Archive | October 12th, 2013

Lapid Calls for ‘Endgame’ In Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

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Israel’s Finance Minister Yair Lapid gestures as he speaks during a Yesh Atid party meeting at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem, May 20, 2013. (photo by REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)

Israeli Finance Minister Yair Lapid, best known for his views about the secular-religious divide in Israeli society, delivered an impassioned plea Thursday, Oct. 10, for an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, calling it “a key” to improving the lives of ordinary Israelis and the stature of Israel in the world.

Speaking in Washington where he was attending the annual International Monetary Fund/World Bank meetings, Lapid departed from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in putting the Palestinian issue — not Iran — at the top of Israel’s security priorities. Lapid, a former TV anchor whose new Yesh Atid party rocketed to 19 Knesset seats in elections last year by appealing to Israel’s secular middle class, said Israelis and Palestinians should try to reach agreement on an “endgame” and then decide on a time to implement it.

“The Palestinians and the Israelis need to know how the story is going to end,” Lapid told the audience at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Implementation, he said would take time, perhaps as long as a decade. “I need time because I do not believe the Palestinians. … I need time to get over it,” he said.

The Palestinians, he acknowledged, are equally distrustful of Israelis after two decades in which neither have kept their promises to each other: Israelis have increased settlements and Palestinians have attacked Israel, particularly from Gaza. Despite this difficult record, Lapid said now was the time to “jump-start” talks again because the Palestinians have had 20 years since the Oslo Accords to manage territory and “they’ve been through a lot.” A peace agreement would also boost the Israeli economy and deflect criticism from those who depict Israel as Goliath and the Palestinians as David, he said.

Wearing a suit jacket, white shirt and tie and black jeans, the telegenic Lapid — who turns 50 on Nov. 5 — exuded energy and optimism. But pressed on details about the “endgame,” Lapid demurred, apart from saying the accord would not include Jerusalem but would involve the evacuation of “tens of thousands of Israelis” from West Bank settlements. Under the terms of the new US-led peace initiative that began earlier this year, only US Secretary of State John Kerry is allowed to discuss the talks in public. US envoy Martin Indyk has recently increased his staff in what appears to be an intensive new push for progress.

Lapid suggested that pessimism and cynicism were the real obstacles to peace, not what he called “technical issues,” such as borders. “The problem is about fear, mistrust and past traumas and anxieties, hatred, pain and bad memories,” he said.

Rejectionists on both sides will try to prevent progress, he added. “The people who say ‘no’ [are] the common enemy … We need to unite the people who are saying ‘yes.’”

Ziad Asali, president of the American Task Force on Palestine, appeared to endorse Lapid’s idea, saying, “It is possible to make concessions from a weak position if you know the endgame.”

Lapid replied, “Now there’s two of us; 12 million to go.”

Later, Asali told Al-Monitor that he had never heard Lapid before, but was impressed by his emphasis on psychological blockages to peace.

“Let’s change this mindset,” Asali said. “I think this is very serious business.”

Lapid, who initially sought to be foreign minister, repeated remarks made in a recent interview with Charlie Rose that Israel does not need explicit recognition from the Palestinians as a Jewish state — something Netanyahu has demanded and the Palestinian Authority has refused — because “we recognize ourselves. We are masters of our own destiny, therefore we need no recognition from anyone else.”

While Lapid was all about compromise when discussing the Israeli-Palestinian issue, he retreated to the Israeli government line when it came to Iran.

A month ago, Lapid told CNN that he was hearing “new music” from Iran after the election of Hassan Rouhani as president. But on Thursday, asked by Al-Monitor if it didn’t also make sense for negotiators also to show Iran the “endgame” before demanding that it curb its nuclear program, Lapid said the United States and other countries should maintain and if possible enhance sanctions until “the centrifuges are not rolling anymore and the plutonium reactor [at Arak] is dismantled.” President Barack Obama’s administration has not ruled out some level of uranium enrichment on Iranian soil in return for stringent curbs on the quantity and quality of uranium and more intrusive monitoring by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Talks resume next week in Geneva and some Israeli officials seem nervous that the United States will concede too much in return for too little.

Lapid described Iran as an “international issue” as opposed to just an Israeli concern. Asked by Al-Monitor whether the biggest threat to Israel wasn’t the growing divide between secular and ultra-Orthodox Israelis, Lapid said there had been progress on this front, his signature issue. He said 70% of ultra-Orthodox youth would be subject to the draft three years from now and that next year, 28,000 would get letters requiring them to perform some sort of national service. Already, he said, there has been a decrease of more than 4,000 in enrollment in yeshivas — a reflection perhaps of the government’s decision to cut allowances for students at these religious schools. Lapid said the Israeli government is also reducing child allowances to discourage ultra-Orthodox families from having such huge families.

“Every social change has pain to it,” Lapid said.

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Algeria Wrestling With Aftermath Of Jihadists’ Temporary Marriages

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An Algerian girl holding a baby walks in the Algerian town of Boumerdes. (photo by REUTERS)

Zawaj mu’aqqat (temporary marriage), commonly known as pleasure marriage or nikah mut’ah marriage, is a concept that is not new in the jargon of jihadist Islamists who believe they are fighting for the cause of Allah. They also suppose that they have the right to the carnal enjoyment of young girls considered to be booty.

Algerian human rights activists have been denouncing the pleasure marriages allowed in Salafist circles. Lawyer Amar Zaidi told Al-Monitor, “Women deserve their freedom and their right to choose the man who suits them. Marrying a woman by force or using her as a means of pleasure is immoral and no modern society should accept this. None of us must turn blind eye to this growing phenomenon. Women are suffering from being used for sex acts.”

The private and verbal temporary marriage between a man and an unmarried woman is often contracted forcibly as opposed to on the basis of mutual acceptance. In many cases the groom does not need to get the approval of the bride.

Also, the marriage contract does not require having witnesses, a written contract or permission from a country’s legal authorities.

In most cases, the length of the contract and the amount of consideration are unspecified.

Algeria was the first Arab country to experience the phenomenon of forced “marriage” on this scale. More than 1,600 cases of sexual assault have been reported since 1993, according to the government’s figures.

When abduction of women appeared as a new form of violence, the situation became tense and nobody could turn blind eye; the phenomenon obliged the country’s authorities to authorize abortion in April 2004 in spite of its noncompliance with the country’s laws.

Abduction of girls was occurring in each attack in which terrorists took everything they could find, and the girls were part of the loot. Abducted girls were called sabaya, which means “the youngest and most beautiful girls.”

Only an emir (the top leader of jihadist groups) has the right to have sex with the women.

A large number of the women’s lives were further complicated when they became pregnant and gave birth out of legal wedlock. They have faced tremendous legal and other problems in their attempts to reintegrate into society.

Even though Article 2 of the Algerian Constitution enshrines Islam as the state religion that provides the society with its central social and cultural identity and gives most individuals their basic ethical and attitudinal orientation, Islam’s absolute application conflicts with unfortunate social realities in regard to the matter of abortion.

Section 304 of the penal code states that whoever obtains or attempts to procure the miscarriage of a pregnant woman can get a 10- to 20-year prison sentence. Still, women who become pregnant during their abductions are allowed to have abortions.

Many women were raped in their homes or even while they were on the street.

In the jihadist philosophy, the husband is never financially responsible for any children resulting from the union. This has given rise to another, more-complicated, problem for Algerian authorities: The so-called “mountain children” born into the families of terrorists who were living outside the law during the 1990s. Their fate continues to be surrounded by an awkward silence, and their cases have become a burden to the Algerian state, caught between legality and religious constraints.

Nadia Bourokba, president of SOS Children Without Borders, told Al-Monitor, “The children are striving to have their own identity. Their confused social and legal situation causes them suffering and they face enormous difficulties to be integrated completely in the society. We deal also with unmarried mothers who are also suffering the impact of negative societal interpretations of their cases. We are helping them to recover their joy and the moral power to be an integral part of the Algerian society.”

Those children born of a union during the “dirty war” with only a reading of the Fatiha — a ritual required by law, but not sufficient for a legal recognition of marriage — lack legal status. There are around 500 of them and their ages range between 3 and 15, according the commission responsible for carrying out the provisions of the Charter for Peace and National Reconciliation.

The government is striving to facilitate their integration into society, but it is a confusing situation. “The integration of these people needs a lot of time because their suffering is so great,” Bourokba said.

The Civil Harmony Act and Charter for Peace and National Reconciliation passed on Sept. 29, 2005, provided amnesty for most crimes committed in the course of the war. It was meant to turn the page on the black decade, but did not address the problem of the mountain children. It focuses on stopping litigation against individuals who have decided to end their terrorist activities and their involvement in terrorist-support networks in Algeria.

This has inspired jihadists leaving for Syria in the fight against President Bashar al-Assad’s army. In Syria, the jihadists have been entering into temporary marriages. Tunisian young women in general and Maghrebians in particular have been enticed to Syria by jihadists and imams, who tell the women they will be the wives of jihadists. The women then become virtual hostages and are offered to al-Qaeda fighters in Syria in order to help put the jihadists into a “state of ecstasy.”

In reality, this type of marriage is not authorized in the Quran, but it is contracted with reference to fatwas emanating from wicked imams.

Abdelaziz Bouchetta, a lawyer who teaches Shariah at the university level, told Al-Monitor, “This type of marriage is immoral and has no legitimacy and authenticity in the Islamic faith. There’s no doubt that in … Islam this relationship has no ethical foundation.” Supporters of this idea believe that mut’ah cannot be compared to drinking intoxicants and justify the authorization of temporary marriage to satisfy the carnal desires of the jihadists.

 

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Egypt Security Forces Scramble To Contain Deadly Violence

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A policeman fires rubber bullets at members of the Muslim Brotherhood and supporters of ousted Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi at Ramsis Square during clashes at a celebration marking Egypt’s 1973 war with Israel, in Cairo, Oct. 6, 2013. (photo by REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)

CAIRO — Insecurity reigned over Cairo and some other Egyptian provinces after the violence that spread throughout the country on Oct. 6. The Egyptian security agencies tried to maintain control over the situation and secure vital installations following a number of terrorist attacks that targeted army and police forces. But the anger of the current regime’s opponents continued, and they insisted on holding marches and demonstrations that condemned the military’s rule and affirmed their intention to enter Tahrir Square and organize a sit-in there.

By the end of Oct. 6, the Egyptian Ministry of Health announced that 53 people had been killed and 271 critically injured following bloody clashes in Cairo and some other provinces between supporters of deposed President Mohammed Morsi, his opponents and security forces. Meanwhile, the state’s institutions remained silent on the events.

On the morning of Monday, Oct. 7, a series of terrorist acts were executed in response to the targeting of demonstrators by security forces. Unknown gunmen attacked an Egyptian army patrol in the city of El-Salhiya in al-Sharqiya province, killing one officer and five recruits after heavy gunfire hit a vehicle belonging to the Second Field Army. Unknown gunmen also attacked the South Sinai Security Directorate in the city of El-Tor with a car bomb that exploded inside the building, killing a police lieutenant colonel and three recruits, as well as wounding 58 others.

Terrorist operations did not end there. In the capital, gunmen targeted a military police force in the Al-Rimaya area of Giza province. This led to a gun battle that lasted for over 90 minutes. Another terrorist group called the al-Furqan Brigades fired two RPG rockets at the central satellite station in the south Cairo neighborhood of El Maadi, which damaged one of the transmission dishes, but did not lead to human losses.

In the wake of these terrorist attacks, Egyptian military and police security forces set up in a number of positions and deployed inspection patrols on the entrances to Cairo, inside the city’s main neighborhoods and along principal roads leading to Sinai and the Suez Canal cities. This was done in order to monitor and put an end to any suspect actions, as well as apprehend those involved in the violence.

Anxiety prevailed inside ministries, government institutions and schools, where armored police vehicles were deployed, and all important government buildings were searched for explosives. Most large squares, such as the Tahrir, Rabia al-Adawiya, Nahda and Mustafa Mahmud squares, were also closed off.

A security source at the Interior Ministry told Al-Monitor, “Security forces were making extraordinary efforts to try and put an end to the flood of terrorist operations,” as he described them, “while not ruling out that the Muslim Brotherhood was involved in all acts of violence.”

“We now have strict instructions to deal with all those who are tampering with the security of the country. We enjoy the trust of the people and of all leaders in the state,” he added.

The source, who preferred to remain anonymous, revealed that the Egyptian state requested European and foreign expertise in confronting terrorism.

“Now, we do not only need tear gas to confront the riots, we also need the means by which to detect and defuse explosives as well as car bombs. We need to import surveillance cameras in order to put in place measures to protect vital government agencies and installations as well as tourist sites,” he noted.

Egyptian police arrested at least 300 people it said were involved in the violence that took place on Oct. 6, in addition to 100 other people who were involved in the attack and attempt to sabotage the metro station, as well as the attack on the central Cairo Abdeen police station.

Despite the prevailing anxiety, marches condemning the heavy-handed treatment of demonstrators by security forces continued, with thousands of Egyptian university students organizing protests in Cairo and the provinces to decry the arrest of their colleagues during the events that marred the anniversary of the October 1973 war. The pro-Morsi National Alliance to Support Legitimacy insisted on demonstrating inside Tahrir Square, no matter the cost. It might also decide to increase the intensity of confrontations with security forces after the interior minister announced in a press conference that universities might be closed if demonstrations continued to be held on their campuses.

In a secret location of Cairo’s northeastern Fifth Settlement, Prime Minister Hazem el-Biblawi met with his cabinet’s Economic Affairs ministers, following security information that some cabinet members might be targeted and the government’s business disrupted. He had previously been forced to change the location of cabinet meetings and consultations on numerous occasions, preferring to conduct business from a number of locations far from Tahrir Square and the center of the capital, where the Council of Minister’s headquarters is located.

“The government agreed to increase the number of security reinforcements and ministerial guard details following the receipt of information that ministers might be targeted as part of the terrorist plans to undermine Egypt’s stability. Changing the location of meetings is a diversionary tactic aimed at thwarting those plans and preventing the disruption of government business, while allowing the administration to continue exercising its responsibilities,” said a security source at the Council of Ministers, in an interview with Al-Monitor.

Biblawi also held a meeting with security ministers on Oct. 8, during which it was decided that the Muslim Brotherhood be stricken off the Ministry of Social Affairs’ roster of civic organizations, in an attempt to curb the Brotherhood’s activities in Egyptian society.

“The minister of interior handed the cabinet a report about the terrorist factions that were involved in bomb attacks and the attempt against his own life. Announcing their identities is scheduled to take place soon and will happen once they are contained and apprehended,” an official source at the Council of Ministers told Al-Monitor.

The source affirmed that “The government was not considering raising, once again, the number of curfew hours, because it does not want to negatively affect the country’s economy and trade activity, now that a semblance of stability and recovery have been attained since the easing of the curfew. But it is possible that the state of emergency be extended until stability is restored, and terrorism is contained and eradicated.”

The unstable security situation, relatively new to Egypt, remains the biggest challenge for authorities as they seek to achieve stability, restore and revitalize Egypt’s economy and fulfill the demands of a populace which has become sharply divided about the government’s performance since June 30.

 

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Islamophobia or anti-Muslim sentiment?

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Posted by: Sammi Ibrahem, Sr

 

Uncovering the roots of anti-Muslim discourse

Recently, I watched an interview on French TV involving the controversial Muslim thinker Tariq Ramadan. The French journalist intentionally refused to use the word Islamophobia. She wrongly equated Islamophobia to one’s right to criticize Islam, or its values, insinuating that Muslims have thin skins and can never accept freedom of speech (remember the controversies around the Danish cartoons or the Innocence of Muslims movie).

Personally, I never liked the word “Islamophobia” per se. It reminded me of a strange condition or a syndrome like claustrophobia or arachnophobia. The term is heavy, difficult to pronounce, and is totally ignored by the mainstream media for good or bad reasons.

While used by the European Union and in some UN publications and conferences, the term is contested and not really understood by the mainstream population.

But beyond the linguistic disagreement and philosophical debates over the term, a relevant question remains: do we have a problem with Muslims and Islam, and if yes, what are the roots of the problem?

In the October 3 issue of Maclean’s, an Angus Reid poll indicates that 54 per cent of Canadians hold an unfavourable view of Islam, compared to 46 per cent in 2009. The article doesn’t use the term Islamophobia but it clearly indicates that there is an anti-Muslim sentiment in Canada. Without pointing to any explicit reasons behind this sharp rise in statistics, the article alludes to the debate around the veil and the burqa, as well as to the raging debate with respect to the charter of values project in Quebec.

In his book The Islamophobia Industry: How the Right Manufactures Fear of Muslims, the American author Nathan Lean supports the thesis that in the U.S. there exists a real Islamophobia industry with shareholders, products and consumers. This murky industry is well funded by anonymous donors who are sometimes exposed through lengthy and complex journalistic investigations.

Lean identifies two main stakeholders of this industry: some groups from the Christian right and few other groups from the pro-Israel right. It is interesting to note that there is often a “holy” alliance between these various groups.

Lean’s book is not based on a conspiracy theory that attempts to make Muslims look like the innocent victims of a dark machination concocted by marginalized cults or a bunch of Islam haters. Instead, his book is a compilation of statistics supported by facts which demonstrate that an elaborate anti-Muslim discourse does indeed exist, and it has its active proponents and funders.

Take the example of Brigitte Gabriel and her organization, the American Congress for Truth (ACT). In 2009, this organization — at the beginning of the anti-Sharia wave in the U.S. — had an annual budget of $1.6 million. Gabriel’s annual salary was $180,000. In a 2007 speech she delivered at the Christian United for Israel annual conference, she bluntly declared that, “the difference, my friends, between Israel and the Arab world is the difference between civilization and barbarism.” Later, she explained that her words were cited out of context.

Lean writes about the Clarion Fund, a pro-Israel organization that funded movies likeObsession (very similar to the movie Fitna by Geert Wilders, the Dutch politician turned filmmaker, another big player inside this industry) or Iranium (about nuclear activity in Iran). A reporter from Salon tracked the funding of these propaganda films to Barre Seid, a wealthy Chicago businessman who is part of another obscure fund named the Donors Capital Funds. From 2007 to 2009, this fund poured “nearly $21 million into anti-Muslim causes,” reports Lean.

To give the anti-Muslim industry a less foreign connotation and make it seem an ordinary and legitimate business, there is always the story of a Muslim who “escapes” a horrific childhood or a tragic civil war and then becomes a fierce criticizer of the Islamic faith and its adherents. Ayaan Hirsi Ali is the perfect example of this character. Hirsi Ali grew up as a Muslim but later renounced her faith and became a convinced atheist. She has been “recycled,” immediately after her expulsion from the Netherlands, by a right-wing think-tank, the American Enterprise Institute. Hirsi Ali became an eloquent spokesperson for their ideas and agenda.

Another sort of character in this industry is the “good Muslim” (to use the same language of Mahmood Mamdani’s “good Muslims and bad Muslims”), typically a smart and well-educated professional who would play the role of the “native informant” by approving all the information relied upon by the anti-Muslim camp. For instance, Dr. Zuhdi Jasser in the U.S. plays this role extremely well. “We’ve surrendered the Constitution to the jihadists,” he testified at the infamous hearing, compared by many as a new Inquisition, on radical Islam initiated by the U.S. Congressman Peter King in 2010.

Some of the many deeper reasons underneath this anti-Muslim propaganda are to maintain a constant climate of fear where it becomes simpler for governments to introduce tighter security measures and legislations. Muslim issues became more and more easily used wedge politics to gain in the polls and distract people’s attention from real economic and social problems. Maintaining an anti-Muslim discourse, where the Muslim is identified as the enemy, is also profitable for the arms industry and for many war supporters (Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen). Moreover, for some Israeli settlers’ groups, drawing parallels between Islamic terrorism as an ideology and the Palestinians’ struggle to regain their rights, is certainly a way to justify their illegal occupation of the lands within public opinion.

In Canada, similar voices, organizations, characters and messages are conveyed to the general population. The debate around the veil or the burqa is not the real culprit behind the sharp rise in anti-Muslim “sentiments”; it is rather the symptom of a tense climate that is poisoned on a daily basis by an industry that is not easily identifiable. This industry has nefarious objectives with unspoken motives and interests to protect that sometimes travel far beyond our borders.

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4 Reasons Why US Shouldn’t Reduce Aid to Egypt

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Military helicopters are seen flying over Tahrir Square to celebrate the anniversary of the 1973 war, in Cairo, Oct. 6, 2013. (photo by REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany)

It’s hard to find any written analysis about America and Egypt without mention of the $1.3 billion aid package the United States delivers annually to the Egyptian military. Following the 2011 Arab Spring, the general debate in the United States focused on how America could help the Middle East in its time of upheaval. However, things have changed recently. In Syria, instead of focusing on the overall stability of the Levant, the debate has shrunk to a discussion about President Bashar al-Assad’s chemical weapons. In Egypt, the debate that once concentrated on ways in which the United States could help that country’s emerging democracy has now shifted to military aid.

Last May, despite concerns about President Mohammed Morsi’s leadership abilities, US Secretary of State John Kerry quietly approved a huge arms shipment to Egypt. Later, after Morsi was ousted, the United States canceled a joint military exercise with Egypt but continued to provide aid. Now, following the recent turmoil, US officials have said that they will withhold the shipment of a dozen AH-64D Apache helicopters Egypt ordered four years ago. It has been increasingly frustrating to see such a crucial subject being debated under the false trilemma of keeping, slashing or cutting aid.

Although US President Barack Obama’s policy on Egypt makes perfect sense to some, Aaron David Miller argues that it is about “interests,” a word Obama used prominently in his recent UN speech. Others, like Shadi Hamid and Peter Mandaville, have argued for cutting military aid to Egypt. Many politicians, including Republican Sen. John McCain, share this view, while others are not happy with the decision. Rep. Eliot Engel, the most senior Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, has slammed Obama for cutting aid to Egypt. Israel has also expressed dismay at the cutback.

As an Egyptian, I have no right to dictate to the United States what to do. After all, the aid program is funded by American taxpayers’ money, and it is up to US lawmakers to decide how it should be spent. Nonetheless, I can outline some points from an Egyptian perspective.

First, it’s worth mentioning that America did not shower Egypt with billions of dollars for nothing. Over the past 35 years, the Egyptian leadership has been a reliable ally to the United States in the region. Then-president Anwar Sadat’s realignment away from the Soviet Union arguably cost him his life. His successor Hosni Mubarak stood by the United States in the first and the second Gulf wars and in its “war on terror,” a stance that earned him the contempt of a wide swath of Egyptian society. The generals may have betrayed the public by abusing the aid for their own benefit, but they were always loyal to their American allies. The aid was never focused on reforms, but loyalties — a strategic miscalculation that was particularly overlooked after the January 2011 revolution.

Second, timing is everything. If the primary goal of any aid cut is to save Egypt’s democracy, then the US decision has come too late, and will have little impact. The appropriate time for this much-wanted salvation was January 2011 following the takeover by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). November 2012 was the second wasted opportunity, when Morsi, the elected president and supreme leader of the armed forces, issued his divisive decree that sowed the seeds of the current crisis. The United States’ silence was detrimental to Egypt’s cause and signaled to all sides that the administration had disengaged from the political mess in Egypt.

Cutting the aid now may be morally sound, but is a little too late to stop the violence and the ongoing bloodshed. Any US interference now would be viewed in Egypt as America flexing its muscles to reinstate the Muslim Brotherhood against the wishes of a wide segment of Egyptian society.

The reintegration of Morsi’s supporters in the political process has to come from within Egyptian society and not from outside pressure, which Shadi Hamed and Peter Mandaville are advocating. Many Egyptians reject bloodshed and will continue to fight for freedom, equality and true democracy with or without US aid.

Third, the notion that a lack of democracy may stimulate insurgency in Egypt is fundamentally a fraud. The militants in Sinai are using Morsi’s ousting as a pretext for their ongoing operations against the Egyptian army; however, they will never stop their attacks, even if Morsi returns to power. Furthermore, the motivation for cutting US aid should not be based on rising militancy. The US money should not be part of an appeasement deal or used as an incentive to stop violence. If those opposing the coup resort to violence after the current crackdown, then they were never true democrats in the first place. From Turkey to Burma, peaceful resistance always prevails.

Fourth, consistency matters. Many Egyptians perceive US policy toward the Middle East as inconsistent. For example, the United States hardly waved the aid card to Israel to push the peace agenda or to protest the massive use of force against the Palestinians in the past. Even if some argue that the context is different, and that Israel is not Egypt, surely, using the same logic, Egypt is not Iran, a country that systematically tortures and oppresses its people. Neither is it Syria, which is still massacring its own civilians. However, the Obama administration is willing to lift sanctions on Iran if it abandons its nuclear program, without even discussing its human rights record, and Kerry has praised Assad for implementing the chemical-weapons deal, despite the ongoing carnage in Syria.

Consistency has never been overrated in the Middle East. In fact, the inconsistency of the current US administration is partly the reason why many in Egypt view the United States in a very negative light. Moreover, recent Pew research indicates that many Egyptians agree that US financial assistance has a negative impact on their country.

It’s clearly time for a 360-degree review of US policy on Egypt, its intention, effectiveness and the consequences of any decisions the United States makes. The current language emanating from the State Department will not benefit anyone. This is not about morality versus reality, but about clarity, timing, effectiveness and, more importantly, readiness to accept the consequences.

Perhaps the United States should consider a shift in its aid policy from the current carrot-and-stick approach to a more substantial coaching and mentoring package. The civil-military relationship in emerging democracies is a particular area in which the United States can help — that is, of course, if it really considers Egypt a friend, not just an ally.

The Arab awakening may have been a tragic and disappointing journey, but at least it taught people that the mess is their own, and that they are the only ones who can sort it out. All the people from the outside world want — including the United States — is straight, honest and impartial support, even if very little money comes with it.

 

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Tribes Still Rule in Yemen

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Tribal fighters loyal to al-Ahmar family, which leads Yemen’s powerful Hashid tribe, carry their AK-47 rifles as they secure a street where clashes with government forces took place in Sanaa, Dec. 21, 2011. (photo by REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah)

A few weeks ago, the period specified for the Yemeni National Dialogue Conference ended. After information about what happened at the conference was leaked — most notably, talks about adopting a federal system for the new state — President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi met with Yemen’s tribal alliance, headed by tribal sheikh Sadek al-Ahmar. Hadi sought reassurances that Yemen’s unity will not be touched following the tribes’ opposition to dividing the country into regions. But Hadi said nothing — didn’t even give a speech — to the civil forces that have serious reservations about what happened at the dialogue.

The tribal sheikhs — and not the tribe members themselves — have been directing Yemeni politics more than any other social or political force. Although these sheikhs are involved in and lead many influential political parties, they also engage in political work outside the framework of these parties. They think that they have the right to do what other citizens don’t. They sometimes work outside the context of, and sometimes in opposition to, the political parties that they joined only to use as tools to perpetuate their tribal power, and not as civil political groups whose members are equal.

This attitude is also evidenced by how they deal with others. At the start of the current youth revolution and at the end of 2012, Sheikh Mohammed bin Naji al-Shaef, the head of the Rights and Freedoms committee in the Yemeni parliament, attacked the current unity government’s Prime Minister Mohammad Salem Basendwah for being “Somali,” which means he doesn’t descend from a Yemeni tribal family that would grant him a status appreciated by the tribal sheikhs.

Decades after the Yemeni revolution of September 1962, the tribes’ control over state institutions remains unchanged. The sheikhs have continued control of the legislature as a tradition. As much as 58% of the 1969 parliament’s seats were tribal sheikhs (headed by the powerful leader Abdullah al-Ahmar). That proportion never went below 50%. Ahmar headed parliament from 1993 until his death in 2007. Five of his children are still parliamentary members, representing about 2% of parliament. The parliament speaker to succeed Ahmar was Yehyia al-Rahi, also an influential tribal sheikh and a major-general in the army.

The history of the tribes’ control

After the tribal forces split among the warring parties (Republicans versus monarchists, and some fought as mercenaries) in the revolution, and after the founding of a special government institution that caters to their interests and gaining access to huge amounts of money and weapons, the sheikhs became a lobby that appoints and dismisses government employees at will, starting with the president.

In 1967, they participated in replacing the first president of the republic, Abdullah al-Sallal, with Abdul Rahman al-Iryani, whom they overthrew in 1974 and replaced with Ibrahim al-Hamdi, who was assassinated in October 1977. They supported President Ali Abdullah Saleh in 1978, until they took control the revolution that overthrew him in 2012 after a continuous, three-decade alliance between the tribes and the Saleh regime. The tribes always fought alongside the army, as in the war of summer 1994 against the Socialist Party, the government wars in Saada against the Houthis (2004-2010) and then the army’s war against al-Qaeda in Abyan (2011-2012), although the tribes’ participation took a different form in the latter. For each war, the tribes reaped the benefits of their labor.

Business advantages and the new generation’s struggle

Sheikh Abdullah bin Hussein al-Ahmar had enjoyed a special status as the unofficial Yemeni president (some even called him the “maker of presidents”). In in 1993, he was head of parliament, the head of the largest Islamic party, the sheikh of the most powerful Yemeni tribe and the main link with Yemen’s influential neighbor Saudi Arabia. In the mid-1990s, his son Hamid al-Ahmar suddenly became a business giant by taking advantage of his father’s influence to secure special privileges and deals. He became the owner of the first mobile telecommunications company, the biggest shareholder of Saba Islamic Bank and an agent for a number of international companies.

Hamid monopolized Yemeni oil sales as the exclusive agent of the English Arcadia Petroleum company. That lasted till 2009, when the decision was made to form a special committee to sell Yemeni oil by auction to various competitors. Behind that decision was the son of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, Brig. Gen. Ahmed Ali Saleh, the former commander of the Republican Guard and the arch-foe of Hamid al-Ahmar.

Other companies started to compete for the purchase of Yemeni oil via local agents who were also sons of sheikhs, such as al-Shaef and Abu Lahhoum, or from Saleh’s relatives, such as his nephew Yehia Saleh and the son of Maj. Gen. Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar.

This new auction mechanism cost the sheikh/trader/politician Hamid al-Ahmar tens of millions of dollars that he had come to expect by monopolizing the oil sales and selling oil for less than the world price.

At the same time, a disagreement emerged between Hamid and Saleh about a deal around a communications network in Sudan worth tens of millions of dollars, resulting in Saleh’s intervention to make the deal with Shaher Abdel Haq, another of Saleh’s allies and a rival of Hamid. Saleh tried to placate Hamid by offering him tens of millions in compensation for the latter losing the Sudan deal, but Hamid returned the check.

Those deals were a big slap in the face from Saleh and his son Ahmed to their “ally” Hamid al-Ahmar, who was no longer their ally after he took political positions against what he considered plans by Saleh to pass on the reins of power to his son Ahmad. This is how the struggle started between the sons among the ruins of their fathers’ decades-old alliance.

New tools for tribal conflict

After his fiery anti-Saleh statement demanding that he step down and accusing him of inciting wars and strife and trying to bequeath power to his son and committing treason, an Al-Jazeera achor asked Sheikh Hamid al-Ahmar, “Don’t you fear returning to Yemen after what you’ve said?” He responded, “Anyone behind whom stands the Hashid tribe and Sheikh Sadeq al-Ahmar is not afraid.” Former President Saleh belongs to the Hashid tribe, which is led by al-Ahmar family.

Afterward, Hamid adopted modern tools in his conflict with Saleh and his son. Hamid formed political alliances that included the Preparatory Committee for National Dialogue (a different committee from the one for the current dialogue), which included prominent leaders of Yemen’s opposition, including the head of the current government, who supported many newspapers and journalists that opposed Saleh. He then launched the Suhail satellite TV channel, which was devoted to attacking Saleh and his son.

At the same time, Hamid’s brother Sheikh Hussein al-Ahmar formed the National Solidarity Council, which recently became a party. Also, his other brother Sheikh Sadiq headed the Alliance of Yemeni Tribes. All those were entities that opposed Saleh, and they operated under the auspices of the largest tribal family in Yemen.

Despite the efforts of Saleh, his son and the tribal leaders loyal to him in forming counter-entities (media outlets, political parties and organizations), they didn’t have the same effectiveness as those supported by the al-Ahmar family, which employed capabilities and personnel of the oppositionist Joint Meeting Parties, especially the Reform Party.

In 2009, Hamid al-Ahmar met the US ambassador in Sanaa and told him that he planned to overthrow Saleh by supporting the unrest in the north and south and by organizing demonstrations by attracting Mohsen and winning the support of Saudi Arabia, at a time when Saleh was at his weakest, according to leaked WikiLeaks documents.

In January 2011, Yemeni youth took to the squares to demand Saleh’s departure. But the independent youths were not organized and didn’t have sufficient means for a revolution. So the tribe used its influence and its alliances: Hamid al-Ahmar provided money and directed the youths to the squares until his Reform party dominated the revolution organizationally and in the media, especially after Mohsen joined the revolution and made an alliance with Sheikh Ahmar against Saleh. And so history repeated itself in Yemen: A tribe and its allies have controlled every revolution in the country’s modern history.

The honorary shields of the youth revolution

On the first anniversary of Saleh’s departure from power (February 2013), the organization of the revolution’s youths presented five honorary shields in its name to post-Saleh leaders. One shield was given to the president of the republic and one was for the prime minister. The remaining three shields went to Mohsen and to the brothers Sheikh Sadeq al-Ahmar and Sheikh Hamid al-Ahmar. Those five shields comprise 60% of the new revolution’s honorary shields that have been granted.

Ironically, the revolution originally opposed Saleh by accusing him of acting as an umbrella for the same traditional and tribal forces that the revolution later honored with the revolution’s shields.

The tribal areas of Marib, Shabwa, Radaa, Amran and other areas of Yemen are hotbeds of security disturbances, assassinations and sabotage of public interests. Despite that, the sheikhs of these tribes receive monthly stipends from the state budget via the Tribal Affairs department and other channels. The same thing was happening before 2011.

Tribalism remains the sole driver of politics in Yemen, taking advantage of the international support for the Gulf Initiative, which Yemeni parties have used to reposition themselves.

Farea al-Muslimi is a columnist for Al-Monitor. He is a Yemeni youth activist, writer and freelancer. His work has appeared in The National, Foreign Policy, As Safir and many other regional and international media outlets.

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L’Affair Milliband

NOVANEWS
by TARIQ ALI

The only function of the assault on the reputation of Ralph Miliband was to punish and discredit his son. This operation, masterminded the Daily Mail and its editor—a reptile courted assiduously in the past by Blair and Brown—has backfired sensationally. It was designed to discredit the son by hurling the ‘sins of the father’ on the head of his younger son. Instead, Edward Miliband’s spirited response united a majority of the country behind him and against the tabloid. Ralph, had he been alive, would have found the ensuing consensus extremely diverting.

The Tories and Lib-Dems made their distaste for the Mail clear, Jeremy Paxman on BBC’s Newsnight held up old copies of the Mail with its pro-fascist headlines (‘Hurrah for the Blackshirts’ the best remembered), two former members of Thatcher’s cabinet defended Miliband pere with Michael Heseltine reminding citizens that it was the Soviet Union and the Red Army that made victory against the Axis powers possible in the first place and an opinion poll commissioned by the Sunday Times revealed that 73 percent supported Ed Miliband against the Rothermere rag. Did these figures compel the paper to hire a hack writer to carry on the Mail campaign in a marginally more ‘sophisticated’ style, but replete with smear and innuendo?  If Paul Dacre is soon put out to pasture on his large estate in Ireland, the story will have a Hollywood ending. The triumph of good against evil, as one might say, using the language often deployed by tabloids and politicians in these bad times.

The demonization of Ralph Miliband raises a few issues avoided by both the Tory and the liberal press. These relate to Miliband’s own political views on Britain, its political institutions as well as the world at large; the context of the first Lord Rothermere’s addiction to Mussolini and Hitler and their English offspring in Britain (Oswald Mosley and gang but not them alone) right up till September 1939 and the question of patriotism and its compatibility with leftwing views.

The popularity of fascism on the Right was not, alas, confined to the Rothermeres or the Mitfords. The class confidence of European conservatism was shaken by the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in Russia whose declared aim was to destroy global capitalism. Fear stalked the corridors of power in every capital and the presence of large numbers of Marxists of Jewish origin in both the Bolshevik and Menshevik parties stoked anti-semitism throughout Europe. The impact of the black-shirted fascist triumph in Rome, five years after the Bolshevik victory, should not be underestimated. With rare exceptions the European Right, including its liberal segments, greeted it as a huge triumph for western civilization and heaved a huge collective sigh of relief. Capitalism had found its own shock troops

Distinguished English-language publishers in London (Hutchinson) and New York (Scribners) published Mussolini’s My Autobiography in several editions: the introduction by Richard Child, a former US Ambassador to Italy and a fascist groupie who helped ghost-write the book, praised the dictator in extravagant language as one of the ‘leading statesman in the world.’  To the end of his days the fascist leader would quote from memory what Winston Churchill had said during a visit to Rome five years after the fascist triumph in 1927:

‘I could not help being charmed, like so many other people have been, by Signor Mussolini’s gentle and simple bearing and by his calm, detached poise in spite of so many burdens and dangers. Secondly, anyone could see that he thought of nothing but the lasting good, as he understood it, of the Italian people, and that no lesser interest was of the slightest consequence to him. If I had been an Italian I am sure that I should have been whole-heartedly with you from the start to finish in your triumphant struggle against the bestial appetites and passions of Leninism.’

Churchill proceeded to explain the international significance of fascism as lying in its capacity to mobilise friendly social forces to defeat the common enemy:

‘Italy has shown that there is a way of fighting the subversive forces which can rally the masses of the people, properly led, to value and wish to defend the honour and stability of civilised society. She has provided the necessary antidote to the Russian poison. Hereafter no great nation will be unprovided with an ultimate means of protection against the cancerous growth of Bolshevism.’

Here we have it without any obfuscation. Fascism was a necessary bulwark against the threat of communist revolution. And all this was written and spoken long before the abomination of Stalin’s purges and the famines resulting from forced industrialization. It became the common sense of the continental Right and explains, apart from other things, the ease with which the regime at Vichy began its years of collaboration with the Third Reich after the 1940 occupation of France.

The British politicians—Chamberlain, Halifax, Butler and co—who would later be denounced as ‘appeasers’ were, in fact, far more representative of the Anglo-European elite than those who hurriedly changed their minds at the last moment when they realized that Hitler would neither agree to an equitable sharing of the continent and its colonies or oblige London by attacking the Soviet Union before taking the rest of Europe. This made war inevitable.

Churchill was never shy when it came to explaining primary and secondary contradictions.  His strategic priority was to defend the interests of Britain. He was the most consistent and eloquent defender of its overseas colonies as were others in the imperial elite. In 1933 the British Secretary of State for India, L.S. Amery calmly explained to fellow parliamentarians, without arousing a storm of protest, why it would be hypocritical for Britain to oppose the Japanese occupation of Manchuria:

“I confess that I see no reason whatever why, either in act or in word, or in sympathy, we should go individually or intentionally against Japan in this matter. Japan has got a very powerful case based upon fundamental realities…that is there among us to cast the first stone and to say that Japan ought not to have acted with the object of creating peace and order in Manchuria and defending herself against the continual aggression of vigorous Chinese nationalism? Our whole policy in India, our whole policy in Egypt, stands condemned if we condemn Japan.”

Imperialist leaders of the early 20th century were less prone to double standards than their contemporaries. As late as 1939, Churchill, in his collection of essays Great Contemporaries, saw no reason why his reflections on Mein Kampf and its author should not be reprinted:

 ‘The story of that struggle cannot be read without admiration for the courage, the perseverance, the vital force which enabled him to challenge, defy, conciliate, or overcome, all authorities or resistance which barred his path…I have always said that if Great Britain were defeated in war, I hoped we should find a Hitler to lead us back to our rightful position among the nations.’

British and American bankers and businessmen were in the forefront of arming the Third Reich as a ‘bulwark against Bolshevism’ (as Lloyd George, mimicking Churchill, explained). The Governor of the Bank of England did not mince words: British loans to Hitler should be seen as an ‘investment against Bolshevism.’ This was a common view of the elite at the time. ‘The German claim to equality of rights in the matter of arms cannot be resisted and ought not to be resisted. You will have to face rearmament of Germany,’ declared the British Foreign Secretary, Sir John Simon, on 6 February 1934. A month later the Chairman of Vickers Limited justified sales to fascist Germany: “I cannot give you an assurance in definite terms, but I can tell you that nothing is being done without complete sanction and approval of our own government.” [War is Terribly Profitable by Henry Owen, London, 1936.]  It was ever thus.

This was the atmosphere in which the Daily Mail and other tabloids (not to mention Geoffrey Dawson at The Times or King Edward VIII at the Palace) demonstrated varying degrees of affection and sympathy for the Third Reich. And it was this context that explains the attraction of many British intellectuals and workers (including comrades Philby, Burgess, Maclean, Blunt and others) to Communism as the only force capable of defeating the Nazis. In this, as Heseltine reminded the country, they were not so wrong. Curiously enough, Ralph Miliband, contrary to Tom Bower’s slurs in a recent issue of the Sunday Times, was never attracted to the Communist Parties or the groups to their left.  Nor was he a partisan of the armed struggled line in South America even though he was ferociously hostile to the US-supported military dictatorships in the region.

The student uprisings of 1968-9 found him at the London School of Economics. His initial reaction, like that of Jurgen Habermas in Germany, was to describe (in a private letter) the occupation of the LSE by radicals as ‘fascism of the left’. He strongly disapproved of the notion that students should elect their professors and when it was pointed out that he would win by a large majority, he was not amused. He changed his mind after the mass arrests and the sacking of Robin Blackburn, writing that ‘sophisticated Oakeshottismus is a fairly thin crust; when it cracks, as it did here, a rather ugly, visceral sort of conservatism emerges.’  He told me later that one of his big regrets was not resigning immediately from the LSE after Blackburn was sacked.

He was a fiercely independent-minded Marxist scholar who could be equally scathing about leftwing verities (he spoke very sharply to me in the 70s when I suggested that world revolution was not a utopia) as those of social democracy. His key work on Britain was ‘Parliamentary Socialism’ (1961) where he referred to the ‘sickness of labourism’, leaving no doubt as to where he stood. And later he was prescient on what the future might really hold given the collapse of the broad Left, writing in 1989:

‘We know what this immense historic process is taken to mean by the enemies of socialism everywhere: not only the approaching demise of Communist regimes and their replacement by capitalist ones, but the elimination of any kind of socialist alternative to capitalism. With this intoxicating prospect of the scarcely hoped-for dissipation of an ancient nightmare, there naturally goes the celebration of the market, the virtues of free enterprise, and greed unlimited. Nor is it only on the Right that the belief has grown in recent times that socialism, understood as a radical transformation of the social order, has had its day: apostles of ‘new times’ on the Left have come to harbour much the same belief. All that is now possible, in the eyes of the ‘new realism’, is the more humane management of a capitalism which is in any case being thoroughly transformed.’

His political views were far removed from those of his sons and pretending otherwise is foolish. Ralph was not a one-nation conservative who believed in parcellised ‘social justice’.  He remained a staunch anti-capitalist socialist till the end of his life. He was extremely close to both his sons, was proud of their success but as any other migrant refugee would be—kids have done well in a foreign land—, not in a political sense at all. He loathed New Labour and in of our last conversations described Blair as ‘teflon man’. Neither he nor his wife Marion (an equally strong minded socialist and feminist) ever tried to inflict their politics on the kids. Given his short temper I wonder whether this self-denying ordnance would, in his case at any rate, have survived the Iraq war. I doubt it.

And what of patriotism? Is it any different to national-chauvinism, jingoism, etc.? Does it have the same connotation in an occupied nation as in the occupying power? Many decades ago I was facing three journalists on ‘Face the Press’ on Tyne Tees TV in Newcastle.  The most rightwing of them, Peregrine Worsthorne from the Sunday Telegraph, annoyed by what I was saying interrupted me:

‘Does the word patriotism have any meaning for people like you?’

‘No’, I replied, ‘in my eyes a patriot is little more than an international blackleg.’

Taken aback, he muttered, ‘Rather a good phrase.’

In fact I had pinched it from Karl Liebknecht the German socialist, explaining his vote against war credits in the German parliament in 1914.

Ralph Miliband, like many anti-fascists, joined the armed forces during the second world war. He opposed the wars in Korea and Vietnam, spoke loudly and clearly against the Falklands expedition. Even a cursory glance at Socialist Register, the annual magazine he founded in 1964, reveals the strong internationalism that was at its core. Marcel Liebman’s text on ‘The meaning of 1914’ might be well worth reprinting as official Britain prepares to celebrate the centenary of the carnage that was world war one. Ralph was always grateful (his word) that Britain offered him and his father, Jewish refugees fleeing occupied Belgium, asylum in 1940. Despite that fact he remained an outlier, a stern critic of the British ruling elite and its institutions as well as the Labour Party and the  trade-union knights and peers. Might be better if all sides left it at that…

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