Egypt begins surveillance of Facebook, Twitter, and Skype on unprecedented scale

BuzzFeed reports: Egyptians’ online communications are now being monitored by the sister company of an American cybersecurity firm, giving the Egyptian government an unprecedented ability to comb through data from Skype, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, among others.

See Egypt, the sister company of the U.S.-based Blue Coat, won the contract over the summer, beating out the British Gamma System, and the Israeli-founded Narus System. See Egypt has begun monitoring Egyptians’ online communications, according to several Egyptian government officials who spoke to BuzzFeed News.

“See Egypt has already worked with the government and has strong ties to the State Security Services,” said one official. He asked to remain anonymous, to protect his position within the government. “They were a natural choice and their system is already winning praise.”

While Egypt has tracked online communication in the past using surveillance systems that allowed officials to loosely monitor local networks, See Egypt is the first time the government will be widely using the Deep Packet Inspection technology that enables geolocation, tracking, and extensive monitoring of internet traffic. [Continue reading...]

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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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To beat ISIS, the Arab world must promote inclusive politics

Rula Jebreal writes: Last week’s counter-terrorism conference in Jeddah can be summed up in two words: lost opportunity. Why? None of the participants were representative of an independent, democratic or critical voice in the Middle East. Rather, the Muslim scholars who participated were voices of their inept governments, who condemn every dissident voice as a terrorist.

In the backdrop of the conference, President Barack Obama made his case for war against ISIS in Iraq to the American public last week as well. Obama also sent a direct message Muslims around the world that ISIS is not really Islamic and America is not at war with Islam. This message was meant to hit the heart of the Arab Muslim world, but it fell on deaf ears.

Nonetheless, Secretary of State John Kerry is lobbying Arab allies to play a central role to insure the success of the initiative, since ISIS poses a much greater threat to them than it does to the United States. While this is a more responsible strategy on the part of the United States, the truth is that Arab and Muslim states continue to pursue myopic and delusional policies that produce more extremism, rather than countering it. [Continue reading...]

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Why Obama has picked the worst allies for his war on ISIS

Rami G Khouri writes: President Barack Obama’s bold move to lead a coalition of countries to degrade, contain and defeat the “Islamic State” group in Syria and Iraq through a combination of military and political means is sensible in principle, but it is likely to run into a serious problem — one that has plagued other such endeavors.

The combination of foreign-led military power and local Arab government partners that must anchor a successful attack to vanquish the Islamic State is the precise combination of forces that originally midwifed the birth of Al-Qaeda in the 1980s and later spawned its derivative — the Islamic State — today.

The United States and its fighting partners in the Middle East and abroad face two profound dilemmas that have no easy answer.

First, the combination of American militarism and Middle Eastern (mostly Arab) autocratic regimes can certainly contain and rattle the Islamic State in the short run, but in the long run, as recent history confirms, it is likely to generate new, more dangerous and more widely dispersed groups of militants and terrorists.

Second, there is no easy way, and few other options, in the short run to contain ISIS today before it spreads further and causes more damage to the region, so there seems to be no alternative now but to repeat the questionable patterns of the last 20 years of war against Al-Qaeda and its successors.

The biggest weakness in Obama’s coalition is its Arab members, all of whom are autocratic and paternalistic states that share several embarrassing traits:

  • They are reluctant to use their formidable military arsenals in the fight against ISIS, either from political fear or technical weaknesses;
  • They face strong problems with their own public opinions at home that are very dubious about partnering with the American military;
  • Their own mistreatment of some of their prisoners in their jails incubated the birth of Al-Qaeda in the 1980s;
  • Their sustained mismanagement of social, economic and political development in the past 40 years was the leading contributor to the mass grievances that sparked large-scale Islamism and emigration from the 1970s, the retreat of the state from some quarters of society, and the birth of militias, tribal groupings, and criminal gangs as powerful new actors in society.

The most troubling symbol of how hard it is for Arab regimes to fight the Islamic State and other such phenomena is the Arab jails in the 1980s and 90s that were the incubators for many of the early recruits and leaders of Al-Qaeda. [Continue reading...]

The Guardian reports: Secretary of state John Kerry said on Saturday that Egypt has a critical role to play in countering the ideology of Islamic State, the militant group known as Isis.

Kerry was speaking in Cairo as part of a regional tour to build support for President Barack Obama’s plan to strike both sides of the Syrian-Iraqi frontier, defeat Isis Sunni fighters and build a coalition for a potentially complex military campaign in the heart of the Middle East.

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Qatar expels Egypt Muslim Brotherhood leaders

The Associated Press reports: Leaders of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood group and allied clerics said on Saturday that they are departing Qatar, where they had sought refuge following the ouster of Egypt’s Islamist President Mohammed Morsi and the crackdown on his supporters.

Their presence in Qatar had severely strained Doha’s relations with Egypt as well as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, all of which view the more than 85-year-old Islamist movement as a threat. The expulsion threatens to further isolate the group, which rose to power in Egypt through a string of post-Arab Spring elections but suffered a dramatic fall from grace during Morsi’s divisive year in office.

Former minister Amr Darrag, who was also the top foreign affairs official in the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, and fiery cleric Wagdi Ghoneim said they are leaving Qatar following a request to do so by the Gulf monarchy. [Continue reading...]

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Path to jihad: from upscale Cairo to ISIS beheadings

Reuters reports: After leaving his upscale Cairo neighborhood to fight with the Islamic State militant group in Syria and Iraq, Younes says he learned how to work as a sniper, fire heavy weaponry and behead prisoners using the proper technique.

One year later he harbors the kind of ambition that could create a security nightmare for Egyptian authorities: to return home and hoist the Islamic State’s black flag in Egypt as his comrades have over large swathes of Iraq and Syria.

Eventually, says Younes, he and other Egyptian fighters in Islamic State intend to topple Egypt’s U.S.-backed government and extend their caliphate to the biggest Arab nation.

“We will not be able to change the situation in Egypt from inside, but Egypt is to be opened from abroad,” Younes, who asked that his last name be withheld, told Reuters in an interview conducted by Facebook.

Reuters reached Younes by contacting supporters of Islamic State on social media networks. Another Islamic State fighter identified him as a militant in the group. Location tags on his Facebook messages placed him in Syria.

Egypt is well aware of the risks posed by its citizens going abroad for jihadist causes and then returning. Egyptians who fought Soviet occupation troops in Afghanistan in the 1980s eventually took up holy war at home, training their weapons on Egyptian security forces and carrying out bombings.

The chances of Islamic State militants establishing a caliphate in Egypt are slim: the Egyptian state has crushed one militant group after another.

But the return of fighters with experience in Iraq and Syria could certainly bring more violence and complicate efforts to stabilize a country that has suffered from political turmoil, with two presidents toppled since 2011. [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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Gaza, victim of history

Jean-Pierre Filiu writes: The current conflict in Gaza is the third since 2008. If nothing is done to address the root causes, any cease-fire agreement between Israel and Hamas will only be a pause before the next outbreak of violence. The collective impotence of the world’s leaders is striking, since the Gaza Strip is, within the broader Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a far less complex issue to handle than East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

All parties have endorsed the Gaza Strip’s borders, which were drawn in 1949 at the end of the first Arab-Israeli war. The last Israeli settler left Gaza in 2005, after Ariel Sharon opted for a unilateral withdrawal, similar to Ehud Barak’s disengagement from southern Lebanon in 2000. There is no religious site in the Gaza Strip to be contested by Muslims, Jews and Christians.

Many Israelis dream of waking one morning to discover that Gaza has gone away (or been annexed by Egypt, a softer version of such a fantasy). But Gaza is there to stay, with its 1.8 million people crowded into 141 square miles (365 square kilometers). How did this tiny slice of the Mediterranean coastline become one of the most wretched spots on earth?

Over the centuries, travelers have remarked on the fecundity of Gaza’s vegetation. The Gaza Valley, which runs down into the Mediterranean coast, south of the modern city, is a refuge for migrant birds and small animals. Gaza was once the leading exporter of barley in the region; more recently, it has been a producer of citrus. Perched between the Levant and the Sinai and Negev deserts, Gaza has had the misfortune of being at the crossroads of empires. [Continue reading...]

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Egypt, UAE launched airstrikes in Libya

Foreign Policy: Two airstrikes in the past week on Islamist militias fighting for control of Tripoli, Libya, are raising questions about who was behind the attacks and whether the United States knew about or condoned them. On Saturday, Aug. 23, Agence France-Presse reported that Islamist militants in Libya pointed the finger at Egypt and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The Egyptian military quickly denied any involvement. On Monday, the New York Times reported that American officials confirmed that the Egyptians and Emiratis had launched the strikes, but said they’d caught the United States by surprise.

That claim seemed incredible, though, in light of the presence in the region of the U.S. military, which would have certainly detected a series of airstrikes. “With as many Aegis-class ships as the U.S. Navy has in the Persian Gulf and Mediterranean, there is no possible way the UAE could pull this off without the U.S. knowing it,” said Christopher Harmer, a former Navy officer and an analyst with the Institute for the Study of War. Harmer said that he had no information about U.S. involvement, “but the U.S. government knows who bombed what,” he said.

Egypt and the UAE are highly motivated to strike out at Islamist fighters, whose gains in Libya are only the latest reminder that a new wave of religiously aligned political groups and militias threaten secular regimes and monarchies across the region.

“Libya is a serious situation,” Moroccan Foreign Minister Salaheddine Mezouar told Foreign Policy earlier this month. Morocco has organized a political dialogue among various factions in Libya in an effort to bring the country together. Mezouar has also worked closely with Egypt on the issue, specifically discussing concerns about terrorism in his July visit to Cairo.

State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki provided no additional information on the strikes during a press briefing on Monday. She reiterated the Obama administration’s policy that “Libya’s challenges are political, and violence will not resolve them.” She added: “Our focus is on the political process there. We believe outside interference exacerbates current divisions and undermines Libya’s democratic transition.”

When asked whether Washington would be “disappointed” if Egypt and the UAE had conducted the airstrikes, Psaki replied, “I’m not going to go down that rabbit hole.” [Continue reading...]

The Associated Press today reports: Egypt and the United Arab Emirates secretly carried out airstrikes against Islamist militias inside Libya, U.S. officials said Tuesday, decrying the intervention as an escalation of the North African country’s already debilitating turmoil. They said the United States had no prior notification of the attacks.

One official said the two countries and Saudi Arabia have been supporting for months a renegade general’s campaign against Libyan militant groups, but that the Saudis don’t appear to have played a role in recent strikes. Another official said Washington knew about Egyptian and U.A.E. plans for a possible operation and warned them against going through with the effort.

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Egypt trolls U.S. about Ferguson protests, forgets its own human rights record

Huffington Post: Egypt is no stranger to criticism from the U.S. and other countries for its violent crackdowns on protests. But as attention turns to protests raging in Ferguson, Missouri, over the police killing of an unarmed black teen, Egypt’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued some criticism of its own, sending out a statement to the press Tuesday urging “restraint and respect for the right of assembly and peaceful expression of opinion.”

It’s a bold statement, considering Egypt’s own bleak human rights record, as well as its now-shaky relationship with the U.S., a longtime financier of the Egyptian military.

With the 2011 revolution a thing of the past, it is now illegal for Egyptians to protest without prior permission from authorities. Thousands of people — suspected supporters of the now-banned Muslim Brotherhood, revolutionary activists, Egyptian and foreign journalists and academics alike — have been locked up, often without fair trials. Protesters have been targeted and killed en masse (Aug.14 marked the one-year anniversary of the Rabaa massacre, in which security forces killed at least 800 demonstrators). Human Rights Watch, whose staff were deported from Egypt last week, said the killings likely amounted to crimes against humanity. [Continue reading...]

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Egypt: The anatomy of an unfair trial

Amal Alamuddin writes: Sentencing a political opponent to death after a show trial is no different to taking him out on the street and shooting him. In fact, it is worse because using the court system as a tool of state repression makes a mockery of the rule of law. Egypt’s constitution guarantees the right to be presumed innocent. And yet in a recent case, an Egyptian judge — after a “trial” lasting 100 minutes — sentenced 529 Muslim Brotherhood supporters to death. Egypt’s constitution also guarantees freedom of speech, yet many journalists languish behind bars.

Three journalists working for the Al Jazeera English news network — Canadian Mohamed Fahmy, Australian Peter Greste and Egyptian Baher Mohamed — are among them. Mr. Fahmy used to work for CNN and the New York Times. Mr. Greste worked for the BBC and had only been in Egypt for a few days before his arrest. I am Mr. Fahmy’s lawyer and have had contact with him in Egypt. I have studied the case file, read the reports of trial observers who were at each court session, and read the judgment that sentences the journalists to lengthy prison terms of seven years or more. It is clear beyond doubt that their trial was unfair, and their conviction a travesty of justice.

What does the Egyptian state, through its prosecutors and judges, charge? That these three men promoted and gave material support to the Muslim Brotherhood group that they are members of; and that they produced false news that harms Egypt’s reputation and its national security. The judgment convicts them on all counts and finds that “through their actions, [they] had compiled audiovisual film material and falsified untrue events to be broadcast by a satellite channel in order to stir conflict within the Egyptian State.” More specifically, the judges condemn them for betraying “the noble profession of journalism” by “portraying the Country — untruthfully — to be in a state of chaos … internal strife and disarray.” This sinister plot was apparently orchestrated “upon the instructions of the … terrorist Muslim Brotherhood Group” headquartered at a Marriott hotel suite off Tahrir Square.

The story is completely fabricated. [Continue reading...]

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Hamas talks of ‘real chance’ for Gaza agreement with Israel

The Guardian reports: Hamas believes there is a “real opportunity” to reach an agreement with Israel in Cairo negotiations to end the conflict in Gaza, saying it is “not interested in more bloodshed”.

The positive signals from the Islamist organisation, which has fought a 30-day war with Israel, came after mediators brokered a five-day extension to the current ceasefire shortly before a midnight deadline on Wednesday.

Despite there being some rocket fire from Gaza and air strikes by Israel as efforts to extend the truce went to the wire, the ceasefire held throughout Thursday. It expires at midnight on Monday.

Both the Palestinian and Israeli delegations left Cairo for a break in the talks, which are expected to resume on Sunday.

The Hamas negotiator Khalil al-Hayya, who returned to Gaza to brief the local leadership, told reporters: “There is still a real chance to clinch an agreement, but Israel must stop playing with words.”

He added: “We are not interested in more destruction for our people. We are not interested in more bloodshed.”

But, he said, Hamas would not sign an agreement that did not “meet our people’s demands”, and he warned that the organisation could “renew the battle” with greater strength. [Continue reading...]

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Egypt: Rab’a killings likely crimes against humanity

Kenneth Roth writes: Some combination of denial and fear led the Egyptian government to refuse my colleague and me entrance to the country on Sunday night. The form wrapped around my colleague’s passport describing why we were being denied entry was checked, “For security reasons.”

It was an unprecedented step. No one from Human Rights Watch had ever been barred from Egypt, even during the darkest days of former President Hosni Mubarak’s rule. But the reason for my visit was also unprecedented — a massacre that rivals the most notorious of recent times, such as China’s Tiananmen killings in 1989 and Uzbekistan’s Andijan slaughter in 2005.

I went to Cairo to present the results of a detailed investigation that Human Rights Watch had conducted into last year’s massacre by Egyptian security forces of protesters at a large sit-in demonstration in Cairo’s Rabaa al-Adawiya Square, which was organized to oppose the military’s ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi, Egypt’s first elected civilian president. In one day — indeed, in some 12 hours — security forces killed at least 817 people, each of whom has been individually identified by Human Rights Watch, and quite likely more than 1,000. The slaughter was so systematic that it probably amounts to a crime against humanity under international law. [Continue reading...]

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Israelis won’t negotiate a ceasefire unless there’s a ceasefire

Middle East Eye: As violence resumes in Gaza, the Israelis have withdrawn their delegates from the Cairo ceasefire talks saying they won’t negotiate “under fire.”

Though these are not the first time ceasefire talks have been held in Cairo, the circumstances are very different from previous occasions.

Ramzy Baroud, managing editor of Middle East Eye, discusses the ceasefire talks between Palestinian and Israeli delegates in Cairo, the political influence of Egypt and how the circumstances have changed for Hamas.

The Jerusalem Post reports: Egyptian and Palestinian delegates have reportedly reached a new agreement on a draft cease-fire proposal that will be submitted to Israel on Saturday, a Palestinian official told AFP.

According to the official speaking on condition of anonymity, the deal would see the Palestinian Authority and the government in Cairo render control of the Rafah border between Gaza and Egypt.

Under the reported terms, Hamas would in effect enact a unity deal signed in April with the PA, entrusting the group’s demands for a port in Gaza to the Ramallah-based government for negotiations at a later point with Israel.

Egyptian sources who are intimately familiar with the discussions are quoted by Arab media sources as saying that the sides have reached verbal agreements on a truce that would go into effect Saturday evening, even as Hamas threatens to renew rocket fire against Israel’s most populous areas in the center of the country in response to what it says is Jerusalem’s “obstinacy” in cease-fire talks.

“The launching of rockets from the Gaza Strip toward Israel and the Israeli air force strikes in response to those rockets will cease completely [Saturday evening] in parallel with the arrival of the Israeli delegation to the talks in Cairo and the continuation of negotiations toward a permanent cease-fire,” sources told the Palestinian daily Al-Quds.

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How Sisi’s hatred of Hamas made him become Israel’s closest ally

The Wall Street Journal reports: Israel and Egypt quietly agreed to work in concert to squeeze Hamas after Egypt’s military coup in 2013, a strategy that proved effective but which some Israeli and U.S. officials now believe stoked tensions that helped spur open warfare in Gaza.

When former military chief Abdel Fattah Al Sisi rose to power in Egypt after leading the overthrow of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi, Israel found the two countries had a common interest in suppressing the Islamist group that ruled Gaza. They worked to bring pressure on their shared enemy.

But a reconstruction of events leading up to the conflict over the past month found that in their determination to hem in Hamas, Israeli and Egyptian officials ignored warning signs of an impending explosion, U.S., Israeli and U.N. officials said.

The U.S. encouraged Israel and Egypt to forge a close security partnership. What Washington never anticipated was that the two countries would come to trust each other more than the Americans, who would watch events in Gaza unfold largely from the sidelines as the Israelis and the Egyptians planned out their next steps.

The seeds of the latest Israel-Hamas conflict were sown in 2012, when Hamas broke ranks with longtime allies Syria, Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah and threw its support behind the rebels fighting to unseat President Bashar al-Assad in Syria’s civil war.

Hamas, which ruled Gaza for the past seven years, came to rely on cash supplied by Qatar transferred through Egypt, with the assent of Mr. Morsi, and on revenue from smuggling goods through tunnels reaching into Egypt. As long as Hamas controlled cross-border attacks, Israel tolerated the Islamist movement at its southern doorstep, Israeli officials said.

That pressure got dialed up when Mr. Morsi was deposed and Mr. Sisi rose to power. Israeli officials knew Egypt was as committed as they were to reining in Hamas when Mr. Sisi sent word earlier this year that his forces had completely destroyed 95% of the tunnels under Egypt’s border with Gaza.

At first, Israeli intelligence officials said they didn’t know what to make of Mr. Sisi, a devout Muslim who in previous posts treated his Israeli counterparts coldly, a senior Israeli official said. As Mr. Sisi moved to take control of the government, Israeli intelligence analysts pored over his public statements, writings and private musings, Israeli and U.S. officials said.

The Israeli intelligence community’s conclusion: Mr. Sisi genuinely believed that he was on a “mission from God” to save the Egyptian state, the senior Israeli official said.

Moreover, as an Egyptian nationalist, he saw Mr. Morsi’s Islamist group, the Muslim Brotherhood, and its Palestinian offshoot, Hamas, as threats to the state that needed to be suppressed with a heavy hand, the Israeli official said.

Israeli intelligence analysts interpreted Mr. Sisi’s comments about keeping the peace with Israel and ridding Egypt of Islamists as a “personal realization that we — Israel — were on his side,” the Israeli official said. [Continue reading...]

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In Libya, parliament convenes amid battles

The New York Times reports: Libyan leaders, struggling to keep their country from spinning further out of control, convened a newly elected Parliament for its first session on Monday.

But raging militia battles in Tripoli, the capital, and in Benghazi, the second-largest city, forced them to hold the meeting in Tobruk, a relatively stable port in the east. And a senior Egyptian political figure suggested on Monday that his country might intervene in Libya militarily if calm cannot be restored.

The newly elected lawmakers vowed to prevent the collapse of their state.

“We will prove to the world that Libya is not a failed country,” Abu Bakr Bueira, the lawmaker presiding over the session, declared, according to news reports.

Although the street fighting in Tripoli and Benghazi is driven mainly by local militia rivalries, it is converging into the same national conflict. Islamists and their tribal or regional allies are on one side, fighting what they say is an authoritarian counterrevolution, while anti-Islamist groups with allied tribes and fragments of the former Qaddafi dictatorship’s forces are on the other side, fighting what they say is Islamist domination that has allowed the militia mayhem to spread. [Continue reading...]

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Arab ‘leaders,’ viewing #Hamas as worse than #Israel, quietly support destruction of #Gaza

The New York Times reports: Battling Palestinian militants in Gaza two years ago, Israel found itself pressed from all sides by unfriendly Arab neighbors to end the fighting.

Not this time.

After the military ouster of the Islamist government in Cairo last year, Egypt has led a new coalition of Arab states — including Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — that has effectively lined up with Israel in its fight against Hamas, the Islamist movement that controls the Gaza Strip. That, in turn, may have contributed to the failure of the antagonists to reach a negotiated cease-fire even after more than three weeks of bloodshed.

“The Arab states’ loathing and fear of political Islam is so strong that it outweighs their allergy to Benjamin Netanyahu,” the prime minister of Israel, said Aaron David Miller, a scholar at the Wilson Center in Washington and a former Middle East negotiator under several presidents.

“I have never seen a situation like it, where you have so many Arab states acquiescing in the death and destruction in Gaza and the pummeling of Hamas,” he said. “The silence is deafening.” [Continue reading...]

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The war in Gaza threatens Egypt too

Shibley Telhami writes: Cairo’s efforts to mediate between Israel and the Palestinians in Gaza, according to conventional wisdom, have largely been dictated by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s animosity toward Hamas. After all, Hamas is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, which Sisi’s government has declared a terrorist organization and regards as a serious threat.

That is why, this argument goes, the Egyptian ceasefire proposal ignored Hamas’ conditions and why the Israelis so quickly supported it. The proposal called for an immediate ceasefire. Only then would the terms be negotiated, including Hamas’ demands for an end to Israeli attacks, an end to the blockade of Gaza and the release of rearrested Palestinians who were freed in a prisoner 2011 exchange.

The story is far more complicated, however, for both Sisi and Egypt. Because the longer the war goes on, the more Gaza becomes a domestic problem for the Egyptian president. One he does not want.

U.S. Secretary of State Kerry speaks with Egyptian President al-Sisi in CairoIndeed, the fighting provides an opening for Sisi’s opponents. At a minimum, it creates a distraction the Egyptian president does not need now — he has said his priorities are the economy and internal security. So Sisi has a strong interest in ending the war, particularly since Hamas and its allies are exhibiting far more military muscle than anyone expected.

But Sisi is facing a number of major complications triggered by the war. [Continue reading...]

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