Flash was detected as Russian jet broke apart, U.S. military officials say

The New York Times reports: American military officials said Tuesday that satellite surveillance had detected a large flash of light just as a Russian chartered jet broke apart and fell from the sky over the Sinai Peninsula on Saturday, killing all 224 people aboard.

The United States military is not part of the multinational investigation into the crash, but officials said the satellite images were the first indication that the plane had exploded, because of either a bomb or the ignition of a fuel tank. But it will probably take several more days for the authorities to better understand what occurred.

The disaster has set off waves of hand-wringing in Egypt, Russia and elsewhere about whether mechanical failure, human error or terrorism was the cause. But here in the resort area where the plane took off minutes before the crash, thousands of sun-seekers from Russia and other European countries arriving daily say they are undeterred. Most have already written off the possibility that the crash was terrorism. [Continue reading…]


Egyptians revolted against not only Mubarak and his cronies but a whole tyrannical state dripping in blood

Khaled Fahmy writes: This is an historical perspective on the Arab Spring – particularly in Egypt, but generalisable to some extent to other Arab countries – from a historian by education and practice. A peculiar personal experience drew me from being another Egyptian protesting in Tahrir Square in Cairo to the state historian of the Egyptian revolution. Only one week after Hosni Mubarak stepped down as president, the head of the Egyptian National Archives together with the Minister of Culture appointed me as Chair of an official committee empowered to document the momentous popular uprising of January 2011 that captured the attention of the world. I assembled a team of archivists, historians and IT experts. We set about planning how to accomplish the mammoth task ahead of us.

Soon we found ourselves having to find answers to difficult questions: ‘How do we go about collecting people’s testimonies?’ for example. Or, more worrisome, given that we were a government committee: ‘Can we guarantee that the testimonies do not end up falling into the hands of security agencies to be used against the same people who had entrusted us with these potentially self-incriminating testimonies?’

Historical questions presented the most difficulty. When did the revolution end? Did it end with Mubarak’s step-down? With the constitutional amendments of March 2011 that banned the then ruling party, dissolved parliament and called for fresh parliamentary elections? With these parliamentary elections that were held in November 2011? With the presidential elections in June the following year? Given that we were still attending funerals of friends and loved ones, running from one police station to another looking for demonstrators who had been arrested, and still demonstrating to demand the release of our comrades – given all this, was the revolution still going on?

Most difficult of all were questions not about when and how the revolution ended – if ever it did – but when it began and where it originated. Was it launched on 25 January 2011, National Police Day, when we took to the streets to protest against the endemic use of torture in prisons and other places of detention? Or did it begin on 14 January when Ben Ali, the Tunisian President, fled his country to Saudi Arabia, inspiring people in Egypt to say: ‘If the Tunisians could do it, then maybe we can, too’?

Or was its beginning on New Year’s Eve 2010 when Muslims and Copts took to the streets protesting against what they believed was their government’s complicity in the bombing of churches? Or a few months earlier with the beating to death of the young Alexandrian activist Khaled Said, who later became the icon of the revolution? Did it start in 2008 when thousands took to the streets all over the country in solidarity with the striking workers in the industrial town of Mahalla? Or were its origins in 2004 with the birth of the Kefaya (Enough!) Movement, whose members were protesting, week in and week out, against Mubarak’s dictatorial rule?

Did it start in March 2003 when we took to the streets protesting against the US bombing of Iraq and when we occupied Tahrir for a few hours? Or did it begin in March 2000 when the Israeli Prime Minister paid his ill-fated visit to al-Haram al-Sharif in Jerusalem, prompting thousands of Egyptian university students to spill out of their university gates to demonstrate in solidarity with the Second Palestinian Intifada?

My colleagues on the committee and I pondered these questions, and probed even more difficult ones. [Continue reading…]


After hailing democracy in Tahrir Square in 2011, Cameron now welcomes the man who killed Egypt’s revolution

Jack Shenker writes: In footage recorded by news cameras, you can see David Cameron – flanked by a large security team – threading his way through the flag sellers and nut vendors and the amiable mayhem of Tahrir Square. It is February 2011, ten days after the overthrow of Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak. Locals drift over to see what the fuss is about, and many call out to welcome the British prime minister. At one point a boy, his face painted in revolutionary style with the colours of the Egyptian flag, runs up to Cameron and smiles. “Are you happy now?” Cameron asks, in English. The child looks blank. Cameron nods with satisfaction and holds out his hand. “Put it there,” he grins.

The imagery of Cameron traipsing around an urban landscape that still bore the scars of revolutionary struggle was designed to convey a particular message: after decades of providing steadfast support to one of the Middle East’s most entrenched autocrats, Britain was supposedly ready to embrace a new type of politics. “I’ve just been meeting with leaders of the democracy movement, really brave people who did extraordinary things in Tahrir Square,” Cameron told the BBC. “We want Egypt to have a strong and successful future, we want the aspirations of the Egyptian people – for democracy, for freedom, for openness, the things we take for granted – we want them to have those things.”

Almost half a decade later, Cameron is finally about to return Egypt’s hospitality, and once again news cameras will be on hand to capture the moment. This time round, though, the images will be very different.

Next week Egyptian president Abdel Fatah al-Sisi is scheduled to accept an invitation to Downing Street: red carpets will be unfurled, gifts exchanged and powerful hands shaken. His photoshoot with Cameron will be a celebration not of new politics, but of more conventional forms of power – the kinds that remain safely locked up inside the executive, the army and institutional elites. The buzzwords at the official banquet will be “stability” and “security”. Of freedom, or openness, or the Egyptian streets that Cameron was so keen to walk down – the streets in which power, not so long ago, came to reside – little mention will be made. [Continue reading…]


Russia confirms jet broke up in mid-air; was 2001 ‘tail strike’ the cause?

Clive Irving writes: The head of Russia’s aviation accident investigation body has confirmed that the Russian Airbus A321 that crashed in the Sinai on Saturday broke up in mid-air. Victor Sorochenko said that the wreckage was spread over an area of eight square miles — not concentrated in one debris field.

This would be consistent with a severe and very sudden structural failure that resulted in the airplane literally falling out of the sky from its cruise altitude of 31,000 feet. (An Egyptian statement that the pilot had reported a technical problem and asked for a diversion to the nearest airport was later withdrawn.)
The Airbus A321 was 18 years old, and had made 21,000 flights, a relatively low number when compared with the much higher daily frequency of flights made on budget airlines. With a modern airplane like this and regular maintenance its age is not in itself a cause for concern.

What does, however, jump out from this particular airplane’s record is an accident that it suffered on November 16, 2001, while landing at Cairo (while owned and operated by Middle East Airlines). As it touched down the nose was pointing at too high an angle and the tail hit the tarmac — heavily enough to cause substantial damage.

Tail strikes like this are not uncommon. The airplane was repaired and would have been rigorously inspected then and during subsequent maintenance checks. (Although the airplane was owned by a Russian company, Kogalymavia, operating as Metrojet, it was registered in Ireland and the Irish authorities were responsible for its certification checks.) Nonetheless investigators who will soon have access to the Airbus’s flight data recorder will take a hard look at what is called the rear pressure bulkhead, a critical seal in the cabin’s pressurization system. [Continue reading…]


The foundations of ISIS: How secular tyranny fostered religious zealotry in the Middle East

In a review of Wendell Steavenson’s The Weight of a Mustard Seed, Kyle W. Orton writes: Kamel Sachet [one of Saddam Hussein’s favourite and most senior generals] came to religion in prison. In 1983, for no given reason, Sachet was thrown in Ar-Rashid Number One prison, where the only thing detainees were allowed to read was the Qur’an. While State radio was permitted, even State newspapers were banned. Sachet learned the Qur’an by rote, expressing regret he had not done so when he was young.

Sachet showed signs of a more Salafist view of Islam even at this early stage. Sachet told a prisoner he befriended that he wished his friend was not a Shi’a because the shrines were Islamically wrong. Sachet was deeply, personally offended by alcohol and the mixing of the sexes. Perhaps above all, Sachet was given to Islamic fatalism. “If I die … then it means that is the time for me to die,” Sachet said. This apolitical piety also counselled loyalty to the ruler.

In prison, under threat of death and daily torture, men began to take solace in the faith. This pattern of prisons as Islamist production facilities is repeated all throughout the region, notoriously in Syria.

In pondering why the monstrous apparatus of Saddam’s regime functioned — — why didn’t the population just rise as one and refuse any longer to be ruled in this way?  —  Steavenson mentions the Zimbardo prison experiment. It is a good analogy and it can be pushed further.

During the war with Iran, most Iraqi officers  —  with the straight choice of continuing to throw young men into an inferno or be tortured and murdered — resorted to a fatalism of their own: “What could I do?” (a phrase that recurs as Steavenson meets the old Ba’athists). At all levels, some Iraqis found solace in Dutch courage, some found solace in the promise of a life to follow this one.

Anyone can see why, during the horror of the Iran-Iraq War or one of Saddam’s prisons, Islam, with its calming rituals and promise of paradise, would have an appeal. But just look at Saddam’s Iraq. From 1980 through Kuwait 1990–91, then the “armed truce” and siege of the 1990s, Iraq was at war for very nearly twenty-five years. The conditions of political terror that went along with this in Saddam’s Iraq are notorious, and the breakdown of provisions and order in the 1990s was heaped on top. In short, Iraq under Saddam was one big prison with wartime conditions. Is it any wonder religion’s appeal increased in Iraq during Saddam’s rule? Or that the aftermath should resemble the disorder and brutality of a prison riot?

The “modern” ideologies — — pan-Arabism, Communism, Ba’athism  — failed; nobody could be convinced that the period of trauma was going to give way to a brighter tomorrow. People gave up on the promise of this life and instead sought to compensate the misery endured in the here-and-now with the promise of a blissful life to come. [Continue reading…]


Egypt polling stations empty for no-contest vote

AFP reports: Like scores of polling stations across the Egyptian capital, a school in the Dokki neighbourhood stood empty Monday, with local residents showing scant interest in the country’s no-contest parliamentary election.

In the absence of any real opposition, the new parliament is expected to firmly back President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s iron-fisted regime that has crushed all forms of dissent.

Sisi, who enjoys cult-like status in Egypt after having ousted his Islamist predecessor Mohamed Morsi in 2013, will have a parliament to rubber-stamp his decisions, experts say. [Continue reading…]


Why Egypt’s new parliament will be born broken

Nathan J. Brown writes: Over the coming weeks, Egyptians will vote in parliamentary elections in which nobody knows who will win yet everybody knows the result. The regime will then claim (inaccurately) that the “road map” — announced when former president Mohamed Morsi was deposed in July 2013 — has been completed. Few observers have high hopes for the new parliament, but its lackluster future has roots in the state’s complicated past.

Regardless of the results of individual races, the parliament will play the same role: the body will be weak but not toothless; it will be less a rubber stamp than an annoying speed bump for Egypt’s rulers. Virtually everyone is likely to come away disappointed: Egypt’s leaders who show no interest in politics will find a parliament that must be massaged; the opposition will find few points of entry; deputies will enjoy little authority; and voters will find little choice. Egypt’s parliamentary system seems to serve no purpose but appears to have been built on purpose. What is the secret behind the apparently planned obsolescence of the parliament?

This is not a Stalinist election. Multiple candidates and party slates are competing. With a new set of rules, some redrawn boundaries, untested electoral actors and influential local bigwigs jockeying in new alliances, it is difficult to forecast individual races. But the expected outcome — a motley group of politicians, pundits and patrons (but not strong parties) seeking access to resources, platforms for posturing and prestige — remains the same. [Continue reading…]


Islamism, the Arab Spring, and the failure of America’s do-nothing policy in the Middle East

Shadi Hamid writes: In the years leading up to the Arab Spring, Islamist parties developed something of an obsession with the role of Western powers in supporting democracy in the Arab world — or, more likely, not supporting it. Islamists were fighting on two fronts: not just repressive regimes, but their international backers as well. The ghosts of Algeria lingered. In January 1992, Algeria’s largest Islamist party, the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), found itself on the brink of an historic election victory — prompting fears that the military was preparing to move against the Islamists. In the tense days that followed, FIS leader Abdelkader Hachani addressed a crowd of supporters. “Victory is more dangerous than defeat,” he warned, urging them to exercise restraint to avoid giving the army a pretext for intervention. But it was too late. The staunchly secular military aborted the elections, launching a massive crackdown and plunging Algeria into a civil war that would claim more than 100,000 lives.

That authoritarian regimes and activist militaries could count on American and European acquiescence (or even support) — as they did in 1992 — made Arab regimes seem more durable than they actually were, and the task of unseating them more daunting. During the first and forgotten Arab Spring of 2004-5, Algeria repeatedly came up in my interviews with Muslim Brotherhood leaders in Egypt and Jordan. Perhaps over-learning the lessons of the past, Islamist parties across the region, despite their growing popularity, were careful and cautious. They made a habit of losing elections. In fact, they lost them on purpose. This ambivalence and even aversion to power prevented Islamists from playing the role that opposition parties are generally expected to play. It was better to wait, and so they did.

It’s been almost five years since the start of the Arab Spring, but one conversation still stands out to me, despite (or perhaps because of) everything that’s happened since. Just two months before the uprisings began, Egypt was experiencing what, at the time, seemed like an especially hopeless period. I was in the country for November elections that proved to be the most fraudulent in Egyptian history. After winning an unprecedented 88 seats in parliament in 2005, the Muslim Brotherhood wasn’t permitted by Hosni Mubarak’s regime to claim even one seat. But this movement, the mother of all Islamist movements, accepted its fate in stride. “The regimes won’t let us take power,” Hamdi Hassan, the head of the Brotherhood’s parliamentary bloc, told me during that doomed election campaign. What was the solution, then? I asked him. “The solution is in the ‘Brotherhood approach.’ We focus on the individual, then the family, then society.”

“In the lifespan of mankind, 80 years isn’t long,” he reasoned, referring to the time that had passed since the Brotherhood’s founding. “It’s like eight seconds.” [Continue reading…]


The sad state of Egypt’s liberals

The Economist reports: If you believe Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, Egypt’s president, his country will take a final step towards democracy later this month, when voters start the process of choosing a new parliament. The previous one, freely elected and dominated by Islamists, was dissolved by the supreme court in 2012. The intervening period has seen Mr Sisi, then a general, oust an elected president, win an election himself and crush his opponents with violence and draconian laws passed by decree.

Contrary to his rhetoric, Mr Sisi has set Egyptian democracy back. Yet the forces behind Egypt’s revolution in 2011—when the previous strongman, Hosni Mubarak, was overthrown in a popular revolt—have shown scant ability and often little inclination to keep the country on a more democratic path. Most of Egypt’s so-called liberals supported the overthrow of Muhammad Morsi, the former president, in 2013 on the grounds that his Muslim Brotherhood was itself undermining democracy. Many then stayed mum as Mr Sisi’s troops slaughtered protesting Islamists. Tarnished by this history, riven by infighting and lacking broad appeal, the liberals now appear helpless to check Egypt’s slide back to authoritarianism.

A common lament of liberals is that, having preserved democracy with his coup, Mr Sisi then stifled their voices. Indeed, liberal activists and politicians have been hounded by the security services, pilloried in the media and constrained by government restrictions on protests and NGOs. The regime often justifies the oppression on security grounds, while making the occasional cosmetic gesture, such as releasing 100 political prisoners last month. Thousands more languish in jail. [Continue reading…]


As Egypt floods Gaza tunnels, smugglers fear an end to their trade

The New York Times reports: On a humid night in Rafah recently, six Palestinian smugglers sat around a backyard table, ticking off the damage that Egypt has done to their tunnels over the past two years.

It dropped dynamite and floated poison gas into them. It filled them with sewage.

Last year, it took the extraordinary step of razing more than 3,000 homes on its side of the border to create a buffer zone that would seal off access to the tunnels, creating a humanitarian catastrophe in the process.

Now, the smugglers fear that Egypt has settled on a strategy that could spell doom for their trade: flooding the tunnels so they collapse. Within the past month, Egypt has flooded part of the nine-mile border area twice, causing two tunnels to cave in completely and damaging 10 or so more.

Only about 20 of 250 tunnels are still operating — the worst situation smugglers can remember. They find themselves waiting nervously for the flooding to begin again. [Continue reading…]


Egypt destroys thousands of homes to create ‘buffer zone’ with Gaza Strip

Human Rights Watch reports: Between July 2013 and August 2015, Egyptian authorities demolished at least 3,255 residential, commercial, administrative, and community buildings in the Sinai Peninsula along the border with the Gaza Strip, forcibly evicting thousands of people. Extended families who had lived side by side for decades found themselves dispersed, forced to abandon the multi-story houses they had built next to their relatives and passed down through generations. Some families became homeless and lived in tents or sheds on open land or in informal settlements. The Egyptian authorities razed around 685 hectares of cultivated farmland, depriving families of food and livelihood and stripping most of the border of its traditional olive, date and citrus groves. The evictions scattered families among the Sinai’s towns and villages and in some cases as far as Cairo and the Nile Delta. The Egyptian government has indicated that these evictions could continue.

The Egyptian army began demolishing buildings along the border in July 2013 as part of a reinvigorated but long-considered plan to establish a “buffer zone” with the Gaza Strip. These demolitions rapidly accelerated after October 24, 2014, when the Sinai-based armed group Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, or Supporters of Jerusalem, carried out an unprecedented attack on an army checkpoint in North Sinai governorate, reportedly killing 28 soldiers. The following month, Ansar Beit al-Maqdis pledged allegiance to the extremist group Islamic State, also known as ISIS, and changed its name to Sinai Province.

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who had taken office in June 2014 after orchestrating the ouster of former president Mohamed Morsy the year before, said in a speech on national television the day after the attack that Egypt was fighting a war “for its existence.” He declared a three-month state of emergency in most of North Sinai and convened the National Defense Council and Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which agreed on a plan to establish a “secure zone” along the Gaza border. Five days after the attack, Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb issued a decree ordering the “isolation” and “evacuation” of 79 square kilometers stretching along the entire Gaza border and extending between five and seven kilometers into the Sinai. The buffer zone encompassed all of Rafah, a town of some 78,000 people that lies directly on the border, as well as significant agricultural land around the town. [Continue reading…]


Al Jazeera journalists freed from Egypt prison

Al Jazeera reports: Jailed Al Jazeera journalists Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed have been released from prison following a presidential pardon in Egypt.

Dozens of activists have also been released as part of a pardon marking the occasion of Eid al-Adha, the Muslim holiday that starts on Thursday, Alaa Youssef, a spokesperson for the Egyptian presidency, has told the al-Ahram newspaper. [Continue reading…]


Western superiority and Arab denial

Saudi commentator and academic Khaled al-Dakheel writes: Most Arabs and Muslims will not grant that the West’s civilization is superior. They will admit that it is more technologically or materially advanced, but they deny that the West has achieved any cultural or ethical advance or superiority. There is a half-deliberate, half-incidental disregard for the West’s political and legal achievements, which are sometimes dismissed by referring to the contradictions that seem to undermine their foundation. This is abundantly clear when we hear acknowledgements of the West’s tremendous industrial capabilities alongside descriptions of its cultural decadence and lack of moral discipline. Most currents and schools of thought in the Arab world agree on this point, even if they differ in their explanations, descriptions and details. None of them have ever asked themselves: Could a decadent and morally undisciplined culture have provided the basis for tremendous industrial capabilities? Maybe for this reason time will show that the Arab-Islamic attitude toward the West is mistaken in its outlook, justifications and conclusions. This attitude reveals that the Arab-Islamic perspective (with the possible exceptions of Malaysia and Indonesia) continues to be in thrall to a past that could only ever be resurrected through destructive means. But its error is even more dangerous than that, because it expresses a civilizational impotence and exhaustion more than it expresses any coherent political stance, civilizational vision, or alternative civilizational project. The greatest evidence of the incoherence and injustice of this vision is that you find Baathists, Nasserists, Sunnis, Shiites, Christians, Salafis, Muslim Brotherhood, nationalists and leftists all joining together to mock the West, deride its ethical incoherence and despise or disregard its political achievements. This comes at a high cost, because it does not reflect a real consensus as much as it represents an empty opportunism void of political substance and the least amount of moral probity.

This attitude brings together such disparate figures as Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, the leader of the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah, al-Nusra Front leader Abu Muhammed al-Julani, head of the Change and Reform bloc Michel Aoun, and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (who is incidentally also the Secretary-General of the Arab Socialist Baath Party – Syria Region). Ranged alongside them are other figures who have since left this world, such as Saddam Hussein, Hafez al-Assad, Abdel Nasser, Abd al-Karim Qasim, Abdul Salam Arif, and many more. They are also joined by Salafi and Muslim Brotherhood sheikhs and sheikhs from various other schools of thought. Lately Houthi leader Abdel Malik al-Houthi has joined the list as well. What is striking – and significant – is that whereas they concur in this coarse opportunism, they disagree on everything else. They are engaged in brutal, bloody clashes on the battlefields of religious wars in Iraq and Syria, fighting on the basis of a sectarianism that they have no shame in avowing. [Continue reading…]


In Egypt, terrorists used to target tourists. Now the army kills tourists it thinks are terrorists

The Washington Post reports: If you want to create terror, targeting tourists is a good way to do it.

Egyptians know this well. In 1997, terrorists later linked to the Islamist group al­-Gamaa al­-Islamiya massacred 58 foreign nationals and four Egyptians at the Deir el­Bahri archaeological site near Luxor. After the high ­profile attack and others like it, Egypt’s tourism sector suffered badly. “We are facing the biggest crisis in the history of tourism in Egypt,” Tourism Minister Mamdou el-­Beltagi told al-­Ahram newspaper at the time.

On Monday, Egypt’s Interior Ministry revealed that 12 people, including at least two Mexican citizens, had been killed in an attack on a tourist convoy in the remote western desert. This time, however, the perpetrators weren’t terrorists. They were a joint police-­military patrol.

In a statement posted on Facebook, the Interior Ministry said that the group had been in a prohibited area during an operation against terrorist groups and that an investigation would be conducted to determine the “justification for the presence of the tour group.” An account given by the Egyptian tour operator to the Spanish newspaper El Mundo seemed to contradict this, saying that the tourists had been eating at a rest stop in an unrestricted area when they were targeted by Egyptian warplanes. [Continue reading…]


How my Cairo bookclub changed my view of Islamists

Rabab El-Mahdi writes: In November 2011 during a protest on Mohamed Mahmoud street in downtown Cairo, a friend asked me if I would start a reading group for some politically engaged young people. I answered that I had read and disliked Reading Lolita in Tehran and so had no interest in imitating its protagonist, who had set up a book club in her home and encouraged the members to read and discuss western literature as the means to emancipation. My friend had not understood what I’d meant and so I conceded.

I had expected five people but 15 arrived instead, all in their 20s and early 30s; most of them were what the media and politicians labelled “Islamists”. My label? “Leftist academic and activist.”

We met weekly, reading together Vladimir Lenin, Frantz Fanon, Ali Shariati, Talal Asad, Edward Said and Lila Abu Lughod among others. We talked about Marxism, postcolonial studies, Islam, feminism, resistance and revolution and discussed contemporary politics at length, but as the weeks passed we also cooked together, watched movies, and spoke about their families and love lives.

As a student of postcolonial studies and an Arab woman in western circles, I have often had to confront other people’s assumptions about me, and most of my academic work has been about deconstructing such stereotypes. So I thought myself above labelling, presumptuous conclusions and artificial divisions – until Asmaa, Awatif and Mariam, three stay-at-home mothers, asked to join the group and I was forced to confront my own deeply rooted assumptions. [Continue reading…]


U.S. will soon have over 700 troops facing ISIS in Sinai

The Washington Post reports: The Pentagon will boost the number of troops it deploys to Egypt’s restive Sinai Peninsula, sending a light infantry platoon, surgical teams, and others as it faces an increasing Islamic State militant threat there.

Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook disclosed the plan Thursday, saying about 75 more U.S. service members will deploy. The plan will increase the number of U.S. troops there to more than 700, and comes following two Sept. 4 attacks on the northern part of the peninsula that wounded four soldiers from the United States and two from Fiji with improvised explosive devices.

The Defense Department was considering altering the U.S. military presence on the Sinai Peninsula before the attacks, in light of the increase in attacks there this year by the Islamic State. Egyptian soldiers and police have been killed in a few of them. [Continue reading…]


UN: Gaza could be ‘uninhabitable’ by 2020 if trends continue

The Associated Press reports: A new United Nations report says Gaza could be “uninhabitable” in less than five years if current economic trends continue.

The report released Tuesday by the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development points to the eight years of economic blockade of Gaza as well as the three wars between Israel and the Palestinians there over the past six years.

Last year’s war displaced half a million people and left parts of Gaza destroyed.

The war “has effectively eliminated what was left of the middle class, sending almost all of the population into destitution and dependence on international humanitarian aid,” the new report says. [Continue reading…]


U.S. citizen, once held in Egypt’s crackdown, becomes voice for inmates

The New York Times reports: Mohamed Soltan knew he had one thing going for him when the Egyptian police came to his door: He was a United States citizen, raised primarily in Ohio.

It did not mean much in the moment. The police had come looking for his father, Salah Soltan, an outspoken member of the Muslim Brotherhood. But when they found only Mohamed Soltan and three friends, the police arrested them instead, along with tens of thousands of others thought to be Islamists or liberal dissidents who were rounded up after the military takeover here two years ago.

But his American citizenship helped embolden Mr. Soltan, then 25, to carry out a hunger strike for 16 of his 21 months in prison, shedding more than 160 of the original 272 pounds on his 5-foot-11-inch frame and risking organ failure in the belief that the United States government might come to his aid. [Continue reading…]