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…]


Dark day for press freedom

Al Jazeera reports: Following today’s retrial verdict in Cairo, Al Jazeera Media Network’s Acting Director General Dr Mostefa Souag said: “Today’s verdict defies logic and common sense.

Our colleagues Baher Mohamed and Mohamed Fahmy will now have to return to prison, and Peter Greste is sentenced in absentia.”

The whole case has been heavily politicised and has not been conducted in a free and fair manner. There is no evidence proving that our colleagues in any way fabricated news or aided and abetted terrorist organisations and at no point during the long drawn out retrial did any of the unfounded allegations stand up to scrutiny. [Continue reading…]

Al Jazeera also reports: Egypt’s foreign ministry has summoned the British ambassador over comments he made on a court’s decision to hand down prison sentences for three Al Jazeera journalists, state television has reported.

Ahmed Abu Zeid, a spokesperson for the ministry, on Sunday tweeted that the ministry objected to John Casson’s comments, calling them “unacceptable intrusion” in the country’s judiciary. [Continue reading…]


The Arab Spring was a revolution of the hungry

Thanassis Cambanis writes: Early in the Tahrir Square revolution, a group of retired Egyptian generals sat poolside at Cairo’s Gezira Club and worried about whether the country’s ruling elite could survive a popular uprising. It was February 2011, a week before President Hosni Mubarak was toppled. Millions of freshly politicized Egyptians had already taken to the streets. And yet, some of these career security men were unfazed.

“The only thing we really need to worry about is a revolution of the hungry,” said one, a retired Air Force general. “That would be the end of us.”

As it turned out, it took less than four years for Egypt’s dictatorship to reconstitute itself, crushing the hope for real change among the people. In no small part, the regime’s resilience was due to its firm grasp of bread politics. The ruler who controls the main staples of life — bread and fuel — often controls everything else, too.

Nonetheless, the specter of a “revolution of the hungry” still worries authoritarian rulers today, in Egypt and throughout the Arab world. Roughly put, the idea is shorthand for an uprising that brings together not only the traditional cast of political and religious dissidents but also pits a far greater number of poor, uneducated, and apolitical citizens against the state.

Look across the region, and regimes have good reason to be afraid. Even in countries where obesity is widespread, people suffer from low-quality medical care and malnutrition due to a lack of healthy food.

The basic equation is stark: The Arab world cannot feed itself. Rulers obsessed with security have created a twisted web of importers and bakeries whose aim is not to feed the population efficiently or nutritiously but simply to maintain the regime and stave off that much feared revolution of the hungry. Vast subsidies eat up the lion’s share of national budgets. [Continue reading…]


Most of the drivers of regional destruction have little to do with Iranian-Saudi rivalry

Rami G Khouri writes: [Regional] destruction is painfully visible every day in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Bahrain, and Yemen, at the very least. This spectacle of multiple fragmenting states is bad enough; it is made even worse by the latest troubling development — it is too early to call it a trend — which is the spectacle of repeated bomb attacks and killings of government officials and security forces in three of the most important regional powers that should be stabilizing forces in the Middle East: Turkey, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia. Add to this the ongoing war in Yemen, and the erratic battle against “Islamic State” (ISIS) forces in Syria, Iraq and other tiny pockets of ISIS presence around the region, the massive refugee flows and the stresses they cause, and the dangerous sectarian dimensions of some of the confrontations underway, and we end up with a very complex and violent regional picture that cannot possibly be explained primarily as a consequence of Iranian-Saudi rivalries.

A more complete explanation of the battered Arab region today must include accounting for several other mega-tends: the impact of the last twenty-fix years of non-stop American military attacks, threats and sanctions from Libya to Afghanistan; the radicalizing impact of sixty-seven years of non-stop Zionist colonization and militarism against Palestinians, Lebanese, Syrians and other Arabs; the hollowing out of Arab economic and governance systems by three generations of military-led, amateurish and corruption-riddled mismanaged governance that deprived citizens of their civic and political rights and pushed them to assert instead the primacy of their sectarian and tribal identities; and, the catalytic force of the 2003 Anglo-American led war on Iraq that opened the door for all these forces and others yet — like lack of water, jobs, and electricity that make normal daily life increasingly difficult — to combine into the current situation of widespread national polarization and violence.

Most of these drivers of the current regional condition have little to do with Iranian-Saudi sensitivities, and much more to do with decades of frail statehood, sustained and often violent Arab authoritarianism, denied citizenship, distorted development, and continuous regional and global assaults. [Continue reading…]


Cairo bomb: Sisi’s Egypt is less secure than ever

By Lucia Ardovini, Lancaster University and Simon Mabon, Lancaster University

When a car bomb detonated outside a security building in Cairo on August 20 it marked a new turn in the long-running series of violent attacks on the Egyptian capital. The explosion wounded approximately 27 people, six of whom are policemen, but there appear to have been no deaths.

The attack has been claimed by a group calling itself the Sinai Province (SP) which is affiliated to Islamic State (IS). SP has stated that the bomb was in response to the execution of six of its members accused of a similar attack in Cairo last year. Though there were no deaths this time, the quickening rate of such attacks shows that al-Sisi’s measures against terrorism have been grossly ineffective.

This bomb is in fact the latest of a long series of violent attacks that focus particularly on Egyptian police and security forces, which since 2013 have gradually moved from the Sinai province to the country’s capital.

Most of these recent blasts have been claimed by the Islamist militant group Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis based in the Sinai desert, which also identifies itself as a branch of IS under the name Sinai Peninsula (SP).

This unprecedented attack speaks to the explosive growth of Egypt’s array of insurgent forces and their violent opposition to al-Sisi, which the state’s authoritarian security measures have failed to curb.

[Read more…]


ISIS affiliate claims responsibility for Cairo bombing

The New York Times reports: An Islamic State affiliate claimed responsibility for the bombing of a local branch of the Egyptian security agency in Cairo on Thursday, the third major attack by militants in the capital this summer.

At least 20 people were wounded in the explosion, which was heard across the city around 2 a.m. and shredded the exterior of the building.

The Interior Ministry said in a statement that the source of the blast was a car bomb that had been left outside the white, five-story structure by an unidentified man who then fled on a motorcycle. [Continue reading…]


The questionable legality of U.S. military aid to Egypt

In an editorial, the New York Times says: Egypt’s rising authoritarianism has been met with a collective shrug in Washington, which sends Cairo $1.3 billion in military aid each year.

One notable exception is Senator Patrick Leahy, who is raising alarm about human rights abuses Egyptian security forces have committed as they battle militants in the Sinai Peninsula. He recently asked Secretary of State John Kerry in a letter whether Egypt had run afoul of a federal law he sponsored that bars military units that have committed human rights abuses with impunity from receiving American aid.

“According to information I have received, the number of militants has steadily increased, due, at least in part, to ineffective and indiscriminate operations by the Egyptian military and the lack of licit economic opportunities for inhabitants of the Sinai,” Mr. Leahy wrote in the July 20 letter.

Mr. Leahy, a Democrat from Vermont, is asking a rhetorical question. It is abundantly clear to the senator and Egypt experts in the American government that Egypt’s security forces have committed abuses with impunity in recent years. In May, the State Department told Congress in a report that security forces have “committed arbitrary or otherwise unlawful killings during the dispersal of demonstrators, of persons in custody and during military operations in the northern Sinai Peninsula.”

Mr. Leahy’s point is that continuing to enable a despotic government by shipping over American Apache helicopters, missiles and ammunition is not only unwise but almost certainly unlawful. [Continue reading…]


Egypt widens government power with new anti-terrorism law

The New York Times reports: President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt has issued a counterterrorism law that gives state security officers wider immunity from prosecution, expands the government’s surveillance powers and penalizes journalists for contradicting official accounts of militant attacks.

Egyptian officials say the law is a response to militants’ stepped-up campaign of violence against Mr. Sisi’s government. The attacks have shaken the country’s stability and resulted in the deaths of hundreds of police officers and soldiers.

But legal analysts and human rights advocates said Monday that the government was already well equipped to combat and punish terrorism with existing laws. They said the new law, which Mr. Sisi signed on Sunday night, legally protected repressive practices that have been used regularly in cracking down on most kinds of dissent over the last two years.

The counterterrorism law also shows how power is increasingly concentrated in the hands of Mr. Sisi, who has effectively ruled the country by decree since July 2013, when he led the military ouster of Egypt’s first freely elected president, Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood. [Continue reading…]


Egypt’s Rabaa massacre: The political impact

Omar Ashour writes: “His leg is broken. I cannot leave him here,” said a doctor in makeshift hospital in Rabaa al-Adawiya square to a special forces officer.

“Don’t worry. I will break his heart,” replied the officer before putting a bullet in the injured protester’s chest.

The surreal brutally was just a tiny part of what happened in what Human Rights Watch called the ” worst mass unlawful killings in Egypt’s modern history” and “a likely crime against humanity.”

After several national security meetings in July and August of 2013, a group of military, intelligence, police generals and civilian politicians appointed by the military, decided to storm massive sit-ins in Cairo’s Rabaa and Giza’s Nahda squares protesting against the removal of Egypt’s first-ever freely elected president on July 3, 2013.

The exact death toll of the crackdown is still unknown.

This is partly due to the nature of the current political climate and the hurdles imposed by the ruling regime on collecting data about the massacres.

But this is also due to other factors, such as burned dead bodies and fears of victims’ families of going to the morgues or hospitals.

Following the massacre, the health ministry claimed that over 600 people were killed.

The Muslim Brotherhood maintained the death toll was over 2,500.

Human Rights Watch estimated the death toll to be over 1,000.

And everything happened in less than 10 hours. [Continue reading…]


Younger Muslim Brotherhood members in Egypt bridle at nonviolent stance

The New York Times reports: A veteran leader of the Muslim Brotherhood was so alarmed by the rising calls for violence from the group’s youth that he risked arrest to urge the movement to stay peaceful.

Already hunted by the police for his role in a banned organization when he released his online manifesto in May, the leader, Mahmoud Ghuzlan, conceded that shunning violence in the face of the government crackdown on the Brotherhood was “like grasping a burning coal.” But, he said, history taught that “peacefulness is stronger than weapons, and violence is the reason for defeat and demise.”

It was a losing argument, or so it now appears. The police in Cairo soon found and arrested him. A chorus of Islamists mocked him on social media as naïve, unrealistic and hypocritical.

And his manifesto for “peacefulness” was quickly drowned out by official statements that have come closer to endorsing violence than anything the organization has said or done in more than four decades — an ominous turn for both Egypt and the West. Not only is the Brotherhood Egypt’s largest political organization, its long history gives it unique influence among Islamists beyond the Middle East to Europe, North America and elsewhere. [Continue reading…]


Egypt ISIS affiliate claims destruction of naval vessel

The New York Times reports: A militant group affiliated with the Islamic State said it destroyed an Egyptian naval vessel on Thursday, posting photographs on social media of a missile exploding in a ball of fire as it slammed into the vessel.

An Egyptian military spokesman said that the crew of the unnamed ship “exchanged fire” with militants off the coast of the northern Sinai Peninsula, causing a fire on board that did not result in any fatalities.

But the militant group, which calls itself Sinai Province, claimed that the missile was guided and had killed everyone on board. [Continue reading…]