Category Archives: Egypt

Barack Obama: “Turns Out I’m Really Good At Killing People”

In Obama’s Unending Wars, Kuzmarov has brought together many telling proofs, nuggets, of just how horrible the world is, and just how responsible the US and its henchmen around the world are. A kind of who-does-it. Kuzmarov is that rare analyst (Belen Fernandez is another) who respects footnotes, leaving fascinating bits there that would otherwise detract from his focus.

Standing out in my mind after reading OUW is the power that China has matured into in the past three decades, the US more and more resentful and frightened by it. Russia also has reclaimed much of its international clout, abandoned by Yeltsin, retrieved and nurtured by Putin, again infuriating the US. Other developed countries play almost no part in OUW, as if passive spectators of the geopolitical battles now being fought, as if they don’t even exist.

But as a Canadian, that makes perfect sense. Canada long ago lost any respect internationally, respect it once merited during and immediately after WWII, the only ‘good war’ the world has ever seen, fought courageously by ‘good guys’ against ‘bad guys’. We are living in a grey fog ever since. OUW is a fine lighthouse piercing through it.

 

Uncle Sam = Great Satan

That brings me to the other impression Kuzmarov’s book leaves: a mourning for the once well-meaning Uncle Sam, under the last great US president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who presided over a quasi-socialist experiment, the only way to extract the US from its capitalist hell, and who made friends with everyone, except the ‘bad guys’ Hitler and Tojo. Sadly FDR died before he could cement his vision of a peaceful world order, where the US was not the world policeman fighting pretty well the rest of the world, able to cow most countries, and making enemies of those who insisted on independence.

Kuzmarov mentions FDR only as author of the ‘Good Neighbor Policy’ towards Latin America, basically cancelling the Monroe Doctrine. It was a mixed bag, with FDR’s acceptance of Nicaragua caudillo Samoza as ‘our son of a bitch’, but even in admitting that shameful act, FDR underlines his distaste for realpolitik. FDR was fighting an already ravenous US imperialist elite, who openly supported Hitler, who had, since the invasion of Philippines in 1898, been invading, occupying, setting up puppet regimes increasingly, especially in Central America.

But FDR is the antithesis of Obama. It is Wilson who is the role model for Obama. An intellectual president with an elegant plan, a mission, to bring the world to heel in the name of American principles, and anyone in the way — beware!

There are so many facts marshalled, it is hard to keep focused. Halfway through, the name Crown caught my eye, a recurring motif. Already on p. 20, we learn that one of Obama’s primary financial sponsors was Henry Crown & Company, which owns 20% of General Dynamics (GD), manufacturer of the Trident rocket, Stryker troop carrier, bunker buster bombs, LAV-25 amphibious armored vehicle, Abrams tank, nuclear subs, naval destroyers … During Obama’s presidency, General Dynamics bought out 11 firms specializing in satellites, geospatial intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, working for 16 intelligence agencies (how many are there!) after investing $10m per year in lobbying. Then it gets interesting. GD got caught lying to the government, but — what, me worry? — paid a $4m ‘fine’ and the same year (2016) tripled its profits over 2000.

There are many Crowns. Their dynasty began as Material Services Corporation, one of the government’s largest WWII contractors (sued for $1m for price-gouging). Rechristened GD by 1962, it was awarded a $7b Pentagon contract for bombers (influence peddling investigation quashed). James Crown told the New York Times that his father was ‘fairly hawkish about Israel’s security,’ and felt Obama was ‘terrific on Israel.’ Lester told the Chicago Jewish News that the two-state solution was fine if ‘you will have a demilitarized, peaceful Palestinian entity.’ Ha! Not a ‘state’. Hey, did Lester help Jared Kushner write his ‘deal of the century’?

Obama’s legacy is clear. He is a good provider. He is just not interested in corruption. The imperial gravy train is full speed ahead. It is now an ‘intelligence’ government, with shadowy private corporations increasingly doing the imperial dirty work, leaving the real ‘bad guys’ looking cultured, too smart to be nasties. Bush-Cheney have their Blackwater (rechristened Xe now Academi). Obama told CIA director Leon Panetta the CIA would ‘get everything it wanted.’ The NYT reported that ‘in the 67 years since the CIA was founded, few presidents have had as close a bond with their intelligence chiefs as Mr. Obama with Mr. Brennan’ (architect of the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program).

It certainly looks, now, that Trump has boxed himself in everywhere he has tried to be original: Iran, Venezuela, Russia, Afghanistan, Syria… But Obama put the finishing touches on the box. Kuzmarov makes it clear that all of those Trump ‘initiatives’ — economic war against Iran, Venezuela, and Russia, negotiations with the Taliban, US troops in Syria (uninvited) — were all in Obama’s game plan.

Obama promised ‘we can’. We all pointed to his vote against the Iraq invasion in 2003, his Nobel Peace prize, misunderstanding his ‘no stupid war’ for ‘no war’. Obama saw himself as the ‘smart war’ guy. After all he is ‘black’, so he can’t possibly be an agent of US white-man imperialism; he’s so much smarter than stupid Bush with his ‘stupid war’.

Handbook

Reading Kuzmarov is like reading a speeded-up survey of the past decade, with the same scenarios repeated: something smacks of people power, the US nurtures instability (take your pick, Nicaragua, Burkina Faso …), leading to a collapse of authority, growth of insurgents, ‘invite’ in US troops, make sure your new puppet is secure. But that could be Haiti, or Chad, or Syria.

It’s hard to keep on top of all the machinations in the world, so you can see OUW as a handbook, focus on the gaps in your knowledge. I found Yemen especially instructive. The Houthi only recently formed as a force, harking back to the pre-colonial Zaydeh clan that ruled in the north prior to the outbreak of civil war in the 1960s (i.e., they have street creds).

By 2013, the Houthi were part of a larger coalition that included deposed dictator Saleh and his loyalists, various tribal militias and most military and public sector workers, who were protesting the corruption and poor living standards under the post-2011 (unelected) Saudi-approved Mansour Hadi. The Pentagon had a working relationship with the Houthi in the fight against al-Qaeda (i.e., they’re okay). But Obama and now Trump refuse to work with them, supporting the Saudi sponsor, which has meant the resurgence of al-Qaeda in southern Yemen and the worst humanitarian crisis going.

The US-led Saudi coalition against the Houthi recruited al-Qaeda to fight the Houthi (haven’t we heard that before? Afghanistan 1980s?). Shia are immune to the al-Qaeda virus, which was spawned by the Saudi Wahhabi sect. So if the US is serious about fighting al-Qaeda, ISIS, et al, its natural ally is not Saudi Arabia but Iran.

Did ‘smart’ Obama see that? Is that why he persisted in trying to bring Iran back into the international community, to work with it to really, really defeat the Islamic terrorists?

In Obama’s defense, he did a few brave, principled things:

*He carried through on the START talks and treaty with Russia

*He supported negotiations with Iran and even coughed up $400m to settle a pre-1979 contract for arms to the Shah which were never delivered

*He (sort of) normalized relations with Cuba

*He pardoned hundreds of prisoners who had been caught in Clinton’s ‘three-strikes’ sentencing bill

*He pardoned Chelsea Manning (but went after Snowden and Assange with a vengeance)

*He voted to abstain on a UN condemnation of Israeli settlements

*He was mixed on the environment, encouraging fracking, but cancelling the pipeline through Standing Rock (though not for long).

It is important to remember this in assessing his legacy. Just painting Obama ‘black’ doesn’t leave much room for analysis. My own views on Obama are mixed. He was not just a puppet, though his good initiatives were few and timid. Power certainly corrupted him, as it did his earlier JFK heirs, Bill and Hillary, who likewise moved from (disavowed) student radicalism to outright channelers of Cecil Rhodes.

Kuzmarov mentions Bill Ayers as a friend of Obama. But Ayers, a former leader of the Weather Underground, lost his illusions about Obama after he was elected. In 2013, he told USA Today:

Every president in this century should be put on trial … for war crimes. Every one of them goes into office — an office dripping with blood — and then adds to it. And, yes, I think that these are war crimes. I think that they’re acts of terror. [Then:] He is a curious man who does a lot of reading. He’s a really good guy.

Don’t believe everything you read or that people are quoted as saying. I suspect Ayers was just playing to the mainstream audience. No point in signing your own death warrant for USA Today.

Which brings me to the unanswered question: Yes, Obama is slick, articulate, clever, well read. Not very funny, despite the cheery smile. But does he believe the things he spouts? Even half or one tenth? As I read his mellifluous words in OUW, I conjured up Obama’s schoolmarmish, mechanical, measured baritone, exhorting us to listen up:

As someone who stands here as a direct consequence of Dr. King’s life work, I am living testimony to the moral force of non-violence… I cannot be guided by [Gandhi and King’s] examples alone. I face the world as it is. … To say that force may someday be necessary is not a call to cynicism — it is a recognition of history, the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.*

In his Nobel Peace prize lecture, he recalls winner Wilson (1919) who “led the world in constructing an architecture to keep the peace: a Marshall Plan and United Nations, mechanisms to govern the waging of war, treaties to protect human rights, prevent genocide, restrict the most dangerous weapons.”

One-tenth? He did go to Hiroshima (the first sitting US president), though he was careful not to mention who did what there.

As I read, I would pause from time to time to daydream ‘what if…?’

This is Kuzmarov’s last chapter ‘Seeking a better way to live’, and it is not just platitudes. ‘I know why I don’t want the empire. There are better ways to live and better ways to die.’** And there are Americans who understand that. In The Demilitarized Society: Disarmament and Conversion (1988), Seymour Melman criticized the peace movement for not developing and promoting a long term program for converting the US into an economy of peace.

Speaker of the House Jim Wright (D-TX), once a hawk, convened a meeting of members who had proposed economic conversion legislation to switch the US economy from the Vietnam-era killing machine into … whatever. But Newt Gingrich (Lockheed Martin in his constituency) targeted him in a political witch-hunt, and the plan died. Just as the Soviet Union was collapsing, when there were no enemies (phantom or otherwise), Newt drowned out any further discussion of economic conversion. A historic opportunity had been destroyed.

There are good American politicians! But what about the 1.3m American soldiers? What do they do, every day, day after day? Polish boots, terrorize Afghans, terrorize terrorists, play video war games, drink beer, counting the days till their leave from whatever hell-hole they’re in? Surely there are better ways to live and die.

There are so many horrible things the US does, that if it didn’t, the whole world (including the US) would benefit. Standing up to Saudi Arabia and Israel, letting alone good guys like Maduro. Making peace with Russia and Iran (Obama at least tried with the latter). The world wouldn’t hate the US if it let up a bit on the jingoism, the killing. Why can’t an American president do good anymore, like FDR? Or Lincoln?

The latter gives a hint. Doing the right thing often results in assassination in the US. After JFK, RFK, MLK and Malcolm X, the likelihood of a truly progressive (like Obama’s youthful friend Bill Ayers) is almost zero, and if s/he strays a bit too far from the script, BANG!

My sore spot

I have only one dispute with this stimulating, instructive and highly readable survey of imperialism. Kuzmarov dismisses the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood as the empire’s choice in 2012. That is not true. They were/are in no one’s back pocket — US or Saudi. They have been victimized from both sides.

Kuzmarov notes that they refused to join the US-led campaign to overthrow Assad, upsetting Obama, though logically they should have. The Syrian MB was slaughtered in 1980 when they starting a violent uprising, inspired by the (peaceful) Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979. Morsi said little about them, instead extending a hand to Iran, the first Egyptian president to visit Tehran (for the Non-Aligned Movement conference). Only in June 2013, with the coup in the air, did Morsi call for an international campaign to overthrow Assad. Kuzmarov rightly states this was pretty tame stuff, and that Obama was hoping for more, a replay of the 1980s in Afghanistan.

But 2013 was not 1980. And even this limp support for overthrowing a leader and his army was too much for the Egyptian army, which was/is rooting for Assad, fearing their MB. Take my word. Morsi is right up there with Lenin and Khomeini, defending the revolution.

* ‘The World Beyond Iraq’, Fayetville, North Carolina, March 19, 2008.

** William Appleman Williams, Empire as a Way of Life, Oxford University Press, 1980. p266.

Morsi Died, or was Murdered, while Reciting a Patriotic Poem in a Cage

Former President of Egypt, Mohamed Morsi, had finished his 15-minute discourse in a courtroom, while being locked inside a sound-proofed cage. He read a poem about his love for Egypt, and then collapsed, and died.

His demise sent shock-waves all over Egypt, the region and the Muslim world.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan refused to accept the official story, claiming that the former Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi “did not die, he was murdered”.

More came from different corners of the world. According to Reuters:

A British member of Parliament, Crispin Blunt, who had led a delegation of UK lawmakers and lawyers last year in putting out a report on Mursi’s detention, slammed the conditions of Mursi’s incarceration.

We want to understand whether there was any change in his conditions since we reported in March 2018, and if he continued to be held in the conditions we found, then I’m afraid the Egyptian government are likely to be responsible for his premature death,” he said in remarks to the BBC.

Human rights organizations, heads of state, as well as the common citizens of Egypt, were outraged by the demise of Mohamed Morsi (also spelt as Mursi), a former Egyptian leader who governed the nation after winning the first democratic elections in the modern history of the country in 2012, just a year after the brutal pro-Western dictator, Hosni Mubarak, was deposed in 2011.

Mr. Morsi was overthrown in 2013, in a violent military coup just one year after he was sworn into the highest office.

*****

Let’s be clear: Mohamed Morsi was not a ‘good president’. In fact, he was not supposed to be a president at all: the original candidate from his party was disqualified from the elections on a technicality, and Mr. Morsi was asked to take his place. And he won, by a small margin.

He made some serious errors, politically, economically and socially.

He flooded tunnels between Gaza and Sinai.

And under his leadership, more than 40 people died during the violence in Port Said.

Frightening streets of Port Said at night

When he felt threatened, he used to give orders to fire poisonous gasses at the protesters.

But he was not a murderer. And in ‘modern’ Egypt, that was quite an achievement.

He tried to improve the dire situation in his country, but he kept failing.

On the other hand, he separated his government from the gangrenous military embrace. The western-sponsored Egyptian military has been managing to infiltrate everything (under Mubarak’s rule as well as now), fully controlling all aspects of the Egyptian state.

Mr. Morsi tried to please everyone in the terribly divided Egyptian society. But in the end, nobody was satisfied.

Hard-liners in his Muslim Brotherhood hated him for not being radical enough. The anti-religious Left despised him for not pushing harder for social reforms, and for a secular state. He was both obeying the US and the IMF, while at the same time alienating them.

In the end, he appeared like an uncertain, confused and weak man.

*****

In 2012 and 2013, my friends, my left-wing comrades, were battling police in front of the Presidential Palace in Cairo. I was there, with them, filming, face covered with water-soaked rags in order to at least somehow protect myself from the highly poisonous teargas.

In those days, no one seemed to like Morsi.

The rallying cry during the anti-Morsi protests was:

We sing to those who deserve to die;
Morsi-Morsi-Morsi!

Protesters could not have known that 7 years later, their prophecy would come through.

After the military overthrew the democratically elected government (on 3 July 2013), massacres began. Officially hundreds, but most likely thousands of people lost their lives. Tens of thousands were arrested, disappeared, tortured, raped, and exiled.

Members of the Muslim Brotherhood were liquidated (soon after the coup it became a banned organization), but also various left-wing organizations and individuals, as well as all those people who were against the corrupt right-wing military and its dictatorship.

Protesting disappearance of activist in 2013

Several of my friends had to leave the country. Others are still in prison. Or in hiding.

Former dictator, Western puppet and assassin Hosni Mubarak, is now a free man again. He is 91 years old.

67-year-old Mohamed Morsi is dead.

*****

During the Morsi era, as well as during and after the 2013 coup, I was working in Egypt, making a documentary film for the Venezuelan television channel Telesur (“Egipto – El Fin de Una Revolucion” – “Egypt, End of the Revolution”).

First, I investigated and wrote about the crimes committed during the reign of President Morsi in the city of Port Said: “Notes from a Besieged City

And then, I was right there, in the middle of the battles, when the Egyptian military overthrew Morsi’s government and began liquidating both the Muslim Brotherhood, and the Egyptian left wing. I described the events in my essays “Egypt End of Hope” and “Egypt in the Eye of the Storm“. Many more essays from Egypt were then compiled in my book Exposing Lies of The Empire.

Once, while filming after the coup, I found myself facing 5 talks, all pointing their cannons at me. How I survived, I am not sure. Others did not. By the time I finished collecting footage for my film, my body was covered by scars and bruises.

From among those individuals who used to work with me on the film, and from those who used to protest against then President Morsi, there is hardly anyone now who would support the current rule of pro-Western military junta.

Rallies in 2012 and 2013 were all about improving Egypt; about forcing Morsi to deliver what millions of mostly young Egyptians hoped would be a just, secular and socialist society. Morsi was expected to deliver, or to resign, giving way to a better, more ‘progressive’ leader.

Adore your military

What came instead was a coup, a return of the fascist clique of Mubarak, supported by the US, Europe and Israel.

Looking back, I believe that Mohamed Morsi was a decent human being, but at the same time a bad, untalented, naive and confused ruler. That was still much, much better than what was before and after him.

*****

In her opinion piece for the New York Times, the Egyptian author Mona Eltahawy wrote about the demise of Mohamad Morsi:

…He always looked like a man caught up in something much bigger than him. That he died in an Egyptian courtroom inside a soundproof cage designed to silence him, almost exactly six years to the day he took office and almost completely forgotten by all but his family and human rights activists, is a reminder of the bathos that surrounded him.

Then, Ms. Eltahawy put his death into the context of the present-day Egypt:

Decimated as it is, however, the Muslim Brotherhood is unlikely to be able to pull off mass protests in Egypt, where protests became all but impossible under a draconian law passed soon after Mr. el-Sisi came to power. This, too, is what Mr. el-Sisi has achieved: From July 2013, when Mr. Morsi was overthrown, and January 2016, when the Egyptian parliament reconvened, between 16,000 and 41,000 people, most supporters of the now-banned Muslim Brotherhood, were reportedly arrested or detained (Some were liberal or secular activists). Since then, a spike in death sentences and executions, extrajudicial killings, forced disappearances and a determined effort to wipe out any form of dissent have all but crushed the Brotherhood, as well as most other forms of opposition. Muslim Brotherhood supporters are insisting that Mr. Morsi be eulogized as a martyr at the same time that many state-owned media are reporting on his death without even mentioning that he was once president.

Frankly speaking, the era of Morsi feels like the only period in modern Egyptian history, when ‘everything was possible’, and when one was at least allowed to dream and to fight for a much better future. Yes, of course, the fight was taking place through teargas, and people got injured, some even killed. But they dared, they were not broken and humiliated like now.

After the coup in Alexandria they wanted Morsi back

The so-called ‘Arab Spring’ was manipulated, and most likely ‘created’ by the West. But in 2011 to 2013, there was also a parallel, independent, left-wing upsurge of anti-establishment, anti-capitalist and anti-military movements. There was a struggle, and Egypt could have gone in any direction.

I will never forget that year; “the year of Morsi”. We were risking our lives, often suffering direct physical assaults. Different political factions were at each other throats. Steam was out. Passions were boiling. Nothing was certain, everything possible.

That year, while making my film, I was with a group of socialist doctors; true Marxists. They did not doubt that Egypt could go socialist, if they fought harder. I also worked with Wassim Wagdy, one of the leaders of Revolutionary Socialist Organization.

And then, everything collapsed, literally overnight. 3 July 2013.

Egyptian-upper-class-family

When did I realize that everything was over? It happened in Heliopolis – in a affluent suburb of Cairo – in a park. Hundreds of rich families went to celebrate the coup, wearing T-shirts depicting el-Sisi and his cronies. It looked like some historic photos from 9-11-1973 – from the days when the coup perpetrated by General Pinochet against President Allende in Chile. It was different, of course, it was; but it looked the same. US-sponsored coups always look the same. And so do the faces of the elites that support them!

I read about the demise of Morsi onboard MEA, from Istanbul to Beirut. I felt immense sadness. I did not know why, precisely. Certainly, it was not for Mr. Morsi’s reign. But most likely it was for that time, for that hope that was now totally choked and abandoned. For the days when ‘everything was possible’; when people were ready and willing to fight for their country.

Battles after the coup

Egypt is a ‘failed’ state now. Scared, frustrated, poor and totally corrupt. A state that is devouring its own people.

When I go to one of countless slums of Cairo these days, people look at me with open hate. They see me as a foreigner, as someone who helped to throw them back to hopelessness and misery. Of course, they don’t know that several years ago I fought for them, at least as a filmmaker, side-by-side with their nation’s socialist vanguard.

I also feel sadness for Morsi the man, if not Morsi the president. I somehow sense that the patriotic poem that he read before collapsing and dying, came straight from his heart.

In one single year when he governed, he did his best. His best was not good enough. He failed.

But he did not deserve to die like this, muzzled and humiliated, in a cage!

He deserved better. And his country, Egypt, deserves much, much better, damn it!

• First published by NEO – New Eastern Outlook

• All photos by Andre Vltchek

Morsi’s Legacy: Unlikely Democrat, Reluctant Martyr

Morsi surrounded by his minders

Mohamed Morsi (1951–2019) was the fifth President of Egypt (30 June 2012 to 3 July 2013), deposed by General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in a coup d’état July 3, 2013. In his last words, Morsi accused the government of “assassinating” him through years of poor prison conditions.

Morsi is survived by his wife Naglaa Ali Mahmoud (not “First Lady” but rather “First Servant of the Egyptian people”). Morsi had five children, two are US citizens born in California. His body was quickly buried without an inquest. His wish that he be buried in his hometown Adwa was denied.

Human Rights Watch official Sarah Leah Whitson said Morsi’s treatment in prison was “horrific, and those responsible should be investigated and appropriately prosecuted.” The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, called for a “prompt, impartial, thorough and transparent investigation” into Morsi’s death. Among major world leaders only Turkey, Jordan, Iran, Malaysia and Qatar expressed regret at his death.

Morsi’s legacy is mixed. An engineer who studied at the University of Southern California, he was an unlikely figure to be thrust onto Egypt’s central stage, not a major thinker in the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), without any political experience. He was an unconvincing second choice for the MB as presidential candidate, a bumbler, a poor speaker, but brave and principled.

The charismatic, millionaire businessman Khairat El-Shater, a major financier and chief strategist of the Brotherhood, was disqualified at the last minute based on previous trumped up convictions, and Morsi was only allowed a few hours before the deadline to register. He was vilified by hysterical secular westernizers, and undermined by a campaign of lawlessness and planned shortages, but was popular to the end among devout Muslims. The media and the elite were against him and drowned out the Muslim wisdom not to overthrow a ruler as long as you are “not commanded to disobey Allah. If he is commanded to disobey, then there is no listening or obedience.” Ibn Omar (Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī 2796).

The MB, like Iran’s Islamic order, doesn’t fit into western secular thinking. The MB supported the mujahideen in Afghanistan. But they are not the Taliban, they never supported al-Qaeda. They are more in line with Turkey’s Islamists. Or Iran’s Islamists.

A few key moments:

*On 19 October 2012, Morsi traveled to Egypt’s northwestern Matrouh in his first official visit to deliver a speech on Egyptian unity at el-Tenaim Mosque. Immediately prior to his speech he participated in prayers there where he openly mouthed “Amen” as cleric Futouh Abd Al-Nabi Mansour, the local head of religious endowment, declared, “Deal with the Jews and their supporters. Oh Allah, disperse them, rend them asunder. Oh Allah, demonstrate Your might and greatness upon them. Show us Your omnipotence, oh Lord.” The prayers were broadcast on Egyptian state television and translated and posted by MEMRI, a Zionist media watchdog.

*On 22 November 2012, Morsi issued a declaration which intended to protect the work of the Constituent Assembly drafting the new constitution from judicial interference, until a new constitution is ratified in a referendum. This was blown up as an Islamist coup, but in fact Morsi was just trying to get around the Supreme Court, stacked with anti-MB judges, who would declare the MB’s programs and new constitution as … unconstitutional? Whatever. In the referendum to ratify the new constitution, it was approved by approximately two-thirds of voters.

*The declaration also required a retrial of those accused in the Mubarak-era killings of protesters, who had been acquitted. Additionally, the declaration authorized Morsi to take any measures necessary to protect the revolution.

*Morsi strengthened ties with Iran following years of animosity since the Iranian revolution in 1979. However, his actions were met with Sunni Muslim opposition both inside and outside of Egypt.

*He spoke out for the rights of Christians and emphasized that Islam requires there to be an ethical component in economic affairs to ensure that the poor share in society’s wealth.

Fatal mistake

Like Erdogan, in the heady days after the 2011 uprisings in the Arab world, Morsi got swept up into Islamic revolutionary fever, calling for the overthrow of the (Alawite) “infidels”, a kind of belated revenge for the slaughter of the Syrian MB by Hafez Assad in 1980. But then, just about everyone was (and still is) supporting the Syrian opposition, from Obama to most Sunnis, soon-to-be-ISIS, and leftists.

The last straw for the military was when Morsi attended an Islamist rally on 15 June 2013, where Salafi clerics called for jihad in Syria and denounced supporters of Bashar al-Assad as infidels. Morsi announced that his government had expelled Syria’s ambassador and closed the Syrian embassy in Cairo, calling for international intervention on behalf of the opposition forces and establishment of a no-fly zone.

Morsi’s attendance at the rally was later revealed to be a major factor in the army’s decision to side with anti-Morsi protesters during the June 30 anti-Morsi protests. In November 2012, the National Salvation Front (NSF) had suddenly appeared, and overnight, a nationwide petition was signed by 22m Egyptians calling for Morsi’s immediate resignation.

Is it possible Morsi might have survived if he hadn’t broken relations with Syria and called for jihad? The Egyptian military looked at Syria and saw their own future. The Syria army was battling to hold the country together in the face of a dubious coalition of Islamists with lots of support from Saudi Arabia and the US. They decided they had to overthrow their own Brotherhood before it took them on and ended their privileged hegemony. The Egyptian military is trained and equipped by the US. Egypt runs on Saudi dollars. Best to keep the US and Saudis on your side and the message by then was ‘Dump the Brotherhood’.

We will never know, but the plan from the start clearly was for the all-powerful military to give the Brotherhood some rope, and then take charge and hang them (metaphorically and literally) if they actually tried to govern, counting on the vengefulness of the old guard and the screaming liberals if the MB pushed too hard. The liberals were weak, and could be conned into supporting a coup, and then easily brought to heel with a few arrests and massacres.

This power politics isn’t confined to the Arab world. Iran and Venezuela are both targets of western-backed campaigns to destroy any attempt, Islamic or socialist, to escape the clutches of the US empire. Trump welcomed Sisi to the White House in April 2019, after Sisi declared himself president for life (in a referendum which he won with 88.3% approval). Trump: “We’ve never had a better relationship, Egypt and the United States, than we do right now. I think he’s doing a great job.” After the meeting, Trump pushed for the US to designate the Brotherhood as a terrorist organization.

Overthrowing rulers

Just as Erdogan came to regret his betrayal of Assad (and barely survived a coup in 2016), so Morsi and the entire MB can only regret flirting with militant jihad abroad, from the 1980s on. Even if Assad is an Alawite and you don’t approve of that sect of Islam, you don’t overthrow him as long as he doesn’t commanded you “to disobey Allah”.

But then, 30 years ago it was official Egyptian and US policy to encourage Islamists from Egypt to go to fight in Afghanistan. And the campaign against Assad was/is almost unanimous in the West. So again, I sympathize with bad judgment by the MB.

MB spokesman Dardery said, “The nation elected Morsy to a four-year term and should stand by that. To do otherwise would disrupt the country’s nascent democracy. It is not fair to a democracy.” Lesson from Iran and Syria: If you’re going to have an Islamic revolution, make sure the people and army are on your side.

El-Sisi’s legacy

Sisi clearly models himself on Egypt’s 19th dictator-pasha Muhammad Ali. The parallel is stark between Sisi’s slaughter of thousands of Muslims, and Muhammad Ali’s clever invitation of all his Mameluke rivals to his citadel in 1811. He invited them to the centre of power and proceeded to slaughter a thousand of them to consolidate his rule. Invite your foes into the open and then murder them.

A legend of the pasha was that he had 300,000 street children rounded up and shipped to Aswan where they were taught skills and became assets to his construction of a new Egypt. Sisi launched just such a program “Homeless Children” in May 2017, planning to gather up street waifs and whisk them to an army camp for training.

Then there’s the new Aswan Dam, criticized as a white elephant, even as Egypt hovers on the brink of bankruptcy. (Along with it is a scaled-down version of the MB’s proposed industrial corridor along the Nile.) This nostalgia for the past is perhaps an attempt at taking the wind out of the sails of ISIS, the actual Muslim terrorists, yearning for the caliphate, but is just as misguided.

By attempting to destroy the MB, the legitimate Islamists, Sisi gives fuel to the ISIS fires. That was what the MB could have tackled, not a secular dictator persecuting devout Muslims. On the contrary, terrorism has increased dramatically since 2013, with at least 500 deaths.

The Ministry of Education have decreed that the revolution of January 25, 2011, and the uprising on June 30, 2013 will no longer be mentioned in high school history textbooks. The ‘Arab Spring’ didn’t happen.

President Morsi is dead, assassinated. El-Khater and other MB leaders are on death row. Sisi is dictator for life.

The end of history? Hardly. As for Morsi, he enters the realm of legend, a kind of foil for bin Laden, as a true martyr to Islam.

Is Leaked Document Trump’s “Deal of the Century”?

A report published this week by the Israel Hayom newspaper apparently leaking details of Donald Trump’s “deal of the century” reads like the kind of peace plan that might be put together by an estate agent or car salesman.

But while the authenticity of the document is unproven and indeed contested, there are serious grounds for believing it paves the direction of any future declaration by the Trump administration.

Not least, it is a synthesis of most of the Israeli right’s ambitions for the creation of a Greater Israel, with a few sops to the Palestinians – most of them related to partially relieving Israel’s economic strangulation of the Palestinian economy.

This is exactly what Jared Kushner told us the “deal of the century” would look like in his preview last month.

Also significant is the outlet that published the leak: Israel Hayom. The Israeli newspaper is owned by Sheldon Adelson, a US casino billionaire who is one of the Republican party’s chief donors and was a major contributor to Trump’s presidential election campaign funds.

Adelson is also a stalwart ally of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. His newspaper has served as little more than a mouthpiece for Netanyahu’s ultra-nationalist governments over the past decade.

Netanyahu behind leak?

Adelson and Israel Hayom have ready access to key figures in both the US and Israeli administrations. And it has been widely reported that little of significance gets into print there unless it has first been approved by Netanyahu or its overseas owner.

The newspaper questioned the authenticity and credibility of the document, which has spread across social media platforms, even suggesting “it is quite possible the document is fake” and that the Israeli foriegn ministry was looking into it.

The White House had already indicated that, after long delays, it intended to finally unveil the “deal of the century” next month, after the holy Muslim month of Ramadan finishes.

An unnamed White House official told the paper the leak was “speculative” and “inaccurate” – the kind of lacklustre denial that might equally mean the report is, in fact, largely accurate.

If the document is genuine, Netanyahu looks to be the most likely culprit behind the leak. He has overseen the foreign ministry for years and Israel Hayom is widely referred to by Israelis as “Bibiton”, or Bibi’s newspaper, employing the prime minister’s nickname.

Testing the waters

The alleged document, as published in Israel Hayom, would be catastrophically bad for the Palestinians. Assuming Netanyahu approved the document’s leaking, his motives might not be too difficult to discern.

On one view, leaking it might be an effective way for Netanyahu and the Trump administration to test the waters, to fly a trial balloon to see whether they dare publish the document as it is, or need to make modifications.

But another possibility is that Netanyahu may have concluded that there could be an unwelcome price in publicly achieving most of what he is already gaining by stealth – a price he may prefer to avoid for the time being.

Is the leak designed to foment pre-emptive opposition to the plan, both from within Israel and from the Palestinians and the Arab world, in the hope of stymieing its release?

The hope may be that the leak, and the reaction it elicits, forces Trump’s Middle East team to postpone yet again the plan’s publication, or even foils its release entirely.

Nonetheless, whether or not the “deal of the century” is unveiled soon, the leaked document – if true – offers a plausible glimpse into the Trump administration’s thinking.

Given that Trump’s Middle East team appear to have begun implementing the plan over the past 18 months even without its publication – from moving the US embassy to Jerusalem to the recognition of Israel’s illegal annexation of the Syrian Golan Heights – the leak helps to shed light on how a US-Israeli “resolution” of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is likely to unfold.

Annexing the West Bank

The proposed Palestinian entity would be named “New Palestine” – apparently taking a page out of the playbook of Tony Blair, a Britain’s former prime minister who became the international community’s Middle East envoy from 2007 to 2015.

Back in the 1990s, Blair filleted his own political party, Labour, of its socialist heritage and then rebranded the resulting corporation-friendly party, a pale shadow of its former self, as “New Labour”.

The name “New Palestine” helpfully obscures the fact that this demilitarised entity would lack the features and powers normally associated with a state. According to the leak, New Palestine would exist on only a tiny fraction of historic Palestine.

All illegal settlements in the West Bank would be annexed to Israel – satisfying a pledge Netanyahu made shortly before last month’s general election. If the territory annexed includes most of Area C, the 62 per cent of the West Bank Israel was given temporary control over under the Oslo accords, and which the Israeli right urgently wants to annex, that would leave New Palestine nominally in charge of about 12 percent of historic Palestine.

Or put another way, the Trump administration appears to be ready to give its blessing to a Greater Israel comprising 88 per cent of the land stolen from Palestinians over the past seven decades.

But it is far worse than that. New Palestine would exist as a series of discrete cantons, or Bantustans, surrounded by a sea of Israeli settlements – now to be declared part of Israel. The entity would be chopped and diced in a way that is true of no other state in the world.

New Palestine would have no army, just a lightly armed police force. It would be able to act only as a series of disconnected municipalities.

In fact, it is hard to imagine how “New Palestine” would fundamentally change the current, dismal reality for Palestinians. They would be able to move between these cantons only using lengthy detours, bypass roads and tunnels. Much like now.

Glorified municipalities

The only silver lining offered in the alleged document is a proposed bribe from the US, Europe, and other developed states, though mostly financed by the oil-rich Gulf states, to salve their consciences for defrauding the Palestinians of their land and sovereignty.

These states will provide $30bn over five years to help New Palestine set up and run its glorified municipalities. If that sounds like a lot of money, remember it is $8bn less than the decade-long aid the US is currently giving Israel to buy arms and fighter jets.

What happens to New Palestine after that five-year period is unclear in the document. But given that the 12 percent of historic Palestine awarded to the Palestinians is the region’s most resource-poor territory – stripped by Israel of water sources, economic coherence, and key exploitable resources like the West Bank’s quarries – it is hard not to see the entity sinking rather swimming after the initial influx of money dries up.

Even if the international community agrees to stump up more money, New Palestine would be entirely aid dependent in perpetuity.

The US and others would be able to turn on and off the spigot based on the Palestinians’ “good behaviour” – just as occurs now. Palestinians would live permanently in fear of the repercussions for criticising their prison warders.

In keeping with his vow to make Mexico pay for the wall to be built along the southern US border, Trump apparently wants the Palestinian entity to pay Israel to provide it with military security. In other words, much of that $30bn in aid to the Palestinians would probably end up in the Israeli military’s pockets.

Interestingly, the leaked report argues that oil-producing states, not the Palestinians, would be the “main beneficiaries” of the agreement. This hints at how the Trump deal is being sold to the Gulf states: as an opportunity for them to fully embrace Israel, its technology and military prowess, so that the Middle East can follow in the footsteps of Asia’s “tiger economies”.

Ethnic cleansing in Jerusalem

Jerusalem is described as a “shared capital”, but the small print reads rather differently. Jerusalem would not be divided into a Palestinian east and an Israeli west, as most had envisaged. Instead, the city will be run by a unified Israeli-run municipality. Just as happens now.

The only meaningful concession to the Palestinians would be that Israelis would not be allowed to buy Palestinian homes, preventing – in theory, at least – a further takeover of East Jerusalem by Jewish settlers.

But given that in return Palestinians would not be allowed to buy Israeli homes, and that the Palestinian population in East Jerusalem already suffers massive housing shortages and that an Israeli municipality would have the power to decide where homes are built and for whom, it is easy to imagine that the current situation – of Israel exploiting planning controls to drive Palestinians out of Jerusalem – would simply continue.

Also, given that Palestinians in Jerusalem would be citizens of New Palestine, not Israel, those unable to find a home in Israeli-ruled Jerusalem would have no choice but to emigrate into the West Bank. That would be exactly the same form of bureaucratic ethnic cleansing that Palestinians in Jerusalem experience now.

Gaza open to Sinai

Echoing recent comments from Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and Middle East adviser, the plan’s benefits for Palestinians all relate to potential economic dividends, not political ones.

Palestinians will be allowed to labour in Israel, as was the norm before Oslo – and presumably, as before, only in the most poorly paid and precarious jobs, on building sites and agricultural land.

A land corridor, doubtlessly overseen by Israeli military contractors the Palestinians must pay for, is supposed to connect Gaza to the West Bank. Confirming earlier reports of the Trump administration’s plans, Gaza would be opened up to the world, and an industrial zone and airport created in the neighbouring territory of Sinai.

The land – its extent to be decided in negotiations – would be leased from Egypt.

Helpfully for Israel, as Middle East Eye has previously pointed out, such a move risks gradually encouraging Palestinians to view Sinai as the centre of their lives rather than Gaza – another way to slowly ethnically cleanse them.

Meanwhile, the West Bank would be connected to Jordan by two border crossings – probably via land corridors through the Jordan Valley, which itself is to be annexed to Israel. Again, with Palestinians squeezed into disconnected cantons surrounded by Israeli territory, the assumption must be that over time many would seek a new life in Jordan.

Palestinian political prisoners would be released from Israeli jails to the authority of New Palestine over three years. But the plan says nothing about a right of return for millions of Palestinian refugees – descended from those who were expelled from their homes in the 1948 and 1967 wars.

Gun to their heads

Don Corleone-style, the Trump administrations appears ready to hold a gun to the head of the Palestinian leaderships to force them to sign up to the deal.

The US, the leaked report states, would cut off all money transfers to the Palestinians if they dissent, in an attempt to batter them into submission.

The alleged plan would demand that Hamas and Islamic Jihad disarm, handing their weapons over to Egypt. Should they reject the deal, the report says the US would authorise Israel to “personally harm” the leadership – through extrajudicial assassinations that have long been a mainstay of Israeli policy towards the two groups.

Rather less credibly, the alleged document suggests that the White House is prepared to get tough with Israel too, cutting off US aid if Israel fails to abide by the terms of the agreement.

Given that Israel has regularly broken the Oslo accords – and international law – without paying any serious penalty for doing so, it is easy to imagine that in practice the US would find work-arounds to ensure Israel was not harmed for any violations of the deal.

US imprimatur

The alleged document has all the hallmarks of being the Trump plan, or at least a recent draft of it, because it sets out in black and white the reality Israel has been crafting for Palestinians over the past two decades.

It simply gives Israel’s mass theft of land and cantonisation of the Palestinians an official US imprimatur.

So, if it offers the Israeli right most of what it wants, what interest would Israel Hayom – Netanyahu’s mouthpiece – have in jeopardising its success by leaking it?

A couple of reasons suggest themselves.

Israel is already achieving all these goals – stealing land, annexing the settlements, cementing its exclusive control over Jerusalem, putting pressure on the Palestinians to move off their land and into neighbouring states – without formally declaring that this is its game plan.

It has been making great progress in all its aims without having to admit publicly that statehood for the Palestinians is an illusion. For Netanyahu, the question must be why go public with Israel’s over-arching vision when it can be achieved by stealth.

Fearful of backlash

But even worse for Israel, once the Palestinians and the watching world understand that the current, catastrophic reality for Palestinians is as good as it is going to get, there is likely to be a backlash.

The Palestinian Authority could collapse, the Palestinian populace launch a new uprising, the so-called “Arab street” may be far less accepting of the plan than their rulers or Trump might hope, and solidarity activists in the West, including the boycott movement, would get a massive shot in the arm for their cause.

Equally, it would be impossible for Israel’s apologists to continue denying that Israel is carrying out what the late Israeli academic Baruch Kimmerling called “politicide” – the destruction of the Palestinians’ future, their right to self-determination and their integrity as a single people.

If this is Trump’s version of Middle East peace, he is playing a game of Russian roulette – and Netanyahu may be reluctant to let him pull the trigger.

First published in Middle East Eye

The Palestinian Authority is No Longer Crying Wolf Over its Imminent Collapse

We have been here many times before. However, on this occasion even the principal actors understand that the Palestinian Authority is not crying wolf as it warns of imminent collapse.

The crisis is entirely of Israel and Washington’s making. Keen to pander to hawkish public opinion in the run-up to last month’s election, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu struck a severe blow against Mahmoud Abbas and his government-in-permanent-waiting.

He announced that Israel would withhold a portion of the taxes it collects on behalf of the Palestinians, and which it is obligated under the Oslo accords to pass on to the PA, based in the West Bank.

The money deducted is the sum the PA transfers as stipends to the families of political prisoners and those killed and maimed by the Israeli army.

This is an incendiary issue, as Netanyahu well knows, given that Palestinians view these families as having made the ultimate sacrifice in the struggle to liberate their people from brutal Israeli occupation.

Abbas cannot be seen to back down, and so has refused to accept any of the monthly tax transfers until the full sum is reinstated, amounting to nearly two-thirds of the PA’s revenues.

Given how precarious Palestinian finances are, after decades of resource theft and restrictions on development imposed by Israel, the PA is already on the brink of bankruptcy.

The problem for Netanyahu and Washington is that the PA was established – under the 25-year-old Oslo accords – to take the pressure and costs off Israel of policing the Palestinian population under occupation.

If the PA collapses, so do the Palestinian security forces that have been keeping order in the West Bank as Israel has continued to plunder Palestinian land and resources.

Late last month the United Nations warned that the standoff had left the PA facing “unprecedented financial, security and political challenges”.

Which means that, despite his recent electoral triumph, Netanyahu is in a serious bind.

He cannot be seen by his even more right-wing coalition partners to be climbing down and restoring stipends to people Israelis view simply as “terrorists”.

Equally, he dares not risk a Palestinian uprising in the West Bank. That would be a real possibility if the Palestinian economy implodes and there are no Palestinian security forces to suppress the resulting wave of popular anger.

A preview of the difficulties in store was given at the weekend, when more than 600 rockets were fired out of Gaza, threatening the cancellation of the Eurovision song contest in Israel later this month.

By Sunday evening, four Israelis were reported dead, while 20 Palestinians had been killed by Israeli airstrikes. The Palestinian fatalities included two pregnant women and a toddler.

There is also the danger, from Israel’s point of view, that if Abbas’s PA collapses, the void in the West Bank will be filled by his Hamas rivals, who run Gaza. Israel has been delighted to keep the Palestinian territories divided under feuding Fatah and Hamas leaderships.

A way out – or a change of tack – is urgently required.

Israel has tried twice to quietly make partial tax transfers to the PA’s bank account, in the hope the money would be accepted. The PA returned it.

Then, the European Union stepped in. Ostensibly an “honest broker”, it appears to be occupying a role the Trump administration has formally abandoned. The EU proposed last week that the PA accept the transfers on a “provisional basis”, until the crisis can be resolved.

PA officials were dismissive. “Let the people take to the streets,” one said. “We have our backs to the wall.” The PA line is that in the current climate, if it backtracks, Israel will simply intensify unilateral measures harming the Palestinian cause.

So now, more in desperation than any realistic prospect of achieving peace, attention is turning to Donald Trump’s long-promised “deal of the century”.

After endless delays, the US administration now seems to be preparing for its release next month, soon after the holy month of Ramadan finishes.

The plan’s main architects, Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and his Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt, have issued a spate of statements hinting at the contents.

Greenblatt has sought to reassure neighbouring Egypt and Jordan that they will not shoulder the burden. He discounted rumours either that Gaza’s Palestinians would be encouraged to move to the Sinai, in a land swap that would allow Israel to annex parts of the West Bank, or that Jordan would find itself recast as an alternative Palestinian homeland.

Kushner, meanwhile, has strongly suggested that the goal of a two-state solution, implied by the Oslo process, will finally be jettisoned. “New and different ways to reach peace must be tried,” he has said.

He has also stated that the plan will stress “economic benefits” for the Palestinians and “security” for Israel.

David Friedman, Trump’s ambassador to Israel and a stalwart ally of Israel’s most extreme settlers, has recently added that Israel will maintain security control of the West Bank.

According to analysts, these statements suggest the White House is preparing the ground for an offer to the Palestinians of “limited autonomy” – an outcome Arab officials confirmed to The Washington Post.

Sensing the danger, 40 former senior European officials have signed a letter opposing any plan that creates a Palestinian “entity devoid of sovereignty, territorial contiguity and economic viability”.

“Limited autonomy” would be a reformulation of Israel’s long-running ambition to thwart permanently Palestinian hopes of statehood – a policy the late Israeli academic Baruch Kimmerling once termed “politicide”.

Since the late 1970s, the Israeli right has advocated hemming Palestinians into enclaves where they are denied sovereignty.

The model of disparate cantons, effectively operating as glorified municipalities and surrounded by a sea of Israeli settlers, is little different from that of “black homelands”, or Bantustans, established in apartheid-era South Africa.

Now, it seems, the Trump administration is ready to support this racist idea as a way to promote regional peace.

The Americans hope that, with a few sweeteners, the Palestinians can be made to swallow this bitter pill. It is an idea Netanyahu has advanced for some time, with his talk of “economic peace” – or what might be better termed “economic pacification”.

But the current impasse on taxes shows that buying off the Palestinians with bribes, in return for the abandonment of core national goals, may not prove so easy.

With the PA close to collapse, it is hard to see how Trump’s deal of the century can do anything other than speed up the authority’s demise.

• A version of this article was first published in The National

Trump, Bolton and the Syrian Confusion

It’s a messy, though typical picture.  US President Donald Trump wants to pull out forces in Syria.  When announced in December, jaws drooped and sharp intakes of breath were registered through the Washington establishment.  Members of the military industrial complex were none too pleased.  The president had seemingly made his case clear: US blood and treasure will not be further drawn upon to right the conflicts of the Middle East.

His national security advisor, John Bolton, prefers a different message: the US will not leave north-eastern Syria till the militants of Islamic State are defeated and the Kurds protected.  If this was a message of intended confusion, it has worked.  The media vultures are confused as to what carrion to feed upon. The US imperial lobby is finding the whole affair disruptive and disturbing.  Washington’s allies attempt to read the differences between policy-by-tweet and policy by representation.

Trump’s pre-New Year announcement suggested speediness, a rapid removal of US forces supposedly indispensable in Making America Great Again.  Once made, US troops were to leave in a matter of weeks – or so went a certain wisdom.  “They’re all coming back, and they’re coming back now,” ventured the president.  But Bolton suggested otherwise.  US personnel, he suggested, would remain in al-Tanf to counter Iranian influence.  Timetables could be left to the talking heads.

A change of heart also came from the White House, with Trump asserting that, “We won’t be finally pulled out until ISIS is gone.”  To reporters, he adopted a familiar stance in ever shifting sands: promising to do something meant doing something different. “We re pulling back in Syria.  We’re going to be removing our troops.  I never said we’re doing it that quickly.”

On Sunday, Trump delivered another streaky note on Twitter, thereby adding another lace of confusion. “Starting the long overdue pullout from Syria while hitting the little remaining ISIS territorial caliphate hard, and from many directions.”  Last Thursday, information on the withdrawal of some US military ground equipment from Syria was noted.  On Friday, Col. Sean Ryan, spokesman for the US-led coalition in Syria, issued a statement claiming that the coalition had “begun the process of our deliberate withdrawal from Syria” leaving little by way of details.  In Trumpland, the scanty detail often prevails over the substantive.

US strategy in the Middle East has tended to revolve around setting up figures for the fall while inflicting the fall of others.  The Kurds have tended to find themselves in that role, encouraged and prompted to take up arms against their various oppressors, only to find themselves left to the slaughter in the subsequent geopolitical dramas of the region.  The promise by Great Britain and France at the conclusion of World War I that a Kurdish state be chalked out of the remains of the Ottoman Empire never materialised.  In the crude machinations of international relations, they have remained, as Joost Hiltermann describes them, the “expendable” ones.

Bolton is keen not to make that same mistake, which is exactly why he risks doing so.  The great enemy of the Kurds on this occasion remains a prickly US ally, Turkey.  “We don’t think the Turks ought to undertake military action that’s not fully coordinated with the agreed to by the United States”.

Trump, similarly, suggested in a direct call with the Turkish president that the Turkish economy would be devastated “economically if they hit Kurds.”  In a statement from White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, “The President expressed the desire to work together to address Turkey’s security concerns in northeast Syria while stressing the importance to the United States that Turkey does not mistreat the Kurds and other Syrian Democratic Forces with whom we have fought to defeat ISIS.”

Bolton’s credibility in pursuing that agenda seemed to crumble in Ankara before a notable snubbing by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on January 8.  The national security advisor had to make do with a meeting with Erdoğan’s senior advisor, Ibrahim Kalin. Bolton was not one the Turkish leader particularly wanted to see in light of his comments that Turkey not harm members of the Kurdish Syrian militias in the aftermath of the US withdrawal.  Such views also fly in the face of Turkey’s self-appointed role as an agent of influence in the region.  An absent Washington is simply too good a chance to press home the advantage, and Ankara is bound to capitalise.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo did not fare much better in his regional whistle-stops in Egypt Jordan, Iraq and the Gulf states.  In Cairo, Pompeo denied that there was any “contradiction whatsoever” about Trump’s position on withdrawal.  “I think everyone understands what the United States is doing.”  If not everyone, then at the very least, “the senior leaders in their governments”.  Very good of them.

The views of American functionaries have not necessarily meant much in the righteous intent of other powers, but Bolton is nonetheless happy to pen his name to this mast.  He wishes for the Kurds to hold firm, avoid the temptation of seeking another sponsor who just might do a better job.  “I think they know,” suggested Bolton, “who their friends are.”  (Bolt is more than nudging here, making sure the Russians or the Assad regime are avoided in any future security arrangements that might supply a shield for the Kurds.)

Daft, can be Bolton, who sees himself as a true appraiser of the international relations system when he is disabled by presumption.  The Turks may, in time, hand Washington another bloody lesson of retribution showing that basic, keen hatreds in historical dramas are far more significant than sophisticated notions of self-interest.  The presence of US troops in Syria will no doubt be reclassified, withdrawal by which any other name would be as confusing.  The Kurds will have to chew over their options with the sort of caution nursed by a history of promise followed by abandonment.  Be wary of the expendable ones.

Netanyahu’s Ceasefire is Meant to Keep Gaza Imprisoned

Palestinians in Gaza should have been able to breathe a sigh of relief last week, as precarious ceasefire talks survived a two-day-long, heavy exchange of strikes that threatened to unleash yet another large-scale military assault by Israel.

Late on Tuesday, after the most intense bout of violence in four years, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Hamas, the Islamic movement that rules Gaza, approved a long-term truce brokered by Egypt.

Both are keen to avoid triggering an explosion of popular anger in Gaza, the consequences of which would be difficult to predict or contain.

The tiny enclave is on life support, having endured three devastating and sustained attacks by Israel, as well as a suffocating blockade, over the past decade. Thousands of homes are in ruins, the water supply is nearly undrinkable, electricity in short supply, and unemployment sky-high.

But as is so often the case, the enclave’s immediate fate rests in the hands of Israeli politicians desperate to cast themselves as Israel’s warmonger-in-chief and thereby reap an electoral dividend.

Elections now loom large after Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s hawkish defence minister, resigned on Wednesday in the wake of the clashes. He accused Netanyahu of “capitulating to terror” in agreeing to the ceasefire.

Lieberman takes with him a handful of legislators, leaving the governing coalition with a razor-thin majority of one parliamentary seat. Rumours were rife over the weekend that another party, the ultra-nationalist Jewish Home, was on the brink of quitting the coalition.

In fact, Netanyahu recklessly triggered these events. He had smoothed the path to a truce earlier this month by easing the blockade. Fuel had been allowed into the enclave, as had $15 million in cash from Qatar to cover salaries owed to Gaza’s public-sector workers.

At this critical moment, Netanyahu agreed to a covert incursion by the Israeli army, deep into Gaza. When the soldiers were exposed, the ensuing firefight left seven Palestinians and an Israeli commander dead.

The two sides then upped the stakes: Hamas launched hundreds of rockets into Israel, while the Israeli military bombarded the enclave. The air strikes killed more than a dozen Palestinians.

Lieberman had reportedly expressed outrage over the transfer of Qatari money to Gaza, claiming it would be impossible to track how it was spent. The ceasefire proved the final straw.

Hamas leaders boasted that they had created a “political earthquake” with Lieberman’s resignation. But the shock waves may not be so easily confined to Israel.

Strangely, Netanyahu now sounds like the most moderate voice in his cabinet. Fellow politicians are demanding Israel “restore its deterrence” – a euphemism for again laying waste to Gaza.

Naftali Bennett, the head of the settler Jewish Home party, denounced the ceasefire as “unacceptable” and demanded the vacant defence post.

There was flak, too, from Israel’s so-called left. The opposition Labour party leader Avi Gabbay called Netanyahu “weak”, while former prime minister Ehud Barak said he had “surrendered to Hamas under fire”.

Similar sentiments are shared by the public. Polls indicate 74 per cent of Israelis favour a tougher approach.

Sderot, close to Gaza and targeted by rockets, erupted into angry protests. Placards bearing the slogan “Bibi Go Home” – using Netanyahu’s nickname – were evident for the first time in his party’s heartland.

With this kind of goading, an election in the offing, and corruption indictments hanging over his head, Netanyahu may find it difficult to resist raising the temperature in Gaza once again.

But he also has strong incentives to calm things down and shore up Hamas’s rule.

The suggestion by some commentators that Netanyahu has turned a new leaf as a “man of peace” could not be more misguided. What distinguishes Netanyahu from his cabinet is not his moderation, but that he has a cooler head than his far-right rivals.

He believes there are better ways than lashing out to achieve his core political aim: the undermining of the Palestinian national project. This was what he meant on Wednesday when he attacked critics for missing “the overall picture of Israel’s security”.

On a practical level, Netanyahu has listened to his generals, who warn that, if Israel provokes war with Hamas, it may find itself ill-equipped to cope with the fallout on two other fronts, in Lebanon and Syria.

But Netanyahu has still deeper concerns. As veteran Israeli military analyst Ben Caspit observed: “The only thing more dangerous to Netanyahu than getting tangled up in war is getting tangled up in peace.”

The Israeli army has responded to months of largely non-violent mass protests at Gaza’s perimeter fence by killing more than 170 Palestinian demonstrators and maiming thousands more.

The protests could turn into an uprising. Palestinians storming the fence that imprisons them is an eventuality the Israeli army is entirely unprepared for. Its only response would be to slaughter Palestinians en masse, or reoccupy Gaza directly.

Netanyahu would rather bolster Hamas, so it can keep a lid on the protests than face an international backlash and demands that he negotiate with the Palestinians.

Further, a ceasefire that keeps Hamas in power in Gaza also ensures that Mahmoud Abbas and his Palestinian Authority, based in the West Bank, can be kept out.

That was in part why Netanyahu, against his normal instincts, allowed the transfer of the Qatari money, which had been opposed by the Palestinian Authority. It is not just a fillip for Hamas, it is a slap in the face to Abbas.

A disunited Palestine, divided territorially and ideologically, is in no position to exert pressure on Netanyahu – either through Europe or the United Nations – to begin peace talks or concede Palestinian statehood.

That is all the more pressing, given that the White House insists that President Trump’s long-delayed peace plan will be unveiled within the next two months.

Leaks suggest that the US may propose a separate “entity” in Gaza under Egyptian supervision and financed by Qatar. The ceasefire should be seen as a first step towards creating a pseudo-Palestinian state in Gaza along these lines.

Palestinians there are now caught between a rock and a hard place. Between vengeful hotheads such as Lieberman, who want more carnage in Gaza, and Netanyahu, who prefers to keep the Palestinians quiet and largely forgotten in their tiny prison.

• A version of this article first appeared in The National, Abu Dhabi.

As Gaza’s economy collapses, so does any hope of peace

The moment long feared is fast approaching in Gaza, according to a new report by the World Bank. After a decade-long Israeli blockade and a series of large-scale military assaults, the economy of the tiny coastal enclave is in “freefall”.

At a meeting of international donors in New York on Thursday, coinciding with the annual meeting of the United Nations General Assembly, the World Bank painted an alarming picture of Gaza’s crisis. Unemployment now stands at close to 70 per cent and the economy is contracting at an ever faster rate.

While the West Bank’s plight is not yet as severe, it is not far behind. Countries attending the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee were told. Gaza’s collapse could bring down the entire Palestinian banking sector.

In response, Europe hurriedly put together a €40 million aid package, but that will chiefly address Gaza’s separate humanitarian crisis – not the economic one – by improving supplies of electricity and potable water.

No one doubts the inevitable fallout from the economic and humanitarian crises gripping Gaza. The four parties to the Quartet charged with overseeing negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians – the United States, Russia, the European Union and the UN – issued a statement warning that it was vital to prevent what they termed “further escalation” in Gaza.

The Israeli military shares these concerns. It has reported growing unrest among the enclave’s two million inhabitants and believes Hamas will be forced into a confrontation to break out of the straight jacket imposed by the blockade.

In recent weeks, mass protests along Gaza’s perimeter fence have been revived and expanded after a summer lull. On Friday, seven Palestinian demonstrators, including two children, were killed by Israeli sniper fire. Hundreds more were wounded.

Nonetheless, the political will to remedy the situation looks as atrophied as ever. No one is prepared to take meaningful responsibility for the time-bomb that is Gaza.

In fact, the main parties that could make a difference appear intent on allowing the deterioration to continue.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ignored repeated warnings of a threatened explosion in Gaza from his own military.

Instead, Israel is upholding the blockade as tightly as ever, preventing the flow of goods in and out of the enclave. Fishing is limited to three miles off the coast rather than the 20-mile zone agreed in the Oslo accords. Hundreds of companies are reported to have folded over the summer.

Intensifying the enclave’s troubles is the Trump administration’s recent decision to cut aid to the Palestinians, including to the United Nation’s refugee agency, UNRWA. It plays a critical role in Gaza, providing food, education and health services to nearly two-thirds of the population.

The food budget is due to run out in December, and the schools budget by the end of October. Hundreds of thousands of hungry children with nowhere to spend their days can only fuel the protests – and the deaths.

The Palestinian Authority of Mahmoud Abbas, headquartered in the West Bank, has no incentive to help. Gaza’s slowly unfolding catastrophe is his leverage to make Hamas submit to his rule. That is why the Palestinian Authority has cut transfers to Gaza by $30 million a month.

But even if Mr Abbas wished to help, he largely lacks the means. The US cuts were imposed primarily to punish him for refusing to play ball with US President Donald Trump’s supposed “deal of the century” peace plan.

Israel, the World Bank notes, has added to Mr Abbas’s difficulties by refusing to transfer taxes and customs duties it collects on the PA’s behalf.

And the final implicated party, Egypt, is reticent to loosen its own chokehold on its short border with Gaza. President Abdel Fattah El Sisi opposes giving any succour either to his domestic Islamist opponents or to Hamas.

The impasse is possible only because none of the parties is prepared to make a priority of Gaza’s welfare.

That was starkly illustrated earlier in the summer when Cairo, supported by the UN, opened a back channel between Israel and Hamas in the hope of ending their mounting friction.

Hamas wanted the blockade lifted to reverse Gaza’s economic decline, while Israel wanted an end to the weekly protests and the damaging images of snipers killing unarmed demonstrators.

In addition, Mr Netanyahu has an interest in keeping Hamas in power in Gaza, if barely, as a way to cement the geographic split with the West Bank and an ideological one with Mr Abbas.

The talks, however, collapsed quietly in early September after Mr Abbas objected to the Egyptians. He insisted that the Palestinian Authority be the only address for discussions of Gaza’s future. So, Cairo is yet again channelling its energies into a futile attempt at reconciling Mr Abbas and Hamas.

At the UN General Assembly, Mr Trump promised his peace plan would be unveiled in the next two to three months, and made explicit for the first time his support for a two-state solution, saying it would “work best”.

Mr Netanyahu vaguely concurred, while pointing out: “Everyone defines the term ‘state’ differently.” His definition, he added, required that not one of the illegal Jewish settlements in the West Bank be removed and that any future Palestinian state be under complete Israeli security control.

Mr Abbas is widely reported to have conceded over the summer that a Palestinian state – should it ever come into being – would be demilitarised. In other words, it would not be recognisable as a sovereign state.

Hamas has made notable compromises to its original doctrine of military resistance to secure all of historic Palestine. But it is hard to imagine it agreeing to peace on those terms. This makes a reconciliation between Hamas and Mr Abbas currently inconceivable – and respite for the people of Gaza as far off as ever.

• First published in The National

Will the real anti-Semites please stand up

Amongst the highly prolific author HG Wells’ many publications is a less well-known book titled A Short History of the World. Given the potential immensity of such a subject, the fact that Wells produced a book of very modest length (my copy is a mere 350 pages or so) no doubt would encourage some to dismiss it as trite and superficial. Obviously it’s superficial, but it might be reasonable to say the same of something twenty or fifty times longer – depending on how well it’s written. But Wells’ book is truly remarkable for its economy of language, with hardly a single unnecessary word used; and it’s also remarkable for its scholarship.

Wells studied biology before he became a writer, and carved a meagre existence for himself as a teacher for almost ten years. Perhaps the early discipline of scientific method, together with the need to communicate new ideas to young minds, influenced much of his later writing style, because what he created with Short History is an amazingly compact and very readable collection of short essays covering a multitude of historical events from the creation of the Earth, through discussions on all the main religions, to the Russian Revolution – which took place a mere five years before he published his book.

Few of the sixty-seven chapters exceed four pages in length, yet each chapter is packed with such a wealth of information that it’s difficult not to be impressed with the depth of Wells’ scholarship, because to write as informatively and concisely as he does in each chapter implies a huge depth of knowledge. Like a few other great thinkers, Wells was an autodidact and acquired most of his knowledge by charting his own course, free of the constraints that hinder many of those restricted to lives of formal education.

Of particular interest in these times where the expression “anti-Semitism” is seldom out of the mainstream fake-news for any length of time, are a couple of chapters Wells devotes to the early history of the Middle East. It’s necessary to repeat the important point that Wells wrote this book in the early 1920s. Israel did not exist at that time, yet the word that Wells seems to use most often when referring to the natives of the massive area stretching roughly from where Iran is today to Tunisia in the West, Egypt in the South, and Turkey in the North, is “Semite”:

We have already noted the appearance of the Semitic people as wanderers and nomads in the region of Syria and Arabia, and how they conquered Sumeria and set up first the Akkadian and then the Babylonian Empire. In the west these same Semitic peoples were taking to the sea. They set up a string of harbour towns along the eastern coast of the Mediterranean, of which Tyre and Sidon were the chief; and by the time of Hammurabi in Babylon, they had spread as traders, wanderers and colonizers over the whole Mediterranean basin. These sea Semites were called the Phoenicians.1

Now he clearly did not believe that these people were all Jewish, for he refers specifically to them as:

[A] little Semitic people, the Hebrews, in the hills behind the Phoenician and Philistine coasts.2

And then he devotes a whole chapter to “The Early History of the Jews”, whose importance to the history of mankind Wells clearly understands and appreciates, as the chapter opens:

And now we tell of the Hebrews, a Semitic people, not so important in their own time as in their influence upon the later history of the world.3

(He couldn’t begin to know how prophetic those words would become.)

Note that Wells points out that the Hebrews were “a” Semitic people, not “the” Semitic people, and remember once again that he was writing before Israel had been invented. The importance that Wells rightly assigns to the Hebrews:

is due to the fact that they produced a written literature, a world history… which became at last what Christians know as the Old Testament, the Hebrew Bible. This literature appears in history in the fourth or fifth century BC.3

Sometime around 600BC the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar ordered the destruction of Jerusalem, which had been the Hebrew capital for at least 400 years, and

The remnant of the people was carried off captive to Babylon [where] they remained until Cyrus took Babylon (538BC). He then collected them together and sent them back to resettle and rebuild the walls and temple of Jerusalem.3

Wells notes that the period of time that the Hebrews spent in Babylon was highly significant, because:

It civilized them and consolidated them. They returned aware of their own literature, an acutely self-conscious and political people.4

And very interestingly,

[Hebrew] accounts of the Creation of the World, of Adam and Eve and of the Flood, with which the Bible begins [and which vast numbers of westerners still believe to this day] run closely parallel with similar Babylonian legends; they seem to have been part of the common beliefs of all the Semitic peoples. So too the stories of Moses and of Samson have Sumerian and Babylonian parallels.4

So it appears that the original Semitic people were very different to what most of the world thinks today:

In the seventh century BC it would have seemed as though the whole civilised world was to be dominated by Semitic rulers. They ruled the great Assyrian empire and they had conquered Egypt; Assyria, Babylon, Syria were all Semitic, speaking languages that were mutually intelligible. The trade of the world was in Semitic hands. Tyre, Sidon, the great mother cities of the Phoenician coast, had thrown out colonies that grew at least to even greater proportion in Spain, Sicily and Africa. Carthage, founded before 800 BC, had risen to a population of more than 1 million.5

Now Wells did not invent the word “Semite”, nor did he invent this interpretation of their history. He simply related what would have been common understanding of history at the time. And this understanding survived for quite a long a time afterwards. Because in my edition of The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (an interesting use of the word “shorter”, as my two-volume copy is nearly 4,000 pages long), the word “Semite” is defined as:

A member of any of the peoples supposedly descended from Shem, son of Noah (Gen. 10:21 – 31) including esp. the Jews, Arabs, Assyrians, Babylonians, and Phoenicians.6

And my edition of this dictionary was published in 1993, over seventy years after Wells wrote his book. So in relatively recent times, the definition of the word “Semite” has been almost totally transformed from what was in common usage for many, many years to a new definition, widely promoted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), which is now being used to refer only to Jewish people generally, and Zionists in particular. All of the other hundreds of millions of other people living in Semitic lands, as they’ve done for thousands of years, are simply removed from the new definition.

Now that publication date of 1993 is quite interesting, because it is a date after the First Gulf War, which took place in 1991. This war, which doesn’t deserve to be dignified with the word “war”, as it was more like a mass slaughter of defenceless people, was not only a massive abomination, it was also a massively illegal abomination, for it not only ignored numerous international laws, it also ignored the constitution of the very country that was mostly responsible for the abominations – the United States of America.

Ramsey Clark who, as a former attorney general of the US, knows a little bit about the law. His superb book The Fire This Time: US Crimes in the Gulf relates much of the detail of the monstrous crimes perpetrated by the US and its allies – and provides a comprehensive account of some of the various laws which were contemptuously ignored.

Clark describes just how one-sided this so-called war was:

Before 1991 was over, more than 250,000 Iraqis and thousands of other nationals were dead as a result of the attack. Most were civilian men, women, children, and infants.

US war casualties, including those who died from U.S. “friendly fire,” totalled 148, we are told. Out of an acknowledged 109,876 air sorties, total U.S. aircraft losses were 38, less than the accident rate during war games without live ammunition…

Iraq had no capacity to either attack or defend… The U.S. did not lose a single B52 in combat, as these planes dropped 27,500 tons of bombs. No Iraqi projectile penetrated a single Abrams tank, while the U.S. claimed to destroy 4,300 Iraqi tanks and 1,856 armored vehicles…7

U.S. forces buried thousands of Iraqi soldiers alive, wounded, dying, and dead. Miles of trenches with Iraqi troops in them were bulldozed over with sand. The United States refused to count, locate, identify or honor the dead. General [Colin] Powell said of the death count that it was “not a number I am terribly interested in.”8

General William G. Pagonis, stating proudly that this was the first war in modern time where every screwdriver and every nail was accounted for, simultaneously defended General Schwarzkopf’s policy against counting enemy dead. The generals knew but never mentioned that the Geneva Convention of 1949 required them not merely to count enemy dead, but to identify and honor them as well.9

Now there’s nothing unusual in the United States ignoring international law whenever it feels so inclined. After all, it’s knowingly been committing war crimes since Korea, and even one of its own Secretaries of State, Henry Kissinger, freely admitted in the 1970s that:

The illegal we do immediately, the unconstitutional takes a little longer.10

But the relevance to this particular discussion is around the question of anti-Semitism. Now I think I’ve established that for many, many years, and up until at least 1993, it was commonly understood that Semites were people with ethnic roots stretching from Iraq to North Africa.

However, in 2001 it was decided at the very highest levels of US government to take out seven countries in five years, starting with Iraq, and then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and, finishing off, Iran.

The catastrophic destruction that had already been wreaked on Iraq – one of the earliest Semitic lands – ten years earlier was not enough. Nowhere near enough Semitic people had suffered enough. Tens of millions of other Semitic people would have to be killed, injured and made homeless. And true enough we have indeed seen the destruction of what was left of Iraq, then Libya. Syria has been made to suffer terribly, and were it not for the intervention of Russia would likely have gone the same way as Iraq and Libya. All Semitic countries.

For much of Jeremy Corbyn’s time in office as leader of Britain’s Labour Party, he has been persistently accused of anti-Semitism. He has been accused of “not doing enough” to purge the party of anti-Semitism, and he has been accused of being an anti-Semite himself, most notably by the senior and highly respected Labour MP Margaret Hodge who allegedly called him a fucking anti-Semite. Yet hard evidence to justify the accusations are very difficult to find – which is quite extraordinary if it’s such a serious problem in the Labour Party generally, and with Jeremy Corbyn in particular. Much media comment was recently made about a remark Corbyn is said to have made – six years ago – about a wall mural depicting a group of bankers and which was, apparently anti-Semitic. This is about the best Jeremy Corbyn’s accusers can do in terms of providing hard evidence of his supposed anti-Semitism. The fact that Corbyn has spent much of his political career fighting for justice for cruelly oppressed Palestinians – a Semitic people – is not only ignored, it’s now considered further evidence of his anti-Semitism, thanks to IHRA’s new definition of the expression.

So the question is what is real anti-Semitism? Is it really a refusal to condemn a wall painting? Is that really the best Corbyn’s enemies can come up with? And even if it is, how does it compare when measured against the illegal murder of millions of Semitic people across the Middle East and North Africa, the destruction of countless thousands of Semitic homes, and forcing millions of semites to become refugees in alien and unwelcoming countries?

  1. A Short History of the World, HG Wells, p. 74.
  2. Ibid, p. 79.
  3. Ibid, p. 92.
  4. Ibid, p. 93.
  5. Ibid, p. 98.
  6. New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, p. 2772.
  7. The Fire This Time, Ramsey Clark, p. 206/7.
  8. Ibid, p. 178.
  9. Ibid, p. 208.
  10. The Wikileaks Files, Verso, 2015 edition, p. 66.

Remarks by Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to the 73rd Session of the United Nations General Assembly

Madame President, I would like to congratulate you on assuming the presidency of the 73rd session of UnitedNations General Assembly, and to express myappreciation for the efforts of Mr. Miroslav Lajcak, the president of the former session. I also commend you onyour choice ofthe theme of this year's session, for we are in dire need for renewing ourcommitment and contributions towards enhancing the United Nations role, as a foundation for a just and effective international order. A world (...)