Saturday, January 11, 2014


By Eric Margolis

"How did al-Qaida, a tiny anti-Communist group in Afghanistan that had no more than 200 active members in 2001 become a supposed worldwide threat?
How can al-Qaida be all over the Mideast, North Africa, and now much of black Africa? This after the US spent over $1 trillion trying to stamp out al-Qaida in Afghanistan and Pakistan?
The answer is simple. As an organization and threat, al-Qaida barely exists. But as a name, al-Qaida and “terrorism” have become the west’s handy universal term for armed groups fighting western influence, corruption or repression in Asia and Africa. Al-Qaida is nowhere – but everywhere.
If you’re a rebel group seeking publicity, the fastest way is by pledging allegiance to the shadowy, nowhere al-Qaida.
Take Iraq, where fighting currently rages between the Shia government and Sunni militias in Anbar Province. Interestingly, the Sunni uprising is centered on Fallujah, which was almost flattened by US Marines and blasted apart by depleted uranium shells and illegal white phosphorus as a dire warning to Iraqis who resisted.
After the US invaded Iraq in 2003, over a dozen Iraqi resistance groups rose to fight the Americans and their new-found Shia allies. Chief among them were Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath Party and Iraqi military veterans. As I kept saying at the time on major US TV networks, there was no al-Qaida and no nuclear weapons in Iraq. Thank George W. Bush for Iraq’s so-called al-Qaida.
Thanks to the magic of mass media manipulation, Washington was able to divert attention from all of the Sunni resistance groups – or “terrorists” as they were branded – to a single group of cutthroats led by a mysterious, renegade Jordanian, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The rest of the resistance groups simply vanished from our view.
A few have now resurfaced in western Iraq, notably the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Syria), or ISIS. It is always branded “al-Qaida linked” by western media, though no evidence is offered. Iraq’s increasingly brutal regime has also claimed it is fighting al-Qaida in Anbar Province.
Mention of the al-Qaida buzz-word has sent America’s conservative Republicans and neoconservatives into a frenzy. They are demanding that the Obama administration do something. Maybe re-invade Iraq? There are some 10,000 US combat troops just down the road in Kuwait.
US special forces, drone and manned aircraft, and CIA mercenaries are already in action around Fallujah and Ramadi. As in past years, CIA is paying millions to Sunni tribesmen to fight anti-government forces.
Crazy as it sounds, the US is considering buying attack helicopters from Russia to give to the Baghdad regime, as it is now doing in Afghanistan with the Kabul regime.
Speaking of Afghanistan, former Pentagon chief Leon Panetta admitted that there were no more than 25 to 50 al-Qaida members in Afghanistan. But now, al-Qaida has popped up in Pakistan, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, across North Africa, Nigeria, Mali, Central African Republic, and so on. Somalia’s anti-western resistance group, Shebab, is also branded “al-Qaida linked.”
Back in the Cold War, almost all groups opposing western domination were called communists. Today, al-Qaida has replaced communism as a hot button name. The widespread – but probably mistaken – belief that Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida was responsible for the 9/11 attacks has made anything “linked” to al-Qaida fair game for liquidation.
Branding your foes “terrorists” is a fine way of de-legitimizing them and denying them any political or humanitarian rights. Israel did this very effectively with the hapless Palestinians, who foolishly cooperated by bombing civilians.
However, the obvious problem here is that doing so creates an endless supply of “terrorists” and pressure to take action against them. That and oil are the reason US special forces are now beating the bush all over black Africa. It’s the never-ending “long war” that America’s militarist and neocon circles want, and against which President Dwight Eisenhower so presciently warned back in the 1950’s.
Egypt offers another grim example of propaganda becoming fact. The majority of its people who voted for a democratic government in a fair election and its leaders are now condemned as “terrorists” by the thuggish generals who overthrew the legitimate government in Cairo. Anyone daring to oppose the US and Saudi-backed military junta is a “terrorist.” They must drive terrorist cars, eat terrorist food, and have terrorist babies."

How Ariel Sharon Shaped Israel’s Destiny

by Max Blumenthal From 2014

A central player in Israeli affairs since the state’s inception, Ariel Sharon molded history according to his own stark vision. He won consent for his plans through ruthlessness and guile, and resorted to force when he could not find any. An accused war criminal who presided over the killing of thousands of civilians, his foes referred to him as “The Bulldozer.” To those who revered him as a strong-armed protector and patron saint of the settlements, he was “The King of Israel.” In a life acted out in three parts, Sharon destroyed entire cities, wasted countless lives and sabotaged careers to shape the reality on the ground.
The first act of Sharon’s career began after the 1948 war that established Israel at the expense of 750,000 Palestinians who were driven away in a campaign of mass expulsion. Badly wounded in the battle of Latrun, where the Israeli army suffered a bitter defeat at the hands of the Royal Jordanian Army, Sharon momentarily retired from army life. He looked back in anger at the failure to take Latrun, a strategic swath of land containing three Palestinian towns seemingly obstructing the new Jewish state’s demographic continuity. Spineless politicians and feckless commanders had tied the hands of Israel’s troops, he claimed, leaving the Jewish state exposed from within. Sharon yearned to finish 1948—to complete the expulsion project he viewed as deficient.
In 1953, Sharon was plucked out of retirement by Prime Minister David Ben Gurion and appointed the head of a secret commando unit tasked with carrying out brutal acts of reprisal and sabotage. Following a lethal Palestinian assault on an Israeli kibbutz, Sharon led his men into the West Bank town of Qibya with orders from Ben Gurion’s Central Command to “carry out destruction and cause maximum damage.” By the time they were done, sixty-nine civilians—mostly Palestinian women and children—lay dead.
In the years after that scandal, Sharon carried out bloody raids on Egyptian and Syrian territory that inflamed relations with Israel’s neighbors and led them to seek urgent military assistance from the Soviet Union. In the 1956 Sinai Campaign, Sharon was accused by one of his commanders, Arye Biro, of overseeing the massacre of forty-nine Egyptian quarry workers who had been taken prisoner and had no role in the fighting (official censorship kept the details from the public for decades). In the 1967 Six Day War, Sharon ran up the body count on encircled Egyptian tank units, converting unprecedented kill ratios into national fame. With the Gaza Strip now under Israeli control, Sharon orchestrated the razing of Palestinian citrus orchards to make way for Jewish colonization.
Though set on a rightward political trajectory, Sharon owed his fortunes to the icons of Labor Zionism. His original patron, Ben Gurion, and the younger warrior-politician Moshe Dayan, constantly shuffled him up the ranks of the military hierarchy, despite a clear pattern of scandalously insubordinate behavior. His first cabinet-level post was an abbreviated stint in the 1970s government of Yitzhak Rabin, the quintessential Laborite, who imagined Sharon leading a reorganization of the army following the disaster of the 1973 war. But it was in the Likud-led 1977 coalition of Menachem Begin that Sharon was finally able to translate his influence into history-altering policies.
Against fierce Palestinian resistance, one of the Middle East’s most vital and cosmopolitan cities was laid to ruin. Sharon’s forces flattened West Beirut with indiscriminate shelling, leaving streets strewn with unburied corpses. With each passing day, disease and famine spread at epidemic levels. In August, the day after the Israeli cabinet accepted US special envoy Philip Habib’s proposal for the evacuation of the PLO, Sharon’s forces bombarded Beirut for seven hours straight, leaving 300 dead, most of them civilians. The Israeli sociologist Baruch Kimmerling wrote that the raid “resembled the attack on Dresden by the Allies toward the end of World War II.” Sharon even requested an additional paratrooper brigade to obliterate the PLO forces besieged in the city, earning a rare rebuke from Begin, who worried that his defense minister would completely destroy Habib’s efforts to resolve the crisis.

Israel boycott growing “much faster” than South Africa campaign, says Omar Barghouti

Submitted by Ali Abunimah on Fri, 01/10/2014 
Omar Barghouti (Intal/Flickr)

Boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement co-founder Omar Barghouti was in Chicago this week to speak on a panel on academic boycotts at the Modern Language Association (MLA) conference.
He also spoke to Jerome McDonnell on WBEZ’s Worldview (use the player above to listen).


An MLA meeting would not normally make headlines but Barghouti’s appearance has provoked alarmist articles in the Israeli and US media, including in Haaretz and The Wall Street Journal.
Following the American Studies Association’s (ASA) landslide vote to endorse the academic boycott of Israel in December, Israel and its supporters fear that the much larger MLA – with 30,000 members in 100 countries – is heading in the same direction.
No boycott resolution is currently on the MLA’s agenda, but there is a resolution on academic freedom in the occupied territories which is seen by some as a trial balloon.


Barghouti dismissed complaints from Israel supporters that the MLA panel lacked “balance.”
While there were a range of views represented, Barghouti said organizers were not required to host opponents of their views.
“For example, if you’re having a panel on rape, you’re not required to have a rapist or somebody who supports rape to counter those who oppose rape but have different views about opposing rape,” Barghouti told WBEZ.
Barghouti also detailed Israel’s systematic attacks on Palestinian academic freedom and education including the total shut down of all schools and universities during the first intifada in the late 1980s and Israel’s bombing of schools and universities in Gaza five years ago.
BDS is about opposing a comprehensive Israeli “system of racial discrimination,” Barghouti explained.

“Warm news”

Barghouti lauded the decision announced this week by PGGM, a $200-billion-dollar Dutch pensions firm, to divest from Israeli banks due to their involvement in Israel’s illegal colony construction in the occupied West Bank.
He called the PGGM decision “warm news” in the “very cold weather of Chicago” and noted that it was “unprecedented” in its scope since the pensions giant divested from all Israeli banks, not just their operations within the occupied West Bank.


Barghouti also responded to the statements by several dozen university presidents condemning the ASA boycott of Israeli academic institutions.
“BDS is a grassroots movement. We do not expect presidents of universities in the United States – who are closer to CEOs than to real presidents in an academic sense,” to endorse it, Barghouti said.
“Their main function is fundraising and they see BDS as hurting their fundraising and thus the automatic support for Israel right or wrong plus the omission of Palestinians, including Palestinian academic freedom.”
“We rely on the fast-growing movement among academics, among students on campus. Israel is very aware and so are we about the growth of BDS on US campuses. So the fact that they gathered eighty presidents of universities to defend Israel and attack the BDS movement is no surprise to us because most of those presidents were against divestment from South Africa. The tide changed.”
Barghouti said that progress in the BDS movement against Israel was “much faster” than the progress made by the campaign against apartheid South Africa when he was a student in the United States in the 1980s.

Al-Jazeera Video: حديث الثورة.. الموت جوعا بمخيم اليرموك.. مسؤولية من؟

تناولت الحلقة أوضاع اللاجئين في مخيم اليرموك، وتدهور الحالة الإنسانية وانتشار صور المحتضرين والموتى بسبب الحصار المطبق عليه.
تقديم: الحبيب الغريبي
الضيوف:ديبة فخر، شريف بسيوني، هيثم السباهي، بشار الزعبي

Journalism in Egypt, by Khalil Bendib

1-6-Pens-Galore.jpg (600×457)

Ariel Sharon, The Butcher of Sabra and Shatila dies, by Carlos Latuff

Death of Ariel Sharon

Al-Qaeda has no future in the Arab world

January 11, 2014 12:15 AM
By Rami G. Khouri

"Many people in the Middle East and abroad are rightly concerned about the rise and impact of hard-line Salafist-takfiri Islamist groups that have recently proliferated and controlled territory in Iraq and Syria. Groups like the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), the Nusra Front, and many other smaller ones represent perhaps the fastest growing ideological sector in the region – in some cases attracting tens of thousands of adherents. There are real reasons to be concerned by their behavior, from their beheading and torture of opponents to their imposition of draconian social norms. Yet we should not exaggerate their long-term prospects. I suspect these are essentially short-term phenomena that have no place in a future Middle East, because they are essentially gangs of losers: deeply alienated young men who can only try to establish their fantasy lands of pure Islamic values in areas that have experienced a total breakdown of order, governance, services and security.
These transitional movements have no possibility to control significant territory and set up their own self-contained statelets, principalities or emirates for extended periods, because they have no natural support in society and only operate where they can take advantage of lawlessness and fear. They can do plenty of damage in the short run, because of their ability to stoke sectarian conflict across the Middle East, shatter people’s lives and development, kill and main thousands, and provide scores of recruits with training and battle experience that can later be used to carry out terror operations around the world. But as political movements they are total failures, which is why they can only operate by the gun.
Al-Qaeda itself and its offshoots have tried for decades to mobilize popular support across the Arab world, playing on the same grievances (Palestine, corruption, foreign aggressions, domestic injustices and disparities) that have brought millions of adherents to other, nonviolent and locally anchored Islamist movements such the Muslim Brotherhood or the Nour movement in Egypt. ISIS and other Al-Qaeda-like groups have totally and repeatedly failed the test of popular legitimacy. They have never achieved any anchorage because their violent, oppressive operating methods are deeply repulsive and alien to the overwhelming majority of Arab men and women. So we see their presence only in ravaged lands, zones of chaos and ungoverned areas, in places such as Afghanistan, Pakistan’s border areas, rural Yemen, Somalia, Mali and parts of Libya, Gaza, Syria, Iraq and Lebanon where governance and order are weak or nonexistent. In the short term, groups such as ISIS can control small patches of land by stabilizing security situations and providing basic services such as food and medical care, allowing them to impose their brand of harsh justice. The populations under their control appreciate the provision of basic human needs, because they do not want to live under the law of the jungle. But neither do they want to live permanently under Salafist-takfiri rule. Yet they are helpless to speak out against or resist the militants who impose their rule by the gun.
When normal Arab men and women have the opportunity to push back against these abnormal movements, they do so with enthusiasm, as we are witnessing today in the backlash against them that is taking places in parts of northern Syria and western Iraq. A combination of organized but less fanatical Islamists and indigenous armed tribesmen has fought to evict ISIS from some of the areas it recently took over. In parts of Iraq this battle against the extremists has been coordinated with the state’s security agencies. This is a clear sign of things to come elsewhere, and is no surprise.
While movements like ISIS, the Nusra Front and others have no long-term future in our region, they can hang around and control populations for some time, because the chaotic conditions necessary for their existence are widely provided by two related phenomena: the incompetence, cruelty, violence and corruption of prevailing Arab regimes, and the occasional act of criminal military invasion or occupation by Israeli, American, British, Russian and other foreign powers. These conditions annually allow for the recruitment of tens of thousands of disillusioned, alienated and directionless young men, in the same manner that their counterparts in the West in recent decades have joined violent gangs, bizarre religious cults, or fringe drug communities.
Salafist-takfiri groups are a passing symptom of our countries’ problems and deficiencies, not a harbinger of our future. They can be partly contained by military action in the short run, but in the long run they can only be countered by better governance and more equitable socio-economic development and citizen rights. These remain elusive in most Arab countries, and so the Salafist-takfiri extremists hang around, like vultures living off the carcasses of Arab dignity and human decency."

Friday, January 10, 2014

I helped destroy Falluja in 2004. I won't be complicit again

The media accepts the overly simple narrative that al-Qaida took over. The reality is Maliki is crushing dissent with US-made arms

Members of Albu Alwan tribe protest against the military operation in Fallujahcity, western Iraq. Photograph: Mohammed Jalil/EPA
"I am having flashbacks to my time as a Marine during the 2nd siege of Falluja in 2004. Again it is claimed that al-Qaida has taken over the city and that a heavy-handed military response is needed to take the city back from the control of terrorists.
The first time around, this claim proved to be false. The vast majority of the men we fought against in Falluja were locals, unaffiliated with al-Qaida, who were trying to expel the foreign occupiers from their country. There was a presence of al-Qaida in the city, but they played a minimal and marginal role in the fighting. The stories about Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the alleged leader of al-Qaida in Iraq who was said to be recruiting an army in Falluja, were wildly exaggerated. There is no evidence that Zarqawi ever even set foot in Falluja.
This week, the Iraqi Ministry of Interior's assertion that al-Qaida's affiliate, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, has taken over half of Falluja is being parroted as a headline by almost every major media network. But again, it appears that the role of al-Qaida in Falluja is being exaggerated and used as a justification for a military assault on the city.
The violence began just over a week ago, when Iraqi security forces disbursed a protest camp in Falluja and arrested a politician who had been friendly to the protestors goals. This camp was part of a nonviolent protest movement – which took place mostly in Sunni cities, but was also receiving some support from the Shia community – that began a year ago. Iraqi security forces have attacked protestors in Falluja and other Sunni cities on several occasions, the most egregious example taking place in Hawija when over 50 protestors were killed.
One of the results of the US occupation was that Sunnis came out of it feeling like a targeted community, with Falluja being more marginalized than most Sunni cities because of its history as a center of resistance. These feelings have only been exacerbated over the past year of protest and government repression.
The Iraqi government's recent actions in Falluja turned the nonviolent movement violent. When the protest camp in Falluja was cleared, many of the protestors picked up arms and began fighting to expel the state security forces from their city. It was local, tribal people – people not affiliated with transnational jihadist movements – who have taken the lead in this fight against the Iraqi government.
However, it is being reported that Falluja has "fallen", that it was "captured" by ISIS, who has now raised their flag over the city, declaring Falluja an Islamic emirate. The Iraqi Ministry of Interior's claim that half of Falluja is controlled by ISIS has been accepted as fact and has framed all discussion of these events.
Feurat Alani, a French-Iraqi journalist with family ties in Falluja, has reported that ISIS is not playing a significant role in the fighting in Falluja. Much has been said and written about ISIS raising their flag over a building in Falluja. This has been taken to be a sign of their power in the city. But Alani told me:
They took the flag down five minutes later when ordered to by tribal leaders. This shows that the tribes control Falluja.
Already over 100 civilians have been killed in this violence, violence that has been facilitated by US weapons. The Independent reported that Iraqi security forces are bombing Falluja with Hellfire missiles sold to them by the US. But the US has supplied the Iraqi state with far more than this single weapon system. Recently, Congress has shown some reluctance to continue arms trade with the Maliki government, for fear that it would use the weapons for internal repression, a fear that appears to have some justification.
It is being reported that Falluja has fallen, but the voices from inside Falluja insist that their city is standing up, once again. Undoubtedly, Fallujans are being harmed because of how the outside world perceives their struggle. Too much of the world has been satisfied with the overly simple narrative of al-Qaida capturing Falluja (twice) and government forces battling for freedom and security.
As Falluja relives a nightmare, once inflicted by my own hand, I find myself in a very different position from before. Today, I hope I can say that I am somewhat wiser, more responsible, more morally engaged than I was when I helped destroy Falluja in 2004. This time around, I cannot sit back and do nothing as the unreliable and self-serving claims of the government get reported without question and are repeated until they become conventional wisdom. I cannot just watch as Fallujans are again forced to flee from their homes, and as their bodies are again shredded by weapons made in my homeland. I do not want to feel complicit in their suffering anymore."

Incitement against Palestine: Israel Not Ready to Give up ‘Villa in the Jungle’

By Jonathan Cook – Nazareth

"US Secretary of State John Kerry spent last week testing the waters with Israelis and Palestinians over his so-called framework agreement – designed to close the gaps between the two sides. But the issues he is trying to resolve appear more intractable by the day.
As he headed to the region, Israel’s hawkish cabinet ministers gave their blessing to legislation to annex the Jordan Valley, a large swath of the West Bank that might otherwise be the Palestinian state’s economic backbone and gateway to the outside world.
To underscore their point, the interior minister, Gideon Saar, a close friend of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, led a group of rightwing politicians on a tour of the valley during which they held a dedication ceremony for a new settlement neighborhood.
In a speech there, the deputy foreign minister, Zeev Elkin, averred that the Jordan Valley must remain under “Israeli sovereignty forever”. Without it, Israel would return to what he called the “Auschwitz borders” before the 1967 occupation began.
On Sunday, as Kerry left, the defense minister, Moshe Yaalon, added a new condition: peace was impossible, he argued, as long as the Palestinians and their schoolbooks “incited” against Israel, even quoting from a government-compiled “Palestinian incitement index”.
The hyperbole overshadowed two Israeli surveys that might one day provide a yardstick by which to judge an equivalent “Israeli incitement index”.
An opinion poll revealed that nearly two-thirds of Israeli Jews believe the conflict’s Palestinian narrative – including the Nakba, the great dispossession of the Palestinians in 1948 to create Israel – should be taught in schools.
This flies in the face of Netanyahu’s own view. His government passed a law in 2011 effectively banning public institutions from giving a platform to Nakba commemorations.
The other study, following an experiment in a handful of schools, demonstrated that, when Jewish students are exposed to spoken Arabic at an early age, between 10 and 12, they hold dramatically less hostile and stereotypical views of Arabs. Currently, many Jewish students never learn Arabic.
With the experimental program employing teachers from Israel’s large Palestinian minority, the study noted that for most of the Jewish children it was the first time they had developed a close relationship with an Arab.
The education ministry, however, was reported to have waved aside the findings and is apparently failing to fund the existing, small program, let alone expand it.
This is no oversight. Successive Israeli governments have carefully engineered the structure of Israeli society to ensure that Jewish and Palestinian citizens, the latter comprising a fifth of the population, are kept in separate linguistic, cultural, educational and emotional worlds.
The reasoning is not hard to discern. The last thing Israeli leaders want is for Jewish and Palestinian citizens to develop shared interests, forge friendships and act in solidarity. That would start to erode the rationale for a Jewish state, especially one premised on the supposed need of the Jews to defend themselves from a hostile world – “the villa in the jungle”, as former prime minister Ehud Barak once characterized Israel.
In short, a Jewish state’s future precisely depends on the anti-Arab stereotypes inculcated in young Israeli minds.
It may not therefore be coincidental that, as Israel has faced increasing pressure over the past 20 years to make peace, the separation of Jews from Palestinians has entrenched.
Today most Israeli Jews rarely meet a Palestinian, and especially not one from the West Bank or Gaza. It is easy to forget that before the 1993 Oslo accords, many Israeli Jews regularly ventured into Palestinian areas, to shop, eat and fix their cars. Palestinians, meanwhile, were evident in Israeli communities, even if only as builders or waiters.
It may have been a very unequal, even colonial encounter, but nonetheless it made it hard for Israelis to demonize their neighbors.
Such contacts are now a distant memory. And that is precisely how leaders like Netanyahu want to keep it.
Inside Israel, the direction of policy is the same. In recent weeks, the government has insisted on raising the electoral threshold in a barely concealed effort to rid the parliament of Arab parties. Legislation is also being revived to tax into oblivion human rights organizations, those that give a voice to Palestinians in Israel and the occupied territories.
Last weekend Avigdor Lieberman, the foreign minister, argued that a peace agreement must include disappearing hundreds of thousands of Palestinian citizens by transferring their homes to a future, very circumscribed Palestinian state.
Palestinian legislator Ahmed Tibi’s complaint that Palestinian citizens were viewed by Israel’s leaders as nothing more than “chess pieces” goes to the heart of the matter. It is easy to dehumanize those you know and care little about.
Israel’s separation policy – and its security justifications – requires not only that Jews and Palestinians be kept apart, but that Palestinians be confined to a series of discrete ghettos, whether in the West Bank, Jerusalem, Gaza or Israel.
These divisions are the cause of endless suffering. A recent study of Gaza, the most isolated of these ghettos, found that a third of Palestinians there were physically separated from a close relative. Israeli-imposed restrictions force Palestinians to forgo marriages, learn of relatives’ deaths from afar, miss college courses, and lose the chance for medical treatment.
The prioritizing of Israelis’ security over Palestinians’ freedom was a central weakness of the Oslo process, and the same skewed agenda pollutes the current peace talks.
In a commentary for the Haaretz newspaper last week, a leading general, Gadi Shamni, set out at length the many military reasons – quite apart from political ones – why Israel could never risk allowing the Palestinians a viable state. On the army’s best assessments, he argued, Israel would need to control such a state’s borders and much of its territory, including the Jordan Valley, for a period ranging “from 40 years to forever”.
The reality is that no arrangement on earth can guarantee protection for those in the villa from the beasts lurking outside. Either it is time to abandon the villa, or to start seeing the jungle as a forest to be explored.

Current Al-Jazeera (Arabic) Online Poll

Do you support participating in the referendum on the new Egyptian constitution?

So far, 88% have voted no.

I'm no traitor, says Wael Ghonim as Egypt regime targets secular activists

Wael Ghonim, who created the Facebook page We Are All Khaled Said
Wael Ghonim, who created the Facebook page We Are All Khaled Said, has had his private phone conversations aired by al-Kahera Wal Nas TV. Photo: Ahmed Naguib
Figurehead of 2011 uprising, now in exile, defends himself as pro-regime TV channel claims he used revolution for own gain
"One of the figureheads of Egypt's 2011 uprising says he is staying away from the country "as Egypt no longer welcomes those who are like me".
Wael Ghonim's statement comes amid claims by fellow activists that Egypt's government has returned to the authoritarianism of the pre-2011 era.
Ghonim – who is now based in the United Arab Emirates – first rose to global prominence during demonstrations that led to the fall of formerdictator Hosni Mubarak in February 2011. The founder of a popular Facebook group that criticised Egyptian police brutality, Ghonim used his considerable following on the social media site to promote the protests.
His activism led to an 11-day spell in police custody during the uprising, and despite his protestations, Ghonim subsequently became a poster boy for the revolution, both in and outside Egypt. Among many other plaudits he was one of Time magazine's 100 people of the year.
Three years on, Ghonim once again appears to be an enemy of the establishment, targeted alongside other activists in recent days by a pro-regime television channel, al-Kahera Wal Nas. In a bid to discredit him and the 2011 uprising, the channel aired some of Ghonim's private telephone conversations earlier this month. A presenter claimed the conversations demonstrated that Ghonim had used the revolution for his own gain.
In his first public statement in over six months, Ghonim returned to Facebook this week to condemn the broadcast, which he said "violated the laws and constitutions of any country in the world".
He added: "I have never been a traitor to my country, nor excessive in my principles, nor contrary to law", and said that he would be prepared to return to Egypt to defend his name should any charges be brought against him. Ghonim declined to comment further to the Guardian.
Ghonim is the latest 2011 figurehead to be targeted in recent months, as a crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood supporters of ex-presidentMohamed Morsi spread even to those secular activists who called for Morsi's overthrow last July. Ahmed Maher, Alaa Abd el-Fatah and Ahmed Douma – all high-profile activists targeted under both Mubarak and Morsi – are among hundreds of other secular and Islamist campaigners now in jail, after being convicted of breaking a new law that rights groups say severely curbs the right to protest. Eighty-seven Brotherhood supporters were jailed for three years each on Thursday, in the latest and largest round of sentencing. Journalists have also been targeted, with three al-Jazeera journalists – including an award-winning Australian broadcaster, Peter Greste – still detained after being arrested in late December.
The developments have led many leading members of the 2011 protests to express their despair at the situation. Mohamed Hashem, the head of Egypt's leading progressive publishing house, and a hero to revolutionaries, threatened to leave Egypt last year after giving up hope about the political situation. "The revolution came out of a big dream – but it wasn't this," Hashem told the Guardian at the time.
But the revolutionaries' desperation is not necessarily shared by large sections of the population, exhausted by the three years of economic and political chaos that have followed Mubarak's fall. Many may welcome a return to strong and strict governance if it comes hand in hand with economic stability – and argue that next week's referendum on a new constitution is the dawn of a new era.
Ahmad Sarhan, a spokesman for the National Movement party – headed by Mubarak's last prime minister, Ahmed Shafik – said the constitution was the first step towards turning Egypt into a modern, democratic state that enshrined the freedom of every Egyptian, including Wael Ghonim. "I don't think that's a fair narrative," said Sarhan, when asked whether the jailing of activists contradicted the goals of the 2011 uprising. "Just because a few of them committed some kind of unlawful actions, it doesn't mean it's a trend.
"The new constitution is a new start for Egypt," he argued. "It guarantees the right for Wael Ghonim and anyone to find the place they want."

Thursday, January 9, 2014

As U.S. Rushes Weapons to Iraq, New Assault on Fallujah Threatens Explosion of Sectarian Conflict

Democracy Now!

"Iraqi forces have surrounded Fallujah in preparation for a potential assault to retake the city from Sunni militants who have also seized parts of Ramadi. Thousands of Fallujah residents have fled to avoid being trapped in the crossfire. This comes as the United States is ramping up its delivery of hellfire missiles and surveillance drones as part of a "holistic" strategy to oust the militant group known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant. We speak to two guests: Feurat Alani, a French-Iraqi journalist who was based in Baghdad from 2003 to 2008 and has made several documentaries including, "Roadtrip Iraq" and "Fallujah: A Lost Generation?"; and Peter Van Buren, a 24-year State Department veteran who served in Iraq and later wrote a book critical of U.S. policy there titled, "We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People." Van Buren faced dismissal after criticizing U.S. reconstruction efforts in Iraq......"

They mourn the negotiations, continue the negotiations, and then make ironic threats

Yassir Al Zaatara

Yassir Al Zaatara"Every other day, it seems, figures from the group who believe that "life is negotiations" mourn the current negotiation process; they sometimes get upset and resign; at other times they analyse or complain, but the result is always the same. They continue to negotiate and, more importantly, when they make threats, they are made more in irony than anything else.
The most recent mourner of the negotiations (as many times before) is the chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat. He spoke out after the Israeli Ministerial Council decided to pass laws annexing the Jordan Valley so that it will be non-negotiable. However, this does not mean that the talks have reached an impasse, as it could be a tactical manoeuvre. In any case, we all know that the valley is already outside the context of the current negotiations because what is currently being proposed is a transitional agreement for a statelet consisting of what is left of the West Bank; the Apartheid Wall has taken over a large part of it and the fate of the Jordan Valley is being left for the "final status" negotiations.
The PA abstained from negotiations for a long time and I appreciate that such abstinence was difficult as negotiations are needed for the continuation of life. However, the authority went back to talks with the Israelis even though the latter did not stop settlement expansion. The PA also celebrated the release of 104 Palestinian prisoners as a form of incentive, even though this was in exchange for more settlement projects to satisfy the Zionist right-wing; in the meantime, the Judaisation of Jerusalem and the holy sites continues unabated.
I am concerned by the threats made by the chief negotiator in the event that the negotiations continue to fail; the threat to resort to international organisations with the help of Arab parties looks fine on paper but I do not know what good it will do. After all, there are many international resolutions that consider Israel's presence in the territories occupied in 1967 to be illegal. There is also a clear and explicit decision issued by the International Court of Justice in The Hague, which can be considered more important than international resolutions, but this has not changed anything.
Does Saeb Erekat want a Palestinian member state in the United Nations after having achieved non-member observer state status? This is what we gather from the context of his threat, which raises an important question: is this the most that Netanyahu can be threatened with? Were the leaders of the PLO oblivious to this great approach that can destroy the occupation before Mahmoud Abbas took office?
They want to preserve what they have been doing, whether or not it reaches a solution, as they believe that what they are doing is a great achievement that cannot be compromised no matter what. They are also making agreements with the Israelis, such as the most recent water agreement, and are making investments and acting as if they are a fully-functioning state, not lacking in anything.
The Israelis are aware of this, and they are neither afraid of the PA and its leaders nor their threats. Anyone not threatening to end security coordination with the Israeli occupation will not threaten anything more important than that. However, the occupation authorities are afraid of the ordinary people and, therefore, the PA and the Israeli government ally themselves to confront concerns about a new Intifada, which would turn the tables on both.
The word resistance does not exist in Saeb Erekat's lexicon, nor does it exist in his president's. Even the story of popular resistance is no longer mentioned in any meaningful context. Everyone around the table has realised that they are not in favour of any resistance, neither popular nor armed.
Oddly enough, and what upsets me even more, is that despite all of this, you find people who love Palestine but continue to praise the current leadership, defend it and pledge loyalty to it even though they realise where this government is leading them. There will either be a miserable final status agreement, creating a new dilemma along the lines of the Oslo Accords as a result of the secret negotiations currently taking place in London, or a transitional solution, such as the one proposed by Kerry. Claims that we will not have to make concessions are nonsense, especially if we recall what the same negotiators, including Erekat, gave up, which was documented in the negotiation papers; the only thing we got in return was Tzipi Livni's disdain.
All we can do is count on the great people who have always achieved miracles. They alone can turn this bad situation around, but when? No one knows the answer, but I have high hopes.
This is a translation of the Arabic text published by Ad Dustour on 6 January, 2014 

Military Prepares a General’s Constitution

By Cam McGrath

A new constitution is poised to cement the Egyptian military's powers. Credit: Cam McGrath/IPS.
A new constitution is poised to cement the Egyptian military's powers. Credit: Cam McGrath/IPS.
"CAIRO, Jan 9 2014 (IPS) - A draft constitution set to go before a public referendum next week gives the military more privileges, enshrining its place as Egypt’s most powerful institution and placing it above the state.
The new text, set to replace the constitution drawn up in 2012 under Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, has stoked fears that Egypt’s military leadership is pushing to consolidate its power and protect its political and economic interests.
“The powers conferred to the army (in the draft constitution) lay the foundation for a military dictatorship,” warns Tharwat Badawi, professor of constitutional law at Cairo University.
“The powers conferred to the army lay the foundation for a military dictatorship."
The new charter was drawn up by a 50-member committee appointed by the military-installed government that has ruled since the army ousted Morsi in July 2013.
The document is seen as an improvement over the constitution passed under Morsi’s Islamist majority, which was widely criticised for its emphasis on Islamic law and curbs on personal freedoms. But legal experts have expressed concern over articles that diminish the role of representative government.
“If passed, the elected president and parliament would have no real authority over the military, which would in effect become a state unto itself,” Badawi told IPS.
Under the new constitution, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) holds final authority over the selection of the country’s defence minister. Badawi says the article will strip the elected president of the right to choose a defence minister, putting the military above any effective civilian oversight.
“By this way the military will not be accountable to the head of state, or the people,” says Badawi. “And this is very dangerous.”
Critics say Egypt’s military has repeatedly trampled rights and thwarted democratic change since the popular uprising that toppled the authoritarian regime of former president Hosni Mubarak three years ago. The new charter could serve to further insulate the armed forces from challenges by revolutionary activists and elected officials.
Rights watchdogs were disappointed to discover that an article upholds the widely condemned practice of trying civilians in military courts. At least 12,000 civilians were arrested and tried without due process in military courts in the months following the 2011 uprising.
Ahmed Maher, leader of the April 6 Youth Movement, denounced the article on military trials, calling its inclusion “treason” on the part of the 50-person drafting committee.
“Those who support military trials [of civilians] and forgot what happened in 2011 have sold their conscience and followed personal interests,” he wrote on his Facebook account.
Maher was sentenced last month to three years’ hard labour for organising an unauthorised protest against the committee’s attempt to enshrine military trials of civilians in the constitution. He was among the first to be incarcerated under a new law passed by the military-installed interim government that requires protesters to seek permission to hold public demonstrations.
As a concession to rights campaigners, the draft constitution is more limiting than previous charters on the types of cases for which civilians could find themselves before a military court. But it still allows the military judiciary to preside over disputes between civilians and army personnel in ‘military zones’.
“In Egypt, the military is so deeply entrenched that just about anywhere can be considered a military zone,” says Badawi.
The new charter fails to ensure any level of transparency for the military’s economic activities. According to the text, the budget of the armed forces will not be subject to parliamentary supervision, placing its allocations and expenditures at the sole discretion of the military leadership.
The same clauses shield the Egyptian military’s vast economic empire, estimated to account for between 10 and 40 percent of the economy. Military-owned companies engaged in everything from construction to macaroni production enjoy the benefits of free land, full tax exemption, conscript labour, and no obligation to report their balance sheets.
“Given the degree to which the military has penetrated the state, the state is more or less at its service,” says Robert Springborg, an expert on Egyptian military affairs. “The (armed forces) has access to state resources without any oversight or accountability.”
This appears unlikely to change. Egypt’s army has grown in popularity since removing President Morsi and cracking down on his supporters in the Muslim Brotherhood. Analysts say it would be extremely difficult for anyone to challenge the powers granted to the armed forces in the new constitution.
Mohamed Mousa, a prominent member of the Al Dostour (Constitution) Party, says it is unfortunate, but the upcoming referendum is seen more as a vote of support on the July 2013 coup than on the constitution itself.
Egyptians who denounce military rule are still likely to vote in favour of the draft constitution, viewing a nod to pass the new charter as a strike against Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood.
“We have concerns about the draft constitution, especially on some of the articles addressing military trials of civilians and the powers of the army,” says Mousa. “However, we are trying to deal with it as a package, and find it acceptable overall.”