Leading Egyptian blogger and activist granted bail

BuzzFeed reports: One of Egypt’s most prominent activists has been granted release on bail, but still faces a lengthy judicial process that could see him sent back to prison.

Alaa Abdel Fattah was tried in absentia and handed a 15-year prison sentence in June over charges that he violated new laws that severely curtail protests. He was arrested along with several other activists on the steps of the courthouse immediately after the verdict, and a court has ordered that he be retried now that he is no longer in absentia.

“The court ordered the release on bail of Alaa Abdel Fattah and two other detainees,” Abdel Fattah’s defense lawyer, Mohamed Abdel Aziz, said outside the court in comments broadcast on Egyptian television. “The court also recused itself because of the defendants’ lack of respect for it.” [Continue reading...]

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Which antidote to ISIS?

Rami G Khouri writes: I have no doubt that the single most important, widespread, continuous and still active reason for the birth and spread of the Islamic State mindset is the curse of modern Arab security states that since the 1970s have treated citizens like children that need to be taught obedience and passivity above all else. Other factors played a role in this modern tragedy of statehood across the Arab world, including the threat of Zionism and violent Israeli colonialism (see Gaza today for that continuing tale) and the continuous meddling and military attacks by foreign powers, including the U.S., some European states, Russia and Iran.

In my 45 years in the Arab world observing and writing about the conditions on the ground, the only thing that surprises me now is why such extremist phenomena that have caused the catastrophic collapse of existing states did not happen earlier. At least since around 1970, the average Arab citizen has lived in political, economic and social systems that have offered zero accountability, political rights and participation. States have been characterized by steadily expanding dysfunction and corruption, economic disparities that have driven majorities into chronic poverty, and humiliating inaction or failure in confronting the threats of Zionism and foreign hegemonic ambitions. They have also virtually banned developing one’s full potential in terms of intellect, creativity, public participation, culture and identity.

The Islamic State phenomenon is the latest and perhaps not the final stop on a journey of mass Arab humiliation and dehumanization that has been primarily managed by Arab autocratic regimes that revolve around single families or clans, with immense, continuing support from foreign patrons. Foreign military attacks in Arab countries (Iraq, Libya) have exacerbated this trend, as has Israeli aggression against Palestinians and other Arabs. But the single biggest driver of the kind of criminal Islamist extremism we see in this phenomenon is the predicament of several hundred million individual Arab men and women who find – generation after generation – that in their own societies they are unable to achieve their full humanity or potential, or exercise their full powers of thought and creativity; or, in many cases, obtain basic life needs for their families. [Continue reading...]

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An open letter from Egyptian political activist Alaa Abd El Fattah

On August 18, Alaa Abd El Fattah wrote: At 4 pm today, I celebrated with my colleagues my last meal in prison.

I have decided — when I saw my father fighting against death locked in a body that was no longer subject to his will — I decided to start an open hunger strike until I achieve my freedom. The well-being of my body is of no value while it remains subject to an unjust power in an open-ended imprisonment not controlled by the law or any concept of justice.

Alaa-Abd-El-FattahI’ve had the thought before, but I put it aside. I did not want to place yet another burden on my family — we all know that the Ministry of the Interior does not make life easy for hunger strikers. But now I’ve realized that my family’s hardship increases with every day that I’m in jail. My youngest sister, Sanaa, and the protesters of Ettehadiya were arrested only because they demanded freedom for people already detained. They put my sister in prison because she demanded my freedom! And so our family’s efforts were fragmented between two prisoners, and my father’s heart worn out between two courts — my father, who had postponed a necessary surgery more than once because of this ill-fated Shura Council case.

They tore me from my son, Khaled, while he was still struggling to get over the trauma of my first imprisonment. Then there was the brute performance of the Ministry of the Interior as they carried out their “humane” gesture — my visit to my father in the ICU. The police tried to empty the hospital ward and corridor of patients and doctors and family and nurses before they would allow the visit. They set times and informed us, and then canceled. In the end they snatched me from my prison cell at dawn with the same tenderness shown when they arrested me.

The police general could not decide how to ensure I would not escape. He was completely convinced that this was all a ruse, that nobody was sick and we were conspiring to deprive him of his hours of rest. I arrived at the hospital chained to the iron frame of the police transport vehicle, and, finally, in the ward they snuck in a camera and filmed us against our will.

All this served to prove to me that my being patient would not help my mother, Laila, my sister, Mona, or my wife, Manal. That waiting does not relieve my family of hardship but actually makes them prisoners like me, subject to the dictates and the moods of an organization devoid of humanity and incapable of compassion. [Continue reading...]

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The rise of ISIS is more directly tied to Syria than it is to Iraq

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A piecemeal parochial approach won’t solve the Middle East crisis

Chris Doyle writes: “The lamps are going out all over the Middle East”, to update Sir Edward Grey’s doom-laden warning to Europe a hundred years ago. The areas of calm and stability seem like small oases in a multitude of firestorms. Many areas are literally without lights. Gaza has around two hours electricity a day. The power cuts in Yemen are worse and worse, leading to major protests. But, more worryingly, the lights of the democratic, liberal, pluralistic forces that for many months in 2011 lit up the region are also dimming, overshadowed by the twin forces of brutal dictatorship and brutal religious sectarian extremism.

Syria and Iraq are divided and near ungovernable, in the waiting room for failed-state status. The so-called Islamic caliphate or Isis, which in reality bears no resemblance to any caliphates of the past, covers an ever-expanding area, larger than the United Kingdom, including 35 per cent of Syria. Libya is being terrorised by rival militias. Palestinians in Gaza, for the fourth time since 2006, are at the wrong end of an Israeli military aggression that pits one of the world’s most sophisticated militaries against a captive population inside the world’s largest prison. The collective pile of rubble from these conflicts would grace a mountain range.

Those states and areas that enjoy calm become refugee camps. Lebanon and Jordan host almost two million Syrian refugees between them, as well as 2.5 million Palestinians. Tunisia is confronted with a mass Libyan exodus; while Iraqi Kurdistan is home to more than 300,000 Iraqis displaced only since June, as well as 220,000 Syrian refugees. In each case, the numbers are rocketing up – with the number of Syrian refugees alone expected to reach four million by the end of the year. Each humanitarian appeal is underfunded.

Will it get worse? The signs are worrying. The fighting in Lebanon last week, in Arsal in the north Bekaa valley, is yet another example of why the Syrian crisis threatens to move from spilling over, to swamping, its smaller neighbour. The instability could spread to Jordan. Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states will not be immune to the regional changes.

Given the epidemic of crises in an area of the world vital to our trade, energy and security interests, the minimal expectation would be an energetic and engaged response. Yet, when asked about Western policy towards the region, my instinctive response is, “There is one?”

The failure is first and foremost one of leadership, at an international and regional level. Who are great international statesmen in the West or in the Middle East? Who do young Arabs, who make up most of the population, look to for inspiration? President Obama has been blasted for his indecisiveness but he is not alone. George W Bush and Tony Blair were decisive over Iraq and destroyed the country. There is no strategy, and often the debate is reduced to a question of to bomb or not to bomb. [Continue reading...]

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Shibley Telhami: ‘We are what we have to defend’

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Why Kuwait’s protests are important

Following a renewal of demonstrations in Kuwait last week, Rami G Khouri writes: Kuwait highlights the new reality that Arab citizens are now demanding rights from their governments simply on the basis of being entitled to those rights, and not necessarily because they are poor, suffer uneven access to social services, or have been politically abused and oppressed, as was the case with uprisings in countries such as Egypt, Libya, Bahrain and Syria.

Kuwait also speaks of deeper discontents among other citizens in oil-rich Gulf states who can only express their grievances through websites and social media. This is evident in several Arab countries, which, like Kuwait, try to suppress public political accusations and grievances, even by jailing individuals who Tweet sentiments that are critical of state policies.

The demonstrators in Kuwait are not calling for the overthrow of the regime, but rather for constitutional political reforms. The demonstrators this week chanted their demands to reform the judiciary. When such basic, reasonable and non-violent demands are almost totally ignored across most of the Arab world, citizens have only a few options, including expressing themselves through social media or via pan-Arab satellite television, or by taking to the streets. As with almost every other public protest throughout the world, the actual number of citizens on the street is not the most important factor.

It is irrelevant if 500 or 15,000 demonstrate one night. What matters is that groups of citizens speak out in public on a regular basis, and address their complaints directly to the national leaders. It is likely that those who do take to the streets – for instance, recently in Ukraine, Turkey, Thailand or Burma – represent much deeper and wider legitimate societal grievances that require a political resolution through dialogue, negotiations and credible representation and accountability.

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Juan Cole: Waiting for the Arab Summer

When it comes to pure ineptness, it’s been quite a performance — and I’m sure you’ve already guessed that I’m referring to our secretary of state’s recent jaunt to the Middle East.  You remember the old quip about jokes and timing.  (It’s all in the…)  In this case, John Kerry turned the first stop on his Middle Eastern tour into a farce, thanks to impeccably poor timing.  He landed in President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s Egypt to put the Obama stamp of approval on the former general’s new government and what he called “a historic election.”  This was a reference to the way Sisi became president, with a mind-boggling 97% of the votes (or so the official story went).  Kerry also promised to release $575 million in military aid frozen by Congress and threw in 10 Apache attack helicopters in what can only be seen as a pathetic attempt to bribe the Egyptian military.  Having delivered the goods, he evidently went into negotiations with Sisi without the leverage they might have offered him.

And then there was the timing.  The day after Kerry’s visit, verdicts were to come down in an already infamous case of media persecution.  Three Al Jazeera reporters were to hear their fate.  Charged with “aiding” the Muslim Brotherhood, they were clearly going to get severe sentences (as indeed they did) in a court system that had already given “hanging judge” a new meaning.  (While Kerry was in Cairo, death sentences were confirmed against 183 members of the Muslim Brotherhood.)  He reportedly discussed the case with Sisi — there wasn’t a shred of evidence against the reporters — and was assumedly convinced that he had wielded American power in an effective way.  Hence, when the verdicts were announced the next day and, as the Guardian put it, “delivered a humiliating, public slap in the face to Kerry,” he reportedly “appeared stunned.”  He must have been even more stunned a day later when Sisi assured the world that he would never think of “interfering” with Egyptian justice.

The strangeness of all this is hard to take in, though Kerry has a record of not delivering big time.  At the moment, allies and client states around the region — from Afghanistan (where President Hamid Karzai still refuses to sign a security pact with the U.S.) to Israel (where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government regularly announces new building plans in the occupied territories) — seem to ignore Washington’s will.  This is by now both fascinating and predictable.  If, having provided an embarrassingly full-throated defense of the Bush administration project in Iraq at a Cairo news conference, the secretary of state promptly flew into Baghdad to put an American stamp on the Iraqi government, he failed.  His mission: to get the country’s politicians to form a “unity government,” essentially deposing Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.  Even with his military in a state of near collapse and his own position desperately weakened, however, Maliki swept Kerry’s proposals aside.  If the secretary of state then flew on to Irbil to “implore” the president of the Kurdish autonomous region, Masoud Barzani, not to move toward an independent Kurdistan… well, do I even have to finish that sentence for you?

Here, then, is a mystery highlighted by the crisis in disintegrating Iraq and Syria: What kind of world are we in when the most powerful nation on the planet is incapable of convincing anyone, even allies significantly dependent on it, of anything?

Into this increasingly grim situation steps a TomDispatch favorite, Juan Cole, the man who runs the invaluable Informed Comment website.  Unlike the secretary of state, who, while in Cairo, definitively turned his back on the Arab Spring and the young protesters who made it happen, Cole embraces it and them.  In doing so, he offers us a ray of sunshine, hope amid the gloom.  Today, he considers the fate of the Arab Spring, suggesting that those, Kerry included, who have already consigned it to the trash heap of history don’t understand history at all.  His piece catches the spirit of a remarkable new book he’s written that is just about to come out: The New Arabs: How the Millennial Generation Is Changing the Middle East.  It’s a must-read from an expert who has a perspective Washington sadly lacks. Tom Engelhardt

The Arab millennials will be back
Three ways the youth rebellions are still shaping the Middle East
By Juan Cole

Three and a half years ago, the world was riveted by the massive crowds of youths mobilizing in Cairo’s Tahrir Square to demand an end to Egypt’s dreary police state.  We stared in horror as, at one point, the Interior Ministry mobilized camel drivers to attack the demonstrators.  We watched transfixed as the protests spread from one part of Egypt to another and then from country to country across the region.  Before it was over, four presidents-for-life would be toppled and others besieged in their palaces.

Some 42 months later, in most of the Middle East and North Africa, the bright hopes for more personal liberties and an end to political and economic stagnation championed by those young people have been dashed.  Instead, a number of Arab countries have seen counter-revolutions, while others are engulfed in internecine conflicts and civil wars, creating Mad Max-like scenes of post-apocalyptic horror.  But keep one thing in mind: the rebellions of the past three years were led by Arab millennials, twentysomethings who have decades left to come into their own.  Don’t count them out yet.  They have only begun the work of transforming the region.

[Read more...]

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Human Rights Watch: Al Jazeera convictions in Egypt a miscarriage of justice

Human Rights Watch: A Cairo court sentenced three Al Jazeera English staff members to multi-year prison sentences on June 23, 2014, after a trial in which prosecutors failed to present any credible evidence of criminal wrongdoing. These convictions are the latest step in Egypt’s unrelenting assault on free expression, dramatically reversing gains made following the January 25, 2011 uprising.

The verdict comes the day after US Secretary of State John Kerry visited Cairo to meet with President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Foreign Minister Sameh Shukry. During the meeting, news media reported, Kerry said he was “absolutely confident” that the US would soon restore suspended aid to Egypt, noting that President al-Sisi “gave me a very strong sense of his commitment” to “a re-evaluation of the judicial process.”

“Sentencing three professional journalists to years in prison on the basis of zero evidence of wrongdoing shows how Egypt’s judges have been caught up in the anti-Muslim Brotherhood hysteria fostered by President al-Sisi,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Egypt is punishing people for exercising basic rights that are essential to any democratic transition, and US legislation requires progress on those rights before the Obama administration can certify additional military aid.”

The Al Jazeera English bureau chief, Mohamed Fahmy, a dual Canadian-Egypt national, and a correspondent, Peter Greste, an Australian, were each sentenced to seven years in prison, and Baher Mohamed, an Egyptian, was sentenced to 10 years. The charges included editing video footage to falsely “give the appearance Egypt is in a civil war,” operating broadcast equipment without a license, and membership in and support for a “terrorist organization.” Human Rights Watch reviewed the material prosecutors presented in court and spoke with independent observers who monitored the trial and found no evidence indicating any criminal wrongdoing. [Continue reading...]

The Guardian reports: Evidence provided by the prosecution included footage from channels and events with nothing to do with Egyptian politics or al-Jazeera. It included videos of trotting horses from Sky News Arabia, a song by the Australian singer Gotye, and a BBC documentary from Somalia.

Mohamed Lotfy, executive director of the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms who has observed every session of the trial for Amnesty, said the verdict sent a chilling message to all opposition figures in Egypt.

“It’s a warning to all journalists that they could one day face a similar trial and conviction simply for carrying out their official duties,” Lotfy said. “This feeds into a wider picture of a politicised judiciary and the use of trials to crack down on all opposition voices.”

The verdict came a day after the US secretary of state, John Kerry, signalled that ties between America and Egypt were inching closer to normality.

After a 90-minute meeting with Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, the former general who was elected president last month, Kerry told reporters that a delivery of attack helicopters – delayed by the US last year, in protest against Egyptian human rights abuses – would go ahead.

“The Apaches will come, and they’ll come very, very soon,” Kerry said, after an earlier admission by state department officials that all but $70m (£41m) of a $650m aid package to Egypt had been released. [Continue reading...]

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Iraq must remain a unified cosmopolitan country, as must all its neighbours

Hamid Dabashi writes: 200 years and more into the aftermath of the post/colonial history, countries like Iraq are blessed (yes blessed not cursed) by multifaceted cultures that includes their various constituents but is not reducible to them. From the Code of Hammurabi to the artwork of Rafa Nasiri, Iraqis are – all of them (Sunni, Shia, Kurds, etc.) – the proud inheritors of the very cradle of world civilisation, the very alphabet of our history. That dictators like Saddam Hussein abused that heritage for an empty and vacuous pomposity, or that the imperial buffooneries of Bush and Blair had not an iota of respect for them, does not discredit that heritage as the bedrock of a proud and confident Iraq.

That pride of place and political dignity is not in the direction of any separatist movement form Iraq or any other country. Iraqi borders may have been decided by colonial designs but Iraqi people are not a colonial product. They are the proud descendants of a magnificent civilisation that belongs to all of them. If they are Sunni, Shia or Kurd, this is a source of inspiration, diversity and pluralism for their future.

Iraqi and Lebanese Shia are blessed that they must determine their political future in conversation with other religious and ethnic groupings. They can and they will provide a model of democratic pluralism for the entire region, including and in particular for Iran where the seemingly unified 95 percent plus majority Shia hides a deeply divided and multifaceted society. Iran should not export its pathological “Islamic Republic” to Iraq or Lebanon or Syria. Iraqis, Lebanese and Syrians must offer their future democratic pluralism to Iranians. [Continue reading...]

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The Arabs’ 100-Years War

Rami G. Khouri writes: The open warfare and shaken statehood that characterize Syria, Iraq and Libya are the painful commemoration of the Arabs’ own 100 Years War for stable, legitimate statehood. What the French, British and Italians left behind in Syria, Iraq and Libya after World War One led to the last 100 years of erratic patterns of development that have now erupted in open warfare within and among some countries.

Syria, Libya and Iraq are only the most dramatic examples of countries that suffer serious sectarian and other forms of warfare that could easily lead to the fracturing of those states into smaller ethnic units. Similar but less intense tensions define most Arab states. With the exception of Tunisia, the citizens of every Arab country have always been denied any say in defining the structure, values or policies of their state.

It is no surprise, therefore, that Syria, Iraq and Libya should be at once so violent, fractious and brittle. The capture of cities and territory across northwestern Iraq by the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) symbolizes a common aspect of the fragmented nature of many Arab countries — the ruling party or family that runs the government is at war with well armed non-state actors that reflect widespread citizen discontent with the power and policies of the central state. The brittle Arab state is not simply melting away, as happened in Somalia over the last two decades; rather, the state in many cases has become just one armed protagonist in a battle against several other armed protagonists among its own citizens. [Continue reading...]

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The ISIS peril clarifies what Arabs need

Rami G. Khouri writes: The startling developments in northern Iraq, where the militant group the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) has taken control of Mosul and other cities, highlights several troubling trends that have been evident across much of the Arab World for years.

ISIS moved into Mosul and other cities swiftly and without any real combat because these underlying trends all played their role in this great unfolding drama that speaks to the troubling realities of the Arab world.

This is about much more than any individual issue such as spillover from Syria, lack of Western military assistance to anti-Bashar Assad rebels, growing sectarian tensions in Iraq, or the spread of extremist Islamist militancy. Iraq today has reached a momentous moment of reckoning for the weaknesses of modern Arab statehood and governance. External factors certainly played their roles, such as the Anglo-American war on Iraq in 2003, decades of Israeli meddling in Arab conditions, and Iran’s growing influence in the region.

These external factors, however, could only impact on conditions in Iraq because of the underlying structural problems whose consequences are now playing out before us every day. These underlying Arab-made structural problems include corrupt and incompetent governance, weak citizenship, brittle statehood, and a severe lack of cohesion among different ethnic and sectarian groups within countries.

The news that many locals have not resisted, and even often welcomed, the arrival of ISIS should clarify the intense problems that existed between the government and mostly Sunni local communities in northwest Iraq. Air attacks by the Iraqi government or military moves by foreign powers such as Iran or the United States will momentarily delay the expansion of ISIS-controlled areas. But military power in the long run remains helpless in the face of determined moves by disgruntled citizens to regain what they see as dignity, freedom and rights.

The best proof of this is the steady expansion in the numbers and capabilities of extremist Salafist-takfiri militant groups such as Al-Qaeda, ISIS, the Nusra Front and dozens of other groups that have been repeatedly targeted by military strikes by local governments and the American armed forces. So, military attacks against ISIS and its local allies in Iraq would momentarily pause the current trajectory of the group’s expansion, but will not stop it in the long run.

The fact that some Iraqis would consider life under the draconian rules of ISIS preferable to the conditions they had endured under previous elected Iraqi governments shows how severe are the grievances of ordinary citizens under the rule of Arab tyrants. [Continue reading...]

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Egyptian activist Alaa Abd El Fattah jailed for 15 years for organising peaceful protest

The Guardian reports: The extent of Egypt’s counter-revolution has been laid bare by the jailing of one of the key figureheads of the 2011 uprising – a conviction that means Alaa Abd El Fattah has been jailed or investigated under each of the country’s five heads of state since Hosni Mubarak.

Abd El Fattah, one of the activists most associated with the 2011 uprising that briefly ended 60 years of autocratic rule, was sentenced to 15 years in jail for allegedly organising a protest – an act banned under a law implemented last November, and used to jail several revolutionary leaders.

According to Abd El Fattah’s sister, Mona Seif, also a prominent campaigner, he and another activist were sentenced in absentia after being barred from entering the courtroom then arrested and taken to prison by some of the officials who had earlier blocked his entrance. [Continue reading...]

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Beware the return of ‘strongmen’ world leaders

In an editorial, The Observer says: There was something distasteful, and deeply disturbing, about last week’s photograph of Bashar al-Assad casting his vote in a Damascus polling station, watched by his beautifully coiffured wife, Asma, and adoring supporters. Distasteful because even as the Syrian leader brandished his ballot paper, his military forces were dropping a barrel bomb, the regime’s new terror weapon of choice, on the citizens of Aleppo. Disturbing because such a staged photograph is an established trademark of democracy around the world. It is the sort of picture elected politicians everywhere like to pose for. It sends a reassuring message of order, normality and one-person, one-vote humility. You see: the great man is just like you and me.

Except Assad is not an ordinary guy. No man of the people he, Assad is a dictator whose “presidential election”, held only in those urban areas under government control and boycotted by all credible opposition groups, was a travesty and a sham. He rules because his late father, Hafez, and Syria’s Alawite oligarchy handed him the job in 2000. Early on, he fluffed good opportunities to pursue reform. Since the initially peaceful demonstrations against his regime began more than three years ago, he has proved himself, by turns, foolish, craven and vicious. He exacerbated divisions and escalated the war by resorting to ever more extreme, indiscriminate violence. He is not an elected president. He is a killer and a war criminal with the names of 162,000 dead Syrians on his personal electoral roll.

Historically speaking, Assad is something else, too: a political “strongman” in the dismaying tradition of a region that seems pitifully prone to domination by fiercely driven, unscrupulous and often unsavoury individuals with dictatorial tendencies. In recent times, Saddam Hussein in Iraq was one such; Muammar Gaddafi in Libya was another. In Egypt, Hosni Mubarak, a former general, succeeded Anwar Sadat, himself a political heir to the arch-strongman, Gamal Abdel Nasser. Now, following Mubarak’s overthrow in 2011, Egypt is once again on the receiving end of strongman politics with the rise of another general, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi. His ascent to the presidency was supposedly legitimised in last month’s national elections. But despite being virtually unopposed, he took only 23m out of 53m potential votes on a turnout well below 50%.

Time will tell whether Sisi is the firm-handed, sure-footed leader Egypt needs, as his backers claim. But one thing is already clear: he is no democrat and most Egyptian voters know it. Egypt’s first elected president, Mohamed Morsi, remains in jail after his ousting last year by Sisi’s armed forces, along with 15,000 of his Muslim Brotherhood supporters. An estimated 1,400 people have died. Sisi’s intimidatory shadow hovers over Egypt’s institutions, including the judiciary and media. An official personality cult is in the making. And in an approach that has resonated as far as Bangkok, where Thai military coup leaders seem to have taken a cue from Sisi, Egypt’s new strongman stresses stability over human rights and civic freedoms. How he plans to tackle Egypt’s crushing economic and social problems is less certain. However he does it, he is sure to do it firmly.

Strongman politics is both contagious and increasingly back in fashion across the Middle East, where the democratic promise of the Arab Spring revolts has mostly turned to dust and tears. [Continue reading...]

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Dilip Hiro: Behind the coup in Egypt

Think of Barack Obama’s recent return to West Point at graduation time to offer his approach to an increasingly chaotic world as a bookend on an era.  George W. Bush went to the Academy in June 2002 — less than a year after 9/11, seven months after the U.S. had triumphantly invaded Afghanistan, 10 months before it would (as he already knew) invade Iraq — and laid out his vision of “preemptive war.”  In that commencement address to a class about to graduate into the very wars he was launching, he threw the ancient Cold War doctrines of deterrence and containment to the sharks and proclaimed a new, finger-on-a-hair-trigger vision of global policy for a country that wasn’t about to step aside for anyone or anything. “If we wait for threats to fully materialize, we will have waited too long,” he said to resounding applause.  He added, “Our security will require all Americans to be forward-looking and resolute, to be ready for preemptive action when necessary to defend our liberty and to defend our lives.”

Speaking to the class of 2002, Bush conjured up an epic struggle without end (that certain neocons would soon begin calling “the Long War” or “World War IV“).  It would be global, Manichaean, and unquestionably victorious.  “We must uncover terror cells in 60 or more countries, using every tool of finance, intelligence, and law enforcement.  Along with our friends and allies, we must oppose proliferation and confront regimes that sponsor terror, as each case requires.  Some nations need military training to fight terror, and we’ll provide it.  Other nations oppose terror, but tolerate the hatred that leads to terror — and that must change.  We will send diplomats where they are needed, and we will send you, our soldiers, where you’re needed.”

It was Bush’s initial foray into the dream of a subjugated Greater Middle East and a planet destined to fall under the spell of a Pax Americana enforced by a military like no other in history.  It was visionary stuff, a genuine Bush (or Cheney) Doctrine.  And the president and his top officials meant every word of it.

Twelve years later, the results are in.  As President Obama pointed out to the class of 2014, some of those “terror cells in 60 or more countries” have by now become full-scale terror outfits and, helped immeasurably by the actions the Bush Doctrine dictated, are thriving.  In Afghanistan, a long-revived Taliban can’t be defeated, while neighboring Pakistan, with its own Taliban movement, has been significantly destabilized.  Amid the ongoing drone wars of two administrations, Yemen is being al-Qaedicized; the former president’s invasion of Iraq set off a devastating, still expanding Sunni-Shiite civil war across the Middle East, which is also becoming a blowback machine for terrorism, and which has thrown the whole region into chaos; Libya, Obama’s no-casualties version of intervention, is now a basket case; across much of Africa, terror groups are spreading, as is destabilization continent-wide.

Facing this and a host of other crises and problems from Ukraine to Syria to the South China Sea, and “pivoting” fruitlessly in every direction, Obama, in his second trek to West Point, put together a survey of a no-longer American planet that left the cadets sitting on their hands (though their parents cheered the line, “You are the first class since 9/11 who may not be sent into combat in Iraq or Afghanistan”) and critics from the Wall Street Journal to the New York Times bored and dismissive.  It was, all agreed, the exhausted speech of an exhausted administration addressed to an American public exhausted by more than a decade of fruitless wars in an exhausting world.

If that commencement address had just been visionless words offered by a rudderless president, it might not have mattered much, except to the nattering class in Washington.  As TomDispatch regular Dilip Hiro makes clear, however, in a magisterial look at where the Arab Spring ended up in Egypt, it isn’t only unfriendly states or stateless terror groups that aren’t cooperating in the organization of an American world.  The former “sole superpower” of planet Earth that the president (with “every fiber” of his being) insisted was still both “exceptional” and “indispensable” seemed to be losing its sway over former allies as well.  If there is no Obama Doctrine, it may be because the world of 2014 is in a state of exceptional and indispensable entropy. Tom Engelhardt

Clueless in Cairo
How Egypt’s generals sidelined Uncle Sam
By Dilip Hiro

Since September 11, 2001, Washington’s policies in the Middle East have proven a grim imperial comedy of errors and increasingly a spectacle of how a superpower is sidelined. In this drama, barely noticed by the American media, Uncle Sam’s keystone ally in the Arab world, Egypt, like Saudi Arabia, has largely turned its back on the Obama administration. As with so many of America’s former client states across the aptly named “arc of instability,” Egypt has undergone a tumultuous journey — from autocracy to democracy to a regurgitated form of military rule and repression, making its ally of four decades appear clueless.

Egypt remains one of the top recipients of U.S. foreign aid, with the Pentagon continuing to pamper the Egyptian military with advanced jet fighters, helicopters, missiles, and tanks. Between January 2011 and May 2014, Egypt underwent a democratic revolution, powered by a popular movement, which toppled President Hosni Mubarak’s regime. It enjoyed a brief tryst with democracy before suffering an anti-democratic counter-revolution by its generals. In all of this, what has been the input of the planet’s last superpower in shaping the history of the most populous country in the strategic Middle East? Zilch. Its “generosity” toward Cairo notwithstanding, Washington has been reduced to the role of a helpless bystander.

[Read more...]

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Egypt scrambles to raise turnout in presidential vote

The New York Times reports: After Egypt’s revolution three years ago, so many voters eager for democracy turned out for elections that officials had to scramble to accommodate the throngs.

On Tuesday, the military-backed government confronted the opposite problem. Officials extended a scheduled two-day vote for a third day not because of long lines, but because so few people had shown up.

Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the former army field marshal who deposed Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s first freely elected president, is still universally expected to win by a landslide. Yet the disappointing turnout has upended his supporters’ hopes that the vote would grant him new legitimacy after the ouster.

When polling places around the nation remained largely empty on the second day of voting, signs of panic swept the government. Officials initially extended voting hours on Tuesday by an hour, to 10 p.m. Then, a holiday was declared for state and private employees, as well as for banks and the stock market. Train and subway fares were suspended. State television said that the police would help the elderly or the sick get to polling stations, and it repeated admonishments from Muslim and Christian leaders about a religious duty to vote.

Officials also said that the government would fine those who did not vote up to $70 — a large sum for most Egyptians — and that unlike in the past, the fines would be enforced.

Analysts said the government’s scramble to increase the turnout undermined the endlessly repeated premise of the new military-backed order: that Mr. Sisi had the passionate support of an overwhelming majority of Egyptians to oust Mr. Morsi and to assume leadership. [Continue reading...]

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Israel wants the Middle East to remain dominated by dictators

Ynet columnist, Smadar Perry, writes: Egyptian polling stations opened Monday morning across the country. Tens of thousands of inspectors-judges, representatives of civil organizations, foreign diplomats and even representatives of the Arab League have arrived to ensure that no one would try to tamper with the ballots.

The truth is that there is no need for that. Barring any dramatic surprises, “Egypt’s strongman,” Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, will be the president. All surveys grant the second candidate, Hamdeen Sabahi, symbolic success. Sabahi himself is already offering his services, hoping that they’ll just take him, as the prime minister or vice president.

Next week will be the turn of the sweeping victory in Syria. After arranging two anonymous “rivals” for himself and forcibly taking the right to vote from the six million refugees who have run away from him, Bashar Assad will be the “rais” for the third time. He will of course justify himself by saying that “that’s what the nation wants,” and no one will be able to force him to keep promises or create reforms.

The reason is so prosaic: Up until this moment he hasn’t even bothered presenting a political platform or economic programs. He doesn’t have to. Bashar will win for certain, and after the elections, as they say, everything will work out (for him).

In the past few days I have been hearing more and more complaints from people I talk to in the Arab world that Israel – and the criticism focuses constantly on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – only wants dictators in our neighborhood. We democrats don’t care about the Arab Spring, the protests, the terrible economic distress, the refugees and the terror attacks.

My interlocutors present irrefutable proof of their claim, how Israeli messengers are lobbying vigorously, as we speak, for the waiting president al-Sisi among the high echelons of the administration in Washington. Netanyahu, they say instinctively, is insisting on not getting in Bashar’s way. He is the only one he wants in the palace.

Between you and me, they’re right. We’re better off with dictators. [Continue reading...]

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Egypt’s new strongman, Sisi knows best

The New York Times reports: Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the former army officer soon to be Egypt’s president, promises to remedy Egypt’s crippling fuel shortage by installing energy-efficient bulbs in every home socket, even if he has to send a government employee to screw in each one.

“I’m not leaving a chance for people to act on their own,” Mr. Sisi said in his first and most extensive television interview. “My program will be mandatory.”

Mr. Sisi, 59, disciplined and domineering, is universally expected to become Egypt’s head of state after a pro forma election scheduled to begin Monday. He has already been the nation’s paramount decision maker since he ousted Egypt’s democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi, last summer.

Now, more than three years after the Arab Spring uprising raised hopes of a democratic Egypt, his move into the presidential palace will formally return Egypt to the rule of a paternalistic military strongman in the tradition of Gamal Abdel Nasser, Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak. [Continue reading...]

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