Egyptian Aak 2017- Week 13 ( March 27-April 2)

Top Headlines

  • Egypt’s Sisi to arrive in Washington Saturday, meet Trump Monday
  • Egyptian MPs in Washington to rally support against Muslim Brotherhood in Congress circles
  • Rival campaigns mount ahead of President Sisi’s visit to the US
  • Sisi and King Salman exchange invitations to respective countries on sidelines of Jordan summit
  • Egypt court voids ruling halting transfer of islands to Saudi Arabia
  • CPJ denounces Egypt’s continuous detention of journalists
  • Egypt lowers customs exchange rate to 16.5 pounds/dollar in April
  • Cairo, Berlin sign agreement on allowing German civil ‪society to resume work in Egypt
  • Egypt judges voice strong objections to draft law regulating appointment of heads of judicial bodies

 Main Headlines

Monday

Tuesday 

Wednesday

Thursday

Friday

  • Egypt’s Sisi to arrive in Washington Saturday, meet Trump Monday
  • Egypt lowers customs exchange rate to 16.5 pounds/dollar in April
  • Cairo, Berlin sign agreement on allowing German civil society to resume work in Egypt
  • Israeli tourists are ignoring warning of terror attacks in Egypt’s Sinai
  • Belgium reissues Egypt travel advice: Sharm not included in Sinai warning
  • CPJ denounces Egypt’s continuous detention of journalists
  • Six men have been arrested in Egypt’s Sharqiya after mob harasses a woman
  • Egypt’s Suez Canal records 1.7% revenue increase in March

Saturday

 Sunday

Good Reports

Good Read

  • Can Trump cut a deal with Egypt? Eric Trager
  • President Trump talks terror with Egypt’s Sisi. David Schenker
  • Egypt goes from bad to worse: Under President Sisi, the nation longs for the good old days of Mubarak. Steven Cook

And my thoughts on Egypt’s Sisi visit to Washington

From Twitter

Interview

  • On the run: An interview with Egyptian atheist Sherif Gaber

Book Review

Plus

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

The visit of Egypt’s Sisi to Washington: The illusion of chemistry and the challenges of reality

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump holds a bilateral meeting with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in Manhattan, New York

Donald Trump with Egyptian President  in New York, Sept. 19, 2016

Photo by Reuters

On Monday April 3, US President Donald Trump will host Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi for talks in Washington. The last visit of an Egyptian president to the United States was by former ousted president Hosni Mubarak, in 2004.

The Egyptian leadership seems to have spent much time and effort planning this trip to post-Obama America, with three possible main goals in mind: financial support from the new Trump administration, a clearer American stance toward the Muslim Brotherhood, and kick starting a joint foreign policy that allows Egypt to be an important player in a wider regional alliance.

First, to achieve financial support from the Trump administration, which has already vowed to cut foreign aid, President Sisi first has to convince the American administration his regime is stable and that the chance of a revolution of the poor is unlikely, at least in the near future. The Egyptian leadership may also find it tricky to convince its American counterpart that it is succeeding in its war against ISIS in Sinai, especially with emerging reports of increasing casualties among Egypt’s army and police in both North and Central Sinai.

Last month, ISIS forced the Coptic residents of North Sinai to flee their homes. Some eyewitness claim that the militants have started to set up security checkpoints in North Sinai’s capital, Al-Arish. More alarmingly, some reports suggest ISIS’s influence is rising in South Sinai. Several days ago, Israel issued an urgent warning to Israelis travelling in the Sinai, although Israelis mostly ignored the warning.

It is likely the Egyptian president may succeed in securing American backing for his war in Sinai, but the chances of any financial support will depend on his ability to convince his American counterpart of his army’s readiness to embrace an effective counter-insurgency strategy, instead of seeking purchases of conventional arms.

Second, the Egyptian leadership is looking for a clear stance from Trump’s America against political Islam. The leadership is seeking a ban on the Muslim Brotherhood in the US, which has not materialized so far. A report suggests that the administration backed down from a plan to designate the Brotherhood last month after an internal State Department memo advised against it because of the movement’s loosely -knit structure and far-flung political ties across the Middle East. The White House has confirmed that President Trump will discuss with President Sisi the possibility of designating the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization.

Nonetheless, this discussion may not yield the results the Egyptian president is after. Although the American president may share Sisi’s hostility towards the Brotherhood nonetheless, it is unlikely this joint hostility will lead to a formal ban of the Brotherhood, simply because of the complexity of such a blanket ban.

Third, the Egyptian president is keen to present himself as a most reliable pro-American player in the region in liaison with other American allies such as Jordan, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia. Recently, Egypt managed to re-establish warmer ties with Saudi Arabia during the Arab Summit. It also conducted several joint exercises with some Gulf States. President Sisi may also, directly or indirectly, seek to alienate regional foes such as Turkey and Qatar.

There is subtle competition between Ankara and Cairo to win the heart and mind of the new American administration. Although Egypt understands that the US cannot and will not abandon its ties with Turkey, the Egyptian leadership may try to make the Turkish link the weakest in America’s links in the region, taking advantage of the Turkish leadership’s dogmatic approach to foreign policy, particularly in Syria.

The US’s new approach in Syria, which is no longer prioritizing the removal of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and its backing of Kurdish militias have caused frustration in Ankara, but it is probably music to Sisi’s ears. After all, he is the one who presents himself as being more in tune with America’s policy in Syria than the Turkish president. Nonetheless, despite this common vision on the regional foreign policy front between Cairo and Washington, it is unlikely the Trump administration will be able to force Ankara to abandon its patronage of the Muslim Brotherhood. Trump still needs Erdogan, even if he despises the Turkish president’s Islamism.

There is an air of unrealistic optimism among Sisi’s pundits regarding the Egyptian president’s trip to the United States. It seems officials in Cairo think they can charm their way in DC and return with good bargains both politically and militarily. It is true President Trump “wants to reboot the relationship between the two countries, and he thinks President Sisi is a “fantastic guy,” but Trump will still need hard evidence before sanctioning more financial and military support for Egypt. Moreover, the new American administration is still at the stage of mapping the region, and for now would prefer to listen rather than rush in to take a concrete stance on tricky topics such as banning the Muslim Brotherhood or handling complex partners in the region

With mutual chemistry and joint goals as his powerful tools, President Sisi may achieve some of his aims from the visit, but is unlikely to achieve them all. He may find sympathetic ears in DC, but with little action.

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Reflections on the Westminster Attack

Westiminster

Photo from my own collection

“We are not afraid.” That was the simple note written on one of many floral tributes on London’s Westminster Bridge after last week’s terror attack there. I read this defiant message while walking along the infamous Bridge where, just a few days earlier, 52-year-old Kent-born terrorist Khalid Masood killed four innocent people and injured dozens. The defiance of Londoners and their determination to get on with their lives, despite this tragic event and the ongoing terror threat, was palpable everywhere around the city.

Beyond defiance, however, there were mixed responses to the heinous crime. Some rushed to exploit the attack by denigrating the British Muslim community; others promptly responded by defending Muslims, dissociating themselves from terrorism. Newspapers highlighted how Muslim women gathered on Westminster Bridge in a show of solidarity with the victims of last week’s terror attack. Others fueled public debate by comparing attacks by radical Islamist groups to the IRA bombings or by blaming Western foreign policies in the Middle East for the rise of radical groups.

These confused, almost competing responses are active whenever there is a terror attack in a Western city. Each echo chamber has an almost identical response after every terror attack, which reflects its own political attitudes. As Polly Toynbee has written: “All of us responded in our tribes.”

Amidst those chaotic echo chambers, attempts are made, consciously or subconsciously, to cast an air of confusion on the phenomenon of radical Islamism, mainly to serve often-competing political agendas. But the rhetoric fuelling this confusion is simply a betrayal of the victims of such violence. Islamist radicalism is not that difficult to understand, and the first step in understanding it should be by dispelling a few of the myths circulated after each terror attack. Here are some:

Myth one: It is Islamic terror

British Prime Minister Theresa May was more accurate than many in her assessment. “It is wrong to describe this as ‘Islamic’ terrorism. It is ‘Islamist’ terrorism; it is a perversion of a great faith.” May pointed out, albeit subtly, to the ideological root of violent Islamism, emphasizing that it is an ideology, not a faith. In simpler terms, it is a political ideology that appeals to a tiny minority of followers of the Muslim faith who believe Islam is not just a religion, but also a system of governance that should be dictated by Islamic laws. Many argue that Islam’s holy book, the Quran, backs this ideology. That is simply a farce. Muslim scholars have disagreed for centuries about interpretations of Islamic texts. What we have witnessed recently are attempts by certain groups and states to assert their own vision of Islam, using financial and cultural influences to lure Muslim communities in both the West and in the Muslim world.

Myth two: It has nothing to do with Muslims

While it is important to understand the difference between Islam as a faith and Islamism as an ideology, it is crucial to acknowledge the complexity of radicalism and how it grows and recruits a few Muslims.

A recent report in The New York Times sheds more light on the complex link between radicalism and Muslim communities. It explains how Khalid Masood had a connection to Birmingham, Britain’s second-biggest city, which has produced a disproportionate number of convicted Islamist militants, including some linked to the attacks of September 11, 2001, and to last year’s bombings in Brussels. Anjem Choudary, a founder of Al Muhajiroun, which has been classified as a terror organization, blurred the boundary between religion and violent extremism for many years. His entourage used to arrive in big vans on Birmingham’s Coventry Road, an area associated with conservative Islam, preaching and distributing leaflets. Choudary is now in prison after being convicted last year of encouraging support for Islamic State, but his legacy continues.

The problem is, there are many shades of Choudary within Britain’s Muslim communities, and arguably in other Western countries. Unlike Choudary, some Islamists adopt a softer tune, spreading a similar message of hate and radicalization, but are hard to spot among ordinary Muslims. It is not bigoted or anti-Islam to acknowledge that simple fact, and to work harder to expose people like Choudary who try to exploit Muslims to fulfill their poisonous agendas. In fact, the best way to confront bigotry and racism is to address these issues and openly discuss the challenges facing Muslims in Britain.

Myth three: Non-violent Islamism is not part of the problem

Despite acknowledging the difference between Islam and Islamism, the British PM, its government, and the wider political elite in Britain are still refraining from discussing Islamism as an ideology. Even in its non-violent form, Islamism is problematic for two reasons: First, is its ghettoizing nature: For Islamists, religion should be the top identity of any Muslim; and this identity must be protected. Islamists are naturally isolationists. They adopt a veneer of openness and use it as a campaign tool to attract sympathizers among human rights advocates and policy makers. They see others as a threat to their way of life and discourage their followers from integrating properly within their wider communities. Second, Islamists encourage perpetual victimhood by pooling endless historic grievances and mixing them with the current unfortunate realities in many Muslim countries. The end result is a poisonous environment that breeds emotionalism and anger. In fact, the combined ingredients of social dissociation and emotionalism provide a perfect recipe for radicalism to flourish. It engenders a deep reluctance to discuss Islamism for fear of offending Muslims, which is not just wrong; it is dangerous too!

Myth four: Essentializing Islam

As I have written before, the cynical glee with which the Western media publicly flaunts — and generalizes — the practice of Islamic customs has become a disturbing pattern.

Symbols like the Hijab (disputed by many liberal Muslims) have become a favorite trendy logo whenever Islam is mentioned. Using the hijab recently as a logo during the Women’s March against Trump is just one example. Western media tend to juggle Islam and Islamism depending on the story. Here is a headline from The Independent: “Thousands of Muslims from across the world converged on the UK for a convention where they rejected extremism and violence of terror groups such as Isis.” What the headline does not reveal, however, is that this congregation belongs to the Ahmadiyya Islamic movement, a sect of Islam that most political Islamists regard as heretical. Again, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth joined the commemoration of the Westminster attack, but again, media outlets branded them as Muslims without explaining the distinction between them and Islamism.

 

It is hard to walk along Westminster Bridge and not to agree with William Wordsworth’s 1802 poem “upon Westminster Bridge.” The messages of defiance and solidarity with the victims of terror indeed make the bridge, more than ever, ‘a sight so touching in its majesty.’ But outside the splendor of the scene, there is a vulnerable society rife with myths, denial, tribalism and exploitations. Terrorism is a symptom of deeper illnesses we should all confront. We cannot afford the cowardice of the elite, and exploitation by ideology.

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Islam, Politics, Terrorism | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Egyptian Aak 2017- Week 12 ( March 20-26)

Top Headlines

  • Hosni Mubarak: Egypt’s toppled dictator freed after six years in custody
  • Three army officers, seven soldiers killed in militant hideout raid in Central Sinai
  • Four Egyptian soldiers killed by an explosion in Al-Arish
  • A man was killed and three others were injured Friday when an explosive device detonated in Cairo’s Maadi
  • Egypt to double metro ticket price to EGP
  • Egypt prosecution orders detention of suspect who allegedly raped 20-month-old child
  • Divisions widen between Muslim Brotherhood factions after policy reassessment initiative
  • Egyptian airline’s first all-female flight crews take to skies

 

Mubarak BBC

Egypt’s Mubarak has been freed. Photo via BBC

Main Headlines 

Monday

 Tuesday

Wednesday

 Thursday

Friday

Saturday

Sunday

Good reports

Good read

From Twitter

Plus

Sport

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Re-blog: Joshua Landis on Syria

As news has emerged that Russia is helping Syrian Kurdish YPG forces to establish a military base in northern, and despite a Russian denial, I find this post by Joshua Landis important to read. Many may disagree with him; still it is important to discuss his thoughts, while debating the future of Syria. Here I re-blog it with permission.

 

Syria Landis

 

American academic Joshua Landis wrote: Why the U.S. Should Team Up with the Kurds & Not Turkey to Take Raqqa and Destroy the Islamic State:

 Landis wrote:

“The problem with letting the Turks take Raqqa and presumably the entire Euphrates Valley that is now held by ISIS is that the Turks are endeavoring to hem in the Kurds. To do this, Turkey hopes to establish its Arab proxies in a new “Euphrates state” in eastern Syria. This would partition Syria into three states: a western Asad-ruled state; an eastern Turkish and Sunni Arab rebel-ruled state, and a northern Kurdish state.

Asad’s army has already taken a large swath of territory east of Aleppo, which cuts off Turkey’s access to Raqqa from al-Bab. Turkey has proposed taking Raqqa from the north at Tel Abyad. This approach would penetrate the Kurdish region at its middle and cut it in two. This objective of splitting the autonomous Kurdish region in two is the main reason Turkey offered to take Raqqa.

If the United States helps or allows Turkey to attack the Kurds at Tel Abyad, it will have no Kurdish allies to attack Raqqa or any other part of ISIS territory.”

Landis expanded to explain his reasons, and then he added this intriguing paragraph:

“Russia and Iran want to divide ISIS territory between the Kurds and the Syrian government that is led by Asad. The United States should allow this to happen if it wants an exit strategy. Such a strategy, of course, delivers the Euphrates basin back to Asad’s dictatorial rule and into the hands of authoritarian Kurdish rule. It will not be democratic. Asad will seek vengeance against those who rose up against him. This strategy does not promote the sort of representative democracy or human rights outcome the US is pledged to support. All the same, it will be the fastest way to bring stability, restore government services, and rebuild the region. The Syrian government will police against ISIS and Nusra as the Iraqi government does in Iraq. This is the best way to defeat ISIS and deny its territory to some Salafist redux.”

 

To read the full analysis click here

 

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Egyptian Aak 2017- Week 11 ( March 13-19)

Top Headlines

  • Pope to visit Egypt next month
  • President Sisi to meet Trump in Washington in early April
  • Reuters: Russia appears to deploy forces in Egypt, eyes on Libya role
  • Russia denies deploying airbase in Egypt
  • Mubarak returns to his home in Heliopolis
  • More than 2,200 kids may have been food poisoned in south of Egypt
  • Parliament to discuss Red Sea’s Tiran and Sanafir deal despite court ruling voiding the agreement

 Main Headlines

Monday

Tuesday 

 Wednesday

 Thursday 

Friday

 Saturday 

Sunday 

 Good Reports

Good Read

From Twitter

Interview

 Plus

Photo Gallery

Poll

  • Baseera: 63% of Egyptians support proposed bill to document verbal divorce

 

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

How Erdoğan thrives on ‘crisis strategy’; a game on constantly inventing enemies

An important read on Erdogan’s war against Europe by Yavuz Baydar

TEMPORAL

‘A spectre is haunting Europe–the spectre of authoritarianism.”

Is it fair to rewrite the first sentence of Marx-Engels manifesto in this manner?

Possibly.

As we observe the worrisome process of ‘Erdoğan vs Germany’, developing into ‘Erdoğan vs Netherlands’, it is inevitable how enthusiastically his relentless drift to test the intolerance vis a vis democratic tolerance is received by the far-right in Europe in general.

Authoritarian leaders have been known to to thrive over the conditions that the democratic tolerance provides. Their journey towards their ‘final destination’ defies checkpoints; their very ‘free ride’ aims to gobble up all legitimacy – by way of subversion of the rules and regulations otherwise widely agreed.

What we have been witnessing – with the rise of Putin, Erdoğan and Trump -, mind you, is only a harbinger of what we will see in the future; only more and more of it. Unless, of course, Western…

View original post 1,088 more words

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Egyptian Aak 2017- Week 10 ( Mar 6-12)

ramses-ii-statue-01

Matariya residents pose for pictures  the head of an unearthed statue of Pharaoh Ramses II -Reuters

Top Headlines

  • Archaeologists in Egypt discover massive statue in a Cairo slum
  • Egypt’s Supreme Judicial Council rejects bill that gives president judicial appointment power
  • Russia, Egypt have agreed on aviation security protocol
  • Egyptians protest lack of subsidized bread after government decision to reduce bakeries quota
  • An Alexandria criminal court sentenced a man to death after he was convicted of killing an Alexandria liquor store owner in January
  • Vatican confirms papal trip to Egypt is under study
  • Egyptian-Turkish Business Council to meet for first time since 2013 Morsi ouster
  • Disagreement between Egypt, Palestine over proposed amendment to Arab Peace Initiative
  • Egypt’s top archeologist Hawas apologizes for calling Lionel Messi “an idiot”

 

Main Headlines

 Monday

 Tuesday

 Wednesday 

Thursday

 Friday

 Saturday

Sunday 

 Good Reports

Good Read

From Twitter

Photo Gallery:

 Plus

Finally here are Jayson Casper’s prayers for Egypt

Posted in Diary of Aak, Egypt | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Europe and the Ottoman Tulips

 

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu is seen in this file photo. : AA Photo

Turkey’s foreign minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu- AA Photo

Officials in several European countries have stopped mass rallies by top Turkish politicians to attract support for next April’s much anticipated constitutional referendum on a new Constitution that would expand the powers of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The Netherlands barred Turkey’s foreign minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu from flying to the country. The move came hours after Çavuşoğlu said that Turkey would impose “severe sanctions” against the Dutch state if it attempted to cancel his planned meeting, at which he was scheduled to address the Turkish community in Rotterdam. The ties between Ankara and Berlin have also been strained in recent months after the German authorities blocked several rallies supporting Erdogan in Germany. Meetings in Austria and Switzerland have also been banned. These decisions are legally and politically correct, despite President Erdogan’s angry jibes in which he described first the German and later the Dutch authorities as “Nazis” and “fascists,” His foreign minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu slammed Dutch authorities, saying tulips came to Holland from the Ottomans but failed to make them real men.”

Legally, Germany’s Constitutional Court has already delivered a verdict asserting that Turkish government officials cannot invoke German constitutional rights in seeking to enter the country for political appearances. The Netherlands will most probably use the same argument if Turkey legally challenges the case.

Politically, however, banning the rallies may appear controversial. Some Turkish observers have already expressed concern that banning Turkish officials from campaigning will only ignite the “Yes to constitution” campaign and unleash a sense of victimhood by Erdogan’s supporters. This argument may seem logical, but it is not necessarily accurate for a number of reasons:

First, moaning at Europe has become one of Erdogan’s main political campaign staples. Turkish officials have never been grateful to German or Dutch authorities for allowing them to campaign on their soil___ a privilege that is not reciprocated by Turkey, where foreigners are not allowed to hold public rallies. In fact, it is important to understand that whatever the actions of European officials, they will always be exploited and abused by the Turkish president, as he has adopted victimhood as a useful tool in his “populist authoritarianism.”

Second, if banning Turkish officials will galvanize the “Yes” campaign, then surely allowing Erdogan’s men to campaign openly amidst the already divided Turkish communities in Europe will further help the “Yes” campaign. In other words, by sending his men to campaign in European cities, Erdogan has positioned himself in a win-win situation, regardless of how European countries react.

Third, in the current illiberal, even oppressive Turkey, Turkish opposition officials have warned of campaigns of harassment and intimidation. Inside Turkey, a wave of arrests of opposition lawmakers, activists, and journalists, as well as the closure of media outlets, have left a predominantly government-friendly press moderating the debate on the vote. Last month, the Turkish daily newspaper Hurriyet scrapped an anti-referendum interview with Orhan Pamuk, a celebrated novelist and Turkey’s first Nobel laureate. In planning to tour Berlin, Rotterdam, and other locations, Turkish officials were trying to spread the same policy of fear and intimidation, albeit subtly, among Turkish diaspora in European cities.

Tulips

 

As the Turkish foreign minister lectures Europe about the origin of tulips, I wonder if he remembers the tragic end of Ottoman’s “Tulip Period” when people revolted against the Sultan; he was forced to resign and his grand vizier was executed.

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Islamist Gehad Haddad Versus Muslim Reformer Maajid Nawaz

The New York Times (NYT) recently published a column by Gehad el-Haddad — the [previous] spokesman for the global Islamist group The Muslim Brotherhood — penned from the confines of his Egyptian jail cell, in Tora prison. Haddad wrote about his movement’s “peaceful reformist approach,” and he concluded his letter by a shy admission that his group’s political maneuvering created distance between the Brotherhood and the Egyptian people. Haddad, however, failed to address the problematic approach of the ideology of political Islam that was the core problem that forced many Egyptians, including millions of Muslims to turn against the Muslim Brotherhood.

 

In a column in the Daily Beast, British activist and columnist Maajid Nawaz wrote an open letter to Gehad Haddad, addressing the points Haddad in his NYT’s column and how Haddad only presented half the story, and how it is “disingenuous to argue that your Islamist ideology does not contribute to the intolerant atmosphere from which jihadists are able to recruit.” Nawaz also highlighted that Hadad, (and other Islamists), cannot have it both ways: “If anti-Muslim rhetoric is dangerous because it acts as a backdrop to violence against Muslims, then Islamist rhetoric is dangerous because it acts as a backdrop to jihadist violence.”

 

I recommend reading the whole article here.

 

As for the debate on whether the Muslim Brotherhood is a terrorist organization or not, I repost this analysis (initially included in my weekly Egypt’s compilation), by Mokhtar Awad and Samuel Tadros.

 

 

 

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