Gaza, the Gordian knot

PALESTINIAN-ISRAEL-CONFLICT-GAZA

  (Photo via AFP)

Published in Daily News Egypt

Gaza___ the formula of a quick fix and hope for the best has failed. The simple fact that the recent war in the Gaza strip is the third in six years is enough proof of the futility of one lull after another. The civilians in Gaza cannot handle another dose of a pain remedy that eases the immediate anguish while allowing both sides to claim a fake victory.

 Where is Omar Suleiman? Where is Morsi? The quest to find a responsible power to broker a ceasefire is simply futile. Throughout the last six years Hamas and Israel have tried to get away with their mistakes and expected external mediators to bail them out. Now Hamas is fighting for its survival and any compromise can ultimately end its rule of Gaza. Netanyahu, if he fails to restore calm, also fears for his political career. There are no mediators that can forge successful, subsequent deals with irresponsible enemies who rush to fight, while looking for a ceasefire deal. Gaza is a story of two sides that shoot themselves in the foot.

 On the one hand, Israel’s disengagement from Gaza in 2005 without a permanent peace deal with the Palestinians was a cynical gamble to offload from its shoulders a huge chunk of the Palestinian population. It clearly did not work. The failure to reach peace has thus yielded irrational, radical resistance movements. Israel now continues to believe that shelling the deprived strip, despite mounting civilian casualties, will deter Hamas. This has not worked either.

 On the other hand, Hamas deliberately ignores what is evident in that it cannot be a governing body and a resistance movement in the same time. The Islamist group is paying the price for its ill-fated takeover of Gaza from its rival Fatah in 2007. Even after the 2012 ceasefire deal, and despite having its patron Morsi in power for many months after, and along with a high–profile visit from the Emir of Qatar, Hamas did not build a single shelter in Gaza to protect its citizens. Hamas fails to appreciate that acting as a conventional army, and firing long-range missiles into the heart of Israel without having defense capabilities, would earn the group a shared responsibility for Israel retaliation.

 Those who look for Egyptian mediation overlook the fact that two previous confrontations have made a lull a predictable outcome, and this narrows the window of palatable compromises that can be accepted by both sides. Needless to say, many in Egypt have harshly criticized all the previous Egyptian mediations. The Mubarak formula of closing the border, tolerating the smuggling, and concurrently maintaining friendly links with Israel, was considered hypocritical. Later, political Islamists who labeled Mubarak as traitor for mediating with Israel, loved the idea of Morsi the “mediator” during the 2012 confrontation, and maintained a low key, almost muted criticism of Israeli aggression, which was also considered hypocritical by many Egyptians, especially after a ceasefire deal that technically limited the Palestinian’s “right of resistance.”

 It is not just the hostility between the current leadership under Abdel Fatah El-Sisi and Hamas leaders in Gaza that make any Egyptian mediation difficult. Hamas has ruled Egypt out as negotiator for a ceasefire. The attempt to smuggle rockets from Gaza, and to launch rockets from Sinai to Israel, will not entice the Egyptian authorities to help Hamas. Furthermore, the Muslim Brotherhood exploits the crisis to compensate for their failure to gather substantial protests on the anniversary of the ousting of Morsi on July 3. It is no coincidence that both the Brotherhood and Turkish leaderships advocate the 2012 ceasefire agreement that Morsi, undeservedly, gained credit for. Any new lull negotiated by Sisi on the basis of the “Morsi’s deal” will be counterproductive for Sisi and his political clout inside Egypt.

 Gaza has become a real Gordian knot. The chronicity of the problem and the suffering of civilians have worked in favor of Hamas; whitewashing its political errors, and highlighting to the Israelis the limitations of their ugly, albeit futile deterrence. Despite the bluffing, most Israelis will not tolerate the heavy casualties that are likely if they were to reoccupy the Gaza strip. Nonetheless, as

Hisham Melhem has pointed out, every time Hamas lobs rockets into Israel hoping to change the Israeli calculus, the exercise ends in failure.

 It is unclear how the tragedy of Gaza will end. It is safe to say, however, with a certain degree of certainty that regardless of the outcome, the rules of the game have changed. Neither Hamas nor Israel can get away permanently with the “rockets versus strikes” formula in a region that has dramatically shifted. New players, new alliances, and new threats will ultimately force both sides to stop their cynical gambles. In addition, Hamas will not be able to exploit the tenacity of the Gazans forever.

 There is so little that Egypt and other regional and international forces have left that can save both sides from self-inflicting harm, nonetheless they can focus on the civilian population and work to alleviate their misery. Sisi is quietly trying to detangle Gaza from Hamas. He is doing this by intermittently opening the border, and sending food and medical supplies to struggling civilians. That is not enough. Despite security risks, Egypt needs to keep the border open and maintain its humanitarian support. The scenes of Palestinian civilians trapped at the Rafah border are unacceptable. The Egyptian army can help the weak, the elderly, and the injured. A field hospital at the border may be needed if the situation deteriorates.

 There are moments in history that force stakeholders to rethink their tactics and their general attitude; this crisis is one of those moments. Gaza deserves our help. Feckless warlords do not.

Posted in Egypt, Gaza, Hamas, Israel | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Egyptian Aak 2014 – Week 28 ( July 7- 13)

Rafah border

(Photo of Palestinians stranded at the Rafah Border. Via Twitter)

Main Headlines

 Monday

Tuesday

Wednesday

Thursday

 Friday

Saturday

 Sunday

 Good Reports

Good Read

Plus:

Finally, here are Jayson Casper’s prayers for Egypt.

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Egyptian Aak 2014- Week 27 ( June 30 – July6)

Fuel price photo

An Egyptian worker at a gas station fuels up in Cairo on Saturday. (Khaled Elfiqi/ EPA)

Main Headlines

Monday

Tuesday

Wednesday

 Thursday

 Friday

 Saturday

Sunday

 Good Reports

 Good Read

Photo Gallery

Finally here are Jayson Casper’s prayers for Egypt

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There is nothing funny about the declaration of the ‘Caliphate’

Members loyal to the ISIL wave ISIL flags as they drive around Raqqa

Photo via Reuters

Initially published in Turkish Hurriyet Daily

It may be amusing to some, but there is nothing funny about the declaration of the “Caliphate”  by the militant group the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). The rise of rejectionist groups is testimony to an older, deeper struggle that still haunts the region today. It would be folly to dismiss Islamist rejectionism as a fringe ideology. The new Caliphate may be “ahistorical,” but there is growing support for this much-indulging myth among some Muslim youth. After a century of poisonous politics in the Middle East, many prefer to escape to the past instead of facing the painful present.

Rejectionist radicals are not new in the Arab world. In 1970s Egypt, an agricultural engineer, Shukri Mustafa, who turned radical in prison in the 1960s, founded the first rejectionist group, Takfir-wal-Hijra (meaning “excommunication and exile”). In his book, “Orientalism and Conspiracy,” Professor Sadiq al-Azm wrote about how Shukri Mustafa glorified illiteracy as essential for “a true Muslim society” and as an imitation of the Prophet Muhammad.

Theologian Abul a’la Maududi, meanwhile, emphasizes that it is not illiteracy but rather disbelief that is the “true ignorance.” He and many others inspired Shukri Mustafa to completely reject both Muslim and non-Muslim contemporary societies.

“Disbelief (kufr) is not a form of ignorance, rather it is ignorance, pure and simple. Disbelief is also a form of tyranny, in fact, the worst of tyrannies,” Maududi has said.

Mustafa was the first to try to create a mini-society that subscribed to an ideology of glorified backwardness, but he ended up arrested and executed after confronting the state and killing the Muslim cleric Sheik Muhammed el-Dhahabi, who openly criticized Mustafa’s ideas. Mustafa’s end symbolizes the power of the state that was able to crush him. However, his ideas lived on.

Over the years, rejectionists have started to learn more survival tactics by cherry picking what they reject and what they abuse from Western modernity. Their successful use of social media is one example. Many around the globe, from America and Europe to Indonesia and Australia, responded to the hashtag #AllEyesOnIsis, which was used by militants on Twitter to drum up support before they announced their new dominion. As Hassan Hassan has written: “Jihadism has evolved significantly. It is no longer limited to narrow “elitists” who travel to distant countries to wage jihad. Today’s jihad is more sophisticated and individualized and can be waged everywhere.”

The reasons behind the appeal of ISIL have nothing to do with the original Islamic Caliphate3, or its true history. There is a more contemporary triangle that triggers this medieval myth that should not be overlooked.

First, the oppressors

Arabs, Iranians, and even Turks have mishandled the challenge of state building. None of them has produced a successful model on both the political and social front that can counter dictatorship and allow freedom without compromising traditional and religious values. The result has been an ugly divorce between election and democracy and between democracy and liberal values. Rejectionism is a desperate attempt to counter injustice by creating a brutal justice system.

Second, the opportunists

There is a tendency by many regional exploiters (from the Gulf States to Iran and even Turkey) to flirt with backwardness, to downplay and even glamorize rejectionism for political gain. The terms “Sunni revolution” and “Shia resistance” do not only indirectly water down their destructive impact on society and the state; they also naively assume that, once grievances are addressed, radicals and rejectionists will somehow mellow and embrace modern values. The alliance of many Sunni tribes with rejectionist groups such as ISIL is feckless and dangerous, even if there are good reasons behind it.

Third, the apologists

Political Islamists have consistently presented themselves as the answer. However, time and again, Islamists have failed to distinguish themselves from radicals when it matters, and have even provided excuses for their brutality. The problem of the so-called “moderates” is their inability to draw red lines that distance them from radicalism, especially during times of crisis. Instead, they usually resort to knee-jerk responses to external threats that tempt them to view radicals as “brothers” in front of common enemies such as Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, Nouri al-Maliki in Iraq, or Khalifa Hafter in Libya.

Many Muslim youth have started to see radicals as more authentic and genuine. The uncompromising posture of the rejectionist stance is a clearer option for many confused youth than models that have failed to weave Western modernity with Islamic teaching. Locals have been silent watching the destruction of their historical monuments, including their Islamic heritage. This antipathy can be due partly to fear of retribution, but it may also be a silent endorsement.

The problem is not the newly born “Islamic State” or its future. The “Caliphate” has many enemies, even within the radical camp. There is an ideological divide between rejectionists and other radicals such as al-Qaeda, as Aaron Zelin explains. Backwardness will ultimately fail to produce a functioning state, but its destructive path can ruin the region for generations. The important question, however, is how to stop rejectionism from spreading like cancer in the hearts and minds of many Muslim youth.

The rise of Shukri Mustafa reflected a society in distress following the Six-Day War, which pushed some (Muslims?) to equate Zionism with Western values and ultimately to reject both. Following the death of Mustafa, Egypt failed to maintain Sheik el-Dhahabi’s effort to counter rejectionism from within Islam. Egypt’s failure was repeated in other Muslim countries. As a result, radical groups continue to exist unchallenged. The success of such groups has become dependent solely on the ruthlessness of the states in which they perform; the weaker the state, the better chance rejectionism has to flourish.

Now we have reached the deep end; the piecemeal approach to the region’s chronic crises will fail this time. States such as Iraq and Syria are struggling to exist; it is time for the oppressors, exploiters, and apologists to pause and change course. If they do not, the tsunami of ignorance will not just destroy their enemies – it will destroy them, too. Only true democratic values, religious enlightenment, and pluralism can save our youth from fantasying about the past, and stop the Middle East from strangling itself.

Posted in Iran, Islam, Middle East, Politics, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey | 1 Comment

Egyptian Aak 2014 – Week 26 ( June 23- 29)

Egypt's sisi Cartoon

Cartoon via The Economist

Main Headlines

 Monday

Tuesday

 Wednesday

 Thursday

Friday

 Saturday

Sunday

 Good Reports

Plus:

 Good read

Video

Finally here are Jayson Casper’s prayers for Egypt

Posted in Diary of Aak, Egypt, June30 | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Al-Jazeera Trial and Sisi’s Era

Al-Jazeera verdict photo

Published in the Daily News Egypt

“Shocking, appalling, preposterously unjust.”

These are excerpts of angry global reactions to the harsh prison sentences ofthree journalistsfor Al-Jazeera English by an Egyptian court. Canadian Mohamed Fahmy and Australian Peter Greste were sentenced to seven years in jail on charges of aiding terrorists and endangering national security, based merely on ludicrous pieces of evidence. While the verdict is shocking, it actually fits in with the general attitude and outlook of the new Egyptian leadership. Sisi’s new Egyptian Republic is shaped on terms and conditions like power, prestige, and authority. An old Nasserite slogan has resurfaced, the “Dignity of the State.” In that context, the new leadership in Cairo views journalists, media, human rights advocates, and even revolutionaries with suspicion. They are all a threat to its authority and therefore there is no room for dissent.

 Despite that the journalists case was raised during Secretary Kerry’s meeting with Egyptian president Sisi, the verdict proves that the Egyptian authorities are unswayed. While Egypt’s foreign ministry has expressed its objection to foreign criticism of Egypt’s judiciary and its rulings, President Sisi has rejected calls from the United States and other Western governments that he pardon or commute the sentences of three Al-Jazeera journalists. At best, the Egyptian authority may try to “ explain,” or “justify “ the verdict under the pretext of an “independent judiciary,” and argue that president Sisi “cannot pressure or influence the judges.” In return, they expect tough language from Washington and other Western cities, but that not much more. In short, they think they can weather the storm, and they are probably right. Looking at the broader regional context, with Syria, Iraq, Libya in meltdown, and with strong backing from most of the Gulf states, it will be hard for Western countries to press Egypt on issues of freedom and democracy. Who will want to burn bridges at such a critical juncture in this Middle East turmoil? Probably no one.

 The strategy being implemented by Egypt’s new president is twofold. First, there is a show of great pragmatism, even loyalty to the United States on regional security and foreign policy. This, in his view, may help tame any outside criticism regarding domestic policies. Second, there is a focus on the economy and social security, especially for the poor and disfranchised Egyptians, in order to garner and maintain solid support from an apolitical Egyptian public. This two-pronged strategy can wedge a gap between democracy advocates and the public while concurrently evading international pressure.

 Sooner or later, however, President Sisi and his team may discover that their perfect plan is not that perfect. Turing the clock back is not as easy as it seems. Even if foreign countries swallow the verdict, and hope the case is crushed under a future appeal court, the domestic front will not tolerate the squashing of democratic values for long.

 The future of Egypt will emerge out of two possible tracks. First, President Sisi may fail to improve the economy as promised. Egypt is facing long-standing socio-economic grievances that will not be solved by only rhetoric and good intentions. Indicators such as inflation, unemployment, GDP, and economic growth paint a gloomy picture. Sisi can temporarily distract the public by going cycling to campaign for fuel economy, but Egyptians are looking for substantive results. Furthermore, Egypt’s economy depends heavily on tourism, but who will visit a country with a tainted justice system? American actress Mia Farrow’s tweet has summed this sad fact that is painfully ignored by the Egyptian leadership.

 The upheaval of the last three years may push many Egyptians to opt for stability at the expense of democratic values. Nonetheless, impatience will grow if things don’t improve. No one, including Sisi, can avoid a fate similar to Mubarak and Morsi if they don’t improve the economy. The public may give president Sisi a few months of breathing space, but ultimately they will demand results. If he fails to deliver, the next revolutionary wave is not an outlandish possibility. Even if we assume that president Sisi succeeds against all odds in achieving his goals and provides stability and prosperity, Egyptians will then shift focus to more “luxurious” demands like freedom and equality. Democratic aspirations have not died in Egypt. Egyptians still value equality, freedom, and justice. The climate of fear is only a temporarily shield against criticism of the new leadership.

 Watching Mohamed Fadel Fahmy and his tearful fiancé after the court verdict is reminiscent of a scene from a classic Egyptian movie, “The Karnak.” The movie highlighted the depth of injustice and obsession of the Nasser regime in a story about a young couple wrongly accused of belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood. Nasser’s successor Sadat welcomed the movie as part of his PR campaign and as an advocate for freedom. Sadat later lost his popularity, not just because of his peace deal with Israel, but also because of his oppressive policies. The champion of peace and freedom went on to order the arrest of nearly all his opponents. A few weeks later, he was assassinated. Months afterwards, his successor Mubarak, again promised freedom and released all the prisoners in an effort to win back the public. We all know how Mubarak ended up.

 Egyptian rulers have always suffered from political amnesia. They promise freedom then later forget their promises and instead offer up many pretexts. Just as the Karnak movie is inextricably linked to Nasser and Sadat, this Al-Jazeera trial will become tattooed onto Sisi’s era.

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Egyptian Aak 2014- Week 25 ( June 16-22)

Sisi and Saudi photo

(Egypt’s Sisi kisses the  Saudi King’s forehead. Photo via Twitter)

Main Headlines

 Monday

Tuesday

Wednesday

Thursday

 Friday

 Saturday

 Sunday

 Good Reports

Plus

Ranking

Photo gallery

 Good read

Finally here are Jason Casper’s prayers for Egypt

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My column: End of a pipe dream

nervana111:

What a line and an interesting piece:
“The Justice and Development Party (AKP) government’s choices have always been dominated by a state of mind that resembled ideological hallucination.”

Originally posted on TEMPORAL:

Here is my TZ column…  on Turkey, ISIL and Iraq:

A foreign policy expert anonymously offered this “insider view” in Sunday’s Zaman on June 14: “Turkey has always denied the reports that it has allowed terrorists to use the Turkey-Syria border as a transit point. But Turkey’s denial could not prevent the emergence of a belief that Turkey condoned terrorists going into Syria to fight against Assad regime. But ISIL [ Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant] is a threat to Turkey, too, with plots for attacks inside Turkey. The people who direct Turkish foreign policy must have finally changed their position, but in the meantime, ISIL took off and became powerful. Turkish foreign policy is very late in addressing the threat of ISIL. They should have acted months ago.”
 
This is a reminder that the most active player in policies which involve “regime change” in any neighborhood is…

View original 594 more words

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Egyptian Aak 2014- Week 24 ( June 9- 15)

Sisi cycling

( Sisi goes cycling, via Al-Arabiya)

Main Headlines

 Monday

Tuesday

Wednesday

Thursday

Friday

 Saturday

 Sunday

 Good Reports

Plus:

  • Readout of the President’s Call with Egyptian President al-Sisi
  • A statement from Nazra for Feminist Studies

Photo Gallery

Best read

Finally, here are Jayson Casper’s prayers for Egypt

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Before converting Hagia Sophia, look at the mosque-cathedral of Cordoba

Inside Hagia Sophia

( Inside Hagia Sophia during my last visit to Istanbul)

Initially published in Hurriyet News Daily

The mosque-cathedral of Cordoba and the Hagia Sophia of Istanbul – both magnificent buildings – were victims of the geopolitical standoff of medieval times and the egos of the new conquerors who wanted to certify their victories and assert their religious superiority. Both were later converted to museums in gestures that reflect modern maturity and increasing harmony between the eternal faiths of Christianity and Islam. Regressive politics, however, still challenges the essence of wisdom. In Turkey, there are increasing calls to convert the Hagia Sophia into a mosque. One way to address the advocates of conversion is to ask them to look west toward Cordoba, which provides a similar, yet opposite history.

The endless modifications to the Cordoba Mosque since King Ferdinand III of Castile conquered it in 1236 are still evident. With its spectacular gilded prayer niche or “mihrab,” the mosque is a stunning representation of the Moorish, Islamicate architecture that was later overshadowed by a Renaissance cathedral imposed on it. The cathedral itself is beautiful, but it looks oddly out of place within the endless marble columns of the mosque. The final outcome of the amalgamation of the two is clear evidence of the futility of the exercise. It evokes a deep sense of despair at the shortsightedness of humans when dogma overrides wisdom.

Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia evokes a similar feeling, but there are subtle differences. Again, this spectacular architectural beauty of Byzantine and Ottoman architecture also symbolizes a historical chapter punctuated by dogma and ego. However, to the credit of the Ottomans, they managed to harmonize their converted mosque in color and structure with the original elements of the church. Therefore, the final product is simply an artistic masterpiece that is less odd and more serene and welcoming to visitors.

Nonetheless, it is pointless to argue about the circumstances that led to the conversions of these two architectural hybrids. It is better to accept them as unique oddities. After all, we cannot change history; we can only learn from it. That is precisely what Turkey did in 1935, when it officially reopened Hagia Sophia as a museum. Regardless of the motive behind it, the move signaled not only a sense of Turkish reconciliation with its ancient past, but also a message of confidence in its Islam, which is no longer threatened by outside Christian enemies.

Sadly, Turkish Islamists, supported by many inside the ruling AKP party, do not share this notion of reconciliation and confidence. They have their own grievances against the “Kemalist secular Republic,” in what they perceive as an attack on Ottoman heritage. Hagia Sophia is at the heart of their campaign. The Anatolia Youth Association has collected 15 million signatures to petition for it to be turned back into a mosque.

Words conquer, and conquest is used casually and conveniently to describe what is usually a biased assessment of historical events. Many Islamists prefer the word conquest, believing it captures a positive, glorious act that was devoid of devastation of the existing civilian population. Within that frame of mind, the invasion of Constantinople is a “conquest,” or, in Turkish/Arabic, Fetih. Other similar acts by opposite forces, such as the Christian recapture of Andalusia, are portrayed in a more negative light. This biased assessment of history feeds a sense of victimhood that encourages political irrationality. Maybe the Turkish Islamists should visit Cordoba to have a taste of how “conquer” can elicit different, sad emotions. Maybe they could also contemplate how they would feel if the Spanish authorities decided to allow Christian prayers again in the mosque. Turning both monuments into museums is the best way to turn the page of a bitter and bloody past that defied the essence of the two faiths, which both advocate mercy and compassion.

Secularism/Islamism

As Kadri Gürsel has written, the Kemalist secular Republic gave birth to three main issues of victimhood: The headscarf ban, the restriction on religious high schools and the transformation of Hagia Sophia into a museum. Although Islamists have had a valid argument regarding the headscarf ban – and they rightly reversed it recently – Hagia Sophia is a completely different matter. The issue here is not freedom of choice, as in the scarf ban, or religious oppression, it is simply about resurrecting ego. Islamists claim that without praying in Hagia Sophia, the conquest is incomplete. Such ridiculous thinking conveys a deep and unfounded sense of insecurity from citizens of a nation that was never colonized by foreign forces. Reviving Muslim prayers five times a day in Hagia Sophia or even in the Christian Vatican for that matter will never cure this insecurity. Political Islamists will always be insecure, as long as they view anyone who differs from them as an enemy that is trying to undermine their rule.

King Charles V, who commissioned the Cordoba church, subsequently voiced his displeasure at the result. “They have taken something unique in all of the world and destroyed it to build something you can find in any city,” he said, and his quote is still valid today. It is time to uncouple Islam from Islamism. The Prophet Muhammad never advocated luxurious mosques or fancy buildings. His simplicity was one of his main virtues. Political diggers who are after score settling may indeed win in Turkey and convert Hagia Sophia to a mosque, but they will probably end up with the same sentiment King Charles V felt – very displeased. The great Hagia Sophia will be just another mosque that “can be found in any city.” Shortsightedness may win its moment in Turkey, but it will only be carved in history as a hollow victory for political greed.

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