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Egypt

Tag Archives | Egypt

Keep Your Friends Close, But Your Enemies Closer

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President Barack Obama participates in a bilateral meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Mexico, June 18, 2012. Pete Souza/White House

This old cliché is still apropos in President Barrack Obama’s saber-rattling standoff with President Vladimir Putin.

President Barack Obama participates in a bilateral meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Mexico, June 18, 2012. Pete Souza/White House

In Europe last week Mr. Obama said that Russia was a declining “regional power.” In seizing Crimea, Mr. Putin was expanding Russia’s influence over Ukraine–part of the lost former Soviet Empire–was the inference. I am sure Mr. Putin is still fuming over those remarks. For the U.S. the annexation of Crimea is not a national security threat as was the Cold War era. Containing Russia’s further incursion into Ukraine is important however the most pressing foreign security issues are the control of Iran’s nuclear program and Syria’s chemical stockpile. Mr. Putin is the key to both issues.

Mr. Obama needs to spend time with Mr. Putin, to better understand his goals–at least his thinking. The Crimea takeover could have been averted. Reversing its integration into the Russian Empire probably will not happen. Western allies wringing their hands and seeking punishing sanctions will not change the takeover. What we don’t want to do is push Mr. Putin into annexing Ukraine. This would begin a more regional conflict and draw in neighboring countries.

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The Cycle of Violence: Egypt’s Military Solution

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Residents walk past a banner for Egypt's Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters

More of the same, it would seem, is heading your way if you are living in Egypt. Egypt’s now ex-defence minister, Field Marshal Abdul Fattah el-Sisi, is readying himself for power.

Residents walk past a banner for Egypt’s Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Reuters

He does so by way of caution and a puritanical script favouring austerity. “I cannot make miracles. Rather, I propose hard work and self-denial.” Acknowledging limits should be a matter of course: “We must be truthful with ourselves: our country faces great challenges. Our economy is weak. There are millions of youths who suffer from unemployment in Egypt.” Every strong man needs showmanship and a sense of role play. Muscle is otherwise a reality without sense, a statement of the gym rather than parliament. Sisi provides myth and a sense of assurance in the form of jogging with his troops, donning his fatigues and menacing his enemies with lashing rhetoric.

He also uses his uniform to impress – the oldest trick in the trade of wooing electorates who fear into bed. “True, today is my last day in military uniform, but I will continue to fight every day for an Egypt free of fear and terrorism.” A fit man with a sharp tongue is a formidable man. Whether he is a person who will clean the stables is something else. They may not be up for cleaning in any case. “Key to his political skill,” observes Robert Springborg of the United States Naval Postgraduate School, “has been his secrecy coupled with expert role playing that duped his opponents into thinking he was an unambitious professional officer.” In so doing, he also made a tilt in appeal “to the Egyptian public as the man to lead them out of the post-Mubarak political morass.”

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Arab League Summit in Kuwait: Seeking Solidarity?

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Arab League meeting in Cairo. Source: Bahrain Foreign Ministry

Kuwait is now hosting its first Arab League Summit. The slogan for this year’s Summit is “Solidarity For A Better Future.”

Arab League meeting in Cairo. Source: Bahrain Foreign Ministry

Question is: will the Kuwait Summit ensure solidarity for the region? It is a well known fact that the Arab World has seen its own share of regional alliances formed on the basis of ideological, sectarian and regional dynamics. With the recent cases of the Arab Spring, such dynamism has become all the more complicated and thus, regional solidarity is surely a challenging task to accomplish. Back in the 1950s-60s, the Arab World was divided into two factions: pro-Soviet Arab nationalists led by Egypt, and pro-West conservatives led by Saudi Arabia. The division between the two factions was so paramount that Malcolm Kerr termed it as The Arab Cold War.

Alignments changed in the year 1978 after the signing of the Camp David Accord, when Egypt decided to quit the Arab-Israeli conflict. Both Syria and Iraq tried their best to isolate Egypt after Camp David, but the situation refused to remain static. Following the Islamic Revolution of 1979 in Iran, Iraq’s attention shifted towards Iran, and the Arab World witnessed another set of factionism. This time, countries such as Syria, Libya and Algeria sided with Iran, whereas the Gulf States, Egypt and Jordan aided Iraq.

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Israel’s Two-Step Solution to African ‘Infiltrators’

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A participant in a march by asylum-seekers in Jerusalem is arrested by Israeli police on 17 December 2013. Yotam Ronen/ActiveStills

Since 2006, thousands of Africans, mostly Eritreans and Sudanese, have fled their country escaping conflict, human rights abuses and destitution.

A participant in a march by asylum-seekers in Jerusalem is arrested by Israeli police on 17 December 2013. Yotam Ronen/ActiveStills

They move to Sudanese refugee camps where many are kidnapped by traffickers and delivered to criminal gangs in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, subjecting the refugees to deplorable conditions, including torture and rape, while ransom payments are demanded from their families. The majority of those abused in the Sinai who were freed now reside in Israel. Along with those African migrants who had paid smugglers to take them to Israel, they now makeup an immigrant population of 60,000. Israel’s response to the influx of Africans has been to reinforce its siege mentality, labelling the migrants as “infiltrators” and a direct threat to the future of Israel as a Jewish state.

To maintain the state’s Jewish ethno-religious character, Israel has implemented a two-step solution to their non-Jewish African problem. The first step has been to shut down the growth of African migrants entering Israel through the Sinai Peninsula by building a 240km border fence with Egypt. The second step has been to clear Israel of those Africans already inside.

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In Spite of Turmoil, Egypt and Israel have Maintained Bilateral Relations

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Israeli security forces seen patrolling the border between Egypt and Israel.  Tsafrir Abayov/FLASH90

With Al Qaeda’s presence growing in the Sinai, Egypt and Israel have stepped up joint bilateral security cooperation to deal with the threat.

Israeli security forces seen patrolling the border between Egypt and Israel. Tsafrir Abayov/FLASH90

Amidst the turmoil that has ensued throughout post-Mubarak Egypt, Al Qaeda (AQ) has established a stronghold in the Sinai from where jihadists routinely target Egypt and Israel. In turn, Egyptian and Israeli security forces have increased cooperation to address the Sinai’s security challenges, underscoring that the bilateral relationship remains intact. While in the longer term the direction of bilateral relations remains uncertain, in the near term Al Qaeda’s actions have strengthened security ties between Egypt and Israel. Al Qaeda’s actions in the Sinai and Levant have also served to enhance the likelihood that other governments in the region, such as Jordan and Turkey, will continue to cooperate with Israel on security–related issues.

An ‘Islamic Emirate’ between Egypt and Israel

Since Israel’s withdrawal from Egyptian territory in 1982, the Sinai has proven to be Egypt’s most ungovernable territory. The Mahahith Amn al-Dawla (MAD) — the highest internal security authority in Egypt — was responsible for ensuring law and order in the restive Sinai and cracking down on underground Islamist movements. Throughout Mubarak’s rule, the MAD prevented Islamist militants from successfully launching more than only a few attacks across the Egyptian-Israeli border. However, Mubarak’s fall led to the MAD’s dissolution, raising question about the Egyptian government’s capacity to effectively combat militant jihadist forces.

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Hamas and Hezbollah at Loggerheads over Syria

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An elderly woman crosses a street in the Bab el-Adid district of Aleppo. Fabio Bucciarelli/AFP

Born of a common struggle against Israel and nourished by common benefactors in Syria and Iran, Sunni Hamas and Shiite Hezbollah have long been natural allies despite their sectarian differences.

An elderly woman crosses a street in the Bab el-Adid district of Aleppo. Fabio Bucciarelli/AFP

Ever since the early 1990s, when Israel exiled Hamas’ leadership to Lebanon, the two groups have cultivated an alliance that has shaped the Middle East’s balance of power for decades. But the crisis in Syria has ruptured the old “axis of resistance,” with regional forces giving the two organizations opposing stakes in the conflict and bringing unprecedented tension to their relationship. While Hezbollah fighters have fought and died for Bashar al-Assad in some of the civil war’s fiercest battles, Hamas has thrown in its lot with the rebels and retreated deeper into the embrace of Sunni Islamist powers in the region.

For a time, it appeared that the partnership might be over, with Hamas calling on Hezbollah to extricate itself from Syria and Hezbollah accusing Hamas of funneling weapons and technology to Sunni jihadists. Yet the two groups appear to have looked beyond Syria’s civil war and calculated that more is to be lost than gained from a total divorce. Despite outbursts of inflammatory rhetoric, Hamas and Hezbollah have apparently agreed to disagree on Syria while maintaining a strategic partnership against Israel.

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Let’s Call a Putsch a Putsch

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Scenes from Egypt, Thailand and Ukraine

As part of a campaign to rectify names, most recently marked by the classification of current Japanese foreign policy as “Japan’s Military Restoration” I hereby decree that events in Egypt, Thailand, and the Ukraine are not revolutions—they are putsches.

Scenes from Egypt, Thailand and Ukraine

A revolution, as its name implies, involves the overturn of an existing system of rule, usually authoritarian, in favor of a newly constituted system of rule, usually more democratic. A putsch, on the other hand, involves a vociferous group using street action to overturn an elected government it finds disagreeable. Egypt 2013 was a putsch against an elected government by a critical mass of people in the streets and barracks who didn’t want the inconvenience of waiting a year or two for their crack at power through the ballot. This ugly state of affairs has caused a certain amount of brainhurt for people infatuated with the vision of heroic, democracy-loving, and reliably liberal masses overthrowing authoritarian regimes.

Juan Cole is trying to sell the overthrow of the Morsi presidency in Egypt as a “revocouption,” shoehorning a certain measure of legitimacy into the military’s coup by declaring it a continuation of the original revolution thanks to the street demonstrations against Morsi and the writing of a new constitution (and thereby writing the MB’s role in the overthrow of Mubarak out of the revolutionary official history). No sale, oh mighty promoter of the Libyan intervention, which I suppose can be rebranded as the “fuckupalotaboomboom” with that nation’s descent into chaos.

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Egypt’s Referendum: ’98 Percent Back New Constitution’

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Cairo, Egypt

Egypt’s referendum on a new constitution has been backed by 98.1% of people who voted, officials say. Turnout was 38.6% of the more than 50-million eligible voters, the election committee said. The draft constitution replaces one introduced by Islamist President Mohammed Morsi before he was ousted.

The referendum is being seen as a vote on the legitimacy of his removal and of the army, which toppled him in July last year. The vote, which took place over two days last week, was boycotted by members of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist movement which Mr. Morsi comes from and which wants to see him returned to office. Several people died in clashes involving Mr. Morsi’s supporters on the first day of voting. There were further clashes with the security forces on Friday in which four people died.

The Necessity of Rethinking U.S. Middle East Policy

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Protests last year between Morsi supporters and the government. Mosaab El-Shamy/AFP

2013 was not a good year for political stability or progress in most Arab countries. Henry Kissinger once said that: “the Arabs can’t make war without Egypt; and they can’t make peace without Syria.”

Protests last year between Morsi supporters and the government. Mosaab El-Shamy/AFP

Egypt is polarized in a zero-sum fierce fight between its two best organized institutions, the military and the Muslim Brotherhood, following Revolution 2.0 and the ousting in July 2013 by General Al-Sisi of elected President Morsi. Violent demonstrations and political assassinations occur almost on a daily basis. Syria is entrenched in the worst political and humanitarian crisis since it became a nation; the civil war has claimed more than 100,000 lives and millions of refugees have been displaced. Kissinger was referring to Arab-Israeli matters, but clearly these two key countries are in no position to provide regional stability. Maybe it is time for the U.S. to a rethink its Middle East policy approach.

What about Iraq and the Arab Gulf states? Iraq, with its substantial oil and water resources and a traditionally large middle class, well-educated population, is not in good shape either. The rising number of victims of sectarian fighting between the country’s Shiite majority and Sunni minority is approaching a peak of violence not seen since 2007. Meanwhile, the Kurdish regional government is slowly, yet aggressively, establishing itself as an independent state, without the label.

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Can Qatar Regain Influence in Egypt?

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Qatar's Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani.  Source: Greek Government

Last month hundreds of Egyptians burned Qatari flags outside Doha’s embassy in Cairo to protest Qatar’s alleged interference in Egypt’s affairs, in spite of the $8 billion in foreign aid Qatar loaned to Egypt during Mohammed Morsi’s presidency.

Qatar’s Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani. Source: Greek Government

Many of the Muslim Brotherhood’s (MB) opponents perceived the assistance not as aid for Egypt’s moribund economy, but rather as political support for the MB. Indeed, Doha’s relationship with MB affiliates in Egypt, Libya, Palestine, Syria, and Tunisia has earned it a reputation for being one of the organization’s primary state sponsors. This has in turn fostered numerous anti-Qatar demonstrations elsewhere in the Arab world. As Egypt’s military wages an oppressive crackdown on the MB, Qatar will be challenged to balance the idealistic elements of Doha’s vision for the region with a realistic understanding of the direction in which Egypt is now moving.

The July military coup in Egypt constituted a major strategic loss for the Qataris: Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates welcomed Morsi’s ouster and collectively promised Egypt’s interim government $12 billion in aid in the coup’s aftermath. While for many years these three states have viewed the MB as a threat to each ruling kingdom’s legitimacy, Morsi’s fall eased concerns about the future direction of the ‘Arab Spring’ from these counter-revolutionary states’ vantage point. The UAE’s Foreign Minister hailed Egypt’s military as a “strong shield” and “protector” of Egypt that will help the country “reach a safe and prosperous future.” Kuwait’s Deputy Premier and Foreign Minister praised Egypt’s armed forces for “realizing [the Egyptian people’s] legitimate demands for security and stability and progress.” Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah glorified General el-Sisi’s forces for “manag[ing] to save Egypt” with “wisdom and moderation.”

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2013 Was the Year of Setbacks for the Arab World

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Will 2014 fair any better for the Arab world?

2013 has expectedly been a terrible year for several Arab nations. It has been terrible because the promise of greater freedoms and political reforms has been reversed, most violently in some instances, taking two countries Syria and Egypt down the path of anarchy and complete chaos.

Will 2014 fair any better for the Arab world?

Syria has been hit the hardest. For months, the United Nations has maintained that over 100,000 people have been killed in the 33 months of conflict. More recently, the pro-opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights concluded that at least 125,835, of which more than third of them are civilians, have been killed.

The UN’s humanitarian agency (OCHA) says that millions of Syrians living in perpetual suffering are in need of aid, and this number will reach 9.3 million by the end of next year. OCHA’s numbers attempt to forecast the need for aid for the year 2014. However, that estimation reflects an equally ill-omened political forecast as well. There are currently 2.4 million Syrian refugees living in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt. The number will nearly double to 4.1 million by the conclusion of next year. Considering the growing political polarization between the Syrian parties involved in the conflict, and their regional and international backers, there is little hope that the conflict will die away in the near future.

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Is Gaza Paying the Price for Geneva’s Iran Deal?

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.  Source: Israeli Government

A series of lightning quick political reactions in the Middle East have followed the recent Geneva talks concerning Iran.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Source: Israeli Government

In a recent report by Ethnographic Edge, we find that Palestine seem to be the first to react, as Israel lashes out against the US and a deal it perceives as an “historical mistake.” The Gulf News reports that just two weeks after US pressure convinced Israel to cancel plans to initiate the biggest ever colony-building project, Tel Aviv announced on Sunday its decision to go ahead with the plan anyway, and build 829 new colony homes in the West Bank.

Given Israel’s frustration with the outcome of the recent round of Iran nuclear talks, it appears that Palestine may present an alternative issue through which Israel can reassert its strategic initiative. In addition, the Iran deal has strained Israel-US relations to the point that it is becoming difficult for Washington to exert pressure on Israel on the Palestinian issue. Israel’s settlement expansion into Palestinian territory is a clear reflection of this.

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Is the Military taking Egypt a step back on the Road to Democracy?

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Muslim Brotherhood supporter during clashes with security forces. Mosaab El-Shamy/AFP

Last week, Egypt’s interim president, Adly Mansour, approved a new law that criminalizes protests that take place without government permission.

Muslim Brotherhood supporter during clashes with security forces. Mosaab El-Shamy/AFP

He argued the new law will help restore security and enable the economy to recover. The reasoning being, that after nearly three years of upheavals, the law would be welcomed by his exhausted fellow countrymen. Two days after its implementation, major protests broke out in Egypt and several arrests followed, including that of seven girls ranging from 15 to 17 years old. The New York Times reports that the riot police brought a violent end to peaceful protests, beating, sexually harassing and detaining some of Egypt’s most prominent human rights activists in a burst of repression that seemed likely to broaden opposition to the military-backed government. Subsequently, the BBC says, 10 members of the 50 member panel that is drafting Egypt’s new constitution, suspended their work in remonstration.

Drafters of the revised constitution were planning on guaranteeing freedom of expression for Egypt. Michele Dunne of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace said Egyptians were increasingly “objecting to the ascendancy of the military and the re-emergence of the secret police.” Ironically, the new Egyptian law outlawing protests may actually have awakened some of Egypt’s “dormant revolutionaries,” which might lead to more protests in the future. In the meantime, a suicide bomber killed 11 soldiers in the Sinai, foreshadowing even greater trouble for the country, despite the lifting of the state of emergency this week.

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Paper on Ethiopia’s Renaissance Dam

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Ethiopia's Renaissance Dam

Global Dialogue published in its Summer/Autumn 2013 edition a paper titled “The Human Security Dimensions of Dam Development: the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam” by Jennifer C. Veilleux, Oregon State University geography PhD student. The paper is based on research done at the location of the Renaissance Dam and emphasizes issues of human security.

Partitioning North Africa and the Middle East Might be the Only Option

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Anti-Assad rally in Al-Qusayr, Syria.  Source: Freedom House

The goal of building democratic institutions in North Africa and the Middle East could prove to be futile. The Arab Spring uprisings that brought about regime change in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen did not bring peace to the region. The U.S. push for regime change in Syria, which is in the midst of a civil war and tribal and ethnic clashes, may not bring peace either.

Anti-Assad rally in Al-Qusayr, Syria. Source: Freedom House

Building democratic institutions and unifying Syria may not be possible, with the pent-up demand for a homeland by the differing ethnic factions. The overthrow of Bashar al-Assad may become the catalyst for the partitioning of Syria. This may also be true for other Middle East and North African countries, where uprisings and demonstrations occur almost daily.

President Barrack Obama has stated, “Assad must go” as a result of his military reprisals against demonstrators and rebels, and the use of deadly nerve agents, that have killed thousands of people. Even since the UN inspectors have taken control of Syria’s arsenal of chemical weapons, the U.S. still insists the Assad regime must be dismantled–without an endgame plan. The removal of Assad will not bring stability, since chaos and civil strife will continue. Former national security adviser Zbigniew K. Brzezinski noted that any military intervention in Syria could lead to a large-scale disaster.

In 2011, the NATO incursion into Libya led to the killing of its ruler Muammar Gaddafi by Islamists, which created a giant quagmire in this oil rich country. Ousting Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak led to the election of Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, who was subsequently deposed, placing the country into further chaos. Islamist factions deposed President Ben Ali in Tunisia, which new government is now under siege by secular opposition groups. In Yemen the uprisings brought about the ouster of President Ali Abdullah Saleh.

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