Monday, June 25, 2012

Egyptians Celebrate Election Results

From Prisoner to President: Islamist Mohamed Morsi Wins Egyptian Vote

Crowds in Tahrir Square rejoice after Mohamed Morsi is finally declared victor after a week of uncertainty. Alastair Beach reports from Cairo.

The Independent
Monday, 25 June 2012

The Muslim Brotherhood was celebrating a landmark victory in its eight-decade quest for power last night after Mohamed Morsi was confirmed as the first democratically-elected President in Egypt's history.

In what could represent a seismic shift in the political balance of the Middle East, Mr Morsi, an Islamist jailed by Hosni Mubarak, eventually emerged as the victor following a nail-biting week in which the fate of the country hung in the balance.

The result – which saw Mr Morsi vanquish the former fighter pilot and Mubarak's last Prime Minister Ahmed Shafik by a margin of less than 3 per cent – is a momentous one for the Brotherhood, whose members have suffered torture, persecution and imprisonment at the hands of successive leaders since the revolution of 1952.

"We got to this moment because of the blood of the martyrs of the revolution," said Mr Morsi's spokesman, Ahmed Abdel-Attie, yesterday. "Egypt will start a new phase in its history."

But the victory also marks the first step in what looks likely to be a presidency plagued with pitfalls and overshadowed by the military establishment.

Tens of thousands of people packed into Tahrir Square, where almost 15 months ago to the day the first clashes erupted in what would eventually lead to the toppling of Mubarak. The crowds had been waiting for hours in the baking heat, but they were made to wait even longer by Farouk Sultan, the head of the Supreme Constitutional Court. His press conference was relayed to Tahrir Square on a loudspeaker.

When the result was eventually announced, confirming Muslim Brotherhood claims throughout the week, the roar was almost deafening. People wept as fireworks began to pop above the square. Others, clutching Korans, got to their knees and began to pray.

"Egypt has been reborn," shouted Ibrahim Mohamed, an electrician who said he was not a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. "We will not return to the old days. The revolution continues."

Another Morsi supporter, Mahmoud Soliman, spoke to The Independent in Mohamed Mahmoud Street – the road leading off Tahrir Square which was the scene of vicious clashes between activists and the security forces late last year. Standing in front of one of the commemorative murals on the walls of the American University, the 50-year-old accountant said Mr Morsi's victory was a triumph for God. "God will make Egypt a great country," said Mr Soliman, sporting one of the long beards sometimes favoured by conservative Muslims. "Mohamed Morsi is the hand of God who will make Egypt great again."

Yet after a year and a half in which Egypt's uprising has looked anything but victorious, there were ominous indications of the potential for further conflict yesterday. Following the election commission's announcement, supporters near Ahmed Shafik's headquarters started screaming: "The people want the execution of the Field Marshal" – a reference to Hussein Tantawi, the man who will continue to rule as Egypt's de facto leader until the handover of power, supposedly at the end of this month.

The result itself came following a week which was racked with tension, as rumours circulated about Egyptians stockpiling food supplies in case of a breakdown in order. Twitter was awash with claims and counter-claims about an election too close to call.

Renewed violence was also widely predicted – an eventuality which appeared to have been forestalled by Mr Morsi's success. Yet tensions are certain to re-emerge. The military ring-fenced certain powers in a constitutional declaration last week. The Brotherhood-dominated parliament was also recently dissolved – a development the group wants to reverse – while the generals have claimed the right to draft the new constitution.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Ignoring the Palestinian Uprising

West must Recognize Peaceful Palestinian Resistance Movement

The West has been largely silent on Palestinian nonviolent resistance, which is unifying groups like Fatah and Hamas. Unless the West recognizes these peaceful initiatives, some Palestinians may question whether civil protest is any better than its violent alternative.

By Sarah Marusek
The Christian Science Monitor
June 7, 2012

BEIRUT, LEBANON  – Some ask why the Palestinians seem to have been left behind in the so-called Arab Spring. In fact, they have not.

Palestinians in Lebanon, the Palestinian territories, and throughout the Middle East region have been engaging in nonviolent resistance over the past year. But the Western media have been largely silent in their coverage of this remarkable movement, which is unifying groups as disparate as Fatah, Islamic Jihad, Hamas, and The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

Unless the West recognizes these peaceful initiatives, some Palestinians may question whether nonviolent civil resistance will be any better than its violent alternative.

The current nonviolent resistance movement in the region – known as the Arab Spring or Arab Awakening – can, in fact, be connected back to the struggle that started in the Palestinian territories in 1987.

As American University of Beirut Professor Rami Zurayk notes, “the Arab uprisings have of course taken their inspiration from the [first] Palestinian intifada.” However he clarifies that the reverse is also true: There is “a constant feeding in from the Arab uprisings to Palestine and from Palestine to the Arab uprisings.”

Here in Lebanon, the diplomatic Israeli-Palestinian peace process embraced by the West has never been very popular. According to the leaked “Palestine papers,” Palestinian negotiators were willing to concede the right of return, recognized by UN Security Council resolution 194, to all Palestinian refugees but a select 10,000. One should not be surprised that this concession was unpopular here; over 400,000 Palestinian refugees are registered in Lebanon alone.

But their reaction to this and other developments has shifted in recent months. While in the past many Palestinian refugees living in Lebanon have supported the path of armed resistance to fight for their rights, today they are peacefully taking to the streets.

The new wave of Palestinian non-violent civil resistance in Lebanon started last year on the anniversary of the Nakba, or “catastrophe,” to commemorate the expulsion or fleeing of around 700,000 Palestinians from their land in 1948. On May 15,  2011 more than 50,000 Palestinian refugees gathered in a non-violent demonstration near Lebanon’s southern border with Israel. Since then, Lebanon’s Palestinians have been regularly organizing peaceful sit-ins and demonstrations, demanding civil rights in Lebanon (which they lack) and the right to return to their homeland.

But while the Palestinian Authority’s recent bid for statehood at the United Nations generated a lot of Western media interest, that same media are not reporting on the Palestinians’ peaceful protests in Lebanon, and were mostly silent when Hamas leaders in Gaza issued a declaration last December that “violence is no longer the primary option” for the party’s resistance against Israeli occupation.

At around the same time, the Western media also largely ignored Palestinian Khader Adnan’s hunger strike to protest against the Israeli policy of “administrative detention” – holding Palestinian prisoners indefinitely without trial or charge. Reports about the hunger strike only started to appear in February when Mr. Adnan was close to death. Subsequently, at least 1,600 more prisoners joined the hunger strike, with several approaching death.

Richard Falk, the UN special rapporteur on the occupied Palestinian territories, criticized the lack of response from Western governments, media, and even the UN itself. Since then, Egyptian mediation negotiated a deal where Israel agreed to meet some of the prisoners’ key demands, ending the hunger strike for most, although several prisoners have continued their protest.

Throughout the spring, there was a frenzy of non-violent events in the region showing solidarity with the Palestinian hunger strikers. On March 30 an unprecedented series of peaceful demonstrations were organized in the Palestinian territories and the neighboring countries of Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria, under the banner of the Global March to Jerusalem. And then on May 15, people came out into the streets once again to remember the Nakba.

All of the major Palestinian parties are coordinating these activities, including Fatah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. The US considers the latter three terrorist groups.

As with the hunger strikes, the Western media are largely ignoring the remarkable fact that these three parties are now actively embracing non-violent resistance to achieve their political goals. But even when Hamas recently leaked to the press that the party is conducting secret talks with several European governments, the Western media barely noticed.

The danger is that Western silence – in the media and in government – on this peaceful movement will undermine the effectiveness of the Palestinian protesters. What good is peaceful protest if it is not recognized or engaged?

In a recent op-ed, Nobel Peace Laureate Mairead Maguire and anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan argued that the international community must give Palestinian non-violent resistance a chance. They are right. The only problem is that we first need to know that it exists before we can encourage it.

Sarah Marusek is a member of the International Central Committee of the Global March to Jerusalem and is a social science doctoral candidate at the Maxwell School of Syracuse University. She is in Lebanon on an International Education Graduate Fellowship for International Study to research Islamic charities.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Proxy War Unfolding in Syria

In Syria, Foreign Intervention Will Only Shed More Blood

The US and its Gulf allies are already fuelling sectarian conflict in their proxy war with Iran. The fallout could be disastrous.

By Seumas Milne
The Guardian
Tuesday, 5 June 2012

As Syria descends deeper into civil war and human misery, pressure for yet another western military intervention in the Arab world is growing. Last week, General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, declared that the US might take the "military option" in Syria if it was "asked to do so". Barack Obama's Republican rival Mitt Romney is meanwhile demanding that the US government arm the Syrian opposition.

Today, Russian and Chinese leaders reaffirmed their opposition to forced regime change and support for UN envoy Kofi Annan's peace plan. But Susan Rice, US ambassador to the UN, has made clear western powers might act alone and take action "outside the authority" of the UN. Even the new French president François Hollande has said military intervention in his country's former colonial territory was "not to be ruled out".

The latest calls for action against Bashar al-Assad's regime follow the slaughter of 108 people, including 49 children, in Houla less than a fortnight ago. Opposition activists have blamed pro-regime "shabiha" sectarian militias for the massacre; the government al-Qaida terrorists. But there's no doubt that atrocities such as Houla – let alone killings on a larger scale – have the potential to turn intervention grandstanding into the real thing.

That's what happened in Kosovo 13 years ago, when contested killings in Racak led to Nato's bombing campaign outside the authority of the UN. The US administration continues to resist demands for open intervention in Syria. But Hillary Clinton says the case for intervention is getting stronger "every day", while the opposition Free Syria Army has now declared itself "free of any commitment" to the UN peace plan.

The reality is that intervention in Syria by the US and its allies has already begun. The western powers have backed the fractious opposition Syrian National Council since the early days of last year's uprising. So have the Gulf autocracies led by Saudi Arabia, who have stepped up the flow of weapons and cash to favoured Syrian rebel groups in recent months, while Turkey has provided a cross-border base. That is co-ordinated with the US, which supplies the same groups with "non-lethal assistance" and "communications equipment".

In other words, the US and its allies are sponsoring regime change through civil war. And while paying lip service to the Annan plan for demilitarisation and negotiation, they are making sure it won't succeed. The results can be seen on the ground. Overall, lethal violence is estimated by human rights groups to have dropped by 36% since the plan was supposed to come into effect, but government casualties have increased sharply over the same period (953 reported killed since mid-March). Rebel fighters claimed to have killed 80 government troops last weekend alone.

Syria is reported by the western and Gulf-controlled Arab media through the prism of a popular uprising against an authoritarian regime. But that is only one vital dimension of the conflict. And as brutal repression by a government which retains significant support has been met with a growing armed campaign, grassroots opposition has been displaced by foreign-backed groups whose strategy to win power is based on engineering outside intervention.

It has also increasingly morphed into a sectarian conflict, as the Alawite-dominated regime has used minorities' fears of a Sunni-dominated opposition to bolster support. The latest phase of Sunni-Shia conflict in the Middle East owes its virulence to the occupation of Iraq, where the US ruthlessly played the sectarian card to prevent the emergence of a genuinely national resistance. It has also been a knife at the heart of the Arab revolution and the linchpin of the Saudi-led strategy to prevent uprisings engulfing the conservative Gulf regimes.

Anti-Shia incitement has been central to Saudi propaganda against reform in the kingdom itself, the crushing of democratic protest in Bahrain and the drive to focus opposition across the region against Damascus (Alawites being a quasi-Shia sect), rather than Amman or Riyadh. It's also what has attracted al-Qaida and other Sunni volunteers to join the fight against the Assad regime, as tit-for-tat confessional killings multiply. For Syria and neighbouring Lebanon, with their precarious ethnic and religious makeups, that is a disaster.

But it is the third dimension of the crisis – Syria's role as Iran's principal ally – that gives it the potential to set the region on fire and draw the outside world into a devastating conflict. The internal struggle in Syria, whose territory has been occupied by Israel for the last 45 years, has already become part of a western and Saudi proxy war against Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah. As James Rubin, US assistant secretary of state under Bill Clinton, claimed this week, US intervention in Syria would be a "risk worth taking" because Iran "would no longer have a Mediterranean foothold from which to threaten Israel and destabilise the region".

In fact, Iran's alliance with Syria is one more reason why increasing western and Gulf dictators' intervention in Syria would escalate the conflict, not end it. Last year's Nato intervention in Libya increased the death toll by a factor of 10 to 15 and left a country of lawless warlords, torture and ethnic cleansing. Intervention in Syria, whether by fully arming the opposition or using air power to create "humanitarian corridors", would have a far more devastating impact.

That's partly because the Syrian regime has significant air defences and large-scale armed forces and the conflict is being fought out in heavily populated areas. But it's also because of the sectarian schisms and the risk of spreading the conflict further into countries such as Iraq and Lebanon. Why the states that brought blood and destruction to Iraq and Afghanistan should be thought suitable vehicles of humanitarian deliverance to Syria is a mystery. But full-scale foreign intervention would certainly lead to a far greater civilian death toll and many more Houlas.

Right now, lower-level intervention is bleeding Syria in a war of attrition. Short of an internal coup, the only way out of a deepening sectarian and regional conflict is an internationally guaranteed negotiated settlement that allows Syrians the chance to determine their own future. That means the US and its allies giving the Annan plan a chance, as much as Iranian and Russian pressure on Damascus. The consequences of the alternative – full-scale military intervention – would be incalculable.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Still Searching for Justice in Egypt

Hosni Mubarak Sentenced to Life for Complicity in Killing of Protesters

By Leila Fadel and Ernesto Londoño
The Washington Post
Sunday, June 3 2012

CAIRO — Ousted Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and his former interior minister were sentenced to life in prison Saturday after being convicted of complicity in the killing of protesters during the 2011 revolt that turned once-untouchable despots into defendants.

Mubarak became the first autocrat targeted in the Arab Spring uprisings to face life imprisonment in the country he once ruled. But the acquittal of six senior police officials charged with ordering the killings, as well as the exoneration of Mubarak and his sons of corruption charges, enraged many Egyptians, who took to the streets to decry the outcome as a travesty of justice.

Activists said the verdicts mean that no one has been held directly accountable for killing the nearly 1,000 people who died during the revolt. Mubarak and former interior minister Habib al-Adli were convicted for failing to stop the killings, not for ordering them. “Both will appeal,” said Yusry Abdel Razak, one of Mubarak’s attorneys.

The long-awaited verdicts jolted Egypt’s presidential race, as Mohamed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood candidate who will compete in a runoff this month, sought to take advantage of the new groundswell of revolutionary rage to attack his opponent, Mubarak-era prime minister Ahmed Shafiq.

As the sun set in Cairo, thousands of Egyptians poured into Tahrir Square and into the streets of the Mediterranean port of Alexandria and other cities. The volume and vigor of the turnout were startling in a year in which revolutionaries have often appeared deflated and rudderless.

“All of this is a charade, and we don’t accept it,” said Amal Ramsis, 40, as she protested in the square.

Dissatisfaction with the ruling could push revolutionaries who had planned to boycott the runoff election for president into grudging support of Morsi, an uncharismatic conservative Islamist, experts said.

“The Brotherhood might be able to capitalize on this to push the line for revolutionary unity against the regime,” said Michael Wahid Hanna, an Egypt analyst at the Century Foundation. “The anger could push those planning to sit it out to cast a vote for the Brotherhood against the old regime.”

After the verdict was handed down, Mubarak was whisked away on a helicopter to the Tora Prison hospital in suburban Cairo. The former strongman reportedly suffered a heart attack after learning that he would not be returned to the military hospital where he has been held in recent months, according to a medical official who spoke on the condition of anonymity. As the aircraft touched down, Mubarak reportedly wept and refused for several minutes to debark. State media reported he was in stable condition Saturday night in the prison.

The decision marked the first time that Mubarak has entered a prison since his detention in April 2011. During that time, he has been housed at a military hospital.

The three-judge panel that presided over the landmark case cited a statute of limitations in acquitting the former president, his two sons and a business tycoon of corruption charges. Both Alaa Mubarak and Gamal Mubarak will remain in custody on separate charges of stock market fraud.

The judges cited a lack of evidence in acquitting the six senior police officials charged in the killings of demonstrators. During closing statements in February, prosecutors said the Interior Ministry had been uncooperative during the investigation.

‘The loudest message’

Human rights activists said they were most disturbed by the acquittal of Ahmed Ramzy, the head of the riot police at the forefront of street battles with protesters during the revolt that began Jan. 25, 2011. Hossam Bahgat, a prominent rights worker, said the conviction of only the two top officials charged in the case suggested that the country’s military rulers were willing to sacrifice some of their own to preserve the security apparatus.

“This is the loudest message in the verdict,” he said.

Anti-Mubarak protesters initially rejoiced outside the heavily secured courthouse as firecrackers popped in the background. However, as the defendants were taken from the courtroom cage, people in the courtroom broke into angry chants denouncing the acquittals, and a brawl broke out.

“The people want the purification of the judiciary,” some spectators screamed. “Invalid, invalid!”

Mubarak attended the hearing on a stretcher, wearing dark sunglasses. He lay cross-armed, expressionless and motionless inside the black iron cage, as his sons sought to shield their 84-year-old father from cameras inside the courtroom.

Before announcing the verdict, the presiding judge, Ahmed Refaat, described the 2011 revolution as a historic turning point for the nation.

“As the sun rose on January 25 over Egypt, a new era was ushered in,” Refaat said. “A bright day loomed large for the great people of Egypt with new hope they had long yearned for.”

The Muslim Brotherhood issued a statement Saturday demanding justice for the slain revolutionaries.

“Who killed the martyrs if the police leaders are innocent?” the statement said. “If the evidence before the judiciary is insufficient, then the fronts responsible for concealing and discarding the evidence should be tried.”

Later, in a news conference, Morsi pledged that if he is elected president, all the defendants will be retried.

Ayman Nour, a renowned opposition figure who was jailed after he ran against Mubarak for the presidency in 2005, responded to the verdict by endorsing Morsi.

“The verdict today was shocking and did not meet legal prediction,” a statement from Nour’s office said.

In Tahrir Square on Saturday night, Ahmad Marzouk, 32, stood with his daughter to protest what he called a “weak” sentencing. He scoffed at the Brotherhood for supporting this protest after ignoring so many others, accusing the venerable Islamist group of opportunism.

“The Brotherhood come to the square when it is convenient for them,” he said. “Now they are trying to buy the votes of the revolutionaries by standing on their side, but if it was not in their best interest, they would have remained as quiet as always.”

Revolutions’ results

Shafiq, who was appointed prime minister by Mubarak during last year’s revolt, issued a statement praising the verdict as proof that “nobody in Egypt is above being held to account.” Shafiq saluted the “martyrs” of the revolt and said the verdict proved that the “reproduction” of Mubarak’s government is impossible.

Many revolutionaries, however, fear that Shafiq, who like Mubarak is a former air force chief, would restore the repressive policies of the old order if elected.

Shafiq’s spokesman, Ahmed Sarhan, accused the Brotherhood of condemning the verdict to propel its candidate to the presidency.

“We believe that this is being manipulated for the sake of the election,” he said.

Three other Arab leaders were toppled in the revolts that swept the region in 2011. Tunisian President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali fled to Saudi Arabia in January and was later tried and convicted in absentia.

Libyan strongman Moammar Gaddafi was killed by a mob in the city of Sirte in October 2011 after rebels aided by a NATO bombing campaign captured the capital. And Ali Abdullah Saleh, the president of Yemen, was forced to resign in February after enormous pressure from Persian Gulf states and the United States.

Heba Morayef, a Cairo-based researcher for Human Rights Watch, pointed out that no one, including the head of the riot police, has been held directly responsible for the killing during Egypt’s revolt, and she predicted that popular anger would be widespread.

“I don’t think this will satisfy people,” she said. “It’s a reflection of the fact that this was a very badly investigated case. It should have never gone to trial if they didn’t have enough evidence.”

Special correspondent Ingy Hassieb contributed to this report.