Youth in Egypt still hold the country’s military in high esteem, and a majority of them disregard criticism of it. Even when Tahrir Square demonstrators chanted slogans such as “Down with military …
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Youth in Egypt still hold the country’s military in high esteem, and a majority of them disregard criticism of it. Even when Tahrir Square demonstrators chanted slogans such as “Down with military …
You wouldn’t think Bahrain and Syria were much linked. Both are Arabic-speaking countries, though about half of Bahrain’s residents are non-citizen guest workers who speak anything but Arabic. One is a geographically fairly large country of some 23 million abutting the eastern Mediterranean. The other is a set of tiny islands in the Mideast’s Gulf.
But Bahrain and Syria are tied in destiny, since they are numbers 5 and 6 of the series of Arab Spring countries that staged major rallies against their government. (The successful such movements were Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen). Bahrain and Syria are in some ways mirror images of one another. Syria has a Shiite, secular ruling elite and a Sunni majority that is treated like a minority. Bahrain has a Sunni ruling elite and a Shiite majority that is treated like a minority. Syria is backed by Russia and Iran, and has given the Russians a naval base on the Mediterranean at Tartous. Bahrain is backed by the United States and Saudi Arabia; it has given the US a naval base as HQ for the Fifth Fleet at Manama, and has garrisoned 1,000 Saudi troops on its soil.
Both governments have brutally repressed their popular revolts. In Bahrain a little less than a hundred have been killed, whereas in Syria it is something like 9,000. But Bahrain is so small that proportionally the death toll there per capita is in the same league with Syria’s.
The United States government has blasted Syria over its repression of its popular movement for democracy, placing a series of sanctions on Syrian leaders.
The US has been virtually silent about the dirty little police state that is Bahrain and its outrageous tactics, such as trying physicians for so much as treating wounded street protesters. The US has not placed sanctions on Bahrain and has done no more than tut-tut the government violence.
It is now worse. The US is now selling Bahrain Coast Guard and F-16 jet equipment.
Just ask yourself if the US would sell coast guard and F-16 equipment to Syria today.
This unnecessary and pernicious arms sale has only one purpose, and it isn’t to beef up Bahrain’s defenses. It is to reassure the Sunni king and his uncle, the prime minister, that the US forgives them for their jack boot tactics and will continue to support them.
There is no difference between the US acting this way and Russia running interference for Syria. Each is following its geopolitical interest. Neither has any morality. They are great powers.
So US ambassador to the UN Susan Rice has just had her legs cut out from under her. When she goes to the UN and argues that Syria should be sanctioned, and she is blocked by Russia and China, you can be assured that Bahrain will be thrown in her face. The US is trying to make a case to other countries for the principled character of its stand. The Obama administration has just made itself a laughingstock in that regard, and I should think its Syria position will be a cause for snickering given that it is selling arms (albeit not crowd control supplies) to Bahrain.
The US and Saudi Arabia are afraid that the Bahrain Shiite majority leans toward Iran and that if it succeeds, that victory will benefit Iran. But most Bahrainis are Akhbaris and don’t even believe in ayatollahs, and they are Arabs and wouldn’t want Persian dominance. Bahrain Shiites are distinctive and have their reasons not to act as Iran’s cat’s paws.
The arms sale to Saudi Arabia is therefore bad for the Syrian opposition, since it announces the hypocrisy of American support for it.
Bahrain’s bloodthirsty government, long accused of using torture and jailing people for thought crimes, doesn’t need US coast guard cutters to protect it from Iran. That is the job of the fifth fleet. And since the US is doing that job for the king, Washington should expect a little cooperation on the human rights front, not to be further taken advantage of.
Meanwhile, the US statements on Bahrain sound just like those of Iran on Syria. It is all about fifth columns and hooligans and outside agents. It is a crock.
Aljazeera English has a video news report on the sale:
The Islamist majority in the Egyptian parliament appears to have badly overplayed its hand with its attempt to rush the formation of the constituent assembly and impose a majority of its own pre-selected candidates without negotiation. Liberal, secular, labour and other representatives (including those of the Coptic Church, Al Azhar and the Supreme Constitutional court) have withdrawn from the assembly, and negotiations to convince them to come back have been unfruitful. The assembly’s legitimacy is so tarnished (and its collection of members so arbitrary, unrepresentative, and in some cases undistinguished) that it really would probably be better to start over.
As the negotiations drag on, AUC professor, Marxist activist and advisor to moderate Islamist presidential candidate Abdel Moneim Abul Fotouh Rabab El-Mahdi makes some good common-sense points to those critial of the Islamist-selected assembly about what they should be focusing on now, and the importance of process over names. The following is my own abridged (and imperfect) translation from a recent column in El Shorouk newspaper:
Ever since parliament began forming the constituent assembly more than two weeks ago, the battle over the constitution has returned to dominate the political scene — before our attention returns to the presidential race once again. And despite the fact that this important, historic contest should concern the entire Egyptian people, whose social relations and relations with the nation will be shaped by this constitution, what’s deplorable is that this contest has turned into a battle between those who are called — mistakenly — the “madani [”civil” commonly meaning “secular” in Egypt today] forces” (liberals, nationalists and leftists) and the political Islam current or “the Islamists.” And as members began withdrawing from the the assembly, activists started to criticize the absence of this well-known emigré doctor and that dean of a college in Canada, as if the criteria for belonging to the assembly were distinction in one’s professional field; they mentioned particular names, as if those people’s presence in the assembly were the issue. The majority party presented a list clarifying the percentage of “Islamists” and “non-Islamists” and mentioning the names of Christians as if this were a sectarian battle […]. And the name of women were mentioned not on the basis of who or what they represent but on the basis of their gender. Meanwhile some others resort to the army to annul the assembly and issue a constitutional declaration on this matter at a time when the parliamentary majority is fortified by its numerical power. And everyone forgets that conducting the battle this way will not bestow a better constitution upon us but rather will entrench a sectarian nation and military rule. Following are a few observations that have been absent from this contest.
Also check out our previous translation of parliamentarian Ziad Baha’ El-Din account of how the selection of the constituent assembly took place. And blogger Zenobia’s breakdown of the members (including funny instances of outright nepotism, i.e. young relatives of Muslim Brotherhood leaders being selected as “youth representatives.”).
The rest El-Mahdy’s column follows.
First of all the battle is not over the names or religion of members but over the absence of transparent and agreed-upon criteria according to which participants can be chosen. For example the use of the term “public personality” without any criteria or even definition for “public personality” opens the door to personal inclinations and estimations. Whereas the standards should be clear and transparent so that people trust the choices, whatever the names may be.
Secondly, there is a difference between competing, agreeing and negotiating. Competition and agreement are two completely different mechanisms of decision-making and each is best in a given situation: Elections for example cannot take place without competition and settling votes, whereas writing a constitution must take place through negotiation and agreement, which is not happening. What’s important isn’t the numbers of each political current in the assembly but the way decisions are taken. [Which should be] in a purely procedural manner — the consultation and coordination that took place between the two biggest parties (Freedom and Justice and El Nour) should have included representatives of the other parties and independents in parliament, rather than them being surprised by a list [of candidates] decided upon by the majority. Claiming the power of numbers in this case is what opened the door — which still remains ajar — to allow the entry of a repressive unelected power to settle the dispute, as we saw in the meeting of the Field Marshall with the political parties.
Thirdly, representation in the constituent assembly isn’t political representation but rather social representation and therefore the struggle must turn from the idea of minority and majority and different ideologies to thinking about the participation of representatives from all social groups including professionals, workers and farmer, using mechanisms that guarantee the widest social dialogue. The process of shaping and guaranteeing [the constitution] is a technical process for experts, but the content should be provided by all Egyptians.
Fourthly, the political and social forces who disagree with the formation of the assembly — and I’m among them — should stop suggesting alternate names and numbers and should try to crystalize, alongside the rest of Egyptians, the demands and rights to be included in the constitution. Those concerned with women’s rights and feminist groups for example should stick to formulating, through wide social participation, the rights they want, rather than suggesting particular names.
“… Ben Caspit reports (Maariv- Hebrew) that the cabinet now has, for the first time, a majority (eight votes for, six votes against) favoring the measure. This means that theoretically Bibi can begin an attack at any time. Of course, it could mean something different: it could mean the cabinet has approved a strike at any point in future with Bibi determining the timing. So it doesn’t necessarily mean the F-16s will fly tonight or tomorrow. But it could:
Cabinet Majority Supports Iran Attack
“… The prime minister yesterday delivered one of the most combative and explicit speeches in the history of the Iran affair. Several cabinet ministers said in private conversations that it sounded like a “speech preparing for war.”Political sources judge that the prime minister has a majority in the cabinet which favors a military strike against Iran, even without American approval. Yesterday, Netanyahu said he wouldn’t hesitate to attack Iran even without the approval of Pres. Obama…A senior official said Bibi believed it would be best not to wait for the November presidential elections because he didn’t trust the president to deal with the problem after the election….”
A new poll shows that the US public, showing a broad consensus across parties, wants the Iran nuclear enrichment issue dealt with through negotiations. They even want to entrust the issue to the UN security council. They think that the US should discourage Israel from attacking Iran. They are convinced that an attack would be a disaster and lead to a long-term conflict. And they hold that if Israel goes it alone and does strike Iran, the United States should remain neutral.
All of these attitudes are the diametrical opposite of those held in the US Congress.
Only 24% of Americans said Israel should strike Iran. 69% want the US and Europe to pursue negotiations with Iran instead.
Some 71% of respondents want the US to discourage Israel from attacking Iran, including a majority of Republicans.
74% want the US to work through the UN Security Council to resolve the conflict with Iran! And fully 69% of Republicans concur.
A slight majority, 52%, want the US to remain neutral if Israel were to attack Iran. Some 60% of Democrats feel this way, while Republicans and independents are fairly evenly divided. But only 25% would want to see the US support Israel militarily in case a war breaks out.
This poll, if it is accurate, shows the resistance of the US public to the barrage of propaganda they have faced on the Iran nuclear issue. They don’t want a war, they don’t want the Likud Party initiating one, and they don’t want to get involved if Netanyahu goes off the reservation.
The Israeli public in polling also opposes PM Netanyahu’s war talk regarding Iran.
For more on the ways that the Israeli right wing has attempted to manipulate US public opinion on the Iran issue, see Richard Silverstein’s revelations.
Randa Slim a ‘scholar’ at the Middle East Institute decides that “…While it is impossible to know which side commands a majority, a critical mass of Syrians has clearly opted for regime change...”, when this past week has witnessed massive pro-regime demonstrations in the most unlikely parts of Syria.
Even the WSJ had this to say in a piece titled “Assad has the Upper hand“:“massive crowds gathered in several cities, including Damascus, to pledge their loyalty to Mr. Assad. Syria’s state television, broadcasting scenes of crowds chanting “The people want Bashar al-Assad,” said some two million people gathered at the capital’s Ummayad Square last Wednesday. It broadcast fresh scenes of a loyalist demonstration in the southern city of Suweida on Sunday.“At one point, what we call the silent majority came to be aligned with the street protests at least from a humanitarian and moral point of view. But now they’ve stepped back again,”
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization recognized Palestine as a full member on Monday setting off a crisis between the United States and the United Nations that seems likely to further isolate Washington in the world and reduce its influence.
The UNESCO vote could start an avalanche of such acceptances among various UN bodies. Although Palestine is unlikely now to get a majority next month at the UN Security Council, there is always next year. And the admission of Palestine by large numbers of UNO organizations might anyway have a similar effect to a UNSC majority vote.
Countries such as Norway and Ireland have signaled that they would like to raise Palestinian representation to full embassy status, and every international vote like the UNESCO one encourages them further in this direction. In turn, embassy status could begin giving Palestine standing in some countries to sue Israel in third-country courts for torts such as land and water usurpation.
Since a law passed by Congress in the 1990s forbids the US from funding UN bodies that recognize Palestine, the Obama administration has no choice but to withdraw the $80 million a year it gives UNESCO, which is a fifth of the agency’s budget. But what this step really means is that the US loses influence over UNESCO, and indeed, it might well lose its membership in the organization. UNESCO may have to close some offices and lose employees. Or someone else, such as Saudi Arabia or China, might pick up the $80 million, gaining influence over UNESCO at US expense.
If the move becomes common, the US could end up further and further isolated and helpless. What if the International Atomic Energy Agency recognizes Palestine as a member? If the US cuts it off, it loses a key arena within which it has been pressuring Iran over its nuclear enrichment program. And so on and so forth.
The overwhelming influence in the US Congress of the Israel lobbies (including those of the Christian Zionists) are leading the US down a path of increasing international isolation and weakness. The US vote against Palestine is the headline on the Arab satellite television news programs, and even in India and Russia it is a vote that makes the US look like an ogre.
The UNESCO vote was 107 for, 14 against, and 52 abstentions; 14 were absent. The vote had to be won by a two-thirds majority of states voting “yes” or “no.” Thus, to abstain in this situation was more or less to help the Palestinians win.
That voting pattern, in turn, reveals the shape of US influence in the world. The vote was not simply the West versus the Rest. Although Latin America, Africa and Asia strongly supported Palestinian membership, so too in the end did France. And Britain and Italy abstained rather than voting against. The rising BRIC bloc, of Brazil, Russia, India, and China all voted for. There appear only to be about 14 pro-Zionist countries left in the world, 12 beyond the United States and Israel itself.
The Israeli ambassador to UNESCO called the vote “science fiction,” since, he said, it recognized an imaginary state. The old Israeli inability to see the 11 million-strong Palestinian people as a nation-state, which once led Israeli consuls in the US to promote letter-writing campaigns against US newspapers that even used the word “Palestinian” in their stories, is obviously still intact.
More important, UNESCO recognition of Palestinian cultural monuments as world heritage sites could well complicate the slow Israeli theft of Palestinian territory on the West Bank and in and around Jerusalem. That usurpation of land and resources is made possible because the Israelis engineered the statelessness, i.e. the national homelessness, of the Palestinians.
Palestine had been scheduled by the League of Nations for statehood, as a Class A Mandate, and as late as 1939 the British government was pledging a Palestinian state within a decade. The ethnic cleansing campaign of militant members of the Yishuv in Palestine and then by Israelis led to the expulsion of 700,000 or so Palestinians from their homes. But they didn’t just become refugees, losing all their property. They became stateless. Statehood is the right to have rights. Palestinians not only have no rights, they don’t have the right to have them. That is why the Israeli pledges to them in the Oslo peace process could be reneged on so easily. Palestinians are the nobodies of the Levant, the non-entities, the marks and fall guys.
The vote demonstrates again the sea change that has taken place in the international community regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I believe that there are several reasons for this change:
1. Everyone can see that the Israeli government of PM Yitzhak Rabin made undertakings to the Palestinians as part of the Oslo peace accords, such as withdrawal from the West Bank, on which the Israelis reneged.
2. The Israeli attack on Lebanon in 2006 made it look like a reckless bully.
3. The Israeli blockade of basic necessities for Palestinian non-combatants and children in the Gaza Strip from 2007 made the Israelis look heartless.
4. The Israeli attack on little Gaza in 2008-2009, where 40 percent of the population is camp-dwelling refugees whose families were expelled from what is now Israel in 1947-1948, made Israel look like a reckless bully.
5. The Israeli attack on the Turkish aid ship the Mavi Marmara on May 31, 2010, in which commandos killed 9 persons, one an American citizen, made Israel look like a reckless bully.
6. Constant Israeli announcements of expanded settlements on Palestinian territory are widely seen as breaking international law, as well as a form of theft.
Disgust with these Israeli policies of continually victimizing the Palestinians is so widespread and deep that even Germany has just threatened to cancel the delivery to Israel of a submarine because of the announcement of settlements in Arab east Jerusalem. Germany, for understandable historical reasons, almost never criticizes Israel. But the Likud attempt to expel Palestinians from their long-time homes in Jerusalem has pushed even Berlin to criticize the policy publicly.
It isn’t just the world community that is dismayed at the setting in of long-term Israeli Apartheid. Even the widow of Israeli war hero Moshe Dayan now laments,
“I’m a peacemaker, but the current Israeli government does not know how to make peace. We move from war to war, and this will never stop. I think Zionism has run its course.”…
“Today we use foreign labor to work in Israel because Palestinians are not allowed. And this continuous expansion of the settlements everywhere-—I cannot accept it. I cannot tolerate this deterioration in the territories and the roadblocks everywhere. And that horrible wall! It’s not right.”
Aljazeera English reports on the UNESCO vote:
As might be expected in a country that never had real election results before, has no majority party and has some electoral disputes, Tunisia’s future is almost as confused now as it was on Friday, if not more so. This is a wonderful thing to see in the Arab world. I continue to urge you to follow events here (if you read only English: French and Arabic speakers can go straight to the Tunisian press) between my own posts.
“… The twin explosions, which took place at an intersection in the Shiite majority Ur neighborhood in northeast Baghdad, were spaced 10 minutes apart, a familiar pattern intended to maximize civilian casualties…”
Tunisia’s election outcome gives 41% to the Muslim fundamentalist party Al-Nahda. One of the other two winners is the Rally for the Republic– of long-time political exile Moncef al-Marzouqi. Then the third major party is al-Takattul or the Democratic Forum for Labor and Freedoms, headed by Mustapha Ben Jaafar.
The latter two mentioned are secular, and al-Nahda needs these secular allies to run the government, not to mention achieve a majority. The al-Nahda fundamentalist party, moreover, told me last June that they want a pluralist system that makes a place for believing Muslims, but that they will not dictatorially impose policies on one another. I asked about liquor and they admitted that they would try to discourage drinking. But they said they would do so by increasing taxes on alcohol, just as governments have done with smoking.
If the al-Nahda semi-victory (they did not get the majority and so did not ‘win’ in the American sense) contributes to an opening up of Tunisia to a variety of styles of life, if it makes Tunisia more multi-cultural, then that would be all to the good. There is an admitted danger that al-Nahda will try to limit freedom of speech. Tunisia is now the only Arab country without print censorship, and you wonder if that will last. Marzouqi and al-Takattul bear a special responsibility for keeping Tunisia free.E
The French newspaper Le Monde pointed out that this pluralist outcome is far superior to what happened in Algeria in fall, 1991, when the Islamic Salvation Front won 66% of seats in parliament, allowing them to tinker with the constitution. The secular Algerian military intervened to stop what they saw as a Muslim fundamentalist juggernaut, and they dissolved parliament. Angry Algerians then threw the country into a civil war that lasted some 15 years and generated over 100,000 deaths. The compromising, less rigid stance of the Tunisians is likely to allow them to avoid that kind of conflict.