Solidarity with imprisoned Al Jazeera journalists

June 23, 2014 at 9:48 pm (Civil liberties, democracy, Egypt, Free Speech, Human rights, media, posted by JD)

We must all register our protests, as best we can. Staff at Channel 4 (including Jon Snow, below) made their feelings known this evening:

Pete Radcliff's photo.

Excerpted from Press Gazette:
National Union of Journalists’ general secretary Michelle Stanistreet described the sentences as “outrageous” and called for the British Government to condemn the verdicts.”The NUJ condemns in the strongest terms these sentences meted on journalists who were merely doing their job,” she said. “This is an outrageous decision and travesty of justice made by a kangaroo court.”Al Jazeera has rejected the charges against its journalists and maintains their innocence. This is a brutal regime which is attacking and arresting many journalists to attempt to silence them and prevent them from reporting events.

“The British Government must immediately signal its opposition to this verdict and do all it can to have the sentences overturned. The NUJ is calling on all media organisations to register their protest in support of colleagues at Al Jazeera and all the Egyptian journalists who have been attacked and arrested by their country’s authorities.

“Governments must not be allowed to deny journalists, wherever they are, the right to be able to report independently and in safety. The freedom of journalists is an integral part of any democratic process.”

Free speech campaign group Index on Censorship said the verdicts sent a message that journalists “simply doing their job” was considered a crime in Egypt.

Chief executive Jodie Ginsberg condemned the verdicts as “disgraceful” adding: “We call on the international community to join us in condemning this verdict and ask governments to apply political and financial pressure on a country that is rapidly unwinding recently won freedoms, including freedom of the press.

“The government of newly elected president Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi must build on the country’s democratic aspirations and halt curbs on the media and the silencing of voices of dissent.”

Ginsberg said at least 14 journalists remained in detention in Egypt and some 200 members of the press were in jails around the world, and that concerns are growing over the safety of media representatives across the globe.

“Index is deeply concerned at the growing number of imprisoned journalists in Egypt and around the world,” she said. “We reiterate our support to journalists to report freely and safely and call on Egyptian authorities to drop charges against journalists and ensure they are set free from jail.

“And we ask governments to maintain pressure on Egypt to ensure freedom of expression and other fundamental human rights are protected. Index joined the global #FreeAJStaff campaign along with other human rights, press freedom groups and journalists.”

The hashtags #journalismisnotacrime and #FreeAJStaff were trending on Twitter this morning after the verdicts came through.

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Yom Kippur war 40 years on, by Uri Avnery

October 6, 2013 at 8:34 pm (Egypt, history, israel, Middle East, posted by JD, Syria, war, zionism)

Exactly 40 years ago, the Syrian and Egyptian ruling classes launched the third Arab war against Israel (I include in that,  the 1967 defensive pre-emptive strike by Israel).  Initially, Egypt and Syria had some success, but, eventually, Israel with considerable US support, beat them back. There is no doubt that Syria and Egypt were the aggressors, but Uri Avnery (below) adds some background and context:

Above: Moshe Dayan with Golda Meir at the Front

The Israeli peace activist  (who sat in the Knesset from 1965–74 and 1979) Uri Avnery wrote this one year ago, for the (often dodgy) Veterans Today website:

I AM sitting here writing this article 39 years to the minute from that moment when the sirens started screaming, announcing the beginning of the war.

A minute before, total quiet reigned, as it does now. No traffic, no activity in the street, except a few children riding bicycles. Yom Kippur, the holiest day for Jews, reigned supreme. And then…

Inevitably, the memory starts to work.

THIS YEAR, many new documents were released for publication. Critical books and articles are abundant.

The universal culprits are Golda Meir and Moshe Dayan.

They have been blamed before, right from the day after the war, but only for superficial military offences, known as The Default. The default was failing to mobilize the reserves, and not moving the tanks to the front in time, in spite of the many signs that Egypt and Syria were about to attack.

Now, for the first time, the real Grand Default is being explored: the political background of the war. The findings have a direct bearing on what is happening now.

IT TRANSPIRES that in February 1973, eight months before the war, Anwar Sadat sent his trusted aide, Hafez Ismail, to the almighty US Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger.

Above: Uri (left) talks to Sadat

He offered the immediate start of peace negotiations with Israel. There was one condition and one date: all of Sinai, up to the international border, had to be returned to Egypt without any Israeli settlements, and the agreement had to be achieved by September, at the latest.

Kissinger liked the proposal and transmitted it at once to the Israeli ambassador, Yitzhak Rabin, who was just about to finish his term in office. Rabin, of course, immediately informed the Prime Minister, Golda Meir.

She rejected the offer out of hand. There ensued a heated conversation between the ambassador and the Prime Minister. Rabin, who was very close to Kissinger, was in favor of accepting the offer.

Golda treated the whole initiative as just another Arab trick to induce her to give up the Sinai Peninsula and remove the settlements built on Egyptian territory.

After all, the real purpose of these settlements – including the shining white new town, Yamit – was precisely to prevent the return of the entire peninsula to Egypt. Neither she nor Dayan dreamed of giving up Sinai. Dayan had already made the infamous statement that he preferred “Sharm al-Sheik without peace to peace without Sharm al-Sheik”.

Sharm al-Sheik, which had already been re-baptised with the Hebrew name Ophira, is located near the southern tip of the peninsula, not far from the oil wells, which Dayan was also loath to give up.

Even before the new disclosures, the fact that Sadat had made several peace overtures was no secret. Sadat had indicated his willingness to reach an agreement in his dealings with the UN mediator Dr. Gunnar Jarring, whose endeavors had already become a joke in Israel.

Before that, the previous Egyptian President, Gamal Abd-al-Nasser, had invited Nahum Goldman, the President of the World Jewish Congress (and for a time President of the World Zionist Organization) to meet him in Cairo.

Golda had prevented that meeting, and when the fact became known there was a storm of protest in Israel, including a famous letter from a group of 12th-graders saying that it would be hard for them to serve in the army.

All these Egyptian initiatives could be waved aside as political maneuvers. But an official message by Sadat to the Secretary of State could not. So, remembering the lesson of the Goldman incident, Golda decided to keep the whole thing secret.

THUS AN incredible situation was created. This fateful initiative, which could have effected an historic turning point, was brought to the knowledge of two people only: Moshe Dayan and Israel Galili.

The role of the latter needs explanation. Galili was the eminence grise of Golda, as well as of her predecessor, Levy Eshkol. I knew Galili quite well, and never understood where his renown as a brilliant strategist came from.

Already before the founding of the state, he was the leading light of the illegal Haganah military organization. As a member of a kibbutz, he was officially a socialist but in reality a hardline nationalist. It was he who had the brilliant idea of putting the settlements on Egyptian soil, in order to make the return of northern Sinai impossible.

So the Sadat initiative was known only to Golda, Dayan, Galili and Rabin and Rabin’s successor in Washington, Simcha Dinitz, a nobody who was Golda’s lackey.

Incredible as it may sound, the Foreign Minister, Abba Eban, Rabin’s direct boss, was not informed. Nor were all the other ministers, the Chief of Staff and the other leaders of the armed forces, including the Chiefs of Army Intelligence, as well as the chiefs of the Shin Bet and the Mossad. It was a state secret.

There was no debate about it – neither public nor secret. September came and passed, and on October 6th Sadat’s troops struck across the canal and achieved a world-shaking surprise success (as did the Syrians on the Golan Heights.)

As a direct result of Golda’s Grand Default 2693 Israeli soldiers died, 7251 were wounded and 314 were taken prisoner (along with the tens of thousands of Egyptian and Syrian casualties).

___________________________

THIS WEEK, several Israeli commentators bemoaned the total silence of the media and the politicians at the time.

Well, not quite total. Several months before the war, in a speech in the Knesset, I warned Golda Meir that if the Sinai was not returned very soon, Sadat would start a war to break the impasse.

I knew what I was talking about. I had, of course, no idea about the Ismail mission, but in May 1973 I took part in a peace conference in Bologna. The Egyptian delegation was led by Khalid Muhyi al-Din, a member of the original group of Free Officers who made the 1952 revolution.

During the conference, he took me aside and told me in confidence that if the Sinai was not returned by September, Sadat would start a war. Sadat had no illusions of victory, he said, but hoped that a war would compel the US and Israel to start negotiations for the return of Sinai.

My warning was completely ignored by the media. They, like Golda, held the Egyptian army in abysmal contempt and considered Sadat a nincompoop. The idea that the Egyptians would dare to attack the invincible Israeli army seemed ridiculous.

The media adored Golda. So did the whole world, especially feminists. A famous poster showed her face with the inscription: “But can she type?” In reality, Golda was a very primitive person, ignorant and obstinate.

My magazine, Haolam Hazeh, attacked her practically every week, and so did I in the Knesset. She paid me the unique compliment of publicly declaring that she was ready to “mount the barricades” to get me out of the Knesset.

Ours was a voice crying in the wilderness, but at least we fulfilled one function: In her ‘March of Folly”, Barbara Tuchman stipulated that a policy could be branded as folly only if there had been at least one voice warning against it in real time.

Perhaps even Golda would have reconsidered if she had not been surrounded by journalists and politicians singing her praises, celebrating her wisdom and courage and applauding every one of her stupid pronouncements.

THE SAME type of people, even some of the very same people, are now doing the same with Binyamin Netanyahu.

Again, we are staring the same Grand Default in the face.

Again, a group of two or three are deciding the fate of the nation. Netanyahu and Ehud Barak alone make all the decisions, “keeping their cards close to their chest”.  Attack Iran or not? Politicians and generals are kept in the dark. Bibi and Ehud know best. No need for any other input.

But more revealing than the blood-curdling threats on Iran is the total silence about Palestine. Palestinian peace offers are ignored, as were those of Sadat in those days. The ten-year old Arab Peace Initiative, supported by all the Arab and all the Muslim states, does not exist.

Again, settlements are put up and expanded, in order to make the return of the occupied territories impossible. Let’s remember all those who claimed, in those days, that the occupation of Sinai was “irreversible”. Who would dare to remove Yamit?

Again, multitudes of flatterers, media stars and politicians compete with each other in adulation of “Bibi, King of Israel”. How smoothly he can talk in American English! How convincing his speeches in the UN and the US Senate!

Well, Golda, with her 200 words of bad Hebrew and primitive American, was much more convincing, and she enjoyed the adulation of the whole Western world.

And at least she had the sense not to challenge the incumbent American president (Richard Nixon) during an election campaign.

IN THOSE days, I called our government “the ship of fools”. Our current government is worse, much worse.

Golda and Dayan led us to disaster. After the war, their war, they were kicked out – not by elections, not by any committee of inquiry, but by the grassroots mass protests that racked the country.

Bibi and Ehud are leading us to another, far worse, disaster. Some day, they will be kicked out by the same people who adore them now – if they survive.

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Cole on “Egypt’s Waco”

August 17, 2013 at 7:20 am (Egypt, Human rights, islamism, misogyny, reblogged, secularism, terror, thuggery)

More on Egypt from Juan Cole’s Informed Comment blog. This time he comes up with a surprising angle:

Egypt’s Waco

Within Egypt, and in many other Arab countries, the shocking killings of Black Wednesday have elicited horror in many quarters, but have actually been supported in many others.  I am in the horrified camp, and ask myself how in the world people can be indifferent to or even justified what the Egyptian military did.

It is always dangerous to try to explain an unpleasant reality, since some inept readers will assume that explanation is justification.  All I can say is, it’s not.

Those anti-Muslim Brotherhood Egyptians and Arabs who feel little sympathy for the victims typically depict the Brotherhood as a violent cult stockpiling weapons and kidnapping and torturing people.  That is, they speak about the sit-ins in Giza and Nasr City the way the Clinton administration spoke of the Waco cult of Branch Davidians, which US law enforcement besieged and attacked in winter of 1993.   Just as the Branch Davidians were depicted as closed, cultish, deviant, violent stockpilers of weapons, so that is increasingly the language used about the Muslim Brotherhood by their critics in the region.  President Clinton blamed them for the fires that killed members during the FBI assault, including children.  I should underline that the Muslim Brotherhood is a major group in Egypt and not in fact analogous to a small cult like the Branch Davidians.  I’m just talking about the attitude to them among the military, the old Mubarak elite and even the Rebellion or Tamarrud youth spokespeople, who led the effort to unseat Muhammad Morsi.

These observers are struck not by the body count but by what they call the clear evidence of weapons stockpiles at the sit-ins.

It is true that on Wednesday and Thursday, Muslim Brotherhood cadres did deploy firearms against the police, killing some 50 of them.  There was a report of the Brotherhood actually using mortar rounds against a police station in the upper Egyptian city of Asyut.  Euronews reports that Brotherhood attackers took over the governorate offices of Giza with firearms and then burned it  (see also RT :

Brotherhood cadres have also burned down at least 12 Coptic Christian churches and attacked 28 others in the past two days, as well as shooting dead at least 3 random Christians.  They blame the Copts for supporting the coup against Morsi, though the Copts as a minority of 10% of the population are powerless and hardly conducted the coup.

But such violence (inexcusable as it is, especially toward innocent Christians) is an outcome of the coup and of the dispersal of their protests, and was not typical of the movement in the past 3 decades.

According to opinion polling, some 57% of Egyptians either felt that the Brotherhood protesters at the sit-ins were terrorists or included terrorists among them.  Only about a fifth sympathized with them.  Nearly two-thirds wanted the sit-ins broken up “immediately” (though they mostly preferred it be done “peacefully.”   These findings are shocking, since the mainstream of the Muslim Brotherhood gave up violence in the 1970s and has been participating in parliamentary elections (even though until 2011 they were known to be rigged) since them.  Moreover, I suspect that these attitudes stem from the past year of Brotherhood rule, since Gallup found that in early 2012 some 60% of Egyptians had a favorable view of the Brotherhood, which fell to 19% in early June, 2013.  Morsi’s violent crushing of protests against his constitutional decree of November, 2012 putting himself above the law, including the alleged deployment of Brotherhood paramilitary against the New Left youth crowds, seems to have been a major turning point in shaping images of the movement.

The Tamarrud or Rebellion movement of Mahmoud Badr and others had actually forwarded a memo to the United Nations asking them to designate the Muslim Brotherhood as an international terrorist organization.

A splinter group of the Muslim Brotherhood, “The Brotherhood without Violence” is also making wild charges that the inner circles of the Brotherhood leadership are planning a bloody campaign of violent reprisals.

It is not only Egypt.  The Kuwaiti newspaper al-Siyasa headlined on Thursday after the bloody events, “Egypt breaks up Sit-in of the Brotherhood of Terror,” saying the long-suffering Egyptian people had awaited the end of this nightmare of the Muslim Brotherhood, which had turned city squares into armed camps.

Entertainment stars even got into the action.  Asked about the car bomb in a Shiite neighborhood of Beirut that killed 18 on Thursday and the events in Cairo, diva Haifa Wahba expressed anguish at the region’s terrorism problem and asked God to “save us from those cannibals and from blind hatred.”  I think she was referring to the perpetrators of the car bomb, but in the general context some people in the region read her as denouncing the Muslim Brotherhood as cannibals along with the violent Sunni extremists of Beirut.  (Haifa is from a mixed Shiite and Christian background, and is known for steamy music videos, so Sunni fundamentalism would certainly not like her very much).

It should just be pointed out that the far Right in the US considered Waco an unjustifiable massacre, and that the Oklahoma City bombing of the Federal building, among the worst instances of domestic terrorism in US history, came about in part as a reaction to it.

********************************************************************************************************

NB: as we’ve been making quite a lot of use of Informed Comment lately, it seems only fair to draw this to your attention:

Juan Cole

Juan Cole.Welcome to Informed Comment, where I do my best to provide an independent and informed perspective on Middle Eastern and American politics.

Informed Comment is made possible by your support. If you value the information and essays, I make available and write here, please take a moment to contribute what you can - Juan Cole

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Juan Cole on the new age of military dicatorship in Egypt

August 15, 2013 at 7:13 pm (Egypt, Human rights, islamism, Jim D, Middle East, murder, reblogged, thuggery)

As ever, Juan Cole, over at Informed Comment, is essential reading on the Middle East. Naturally, he denounces the Egyptian military and their massacre of protestors, but he’s also much more critical of the Muslim Brotherhood than most western Guardianista-liberals.

Muslim Brotherhood leaders warned today of further protests after the camps were forcibly disbanded by security forces
Above: the military move in
.
Egypt’s Transition Has Failed: New Age of Military Dictatorship in Wake of Massacre
By Juan Cole

The horrible bloodshed in Egypt on Wednesday marked a turning point in the country’s modern history, locking it in to years of authoritarian paternalism and possibly violent faction fighting.  The country is ruled by an intolerant junta with no respect for human life.  Neither the Brotherhood nor the military made the kind of bargain and compromises necessary for a successful democratic transition. It is true that some armed Brotherhood cadres killed some 50 troops and police, and that some 20 Coptic Christian churches were attacked, some burned.  But the onus for the massacre lies with the Egyptian military.  Mohamed Elbaradei, who resigned as interim vice president for foreign affairs, had urged that the Brotherhood sit-ins be gradually and peacefully whittled Way at.  His plan was Egypt’s only hope of reconciliation.  Now it has a feud.

Egypt began a possible transition to parliamentary democracy in February of 2011 after the fall of Hosni Mubarak.  Although the military had made a coup, the aged Field Marshall Hussein Tantawi was not interested in ruling himself and sought a civilian transitional government that the military could live with.  He wanted guarantees that the new government would not interfere with the military’s own commercial enterprises and attempted to assert a veto over the new constitution lest it veer toward Muslim fundamentalism. 

The major political forces said they were committed to free, fair and transparent parliamentary elections.  The Muslim Brotherhood, the best organized political group, pledged not to run candidates in all constituencies so as to show they weren’t greedy for power, and said they would not run anyone for president lest they give the impression they were seeking control of all three branches of government.  The Brotherhood said it wanted a consensual constitution.

Behind the scenes, generals like Omar Suleiman (d. 2012) were furious about the constraints being lifted from the Brotherhood, convinced that they had a secret armed militia and that they were angling to make a coup over time.  His views turn out to be more widespread than was evident on the surface.

In 2011-2012, the revolutionary youth, the liberals and the Brotherhood made common cause to return the military to their barracks.

But then the Brotherhood broke all of its promises and threw a fright into everyone– youth, women, Coptic Christians, Liberals, leftists, workers, and the remnants of the old regime. The Brotherhood cheated in the parliamentary elections, running candidates for seats set aside for independents.  Then they tried to pack the constitution-writing body with their parliamentarians, breaking another promise. They reneged on the pledge to have a consensual constitution.

Once Muhammad Morsi was elected president in June, 2012, he made a slow-motion coup. He pushed through a Brotherhood constitution in December of 2012 in a referendum with about a 30% turnout in which it garnered only 63%– i.e. only a fifth of the country voted for it.  The judges went on strike rather than oversee balloting, so the referendum did not meet international standards. When massive protests were staged he had them cleared out by the police, and on December 6, 2012, is alleged to have sent in Brotherhood paramilitary to attack leftist youth who were demonstrating.  There were deaths and injuries.

Morsi then invented a legislature for himself, declaring by fiat that the ceremonial upper house was the parliament.  He appointed many of its members; only 7% were elected.  They passed a law changing the retirement age for judges from 70 to 60, which would have forced out a fourth of judges and allowed Morsi to start putting Brotherhood members on the bench to interpret his sectarian constitution.  He was building a one party state.  His economic policies hurt workers and ordinary folk.  He began prosecuting youth who criticized him, his former allies against the military.  8 bloggers were indicted.  Ahmad Maher of The April 6 youth group was charged with demonstrating (yes).  Television channels were closed.  Coptic school teachers were charged with blasphemy. Morsi ruled from his sectarian base and alienated everyone else.  He over-reached. 

In my view Morsi and the Brotherhood leadership bear a good deal of the blame for derailing the transition, since a democratic transition is a pact among various political forces, and he broke the pact.  If Morsi was what democracy looked like, many Egyptians did not want it.  Gallup polls trace this disillusionment.

But the Egyptian military bears the other part of the blame for the failed transition.  Ambitious officers such as Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Morsi’s Minister of Defense, were secretly determined to undo Morsi’s victory at the polls.  They said they wanted him to compromise with his political rivals, but it seems to me they wanted more, they wanted him neutered.  When the revolutionary youth and the workers and even many peasants staged the June 30 demonstrations, al-Sisi took advantage of them to stage a coup.  Ominously, he then asked for public acclamation to permit him to wage a war on terror, by which he means the Brotherhood. I tweeted at the time: “Dear General al-Sisi: when activists call for demonstrations, that is activism.  When generals do, that is Peronism.”

Although al-Sisi said he recognized an interim civilian president, supreme court chief justice Adly Mansour, and although a civilian prime minister and cabinet was put in place to oversee a transition to new elections, al-Sisi is in charge.  It is a junta, bent on uprooting the Muslim Brotherhood.  Without buy-in from the Brotherhood, there can be no democratic transition in Egypt.  And after Black Wednesday, there is unlikely to be such buy-in, perhaps for a very long time.  Wednesday’s massacre may have been intended to forestall Brotherhood participation in civil politics.  Perhaps the generals even hope the Brotherhood will turn to terrorism, providing a pretext for their destruction.

The military and the Brotherhood are two distinct status groups, with their own sources of wealth, which have claims on authority in Egypt.  Those claims were incompatible.

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Statement of the Egyptian Revolutionary Socialists

August 14, 2013 at 5:22 pm (Egypt, islamism, Jim D, Middle East, murder, protest, secularism, SWP, thuggery)

The Revolutionary Socialists are the (UK) SWP’s associated group in Egypt, but take a much more critical view of the Muslim Brotherhood (although, perhaps under pressure from the the SWP, they did call for a vote for Morsi and the Brotherhood in last year’s elections).

Here’s their statement on today’s massacre:

Down with military rule! Down with Al-Sisi, the leader of the counter-revolution!

The bloody dissolution of the sit-ins in Al-Nahda Square and Raba’a al-Adawiyya is nothing but a massacre—prepared in advance. It aims to liquidate the Muslim Brotherhood. But, it is also part of a plan to liquidate the Egyptian Revolution and restore the military-police state of the Mubarak regime.

The Revolutionary Socialists did not defend the regime of Mohamed Mursi and the Muslim Brotherhood for a single day. We were always in the front ranks of the opposition to that criminal, failed regime which betrayed the goals of the Egyptian Revolution. It even protected the pillars of the Mubarak regime and its security apparatus, armed forces and corrupt businessmen. We strongly participated in the revolutionary wave of 30 June.

Neither did we defend for a single day the sit-ins by the Brotherhood and their attempts to return Mursi to power.

But we have to put the events of today in their context, which is the use of the military to smash up workers’ strikes. We also see the appointment of new provincial governors—largely drawn from the ranks of the remnants of the old regime, the police and military generals. Then there are the policies of General Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi’s government. It has adopted a road-map clearly hostile to the goals and demands of the Egyptian revolution, which are freedom, dignity and social justice.

This is the context for the brutal massacre which the army and police are committing. It is a bloody dress rehearsal for the liquidation of the Egyptian Revolution. It aims to break the revolutionary will of all Egyptians who are claiming their rights, whether workers, poor, or revolutionary youth, by creating a state of terror.

However, the reaction by the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists in attacking Christians and their churches, is a sectarian crime which only serves the forces of counter-revolution. The filthy attempt to create a civil war, in which Egyptian Christians will fall victims to the reactionary Muslim Brotherhood, is one in which Mubarak’s state and Al-Sisi are complicit, who have never for a single day defended the Copts and their churches.

We stand firmly against Al-Sisi’s massacres, and against his ugly attempt to abort the Egyptian Revolution. For today’s massacre is the first step in the road towards counter-revolution. We stand with the same firmness against all assaults on Egypt’s Christians and against the sectarian campaign which only serves the interests of Al-Sisi and his bloody project.

Many who described themselves as liberals and leftists have betrayed the Egyptian Revolution, led by those who took part in Al-Sisi’s government. They have sold the blood of the martyrs to whitewash the military and the counter-revolution. These people have blood on their hands.

We, the Revolutionary Socialists, will never deviate for an instant from the path of the Egyptian Revolution. We will never compromise on the rights of the revolutionary martyrs and their pure blood: those who fell confronting Mubarak, those who fell confronting the Military Council, those who fell confronting Mursi’s regime, and those who fall now confronting Al-Sisi and his dogs.

Down with military rule! No the return of the old regime! No to the return of the Brotherhood! All power and wealth to the people

 The Revolutionary Socialists 14 August 2013

 revsoc.me/statement/ysqt-hkm-lskr-ysqt-lsysy-qyd-lthwr-lmdd

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The end of Islamism?

July 30, 2013 at 4:51 pm (Civil liberties, civil rights, democracy, Egypt, islamism, Jim D, Middle East, reactionay "anti-imperialism")

Most important man in the Middle East? Perhaps no longer.

This article was published (4 July 2013) in the London Review of Books before recent events in Egypt, Turkey and Tunisia. The LRB is, in line with Guardianista  bien pensant thinking, generally pro-Islamist (for other people, of course: not us, for heaven’s sake) … so this piece is quite significant, and also prescient:

The End of Islamism

By Hazem Kandil

Islamism was born in Egypt in 1928. And it was in Egypt, 85 years later, that the first successful uprising against an Islamist government occurred. The overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood is a momentous event: but to foreign observers, the army’s intervention overshadowed everything else.
 
In their state of shock and denial, the Brothers would certainly like to think that their unseating was purely a coup by the old regime. After an eight-decade cultural war to impose their unorthodox interpretation of Islam, they believed they had the hearts and minds of Egyptians safely tucked away in their pockets. Nothing could persuade them that ‘the people’ (or so many of them) would freely reject them. They were not alone in this belief. Over the years, dozens of news reports and academic studies have assured us that the ‘politics of piety’ would be the trump card in any power contest – at least if it were free. And once the rebellion unfolded, journalists and scholars found solace in the conviction that what was happening was no different from the Algerian, Turkish and Pakistani cases, where anti-Islamist coups repressed the pious majority.
 
But there is no reason to indulge their fantasy. It is true that without the support of the military and security forces, the revolt would have been aborted. And it is true that President Morsi’s failure to appease either the remnants of the old regime or the secular opposition threw them together in a tactical alliance against him. However, none of this can take away from the fact that 22 million Egyptians signed ‘rebellion petitions’ in the last three months, and this week 17 million of them, according to official figures (33 million according to the opposition), have marched against the chief representatives of Islamism.
 
For a president who paraded his democratic credentials at every opportunity, the viciousness of the religious rhetoric he deployed against his opponents was unnerving: demonstrators were collectively excommunicated; supporters said that the Archangel Gabriel prayed at the mosque where they were camped out; images of the Prophet’s epic battles against infidels, hypocrites and Jews were conjured. Islamist clerics openly declared jihad against protesters in front of television cameras, and presented themselves as ‘projects for martyrdom’ – so much for the Brotherhood’s advocacy of freedom and citizenship. And this was only the latest charge in the barrage of abusive language that Morsi’s supporters, drunk with power, had unleashed over the months. It all backfired. Millions of self-proclaimed Muslims refused to be either threatened or patronised; they refused to endorse the Brotherhood’s conflation of Islamism and Islam.
 
Certainly, the Brothers’ dismal performance in power brought about their downfall, rather than some elaborate debate on the legitimacy of Islamism. There was nothing Islamic about the movement’s policies. On the contrary, the moral image they projected was quickly comprised by the shabby deals they tried (and failed) to strike with old regime institutions, and foreign powers they had previously condemned. Once in power, Morsi praised the Interior Ministry so highly that he even claimed this most patriotic of institutions had been an essential partner in the 2011 revolt; and his aides spared no effort in imploring America to save his presidency. Egyptians became rapidly disillusioned with Islamist incompetence, paranoia, double-dealing and, above all, profound arrogance towards people they regarded as less religious than them.
 
It turns out that Morsi’s tenure was a blessing in disguise. If he had lost the presidency, Islamism would have remained the path not taken. But today, millions of Muslims have voted with their feet against Islamist rule. Those who grieve over this affront to ballot box democracy forget that Egypt, like any new democracy, has every right to seek popular consensus on the basic tenets of its future political system. Revolutionary France went through five republics before settling into the present order, and America needed a civil war to adjust its democratic path. It is not uncommon in the history of revolutions for coups to pave the way or seal the fate of popular uprisings. Those who see nothing beyond a military coup are simply blind. I asked the old, bearded man standing next to me in Tahrir Square why he joined the protests. ‘They promised us that Islam is the solution,’ he replied. ‘But under Muslim Brotherhood rule we saw neither Islam nor a solution.’ The country that invented Islamism may well be on its way to undoing the spell. – See more at: http://www.lrb.co.uk/blog/2013/07/04/hazem-kandil/the-end-of-islamism/#sthash.2afkV0LX.dpuf

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Expert comment on Egypt…from a 12-year-old

July 18, 2013 at 6:01 pm (children, civil rights, democracy, Egypt, Human rights, islamism, Jim D, Middle East, protest, secularism, youth)

There seems to be some doubt as to exactly when 12-year-old Ali Ahmed made these comments about “fascist theocracy,” sexual inequality, the new constitution and other matters in Egypt. The video has been attracting attention this week and the Independent‘s John Walsh stated that Ali was “interviewed this week for El Wady News.”

However, the video was first posted on Youtube on March 21st, so it clearly pre-dates the big demonstrations that led to the overthrow of Morsi

Anyway, young Mr Ahmed is incredibly well-informed, articulate and progressive in his opinions:

Where did he get his information and opinions from, asks the astonished interviewer: “I listen to people a lot and use my brain. I read newspapers, watch TV and search the internet” comes the confident reply.

 

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Thoughts on Egypt

July 9, 2013 at 8:12 am (AWL, democracy, Egypt, islamism, Jim D, Middle East, protest, revolution)

The following article (from the Workers Liberty website) was written on 4 July, before yesterday’s killings. Also, since the article was written, the appointment of al Baradei has been blocked by fundamentalists. Nevertheless, this is the best analysis of the present situation in Egypt I’ve seen to date:

Cairo protesters

Above: Muslim Brotherhood members sit in front of soldiers blocking the road to the Republican Guard headquarters in Cairo yesterday

There has been in effect a military coup, which apparently is going to install an interim government – consisting of a Muslim religious leader (from al Azhar, which is a kind of ‘state’ mosque/university), the Coptic Christian Pope, and secular leader al Baradei. Of course the army will hold real power. Supposedly there will be new parliamentary and presidential elections.

I think it’s likely that the military authorities will organise elections for several reasons, although of course they are very unlikely to do so immediately. The key impetus behind the coup is presumably the army’s desire for order, stability. A huge factor here is that the army receives vast amounts of money from the US. That isn’t dependent on their ability to control things in Egypt – but obviously their general strategic usefulness is somewhat undermined if they can’t control things in Egypt. Mursi and the Brotherhood’s chief sin, from the military’s point of view, is that he has fomented chaos and unrest. His second sin is that – to some degree (it would be wrong to overstate it) – he refused to play ball with the army, and mounted his own ‘coup’ last year.

But the army will be under considerable pressure from Obama to organise elections. Obama is sure to – indirectly, at least – sanction the new arrangement; but it will be very embarrassing if this ends up being indefinite military rule.

In any case, despite the apparent support among wide layers of anti-Mursi protestors for the coup, only very recently the army was unpopular, and there were demonstrations against it. The army ruled between the fall of Mubarak and Mursi being elected. They were hated. Unless they go for massive repression, elections will have to be held at some point in the relatively near future. Read the rest of this entry »

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Against both Morsi and the military: AWL statement on Egypt

July 5, 2013 at 10:10 pm (AWL, Cross-post, democracy, Egypt, fascism, islamism, Jim D, Middle East, religious right, revolution, secularism, workers, youth)

This statement appears as an editorial in the present issue of the AWL’s paper Solidarity and on their website. It was written before the fall of Morsi, but the political assessment remains sound, imho:

Egyptian protesters hold giant national flag as they demonstrate against the President Mohamed Morsi, in Tahrir Square, Cairo

Above: anti-Morsi demonstrators with giant Egyptian flag in Tahrir Square

Against the Egyptian military! Against the Muslim Brotherhood!

The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt is not just a neo-liberal capitalist party, but clerical-fascist.

Former SWP leader Tony Cliff used that term for it in 1946. Despite the SWP’s subsequent shifts, which went as far as recommending votes for the Brotherhood in last year’s elections in Egypt, he was right.

The Brotherhood is an approximate Islamic analogue of the Catholic fascist parties of Europe between World Wars One and Two. It is a canny, cautious variant of the type, but like those parties it has a mass plebeian activist base and a political trajectory which would shut down living space for the labour movement in the name of populist demagogy (“Islam is the answer!”)

The Brotherhood was the only political force able to build up a big semi-tolerated organisation, and large funds, under the Mubarak dictatorship; and so it won the elections last year despite its equivocal role in the battles against Mubarak.

After a year, though — after November 2012, when Morsi claimed powers to rule by decree; after the killing and wounding of many activists by Brotherhood thugs on the streets; after Morsi has offered only Islamist rhetoric for the economic plight of Egypt’s people — millions have turned against the Brotherhood.

Egyptian socialists have been right to join the street protests against Morsi. They understand, also, that ugly forces are jumping on the anti-Morsi surge.

In most circumstances, we would side with any elected government facing a threat of military coup (or semi-coup, or quarter-coup). We would do that even if we hated the elected government and continued to oppose it.

There are cases in working-class history of socialists being swayed into support of populist military coups against unpopular elected governments (Pilsudski in Poland, 1926). We learn from those errors.

This is not the same. We are against a military coup. We are not for defence of the Morsi government. Why not? Because that government threatens, if consolidated, to squeeze out the light and air for the Egyptian labour movement even more fully than Mubarak could — or even more fully than the army could in foreseeable conditions.

The Egyptian working class is not yet politically strong enough to take power against both the Brotherhood and the army. Its priority must be to develop its political independence and to be the first fighter for democracy and secularism against Morsi, against any “transitional” government if he falls, and against the army.

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Morsi falls, Cairo celebrates

July 3, 2013 at 9:13 pm (Egypt, islamism, Jim D, Middle East, protest, revolution, secularism, solidarity, workers, youth)

Juan Cole has just posted this video on his excellent Informed Comment blog:

Unlike some “left” commentators, Cole is in no doubt where he stands on the Egyptian uprising. Even before Morsi fell tonight, Cole had written:

After [Morsi's hardline] speech, Tahrir Square was if anything even more energized, with the Opposition “Rebellion “volunteers calling with renewed vigor for the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood regime.  Rebellion maintains that in placing himself above the law last November, in ramming through a fundamentalist constitution, in packing the upper house of parliament with the Brotherhood and its sympathizers, and by neglecting to improve services or the economy, Morsi has forfeited the right to finish out his four-year term (he was elected in June, 2012).

Read the full article here

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