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The Middle East: Between Arab Dictators and Zionist Racist Colonialism (The Palestine Chronicle)

By Hasan Afif El-Hasan

Since the 1970s and beyond, when democratic ideas and institutions spread, power has been exercised on behalf of the people in most of the world’s nations. Democratization came about through actions initiated by the elite reformers, by the demands of political activists to adapt foreign models to solve local problems, and by social movements on behalf of excluded groups. The era of colonialism in Africa, India and East Asia ended, but Zionism, a new form of colonialism supported by the nineteenth century European colonial powers emerged in the Middle East.

History has to be rewritten every generation because each new generation should ask new questions as it lives differently and learns from the mistakes that had been made. Only people in the Middle East today still re-live the same aspects of their predecessors’ experiences; they keep asking the same questions of the past generations and they are making the same mistakes. Things are going from bad to worse; the old tyrant rulers are replaced by new ones; old conflicts remained and new conflicts emerged. The tyrants of the new generation are as bad as or worse than the old ones were. And the Israeli government has become more aggressive in implementing the Zionist project for Palestine.

To understand tyranny in the Arab world today, look at Egypt, the most populous Arab country, the country that has the potential of being the region’s political heavy weight. Egypt achieved a high degree of multiparty democracy almost a century ago. The constitution of 1923 introduced political pluralism, regular elections to a two-chamber legislature, full male suffrage, and a free press. Democracy was interrupted by the military in 1952.

Millions of Egyptian protesters took to the streets in 2011 and 2013 demanding the end of the sixty year military rule that relied on repression and graft which turned Egypt into one of the poorest and least developed countries economically and politically. The protesters’ expectations had been artificially inflated by ousting two presidents, but with the return of the military rule, they saw their high expectations’ bubble burst against the reality of a country coming apart at the seams.

The ruthless coup leader, Field Marshal Abdul Fatah al-Sisi sought to replace the democratically elected president, that he served under and overthrew, followed by street bloodbaths inflicted on unarmed anti-coup protesters and thousands were tortured in jails. The elections of the coup leader ran according to the old familiar repetitive script. Like the referendums on the former army general, President Husni Mubarak before him, al-Sisi received more than 96% of the vote, same as then President Mubarak. But instead of getting better, living conditions, lack of security, unemployment and human rights violations are getting worse under the new regime. And most alarming is politicizing Egypt’s judiciary institutions. Most Egyptians today even miss Mubarak’s era that was most hated and feared. Like Latin America in the last century when the business elite and foreign powers favored military rule for fear of communism, the Egyptian elite, the crony business class and the Coptic minority favored military rule for fear of the Muslim Brotherhood.

If Middle Eastern people think about the world in which they live, it is easy for them to see why they are suffering and why they have not been developed up to their potentials economically, politically, intellectually, socially and humanistically; why the majority is living in despair and why they support violence and extreme movements.

For the Arab world to satisfy the aspirations of its people and join the civilized world community, as a start, they have to break the cycle of the authoritarian exclusionary system of government and military rule. Democracy will not solve all their problems, but without it, they will continue to be led most likely by ambitious cunning men who engage in criminal practices to coerce society to accept or support their rule. Even with liberal democracy, much more needs to be done to fulfill the aspirations of the young to participate in shaping the future of their country, and to break the cycle of political and economic subordination to foreign powers.

But the hope for a transition to democracy has fallen victim to the protracted periods of self-perpetuating autocratic rule. While the rest of the world lives under different kinds of democratic systems today, power holders in the Arab states developed multiple forms of authoritarian political systems. No Arab citizen lives under liberal constitutional democracy, and women have no civil rights in the Arab world. Arabs live under the constraints of authoritarian regimes in male dominated hierarchical societies that do not treat their members as free and equal citizens. Arab regimes leaders have developed the capacity to concentrate the national resources for use to stay in power. They are the absolute rulers and they are not held accountable to any judiciary or legislative control.

Arab military defeats by Israel in 1948 and 1967 ushered in a radical new age of Arab politics. The magnitudes of the defeats combined with the deliberate deception of the Arab public set off a crisis of confidence in the existing political leadership. Public disenchantment set off support for a wave of military coups led mostly by cunning men against existing governments across the Arab world.

In the 1950s and 1960s the feudal and monarchical governments in Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Libya were overthrown by military men who established secular governance. Each of the new governments adopted a radical Arab nationalist platform as the basis of its legitimacy, calling for the liberation of Palestine and the triumph over imperialism. The new rulers who reigned and ruled tried to broaden their popular support by appealing to nationalism and promises of better economic conditions to come, and the new political culture of military governance took roots in the region.

After decades of authoritarian rule since the 1948 war, sectarianism and ethnicity have superseded Arab nationalism, and international and regional foreign powers dominate the Arab lands. The issue of Palestine that was uniting the Arabs in rhetoric, not action, is overtaken by other issues that have divided them. Israel became a dominant ally to many Arab regimes against Iran and “the war on terrorism” (which includes resistance to Israeli occupation), while the Israeli military and settlers terrorize the Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem; and Israel continues to colonize the Palestinians’ land, demolishes homes and villages, and denies them their human rights.

Israel committed heinous massacres in the besieged Gaza enclave. Haaretz newspaper reported that a gang of Jewish settlers firebombed a Palestinian family house in the West Bank village of Douma on July 31st. They burnt an eighteen month infant, Ali Saad Daoabshi alive, and seriously injured the rest of his family. Saad is not the only child killed by Israel. The crimes of killing Palestinians are repeated daily and will continue as long as there is occupation! According to The Independent, a report by Amnesty International on the Israeli atrocities against the Palestinians claims among other things that “Israeli forces killed at least 135 Palestinian civilians including 75 children in Gaza on August 1, 2014.”

The dead Palestinians, whether by fire or bullets or bombs or starvation in the besieged Gaza, are victims of racist colonialism which is still being practiced in Palestine. The Palestinian people are betrayed by the international community and especially by the Arab authoritarian regimes. The clearest indication of Israel’s obstinacy and Arab authoritarian regimes irrelevance came from Israel’s economy minister, Naftali Bennett. “The idea that a Palestinian state should be established within the land of Israel has reached a dead end,” he declared.

The Middle East can accurately be described as the land of dictators and a dominant Zionism.

– Hasan Afif El-Hasan, Ph.D. is a political analyst. His latest book, Is The Two-State Solution Already Dead? (Algora Publishing, New York), now available on Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.

The post The Middle East: Between Arab Dictators and Zionist Racist Colonialism appeared first on Palestine Chronicle.

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Indonesia denies visa to Israeli badminton player for tourney (The Times of Israel)

Indonesian authorities have yet to grant a visa to an Israeli Badminton player despite repeated requests on his part, in a move that would effectively bar him from competing in the World Badminton Championships set to be held in Jakarta on Monday.

Misha Zilberman, who represented Israel at the London 2012 Olympics and spent the past several weeks practicing in Singapore, first filed a visa application six months ago, only to have his request turned down by the Indonesian government. Further attempts by Zilberman, 26, were met with similar responses.

The Israeli player expressed frustration over the continued denial in a Facebook post earlier this week.

“They are not giving me a visa to participate in the World Championships,” Zilberman wrote.

“After six months of exchanging letters, and after sending all the documents they requested, and after we arrived in Singapore, they are saying no. The World Badminton Federation knew about this and didn’t help. They preferred to ignore it and just waited for it to pass. After two weeks in Singapore waiting for a visa they are probably sending me home instead of to the World Championships.”

Robert Singer, the CEO of the World Jewish Congress said the decision not to hand Zilberman a visa unfairly mixed politics and sports, and called on Indonesian officials to immediately grant the visa application so that the player may take part in the international sporting competition.

“If this decision is upheld, it will do harm to Indonesia’s standing in the world, and it will raise the question whether this is the right place to hold such prestigious events,” a press statement issued by Singer read. “This decision to bar an Israeli player from an international sporting competition can’t stand, and I urge Indonesia to allow Misha Zilberman to compete in these championships.”

Singer further charged at the Badminton World Federation (BWF), which organized the competition, for not providing assistance to Zilberman.

“If athletes are excluded on political grounds, at the very least there should be some soul-searching going on,” he stated. “This sad episode casts a shadow on the event, and the failure of the BWF leadership to use its leverage speaks volumes.”

The Olympic Committee of Israel was reportedly working to resolve the situation, but has not come up with a solution so far.

Indonesia, a nation of some 250 million citizens, is the world’s largest Muslim country in terms of population.

Arab and Muslim countries have repeatedly barred Israeli athletes from attending matches, sometimes as punishment for the barring of Palestinian athletes by Israel from attending international tournaments.

The phenomenon became more prevalent after 2010, when Hamas, the terrorist group that rules Gaza, and Dubai accused Israel of assassinating Hamas’ commander Mahmoud al- Mabhouh in a Dubai hotel. They allege that the plot involved a dozen assassins using forged passports from Britain, Ireland, Germany and France, among other countries.

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Searching for a conversion (Al-Ahram Weekly (Egypt))

As US Secretary of State John Kerry landed in Egypt last weekend to re-launch the strategic dialogue between Washington and Cairo he may well have reflected on the wider historical and geo-political significance of his trip. Symbolically, the visit signalled that both sides have placed the worst of their differences behind them. In March this year Washington lifted its October 2013 freeze on military supplies to Cairo, public sparring between the two has been toned down and Egypt has received a number of US military and Congressional delegations in recent months.

Looking out of the window of his plane Kerry may have also reflected on the Arab/Middle East landscape extending below. Since 2011 the region had been hit by a tsunami that has brought many states to near collapse. Civil wars are raging, separatist movements have emerged and terrorist organisations have expanded. The dream of an Arab Spring bringing human rights, democracy and equitable development has all but withered away.

In such circumstances it makes sense for the US to reconnect with Egypt and focus on its core national security interests: maintaining Egyptian-Israel peace; ensuring strategic maritime and air transit routes; combatting terrorism and shoring up Gulf security. All the more given the stability and economic progress that is taking shape in Egypt under the still popular Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi and its contrast to the dismal legacy of the Muslim Brotherhood year in power. Egypt, too, has reasons to focus on its own priorities: augmenting its military capacity; increasing coordination in the battle against terrorism and encouraging Washington to reengage in the search for solutions to regional problems, including the more vigorous pursuit of an Israeli-Palestinian settlement. Washington’s current focus on IS is welcome in Cairo, though Egyptian officials are keen it should extend to extremist groups across the region.

The sensitive issues of human rights and democratic transition in Egypt were finessed by Kerry and pre-empted by his host who took the initiative and placed them on the table in his opening remarks. Off camera the two sides appeared to have agreed on the need to strengthen Egypt’s progress on these fronts.

Kerry’s background briefing papers could easily have referred to proposals made over 40 years ago by President Anwar Al-Sadat to then US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger for a “new strategic relationship with the US, including full Egyptian-American coordination in the Middle East and Africa”. Since then both sides have demonstrated a remarkable ability to keep the relationship alive. Concrete gains have been delivered through focussing on the core concerns of each party rather than allowing the relationship to be disrupted by wider sets of desiderata or differences. Inevitably, there have been moments of deep disagreement and disappointment. Cairo has long wanted to see a more energetic and unbiased US role in the search for peace in the Middle East and Washington covets more extensive military facilities in Egypt and robust Egyptian military action in other theatres. But in the end these differences have been overridden by more immediate concerns.

Yet confining the dialogue to the old dynamics of US-Egyptian relations, pursuing limited objectives and managing differences represents a lost opportunity for both sides. Continued obscurantism comes at a cost: repeated crises and a sense of frustration coupled with lack of public support and buy-in by political forces on both sides. Worst still, both countries may come to pay a heavy price as conflicts in the region spin out of control, unleashing chaos and human suffering. There is, therefore, a need to revisit and clarify the strategic interests of each party. Commonalities and points of divergence must be identified. More focussed analyses, visions and action plans are long overdue.

In this regard the early signals of the most recent encounter were not overly promising. Both sides seemed otherwise occupied, Kerry with marketing the Iran nuclear deal, Egypt with the opening of the New Suez Canal. The meeting was first delayed and then compressed into one day, hardly sufficient to cover the extensive challenges both sides face.

The meeting was held against a backdrop in which a new Middle East is emerging with failed states, rising non-state actors, resurgent identities, internationalised conflicts and complex regional alliances, all challenging the 100 year old maps drawn by colonial power.

There are ongoing civil wars in Syria, Libya, Yemen and other regional conflicts which require deeper agreements on objectives and strategies (witness differences over Egypt’s reaction to the execution by IS of its citizens in Libya in February 2015 and the way US reticence in that case contrasts sharply with its support of Turkish actions in response to recent terrorist attacks).

The implications, for the role of Tehran in the region and for broader security arrangements, of the 5+1 agreement with Iran — not least how to establish a region-wide nuclear-free zone or to reintroduce a cap on the conventional arms race in the Middle East — need to be addressed, and as the region approaches the landmark of 50 years of Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the Golan there is an urgent need to develop an alternative to the failed search for Israeli-Palestinian peace which Kerry himself abandoned last April.

More generally, the strategic outlook held by each side needs to be discussed in detail. Recent statements by President Barack Obama and other US officials reflect views that are very distant from those in Cairo: the focus on IS while ignoring the Palestinian question, talk of Sunni states and the Sunni-Shia fault line in the region, praising Iran’s civilisation and its potential as a regional power while framing Arab societies as in need of reform, highlighting the frustrations of youth and linking that to enrolment in jihadi movements. Last week, US Secretary of Defence Ash Carter said Israel remains the “bedrock of American strategy” in the region.

The early signals may not have been promising but it seems the talks may have achieved more than expected by sceptics, myself included. That the meeting took place is a sign the worst phase in US-Egyptian relations is over. Kerry spoke of returning to a “stronger base” in bilateral ties and was keen to play the right mood music for his hosts: “Egypt remains vital … to engagement and stability in the region as a whole”, Iran is the “number one state sponsor of terror in the world” and “obviously there has been a little bit of tension here and there [between US and Egypt] over certain issues”. There were hints, too, that the Bright Star biennial joint military manoeuvres, suspended in 2011, might be resumed.

Yet there have been only modest elaborations of the strategic vision or outlook of each of the two parties in this asymmetric relationship. The result is that misconceptions and false expectations continue to exist on both sides. Politicians in Washington and Cairo find it difficult to explain the underpinnings of the US-Egyptian relationship — one need think only of Obama’s description of Egypt as “neither an ally nor an enemy”. Public opinion in Egypt, increasingly important in a phase of transition and populist politics, remains polarised in its assessment of the costs and benefits of their country’s quasi-alliance with the US.

Egyptian discussions of foreign policy reflect and spill over into the debate on the Mubarak legacy. Many Egyptians, especially those who joined or supported the 2011 Revolution, view the Mubarak years as an era of caving in to American demands at the cost of Egypt’s principles and interests and are demanding a reassessment and greater distance from Washington.

It may be unrealistic to expect a sudden resurgence of an explicit, robust alliance between Washington and Cairo. But total disruption of the relationship holds few, if any, practical returns for either side. So what are the alternatives?

— That the relationship continues with a high degree of ambiguity and, in consequence, little relevance to the changing landscape of the Arab/Middle East region and beyond (the implications of the US pivot to Asia, the repercussions of the Arab Spring, the influence of political Islam, the fragmentation of states, etc.). The core elements of the relationship survive, particularly US military assistance, but the wider strategic dimensions slowly diminish. The US relationship with Pakistan is often cited as a model in this scenario. The modus operandi is “managing differences” rather than working on developing common ground. This seems to be where the relationship is at the moment.

— Both sides make a genuine effort to clarify their strategic objectives and conduct a cost/benefit analysis of methods they might be willing to deploy in securing them. In this context, Egypt seeks a realistic relationship with the US that builds on common ground, minimises divergences and, most importantly, is capable of growing in line with Egypt’s aspirations to lead the region towards more integration and development. Egypt’s ability to negotiate a successful transition to stability, democracy and grow this key to this scenario. This option appears distant at the moment and a lame-duck US president may be unwilling to pursue such an approach.

— The US cuts its losses and winds down its military assistance while Egypt attempts to diversify its sources of military supplies and develops relations with Russia, China, France and others. A degree of cooperation is maintained, particularly on non-controversial issues, but without longer term or broader linkages. Aspects of this scenario are already in evidence.

— The black swan/wild card scenario: in response to a crisis in the region (a coup or uprising in an Arab Gulf country; unchartered military action by a Middle East country) both parties pull closer together or, as differences accelerate, go their separate ways.

What is clear is that US-Egyptian encounters must move beyond “dialogue” and become a “conversation”. Dialogue can too easily become an exchange of platitudes and routine positions whereas conversation can be directed to specific outcomes, reflecting a convergence of interests and intent. The signs are the present meeting fell short of this.


The writer is the director of Development Works International, a board member of the Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs, and a former ambassador.

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