Wednesday, April 17, 2019

The second Arab Spring? Egypt is the litmus test for revolution in the Middle East


By David Hearst


It was in Egypt that the first wave of the Arab Spring was crushed. So too will it be in Egypt that the dictatorship which followed will die

Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (L) talks to Sudan's former President Omar al-Bashir (Reuters)
In a breathless 48 hours, a president, defence minister and security chief have all been ousted in Sudan. 
Omar al-Bashir held absolute power for three decades as president. Awad Ahmed Ibn Auf, the defence minister who announced Bashir’s arrest and declared the country would be run by a military council for two years, lasted all of 24 hours.
Salah Gosh, whom I revealed had talked to Yossi Cohen, the head of Mossad, at the Munich Security Conference in February, after being lined up by the Saudis, Emiratis and Egyptians as the future ruler, went soon after.

A lesson learnt

The uprising is delicately poised. Unlike the 25 January revolution in Egypt in 2011, Al Jazeera is not in the front line. Access to the internet has been restricted for months, and newspapers have been censored.
The international media is absent.
The only record of mass demonstrations, which remained on the streets for nearly four months, has been taken by the mobile phones of activists. Women have taken a leading role in the protests. 
A sit-in outside the defence ministry in Khartoum is set to continue until a civilian transitional council is formed. Few trust the new faces on the military that continues in power. 
The Sudanese protesters appeared to have learned the lessons from Egypt’s failure in 2011
Thus far, the Sudanese protesters appeared to have learned the lessons from Egypt’s failure in 2011. They have stopped chanting that "the people and the army are one", because often they are not.
They don’t trust senior figures in the army or anyone in the old regime to deliver a new one, and nor should they. They are not looking to the outside world for support, because they realise they are on their own.

Why are Sudanese protesting against their government?

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A similar dogged determination not to be blown off course is also apparent in Algeria.
Hundreds of thousands of protesters continue to demand the prosecution of  "le Pouvoir" (the power) and do not trust Abdelkader Bensalah, the head of the upper house and interim president, to deliver it to them.
Bensalah is in power until elections scheduled for 4 July. The army leader General Ahmed Gaid Salah has turned overnight from a loyal supporter to Bouteflika of 15 years to a man who claims he will guarantee "transparency and integrity" in the forthcoming election.
An Algerian man marches with a sign against the "3B" (Interim leader Abdelakder Bensalah, constitutional council chief Tayeb Belaiz and Prime Minister Noureddine Bedoui)in the city of Oran on 9 April (AFP)
An Algerian man marches with a sign against the "3B" (Interim leader Abdelakder Bensalah, constitutional council chief Tayeb Belaiz and Prime Minister Noureddine Bedoui) in Oran on 9 April (AFP)
The arrest of 180 people on Friday after clashes with "infiltrators" says otherwise.
Still, protesters in both Sudan and Algeria appear to have learned important lessons from the first wave of the Arab Spring in 2011. 

Arab Spring redux

The first is that the Arab Spring did not "die" either in Egypt, when over a thousand were massacred on one day in Cairo in Rabaa Square in August 2013, or in the civil war in Syria, which began, it must be remembered, with unarmed protesters in Daraa.
The embers of popular revolt stayed alight, despite all the Gulf money poured into repressing it
The embers of popular revolt stayed alight - despite all the Gulf money poured into repressing it, labelling the protesters as terrorists; despite the mass arrests, the deaths in prison, the torture and suffering.
Why? Because the causes of that revolt for a youthful population have, if anything, intensified - unemployment, corruption and repression. 
The second is that protesters are paying no heed to those who tell them that they are not ready for democracy and that if they don’t accept the crumbs they are given, their country’s fate would resemble Syria’s, Yemen’s or Libya’s. 
They continue to cry for political freedom in the same way that their brothers and sisters did in Tahrir Square. They are young, they are fearless and they will not be fobbed off with fake messages of support.
The third is that popular uprising is just as infectious and transnational as it was eight years ago. If tiny Tunisia could provide the spark for a much greater revolt in Egypt, what could events in Sudan and Algeria lead to?

Same old, same old

No such lessons appeared to have been learned by the counter-revolutionary dictators installed on or after 2013. 
The legislative committee of the Egyptian parliament, dominated by supporters of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, will vote on Tuesday to extend the dictator’s current term by two more years, and to allow him to run for one more six-year term.
Almost every Egyptian political faction, from Islamist to secular, realise that Egypt can not continue as it is
A new constitution could be drafted allowing Sisi to extend his term beyond 2030.
The prospect of Sisi carrying on in power for the next two decades appals most Egyptians. If popular opinion could be expressed in Egypt without fear of arrest, disappearance or murder, they would be overwhelmingly against it.
An online petition called Batel or "void" in Arabic has attracted over 250,000 votes despite a gargantuan effort by Egyptian and Sudanese service providers to block the website.
Netblocks, a civil society group mapping web freedom, discovered that internet providers in Egypt blocked access to an estimated 34,000 internet domains to stamp out the opposition campaign against the constitutional amendments.
A police officer stands guard as defendants accused of involvement in the 2015 assassination of Egypt's top prosecutor on 17 June, 2015 (Reuters)
A police officer stands guard as defendants accused of involvement in the 2015 assassination of Egypt's top prosecutor on 17 June 2015 (REUTERS)
The collateral damage of this attempt to block an alternative political voice was enormous. "Websites and subdomains unreachable via Telecom Egypt, Raya, Vodafone and Orange include prominent technology startups, self-help websites, celebrity homepages, dozens of open source technology projects, as well as Bahai, Jewish and Islamic faith group websites and NGOs," Netblock reported.
Sisi’s regime is behaving like a frightened little rabbit.
The creators of the website range from two former ministers in Mohamed Morsi’s government to the two Egyptian actors who cheered his overthrow as president in 2013.
Almost every Egyptian political faction, from Islamist to secular, is represented in between. All realise, from very different political backgrounds, that Egypt cannot continue as it is.

Absolute power

Meanwhile Sisi’s alter ego in Libya, General Khalifa Haftar, is continuing his military offensive on Tripoli which has so far killed 121 and wounded 561 in his bid for absolute power. 
Is Libya entering another civil war?
Read More »
A picture of the self-appointed field marshal meeting the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres on 5 April, just before the offensive began, said it all.
The more important man of the two was placed in a side chair, somewhat lower than the one Haftar himself was sitting in. On the wall behind Haftar hung a huge gold crest. This is how Haftar delusionally sees himself governing Libya. He owns it. He runs it. It’s his. 
The only green light that mattered to him - before he broke the talks with Fayez al-Sarraj, the head of the Libyan Presidential Council, and launched his unprovoked attack on Tripoli - was the one he got from the Saudis.
This is the breed of military dictator that Libyans rebelled against when they got rid of Muammar Gaddafi.
As Jamal Mahmoud, one resident of Tripoli’s Airport Road area, told MEE: "Libya will not become the next Egypt … We’ve already lost so much. So many of our youth gave their lives to get rid of a tyrannical leader, and their lives were not lost just for another dictator to take Gaddafi's place." 
 Secretary General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres meets with Libyan military commander Khalifa Haftar in Benghazi on 5 April (Reuters)
Secretary General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres meets with Libyan military commander Khalifa Haftar in Benghazi on 5 April (Reuters)
The international community - if such a phrase has any meaning - is split about Haftar. French special forces helped him clear Benghazi of a variety of Islamist groups.
The French oil giant Total is waiting eagerly in the wings for Haftar to secure Tripoli. Italy is backing Tripoli - for now.
If he succeeds, Haftar can only provide one thing - a return to the days Libyans, from all coastal cities, did everything in their power to overthrow.

Seeing is believing

None of this means that the outcomes in Sudan and Algeria are foregone conclusions. A second wave of the Arab Spring has to be seen to be believed. Many obstacles lie in its path.
The Sudanese street has to realise that no party, faction or current, secular or Islamist, can be excluded from the transition process. Whether this lesson has been learned by the Freedom and Change Coalition in Sudan, who are currently calling for a transitional civilian government, which would rule without elections for four years, is open to doubt. 
Eight years on, the Arab Spring is far from over
Read More »
One of the leaders of the opposition parties and the Sudanese Professional Association (SPA) trade union is a 77-year-old communist, Mohammad Mokhtar Alkhatib. The other is Ali Alsanhouri, who is leader of the Baath Party, still loyal to Saddam Hussein. Each have a fair amount of history and baggage of their own. 
Dictators have no ideology, other than their own self preservation. Saddam Hussein and Bashar al-Assad were Baathist. Bashir was an Islamist and created many splits in the movement.
Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, describes himself as the bearer of something called "moderate Islam". Sisi has proved to be the cruellest of Egypt’s leaders, outclassing Hosni Mubarak’s autocracy, in the name of "stability". 
These labels are meaningless if the result is brutal autocracy. It is only reconciliation and inclusion of all currents in the new political process that will ensure it is not hijacked by the ever watchful generals.

All eyes on Egypt

If it succeeds, the new wave of the Arab Spring will only do so in Egypt. For all of Sudan’s and Algeria’s size and importance, Egypt is the litmus test of revolution in the Middle East.
Egypt is heading for one-man rule, unless this constitutional calamity is stopped
Read More »
With an economy that is being run into the ground, a middle class that is shrinking, and 30 per cent of the population living below the poverty line, Egypt is being crushed under the weight of its own mismanagement
One third of the budget is committed to paying the interest of this debt. Dictators can kill, but they appear incapable of ruling. The modern Arab states - those that are not torn apart by civil war - are in a perpetual state of crisis precisely because their rulers can not contain the forces their misrule has unleashed.   
By every parameter Egypt today is more vulnerable to popular unrest than it was in 2011. It was in Egypt that the first wave of the Arab Spring was crushed. So too will it be in Egypt that the dictatorship which followed will die also.
Once that happens the writing will be on the wall for everyone else in the Arab world that seeks to deny its population basic human rights.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Muslim Voters Won’t Forget Which Democrats Had Ilhan Omar’s Back


“It makes it very clear which Democrats are open and willing to stand up for justice,” said one Muslim voter.
Image result for bernie sanders and ilhan omar
Rowaida Abdelaziz


Christina Ali is a 25-year-old nursing student at the University of South Florida and, for the last 7 years, has been a loyal Democrat. She voted for Hiliary Clinton during the 2016 presidential election and has always voted blue for every prior election since she turned 18 years old.  
But it is now in 2019 that as a young black Muslim woman, Ali is left feeling deeply frustrated and disappointed with her party — primarily due to how the Democrats have treated Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) ever since she was sworn in earlier this year.
Just a few days ago, President Donald Trump targeted Omar on Twitter for remarks she made during a speech on Muslim civil rights last month. The response from Democrats was clearly divided. Some of the 2020 candidates, such as Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, were criticized for tepid responses, while others like Cory Booker and Kamala Harris didn’t respond until days later over the weekend.
Muslim voters like Ali are closely evaluating where each of the 2020 Democratic candidates have positioned themselves in relation to the attacks on Omar — primarily taking into account which politicians defended her and which ones engaged in the same Islamophobic rhetoric. When the election rolls around, they plan on taking action at the polls, many told HuffPost.   
They say the attacks on Omar are perceived as an attack on the entire Muslim community. The lack of support for the congresswoman is also perceived as weak support for the overall Muslim-American community.
“I don’t see how Democrats can go into these communities of color and ask for our votes and say they are going to defend us and protect us when they’re not defending their own,” Ali said.
The Muslim vote is not insignificant. In New York alone, nearly 400,000 Muslims came out to vote in 2016. In Michigan, nearly another 120,000 Muslims voted.
If you attack our Muslim sisters and brothers, you are attacking the entire community. We don’t vote blindly.Nada Al-Hanooti, executive director of Emgage’s Michigan chapter
Nada Al-Hanooti is executive director of Emgage’s Michigan chapter, a nonpartisan organization that focuses on advocating and mobilizing Muslim voters. Al-Hanooti said for years Democrats took advantage of the Muslim vote and rarely engaged with them in a way that was authentic and deliberate. More than 66% of American Muslims identify with the Democratic party, compared to only 13% of Muslims who identify as Republicans. However both groups were critical of the way each of their respective parties treated their communities.
“Muslims are definitely taking notice of our allies,” Al-Hanooti told HuffPost. “If you attack our Muslim sisters and brothers, you are attacking the entire community. We don’t vote blindly.”
When asked about which 2020 candidate responded best to the attack’s Omar, both Ali and Al-Hanooti agreed upon Bernie Sanders. The Vermont senator was the first among the 2020 candidates to respond, just hours after Trump’s inflammatory tweet.
“Ilhan Omar is a leader with strength and courage. She won’t back down to Trump’s racism and hate, and neither will we. The disgusting and dangerous attacks against her must end,” he tweeted.
Raihan Faroqui is a resident physician based in West Nyack, New York, and a registered Democrat. Like Ali and Al-Hanooti, the 31-year-old Muslim American felt that Sanders was not only swift and strong in his response, but he had the the track record to back him up.
“I’ve always been team Bernie. So his tweet and Elizabeth Warren’s tweet was great because I know they have a history of calling out Islamophobia and a history of calling out anti-Muslim bigotry,” Faroqui told HuffPost.
Although Faroqui was happy to see the other 2020 Democrats follow their lead, he believers the other Democrats may not be authentic in their outrage against Omar. He worries those candidates only jumped on the bandwagon for the sake of their reputation.
“I’m extremely cleared on things like that. One tweet is not going to sway me,” he said.
During the 2016 Democratic primary, Bernie Sanders defeated Hillary Clinton in the fight for Michigan — largely thanks to the local Muslim community. (However, during the presidential elections, Trump won the state with 47.50% of the total votes compared to Hillary Clinton’s close 47.27%.)
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Those numbers reflect a new reality. Young people are frustrated with their options, all of which is indicative of the freshman class of representatives beyond Omar such as her counterparts Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). Ali, however, doesn’t have much hope in the current leadership to support the new class and lead the country into the 2020 election.
“It makes it very clear which Democrats are open and willing to stand up for justice and and which Democrats are not,” Ali said.
Mohammed Khan, a campaign director at MPower Change, one of the largest Muslim digital advocacy organizations in the U.S. with a membership over a quarter million, aims to engage and mobilize Muslims on civic engagement issues.
Khan said the Muslim-American community learned a difficult lesson during the 2016 election when Trump was elected. Prior to that, due to the fact a large number of Muslims were not as civically engaged with their representatives, Muslim voter turnout was low.
In the wake of Trump’s presidency, anti-Muslim rhetoric and hate crimes have been on the rise. Muslims have been forced into action, Khan said. This was most apparent at the midterm elections in November, which was dubbed the Muslim blue wave. Nearly 100 Muslim candidates ran for office; in 2016 only a dozen ran.
Khan predicts that the attacks against Omar will have a similar effect going into 2020.
“There’s a lot more organizing and a lot more coordination nationally,” said Khan.  
Nabintou Doumbia was one of those Muslims who became politically active after the 2016 election. The 22-year-old Detroit native with plans to enroll in law school is particularly dismayed by the Democrats’ reluctancy to call out anti-Muslim bigotry. She pointed to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s tweet as a clear-cut example of Democrats tip-toeing around Islamophobia.
“I’m really thinking about accountability this time around,” Doumbia explained when asked how the latest events have swayed her opinion about the 2020 candidates. Doumbia, who voted Democrat in 2018, will be looking for a candidate who will not only call out Islamophobia forcefully, but who will not shy away from topics like racism, two issues which have been at the center of Omar’s attacks.
When Sen. Gillibrand tweeted the morning after Trump’s attack on Omar, her response was widely criticized as political jargon.
“As a Senator who represents 9/11 victims, I can’t accept any minimizing of that pain. But Trump’s dangerous rhetoric against @IlhanMN is disgusting. It’s a false choice to suggest we can’t fight terrorism and reject Islamophobic hate at once— a president should do both,” she tweeted.
New York resident Saema Khandakar was dismayed. The 37-year-old pediatrician was rooting for Gillibrand for the 2020 Democratic nomination. As a woman in medicine, Khandakar liked Gillibrand’s policies on health care and women’s issues.
But Gillibrand’s response to the attacks on Omar has curbed her enthusiasm.
“I was really excited for her candidacy and for her presidency,” Khandakar told HuffPost. “But her response was very tepid and I was very disappointed. It definitely turned me away.”
Like the many Democratic Muslims before her, Khandakar evaluated the lack of support for Omar as a lack of support for the overall Muslim community.
“What is happening right now now with Ilhan Omar and how they respond is just a gauge as to how they are going to respond in the future to Islamophobic attacks and Islamophobia in general in the Muslim community,” she said.
Khandakar is now setting her eyes on Sanders and Warren for their swift and strong response against the Islamophobic attack against Omar. Her excitement for Gillibrand is now just “lukewarm,” she said.
Whether it’s Khandakar in New York or Ali in Florida, Muslims are crossing off names on their 2020 Democractic list — starting with those who didn’t openly support Omar.
“Ilhan Omar is not just a congressperson. She is representative of a large population who feel unheard in his country,” said Ali. “We’re watching, we’re listening and we will be responding at the polls.”

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Ilhan Omar has become the target of a dangerous hate campaign

Fox News, New York Post and Donald Trump are contributing to a climate of vigilantism that threatens every Muslim in America today



Omar’s detractors misrepresent her words, accusing her of saying things she didn’t say or condemning her for things that have been said before, even by Republicans themselves.

Here’s a question for you. Which American politician publicly referred to the terrorists who carried out the 9/11 attacks as “those folks who committed this act,” seemingly downplaying its horrors? Was it Minnesota representative Ilhan Omar? No. Try George W Bush.
Here’s another one. Which American politician publicly called Benjamin Netanyahu “your prime minister” while addressing a crowd of Jewish American supporters. Since the statement assumes Jewish Americans carry a dual loyalty to both Israel and the United States, you might assume it was Ilhan Omar, based on all we’ve been told about her. In fact, it was Donald Trump.
Or how about this. Who said that “the Stephen Miller approach to immigration has no viability”, adding that “Mr Miller is well known…for having views that are outside the mainstream,” suggesting Miller is in reality a political extremist who doesn’t belong in government? Was it Ilhan Omar? Wrong again. It was the Republican Senator Lindsey Graham.
Over and over again, Ilhan Omar’s detractors misrepresent her words and intentions, accusing her of saying things she didn’t say or condemning her for things that have been said before, even by Republicans themselves.

But the attacks continue. That’s why you could be forgiven for thinking that Ilhan Omar, one of the first two Muslim women ever elected to Congress, has said these – or even much worse – things. By now, she is accused so often of various speech and thought crimes that she almost seems like a figure in the Two Minutes Hate, the daily ritual used to whip party members into a frenzy in George Orwell’s novel 1984. In Orwell’s dystopia, the enemy of the people was the very Jewish-sounding Emmanuel Goldstein. If you believe some pundits, today’s enemy of the people is the very Muslim-looking Ilhan Omar.
Think I’m exaggerating? Consider how Ronna McDaniel, the head of the Republican National Committee, recently labeled Omar as “anti-American” on Twitter. Or then there’s Fox News’s Brian Kilmeade, who questioned Omar’s loyalty, saying “You have to wonder if she’s an American first.” (Kilmeade has since walked back his statement a tad.) A few weeks earlier and also on Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News, Jeanine Pirro questioned not just Omar’s loyalty to her country but really any hijab-observing woman’s allegiance to the United States. “Omar wears a hijab,” Pirro said, accusingly. “Is her adherence to this Islamic doctrine indicative of her adherence to sharia law, which in itself is antithetical to the United States constitution?”
The allegations are baseless, but the attacks continue. The latest manufactured outrage derives from a speech Omar gave last month to the Los Angeles branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. As the Washington Post noted, Omar’s 23 March speech was broadcast live (including on Fox News Online), but became controversial only days ago. In one phrase of her 20-minute talk, which was focused on Muslim Americans and civil rights, Omar says “some people did something” when referring to the September 11 attacks. It’s abundantly clear by the context of the talk that Omar was saying that the actions of a few have distressingly enabled the threat to the civil rights of so many. To allege that Omar was minimizing the horrors of September 11 is to deliberately misconstrue the point of her comments.

But that didn’t stop the New York Post from accusing Omar of precisely that. The cover of the Murdoch-owned tabloid had a picture of the Twin Towers in flames with the words “Here’s your something. 2,977 people dead by terrorism” plastered across the page, as if Omar herself is responsible for those deaths.
Appallingly, Donald Trump has now furthered the smear, tweeting a video linking Omar and the 9/11 attacks to his millions of followers.
This near daily vilification of Omar and distortion of her positions is not just politically problematic. It’s also dangerous. In February, authorities arrestedthe United States coast guard Lieutenant Christopher Hasson, an alleged rightwing extremist who, reports say, had placed Omar (among others) on a hit list. The West Virginia Republican party was criticized last month after a poster was displayed in the capitol rotunda that also linked Omar with 9/11. And just last week, a man from western New York was arrested for allegedly threatening to kill the Minnesota congresswoman.
In scoring their cheap political points, Fox News and the New York Post and the president of the United States himself are directly contributing to a perilous climate of vigilantism that threatens not only Omar but really every Muslim in America today.
On one level, it’s clear why Omar is subject to these attacks. Omar is black, a woman, an immigrant, a refugee and a Muslim. The fact that racism, sexism and bigotry drive a double-standard where Omar faces criticism while others received little to no scrutiny for the same comments is self-evident.
But that’s also not the full explanation. This double standard that is applied to Omar is meant to keep us from listening to what she is actually saying and doing. To call Stephen Miller a white nationalist, as Omar did, is to state an obvious truth. Omar added that “the fact that he still has influence on policy and political appointments is an outrage.” Rather than paying attention to her words, Omar was again caricatured as an anti-Semite. “Congresswoman Ilhan Omar has a well-documented history of antisemitic comments, social media posts and relationships,” the White House said, “so it’s not surprising that she would wildly attack a Jewish member of the administration.”

In fact, we should be paying all kinds of attention to Omar’s words and actions. She is principled and outspoken against all types of human rights abuses, having criticized Saudi Arabia for its war in Yemen, spoken outagainst Chinese repression of the Uighur population, stood with the Sudanese people in their uprising, opposed American intervention in Venezuela, grilled Elliott Abrams about his atrocious human rights record, and more. She is a cosponsor of the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund, and has already introduced the Protect Against Unlawful Lobbying Act of 2019, and the Federal Worker Childcare Protection Act of 2019. Most recently, she cosponsored a bi-cameral bill to end Donald Trump’s Muslim ban. And she only began her job in January.
It’s no wonder that so many people, some from her own party, want to shut Ilhan Omar up. She has a lot to say and she says it. I for one will be listening closely.
  • Moustafa Bayoumi is the author of How Does It Feel To Be a Problem?: Being Young and Arab in America