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Archive | July, 2013

Yemen’s Renewed ‘War on Terror’

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Displaced persons at Mazraq camp have fled the ongoing fighting in the Sa'ada province of northern Yemen.. Paul Stephens/IRIN

Displaced persons at Mazraq camp have fled the ongoing fighting in the Sa’ada province of northern Yemen.. Paul Stephens/IRIN

Yemeni forces continue to push against fighters affiliated with al-Qaeda. Their major victories come on the heels of the inauguration of Abd Rabbuh Mansur al-Hadi, who is now entrusted with the task of leading the country through a peaceful transition. A new constitution and presidential elections are expected by 2014.

Faced with the most strenuous of circumstances – the unyielding ruling family, the US-lead war on al-Qaeda, sectarian tension, unsettled political divides between south and north, and unforgiving poverty - the youth of Yemen have successfully managed to introduce a hopeful chapter to an otherwise gloomy modern history. While they should be proud of this, they must also remain wary of the challenges awaiting them in the next two years.

The next phase will be decisive one for Yemen. It will either take the country a step forward towards real reforms - which should resolve some of the country’s most protracted regional strife and confront the rampant inequality – or leave it to suffer a worse fate than that under Saleh’s family. The early signs are worrisome, compelling regional experts to warn that Yemen may be heading the same route as Somalia. “With two conflicts carrying on simultaneously, that of the Houthi Shia in the north and the secessionist movement in the south, the militarization of Yemen and the primary US focus on it as another battlefield in which to engage al-Qaeda, is only set to continue,” wrote David Hearst in The Guardian.

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Another One Bites the Dust: The ECB Pours Cold Water on Bankia Bailout Solution

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Bankia ATM in Madrid. Source: Global Post

Bankia ATM in Madrid. Source: Global Post

It might seem strange to invoke Freddie Mercury and Queen in the context of the eurozone, but it’s the first thought that springs to mind, as Brussels and the increasingly hapless ECB, continue to mismanage their way to financial and economic catastrophe. Yesterday, there were signs that the Spanish plan to recapitalise Bankia (which came with the implied backing of the ECB’s balance sheet) introduced a potential way out of the eurozone’s metastisizing banking crisis.

Sadly, it’s another idea which will never get off the bulletin board, as the ECB bluntly rejected any proposal to use its balance sheet to indirectly fund Bankia, the troubled Spanish lender. So we’re back to floundering and the markets are reacting accordingly. What most investors, experts, and policy makers fail to realize is that this bank run is not simply a Greek problem, which will cease if and when Greece is thrown out of the euro zone.

If one looks at the Target 2 balances, the ELA, and the ECB’s lender of last resort facilities, it’s clear that this has extended into all of the periphery countries, including Spain and Italy. It may well end with Germany’s banks effectively serving as the deposit base for all of Europe. Perversely, the ECB and the European authorities acknowledge none of this and seem to be doing nothing about it. At least not publicly. They are like ostriches with their collective heads in the sand. If anything, “tough talk” from some of them may be escalating the bank run, rather than restoring confidence.

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Reading the Egyptian Elections

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Egyptian voter in Cairo. Photo by Jonathan Rashad

Egyptian voter in Cairo. Photo by Jonathan Rashad

The Egyptian people are still in shock ever since the announcement of the results of the presidential elections late last week. They refuse to accept an outcome that sees Gen. Ahmad Shafiq, the last Prime Minister of deposed dictator Hosni Mubarak, having received more than 5.5 million votes, or about 24 percent of the votes cast, less than one percent behind the frontrunner and Muslim Brotherhood candidate, Dr. Muhammad Mursi.

After the dust has settled, some remarkable facts have been revealed that point towards an extremely sophisticated operation, which ensured that Shafiq would receive enough votes to go to the second round runoff (that could only have been pulled off by the Egyptian security apparatus with the support of the military and the remnants of Mubarak’s banned National Democratic Party). This is how it could have happened.  The first significant fact is that the overall number of registered voters increased by more than 4.5 million people in less than three months. In Egypt, every person is automatically added to the registered voter rolls after reaching the age of eighteen.

Egyptians cast their vote using the national identification number given to each citizen at birth. Between late November 2011 and January 2012, citizens went to the polls to elect their parliament over three different stages in nine different provinces in each stage. After each vote, the head of the elections commission declared the results starting with the total number of registered voters.

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In Response to Houla Massacre Australia Expels Syrian Diplomats

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Children killed in the Houla massacre. Source: Freedom House

Children killed in the Houla massacre. Source: Freedom House

Australia’s Foreign Affairs Minister Bob Carr has expelled the Syrian Charge d’Affairs Jawdat Ali Syrian in the wake of the Houla massacre that have reportedly seen 32 children massacred in Syria in recent days. He has said that Australians are “appalled at a regime that could connive in or organise the execution, the killing of men women and children.” Jawdat Ali has 72 hours to leave Australia. The decision follows Britain’s foreign secretary William Hague who has summoned the Syrian diplomat. Pressure is also mounting on the Obama administration to do more than sanctions in response to the more than year-long genocide occurring in Syria. Australia has expected the Syrian Government to cease military operations and abide by the ceasefire brokered by Joint Special Envoy Kofi Annan, the massacre of 92 people in the village of Houla has put to rest the ceasefire.

“This massacre of civilians in Haoula is a hideous and brutal crime,” Foreign Minister Carr has said. “In doing this we are more or less moving with our friends around the world. I expect other countries will be doing this overnight Australian time.” The measure is one that on the surface confirms that previous Australian condemnations and sanctions have failed to have any impact on the Al-Assad regime. Statements from the Australian Government in April 2011 condemned in the strongest possible terms human rights abuses at the hands of security forces in Syria. Interviewed at the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group in London, the former Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd announced Australia was imposing sanctions against Syria regardless of any United Nations Security Council (UNSC) actions or interventions.

Australia had previously co-sponsored a resolution in the U.N. Human Rights Council that condemned the use of lethal force against Syrian citizens by its own government. In May 2011 Kevin Rudd had announced: “The Government is ramping up targeted financial sanctions against key regime figures responsible for human rights abuses and lethal suppression of peaceful protests in Syria, and is also imposing an embargo on arms and other equipment used for internal repression.” In August 2011, Craig Emerson, Acting Minister for Foreign Affair announced additional sanctions, including ‘smart’ sanctions against Syria, with further financial and travel restrictions. Emerson reiterated Australia’s call for the UNSC to refer Syria to the International Criminal Court for investigation of alleged atrocities against Syrian citizens. Australia has in place travel and financial restrictions on 106 individuals and 28 entities and imposed an arms embargo on Syria.

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Medvedev’s Second Go at Modernization

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Dmitry Medvedev at the BRICS summit in New Delhi. Source: Kremlin Press Office

Dmitry Medvedev at the BRICS summit in New Delhi. Source: Kremlin Press Office

Having served his four year tenure as President pushing his trademark government initiative of modernizing the Russian economy and government, Prime Minister and newly appointed leader of the dominant United Russia Party, Dmitry Medvedev, now has his sights on modernizing his party. While United Russia still remains the single dominant political force within Russia, up against often quarreling and fractious opposition groups, United Russia has seen its polls slipping in the past year. After the December 2011 Duma elections, where the party received a shellacking by the electorate, losing its super majority within the Parliament, the Russian public have taken to the streets in protest of fraudulent elections and the return of strongman Vladimir Putin to the Kremlin.

And while President Putin has forfeited his party membership, considering himself and his post above partisan politics, it appears the job of re-branding United Russia as a viable political party and not a mere extension of the Kremlin has fallen into the lap of Medvedev.

On Friday, just a day before the party’s convention, Medvedev rolled out what he described as an “unprecedented” reform program that would democratize the ailing party and overhaul the way its leadership was chosen. Calling for an increase in competition of ideas and individuals within the party and promoting leadership from cadres below, Medvedev tapped into the growing populist demands for a more transparent and liberal political process. “The Party should be more open, more clear to the people, it should be perceived as its own entity, not as one appointed from above,” said Medvedev at the meeting, as he unveiled seven major intraparty reform ideas.

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The Iraq and Afghanistan Combat Veteran and the Future of American Foreign Policy

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U.S. Army 2nd Lt. Paul Knudtson speaks to a Shah Joy village elder during a shura at the Shah Joy District Center in Afghanistan’s Zabul province on Jan. 26, 2011

U.S. Army 2nd Lt. Paul Knudtson speaks to a Shah Joy village elder during a shura at the Shah Joy District Center in Afghanistan’s Zabul province on Jan. 26, 2011

As my parents carefully poured water onto the gauze that stuck to my legs from still largely unhealed burn wounds from an Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) roadside bomb, the pain was excruciating as the blood and puss congealed to the bandage began to loosen and release itself from the one bad night out of the hundreds I spent on dusty Iraqi roads. This attempt to ease the pain of the gauze separating from my open wounds was repeated on all four of my limbs. The water helped to some degree, but the pain was something that felt like slowly pulling limb sized band-aids from my skin.

My parents repeated this routine daily, for their son, whom his entire life had prepared them for this moment, as his lifelong dream of becoming an Army officer in the 101st Airborne Division came true.  It was that fact that I was a 101st Airborne officer that made the pain more bearable, for many others had perished during the division’s 2005-2006 tour in Iraq.

The daily excruciating routine was a reminder of how fortunate I was to be alive, but on the day of February 7, 2007, the pain turned into anger as I read a New York Times article titled, “Many U.S. diplomats refuse to work in Iraq” by Helene Cooper.

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Egypt’s Presidential Election Results: The Sacking of a Revolution

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Egyptian voters in Cairo. Photo by Jonathan Rashad

Egyptian voters in Cairo. Photo by Jonathan Rashad

Fifteen months after millions of Egyptians - led by the revolutionary youth - were united in their demand to end a corrupt and suffocating dictatorship, they were now divided as they headed to the polls in the last two days in order to elect a new president. During this transitional period the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which has ruled the country since Mubarak was deposed in February 2011, failed to uphold its promise of honoring the goals of the revolution by uprooting the corrupt elements of the former regime.

The unofficial results of the presidential elections show that the Muslim Brotherhood candidate Dr. Muhammad Mursi is headed to a runoff with Mubarak’s last Prime Minister and the anti-revolution candidate, Gen. Ahmad Shafiq. They received 24 and 23 percent of the votes, respectively. Meanwhile the two candidates supported by the revolutionary groups, Dr. Abdelmoneim Abol Fotouh and Hamdein Sabahi received 17 and 20 percent respectively, while former foreign minister Amr Moussa was a distant fifth with less than 11 percent. So what happened and how can one understand these results?

The Revolutionaries were Divided

There is no doubt that the failure of the revolutionary groups to unify their ranks and field a single candidate or a presidential ticket has cost them the chance to come out on top in this round and head for a runoff. Combined, both candidates received 37 percent, which would have guaranteed them victory in the first round had they run as president and vice president. But despite many efforts towards that end, both candidates refused to concede. Abol Fotouh argued that the country’s electorate has been favoring a candidate with an Islamist background, and thus he represented that consensus candidate who could bridge the divide between the Islamists and the secularists. Sabahi, on the other hand, argued that the country did not need another Islamist candidate after the results of the parliamentary elections, in which Islamists took 75 percent of the seats.

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Turkey’s Burgeoning Role in Somalia

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Mark Garten/UN

Two decades have passed since the collapse of Somalia. Twenty one years to be exact. According to Lee Cassanelli, Professor of African history at the University of Pennsylvania, this exact number matters in Somali politics – perhaps in a subconscious way.

In August 2007, during one of his presentations at the Somali Studies International held in Columbus, Ohio, Cassanelli anecdotally argued that every twenty one years, Somalia has a collective experience or an itch of a sort that causes significant changes. These cycles extend from Sayyid Mohammed Abdulle Hassan’s anti-colonial movement which started at the dawn of the 20th Century that came to an end in 1920; to the Somali Youth League (SYL) founded in 1948 and the democratic government born out of that movement that was overthrown by a military coup in 1969; to the military government which lasted from 1969 till the end of 1990; to the fratricide and division era that started in 1991 and continues albeit faintly in 2012.

I don’t know if this falls in the realm of political astronomy or political astrology, or whether or not the cycle at hand would bring about a positive change, lasting peace, and reconciliation. All I know is that the expectation of the upcoming Istanbul Conference is very high, because Somalia cannot afford another year of systematic self-destruction. And, because this marks the first conference in which Somalis from every social and political sector (300 Somalis from the homeland and the Diaspora including this one) would gather to discuss, negotiate, and jointly develop a blueprint to ending the current political stalemate that has been corroding the social fabric and the essence of Soomaalinimo or Somaliness.

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Will Pakistan Apologize to Bangladesh for its War Crimes?

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Guerilla fighters of the Mukti Bahini prepare to bayonet men who allegedly collaborated with the Pakistani army during East Pakistan's fight to become the independent state of Bangladesh. Source: Al Jazeera

Guerilla fighters of the Mukti Bahini prepare to bayonet men who allegedly collaborated with the Pakistani army during East Pakistan’s fight to become the independent state of Bangladesh. Source: Al Jazeera

The war between East and West Pakistan in 1971 lasted only nine months. But the atrocities were cowering – an estimated three million people dead, 400,000 women raped, 600,000 children killed, and scores of targeted intellectuals slaughtered in an attempt to cripple East Pakistan’s social and cultural backbone. Besides politics, atrocities against the people of East Pakistan by the West Pakistani army stemmed from ethnic hatred. In his book, Death by Government, R. J. Rummel wrote, “Bengalis were often compared with monkeys and chickens.” It was a statement West Pakistani General Niazi once made about how he viewed the people of East Pakistan.

The dead are long gone. But many of the rape victims still bear scars from shame and loss of their dignity. The government of Pakistan has not yet apologized for its crime against humanity, much less has it shown any remorse for the rape victims. Former Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf came close to apologizing for the atrocities of 1971. During his visit to the National War Memorial in Savar, a city 50 km from Dhaka, in 2002, he merely expressed his regrets for the “excesses committed” by the West Pakistan army. That was about as close as the Pakistani government came to offering penitence for the horrific acts of 1971. Soon after the war, West Pakistan published a report on the 1971 war.

While the report acknowledged that the West Pakistan army took part in “senseless” and “deliberate” killings of the civilians, businessmen, intellectuals, and Hindus and “raping” of a “large number” of East Pakistani women as an act of “revenge,” it deliberately justified their acts. It also blamed Awami League, the political party that advocated for an independent East Pakistan, for the “provocation” of the West Pakistan army to commit these “alleged” acts.

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Chinese Domestic Policy and Sino-North Korean Relations

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Sino-Korean Friendship Bridge spanning the Yalu River. Source: xanawu

Sino-Korean Friendship Bridge spanning the Yalu River. Source: xanawu

A key element in the debate over the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s (North Korea or DPRK) nuclear weapons program that has evaded attention is the complex relationship between Chinese foreign and domestic policy. A historical trend exists in the Communist Chinese Party (CCP) that foreign policy decisions are made in regards to pursuing domestic objectives. The CCP’s purging of Bo Xilai, Party Chief of Chongqing province and potential Politburo Standing Committee member, happens to coincide with North Korea’s renewed testing of a ballistic missile after United States officials claimed that a breakthrough moment had occurred in negotiations.

The latter issue received more media and international attention than the first, especially when China announced that they were going to take a harder stance on the Pyongyang regime. The CCP has always regarded foreign policy as a secondary issue or — more simply — a tool to manipulate in pursuing domestic policy. The purging of such a high-profile official reveals division among the top leadership of the Party, which in Beijing’s view threatens domestic stability. The most important aim of the CCP is to uphold Chinese nationalism, which means that any threat to Party leadership is a threat to China. Therefore, Beijing’s manipulation of foreign policy towards North Korea’s weapons program allows the CCP to pursue its most important national interest by diverting attention away from domestic upheavals.

Historically, the purging of high-ranking Party officials has not significantly threatened China’s domestic stability. However, its rapid economic growth over the past three decades has placed a more important emphasis on domestic stability.

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Asia’s Mad Arms Race

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The Japan helicopter destroyer JS Kurama leads ships during a rehearsal for a fleet review, October 21, 2009

The Japan helicopter destroyer JS Kurama leads ships during a rehearsal for a fleet review, October 21, 2009

Asia is currently in the middle of an unprecedented arms race that is not only sharpening tensions in the region, but competing with efforts by Asian countries to address poverty and growing economic disparity. The gap between rich and poor—calculated by the Gini coefficient that measures inequality—has increased from 39 percent to 46 percent in China, India, and Indonesia. While affluent households continue to garner larger and larger portions of the economic pie, “Children born to poor families can be 10 times more likely to die in infancy” than those from wealthy families, according to Changyong Rhee, chief economist of the Asian Development Bank.

This inequality trend is particularly acute in India, where life expectancy is low, infant mortality high, education spotty, and illiteracy widespread, in spite of that country’s status as the third largest economy in Asia, behind China and Japan.

According to an independent charity, the Naandi Foundation, some 42 percent of India’s children are malnourished. Bangladesh, a far poorer country, does considerably better in all these areas.

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Indo-Japan Relations: Growth and Future Challenges

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Pete Souza/White House

Every relationship has its ups and downs and the Indo-Japan relationship is no exception. The link connecting India and Japan has existed for several decades. The history of Indo-Japan relations has been quite unique and the growth of this alliance has been slow. The physical distance between these two states has also meant a level of mental distance as neither country has figured on each other’s political or economic radars for decades.

Although cultural ties between the two countries go back fourteen centuries when Buddhism spread to Japan in the 7th century AD via China and Korea, the relationship has primarily been indirect. Direct contact between these two countries was established in the mid-19th century.

Indo-Japan Relations and The Cold War

The advent of the Cold War highlighted the striking contrasts between India and Japan. As India was trying to build itself into a politically recognised democracy, Japan, on the other hand, as a newly defeated nation, divested itself, instead focusing on economic development, particularly through trade with Southeast Asia.

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Has Chaos Redefined the ‘Arab Spring’?

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Libyan rebel rests after a battle with Qaddafi's forces

Libyan rebel rests after a battle with Qaddafi’s forces

The age of revolutionary romance is over. Various Arab countries are now facing hard truths. Millions of Arabs merely want to live with a semblance of dignity, free from tyranny and continuous anxiety over the future. This unromantic reality also includes outside ‘players’, whose presence is of no positive value to genuine revolutionary movements, whether in Egypt, Syria, or anywhere else. Shortly after longtime President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was ousted in the Tunisian revolution in January 2011, some of us warned that the initial euphoria could eventually give way to unhelpful simplification. Suddenly, all Arabs looked the same, sounded the same and were expected to duplicate each other’s collective action.

An Al Jazeera news anchor might interrogate his guests on why some Arab nations are rising while others are still asleep. The question of why Algeria hasn’t revolted has occupied much international media. “No Arab Spring for Algerians Going to the Polls,” was the title of a US National Public Radio (NPR) program by Andrea Crossan on May 10. The very recent Algerian elections were mostly juxtaposed with much more distant and sporadic realities in other countries, rather than in the context of Algeria’s own unique and urgent situation.

Why should Algeria be discussed within the context of Yemen, for example? What kind of conclusions are we seeking exactly? Is it that some Arabs are brave, while others are cowardly? Do people revolt by remote control, on the behest of an inquisitive news anchor? Algeria is known as the country of a million martyrs for its incredible sacrifices in the quest for liberation between 1954-62. Some sort of consensus is being reached that Algerians are still traumatized by the decade-long civil war which started in 1992. The butchery of thousands was openly supported by Western powers, who had feared the emergence of an Islamic state close to their shores.

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Ethiopia: World Bank to Fund Destructive Dam through the Backdoor?

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Gilgel Gibe III Dam on Omo River in Ethiopia. image via Grand Millennium Dam

Gilgel Gibe III Dam on Omo River in Ethiopia. image via Grand Millennium Dam

Some projects are so destructive that no reputable actors want to get involved with them. Think of the oil wells in Sudan’s conflict zones, China’s Three Gorges Dam, and the gas pipelines in Burma. If the price is right, however, some will still be tempted to do business on such projects through the back door. The World Bank is currently taking such an approach with a big credit for Ethiopia’s power sector.

The Gibe III Dam, now under construction in Southwest Ethiopia, will devastate ecosystems that support 500,000 indigenous people in the Lower Omo Valley and around Kenya’s Lake Turkana. The UN’s World Heritage Committee called on the Ethiopian government to “immediately halt all construction” on the project, which will impact several sites of universal cultural and ecological value. In August 2011, the Kenyan parliament passed a resolution asking for the suspension of dam construction pending further studies.

Ethiopia is one of the world’s highest recipients of foreign aid, and in spite of a poor record on human rights, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi is one of the darlings of the international community. The World Bank, the African Development Bank and the European Investment Bank all considered funding for the Gibe III Dam in 2009/10.

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Egypt’s Presidential Election: The US Pushes for Amr Moussa

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Egyptian presidential candidate Amr Moussa.  Image via Al Jazeera

Egyptian presidential candidate Amr Moussa. Image via Al Jazeera

Ever since the toppling of Egypt’s former dictator Hosni Mubarak, the United States has been very nervous with regard to its former client state. Likewise, most Israeli leaders have been sounding the alarms, warning that the peace treaty with Egypt is in danger and that its relationship with its western neighbor has never been more fragile. Last month, Egyptian authorities, under intense pressure from the public and revolutionary groups, abruptly ended all natural gas shipments to Israel.

In addition, the parliamentary elections late last year, which resulted in the overwhelming victory of Islamic candidates, gave early warning signs that Egypt might chart a new independent course to the detriment of U.S. and Israeli policies in the region.

According to multiple well-placed American and Israeli sources, U.S. policymakers have concluded that they must pursue a dual-track policy. The first was to accelerate and broaden the contacts with the new power brokers in Egypt, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood, in the hope that engaging the Islamist group might result in more moderate policies towards Israel and the West.

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