BBC- Jim Muir: Palestinian protests: Arab spring or foreign manipulation?

The “Nakba” day incidents on Israel’s borders showed that the Palestinians have undoubtedly been caught up at last in the Arab revolutionary spring fever. In a very different position from most Arab nations, the Palestinians had so far been largely left out as the spirit of assertive demands for rights and freedoms swept the region and threatened its dictators.

The pent-up frustrations of the Palestinians largely took the form of pressure on their own divided leaderships to unite, something that has now happened. The 15 May challenges to Israel on its borders with Lebanon and Syria, within the fragmented West Bank and on the Gaza frontier, undoubtedly embodied the same kind of risk-taking, confrontational people-power ethos that has fired the revolts in many parts of the Arab world.

Palestinian militancy and desire for self-assertion in keeping with revolutionary Arab times are very strong and can be taken as a given. But the ability to express those sentiments is something else.

‘Common denominators’

There is clearly another dimension to the unprecedented eruptions on Israel’s borders with Lebanon and Syria, in which a number of protesters are reported to have been shot dead and many others wounded.  The common denominators in both cases are Syria and its ally Iran.

In past years, Syria has prevented Palestinian protesters from getting anywhere near the sensitive Golan border, where Damascus has in the past scrupulously respected its truce agreement with Israel.  Nearly half a million registered Palestinian refugees live in Syria, some of them in camps not far from the Golan.  Syria may be distracted and preoccupied by events inside the country, but so much that it could not have prevented the Golan incident if it had wanted it not to happen?

The real power in southern Lebanon is Hezbollah, the militant Shia movement that was created in the early 1980s by Iran and Syria to counter Israel’s invasion of Lebanon. If Hezbollah had not wanted the display of Palestinian refugee militancy at Maroun al-Ras on the south Lebanon border with Israel to happen, it would not have happened. Damascus and Tehran retain extremely strong ties with Hezbollah, so by extension, the same is true of them.

Lebanon, like Syria, also has getting on for half a million Palestinian refugees on its soil. But Jordan has something like two million, yet its borders with Israel, running along the Jordan river, did not see any such incidents because Amman did not want it to happen. Jordanian police intervened to prevent a mere 200 Palestinian students from marching towards the border, and six of them were injured when they were restrained.

The unusual flare-ups on the Golan and on the Lebanese border came as President Bashar al-Assad’s regime moved into its third month of confronting its biggest internal challenge in more than 40 years of rule by his family and the Baath Party. It would be hard not to see a link between the two developments.

To allow a controlled burst of tension on the borders with Israel might have been seen by the Syrian regime as serving several useful purposes: to divert attention from its internal troubles, and to burnish its nationalist credentials of steadfast resistance to Israel.

It may also have been aimed at conveying to Israel and the Americans the message that if Mr Assad’s grip on power should slip, Israel might face a much more militant Syria. In a recent New York Times interview, the president’s controversial businessman cousin, Rami Makhlouf, said that if Syria had no security, Israel would have no security – remarks from which the regime has officially distanced itself, but which came from a key figure within the inner circle of power.

‘Playing with fire’

One question Israel will be asking itself is whether the outbursts on the borders might be sustained and turn into a running situation.  That is not impossible. But Damascus and its allies in Lebanon know that they are playing with fire. Syria would be unlikely to permit a situation on the Golan that could get out of hand and lead to a serious engagement with the Israelis that could be deeply damaging, and might even hasten a decision by Washington to move towards a call for regime change.

A warning skirmish is one thing, a serious confrontation something else. In Lebanon, while anything is possible, Hezbollah is also unlikely to want an open-ended situation in which Palestinians play a leading role. The Palestinian presence triggered the Israeli invasion in 1982 and other interventions which greatly hurt Hezbollah’s Shia community.

The Palestinians in Lebanon played no part in Hezbollah’s 2006 war with Israel. But clearly, these are uncharted waters. For the first time ever, Lebanon had the extraordinary experience of having people shot dead on its northern border by Syrian security forces because of the upheavals inside Syria, and a larger number shot dead on its southern border because of the Palestinian issue.

Whatever the degree of possible manipulation by Syria and its allies, the message from Palestinians both inside and outside is that the Arab revolution has found another home.


BBC: US Vetos UN Condemnation of Israeli Settlements

The US has vetoed an Arab resolution at the UN Security Council condemning Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories as an obstacle to peace. All 14 other members of the Security Council backed the resolution, which had been endorsed by the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO).

It was the first veto exercised by the Obama administration which had promised better relations with the Muslim world. A Palestinian official said the talks process would now be “re-assessed”. Washington was under pressure from Israel and Congress, which has a strong pro-Israel lobby, to use its veto.

The Obama administration’s decision risks angering Arab peoples at a time of mass street protests in the Middle East, the BBC’s Barbara Plett reports from the UN. It had placed enormous pressure on the Palestinians to withdraw the resolution and accept alternatives, but these were ultimately rejected.

On paper this was a defeat for the Palestinians but they and representatives of other Arab nations seemed to be in a buoyant mood. They had held out some hope that America would abstain, but not much, so the veto was predictable. The degree of support, on the other hand, was overwhelming: some 130 countries co-sponsored the resolution, and all the other members of the Security Council voted for it.

The result was strong endorsement of the Palestinian position on Israeli settlements – that they are illegal, and an obstacle to peace – which isolated Israel. It also isolated the United States. No matter what reasons America gave for the veto (it insisted bringing the matter to the Security Council complicated chances for peace talks) or how fulsomely it criticised settlement building (as a folly and threat to peace) it appeared out of sync with the international consensus, and as Israel’s only defender.

Given the ferment in the Arab world at the moment, that is not a good position for Washington to be in. While stating that it opposed new settlements, the Obama administration argued that taking the issue to the UN would only complicate efforts to resume stalled negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians on a two-state peace deal.

“Unfortunately, this draft resolution risks hardening the positions of both sides,” said the US ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice. The resolution, sponsored by at least 130 countries, declared Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories were illegal and a “major obstacle to the achievement of a just, lasting and comprehensive peace”.

Speaking from Ramallah in the West Bank, PLO secretary general Yasser Abed Rabbo said the US veto was “unfortunate” and “affected the credibility of the US administration”. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed the US veto, adding that his country remained committed to “a solution that will reconcile the Palestinians’ legitimate aspirations for statehood with Israel’s need for security and recognition”.

Britain, which voted in favour of the resolution, called on Israel and the Palestinians to resume talks because of the gravity of the stalemate between the two sides. Referring to recent events in Egypt and other Arab states, Foreign Secretary William Hague said the parties involved should not be “diverted by events in the wider region from working towards a just and lasting resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict”.

“I call on both parties to return as soon as possible to direct negotiations towards a two-state solution, on the basis of clear parameters,” he added.

Rasul Bakhsh Rais- The Wave of Liberation

Published in Express Tribune.

Let us not get into the semantics of whether what happened in Tunisia was a revolution and what is happening in Egypt and Yemen is a revolt or uprising. It is liberation from the native masters who cast themselves in the role of nationalist reformers to revive Arab national identity, provide freedom and space for self-expression, along with social reconstruction and economic development.

In many parts of the post-colonial world, the nationalist revivalists didn’t keep the promise of national liberation. Using popular idiom of nationalism, they imposed personalised authoritarian rule or, at best, one-party rule supported by the military. The Arab people suffered the most at the hands of their nationalist liberators, most of them, in fact, were coup makers who ousted weaker monarchs and established themselves as new voices for the masses. The Egyptian state and powerful elite — and many others from Iraq to Syria, Tunisia and Yemen — presented themselves as representatives of the masses, mixing strands of socialism and Arab nationalism. In the international polarisation between the superpowers, they plunged themselves into the Soviet camp because the western option was either not available or American and British role in the establishment of Israel and their continued backing of Israel made it impossible for them to look in that direction.

Egypt under Anwar Sadat had a volte-face, realising that it couldn’t get back what it had lost in the 1967 war, although its military was able to retake a big chunk of the lost territory in the war of 1973 war. Simply, the Americans wouldn’t allow Israel to stand defeated. Egypt broke the ranks with the confrontational Arab states, made peace with Israel and ever since lived happily in the American camp, receiving the largest amount of economic and military assistance after Israel.

From the very beginning of nationalist revolutions in the Arab world, authoritarian rulers took over the state. They cultivated supportive elite networks using resources of the state and established ruling family dynasties that were no different in essence from the traditional monarchies of the region. They applied fascistic means against the opposition elements, both Islamists and modernist liberals, suppressed dissent and ruled by using fear and intimidation. Never was the consent of the Arab people of any value, or the common Arab man of any real importance to them. Instead of sinking roots in society through liberal politics of rights, equality and justice for all, they relied on use of force, manipulation and state violence against every individual and group that dared to question their authority or right to rule.

They used some instruments of democracy, like elections, but they were single horse races, and obviously a big political fraud. In many ways, the Arab authoritarianism is no different than European fascism of the 1920s and 30s. They have used emotion, political rhetoric and control over the media and the political process to demonise opposition and destroy it in the name of state, nation and public interest.

The emerging revolutionary situation in some Arab countries, Egypt being the focal point, reflects the ethos of a new generation of Arabs. This new generation is not willing to be humiliated. The new Arab wants to recover lost dignity, national self-respect and political rights. The authoritarian model of the Arab state has served the interests of the ruling classes and their foreign backers. The developing revolutions represent the sentiment of true liberation. The Middle East is not going to be the same as we have known it, and ripple effects may touch the political soul of countries as far as Pakistan.

Zaheer Ali- Crisis in Egypt: Their Problem is Our Problem

The people of Egypt are looking to African Americans for solidarity in their struggle, just as we once looked to them in our own efforts to gain freedom and civil rights. When will we speak up for them? When protesters in Egypt called for a “Million Man March” to mark the one-week anniversary of their Jan. 25 uprising against Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year autocratic rule, they did what many African-American public figures have yet to do: draw on the history and example of the black freedom movement to express support for the ongoing global struggle for democracy.

With some exceptions (Cornel West being the most notable), members of the black intelligentsia have yet to provide significant commentary on the democratic aspirations being expressed so strongly and courageously in recent months in Arab countries in Africa and Asia. But even if some of us in America remain slow to take up the mantle of our own historical legacy, people around the world are taking note (just as Black History Month commences, no less).

Freedom fighters in Egypt wasted no time. They seized on the example of the 1995 Washington, D.C., Million Man March, organized by Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, to galvanize their own compatriots in drawing attention to their plight and generating momentum for their struggle. The Egyptians’ adoption of the Million Man March is not the first time the black freedom movement or its strategies have inspired struggles abroad; nor has this historically been a one-way exchange — especially in the case of Egypt.

Long before Egypt was a partner of the U.S. government in its foreign policy objectives in the Middle East, Egypt was a partner with black America. Egypt has figured in the black religious imagination for centuries, and more recently in the work of African-American historians and political activists throughout the 20th century. The Old Testament story of Hebrew slaves’ exodus from the oppression of a wicked pharaoh provided Africans enslaved in America with a coded language in Scripture and song. They used it to talk about their own yearnings for freedom from their white slave masters. Later, Egypt would become the source of pride for African Americans as Afrocentrist scholars claimed a kinship with the African identity of Egypt and its contributions to Western civilization.

Even President Barack Obama underscored this kinship when visiting the pyramids of Egypt after his 2009 Cairo speech. Looking upon some of the hieroglyphics, he remarked about one drawing of a man with prominent ears: “That looks like me!”

…Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad sought out a more direct relationship with the burgeoning nation of Egypt. In December 1957, Muhammad wrote Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser to express solidarity with the African-Asian Conference taking place in Cairo, and Nasser replied with “best wishes to our brothers of Africa and Asia living in the West.”

Muhammad went on to meet with Nasser when he visited Egypt in 1959 and ended up enrolling two of his sons at Al-Azhar University in Cairo. One of those sons was Imam Warith D. Mohammed, who would later use the Islamic education he received there when he assumed leadership of the Nation of Islam in 1975 and brought most of its followers closer to traditional Islam.

During his tenure in the Nation of Islam, Malcolm X also established direct ties to Egypt when he visited as Elijah Muhammad’s emissary in 1959. Five years later, after Malcolm X had left the NOI, he was back in Cairo, this time seeking to press the delegates of the Organization of African Unity to take a greater stand on behalf of the civil rights movement in America. Malcolm X believed that it was critical to reframe the movement not as a domestic problem but as a universal human rights problem.

Interviewed in Cairo about the purpose of his visit, he stated, “My purpose here is to remind the African heads of state that there are 22 million of us in America who are also of African descent, and to remind them also that we are the victims of America’s colonialism or American imperialism, and that our problem is not an American problem; it’s a human problem. It’s not a Negro problem; it’s a problem of humanity. It’s not a problem of civil rights, but a problem of human rights.”

In the same interview in Cairo, Malcolm X equated the black freedom movement with anti-colonial struggles around the world: “Our problem is their problem … their problem is our problem.”

Nearly 50 years ago, African-American leaders looked to African nations, including Egypt, to come to the defense of black people in America struggling for democratic rights. Now the people of Egypt, and those throughout the Arab world, are looking to us for solidarity in their own struggle.

Not only does our sense of humanity call for a response, but so does our history. To paraphrase Malcolm X, this is not an Egyptian or an Arab problem; it’s a problem of humanity. It’s not a problem of civil rights, but a problem of human rights.

Published in The Root.


Zlavoj Zizek- Why Fear The Arab Revolutionary Spirit?

Published in The Guardian.

What cannot but strike the eye in the revolts in Tunisia and Egypt is the conspicuous absence of Muslim fundamentalism. In the best secular democratic tradition, people simply revolted against an oppressive regime, its corruption and poverty, and demanded freedom and economic hope. The cynical wisdom of western liberals, according to which, in Arab countries, genuine democratic sense is limited to narrow liberal elites while the vast majority can only be mobilised through religious fundamentalism or nationalism, has been proven wrong. The big question is what will happen next? Who will emerge as the political winner?

When a new provisional government was nominated in Tunis, it excluded Islamists and the more radical left. The reaction of smug liberals was: good, they are the basically same; two totalitarian extremes – but are things as simple as that? Is the true long-term antagonism not precisely between Islamists and the left? Even if they are momentarily united against the regime, once they approach victory, their unity splits, they engage in a deadly fight, often more cruel than against the shared enemy.

Did we not witness precisely such a fight after the last elections in Iran? What the hundreds of thousands of Mousavi supporters stood for was the popular dream that sustained the Khomeini revolution: freedom and justice. Even if this dream utopian, it did lead to a breathtaking explosion of political and social creativity, organisational experiments and debates among students and ordinary people. This genuine opening that unleashed unheard-of forces for social transformation, a moment in which everything seemed possible, was then gradually stifled through the takeover of political control by the Islamist establishment.

Even in the case of clearly fundamentalist movements, one should be careful not to miss the social component. The Taliban is regularly presented as a fundamentalist Islamist group enforcing its rule with terror. However, when, in the spring of 2009, they took over the Swat valley in Pakistan, The New York Times reported that they engineered “a class revolt that exploits profound fissures between a small group of wealthy landlords and their landless tenants”. If, by “taking advantage” of the farmers’ plight, the Taliban are creating, in the words of the New York Times “alarm about the risks to Pakistan, which remains largely feudal,” what prevented liberal democrats in Pakistan and the US similarly “taking advantage” of this plight and trying to help the landless farmers? Is it that the feudal forces in Pakistan are the natural ally of liberal democracy?

The inevitable conclusion to be drawn is that the rise of radical Islamism was always the other side of the disappearance of the secular left in Muslim countries. When Afghanistan is portrayed as the utmost Islamic fundamentalist country, who still remembers that, 40 years ago, it was a country with a strong secular tradition, including a powerful communist party that took power there independently of the Soviet Union? Where did this secular tradition go?

And it is crucial to read the ongoing events in Tunisia and Egypt (and Yemen and … maybe, hopefully, even Saudi Arabia) against this background. If the situation is eventually stabilised so that the old regime survives but with some liberal cosmetic surgery, this will generate an insurmountable fundamentalist backlash. In order for the key liberal legacy to survive, liberals need the fraternal help of the radical left. Back to Egypt, the most shameful and dangerously opportunistic reaction was that of Tony Blair as reported on CNN: change is necessary, but it should be a stable change. Stable change in Egypt today can mean only a compromise with the Mubarak forces by way of slightly enlarging the ruling circle. This is why to talk about peaceful transition now is an obscenity: by squashing the opposition, Mubarak himself made this impossible. After Mubarak sent the army against the protesters, the choice became clear: either a cosmetic change in which something changes so that everything stays the same, or a true break.

Here, then, is the moment of truth: one cannot claim, as in the case of Algeria a decade ago, that allowing truly free elections equals delivering power to Muslim fundamentalists. Another liberal worry is that there is no organised political power to take over if Mubarak goes. Of course there is not; Mubarak took care of that by reducing all opposition to marginal ornaments, so that the result is like the title of the famous Agatha Christie novel, And Then There Were None. The argument for Mubarak – it’s either him or chaos – is an argument against him.

The hypocrisy of western liberals is breathtaking: they publicly supported democracy, and now, when the people revolt against the tyrants on behalf of secular freedom and justice, not on behalf of religion, they are all deeply concerned. Why concern, why not joy that freedom is given a chance? Today, more than ever, Mao Zedong’s old motto is pertinent: “There is great chaos under heaven – the situation is excellent.”

Where, then, should Mubarak go? Here, the answer is also clear: to the Hague. If there is a leader who deserves to sit there, it is him.

Carter calls on Mubarak to Quit

Available at Ledger-Enquirer

PLAINS, Ga. — Former President Jimmy Carter called the weeklong political unrest and rioting in Egypt an “earth shaking event” and said that the country’s president, Hosni Mubarak, “will have to leave.”  Carter’s remarks came at Maranatha Baptist Church, where he regularly teaches a Sunday School class to visitors from across the country and globe.  “This is the most profound situation in the Middle East since I left office,” Carter said Sunday to the nearly 300 people packed into the small sanctuary about a half mile from downtown Plains.

Carter spent the first 15 minutes of his 50-minute class talking about Egypt. Carter was president from 1977-81 and brokered the historic peace agreement between Israel and Egypt in 1978. He brought Egyptian President Anwar al-Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin together for an agreement that still stands today.

As the Egyptian unrest has escalated, Carter said he has been watching closely on his computer the coverage on Al Jazeera, an international news network headquartered in Qatar. Carter knows many of the players well.

Mubarak — the man at the center of this storm — was vice president at the time the peace accord was signed and became president in 1981 when Sadat was assassinated. Carter, 86, called Sadat’s assassination “one of the worst days of my life.” Carter described his relationship with Mubarak, whom protesters want ousted from power.

“I know Mubarak quite well,” Carter said. “If Sadat had a message, he would send Mubarak.” As Mubarak’s 30-year rule has continued, the Egyptian leader has “become more politically corrupt,” Carter said.  “He has perpetuated himself in office,” Carter said.

Carter said he thought the unrest would ease in the next week, but he said his “guess is Mubarak will have to leave.” “The United States wants Mubarak to stay in power, but the people have decided,” Carter said. Over the years, Mubarak has been a concern. “Other U.S. presidents would privately tell Mubarak you have got to have freedom,” Carter said. The former president pointed to the control of the media.

“As news organizations — television or newspapers — criticized Mubarak, they were put out of power or in prison,” Carter said. As the unrest raged and escalated, Mubarak appointed Omar Suleiman, the country’s intelligence chief, as vice president.  “He’s an intelligent man whom I like very much,” Carter said.

Carter has maintained a relationship with Suleiman over the years. “In the last four or five years when I go to Egypt, I don’t go to talk to Mubarak, who talks like a politician,” Carter said. “If I want to know what is going on in the Middle East, I talk to Suleiman. And as far as I know, he has always told me the truth.” The former president, who performs work throughout the world for fair elections through The Carter Center in Atlanta, said this was not a revolution “orchestrated by extremist Muslims.

“The Muslim brotherhood has stayed out of it,” Carter said.

Palestine Papers Reveal Nefarious Role for MI6 (Britain’s CIA)

British intelligence helped draw up a secret plan for a wide-ranging crackdown on the Islamist movement Hamas which became a security blueprint for the Palestinian Authority, leaked documents reveal. The plan asked for teh internment of leaders and activists, the closure of radio stations, andd teh replacment of imams in mosques.

The disclosure of the British plan, drawn up by the intelligence service in conjunction with Whitehall officials in 2004, and passed by a Jerusalem-based MI6 officer to the senior PA security official at the time, Jibril Rajoub, is contained in the cache of confidential documents obtained by al-Jazeera TV and shared with the Guardian. The documents also highlight the intimate level of military and security cooperation between Palestinian and Israeli forces.

The bulk of the British plan has since been carried out by the West Bank-based PA security apparatus which is increasingly criticised for authoritarian rule and human rights abuses, including detention without trial and torture. The British documents, which have been independently authenticated by the Guardian, included detailed proposals for a security taskforce based on the UK’s “trusted” Palestinian Authority contacts, outside the control of “traditional security chiefs”, with “direct lines” to Israel intelligence. It lists suicide bombers and rockets as issues that need urgent attention.

Under the heading “Degrading the capabilities of the rejectionists”, the MI6 Palestinian Security Plan recommends “the detention of key middle-ranking officers” of Hamas and other armed groups, adding: “We could also explore the temporary internment of leading Hamas and PIJ [Palestinian Islamic Jihad] figures, making sure they are well-treated, with EU funding.”

The latest leaks come as US state department spokesman Philip Crowley said they would “at least for a time, make the situation more difficult”, while the senior Palestinian negotiator Nabil Sha’ath acknowledged that the documents were genuine and Palestinian groups in Latin America reacted with shock to the revelation that former US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice had privately suggested Palestinian refugees be settled in Chile or Argentina.

Among the newly released confidential PA documents is an extraordinary account of a 2005 meeting between Israel’s then defence minister, Shaul Mofaz, and the PA’s interior minister, Nasser Youssef. Referring to Hassan al-Madhoun, a commander in the armed Fatah-linked al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades who was held responsible by Israel for a suicide attack the previous year, Mofaz asked Yousef: “We know his address … Why don’t you kill him?” Yousef replied: “The environment is not easy, our capabilities are limited.” Israel killed Madhoun a few months later in a drone missile attack on his car.

The PLO’s chief spokesman, Saeb Erekat, is recorded as telling senior US official David Hale in 2009: “We have had to kill Palestinians to establish one authority, one gun and the rule of law … We have even killed our own people to maintain order and the rule of law.” Erekat also complained to US envoy George Mitchell in 2009 that not enough was being done to seal off tunnels from Egypt into the Gaza Strip, the documents reveal, undermining the siege of the Hamas-controlled territory, and urged that more be done by Israel and Egypt to prevent the smuggling of goods and weapons. In an echo of the proposals in the British documents, Erekat told Hale: “We are not a country yet but we are the only ones in the Arab world who control the zakat [religious charitable donations] and the sermons in the mosque.”

The papers highlight the far-reaching official British involvement in building up the Palestinian Authority’s security apparatus in the West Bank, which was led from the late 1990s by the CIA and recently has focused on the build-up of forces under General Keith Dayton, who was US security coordinator for Israel and the Palestinian territories until last October.

Alistair Crooke, a former MI6 officer who also worked for the EU in Israel and the Palestinian territories, said the British documents reflected a 2003 decision by Tony Blair to tie UK and EU security policy in the West Bank and Gaza to a US-led “counter-insurgency surge” against Hamas – which backfired when the Islamists won the Palestinian elections in 2006.

The PA’s security control of the West Bank has become harsher and more extensive since the takeover of Gaza by Hamas in the summer of 2007. Hundreds of Hamas and other activists have been routinely detained without trial in recent years, and subjected to widely documented human rights abuses. In a meeting with Palestinian officials in 2009, Dayton is recorded praising the PA’s security: “The intelligence guys are good. The Israelis like them. But they are causing some problems for international donors because they are torturing people. “I’ve only started working on this very recently. I don’t need to tell you who was working with them before,” – in an apparent reference to the CIA.