February 20, 2011

EDITOR: The great orator proves he is rotten to the core

After weeks of supporting the dictator of Egypt against his people, and chopping and changing daily, the equivocation goes on at the UN, with the US voting against its own policy, supporting Israeli settlements under the most extreme Israeli government. In an act of hypocrisy fitting Ian McEwan, the State Department claimed it is strongly against the settlements, and the veto is vote for peace…

How much longer are the Palestinians going to hope for change from Washington, ot treat it like an honest broker? One hopes that the self-delusion of the PA will not be matched in the new, developing democracies which are now blooming in the Arab capitals, where servility to the US was the standard approach. If there was a need for proof that the American leopard will not change its sickly spots, this immoral, irrational veto has provided it. If after this amazing month of change in the Middle East, Washington sticks to its long-held support of Israeli illegal aggression, then only the deluded will expect for anything positive to come from that corner.

Obama has stamped his presidency with the Dubya firebrand. This will not leave him until he bows out.

PA to call urgent UN session over settlement resolution veto: Haaretz

The U.S. veto, which contradicted America’s expressed policy on the settlements, and the Arab world’s response to it are expected to further deepen the crisis in the peace talks.
The United States used its UN Security Council veto on Friday, for the first time since President Barack Obama took office, to stop passage of a resolution condemning Israeli settlement construction. The resolution was supported by the Security Council’s other 14 members.

The veto, which contradicted America’s expressed policy on the settlements, and the Arab world’s response to it are expected to further deepen the crisis in the peace talks.

Protesters in the West Bank town of Bil’in on Friday, opposing the U.S. veto of an anti-settlement resolution by the UN Security Council. Photo by: Reuters

Following the veto, the Palestinian Authority is to call this week for an emergency session of the UN General Assembly to condemn Israel. That resolution is expected to pass easily.

Meanwhile, at the request of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres on Saturday called PA President Mahmoud Abbas to urge him to return to negotiations. But Abbas rejected the request and subsequently issued a statement saying that while the Palestinians were committed to a two-state solution, construction in the settlements and in East Jerusalem would have to stop before talks could resume.

Sources in the Foreign Ministry said the Palestinian ambassador to the United Nations, Riyad Mansour, is looking into the possibility of invoking General Assembly resolution 377 from 1950. That resolution states that an emergency General Assembly session can be called within 24 hours to circumvent the veto of a Security Council resolution.

Obama spoke with Abbas for 50 minutes on Thursday to urge the Palestinian president not to bring the resolution to a vote. According to the Palestinian daily Al-Ayyam, Obama told Abbas that the resolution could damage U.S. interests in the Middle East and could induce the U.S. Congress to halt aid to the PA.

Obama reportedly suggested that in lieu of bringing the resolution to a vote, Abbas accept an alternative package of benefits, including a presidential statement on the settlements by the Security Council. Such a statement would be nonbinding, but could be couched in harsher terms. The package would also have included a Security Council visit to Ramallah to express support for the PA and denounce the settlements, and a statement by the Quartet of Middle East peacemakers that, for the first time, would call for the boundaries of the Palestinian state to be based on the 1967 lines.

On Friday afternoon, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton phoned Abbas with an even more sharply worded message.

But Abbas told both Obama and Clinton that settlements were the reason for the breakdown in the peace talks, and the Palestinian people would not back down on this matter.

After the phone calls, Abbas called a joint meeting of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s executive committee and the leadership of his Fatah party. Mansour told the participants by phone that Arab missions to the UN wanted the resolution to move forward no matter what. They then voted unanimously to bring the resolution to a vote.

Following the vote, U.S. Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice gave a speech in which she attempted to explain the contradiction between the veto and the U.S. administration’s clear opposition to construction in the settlements.

“While we agree with our fellow Council members and indeed, with the wider world about the folly and illegitimacy of continued Israeli settlement activity, we think it unwise for this Council to attempt to resolve the core issues that divide Israelis and Palestinians,” Rice said. “We therefore regrettably have opposed this draft resolution.”

The British ambassador read a joint statement by Britain, France and Germany that said that construction in the settlements, including in East Jerusalem, contravened international law.

Netanyahu released a statement immediately after the Security Council meeting expressing Israel’s appreciation for the American veto.

In contrast, anti-American rallies were held yesterday in Bethlehem, Tul Karm and Jenin. Fatah Central Committee member Tawfik Tirawi called for a “day of rage” against the U.S. veto, and Abbas’ spokesman, Nabil Abu Rudeineh, said the veto encouraged Israeli construction in the settlements.

The veto garnered praise from pro-Israeli American lawmakers and numerous Jewish groups that had been working energetically over the past few weeks to secure it.

But the Obama administration is reportedly worried that the veto will degrade America’s status in the Arab world.

And an Israeli official in New York warned that “the Palestinian initiative was thwarted, but it increased Israel’s isolation.” Israel’s claim that the Palestinians are responsible for the stalled talks falls on deaf ears at the UN, he added.

Abbas’ rejection of Obama’s request will help him politically, as the Palestinian public will not be able to accuse him of buckling under U.S. pressure, as it did in 2009 when American reservations led the PA to postpone a UN Human Rights Council vote on the Goldstone report on Israel’s war with Hamas in Gaza earlier that year. Moreover, given the anti-government protests now sweeping the Arab world, Abbas apparently wanted to demonstrate that it is not afraid of a showdown with the White House.

EDITOR: Yes We Can! (be for and against settlements)

In a about face worthy of the great Houdini, the US ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice, ‘explains’ how the US opposition to settlements has driven Obama to support settlements! It is really sickening to watch

Women against dictatorships, By Carols Latuff

Two-state solution: A postmortem: Al Jazeera online

In the wake of the Palestine Papers and the Egyptian uprising the ‘peace process’ as we know it is dead.
Sandy Tolan, 18 Feb 2011

Among the time-honoured myths in the long tragedy of Israel and Palestine is “the deal that almost was”. The latest entry, what we might call the “near deal of 2008,” comes from Ehud Olmert, the former Israeli prime minister, chronicled in excerpts from his forthcoming memoir and feverishly promoted in The New York Times as “the Israel peace plan that almost was and still could be”.

Clearly, the dwindling number of promoters of the two-state solution are in a post-Cairo, post-Palestine Papers attempt to keep afloat what is, in the end, a sinking ship: A bad deal that even the weak Palestinian negotiating team would not accept. “Israel has an overwhelming interest in going the extra mile,” a nervous Thomas Friedman wrote as protestors filled Tahrir Square, warning: “There is a huge storm coming, Israel. Get out of the way.”

At the heart of the effort to salvage the busted remnants of Oslo is the “near deal of 2008″.  “We were very close, more than ever before,” Olmert writes in his memoirs.

But as they say in a famous TV ad in the US: “Not exactly.”

Old myths die hard

Like other such fictions – chief among them “Israel’s generous offer” at Camp David in 2000 – this one is not entirely without substance. As the Palestine Papers show, the two sides did agree on various security arrangements, land swaps and some principles of the right of return, much to the alarm of many Palestinians. Just as significantly, Palestinian negotiators agreed to allow Israel to annex major settlement blocs in East Jerusalem – a fact that, in the wake of the document dump, is eroding what is left of Abbas’ credibility among his own people. (As if to underscore that point, chief negotiator Saeb Erekat resigned last week in disgrace, after revelations that the Palestine Papers were leaked from his very own office.)

Yet despite the 2008 concessions, the documents also show that the negotiations did not bring the sides close to a deal. Rather, they revealed red lines that signal the end of the peace process as we know it, and – especially after Cairo – the death of the two-state solution. Nowhere is this more clear than in the discussions over two huge settlement blocs, where Israel, backed by an arm-twisting US, undermined its last chance for a two-state deal.

In 1993, at the beginning of the Oslo “peace process,” 109,000 Israeli settlers lived on West Bank Palestinian land, not including East Jerusalem. That number has now nearly tripled. One of the settlements, Ariel, juts well into the West Bank, nearly half the way to Jordan from the Mediterranean coast, and is protected by Israel’s separation barrier. Ariel, with nearly 20,000 people, promotes itself as the aspiring “capital of Samaria” with its own industrial park and even a university.

“There is no Israeli leader who will sign an agreement that does not include Ariel,” Tzipi Livni, Olmert’s foreign minister, told Palestinian negotiators in April 2008.

“And there is no Palestinian leader who will sign an agreement that includes Ariel,” negotiator Ahmad Qurei replied. Qurei was not just posturing. Ariel bifurcates the Palestinian district of Salfit and helps make a mockery of US diplomats’ stated goal of a “viable and contiguous” Palestinian state.

Another red line is Ma’ale Adumim. Despite the significant concessions in East Jerusalem – which Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said amounted to “the biggest Yerushalayim in Jewish history” – the Palestinians see Ma’ale Adumim as a wedge between East Jerusalem and the West Bank. For them, the settlement is another barrier to a contiguous land base on which to build their state. For Israelis, Ma’ale Adumim, founded with the support of then defence minister Shimon Peres in 1975 and now a “city” of more than 34,000 settlers, is untouchable.

In theory, the self-described “honest broker,” the US, could have tried to bridge the differences. But that is not what Condoleezza Rice, the then US secretary of state, had in mind when she leaned on the weak Palestinian delegation in a July 2008 meeting in Jerusalem:

“I don’t think that any Israeli leader is going to cede Ma’ale Adumim,” she told Qurei.

“Or any Palestinian leader,” Qurei replied.

“Then you won’t have a state!” Rice declared.

On the wrong side of history

The US has long been hypersensitive to Israeli domestic political considerations while ignoring those of the Palestinians and the broader Arab and Muslim worlds. In 2000, Yasser Arafat turned down Israel’s “generous offer,” refusing to agree to a “sovereign presidential compound” in the Old City – essentially, a golden cage near the Muslim holy sites. Arafat understood that neither Palestinians nor Muslims worldwide would agree to such limited Palestinian sovereignty over the Haram Al Sharif, considered the third holiest site in Islam. “If anyone imagines that I might sign away Jerusalem, he is mistaken,” Arafat told Bill Clinton, the then US president, at Camp David. “You have lost many chances,” Clinton responded. “You won’t have a Palestinian state …. You will be alone in the region.”

The US’ tone-deaf approach to Palestinian realities is a central reason for the failure of the “peace process”. Rice suggested in a June 2008 meeting that one way to help solve the entrenched and emotional issue of right of return would be to ship refugees to South America. Barack Obama’s team has not fared much better. In 2009, the US pressured the Palestinians to stall the release of the UN’s Goldstone Report calling for an investigation into Israeli war crimes in Gaza. This was precisely the opposite of what the Palestinian public fervently wanted. The US carrot: More favourable negotiating terms for the Palestinian Authority (PA).

But the US, so accustomed to dealing with Arab strongmen like Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak and Tunisia’s Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, seems to have forgotten that the weak Palestinian negotiators were in no position to ignore, much less dictate to, their people. Any peace deal would have been put to a referendum among politically-aware Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. A deal as unfavourable as that the US and Israel promoted in 2008 would have been far from a sure thing. Olmert recalls telling Abbas: “Take the pen and sign now. You’ll never get an offer that is more fair or more just.” But it was the Israelis, and the US, who missed their chance.

In the days just before Egyptians liberated themselves, Obama tried to shore up some of the US credibility squandered since his 2009 Cairo speech by supporting the calls for democracy. But for many Palestinians, US or PA credibility is no longer relevant. In the West Bank, people regard US pronouncements with sharply declining interest. And it was the PA, in the midst of the euphoric struggle of its neighbours, that placed itself firmly on the wrong side of history by banning demonstrations in solidarity with the Egyptian and Tunisian people. “The policy,” said a PA security spokesman “is non-interference in the internal affairs of Arab or foreign countries.”

You could not find a more apt symbol of a corroded and irrelevant Palestinian regime, shockingly out of touch with its people and the jubilation in Tahrir Square, and structurally unable to seize the moment. Now, with the PA’s negotiations team in disarray, it is hard to imagine Palestinians in the West Bank again putting their trust in the “authority,” or in the wreckage of an Oslo process tied to a Middle Eastern order that no longer exists.

Even in their last-ditch attempts to forge a two-state deal, beleaguered Palestinian negotiators seemed aware that it was slipping away. “In light of these circumstances and these unrealistic propositions,” Qurei told Livni in frustration in April 2008, “I see that the only solution is a bi-national state where Muslims, Christians and Jews live together”.

Sandy Tolan is an associate professor at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at USC, and the author of The Lemon Tree: An Arab, a Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East.

The triviality of US Mideast policy: Al Jazeera online

US Mideast policy has been irrelevant and fails to accommodate the current movement that is sweeping across the region.
Robert Grenier, 31 Jan 2011

“Watching and responding.”

That was the phrase used by PJ Crowley, the US state department spokesman, in his recent interview with Al Jazeera.

In the midst of the startling and compelling events taking place in the Middle East since the advent of Tunisia’s ongoing “jasmine revolution”, with people taking to the streets in Algeria, in Yemen, in Jordan, and, most importantly, shaking the foundations of the Mubarak regime in Egypt – the US, he said, is passively “watching and responding”.

It all reminds me somehow of my poor old headmaster. A tall, unbending, flinty New Englander, he had presided over my boarding prep-school – what the British would call a “public school” – since 1949.

One sunny spring Sunday in 1970, while delivering a routine lecture at chapel services, he must have sensed something amiss. Pausing from his text to peer out over his spectacles, he was nonplussed to see that all the boys had stood up in unison, and were silently filing out.

Not sure what else to do, he meekly fell in behind, following as they marched up Main Street. The student ringleaders, seeing the angular, loping figure of the headmaster tagging along behind, sent word to ask if he would like to join them at the front.

He complied. The next day’s headline in the local newspaper read: “Headmaster leads students in anti-Vietnam War protest.” To my knowledge, it was the beginning and the end of Mr. Stevens’ career as a political agitator.

This mildly humorous episode merely underscored what we had already known. It was not that the headmaster was a bad man, or uncaring, or hostile to student sentiments: Much the contrary.

It was simply that he had become irrelevant.  His mental architecture was adjusted to a world which had long since faded.

He could hardly comprehend, much less constructively engage on the questions and challenges of a new time. And so it is with America.

Events in the Middle East have slipped away from us. Having long since opted in favour of political stability over the risks and uncertainties of democracy, having told ourselves that the people of the region are not ready to shoulder the burdens of freedom, having stressed that the necessary underpinnings of self-government go well beyond mere elections, suddenly the US has nothing it can credibly say as people take to the streets to try to seize control of their collective destiny.

All the US can do is “watch and respond”, trying to make the best of what it transparently regards as a bad situation.

Our words betray us. US spokesmen stress the protesters’ desire for jobs and for economic opportunity, as though that were the full extent of their aspirations. They entreat the wobbling, repressive governments in the region to “respect civil society”, and the right of the people to protest peacefully, as though these thoroughly discredited autocrats were actually capable of reform.

They urge calm and restraint. One listens in vain, however, for a ringing endorsement of freedom, or for a statement of encouragement to those willing to risk everything to assert their rights and their human dignity – values which the US nominally regards as universal.

Yes, it must be acknowledged that the US has limited influence, even over regimes with which it is aligned and which benefit from US largess. And yes, a great power has competing practical interests – be those a desire for counter-terrorism assistance, or for promotion of regional peace – which it must balance, at least in the short term, against a more idealistic commitment to democracy and universal values.

But there are two things which must be stressed in this regard.

The first is the extent to which successive US administrations have consistently betrayed a lack of faith in the efficacy of America’s democratic creed, the extent to which the US government has denied the essentially moderating influence of democratic accountability to the people, whether in Algeria in 1992 or in Palestine in 2006.

The failure of the US to uphold its stated commitment to democratic values therefore goes beyond a simple surface hypocrisy, beyond the exigencies of great-power interests, to suggest a fundamental lack of belief in democracy as a means of promoting enlightened, long-term US interests in peace and stability.

The second is the extent to which the US has simply become irrelevant in the Middle East. It is not that US policy is intentionally evil: After all, regional peace and an end to violence against innocents are worthy goals.

Instead it is that, like my old unfortunate headmaster, the US’s entire frame of reference in the region is hopelessly outdated, and no longer has meaning: As if the street protesters in Tunis and Cairo could possibly care what the US thinks or says; as if the political and economic reform which president Obama stubbornly urges on Mubarak while Cairo burns could possibly satisfy those risking their lives to overcome nearly three decades of his repression; as if the two-state solution in Palestine for which the US has so thoroughly compromised itself, and for whose support the US administration still praises Mubarak, has even the slightest hope of realisation; as if the exercise in brutal and demeaning collective punishment inflicted upon Gaza, and for whose enforcement the US, again, still credits Mubarak could possibly produce a decent or just outcome; as if the US refusal to deal with Hezbollah as anything but a terrorist organisation bore any relation to current political realities in the Levant.

Machiavelli once wrote that princes should see to it that they are either respected or feared; what they must avoid at all cost is to be despised. To have made itself despised as irrelevant: That is the legacy of US faithlessness and wilful blindness in the Middle East.

Robert Grenier is a retired, 27-year veteran of the CIA’s Clandestine Service.  He was Director of the CIA’s Counter-Terrorism Center from 2004 to 2006.

Robert Fisk: These are secular popular revolts – yet everyone is blaming religion: The Independent

Our writer, who was in Cairo as the revolution took hold in Egypt, reports from Bahrain on why Islam has little to do with what is going on

A barbed-wire fence at the Pearl roundabout in Manama yesterday

Mubarak claimed that Islamists were behind the Egyptian revolution. Ben Ali said the same in Tunisia. King Abdullah of Jordan sees a dark and sinister hand – al-Qa’ida’s hand, the Muslim Brotherhood’s hand, an Islamist hand – behind the civil insurrection across the Arab world. Yesterday the Bahraini authorities discovered Hizbollah’s bloody hand behind the Shia uprising there. For Hizbollah, read Iran. How on earth do well-educated if singularly undemocratic men get this thing so wrong? Confronted by a series of secular explosions – Bahrain does not quite fit into this bracket – they blame radical Islam. The Shah made an identical mistake in reverse. Confronted by an obviously Islamic uprising, he blamed it on Communists.

Bobbysocks Obama and Clinton have managed an even weirder somersault. Having originally supported the “stable” dictatorships of the Middle East – when they should have stood by the forces of democracy – they decided to support civilian calls for democracy in the Arab world at a time when the Arabs were so utterly disenchanted with the West’s hypocrisy that they didn’t want America on their side. “The Americans interfered in our country for 30 years under Mubarak, supporting his regime, arming his soldiers,” an Egyptian student told me in Tahrir Square last week. “Now we would be grateful if they stopped interfering on our side.” At the end of the week, I heard identical voices in Bahrain. “We are getting shot by American weapons fired by American-trained Bahraini soldiers with American-made tanks,” a medical orderly told me on Friday. “And now Obama wants to be on our side?”

The events of the past two months and the spirit of anti-regime Arab insurrection – for dignity and justice, rather than any Islamic emirate – will remain in our history books for hundreds of years. And the failure of Islam’s strictest adherents will be discussed for decades. There was a special piquancy to the latest footage from al-Qa’ida yesterday, recorded before the overthrow of Mubarak, that emphasised the need for Islam to triumph in Egypt; yet a week earlier the forces of secular, nationalist, honourable Egypt, Muslim and Christian men and women, had got rid of the old man without any help from Bin Laden Inc. Even weirder was the reaction from Iran, whose supreme leader convinced himself that the Egyptian people’s success was a victory for Islam. It’s a sobering thought that only al-Qa’ida and Iran and their most loathed enemies, the anti-Islamist Arab dictators, believed that religion lay behind the mass rebellion of pro-democracy protesters.

The bloodiest irony of all – which dawned rather slowly on Obama – was that the Islamic Republic of Iran was praising the democrats of Egypt while threatening to execute its own democratic opposition leaders.

Not, then, a great week for “Islamicism”. There’s a catch, of course. Almost all the millions of Arab demonstrators who wish to shrug off the cloak of autocracy which – with our Western help – has smothered their lives in humiliation and fear are indeed Muslims. And Muslims – unlike the “Christian” West – have not lost their faith. Under the stones and coshes of Mubarak’s police killers, they counter-attacked, shouting “Allah akbar” for this was indeed for them a “jihad” – not a religious war but a struggle for justice. “God is Great” and a demand for justice are entirely consistent. For the struggle against injustice is the very spirit of the Koran.

In Bahrain we have a special case. Here a Shia majority is ruled by a minority of pro-monarchy Sunni Muslims. Syria, by the way, may suffer from “Bahrainitis” for the same reason: a Sunni majority ruled by an Alawite (Shia) minority. Well, at least the West – in its sagging support for King Hamad of Bahrain – can point to the fact that Bahrain, like Kuwait, has a parliament. It’s a sad old beast, existing from 1973 to 1975 when it was dissolved unconstitutionally, and then reinvented in 2001 as part of a package of “reforms”. But the new parliament turned out to be even more unrepresentative than the first. Opposition politicians were harassed by state security, and parliamentary boundaries were gerrymandered, Ulster-style, to make sure that the minority Sunnis controlled it. In 2006 and 2010, for example, the main Shia party in Bahrain gained only 18 out of 40 seats. Indeed, there is a distinctly Northern Ireland feel to Sunni perspectives in Bahrain. Many have told me that they fear for their lives, that Shia mobs will burn their homes and kill them.

All this is set to change. Control of state power has to be legitimised to be effective, and the use of live fire to overwhelm peaceful protest was bound to end in Bahrain in a series of little Bloody Sundays. Once Arabs learnt to lose their fear, they could claim the civil rights that Catholics in Northern Ireland once demanded in the face of RUC brutality. In the end, the British had to destroy Unionist rule and bring the IRA into joint power with Protestants. The parallels are not exact and the Shias do not (yet) have a militia, although the Bahraini government has produced photographs of pistols and swords – hardly a major weapon of the IRA – to support their contention that its opponents include “terrorists”.

In Bahrain there is, needless to say, a sectarian as much as a secular battle, something that the Crown Prince unwittingly acknowledged when he originally said that the security forces had to suppress protests to prevent sectarian violence. It’s a view held all too savagely by Saudi Arabia, which has a strong interest in the suppression of dissent in Bahrain. The Shias of Saudi Arabia might get uppity if their co-religionists in Bahrain overwhelm the state. Then we’ll really hear the leaders of the Shia Islamic Republic of Iran crowing.

But these interconnected insurrections should not be seen in a simple ferment-in-the-Middle-East framework. The Yemeni uprising against President Saleh (32 years in power) is democratic but also tribal, and it won’t be long before the opposition uses guns. Yemen is a heavily armed society, tribes with flags, nationalist-rampant. And then there is Libya.

Gaddafi is so odd, his Green Book theories – dispatched by Benghazi demonstrators last week when they pulled down a concrete version of this particular volume – so preposterous, his rule so cruel (and he’s been running the place for 42 years) that he is an Ozymandias waiting to fall. His flirtation with Berlusconi – worse still, his cloying love affair with Tony Blair whose foreign secretary, Jack Straw, praised the Libyan lunatic’s “statesmanship” – was never going to save him. Bedecked with more medals than General Eisenhower, desperate for a doctor to face-lift his sagging jowls, this wretched man is threatening “terrible” punishment against his own people for challenging his rule. Two things to remember about Libya: like Yemen, it’s a tribal land; and when it turned against its Italian fascist overlords, it began a savage war of liberation whose brave leaders faced the hangman’s noose with unbelievable courage. Just because Gaddafi is a nutter does not mean his people are fools.

So it’s a sea-change in the Middle East’s political, social, cultural world. It will create many tragedies, raise many hopes and shed far too much blood. Better perhaps to ignore all the analysts and the “think tanks” whose silly “experts” dominate the satellite channels. If Czechs could have their freedom, why not the Egyptians? If dictators can be overthrown in Europe – first the fascists, then the Communists – why not in the great Arab Muslim world? And – just for a moment – keep religion out of this.

Abbas and Fayyad must resign too: Al Jazeera online

Seen as corrupt and impotent, Abbas and Fayyad should handover power before public anger erupts.
Fadi Elsalameen, 17 Feb 2011

“]After two decades of failed political moves, the Palestinian Authority represented by its top leadership are hoping to avoid the inevitable: paying a heavy price for corruption of all kinds, alienating the Palestinian people, and failing to negotiate an end to Israel’s occupation.

Threatened and undermined by the Al Jazeera-Guardian Palestine Papers leak, and dismayed by wrongly siding with Egypt’s ousted dictator Hosni Mubarak, the Palestinian Authority is employing desperate political maneuvers.

Palestinian President Abbas has asked his Chief Negotiator and cabinet in the West Bank to submit their resignation. He has also called for Parliamentarian and Presidential elections in September and deliberately avoided giving a specific date.

Will Abbas and Fayyad succeed in soaking the Palestinian anger by these desperate maneuvers? No.  Nothing short of Abbas and Fayyad handing in their own resignations and accepting responsibility for their failures will satisfy the Palestinian streets.

Need for new leadership

With fewer allies in the region and no options left for a political horizon with Israel, Abbas and Fayyad must resign to pave the way for a newly elected, and more representative Palestinian leadership.

Abbas and Fayyad have no political capital left to spend, they are out of touch with the Palestinian street, and they have successfully managed to alienate even supporters within Fatah.

Their failures politically have discredited them and the Palestinian Authority both at home and abroad.

At home, they are seen as corrupt, ineffective, and above all as Israel’s agents. The people do not trust them, and the fact that superb security coordination with Israel is all what they have to offer Palestinians after years of failed negotiations has even alienated the younger guard in Fatah, Abbas’ only political base.

Fatah’s young guard is also disappointed in Abbas for failing to rebuild their movement and giving Fayyad the chance to further undermine their effectiveness in the West Bank.

Accepting responsibility

Abbas has yet to promote Fatah’s young in taking active leadership roles in the movement. To many in Fatah, Abbas is nicknamed the Gorbachev of the movement that has actively played a part in dismantling it and making it weaker. For a long time, he refused to replace Fayyad with a prime minister from Fatah and allowed Fayyad to claim credit for Fatah’s political concessions to Israel.

Abroad, especially in the Arab and Muslim worlds, Abbas and Fayyad placed themselves on the wrong side of history. Fayyad, Abbas and aides like PLO secretary general Tayyeb Abdelrahim expressed strong public support for Egypt’s ousted dictator president Hosni Mubarak.

The Palestinian leadership not only echoed Israel’s line which was sorry to see Mubarak leave, but also showed the Arab and Muslim worlds, where people were glued to its television sets watching Al Jazeera in support of the revolution-that this is a leadership that has nothing in common with them.

Why would anyone support such leadership for the Palestinians? If anything, Abbas and Fayyad’s actions confirm that this is a leadership that is only capable of one bad decision after the other. They must all resign and accept responsibility for their failures.

Abbas and Fayyad are of a past era. They are no longer representative of the future we young Palestinians seek for ourselves.  Rather, we see them through the lens of withering and illegitimate Arab regimes that if not replaced democratically will be toppled through a popular revolution that I can assure them has already begun.

Fadi Elsalameen is a fellow with the New America Foundation’s American Strategy Program. He is also director general of the Palestine Note and Diwan Palestine, Internet newspapers in English and Arabic.

EDITOR: The Long View

Azmi Bishara, as sharp and as accurate as ever, analyses the new phenomenon of the Arab Revolution of 2011, writing a day before the fall of the Egyptian dictator.

The Great Egyptian Revolution: Ahram online

As the regime tries to stem the upheaval in the country through insincere manoeuvres, its rotten rule means the only outcome can be revolution
Azmi Bishara
The Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions heralded a new Arab era in which it is possible to couple freedom and social rights, sovereignty and citizenship. Arab regimes will not deride their populations anymore; and they will be facing a choice between comprehensive reforms and the complete overthrow of the regime. On the level of political powers and ideological splits, everything will change as well. Past divisions will lose their significance; none of these actors was capable of engaging with the challenge of overthrowing despotism. The phenomenon of new social powers that reject injustice and embrace ethical values without giving up their identity has risen. A new polyarchy shall emerge, and leading the ranks will be a thought that can combine democracy, social justice, and Arab identity without denying the legacy of the Islamic civilization.


After decades of mounting popular anger, the Egyptian people have finally risen against the ruling regime. The majority of the population sees the regime as the source of their suffering; thus, the regime became the rallying symbol of the bitterness resulting from the abuse in police stations, corruption in the bureaucracy, and poverty and deprivation in the shadow of corrupt wealth, emanating from proximity to the ruling elite.

All of this has been causally linked to the ruling regime in place, this was apparent in anger and jokes, and through Egyptian irony, poems and songs. And it could also be sensed in the depression and generalized anxiety palpable to anyone visiting Egypt. The crisis reached the level of identity, with the regime affronting Egyptians’ national pride and sense of self. To compensate, the regime fomented a version of Egyptian nationalism in the form of an empty, hollow esprit de corps that was based neither on national interests nor on a shared pride resulting from economic, scientific or political achievements. This was an angry, shallow sense of self-affirmation that could be easily controlled and turned into hatred towards the other or, simply, utmost loyalty for the regime and a fanatical opposition to its critics, who would be regarded as critiquing the nation; even football was used to this end.

As with all Arab regimes, the Egyptian regime spread a culture where loyalty and hypocrisy towards people in power trumped competence, even in the field of culture. Personal and family relations trumped professionalism, and consumption trumped production. The regime also fomented an ethos of untruthfulness and dishonesty in dealing with the state, hypocrisy in relations between subordinates and superiors, and obstinacy in the face of criticism. It became a situation where every official acted as a Pharaoh towards his subordinates and as a slave with his superiors. Furthermore, the regime normalized a mode of aggressive bullying at the level of human relations that could easily turn into sectarian clashes and other conduits for the frustration and bitterness of people from a socio-political system that tensed up the collective psyche and injected it with violence.

The revolution in Tunisia may have been the finger that pulled the trigger, or the frustration may have reached a boiling point anyway. And, perhaps, the educated Egyptian youth organized in social networks and virtual ethical societies – which represents the diametrical opposite of the regime’s culture – was both finger and trigger. This youth is modest, polite, cosmopolitan, patriotic, opposed to corruption and incompetence, and enraged by injustice and the political thuggery and clownishness of the state media. This youth called for an uprising on 25 January after several “rehearsals” preceding the Tunisia revolt. That included the April 6th strike, which was called for by bloggers in solidarity with workers in the city of Mahalla; and the repeated attempts to transmit the suffering of the citizens through the internet and camera phones; and the movement “Kifaya”, which broke the wall of fear and launched the phenomenon of demonstrations in protest against dynastic succession (tawreeth) and the renewal of the presidential mandate. Kifaya kept up the demonstrations during years of stasis, with continuous sit-ins in front of the Journalists’ Syndicate; and some Egyptian journalist broke the barrier of fear in criticizing what was once considered taboo, such as the President and his family.

The mood was ready to heed the call, and the minds were set, awaiting action; so the call for 25 January’s demonstrations struck like a lightning bolt in the arid plains after a long summer. When the crowds came out, it was not clear whether the “Day of Rage” was a day of protest or a full-fledged political revolution. The day came mere weeks after the broad revolution in Tunisia under similar circumstances: an unplanned protest movement. Quickly, the perception set in that the demonstrations were not against specific policies of the regime, nor in solidarity with a particular group, but against the regime in the broadest sense. The Egyptian revolt burned the stages between the specific and the general by lurching, from the outset, into the general picture.

The people of Sidi Bouzid in Tunisia took to the streets in protest against their suffering, unemployment and humiliation after a young man set himself on fire. Gradually, the protest spread and morphed – by interacting with the conditions of the people and their consciousness – into a generalized revolt seeking to change the regime. We can safely say that this was not the original objective of the people of Sidi Bouzid, but the conditions of the people, including their consciousness, was prepared for such an eventuality. By contrast, Egypt’s “Day of Rage” from the start was a generalized protest against the regime for all the suffering endured by the Egyptian people for decades.

Slogans were directed against the president and his family, as is the case in any authoritarian regime, since the symbol of a dictatorial regime is the ruler. The issue of hereditary succession was a strong indication of the regime’s mindset of owning, and not just ruling, the nation. The matter of the son succeeding the father became a subject of sarcasm and anger in the street in recent years, so it was not unusual for the protest to centre on ousting the president.

Obviously, this does not mean that the Egyptian people’s objective is to bring in another dictator or to replace the current one with a figure from the intelligence services, ensuring another thirty years under the same regime. One needs to have a twisted imagination to believe that the slogan of “ousting the president” is solely directed at the man himself. Any attempts to reduce the protesters’ demands to the president’s replacement are aimed at containing, or aborting, the revolution by keeping in place the ruling regime as is. In fact, if the objective was merely to oust the aging and ailing President, it would have been easier to await his natural death or the end of his mandate in six months. As the newly appointed prime minister told the BBC Arabic on 3 February, “not to run in this case equals departing and this should end the matter.”

Reforms, Revolution, the President and the Vice President

Advancing the proposition that the departure of the President equals the transfer of his authority to his intelligence chief and newly appointed Vice President makes light of people’s intelligence and their sacrifices. People do not spark a rare revolution in the history of the Arabs and the region on such a scale, with such popular momentum, and at such a price – and allow me to say, with such beauty – in order for the president to just hand power to his deputy. Reducing the scope of the revolutionary struggle to a demand for a transfer of power becomes, in a sense, an act of support of one wing against another within the same regime.

The regime, any regime, reforms itself once it realizes that it can no longer rule with the same methods, preempting a broad social revolution. More often than not, such reforms involve an opening up to social classes and their assimilation by the regime. In the case of Egypt, however, it seems that the regime did not comprehend the need for reform; moreover, it intentionally squandered several opportunities for change. Furthermore, the regime grew more vain and boastful as it declined over the years. The ruler isolated himself from the people in Sharm El-Sheikh with his discourse becoming more dismissive of criticism as he cracked down ever further against his adversaries. Simultaneously, hollow official propaganda reached the level of badly directed absurdism (as in the famous montage of the leaders’ photo in al-Ahram, which was doctored to show Mubarak walking ahead of the other leaders – 30 years his junior – in order for the paper to present him as “youthful”). This attitude was on full display in his discourse and that of some intellectuals during the war on Gaza, and in justifying the non-prosecution of violators in the construction and transportation sectors whose negligence led to the death of thousands, as in the sinking of the Red Sea ferry and the train fire.

There is a view that proposes the revolution is a protest movement with specific demands, and these demands will be met once the president or his deputy appear in the media promising the demonstrators their acquiescence to amending the articles 76 and 77 of the constitution and the president not running for another term in office. This view not only fails to accurately depict the revolution, it is liable to being intentionally dishonest because it belies an effort to reject the actual demands and he who desires reform should affect it before the revolution erupts. The revolution is not a demand that is being raised to the regime, it is a movement against it, and the regime is not expected to answer the “demands” of the revolution, but to conclude that its position is untenable and so must leave.

It is baffling to see the vice president – his appointment being one of the results of the revolution – appear and thank the youth “for without them, this reform would not have taken place”, i.e. without them, he would not have been appointed. This being so, he nevertheless meant to deceive the revolution and outflank it. He who “thanks” does not show gratitude by besieging, attacking and slandering those he is thanking.

There is no doubt that the regime is dishonest in its so-called assent to what it terms “the demands of the youth”, since, where it sincere, it would have already executed a large number of them, such as immediately ending the State of Emergency, announcing without delay that the last parliamentary elections were invalid or ceasing the persecution and arrest of journalists.  What will push the regime to execute what it had previously refused to accept – even verbally, and given that the regime admitted through the vice president that, had it not been for the revolution, it would not have been ready to theoretically consider these demands? Will it practically fulfill its commitments in the absence of revolution in the streets? Or will the campaigns of incitement begin against the “networks of spies” and “the agents” and “the saboteurs” and “the rioters”, especially after the regime reinforces itself and regains its international links, relying on the West’s pragmatism in accepting its allies as they are? Didn’t the West accept the current Egyptian regime before the revolution? Didn’t the West show its humane and democratic colours only after the civic revolt erupted? It must be assumed that it will turn and renew its alliance with the regime if it succeeds in putting down the revolt. A return to normal life should not be allowed until the demands are fulfilled, for promises made under the conditions of a revolution mean nothing in its absence.

Wisdom and Intelligence

All of this is comprehensible, what is not understandable however is to have intellectuals who view themselves as critical – or who were critical within the parameters of the system – propagating this political mood that views the revolution as a quandary, regards Egypt as being troubled and sees in the revolt a crisis that requires a resolution. Subsequently, they start offering “solutions” that consist of transferring the authority of the President to his deputy in a “smooth” manner, as they like to say; and of “calming” the street, and then, negotiating with the vice president over the demands of the revolution. Such behavior is not fit for critical intellectuals, but for a think tank tasked with proposing different scenarios for the regime as it tries to resolve its troubles.

We shall not comment here on how and why a group of intellectuals calls itself a “wise men’s council”, and what is meant by “wisdom”. This implies an unacceptable assumption during times of revolutions, to the effect that the revolting masses are wild, and that the regime is a hardliner, and they are the wise ones. It also implies a very “unwise” avoidance of taking a stand during this phase (or it could be “wise”, in the sense of unveiled and unintelligent opportunism).

The revolution needs intellectuals who can shape and express its objectives and explicate its strategy, it does not need intellectuals who seize the moment to rearrange their relationship with a regime which they regard as surviving, or to support a wing at the expense of another within the regime.

The “security wing” in the regime has undoubtedly trumped the “National Party wing”, and it is likely to sacrifice some of its figures from within the National Party to show that it is serious in combating corruption; this includes confiscating their assets and preventing them from traveling, thus satisfying what it terms “the demand of the street” or “the demands of the youth”. It would not be too far-fetched for these people to betray their friends to appear as combating corruption, while, in reality, they are part and parcel of the corruption.

There is also a group of Egyptian politicians and intellectuals who have been critical towards the regime’s management of the country, and who never took a foothold within the regime and who were honest critics, but who became accustomed to a certain ceiling in their criticism, which is the ceiling tolerated by the regime. All of those cannot comprehend the risk of taking to the street to change the regime; and in such a case, most of them remain at home silently awaiting the end-result, or they switch to one of the existing camps. Or they would attempt to frame the revolution in a way where meeting with Omar Suleiman is seen as an achievement compared to previous meetings with State Security officers, this is an unacceptable state of mind and critical intellectuals should criticize them accordingly.

On the Strategies of the Revolution and its Horizons

The Egyptian revolt was improvised, and powers with popular backing gravitated towards it. The revolution is currently heading towards its objective, and I have never heard in the history of revolutions of a revolt that could bring out this many anti-regime demonstrators in so many cities at the same time. The revolution no longer needs proof that it is popular, but it needs determination and a strategy to reach its objectives. The Egyptian regime is resisting its inescapable fate in all kinds of ways, including the spreading of rumors and lies, and intimidating people with the prospect of chaos, and even pretending to acquiesce to the demonstrators’ demands when necessary, while calling them spies when it is useful to do so, and repressing them when it can.

We would be wrong to think that this is a matter of one person’s obduracy, or that it is a personal issue. It is not a question of Mubarak’s hard-headed personality, I can even venture and say that he no longer rules Egypt, and that Egypt is now effectively ruled by Suleiman and the newly-appointed Prime Minister Ahmad Shafiq, and that they are both trying to consolidate themselves within the ruling elite and the state as symbols of the regime. The ruling clique is attempting to defend itself and its interests amid the ongoing political struggle.

This struggle will be decided once the regime realizes that it faces a choice between the continuation of the revolution until it gradually turns – by the force of events – into violent struggle, or the transition of authority through a transitory phase and the beginning of negotiations over how these conditions will be met.

It is not a personal matter, it is a matter of the rulers admitting that power needs to be transferred, and that this process requires a transitory phase, and that the negotiations should deal exclusively with mechanisms of the transitory phase; this a negotiation, not a debate. It is a negotiation over the turning of authority through a trusted mechanism, and the same regime cannot manage this phase. This is a struggle that requires determination and strategy and an understanding of its nature.

The Egyptian regime has entered a phase of complete international isolation, and this isolation needs to be deepened because it weakens the regime and the interest groups surrounding it, and in order to deepen the isolation perseverance is indispensable and it should be made clear – on the international stage – that the revolution is victorious, a thesis that could be disputed if the regime is allowed to catch its breath. The United States and Europe have realized that it would be better for them to abandon lost symbols and personalities in the regime than to lose the entire regime and gain the animosity of all Arab peoples, which they did not realize in the cases of Iran and Tunisia.

We must distinguish between protest movements that are followed by negotiations over certain demands within the context of the existing regime, and a revolution seeking to change the regime. The revolution is not mere protests that end under the same regime, but rather a series of continuous actions that persist as long as the regime is in place. This means that the revolution should not morph into a specific action, a sit-in or a demonstration for instance; new, unpredictable forms should be adopted, thus confusing the regime with all its ramifications. The regime could learn to coexist with a mere sit-in in Tahrir Square as long as it is not a nerve centre directing the revolution outside. In addition to the ongoing sit-in, demonstrating could take place everywhere, and the revolution could erupt in a factory and in a newspaper and in a media outlet. Revolution is comprehensive when it includes all societal groups, with students revolting in the universities, and journalists protesting in newspapers against the dictates imposed on them, and the workers rebelling in their factories. This does not need to be done all at once, but to spread into different sections of society so that it can later lead the transition of interest groups and state institutions and, most importantly, the army, onto the winning side. There is no doubt that most join the revolution as individuals, but at a certain stage, this quantitative interaction – which is measured by the number of persons – should turn into a qualitative leap involving the judicial institutions and the army. But the army will not choose this until it is certain, due to local and international interactions, or if it reaches a stage where the rebels force it to choose – through their actions – between clashing with them or joining their ranks. Such a scenario applies to the massive million-man demonstrations that attempt to take over major state establishments, making it difficult for the army to contain them with violence, forcing it to reconcile with them. This cannot happen if people believe they can turn the army by showering it with constant praise.

The Egyptian revolution highlighted the best in the people, showing images that are civic, diverse, modest and inclined to dialogue in a manner that was hitherto unknown in Egyptian political life under the regime. It has been a long time, not remembered by many, since a Friday preacher spoke about “millions of Egyptian men and women”, or discussed the ethics of Islam and Christianity. Or where such a mass of men and women gathered without incidents of sexual harassment, with millions chanting together and marching in orderly demonstrations without chaos.

These authoritarian regimes bring out the worst in Arab societies under their shadow: fanaticism, sectarianism and crime. We have all seen samples of the thugs unleashed by the regime and its men against the demonstrators, in a glaring comparison between the reactionary and primitive regime on the one hand, and civilized people on the other. Which debunks the myth promoted by the regime in the West regarding the people, when it claims authoritarian rule is necessary as its people is “backward”.

On the other hand, when the people marches against such regimes, it is as if it passes in a cleansing process, shedding the deformed culture of these tyrannical regimes. There was not an Egyptian or an Arab citizen who was not moved by the scenes of joy that accompanied the demonstrations of Tuesday (1 February) or Friday (4 February) in the face of the ferociousness and backwardness of the regime’s actions on Wednesday and Thursday (2 and 3 February).

The people came back to its self, and Egypt is once again at peace with itself, and it looks as if the Arabs are reconciling with themselves when they take to the streets against their ruling tyrannical regimes.

The writer is General Director of the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies in Doha, Qatar.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Permalink Print