Saturday, January 4, 2014

The Syrian Double Revolution and the Euro-Leftist Double Impotency

Link by Leil Zahra
Since the beginning of the Syrian Revolution many radical Leftist groups and networks, both on the international and local levels in Europe and around the world, have engaged in a heated debate on wether to support the revolution or not, on wether it was a revolution or an imperialist conspiracy. The European counterargument against the revolution had a quite-telling approach that was different from many in the rest of the world. It wasn´t just the usual claim that the Assad regime is one of the last-standing anti-imperialist forces. That claim became weaker in Europe after the aggravation of the regime crimes accompanied with hard-to-deny evidence on its brutality continuously coming out from Syria. Many within the European Left over and over affirmed that they will not support what is happening in Syria until they find revolutionary forces worthy of their support. The difference in approach was in the claim that there was no third option that is “revolutionary” and that poses a substitute to both the Assad regime and the Islamist militias. This approach wasn´t only problematic in its privileged laziness in not doing the needed effort to find these networks in Syria, but also in its White-tailored presets for what is a “better future” for the Syrians. It is the cliché and banal dichotomy of Secular vs. Islamist, something very reminiscent of Huntington´s “Clash of Civilizations”. It also bears a certain condescending patronization on who is worthy of demanding an end to a certain terrorist regime and who is not. This is a very dangerous approach. It is a clear double-standard in the alleged radical Leftist agenda, and a quite revoking one. Any people, whether we agree with them or not, who are living under such an oppressive and violent regime, has the right to overthrow it. Whether they have a plan that meets our aspirations on what is to come next, or not, it is their full right and own choice to rebel. We can be critical and actively disagree with their agenda, but we should never justify or whitewash the crimes of the regime against them. Refusing to support certain anti-regime actions or groups that do not meet our politics is needed and important, but this should not be mistaken for a support to the regime forces or undermining rebellious efforts of other groups and individuals. This is not problematic on the Syrian question only. It is a clear call for reflection on the mentality and approach of a big section of the European Left. This is where the debate is urgently needed. The strictly Eurocentric definition of the world, of politics, and even of revolution itself. The European Left has made a brand out of Revolution. It was taken under a European copyright and it gets bestowed on some and denied to others. It is given and could be taken away. Alas!

With over 170 days of siege on the El-Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp in Syria, and over 30 people there murdered by the regime forces with the weapon of starvation, Assad´s credibility as a pro-Palestine leader crumbled. It is no longer easy to justify his crimes against El-Yarmouk, nor paint him as the Palestine-loving fairy. It became harder and harder for people to look the other way. The humanitarian approach was gaining grounds before the revolutionary agenda. While El-Yarmouk suffered for a pretty long time, and its rebellious residents joined the revolution very early on, it took starvation and the usual postcard of dying children to get the world´s attention; especially the world of Palestine-solidarity networks in Europe and beyond.  Starvation can´t be justified as a bomb that allegedly took a wrong turn, nor it could be blamed on certain anti-regime militias. It was no longer easy to keep the eyes closed! Though this only undermined one of Assad´s PR points, it still didn´t provoke the needed reaction. The Palestinian refugees in the El-Yarmouk camp, like many Syrians, are dying of hunger. The regime is using starvation as a weapon. Clear? Now action is needed!
The denial of life-saving medicines and vaccines is also being used as a weapon. For example, Polio vaccines are denied or given in amounts much less than the needed ones to zones out of the regime control. This is not a matter of a UNICEF-style activism of sick children on a postcard like some claim. And it is not a matter of the World Health Organization taking its responsibilities and duties seriously, plus putting the funds it has into action. This is another evidence, just like the refugee question, on the corruption of the international relief agencies. On the amount of money wasted and on diplomatic and bureaucratic protocols that are respected more than life itself. Health is being used as a weapon, as a repressive measure that is destroying the lives of many and will most probably leave life-long life-devestating impacts. There is a revolutionary obligation to actively put an end to this and as soon as possible. This is in no way different than fighting against a nuclear-power facility or a multinational that endangers the lives of many and that of the future generations, except maybe in its pressing urgency.
Today it is harder than ever for the European Left to claim that the anti-Assad camp is void of people who fit the Eurocentric and classist definition of people worthy of solidarity. They are there, and there names and faces are all over the place. It is also hard to deny that there is a force seen as a threat by both Assad and the Islamists. It also became hard to push Syria into faraway geographic oblivion since Syria is now right here drowning at EU borders. What is left to see is how the European Left will react now that it has less and less excuses to justify its revolutionary impotence not just on Syria, but on its own fronts that are also implicated in the Syrian question.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Egyptian protesters killed as state crackdown widens

Egypt protest
Muslim Brotherhood activists opposed to the army’s overthrow of president Mohamed Morsi clash with police in Cairo. Photograph: Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters
Protesters shot dead as Muslim Brotherhood activists battle against police, say medical and security sources
"Thirteen people were shot dead as supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood clashed with police across Egypt on Friday, defying an ever-widening state crackdown on the movement that ruled the country until six months ago.
Islamists opposed to the army's overthrow of President Mohamed Morsiin July have been holding daily demonstrations, even after the army-backed government declared his Brotherhood a terrorist group last week, increasing the penalties for dissent.
The government is using the new classification to detain hundreds of Brotherhood supporters. Thousands more, including top leaders of the group, have been in jail for months, arrested in the aftermath of the army takeover.
The crackdown has reduced but not entirely broken the ability of the Brotherhood to mobilise protests. It has lately been relying on students to sustain momentum against what it refers to as the "putschist regime" governing Egypt.
In the Cairo district of Nasr City riot police in bulletproof vests fired teargas at protesters throwing fireworks and stones. Similar clashes erupted across the country, as has become commonplace after midday prayers each Friday, not a working day in Egypt.
The health ministry said three protesters were killed in different districts in Cairo. A security source said they died from bullet wounds, though it was unclear if the police or armed civilians had shot them.
In a separate incident, showing the deepening divisions since Morsi was ousted, a man yelling insults at pro-Brotherhood demonstrators marching near his house was shot dead by the protesters, a security source said.
A male protester and a woman were shot dead in the coastal city of Alexandria, medical and security sources said. It was not clear whether the woman was a protester or an onlooker.
Another demonstrator was shot dead by police in the Suez Canal city of Ismailia after a march set off from a mosque after midday prayers, medical sources said.
In the rural province of Fayoum, south-west of Cairo, three protesters, including a student, died from bullet wounds to the chest and head, local Health Ministry official Medhat Shukri said.
Another university student was shot dead during clashes in the southern town of Minya. The health ministry said 42 people were wounded nationwide.
Police arrested 122 Brotherhood members for possession of weapons, the interior ministry said in a statement. The Brotherhood says its supporters are unarmed."

Al-Jazeera Video: مظاهرات منددة بالانقلاب بعدد من محافظات مصر

"أبلة فاهيته" تثير الجدل في الشارع المصري

هل أصبح النظام ومعارضوه مجرد أدوات في أيدي المتصارعين على سوريا؟

د. فيصل القاسم

لو نظرت إلى العناوين التي تطلقها وسائل الإعلام المختلفة على ما يجري فيسوريا، لوجدت أن، حتى المؤيد منها للثورة لم يعد يسميها ثورة، فقد تكالب القاصي والداني عليها ليحولها إلى أكبر مأساة في هذا القرن. ومخطئ من يعتقد أن النظام السوري لا يحظى بدعم مخفي هائل من الأقربين والأبعدين لجعل الثورة السورية آخر الثورات، فقد أكدها رئيس النظام بنفسه في الخطاب الأول، الذي ألقاه في مجلس الشعب عندما قال: ‘سأقلب حركة دومينو الثورات في الاتجاه المعاكس′، بحيث يتوقف قطارها في سوريا
طبعاً، لن تكون الثورة السورية آخر الثورات، فعجلة التاريخ لا تتوقف في مكان معين، بل تواصل المسير حتى لو تعرقلت مؤقتاً. لكن الأكيد أن النظام، وبمباركة عربية وإقليمية ودولية، عمل على إفساد الثورة، وتحويلها وبالاً على الشعب السوري.
لا شك أن هناك الكثير من السوريين الذين ما زالوا مؤمنين بثورتهم، ويقاتلون مخلصين من أجل انتصارها، لكن أرض الواقع لم تعد تتحدث عن ثورة بالمفهوم الذي انطلقت به الثورة في الخامس عشر من شهر إبريل نيسان عام 2011. 
لا بد من الاعتراف بأن سوريا تحولت إلى ساحة صراع دولي وإقليمي وعربي فاقع المعالم، لا بل يمكن القول إن التاريخ كله استيقظ في سوريا، ففجر مختلف أنواع الصراعات على الأرض السورية، السياسية والعرقية والمذهبية والدينية والفكرية والاقتصادية والتكتيكية والاستراتيجية. 
وكان رأس النظام قد هدد بذلك منذ أكثر من سنة في لقاء مع صحيفة ‘التايمز′ البريطانية، حيث قال إن ‘سوريا تقع على فالق زلزالي خطير، فإذا تحرك تحركت معه كل المنطقة’. وهذا ما حصل فعلاً، بحيث أصابت مفاعيل الزلزال السوري كل الدول المجاورة دون استثناء. 
بعبارة أخرى، فإن النظام انتقم من الجميع بتحويل الصراع إلى صراع عربي وإقليمي ودولي. لكن نتيجةً لتحول سوريا إلى أرض صراع ومحاور متنافسة وجد السوريون أنفسهم، نظاماً ومعارضة، مجبرين على الانضواء تحت لواء هذا الفريق أو ذاك، دون أن يعلموا أنهم تحولوا إلى مجرد أدوات وبيادق رخيصة، إن لم نقل مرتزقة، في خدمة هذا المشروع أو ذاك، بدل أن يمسكوا بزمام الأمور في بلدهم ولمصلحتهم.
لاحظوا الآن كيف أصبح الاستقطاب مرعباً داخل سوريا، فكي يحمي نفسه، حتى لو على حطام سوريا، راح النظام يستعين بالقاصي والداني لمواجهة الطرف المعارض، الذي بدوره استعان، أو فرضت عليه الاستعانة، بكل من هب ودب لمواجهة النظام. 
وقد وصل عدد الجماعات الأجنبية التي تساند النظام في حربه ضد خصومه إلى ثلاثين فصيلاً من مختلف بقاع العالم. وقد أصبح الشيعي الباكستاني والأفغاني والكوري الشمالي والروسي والإيراني أقرب إلى النظام من أبناء جلدته المعارضين لحكمه. ناهيك عن أن النظام رهن ثروات سوريا النفطية والغازية لروسيا على أمل أن تساعده في البقاء في السلطة. 
وفي المقابل أصبح الشيشاني والعراقي والقوقازي أقرب إلى مقاتلي المعارضة من أبناء بلدهم المؤيدين للنظام. وهو ما يذكرنا بحروب ملوك الطوائف في الاندلس، الذين كانوا يستعينون بالأجنبي على بعضهم البعض، فانتهى بهم الأمر إلى زوالهم جميعاً. فلا يفلح الأرض إلا عجولها، كما يقول المثل الشعبي. ولا يمكن للمرتزقة أن يبنوا أوطاناً أو يحققوا انتصارات وطنية، بل سيتعامل معهم العالم كمطية. ولا يستبعد أن يصبح مصير سوريا كلبنان والعراق بعد أن تحولت إلى ملعب دولي وعربي وإقليمي بعد أن كانت لاعباً رئيسياً. 
لقد كان لبنان الدولة العربية الوحيدة التي لا تمتلك قرارها الوطني المستقبل، فلا يمكن تعيين رئيس إلا بعد أن تتفق الأطراف الخارجية التي لها مصالح فيلبنان. لكن يبدو أن لبنان لم يعد وحيداً في هذا الأمر، فالعراق الذي تحول بدوره إلى لعبة، أصبح كلبنان بالضبط، بدليل أن الأطراف الإقليمية والدولية لم تقبل بتعيين اياد علاوي رئيساً للوزراء، بالرغم من أنه فاز في الانتخابات، فعينت إيران وأمريكا وسوريا نوري المالكي بدلاً عن علاوي، لأن القرار العراقي الوطني خرج من أيدي العراقيين بعد أن قبلوا بأن يكونوا مجرد أدوات في مشاريع الخارج. 
وبدورها أصبحت سوريا، التي كانت تتلاعب بسياسات الدول المجاورة، هي نفسها كلبنان والعراق، بعد أن فقدت قراراها الوطني المستقل.
لاحظوا الآن: لا يمكن حل الأزمة السورية بين السوريين أنفسهم، بل عندما تتفق مصالح الدول التي تعبث بسوريا فقط. ولا يمكن تعيين قيادة سورية جديدة إذا هدأت الأمور إلا بتوافق عربي إقليمي دولي!
أين تكمن مصلحة بلد تم دفع أبنائه الى الاقتتال في ما بينهم؟ يتساءل أحد الكتاب. ألم يؤد ذلك إلى دمار البنية التحتية والعمرانية للبلد، وجعل من مؤسسات الدولة خرابات تأوي اليها الغربان، ولا نفع منها.
وأياً كان الطرف الرابح في هذا الصراع، فهو خاسر، وأقصد أبناء البلد. أما القوى الخارجية العابثة في بلدنا فلديها الاستعداد ان تحرق سورية أرضا وشعبا لأجل مصالحها. ولا أحد يلومها عندما تجد أبناء البلد الواحد وقد تحولوا إلى ما يشبه المرتزقة في خدمة مشاريع الآخرين، كما يفعل النظام ومعارضوه. 
إن الأطراف التي تدعي مساعدة السوريين بمختلف فصائلهم الرسمية والمعارضة لا تفعل ذلك لتحقيق مصالح السوريين، بل لتحقيق مصالحها. فالدول ليست جمعيات خيرية، عربية كانت أو ايرانية أو روسية أو أمريكية. 
ولا بد أن نتساءل الآن: أين مصلحة سوريا والسوريين ضمن المصالح الخارجية المتصارعة على أرض سوريا؟ لا نراها أبداً. للأسف!
الآن وقد تحولت الثورة السورية إلى إقطاعيات تمتلكها جهات خارجية عدة متصارعة، على السوريين أن يعملوا جاهدين على استعادة بلدهم من براثن الخارج الذي لا يهمه لا سوريا ولا السوريون، بل يهمه مصالحه في سوريا بالدرجة الأولى، كما اعترف نعيم قاسم، نائب زعيم حزب الله بنفسه، حينما قال:’ نحن ندافع في سوريا عن مصالحنا فقط’. 
وما قاله قاسم ينسحب على المجموعات الأخرى، التي تتصارع مع جماعة نعيم قاسم. لهذا على السوريين، شعباً ومعارضة ونخباً وجيشاً وأمناً، أن لا يسمحوا لأنفسهم بأن يبقوا مجرد أدوات في أيدي قوى آخر ما يهمها سوريا. 
وإذا لم يستطع السوريون بمختلف انتماءاتهم أن يلعبوا دوراً إيجابياً، على الأقل يجب أن لا يستمروا في لعبة المصالح الدولية والإقليمية المتطاحنة على أرض بلدهم في غير صالحهم.

Current Al-Jazeera (Arabic) Online Poll

Are the attacks in Beirut's southern suburb in response to Hizbullah's participation in the fighting in Syria?

So far, 79% have voted yes. 

Egypt: Halt crackdown on vocal critics in politically motivated trial

Amnesty International

Egyptian blogger and activist Alaa Abdel Fattah is one of three prominent activists on trial.
Egyptian blogger and activist Alaa Abdel Fattah is one of three prominent activists on trial.

"Three prominent activists are facing trial in an apparently politically motivated case based on unreliable witnesses and scant evidence, said Amnesty International ahead of a court verdict due this Sunday.
On 5 January a criminal court in Giza, Greater Cairo, is expected to deliver a verdict in a case against 12 people accused of attacking and setting fire to the campaign headquarters of former presidential candidate, Ahmed Shafiq, on 28 May 2012. The defendants include three leading activists who have been critical of abuses committed by the security forces under successive Egyptian governments. 
The Egyptian authorities must not use Sunday’s verdict to punish activists who oppose them. There are reasons to believe the trial is politically motivated. All three activists have denied they were present at the scene and evidence against them is questionable,” said Said Boumedouha, Acting Director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programme. 
The proceedings appear to be part of an escalating government campaign to silence critics, including supporters of the ousted president Mohamed Morsi and the affiliated Muslim Brotherhood, as well as secular activists.
“The authorities must not resort to judicial harassment to crush dissent. A conviction that is not based on independent, impartial and adequate investigations and reliable evidence would be unfair. It could also be perceived as aimed at preventing the three activists from carrying out their political and human rights work.”
Two of the defendants, Alaa Abdel Fattah and Mona Seif, who are brother and sister, are well known for criticizing human rights abuses committed by security forces and the army during the rule of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) and since. A third defendant, Ahmed Abdallah of the 6 April Youth Movement, has also spoken out against successive Egyptian governments. All three activists played prominent roles in the uprising against Hosni Mubarak. They also opposed the candidacy of Ahmed Shafiq, who is regarded by many to be a remnant of the Mubarak regime. 
The three activists have been thorns in the sides of successive governments for their relentless criticism of the security forces, and for that they were pursued by both the generals and Mohamed Morsi while they were in power,” said Said Boumedouha.
“The mere fact they are back in the dock following Mohamed Morsi’s removal is yet another ominous signal of the authorities’ determination to stamp out dissent and deter people from across the political spectrum from speaking out.” 
In March the activists, along with nine others, were referred to trial on charges of arson, theft, damaging property, using violence and endangering “public safety” during an attack on the headquarters of Ahmed Shafiq in the run-up to the second round of presidential elections pitting him against Mohamed Morsi. 
The prosecution relied heavily on alleged eyewitness testimony of the head of police investigations, casting doubt on its impartiality and credibility. The six other testimonies used to substantiate charges against the activists included people, many of whom have criminal records or are facing pending criminal investigations. As such, they are more susceptible to pressure and manipulation by the police and prosecuting authorities.   
Only one prosecution witness appeared in court despite the defence’s request to cross-examine the other alleged eyewitnesses. This witness testified that he had seen Alaa Abdel Fattah near the scene of the crime, but acknowledged he had not seen him holding any weapons or committing violence. He admitted not recognizing the other defendants.  
Despite requests from the defence, no audiovisual or other material evidence linking the defendants to the crime was presented. 
Several defence witnesses provided alibis for the accused, testifying that they were not present near the Shafiq headquarters at the time it was attacked. 
“An alarming trend has emerged of flawed judicial proceedings and selective justice. Egyptian courts acquit members of the security forces charged with killing protesters while imposing heavy prison terms on peaceful protesters. If the public’s trust in the independence and impartiality of Egyptian justice is to be restored, the court must judge this case on its merits, adhering to international fair trial standards, and not bow to political pressures ,” said Said Boumedouha.  
Alaa Abdel Fattah has been detained since 28 November 2013, charged with participating in an “unauthorized” protest in front of the Shura Council on 26 November. Amnesty International believes he is a prisoner of conscience, detained solely for his peaceful exercise of his rights to freedom of expression and assembly. His sister, Mona Seif, was arrested and beaten during that protest, but released hours later without charge. The remaining defendants are at liberty pending the verdict. 
Additional information about the defendants present in court
Alaa Abdel Fattah is a well-known blogger and political activist who has been harassed by successive Egyptian governments. 
During the rule of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), he was arrested on 13 November 2011 on charges of participating in violence during protests in front of the Maspero television building in Cairo, which led to the deaths of 27 people. He was detained until his release pending investigation in December 2011. Amnesty International believes that Alaa Abd El Fattah was targeted by the SCAF because of his leading role as a blogger and activist. No convincing evidence was ever presented to substantiate the charges against him, which were finally dropped in April 2012. 
During the presidency of Mohamed Morsi, he was summoned for questioning by the public prosecution in relation to protests in front of the headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood in Cairo on 22 March.
In relation to the case of the burning of Ahmed Shafiq’s headquarters, he told the court that he did not participate in the protest in front of the headquarters, and heard the news about the attack after it happened.
Mona Seif is one of the founders of Egypt’s “No to Military Trials” movement and was a runner up in the 2013 Martin Ennals Award for Human Rights Defenders. She was arrested and beaten by members of the armed forces during a sit-in in front of the Egyptian Cabinet offices in December 2011. 
She was arrested on 26 November 2013 along with dozens of others in front of the Shura Council during a protest calling for provisions allowing for the military trial of civilians to be excluded from the constitution. She remained in security forces’ custody along with a group of other female protesters until she was dumped on a desert road at 1am on 27 November without charge. 
In relation to the case of the burning of Ahmed Shafiq’s headquarters, she explained that she was in a different area of Cairo at the time of the attack.
Ahmed Abdallah is a prominent member of the 6 April Youth Movement. The group played a key role in the “25 January Revolution” which led to the removal of Hosni Mubarak. Initially he supported Mohamed Morsi’s candidacy during the second round of Egypt’s presidential elections in 2012 against Ahmed Shafiq, but he and the movement grew increasingly critical of his policies. Ahmed Abdallah has continued to actively denounce ongoing human rights abuses. Following the ousting of Mohamed Morsi, he co-founded the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms, a group which documents and denounces human rights violations. 
He told Amnesty International, and the court, that he was not present in front of Shafiq’s headquarters at the time of the attack. 
One of the founders of the 6 April Youth Movement and its former head, Ahmed Maher, was sentenced to three years imprisonment and heavy fines on 22 December along with another 6 April member, Mohamed Adel, and another activist, Ahmed Douma, on charges of participating in an “unauthorized” protest and “attacking” security forces on duty on 30 November. The charges relate to a protest by Ahmed Maher’s supporters outside the Abdeen Misdemeanours Court building on 30 November, when the activist turned himself in to the Prosecution for questioning about an “unauthorized” protest three days earlier outside the Shura Council. The security forces clashed with protesters during the demonstration, but lawyers told Amnesty International that at the time of the clashes with security forces Ahmed Maher was being questioned by the Office of the Public Prosecutor inside the court and Ahmed Douma was inside the court as well. Amnesty International considers them prisoners of conscience detained solely for their peaceful political activism. 
The human rights situation in Egypt has suffered a number of recent setbacks. On 24 November, the government adopted and immediately used a new repressive assembly law which essentially bans protests without Ministry of Interior approval, grants wide discretionary powers to security forces to forcibly disperse peaceful protests, and treats peaceful protesters like criminals. Those critical of the authorities’ actions found themselves arrested, beaten, and judicially harassed. Most recently, on 2 January, a court in Alexandria sentenced seven activists to two years in prison and heavy fines for participating in an “unauthorized” protest late last year. Four activists are currently in detention.  In another alarming incident, on 18 December, a group of armed security force personnel, reportedly numbering about 50, raided the headquarters of well known human rights NGO, the Egyptian Centre for Economic and Social Rights, arresting, torturing and ill-treating six people, before releasing five without charge."

The Crook Anoints the New Pharaoh: Former minister Zahi Hawass compares Egypt's Abdel Fatah al-Sisi to pharaoh

Zahi Hawass at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, Egypt, 2011
Zahi Hawass says that if he were to return to office he would renew calls for the repatriation of the Rosetta Stone. Photograph: Karam Nasser/APA/Rex
Archaeologist and former antiquities minister says rise of army leader mirrors ascent of Mentuhotep II 4,000 years ago
"When Mohamed Morsi became the second Egyptian president to be ousted in three years in July, many felt history was repeating itself. ForZahi Hawass, a flamboyant antiquities minister under Hosni Mubarak, that feeling was particularly acute – though he was thinking of a much older precedent.
For him, the move by the army chief Abdel Fatah al-Sisi evoked memories not just of his old boss's ignominious exit but the rise to power of the pharaoh Mentuhotep II, who took charge of Egypt about 4,150 years ago.
"In my opinion, Sisi is really Mentuhotep II," said Hawass. "You need to understand what happened 4,000 years ago to understand what is happening now."
In Hawass's view, the upheaval Egypt has experienced since 2011 mirrors the century of chaos that preceded Mentuhotep's accession to the Egyptian throne in 2046BC. Mentuhotep restored order to Egypt – much as Hawass argues Sisi is about to do today. "We need an elected officer – a strong man – to control the country. And in my opinion, Sisi is our only hope."
Hawass is particularly hopeful about Sisi's rise, perhaps because it has come hand-in-hand with the rehabilitation of many of those who – like Hawass – were once tainted by their association with Mubarak. Under the former president, Hawass became something of an international celebrity, starring in his own reality series and putting his name to a line of khaki trousers. But when Mubarak fell, Hawass hung on to his position for a few months, before leaving under a cloud of unproved corruption allegations – an obvious target for public anger.
Now Hawass is back on Egypt's payroll, as an ambassador for the country's tourism ministry. Almost unthinkable a year ago, he is even angling for a return to his old job as antiquities minister – once a permanent government is installed – and claims to have widespread backing from ministry officials.
"I can't come back under a temporary government," said Hawass. "But I would like to come back to finish this. Twenty-thousand people signed a petition asking me to come back. Young people come to me now crying, because they cannot excavate like in the past."
Whether people really do come to him in tears is a moot point – while in office, his critics resented what they saw as his favouritism, and say he took too much credit for other's finds. But Egypt's archaeological lands have certainly come under extreme threat since Hawass's time.
After police downed tools amid the breakdown of law and order that followed Mubarak's exit, looters and rogue builders moved in on several antiquities sites across Egypt, causing substantial damage.
In one well-documented land-grab, locals seized several acres next to the Dahshur pyramids, just south of Cairo, and built an illegal cemetery – a problem mirrored in several places across the country. "What is happening to antiquities now is a crime. There are illegal excavations everywhere all over Egypt," said Hawass, who estimates more than 30% of Egypt's ancient sites may have been damaged, an unverifiable figure nevertheless echoed by others in the field. "People can do anything," he added.
There are plenty of archaeologists sounding the alarm and proposing solutions – but for Hawass, there is naturally only one man to lead the fightback. "It's a gift from god," said Hawass of his talent for administration, which his supporters say brought both higher revenues and greater ambition to the antiquities ministry. "I have a vision. But the people in charge now do not have one."
According to his own folklore, only Hawass has the clout to repatriate ancient Egyptian artefacts sitting in museums overseas. Under his hypothetical new ministership, Hawass would renew calls for the return of the British Museum's Rosetta Stone, the ornate slab of rock that holds the key to many hieroglyphics. "The British Museum did lots of good work for Egypt," Hawass said. "But the Rosetta Stone represents the identity of Egyptian antiquities, and it should be in Egypt."
Hawass has a gift for self-promotion – he is currently promoting his latest book, Discovering Tutankhamun – but he rejects the criticism that as minister he took credit for the work of other people. He also says he never had favourites and argues that those ministry officials whose careers he supported above others where chosen on qualifications only.
In 2013 Hawass was accused of giving US magazine National Geographic special access to pyramid sites, in exchange for large payments. But on this, and all other suggestions of corruption, Hawass insists his innocence: "When 20 people made accusations against me, there was nothing. Because I was clean and I never break the law in my life," he said.
In short, Hawass feels he has little to apologise for and if he does ever return in triumph he will never need to. Even his 11th-hour defence of Mubarak in 2011, who Hawass said should stay to oversee an orderly transition of power, was in his view the right thing to do.
If there is one fault he will own up to, it is his ego – not that it is, in the Hawassian worldview, necessarily a flaw.
"When I talk people listen to me, when [others] talk people sleep," he said. "I don't see why people criticise me about this. I made Egypt in the hearts of everyone everywhere. Before, only foreigners used to do that. I went to England, and I got in a lift, and a lady fainted when she saw me. She could not believe that I was in her hotel. What can I do?"

Thursday, January 2, 2014

President Abbas and his addiction to secret negotiations

By Abdel Bari Atwan

"The Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is addicted to negotiations and secret channels with the Israelis and therefore it was not surprising when it was revealed that secret meetings had been held in London between Basel Aqel, one of his top advisors, and Isaac Molcho, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's right hand man.
The spokesperson for the Palestinian Authority, Nabil Abu Radina, denied such negotiations and stated that Basel Aqel, a Palestinian businessman and Palestinian National Council member, had the meeting on his own. However, Israeli reports on one hand and the resignation of the Palestinian negotiations delegation on the other make this denial unconvincing, especially since the denial was weak and brief. Israeli newspapers also stress that it is false and have revealed tours and meetings in London attended and confirmed by Efraim Sneh himself.
We can neither understand nor accept the route taken by President Abbas, i.e. opening secret negotiation channels at a time when his closest men such as Dr Saeb Erekat and Dr Mohamed Eshtieh are publically negotiating with Molcho himself and Tzipi Livni after abandoning all the Palestinian conditions. This reminds us of the events of 1992 when Abbas got involved in secret negotiations in Oslo while the Palestinian delegation, led by the late Dr Haidar Abdel-Shafi, was negotiating with the Israelis in the context of the Geneva Peace Conference with the other Arab countries.
Dr Erekat and Dr Eshtieh are members of the Fatah executive committee and are President Abbas's confidants, so why would he by-pass them in such a humiliating manner and convey them as the deceived partner? If he didn't trust them, he shouldn't have charged them with the task of negotiations.
Moreover, why did Abbas send his advisor to London to negotiate in secret and reach an agreement while his negotiators, who are publically negotiating, have announced that talks have reached an impasse and that there is no point in continuing, and while he himself - only a few kilometres away from occupied Jerusalem and Tel Aviv - is under Israeli occupation and cannot move without informing and receiving the permission of the Israeli internal security? Why would he burden the broke Palestinian treasury with more debt?
The Palestinian president has been negotiating for 20 years without reaching any results and instead receives more insults, settlements, and crippling Israeli conditions; hasn't he given up, isn't he bored? Isn't it time to get treatment and in turn recover from the disease of secret negotiation addiction?
We thought that Dr Erekat, who famously said "life is negotiations" was the only one afflicted with this addiction. But it seems he is merely a student of President Abbas's academy.
I believe the problem does not only lie in President Abbas and his negotiating team, but also in the Palestinian people who have accepted such a mockery to go on before their eyes, in particular the Palestinian movements and groups."

2014: Failure of Palestinian Authority, BDS Success to Continue

By Ramzy Baroud
Palestine Chronicle

"2013 was a year in which the so-called peace process charade was allowed to continue, leading Palestinians on yet another futile journey of broken promises. Meanwhile, the Israeli colonial project in the West Bank and East Jerusalem carried on unabated. But it was not entirely a year of doom and gloom either, for the global boycott campaign (BDS) has taken off like never before, surpassing the capricious Palestinian leadership and its confined political platforms.
Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas is an unsuccessful leader, to say the least. But a much harsher judgment can arguably be made. When he out rightly rejected the boycott of Israel in an interview while attending the service of South Africa’s iconic leader Nelson Mandela, many Palestinians went on to describe his words as an act of treason. “We don’t ask anyone to boycott Israel itself. We have relations with Israel, we have mutual recognition of Israel,” he was quoted.
The irony is that an international boycott movement was another facet of the anti-Apartheid struggle in South Africa. For Abbas to reject boycotting in the Palestinian context – of the very country that is responsible for military occupation, countless war crimes, the siege on Gaza, violation of numerous international laws, the Apartheid Wall and for much more – while attending Mandela’s funeral is a testament to Abbas’ own political and moral bankruptcy.
Yet merely two weeks after Abbas’ statement, his chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, was once more threatening to take Israel to the International Criminal Court (ICC) if it carried on another settlement expansion scheme in occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank.
Erekat is understandably angry that the rightwing government of Benjamin Netanyahu plans to build another 1,400 homes for illegal settlers in several colonies, including 600 in Ramat Shlomo, which is located in the West Bank but was illegally annexed into occupied East Jerusalem. 800 other homes will be built in various settlements in the occupied West Bank, which Israel plans to keep in any future agreement.
“We strongly condemn this and consider it damaging for the peace process”, said Erekat. He described Netanyahu’s move as “a war crime”. Even by the ever tolerant standards of the PA, its officials have invoked the term ‘war crimes’ on so many occasions, and threatened to resort to the ICC, a threat that, of course, was never carried out.
Yet, there is no serious drive championed by the Palestinian leadership calling for punitive measures against Israel, only a halfhearted step that was taken in November 2012, when Palestine exacted international recognition in the UN, becoming a non-member state. Faced by Israeli obstinacy and a growing resentment among Palestinians of Abbas and his authority’s mounting corruption and failures, the Palestinian leader had no option but to seek anything that could be promoted by his jubilant supporters in the occupied territories as a ‘victory’. Abbas returned home to be greeted as a liberation hero by his loyalists in Ramallah, a stunt that didn’t fool many.
But in theory, the recognition also meant that if the PA agreed to sign up to the ICC’s Rome Statute, it could finally take Israel to the criminal court. Other practical steps could have also been taken, whereby Palestine could join dozens of international organizations, and hold Israel accountable for its continued crimes to whichever capacity possible. None of that took place to the dismay of Palestinians and their supporters.
What did happen is that last July, Abbas and his negotiators were dragged back to yet another round of useless and unconditional negotiations. And as they negotiated, the Israeli government had in fact sped up construction in its colonies in the West Bank and tightened the siege on Gaza. It was such a mockery that on Nov 13, the entire Palestinian negotiation team had resigned in protest.
But since “the man in charge” – according to a senior US administration official, quoted in CNN – is Saeb Erekat, then, such resignation meant very little. “We’ve seen Saeb Erakat do this before where he’d threaten to resign because he’s not happy with the way talks are going but … he ends up taking it back and continuing with the negotiations.”
It is an embarrassing spectacle, really, and the PA doesn’t seem to notice, or perhaps care. Instead of marching to The Hague with utter resolve, and putting Israel on the defensive for once, Erekat continues to use the same worn out tactic, used by Abbas himself in the past, of empty threats, which don’t seem to even register on the Israeli or US radar.
There is no question that the PA is in a much weaker position than Israel. The latter, aside from its military strength and total domination over every aspect of Palestinian life, is unconditionally supported by the US administration. While the Obama administration did dare choose a course of action regarding Iran that is not consistent with the wishes of the Zionist lobby in Washington, and its ever enthusiastic supporters in Congress, it remains beholden to the wishes of the lobby regarding Palestine.
US Secretary of State John Kerry has proved once again that it is not individuals, but established policies that control US behavior in the Middle East. His latest proposal, based on the work of 160 US officials, including retired US Marine Corps Gen. John Allen, went as far as Netanyahu had hoped for to ensure Israel’s ‘security’, should a Palestinian state be established. According to the rightwing Israeli daily, the Jerusalem Post, Kerry’s ‘ideas’ in the proposal include Israeli control over Palestine’s borders with Jordan, and continued Israeli military presence in the Jordan Valley.
The Americans are bending over backwards for Israel as they have no reason not to: the lobby still has the upper hand in shaping US foreign policy regarding Israel and Palestine, and the PA is proving to be as accommodating as both Israel and the US expect of it. Disappointingly, the few available outlets that could in fact empower the Palestinian leadership such as supporting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, and resorting to such international bodies as the ICC, are either shunned out completely or simply used as a tactic of empty threats.
There is no evidence that the PA plans to change course in 2014. The sorry legacy of Oslo will continue, as well as Israeli’s illegal colonial projects, the American peace process charade, and all the rest. But what will continue to change is that the BDS movement is moving ahead with or without Abbas and Erekat, whose claims to leadership are merely that of titles and hollow prestige."

Annexation and the return of the one-state solution

A bi-national state with Palestinians and Israelis having equal rights may be the solution to the on-going conflict.

By Mark LeVine

"It was yet another slap in the face of the United States, Israel's main patron without whom its existence, never mind its ability to maintain an ever intensifying occupation without fear of mentionable consequence, would be very much in question.
In direct response to US Secretary of State John Kerry's attempt to establish a set of "security arrangements" that would, some day (Kerry apparently is suggesting after another decade), allow some level of Palestinian control over the security of the West Bank (wasn't that supposed to happen during Oslo? And isn't it in fact already the de jure arrangement in Areas A and B?), the Ministerial Legislative Committee voted to annex the Jordan Valley permanently to Israel.
Modus operandi
This is, by no means, the first vote or decision taken by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu government to challenge the Obama Administration's attempts to play at peace-making in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In fact, announcing settlement expansion plans whenever a senior US official is visiting Israel to "jumpstart" or "save" the "peace process" has long been standard operating procedure for the Israeli government, as the Obama Administration learned early in 2010 when Vice President Joe Biden was greeted upon arriving in Israel with the "highly inflammatory announcement" of plans for 1,600 new homes in East Jerusalem. The Americans feigned anger at the "brutally contemptuous rebuff" to their good-faith efforts to resuscitate Oslo, but no one should have been surprised at the actions of the Netanyahu then, or now. Indeed, Netanyahu has been outmanoeuvring Obama since day one of their relationship.
This latest slap in the face comes after PA President Mahmoud Abbas once again "renounced claims" to Israel within its 1967 borders, this time singling out the one-time Palestinian-populated towns of Jaffa and Haifa, and accepted on-going settlement construction in return for freeing Palestinian prisoners. A few hundred Palestinian "detainees" are wonderful bargaining chips to play in lieu of actual policy changes whenever negotiations get serious.
Not surprisingly, the vote on annexation provoked the usual outcries by Palestinian officials, who decriedthe "indifference" to and "disrespect" for international law the vote represented.
Falling on deaf ears
This evaluation is certainly true, although the PA attacking Israel for disregarding international law is about as meaningful as the US criticising Saudi Arabia for refusing to let women drive. That is to say, it's utterly devoid of meaning as long as they continue business as usual, which for the PA means doing whatever is necessary to keep the foreign aid, and salaries, flowing through its coffers.
But this latest attempt to annex the West Bank, as 2013 came to a close, offers both a tantalising glimpse of the future of Israel/Palestine and a good opportunity for Palestinians to start the New Year off in a way that throws the Israeli government back on its heels. It could also turn the tide in the century-long conflict over the territory of Mandate-era Palestine. It was not the PA, however, but the liberal Zionist Party Meretz that have taken the lead in doing so however.
Will 2014 be the year Palestinian and Israeli exhaustion with Oslo and fear of a bleak and chauvinistic future creates the unstoppable force that finally buries Oslo and moves both peoples, and the land they inevitably share, towards a common future?
Rather than denouncing the latest attempt to annex the West Bank as marking yet another nail in the coffin of a long rotted Oslo peace process, Meretz publicly declared it would no longer oppose votes to annex the Jordan Valley, which increases the likelihood such a vote could in fact pass the Knesset.
Meretz leaders have neither suddenly become territorial maximalists nor have they joined the one or bi-state camp that most self-described Zionists, regardless of how comparatively liberal their politics (from an Israeli perspective), still broadly refuse to support. But I don't buy the refusal of Meretz Chairwoman Zehava Galon even to discuss a one-state future as reflecting the true nature of the shift inside Israeli liberal politics. As the Israeli right becomes ever bolder in asserting territorially maximalist policies and the religious establishment more blatantly bigoted, there is simply less space for liberal Zionists to operate as both liberal and Zionist.
The fact is that soon Israeli liberals, who are still a sizable minority of the population, are either going to vote with their heads or their feet - if the mainstream of Israeli political culture keeps moving to the right. A democratic state with rough demographic parity with Palestinians suddenly would offer a more positive alternative than an ultra-chauvinistic Jewish state that holds them in almost as much scorn as it does "Arabs" and "Africans".
A new coalition?
The question is: When will the majority of Palestinians, who long ago lost faith in Oslo and in their hearts would prefer a one-state solution, give up the two-state illusion and come out in force demanding precisely what the Ministerial Legislative Committee voted to do - be annexed to Israel and have the same voting rights as their fellow Palestinians across the quickly evaporating Green Line. Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert warned of just this eventuality as the doomsday scenario facing Zionism, which is why a man who did more than almost anyone to create a Jewish-dominated Jerusalem became a firm supporter of two-states.
The PA will never go down this route because it would mean its dissolution and the loss of jobs, money and power for the entire political class, and perhaps the fatal weakening of Fatah along with it. Neither, strangely, would Hamas accept it as it would become moot in a one or bi-national solution.
Of course, while the Israeli right would actually welcome Palestinian acquiescence to the annexation of the West Bank, whose population can be absorbed into Israel without creating a Palestinian majority, their plan for a Greater Israel specifically excludes Gaza, whose incorporation would tip the demographic balance immediately and permanently in the Palestinian's favour. A test of wills and political strategisation would emerge between the two sides as to whether Israel could convince West Bank Palestinians permanently to separate their fortunes from benighted Gaza, or Palestinians once "inside" Israel would constitute a large enough force with 1948 Palestinians and liberal/left Israeli to push, however fitfully, for a bi-national or even parallel states solution.
This leads to a final question:Will 2014 be the year Palestinian and Israeli exhaustion with Oslo and fear of a bleak and chauvinistic future creates the unstoppable force that finally buries Oslo and moves both peoples, and the land they inevitably share, towards a common future? "

The rise of Arab sectarianism

How the Iraq war and social media played a part

By Brian Whitaker

"The Sunni-Shia divide is almost as old as Islam itself but during the last few years this ancient schism has played an increasing role in Middle Eastern politics.
It is certainly a factor in the Syrian conflict (though how big a factor is still debated) and Sunni Arab monarchs in the Gulf have embraced sectarianism as part of the propaganda effort to save their thrones.
A few days ago I came across a four-page essay by Fanar Haddad which makes some important observations on this topic. Haddad's speciality is sectarianism in Iraq and he is the author of a book about it.
In his essay, Haddad identifies three key factors behind "the change in sectarian relations":
  1. The political change in Iraq of 2003; 
  2.  The spread of new media and social networking;
  3. The search for alternatives to "familiar but moribund forms of authoritarianism", as demonstrated by the "Arab Spring".
The Iraq effect
The invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003, Haddad says, resulted in the empowerment of ethnic and sectarian outgroups - namely Shia and Kurdish political forces.
"It also allowed, for the first time ever, the full, unfettered assertion of previously suppressed subnational identities. In other words, 2003 highlighted the uncomfortable fact that there were multiple, indeed contradictory, visions of what it meant to be an Iraqi and by extension what it meant to be a part of the Arab world."
The interesting question here is why, in this upheaval, sectarian identities came to the fore rather than, say, regional, class or ideological identities - and Haddad suggests two possible answers.
One is that the empowerment of the Iraqi Shia caused alarm among Iraqi Sunnis and made them more conscious of their Sunni identity than previously:
"Prior to 2003 [sectarian identity] was an issue largely restricted to Arab Shia with Arab Sunnis having little awareness of themselves as Sunnis. 
"There was no marked Sunni identity and as such little in the way of specifically Sunni expression or Sunni symbols or rituals. Reflecting demographic realities and the realities of power, whatever Sunni rituals, symbols, narratives, or causes that existed prior to 2003 were perceived in Islamic or national rather than specifically Sunni terms."
In addition to that, Haddad argues that "the political orientation and calibre of Iraq's new political elite further ensured the centrality of sectarian identity in post-2003 Iraq":
"Many of the most prominent post-2003 political actors were, throughout their careers, more akin to ethnic and sectarian lobbyists rather than national politicians. Rather than acting as politicians who happen to be Shia, many if not most of the post-2003 Shia political elite retained their role as sectional sectarian advocates for whom Shia identity and Shia interests were intrinsic to their political outlook. 
"Their failure to make the transition from Shia rights advocates to national politicians validated Sunni prejudices and fears, which were exacerbated by the fact that many of these political actors were based in or had strong links to Iran."
Popular expressions of sectarianism
The effects of this have not been confined to Iraq. Across the region, Haddad says, Arab Sunnis increasingly identify as Sunnis, with fears of the "Shia crescent" nourishing a sectarian outlook on regional events. 
"Unfortunately, what began as an Iraqi tragedy has been turned into a regional one in a manner and speed scarcely imaginable before the information and communications revolutions that were unfolding just as the new Iraq was being born."
It's worth noting that the 2003 invasion of Iraq was followed, in quick succession, by the launch of Facebook in 2004, YouTube in 2005 and Twitter in 2006:
"New media, social networking, and the revolutionary changes to the flows of information that signalled the end of more familiar forms of censorship in the Middle East were a key part of the perfect storm unleashed by the invasion of Iraq. These monumental changes facilitated expression and mobilisation and gave events, no matter how local, the potential to become regional ... 
"In many ways, these innovations brought an end to the taboos surrounding discussion of sectarian identity and made sectarian polemics mainstream."
End of 'the old way', search for new ways
As a result of this, Haddad says, "the taboos and awkwardness traditionally enveloping the issue of sectarian identities have all but withered away": it's now out in the open.
Of course, sectarianism is not unique in that respect. Many other issues that were once kept under wraps have been coming to the surface in the midst of the region's political turmoil. In my view that's a necessary process because it's only by bringing them into the daylight that they can ever be addressed.
While Haddad notes that "there is no fire more easily started than a sectarian one", he is careful not to exaggerate its significance:
"This is not an argument for reducing Middle Eastern dynamics to their sectarian component. Despite their increased socio-political relevance, sectarian identities are not the 'be all and end all' of the 21st century Middle East. 
"Furthermore, despite toxic levels of politicisation, sectarian division is far from all encompassing and remains context driven. Sunnis and Shias are as internally divided as any similarly large groups and pragmatic self-interest is still likely to trump sectarian loyalties.""