20 civilians.

Meanwhile, the agonies of the civil war continue. The Nusra Front, Al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, led the capture of  a military airport in the north-western province of Idlib on Wednesday. This essentially completes the rebel control of the province, which borders Turkey. While this Al-Qaeda victory brings the rebels slowly closer to Assad’s heartland of support on the western coast, the same base does seem to have been captured by rebels at least once before, so this is unlikely to be anything like a knock-out blow or “game changer”.

In fact, as I have argued before, Western powers – especially Israel (which although not technically “Western” likes to consider itself as part of that clique) – seem to have a deliberate policy of not decisively backing one side or the other. The longer the Syria civil war goes on, the less of a threat that Syria, Hezbollah and Iran are to the Israeli occupation.

Embarking on a new or renewed bombing campaign in Syria will not help the situation, and will almost certainly make things worse. It will definitely create more refugees. There are no easy answers here, but what is ultimately needed is a wider peace deal in Syria.

An associate editor with The Electronic Intifada, Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist who lives in London.

]]> (Asa Winstanley) Inquiry Sun, 13 Sep 2015 09:00:00 +0000
Does America really value democracy in Egypt? John Kirby, Rear admiral in the United States Navy

On 18 August, John Kirby, a spokesman for the US Department of State, condemned the human rights violations that have been taking place in Egypt as part of its war on terrorism. Despite his condemnation, though, Kirby also emphasised that America will continue to stand by Egypt.

In furtherance of this, US Secretary of State John Kerry accepted an invitation to Cairo recently in order to search for a middle path that would enable Egypt to continue its war on terror while also preserving human rights. This requires a great deal of strategic thinking so that trust can be built between the government and the people.

America’s lacklustre approach to maintaining the peace in Egypt has shocked activists lobbying for human rights and democratic values; many have given up on their hope that the US will help to implement a more ideal version of democracy, which it has tried to spread across the world. This is not the first time that people have been disappointed at America’s stance on Egypt, because the entire region is currently caught up in the chaos of foreign interference in domestic affairs simply so that foreign policy agendas can be implemented. In fact, the US has not supported democracy in Egypt since its pro-revolutionary sentiments in 2011, when it stood with the will of the people.

Since then, every American attempt to enable the implementation Egypt’s nascent democracy has been a blow to public relations. Democracy is not, however, Washington’s primary concern; it has demonstrated time and again that it has no problem about relegating democratic values to second place in order to protect America’s interests and position in the world. Brett Stephens, an expert on Arab affairs and President Obama's Middle East policy (Foreign Affairs, September-October 2015), put it succinctly when he described the US stance by saying that Americans value democracy and hold it dear but that it also instinctively threatens US interests in the region.

By taking the above factors into consideration perhaps we can identity the reasons for America’s current position on Egyptian events and why US national interests do not coincide with Egyptian democracy at the moment. The status quo does not reflect well on Obama or his administration; he has tried to implement the liberal values of the founding fathers and yet he failed to criticise the Mubarak regime in his famous 2009 speech, which prompted activists to protest in Cairo. Many human rights activists in Egypt view democracy as the inalienable right of everyone and mobilised themselves when the US president failed to criticise overtly the tyrannical nature of the Mubarak regime.

Egyptian journalist Abdel Halim Qandil emphasised later that one needs to understand that the US position on democracy in Egypt is not of Obama’s doing but belongs to his then Secretary of Defence, Robert Gates. Gates emerged from a meeting with Mubarak, saying that US aid to Egypt would not be enough of an incentive to improve its human rights situation.

The short-lived US honeymoon in support of democracy ended with the coup on 30 June 2013. Obama wasted many chances to help Egypt towards genuine democracy after the ouster of elected President Mohamed Morsi and the massacre in Rabaa Al-Adawiyya Square. We now know that what binds US-Egypt relations is hanging by a thread as the coup overlaps with the absence of democracy.

The US administration has long refused to call the military takeover in Egypt a coup because if it does it will have to suspend all economic and military support to the regime in Cairo. Nevertheless, there was a storm of protests from lobbyists and human rights activists in the US who were able to prevent the shipment of some military hardware to Egypt. Overall, though, there has been no change in policy. According to American journalist Paul Gitengeiger, the US shipped $150 million worth of arms and $170 million worth of Apache helicopters to Egypt in October 2014 alone.

Obama admitted recently that he is gravely embarrassed by his lack of support for democracy and the democratic process in Egypt. There is no need for any journalist to clarify or shed light on this issue because it is clear. Jen Psaki, Director of Communications at the US Department of State, said recently that it would not be possible for Washington to halt its economic support to Egypt given the depth and long-standing nature of US-Egypt relations. She expressed the US government’s belief that the ongoing political friction in Egypt will come to an end and that a civilian government will eventually be appointed. American interests in the Middle East have been largely focused on leading the coalition against ISIS, the violence in Yemen and, of course, reaching an agreement with Tehran on Iran’s nuclear programme. The question of democracy in Egypt is, therefore, at the bottom of the list of US priorities.

In February this year the ban on arms exports to Egypt was lifted following the formation of the Arab coalition against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Many law centres have shamed the US government for overlooking the basic principles of national security and the insistence by Congress that Egypt has to be classified as a democracy before receiving its share of US aid.

John Kerry submitted a request on 12 May last year asking for Congressional approval for Egypt to receive US aid in order to protect America’s interests in the region. Although Congress believes that the secretary of state’s request ignores the legislators’ basic requirements for foreign aid, some still believe that it is important for Egypt to remain Washington’s partner in the Middle East because it has a direct role to play in regional stability and maintaining peace with Israel. The government in Cairo is also almost always ready to participate in counter-terrorist operations when asked to do so by the US, as well as curb the proliferation of nuclear weapons, work towards supporting American military endeavours and ensure safe navigation in the Suez Canal.

No doubt Kerry’s letter will have relied on the old argument that Egypt has long been a democracy, and while there are very few good things to be said about the status quo in Egypt, the following points will have been emphasised in an effort to paint a better picture: despite its undemocratic ways the Egyptian administration has increased the number of women in parliament; protected the Copts and allowed them to build a church for their martyrs in Libya; improved the environment for international investments; and, finally, Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi was the first Egyptian president to visit the Christian community on one of its religious holidays.

It is clear that the geopolitical situation in the Middle East is threatening US interests in various ways but the placing of all bets on America’s potential to implement or influence democratic processes in this way is a lost bet in itself. Egypt will continue to be at the centre of this troubled region, but that does not mean that we should throw our hands up in despair because of the way that America chooses to commit to the values of democracy.

It is essential for the US to coach Egypt and lead it towards democracy through dialogue. More importantly, what is needed is for Egypt to humble itself for democracy. The war on terror requires many people to share power in the governmental system. For the successful Implementation of the American model in the Egyptian context, we need human rights organisations and lobbies to play a significant role in the dialogue between the US and Egypt by demanding the following:

1. For Egypt to remove the Muslim Brotherhood from its list of terrorist organisations because the US, which has not hesitated in the past to label random organisations as “terrorists” has found no reason to place the movement on such a list.

2. For America to commit to the implementation of the democratic process in Egypt and do what is necessary to promote a sense of understanding to build Egypt.

3. For those who are concerned about the human rights situation in Egypt to play an active role in America’s role in the country’s development and work to influence the agenda at hand. Among the items on this agenda should be changes to the newly-adopted terrorism law in Egypt, which went beyond the UN definition of an act of terrorism being an action that causes death and serious injury to a state, individual or organisation, while also taking people hostage. By contrast, the Egyptian government has defined terrorism in a way that criminalises any opposition political action and makes it punishable by law.

Many lobbies responded to the above law by emphasising the need for concise principles when it comes to law-making in order to prevent misuse and for people to be fully aware of what constitutes a crime in the eyes of the state and the law. In short, this law requires re-drafting so that terrorism is defined according to the international definition.

There is no doubt that the intention behind launching such a law in Egypt was to eradicate the Muslim Brotherhood. Hence, it is negligent of America to promote democracy in Egypt only when it suits its own national security interests. We are right to ask if the US really values democracy in Egypt, or if it is just a convenient tool to use or discard when it suits Washington to do so.

The Egyptian government will not do anything that does not fulfil the terms of its peace agreement with Israel and its so-called war on terror. As such, we cannot call what is happening in this loose state “democracy” by any means. Having said that, those who are placing their bets on America’s success when it comes to this matter should not hold their breath, because US calculations ignore the legitimacy of Islamic movements and the sacrifices that they have made both before the coup and afterwards, particularly in Rabaa Al-Adawiyya Square.

Translated from Al Jazeera net, 23 August, 2015.

]]> (Abdullah Ali Ibrahim) Americas Tue, 01 Sep 2015 12:50:34 +0000
Shoot and lie: Israeli forces are killing civilians with impunity Ben WhiteOn Sunday, an undercover unit of Israel's Border Police conducted an arrest raid in Shuafat refugee camp, an area of Occupied East Jerusalem locked behind the Separation Wall.

Encountering resistance from local residents, the undercover forces requested assistance, and a large number of uniformed Israeli forces entered the camp. The police, in order to "extract the undercover unit and the detainee", deployed "tear gas, sponge-tipped bullets and stun grenades."

Nafaz Damiri was shopping in Shuafat when the raid took place. As he stood taking shelter inside a supermarket, Israeli forces shot him in the face with a sponge bullet. The 55-year-old husband and father of one, who was born deaf and dumb, has now lost his right eye.

Following the raid, the Israeli police tweeted the following (thanks to Sol Salbe for translation):

During an arrest of a suspect in Shuafat dozens of residents began throwing stones at the border police force. The force made use of [unspecified] means and left with the detainee. Later on a demonstrator was evacuated for medical treatment.

In addition, the following item was posted on the Israeli police's website at 6pm that evening.

During the arrest of a suspect at the Shuafat refugee camp, dozens of residents began throwing stones at the border police force in an attempt to prevent the (male) detainee from being taken to the station. The troops used [unspecified] means and left with the detainee without taking casualties. Later on, a demonstrator who claimed that he was injured during the removal was evacuated.

Video evidence

In the Israeli authorities' version of events, as "dozens" of Palestinians threw stones at the security forces, one "demonstrator" was injured. The Jewish Press, a right-wing, US-based news site, described Damiri as "one of the rioters."

The police's claims soon came unstuck, however, as security camera footage emerged showing how Damiri had indeed been shot while simply standing in the shop. This was the second time in just 24 hours that a story spun by Israeli forces following Palestinian casualties had been exposed.

On Sunday, B'Tselem published video footage of the moments leading up to the murder of 17-year-old Palestinian Muhammad Kasbeh at the hands of the Israeli army's Colonel Yisrael Shomer. Kasbeh was killed on July 3 in a-Ram, near the Qalandiya checkpoint.

At the time, the IDF Spokesperson claimed Col. Shomer had "felt in mortal danger and carried out suspect-arrest procedure." Unnamed officials told the press that the stone-throwing was nothing less than a pre-plannedambush by "several Palestinians" throwing "rocks and stones."

The video, however, supports what eye-witnesses claimed and the medical evidence indicated: that the commander exited the jeep and deliberately shot the fleeing teenager three times from behind. The whole incident takes about 30 seconds, from the moment Kasbeh threw a stone at the jeep, to when the soldiers return to their vehicle and continue on their way.

"Non-lethal" sponge bullets

Reporting on Sunday's Shuafat camp raid, The Times of Israeldescribed sponge bullets as "less-than-lethal fire." In fact, late last August, 16-year-old Palestinian boy Mohammad Sunuqrut was killed by a sponge bullet fired at his head in the Wadi Joz neighbourhood of East Jerusalem - the autopsy results contradicting police claims that he fell and hit his head.

Police used the bullets for months "without issuing regulations for their use." One human rights organisation has documented 17 instances of Palestinians in East Jerusalem being injured by sponge bullets over the past year (prior to Sunday's attack in Shuafat), including 12 occasions when a shot to the head caused fractures and/or a loss of vision. The youngest casualty was just six-years-old.

Last November, Israeli forces shot 11-year-old Muhammad Abu al-Hummus in the face at close range with a sponge bullet, blinding his left eye. The vision in his right eye was also "severely damaged." The attack took place in Issawiya, part of Occupied East Jerusalem, during protests by residents at the "the closure of three out of four entrances to the village by Israeli forces."

In an even more disturbing incident on March 31 of this year, Zakariya Julani, a 13-year-old child from Shuafat refugee camp, lost an eye after he was shot by a Border Police officer. According to the boy's family and friends, Zakariya was shot as he was returning from school. There were no disturbances in the area at the time.

Targeting civilians with live ammunition

In the West Bank, meanwhile, Col. Shomer's use of live ammunition to kill an unarmed Palestinian civilian is a horrifyingly frequent occurrence. For example, on March 18, Israeli occupation forces shot 20-year-old Ali Mahmoud Safi in the chest during protests at Jalazun refugee camp, near Ramallah. He later died in hospital.

On April 27 in al-Araqa village near Jenin, meanwhile, 18-year-old Muhammad Murad Muhammad Mustafa Yahiya was shot in the lower stomach and died in hospital. The teenager was shot during clashes with Israeli occupation forces near the Separation Wall.

Two weeks ago, Israeli human rights NGO B'Tselem revealed how it had documented "dozens" of cases in the previous few months when "Palestinians were injured, some severely, by live ammunition fired by Israeli security forces", including 11-year-old Muhammad Hamad, shot in the stomach during a protest on March 13 in Silwad village.

According to the recently-published UN Human Rights Council's Commission of Inquiry, between June 12 and August 26, 2014, Israeli forces killed 27 Palestinians, including five children, and injured 3,100 others, including 460 children. Around a quarter of Palestinian injuries were sustained as a result of Israeli forces' use of live ammunition.

Impunity and international justice

The Israeli soldiers who pull the trigger know there is almost no chance they will be held to account for the killing and maiming of Palestinian civilians. In just the last month, the Israeli military decided to file no charges in the case of a 14-year-old shot dead in an ambush at the Separation Wall, and also closed the investigation into the IDF's killing of two Palestinian teenagers in 'Iraq Burin in 2010.

No wonder then, that in the case of Mohammad Kasbeh there are few hopes that the military police will carry out "an effective, unbiased investigation." Indeed, the impunity enjoyed by Israeli armed forces in the killing of Palestinian civilians in the West Bank is significant in light of the preliminary examination being conducted by the International Criminal Court (ICC).

As ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda recently explained, one of the "core principles of the Rome Statute system" is "complementarity". This means that it is only when national authorities are "unwilling or unable genuinely to conduct national investigations and prosecutions" that "the Rome Statute authorizes the ICC to step in."

In a bid to prove the integrity of its own internal investigative processes, Israel has focused predominantly on incidents that have occurred in the context of hostilities in the Gaza Strip. However, the impunity enjoyed by those who commit war crimes is just as equally - if not more - evidenced by Israel's atrocities in the West Bank.

From the colonel down to the conscript soldier, there is a systematic absence of accountability for what amounts to wilful killings - war crimes. As Amnesty International put it last year, the frequency of the shootings and "the impunity enjoyed by perpetrators" all point to lethal violence being used "as a matter of policy."

If the ICC opens a full investigation into possible breaches of international law in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, it won't just be the ruins of Gaza that implicate Israeli officials; it will also be the bereaved families of West Bank towns, villages, and refugee camps, whose loved ones where gunned down by an occupying army that shoots, lies, then closes the file.

]]> (Ben White) Debate Wed, 15 Jul 2015 12:10:07 +0000
Resentment, anger and violence Prof George JofféThe outcome of the 'Arab Spring' or 'Arab Awakening', as many inside the region prefer to call it, has been very different from the original expectations of those who had been involved in the massive popular demonstrations that started it off. Rather than radical or even revolutionary democratic change, to enshrine the demands for 'bread, freedom and dignity' in constitutional principle, the result has been violence, chaos and, in some cases, a renewal of autocracy or civil war. Only in Tunisia and, perhaps, in Morocco, have the hopes for democratic transition been fulfilled and then only in part. Tunisia's experiment is threatened by violent extremism and, in Morocco, the royal palace has managed to preserve its dominant position inside the political scene despite constitutional change. It is a record that, inevitably, demands an answer to the question, "But what went wrong?"

George Joffe is a Research Fellow at the Centre and Visiting Professor of Geography at Kings College, London University. He specialises in the Middle East and North Africa and is currently engaged in a project studying connections between migrant communities and trans/national violence in Europe. He is also a lecturer on the Centre's M.Phil. in International Relations.

Prof George JofféThe outcome of the 'Arab Spring' or 'Arab Awakening', as many inside the region prefer to call it, has been very different from the original expectations of those who had been involved in the massive popular demonstrations that started it off. Rather than radical or even revolutionary democratic change, to enshrine the demands for 'bread, freedom and dignity' in constitutional principle, the result has been violence, chaos and, in some cases, a renewal of autocracy or civil war. Only in Tunisia and, perhaps, in Morocco, have the hopes for democratic transition been fulfilled and then only in part. Tunisia's experiment is threatened by violent extremism and, in Morocco, the royal palace has managed to preserve its dominant position inside the political scene despite constitutional change. It is a record that, inevitably, demands an answer to the question, "But what went wrong?"

Revolution and post-revolution

There is no doubt that the events of late 2010 and early 2011 that constituted the Arab Awakening were a radical departure from the superficial impression of artificial calm that had characterised the decade that preceded them. However, in the sense usually attributed to the term 'revolution' – "the complete overthrow of an established government or social order," according to the dictionary – they were not revolutionary. Nor did the experience simply begin in December 2010 for, in reality, the demand for an end to autocracy and for popular participation in government had often been made before in the Middle East and North Africa. Nor, indeed, were all the demonstrations stimulated by common causes even if they did occur virtually simultaneously, nor did they provoke common responses from the regimes involved nor, finally, did they have common outcomes. The one common feature, perhaps, was the ambivalence with which they were greeted by Western states that might, from their endless discourse about human rights and freedoms, have been expected to have been enthusiastic supporters of the demonstrators' essential demands.

If any state can claim to have been in the vanguard of demands for political change, it is Algeria, where the Amazigh population demanded cultural diversity in the 'Berber Spring' in April 1980 and the Algerian population-at-large demanded radical political change in October 1988. And the Algerian experience thereafter can give us some insight into what actually happened on a much wider scale in the Arab World some twenty years later and what the eventual outcomes might be. After the government responded to the 1988 riots by introducing multiparty democracy overnight, a moderate Islamist movement won, first, municipal elections and then legislative elections. European states looked on aghast at the arrival of Islam to political power by democratic means and, when the Algerian army command, backed by the security services, carried out a coup against the movement, banned it and took over the government instead, they hardly protested at all!

Within a year, Algeria was in the throes of a five-year-long civil war pitting the security forces against violent extremists seeking to create an Islamic state that cost at least 150,000 deaths. It was only once the army had prevailed and a new president had been installed that peace gradually returned but even today 'residual terrorism' continues, linked into the uncontrolled violence around the country's borders, particularly in Mali and Libya. Algerians themselves today are ruled by an authoritarian state, ordered by elections which seem to lack popular sanction or support but without too much threat to their personal liberties, a system they mockingly designate as 'façade democracy'.

Lessons from the past

The Algerian experience seems to me to be uncomfortably close to the evolution of events throughout the Middle East and much of North Africa more recently. If that is true, then we can derive certain basic conclusions that might have relevance to the situation today, despite the very real differences that exist between the situation then and the one in which we find ourselves today. This could be important as, from the vantage-point of 2015, we survey the wreckage of what had promised to be, only four years ago, a heartening experiment in social and political reconstruction, carried out by the populations of the region themselves, not by foreign or autocratic diktat, whether benign or malign.

First of all, as was the case in 2010-2011, the immediate cause of the 1988 crisis was economic. In 2010 it was a combination of the financial and economic crisis in the developed world which began in 2008, together with the sudden explosion of food and energy crises in 2010. In 1988 it was the introduction of rigid import controls by the Algerian government two years earlier when oil-and-gas prices collapsed. Both examples, therefore, tell us something about the dangers inherent in globalisation for developing economies and about failing economic development models that, in the last analysis, victimise the poorest and most vulnerable. The essential problem with both phenomena is that they undermine the economic potential for job-creation, yet it is jobs that developing economies with expanding populations most need.

Secondly, although it was not directly involved in the riots that initiated change in Algeria, a moderate Islamist movement, the Front Islamique du Salut (FIS), was the main beneficiary of the elections that followed. It does not seem to me that this was because Algerians were or had become more religious during the period of one-party rule and autocracy that had preceded them. Rather, it was that the FIS offered a more culturally authentic socio-political model that accorded with the moral and political norms that Algerians associated with what they considered to be the ideal society that their struggle against French colonialism had been intended to recreate. That also seems to have been the case, in 2011, in Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco, although not, interestingly enough, in Libya or Syria. In the latter two cases, the absolute autocracies in power reacted immediately with brute force, stifling any political development in the bud. Indeed, it was only in states with autonomous civil society institutions, even if in theory under careful state control, that alternative social movements – of which moderate Islamists were but one example – could emerge to contest the absolutist discourse of the state.

Thirdly, it was the violent reaction of state itself to such changes – the army-organised coup in 1991-2 in Algeria or the army's intervention in July 2013 in Egypt or, indeed the immediate reactions of Qadhafi regime in Libya or the Assad regime in Syria – that generated extremist violence in return. In three cases – Syria, Libya and Algeria – that resulted in civil war, whilst in the fourth, Egypt, the response has been a recrudescence of urban and rural terrorism. In other words, there was no seamless transition from 'moderate' to 'extremist' Islam as is often posited; the two phenomena were quite separate and had different causes, the one as a social movement contesting the state, the other as a violent opposition, provoked by the state's reaction to opposition, seeking its overthrow. In the Algerian case, the state eventually supervened over its extremist opposition. We do not yet know what the outcomes in Libya and Syria will be, although the failure of the state in both cases could open up frightening prospects of chaotic futures of virtually endless violence, as occurred in the Lebanese civil war.

There are, perhaps, two other lessons to be drawn from the Algerian experience and the events of 2011. Firstly, democratic transition is a difficult and lengthy process and that cultural authenticity and moral authority are not, in themselves, guarantors of success. Thus, an-Nahda in Tunisia was able, eventually, to operate effectively within a nascent democratic environment because its leadership had spent two decades in exile observing how democratic systems, despite their imperfections, actually worked. It understood the compromises that formal empowerment by an electorate still required, both in its own understanding of the political process and in its relations with coalition partners and even its political opposition. Those were lessons that the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt either ignored or of which it was unaware, and it was this that stimulated the Tamarrud movement which the Egyptian army command adroitly exploited to remove it from power.

And the FIS in Algeria, in 1991, had made a similar mistake by threatening to transform the Algerian constitution into one for an Islamic state, thereby encouraging the army command into taking over the reins of power. In effect, the democratic option requires accommodation of opposing points of view; electoral success does not, as Friedrich Hayek, warned, empower an electoral dictatorship for a specific period of time, as the Brotherhood seems to have thought. Political parties, in short, have to acquire the skill of engagement with their political opponents in a process of constant formal and informal bargaining as they articulate formal power. There is an implication in this; that political action of this kind amplifies the political engagement of the parties concerned, often to the detriment of their assumed moral status, as they implicitly accept that political sovereignty is a popular, not a divine, attribute. It is a lesson that the Christian Democratic movement in Europe also had had to learn at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century.

Ambivalent allies

The second lesson, and one that already seems to have been appreciated inside the region, is that outside powers are unreliable partners, both for regimes and for their opponents. One of the overwhelming impressions that outside observers have taken from the chaos and violence that has spread through so much of the Middle East and North Africa over the past four years has been the intense and often inchoate anger that people there feel over the behaviour of Europe and the United States. It is not just a question of the calamitous invasion of Iraq, there is also the question of regime-change in Libya and, behind that, a deep sense of resentment over Western behaviour from the beginning of the colonial period onwards. It is a sense of anger and resentment that is well-justified for, quite apart from mistakes made inside the region over the outcome of the Arab Awakening, there can be little doubt that Western interference over a very long period of time has done nothing to improve the situation there.

The crisis in Iraq, for example, is directly attributable to the incompetence and arrogance that accompanied the American-led invasion of the country in 2003. Furthermore, the situation that that initiative was designed to resolve was itself a consequence of British attempts after the First World War to construct the new Iraqi state in an image that satisfied the colonial authorities in London rather than the future population of Iraq. Libya, too, was the result of a similar set of experiences. Of course, the external factor was not the only cause and many other factors inside the region also played their part. But British, French and American intervention and interference in the region have been critical contributions to the problems it now faces. The problem, however, has been intensified by the human rights and democratisation discourse that those self-same powers have articulated in recent decades. It is not that the discourse itself is offensive, far from it, but Western action usually belies its discourse. Thus, as Condoleeza Rice, the former American Secretary-of-State, admitted in June 2005 and as President Obama repeated in June 2009, also in Cairo, the United States had supported stability inside the region for sixty years but it was now going to support democracy instead. Except, of course, it did not, any more than the European Union has done!

We, in the West, therefore, should hardly be surprised when we are accused by the Arab world of applying double standards there because that is precisely what we have done, with often tragic and violent consequences inside it. My impression is that this resentment is at least as important as perverted religious conviction in informing the violent extremism of, say, the Islamic State which owes a significant part of its deadly effectiveness as a military organisation to its alliance with the Naqshbandi Order in Iraq which, in turn, is really a cover for the angry remnants of the old Ba'ath Party and its army, determined upon revenge. A similar pattern of events can also be discerned in Libya, the Sahara and the Sahel. Equally appalling has been the minimal engagement of Western states in the outcomes of the Arab Awakening, to which their rhetoric had also contributed. Indeed, the restoration of autocracy in Egypt has been quietly greeted with gasps of relief in Western chanceries. And, of course, that in turn, as was the case in Algeria in the 1990s, was a reminder that the Arab Awakening rarely rooted out the deep state behind the autocratic regimes that had been in power throughout the region.

What, then, does the future hold and what does the Algerian experience suggest it may be? Firstly, transitional processes take a long time to be completed and may well follow unpredictable paths, so we should not be too hasty in writing the Arab Wakening off as a failure despite its apparent success in Tunisia and partial success in Morocco. Secondly, there are skills to participatory pluralism that can only be acquired through the practice of governance and participants need to appreciate the difficulties and pitfalls that can occur in acquiring them. Thirdly, the state, even in the Arab world where it has largely been a colonial and post-colonial construct, is more robust than is often assumed to be the case – that, at least, was the Algerian experience. On the other hand, the opposition it may confront, rooted as it is in a potent combination of moral perfectionism together with anger and resentment directed both at the state itself and at its supposed supporters outside the Arab region, is a powerful threat which, even if marginalised, will prove to be extremely difficult to eradicate. And, finally, the United States and Europe need to recognise their own not insignificant responsibilities in the crisis that the Arab world faces, but that may not happen until we reach the Greek Kalends!

]]> (Prof George Joffé) Guest Writers Mon, 01 Jun 2015 06:00:00 +0000
What will it take for the US to cut military aid to Egypt? Sarah MarusekEver since the 3 July military coup that ousted Egypt's first democratically elected government, the world has stood back to witness the Egyptian authorities' brazen attempt to cleanse an entire community from Egypt's population.

As an American citizen I have to ask: how many Egyptians need to be killed, injured, arrested and tortured, and how many families torn apart and destroyed, before the US will take decisive action against Egypt's post-coup military regime?

And I am not the only American asking this question.

On Friday, the Los Angeles Times newspaper published an editorial under the headline "Stop coddling Egypt's military". The editors argue that: "It's increasingly evident that the military rulers of Egypt are determined to intimidate and silence their political opponents, whether they are members of the Muslim Brotherhood or secular Egyptians who believe the generals are betraying the spirit of the 'Arab Spring'. Yet the Obama administration continues to entertain the pious hope that Egypt is on the road to an inclusive democracy."

The editors criticise the US response to the continued crackdown as being "polite to the point of pusillanimity", and conclude that, "Clearly the current policy of trying not to offend [Egypt's military] isn't working."

One week earlier, the Washington Post newspaper published a similar editorial, in which the editors denounce the Egyptian authorities' criminalisation of the Muslim Brotherhood. The movement was designated a terrorist organisation on 25 December.

The Post's editors lament how "Egypt has abandoned the path to democracy," calling this a "tragedy" and asserting that: "The time has come for stronger US protests and action. To remain timid in the face of repression will invite only more."

So why is the Obama administration not acting? After all, the US is supposedly a global superpower, and we have spent billions of dollars buying Egypt's friendship.

Well, if we take a closer look at the two countries relations, we see that Egypt has never really been a client state of the US, and in fact the relationship is quite the reverse.

Military aid and "peace"

In February 2012, when Egypt's military-led government under SCAF indicted 16 Americans working for non-governmental organisations in Egypt on charges of receiving foreign funds to foment unrest, US officials were quick to decry the move, and threatened a halt to American military aid to Egypt. In fact, 40 senators sent a strongly worded letter of warning directly to the former head of Egypt's military, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi. Senator Patrick Leahy, the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee's subcommittee, warned the Egyptian military that, "the days of blank checks are over."

And yet the following week, the rhetoric coming out of Washington was remarkably softened. According to the Atlantic magazine, officials had initially been so caught up in their outrage over the charges against Americans, including the son of the US Secretary of Transportation, that they did not think about how cutting Egypt's military aid would have implications for their best friend in the Middle East, Israel.

Egypt is currently the fifth largest recipient of US aid in the world, and cumulatively second only to Israel. Foreign aid to Egypt was negligible until the mid-1970s and only ballooned after Egypt signed the Camp David Accords with Israel in 1978. Since the mid-1980s, Egypt has received annually about $1.3 billion in military aid, while Israel received $1.8 billion until the year 2000, after which military aid to Israel fluctuated between $2 to $3.1 billion.

According to the Washington Institute, military aid to Egypt was initially tied to US aid levels to Israel, which is why the figures remained proportional up until 2000, when the launch of the second Palestinian intifada altered the equation. Two other factors also contributed to the shift. The first is that by the turn of the millennium, Egypt was no longer isolated in the region as a result of its neighbourly relations with Israel. The second is that by then, the US had phased out its economic aid to Israel, allocating part of it instead for military use.

Is it aid or blackmail?

Still, continued US aid to Egypt remains an unwritten condition of the Camp David Accords, and since the January 2011 revolution in Egypt, the Israel Lobby has repeatedly voiced its concern that if the aid were to dry up, then the peace treaty would be in jeopardy.

So it is not surprising that despite being subject to the harshly worded threats, Egypt continued to prosecute the American NGO workers, a political slap in Washington's face, all the while receiving US military aid. All 16 Americans, along with 27 of their Egyptian peers, were eventually convicted and sentenced in absentia in June 2013.

This case is interesting for two reasons. One is that it highlights how US aid to Egypt is meant first and foremost to please and protect Israel. The second is that the Egyptian military regime knows this, and thus acts with impunity. The case against the 16 American NGO workers illustrates that. But so does the history of US economic aid to Egypt.

The US has always employed its foreign aid as a political tool, and its economic assistance is handled by the US Agency for International Development (USAID). Both during the Cold War and in the neoliberal era, USAID projects have come with conditions strongly favouring free markets and privatisation. But interestingly, in the case of Egypt, scholar Bessma Momani argues that: "the Egyptian government perceived the aid programme as an entitlement for signing the Camp David Accord, where equality of treatment between Egypt and Israel was supposedly guaranteed. In consequence, USAID found that the aid at its disposal did not give the organisation any real influence to induce Egypt to alter its economic policies."

Writing in 1997, scholar Duncan Clarke also noted that Egypt views the American funds as its entitlement for making peace with Israel, thus despite the massive amounts of US aid to Egypt, "The remarkable absence of vigorous, reliable Egyptian advocates of the US is particularly striking." In 1991, the US and its allies even agreed to forgive half the $20.2 billion debt that Egypt owed to them, in thanks for Egypt's support during the Persian Gulf War. Nevertheless, Momani suggests that during this time, the Egyptian government was still not willing to alter its economic policy enough for Washington's liking.

Continually frustrated by Egypt's unwillingness to "reform" its state driven economy, in 1993 the US decided to privatise its economic aid to Egypt. Momani describes how Cairo and Washington set up a "Presidents' Council" consisting of 15 American and 15 Egyptian corporate representatives to manage private American investment in Egypt as an alternative to official US government aid. Oil executives along with major US multinationals comprised the American team, while companies that had well-established connections with the Egyptian elite and were close to former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak made up the Egyptian team, which was headed by Mubarak's son Gamal.

In this way Egypt's rulers successfully transformed the US's ideologically driven neoliberal policy into a crony trade relationship that directly profited the Mubarak regime.

How US aid to Egypt works

There are other aspects of the bilateral relationship that also limit Washington's options.

All US military aid to foreign countries is deposited into an account at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York as part of the Foreign Military Financing programme, which is run by a division of the Pentagon called the Defence Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA). Nearly all countries have to spend the funds the US allocates each year, but Egypt is allowed to place orders on credit, which means that Egypt usually has a backlog of orders before the annual aid is even dispersed. The only other country granted this privilege is Israel.

The Washington Institute cites estimates that Egypt currently has about "$4 billion in outstanding contractual commitments to be paid by cash-flow financing". In other words, Egypt has run up a $4 billion debt to satisfy its rapacious appetite for American-made weapons and military equipment, and all at the expense of US taxpayers, whose money is being funnelled into the pockets of American weapons manufacturers.

That's why throughout the recent crackdown, the contracts never stopped coming in. According to the Politico web site, the day of the coup the US Army asked for information from contractors interested in building and upgrading F-16 bases in Egypt. And less than one week after the Egyptian security forces massacred and wounded thousands of anti-coup protesters in Rabaa Al-Adawiya and Al-Nahda Squares, "the US Air Force awarded a contract to General Electric to upgrade the Egyptian air force's fighter jets. The deal, worth nearly $14 million, is to extend the lives of 18 engines used on F-16s and other fighters."

The argument goes that cutting military aid to Egypt would mean that US companies would not get paid for the orders they are processing and this would negatively impact the US economy, resulting in job losses. However, maintaining the aid while stopping the delivery of the American-made weapons and military equipment is a possibility.

A report published by Businessweek magazine last August noted that, "Once the work is completed and the contractor is paid, it's up to the DSCA to deliver the equipment to Egypt." And according to the report, as of August the agency was not delivering anything.

This included helicopters, fighter aircrafts and tank kits.

The magazine pointed out that: "This wouldn't be the first time the US withheld military equipment it's sold to a foreign country. In 1972, Libyan President Muammar Qaddafi paid $70 million for eight C-130 Hercules aircraft. After political tensions arose and relations between the US and Libya became strained, Washington simply decided not to deliver the planes. To this day the aircraft are still sitting outside Lockheed's plant in Marietta, Ga."

However, according to Al-Jazeera America, after the Obama administration announced in early October that it would suspend some military assistance to Egypt, "nearly 2,000 tons of critical US military equipment continued to flow to Egyptian ports." Although there was a delay in the shipment of some fighter jets, other equipment, including several kinds of vehicles used for crowd control, missile systems and spare parts for tanks, helicopters and fighter jets, among other items, continued to depart from eastern US ports to Egypt.

And then there is "war on terror"

So if the aid was supposedly halted, what is the catch?

One problem is that the Obama administration has repeatedly vowed to continue its provision of weapons and military equipment to help the Egyptian authorities fight "terrorism" in the Sinai, which shares a border with Israel.

Another is that the shipments mainly contain spare parts. As Al-Jazeera America points out, during the 1980s and 1990s, US military aid "led Egypt to phase out its Soviet-made arsenal, replacing most of its military equipment with higher-end US products." Since then, Egypt has amassed an arsenal of American-made weapons and equipment, including thousands of tanks and the fourth-largest fleet of F-16 fighter aircrafts in the world.

"There's no conceivable scenario in which they'd need all those tanks short of an alien invasion," Shana Marshall of the Institute of Middle East Studies at George Washington University joked to American National Public Radio.

So while Egypt is not in need of more weapons, the existing equipment does get worn out and continues to require a constant supply of spare parts, which the US freely provides. And Marshall also told Al-Jazeera America that: "there's a lot of pressure on Congress [from the defence industry] to maintain those production lines in their own districts."

This helps to explain why so many members of Congress, including Eliot Engel of New York, the most senior Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, expressed "concern" when the Obama administration announced that it was withholding selected aid in October.

That said, some members of Congress did actively lobby to end military aid to Egypt while the country was under the leadership of President Mohammed Morsi. The Muslim Brotherhood, after all, always did entertain the possibility of rethinking the Camp David Accords. Of course, these officials failed to realise that during Egypt's short-lived democracy, US military aid went directly to Egypt's military, and not to the civilian government.

In any case, there is public support for an aid freeze. A Pew Research survey in August found that "51 per cent of Americans believe the US should cut off military aid to Egypt to pressure the government there to end the violence against anti-government protesters." And this number would likely be higher if Americans knew that the dispersal of military aid to Egypt could continue while the deliveries of the weapons are halted, weapons which could then even be sold to other parties for a profit, thus ensuring that American jobs are not lost.

So what is the prognosis for US military aid to Egypt? Is it even possible for the US to follow the European Union's moral lead and suspend the export of all equipment that could be used by the Egyptian military regime in its ongoing campaign of repression?

Although in October President Obama suspended the delivery of some military equipment to Egypt pending the election of a civilian government, Washington still refuses to call the events surrounding 3 July a "coup", a determination that would automatically halt all US military aid to Egypt in accordance with US law. And significantly, right after President Obama announced the suspension, Egypt hired a new Washington lobby firm.

Thus it should be no surprise to hear that before going on winter recess, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee approved a bill on 18 December "that would allow the US to resume its full $1.6 billion aid relationship with Egypt by granting President Obama the power to waive [the federal law on the coup restriction] based on national security," as reported by the Associated Press. Only a few days before the Senate committee passed this bill, three right wing House Republicans travelled to Cairo to visit General Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi: Louie Gohmert of Texas, Steve King of Iowa and Michele Bachmann of Minnesota.

Considering that for Washington, US national security is mainly defined by two key concerns, Israel and the global war on "terror", and that the three House Republicans have a particular obsession with the Muslim Brotherhood, it is no wonder that Egypt's interim authorities subsequently declared the movement a terrorist organisation.

And yet the new US law also aims to ensure that: "Egypt continues to implement the Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty, is fighting terrorism, is allowing the US Army to transit the territory of Egypt, is supporting a transition to an inclusive civilian government, is respecting and protecting the political and economic freedoms of all Egyptians, is respecting freedom of expression and due process of law, and finally, is abiding by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty," according to the Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram Weekly.

While none of these conditions are anything particularly new, Hussein Haridy, a former assistant to the Egyptian foreign minister, has declared the bill "a blatant interference in the domestic affairs of Egypt" that must be firmly rejected by the interim authorities.

So despite Egypt's continued human rights abuses and the calls from the American media for Washington to take action, US military aid to Egypt will probably continue to flow. Indeed, considering that in November Egypt negotiated a multi-billion dollar weapons deal with Russia, financed by the petrol dollars of the monarchies in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, as well as the historical imbalance of power between the US and Egypt in the latter's favour, it seems more likely that if the aid were ever to be cancelled, then it would be the Egyptian authorities making that decision, not Washington.

]]> (Dr Sarah Marusek) Activism Mon, 06 Jan 2014 11:58:44 +0000
The bitter medicine needed for recovery "...the people must be told the truth in order to help them make the difficult choices and so that they are prepared to accept them out of hope for ending this crisis..."The World Bank envoy packed their bags and went back to where they came from, following negotiations with the government and meetings with leaders of the opposition that seemed to have stalled, for reasons unknown to me. Especially since we all know that the leaders they met have expressed their opposition to President Mohammad Morsi's rule and their desire to overthrow him in any way possible. They made several attempts and played all their cards in order to achieve this goal, and after the factional card was burned and buried in its cradle, all that was left was the economic card in their attempt to rock the presidential seat, convinced that they would be able to use it to seize the seat.

They do not care about the hard-working Egyptian citizens suffering in light of the economic crisis in the country, or their need for this loan in order for the Egyptian economy to recover and receive the stamp of approval that would attract investments in Egypt, open new job markets, and alleviate the unemployment crisis in the country. All this irritates these leaders because it will support President Morsi's rule through the support of the people who will begin to see the fruit of their revolution and the blessings of its country. Therefore, they refused the loan and frankly announced this after their meetings with the World Bank representatives. Matters got mixed up and unfortunately, their hatred for the Muslim Brotherhood became stronger than their love for their country. During a meeting, one of them even said let Egypt burn for the sake of overthrowing the Muslim Brotherhood!

Therefore, I am astonished at the World Bank's insistence on accepting such individuals, despite the fact that negotiations should be made with the government because it is the only party dedicated to making the agreement. However, because matters are not as transparent as they should be, we do not know exactly what the World Bank's terms and conditions are. This has led to several rumours about ending the subsidisation of goods, especially those relating to energy, such as diesel fuel and gasoline, as well as an increase in electricity prices. The government is denying this, although they should have addressed the people frankly through the Prime Minister, Dr Hesham Kandil, with regard to the reality of the economic crisis suffered by the country. They also should have implemented short-term and long-term solutions to resolve this crisis, much like a doctor frankly telling their patient about the severity of their disease and prescribing the bitter medicine needed to treat them. The bitterness of this medicine would turn into sweet honey because the hope for recovery has alleviated the bitterness of the medicine, the opposite of which would have happened if the doctor did not tell the patient the truth, and they refused to take the medicine and preferred to die.

Therefore, the people must be told the truth in order to help them make the difficult choices and so that they are prepared to accept them out of hope for ending this crisis and escaping the bottleneck the Egyptian economy has been stuck in for years; it will then be able to emerge and begin its modern renewal. What we want is real hope, not false hope that deceives the people. The Prime Minister, Hesham Kandil, is required to tell the people what Churchill told the British people after WWII "I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat to build Great Britain." The people must be involved in the government's negotiations with the IMF in order for them to be an asset and support the government's negotiations, and so it does not impose impossible conditions that become a burden on the Egyptian citizen.

We wouldn't have wanted this loan if it weren't for the chaotic mess left behind by the former regime that seized the country's treasures; the burden inherited by this regime, headed by its President, Dr Morsi, who is working day and night to save Egypt; may God help him and Egypt.

]]> (Dr. Amira Abo el-Fetouh) Letter from Cairo Tue, 23 Apr 2013 09:39:45 +0000
More symbolism at the UN, but is it enough for Palestine? The Palestinian flag flies for the first time at the United Nations headquarters after a flag-raising ceremony in the Rose GardenOn Wednesday, 30 September, the Palestinian flag was raised for the first time at the United Nations headquarters in New York after the General Assembly voted overwhelming in favour of the move earlier in the month. “This is a day of pride for Palestinians around the world,” said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. “It is a day of hope. It’s a reminder that symbols are important.” He added his wish that the raising of this flag might give rise to the hope among the Palestinians and the international community that Palestinian statehood is achievable.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas reflected a similar sentiment, proclaiming that the flag-raising was an omen: “The day of raising the flag over the state of Palestine is coming soon. Over Jerusalem, the capital of our state of Palestine.” According to Palestinian Ambassador to the UN Riyad Mansour, it was a significant step because it provided Palestinians with a “beacon of hope” in an otherwise bleak Middle Eastern landscape.

Raising the flag was indeed a meaningful step, albeit purely symbolic. The flag itself is a symbol of the Palestinian people’s struggle and the significance of having it flying at the UN - the very same institution that voted to partition mandate Palestine 68 years ago - cannot be overlooked. Israel was one of only eight countries to vote against the flag-flying measure, calling it a “blatant attempt to hijack the UN”.

For the Israeli government, this was another example of UN bias; Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has highlighted repeatedly the supposed “singling” out of Israeli violations by the international body. He responded to the UN report on last year’s Israeli war against the people of Gaza by pointing out that the UN Human Rights Council had passed more resolutions against Israel than against North Korea, Syria and Iran combined. Ron Prosor, Israel's ambassador to the United Nations, commented that, "The Palestinians have moved the battlefield to the United Nations."

In a sense, Prosor is correct; Palestine’s battle for statehood is taking place in the UN. In 2011, Palestine joined the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) as a full member. A successful bid gave de facto recognition of Palestinian statehood at the UN General Assembly in 2012. This made Palestinians eligible to join the International Criminal Court, stoking fears that Israel could find itself in The Hague facing war crimes charges.

In recent years symbolic gestures of support for a Palestinian state have been coming in thick and fast from countries all over the world. Today, 136 of the 193 member states of the UN and two non-member states recognise the State of Palestine.

While such gestures are important and demonstrate how far the Palestinian cause has come, the situation on the ground remains the same as before, if not worse. The West Bank is fragmented by settlements, checkpoints and a concrete wall which has cut off East Jerusalem, the envisioned capital of an independent Palestinian state, from its West Bank hinterland. Meanwhile, the Gaza Strip continues to be strangled by a blockade that prevents it being rebuilt after suffering three major Israeli military offensives since 2008/9 as well as almost daily incursions. The moves within the UN and elsewhere - whether condemnations, resolutions, recognition or flag raising - have not stopped Israel building ever more and bigger settlements in the occupied West Bank and did not stop last year’s war against the Palestinians in Gaza.

“The Palestinian Authority [PA] gained non-member observer status at the UN in November 2012, but nothing of substance on Palestine has happened at this forum since then,” said Nur Masalha, a Palestinian writer and academic. “For this impotent international organisation the question of Palestinian statehood remains virtual.” Crucially, he added, the PA, which pinned its hope on this UN ceremony, remains deeply wedded to security cooperation with the occupying power. “This reality which makes it impossible for the PA leadership to mobilise any effective international support for Palestine.”

For Azzam Tamimi, a Palestinian-British academic and author, the flag-raising gesture was meaningless. “What the Palestinians need from the UN is an acknowledgement of its historic role in dispossessing us," he insisted. "Our quest is not for another failing Arab state with a meaningless flag and useless institutions, but for the return of a homeland that was stripped from us.”

In Ramallah, hundreds of Palestinians watched the ceremony on television. I was there for the 2012 UN vote as it was broadcast live in the main square to a jubilant crowd, but 3 years on and symbolic recognition of a Palestinian state, one which has none of the components which actually make-up a state (control over borders, land and airspace, for example), seems like a farce. Palestine may well be a state on paper but concrete measures such as sanctions on the occupier and the severing of trade ties, including arms exports, are needed before a genuinely sovereign and independent Palestinian state can come into existence.

]]> (Jessica Purkiss) Middle East Sat, 03 Oct 2015 12:02:59 +0000
Has Erdogan changed his position on the Syrian revolution? Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan

The suffering of the Syrian people and their humanitarian crisis over the past five years did not stir the international community’s sense of responsibility towards them. However, the influx of thousands of Syrian refugees into Europe was enough to put the international community face to face with the need to take action to put an end to the crisis, which has crossed borders and transported all types of problems and crises around the world, including asylum issues as well as political tension and polarisation.

We have seen signs and hints recently of international and regional agreement and consensus regarding what is known as the transitional phase in Syria, as the events in the country evolved in an unexpected manner. The Americans did not object to Russia’s move towards Syria and its establishment of new military bases on the coast north of Latakia. Instead, there has been much talk recently about a US-Russian-British-French consensus regarding the transitional phase in Syria, in which Bashar Al-Assad will play a part. Meanwhile, Russia will supervise the transition with US and European blessings.

While the Russians want this phase to begin immediately, the Americans do not seem to be in a hurry. Perhaps this is because they want to enjoy watching the Russians sink into a quagmire even more complex and fierce than Afghanistan. Everyone knows that the Russians have no patience and do not possess America’s cunning, and are keen to reap the fruits of their efforts immediately. However, the Americans will get creative in playing with them, manipulating them, and then rubbing their noses in the dirt.

Netanyahu’s visit to Moscow and meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin has completed the international and regional consensus with regards to the transitional phase in Syria; a consensus, though, without the agreement of the people of Syria, who have paid a heavy price in blood, destruction and displacement. In addition, both Turkey and Saudi Arabia have objected, as they were calling loudly for the departure of Al-Assad as the first condition for any settlement to resolve the Syrian tragedy.

On his way back from Russia, after participating in the opening ceremony of Moscow’s largest mosque with his Russian counterpart, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan held a press conference in which he addressed current issues, beginning with the Syrian conflict. According to Turkish media outlets, Erdogan said: “We don’t have a problem with Syria’s domestic policies. But neither Al-Assad nor the world should forget that we have a 911 kilometre-long border with Syria. At every turn we are under the threat of terrorist groups there. Our patience has a limit.” He added that nobody can foresee Syria’s future with Al-Assad. “It’s not possible to accept a person responsible for killing 300,000 to 350,000 people.”

The comments made by Erdogan, who is known for his explicit calls for Al-Assad to step down, were made in light of the change in the position of several Western countries, including the United States and Britain, on the Damascus regime. US Secretary of State John Kerry said last Saturday that the Syrian president must step down, but that this does not necessarily have to occur immediately after reaching an agreement to end the conflict in Syria. British Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Philip Hammond made similar remarks. On her part, German Chancellor Angela Merkel called for involving Al-Assad in the dialogue to resolve the Syrian crisis.

Ankara had firmly rejected any political solution that involved the Syrian president and had held him responsible for the problems in his country until now. “Now in Syria, there are Daesh, other organisations, and the regime,” said Erdogan. “What I have called the ‘transitional process’ means what will be done to deal with the situation in Syria and the countries that will undertake this.”

However, international, regional and Gulf media outlets quoted Erdogan as saying, “The process could possibly be without Al-Assad, or the transitional process could be with him.” They also quoted him saying that Bashar Al-Assad may be part of the transitional phase in the context of resolving the Syrian crisis.

Sources close to Erdogan and the Justice and Development Party denied any change in Turkish policy regarding Syria, stressing that this policy stems from a humanitarian concern that comes down to standing by the Syrian people and supporting their fair demands against a regime that did not hesitate to kill its own citizens and destroy the country in order to remain in power. President Erdogan also renewed his calls for Bashar Al-Assad’s departure, saying, “If Al-Assad has a modicum of love for Syria, he should leave this job and go.” He added after his meeting with Macedonian President George Ivanov in Istanbul that Turkey's policy towards Syria has not changed and is the same policy he has followed since he was prime minister.

The difference between Turkey’s version and what was reported by some international media outlets can be explained by the campaign launched by international and local forces to break the Justice and Development Party’s monopoly of authority in Turkey for the past 13 years. These forces have aimed to create a stereotype of Erdogan and the JDP, categorising them as supporters of Daesh and those fuelling terrorism. These same forces do not consider the People's Protection Units as terrorist groups, despite their systematic policy of changing the demographic nature and deepening of the divisions in northern Syria. These same forces turn a blind eye to the Iranian occupation and the heinous acts committed by Hezbollah and the Shia militias affiliated with Iran. More importantly, these same forces want to rearrange and categorise the effective groups in the Middle East in accordance with a new perspective, which intends to eliminate what is known as political Islam, of which the JDP represents a successful example and acts as a source of inspiration.

Just for the sake of argument, let’s assume that President Erdogan did say that he does not object to Al-Assad remaining for a limited time with written international guarantees in order to prevent the collapse of the Syrian state and to prevent mass revenge operations; while insisting on considering Bashar Al-Assad to be a war criminal who must be held accountable for his actions, would Erdogan have withdrawn his support for the Syrian people and his support for the Syrian revolution?

There may be changes in Turkey’s policies in the future, but it will remain in the context of political tactics and pragmatism. In addition, Turkey’s will not be drastic changes that will turn its back on the aspirations of the Syrian people for freedom and dignity.

Translated from Alkhaleejonline, 27 September, 2015.

]]> (Mahmoud Othman) Europe Tue, 29 Sep 2015 10:45:11 +0000
Morocco election results brings hope to the region An elderly lady casts her ballot in the Municipal elections on September 4th 2015In the context of the struggle between the waves of revolution and counter-revolution in the MENA region Morocco witnessed local and regional elections this week, the first after the constitution amendments of 2011. The elections, held on 4 September, are also the first since 2011 in which political actors agreed on a final version of the regionalisation project, whereby each of the country’s 12 regions will be led by an elected council with wide economic, human, infrastructural, environmental and cultural development capacities. In a sense, the 2015 elections mark another step in the post-Arab spring Morocco and another opportunity to examine the outcome of the country’s “reform under stability” paradigm. The lesson for Morocco is that the potential failure of the paradigm will immediately tarnish the whole diplomatic, political and reform effort that started in 2011.

In the run up to the elections, Morocco feared that foreign pressure would restrict the participation of Islamists in a free and fair way. That pressure was eventually diminished through a tandem of internal and external factors; while the former manifested itself in governmental reforms, the latter included the change in the Saudi leadership, the eruption of the war in Yemen and the signing of the Iran nuclear deal. These events pushed local actors to shift the focus away from curbing the outcome of the Arab Spring, especially since attempts to smother the post-Arab Spring nascent democracies has generated chaos across the region. The difficult lesson of the past four years has been that it is despotism that threatens stability in the region, not respecting public will.

Around 1.1 million new voters registered on Morocco’s electoral lists last August, 46 per cent of whom were women. Certainly, the widespread discussions of women’s freedom and the female quota in election lists have increased gender visibility in Moroccan politics. A Ministry of Interior press release revealed that 70 per cent of the new voters applied online while the rest approached administrative offices directly. The lesson from this is that the recent elections exemplified a further effect of the Internet in the democratisation process in Morocco, as well as indicating the fact that less bureaucracy encourages more political involvement.

In the final results, the Party of Authenticity and Modernity (PAM) ranked first with 6,655 local seats. The PAM was challenged in the 2011 protests as a symbol of despotism, especially since it was founded by Fouad Ali Elhimma, an advisor to the King. Yet, administrative intervention was quite absent. This year, the PAM has focused significantly on rural areas; as a consequence, they were able to reserve around 700 rural seats before the polling day since their candidates had no opponents.

The administration has also increasingly withdrawn from fabricating election results, recognising both the change in people’s awareness of its pre-Arab Spring practices and the fact that the Arab Spring spirit has not yet waned in the country. More public activism and public policy surveillance mean more democratisation.

Nevertheless, electoral corruption has persisted and the discourse of reform has faced two key obstacles, namely illiteracy and poverty. For example, the PAM was accused of receiving campaign money from drug-barons, especially in the north of the country. Also, some administration staff were accused of helping PAM candidates, though obliquely. For instance, the minister of Higher Education was invited to be a PAM candidate by a local administration representative, who failed to recognise that he was talking to a PJD minister. It seems the representative – who was arrested immediately – had been ordered to recruit to PAM any eligible person he came across in that rural region.

On the issue of poverty, some young election campaigners, for instance, reportedly worked for opposition parties during their campaigns but promised to vote for government parties; their only reason for doing so being poverty. Especially for the PJD, who relied on the efforts of its own members and adherents, payments did not encourage youngsters to work for it since they needed money at the beginning of a new academic year. Both the government and civil society need to learn that democratisation necessitates fighting the illiteracy and poverty upon which corruption and despotism feed.

According to official statistics, the ballot turnout rose from 52.4 per cent in 2009 to 53.67 per cent in 2015. The government-leading Islamist PJD party ranked third, tripling local council seats. They, on the other hand, ranked first in the number of regional seats. Voters for the PJD, or the government coalition generally, range from citizens tired of corruption and despotism, those tired of the discourse of election boycotters, those who are growing satisfied with previous local councils’ achievements in such cities as Kenitra or Tetuan and those who increasingly support the government’s reforms. The lesson here is that more reform will push more Moroccans to leave the position of silent majority and take a stand.

Another takeaway from the elections is that the PJD needs to upgrade its political discourse from that of suffering to that of political readiness. Both voters and election boycotters need to believe that the long-standing, deeply rooted corruption that characterised many local councils can be defeated. The outcome of these councils’ dishonesty and inefficiency is clear in the low quality of socioeconomic infrastructure. Both those who support reform or boycott voting because they still believe in the inadequacy of what has been achieved so far need to see election slogans and programmes meaningfully transformed into better roads and stronger bridges, better water for drinking, more electricity, more schools, closer hospitals and cleaner air, more youth houses and public libraries, more investments and less bureaucracy.

A final thing to learn is that the elections in Morocco project a ray of light to the rest of the MENA region and the message that slow but steady reform persists despite the pitfalls of counter-revolutionary movements. That is why, Morocco, and the PJD more particularly, have been congratulated by the leadership of Palestinian resistance movement Hamas and the Tunisian Ennahda party. This tiny glimmer of hope must be nurtured by avoiding odd coalitions in local and regional councils, as well as by extending the limits of reform to make every new change another brick in the wall of democratisation that is slowly but surely being built.

Abderrahim Chalfaouat is a Morocco-based researcher in media and MENA politics.

]]> (Abderrahim Chalfaouat) Africa Wed, 09 Sep 2015 12:36:52 +0000
Huffington Post Arabic and the absurdity of ‘liberal’ expectations Ramzy BaroudWhat does it mean to be a “liberal Arab”? Even in the West, definitions of “liberal” vary.

In the American context, the demarcation of the “liberal” overlaps cultural and political lines. Republicans use the term in a derogatory way to describe their opponents. Watch Fox News to see what I mean. (On second thoughts, please do not watch Fox News!) Europeans are hardly keen on the term at all. Many often use the term “progressive” to liberate the “liberal” from its political baggage and imprecise cultural insinuations.

So when the newly-launched Huffington Post Arabi – the Arabic edition of the news and entertainment portal Huffington Post – was attacked fiercely for not being “liberal” enough to match the “liberal left” views of the mother title, it left me puzzled.

This is a headline in the Independent, which was, more or less, mirrored by other publications: “Huffington Post causes outrage after Arabic edition criticises gay people, atheists and selfies.”

The main photo with the article was that of former Tunisian President Mohamed Moncef Marzouki (2011-14). He is perhaps one of the most progressive and prominent Arab politicians of all time, since he also presided over Tunisia’s democratic transition following its 2010-11 peaceful revolution.

He looked befuddled in the low resolution photo, which was accompanied by an unrelated caption (neither the caption nor the article mentions the former president’s name): “The Huffington Post has been accused of letting 'its Arabic site disgrace its brand'.”

I spent some time trying to understand the “outrage” mentioned in the Independent and other publications. Some readers’ criticism of some content published in Huffington Post Arabi was justified. Their opinions, in this case, were consistent with mine, although I am sure that such opinions are not at all consistent with the views of others, but that is the nature of any opinion.

Frankly, I find “selfies” distasteful and I share the views of a writer in Huffington Post Arabi that Arabs should not simply mimic every Western phenomenon which many Westerners, themselves, may find objectionable. It also happens that the American Psychiatric Association (APA) agrees, as it recently classified the taking of “selfies” as a mental disorder, giving it an official name: “selfitis”. It is defined as “the obsessive compulsive desire to take photos of oneself and post them on social media as a way to make up for the lack of self-esteem and to fill a gap in intimacy.” The Independent, too, ran multiple stories on the harm of “selfies”, including this recent story on 27August.

If one is to judge the Independent, which has produced some of the finest journalism in Britain regarding the Middle East in recent years, it would not be over its own strange obsession with “selfies”. In fact, it would be for running sensational stories about new Arabic media’s supposed failure to live up to some “liberal left” western expectations.

Of course, the issue has little to do with the freedom to take “selfies” or, at least in the minds of some, also little to do with the rights of gays and atheists. (The opinion piece that was criticised for being homophobic was taken down and an apology was given.) The issue is rather political because some of those affiliated with the project are accused of being members of the Muslim Brotherhood. Naturally, this creates fear that the editorial line will follow suit.

In case you haven’t noticed, there is a media war in the Arab world that is as dirty as that of the actual wars raging from Syria to Yemen. The moment a new media venture is announced, each side determines its position from those behind the project. If its editorial line is not to the liking of this group or the other, an organised media campaign is launched instantly, using every dirty trick to defame, slander and vilify.

The attacks are often mounted using the same, usual suspects; the likes of and, for example: “The two men leading Huffington Post’s new Arabic-language site have in the past been accused of having direct involvement with the Muslim Brotherhood and radical clerics; and one has openly expressed conspiratorial views that have been interpreted as having an anti-Semitic connotation.” Others get involved, perhaps unaware of how their views could be utilised in the sentential media war.

Buzzfeed is not exactly known for its high journalistic standards. It was one of the first to attack Huffington Post Arabi, again using sentential headlines, imbalanced text and irrelevant photos. Tom Gara of Buzzfeed also drew similar conclusions; that Huffington Post Arabi is “heading in a different direction” from the “liberal, progressive politics and embrace of popular culture” offered by the English edition. These substantial conclusions were drawn mostly from the single article that warned of a war against Islam, and made a fleeting reference to gays in Egypt.

Of the 14 different offshoots of the Huffington Post, its Arabic edition must be the most scrutinised. Its critics wasted no time in drawing massive conclusions about the entire editorial line of the Arabic website, based on an article and alleged affiliation of some of its managers to a political party that was forced out of power in Egypt; an accusation which remains a mere allegation.

The politics behind much of the attacks (especially by Arab twitter users and some in the media) notwithstanding, what puzzled me most is the assumption that being a progressive or liberal Arab should automatically mean a word for word translation of the political and cultural norms of Western culture. This is the height of intellectual hubris, and no self-respecting and truly progressive Westerner should hold such expectations.

I spent some time browsing both websites — Huffington Post Arabi and the English version — to find out for myself whether the “outrage” at the former’s supposed regressive coverage is justified. There was much in the English version that was worth reading while other content was, frankly, of no use to me, or even objectionable altogether. I disdain the sexual objectification of women, even if done with a “liberal” agenda in mind. I will continue reading it, however, simply because I trust the publication’s overall editorial agenda.

The Arabic was more relatable and unmatchable in terms of its authentic understanding of the Middle East region; rather humane in its approach to politics; and, in some ways, progressive, although less “activisty” than the English edition. That was refreshing. However, some of the content was of no use to me and a few of the opinions were quite misguided, in my view.

Aside from the article mentioned above, I hardly noticed a war on freedom, gays and atheists. That said, though, shouldn’t Huffington Post (Arabic, English and all the other editions) allow for views that are not consistent with one’s own understanding of being leftist, liberal, or progressive?

Why shouldn’t the Arabs face their demons heads on? Debating, using their own language and cultural references, issues such as freedom, democracy, human rights, women’s rights, gay rights, minority rights, the role of religion in politics, authoritarianism, globalisation, even the very role of media in politics?

Buzzfeed, the Independent and Jihad Watch should not determine the limits of Arab political thought or cultural norms. Nor should we expect the Arabic edition of Huffington Post to duplicate the English version, in which case an Arabic edition would be unnecessary. What one should expect from it is to challenge the media polarisation and operate outside the destructive framework of the media war underway in the Middle East. Huffington Post Arabi should open an equitable platform for ideas and encourage debate, bringing the arguments of all sides to the fore and allowing its readers to decide for themselves, not to appease any particular definition of what a liberal is or is not, but to espouse urgently-needed dialogue at a time of senseless wars and protracted conflicts.

Dr. Ramzy Baroud has been writing about the Middle East for over 20 years. He is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author of several books and the founder of His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story (Pluto Press, London). His website is:

]]> (Ramzy Baroud) Americas Mon, 07 Sep 2015 14:30:19 +0000
Jailing the truth in Egypt Asa WinstanleyOn Saturday, there was a surprise verdict in an Egyptian court. Three Al Jazeera journalists were jailed for three years each in a widely-covered retrial. The three had previously been imprisoned for a year for supposedly "spreading false news" in support of a "terrorist" group – in fact the democratically-elected Muslim Brotherhood.

The previous verdict had been overturned due to what even the court admitted was a lack of evidence, but this retrial was ordered nonetheless.

One of the three, Australian journalist Peter Greste had been released in February and deported back to Australia. His colleagues Baher Mohamed and Mohamed Fahmy are both Egyptian and so have now been sent back to prison.

Their representative in court, the renowned British-Lebanese human rights lawyer Amal Clooney denounced the verdict saying it "sends the dangerous message that there are judges in Egypt who will allow their courts to become instruments of political repression and propaganda".

The verdict was denounced around the world as a politically motivated move.

"The fact that two of these journalists are now facing time in jail following two grossly unfair trials makes a mockery of justice in Egypt," said Philip Luther, Amnesty International's director for the Middle East and North Africa.

It is clear that the trial was a fix to shore up a dictatorial military regime. Since General Abdel Fatah al-Sisi came to power in July 2013's military coup, thousands of innocent people have been tortured, jailed and even killed. The most infamous of the massacres was the killings of more than 1,000 protesters against the coup in August 2013.

The completely farcical nature of the "charges" against the three journalists underlines how discredited Egypt's legal system is. This is a kangaroo court system.

In the first place, the real reason the regime outlawed the Muslim Brotherhood as a "terrorist" group was simply that it was popular and won elections, and was thus a threat to their power. When Morsi won the first ever democratic election to Egypt's presidency, he was opposed by the deep state because of some (extremely timid) democratic reforms he tried to make. Then, the military, which had already dissolved the elected parliament, reasserted itself and came back to direct power in the coup. Morsi now faces a death sentence, on fabricated charges.

The jailing of the Al Jazeera journalists, on zero credible evidence, also brings into sharp relief how much this injustice is the tip of the iceberg. These journalists have received a lot of attention in the international press, and it has become something of an embarrassment to the regime, even creating some diplomatic problems. (For this reason, some commentators suspect that, in an act of political theatre, Sisi may now pardon the three, in order to appear magnanimous and generous.)

But what of all the countless others unjustly jailed by the regime? Those Egyptians whose names we don't even know? The fact is that the regime would not be able to carry on the way it does were it not for the the support from western imperial powers, significantly the US and the UK.

The British ambassador John Casson made a statement in Arabic ostensibly condemning the verdict. But in very narrow terms. Casson said he was concerned the Al Jazeera sentencings could "undermine confidence in the basis of Egypt's stability, both in Egypt and abroad".

Interesting wording. Another way to put it would be that Casson was worried more about the public relations hit that the regime is taking thanks to these cases, than about the fundamental injustice of imprisoning journalists for simply reporting on basic facts.

This mealy-mouthed wording echoed in some respects what Tony Blair has said in support of the regime. Blair (who, for the right price, is a friend to despotic regimes around the world) is an economic advisor to Sisi and backed the coup back in 2013, saying: “I am a strong supporter of democracy. But democratic government doesn't on its own mean effective government. Today efficacy is the challenge."

Prime Minister David Cameron too, is backing the Egyptian regime, having in June invited Sisi to an official visit to the UK. Human rights campaigners have condemned Cameron for issuing the invitation.

There will now be an appeal in the case of the falsely convicted Al Jazeera journalists. Sisi may well pardon them regardless. But either way, it is important to remember that their case is the tip of the iceberg, and many many innocent Egyptians are rotting in jail at the hands of the western-backed military dictatorship.

An associate editor with The Electronic Intifada, Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist who lives in London.

]]> (Asa Winstanley) Inquiry Thu, 03 Sep 2015 12:04:39 +0000