The Arab revolution of 2011 is being destroyed by a counter-revolution led by dictators and jihadists

The Irish Times reports: In late 1400 and early 1401, the Mongol conqueror Tamerlane left “pyramids of skulls, like those constructed by Islamic State today” across Syria, recalls the French Middle East expert Jean-Pierre Filiu.

Tamerlane had already destroyed Aleppo. The great Arab historian and statesman Ibn Khaldun talked to him for 35 days, in the hope of saving Damascus. “The whole time, Tamerlane knows he’s going to massacre everyone in the city,” Filiu continues. “He uses the negotiation to divide and rule, to massacre more people, faster.”

Filiu wants Staffan de Mistura, the UN special envoy for Syria, to read Ibn Khaldun, for it’s impossible not to see a parallel with the behaviour of the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.

Filiu is an Arabist, historian and former diplomat who served as an adviser to a French prime minister, defence minister and interior minister. His “added value”, he says, is history. He will address members of the Institute of International and European Affairs in Dublin on The Jihadi Challenge to Europe next Monday, May 23rd, and debate The Spectre of Global Jihad with the author Shiraz Maher that evening at the International Literature Festival Dublin.

In his most recent book, From Deep State to Islamic State; The Arab Counter-Revolution and Its Jihadi Legacy, (published by Hurst in London) Filiu concludes that the Arab revolution of 2011 – a term he prefers to “Arab spring” – is being destroyed by a counter-revolution led by the remnants of dictatorships in collusion with jihadists.

Over the past century, Filiu writes, the Arabs’ right to self-determination was “denied by colonial intervention, ‘hi- jacked’ at independence by military regimes, trampled on by the double standards of the war for Kuwait and the ‘global war on terror,’ and perverted in the UN, where peoples are represented by the regimes who oppress them”.

No other people have faced “so many obstacles, enemies and horrors in the quest for basic rights”, Filiu says. [Continue reading…]

In January, Filiu spoke about the price being paid because of President Obama’s failure to uphold ethical principles.

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What happened to billions in U.S. military aid to Egypt?

Julian Pecquet writes: The Egyptian government is hindering Washington’s ability to track billions of dollars worth of anti-aircraft missiles and other US weapons, the US government watchdog said in a blistering report just as Congress gets ready to renew the annual $1.3 billion request.

The United States provided $6.5 billion in military assistance to Cairo between 2011 and 2015 with the understanding that it would be closely monitored and it would serve American interests. Instead, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) asserts that the Obama administration has often failed to meet those requirements due to resistance from their Egyptian counterparts, lack of guidance from Washington and insufficient staffing at the US Embassy in Cairo.

The State Department and the Defense Department (DOD) have established programs “to provide reasonable assurance that military equipment transferred or exported to foreign governments is used for its legitimate intended purposes and does not come into the possession of individuals or groups who pose a threat to the United States or its allies,” the GAO said in its May 12 report. “However, gaps in the implementation of these end-use monitoring programs — in part due to limited cooperation from the Egyptian government — hampers DOD’s and State’s ability to provide such assurances.” [Continue reading…]

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Four ideas about the crisis of the Arab world that need to be repudiated

sykes-picot

An editorial in The Economist says: Arab states are suffering a crisis of legitimacy. In a way, they have never got over the fall of the Ottoman empire. The prominent ideologies — Arabism, Islamism and now jihadism — have all sought some greater statehood beyond the frontiers left by the colonisers. Now that states are collapsing, Arabs are reverting to ethnic and religious identities. To some the bloodletting resembles the wars of the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s. Others find parallels with the religious strife of Europe’s Thirty Years War in the 17th century. Whatever the comparison, the crisis of the Arab world is deep and complex. Facile solutions are dangerous. Four ideas, in particular, need to be repudiated.

First, many blame the mayhem on Western powers — from Sykes-Picot to the creation of Israel, the Franco-British takeover of the Suez Canal in 1956 and repeated American interventions. Foreigners have often made things worse; America’s invasion of Iraq in 2003 released its sectarian demons. But the idea that America should turn away from the region — which Barack Obama seems to embrace — can be as destabilising as intervention, as the catastrophe in Syria shows.

Lots of countries have blossomed despite traumatic histories: South Korea and Poland — not to mention Israel. As our special report (see article) sets out, the Arab world has suffered from many failures of its own making. Many leaders were despots who masked their autocracy with the rhetoric of Arab unity and the liberation of Palestine (and realised neither). Oil money and other rents allowed rulers to buy loyalty, pay for oppressive security agencies and preserve failing state-led economic models long abandoned by the rest of the world.

A second wrong-headed notion is that redrawing the borders of Arab countries will create more stable states that match the ethnic and religious contours of the population. Not so: there are no neat lines in a region where ethnic groups and sects can change from one village or one street to the next. A new Sykes-Picot risks creating as many injustices as it resolves, and may provoke more bloodshed as all try to grab land and expel rivals. Perhaps the Kurds in Iraq and Syria will go their own way: denied statehood by the colonisers and oppressed by later regimes, they have proved doughty fighters against IS. For the most part, though, decentralisation and federalism offer better answers, and might convince the Kurds to remain within the Arab system. Reducing the powers of the central government should not be seen as further dividing a land that has been unjustly divided. It should instead be seen as the means to reunite states that have already been splintered; the alternative to a looser structure is permanent break-up.

A third ill-advised idea is that Arab autocracy is the way to hold back extremism and chaos. In Egypt Mr Sisi’s rule is proving as oppressive as it is arbitrary and economically incompetent. Popular discontent is growing. In Syria Bashar al-Assad and his allies would like to portray his regime as the only force that can control disorder. The contrary is true: Mr Assad’s violence is the primary cause of the turmoil. Arab authoritarianism is no basis for stability. That much, at least, should have become clear from the uprisings of 2011.

The fourth bad argument is that the disarray is the fault of Islam. Naming the problem as Islam, as Donald Trump and some American conservatives seek to do, is akin to naming Christianity as the cause of Europe’s wars and murderous anti-Semitism: partly true, but of little practical help. Which Islam would that be? The head-chopping sort espoused by IS, the revolutionary-state variety that is decaying in Iran or the political version advocated by the besuited leaders of Ennahda in Tunisia, who now call themselves “Muslim democrats”? To demonise Islam is to strengthen the Manichean vision of IS. The world should instead recognise the variety of thought within Islam, support moderate trends and challenge extremists. Without Islam, no solution is likely to endure. [Continue reading…]

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ISIS affiliate claims Cairo drive-by killings

The Wall Street Journal reports: An Egyptian Islamic State affiliate on Sunday claimed responsibility for a drive-by shooting that killed eight policemen in a Cairo suburb, the first attack on the capital’s police forces in months.

Four masked gunmen in a pickup truck blocked the path of a minibus carrying plainclothes officers as they patrolled the south Cairo suburb of Helwan, the Interior Ministry said in a statement.

The gunmen then jumped off the truck and sprayed the minibus with bullets, killing all aboard including a ranking supervising officer before driving away, the ministry said, without identifying the suspects.

Investigators found some 120 shell casings at the scene, prosecutors said.

The affiliate, Islamic State Egypt, released a statement calling the attack a retaliation for the Egyptian government’s jailing of “pure” women, an apparent reference to dissident Islamists detained in Egypt.

It identified the slain ranking officer and included five photos of the bullet-riddled minibus with the officers’ bodies inside. It said the assailants had taken some weapons from the scene as “spoils.” [Continue reading…]

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Egyptian court seeks death penalty against three journalists

Reuters reports: An Egyptian court has recommended the death penalty for three journalists and three others charged with endangering national security by leaking state secrets to Qatar, in a ruling condemned by the Doha-based al-Jazeera channel as shocking.

Jordanian national Alaa Omar Sablan and Ibrahim Mohammed Helal, who both work for al-Jazeera, and Asmaa al-Khateeb, a reporter for Rassd – a pro-Muslim Brotherhood news network, were sentenced in absentia. They can appeal.

The sentence is the latest since a crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood after an army takeover stripped former president Mohamed Morsi of power in 2013 following mass protests against his rule.

Al-Jazeera said the ruling provoked “shock and anger” and called for international action to safeguard journalists’ rights to report news freely.

“The death sentence against journalists is unprecedented in the history of world media and amounts to a real stab against freedom of expression around the world,” the satellite channel said in a statement posted on its website. [Continue reading…]

In an editorial, the New York Times says: In addition to leading a repressive and abusive regime, President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt also appears to be running an increasingly incompetent one. On Tuesday, the Interior Ministry accidentally released confidential guidelines to stop critical reporting by the news media, including instructions not to admit mistakes and a proposed rule to stop all coverage related to the torture and murder of an Italian student.

The leak, which the ministry explained as a “technical malfunction,” offered evidence, if more was needed, of the military government’s brutal and destructive approach to the wave of discontent sweeping Egypt.

Mr. Sisi, the former chief of the Egyptian armed forces, came to power in the political struggle that followed the Arab Spring protests of 2011. The Muslim Brotherhood government of Mohamed Morsi, elected after the ouster of the dictatorial former president, Hosni Mubarak, was overthrown by the military in 2013, and in short order Mr. Sisi began a crackdown on the Brotherhood as well as any form of criticism, including that of human rights activists and independent journalists.

The intensification of political repression has been accompanied by one crisis after another, including an outcry in Italy over the torture and murder of an Italian graduate student, which the Italians believe was carried out by Egyptian security services. The unlikely trigger for the current spate of protests was the transfer of two uninhabited Egyptian islands to Saudi Arabia. With political passions running high, the transfer provoked a furious reaction from Egyptians who believed the government was peddling Egyptian land for Saudi dollars. The ensuing demonstrations led to mass arrests and confrontation with journalists, who rallied again in Cairo on Wednesday, demanding the dismissal of the interior minister.

With the government largely hidden from public view, it is not even clear whether Mr. Sisi has full control over the political repression, abductions, torture and other human-rights violations ascribed to the security services. President Obama has not concealed his frustration with Middle Eastern allies like Saudi Arabia. It’s time for him to make clear to Egypt’s rulers that the United States will not continue pumping military aid into a regime at war with its own people. [Continue reading…]

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Could the latest blunder by Egypt’s Sissi be the nail in his coffin?

Sarah Yerkes wrote on April 25: Today, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi is witnessing the most vocal and angry objection to his rule since he took power via a military coup in 2013. Across Cairo and beyond, Egyptians are gathering and chanting some of the same slogans from the January 2011 revolution — such as “the people want the fall of the regime” and “down with military rule.” These protests are not a spontaneous uprising. They were planned and announced on April 15, when thousands of Egyptians took to the streets, protesting the latest in a series of bold and controversial decisions that are slowly and steadily chipping away at Sissi’s once solid support structure abroad and at home.

During Saudi King Salman’s recent visit to Cairo, the Egyptian government announced that it had agreed to transfer sovereignty of two Red Sea islands — Tiran and Sanafir — to Saudi Arabia. This decision, which coincided with a $22 billion oil and aid deal, has a clear short term pay-off: a substantial Band-Aid on Egypt’s gaping economic wounds. But Sissi and his government are once again dramatically underestimating just how self-destructive their behavior can be. As my colleague Tamara Wittes eloquently noted, Egypt “continues to throw obstacles in the road of U.S.-Egyptian cooperation.” But even worse than the self-sabotage in Egypt’s foreign relations is the damage Sissi is doing to his reputation at home. [Continue reading…]

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Egyptian activist found ‘tortured’ amid wave of pre-protest arrests

Middle East Eye reports: An Egyptian activist was found by the side of a desert road with his body bearing evidence of torture, relatives said, as security forces continued a wave of mass arrests ahead of demonstrations planned for Monday.

Khaled Abdel Rahman, from Alexandria, is in intensive care undergoing surgery after passersby discovered him on the side of a desert road on the outskirts of the capital Cairo, his sister Reem Abdel Rahman said.

“His body is covered in marks of beating and torture – the electric shocks applied to his genitals were so severe that they caused atrophy,” she wrote on Facebook.

Abdel Rahman was found on Friday afternoon, less than a day after he was arrested during a raid on his home by security forces, relatives said.

The raid was part of a wave of arrests undertaken by police in cities across Egypt ahead of Monday’s protests. [Continue reading…]

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Egypt’s hollowed-out society

Gamal Eid writes: On Wednesday, three judges in Cairo will decide whether to allow prosecutors to pursue their case against me and my co-defendant, the journalist and human rights advocate Hossam Bahgat, in the government’s continuing attack on nongovernmental organizations in Egypt. The case against me has centered on my role in founding the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, which aims to educate the Egyptian public about their civil and human rights.

As for Mr. Bahgat, it is widely known that his investigative reporting has rattled the government. But the case against him has focused on the activities of the organization he founded, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights.

We have been targeted because our groups provide critical resources to those facing human rights abuses in Egypt. We have represented victims of torture from across the spectrum: Muslim Brotherhood members, liberals, leftists, victims of arbitrary arrest and even government supporters. We have stood for the ideas that human rights belong to all, no matter their ideology, and that civil rights belong to all citizens, no matter their wealth or power. [Continue reading…]

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Sisi’s stature melting away

David Hearst writes: President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has been burning the candle at both ends. Having burned his way through Egypt’s largest political party, the Muslim Brotherhood, Sisi went on to give secular liberals who supported his coup against Mohamed Morsi the same treatment: imprisonment, torture or banishment. A significant part of Egypt’s political and intellectual elite is now in exile. He has one source of legitimacy left – the international community. This week, he’s been burning his way through that.

Sisi’s week should have started on a high – the visit of the Saudi King Salman. After all the tension between the two countries (at the time of Salman’s succession, the pro-Sisi media declared the then crown prince not fit for office) and after all the reports of money from Saudi drying up, this should have been an occasion to silence all doubters: Salman was investing $22bn in Egypt. The Egyptian presidency described Salman’s visit as “crowning the close brotherly ties between the two countries.”

Salman’s visit had been much hyped, as indeed Sisi’s visit to Britain was in November last year. Sisi expected each to be a breakthrough of its kind. And yet during his visit to London, Cameron cancelled all British flights to Egypt as a result of the downing of a Russian airliner over Sinai, sounding the death knell of the Egyptian tourist industry. A similar disaster awaited Sisi in Salman’s visit. [Continue reading…]

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UK took weeks to act on Cairo student killing concerns

Middle East Eye reports: The British foreign secretary expressed serious concerns about allegations of Egyptian security service involvement in the killing of a Cambridge University student in Cairo weeks before the UK government called for a “full and transparent” investigation into the case, Middle East Eye can reveal.

In a 24 March letter obtained exclusively by MEE, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond wrote to Prime Minister David Cameron warning that reports that Egyptian security forces were involved in the death of Giulio Regeni would be an “extremely concerning development” if proved correct.

Regeni’s battered body was found in a ditch nine days after he had gone missing on 25 January, the anniversary of the Tahrir Square revolution.

The 28-year-old was in Egypt researching labour movements – a contentious subject in the country – as part of his doctoral studies at Cambridge.

The government led by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has faced accusations that its security forces were responsible for Regeni’s torture and death. It has repeatedly denied the allegations.

Relations between Italy and Egypt have soured in recent days over the investigation. Officials from Cairo refused to hand over what Rome saw as vital evidence, including mobile phone records and CCTV footage from the night Regeni went missing.

On Friday, Italy recalled its ambassador to Egypt for consultations in protest of the lack of progress in the probe.

Two weeks earlier in his letter to the prime minister whom he addresses as “David”, Hammond writes, “My officials have followed the case of Mr Regeni closely since his disappearance”.

“The UK is aware of reports of the Egyptian security forces’ involvement in Mr Regeni’s death. If substantiated, this would be an extremely concerning development,” the Foreign Secretary added. [Continue reading…]

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Italian official warns Egypt over inquiry into Giulio Regeni’s death

The New York Times reports: The foreign minister of Italy said Tuesday that his government would take “immediate and proportional” measures against Egypt if it failed to help uncover the truth behind the death of an Italian graduate student in Cairo two months ago.

“We will stop only when we will find the truth, the real one,” Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni told Parliament, adding that he would not accept any “fabrication.”

The threat by Mr. Gentiloni came the day before a team of Egyptian investigators was scheduled to land in Rome for meetings on the case of the student, Giulio Regeni, 28, a doctoral candidate, whose brutalized body was discovered on a roadside in February in Cairo. [Continue reading…]

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Giulio Regeni murder: Egypt postpones Italy meeting as criticism mounts

GIULIO-REGENI

The Guardian reports: Egypt has postponed a meeting in Rome at which a Cairo delegation was due to hand over evidence relating to the torture and murder of the Italian researcher Giulio Regeni.

The highly anticipated meeting was scheduled for Tuesday but is now expected later this week. There is a growing perception in Italy that cracks are beginning to emerge in Egypt over how the government of President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi has handled the murder investigation.

Italy’s foreign minister, Paolo Gentiloni, will outline the government’s position on the case in a parliamentary statement on Tuesday, his ministry said.

Regeni’s body was found in a ditch off a desert road on 3 February, more than a week after the 28-year-old – a Cambridge PhD student researching labour unions in Egypt – disappeared. [Continue reading…]

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As long as there is no real democracy in the Middle East, ISIS will continue to mutate

David Hearst writes: The betting is that neither the pro-Assad coalition nor the Saudi-backed one will prevail in Syria. The likeliest outcome of a ceasefire is a Syria permanently fragmented into sectarian statelets in the way Iraq was after the US invasion.

This could be regarded as the least worst option for foreign powers meddling in Syria. Jordan, the Emirates and Egypt will have stopped this dangerous thing called regime change. Saudi will have stopped Iran and Hezbollah. Russia will have its naval base and retain a foothold in the Middle East. Assad will survive in a shrunken sectarian state. The Kurds will have their enclave in the north. America will walk away once more from the region.

There is just one loser in all this – Syria itself. Five million Syrians will become permanent exiles. Justice, self-determination, liberation from autocracy will be kicked into the long grass.

The history of the region has lessons for foreign powers. It proves that fragmentation only leads to further chaos. The region needs reconciliation, common projects and stability as never before. That will not come from creating sectarian enclaves backed by foreign powers.

The Islamic State is a distraction from the real struggle of the region, which is liberation from dictatorship and the birth of real democratic movements. IS is not a justification for the strong men. It is a product of their resistance to change. History did not start in 2011 and it won’t stop now. The revolutions of 2011 were empowered by decades of misrule. There is a reason why millions of Arab rose – peacefully at first – against their rulers and that reason still exists today.

As long as there is no real democratic solution in the Middle East, the Islamic State group will continue to mutate like a pathogen that has become antibiotic-resistant in the body politic of the Middle East. Each time it changes shape, it will become more virulent. [Continue reading…]

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Egypt’s chief corruption investigator alleges widespread government graft. He’s now under house arrest

The Wall Street Journal reports: Egyptian authorities have placed the country’s chief corruption watchdog under house arrest, his lawyer said, days after he was dismissed by the president following his allegations of widespread government graft.

A decree by President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi on Monday removed Hisham Geneina from his post as head of the government’s Central Auditing Authority. It gave no explanation for the move.

Mr. Geneina, a former police officer and judge, now has plainclothes police officers stationed outside his home, his attorney, Ali Taha, said in an interview. The police have confiscated his phone as well as those of his family and are turning away any visitors, the lawyer added. However, no formal order for his house arrest has been issued.

Mr. Taha said all this signals that Mr. Geneina will face prosecution for speaking out against corruption and moving to hold figures from Egypt’s executive, judiciary and police accountable in court for widespread graft ranging from day-to-day bribes to large-scale misappropriation of state land.

“Anyone who tries to visit him will be told by a mob of plainclothes policemen standing outside his house doors that he is not at home,” Mr. Taha said — describing the house arrest as “thuggery.” [Continue reading…]

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Leahy asked State Dept. to investigate Israel and Egypt’s human rights ‘violations’

Politico reports: Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and 10 House members have asked the Obama administration to investigate claims that the Israeli and Egyptian security forces have committed “gross violations of human rights” — allegations that if proven truei could affect U.S. military aid to the countries.

In a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry dated Feb. 17, the lawmakers list several examples of suspected human rights abuses, including reports of extrajudicial killings by Israeli and Egyptian military forces, as well as forced disappearances in Egypt. The letter also points to the 2013 massacre in Egypt’s Rab’aa Square, which left nearly 1,000 people dead as the military cracked down on protesters, as worthy of examination.

Leahy’s signature is particularly noteworthy because his name is on a law that conditions U.S. military aid to countries on whether their security forces are committing abuses. [Continue reading…]

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