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The grand sweep of history after the Arab Spring is yet to be written; it remains a work in progress. But this piece, by Hussein Agha and Robert Malley in the New York Review of Books, is a stunner, riffing on the prospects of an Islamist phase, what this means for democracy, Arabs in general and Palestine. Read the whole thing:
New or newly invigorated actors rush to the fore: the ill-defined “street,” prompt to mobilize, just as quick to disband; young protesters, central activists during the uprising, roadkill in its wake. The Muslim Brothers yesterday dismissed by the West as dangerous extremists are now embraced and feted as sensible, businesslike pragmatists. The more traditionalist Salafis, once allergic to all forms of politics, are now eager to compete in elections. There are shadowy armed groups and militias of dubious allegiance and unknown benefactors as well as gangs, criminals, highwaymen, and kidnappers.
Alliances are topsy-turvy, defy logic, are unfamiliar and shifting. Theocratic regimes back secularists; tyrannies promote democracy; the US forms partnerships with Islamists; Islamists support Western military intervention. Arab nationalists side with regimes they have long combated; liberals side with Islamists with whom they then come to blows. Saudi Arabia backs secularists against the Muslim Brothers and Salafis against secularists. The US is allied with Iraq, which is allied with Iran, which supports the Syrian regime, which the US hopes to help topple. The US is also allied with Qatar, which subsidizes Hamas, and with Saudi Arabia, which funds the Salafis who inspire jihadists who kill Americans wherever they can.
In record time, Turkey evolved from having zero problems with its neighbors to nothing but problems with them. It has alienated Iran, angered Iraq, and had a row with Israel. It virtually is at war with Syria. Iraqi Kurds are now Ankara’s allies, even as it wages war against its own Kurds and even as its policies in Iraq and Syria embolden secessionist tendencies in Turkey itself.
For years, Iran opposed Arab regimes, cultivating ties with Islamists with whose religious outlook it felt it could make common cause. As soon as they take power, the Islamists seek to reassure their former Saudi and Western foes and distance themselves from Tehran despite Iran’s courting. The Iranian regime will feel obliged to diversify its alliances, reach out to non-Islamists who feel abandoned by the nascent order and appalled by the budding partnership between Islamists and the US. Iran has experience in such matters: for the past three decades, it has allied itself with secular Syria even as Damascus suppressed its Islamists.
When goals converge, motivations differ. The US cooperated with Gulf Arab monarchies and sheikhdoms in deposing Qaddafi yesterday and in opposing Assad today. It says it must be on the right side of history. Yet those regimes do not respect at home the rights they piously pursue abroad. Their purpose is neither democracy nor open societies. They are engaged in a struggle for regional domination. What, other than treasure, can proponents of a self-styled democratic uprising find in countries whose own system of governance is anathema to the democratic project they allegedly promote?
What will all this mean? The Islamists are loath either to share power achieved at high cost or to squander gains so patiently acquired. They must balance among their own restive rank-and-file, a nervous larger society, and an undecided international community. The temptation to strike fast pulls in one direction; the desire to reassure tugs in another. In general, they will prefer to eschew coercion, awaken the people to their dormant Islamic nature rather than foist it upon them. They will try to do it all: rule, enact social transformations incrementally, and be true to themselves without becoming a menace to others.
The Islamists propose a bargain. In exchange for economic aid and political support, they will not threaten what they believe are core Western interests: regional stability, Israel, the fight against terror, energy flow. No danger to Western security. No commercial war. The showdown with the Jewish state can wait. The focus will be on the slow, steady shaping of Islamic societies. The US and Europe may voice concern, even indignation at such a domestic makeover. But they’ll get over it. Just as they got over the austere fundamentalism of Saudi Arabia. Bartering—as in, we’ll take care of your needs, let us take care of ours—Islamists feel, will do the trick. Looking at history, who can blame them?
Mubarak was toppled in part because he was viewed as excessively subservient to the West, yet the Islamists who succeed him might offer the West a sweeter because more sustainable deal. They think they can get away with what he could not. Stripped of his nationalist mantle, Mubarak had little to fall back on; he was a naked autocrat. The Muslim Brothers by comparison have a much broader program—moral, social, cultural. Islamists feel they can still follow their convictions, even if they are not faithfully anti-Western. They can moderate, dilute, defer.
Unlike the close allies of the West they have replaced, Islamists are heard calling for NATO military intervention in Libya yesterday, Syria today, wherever they entertain the hope to take over tomorrow. One can use the distant infidels, who will not stay around for long, to jettison local infidels, who have hounded them for decades. Rejection of foreign interference, once a centerpiece of the post-independence outlook, is no longer the order of the day. It is castigated as counterrevolutionary.
What the US sought to obtain over decades through meddling and imposition, it might now obtain via acquiescence: Arab regimes that will not challenge Western interests. Little wonder that many in the region are persuaded that America was complicit in the Islamists’ rise, a quiet partner in what has been happening.
Everywhere, Israel faces the rise of Islam, of militancy, of radicalism. Former allies are gone; erstwhile foes reign supreme. But the Islamists have different and broader objectives. They wish to promote their Islamic project, which means consolidating their rule where they can, refraining from alienating the West, and avoiding perilous and precocious clashes with Israel. In this scheme, the presence of a Jewish state is and will remain intolerable, but it is probably the last piece of a larger puzzle that may never be fully assembled.
The quest to establish an independent, sovereign Palestinian state was never at the heart of the Islamist project. Hamas, the Palestinian chapter of the Muslim Brotherhood, harbors grander, less territorially confined but also less immediately achievable designs. Despite Hamas’s circumlocutions and notwithstanding its political evolution, it never truly deviated from its original view—the Jewish state is illegitimate and all the land of historic Palestine is inherently Islamic. If the current balance of power is not in your favor, wait and do what you can to take care of the disparity. The rest is tactics.
An Australian friend of mine was on this remarkable march and he’ll be writing something about it soon. It’s vital to raise awareness of the fact that US drone attacks are often indiscriminate and kill countless civilians. American peace group Code Pink, with whom I was in Cairo a few years ago for the Gaza Freedom March, were in Pakistan and here’s the CNN coverage:
My following article appears in The Guardian today:
The Palestinian finance minister recently warned that the two-state solution would be in crisis unless the Palestinian Authority (PA) immediately received more funds.
“The two state solution is in jeopardy if the PA is not able to continue to function,” Nabeel Kassis said.
But Kassis was talking about an imaginary state, one largely funded by international donors. The World Bank announced last week that “sustainable economic growth” was impossible while Israel continued tocontrol vast swathes of the West Bank.
Large protests against the PA by Palestinians indicates growing unrest over rising prices and the failure to realise any tangible political moves towards independence. This is why growing numbers of Palestinians under occupation are talking about adopting the one-state solution and pressuring their leaders to follow.
“The idea of one state is about … breaking apart the system of privilege that exists and being able to live as an equal,” says Diana Buttu, a former legal adviser to the Palestinian negotiating team and contributor to a book I have just co-edited, After Zionism.
During a recent visit, I heard many Palestinians say that the two-state solution was barely discussed seriously in Palestinian circles, but that the PA, currently too reliant on western support not to continue the fiction of state-building, as yet persists in believing in its inevitability. The status quo is beginning to crumble, though, with senior PA officials now talking about abandoning the two-state idea and pushing for a one-state equation. Hamas concurs. This will only grow.
The real issue in the Israel/Palestine conflict is barely mentioned in this American election cycle; the obsession with Iran has seen to that. Yet, it is increasingly addressed in public debates, opinion pieces and among both the Jewish and Arab communities that it is time to end the two-state industry. Nearly 20 years after the Oslo process, there are now up to 700,000 Jewish colonists living illegally in the West Bank. A just partition of the land, with a Palestinian right of return, is impossible. It is for this reason, among others, that a one-state solution is gaining traction, even within conservative circles.
Liberal Jews in the United States, firm believers in justice and human rights, are especially conflicted. The controversy surrounding writer Peter Beinart’s recent book, The Crisis of Zionism, encapsulated their growing unease with blindly supporting the Jewish state, the occupation and a two-state solution – all once an article of faith. As Yousef Munayyer, a Palestinian American, recently wrote, to blogger Jerome Slater:
“If the two-state outcome is exposed for fantasy, and Palestinians en masse demand civil rights, it is hard to see a sustained, western objection.”
And among the “non-objection” camp would be many American Jews. Demographically, the two US groups most committed to maintaining the occupation are Christian evangelicals and Orthodox Jews. If a significant number of American Jews start peeling away from the US pro-Israel lobby, breaking with the tradition of pressuring the US Congress to back every Israeli policy, the Jewish state would potentially face economic crisis.
The challenges are profound – not least unwinding two decades of Oslo propaganda that dictates the two-state solution as the sole answer – but there are growing calls to imagine what a democratic, secular state in the Middle East might look like.
The effect of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movements in the US, Europe and around the world, combined with a rise in Jewish fundamentalism in Israel, which is animated against both Palestinians and Africans, the logic of a democratic, one-state solution seems more desirable and less utopian by the day. A plan for its implementation – a state promising justice for all of its citizens: Jews, Muslims, Christians or atheists – is already being mapped out.
The US political establishment largely backs the perpetuation of the two-state charade – witness former State Department official Aaron David Miller writing a few months ago that this outcome is the “only game in town” – but the unpredictability of today’s Arab world means that alternative ideas have a chance to gain traction. Israel’s ability to control events on the ground in the West Bank and Gaza is shifting, not least due to Egypt’s new-found assertiveness.
There has never been serious international pressure to implement a two-state solution; instead, Israeli settlement has been indulged. But moving the one-state idea from the fringes to the mainstream obliges defenders of the current situation to explain their reasoning behind endorsing a so-called solution that entrenches discrimination against Arabs. Now is the time to break open the debate.
Fascinating interview with Egypt’s new President Mohamed Morsi in the New York Times that will be a welcome wake-up call to those presuming Cairo will remain a dutiful client state. No chance:
Mr. Morsi, 61, whose office was still adorned with nautical paintings that Mr. Mubarak left behind, said the United States should not expect Egypt to live by its rules.
“If you want to judge the performance of the Egyptian people by the standards of German or Chinese or American culture, then there is no room for judgment,” he said. “When the Egyptians decide something, probably it is not appropriate for the U.S. When the Americans decide something, this, of course, is not appropriate for Egypt.”
He suggested that Egypt would not be hostile to the West, but would not be as compliant as Mr. Mubarak either.
“Successive American administrations essentially purchased with American taxpayer money the dislike, if not the hatred, of the peoples of the region,” he said, by backing dictatorial governments over popular opposition and supporting Israel over the Palestinians.
Moving piece by Jamal Mahjoub in Guernica about his visit to Gaza with the PalFest literary bandwagon:
The Islamic University is the best funded of the four universities in Gaza. It is also the only one that is not secular. Our first day, we are given a tour of the segregated campus, our male guides giggling as we cross into the women’s section. The grounds are neatly tended and decorated with trees that stand between big, modern buildings, including a three-story library. Two of the buildings were bombed in 2009 but have been fully rebuilt. There are no signs of destruction or shortage. When I ask our guides about this I am told that they have “their own ways” of bringing in materials.
In a cramped lecture hall two other writers and I find ourselves facing a full house of mostly young women, nearly all of them wearing colorful headscarves and austere grey or black jilbabs. The fluency of English varies, and although they all display a great deal of enthusiasm about our visit it is unclear what is expected of us. This session was originally billed as a workshop, but after a round of introductions, I see that what the students really want to do is talk.
Many of the questions directed at us convey a concern about our motives. Why have we come here? What did we expect to find? I sense some degree of distrust, even resentment. The jilbabs and the headscarves give the impression that these women live sheltered lives. In contrast, though, they speak with a frankness I admire. Many of them already write. A couple of girls come forward to read out their poems. They do not wait for permission to speak. Like students in classrooms everywhere, they want to hear how we managed to get published and how they should go about getting their stories out into the world. They are witnesses to a unique situation which lends urgency. At the end, as we are about to leave, more of them crowd around still pressing for an answer to the question, “What do I have to do to write?” I repeat the same advice I have always given in similar situations: To write, all you have to do is write and keep writing.
On our last evening the closing PalFest event is shut down by security forces. It’s not clear who we have offended, but everything points to an accumulation of distrust. Gatherings in which men and women congregate in the same public space are frowned upon by Hamas. Two nights before, in what was the highlight of our roadtrip, the hugely popular and highly talented Egyptian group Eskenderella, who are traveling with us, gave a concert that was rapturously received. Eskenderella’s songs of revolution have been a fixture in Cairo over the last year, providing a soundtrack to the events in Tahrir Square. The local PalFest organizers were asked to split the concert hall, men on one side, women on the other, but they refused. Many of our authors are Egyptian, and the anti-authoritarian spirit has been running high at reading events and in interviews. It is perhaps not surprising that Hamas was made uncomfortable. In any case, on that last evening on the little stage at the Qasr al-Basha cultural center, the power is suddenly cut and the mic dies. A moment later a plainclothes officer runs across to snatch a camera from a young woman. What follows is a charged confrontation with an absurdly large crowd of armed police and plain-clothed security officers. In the end we are escorted back to our bus and allowed to return to the hotel. We take as many of the audience as we can manage. Many of them are nervous about possible repercussions, especially after we depart. Security men photographed much of the audience. Back at the hotel the terrace is converted into an impromptu venue and the concert continues long into the night with poetry readings and songs.
I’ll soon be speaking at two major events in London for my just released book, After Zionism.
With a new coalition formed in Israel, a prospective reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah and a new leader in Egypt it could be said the century-long Israeli–Palestinian conflict is entering a new chapter.
The Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, called off early elections after a deal was reached between his Likud party and the opposition Kadima party. Five years after Hamas took power in Gaza there are signs of a shaky reconciliation between them and Fatah that could lead to elections. There is concern in Israel about the growing power and influence of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.
Across the world, the one-state solution is now openly discussed as a possible outcome. We will be bringing together an expert panel to explain the implications of these political shifts.
Chaired by Tim Llewellyn, the BBC’s Middle East Correspondent for ten years, during which time he covered the Lebanese civil war, the Iranian Revolution, the Iran-Iraq war, the First Gulf War and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Since leaving the BBC in 1992, he has been a regular broadcast and print commentator on Middle East politics.
Antony Loewenstein, an Australian freelance journalist, author and blogger. He has written for The Guardian, Haaretz, the BBC, The Sydney Morning Herald and others. He is author of My Israel Question and The Blogging Revolution, and co-editor of After Zionism: One State for Israel and Palestine. He is a research associate at the University of Technology, Sydney’s Australian Centre for Independent Journalism.
Dimi Reider, an Israeli journalist and blogger. His work has appeared in The New York Times, The New York Review of Books,The Guardian, Foreign Policy, Haaretz and The Jerusalem Post. He is also a co-founder and contributing editor of +972 Magazine. His translation of Yehouda Shenhav‘s new book, Beyond the Two State Solution: A Jewish political essay is forthcoming in September with Polity Press.
Ahmed Moor, a Palestinian-American, born in the Gaza Strip, he was a Beirut-based journalist before he moved to Cairo where he covered the Egyptian revolution. He is co-editor of After Zionism: One State for Israel and Palestine. His writing has been published in the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, The Boston Review, Al Jazeera English, The Guardian, the San Francisco Chronicle, Mondoweiss, the Huffington Post and others. In 2012, he became a Paul and Daisy Soros Fellow.
Ghada Karmi, a leading British-Palestinian academic and writer. Currently she is co-director of the European Centre of Palestine Studies at the University of Exeter. She is a frequent media commentator on Middle Eastern issues. She is the author of a memoir, In Search of Fatima; a Palestinian story. Her most recent book is Married to another man: Israel’s dilemma in Palestine.
Antony Loewenstein and Ahmed Moor will discuss their new book ‘After Zionism’ at SOAS on Weds Aug 22 (6.30pm, Khalili Lecture Theatre)
After Zionism brings together some of the world’s leading thinkers on the Middle East question to dissect the century-long conflict between Zionism and the Palestinians, and to explore possible forms of a one-state solution.Time has run out for the two-state solution because of the unending and permanent Jewish colonisation of Palestinian land. Although deep mistrust exists on both sides of the conflict, growing numbers of Palestinians and Israelis, Jews and Arabs are working together to forge a different, unified future. Progressive and realist ideas are at last gaining a foothold in the discourse, while those influenced by the colonial era have been discredited or abandoned. Whatever the political solution may be, Palestinian and Israeli lives are intertwined, enmeshed, irrevocably.This daring and timely collection includes essays by Omar Barghouti, Diana Buttu, Jonathan Cook, Joseph Dana, Jeremiah Haber, Jeff Halper, Ghada Karmi, Saree Makdisi, John Mearsheimer, Ilan Pappe, Sara Roy and Phil Weiss.
Antony Loewenstein is an independent Australian journalist, activist and blogger. He is the author of two bestselling books, My Israel Question and The Blogging Revolution, co-editor of Left Turn and has written for the Guardian, the Nation, Huffington Post, Haaretzi and other prominent publications. He is currently working on a book and documentary about disaster capitalism. He lives in Sydney, Australia.
Ahmed Moor is a Palestinian American journalist, blogger and activist and a Soros Fellow. He has written for the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Huffington Post, the Guardian and Al Jazeera English and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in Public Policy at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.
This event is free to attend and no registration required.
Egypt will follow a new policy on the Rafah crossing between it and the Gaza Strip, and the people of Gaza will experience changes in travel procedures and times, says prime minister of the Hamas-run government in the Gaza Strip Ismail Haniyeh.
Speaking to the Gaza-based Hamas-affiliated Palestine newspaper following a meeting with Egyptian President Muhammad Mursi, Haniyeh said that the crossing would operate 12 hours a day, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Further, the number of travelers leaving the enclave will rise to 1,500 a day, and all arrivals from abroad will be let in. “Sixty percent of the Gazan citizens blacklisted by Egypt and denied entry have been removed from the list,” Haniyeh added.
In addition, he said, an agreement has been reached that any Palestinian citizen who arrives in Egypt from other countries will be granted a 72-hour visa, so as to make travel arrangements and avoid been deported.
The electricity crisis was also discussed, he said.
“Three major steps will be carried out to solve the power crisis starting with an increase in the amount of fuel to Gaza’s power plant in tandem with amplifying the power grid from Egypt to Gaza from 22 to 30 megawatt. After that, a gas pipeline will be built to provide Egyptian natural gas to the sole power plant in the coastal enclave. Then, the Gaza Strip will be connected to the joint Arab grid known as the 8th grid.”
Haniyeh and Mursi discussed as well reopening the Egyptian consulate in Gaza City which had been shut down since the Israeli military offensive on Gaza, according to Haniyeh.
He hinted that he discussed with Mursi the issue of smuggling tunnels under the borders with Egypt.
“The tunnels were a temporary phenomenon created when the Palestinians lost all elements of life. They used them to fulfill their needs, and it is their natural right, but if the siege on Gaza is ended, these tunnels will be needless.”
This week saw the death of former Egyptian intelligence head and thug, Omar Suleiman. Closer to Mubarak during his time in power, he was courted by Israel and America while his record of enabling terror was ignored. Of course.
Australian citizen and former Guantanamo Bay prisoner Mamdouh Habib alleges Suleiman personally attended sessions when he was being tortured by the Egyptians, on direction from the US. Habib recounted the story to me last year.
Some interesting background from Steven A. Cook (via Foreign Policy):
Suleiman and I were hardly friends, and I certainly didn’t know him personally, but he graciously accepted my requests for meetings. Between the spring of 2005 and Jan. 24, 2011 — the eve of the revolution, and the last time I saw him — I met Suleiman four times: twice in one-on-one interviews, once with another colleague, and once more in a group setting. Through Egyptian friends of friends and Americans who knew him, Suleiman graciously accepted my requests for off-the-record interviews. This took a certain amount of ingratiation, though I never let it compromise my moral compass.
I can’t tell anyone where exactly the General Intelligence Service, Egypt’s foreign and domestic intelligence organ that was the seat of Suleiman’s power, is located other than it is in the posh Cairo suburb of Heliopolis. Unlike in the movies where visitors are hooded before entering a secret or sensitive location, I guess the Egyptians just thought they would confuse me before my first private audience with Omar Pasha. It worked: I was driven around for 30 minutes, doubling back and forth, going in circles, and speeding through unfamiliar neighborhoods until I completely lost my bearings. When the car finally passed through massive steel gates, I was in a pristine compound with grass and trees. There were other buildings, but not a soul to be seen.
I was driven up to the first building and told to wait in the car. Eventually, two men in uniforms that I had never seen before met me and motioned to follow them into the building, where I was handed off to another uniformed officer who brought me up a few floors in a carpeted elevator, where I was then met by an affable man in a very nice navy blue suit. He took me to a large waiting room with bright lights, gaudy furniture, and large murals of Egypt’s military triumphs from antiquity to the crossing of the Suez Canal in October 1973. After what seemed like forever, the same man in the blue suit escorted me to what can only be described as a fairly understated, American-style living room with bookshelves, a couch, a large easy chair, and two arm chairs at the end of a coffee table. I was asked to sit at the end of the couch closest to the easy chair. Omar Pasha entered a few seconds later with two note takers in tow, and said in a deep voice, “Good morning.”
Our conversation focused almost exclusively on foreign relations. He was deeply hostile to America’s enemies in the Middle East, complaining bitterly that every time he thought he had a deal between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, the Syrians and Iranians would scuttle it. He also offered his view that the United States, Egypt, and other friendly countries in the region should work together to keep “Iran busy with itself.” His implication was clear — Egyptian intelligence, the CIA, Mossad, Saudi intelligence and others should engage in clandestine operations to destabilize the clerical regime in Tehran.
Suleiman’s hawkish language was part and parcel of a larger shift in Egyptian rhetoric in the late Mubarak era. In those years, the Egyptians were always looking for ways to make themselves useful to Washington besides tangling with Hamas, participating in renditions of terrorist suspects, and being the occasional caterer for talks between Israelis and Palestinians. Omar Pasha did not take my bait to discuss domestic Egyptian politics, and when my 60 minutes were up, he excused himself and left with his note takers. The man in the blue suit then returned me to the elevator and everything played out in reverse.
The drill was exactly the same on my subsequent visits, during which Suleiman invariably steered the conversation to foreign affairs. He was expansive on the various challenges on the Palestinian front — President Mahmoud Abbas’s weakness and Hamas’s connection to what he later infamously calledthe “Brothers Muslimhood.” For all the lore about his close ties with the Israelis, he harangued me in one meeting that the Israelis were whipping up anti-Egyptian sentiment in Congress with videos of smuggling across the Gaza border. He also resented Turkish efforts to mediate between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, complaining that the Turks didn’t understand Hamas. That may well be true, but Suleiman was also clearly annoyed that Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu was encroaching on Egyptian turf.
The last time I saw Omar Pasha was on Jan. 24, 2011 — on the eve of the Egyptian revolution. I was with a group of foreign-policy experts, business leaders, and philanthropists and we met in an auditorium at the GIS headquarters. It was hard not to notice the freaky, yoga studio-like music that was playing over the sound system. When Suleiman arrived, he sat alone on a dais and spoke into a microphone, even though the delegation numbered only about 25 people seated in the second row of the auditorium, behind a gaggle of GIS courtiers. During the meeting, we learned that the United States had supplied Egypt with the technology to turn off the Internet — something the Egyptians would employ in earnest, though not terribly effectively, less than 24 hours later.
By Jan. 24, Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali had already fallen and a wave of self-immolations in Egypt had led to widespread speculation about whether the revolution was headed east. Naturally, therefore, someone in our delegation asked Suleiman whether the Tunisian revolt could happen in his country. But even at this late hour, he was as contemptuous of change as he had been six years ago, when he slammed his first down on the Washington conference table. “No,” he responded. “The police have a strategy and the president is strong.” Even at the time, the hubris was astonishing.
A little more than two weeks later, it was an ashen-faced Suleiman who brought the Mubarak era to a formal end in a short televised address. “Citizens, in these difficult circumstances the country is going through, President Mohamed Hosni Mubarak has decided to leave his position as president of the republic, and has entrusted the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to administer the nation’s affairs,” he said.
Some of my Egyptian friends still have a hard time processing the fact that Suleiman was unable to quell the Egyptian uprising. To them, this was a man who — despite being shrouded in secrecy — loomed impossibly large. Wasn’t he was a master manipulator, a man to be feared? After all, he had kept the Muslim Brotherhood down, brutalized the regime’s other opponents, served as the trusted interlocutor of Americans and Israelis alike, and was on the short list of Hosni Mubarak’s possible successors. For some Egyptians, it is hard to make sense of the fact that Suleiman turned out to be more Wizard of Oz than Dark Lord of the Sith.
So much for the Muslim’s world love of America and Barack Obama. Why the hell would they? (via IPS):
Despite continuous assurances that the United States favours democratic rule during the 18-month-old “Arab Spring”, majorities or pluralities in six predominantly Muslim countries see Washington as an obstacle to their democratic aspirations, according to a new survey released here Tuesday.
Indeed, Saudi Arabia is generally seen as a stronger advocate of democracy than the U.S. in all six nations, although not as strong as Turkey, according to the poll by the Pew Global Attitudes Project.
The survey, which covered Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Pakistan, Tunisia and Turkey, also found a strong desire in all six countries not only for democratic government, but also for specific concepts associated with democratic governance, including free elections, freedom of religion, free speech, and equal rights for women.
At the same time, majorities of respondents in Pakistan (82 percent), Jordan (72 percent), and Egypt (60 percent) said said they believed their nations’ laws “should strictly follow the teachings of the Quran”.
In Tunisia and Turkey, on the other hand, majorities and pluralities said the law “should follow the values and principles of Islam”, while in Lebanon, the country with the largest percentage of Christians, a 42 percent plurality, said laws “should not be influenced by the Quran”.
The survey, which was conducted from mid-March to mid-April, was part of Pew’s annual series on global attitudes that has run over the last 12 years. A total of 26,000 respondents in 21 countries were interviewed in the poll whose findings on specific issues, such as attitudes toward Iran’s nuclear programme and the popularity of various international leaders, have been and will continue to be released over a period of months.
Because the polling was done in the spring, the latest release, which is focused on attitudes in the six countries as the “Arab Spring” has evolved, does not take account of various recent events, such as the presidential elections and ongoing power struggle in Egypt; the past week’s elections in Libya; the drift toward civil war in Syria and its government’s increased tensions with Turkey and Lebanon; renewed sectarian tensions in Bahrain; and the latest accord between Pakistan and the U.S. re-opening NATO supply routes to Afghanistan – some or all of which could have an impact on respondents’ answers to some questions.
In terms of respondents’ desire for democratic government, the survey found few changes from similar questions posed in last year’s poll, with the greatest enthusiasm found in Lebanon, Turkey, and Egypt.
And while democratic governance remained popular, most respondents in Jordan, Tunisia, and Pakistan said they would rather have a “strong economy” than a “good democracy”. Egyptians were roughly split on the issue, while Turks and Lebanese favoured democracy over a strong economy.
Asked whether respondents would have more confidence in democracy as opposed to a “strong leader”, strong majorities in Lebanon (80 percent), Turkey (68 percent), Egypt and Tunisia (61 percent) opted for democracy, as did a 49-percent plurality in Jordan. By contrast, 61 percent of Pakistanis opted for a “strong leader”.
The following is published today as the lead piece by ABC’s The Drum:
The two-hour drive from Islamabad to Peshawar is along a surprisingly smooth road. Mud-brick homes sit amongst lush, green fields. Police checkpoints are set up routinely to stop unwanted visitors.
I am asked why I want to see the troubled Pakistani town near the border with Afghanistan. I say I’m a reporter, flash my International Federation of Journalists press card, which I’m sure the officer can’t read, and am quickly waved through.
Islamabad is a relatively liberal city in one of the most volatile nations on earth. Peshawar is geographically close but a world away. Women, if they’re seen at all in public, walk in shapeless burkas and men have thick beards and wear the traditional salwar kameez. Suicide bombers regularly attack government buildings, police and army in a continuing war against the Pakistani state and its Western backers. I arrive feeling uneasy.
A once stable town has been torn apart in the last decade as militants seek to overthrow both a corrupt central government and expel a Washington-led campaign against the resistance that is seen as illegitimate and lacking public support.
When I visit in March this year, I am surprised by the vibrancy of the Pakistani media. Multiple outlets joust for dominance, routinely publishing scandalous information about politicians and celebrities. But as I have seen first-hand in Iran, Palestine, Syria, Cuba and Egypt and a range of other countries, magical “red lines” exist that must not be crossed. If they are, journalists can pay an extremely high price.
I meet independent journalist Hayat in Peshawar. He’s 35 with a wife and two young children. He wears a pink-striped shirt and grey suit. Pockmarked face. His office is on the third floor of a non-descript building. His knowledge about the FATA (Federal Administered Tribal Areas) is immense, having spent time in the various regions. He talks about the different Taliban groups, how they relate to each other and the government.
Peshawar is on the edge of this abyss, the entry point to a tribal land that remains impossible for Westerners and most Pakistanis to visit. Since 9/11, it has been occupied by the Pakistani army and militants and often remains lawless.
It is where US president Obama, far more than his predecessor George W Bush, has unleashed an unprecedented number of drone strikes, killing hundreds of civilians since 2009, according to a recent study by The Bureau of Investigative Journalism. These men, women and children are rarely given names by the Western media. Instead our media class are happy to simply repeat official Pakistani and American government claims of killing “terrorists”.
We degrade our profession by mindlessly rehashing White House press releases with no evidence to support the thesis. Sadly it has become a regular occurrence in both the tabloid and so-called quality press, including the ABC, Fairfax and News Limited. “10 militants killed”; “7 Al-Qaeda terrorists killed”. No evidence. Rarely any photographs or video. This isn’t journalism; it’s stenography.
Hayat’s voice is invisible in the West, despite speaking fluent English. Here’s a man with unique access to one of the most challenging areas on the planet and yet most Western news outlets seemingly prefer to rely on familiar faces and voices. When was the last time you read an article about Iraq or Afghanistan by an Afghan or Iraqi actually based in their respective countries?
During research for my book, The Blogging Revolution, on the internet in repressive regimes, a work that took me to Cuba, Egypt, Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia and China, it became clear that many in the Western media are reluctant to hear voices that don’t conform to their idea of what a foreigner should sound like or think. It is the only explanation for the near-complete exclusion of indigenous voices from conflict zones in our mainstream press.
Their freedom of speech is ignored because of the inherent, Western-centric nature of our leading journalists and media practitioners. Let me be blunt; our white-skin dominated media often doesn’t trust brown, yellow or black skin. The result is a wilful myopia that ignores both the nuance of a nation and the reasons post 9/11 that so little is understood about the reality of the rapacious “war on terror” and its reach in dozens of countries worldwide.
Why do “they” hate us? Because we occupy and kill “them”.
A recent story by independent journalist Matthieu Aikins in the Columbia Journalism Review should be a wake-up call to anybody who believes that advocating free speech in a globalised world hasn’t changed in the last decade. It has, hugely. Aikins details a recent story by a filmmaker from Britain’s Channel 4 who worked with Syrian dissidents in the capital Damascus. The Syrian was providing secure communications expertise to the resistance and the Western filmmaker interviewed him about his work. But the dissident worried that the documentarian wasn’t taking appropriate security precautions to protect his identity and work. For example, he was using a mobile phone and SMS without protections.
Last October the filmmaker was arrested in Syria, held for days in prison and had has laptop, mobile phone, camera and footage taken by the regime. As soon as he discovered this, the dissident fled Damascus, stayed with relatives in another town and then escaped to Lebanon. The dissident and his colleagues were scared that Syrian intelligence now had access to names, faces and information about opponents of president Assad.
Aikins rightly says that it’s easy to condemn the filmmaker for not taking adequate digital precautions of his material but it’s really systematic of a wider problem.
We are all failing to encrypt our work when reporting from conflict zones and nations where intelligence services are ubiquitous. I have been guilty of this myself. When off-the-shelf surveillance equipment is now so easily available - WikiLeaks’ Spy Files revealed the vast number of Western security firms selling technology to repressive and democratic states, making the monitoring of email, Skype and mobile phone calls – it is the responsibility of journalists, human rights activists and NGOs to learn how to protect information that could mean the difference between life and death for the people we claim to represent and protect.
But we are foolish to believe these threats only exist in the non-Western world. The Obama administration has accelerated the development of a surveillance state apparatus that now listens and records every phone call and email every day in the US. Some estimate up to 20 trillion calls and emails have been stored in the last years. Salon’s Glenn Greenwald has written extensively about Obama’s unprecedented war on whistle-blowers.
In Pakistan and Afghanistan recently, working on a book and film about disaster capitalism, I heard countless reporters talking about self-censorship, a daily need to assess what to write and what to avoid.
During a recent episode of Julian Assange’s The World Tomorrow – an outstanding weekly TV program that interviews some of the key thinkers and players in our world, individuals largely ignored by the corporate media – he spoke to Alaa Abd El-Fattah from Egypt and Nabeel Rajab from Bahrain. Both men have been imprisoned, tortured, held without charge. Both men remain outspoken. Both men refuse to be silenced and curtail their own free speech. Both men should be heard in our media on a regular basis but they are not. I believe it is because they are ferociously opposed to US-backed repression. They are unapologetic. Passionate. Necessarily unbalanced in their views towards Washington’s love of reliable autocrats. And yet their biggest recent audience is on the WikiLeaks founder’s current affairs show.
An inquisitive media would be intrigued with a book such as Poetry of the Taliban, a just-released tome that outlines without romanticising the love, adventure and fears of a group both pre and post September 11 that has beaten the world’s greatest super-power.
Supporting freedom of speech in its entirety, not merely claiming to appreciate all views but actually meaning it, as far too many liberals only endorse points of view with which they agree, means hearing the positions of groups or individuals with whom you may vehemently oppose. Truly free speech should make us uncomfortable, confronted and offended.
The internet has brought knowledge and information to more people than at any time in history. There are close to one billion Facebook accounts. Countless people use YouTube and Google every day.
But none of these tools provide human rights protections or ensure free speech. They merely give officials more opportunities to monitor and document a user’s online footprint. Although they allow activists much easier access to friends and colleagues around the world – and using online proxies to communicate and surf freely are essential in both repressive and democratic states – the reach of Western security companies is far greater than most people realise. It is no longer paranoid to presume that we are being watched and monitored by the state.
Wired magazine recently revealed that the National Security Agency in the US is building a $2 billion centre that aims to:
“intercept, decipher, analyse, and store vast swaths of the world’s communications as they zap down from satellites and zip through the underground and undersea cables of international, foreign, and domestic networks… Flowing through its servers and routers and stored in near-bottomless databases will be all forms of communication, including the complete contents of private emails, cell phone calls, and Google searches, as well as all sorts of personal data trails—parking receipts, travel itineraries, bookstore purchases, and other digital ‘pocket litter.’”
The threat to freedom of speech globally isn’t just in the obvious places – Afghanistan, Iraq, Mexico or China – but in our own backyard, instituted by our democratically elected leaders.
We have been warned.
This is an extract from the 2012 PEN Free Voices lecture, first delivered at the Sydney Writers Festival in May.
Antony Loewenstein is an independent journalist and author, co-editor with Jeff Sparrow, of the just released Left Turn, the upcoming After Zionism and a 2013 book and film about disaster capitalism. Follow him on Twitter. View his full profile here.