Category Archives: North Africa
North Africa or Northern Africa is the northernmost region of the African continent, linked by the Sahara to Sub-Saharan Africa. Geopolitically, the United Nations definition of Northern Africa includes eight countries or territories; Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, South Sudan, Sudan, Tunisia, and Western Sahara.
Why Revolutionary Sunni Islamism is the World’s Greatest Strategic Threat and None of it is Moderate
No, it sure isn’t the age of Aquarius or of Multicultural, Politically Correct love-ins. It’s the age of revolutionary Islamism, especially Sunni Islamism. And you better learn to understand what this is all about real fast.
(Shia Islamism, important mainly because of Iran and especially because of its nuclear ambitions, is number two on the threat list. But that’s not our topic today.)
Focusing on the Sunni revolutionary Islamist tidal wave, the foundation of knowledge is that there are three types and they are all bad, very bad. A lot of people are going to be misinforming you about this and getting others—never themselves, of course—killed.
Sometimes people ask me why I use the phrase “revolutionary” Sunni Islamism. The reason is to remind everyone that this is a revolutionary movement like those of the past that seek to use a variety of strategies and tactics–of which violence might be only one–to seize, hold, and use state power to transform societies.
Some ask why I use the word “Islamism” and the reason is because this is a specific, conscious set of organized political movements. However theology is related to this issue the problem is political, not theological. Anyone who watched over decades as I have how the radicals had to sell the idea that “jihad” today meant picking up guns, cutting off people’s heads, overthrowing governments, and assembling mobs of thousands screaming for death and destruction, would have no illusion that they had an easy time of it.
This didn’t happen because somebody just pointed to some verses in the Koran and everyone said: Oh, now I get it! We must seize control of the world and kill everyone else. They murdered or intimidated into silence Muslims who disagreed with them. Even today hundreds of millions of Muslims oppose revolutionary Islamism. And if you don’t play it smart to have those people as allies–some out of mutually cynical self-interest and some as true brothers who want to live in freedom just like you do–and help them save their lives and countries you will never achieve anything.
To understand al-Qaida, which of course goes under many names and regional local groups, is simple. It has one strategy: kill! Its only tactic is terrorism. It is like those nineteenth-century revolutionary movements that always failed and for which the Marxists had so much contempt.
These small groups were always persuaded that if the workers would only be roused to a general strike or that enough officials would be assassinated the revolution would come like a nuclear explosion. Now, these movements always failed but sometimes they laid the basis for others to succeed. Remember, the People’s Will helped launch the Russian revolutionary movement; an anarchist assassinated an American president; the Serbian state-sponsored terrorist cell set off World War One in 1914, and of course al-Qaida created September 11.
Al-Qaida and its various versions in Morocco, Gaza (the Palestinian Resistance Committees), Iraq, Somalia, Europe, Yemen, and a dozen other places is dangerous because it can stage terrorist attacks. In a place where no government exists—like Somalia—it might conceivably seize power. But al-Qaida is not the great threat of the twenty-first century. It is a problem for counter-terrorism and relatively lightweight counterinsurgency.
They may be the worst guys but they are not the West’s main global strategic problem. Everybody who isn’t basically a supporter of an al-Qaida group hates al-Qaida except for the Taliban which is really sort of a similar version. Why? Simple. Because al-Qaida wants to overthrow every regime (they do play a little footsy with Iran but even that’s limited). Oh, and they also loathe Shia Muslims which makes for even more enemies and fewer potential allies.
It is “stupid” to have no friends because that means everyone has a motive to get you and nobody has a reason to help you or give you safe haven. Doesn’t sound like brilliant strategy, right? But there’s more.
Al-Qaida, although the name means in Arabic “base,” ironically, has no political base. It sets up no real mass organizations; it doesn’t do social welfare work capable of rallying whole countries behind it. There is no way that hundreds of thousands or millions of people will rally to its cause. Imagine someone in 1917 saying in Moscow, “Forget about those moderate Bolsheviks. It’s the anarchists we have to fear.” In other words, they are in a distant third place.
But even al-Qaida can be used by the Brotherhood. Look at what happened: an al-Qaida group stormed into an Egyptian base, killed lots of soldiers, stole a couple of vehicles, and attacked the border with Israel.
True, the Egyptian regime (that is, the Brotherhood) attacked and killed some of the al-Qaida people. After all, these terrorists had murdered Egyptian soldiers. But what did the regime tell its people? That Israel was behind the attack. Israel had murdered Egyptians. And therefore there is more reason than ever to hate and wage war against Israel. This is how Middle Eastern politics works. And that’s one reason why the Brotherhood—as it incites to hatred and violence even as it kills the even more hateful and violent—will never be moderate.
Then there are the Salafists, a word coined only recently in part as a pretense to pretend that the Muslim Brotherhood is moderate. But this also does describe a distinct set of groups, for example the Palestinian groups Jaish al-Islam and Jaish al-Umma. Egypt is the place where the Salafists developed in a most sophisticated fashion. But it’s important to understand why that happened. Indeed, that point is central to comprehending what’s going on now.
In the 1970s, when President Anwar al-Sadat made the mistake of letting the Brotherhood return to public life in practice, he threw fear into them. Advocate violence in Egypt; come out too openly against the regime; even become too successful and back to the concentration camps you go!
So the Brotherhood leadership, elderly and many of whom had been tortured and seen their colleagues hung, played it cool. They had no illusions about underestimating the strength of the regime. Yes, they said, the day of revolution will come but meanwhile we are in a long-term stage of da’wa, organize and educate. Patience is essential. Don’t make the regime too mad. Yes, hooray for killing Israelis and Americans! But at home keep the murders to a few too boldly open secularists.
There were, of course, young men who were too impatient. “Our leaders are cowards. They have betrayed the true word of Islam! Let us organize for a more imminent revolution, maybe even take up arms right now and shoot down the evil regime’s officials.” And they even gunned down Sadat himself. There were many such groups—one, Islamic Jihad, joined up with al-Qaida—but they had different views, mixes of strategies, and leaders. Some were almost sects with charismatic shaykhs.
Now they have blossomed forth, eager for violence and instant revolution. Their al-Nour party—which only represents part of this complex mix of groups that may or may not cooperate—got about 20 percent of the parliamentary vote.
Is the Brotherhood their friend or enemy? Should they raid police stations and blow up pipelines or not? Should they set up morality patrols and beat up young men walking with women and also women who aren’t dressed as the Salafists wish? There are many different views.
Sometimes the Brotherhood uses the Salafists as a convenient excuse. If Islamic Jihad lobs rockets and mortars at Israel, well—wink, wink, nudge, nudge—that isn’t the fault of Hamas is it? At times, the Salafists can furnish the Brotherhood with the needed storm troops though I would not suggest for a moment that the Brotherhood owns the Salafists. They are definitely two different groupings, but their interests can blend and the “radical” Salafists provide the “moderate” Brotherhood with a convenient excuse when one is needed.
One thing is clear though: the Salafists’ goal is the precise, exact same as that of the Brotherhood. The only question is how fast to go, how radical to talk, and how much violence to use.
And another thing is also clear: neither in Egypt, nor in Tunisia, nor in Gaza (where the Brotherhood is called Hamas) will the Salafists overthrow the Brotherhood people. We can be less sure about Syria where the balance of forces is not yet so clear.
Finally, we come to the Brotherhood. The Brotherhood is the Communist Party of Islamism. And you don’t have to take it from me; that was an idea expressed by the moderate, anti-Islamist brother of the Brotherhood’s founder.
The Brotherhood wants a Sharia state. It would like a caliphate (run by itself of course). It wants Israel wiped off the map and America kicked out of the Middle East. It wants women put into second-class citizenship and gays put into their graves. It wants Christians subordinated or thrown out. It wants all of these things.
And it will pursue these goals with patience and strategic cleverness. One step forward, one step back; tell the Western reporters and politicians what they want to hear. Pretend to be moderate in English while screaming death curses in Arabic.
These are the people who are coming to power. They hate their Shia counterparts generally and will kill them also at times. They will drag down their countries’ economies. Ironically, they will succeed in making Israel relatively stronger as they beat and burn and tear down; as they set back their countries economic advancement; as they kick half the population (the female) down the stairs.
They will lose. Just as the Communists did; just as the Nazis did; just as the Fascists and Japanese militarists did. But how many decades will it take? How many millions of people dead and injured? How much human potential and natural resources wasted?
And will Western policy make easier the ultimate triumph of moderation, moderation that includes millions of anti-Islamist Muslims and also includes lots of Middle Eastern Berbers, Kurds, Turks, Iranians, Druze, Christians and—yes—Israel. Or will the West make things harder, longer, and worse?
Of victory, I have no doubt. Of Western good sense, all too much uncertainty.
- A Layman’s Guide to Revolutionary Sunni Islamism, the World’s Greatest Threat (jewishpress.com)
- Al-Qaida websites vow ‘destruction’ of SEAL member outed by Fox News (dailykos.com)
- Al-Qaida: We’re returning to old Iraq strongholds (kansascity.com)
- Syria: Al-Qaida’s New Playground (pbs.org)
- Al-Qaida’s surge spells further turmoil for Iraq | Hayder al-Khoei (guardian.co.uk)
- Turkey: Turkish Opposition Says Government Ignoring Presence of al-Qaida (ionglobaltrends.com)
- Al-Qaida claims deadly summer attacks in west Iraq (dailystar.com.lb)
Egypt has denied licenses to eight US-based non-profit groups, saying they violated the country’s sovereignty. Many states are concerned that foreign government-backed NGOs are really agents for their sponsors, rather than independent action groups.
Among the organizations banned from continuing their work in Egypt are the Carter Center for Human Rights, set up by former US President Jimmy Carter, Christian group The Coptic Orphans, Seeds of Peace and other groups.
Egyptian authorities warned that if the NGOs try to work without a license, Cairo would “take relevant measures”.
Local media speculate that the rejection may be temporary, and licenses could be granted later, after the presidential election due on May 23 and 24.
Monday’s move revives a crackdown by the Egyptian authorities on foreign-funded NGOs, which recently provoked a serious diplomatic row with long-term ally US. In late December 2011, security forces raided offices of a number of groups suspected of receiving money in violation of Egyptian legislation.
In February, prosecutors charged 43 people with instilling dissent and meddling in domestic policies following last year’s mass protests, which resulted in the ousting of President Hosni Mubarak. Among them were citizens of the US, Germany, Serbia, Norway and Jordan.
In March, an Egyptian court revoked the travel ban for 17 indicted Americans following Washington’s threat to withdraw $1.3 billion annual military aid to Cairo. The decision provoked a wave criticism of the ruling military council in Egypt. Many activists accused them of betraying national interests under American pressure.
But shortly after the suspected Americans left the country, Cairo’s prosecutors decided to target more people allegedly involved in the case, who were not in Egypt when the charges against their colleagues were made. Egypt asked Interpol to issue “red notices” for 15 NGO workers, including 12 Americans, two Lebanese and a Jordanian.
On Monday, Interpol’s French headquarters announced that the Egyptian request had been turned down, because it contradicted rules that strictly forbid the organization “to undertake any intervention or activities of a political, military, religious or racial character.”
Not so non-government
There may be a good reason why national governments in troubled countries mistrust US-funded NGOs. For instance, NATO’s intervention in Libya was partially justified by exaggerated reports of human rights organizations alleging that Muammar Gaddafi’s forces committed crimes against humanity and breached international law in other ways, reports RT’s Maria Portnaya. After the war some of them admitted to giving ungrounded reports.
Powerful NGOs like Human Rights Watch or Amnesty International are supposed to be objective monitors and not take sides, but in reality they “enter into an excessively cozy relationship with for example the United States government, but also other powerful Western allies, over Libya and over other issues,” John Laughland from the Institute of Democracy and Cooperation told RT.
This is what happened in Libya and is now happening in Syria, he added.
“The equivalent, if you like, of the Libyan League of Human Rights, which is called the Damascus Centre for Human Rights, has played exactly the same role. They’ve alleged crimes against humanity. They’ve called for safe havens, and armed intervention in that country. And they are quite clear political lobbyists, who are trying to secure a military intervention against Syria along the lines of the one approved last year against Libya,” Laughland explained.
Another example is the group behind the Kony 2012 initiative. The California-based NGO Invisible Children is calling to stop the use of child soldiers and is promoting peace in the Ugandan civil war. But the same organization provided Uganda’s authorities with intelligence that led to the arrest of several regime opponents, as a US embassy cable published by WikiLeaks revealed.
“I’m willing to believe that was not the one time that Invisible Children provided information to the Ugandan authorities. What else do we not know, in terms of their relations with the Ugandan Government?” asks Milton Allimadi, Editor-in-chief of the Black Star News.
The viral video calling on a campaign to stop Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army appeared just months after President Obama decided to send 100 US military advisors to the region to help local governments remove Kony “from the battlefield”. Some human rights organizations criticized the move, saying among those receiving American aid is South Sudan’s People’s Liberation Army, which is known to exploit child soldiers just like Kony does.
NGOs are not currently held accountable for the information they publish, no matter how much collateral damage false facts may cause. Critics say some of those organizations actually pave the way for conflict rather than advocating peaceful solutions.
- Egypt Denies 8 US NGOs Permission to Operate in Country (voanews.com)
- Breaking news: the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights – MEA 2012 nominee (thoolen.wordpress.com)
- US is inciting Unrest through NGOs working under the cover of Human rights & Democracy in Egypt (jafrianews.com)
- US warns Egypt over detained NGO workers – CBS News (cbsnews.com)
Submitted by Tyler Durden on 04/22/2012 15:49 –0400
Two months ago, we warned that while the world had decided to blissfully move on from last year’s topic #1, the MENA revolutions, and specifically the massive power vacuum left in their wake, things in the region were far from fixed. Quite the contrary, and as we added back then “it is very likely that the Mediterranean region, flanked on one side by the broke European countries of Greece, Italy, Spain (and implicitly Portugal), and on the other by the unstable powder keg of post-revolutionary Libya and Egypt, will likely become quite active yet again. Only this time, in addition to social and economic upheavals, a religious flavor may also be added to the mix”. Yet nobody cared as after a year of daily videos showing Molotov Cocktails dropping like flies, people had simply gotten habituated and needed some other source of excitement. Nobody cared also when a week ago Art Cashin warned that the hidden geopolitcal risk is not Spain but Egypt. Today, Egypt just reminded at least one country why perhaps caution about the instability caused by having a military in charge of the most populous Arabic country and the one boasting “the Canal”, should have been heeded after Egypt just announced that it is cutting off its natural gas supplies to Israel, which just so happens relies on Egypt for 40% of its energy needs.
Egypt’s energy companies have terminated a long-term deal to supply Israel with gas after the cross-border pipeline sustained months of sabotage since a revolt last year, a stakeholder in the deal said on Sunday.
Ampal-American Israel Corporation, a partner in the East Mediterreanean Gas Company (EMG), which operates the pipeline, said the Egyptian companies involved had notified EMG they were “terminating the gas and purchase agreement”.
And judging by the sound and fury emanating from Israel the move was hardly expected:
The company said in a statement that the Egyptian General Petroleum Corporation and Egyptian Natural Gas Holding Company had notified them of the decision, adding that “EMG considers the termination attempt unlawful and in bad faith, and consequently demanded its withdrawal”.
It said EMG, Ampal, and EMG’s other international shareholders were “considering their options and legal remedies as well as approaching the various governments”.
Before the sabotage, Egypt supplied about 40 percent of Israel’s natural gas, which is the country’s main energy source.
Suddenly Israel may have bigger things to worry about that whether or not to leak its Iran invasion plas on national TV:
Israeli officials have said the country was at risk of facing summer power outages due to energy shortages.
Companies invested in the Israeli-Egyptian venture have taken a hit from numerous explosions of the cross-border pipeline and are seeking compensation from the Egyptian government of billions of dollars.
Ampal and two other companies have sought $8 billion in damages from Egypt for not safeguarding their investment.
Furthermore, if the Egyptian move is indeed an escalation in strategic alliance shifts in the region, it could have truly huge implications:
The Egyptian decision is a potential blow to the country’s ties with Israel, already tested by the toppling of Israeli ally President Hosni Mubarak a year ago.
Egypt was the first of two Arab countries to sign a peace trety with Israel, in 1979, followed by Jordan in 1994.a
Has the country’s endless warmongering calls for a preemptive war against Iran backfired epically? We won’t know for a while, but what we do know is that any government left in the power of military elites, is, how should we say it, unstable… for the simple reason that a military regime tends to require war to remind people why it is in charge. And the Egyptian “transitional” military government appears pretty much set to become permanent. Again from Reuters:
Ex-foreign minister Amr Moussa, a leading contender for Egypt’s presidency, said on Sunday he would give the military a voice in key policies via a national security council, a move to reassure ruling generals about their status after a power transfer.
Moussa, a self-described liberal nationalist whose main election rivals are Islamists, also said Egypt needed a president with lobbying skills to work effectively with the Islamist-dominated parliament and other institutions after decades of autocratic government.
Which means add one more election to the already surging roster of short-term catalysts now including France, Greece, Germany and, as of yesterday, the Netherlands:
Egypt’s presidential vote that starts on May 23-24 will mark the final stage of a transition to civilian rule from generals who took charge after Hosni Mubarak was ousted last year.
Unfortunately for Israel, either outcome will likely be a choice between a rock and a hard place, as the country appears to be rapidly alienating its one core catalytic long-term ally in the region.
Moussa, 75, said the national security council, to be chaired by the president, would include senior cabinet ministers plus top military officers. It would have a broad national security brief, he told a news conference.
“It has to consider all issues pertaining to national security and not only issues of defence or war, etc, but issues like water, issues like relations with neighbours,” said Moussa, a former head of the Arab League.
“(The council) will be a power house on those issues of major priority for the national life,” he added.
Other candidates, including one Islamist, have made similar suggestions but Moussa’s proposal and his plans as a whole are more detailed than most.
The army has said it will hand over power and return to barracks by July 1, leaving the new president in charge.
But various comments from army officials, usually in private, or from the military-appointed cabinet have indicated that the military wants a longer term role in protecting broad interests that range from businesses to national security, and wants to guide state affairs that could impact them.
The only question Israel may want to answer now is whether it wants to get cozy with Russia, whose nat gas it may suddenly be very, very attractive. And for that to happen, it means a huge softening in its anti-Iran tone, which in turn will have a huge impact on regional geopolitics, and specifically the risk of war in Iran, and thus the price of Brent. All of this, of course assumes, Israel does not immediately retaliate against Egypt, recently a big recipient of US aid, not to mention tear gas, and start a pre-emptive two front pre-war…
- Egypt ends gas deal with Israel, stakeholder says (dailystar.com.lb)
- Egypt cancels natural gas deal with Israel (haaretz.com)
- Egypt kills energy deal with Israel, key component of peace accord (atlasshrugs2000.typepad.com)
Dressed in army fatigues and armed with AK-47s, they wore the long beards of the hardline Islamists who are increasingly a law unto themselves in this part of Egypt.
Quietly, barely noticed by outsiders fascinated by upheavals in Cairo and other Arab capitals, they are building a presence in Sinai that might offer a new haven for anti-Western militancy at the strategic junction of the Mediterranean, Africa and Asia.
When finally one of the men broke a silence that hung heavy on the barren plain, it was to explain to a reporter their demands: for the government to release five comrades jailed for bombings of tourist resorts in Sinai more than six years ago.
“We are ready to die under tanks for this,” he said, refusing to give his name and saying little else beyond muttering Islamic mottos as he toured the positions the militants had established to surround the base, inconveniencing dozens of troops from the Multinational Observer Force, a unit set up in 1979 to monitor Egypt’s U.S.-brokered peace treaty with Israel.
Under a rare rainy sky on a Thursday night in March, the men would only speak with the permission of a man they simply referred to as “sheikh”. A wolf’s cry pierced the otherwise tranquil scene outside the remote base that is home to foreign peace observers including Fijians, Americans and Spaniards.
Not a shot was fired in anger, however, and the next day, the group lifted their eight-day siege. It was not because they feared arrest or attack by the authorities. But instead they had secured their demands. The government agreed to free the men accused of being part of a group which carried out the 2004 and 2005 attacks that killed some 125 people at the Red Sea beach resorts of Sharm el-Sheikh, Dahab and Taba.
It was a scenario unthinkable a year or so ago.
But with Hosni Mubarak‘s removal from power after three decades, government authority has collapsed in much of Sinai, leaving a vacuum where Islamist militant groups are flourishing, posing a security risk to Egypt, neighbors including Israel, and the Suez Canal, the busy waterway linking Asia and Europe.
In Sinai, an arid peninsula the size of Ireland but home to fewer than a million people, groups at the extreme fringe of the Islamist spectrum are expanding, even as Islamists long outlawed by the state enter the political mainstream in Cairo, where they now dominate parliament and are poised to enter government.
In towns where police stations have stood deserted since Mubarak was swept from office after a popular revolt, hardline Islamists are imposing their own authority. They are preaching a strict interpretation of Islam that has brought with it religious intolerance of a kind that shocks even some of the more conservative forces in the Muslim world.
Hardliners were blamed for bomb attack last year on a shrine revered by Sufi Muslim mystics – the kind of attack more familiar in restive Pakistan Egypt.
Though some of the militants here appear to be inspired by al Qaeda, experts do not yet believe the network is operating in the peninsula that separates Africa and Asia. But as time passes and the Egyptian state in far-off Cairo struggles to assert itself, there seems a growing risk they may align more closely with the global movement now led by Ayman al-Zawahiri, himself an Egyptian, though long assumed to be based abroad.
Egypt has already paid an economic price for lawlessness in Sinai – a pipeline exporting natural gas eastwards to Jordan and Israel has been blown up 13 times in the last year.
There are fears the economic impact could run deeper still. With its Red Sea resorts, Sinai’s southern province is one of the main assets of a tourist industry that employs one in eight Egyptians and would be hit hard by more insecurity.
“I’d say there is genuine potential for this threat to grow and become a much bigger issue than it is now,” said Henri Wilkinson, head of intelligence and analysis at the Risk Advisory group.
“I suspect al Qaeda … sees great opportunity in Sinai.”
“SOMETIMES VIOLENCE IS THE WAY”
For now, militant Islamist influence has been restricted to mostly impoverished towns in northern Sinai. Some are drawing on the example of groups that made Egypt a pioneer in the world of extremism as they seek to impose their vision of Islamic law.
One group calls itself Al-Tawhid wal Jihad, the name first taken by al Qaeda’s affiliate in Iraq. Blamed for the Sinai bomb attacks in 2004 and 2005, the group was accused last year of launching an attack on a police station in the town of el-Arish in which five members of the Egyptian security forces were killed.
Another is Takfir wal Higra, a name first heard in Egypt in the 1960s when the country emerged as a breeding ground for militant Islamist ideas that spread beyond its borders and supplied ideological fuel for al Qaeda and others.
Takfir wal Higra believes that even Muslims, if they do not share its beliefs, are infidels. The group’s influence has grown in northern Sinai in the last year, locals say. “Sometimes violence is the way to achieve your objectives,” said a man in his 30s who joined the group a year ago.
He comes from a mountain village outside el-Arish, the main town in northern Sinai where residents have long complained of neglect by the Egyptian state.
Wearing a short beard, jeans and a black jacket, the Takfir wal Higra recruit declined to be named as he recounted stories of how members of the group from one family had forced their parents to separate after declaring their father an infidel.
“I am ready to participate in blowing up the pipelines … attacking police stations,” he said. But when pressed about his goals, he appeared uncertain, blending vague talk of freeing Jerusalem from Israeli control with the idea of establishing an “Islamic emirate” in the Sinai Peninsula.
In Sheikh Zuweid, a few kilometers (miles) from the border with the Palestinian Gaza Strip, that idea appears to have become a partial reality.
A newly renovated but empty police station in the town’s central square is a powerful symbol of the collapse of state control. Slogans daubed on walls declare Sinai an independent Islamic state.
THE POLICE LEFT, AND NEVER CAME BACK
“The police left the city on January 29, 2011 at 4 p.m. heading to Cairo and never came back,” said Saeed Eteg, a liberal political activist from Sheikh Zuweid, recalling the day the state disappeared at the height of the uprising against Mubarak.
Sheikh Zuweid is a collection of mud brick buildings connected by a network of predominantly dirt roads. Locals say both state neglect and the collapse of traditional structures of tribal authority have allowed the spread of hardline influence.
Here, clerics apply their own interpretation of Islamic law at sharia courts independent of the state. “Decisions are for Allah alone,” declares a banner outside one of the courts.
“People need someone to solve their disputes and they found the answer in religious courts,” said Hamden Abu Faisal, a Salafi cleric who doubles as a judge in Sheikh Zuweid.
The Salafis are Muslims with a puritanical approach to their faith inspired by the official Wahhabi ideology of Saudi Arabia. Their brand of political Islam is a step removed from the more pragmatic, modernist Muslim Brotherhood, the biggest party in the Egyptian parliament, which is more moderate in its approach.
A Salafi group, the Nour Party, is the second largest party in the parliament following Egypt’s historic free elections late last year. It eschews violence in pursuit of its goal of tighter application of sharia religious law in the country of 80 million.
But even the Nour Party is beyond the pale for some in Sheikh Zuweid. Mohsen Abu Hassan, a member of the party, says he was declared an infidel by one young man, a member of Takfir wal Higra, during an election campaign rally in the town last year.
“There is a phenomenon we must confront,” Abu Hassan, now a member of parliament in Cairo, told Reuters.
“We shouldn’t turn a blind eye.”
A pile of rubble at a local shrine bears witness to the lengths to which zealots will go to impose their vision on how religion should be practiced here. On May 15 last year, five men blew up the shrine revered by Sufi mystics, whose beliefs are viewed as heretical by the puritanical Islamists.
A white flag raised by the Sufis flutters over what is left of the shrine of Sheikh Zuweid, viewed as one of the earliest Muslims in Egypt and after whom the town is named.
“WE DON’T FEEL LIKE EGYPTIAN CITIZENS”
Abdel Wahab Mabrouk, governor of North Sinai province, says religious groups are behind the trouble but denies the presence of al Qaeda or what he described as other “terrorist elements”.
But Israel is worried. It is building a barrier along its 266 km (165 mile) border with the peninsula. One Israeli officer described the frontier today as “a hot border”. Last August, Israel blamed Islamist militants from Sinai for attacks which killed eight Israelis. An Israeli counterstrike which left five Egyptian border guards dead did nothing to ease tense relations.
Israeli authority held sway in Sinai after it captured the region in the 1967 Middle East war. A theatre for more tank battles in 1973, the peninsula was restored to Egyptian control by the 1979 peace agreement brokered by the United States.
One of Israel’s concerns is that its Palestinian enemies in the Gaza Strip, including the governing Hamas Islamists, could use Sinai as a back door for attacks on southern Israel.
But the ideas spreading in Sinai could also present a threat to stability in Egypt itself and to Hamas, which looks to the Muslim Brotherhood for ideological inspiration and which has waged its own war against al Qaeda-inspired militancy in Gaza.
As in other waves of Islamist militancy that have swept Egypt in the past decades – it was Islamist gunmen who killed peacemaking President Anwar Sadat in 1981 – experts believe heavy-handed police tactics have only made the problem worse.
The security forces’ campaign to find the culprits in the 2004 and 2005 Sinai bombings has left a bitter taste. Police staged mass arrests, even rounding up suspects’ wives to force them to hand themselves in.
“THE MOTHER OF ALL PROBLEMS”
For the most part, South Sinai is a different story from the northern region. Bedouin in the mountainous south on the Red Sea maintain a nomadic lifestyle that differs to the urban development in the north, where many have settled in towns along the Mediterranean coast and have mingled with outsiders from Egypt’s Nile Valley heartlands and from neighboring Gaza.
Yet in southern Sinai, which is more sparsely populated than the north, Bedouin have similarly been alienated by years of state neglect and oppression. They too are staging acts of rebellion, though not in the Islamist form found in the north.
Seeking the release of jailed relatives, Bedouin have kidnapped two Americans, three Koreans and two Brazilians in the last two months, believing it is the only way they can get the Cairo government’s attention. They did not ask for ransoms and all were released unharmed after talks with the authorities.
The Bedouin say traditional tribal structures in the south have guarded against the infiltration of violent militant ideas. But their grievances against the state are just as profound.
The Bedouin say they have not felt the benefit of the income brought by tourist resorts such as Sharm el-Sheikh, which have given many thousands of jobs to Egyptians from the Nile Valley.
“We don’t feel like Egyptian citizens,” said Sheikh Ahmed Hussein, a member of the Qararsha tribe, one of the biggest in the southern Sinai. A government report compiled in 2010 said a quarter of all Sinai’s population of some 600,000 did not carry a national ID card. The Bedouin, who make up the bulk of that number, are not allowed to own land or serve in the army.
Sensing the urgency of the problem, the military-appointed government of Prime Minister Kamal al-Ganzouri has taken action in the few months since it took office in November.
Seeking to alleviate tensions, Ganzouri has ordered the retrial of those imprisoned after the Sinai bombings. He also ordered the revival of development projects in the region, including a railway and a canal to supply water to central Sinai.
Abdullah Abu Ghama, a member of parliament from Sinai, says it cannot come too soon:
“The state has to speed up the process of development,” he said. “If not, the mother of all problems will occur and extremists will increase in numbers.”
- Al-Qaeda Grows in Sinai (nationalinterest.org)
- Militants attack Egypt gas pipeline for 12th time (seattletimes.nwsource.com)
- Is al-Qaeda Growing in Egypt? (theatlantic.com)
- Israel-Egypt peace in jeopardy (cbsnews.com)
- Saboteurs Attack Gas Pipeline Near Israel-Egypt Border (cbsnews.com)
For leaders of smaller nations, a meeting and a photo op with the American President in the White House is always a huge thrill. And so Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt was no exception when she received the presidential treatment on February 24, basking in the glow of President Obama’s approval. The President (rightly) praised Denmark’s military contribution in Afghanistan and Libya, saying that the small Nordic country of 4.5 million people ”punches above its weight.”
As sweet as this praise must have been to the ears of the Danish prime minister, it was soon tempered by revelations that President Obama is very free with the use of this phrase. Danish television clipped together a montage showing Obama complimenting the leaders of Norway, Ireland, and the Philippines in exactly the same words, all for ”punching above their weight.” President Obama apparently has not used the expression about the British, despite the fact that he borrowed it from British Foreign Minister Douglas Hurd.
The conservative Danish newspaper Jyllands–Posten noted that Obama must really be pleased with the Danes, as he said the same thing to the previous Danish prime minister, Lars Løkke Rasmussen, during his state visit last year, sitting in the very same armchairs under the same picture of George Washington. Meanwhile, an editorial in the left-of-center newspaper Politiken grumbled that it was the unfortunate Danish desire to ”punch above their weight” that had gotten the Danes involved in the Iraq war and other American affairs. The newspaper advocated that Danes stick to their own bantam weight class in the future.
The real question might be, however, whether the United States under President Obama is punching below its weight, making the contributions of others seem all the greater. From premature military withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan to selling out U.S. missile defense to the Russians and mouthing mechanical blandishments to U.S. allies like the Danes, President Obama is squandering a great foreign policy legacy.
Helle C. Dale is Senior Fellow in Public Diplomacy at The Heritage Foundation—and a native of Denmark.
Posted in American Leadership
- The Danish Jon Stewart Schools Obama on Using the Same ‘Punch’ Lines with Every Ally (newsbusters.org)
- Punch Drunk: Danish Television Captures the President Delivering The Same Back-Handed Compliment To A Series Of “Little Countries” (jonathanturley.org)
- Danish TV Host Mocks Obama for His Rhetoric “Maybe the copy key got stuck on the presidential speechwriter’s keyboard.” (blogginghounds.wordpress.com)
The Obama administration did it again. Last week while Americans fumed over the fast rising gas prizes at the pump, the Obama administration told Congress that it will release up to $1.5 billion dollars in aid to Egypt. The announcement even upset stalwart Democrats like Sen. Patrick Leahy who was quick to publicly register his disappointment with the Obama decision.
Back in December, federal aid to Egypt’s military machine was contingent to a determination that the government would support the will of the people’s desire to transition from a military to a civilian government. In fact, Egypt did hold elections. However, the people elected the Muslim Brotherhood which has been laughingly described by many liberals as ‘moderate.’
Once in power, the leaders of the newly elected Muslim Brotherhood made it clear to Washington that “what was acceptable before the revolution is no longer.” That was diplomatic shorthand telegraphing that Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel was a thing of the past. Yet, this was hardly a surprise to the Obama administration which was well aware of the Brotherhood’s hostility towards the Jewish state. Despite Mubarak’s 30 years of staunch support for the peace pact with Israel, Obama turned against him. Perhaps Mubarak should have known better. When Obama delivered his famous Cairo speech in 2009, he actually invited the then outlawed Muslim Brotherhood to attend.
By supporting the rioters, Obama jeopardized the security of our srongest Arabic ally in the Middle East. Since the election, the military has been slow to grant full power to the newly elected Muslim Brotherhood. This places the United States in a no-win situation. Supporting the military is akin to sustaining a dictatorship. Supporting the Muslim Brotherhood represents a step backwards for any legitimate hope for peace.
The Muslim Brotherhood has long insisted that it really is a moderate political party. Nevertheless, it also makes the argument that while it differs with the more extremist Salafi-oriented Nour Party over the way Islamic Sharia law is applied, there is common agreement that it should be applied. The imposition of Sharia law in Egypt would pose a threat to women as well as to peace with Israel. The alleged “war on women” doesn’t register for a Democratic administration looking the other way as millions of Egyptian women lose fundamental rights.
The more serious question is this. Does the Barack Obama administration have any idea of what it’s doing? Or is this a process of just hoping for the best?
It is now clear that we are heading for a showdown in Egypt. Despite the power of the military, the only force inside the country that can mobilize a million people at the drop of the hat is the Muslim Brotherhood. In the face of popular support, the military has always backed down. This means that, like it or not, an eventual relationship between the civilian government and the military powers favors the eventual dominance of the civilian government. Indeed, while the thing that united rioters was opposition to Hosni Mubarak, only the Muslim Brotherhood had the organization and the leaders in place to take control of the government.
Sending $1.5 billion dollars of American money to retain the allegiance of the military generals may be an argument that makes sense on the short term, but sooner or later the Muslim Brotherhood will gain control of the armed forces as well as of the money we just gave them.
This is why Congress was determined to carefully monitor ties between Cairo and Washington before transferring aid. Congress wanted assurances that the pact with Israel would be maintained, that civilian government would come to power in a cooperative arrangement with the military.
Obama-style diplomacy hasn’t worked very well in the past. There are too many conflicting intersts in the Middle East with too many separate agendas. We can only hope that Obama’s tendency to confuse Cairo with Chicago doesn’t present unintended negative consequences.
Frank Mazzaglia can be reached at Frankwrote@aol.com
Source: Mazzaglia: Obama still lost in Egypt
- ‘Muslim Brotherhood plotting against GCC states’ (mb50.wordpress.com)
- U.S. making nice with the Muslim Brotherhood? (mb50.wordpress.com)
- Obama to bypass Congress, Give $1.5B of your taxes to Muslim Brotherhood (creepingsharia.wordpress.com)
- President Asshat Bypasses Congress, Gives $1.5 Billion To Muslim Brotherhood (thedaleygator.wordpress.com)
- Egypt military lashes out (moroccotomorrow.org)
- Obama’s Disastrous Islamist Outreach (creepingsharia.wordpress.com)
- Egypt Designates Israel Its Top Enemy – Obama Restores Military Aid (genomega1.wordpress.com)
Dr. Essam Abdallah, an Egyptian liberal intellectual, in an article published last October in the leading liberal pan-Arab journal Elaph, refers to certain reports coming out of Washington:
These reports reveal the depth of the below-the-surface coordination between the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), Hamas, Hezbollah, the Iranian regime and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Syria, Tunisia, Libya and Jordan. This bloc of regimes and organizations is now becoming the greatest Islamist radical lobby ever to penetrate and infiltrate the White House, Congress, the State Department and the main decision making centers of the US government. All of this is happening at a time when the US government is going through its most strategically dangerous period in modern times because of its need to confront the Iranian Mullahs regime, which is expanding in the Middle East, as well as penetrating the United States, via powerful and influential allies.
Abdallah alleged that “the popular revolts in the Arab world — and the Obama Administration’s position towards them — were determined by political battles between various pressure groups in Washington.”
He followed up with another article this month in which he asks:
[W]hy isn’t the West in general and the United States Administration in particular clearly and forcefully supporting our civil societies and particularly the secular democrats of the region? Why were the bureaucracies in Washington and in Brussels partnering with Islamists in the region and not with their natural allies the democracy promoting political forces?
Steve Emerson of the Investigative Project on Terrorism said of this article: “This is one of the most important articles I have read in years.” He then made allegations of his own:
It was just revealed two days ago that FBI Director Mueller secretly met on February 8 at FBI headquarters with a coalition of groups including various Islamist and militant Arabic groups who in the past have defended Hamas and Hizballah and have also issued blatantly anti-Semitic statements. At this meeting, the FBI revealed that it had removed more than 1000 presentations and curricula on Islam from FBI offices around the country that was deemed “offensive.” The FBI did not reveal what criteria was used to determine why material was considered “offensive” but knowledgeable law enforcement sources have told the IPT that it was these radical groups who made that determination. Moreover, numerous FBI agents have confirmed that from now on, FBI headquarters has banned all FBI offices from inviting any counter-terrorist specialists who are considered “anti-Islam” by Muslim Brotherhood front groups.
This comes as no surprise to me. In August of 2011, after making the case, I wrote, “To my mind, the alliance between the Obama administration and the Muslim Brotherhood is the cornerstone of Obama’s New Middle East policy.”
The most damning bit of evidence was reported by Herb London in his article, “U.S. Betrays Syria’s Opposition“:
In an effort to understand and placate Syrian opposition groups, Secretary Clinton invited them to a meeting in Washington. Most of those invited, however, have links to the Muslim Brotherhood. Missing from the invitations are Kurdish leaders, Sunni liberals, Assyrians and Christian spokesmen. According to various reports the State Department made a deal with Turkey and Muslim Brotherhood representatives either to share power with Assad to stabilize the government, or replace him if this effort fails. One organization, the Syrian Democracy Council (SDC), an opposition group composed of diverse ethnic and religious organizations, including Alawis, Aramaic Christians, Druze and Assyrians was conspicuously — and no coincidentally — omitted from the invitation list.
Caroline Glick wrote in August of last year:
What these observers fail to recognize is that Erdogan’s interests in a post-Assad Syria have little in common with US interests. Erdogan will seek to ensure the continued disenfranchisement of Syria’s Kurdish minority. And he will work towards the Islamification of Syria through the Muslim Brotherhood.
This week Secretary of State Hillary Clinton held a private meeting with these brave democrats. Why didn’t she hold a public meeting? Why hasn’t Obama welcomed them to the White House?”
Today there is a coalition of Syrian opposition figures that include all ethnic groups in Syria. Their representatives have been banging the doors of the corridors of power in Washington and beyond. Yet the same Western leaders who were so eager to recognize the Libyan opposition despite the presence of al Qaeda terrorists in the opposition tent have refused to publicly embrace Syrian regime opponents that seek a democratic, federal Syria that will live at peace with Israel and embrace liberal policies.
By refusing to embrace liberal, multi-ethnic regime opponents, the administration is all but ensuring the success of the Turkish bid to install the Muslim Brotherhood in power if Assad is overthrown.
The Syrian Democratic Coalition (SDC), above mentioned, is self-described thus:
The Syrian Democratic Coalition (SDC) is an emerging coalition of diverse Syrian organizations coming together to help bring an end to the Assad regime and promote the transformation of Syria into a secular democracy based in liberty. The coalition is founded upon a belief in the separation of religion from state and is dedicated to establishing a new constitution and transparent federal republic in Syria, based in reason that equally protects minority rights, promotes gender equality, and embraces the rights and liberties of every individual as enumerated in the United Nations Declaration for Human Rights. This growing coalition crosses all ethnic, religious and tribal lines to represent all Syrians. It currently includes members of Save Syria Now!, the Kurdistan National Assembly of Syria, the Union of Syrian Arab Tribes and the Syrian Christian Democratic Movement.
Sherkoh Abbas is secretary general of the Syria Democracy Council and president of the Kurdistan National Assembly of Syria. I first met him when he invited me to be a director of the American Kurdish Friendship League some five years ago.
Recently, he confided in me that in all his dealings with the State Department over the last two years, no interest was shown in his coalition, and instead, he was continually pressed to support the Syrian National Council (SNC), made up of the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists and Arabists. He believes that the U.S. is working with Salafi groups, and the Turkish government, to create an opposition in Syria that is strictly Islamist. Such an opposition would serve Turkish economic interests in Syria and keep the Kurdish issue dormant in Turkey as well as in Syria.
For the last six months at least, Obama has been cultivating a relationship with PM Erdoğan of Turkey. The budding relationship prompted Barry Rubin to ask, “Why Is an Anti-American Islamist, Obama’s Favorite ME Leader?“
According to Sherkoh Abbas, one faction of the SDC had family connections in various Gulf States at the highest level and went to them for financial support. They were turned down, as Obama had instructed them to give money only to the SNC.
Nevertheless, the SDC is gaining traction amongst the Kurds, Druze, Sunnis, Christians, and even the Alawites. This is so because these various minorities are beginning to think of a post-Assad Syria, and they all want a region of their own. They have expressed their willingness to be secular, democratic, and a friend of Israel and will be asked to commit to this in writing. They don’t want Islamism or Arabism. They prefer peace, freedom, and prosperity. So why isn’t Obama embracing them?
The Obama administration is totally in sync with the Muslim Brotherhood. At the renowned Herzlia Conference this year, I met Salman Shalkh, one of the speakers from Qatar. We had a long conversation in which he kept pushing for the Saudi Plan to be embraced by Israel. This is the plan that Obama is committed to — i.e., ’67 borders with mutually agreed-upon swaps.
Shalkh argued that Israel should talk to Hamas, and I countered, “What’s the point? We have nothing to offer to them.” Shalkh was also an apologist for the Muslim Brotherhood. These arguments should be expected from someone from Qatar. Unfortunately, the same arguments are being made by the White House. It is instructive to note that Shalkh is director of the Brookings Doha Center in Qatar, the Arab offshoot of the Brookings Institute that has so much influence with the State Department. He told me that he was one of the people who drafted the Roadmap on behalf of the State Department. I told him that it didn’t surprise me and suggested that he probably drafted the Saudi Peace Plan for them as well.
What is going on now in American foreign policy is not so much a product of the Islamist lobby fueled by both the Muslim Brotherhood and the gulf states as it is a product of a strategic alliance that has existed between the U.S. and the gulf states led by Saudi Arabia since before Israel declared her independence. Unfortunately, President Obama, with his overt outreach to Islam, Muslims, and the Muslim Brotherhood, has taken it to another level.
It would appear that the ideas expressed by Mearsheimer and Walt in their book, The Israel Lobby, are being embraced by both the State Department and the White House. These include the idea that the Israel lobby is too strong for America’s good and that Israel is a liability to America.
But the truth is otherwise, as John R. MacArthur pointed out in 2007, in “The Vast Power of the Saudi Lobby“:
Somehow, though, I can’t shake the idea that the Israel lobby, no matter how powerful, isn’t all it is cracked up to be, particularly where it concerns the Bush administrations past and present. Indeed, when I think of pernicious foreign lobbies with disproportionate sway over American politics, I can’t see past Saudi Arabia and its royal house, led by King Abdullah.
This article is a classic and should be read in full.
Obama has decidedly moved from an alliance with Israel to an alliance with the Islamists.
MK Aryeh Eldad, in a speech given in the fall in the U.S., when Israel was intending to act against Iran militarily, said word came down from the White House that “if you act alone, you will remain alone.” Because Israel is so dependent on the U.S. for resupply of weapons and munitions in a prolonged war, this threat changed the calculus immediately. It is true that when Mahmoud Abbas was threatening to go to the U.N. for recognition, the Obama administration lobbied around the world for negative votes. But at the same time, Obama threatened Netanyahu that Obama would withhold his veto if Israel took punitive action against the PA by annexing some of the territories or by withholding funds. Finally, he used the same threat to get Israel to instruct AIPAC to lobby Congress not to punish the PA by withholding U.S. funds.
Over the last six months, Israel has been warned by a succession of senior military and administration officials not to attack Iran, at this time, all in the name of giving sanctions a chance. But who believes that sanctions will stop Iran? And who believes that that the U.S. will in the end attack Iran to stop them?
So while Obama is supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, he is keeping Israel under his thumb.
Isi Leibler takes exception to all this and reminds everyone:
[T]his organization [The Muslim Brotherhood] represents one of the most fanatical and dangerous of the radical Islamist groups in the region, with a dark record of violence and terrorism imbedded in its DNA. It is rabidly anti-Western, anti-Christian, antisemitic, committed to imposing sharia law and a global Caliphate – and willing to employ any means to further its objectives.
Many would argue that Obama is also “anti-Western, anti-Christian[, and] antisemitic.” Judging by his policies, they would be right.
- Biden Admits Obama is Arming Muslim Brotherhood to Take Over Syria (itmakessenseblog.com)
- Is This the Next Mideast Domino to Fall? (lynleahz.com)
- Muslim Brotherhood now targeting Jordan (wnd.com)
- Selling the Muslim Brotherhood to America (deceptionation.com)
The highest-level meeting between a U.S. diplomat and Muslim Brotherhood officials will take place today in Cairo, Egypt.
U.S. deputy secretary of state, William Burns, will meet officials of the Muslim Brotherhood’s political wing in the highest-level meeting yet between the two sides. (Chip Somodevilla/AFP/Getty Images)
The U.S. has long shunned Egypt‘s Muslim Brotherhood, accusing it of links to terrorists. Looks like that is about to change.
The State Department‘s number two diplomat, William Burns, will meet with leaders of the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), which just won roughly 40 percent of the seats in parliament, AFP reports. (Final results of Egypt’s recent legislative elections have not yet been released).
The meeting marks part of a shift towards rapprochment from a decades-old U.S. policy of hostility toward the Brotherhood, who many in the U.S still fear will pose a threat to Israel and boost support for more extreme Islamists.
Still, the rise of Islamists, moderate and extreme, is a new reality in post-Mubarak Egypt. See Middle East highlights in the Foreign Operations Appropriations Bills from Jul. 2012, when the House Foreign Affairs Committee approved an amendment to limit the Secretary of State from using funds to support the Muslim Brotherhood.
- Why Is Obama Lying to Cover for the Muslim Brotherhood? (codybateman.org)
- What would an Islamist Egypt mean? (moroccotomorrow.org)
- Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty in Peril? (papundits.wordpress.com)