Egypt, women and permanent revolution July 19, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Egypt, Revolution, Women.
Tags: arab spring, arab women, egypt, egypt revolution, genital mutilation, Marxist Humanism, Middle East, misogyny, mona eltahawy, revolution, roger hollander, sexism, terry moon, women
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NEWS & LETTERS, July – August 2012
by Terry Moon
Mona Eltahawy, an American-Egyptian journalist, wrote an eloquent essay published in the May/June edition of Foreign Policy titled “Why Do They Hate Us? The real war on women is in the Middle East.” The myriad negative responses to it reveal serious examples of counter-revolution from within the revolution in the wake of Arab Spring.
ARAB SPRING FACES COUNTER-REVOLUTION
Eltahawy takes up “the pulsating heart of misogyny in the Middle East.” It is crucial that her essay is about the need for the revolutions of Arab Spring to continue and deepen. So important is this to her that she begins and ends with that point. On the first page she declares:
“An entire political and economic system–one that treats half of humanity like animals–must be destroyed along with the other more obvious tyrannies choking off the region from its future. Until the rage shifts from the oppressors in our presidential palaces to the oppressors on our streets and in our homes, our revolution has not even begun.”
And on the last page she writes:
“The Arab uprisings may have been sparked by an Arab man–Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian street vendor who set himself on fire in desperation–but they will be finished by Arab women…. Our political revolutions will not succeed unless they are accompanied by revolutions of thought–social, sexual, and cultural revolutions that topple the Mubaraks in our minds as well as our bedrooms.”
Not one of the critiques I read mentions that this is what her essay is about. Rather than speaking to her essay’s content–the unbearable sexism that women experience in the Middle East–they try to discredit her. Where she talks of how “more than 90% of ever-married women in Egypt–including my mother and all but one of her six sisters–have had their genitals cut in the name of modesty,” she is chided for using the “wrong” word, genital mutilation instead of circumcision. Another critic attacks her by reminding the reader that genital mutilation of women did not originate with Islam or in the Middle East. But none speak to the actuality of genital mutilation, under whatever name.
FORM ATTACKED, CONTENT IGNORED
She was also widely criticized for publishing the essay in Foreign Policy, as if that somehow silenced other Arab women’s voices, even though Foreign Policy invited four responses from Arab women. Or, critics say, it was wrong to publish in Foreign Policy because her audience was presumed to be Americans, but no publications or websites the critiques were in would have printed her essay, and it is crystal clear from the responses that her essay was widely read by an Arab audience.
Then there was this age-old shibboleth, used whenever someone wants to shut up a woman who dares to bring up the fact that we live–all of us–in a deeply misogynist world: Eltahaway “blames and hates all men.”
Any who doubt the importance of what Eltahawy raises need only remember the Iranian women who, in the midst of revolution in 1979, came out by the thousands against Khomeini’s order to wear the chador. They cried out: “At the dawn of freedom we have no freedom.” They were calling for the Iranian revolution to continue. Had their demands been taken seriously by the Left, Iran might be in a very different place today.
NEED FOR PERMANENT REVOLUTION
In an interview given several weeks after her essay was published, Eltahawy reiterated that she is talking about deepening revolution:
“So what my essay is trying to do, is to say that the women…now have two revolutions that need to be completed: The revolution against the regime, which oppresses all of us; but also a second revolution against a society that oppresses us as women.”
While Eltahawy is not talking directly of Marx’s concept of revolution in permanence, that is what she is calling for. As Arab Spring faces counter-revolution from within and without–and is now facing an election where both candidates may well worsen women’s oppression–we call for the greatest possible solidarity with what Eltahawy is raising.
Egypt: End Game June 23, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Democracy, Egypt.
Tags: arab spring, democracy, egypt, egypt coup, egypt democracy, egypt election, egypt military, gywnne dyer, mubarak, muslim brotherhood, roger hollander, tahrir square
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“If we find that SCAF (the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces) stands firm against us as we try to fulfill the fulfill the demands of the revolution,” said Fatema AbouZeid of the Muslim Brotherhood as the final results of Egypt’s presidential election last weekend rolled in, “we will go back to the streets and escalate things peacefully to the highest possible level.”
“Now we have a new factor in Egyptian politics, the Egyptian people themselves…” she continued. “(They) will not accept a return to the old regime in any form, not after so much Egyptian blood was shed to remove it.” Well, maybe.
There’s nothing like an election to make things clear. Now all the cards are on the table in Egypt, and the last round of bidding has begun. The army has opened with a very high bid in the hope of scaring everybody else off, and now the other players have to decide whether to call or fold.
Sometimes, even in long-established democratic states, the players simply fold in order to avoid a destructive constitutional upheaval. That’s what the Democratic Party did when the United States Supreme Court awarded the state of Florida and the presidency to George W. Bush in the disputed election of 2000.
It was an outrageously partisan decision by the 5-4 Republican majority in the Supreme Court, but if the Democrats had rejected it the United States would have faced months or even years of political turmoil. If they had foreseen the devastation that the Bush presidency would cause they might have done otherwise, but at the time their decision seemed wise.
It is possible that the Egyptian “opposition” – a uneasy amalgam of the secular and leftist young who overthrew the dictator Hosni Mubarak on Tahrir Square sixteen months ago and the Muslim Brotherhood (which initially avoided direct confrontation with the old regime) – will also just fold. After sixteen months of upheaval so many ordinary Egyptians just want “stability” that the army might win a showdown in the streets.
The problem is that the Egyptian army has bid much higher than the US Supreme Court ever did – so high that if the other players fold they lose almost everything. This is a brazen bid to revive the old regime minus Mubarak, and restore the armed forces to the position of economic privilege and political control that they have enjoyed, to Egypt’s very great cost, ever since Gamal Abdel Nasser’s coup in 1952.
On 14 June, just 48 hours before the polls opened for the second round of the presidential election, Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court announced that last year’s parliamentary election, in which Islamic parties won almost three-quarters of the seats, was conducted by rules that contravened the constitution.
There was a legitimate question about whether the political parties should have been allowed to run candidates in the seats reserved for independents. No, said the court, all of whose judges were appointed by the old regime. But rather than just ruling that there must be by-elections in those seats, they declared that the whole parliament must be dissolved.
This bizarre decision presumably meant that the 100-person constituent assembly created by the parliament to write Egypt’s new constitution was also dissolved. The army still swears that it will hand power over to the new democratically elected president on 30 June – but he will now take office with no parliament and no constitution to define his powers.
Might there have been some collusion between the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and the Supreme Constitutional Court in this matter? Is the Pope a Catholic?
Last Sunday, only three days after the Court handed down its judgement and just as it was becoming clear that the old regime’s candidate, Ahmed Shafiq, would probably lose the presidential election, the SCAF issued an “interim constitutional declaration”. It effectively gives the military legislative powers, control over the budget, and the right to pick the committee that writes the new constitution.
Since that committee will not report until the end of the year, in the meantime there will be no election for a new parliament. There will be an elected president, but he will not even have authority over the armed forces: the army’s “interim constitution” strips him of that power, and no doubt its tame committee will write it into the new permanent constitution as well.
The SCAF can’t have come up with all this in just 72 hours after the decision of the Supreme Constitutional Court on the 14th. There had to be a lot of coordination between the military and the Court beforehand. You could call this a “constitutional coup,” but the more accurate phrase is “military coup.” So what can Egyptians do about it?
They can go back to Tahrir Square, this time student radicals and Muslim Brothers together, and try to force the army out of politics. That will be very dangerous, because this time, unlike February of last year, the generals may actually order the soldiers to clear the square by gunfire. Or the opposition, aware that the mass of the population has no appetite for more confrontation and instability, may just submit and hope for a better day.
If it does that, the Egyptian revolution is dead.
Gwynne Dyer has worked as a freelance journalist, columnist, broadcaster and lecturer on international affairs for more than 20 years, but he was originally trained as an historian. Born in Newfoundland, he received degrees from Canadian, American and British universities. His latest book, “Climate Wars: The Fight for Survival as the World Overheats“, was published in the United States by Oneworld.
In Egypt, a President Without Power June 21, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Democracy, Egypt, Israel, Gaza & Middle East.
Tags: democracy, egypt, egypt coup, egypt democracy, egypt election, egypt military, egypt parliament, egypt revolution, military dictatorship, mubarak, muslim brotherhood, roger hollander, sharif abdel kouddous
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Last week’s presidential elections in Egypt were supposed to mark the final step in what has been an arduous transition from military rule to an elected civilian government. Instead, sixteen months after President Hosni Mubarak was ousted in a popular uprising calling for freedom and social justice, the Supreme Council of Armed Forces has assumed near-full control of all of the key branches of state.
Shafiq (left) or Mursi (right). Either way, turmoil is guaranteed. (Photo: AP)
M inutes after polls closed Sunday evening in the country’s first-ever competitive presidential election, which pitted the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi against Ahmed Shafik, Mubarak’s last prime minister, the SCAF issued a set of constitutional amendments that strip the incoming president of almost all significant powers and cement military authority over the post-Mubarak era.
The move by the ruling generals came days after the dissolution of the popularly elected parliament by a court packed with Mubarak-appointed judges, as well as a decree by the Minister of Justice reintroducing elements of martial law to the country by granting the military broad powers to arrest and detain civilians.
“Egypt has completed its full transition into a military dictatorship,” wrote Hossam Bahgat, head of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, after the amendments were made public.
The eleventh-hour declaration awards the ruling generals sweeping powers, including the right to issue legislation in the absence of a sitting parliament, and total control over the military’s affairs, shielding the army from any presidential, parliamentary or public oversight. Most prominently, the amendments remove the president’s role as commander-in-chief—with SCAF head Field Marshall Hussein Tantawi assuming that power—effectively transforming the SCAF into a fourth branch of state, constitutionally separate from the executive, legislative and judiciary.
“The provisions really do constitutionalize a military coup,” writes Nathan Brown, an Egypt expert at George Washington University.
The military also tightened its grip over the drafting of Egypt’s new constitution by granting itself an effective veto over any clauses that don’t meet with its approval. It can even go further and directly handpick the 100-member body that will write the constitution. The Constituent Assembly, elected by the Muslim Brotherhood–dominated parliament two days before it was dissolved, faces allegations by secular forces that it is dominated by Islamists who have secured themselves the lion’s share of seats. The new amendments allow the SCAF to dissolve the current body if “encounters an obstacle”—a disturbingly vague condition—and select the Constituent Assembly themselves.
The military council further eroded the authority of the executive with another decree, made public on Monday, to form a seventeen-member National Defense Council, to be chaired by the incoming president, but which will include eleven senior military commanders and will make decisions based on a simply majority vote.
Meanwhile, the head of the SCAF Advisory Council, Sameh Ashour, suggested the winner of the election might only serve on an interim basis, until the new constitution is written. “The newly elected president will occupy the office for a short period of time, whether or not he agrees,” Ashour told Al Jazeera.
Activists and rights campaigners decried the series of moves by the military, which they said render the SCAF’s promise to hand over power by June 30 effectively meaningless. The sentiment was reflected in the front-page headline of the privately owned daily Al-Shorouk the morning after the election: “A president without powers.”
The runoff itself was deeply divisive, marked by heavy negative campaigning by both sides. Shafik, a stalwart of the former regime, campaigned on a law-and-order platform, vowing to use force to crush protesters, while vilifying the Brotherhood and pledging to act as a bulwark against the rise of Islamists in government. Meanwhile, Morsi sought to portray himself as the revolutionary candidate facing off against the remnants of Mubarak’s regime.
Both men were polarizing figures, and their candidacies evoked the binary political landscape that prevailed in Egypt in the decades leading up to the revolution. Enthusiasm among the electorate was clearly low, with many voters saying their choice of candidate was based largely on preventing the other from reaching the presidency.
The Brotherhood has claimed it won the poll, releasing figures that show Morsi with nearly 52 percent of the vote to Shafik’s 48 percent. The results appear to coincide with reports from local media outlets and independent observers. However, the Shafik campaign is vigorously denying their candidate has lost and insists Shafik came out ahead with a tally of 51 percent. Both sides have launched appeals against the conduct of the vote before official results are announced on Thursday, June 21.
The Brotherhood has come out strongly against the constitutional amendments and says it does not recognize the Supreme Constitutional Court’s ruling to dissolve parliament, a decision widely viewed as highly politicized. The army deployed troops outside the parliament on Saturday to prevent MPs from gaining access to the building.
“This is against the people’s will and the SCAF does not have a genuine intention to hand over power,” the Brotherhood said in a statement. On Tuesday, the group helped lead a protest of tens of thousands in Tahrir Square and outside parliament, along with a number of other political forces, including the Salafi Nour party and the April 6 Youth Movement.
Adding to the chaos, that very night, the official state news agency caused a firestorm when it reported that Mubarak had been declared “clinically dead” after suffering a stroke. The former president was transferred from his prison cell where had been held since June 2, after receiving a life sentence on charges of involving the killing protesters in January 2011. Conflicting reports soon emerged that he was in fact stable and on a respirator. Reports of Mubarak’s failing health had frequently appeared in the media ever since charges were brought against him last year and the latest news was treated with widespread criticism in Egypt. The next day, The New York Times reported that his lawyer denied the former president had nearly died, insisting he simply fell down in the prison bathroom.
Meanwhile, the Carter Center, one of three international organizations accredited to witness the election, expressed “grave concern” about the military’s actions. “It is now unclear whether a truly democratic transition remains underway in Egypt,” the group said in a preliminary statement released Tuesday.
In Washington, the reaction was similar from both the State Department and the Pentagon. “We are particularly concerned by decisions that appear to prolong the military’s hold on power,” said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.
US policy towards Egypt has remained unchanged since before the revolution, when Washington backed the Mubarak regime for decades with $1.3 billion in annual military aid. In March, the Obama administration used a national security waiver to bypass new restrictions imposed by Congress that would have made aid to Egypt conditional on certification from the State Department that the SCAF was making progress on the transition to democracy. The move came in the wake of a crisis in which Egyptian authorities raided several NGOs in Cairo, including three funded by the United States, not to mention continued and widespread human rights abuses committed by the military and security forces.
“[The United States] will either have to suspend the aid or be openly in favor of SCAF’s constitutional coup if they continue it,” writes Cairo-based blogger and analyst Issandr El-Amrani. “The time has come: the US may not be able to influence developments in Egypt, but at least it can stop underwriting them.”
The presidential elections mark the third time Egyptians have gone to the polls only to find their votes rendered meaningless. A nationwide referendum on nine amendments to the constitution in March 2011 was supplanted by SCAF a few days later when it unilaterally issued a “Constitutional Declaration” that included over sixty articles. The parliamentary elections last fall were cancelled by this month’s court ruling to dissolve the People’s Assembly. Now, millions have elected a president who was stripped of most of his authority by the SCAF in a last-minute power grab.
If voting has come to mean nothing with the military in charge, the masses that united to oust Mubarak may soon begin to seek other avenues for change.
U.S. Mideast policy in a single phrase August 21, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Israel, Gaza & Middle East.
Tags: arab democracy, arab public opinion, arab spring, arab street, arab transition, egypt, egypt democracy, egypt government, foreign policy, glenn greenwald, israel, Middle East, mubarak, roger hollander
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The CIA’s spokesman at The Washington Post, columnist David Ignatius, recently announced that the glorifying term “Arab Spring” is no longer being used by senior intelligence officials to describe democratic revolutions in the Middle East. It has been replaced by the more “neutral” term “Arab transition,” which, as Ignatius put it, “conveys the essential truth that nobody can predict just where this upheaval is heading.” Note that what was until very recently celebrated in American media circles as a joyous, inspirational awakening of “democratic birth and freedom” has now been downgraded to an “upheaval” whose outcome may be odious and threatening.
That’s not surprising. As I’ve written about several times, public opinion in those nations is so strongly opposed to the policies the U.S. has long demanded — and is quite hostile (more so than ever) to the U.S. itself and especially Israel — that allowing any form of democracy would necessarily be adverse to American and Israeli interests in that region (at least as those two nations have long perceived of their “interests”). That’s precisely why the U.S. worked so hard and expended so many resources for decades to ensure that brutal dictators ruled those nations and suppressed public opinion to the point of complete irrelevance (behavior which, predictably and understandably, exacerbated anti-American sentiments among the populace).
An illustrative example of this process has emerged this week in Egypt, where authorities have bitterly denounced Israel for killing three of its police officers in a cross-border air attack on suspected Gaza-based militants, and to make matters worse, thereafter blaming Egypt for failing to control “terrorists” in the area. Massive, angry protests outside the Israeli Embassy in Cairo led to Egypt’s recalling of its Ambassador to Israel and the Israeli Ambassador’s being forced to flee Cairo. That, in turn, led to what The New York Times called a “rare statement of regret” from Israel in order to placate growing Egyptian anger: “rare” because, under the U.S.-backed Mubarak, Egyptian public opinion was rendered inconsequential and the Egyptian regime’s allegiance was to Israel, meaning Israel never had to account for such acts, let alone apologize for them. In that regard, consider this superbly (if unintentionally) revealing phrase from the NYT about this incident:
By removing Mr. Mubarak’s authoritarian but dependably loyal government, the revolution has stripped away a bulwark of Israel’s position in the region, unleashing the Egyptian public’s pent-up anger at Israel over its treatment of the Palestinians at a time when a transitional government is scrambling to maintain its own legitimacy in the streets.
That word “loyal” makes the phrase remarkable: to whom was Mubarak “loyal”? Not to the Egyptian people whom he was governing or even to Egypt itself, but rather to Israel and the United States. Thus, in the past, Egypt’s own government would have sided with a foreign nation to which it was “loyal” even when that foreign nation killed its own citizens and refused to apologize (exactly as the U.S. did when Israel killed one of its own citizens on the Mavi Marmara and then again over the prospect that Israel would do the same with the new flotilla: in contrast to Turkey which, acting like a normal government, was bitterly furious with Israel — and still is — over the wanton killing of its citizens; in that sense, the U.S. is just as “dependably loyal” as the Mubarak regime was).
But as remarkable as it is, that phrase — “authoritarian but dependably loyal” — captures the essence of (ongoing) American behavior in that region for decades: propping up the most heinous, tyrannical rulers who disregard and crush the views of their own people while remaining supremely “loyal” to foreign powers: the U.S. and Israel. Consider this equally revealing passage from The Guardian:
Israel fears that the post-Mubarak regime will be more sympathetic to Hamas and could even revoke the 1979 peace treaty with Israel. “They feel the need to respond to the [Arab] street,” said an Israeli government official. “Instead of calming things down, they are being dragged.” The Egyptian statement was “a very dismal development”, he said.
“Arab street”: the derogatory term long used to degrade public opinion in those nations as some wild animal that needs to be suppressed and silenced rather than heeded. That’s why this Israeli official talks about “the need to respond” to Egyptian public opinion — also known as “democracy” — as though it’s some sort of bizarre, dangerous state of affairs: because nothing has been as important to the U.S. and Israel than ensuring the suppression of democracy in that region, ensuring that millions upon millions of people are consigned to brutal tyranny so that their interests are trampled upon in favor of “loyalty” to the interests of those two foreign nations.
This is why American media coverage of the Arab Spring produced one of the most severe cases of cognitive dissonance one can recall. The packaged morality narrative was that despots like Mubarak — and those in Tunisia, Bahrain and elsewhere — are unambiguous, cruel villains whom we’re all supposed to hate, while the democracy protesters are noble and to be cheered. But whitewashed from that storyline was that it was the Freedom-loving United States that played such a vital role in empowering those despots and crushing the very democracy we are now supposed to cheer. Throughout all the media hate sessions spewed toward the former Egyptian dictator — including as he’s tried for crimes against his own people – how often was it mentioned that Hillary Clinton, as recently as two years ago, was saying things such as: “I really consider President and Mrs. Mubarak to be friends of my family” (or that John McCain, around the same time, was tweeting: “Late evening with Col. Qadhafi at his ‘ranch’ in Libya – interesting meeting with an interesting man.”)? Almost never: because the central U.S. role played in that mass oppression was simply ignored once the oppression could no longer be sustained.
And, of course, it wasn’t the case that the U.S. Government decided to cease its democracy-crushing, or that the American media one day decided to denounce the U.S.-backed Arab tyrants and celebrate democracy. They had no choice. These events happened against the will of the U.S., and only once their inevitability became clear did the American government and media pretend to suddenly side with “democracy and freedom.” Even as they indulge that pretense, they continued — and continue — to try to render the “democratic revolutions” illusory and to prop up the tyrannies that are still salvageable. In sum, American discourse was forced by events to denounce the very despots the U.S. Government protected and to praise the very democratic values the U.S. long destroyed.
This is what Ignatius means when he decrees that the U.S. should not try to be on “the right side of history” but rather, “what should guide U.S. policy in this time of transition is to be on the right side of America’s own interests and values” and, most critically, that “sometimes those two will conflict.” The U.S. has always subordinated its ostensible “values” (democracy, freedom) to its own “interests” in that region, which is why it has crushed the former in order to promote the latter. As we prepare to celebrate the reportedly imminent fall of Gadaffi just as we once celebrated the fall of Saddam — Juan Cole is already declaring large parts of Libya “liberated” — that behavior should be kept firmly in mind; whether a country is truly “liberated” by the removal of a despot depends on who replaces it and what their “loyalties” are: to foreign powers or to the democratic will of that nation’s citizens.
For Americans in such consensus to celebrate the fall of evil Arab tyrants without accounting for the role the U.S. played in their decades-long rule was bizarre (though typical) indeed. That “senior intelligence officials” are regarding these fledgling, potential democracies with such suspicion and longing for the days of the “dependably loyal” dictatorial regimes tells one all there is to know about what we have actually been doing in that part of the world, and have been doing for as long as that part of the world was a concern to American officials.
- More: Glenn Greenwald
Who Cares in the Middle East What Obama Says? May 30, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East.
Tags: 1967 borders, algeria, arab revolts, arab revolutions, arab spring, bahrain, bouteflika, egypt, gaza, hamas, intifada, Iran, israel, israeli settlements, jewish state, jordan, kurds, libya, Mahmoud Abbas, Middle East, netanyahu, Obama, Palestine, palestine papers, palestinian statehood, Palestinians, qatar, robert fisk, roger hollander, saudi arabia, Syria, tunisia, turkey, yemen
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Roger’s note: I don’t think you will find a better commentary on the situation in the Middle East than what follows. Robert Fisk, who has lived in and written about the Middle East for decades, is an amazing journalist, unfortunately a rare breed (at least in North America).
This month, in the Middle East, has seen the unmaking of the President of the United States. More than that, it has witnessed the lowest prestige of America in the region since Roosevelt met King Abdul Aziz on the USS Quincy in the Great Bitter Lake in 1945.President Obama at Middle East peace talks in Washington last year with Benjamin Netanyahu, Mahmoud Abbas, Hosni Mubarak, and King Abdullah. (EPA)
President Obama at Middle East peace talks in Washington last year with Benjamin Netanyahu, Mahmoud Abbas, Hosni Mubarak, and King Abdullah. (EPA)
While Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu played out their farce in Washington – Obama grovelling as usual – the Arabs got on with the serious business of changing their world, demonstrating and fighting and dying for freedoms they have never possessed. Obama waffled on about change in the Middle East – and about America’s new role in the region. It was pathetic. “What is this ‘role’ thing?” an Egyptian friend asked me at the weekend. “Do they still believe we care about what they think?”
And it is true. Obama’s failure to support the Arab revolutions until they were all but over lost the US most of its surviving credit in the region. Obama was silent on the overthrow of Ben Ali, only joined in the chorus of contempt for Mubarak two days before his flight, condemned the Syrian regime – which has killed more of its people than any other dynasty in this Arab “spring”, save for the frightful Gaddafi – but makes it clear that he would be happy to see Assad survive, waves his puny fist at puny Bahrain’s cruelty and remains absolutely, stunningly silent over Saudi Arabia. And he goes on his knees before Israel. Is it any wonder, then, that Arabs are turning their backs on America, not out of fury or anger, nor with threats or violence, but with contempt? It is the Arabs and their fellow Muslims of the Middle East who are themselves now making the decisions.
Turkey is furious with Assad because he twice promised to speak of reform and democratic elections – and then failed to honour his word. The Turkish government has twice flown delegations to Damascus and, according to the Turks, Assad lied to the foreign minister on the second visit, baldly insisting that he would recall his brother Maher’s legions from the streets of Syrian cities. He failed to do so. The torturers continue their work.
Watching the hundreds of refugees pouring from Syria across the northern border of Lebanon, the Turkish government is now so fearful of a repeat of the great mass Iraqi Kurdish refugee tide that overwhelmed their border in the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf war that it has drawn up its own secret plans to prevent the Kurds of Syria moving in their thousands into the Kurdish areas of south-eastern Turkey. Turkish generals have thus prepared an operation that would send several battalions of Turkish troops into Syria itself to carve out a “safe area” for Syrian refugees inside Assad’s caliphate. The Turks are prepared to advance well beyond the Syrian border town of Al Qamishli – perhaps half way to Deir el-Zour (the old desert killing fields of the 1915 Armenian Holocaust, though speak it not) – to provide a “safe haven” for those fleeing the slaughter in Syria’s cities.
The Qataris are meanwhile trying to prevent Algeria from resupplying Gaddafi with tanks and armoured vehicles – this was one of the reasons why the Emir of Qatar, the wisest bird in the Arabian Gulf, visited the Algerian president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, last week. Qatar is committed to the Libyan rebels in Benghazi; its planes are flying over Libya from Crete and – undisclosed until now – it has Qatari officers advising the rebels inside the city of Misrata in western Libya; but if Algerian armour is indeed being handed over to Gaddafi to replace the material that has been destroyed in air strikes, it would account for the ridiculously slow progress which the Nato campaign is making against Gaddafi.
Of course, it all depends on whether Bouteflika really controls his army – or whether the Algerian “pouvoir”, which includes plenty of secretive and corrupt generals, are doing the deals. Algerian equipment is superior to Gaddafi’s and thus for every tank he loses, Ghaddafi might be getting an improved model to replace it. Below Tunisia, Algeria and Libya share a 750-mile desert frontier, an easy access route for weapons to pass across the border.
But the Qataris are also attracting Assad’s venom. Al Jazeera’s concentration on the Syrian uprising – its graphic images of the dead and wounded far more devastating than anything our soft western television news shows would dare broadcast – has Syrian state television nightly spitting at the Emir and at the state of Qatar. The Syrian government has now suspended up to £4 billion of Qatari investment projects, including one belonging to the Qatar Electricity and Water Company.
Amid all these vast and epic events – Yemen itself may yet prove to be the biggest bloodbath of all, while the number of Syria’s “martyrs” have now exceeded the victims of Mubarak’s death squads five months ago – is it any surprise that the frolics of Messrs Netanyahu and Obama appear so irrelevant? Indeed, Obama’s policy towards the Middle East – whatever it is – sometimes appears so muddled that it is scarcely worthy of study. He supports, of course, democracy – then admits that this may conflict with America’s interests. In that wonderful democracy called Saudi Arabia, the US is now pushing ahead with a £40 billion arms deal and helping the Saudis to develop a new “elite” force to protect the kingdom’s oil and future nuclear sites. Hence Obama’s fear of upsetting Saudi Arabia, two of whose three leading brothers are now so incapacitated that they can no longer make sane decisions – unfortunately, one of these two happens to be King Abdullah – and his willingness to allow the Assad family’s atrocity-prone regime to survive. Of course, the Israelis would far prefer the “stability” of the Syrian dictatorship to continue; better the dark caliphate you know than the hateful Islamists who might emerge from the ruins. But is this argument really good enough for Obama to support when the people of Syria are dying in the streets for the kind of democracy that the US president says he wants to see in the region?
One of the vainest elements of American foreign policy towards the Middle East is the foundational idea that the Arabs are somehow more stupid than the rest of us, certainly than the Israelis, more out of touch with reality than the West, that they don’t understand their own history. Thus they have to be preached at, lectured, and cajoled by La Clinton and her ilk – much as their dictators did and do, father figures guiding their children through life. But Arabs are far more literate than they were a generation ago; millions speak perfect English and can understand all too well the political weakness and irrelevance in the president’s words. Listening to Obama’s 45-minute speech this month – the “kick off’ to four whole days of weasel words and puffery by the man who tried to reach out to the Muslim world in Cairo two years ago, and then did nothing – one might have thought that the American President had initiated the Arab revolts, rather than sat on the sidelines in fear.
There was an interesting linguistic collapse in the president’s language over those critical four days. On Thursday 19 May, he referred to the continuation of Israeli “settlements”. A day later, Netanyahu was lecturing him on “certain demographic changes that have taken place on the ground”. Then when Obama addressed the American Aipac lobby group (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) on the Sunday, he had cravenly adopted Netanyahu’s own preposterous expression. Now he, too, spoke of “new demographic realities on the ground.” Who would believe that he was talking about internationally illegal Jewish colonies built on land stolen from Arabs in one of the biggest property heists in the history of “Palestine”? Delay in peace-making will undermine Israeli security, Obama announced – apparently unaware that Netanyahu’s project is to go on delaying and delaying and delaying until there is no land left for the “viable” Palestinian state which the United States and the European Union supposedly wish to see.
Then we had the endless waffle about the 1967 borders. Netanyahu called them “defenceless” (though they seemed to have been pretty defendable for the 18 years prior to the Six Day War) and Obama – oblivious to the fact that Israel must be the only country in the world to have an eastern land frontier but doesn’t know where it is – then says he was misunderstood when he talked about 1967. It doesn’t matter what he says. George W Bush caved in years ago when he gave Ariel Sharon a letter which stated America’s acceptance of “already existing major Israeli population centres” beyond the 1967 lines. To those Arabs prepared to listen to Obama’s spineless oration, this was a grovel too far. They simply could not understand the reaction of Netanyahu’s address to Congress. How could American politicians rise and applaud Netanyahu 55 times – 55 times – with more enthusiasm than one of the rubber parliaments of Assad, Saleh and the rest?
And what on earth did the Great Speechifier mean when he said that “every country has the right to self-defence” but that Palestine would be “demilitarised”? What he meant was that Israel could go on attacking the Palestinians (as in 2009, for example, when Obama was treacherously silent) while the Palestinians would have to take what was coming to them if they did not behave according to the rules – because they would have no weapons to defend themselves. As for Netanyahu, the Palestinians must choose between unity with Hamas or peace with Israel. All of which was very odd. When there was no unity, Netanyahu told us all that he had no Palestinian interlocutor because the Palestinians were disunited. Yet when they unite, they are disqualified from peace talks.
Of course, cynicism grows the longer you live in the Middle East. I recall, for example, travelling to Gaza in the early 1980s when Yasser Arafat was running his PLO statelet in Beirut. Anxious to destroy Arafat’s prestige in the occupied territories, the Israeli government decided to give its support to an Islamist group in Gaza called Hamas. In fact, I actually saw with my own eyes the head of the Israeli army’s Southern Command negotiating with bearded Hamas officials, giving them permission to build more mosques. It’s only fair to say, of course, that we were also busy at the time, encouraging a certain Osama bin Laden to fight the Soviet army in Afghanistan. But the Israelis did not give up on Hamas. They later held another meeting with the organisation in the West Bank; the story was on the front page of the Jerusalem Post the next day. But there wasn’t a whimper from the Americans.
Then another moment that I can recall over the long years. Hamas and Islamic Jihad members – all Palestinians – were, in the early 1990s, thrown across the Israeli border into southern Lebanon where they spent more than a year camping on a freezing mountainside. I would visit them from time to time and on one occasion mentioned that I would be travelling to Israel next day. Immediately, one of the Hamas men ran to his tent and returned with a notebook. He then proceeded to give me the home telephone numbers of three senior Israeli politicians – two of whom are still prominent today – and, when I reached Jerusalem and called the numbers, they all turned out to be correct. In other words, the Israeli government had been in personal and direct contact with Hamas.
But now the narrative has been twisted out of all recognition. Hamas are the super-terrorists, the “al-Qa’ida” representatives in the unified Palestinian leadership, the men of evil who will ensure that no peace ever takes place between Palestinians and Israeli. If only this were true, the real al-Qa’ida would be more than happy to take responsibility. But it is not true. In the same context, Obama stated that the Palestinians would have to answer questions about Hamas. But why should they? What Obama and Netanyahu think about Hamas is now irrelevant to them. Obama warns the Palestinians not to ask for statehood at the United Nations in September. But why on earth not? If the people of Egypt and Tunisia and Yemen and Libya and Syria – we are all waiting for the next revolution (Jordan? Bahrain again? Morocco?) – can fight for freedom and dignity, why shouldn’t the Palestinians? Lectured for decades on the need for non-violent protest, the Palestinians elect to go to the UN with their cry for legitimacy – only to be slapped down by Obama.
Having read all of the “Palestine Papers” which Al-Jazeera revealed, there is no doubt that “Palestine’s” official negotiators will go to any lengths to produce some kind of statelet. Mahmoud Abbas, who managed to write a 600-page book on the “peace process” without once mentioning the word “occupation”, could even cave in over the UN project, fearful of Obama’s warning that it would be an attempt to “isolate” Israel and thus de-legitimise the Israeli state – or “the Jewish state” as the US president now calls it. But Netanyahu is doing more than anyone to delegitimise his own state; indeed, he is looking more and more like the Arab buffoons who have hitherto littered the Middle East. Mubarak saw a “foreign hand” in the Egyptian revolution (Iran, of course). So did the Crown Prince of Bahrain (Iran again). So did Gaddafi (al-Qa’ida, western imperialism, you name it), So did Saleh of Yemen (al-Qa’ida, Mossad and America). So did Assad of Syria (Islamism, probably Mossad, etc). And so does Netanyahu (Iran, naturally enough, Syria, Lebanon, just about anyone you can think of except for Israel itself).
But as this nonsense continues, so the tectonic plates shudder. I doubt very much if the Palestinians will remain silent. If there’s an “intifada” in Syria, why not a Third Intifada in “Palestine”? Not a struggle of suicide bombers but of mass, million-strong protests. If the Israelis have to shoot down a mere few hundred demonstrators who tried – and in some cases succeeded – in crossing the Israeli border almost two weeks ago, what will they do if confronted by thousands or a million. Obama says no Palestinian state must be declared at the UN. But why not? Who cares in the Middle East what Obama says? Not even, it seems, the Israelis. The Arab spring will soon become a hot summer and there will be an Arab autumn, too. By then, the Middle East may have changed forever. What America says will matter nothing.
Women Rise to the Challenge in the Arab Spring May 27, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in Africa, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, Women.
Tags: abi abdullah saleh, arab spring, arab women, egypt, egyptian women, feminism, islam, islamic law, libya, michelle chen, revolution, roger hollander, selah, tahrir square, tunisia, women's rights, yemen
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The scene would have had most Americans readjusting their television sets—or their preconceived notions about Arab society. In the April sun, throngs of protesters washed over the streets of the southern Yemeni city Taiz, most clad head-to-toe in black, their eyes steely with determination. The crowd was festooned with bright baseball caps and signs bearing English slogans such as, “We want a new Yemen without Saleh” in seeming defiance both of the autocratic regime and of society’s expectations.
It was only a few months ago that demonstrations exploded across the Maghreb and the Middle East. If you trace the sweep of the revolutionary contagion, a trendline emerges: The seedbed of the revolt, Tunisia, may have lacked democracy but was fairly advanced in providing equal rights for women. The next domino to fall, Egypt, could not have toppled dictator Hosni Mubarak without the support of women activists who took the helm at Tahrir Square. And now Yemen, a relatively conservative and impoverished country, has seen women gathering in a groundswell of resistance–paralleled by increasingly tense uprisings in Syria and Libya.
The BBC recently reported on one of the figureheads of the Yemeni uprising, Tawakul Karman, a former stay-at-home mother whose political passion was galvanized when her husband became a political prisoner:
In the last three months, Mrs Karman has been imprisoned, beaten and humiliated in the state media. As a result, she is a household name in Yemen and an inspiration to many women here. ‘This goes beyond the wildest dream I have ever dreamt,’ she says. ‘I am so proud of our women.’
With Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s regime on the brink of implosion, women’s role in the revolution is coming to the forefront, as Karman and other women become fixtures at the demonstrations in Sana’a‘s Change Square. The outrage flared after Saleh denounced women protesters as violating Islamic law. The attempt at intimidation backfired: One activist told the BBC, “Ali Abdullah Saleh turned me into a stronger woman.”
The outpouring of social and economic frustration has subverted gender hierarchies and stereotypes both in the political establishment and in the opposition. While Yemen’s Western-backed authoritarian regime faces rising public wrath, the opposition Islamist party Islah may actually offer women a greater voice.
According to news reports, Islah activists may not see women’s rights on their main agenda, but they’re keen on engaging women, at least for pragmatic reasons. As anti-government protesters start to envision life after Saleh, each woman will ultimately count as one vote in future elections.
Yet the rising profile of female revolutionaries remains shadowed by the gendered burdens of authoritarian oppression. Terrorized women and children form the bulk of the refugee tide spilling out of Syria over the border to Lebanon in order to escape the crackdown on the roiling uprisings. In Libya, civil war has reportedly spawned an epidemic of rape as a military weapon.
Back in Egypt, the solidarity of the January 25 uprising, which for a moment united people across lines of class, religion and gender, now appears to be ebbing into sectarian and socioeconomic strife. The protests continue, sometimes spilling blood on the streets. Egypt’s struggle for gender justice has followed a similarly precarious trajectory. Although many women activists became icons of the youth-driven revolutionary movement, military rule now threatens to rollback their gains. According to political analyst Valerie M. Hudson, recent stirrings in parliament could effectively squelch women’s participation in government:
Reacting to these reports, women’s organizations in Egypt have called for the quota to either be maintained, or for a 3-3-4 party list system to be instituted. In that system, a woman candidate must figure among the first three listed candidates, among the second three listed candidates and then among the next four listed candidates. As Noha El Khoury of the [Egyptian Center for Women's Rights] has written with great concern, the status of Egyptian women ‘is not getting better’ after the revolution.
The complex symbolism of women in protest movements is nothing new, not even in the Middle East, as seen in the martyrdom of “Neda” in the Iranian uprising of 2009. But today, some activists in the region fear women risk being co-opted by reactionary agendas. The Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights sharply criticized a recent clash between Muslims and Christians at a march that had been billed as a rally against sectarian strife. In a statement [PDF] issued earlier this month, the group said, “The incidents that happened between Muslims and Christians are a clear attempt to abort the 25th of January revolution through the use of women to fuel strife.”
After the overthrow of Mubarak, as Ms. reported earlier, women demanded social and cultural revolution in addition to political change. The reaction was telling: Many felt anxious or threatened by feminist rebellion in the still-fragile democracy. Cairo-based activist Jumanah Younis recalled attacks on women at a Tahrir Square demonstration in March:
As I struggled to stay upright, a hand grabbed my behind and others pulled at my clothes. When, a few minutes later, I found the other women I was with, one told me that a man had put his hand down her top, while another woman had been pushed to the ground and held down by a man on top of her. The police continued to direct traffic around the square as the incident was taking place.
Such outrageous displays of contempt for women cannot be allowed to persist in the new Egypt. Time and time again so-called “women’s issues” have been relegated to the bottom of the agenda: We must end corruption first, we must have political freedom first, etc., etc. On Tuesday, Egyptian women said: ‘Now is the time.’ There is no freedom for men without freedom and equality for women.
The Arab Spring has raised a beacon of democratic change and shattered walls of fear in a region long dominated by tyrants or foreign powers. But the scope of the struggle also complicates the dialogue about gender, social justice and democracy in the communities that are being rapidly reborn. In a climate of militant protest, however principled, warped notions of nationalism and masculine valor tend to surface, and can easily dissolve into violence and chauvinism.
The history is still being written. Back in Tunisia, subtle gender dimensions continue to unfold from the scene that spawned the Arab Spring, the self-immolation of a young street vendor. The common narrative suggested Mohamed Bouazizi had been slapped and humiliated by a female police officer, Fadia Hamdi. But this framing of the events—the indignity suffered by the emasculated jobless youth versus the arrogant aggression of the police woman—has come undone. The legal case was dropped and Hamdi’s name effectively cleared in the media. In the end, the woman held responsible for sparking nationwide revolt was greeted with cheers outside the courtroom hailing her freedom, according to press reports. No longer pressing the case, Bouazizi’s mother reportedly declared, “For me, it is enough that Mohamed’s martyrdom has resulted in freedom and the fall of tyrants.” So it goes with the mercurial politics of revolution.
Women’s voices have carried far and wide on the Arab Spring’s winds of revolution, fading in and out as in the tumult still churning throughout the region. But no matter where women march from here, there’s a recognition that no matter what, there’s no going back to the way things were.
Obama, Hands Off Our Spring May 26, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East.
Tags: arab activists, arab democracy, arab revolution, arab spring, arabs, democracy, egypt, Middle East, revolution, roger hollander, soumaya ghannoushi, tunisia, U.S. imperialism, yemen
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The US wants to turn the Arab revolutions into eastern Europe part 2. It is destined to fail
The first wave of Arab revolutions is entering its second phase: dismantling the structures of political despotism, and embarking on the arduous journey towards genuine change and democratisation. The US, at first confused by the loss of key allies, is now determined to dictate the course and outcome of this ongoing revolution.
What had been a challenge to US power is now a “historic opportunity”, as Barack Obama put it in his Middle East speech last week. But he does not mean an opportunity for the people who have risen up; it is a chance for Washington to fashion the region’s present and future, just as it did its past. When Obama talks of his desire “to pursue the world as it should be” he does not mean according to the yearnings of its people, but according to US interests.
And how is this new world to be built? The model is that of eastern Europe and the colour revolutions; American soft power and public diplomacy is to be used to reshape the socio-political scene in the region. The aim is to transform the people’s revolutions into America’s revolutions by engineering a new set of docile, domesticated and US-friendly elites. This involves not only co-opting old friends from the pre-revolutionary era, but also seeking to contain the new forces produced by the revolution, long marginalised by the US.
As Obama put it last week: “We must … reach the people who will shape the future – particularly young people … [and] provide assistance to civil society, including those that may not be officially sanctioned.” To this end he has doubled the budget for “protecting civil society groups” from $1.5m to $3.4m.
The recipients are not only the usual neoliberal elements, but also activists who spearheaded the protest movements, and mainstream Islamists. Programmes aimed at youth leaders include the Leaders for Democracy Arabic project, sponsored by the US state department’s Middle East partnership initiative. A number of Arab activists, including the Egyptian democracy and human rights activist Esraa Abdel Fattah, were invited to an event hosted by the Project on Middle East Democracy in Washington last month – one of many recent conferences and seminars. Meetings between high-ranking US officials – such as the House majority leader, Steny Hoyer – and the Muslim Brotherhood took place in Cairo last month, while the deputy chairman of Tunisia’s Islamist Ennahda party has recently returned from a visit to Washington to “discuss democratic transition”.
Washington hopes that these rising forces can be stripped of their ideological opposition to US hegemony and turned into pragmatists, fully integrated into the existing US-led international order. Dogma is not a problem, as long as the players agree to operate within parameters delineated for them, and play the power game without questioning its rules. It remains to be seen, however, if they risk losing their popular base in return for US favours.
Containment and integration are not only political, but economic, to be pursued through free markets and trade partnerships in the name of economic reform. Plans “to stabilise and modernise” the Tunisian and Egyptian economies – already being drafted by the World Bank, IMF and European Development Bank at Washington’s behest – are due to be presented at this week’s G8 summit. A $2bn facility to support private investment has been announced, one of many initiatives “modelled on funds that supported the transitions in eastern Europe”.
As usual, investment and aid are conditional on adoption of the US model in the name of liberalisation and reform, and on binding the region’s economies further to US and European markets under the banner of “trade integration”. One wonders what would be left of the Arab revolutions in such infiltrated civil societies, domesticated political parties, and dependent economies.
However, although the Obama administration may succeed with some Arab organisations, its bid to reproduce the eastern European scenario may be destined to fail. Prague and Warsaw looked to the US for inspiration, but for the people of Cairo, Tunis and Sana’a the US is the equivalent of the Soviet Union in eastern Europe: it is the problem, not the solution. To Arabs, the US is a force of occupation draped in a thin cloak of democracy and human rights.
No one could have offered stronger evidence of such a view than Obama himself, who began his Middle East speech with eulogies to freedom and the equality of all men, and ended it with talk of the “Jewishness of Israel”, in effect denying the citizenship rights of 20% of its Arab inhabitants and the right of return of 6 million Palestinian refugees. In vain does the US try to reconcile the irreconcilable – to preach democracy, while occupying and aiding occupation.
Tags: aipac, arab revolution, arab spring, bahrain, brian becker, democracy, egypt, gaza, golan heights, human rights, Iran, isreal-palestine, mara verheyden-hilliard, Middle East, middle east democracy, middle east dictatorship, middle east oil, mubarak, obama administration, roger hollander, saudi arabia, Syria, war, west bank
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By Brian Becker and Mara Verheyden-Hilliard
President Obama took to the airwaves today to discuss
the revolts and conflicts spreading throughout the Middle East. The U.S.
dominance over this strategic and oil-rich region has been the pivot of U.S.
foreign policy for decades. Utilizing a system of proxy and client regimes, in
addition to its own vast military forces in the region, the United States has
supported a network of brutal dictatorships and the Israeli regime for decades.
Now that system of imperial control has been shaken
by the popular risings that started in Tunisia and spread to Egypt and
elsewhere, the Obama administration spoke today at the U.S. State Department as
part of an effort to reassert U.S. leadership over the swiftly changing
Using the rhetoric of democracy and freedom to mask
the responsibility of U.S. imperialism in the enduring oppression and suffering
of the peoples of the Middle East, President Obama’s speech was a demonstration
of profound hypocrisy.
Hypocrisy: President Obama said that
the “greatest untapped resource in the Middle East and North Africa is the
talent of its people.”
Reality: The U.S. strategy is based
on control of the Middle East’s most coveted resource: two-thirds of the world’s
known oil supply. The U.S. government has given billions of dollars and armed
the most brutal dictatorships in the Middle East for decades, a practice fully
continued by the Obama administration. The U.S. government never cut funds to
the Mubarak dictatorship even while the regime murdered more than 850 peaceful
protestors. More than 5,000 civilians in Egypt have been convicted and jailed
since Jan. 25 following trials conducted by the Egyptian military. The United
States continues to provide massive funding to Egypt’s military in spite of the
ongoing repression against the people.
Hypocrisy: President Obama stated,
“it will be the policy of the United States to promote reform across the region,
and to support transitions to democracy.”
Reality: The only governments in the
Middle East that have been targeted for invasion, economic sanctions and
overthrow by the U.S. government are those that pursue policies that are
independent of U.S. economic, political and military control. The U.S. never
imposed economic sanctions on the Mubarak dictatorship and only came out
publicly against Mubarak when the tide of revolution had become irresistible.
Likewise, the U.S. supports the brutal Saudi monarchy.
Hypocrisy: President Obama
championed for the people of the Middle East the “basic rights to speak your
mind and access information,” stating, “the truth cannot be hidden; and the
legitimacy of governments will ultimately depend on active and informed
Reality: The Obama administration
has gone out of its way to punish those who would inform the public by shedding
light on the activities of the U.S. government. Bradley Manning remains jailed
with the threat of life in prison, having been held in brutal conditions that
caused the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture to seek an investigation. The
Justice Department is working at full speed to find a way to prosecute Julian
Assange of Wikileaks for disclosing government documents to the public, many of
which expose the U.S. role in the Middle East. The Obama administration has
undertaken a major campaign more aggressive than any prior administration to
criminally prosecute whistleblowers who expose the truth of illegal government
Hypocrisy: President Obama stated:
“The United States opposes the use of violence and repression against the people
of the region.”
Reality: The United States under
Obama is involved in the invasion, occupation, and bombings of four
predominantly Muslim countries simultaneously: Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and
Pakistan. Moreover, the head of state who has been the single biggest violator
of the basic human rights of Arab people and the perpetuator of violence in the
region is George W. Bush, whose illegal invasion of Iraq cost the lives of more
than one million people. The March 19, 2003, invasion was a war of aggression
against a country that did not pose any threat to the United States or the
people of the United States. The invasion and occupation of Iraq led to the
deaths of more Arab people than have been killed by all the dictatorships in the
region combined. President Obama today called Osama Bin Laden a mass murderer.
September 11, 2001, was indeed a great crime that took the lives of thousands of
innocent working people, but measured in order of the magnitude of victims
killed, Bush’s crime of mass murder in Iraq is unmatched. George W. Bush has not
been arrested for the mass killings of Iraqi people but is treated honorifically
by the Obama administration.
Hypocrisy: In an effort to appease
Arab public opinion, President Obama’s speech made it appear as if the United
States was insisting that Israel return to its pre-1967 borders. Obama stated,
“precisely because of our friendship, it is important that we tell the truth:
the status quo is unsustainable, and Israel too must act boldly to advance a
Reality: Israel’s war against the
Palestinian people would be impossible without U.S. support, which continues
unabated. The single biggest recipient of U.S. foreign aid is the state of
Israel, which uses the $3 billion it receives annually to lay siege to the
people of Gaza, continue the illegal occupation of the West Bank and prevent the
return of the families of the 750,000 Palestinians who were evicted from their
homes and villages in historic Palestine in 1948. The United Nations in various
resolutions has condemned the 1967 Israeli invasion and occupation of Gaza, the
West Bank, and Syria’s Golan Heights. Far from imposing economic sanctions,
President Obama has promised Israel a minimum of $30 billion in military aid
over the next 10 years, thus functioning as a partner in the occupation. Obama’s
speech also made it clear that the United States would support Israel retaining
vast swaths of the West Bank. This is what he meant by referring to “land
swaps.” In the coming days, Obama will have private meetings with Benjamin
Netanyahu and will be a featured speaker at the American Israel Public Affairs
Committee (AIPAC) conference. He will undoubtedly reinforce the strong
U.S.-Israeli military ties and U.S. financial support.
Hypocrisy: President Obama stated:
“We support a set of universal rights. Those rights include free speech; the
freedom of peaceful assembly; freedom of religion; equality for men and women
under the rule of law; and the right to choose your own leaders – whether you
live in Baghdad or Damascus; Sanaa or Tehran…. [W]e will continue to insist that
universal rights apply to women as well as men.”
Reality: While the U.S. government –
along with Britain and France (the former colonizers of the Middle East and
Africa) – are bombing Libya with the latest high-tech bombs and missiles in the
name of “protecting civilians” and “promoting democracy,” the Obama
administration offered the most tepid pro-forma criticism of the Bahrain
monarchy as it and the Saudi monarchy kill and imprison peaceful protestors in
Bahrain. No sanctions have even been hinted at for Bahrain or Saudi Arabia. The
Saudi monarchy is the ultimate negation of democracy, depriving women of all
rights, depriving workers of the right to form unions and depriving all sectors
of the population of any right to free speech, assembly or press. There has
never been an election in Saudi Arabia. But the Saudi monarchy functions as a
client of the U.S. government and, as such, is not targeted for economic
sanctions or “regime change” as are the governments of Syria and Libya. The
Bahrain monarchy likewise functions as a U.S. client and allows the U.S. Fifth
Fleet to use Bahrain as its home port, which is why he referred to the monarchy
as “a long-standing partner.”
Hypocrisy: President Obama denounced
the Iranian government, stating that “we will continue to insist that the
Iranian people deserve their universal rights,” and condemned what he called
Iran’s “illicit nuclear program.”
Reality: He failed to mention that
it was the CIA along with its British counterpart that staged the overthrow of
Iran’s democratic government in 1953 and reinstated the Shah’s monarchy. They
overthrew Iran’s democracy when Iran nationalized its own oil from AIOC/British
Petroleum. The U.S. only broke relations with the Iranian government when the
Shah’s dictatorship was overthrown by a populist national revolution. Regarding
nuclear weapons, the Israeli government has refused to sign the nuclear
non-proliferation treaty and has accumulated 200 “illicit” nuclear weapons. Of
course, the United States has thousands of nuclear weapons and remains the only
country to have used nuclear weapons, destroying Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.
Hypocrisy: President Obama told the
world that the United States shares the goals of the Arab revolution, that
“repression will fail, that tyrants will fall, and that every man and woman is
endowed with certain inalienable rights.”
Reality: The U.S. government,
whether it is led by Democrats or Republicans, views the oil-rich Middle East
through the lens of empire. Operating through a network of proxy regimes
including Israel, Saudi Arabia, the Mubarak dictatorship in Egypt, the Shah of
Iran until his overthrow in 1979, and other regimes in the region – and
supplemented by tens of thousands of U.S. troops positioned in U.S. bases
throughout the region and on aircraft carriers – the United States aims to
dominate and control a region that possesses two-thirds of the world’s known oil
supply. It has and continues to finance a network of brutal client
dictatorships, and it has funded the Israeli war machine and staged repeated
invasions, bombing campaigns, and occupations against the people of the region.
From Cairo to Madison: Hope and Solidarity Are Alive February 24, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in Uncategorized.
Tags: cairo, codepink, collective bargaining, egypt, labor, labor unions, labour, medea benjamin, right to strike, roger hollander, solidarity, tahrir square, unions, wisconsin, workers rights
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Co-founder, CODEPINK: Women for Peace
Here in Madison, Wisconsin, where protesters have occupied the State Capitol Building to stop the pending bill that would eliminate workers’ right to collective bargaining, echoes of Cairo are everywhere. Protesters here were elated by the photo of an Egyptian engineer named Muhammad Saladin Nusair holding a sign in Tahrir Square saying “Egypt Supports Wisconsin Workers — One World, One Pain.” The signs by protesters in Madison include “Welcome to Wiscairo,” “From Egypt to Wisconsin: We Rise Up,” and “Government Walker: Our Mubarak.” The banner I brought directly from Tahrir Square saying “Solidarity with Egyptian Workers” has been hanging from the balcony of the Capitol alongside solidarity messages from around the country.
My travels from Cairo to Madison seem like one seamless web. After camping out with the students and workers in the Capitol Building, I gave an early morning seminar on what it was like to be an eyewitness to the Egyptian revolution, and the struggles that are taking place right now in places like Libya, Bahrain and Yemen. Folks told me all day how inspiring it was to hear about the uprisings in the Arab world.
Some took the lessons from Cairo literally. Looking around at the Capitol Building that was starting to show the wear and tear from housing thousands of protesters, I had mentioned that in Cairo the activists were constantly scrubbing the square, determined to show how much they loved the space they had liberated. A few hours later, in Madison’s rotunda, people were on their hands and knees scrubbing the marble floor. “We’re quick learners,” one of the high school students told me, smiling as she picked at the remains of Oreo cookies sticking to the floor.
I heard echoes of Cairo in the Capitol hearing room where a nonstop line of people had gathered all week to give testimonies. The Democratic assemblymembers have been giving folks a chance to voice their concerns about the governor’s pending bill. In this endless stream of heartfelt testimonies, people talk about the impact this bill will have on their own families — their take-home pay, their health care, their pensions. They talk about the governor manufacturing the budget crisis to break the unions. They talk about the history of workers’ struggles to earn living wages and have decent benefits. And time and again, I heard people say, “I saw how the Egyptian people were able to rise up and overthrow a 30-year dictatorship, and that inspired me to rise up and fight this bill.”
Solidarity is, indeed, a beautiful thing. It is a way we show our oneness with all of humanity; it is a way to reaffirm our own humanity. CODEPINK sent flowers to the people in Tahrir Square — a gesture that was received with kisses, hugs and tears from the Egyptians. The campers in Madison erupted in cheer when they heard that an Egyptian had called the local pizza place Ians Pizza and placed a huge order to feed the protesters. “Pizza never tasted so good,” a Wisconsin fireman commented when he was told that the garlic pizza he was eating had come from supporters in Cairo.
Egyptian engineer Muhammad Saladin Nusair, the one whose photo supporting Wisconsin workers went viral, now has thousands of new American Facebook friends. He wrote in his blog that many of his new friends were surprised by his gesture of solidarity, but he was taught that “we live in ONE world and under the same sky.”
“If a human being doesn’t feel the pain of his fellow human beings, then everything we’ve created and established since the very beginning of existence is in great danger,” Muhammad wrote. “We shouldn’t let borders and differences separate us. We were made different to complete each other, to integrate and live together. One world, one pain, one humanity, one hope.”
From the trenches of Madison’s State Capitol Building, hope — and solidarity — are alive and well.
Medea Benjamin is co-founder of CODEPINK (www.codepink.org) and Global Exchange (www.globalexchange.org).
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Gaza, Here We Come to Break the Siege May 24, 2010Posted by rogerhollander in Genocide, Israel, Gaza & Middle East.
Tags: Ann Wright, egypt, egyptian government, ehud barak, free gaza, gaza, gaza blockade, gaza massacre, gaza siege, humanitarian aid, israel, israel apartheid, israeli government, israeli navy, rachel corrie, roger hollander
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I am honored to be a part of the latest international citizen effort to break the Israeli and Egyptian governments’ siege of Gaza. This week, hundreds of persons from 20 countries will challenge the Israeli naval blockade of Gaza in an eight ship flotilla.
An international coalition composed of Free Gaza Movement, European Campaign to End the Siege of Gaza, the Malaysian humanitarian organization Perdana and the Turkish non-governmental organization Humanitarian Aid Foundation (IHH) is sending three cargo ships and five passenger vessels to Gaza from Ireland, Greece and Turkey.While the citizens mobilize, their governments are receiving intense diplomatic pressure from the Israeli government. On Monday, May 17, 2010, Naor Gilon, the Israeli Foreign Ministry deputy director general, told the ambassadors of Greece, Ireland, Turkey, and Sweden that the attempt to break Israel’s blockage Gaza ” is a provocation and a breach of Israeli law,” and that “Israel has no intention of allowing the flotilla to enter Gaza,” according to a ministry statement.
Arabic-language news station Al-Hurra reported that “about half of the Israeli naval forces will participate in an operation that was approved by the cabinet” and that Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak will supervise the operation. Israel will prevent the boats from reaching Gaza “at any price,” an Israeli security source told the Ma’an news agency.
Three ships are leaving Turkey, including a 600 person passenger ship and two cargo ships filled with humanitarian supplies such as medical equipment, pre-fabricated homes and construction supplies to rebuild housing for 50,000 persons destroyed in the 22 day Israeli attack on Gaza in December, 2008 and January, 2009. The passenger ship left Istanbul on May 22 to a tremendous send-off from thousands of supporters!
Two ships will depart the Athens, Greece port of Piraeus and two more ships will depart from the Greek island of Crete. The cargo ship Rachel Corrie, purchased by Perdana, the Malaysian humanitarian organization, loaded with medical supplies and cement, is on its way from Ireland and will meet up with the flotilla off the coast of Gaza. The ship is named for activist Rachel Corrie who was run over and killed by the Israeli military driver of a huge Caterpillar bulldozer that was knocking down homes of Palestinian families in Rafah, Gaza in March, 2003.
I am in Athens, Greece to assist in the briefings for passengers and crew on the two ships departing from Piraeus and then will fly to Crete to board a Free Gaza ship to sail to Gaza.
Free Gaza has attempted to sail 8 ships into the Gaza port in the past two years. Five ships have gotten into Gaza and three have been forced back by the Israeli navy including one ship that was rammed and almost sunk by an Israeli patrol boat.
An incredible amount of work is taking place in the port of Gaza. Workers are digging out the area along the pier in anticipation of the arrival of the cargo ships. No cargo ships have been unloaded in Gaza in 43 years since the port was closed by the Israelis after the 1967 war.
As the flotilla leaves Greece and heads across the Mediterranean to Gaza, please follow the historic flotilla by a live-feed link that will broadcast live footage of this historic voyage.
Ann Wright is a 29 year US Army/Army Reserves veteran who retired as a Colonel and a former US diplomat who resigned in March, 2003 in opposition to the war on Iraq. She served in Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone, Micronesia and Mongolia. In December, 2001 she was on the small team that reopened the US Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan. She is the co-author of the book “Dissent: Voices of Conscience.” (www.voicesofconscience.com)