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Egypt

Tag Archives | Egypt

Speech that Spreads Conflict Requires New International Regulation

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Charlie Hebdo’s Stephane Charbonnier. Source: The Huffington Post

The ease with which an individual opinion can cause international conflict has created the need for new regulation.

Charlie Hebdo’s Stephane Charbonnier. Source: The Huffington Post

Freedom of speech is respected across most of the Western world, is a tenet of American civil liberties, and is protected in Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. U.S. Supreme Court decisions have upheld First Amendment protection of defamatory statements regarding government, gender, sexuality, race, and religion.

While frowned upon in the U.S., the Supreme Court has a record of allowing defamatory statements or behavior, even if they are seen as inflammatory (see Terminiello v. Chicago, National Socialist Party v. Skokie, R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul). In all three cases, the majority opinion has overturned the right of states to prohibit speech based on content, regardless of racially or religiously charged language.

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Will the Rest of Africa Be the Next Phase of the ‘Arab’ Awakening?

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Tuareg rebels in Northern Mali. Source: Al Jazeera

“The African spring has arrived. Down with the dictators! This time for Africa!” – Anonymous Africa

Tuareg rebels in Northern Mali. Source: Al Jazeera

As the Syrian conflict descends into an abyss, Libya has become a land of battles between security forces and jihadists, and Egypt is struggling to adjust to its evolving version of ‘democracy.’ Little seems predictable — in the short or longer term — in the countries that have to date experienced the Arab Awakening. Little has turned out as had been hoped — by these countries’ people, regional governments, or the larger global community — and optimists about the future are rare.

Now that the genie has been let out of its bottle, there is of course no turning back. It remains to be seen whether events to date will prove to be watershed moments in the Middle East and North Africa’s political history, or simply a transferal of autocratic power from one despotic political force to another. One has to wonder what the real prospects for long-term success are among the heterogeneous countries of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). A realist would have to say that there is a chance that some of the countries that have experimented with democracy to date will end up looking more like Iran than Turkey.

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Islamists May Gain Political Control: Part Two

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Tuareg fighters. Source: Magharebia

In the Arab Spring dissidents involved in the uprisings used the U.S. and European allies for financial and military support, which led to regime change, but not to the democratic outcome that everyone had expected.

Tuareg fighters. Source: Magharebia

The ultraconservative Salafi Islamists may well become the beneficiaries of our efforts to achieve democratic governance. In the North African countries Salafists are pressing to institute Sharia, the strict Islamic law. Time will tell if the fragile governments formed to date will succeed, and whether the existing autocratic rulers will survive. If economic changes, needed to improve the poverty conditions in these countries, are not instituted quickly, we can expect more uprisings in which the Salafi Islamists will try to turn the countries into Islamic states.

We may still see more bloodshed in these countries, since attaining democracy in a tribal society will be difficult to attain. The protesters have said they wanted ‘change,’ which we interpreted as our form of democracy, which is a cliché in this part of the world. In reality the Salafists observe the narrow tenets of early orthodox conservatives, which clash with the tenets of democracy. The State Department recently defended the regime change stating, “It was the process that matters, not the ideologies of those taking part,” and noting that, “Along the way [they] trained and gave guidance to the Muslim Brotherhood and other fundamentalist candidates in the electioneering process.”

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Islamists May Gain Political Control: Part One

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Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi

The Arab Spring started with uprisings by dissidents in Tunisia, and spread across North Africa, and to the Arabian Peninsula.

Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi

Today Syria is under siege by rebel militias, and al-Qaeda linked affiliates are taking advantage of the destabilization by instituting their own style of terrorist attacks. The Islamist groups include Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), Ansar al-Sharia, and Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) which reportedly receive financing from Saudi Arabia and Qatar sources. In Syria the overthrow of Bashar al-Assad may not lead to democratic governance, a goal of the Arab Spring, as we are witnessing in North Africa. These radical Islamists with their large cache of arms can outwait the U.S. supported rebel militias, to participate in government change under Islamic law.

In a May 23, 2012 Reuters article, it was noted that the Gulf Arab countries were alarmed by the crisis in Yemen, that gave “Al-Qaeda the opportunity to develop a base from which to launch attacks around the world.” Yemeni Foreign Minister Abubakr al-Qirbi stated, “Saudi Arabia is cognizant that their stability depends on that of Yemen” fearing an uprising there was a possibility. It is also possible that the ultraconservative Wahhabists could destabilize Saudi Arabia, and neighbors Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman.

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Jihadists on the March in West Africa

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Tuareg rebels in Northern Mali. Source: Al Jazeera

Terrorism in North Africa like in Algeria and Mali’s war illustrates the reach of Islamic militants throughout Africa.

Tuareg rebels in Northern Mali. Source: Al Jazeera

While the world’s attention has been focused on Iran, Syria, and the evolving results of ‘democracy’ in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia, groups like Boko Haram, the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA), Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and other splinter terrorist organizations have made substantial progress in either heavily influencing or controlling significant swathes of territory in some countries in West Africa. The west of Libya, northern Nigeria and northern Mali are all experiencing extreme levels of violence at the hands of Boko Haram and likeminded Islamic militant groups.

A primary reason West Africa is experiencing so much violence and upheaval from so many Islamist militant groups is because the area is so expansive and the local governments are incapable of exerting control outside of major population areas. Northern Mali fell to Al Qaeda linked militants earlier this year, and their influence soon spread to Niger and Nigeria.

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U.S. Consulate in Benghazi: Attacked by Terrorists

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Protest against the attack that killed Ambassador Stevens. Mohammad Hannon/AP

Protest against the attack that killed Ambassador Stevens. Mohammad Hannon/AP

The White House does not want to recognize that there is still a Global War on Terror (GWOT). So I am not surprised at the politicized remarks by the State Department and our U.S. ambassador to the UN, that the attacks on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi on September 11, 2012 were a spontaneous act. The video, “Innocence of Muslims,” may have been a contributing factor to demonstrations that took place across North Africa, but the attacks in Benghazi were undertaken by al-Qaeda linked terrorists. In the attacks we lost Ambassador Chris Stevens, and three other embassy officials.

Salafist and Wahhabist imams used the video to stir up the emotions of predominantly young men, living in a vacuous society of unemployment, high food prices, lack of education, and anger against the West. As the fateful events unfolded in Benghazi, I was returning from the Mintao Refugee Camp in Burkina Faso, where I met with several Tuareg and Arab elders from northern Mali. The region had been overrun by Tuareg rebels associated with the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) and Ansar Dine Islamists. The more nascent Tuareg rebels have since been pushed aside. Ansar Dine has now associated with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) from Algeria, Boko Haram from Nigeria, and al-Shabaab from Somalia. These groups are embedded across the vast Sahel. Afghan and Pakistani jihadists have also infiltrated Mali, and are training recruits, the latest sign that the region is slipping into terrorist hands.

During the Arab Spring uprising in Libya, several rebel militia groups became affiliated with al-Qaeda, including Ansar al-Sharia and the Libyan Islamic Front; other Islamists were interwoven in a rag-tag association. Mali, a fledgling democracy, was destabilized after the downfall of Muammar Gadhafi, when enlisted Tuareg fighters returned home, bringing with them a large cache of arms which fell into the hands of radical Islamists. Similar weapons are in the hands of al-Qaeda and rebel militias in Benghazi, and were used in the attacks on the U.S. Consulate.

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Protests across the Muslim World: A Deeper Meaning?

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Protest in Qatar over the YouTube video, "Innocence of Muslims". Omar Chatriwala/Flickr

Protest in Qatar over the YouTube video, “Innocence of Muslims”. Omar Chatriwala/Flickr

Over the last couple of weeks thousands across the Muslim world from Tunisia to Jakarta, have staged protests, burned US flags outside of embassies and murdered an American diplomat over a video portraying slanderous and offensive content toward the prophet Mohammed and the religion of Islam. The protests spiraled out of control when the US ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, and three other American citizens were killed by an unruly mob in Benghazi, Libya last week. Slowly more and more angered Muslims joined the fray across the world with some of the largest gatherings since the Arab Spring.

The film is itself laughable, displaying poor acting, cheap special effects and insinuations that are pure farce. However, no one can ignore the enormous ripple effect that it has spread across the Muslim world. Anti-US sentiments are now spilling over, as flags are regularly being torched in the streets of countries such as Pakistan and Indonesia.

Although the message of the video is clearly offensive, the naivety that this is the belief of the common US citizen, or that it represents the position of the US government and therefore their embassies should be the target of the violence is absurd. One independent filmmaker does not represent the feelings of an entire nation composed of over 300 million citizens, and it’s not unreasonable for many Muslims to know this already.

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A Call for Understanding: Observation of the Middle East

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President Barack Obama greets State Department employees after speaking at the State Department in Washington, D.C., Sept. 12, 2012. Pete Souza/White House

In light of the recent horrifying attack on the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi, this commentary is intended to help anyone who is struggling to understand what has happened in the Middle East this past week.

President Barack Obama greets State Department employees after speaking at the State Department in Washington, D.C., Sept. 12, 2012. Pete Souza/White House

A book used in leadership development for U.S. government officials working in international affairs with Muslim countries is Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf’s, What’s Right with Islam Is What’s Right with America. It is the chosen reading of Dr. Kamal Beyoghlow, Professor of National Security Strategy and Middle East and North Africa Studies at the National War College. Dr. Beyoghlow also teaches at the Federal Executive Institute delivering lectures including Understanding and Building Relationships with the Islamic World, as well as teaching U.S. government leaders across defense, intelligence, and other agencies. This book is a place to start for a quick tutorial. Websites are readily available online with maps and statistics of world religions, and these assist in personal study.

We live in a complex world. American style sound bites are insufficient for the level of responsibility we carry as a nation - and frankly for the role that we have taken upon ourselves in the world as a people. We hear politicians throwing current issues around like footballs in their own very partisan ways which will ultimately result in a win-lose scenerio.

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Romney’s Contribution to the Unrest in the Middle East

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Mitt Romney campaigning in New Hampshire. Photo: Marc Nozell

Among the things that are consistent about Mitt Romney are the chameleon-like nature of his political character, his incessant pandering to the small-minded among his political constituency, his frequent flip-flopping on major policy issues throughout the course of his political career, and his ability to say the wrong thing at the wrong time.

Mitt Romney campaigning in New Hampshire. Photo: Marc Nozell

None of this would serve him well as president in a country as divided along ideological lines as the United States of America today, but even less so in a world convulsing with political change and yearning for thoughtful leadership. Mr. Romney’s reaction to the terrible events in Benghazi provide good insight into what may be expected of a Romney presidency.

A Romney supporter may be inclined to justify his ill-advised response to the tragedy to the fever pitch of the political campaign, but this is further evidence — as if any were needed — that Mr. Romney has a tendency to speak without thinking much about the consequences of his actions. His trip over the summer to the UK, Israel and Poland provided ample indication of Mr. Romney’s ability to put his foot in his mouth with allies. Benghazi has demonstrated that Mr. Romney has the ability to further inflame already volatile situations abroad, and little comprehension of the nuance required to conduct foreign affairs.

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Death in Benghazi: The Dark Side of the Citizens’ Revolt in Libya

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A U.S. flag lies among the debris of the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. Source: EPA

A U.S. flag lies among the debris of the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. Source: EPA

“Chris was a courageous and exemplary representative of the United States. Throughout the Libyan revolution, he selflessly served our country and the Libyan people at our mission in Benghazi.”

– President Obama said of Ambassador Chris Stevens

The American delegation in Benghazi has been left reeling by the deaths of four of its staff, amongst them Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens. The deaths occurred in an effort to evacuate the consulate, which came under attack from a heavily armed mob. History is tinged with irony. It was only last year that President Barack Obama, along with then French President Nicolas Sarkozy, saw Benghazi as a place of promise against a vengeful Gaddafi regime. Having been seduced by the humanistic garble of philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy, a military intervention began to save the rebels from imminent slaughter. The rebels, in time, came to form what is now a rickety, patchwork democracy. The language itself suggests the problem US missions tend to have – their purpose is always promoted as messianic. The US presence in Libya is there, not for self-interest, but for Libya. That has not proven to be the easiest sell for Washington.

Liberation narratives are always awkward and rarely accurate. Those who assist in toppling dictators tend to leave the ground fresh for another insurrection. The flipside of the Arab Spring is fundamentalist usurpation. Chatter about democracy is meaningless when the institutional will is absent. The new Libyan regime has been supported by Western governments, but it lives precariously. All that mob violence generally requires is a vague pretext to bolster a lynching. What that pretext was in the Benghazi killings is not entirely clear. Was it the noxious video “Innocence of Muslims,” made by a real-estate developer and promoted by Koran-burning preacher Terry Jones? Or was mob violence a gift on the anniversary of the September 11 2001 attacks, orchestrated with devastating effect?

US officials have taken it upon themselves to investigate what motivated the attacks. It will not require the gifted and the intelligent to discern some of the causes. “Innocence of Muslims” is merely a sideshow to both the way American power is projected and the Muslim world’s own problems, though it provides a pungent distraction for troubled communities. It also shows that mobilised groups of revolt can be formed rapidly, bypassing official channels and imperilling stability.

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Britain, Ecuador and the Case of Julian Assange

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WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange making a statement at Ecuador’s Embassy in London. Facundo Arrizabalaga/EPA

A decade ago, the British government of Labour prime minister Tony Blair decided to back President George W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq even though foreign office lawyers in London had warned that such an attack had no “legal basis in international law.”

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange making a statement at Ecuador’s Embassy in London. Facundo Arrizabalaga/EPA

In the midst of sharp divisions in government and British society, the invasion went ahead in March 2003. The consequences were far-reaching and they undermined the Blair government’s authority at home. Limping thereafter, he resigned in June 2007, humbled and apologetic. War and the economy together played no mean part in Tony Blair’s fall in British politics and the Labour Party’s defeat three years later.

A few days ago, Britain’s foreign secretary William Hague personally approved a letter that was sent to Ecuador. Its details were taken as a threat to raid the Ecuadorean Embassy in London and drag out WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange for extradition to Sweden, where state prosecutors say they want to question him about complaints of sexual assault. Hague’s letter was delivered to Ecuador despite the “grave reservations of lawyers in his department.” Speaking anonymously to the Independent newspaper, a senior British official said that “staff feared the move could provoke retaliatory attacks against British embassies overseas.” A large majority in the Organization of American States is up in arms. Outside the Americas too, Britain is struggling to find much sympathy for its stance. In soccer parlance, Prime Minister David Cameron’s center forward has scored a spectacular own goal.

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Mohamed Morsi’s Evolving Relationship with Egypt’s Military

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Leon Panetta visiting with Mohamed Morsi in Cairo

Ever since early April when he became an official candidate in the presidential election, Mohamed Morsi has been generally dismissed by most political observers as a weak and unimpressive politician.

Leon Panetta visiting with Mohamed Morsi in Cairo

In fact, he was an accidental contender since he was the stand-in candidate for the Muslim Brotherhood’s (MB) first choice, senior leader Khairat Al-Shater. The MB fielded Morsi as its back-up candidate on the last day of filing because it predicted correctly that its original candidate would be disqualified by the pro-SCAF Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC). As Egypt’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) took the reigns of power in February 2011, many observers believed that a tacit understanding existed between the powerful Egyptian military and the MB, the most organized political and social group in Egypt. For the next eighteen months, this complicated and largely behind the scenes contentious relationship between these two powerful entities had its ups and downs.

When SCAF sided with millions of Egyptians in ousting Hosni Mubarak in early Feb. 2011, it was not to advance the objectives of the revolution but rather to sacrifice the president in order to save his regime. Throughout 2011, there were three centers of powers in the country: SCAF with its apparent military power, the MB with its enormous capacity for organization and mass mobilization, and the other revolutionary and grassroots groups (dominated by the youth but politically unorganized and inexperienced) taking to the streets throughout the year while paying a terrible price with dozens martyred, hundreds wounded, and thousands detained in military show trials.

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Barack Obama’s ‘Intelligence Finding’ and the Syrian Civil War

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President Barack Obama with advisors including Tom Donilon, Jacob Lew and Denis McDonough in the Oval Office. Pete Souza/White House

The revelation about President Barack Obama’s decision to provide secret American aid to Syria’s rebel forces is a game changer.

President Barack Obama with advisors including Tom Donilon, Jacob Lew and Denis McDonough in the Oval Office. Pete Souza/White House

The presidential order, known as an “intelligence finding” in the world of espionage, authorizes the CIA to support armed groups fighting to overthrow Bashar al-Assad’s government. But it threatens far more than the regime in Damascus. The disclosure took its first casualty immediately. Kofi Annan, the special envoy to Syria, promptly announced his resignation, bitterly protesting that the UN Security Council had become a forum for “finger-pointing and name-calling.” Annan blamed all sides directly involved in the Syrian conflict, including local combatants and their foreign backers. But the timing of his resignation was striking. For he knew that with the CIA helping Syria’s armed groups, America’s Arab allies joining in and the Security Council deadlocked, he was redundant.

President Obama’s order to supply CIA aid to anti-government forces in Syria has echoes of an earlier secret order signed by President Jimmy Carter, also a Democrat, in July 1979. Carter’s fateful decision was the start of a CIA-led operation to back Mujahideen groups then fighting the Communist government in Afghanistan. As I discuss the episode in my book Breeding Ground: Afghanistan and the Origins of Islamist Terrorism, the operation, launched with a modest aid package, became a multi-billion dollar war project against the Communist regime in Kabul and the Soviet Union, whose forces invaded Afghanistan in December 1979. In the following year, Carter was defeated by Ronald Reagan, who went for broke, pouring money and weapons into Afghanistan against the Soviet occupation forces to the bitter end.

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Neocons vs. the ‘Arab Spring’

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Protest in Cairo's Tahrir Square.  Source: Al Jazeera

Protest in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. Source: Al Jazeera

Neoconservatives are back with a vengeance. While popular uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and other Arab countries had briefly rendered them irrelevant in the region, Western intervention in Libya signaled a new opportunity. Now Syria promises to usher a full return of neoconservatives into the Middle East fray. “Washington must stop subcontracting Syria policy to the Turks, Saudis and Qataris. They are clearly part of the anti-Assad effort, but the United States cannot tolerate Syria becoming a proxy state for yet another regional power,” wrote Danielle Pletka, vice president of foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute.

Pletka, like many of her peers from neoconservative, pro-Israeli ‘think tanks’, should be a familiar name among Arab reporters, who are also well aware of the level of destruction brought to the Middle East as a result of neoconservative wisdom and policies. Rarely though are such infamous names evoked when the ongoing conflict in Syria is reported - as if the main powers responsible for redrawing the geopolitical maps of the region are suddenly insignificant. Pletka was the biggest supporter of Ahmad Chalabi, the once exiled Iraqi, who she once described as “a trusted associate of the Central Intelligence Agency (and) the key player in a unsuccessful coup to overthrow Saddam Hussein” in the 1990s.

Chalabi led the Iraqi National Congress, which was falsely slated as an authentic Iraqi national initiative. Eventually, members of the council, composed mostly of Iraqi exiles with links to the CIA and other Western intelligences, managed to sway the pendulum their way, and Iraq was destroyed.

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Confusion and Instability in Egypt

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Defense Secretary Leon Panetta with Field Marshall Mohamed Hussein Tantawi in Cairo

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta with Field Marshall Mohamed Hussein Tantawi in Cairo

American attempts to push for a Western style democracy in Egypt may not yield the desired results. American foreign policy in the region is viewed with suspicion because of its past support for former President Hosni Mubarak and his regime and its overhanded support for Israel. The prevailing confusion concerning the beginnings of democracy in Egypt, despite electing Mohammed Morsi in the country’s largely fair and free elections has baffled policymakers.  The on-going instability is a result of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) headed by Field Marshall Hussein Tantawi, not transferring power to the newly elected president. The US is very keen on balancing a public push for a democratic Egypt against a desire to maintain long-term ties with dominant factions like Egypt’s military.

Earlier the pro-SCAF Egyptian Election Commission delayed the announcement of the results prompting the US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta t0 warn his Egyptian counterparts in two separate phone calls not to alter the election results in favour of the military’s candidate and Mubarak’s last prime minister, Gen. Ahmad Shafiq, thereby disrupting the democratic process and the will of the Egyptian electorate and the democratic spirit unleashed by the Arab Spring.

In fact, Egypt has been a prominent ally of the US in the Arab region while serving its own economic and security interests. Despite this history of close cooperation between the two, today, the generals have repeatedly rebuffed the American pressure as the US is reported to be backing the Brotherhood thereby supporting the Islamists though the newly elected Islamist President who is still struggling to wrest power from the Egypt’s top generals. In fact, the generals have repeatedly ignored the American pressure, including the threat that it might end its $1.5 billion a year in economic assistance to Egypt, including $1.3 billion in military aid.

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