Trump tells Palestinians, Jordanians and Egyptians he intends to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem

The Washington Post reports: The Palestinian, Jordanian and Egyptian governments said that President Trump called them Tuesday to inform them he intends to relocate the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, a step that could upend the White House’s peace efforts and spark regional unrest.

“Mr. Trump told our president he was going to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem,” said Nabil Shaath, an adviser to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas who said Abbas had personally briefed him on the call. Trump did not give a time frame, Shaath said.

Trump also told Abbas that, in exchange, the United States would make future moves that he thought would please the Palestinian people, although he did not offer details, according to Shaath. “Our president said, ‘You don’t have anything that would make up for this on Jerusalem.’ He said, ‘Definitely, we will not accept it.’ ”

Abbas warned Trump that he was “playing into the hands of extremism,” but Trump “just went on saying he had to do it,” Shaath said. [Continue reading…]

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In Egypt, furious retaliation but failing strategy in Sinai

The New York Times reports: After militants massacred 305 people at a packed mosque on Friday in a stunning assault on a sacred place, President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi responded as he knows best.

Mr. Sisi went on television vowing to “take revenge” and strike back with an “iron fist.” Moments later, Egyptian warplanes swooped over the vast deserts of the Sinai Peninsula, dropping bombs that pulverized vehicles used in the assault. Soldiers fanned out across the area.

But that furious retaliation, which follows years of battle in Sinai against a vicious Islamic State affiliate that downed a Russian passenger jet in 2015 and has regularly attacked Egyptian security forces there, revived the most troubling question about Mr. Sisi’s strategy in the desert peninsula: Why is it failing?

One of the most striking aspects of the carnage that unfolded on Friday, the deadliest terrorist attack in Egypt’s modern history, was how easy it was for the militants to carry it out. In a statement issued on Saturday, Egypt’s prosecutor general, Nabil Sadek, described the grisly scene in forensic detail.

Between 25 and 30 gunmen, traveling in five vehicles and carrying an Islamic State flag, surrounded a Sufi mosque on all sides in Bir al-Abed, a dusty town on a road that arcs across the sandy plain of North Sinai.

After an explosion, they positioned themselves outside the main entrance of the mosque and its 12 windows, spraying the worshipers with gunfire. Seven parked cars were set ablaze to prevent victims from escaping. Among the dead were 27 children.

For Sinai residents, the attack deepened an abiding sense of dread about life in a part of Egypt where many feel trapped between barbarous militants and a heartless military. At a hospital in nearby Ismailia, survivors recounted how they leapt through windows as militants raked them with gunfire, or of watching their friends and relatives die.

“If even mosques are being targeted, then where are we safe?” said Mohamed Abdel Salam, 22.

For Sinai experts, the assault sharpened scrutiny of Egypt’s counterinsurgency tactics against a dogged Islamist insurgency that has surged in strength since 2013, after Mr. Sisi came to power in a military takeover. [Continue reading…]

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Terrorism flourishes where totalitarianism prevails


Statement from the U.S. Ambassador to Egypt: …. (Oh, Donald Trump has yet to appoint an ambassador.)

Statement from the White House: The United States condemns in the strongest terms today’s horrific terrorist attack at a mosque in Egypt’s North Sinai province. We offer our condolences to the families of those killed and wounded, and we stand with the people and government of Egypt against terrorism. There can be no tolerance for barbaric groups that claim to act in the name of a faith but attack houses of worship and murder the innocent and defenseless while at prayer. The international community must continue to strengthen its efforts to defeat terrorist groups that threaten the United States and our partners and we must collectively discredit the extremist ideology that forms the basis of their existence.


The United States can either stand with the victims of global terrorism or it can build a wall and ban ordinary people from visiting the U.S. on the basis of their national origin.

The United States either acknowledges that it belongs to an international community or it shuts itself away from the rest of the world.

As the U.S. approaches the end of a second decade of trying to destroy terrorism by military means and given that ISIS has just lost its territorial grip on Iraq and Syria, Donald Trump (were he not a moron) would recognize that continuing terrorist attacks are not the consequence of an inadequate military response. On the contrary, they demonstrate the fact that terrorism cannot actually be eradicated by military means. Moreover, it has been fueled by the very people who profess their desire to destroy it.

The butcher in Cairo didn’t make Egypt safe, just as the butcher in Damascus didn’t make Syria safe. Likewise, the butcher-friendly buffoon in Washington can’t make America safe.

Strongmen of all stripes exploit violence to justify the violence they use to hold onto power.

Shortly before the latest atrocity, CNBC reported:

Islamic State (ISIS) is looking a shadow of its former self, having lost almost all trace of its self-proclaimed caliphate in Syria and Iraq.

But experts are predicting that the militant organization will regroup and return should the political and physical reconstruction of those two countries be unsuccessful.

Fearful of a resurgence of ISIS and its aims of setting up a religious state, analysts have warned an “Islamic State 2.0” or “al-Qaeda 3.0” could emerge.

“The Islamic State is almost defeated, but a radical Islamist insurgency will remain in both Iraq and Syria as the fighters turn to traditional terrorism,” Ayham Kamel, practice head of Middle East and North Africa at Eurasia Group, told CNBC on Thursday.

“However, losing the pillars of its state, ISIS no longer represents a strategic threat to the integrity of either Iraq or Syria. There’s even a possibility of alliances with al-Qaeda in Syria (the Nusra Front) as these configurations are usually fluid,” he said.

“The danger here is that (with) absent reconstruction aid, terrorism will remain a key challenge. The core challenge is that the world continues to focus on military tools to defeat a problem that transcends an armed challenge.”

On Thursday, Qatar’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, speaking at the Westminster Counterterrorism Conference, organized by the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies (RUSI), made the following observations:

“Although the Middle East was once a region of peace and coexistence, it has unfortunately been transformed into a region of turbulence and totalitarianism where extremism flourishes.

“We need to learn from history and build on perspective and experience to discover how to end the spread of extremism. So, who is the enemy and what is the root cause of terrorism? Tyranny, totalitarianism, aggression and the absence of justice. [My emphasis.]

“Regional conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa are threatening the lives of 24 million children, most of whom live in Yemen, Iraq and Syria. Recent examples of the catastrophes created by evil ideologies can be found across my region. Children who have lived through the mass atrocities of the Syrian regime, ISIS in Iraq and Syria or the war in Yemen are now young adults with little hope for better future.

“It is time for the international community to say enough is enough. We have to work together to end the discourse and begin rehabilitating these children. If we don’t act quickly, those desperate children will fall prey to the distorted ideologies of extremism.”

Terrorism has never been more prevalent than during the era in which presidents, governments, and military leaders across the world have so volubly expressed their commitment to ending terrorism.

As a president who has never met an authoritarian ruler he didn’t like (I guess it’s the camaraderie of bullies), Trump is incapable of digesting this fundamental truth: violence cannot be destroyed through the systematic use of violence.

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With midnight raids and chat-room traps, Egypt launches sweeping crackdown on gay community

The Washington Post reports: A crackdown on gay people in Egypt intensified in recent days as security forces raided cafes in downtown Cairo and courts delivered harsh prison sentences, further driving the nation’s LGBT community underground.

More than 60 people have been arrested, human rights activists said, since a concert last month by a rock group where some members of the audience waved a rainbow flag — photos of which went viral on social media and caused public outrage.

Security forces have also detained people at their homes in the middle of the night, and have used apps and online chat rooms to entrap those believed to be gay. Some cafes frequented by the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community have been shut down.

Some of those arrested have endured beatings and other abuse in their prison cells, while others have been subjected to forced anal examinations, human rights activists said. [Continue reading…]

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Landmark talks between Palestinian Authority and Hamas stall

The Wall Street Journal reports: The Palestinian Authority on Tuesday convened its first cabinet meeting in the Gaza Strip in three years, but talks between the internationally recognized Palestinian governing body and Hamas hit a stumbling block over the latter’s refusal to disarm.

Landmark talks to end a decadelong rift between the two Palestinian factions and return control of the Hamas-ruled enclave to the authority hinge partly on the political and militant group agreeing to completely disarm. The authority’s president, Mahmoud Abbas, has warned he won’t allow Hamas to maintain its armed wing as part of a unity government.

“For sure Hamas will never accept this…dismantling al-Qassam,” said Hazem Qassem, spokesman for Hamas, referencing the armed wing known as the Izz al-Din al-Qassam brigades.

The cabinet meeting was convened by the authority’s prime minister, Rami Hamdallah, before authority ministers then visited the Gaza outposts of their respective departments. The cabinet last convened in Gaza in 2014, during the last round of reconciliation talks between Hamas and the authority.

The question of al-Qassam’s fate overshadowed the two-day visit to Gaza, which began Monday, by a delegation of high-ranking authority officials, including Mr. Hamdallah. Negotiations over the issue are likely to continue next week in Cairo. Egyptian intelligence officials also helped broker the talks in Gaza.

Mr. Abbas said late Monday he wouldn’t allow a situation in the Palestinian territories such as that in Lebanon, where the militant and political group Hezbollah maintains a de facto army alongside Lebanese national forces.

“I will not accept or copy or reproduce the Hezbollah example in Lebanon,” he said, according to comments carried by official Palestinian Authority media. “Everything must be in the hands of the Palestinian Authority.”

Hamas and the authority, which is dominated by Mr. Abbas’s Fatah party, are working to dispel years of mutual distrust and create a united national movement that can negotiate peace with Israel.

The U.S. and United Nations support the talks between the two parties, while Israel is watching them warily for a gauge on the future policy of the Palestinian national movement. [Continue reading…]

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The ‘sectarianization’ of the Middle East

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How blood money, diplomacy and desperation are reuniting Palestine

Reuters reports: A decade on, Rawda al-Zaanoun is at last willing to forgive the gunmen who killed her son during the civil war that split Palestine. It has been painful, but she says it is time.

“He was hit with a bullet in the back. He was a martyr,” the 54-year-old said at an event in Gaza city to mark the public reconciliation of families of people killed in the war. “The decision was not easy because the blood of our son is precious. But we have given amnesty.”

Her son Ala, a married father of two and an officer in the Palestinian Authority security forces, was killed in June 2007 after he rushed out of his house in Gaza City, having heard that his uncle was injured in clashes between rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah.

Since that war a decade ago, Fatah, led by the secular heirs of Yassir Arafat, has run the West Bank, headed the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority and been responsible for all negotiations with Israel.

Its rivals, the Islamist group Hamas, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, drove Fatah out of Gaza and has run the tiny coastal strip that is home to 2 million people, nearly half of the population of the Palestinian territories.

The schism is set to end on Monday, when Hamas hands over control of Gaza to a unity government. Although it agreed to the arrangement three years ago, the decision to implement it now marks a striking reversal for Hamas, which is considered a terrorist group by Israel, the United States and most of the most powerful Arab countries.

“Hamas has made big concessions, and every coming concession will be stunning and surprisingly bigger than the one that passed, so that we can conclude reconciliation and this division must end,” the chief of Hamas in Gaza, Yehya Al-Sinwar, said during a meeting this week with social media activists.

If Hamas has swallowed a bitter pill by ending the feud, perhaps bitterest of all is the role played by exiled former Gaza security chief Mohammed Dahlan, once Hamas’s fiercest foe who is now a leading player in regional efforts to pull Gaza back into the Palestinian mainstream.

Officials on both sides of the Palestinian divide and in other Arab countries say Dahlan, based since 2011 in the United Arab Emirates, is behind an influx of cash to prop up Gaza, and a detente between Hamas and Arab states including Egypt. [Continue reading…]

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The Arab autocracy trap

Shlomo Ben-Ami writes: It has been more than six years since the start of the Arab Spring, and life for most Arabs is worse than it was in 2011. Unemployment is rife in the Middle East and North Africa, where two thirds of the population is between the ages of 15 and 29. And throughout the region, regimes have closed off channels for political expression, and responded to popular protests with increasing brutality.

The governments of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and, to some extent, Morocco, epitomize Arab regimes’ seeming inability to escape the autocracy trap – even as current circumstances suggest that another popular awakening is imminent.

Egypt offers a classic example of how revolution often ends in betrayal. President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s dictatorship is even more violent than that of Hosni Mubarak, the strongman whose 30-year rule was ended by the 2011 uprising. With the help of a police force that he himself describes as a “million-man mafia,” Sisi has made repression the paramount organizing principle of his regime.

It would be a Herculean feat for anyone to reform Egypt’s economy so that it benefits the country’s 95 million people (plus the two million added every year). And it is a task that Egypt’s leaders cannot avoid, because the social contract of the Mubarak years, whereby Egyptians traded freedom for an expansive welfare state and generous subsidies, is no longer sustainable. [Continue reading…]

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Why was an Italian graduate student tortured and murdered in Egypt?

The New York Times reports: The target of the Egyptian police, that day in November 2015, was the street vendors selling socks, $2 sunglasses and fake jewelry, who clustered under the arcades of the elegant century-old buildings of Heliopolis, a Cairo suburb. Such raids were routine, but these vendors occupied an especially sensitive location. Just 100 yards away is the ornate palace where Egypt’s president, the military strongman Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, welcomes foreign dignitaries. As the men hurriedly gathered their goods from mats and doorways, preparing to flee, they had an unlikely assistant: an Italian graduate student named Giulio Regeni.

He arrived in Cairo a few months earlier to conduct research for his doctorate at Cambridge. Raised in a small village near Trieste by a sales manager father and a schoolteacher mother, Regeni, a 28-year-old leftist, was enthralled by the revolutionary spirit of the Arab Spring. In 2011, when demonstrations erupted in Tahrir Square, leading to the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak, he was finishing a degree in Arabic and politics at Leeds University. He was in Cairo in 2013, working as an intern at a United Nations agency, when a second wave of protests led the military to oust Egypt’s newly elected president, the Islamist Mohamed Morsi, and put Sisi in charge. Like many Egyptians who had grown hostile to Morsi’s overreaching government, Regeni approved of this development. ‘‘It’s part of the revolutionary process,’’ he wrote an English friend, Bernard Goyder, in early August. Then, less than two weeks later, Sisi’s security forces killed 800 Morsi supporters in a single day, the worst state-sponsored massacre in Egypt’s history. It was the beginning of a long spiral of repression. Regeni soon left for England, where he started work for Oxford Analytica, a business-research firm.

From afar, Regeni followed Sisi’s government closely. He wrote reports on North Africa, analyzing political and economic trends, and after a year had saved enough money to start on his doctorate in development studies at Cambridge. He decided to focus on Egypt’s independent unions, whose series of unprecedented strikes, starting in 2006, had primed the public for the revolt against Mubarak; now, with the Arab Spring in tatters, Regeni saw the unions as a fragile hope for Egypt’s battered democracy. After 2011 their numbers exploded, multiplying from four to thousands. There were unions for everything: butchers and theater attendants, well diggers and miners, gas-bill collectors and extras in the trashy TV soap operas that played during the holy month of Ramadan. There was even an Independent Trade Union for Dwarfs. Guided by his supervisor, a noted Egyptian academic at Cambridge who had written critically of Sisi, Regeni chose to study the street vendors — young men from distant villages who scratched out a living on the sidewalks of Cairo. Regeni plunged into their world, hoping to assess their union’s potential to drive political and social change.

But by 2015 that kind of cultural immersion, long favored by budding Arabists, was no longer easy. A pall of suspicion had fallen over Cairo. The press had been muzzled, lawyers and journalists were regularly harassed and informants filled Cairo’s downtown cafes. The police raided the office where Regeni conducted interviews; wild tales of foreign conspiracies regularly aired on government TV channels. [Continue reading…]

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The massacre that ended the Arab Spring

Shadi Hamid writes: Four years ago today, the Arab Spring—or what was left of it—ended with a massacre. There were only two countries with largely peaceful democratic transitions. One of them was Tunisia; one of them was Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous nation and a bellwether for the region. On August 14, 2013, six weeks after a military coup against the Muslim Brotherhood-led government, over 800 people were killed near Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque in Cairo. It was the worst mass killing in modern Egyptian history.

By then, there had been two formative political moments in my life, the September 11th attacks and the Iraq War. And now there was a third. Friends who’ve known me both before the Arab Spring and after tell me that my writing has become darker. They’re probably right.

The first time I set foot in Rabaa, just a week before the massacre, I was surprised at how self-contained everything was. Along with tens of thousands of supporters of the deposed president, Mohamed Morsi, there were kitchens, pharmacies, food stalls, sleeping quarters, and a “media center.” You couldn’t just casually stroll in. At the makeshift entrance, about 50 feet off the street, volunteer guards, standing next to piled-up sandbags, were hurriedly checking IDs. As I walked in, people sprayed me with water. This, apparently, was their way of welcoming me. It was the peak of the humid Egyptian summer. Like many Egyptian protests, this one teetered somewhere between panic and jubilation.

The killing hadn’t happened yet (although there had already been two “smaller” massacres on July 8 and July 27). Rabaa was where young Muslim Brotherhood members, some of them still in college, told me of that mix of adrenaline and dread they felt as they drafted their wills and bid their families goodbye. As Egyptians waited for a massacre, they debated just how many people the new regime would be willing to kill, and when it might do it. Beyond the personal stories of death, fear, and families torn apart, Rabaa, and the military coup that preceded it, told a remarkable, and a remarkably sad, story of a country that appeared intent on destroying itself. To the extent that Egyptians insist on feeling pride in their country, it is a pride tainted by the events that millions of them—including members of my own family—were complicit in. [Continue reading…]

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Gaza’s wasted generation has nowhere else to go

The Washington Post reports: They are the Hamas generation, raised under the firm hand of an Islamist militant movement. They are the survivors of three wars with Israel and a siege who find themselves as young adults going absolutely nowhere.

In many circles in Gaza, it is hard to find anyone in their 20s with real employment, with a monthly salary.

They call themselves a wasted generation.

Ten years after Hamas seized control of Gaza, the economy in the seaside strip of 2 million has been strangled by incompetence, war and blockade.

Gaza today lives off its wits and the recycled scraps donated by foreign governments. Seven in 10 people rely on humanitarian aid.

Young people say they are bored out of their minds.

They worry that too many of their friends are gobbling drugs, not drugs to experience ecstasy but pills used to tranquilize animals, smuggled across Sinai. They dose on Tramadol and smoke hashish. They numb.

Hamas has recently stepped up executions of drug traffickers.

Freedoms to express oneself are circumscribed. But the young people speak, a little bit. They say their leaders have failed them — and that the Israelis and Egyptians are crushing them.

Why not revolt? They laugh. It is very hard to vote the current government out — there are no elections.

“To be honest with you, we do nothing,” said Bilal Abusalah, 24, who trained to be a nurse but sometimes sells women’s clothing.

He has cool jeans, a Facebook page, a mobile phone and no money. [Continue reading…]

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The next war in Gaza is brewing. Here’s how to stop it

Nathan Thrall and Robert Blecher write: When violence erupts in Jerusalem and the West Bank, it is usually not long before the Gaza Strip follows. At Gaza’s border with Israel on Friday, a Palestinian teenager was killed while protesting in solidarity with Palestinians in Jerusalem. Several days earlier, two rockets were fired at Israel from Gaza, and the next day Israeli tanks destroyed a Hamas position.

It’s an all-too-familiar echo of the events that preceded the Gaza conflict of 2014: widespread Palestinian protests in Jerusalem, Israelis murdered in the occupied territories, a sharp rise in Palestinians killed by Israeli forces, mass arrests of Hamas officials in the West Bank, and a steadily tightening noose around Gaza.

In February, Israel’s state comptroller released a report that strongly criticized the government’s failure to prevent the 2014 conflict. The report highlighted a statement made by Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon days after the war began: “If Hamas’s distress had been addressed a few months ago, Hamas might have avoided the current escalation.”

The population of Gaza is now suffering far more than it was before the 2014 eruption. Once again, the three parties responsible for the blockade causing that distress — Israel, Egypt and the Palestinian Authority — are bringing the next war closer. [Continue reading…]

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Decimated Muslim Brotherhood still inspires fear. Its members wonder why

The New York Times reports: For Magdy Shalash, an Egyptian exile living here in Turkey, there is a certain irony to a recent diplomatic spat that has divided the Middle East.

Several Arab countries — led by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt — are enmeshed in a standoff with Qatar and, to a lesser extent, Turkey. One major reason? Qatari and Turkish support for the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist movement that Mr. Shalash helps lead.

To its enemies, the Brotherhood is a terrorist group that seeks to unravel the established Arab order, and not just in Egypt, where the group was founded in 1928, but in countries like Saudi Arabia and the Emirates, where the group has inspired similar movements.

Yet, members like Mr. Shalash, many of whom are either in jail in Egypt or in exile in countries like Turkey, say the group is not only democratic, but decimated and divided. They say it has little ability to exert control over even its own members, let alone the governments of the Middle East.

“Us sitting here,” said Mr. Shalash, in reference to the exiled Muslim Brotherhood leadership in Turkey, “we can’t really do anything.” [Continue reading…]

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A leading PR firm in the U.S. is working directly for one of Egypt’s top spy services

The Atlantic reports: On a Tuesday night in early May, all the big players in the public relations industry gathered at Cipriani 42nd Street, a lavish restaurant in Manhattan, for the annual “Superior Achievement in Branding Reputation & Engagement” awards. The event, where winners were selected by a panel of industry insiders, was billed by its organizers as a “showcase for the best that public relations has to offer”—it was like the Oscars, but for the titans of PR. #CupFusion, a hashtag designed to build buzz around a new Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, won a best in show award for Ketchum. Edelman took home a trophy for a Starbucks video campaign focusing on “normal” people doing “extraordinary” things.

The New York-based Weber Shandwick was also a big winner, taking home three trophies: one for North American agency of the year, another for a social-media campaign celebrating a body-positive Barbie Doll, and one more for a science-education program sponsored by Lockheed Martin. One of its campaigns, however, did not attract much notice: a $1.2 million-a-year deal with Egypt’s General Intelligence Service (GIS). The agency, roughly the country’s equivalent of the CIA, is part of a constellation of infamous intelligence services known as the mukhabarat. Perhaps most notorious in the United States for collaborating with the CIA in the torture of suspected al-Qaeda members after 9/11, GIS has been accused of working in secret with Egypt’s domestic intelligence to manipulate elections and suppress internal dissent since the coup that installed Abdel Fattah el-Sisi as president in 2013.

Weber’s contract with the Egyptians is not, in itself, unconventional. But the firm’s decision to do business with a foreign-intelligence service known for torture and repression, one that has been instrumental to Sisi’s crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood and other groups, is unorthodox. And it comes at a key moment. Four years after Sisi toppled Egypt’s elected government, he’s eager to cement ties with a new U.S. administration that’s willing to overlook his authoritarianism, and at the same time win friends in Congress who oversee Egypt’s massive aid package. In Weber Shandwick, it would appear that the Sisi regime has found a PR firm willing to apply its considerable messaging prowess to the cause of funneling U.S. taxpayer money and goodwill towards the increasingly brutal leadership of the world’s largest Arab country.

Weber and the lobbying firm Cassidy & Associates—a “specialty” firm that’s part of Weber (both are owned by InterPublic Group, a public company)—signed deals with Egypt in late January, eight days after Donald Trump’s inauguration. According to paperwork filed with the Department of Justice, the firms would be reporting directly to General Naser Fahmy of the GIS. They would be promoting Egypt’s “strategic partnership with the United States,” and emphasizing its “leading role in managing regional risks.” The firm, in other words, would be amplifying the Egyptian government’s own message: that arming and backing up an increasingly authoritarian Egypt state is necessary to keep the peace. [Continue reading…]

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How Egypt’s generals used street protests to stage a coup

Neil Ketchley writes: Four years ago, Gen. (now President) Abdel Fatah al-Sissi appeared on Egyptian television to announce the suspension of the recently passed Constitution and the removal of the country’s first democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi, from office. Days earlier, on June 30, 2013, massive street protests called for new presidential elections. The decision to intervene, Sissi assured his audience, followed months of failed attempts to bring about national reconciliation and stabilize the country. Egypt’s military, he promised, would stay out of post-Morsi politics.

In a new book on the January Revolution of 2011 and its aftermath, I detail how Egypt’s generals and security apparatus instigated the June 30 protests in a bid to roll back new forms of civilian authority and legitimate a military takeover. This might seem counterintuitive at first. We often think of street-level mobilization as the domain of progressives and revolutionaries. However, as a growing body of empirical research suggests, powerful state actors can also facilitate and orchestrate collective protest for their own ends.

Initially portrayed as a grass-roots movement, the Tamarod, or “rebellion,” petition campaign led the calls to oust Morsi on June 30. Only later would the role of Egypt’s military and Interior Ministry stimulating the movement become apparent. Leaked audio recordings reveal that Tamarod’s leadership was drawing on a bank account administered by Egypt’s generals and replenished by the United Arab Emirates. Interviews with Interior Ministry officials and former Tamarod members highlight how the security apparatus fomented street protests against the Morsi government. These revelations quickly discredited Tamarod after the coup. In October 2013, secular activists and revolutionaries attacked one of the movement’s founders, who they denounced as a “pimp of the intelligence services.” [Continue reading…]

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How Trump’s alignment with Saudi Arabia and the UAE is inflaming the Middle East

Marc Lynch writes: President Trump took to Twitter Tuesday to offer a full-throated endorsement of this week’s surprisingly aggressive moves by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates against Qatar. Trump cast the moves against Qatar as the realization of his visit to Saudi Arabia: “So good to see the Saudi Arabia visit with the King and 50 countries already paying off. They said they would take a hard line on funding extremism, and all reference was pointing to Qatar.”

Trump’s tweets may not have been coordinated with the rest of his administration, or he may not have thought through the implications of promoting a blockade of a country hosting America’s most important military base for the campaign against the Islamic State. But his position builds naturally upon the full embrace of the Saudi-UAE position on regional issues articulated during his visit to Saudi Arabia. During that visit, he prioritized confrontation with Iran and an escalated campaign against “radical Islamist terrorism,” while removing questions of human rights and democracy from the agenda.

This embrace of the Saudi-Emirati axis was likely intended to rebuild American leadership of its regional alliance structure. But the focus on Iran and on Islamism misses several other critical lines of conflict in the region. As I outline in my recent book, the intra-Sunni political battle between the Saudi/UAE axis and Qatar has long been as central to regional politics as has the conflict with Iran. The campaign against the Islamic State has relied upon de facto cooperation with Iran. The focus on the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamist extremism has often been a cover for a more general campaign against any form of democratic change or popular activism. [Continue reading…]

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The $1bn hostage deal with Al Qaeda and Iran that enraged Qatar’s Gulf rivals

Financial Times reports: Qatar paid up to $1bn to release members of the Gulf state’s royal family who were kidnapped in Iraq while on a hunting trip, according to people involved in the hostage deal — one of the triggers behind Gulf states’ dramatic decision to cut ties with Doha.

Commanders of militant groups and government officials in the region told the Financial Times that Doha spent the money in a transaction that secured the release of 26 members of a Qatari falconry party in southern Iraq and about 50 militants captured by jihadis in Syria. By their telling, Qatar paid off two of the most frequently blacklisted forces of the Middle East in one fell swoop: an al-Qaeda affiliate fighting in Syria and Iranian security officials.

The deal, which was concluded in April, heightened concerns among Qatar’s neighbours about the small gas-rich state’s role in a region plagued by conflict and bitter rivalries. And on Monday, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain took the extraordinary step of cutting off diplomatic ties and transport links to Qatar, alleging the country fuels extremism and terrorism.

“The ransom payments are the straw that broke the camel’s back,” said one Gulf observer.

Doha denies it backs terrorist groups and dismissed the blockade by its neighbours as “founded on allegations that have no basis in fact”. It said it could not immediately respond to a request for comment on the hostage deal. But a person close to the Qatari government acknowledged that “payments” were made. The person was unaware of the amounts or where the money went. [Continue reading…]

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Saudi, Egypt lead Arab states cutting Qatar ties, Iran blames Trump

Reuters reports: Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain severed their ties with Qatar on Monday, accusing it of supporting terrorism and opening up the worst rift in years among some of the most powerful states in the Arab world.

Iran — long at odds with Saudi Arabia and a behind-the-scenes target of the move — immediately blamed U.S. President Donald Trump for setting the stage during his recent trip to Riyadh.

Gulf Arab states and Egypt have already long resented Qatar’s support for Islamists, especially the Muslim Brotherhood which they regard as a dangerous political enemy.

The coordinated move, with Yemen and Libya’s eastern-based government joining in later, created a dramatic rift among the Arab nations, many of which are in OPEC.

Announcing the closure of transport ties with Qatar, the three Gulf states gave Qatari visitors and residents two weeks to leave. Qatar was also expelled from the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen.

Oil giant Saudi Arabia accused Qatar of backing militant groups — some backed by regional arch-rival Iran — and broadcasting their ideology, an apparent reference to Qatar’s influential state-owned satellite channel al Jazeera.

“(Qatar) embraces multiple terrorist and sectarian groups aimed at disturbing stability in the region, including the Muslim Brotherhood, ISIS (Islamic State) and al-Qaeda, and promotes the message and schemes of these groups through their media constantly,” Saudi state news agency SPA said.

It accused Qatar of supporting what it described as Iranian-backed militants in its restive and largely Shi’ite Muslim-populated Eastern region of Qatif and in Bahrain.

Qatar said it was facing a campaign aimed at weakening it, denying it was interfering in the affairs of other countries.

“The campaign of incitement is based on lies that had reached the level of complete fabrications,” the Qatari foreign ministry said in a statement.

“What is happening is the preliminary result of the sword dance,” Hamid Aboutalebi, deputy chief of staff of Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, tweeted in a reference to Trump’s recent visit to Saudi Arabia. [Continue reading…]

On May 24, BBC News reported: Qatar has blamed hackers for a story on its state news agency website that quoted the emir as criticising US “hostility” towards Iran.

On Tuesday, the Qatar News Agency (QNA) quoted Sheikh Tamim Al Thani as telling a military ceremony that Iran was an “Islamic power that cannot be ignored”.

The government said the agency had been hacked by an “unknown entity” and that the story had “no basis whatsoever”.

However, the quotes were reported across the region and caused a stir.

Saudi Arabia’s Okaz newspaper accused Qatar of “breaking ranks” and choosing to “side with the enemies of the nation”, while the website of the Doha-based Al Jazeera network was blocked in the United Arab Emirates.

Ties between Qatar and its Gulf Arab neighbours have been strained in recent years by the emirate’s support of Islamist groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood, and its funding of Al Jazeera, which they see as being overly critical.

The report on the QNA’s website said Sheikh Tamim had told the military ceremony that Qatar had “tensions” with the administration of US President Donald Trump, who on Sunday urged Arab and Muslim leaders to “work together to isolate Iran”.

The emir was quoted as saying that there was “no wisdom in harbouring hostility toward Iran” and that it was a “big power in the stabilisation of the region”.

Deleted tweets from the Qatar News Agency saying quoting Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdul Rahman Al Thani as saying a plot to
He was also reported to have described relations with Israel as “good” and called Hamas the “legitimate representative of the Palestinian people”.

State television’s nightly news bulletin showed pictures of the ceremony and included lines from the QNA report in the ticker at the bottom of the screen.

On Wednesday, Government Communications Office director said the QNA website “has been hacked by an unknown entity” and “a false statement attributed to His Highness the Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani has been published”. [Continue reading…]

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