Posts Tagged ‘Egypt’

Weekend reading: Links & comments 10/23/2015

October 23, 2015

Iceland Just Jailed Dozens of Corrupt Bankers for 74 Years, the Opposite of What America Does by Jay Syrmopoulos of the Free Thought Project (via AlterNet)

Iceland sentences 26 bankers to a combined 74 years in prison by gjohnsit for Daily Kos (Hat tip to my expatriate friend Jack)

Icelandic courts have sentenced 26 bankers to prison terms for two to five years each—a total of 74 years—for financial fraud and manipulation leading up to the financial crash of 2008.

The important precedent here, and the great contrast with the United States, is that Iceland prosecuted individuals, not banks.  An organization structure cannot commit crimes, any more than a bank building can commit crimes.   It is the individuals within the structure who have criminal responsibility.

JADE: A Global Witness Investigation Into Myanmar’s Big “State Secret” (hat tip to Jack)

High-quality jade is the most valuable product of Myanmar, formerly known as Burma.  But the government and people of the country get little benefit from it.  Instead the trade is controlled by military elites, corporate cronies and U.S.-sanctioned drug lords.

Nawal El Saadawi: ‘Do you feel you are liberated?  I feel I am not’ by Rachel Cooke for The Guardian (Hat tip to Jack)

An interview with the formidable 83-year-old Egyptian author, freethinker, feminist, medical doctor and campaigner against female genital mutilation.


War and peace: Links & notes 11/29/13

November 29, 2013

‘Aleppo is nothing but hunger and Islam’ by Francesa Borri in The Guardian.

I’m glad that President Obama decided against overt U.S. intervention in the Syrian conflict, but I admit I don’t know what to do to help the poor people of Syria.  It seems as if the only alternatives are continued rule by a ruthless and brutal hereditary dictator, and rule by local militias and warlords.

Islamist borri 12 novThe United States government, for all our high-tech flying killer drones and all our highly-trained special operations forces, does not have the capability to keep the peace in a country torn by civil war.  Arming one or more of the fighting factions makes things worse.  Bombarding the country makes things worse.  Helping victims is good to do, but it doesn’t solve the problem.  Maybe somebody who knows more about Syria than I do sees an answer.  I don’t see any.

Hollywood ‘Fight Club’ producer was Israeli spy with nuclear script by RT News.   Hat tip to O.

Arnon Milchan, producer of Hollywood movies such as Pretty Woman, Fight Club and LA Confidential, gave an interview about his earlier life as an Israeli secret agent in the 1970s who obtained materials and equipment for Israel’s secret nuclear weapons program.  This helps me understand the Israeli government’s fear of Iran’s nuclear program.  If Israel could develop nuclear weapons without the world’s knowledge, why couldn’t Iran?


A Saudi prince’s secret ‘peace’ offer to Russia

August 27, 2013

Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the head of Saudi Arabia’s intelligence agency, went to Russia last month to negotiate a Mideast peace settlement with President Vladimir Putin.  He reportedly offered big purchases of Russian military equipment and cooperation on oil policy in return for Russia agreeing to regime change in Syria and sanctions against Iran.

Prince Bandar

Prince Bandar

Prince Bandar reportedly told Putin that the United States would stand by anything that the two of them agreed to.  Putin replied that Russia will not abandon its Syrian and Iranian allies.  Bandar warned of an escalation of conflict in the Middle East.

This is all from an English translation of an article in As-Safir, an Arabic language newspaper in Lebanon, based on information leaked to Russian newspapers.  I know about it from reading Pepe Escobar’s most recent column in Asia Times.

According to As-Safir, Prince Bandar said:

  • The Saudi Arabian government is in control of insurgent forces in Chechnia, and is in a position to guarantee there will be no Chechen terrorist attacks on next year’s Winter Olympic games in Russia.  
  • Saudi Arabia is committed to supporting the military government in Egypt, and regards the Muslim Brotherhood as a threat to the stability of the Middle East.
  • If there is regime change in Syria, he will guarantee that Syria will be ruled by a moderate and democratic government that will be directly sponsored by the Saudis and which will not threaten Russia interests.
  • Russia has a common interest with the Gulf Arab countries in preventing Iran from developing nuclear capabilities.
President Putin

President Putin

Putin reportedly replied that Saudi Arabia’s sponsorship of Chechen terrorists is inconsistent with the purported desire for peace.  He said he is open to cooperation on oil policy, but that the Assad regime is best for Syria and Iran has a right to develop peaceful nuclear power.  He said he wants good relations with the current Egyptian government, but worries about Egypt sliding into civil war.

What this article describes is a conflict has nothing to do with any war on terror.  Rather it is a conflict between rival imperialists who manipulate jihadist terrorists for their own purposes.  It is little bit like the Cold War between the USA and the old Soviet Union and a lot like the Great Game between the rival British and Russian empires.

Click on Russian President, Saudi Spy Chief Discussed Syria, Egypt for the complete As-Safir article as translated by Al-Monitor, a Middle East news service.

Click on Obama set for holy Tomahawk war for Pepe Escobar’s column. (more…)

‘…will make violent revolution inevitable’

August 23, 2013

President John F. Kennedy famously said in 1962: “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.” His words, if not his actions, were wise and inspiring, and I thought of them in connection with the Arab Spring and the Egyptian coup.

Thousands and thousands of Egyptians conducted peaceful—relatively peaceful—demonstrations in order to replace the dictatorship of President Mubarak with a democratically elected government.

The result has been set aside by the Egyptian military, which receives more than $1 billion a year from the U.S. government to buy military equipment which has been used mainly against Egypt’s own people.   In return the U.S. Air Force gets to use Egyptian air space and the Navy gets to use the Suez Canal.

If the U.S. government were genuinely interested in promoting democracy and helping the Egyptian people, and winning their good will, we would spend $1 billion a year to help Egypt pay down its external debt and to import food and the other necessities.

Instead we have empowered General Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, the leader of the Egyptian military, to make peaceful revolution impossible and violent revolution inevitable.


Chaos in Egypt: Links & comments 8/16/13

August 16, 2013
Source: Yahoo News

Source: Yahoo News

Back during the Arab Spring protests, I was heartened by the mass protests in Egypt and the protesters’ apparent success in achieving a more democratic government.  Now an elected government has been overthrown by the military, and protesters are being massacred.

Egypt, like many majority Muslim countries, is torn between its military, which wants a secular, nationalist state, and popular movements which want a religious state.  As an American who believes in both religious toleration and democratic elections, I can’t really root for either side.  But my government, by providing more than $1 billion a year to the Egyptian military, is taking sides.

Here are links to articles that helped me to better understand what is going on in Egypt.

Egypt’s Army Has More People Than Miami and Answers to Noone by Olga Khazan in The Atlantic.

Egypt’s army has ruled the country since 1952, when it staged a coup against King Farouk, a monarch installed by the British years before.  Since then there have been more coups, but the military has remained in control.  Egypt’s top military officers are a wealthy elite.  The armed forces control private businesses that account for 10 to 30 percent of the Egyptian economy.

The U.S. gives Egypt $1.5 billion a year in aid.  Here’s what it does by Brad Plumer in the Washington Post.

Why the U.S. should cut off aid to Egypt: An interview with Marc Lynch in the Washington Post.

The United States gives more foreign aid to Egypt than to any other foreign country except Israel.   Only $250 million goes to education, public health and economic development.  All the rest goes to the military to buy tanks, fighter planes and other equipment.  While I would have thought this gives the U.S. government some influence over Egypt’s military, apparently it doesn’t.  Egypt’s military would rather lose U.S. aid than lose their power, especially when Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states might make up the shortfall.

‘Horrible’: Christian churches across Egypt stormed, torched by Sarah Sirgany and Laura Smith-Spark of CNN.

When a regime or a political movement has no real political program, it incites followers against scapegoats.   The Muslim Brotherhood has incited its followers against Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority, which is about 10 percent of the population.  Before the coming of Islam, Egypt was a Christian nation, so it is not as if the Copts are interlopers.

It is important to notice that not all of Egypt’s Muslims take part in these pogroms and some courageously stand by their Christian neighbors.

Hi, I’m Your New Axis of Evil by Pepe Escobar in Asia Times.

Pepe Escobar noted that a public opinion poll indicated that 69 percent of the Egyptian people oppose the coup, which is more than that 52 percent of voters who supported President Morsi in the Egyptian election.  He said President Morsi never got control of the Egyptian military, which he said has been plotting against him since he took office.

There is no good outcome on the horizon for the Egyptian people, Escobar wrote.  The country is descending into economic chaos, and neither the military nor the Muslim Brotherhood has a solution.  Escobar neither faction is hostile to the United States or to Egypt’s wealthy elite, but that the governments of Israel and Saudi Arabia, for different reasons, saw the Brotherhood as a potential threat.


Elections do not a democracy make

July 17, 2013


Another thing we Americans should take into account when criticizing the Egyptian political culture is that our government for decades has propped up an Egyptian dictatorship which has crushed a free press, independent civic organizations and the other institutions that make democracy possible.

Few despots are powerful enough to stamp out organized religion, so, when no other means are available, opposition to the dictator often takes a religious form.  This was true of Iran under the Shah, it was true of Poland under the Communists.

I don’t say that Egypt would be a well-functioning democracy if only the U.S. hadn’t interfered.  I don’t know enough to make a statement one way or the other.  I do say the Egyptians and the other peoples of  the Middle East would be better off if the U.S. government ceased interfering with their government and politics.

Anyhow, we Americans have a highly dysfunctional democracy ourselves, and no foreign power to blame it on..

The cartoon is by Joel Pett of the Lexington Herald-Leader.  Hat tip to jobsanger.

Two Arab fighters for human rights

May 9, 2012

Julian Assange interviewed two important Arab fighters for human rights, whom I’d never heard of, on his latest The World Tomorrow program, which was broadcast yesterday.  One was Alaa Abd El-Fattah of Egypt, who is living abroad, and the other is Bahrain’s Nabeel Rajab, who was arrested May 5 shortly after his interview with Assange was recorded.  El-Fattah also faces charges of damaging military property, stealing weapons and committing murder–acts of violence he said he would have had to be comic book superhero to pull off.

Both have been subject to midnight kidnapings, beatings, imprisonment and harassment of their families, including their small children.  Both are critical of U.S. policy.  Rajab said the U.S. government is trying to thwart revolution in Bahrain, El-Fattah said the U.S. government is trying to channel and restrict the course of revolution in Eygpt.   Rajab said the struggle in Bahrain has been subject to a news blackout by the main Arabic-language news networks, Al Jazeera and al-Arabiya.

El-Fatah is a long-time blogger, programmer and political activist.  His parents were human rights advocates under Anwar Sadat.  He spent 45 days in jail in 2006 under the Mubarak regime, and was released after a worldwide protest.  In 2011, from abroad, he helped protestors route messages around President Mubarak’s Internet blockade.  He noted, however, that although members of the educated Egyptian middle class, who use the electronic social media, played an important role in the overthrow of Mubarak, but it is a mistake to focus exclusively on them.  “You are ignoring the workers,” he said.  “You are ignoring the street battles.  You are ignoring how much we had to use violence.”

He said he is not sure what form democracy will take in Egypt, but “it is certainly not a boring Western representative democracy, where your nation could go to war, like the UK, without the consent of the populace, where electing the President who promised hope is almost the same thing as electing the President who didn’t promise hope, as happened in the US. … The dream is a democracy that doesn’t give rise to Occupy Wall Street and Occupy London and the Greek riots…”

Rajab was a member of a pro-regime family but became a human rights advocate after graduating from college in 1988.  Together with Abdullah al-Khawaja, he established the Bahrain Center for Human Rights in 2002.  After al-Khawaja was arrested, he led protests calling for his release.   He said the protests in Bahrain are subject to a news blackout from al Jazeera, which is based in the neighboring Persian Gulf Sheikdom of Qatar which, like Bahrain, has a Sunni ruling family.   He said the Bahrain government falsely claims that the Bahrain struggle is instigated by the Shiite government of Iran.  Assange said that U.S. diplomats in Bahrain, in cables obtained by WikiLeaks, acknowledged there is no evidence of this.

The United States and other Western governments are aligned with the Saudi Arabian ruling family, Rajab said; that is why the U.S. government is trying to persuade the Russian government to stop arms shipments to Syria, while U.S. arms shipments to Bahrain continue.

He said he wishes he could keep his family out of the struggle, but this is not possible.   He was beaten in his home in the presence of his 14-year-old son and 9-year-old daughter.  But violence in Bahrain is so random, he said, that there would not be any safety in being sildent.

Click on Assange Episode 4 for highlights of the program

Click on Common Dreams for capsule biographies of Alaa Abd El-Fattah and Nabeel Rajab

Click on The World Tomorrow for the TV program’s home page and earlier episodes.

IMF offers “help” to Egypt, Tunisia

July 21, 2011

The International Monetary Fund has offered loans to the new governments of Egypt and Tunisia—a truly bad idea of which these countries’ leaders are rightly wary.

Now, before Tunisia and Egypt even have new governments in place, the IMF has jumped to offer them loans for vast infrastructure projects in the desert—as if the fund didn’t know that young Arabs there want ways to start businesses and have careers, not temporary construction jobs.

The Greek debacle and the North African drama raise existential questions about the IMF. Responsible governments have no business borrowing vast sums from abroad, rather than from domestic sources. That’s what tinpot regimes do. And lending even more to borrowers who can’t pay what they already owe? That’s what loan sharks and mafiosi do.

via Newsweek.

It isn’t hard to imagine the consequences of massive loans 10 or 20 years from now—the Egyptian and Tunisian government unable to pay back the loans, and being forced to cut back public services and sell off national assets as part of an enforced “austerity” program.

I think that this is misguided generosity.  A cynical view would be that this is just what the IMF administrators intend.

Click on What’s Wrong With the IMF for the full article by Amar Bhide and Edmund Phelps in Newsweek.  (Hat tip to National Review Online).

Click on Kudos to Egypt for Ditching the IMF for analysis by Mark Engler in Dissent magazine.

The risk of revolution

February 5, 2011

The risk for the U.S. government in getting rid of President Mubarak of Egypt is that it sets a bad example.  Egypt not the only country with a ruler who follows the wishes of the U.S. government rather than his own people.

The people of Pakistan have long been unhappy with the United States using their country as a base for our wars in Afghanistan, especially since the war has come back to Afghanistan itself.  I doubt if the people of Yemen are happy with the U.S. troops and agents shooting Predator missiles everywhere they think terrorists may be hiding out.  The odious regimes in Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan are hosts to U.S. bases.

If the United States turns against Hosni Mubarak too abruptly, all the other dictators allied with the United States will wonder whether our government can be trusted to support them when things get tough.

Another problem is that the outcomes of revolutions are unpredictable.  The pro-democracy demonstrators in Egypt call to mind Eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, or the Philippines when Ferdinand Marcos yielded power to Corazon Aquino.  But revolutions don’t always end happily from the point of view of us Americans.  Many Americans welcomed the fall of the Tsar of Russia in 1917, the Batista dictatorship in Cuba in 1959 and the Shah of Iran in 1979, but the Mensheviks were soon driven out by the Bolsheviks, Fidel Castro turned out to be a Communist, and Iran became a theocracy rather than a democracy.

Another bad possibility is that Hosni Mubarak or his henchmen will manage to stay in power even thought the United States has turned against him, as the former U.S. ally Saddam Hussein did after 1991.   He seemed like a lapdog in serving the interests of American foreign policy.  But he may have sharp teeth where his own power and wealth are concerned.

But if being openly pro-democracy is risky, so is siding with tyrants.  They always fall in the end, and their peoples remember who supported them.  If the Egyptian regime suppresses a peaceful revolt (and so far the demonstrators have been peaceful), the next revolt may be accompanied by assassinations, lynchings, bombings of public places and “death to America” banners.

The middle way, which is what President Obama seems to be taking, is to try to finesse the situation – to quietly ease Mubarak out and persuade his clique to accept a peaceful transition to democracy.  In other words, to help the democrats without breaking with the autocrats.

And that is the riskiest of all.  The risk is that the Obama administration alienates both sides – that U.S. government loses the allegiance of its client dictators without gaining the support of the popular forces.  It is better to be liked and respected than hated and feared, but worst of all is to be despised.

So there is a risk for the United States if the Egyptian people exercise the right of self-determination.  There is a risk for the United States if our government imposes a rule of torturers and kleptocrats.  And there is a risk in a balancing act.  So why not do the right thing?

Click on If the Egyptians want change, then they should have it for comment by Martin Kettle of Great Britain’s The Guardian.


Why not side with the Egyptian people?

February 5, 2011

Egyptian protestors in Cairo

An Egyptian blogger, Yasser El-Shimy, a former diplomatic attache for the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs who now teaches at Catholic University of American, said this is how President Obama can salvage the U.S. position in Egypt.

1) Declare America’s unconditional support for the demands of Egyptian protesters, and recognition of a transitional national unity government to be set up by the opposition. Mubarak is a dead man walking, and the sooner America sides with the winning side, the better it serves its own interests, and realizes its actual ideals. The United States must unequivocally side with the Egyptian people in their revolt. If this revolution fails, Mubarak will rule Egypt a la Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and his influence and that of his state will be substantially diminished. It will not be long before another revolution or coup, perhaps less secular and less democratic, overthrows him or his successor from office.

2) Suspend all aid that directly benefits Hosni Mubarak and his cronies, while offering shipments of medical aid through the Red Crescent to all the injured protesters. This step should further weaken the Egyptian dictator, and offer an olive branch to the Egyptians who are currently suspicious of Washington’s duplicity in keeping Mubarak in power.

3) Declare Washington’s interest in forging a special friendship with the Egyptian people, offering to advise on (and potentially fund) education, infrastructure, technology, research and development, health care, etc.  Egypt will be in a very grave economic condition, when Mubarak leaves, and will be grateful for all the help it can receive. The police force has reportedly orchestrated widespread acts of vandalism of public and private properties to spread panic among the population. The Egyptian stock market and many foreign investments are doomed for a few years to come. The government will be hard-pressed to meet the expectations of the population in light of the damage the Mubarak regime inflicted on the country prior to its departure and the flight of foreign capital.

4) Offer a free three month supply of wheat.  Bread to Egyptians is the essential food staple that they cannot do without. Egyptians will be grateful if Washington helps stabilize food supplies at this critical juncture.

5) Warn regional governments against intervening in Egypt’s domestic politics on the side of the Mubarak regime.  Arab dictatorships are invested in Mr. Mubarak’s survival, as they fear a democratic wave that could sweep them from power as well.  Israel is also worried about the future of its peace treaty with its southern neighbor. Of the two, Arab capitals have a stronger cause for concern.

Click on Underreported for Yasser El-Shimy’s web log. Hat tip to Zunguzungu.


Egypt 2011 and Iran 1979

February 5, 2011

The pro-democracy demonstrators in Egypt call to mind the demonstrations in Eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, or against the Marcos regime in the Philippines in 1986.  These all ended happily from the standpoint of the United States.  But there is another historical analogy, and that is the fall of the Shah of Iran in 1979.

Ayatollah Khomenei

In Iran, crowds demonstrated against a justly hated dictator who was aligned with the United States, and who fell when U.S. support faltered.  He was opposed by a broad coalition of people from all segments of Iranian life, representing a wide range of opinion and pledged to democracy and the rule of law.  But within a few years, Iran became an anti-Iranian theocracy whose democracy was a facade.

I don’t know enough to say how likely this is to happen in Egypt.  Anything is possible, I guess.  But looking back on the Iranian revolution, I don’t think it was inevitable that it came out the way it did.  The turning point was the seizure of the American embassy by radical students and the failure of the U.S. attempt to rescue the hostages.  I can’t know the inner working of Iranian politics, but some commentators at the time thought the students were acting independently in order to discredit the United States and make a U.S.-Iranian reconciliation impossible.

If that was their aim, they succeeded very well.  I think a lot of the American hostility toward Iran was a desire to avenge this humiliation.  Then, after the exposure of the Iran-Contra conspiracy, the Reagan and first Bush administrations sided with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq against Iran, maybe partly to show that they weren’t really pro-Iranian.

After the fall of Saddam Hussein, the government of Israel saw Iran as its Number One threat, and the United States as usual aligned with Israel.  The threat of Iran acquiring atomic weapons is not that Iran would attack Israel or the United States, but that Israel and the United States would no longer be free to strike back at Iran.

Maybe these interpretations are incorrect.  I do know for a fact that since the 1980s, the United States has waged economic warfare against Iran, and since at least the second Bush administration the U.S. has supported terrorist organizations within Iran.

I don’t think these things had to happen.  There is no inherent conflict between the interests of the American and Iranian peoples.

There’s no way to know what would have happened if the United States had tried to keep the Shah in power for a few more years, but probably the eventual explosion would have been even worse.

I have been writing about what is best from the standpoint of the United States, but it is not up to us Americans to judge what is best for foreign countries.  It is up to the people of those countries themselves.  Many Iranians are fed up with the rule of President Ahmadinejad, but I don’t think any of them want the Shah back.

Democracy is unpredictable. Revolution is risky.  But the risks of democracy are better than the risks of tyranny.  And the Declaration of Independence, the United States’ founding document, proclaims a right of revolution.

President George W. Bush, when running for office in 2000, advocated a “humble” foreign policy, in which we Americans did not try to dictate to the rest of the world.  Although he did not practice what he preached, what he advocated is still a good idea.


If you don’t mean it, don’t say it

February 2, 2011

President Barack Obama spoke with his usual eloquence in Cairo on June 4, 2009, about the relationship of the United States to the Muslim world.

His statements about democracy in the Middle East began at about the 35th minute.  Here is what I take to be the key passage.

America does not presume to know what is best for everyone, just as we would not presume to pick the outcome of a peaceful election.  But I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things:  the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn’t steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose.  These are not just American ideas; they are human rights.  And that is why we will support them everywhere.

Now, there is no straight line to realize this promise.  But this much is clear:  Governments that protect these rights are ultimately more stable, successful and secure.  Suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away.  America respects the right of all peaceful and law-abiding voices to be heard around the world, even if we disagree with them.  And we will welcome all elected, peaceful governments — provided they govern with respect for all their people.

Click on A New Beginning for the complete text.

Egypt’s democratic revolt

February 1, 2011

President John F. Kennedy once said that those who make peaceful revolution impossible make violent revolution inevitable.The Egyptian protest demonstrations, which the protesters call the Days of Anger, may not strike the average American TV viewer as especially peaceful, but compared to what they could be, they really are.  What is going on in Egypt is the opposite of terrorism.

The anti-Mubarak forces are not tearing police and soldiers limb from limb.  They are not setting off bombs in government offices or shopping centers.  There aren’t any suicide bombers. Bodies of policemen and government officials are not hanging from lamp posts. Given the history of revolution, these are not things that can be taken for granted.  For their part, the Egyptian army announced late yesterday that it would not use force against nonviolent demonstrators.

Lenin’s Bolsheviks showed how a determined, murderous minority could seize and hold power through use of unrelenting force and propaganda and suppression of internal dissent.  Various Third World “national liberation fronts” that sprung up after World War Two took the Bolsheviks as a model.  They killed as many people among their own constituents to keep them in line as they did of their enemy.  Nothing like this is going on in Egypt.

Che Guevara and Regis Debray in their books on guerrilla warfare said that a revolutionary struggle could be ignited by a tiny group of terrorists (they didn’t call them that), provoking an over-reaction by government and drawing the masses into the struggle. These were the tactics of Osama bin Laden.  They are not the tactics of the current mass protests in Egypt.

Mass protests, especially nonviolent mass protests, are inherently democratic.  Leaders of mass protests have to gain and keep the confidence of the masses.  Their political power does not grow out of the barrel of a gun.  Rather it depends on stripping rulers of their power to make people obey out of respect for their authority and out of fear of their power.  It does not depend on killing police and troops, but on weaning police and troops from their allegiance.

Alex Madrigal of The Atlantic Monthly last Thursday published excerpts from a pamphlet distributed to Egyptian protesters that illustrates their nonlethal tactics.