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The Egyptian Revolution and Democracy

By Brian NapoletanoPalestine Chronicle

Washington’s response to the Egyptian revolution suggests that US officials have no desire to see democracy

Imperial conquests have always had their ideological justifications. Even in earlier ages, exterminating a people, exploiting their resources, stealing their lands, and enslaving their children were generally non-starters when it came to firing up the local populace for another military campaign. Accordingly, the Romans “civilized” the barbarians, the Spanish conquistadores “brought the gospel” to the “New World,” and the English were “shining the light of civilization” on the Indian subcontinent. Although most history books tend to minimize the genocide and slavery that accompanied Europe’s string of conquests (including North America), few have any illusions about the true objectives of Rome, Spain, Portugal, Great Britain, and other countries’ imperial adventures. Similarly, when future students of history read about the mission undertaken by the US government to “spread democracy” at the dawn of the twenty-first century, they too will most likely understand its true motives far better than most of the intellectuals and analysts who frequently appear in the news media today.

The recent democratic revolution in Egypt provides a number of insights into the gap between the US government’s ostensible and actual commitments to democracy in Northern Africa and Western Asia. According to most accounts in the popular media, Washington’s enthusiasm for the revolution was tempered by its desire for “stability” in the region. Specifically, US officials, according to this framing of the revolution, wanted to support the democratic revolution, but had to consider what sort of message such support would send to their other allies in the region. Underlying this explanation is the fact that the US is allied to a number of regimes that are not democratic, and may soon be facing popular uprising similar to the one that took place in Egypt.

An alternative interpretation of Washington’s response to the Egyptian revolution, however, suggests that US officials have no desire to see democracy establish itself in the North Africa or West Asia, their public pronouncements—repeated endlessly by the major news media—notwithstanding. While this interpretation is not likely to appear in the New York Times or the Washington Post, it is far more consistent with the available evidence and the historical record than is the one based on a stability-democracy trade-off. The essence of this alternative is that what US officials call democracy, and therefore would like to see established in Egypt and the rest of the region, bears only a superficial resemblance to democracy proper, or the form of democracy that was embodied in the Egyptian revolution.

Insofar as democracy is defined in its literal sense, it entails public participation in the important decisions that affect everyone’s lives, a government that is responsive to the will of the majority while simultaneously respecting the rights of the minority to try to gain majority support through unrestricted speech, dissent, and equal access to the press, a respect for individual dignity, and a commitment to creating the conditions that will allow each member of society to develop her potential to his own satisfaction. Insofar as this form of democracy can be considered a means instead of an end, it is a means by which each individual expresses her individual sovereignty, and it is a process through which society learns to govern itself. Its basic principles are, for the most part, consistent with those contained (in various forms) in the US Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights, in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and corresponding treaties on social, economic, civil, and political rights, and in most textbooks on government and society.

US and other policymakers, however, consider such a definition of democracy naïve at best, and in most cases consider it dangerously misguided. They adhere to an alternative definition of democracy  as a means by which a prescribed set of policies is legitimized with a public mandate. In this form of democracy, most of the policies and programs that actually affect the public are moved out of the democratic realm and into the economic market, where authoritarian institutions dominate the decision-making process with little to no democratic accountability. Instead, the production of goods and services is determined by a layer of technocrats whose primary objective is to maximize the bottom line, while a layer of bureaucrats ensures that the transfer of public resources from state institutions to the private sector is not disrupted by a change in political leadership.

One of the defining features of this ersatz version of democracy is how little influence the public actually has on the most important decisions that affect everyone’s lives. From issues that affect the rights of minorities… to widespread social issues, such as the provision of health care and the allocation of public resources, the public is virtually excluded from the decision-making process. On the other hand, periodic elections are typically a key component of this formal democracy, and popular governments to which the US is opposed (e.g. Hamas and the Patido Socialista Unido de Venezuela) are frequently accused of subverting, fixing, or not even holding elections. As the recent presidential election in the United States illustrated, however, the outcomes of elections in the formal version of democracy have very little bearing on the economic and social policies and programs adopted by the state.

Politicians frequently conflate the “popular” and the “formal” definitions of democracy, and the popular media rarely, if ever, challenge this equivocation. As a result, commentators must then invent elaborate explanations to account for the disparity between Washington’s professed democratic values and the seemingly anti-democratic policies it implements. The Egyptian revolution, however, offers an example of a popular democratic movement that defies Washington’s moribund political model and the reforms it offers as palliatives.

By most accounts, the popular uprising in Egypt formed in response to the Mubarak regime’s failure to meet the criteria of popular democracy. The overwhelming majority of the country was unified behind a simple desideratum: Mubarak’s immediate resignation. The Obama administration initially sided with Mubarak. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, who considers Mubarak a family friend, was among the first US officials to comment on the situation, and emphasized that Mubarak’s regime was an important US ally that had consistently helped the US maintain “stability” in the region.

In the 28 January speech that he coordinated with Mubarak, Obama condescendingly reminded the protesters that they had “a responsibility to express themselves peacefully,” regardless of the violence inflicted on them by the country’s US-trained and equipped security and military forces. Although Obama offered nothing more than vacuous statements about Egypt’s future, promised no specific reforms, and evinced no commitment to backing the protesters’ demands, Washington Post reporter Karen DeYoung claimed at the end of January that the Obama administration had “firmly aligned itself … with the protest movement that has overtaken Egypt” by “calling for an ‘orderly transition’ to a more representative government.” the administration merely called on Mubarak to implement cosmetic reforms, while protesters were demanding his immediate resignation.

As late into the revolution as 7 February, the LA Times was reporting that the administration had “dampened” its “sense of urgency” regarding a transition from Mubarak’s regime, and instead “aligned itself with power-brokers such as new Vice President Omar Suleiman, who are urging a more stable, if much slower, move to real [i.e. formal] democracy.” The Times described this policy as consistent with  the Obama administration’s “goal of maintaining stability in the Middle East,” even at the expense of democracy. Meanwhile, Obama’s “crisis envoy” to Egypt, Frank Wisner—a longtime advocate for and personal friend of Mubarak—openly called for Mubarak to retain power in Egypt, a statement to which the Obama administration responded by claiming that Wisner was only speaking in his “private capacity.”

Once the protesters finally forced Mubarak out of office the White House performed a volte-face. In his carefully worded response to Mubarak’s resignation, Obama congratulated the Egyptian people on toppling the regime, and announced that the US government stands “ready to provide whatever assistance is necessary, and asked for, to pursue a credible transition to a democracy.”

Obama did not, however, apologize to the Egyptian people for the military and political support, including some of the weapons and training used against the protesters themselves, that the US government had been giving to Mubarak for several years.

Self-identified “realists” and other key elements of the US foreign policy establishment have largely praised the Obama administration’s “balanced” response to the Egyptian revolution. Most of the media have portrayed the US government as having refrained from direct involvement in or obstruction of the revolution, and have praised Obama for maintaining a delicate balance between the need for “regional stability,” which consists largely of regimes willing to tolerate—and frequently facilitate—Israeli apartheid and US “counter-terrorism” operations, on the one hand, and the desire to promote the spread of democracy on the other. This prompted the Obama administration to adopt, according to the narrative, a non-interventionist approach to the protest, which was the best the US could do under the circumstances.

While this narrative has won praise for Obama among both hawks and doves, it neglects two important factors: that funding for the training and equipment used by the same police, security, and military forces that were arresting, “disappearing,” and torturing protesters was provided by US taxpayers, and that the US and other governments’ habit of backing dictators—which has been almost universally condemned by the public and by international human rights organizations—has been identified as the key source of much of the anger directed at the US for more than 50 years, yet the habit continues.

Despite the acknowledged absence of any democratic credibility, the Egyptian government was the largest single recipient of US military and other aid after that other paragon of democracy in the region, Israel. Moreover, most of this aid had little to do with encouraging democracy or protecting the Egyptian people from Mubarak’s human rights abuses—Obama had actually cut funds for democracy-promotion initiatives from $50 million to $20 million in 2008, and cut aid to Egyptian civil society from $32 million to $7 million. Even without these cuts, these investments in democracy promotion programs (which are themselves frequently co-opted by the CIA to serve as propaganda platforms) and civil society comprised an insignificant proportion of the roughly $1.5-2 billion that the Egyptian government received from the US annually, principally in the form of military aid.

Egypt’s security forces have a long tradition of collaboration with US intelligence and police agencies, and Egypt was the US government’s initial partner in the illegal “extraordinary rendition” program that started under the Clinton administration. Moreover, recent embassy cables released by WikiLeaks confirm that the FBI has been supplying training and intelligence, including visits to the FBI’s training center in Quantico, Virginia, to Egypt’s repressive SSIS. The tear gas canisters and concussion grenades that police used against the protesters provided further evidence of US support, as many of them still bore their US manufacturing identifications.

While Obama praised the Egyptian military on behalf of the soldiers who refused to open fire on civilians, he failed to mention the officers who had issued such orders. He also failed to mention reports carried by the Guardian that Human Rights Watch has documented 119 arrests of pro-democracy activists, that the organization believes that many more have been “disappeared,” and that HRW’s Daniel Williams has expressed concerns that Mubarak’s resignation could be eclipsed by the US-trained military’s recent foray into torture and political repression.

The torture sessions that accompanied the “interrogation” of protesters arrested by the military, which receives approximately $1.5 billion in US aid annually, led many to conclude that the primary objective was intimidation rather than the identification of foreign instigators, particularly as pro-government protesters who were arrested by the military were handed over to the police and then released. The numerous accounts of torture and abuse by the Egyptian military that have begun to emerge contrast sharply with Obama and the media’s portrayal of soldiers as impartial observers to the unrest and as buffers between Mubarak’s hired thugs and the protesters.

While a number of media reports acknowledged US aid to the Mubarak regime, most of them portrayed Washington as having been placed in a “difficult situation” by the uprising, and continued to describe US backing for dictators like Mubarak as a “necessary evil” in light of the need to maintain “stability” in the region. Very few, however, offered further details on what is embodied in a stability important enough to merit military and political aid to a regime that routinely violates basic human rights, beyond explaining that such stability involves a level of repression severe enough to keep the population intimidated, but not so severe that it triggers a revolution.

One of the more convincing explanations of why such stability is so important to US policymakers was offered by the political scientist Vijay Prashad in an interview with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now!. According to Prashad, the stability that Mubarak imposed on Egypt was valuable to the US for three reasons (which he described as two pillars, one of which I have separated into two parts): Mubarak’s willingness to participate in the CIA’s illegal extraordinary rendition program and other “counter-terrorism” operations allowed the US to pursue its geopolitical objective of projecting hegemony over the region, his role as Washington’s apologist in a region that is both rich in natural resources and where US foreign policy has created widespread resentment among the public reduced the risk of political backlash to US economic and trade policies in the region, and his willingness to uphold the Egypt-Israel treaty of 1979 ensured that Israeli apartheid would not face a united challenge among the Arab nations. When journalists such as the Washington Post’s Scott Wilson refer to the “political vacuum” created by Mubarak’s resignation and the need to retain stability, they are primarily referring to Washington’s hopes that whoever replaces Mubarak will continue to maintain these three features of Israeli policy.

This “necessary evil” of backing brutal dictators because they uphold US interests and of blocking efforts to establish democracy has been a consistent feature of US foreign policy worldwide, and was already identified by the US National Security Council in 1958 as one of the primary reasons for the animosity towards the US that some in the Middle East evince. More than 50 years later, the popular uprising against Mubarak revealed a remarkable continuity in US policy. Unable to continue attributing this “pragmatic” doctrine to the “Soviet threat,” apologists now invoke the threat of “international terrorism” as the justification for Washington’s attachment to various dictators and repressive regimes. In the Middle East alone, the list of regimes that have received US backing, despite their hostility to human rights and basic democratic principles, includes Mohammad Rezâ Shâh Pahlavi in Iran, Saddam Hussein in Iraq (until he tried to assassinate the elder Bush), Muammar al-Qaddafi in Libya, Hussein bin Talal and Abdullah II bin al-Hussein in Jordan, Camille Nimr Chamoun in Lebanon, every Israeli regime from David Ben-Gurion to Benjamin Netanyahu, Mahmoud Abbas in the occupied Palestinian territories, and countless others.

Just as analysts in 1958 cautioned that Washington’s intimate relationships with brutal dictators was more likely to foster the growth of Stalinism than to deter it, contemporary analysts such as Michael Scheuer—a former CIA analyst and one of the architects of the extraordinary rendition program—have repeatedly warned that continued support for repressive regimes in the Middle East is more likely to trigger even more violent terrorist attacks than it is to deter them. This suggests that something other than the security of the US public is motivating Washington’s policies.

An erroneous conclusion frequently drawn regarding the reasons for US policies in North Africa and West Asia is that the Zionist lobby is responsible for the invidious policies endorsed by Washington. While Israel’s unmatched influence on US policy could explain some of the disregard for the rights of Palestinians, it fails to explain the consistency with which the US has backed dictatorships in Latin America, Southeast Asia, and Sub-Saharan Africa, and ignores the fact that Washington has demonstrated that it will readily cut off Israel’s political and military support should Israeli actions be deemed inimical to Washington’s overriding political and economic interests.

A more accurate characterization of Washington’s attitude is that maintaining Israel as an extension of US hegemony and the most powerful military force in the region is consistent with US geopolitical objectives. Washington’s insouciant disregard for the interests of the majority of the Arab population is consistent with its attitude toward other regions of strategic interest, such as South and Central America and Southeast Asia. US policymakers tolerate Israeli apartheid because the strategic advantages of retaining Israel as a subaltern state outweigh the deleterious effects that such backing has on US prestige. As examples such as Cuba, Venezuela, Vietnam, Russia, and others have demonstrated, the US government can easily turn a population against itself even when Israel’s not involved.

Moreover, providing military aid to Israel has proven to be exceptionally lucrative for US weapons contractors. Whatever influence the Zionist lobby might wield, it pales in comparison to the money and influence wielded by corporations such as General Electric, Raytheon, and Lockheed Martin. A number of other corporations, including Caterpillar, Hewlett Packard , and the Bobcat Company, also profit from the Israeli occupation by providing armored bulldozers to the Israeli Defense Forces, security systems, construction materials, and other resources to expand and entrench the illegal settlements.

In essence, the US government has repeatedly failed to push Israel into making peace with Palestinian people primarily because the Washington has no significant vested interest in doing so. While support for Israel’s apartheid government has done little to endear the US to much of the Arab population, Israel remains a loyal client state dependent on US military aid and political backing, and therefore a useful projection of US foreign policy in the region.

Discussions of US national security tend to be more frank than other political presentations, and offer more specific insights into what Washington means by “stability” in a given region. A consistent theme in US foreign policy and national security throughout the twentieth (and twenty-first) century has been has been cheap access to “raw materials” and “foreign markets.” Similarly, the US’ primary economic competitors, Europe and China, also require the same access for their firms to remain competitive. Hence, the economic competition between companies in these regions translates into a global geopolitical struggle for control over the world’s energy and agricultural resources. As a region abundant in the former and situated at a crossroads between Asia, Europe, and Africa, the Middle East has been a center of such struggle for decades. Accordingly, Washington is willing to tolerate Israeli apartheid and any other anti-democratic governments if doing so allows it to exert more control over the region’s energy resources than its principal competitors.

The media frequently confuse this issue by conflating the need to control the Middle East’s energy resources with the US’ economic dependence on inexpensive petroleum. However, the US does not need Middle Eastern oil for its own consumption—most (almost 60%) of the refined petroleum imported into the US from its 15 largest suppliers is actually provided by Canada, Mexico, Venezuela, Colombia, and other American countries, while only 22% comes from the Middle East (including Algeria). The need to control the flow of oil from the Middle East is more closely related to China and Europe’s dependence on the region’s oil supply, and the competitive economic relationship between the three regions, than to outright dependence on the supply by the US. While it is a bit of an oversimplification, the truth is stretched far less by suggesting that the US backs dictatorial regimes in the Middle East so that its companies can out-compete those of Europe and China than it is by suggesting that the US is actually concerned with promoting the spread of popular democracy in the region.

As the Obama administration’s response to the Egyptian revolution indicates, the US government does not support the growth or spread of popular democracy. While they do favor a system that maintains a veneer of democratic legitimacy through periodic elections, the absence of such legitimacy does not preclude a steady supply of US weapons and training. Essentially, democracy is acceptable insofar as it does not threaten the interests or power of the US’ dominant economic institutions. Consequently, Washington would much rather have seen Mubarak undertake superficial reforms to remain in power than an open revolution, and is already advising its other allies in Saudi Arabia, Israel, and elsewhere to undertake the former and stave off the latter.

The public is not always pacified by such reforms, however, and as living conditions continue to deteriorate for the poorest segments of society worldwide, challenges to US hegemony can be expected to occur more frequently. When such threats have arisen in the past, Washington has openly embraced dictatorships before conceding to the people of the Northern Africa, Western Asia, or any other region the right to determine their own destiny. In contrast to narratives that portray it as an impartial observer to Egypt’s revolution, the US government had been working for years to prevent the Egyptian government from becoming democratic. That the Egyptian people succeeded in spite of Washington’s efforts is a testimony to their strength and determination.

If democracy is to survive in Egypt, then it must also be allowed to thrive elsewhere. While the revolution has drawn attention to the gap between official rhetoric and US policies, it cannot be expected to significantly alter Washington’s attitude by itself. Instead, such change will require a concerted effort by the US public.

Accordingly, the ultimate outcome of the Egyptian revolution also depends on the willingness of the people of the US and its allies to follow their Egyptian counterparts’ example and demand popular democracy in their own countries. Only then can they hope to achieve more just and humane foreign policies that respect democracy, protect human rights and other basic standards, and subordinate economic considerations to the needs of the public.

Brian Napoletano is a member of the International Socialist Organization and the former Public Relations officer for Purdue University Students for Justice in Palestine.


After Tunisia and Egypt, Top US Intelligence Officials Promise to do Better

Source: Reuters

Top U.S. intelligence officials, facing criticism in Congress, on Wednesday defended their agencies’ reporting on the recent upheavals in Tunisia and Egypt but pledged to do better in the future.

“Specific triggers for how and when instability would lead to the collapse of various regimes cannot always be known or predicted,” James Clapper, director of national intelligence, told a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing.

“What intelligence can do in such cases is reduce, but certainly not completely eliminate, uncertainty for decision-makers. But we are not clairvoyant.”

CIA Director Leon Panetta said his agency has set up a 35-member task force to examine how future unrest in sensitive regions could erupt and to assess potential outcomes.

Much more attention will be paid to how the Internet and social media can spark and affect protest movements, they said, although Panetta cautioned about the vast new piles of data that experts must pore over.

“The real challenge is … going through the diversity of languages, going through the different sites that are out there,” he said. “This involves a tremendous amount of analysis.”

U.S. spy agencies have been criticized in the past for not knitting together reports that could have given warning of major events, ranging from the collapse of the Soviet Union to al Qaeda’s attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001.

In the case of September 11 and, more recently, the failed bombing of a U.S. airliner in December 2009, investigations showed U.S. agencies collected clues that could have disrupted the attacks well in advance but failed to connect the dots.

Tunisia was not ‘Top 10′ Concern’

Senior officials have strongly denied there were any intelligence failures over the unrest in Tunisia and Egypt — despite criticism from some lawmakers that the agencies’ reports were sometimes less informative than news stories.

The two spy chiefs acknowledged U.S. agencies offered little if any advance warning when unrest erupted in Tunisia in January. But Clapper, who supervises 16 frontline spy agencies and serves as President Barack Obama’s chief intelligence adviser, pointed to the limits of spycraft.

“We’re not like Sherman Williams paint. We don’t cover the earth equally. So frankly Tunisia was probably not up there on our top 10 countries that we were watching closely,” Clapper said. “Obviously we are going to work on that.”

Two sources who routinely read analytical papers by U.S. intelligence agencies said it would be unfair to criticize them for not being able to predict how the initial events in Tunisia would set off a chain reaction that, within days, would lead to the collapse of its government and the exile of its president.

But the sources said they were disappointed at the material generated after the Tunisian government fell, which tried to consider implications for other countries, particularly Egypt.

A senior U.S. intelligence official refuted the criticism, telling Reuters that in the 10 days between the collapse of the Tunisian government and the eruption of protests in Egypt, U.S. agencies produced many reports “that examined the implications for the Middle East and elsewhere around the world.”

Some of the papers, the official said, went only to the president and a small group of senior officials. Others were more widely distributed to officials authorized to read highly classified intelligence materials.

The US as Israel’s Enabler in the Middle East

By Kathleen ChristisonCounterPunch

Egypt is important to the United States almost entirely because it signed a peace treaty with Israel

About ten days ago I had a particularly interesting discussion about Israel and its relationship to U.S. policy in the Middle East and to the events swirling there now, in Egypt and throughout the Arab world.  My interlocutor is one of the most astute commentators, particularly on U.S. policy, in the alternative media, but he made it clear that, to his mind, Israel does not play a role of any notable relevance to what the United States is doing in the region.

I would say that he has a bit of a blind spot about Israel — a not uncommon phenomenon among progressive thinkers.  But perhaps the current turmoil in the region will ultimately open his eyes and those of others who minimize Israel’s centrality to U.S. policy.  Recent events unfolding in Egypt and surrounding Wikileaks-released State Department cables and al-Jazeera-released Palestinian papers dealing with Palestinian-Israeli talks are demonstrating graphically, as no other series of events probably ever has, that the United States does what it does in the Middle East in great measure because of Israel — to protect and safeguard Israel from Arab neighbors who object to its treatment of its Palestinian subjects, from Muslims with similar grievances, from criticism of Israel’s military exploits against neighboring states, from the ire of other states still threatened by Israel, from governments in the region that challenge Israel’s nuclear monopoly or attempt to develop their own arsenals to defend against Israel.

It is instructive to remember that Egypt is important to the United States almost entirely because it signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1979 and helps guarantee Israel’s security, guarding its western border, helping its military assaults on other Arab countries, closing the tunnels into Gaza through which Hamas smuggles some weapons and the Gazan population obtains food and other essentials, undermining Hamas’s rule in Gaza.  The United States also regards Egypt as an important cog in the machine of its “war on terror” and its war on Islamic radicalism, a collaboration also closely linked to Israel’s security interests.

Egypt is obviously important in the region in its own right.  Its size and strategic location guarantee that it will always have considerable influence in Middle East politics, and it has long been the heart of Arab culture, even without U.S. help.  The last three weeks of the Egyptian people’s struggle for democracy have further enhanced its importance, capturing the imagination of people around the world (with the exception of many, perhaps the majority, in Israel and among the curmudgeonly right in the United States, including Israel’s U.S. supporters).

But the fundamental reality is that the United States would not have the close military, political, and economic relationship it has had with Egypt for the last thirty-plus years were it not for the fact that Egypt is friendly with Israel and the fact that, in the words of Middle East expert Rashid Khalidi, Egypt has always acquiesced “in Israel’s regional hegemony.”  The $1.5 billion annually in military aid, and the $28 billion in economic and development assistance across the last 35 years would not have been given had not Mubarak’s predecessor Anwar Sadat virtually begged for and then finally signed a peace treaty with Israel that removed Egypt, the largest Arab military force, as a threat to Israel, abandoning the Palestinians and the other Arab parties to their own devices.  With Egypt out of the picture and indeed often assisting, Israel has been free to launch military assaults on several of its neighbors, including Lebanon twice and Gaza and the West Bank repeatedly, and free to expand settlements, absorb Palestinian territory, and severely oppress Palestinians without fear of retaliation or even significant disagreement from any Arab army.

Israeli commentator Aluf Benn has pointed out furthermore that, with Mubarak in office, Israel could always feel safe about its western flank if it were to attack Iran, but now Israel will not dare attack when it can no longer rely on Egypt’s “tacit agreement to its actions.”  Whoever replaces Mubarak would, by this reasoning, be too concerned about popular rage if he were to collaborate with Israel.  “Without Mubarak, there is no Israeli attack on Iran.”

For Israel and therefore for the United States, the U.S. investment of billions in Egypt over the years has been well worth the cost.  The loss of the “stability” that Egypt provided — meaning Israel’s loss of certainty that it remained the secure regional dominant power — has been a huge game-changer for Israeli and U.S. strategic calculations.

Before the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, the United States never considered that Egypt was quite the strategic asset that it became when it surrendered its military capability in the interests of Israel.  The same can be said about the United States’ relations with several other Arab states.  Its involvement in Lebanon over the years — including its effort to remove Syrian forces from Lebanon — has been almost entirely linked to Israel’s interests there.  The fallout from Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon still reverberates: in response to the invasion, the United States sent a contingent of Marines, which became involved in direct fighting with Lebanese factions, leading in turn to a devastating bombing of Marine headquarters that killed 241 U.S. personnel in 1983; Hizbullah, representing a besieged Shiite population in southern Lebanon, arose as a direct result of Israel’s invasion; the spate of kidnappings of U.S. personnel by Hizbullah throughout the 1980s grew out of hostility to the U.S. because of its support for Israel; Israel withdrew from a two-decade-long occupation of southern Lebanon in 2000, leaving behind a strengthened Hizbullah; continued conflict along the border led to Israel’s brutal assault on Lebanon in the summer of 2006, which failed to defeat the Islamic organization or undermine its popularity; and as a result, the United States has for years pursued efforts to undermine Hizbullah and, essentially, to maintain Lebanon as an Israeli sinecure.

Jordan has been a minor U.S. ally for decades, but its conclusion of a peace treaty with Israel in 1994 enhanced its standing in U.S. eyes and gained the small state on Israel’s eastern border additional U.S. military and economic aid.  The State Department’s official profile of Jordan relates the U.S. rationale for its good relationship with Jordan more or less directly to Israel, although without ever mentioning Israel: “U.S. policy seeks to reinforce Jordan’s commitment to peace, stability, and moderation.  The peace process and Jordan’s opposition to terrorism parallel and indirectly assist wider U.S. interests.  Accordingly, through economic and military assistance and through close political cooperation, the United States has helped Jordan maintain its stability and prosperity.”  The allusions to “reinforcing” Jordan’s commitment to “peace, stability, and moderation” and to maintaining Jordan’s “stability and prosperity” are obvious references to helping keep the area, and particularly Israel’s border, quiet.  Just as clearly, “indirectly assist[ing] wider U.S. interests” refers to the U.S. commitment to Israel’s security interests.  “Moderation” in State Department jargon is a code word for a pro-Israeli stance; “stability” is code for a secure environment that benefits Israel primarily.

It is safe to say that neither Lebanon nor Jordan would be at all as important to the United States if it were not considered necessary to keep each of these bordering countries in a stable, quiescent state for Israel’s security.  The same situation does not apply in Saudi Arabia, where the U.S. has vital oil interests quite apart from Israel’s concerns.  But at the same time, it is the case that the U.S. has managed to tame any Saudi impulse to speak out on behalf of the Palestinians, or any other Arabs under Israeli siege, and align the Saudis at least implicitly on the Israeli side of most issues, whether this is the 2006 attack on Lebanon or the 2008-2009 assault on Gaza or the supposed threat from Iran.  The day when the Saudis were angry enough with United States over its support for Israel to impose an oil embargo, as occurred in 1973, is long over.

The recent Wikileaks releases of State Department cables and particularly al-Jazeera’s release of a raft of Palestinian documents dealing with negotiations over the last decade also demonstrate with striking clarity how hard the United States works, and has always worked, to help Israel in the Palestinian-Israeli negotiating process.  U.S. support for Israel has never been a secret, becoming less and less so in recent years, but the leaked documents provide the most dramatic picture yet of the United States’ total disdain for all Palestinian negotiating demands and its complete helplessness in the face of Israeli refusal to make concessions.  It is striking to note from these papers that the U.S. role as “Israel’s lawyer” — a description coined by Aaron David Miller after his involvement in negotiations during the Clinton era — is the same whether the administration is Bill Clinton’s or George W. Bush’s or Barack Obama’s.  Israel’s interests and demands always prevail.

Beyond the Arab world, U.S. policy on Iran is dictated more or less totally by Israel.  The pressure to attack Iran — either a U.S. attack or U.S. support for an Israeli attack — which has been brought to bear for most of the eight years since the start of the war on Iraq, has come entirely from Israel and its supporters in the United States.  This pressure is quite open and impossible to deny the way Israel’s pressure for the attack on Iraq has been.  If the United States ever does become involved in a military assault on Iran either directly or through backing up Israel, this will be because Israel wanted it; if there is no attack, this will most likely be, as Aluf Benn surmises, because Israel got cold feet in the aftermath of the Egyptian revolution.

Israel, and the desire to ensure its regional hegemony, also played a substantial role in leading the United States into war in Iraq, although this view is a harder sell and a much more controversial  position among progressives and conservatives alike than is anything else about U.S.-Israel-Arab relationships.

My progressive interlocutor, for instance — who has strongly opposed the U.S. adventure in Iraq, equally strongly opposes any possibility of an attack on Iran, and was undoubtedly uncomfortable with U.S. vacillation about pressing for Mubarak’s departure — disagreed totally with my suggestion that Israel and its neocon supporters were a factor in getting the United States into the Iraq war.  Early in our discussion, he talked at length about the neocons, their erstwhile think tank, the Project for a New American Century (PNAC), and the overriding neocon-PNAC interest in advancing U.S. global hegemony, and he made the point that when George W. Bush came to power, an entire think tank was moved into the administration.  But, despite this recognition of neocon objectives and the success they enjoyed in advancing them, he would not agree that PNAC and the neocons were as much interested in advancing Israel’s regional hegemony as they were in furthering U.S. imperialism.

When, on the other hand, I observed that not only had Bush moved a think tank into the administration, he had also effectively moved the Israel lobby, or its then most active wing, into the highest rungs of his administration’s policymaking councils, my friend readily agreed: oh, of course, he asserted quite vigorously, they — meaning the neocons — “are all Likudniks.”  There is some kind of disconnect here, which he seemed not to notice: although, on the one hand, he acknowledged the neocons’ very close connection to Israel, he does not on the other hand agree that the neocons did anything in a policy sense for Israel.  As if they had checked their pro-Israel sympathies at the doors of the White House and the Pentagon when they officially became policymakers.  As if they had discarded their own long history of pro-Israel advocacy and the policy guidance that many of them had long been giving to Israeli leaders — guidance that included an actual advisory written for the Israeli government in 1996 to move against Iraq.

It has been clear to most analysts for years, even decades, that the United States favors Israel, but this reality has never been revealed so explicitly until recent events laid the relationship bare, and laid bare the fact that Israel is at the center of virtually every move the United States makes in the region.  There has long been a taboo on talking about these realities, a taboo that has tied the tongues of people like my interlocutor.  People do not mention Israel because they might be called anti-Semitic, they might be attacked as “singling out” Israel for criticism; the media fail to discuss Israel and what it does around the Middle East and, most directly, to the Palestinians who live under its rule because this might provoke angry letters to the editor and cancelled subscriptions by Israel supporters.  Congressmen will not endanger campaign funds by talking honestly about Israel.  And so Israel is taken off everyone’s radar screen.  Progressives may “mention Israel in passing,” as my friend told me, but they do no more.  Ultimately, because no one talks about it, everyone stops even thinking about Israel as the prime mover behind so many U.S. policies and actions in the Middle East.

It is time we began noticing.  Everyone in the Middle East already notices, as the Egyptian revolution has just made clear.  And probably everyone throughout the world also notices.  We should begin listening to the world’s people, not to their leaders, who tell us what they think we want to hear.

Kathleen Christison is a former CIA political analyst and the author of several books on the Palestinian situation, including Palestine in Pieces, co-authored with her late husband Bill Christison.  She can be reached at

Egypt’s Nuclear Option: President ElBaradei?

By Rannie AmiriCounter Currents

ElBaradei thus faces a colossal, entrenched political and security infrastructure that has no appetite for reform

“For someone like myself to be unable to run for president, this is a disaster. How can a constitution bar 99 percent of the people from running?”

– Former IAEA Director-General and Nobel Prize laureate Mohammad ElBaradei, in an interview with Egypt’s Dream Television, 18 February 2010.

Mohammad ElBaradei returned to a hero’s welcome and the jubilation of thousands at Cairo’s International Airport last week. Some carried signs reading, “ElBaradei is the whole nation’s hope,” and “ElBaradei for president of Egypt” while others chanted, “You can’t go back, we need you!” and “We want change!”

It must have been a foreboding scene for Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Such displays are officially prohibited under the country’s Emergency Law and security forces had already warned those planning to greet ElBaradei that any unauthorized gathering would not be tolerated. Despite this, a vast cross-section of Egyptian society including the young and old, liberal and conservative, Christian and Muslim, and poor and wealthy, still showed up to cheer his homecoming.

ElBaradei’s arrival appeared to herald the beginning of campaign season as Egypt gets ready to hold a presidential ballot in 2011. Mubarak has not officially announced if he will seek re-election or not, but there is widespread belief he is grooming his son Gamal to succeed him.

With this expectation, constitutional roadblocks have already been erected to prevent someone exactly like ElBaradei from challenging him.

Egypt’s constitution was amended in 2007 to require presidential candidates to be members of a recognized party for a minimum of one year, and for that party to have existed for at least five. Independent candidates – as ElBaradei would be considered should he run – are forced to secure the endorsement of 250 members from the People’s Assembly (lower house of parliament), the Shura Council (upper house of parliament) and municipal councils. As expected, all are dominated by Mubarak’s ruling National Democratic Party (NDP), essentially precluding independents from running.

ElBaradei thus faces a colossal, entrenched political and security infrastructure that has no appetite for an outsider’s attempt (as Egyptian media has been keen to describe it) at reform. Indeed, the nearly 30-year rule of Mubarak has not seen a single day without the cover of Emergency Law.

Enacted after President Anwar Sadat’s assassination in 1981, these laws give Mubarak’s government sweeping authority to arrest without warrant, detain without charge, censor media and curtail freedom of assembly.

ElBaradei appreciates the challenge quite well. As a result, he has positioned himself less as a presidential contender and more as a facilitator of change:

“I believe that the time has come for Egypt to make a serious move towards real democracy … This is what I am advocating and is my primary goal: creating the environment that enables the Egyptians to feel that they are in charge of their destiny.”

The question many are now asking is not whether ElBaradei will beat Gamal in 2011, but if he will even be allowed to run. He stated:

“I am ready to throw myself into Egyptian political life on the condition that there are free elections, and the first step toward that would be a constitutional amendment under which I can be a candidate and others as well.”

In stark contrast to the conditions imposed on presidential candidates described above, ElBaradei stipulated that any bid of his would be contingent on guarantees of independent judicial review and international oversight of the election by the United Nations.

Many believe that is extremely unlikely to happen.

The strategy of Mubarak’s regime has always been to make people believe they have only two choices: the NDP (re: Mubarak) or the Muslim Brotherhood (which is banned). The last independent challenger to Mubarak, Ayman Nour, was thrown in jail on trumped up charges of forgery after he garnered seven percent of the vote in the 2005 election. Framing themselves as representing stability and continuity, Mubarak and the NDP have effectively left citizens with no real alternative.

With this in mind, ElBaradei recognized he could well be regarded as a type of “savior” and has wisely cautioned against it:

“I am worried that people have reached such a level of despair that they are waiting for one person to save them, but I would like for Egypt to save itself.”

One would assume that focusing on the responsibilities of the Egyptian people and their pressing needs (poverty, lack of access to medical care and education, ending corruption) might find a sympathetic ear. But this has certainly not been the case.

The editor of the widely-circulated government-owned daily, Al-Ahram, said ElBaradei was “ill-informed” and “an American stooge” (apparently unlike his own president). A government minister remarked that ElBaradei knew nothing of Egypt’s problems because of his time spent abroad. Even the opposition Muslim Brotherhood, possibly sensing he may draw away support, have distanced themselves from him.

An Al-Ahram columnist recently wrote, “(ElBaradei’s) rosy dreams will fade when he discovers that none of those searching for a loaf of bread … even knows his name.”

I don’t how ElBaradei would respond, but I suspect he would say it is far more important to ensure they have bread to eat than to worry about the person they got it from.

Audio: Egypt’s Dilemma

Program: Middle East Today, aired on Press TV

Host: Maryam Saleh

Guests: Professor Hillal Khashan and Professor Ashraf El-Bayoumi

Listen: Egypt’s Dilemma

Download: Link

Egypt is building an Iron wall to block out Gaza

Myth of Sectarianism in the “New Middle East”

By Ali JawadGlobal Research

Sectarianism constitutes an important chapter in the ‘divide and conquer’ strategy

One of the lasting legacies of the failed US-led war on Iraq is without doubt the rise of sectarianism in the general discourse on Middle Eastern politics. Sectarianism has been pitched as the ‘modern’ story of the Middle East, yet its driving causes and true nature remain subject to sweeping and misplaced generalizations, particularly in the Western media. The subsequent rooting of a sectarian political discourse in understanding the dynamics of the Middle East, flavoured by myths and fallacies, primarily serves to further the interests of imperialist and colonialist powers in the region. At another level, this discourse seeks to insulate discredited Arab leaders (i.e. Moderate “allies”) from the grievances of their own peoples as invented threats posed by an “other” are hyped up to disorientate the power of the masses.

In this regard, the recent scathing attack launched by the Egyptian Public Prosecutor (EPP) against Hizbullah, despite being somewhat expected, was revealing insofar as its sectarian dimension is concerned. Buried in between a long list of accusations against a “Hizbullah cell” uncovered in Egypt, the EPP stated the accused were “planning to carry out hostile operations within the country (Egypt) and attempting to spread Shiite thought in Egypt”.

During recent times, it has become fashionable for Middle Eastern premiers and oil-kings to protest against an ethereal threat posed by Shiism. The summoning of the “spread of Shiism” pretext, as seen above in the case of Egypt, is essentially used as a political tool. Further, the Egyptian line of attack in this respect is by no means an anomaly. In mid-March of this year, the kingdom of Morocco severed diplomatic ties with Iran accusing Tehran of “cultural infiltration” and attempts to “implant the Shiite Muslim ideology” in the country. In the emirate kingdoms of Bahrain and Kuwait, allegations of Iranian interference in the former, and charges claiming the formation of an insidious “Kuwaiti-Hizbullah” in the latter, are similarly propped up and dealt with within a strictly sectarian context.

Politically, the use of sectarianism in the present Middle Eastern context serves several purposes which can broadly be divided into local, regional and international dimensions. To identify these dimensions, it is necessary to probe below the surface of this worn out, yet doggishly resurgent, charge of Arab leaders against the threat posed by “Shiism” in order to reveal the causative factors behind this renewed focus on sectarianism.

First, by positing a so-called “threat” posed by a Shiite sectarian agenda, Arab leaders conveniently conceal and deflect attention from the deeply entrenched socio-economic disparity that exists between Shiite communities and their counterparts in several Gulf nations. In countries like Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, Shiites are forced to locate themselves on the peripheries of society under the juggernaut of systemic discrimination. Further, an environment of heightened sectarianism also provides an effective red herring for these kingdoms to silence demands calling for fairer representation and accordance of rights.

With respect to Shiite communities and their development in the Arab and national contexts, this factor presents a massive hurdle in the way of reform. As an example, the case of Lebanon underlines the central importance that the ability to pressure the central government plays in effecting change. Until the late Seventies of the last century, i.e. more than three decades after the National Pact (al-Mithaq al-Watani) was signed, Shiites found themselves relegated to the outer rims of Lebanese society. Downtrodden and ignored by the state, Lebanese Shiites bottled up their grievances within a sub-national narrative. In this milieu of resignation, the dynamism brought in by the charismatic Shiite leader, Sayyed Musa Al-Sadr, relied primarily on matlabiyya (a politics of demand) to transform the fortunes of Lebanese Shiites. Thus, the present-day hyping up of sectarian polemics by Arab leaders in the Gulf, acts as a significant stumbling block in the way of urgently needed, and long overdue reform of internal political and socio-economic structures. Demands for fair representation and equal rights that ought to be accorded by virtue of citizenship are instead silenced through the use of a sectarian deception.

Second, by reinforcing an image of a whole-scale invasion of the “Shiite” school of thought in traditionally majority-“Sunni” areas (or what was termed the Shii tide; al-madd al-Shii), Arab leaders promote an inherently confrontational and other-excluding relationship between the two major religious sects of Islam. This strategy thus aims to provoke a “religious” reaction hence providing credibility to the statements of highly unpopular and discredited leaders.

It has to be noted that this strategy has not only failed so far, but has done so miserably. Contrary to what Arab leaders like Mubarak hoped for, Sunni and Shia religious figures have stood by each other and together lambasted Arab leaders for their criminal silence and treachery towards the Palestinian cause. Notably, Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak was accused of “apostasy” and “grand treason” by more than two-hundred Sunni religious scholars in the wake of the brutal war on Gaza.

Third, in logical continuity from the previous point, Arab leaders like Mubarak who suffer from serious popularity deficits amongst their peoples, attempt to revitalize and give credibility to their sinking images by marketing themselves as safe keepers of “Sunnism”. The “spread of Shiism” accusation made by the EPP thus makes the case that the highly unpopular Mubarak in fact plays the role of a gatekeeper who faithfully ensures that the “Sunni” identity of Egypt is preserved.

Arab leaders like Mubarak who suffer from serious popularity deficits attempt to give credibility to their sinking images by marketing themselves as religious saviours

At this level the strategy has again been met with ridicule from the Egyptian public. In a radio interview, the head of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mahdi Akef, termed the allegations levelled against Hizbullah as unfounded and utterly baseless. The secretary general of the Islamic Action Front (IAF), the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood movement in Jordan, minced less into his words when he praised the actions of Hizbullah as a “national, legitimate, and pan-Arab duty and an attempt to bolster the Islamic resistance in the Gaza Strip”. Instead of taking Mubarak for his word, public focus in Egypt has shifted to the involvement of Israeli intelligence in the operation targeted at Hizbullah. This factor by itself provides sufficient proof to the Egyptian and Arab streets that the actions of Hizbullah were in fact limited to supporting the resistance in Palestine, rather than the whimsically invented charge made by the EPP citing “spread of Shiism” in Egypt amongst others.

Fourth, the “spread of Shiism” pretext at the regional level is not sold merely as a sectarian phenomenon, but one that occurs in the backdrop of a growing Shiite presence in Middle Eastern politics. Shiite so-called “expansionism” is pitched as an extension of a wider political agenda, or what the Saudi Prince Turki Al-Faisal chooses to call “Iranian obstructionism”. Giving saliency to this aspect interlocks with the interests of the US and Israeli governments as was wittily articulated by an Arab writer who described the Egyptian government’s policy with the words: “Rescue! The Shiites are coming!” By openly declaring an anti-Shiite (read: anti-Iranian, anti resistance) platform, these Arab leaders seek to provide reassurance to the US and Israel that they continue to remain useful and relevant on the Middle Eastern chessboard.

Fifth, one of the more troubling usages of sectarianism in the present Middle East has been the enframent of political and national struggles within the mould of a sectarian identity-politics. The so-called “Moderate” Arab leaders in Cairo, Riyadh and Amman pass off differing stances as sectarian-qua-sectarian agendas. More accurately, political stances that clash with US-inspired “moderate” scripts of how things ought to play out in the Gulf, are pointed to as manifestations of the intrusion of a Shiite tidal wave under direct orders from an aspirant Shiite regional hegemon i.e. Iran.

Fuelling the fires of sectarianism in this way has meant that even pre-eminent struggles and causes in the Arab world have not remained impervious from the burdens of a sectarian-politics discourse. According to leading officials in Egypt, Gaza is seen as a ‘mini Islamic Republic of Iran’, and Hamas an abiding servant of the Iranian agenda. In order to discredit the path of resistance, the likes of Egypt and Saudi Arabia have chosen to mark it off as an Iranian-Shiite conspiracy, which if left unchecked will extend to devour the entire Arab homeland.

Largely due to this self-destructing polarization, admiration for Iran on the Arab street has skyrocketed. In the world of Arab satellite channels, live phone-ins on political talk shows are flooded by voices of solidarity with Iran and total contempt for “sell-out” Arab leaders. Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah, Bashar Al-Assad and Ismail Haniyeh are viewed as the symbols of remaining Arab dignity, and their indisputable popularity, heads and shoulders above the rest, is evidenced in every poll.

Finally, there remains the relation between imperialism and the rise of sectarian rhetoric in the Middle East i.e. the elephant in the room. It is said that sectarianism can be narrated “only by continually acknowledging and referring to both indigenous and imperial” histories and imperatives. Iraq has been the theatre on, and from, which the image of an ongoing sectarian struggle for the heart of the Middle East has been propagated. In the wake of the collapse of Baghdad in 2003, leading Arab intellectual Dr. Azmi Bishara took to the podium at UC Berkeley and said:

“Of course we don’t buy what they say about their sensitivity to democracy […]; what they call ‘building a democratic Iraq’, because I hear the accent. This is not […] the language of democrats. You don’t go to a country to build a democracy by splitting the country into three major religions (sects) […]; this is not pluralism, this is a recipe for civil war.”

The ‘Balkanization’ of the Middle East has for long been an unswerving desire of imperialist powers. The oft-quoted words of Oded Yinon about the “far-reaching opportunities” presented by the “very stormy situation [that] surrounds Israel”, published in 1982 by the World Zionist Organization, are instructive in this regard:

“The dissolution of Syria and Iraq into ethnically or religiously unique areas such as in Lebanon is Israel’s primary target on the Eastern front. Iraq, rich in oil on the one hand and internally torn on the other is guaranteed as a candidate for Israel’s targets. Its dissolution is even more important for us than that of Syria. Iraq is stronger than Syria. In the short run, it is Iraqi power which constitutes the greatest threat to Israel.”

Today, the political tensions of the Middle East are driven minimally by indigenous inter-sectarian factors. The systematic and organized attempt – by imperialists and their regional clients – to amplify the myth of an ongoing, all-out sectarian war is precisely in order to cover for the evident absence of actual rifts between the peoples of the Middle East. Why the likes of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Morocco are not waiting around for second invitations to jump on to this sectarian bandwagon should in itself provoke a lot of questioning. Not in the least surprising, and another reason to look into this subject more critically, has been the failure of Western media from putting forth these simple and straight-forward questions.

Sectarianism constitutes an important chapter in the ‘divide and conquer’ strategy. Whilst it could be said that the US viewed the Middle East through a more ethnic prism in the past, it is clear that the sectarian divide has provided the way forward. The declaration of the “New Middle East” agenda during the Bush administration, and its failure in infancy during the 2006 war on Lebanon, essentially served to overload the sectarian aspect in a bid to foster the right conditions for the implementation of this agenda.

So-called “moderate” Arab leaders shamefully find themselves not only aligned with the most rightist, racist coalition in Israel (which continues to steal more Palestinian land by the day), but they in fact work hand in hand with Israel to conspire against resistance movements. Netanyahu and Liebermann have taken it upon themselves to scare the world into insanity, under the pretext of an imminent Iranian nuclear weapon capability. Mubarak, Abdullah and cohorts on the other hand, are pioneering the project of spreading fear against a sinister Iranian-led “Shiite” agenda aimed at taking over the Arab heartland which, needless to state, is implemented by resistance movements such as Hizbullah and Hamas.

Sadly, for the imperialists and discredited Arab leaders, the masses no longer buy such crackpot machinations. In the Middle East, we are now witness to a post-sectarian phase; the unity and solidarity that exists between its’ peoples – in identifying the key challenges that face this region – is palpable in whichever direction you turn. Western discourse on the Middle East however, remains fixated on talk of civil wars, sectarian strife and religious tension.

The failure of the US (and other Western powers) to move away from a sectarian discourse in accounting for the dynamics of the Middle East, and the failure to impress this reality upon regional Arab clients, will predictably have significant repercussions. There are several very real issues that need to be resolved in this region, and they have precious little to do with the myth of sectarianism. Political agendas can not forever be implemented in the shadow of sectarianism. The sooner the White House realizes this, the better.

Egypt riled by Syria’s increasing role in the region

By Zvi Bar’el – Haaretz

Instead of Syria being isolated, Egypt may find itself pushed to the side

What happened to the reconciliation between Syria and Egypt supposedly in the works? There had been widespread speculation in the Arab media in anticipation of the Syrian-Saudi summit meeting last Wednesday, that the Egyptian president would go to Riyadh for the Syrian-Saudi summit meeting last Wednesday, to ease the four years of bad blood (starting from the Second Lebanon War) between the two.

The rift in relations between Syria and Saudi Arabia had lasted longer than that: five years. It began after the assassination of the Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri in February 2005, and ended only last October when Saudi King Abdullah mended ties with Syrian President Bashar Assad and agreed to visit Damascus.

Since then, Abdullah has been trying to persuade Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to bury the hatchet with Assad, but has been unsuccessful thus far.

As the summit approached, it seemed as if the warring sides would shake hands in the Saudi capital, but then Mubarak learned that on the eve of his departure, Assad had held a telephone conversation with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Tehran and explained to him that “Egypt would have no choice but to recognize that opposition (such as that espoused by Hamas and Hezbollah) is the only way to get things done.”

That was enough for Mubarak to cancel his trip to Riyadh.

Egypt can continue being annoyed with Syria but it cannot ignore the new role Damascus has recently taken on for itself in the region. One example of this is Assad’s proposal to the Saudis to mediate between them and Iran with the aim of reaching “regional reconciliation” and not merely “Arab reconciliation,” which is King Abdullah’s goal.

The Egyptians are scrutinizing Assad’s moves warily in other arenas as well. His close relations with Turkey, declarations about establishing an Iran-Syria-Iraq-Turkey axis, strengthening of ties between Syria and Europe, particularly France, Assad’s control of Hamas’ decisions about Palestinian reconciliation, and the “historic reconciliation” with Lebanon which removed the threat of an international commission of inquiry into the murder of Hariri have complicated matters in Mubarak’s eyes.

Instead of Syria being isolated, Egypt may find itself pushed to the side.

At the end of March, when the Arab League summit convenes in Tripoli, the heads of state will have to turn their attention to the issue of how to advance the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Should the Arab initiative be left on the table, will they have the power to bring about Palestinian reconciliation.

Is the Arab summit even still relevant, or will certain states like Saudi Arabia and Egypt continue to lead pan-Arabic policies as they have in recent years?

When Syria becomes one of the states that serves as an anchor, then Egypt’s problems will become more complicated.

Egypt also returned empty handed from a recent trip to Washington. Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit, and the head of intelligence, Omar Suleiman, returned some two weeks ago from the American capital without succeeding in persuading the administration there to demand a total freeze of construction in the Israeli settlements.

The Egyptian emissaries were likewise not successful in getting agreements with regard to the guarantees the Arab states are asking of the Americans.

Egypt became involved in an embarrassing public argument over this issue with Qatar of all countries. While Aboul Gheit claimed he had no idea about an Arab decision demanding American guarantees that Israel would carry out its commitments, the Qatari foreign minister declared that “everyone knows that the Arab committee that is following up the political process demanded American guarantees as far back as September.”

A copy of this demand was given to every foreign minister and Qatar was “amazed” at Egypt’s response, he said.

Al-Jazeera under fire

Egypt has been peeved for some time now about broadcasts from al-Jazeera which portray it as collaborating with Israel in the blockade of Gaza. According to Saudi Arabia, which has meanwhile made peace with Qatar – whose ruling family controls the TV station – al-Jazeera is presenting Riyadh as if it is fighting a war in Yemen in which it should not be involved.

The attempts in 2008 by Saudi Arabia and Egypt, together with a number of other Arab states, to formulate a binding covenant of ethics to be adopted by satellite TV channels did not succeed.

The covenant was left to die when Qatar voiced its opposition. This week, Anas el-Fiqi, the Egyptian information minister, decided to launch another initiative. Known as the Satellite Stations Authority, the new plan is meant to censor broadcasts by stations considered to be inciting against the Arab interest or against states, or to be abetting terrorism.

Syria, Qatar and Lebanon have already announced that they oppose the initiative and that they believe no TV station should be under political censorship. The opposition on the part of these three states ensures that the discussion that is supposed to take place in Cairo on January 24 between all the information ministers of the Arab states will produce a lot of hot air but few decisions.

Egypt and Saudi Arabia base their initiative on the draft law that was passed in the U.S. House of Representatives but has not yet become law, according to which the owners of satellite stations, and not merely editors and reporters, will be prosecuted if their stations help spread terrorism.

It is not clear what the definition of “spreading terrorism” or anti-American incitement will be, but the draft law mentions several possible actions that could fall under the law.

The problem is that the United States can indeed impose sanctions on the owners of such stations, but what will the Arab states do? Impose sanctions on one another? Boycott Hezbollah, which owns the al-Manaar station, or ostracize Hamas, which owns the al-Aqsa station?

Turkey Slams Arab response to Gaza Plight

Press TV

The governments have failed to display the reactions that the world's Muslims expected from them

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan condemned the leaders of the Arab states for their inadequate response to the Palestinian’s plight under the three-year Israeli blockade on Gaza.

Shortly before flying to the United Arab Emirates on Sunday, Erdogan denounced Arab leaders’ inadequate response to Palestinian suffering as “pitiful.”

“The governments have failed to display the reactions that the world’s Muslims expected from them. And this has been a pitiful aspect of the matter,” Erdogan said.

An outspoken critic of Israeli policies, Erdogan, left the country as Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak made a one-day visit to Ankara in an attempt to mend relations with Turkey, strained after a diplomatic row.

In a memorable outburst last year, Erdogan stormed out of a debate at the World Economic Forum, accusing Israel of “barbarian” acts and telling its President Shimon Peres, sitting next to him, that “you know well how to kill people.”

Barak’s trip was the highest-level bilateral visit since Israel’s December 2008-January 2009 war on the Gaza Strip prompted the criticism from Ankara.

Ankara, however, said relations with Tel Aviv will continue to suffer unless Israel ends “the humanitarian tragedy” in Gaza.

Tension between the two sides further escalated when Tel Aviv summoned Turkish Ambassador Ahmet Oguz Celikkol to reprimand him over a TV program that showed Israeli agents kidnapping children and shooting old men.

Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon reportedly ‘humiliated’ Ambassador Celikkol during the meeting prompting Ankara to call for an official apology from the Israeli side.

“Barak is an important figure in Israeli politics and both [Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet] Davutoglu and [Turkish Defense Minister Vecdi] Gonul will give the same message, ‘such kind of events should not happen again,'” a senior Turkish diplomat told Xinhua on condition of anonymity.

He said Ankara will continue to press for an end to Tel Aviv’s blockade of the Gaza Strip and resumption of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians during Barak’s visit.

Mubarak Creates PR Disaster for Egypt and Himself

By Stuart LittlewoodPalestine Chronicle

Mubarak’s misdeeds have shamed the Egyptian people and all Arabs

Mubarak’s misdeeds have shamed the Egyptian people and all ArabsHosni Mubarak, President of Egypt, has plumbed new depths and caused deep offence with his shameful bullying of the Viva Palestina convoy bound for Gaza, which had driven for weeks and thousands of miles from many countries to bring medical aid and other relief to women and children cruelly shut off from the world and under endless lethal bombardment by Israel.

The dirty tricks resorted to by Mubarak and his lieutenants, which repeatedly delayed the convoy when only a few hours away from its destination, forced it to retrace its steps and take a dangerous and unnecessary sea voyage menaced by Israeli gunboats, heaped massive extra costs on the mercy mission then confronted it with 2,000 riot police, put him and his rotten regime beyond the pale. In other words, far outside acceptable standards of decency.

Mubarak’s misdeeds have shamed the Egyptian people and indeed all Arabs, and will be written indelibly into the history of the Middle East. Who would have thought that a man of his experience would visibly stoop so low as to invite wholesale ridicule and disgust?

Faced with all those obstacles the splendid men and women with Viva Palestina rose to the challenge in fine style and gave real meaning to the anthem “We Shall Overcome”.

They overcame all right. They overcame all the mean-minded chicanery the loathsome vultures of the Middle East could throw at them.

And with their generous hearts, human decency and sense of honour, the Viva Palestina team delivered a master-class in true grit and cross-cultural togetherness in the teeth of unjustified hostility.

Impressive too was the leader George Galloway. The British MP, considered a renegade in Westminster, once again showed himself to be head and shoulders above the pygmies of the British government when it comes to ‘doing the right thing’.

They all received sterling help en route from many authorities that co-operated in exemplary fashion. Egypt please take notes.

Where does Mubarak go from here? He could begin by asking forgiveness not only from the humanitarian convoy and the suffering children they were striving to reach, but from the world community whose eyes have been opened by this epic, blockade-busting expedition and who now view him and his kind with contempt.

And by asking forgiveness from God.

The crowning glory of Mubarak’s evil intent is the construction of the iron wall along the Gaza border, which threatens the Palestinians’ very survival and has been dubbed the ‘Death Wall’. It would go a long way to restoring Egypt’s credibility and his own standing if he were to do a spectacular U-turn and take it down… such a move being a sign of strength not weakness.