Erdogan’s constitutional tyranny

Published in Al Ahram Weekly on 28/4/2017

l’etat c’est moi — Louis XIV (1638-1715)

“I am the state,” said the famous French king Louis XIV who consolidated his power as absolute monarch for many decades. Louis XIV’s spirit seems to have passed to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who applies the same concept as he continues to turn Turkey into an absolutist constitutional tyranny.

Judging by late events in Turkey, the 16 April 2017 sham constitutional referendum had one possible ending: a “yes” result in favour of constitutional amendments that provide a constitutional frame to legitimise decades of future tyranny under Erdogan. The once prime minister now president has been turned overnight into a caliph of sorts, unprecedented powers being granted to the Turkish president.

The unprecedented powers granted to Erdogan not only secures his position as president until the 2019 elections, but also near guarantees it till 2029, whereby if he is still alive, he will likely either modify the constitution or pass the torch to one of his sons. Article 104 of the approved constitutional amendments provides that the president becomes both the head of state and head of government, with the power to appoint and sack ministers and the vice president. The president can issue decrees and declare martial law and preside over the cabinet as chairman at will. While the legislative authority can overrule executive decrees in some circumstances, this last section of the article is rendered useless when the ruling party, the Justice and Development Party (AKP), controls parliament and is headed by Erdogan.

Moreover, in Article 21, presidential elections are delayed for some odd reason till 2019, securing another two years in power for free for Erdogan. Also, the preposterous Article 159 effectively ends the independence of the Turkish judiciary system by reducing the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors number to 13 from 22. Of these 13 members four will be chosen by the president and another two members to be chosen by the Justice Ministry. Both of the minister of justice and his undersecretary will likely be chosen by President Erdogan according to the new constitution. Thus he gets to choose six judges out of 13. The board will also be renamed the Board of Judges and Prosecutors, demoting it from being a “Supreme Board” as in the new Turkey nothing seems to be supreme but Erdogan.

 

MASSIVE RIGGING OF THE REFERENDUM: For many decades, Turkish people always took pride in their democratic process and considered it among the finest in the world. Nevertheless, during past decades, the activities of the Islamist ruling AKP have eroded that pride and confidence as a result of constant riggings of elections in favour of the party.

A few hours from the beginning of the referendum, all indications and reports from Turkey pointed towards mass rigging operations. There is an overwhelming amount of evidence that if presented to any impartial court of law in Turkey it would annul the entire referendum process. However, since Erdogan has purged most of the impartial judges following the alleged coup attempt in 2016, any evidence presented by the two main opposition parties — the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) — or others may find itself tossed out of court by a pro-Erdogan judge. That is exactly what took place after the opposition appealed the result of the referendum to Turkey’s High Election Board.

The narrow percentage of the “yes” vote, at 51.41 per cent against 48.59 per cent to “no”, displays the inability of the Turkish president to sway a landslide majority towards his preposterous constitutional amendment. The rigging methods included all the classic methods, such as pre-marked ballot papers, switching of official ballot boxes with unstamped forged ones, and getting rid of entire ballot boxes containing “no” votes. Moreover, the entire process was marred by abuse, verbal and physical threats by Erdogan’s supporters (Erdogoons) towards the Hayir (No) campaigners. The intimidation tactics used on public and social media against the “No” campaign were unprecedented and leave not a shred of doubt that the entire process was conducted under duress.

The 51.41 per cent result of referendum is a far cry from the 91.4 per cent for which the Turkish nation voted for the same constitution in 1982. That constitution witnessed 18 amendments including eight during the reign of the AKP, which altered 108 articles in it. Nearly all of the eight amendments that took place under AKP rule were in favour of the Islamicisation policies of Erdogan, which served as a prequel to the grand finale that took place 17 April 2017.

IGNORED SIGNS OF CHANGE: During the early 1930s, if Western political analysts cared to read carefully the fascist literature of the Nazis, including Hitler’s own biography Mein Kämpf, they could have easily deduced and predicted his plans for a European and global domination. Similarly, if the same Western analysts who supported vehemently and ignorantly the rise of Islamist parties to power in Turkey and other Middle countries bothered to read Islamist literature by the Muslim Brotherhood and other Salafist denominations on the imperative of establishing a Caliphate, they would not have supported Erdogan’s ambitions for nearly two decades till he became the uncontested supreme ruler of Turkey.

At the moment, Erdogan has political powers befitting a mythological ancient Greek demigod more than a 21st century president.

For two decades, Western pundits — especially the liberals among them — deluded themselves along with their readers on the importance of inducting Islamists in the democratic process in Middle Eastern countries. They have believed the lie they propagated that Turkey is the model country in the image of which the rest of the Middle East should be formed. Indeed, it could have been that model, if the basis of secular governance was maintained and Islamists didn’t abuse the democratic system to infuse their venom on the whole of society, thus eventually creating a modified version of the Iranian regime in Turkey. The wishful thinking displayed by these pundits, ignoring all the red flags that were evident during the Islamicisation period between 2000-2017, is reflected in how shocked they were after their “democratic Islamist” pet project failed miserably.

The political myopia of the likes of Steven Cook, who is supposedly a Middle East expert, contributed to the rise of such disastrous phenomena in Egypt and all across the Middle East. He and many of his ilk went further, defending the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and angered at their ouster by the Egyptian people in June 2013. The same writer has written an article “RIP Turkey 1921-2017”. It is an obituary about the death of the Turkish Republic, a fate that the Egyptian republic would have met if Egyptians followed his advice about the Muslim Brotherhood, a group Erdogan happens to be a member of, following its agenda to the letter.

Other parties to blame are the United States and European Union governments who supported Erdogan’s endless ambitions till very recently to secure a Turkish army presence in NATO in face of Russia. These very governments are now reaping what they sowed as Erdogan is more dangerous than any dictator that could have risen from the Middle East.

The way Turkey is sliding towards political chaos indicates that it won’t be too long before the AKP joins the infamous list of single parties that destroyed nations from within, including the German Nazi Party, the Soviet Communist Party and the Iraqi Baath Party. All of the above contributed to the demise of their countries, and even in some cases neighbouring countries as well. If not stopped immediately, the AKP is moving to become that single party that will destroy what is left of Turkey’s once democratic life.

As a result of the sham referendum, thousands of Turkish protesters have taken the streets and are adamant to not stand down or let Erdogan enjoy the fruits of a rigged referendum. As per Erdogan’s modus operandi, protests are met with brutal security force to instil fear in the hearts of millions in Turkey who feel betrayed by Erdogan.

CONCLUSION: First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.

  • Martin Niemöller (1892-1984)

In this poem German Lutheran Pastor Martin Niemöller expresses his deep regret for the complacency he has displayed towards the Nazis’ crimes towards different factions of the German nation before World War II and during Hitler’s rise to absolute power. The Nazis seemed to take down one German faction after the other and filled concentration camps with all sorts of dissidents, opposition and millions other of ethnic groups such as Roma (Gypsies) and Jews.

The repenting pastor’s poem seems to resemble the same sentiments of the opposition who watched for decades as Erdogan became the master of the land and dismantled the democratic institutions piece by piece.

Hardly any democracy ends by abrupt means and in the case of Turkey it took nearly two decades of Islamist rule to put the last nail in the coffin of Turkey’s once prosperous secular democracy.

Dissidents against Islamist rule have to choose between two hard choices; either continue an endless stream of demonstrations while facing Erdogan’s persecution, to pressure the government to step down or accept their repeal for a new referendum; or wait for another army intervention or coup, which seems more far fetched since Erdogan already incarcerated and sacked almost all secular military commanders who would have stepped up to save the constitution.

There is a lot of blame to be shared in this situation and especially aimed towards the terribly organised opposition who seem to always act in favour of Erdogan who pits them against one another while they usually settle for the crumbs he throws at them. After all, they are the ones who accepted an Islamist party disguised as a modern secular one as the dominant party of Turkey. They have been complacent for two decades against infringements on the human rights of many groups and opposition leaders in Turkey.

Luckily, the Turkish nation and republic is too great to be dissolved and to die, as Steven Cook suggests, at the hands of one man, no matter how powerful he has become. However, without a shred of doubt there are darker skies ahead as concerns Turkey’s short-term future. The fight to regain Turkey back from the Islamists just got harder, but it is a fight that has to be undertaken. Now is a moment of truth for every patriotic Turk around the world to stand and fight the tyranny, or watch as the Ataturk republic fades away.

Most importantly, these results debunk any naïve theories that Islamists — even in countries possessing modern economies and educated populations — could ever run a healthy democratic system. In fact, they usually work on ruining any existing democratic process and institutions while abusing that process to guarantee eternal rule for their party. Once an Islamist party heads the government, it will be quite hard to topple by democratic means.

Erdogan may have sealed his fate and secured a place among the historical tyrants that dragged their countries into chaos and misery instead of prosperity. Nevertheless, the descendants of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk will not put up with his tyranny no matter how it costs them. He can take pride in coining a new political term for a new form of governance patented in his name: constitutional tyranny.

Through that system of governance, he believes he secured a lifetime as a president and possibly initiated a ruling dynasty that would be followed by his corruption-tainted son, Necmettin Bilal Erdogan, or Ahmet Burak Erdogan. Erdogan believes he will rule Turkey forever and his legacy will be followed by his sons. Unfortunately for him, so did Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi.

Original Post in Al Ahram Weekly

http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/News/20275.aspx

The passion of Egypt’s Christians

Published in Al Ahram Weekly in 21/4/2017

Patriotism is a term abhorred by globalists and abused by those who carry fascist agendas such as the Islamists and their ilk. Yet, it is a notion that enables people to display their finest and noblest values towards their country while defending it with their most prized possessions, including their own lives. Few can boast of such a noble trait while displaying humility, dedication and endurance in the way that Egypt’s Christians have done throughout their history and particularly over recent decades.

Egypt’s Coptic Christians have been a target of terrorists for decades. Being among the most pacific people in Egyptian society, the Christians have mostly endured these attacks in silence. Short of a few limited demonstrations over the years, the Christians have demanded nothing but full equality. On paper and constitutionally, the Coptic population of Egypt possesses the same rights and obligations as Muslims. Nevertheless, there have always been hurdles that some Christians have had to cope with, especially in rural areas where family feuds and tribalism may ensure.

Without proper legal protection some Christians have endured discrimination over the years that while mostly subtle has nevertheless existed in many forms. The latest wave of terrorist attacks on Christian churches in Egypt brings the Christian issue once again into the limelight, requiring the government to take action in resolving it. The attacks took place in Holy Week, when according to Christian theology Jesus had to endure a week of torment and pain until his crucifixion at the hands of the Romans.

It is apparent that the deeply pious Egyptian Christian population has had to go through not dissimilar pains for many years. Islamist Salafis and other radicals target them on social media, and terrorists attempt to attack their places of worship. While some may argue that the number of attacks has been limited compared to the large population of Egypt’s Christians, estimated at between 12 and 15 million, the attacks have nevertheless escalated over the years and become something that the government cannot ignore or trifle with because every Egyptian life counts.

Two heinous terrorist bombings, of the Church of St George in Tanta and of the St Mark’s Church in Alexandria, took place simultaneously during the annual celebration of Holy Week, called in Arabic the “Week of Pain”. Holy Week starts with Palm Sunday and continues through Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday. The attacks were meant to be a hideous message of terror directed at Egyptian Christians, indicating that they would be targeted by the Muslim Brotherhood and its offshoot and Islamic State (IS) group affiliate Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis during their holiest days.

The attacks were also meant to discourage Egyptian Copts from supporting the elected president of Egypt, Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, whose government is in open war with the aforementioned terrorist groups. They have evidently failed in that aim, as Egypt’s Christians, along with the majority of the population, are solidly behind Al-Sisi for having secured the nation against terrorism.

The April attacks may not have been the first attacks on churches in recent years, but they were nevertheless devastating. They rub salt into an open wound resulting from other attacks orchestrated by the Muslim Brotherhood group and its allies. The attacks in Tanta and Alexandria left a combined death toll of 45 behind them and dozens of people injured. The victims of the attacks were mostly Christians, but they also included eight police officers who were Muslims.

These officers heroically managed to decrease the number of deaths resulting from the bombing at St Mark’s Church. For the first time, there were policewomen among the victims. Coptic Pope Tawadros II was inside the church at the time of the bombing. Fortunately, he was unharmed.

SECURITY BREACHES: There have been extraordinary efforts exerted by the Ministry of Interior and the police, and these have led to a huge reduction in the number of terrorist attacks by the Muslim Brotherhood and its affiliates since June 2013.

Nevertheless, the fact that two major churches were attacked simultaneously during a religious celebration such as Palm Sunday reveals that there are security gaps that must be closed by the police.

Suicide bombings are almost impossible to stop, but these suicide bombers managed to approach the church closely enough to cause major damage. If it had not been for the heroism of the fallen police officers, the casualties could have been in their hundreds. Accordingly, in order to secure everyone’s lives, including those of the police, more modern approaches to security need to be implemented, especially during holidays and religious celebrations.

Furthermore, during the present war on terrorism no expense can be spared in acquiring the cutting-edge technology required by the security forces to implement further measures that could save lives. Pre-emptive strikes on terrorist cells could also be used as a key deterrent to prevent such acts of madness.

Following an attack on a church or Christians, a standard chain of events often takes place. First, Al-Azhar denounces the attack and reaffirms the unity of the nation’s Muslim and Christian citizens. It states that any such barbaric attacks neither represent the Islamic faith nor the majority of Muslims. Then, similar condemnations are followed by a few days of mourning announced by all media outlets. The media plays either national songs of solidarity or reproduces the comments of Christian and Muslim personalities who stress the importance of unity on television talk shows.

The Ministry of Interior then declares that it has either captured some of the suspects or is hunting down the suspected terrorists. A media loop of this sort has been repeated for at least three decades and hardly changes except in minor details. Unfortunately, this sequence of the monotonous bureaucratic handling of every crisis has exacerbated matters as the government has avoided tackling the real issues faced by Christians for decades.

During the period in office of former president Hosni Mubarak, the security services usually labelled the attackers of churches “lone wolves” displaying psychotic behaviour. They hardly acknowledged that they were organised terrorist attacks. Following the 25 January Revolution, the pattern of attacks proved that they were too organised to be the work of lone wolves alone and the fingerprints of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafist groups were apparent on these heinous crimes.

For years, Egypt’s Christian population has endured a plight that pollutes its harmonious coexistence with its Muslim brethren. This plight must be addressed in the most rapid way and true reparation made to restore the Coptic population’s faith in the country and its government. These reparations should start by effectively applying the 2014 constitution and the articles in it that protect the rights of all individuals regardless of their creed, race or gender. The Copts have never requested any special treatment or any form of reparations for past grievances against them, however.

For decades, they have endured hardships silently as sectors of the population have grown more bigoted towards them since the 1960s. Over the years, there have even been government officials who have discriminated intentionally against Christians. Though these cases have been rare, they have occurred, and they should never be repeated in the future.

CHANGES FROM THE PAST: At the beginning of his presidential term, it became clear that President Al-Sisi was adamant about solving the Christian problems with the state that had accumulated for several decades. These problems include church-building permits and the lack of equal opportunities in acquiring official positions. The president has his work cut for him, as he is attempting to fix decades of failed policies towards Christians.

Over the past three years, Al-Sisi has managed to gain the Christian population’s trust by rebuilding and restoring over 60 churches that were burned by the Muslim Brotherhood in August 2013 and afterwards. He avenged the 21 Coptic workers in Libya who were butchered on air by IS by ordering air strikes that destroyed major targets and the area where the killers were located. He has also been the first Egyptian president to attend Christmas Mass, setting a tradition for other presidents to follow. All of these things have rendered any attempts to drive a wedge between the Christians and the president doomed to failure.

Through its vibrant Christian population, Egypt’s diversity has been a model for other nations to follow over the centuries. Accordingly, the country should not permit this diversity to be broken to serve the Wahhabi assault on the fabric of the nation. Wahhabism, a fundamentalist form of Islam, and its local version Salafism, have been acting as a societal virus that has damaged Egyptian diversity for many decades. It is a virus that must be contained and eliminated for the nation to peacefully survive. The Salafist movement has adopted a rhetoric of intolerance, bigotry and terrorism. Not all Salafis are adopters of hate and violence, as there are many who practise their beliefs peacefully, but there are some extremists who are prone to act at any given moment as the events of past years have demonstrated.

These people’s various teachings and leaders have for years loathed Egyptian identity. They have done this while also desecrating the very basis of the Islamic religion that Egyptians have practised for 1,400 years. All of this renders Salafism a clear and present danger to the very fabric of Egyptian society.

For decades, the security services watched silently as the Salafis gained ground in Egypt and became a force to be reckoned with. They believed that the Salafis could be their allies in the nation’s struggle with the Muslim Brotherhood. But the days that followed the 25 January Revolution debunked that theory as the Salafis were the first to ally themselves with the Muslim Brotherhood and share power against the rest of the nation. A large number of the arrested hooligans and terrorists who committed all sorts of violence after the 30 June Revolution also belonged to the Salafist factions who found that the cause of the Muslim Brotherhood of establishing a caliphate matched their long-term goals and ambitions.

It is unfathomable that Salafi preachers such as Yasser Borhami and Mohamed Hassan still manage to elude the law. They do this through issuing fatwas (religious edicts) and divisive rhetoric that incite hatred against Christians and even other Muslims who refuse to follow their twisted rhetoric. Despite countless police reports and court cases filed against the aforementioned Salafi leaders, they seem to remain untouchable, creating a false sense that the government approves such rhetoric and protects its adopters.

Following the attack on the two churches, Al-Sisi declared a three-month state of emergency across Egypt and issued an executive order to establish a higher council for countering terrorism and extremism. This should in theory have the mandate and authority to counter terrorist activities and monitor extremist activities in Egypt, though the actual authority and powers of the new council are still unclear. However, if the council does not focus on repealing discriminatory laws, fighting extremist rhetoric and designing long-term strategies for counter-terrorism and social harmony, then it will be just another ceremonial political organisation to join the many others before it.

An example of such a ceremonial establishment is the “Egyptian Family” initiative set up in 2011 between the grand sheikh of Al-Azhar and the late Pope Shenouda III to help unify Egyptian Muslims and Christians while solving recurring problems in the state. Despite the great aspirations and noble cause of this initiative, it fell short of attaining tangible results on the ground and turned into a ceremonial institution that issued press releases after each terrorist attack but did not do much to stop the next one occurring. The council for countering terrorism and extremism should aim to be different from that.

CONCLUSIONS: It is imperative that every patriotic Egyptian, especially Muslim Egyptians, now press the government to weed out laws that hinder the full equality of Egyptian Christians or any other minority.

The time for sugar-coated words, emotional speeches and lacklustre efforts is over. These things must be replaced by decisive actions that transform the nation into a model to be followed not just for the troubled Middle Eastern region but also for the whole world.

As a man of action who has stood steadfastly against Muslim Brotherhood terrorism and is about to deliver the group a historic defeat in Egypt, President Al-Sisi’s greatest achievement will not be a physical mega-project regardless of its magnitude and importance. His greatest achievement should be attainting full equality between all Egyptians, along with pressing for more concrete efforts for Islamic religious reform and for the re-establishment of the social harmony that has been battered for decades due to Islamist infiltration of society.

It is time to heighten the secular values of tolerance and coexistence among all the members of the nation and to include these things in the constitution and educational curriculum. The president possesses the power and the overwhelming support necessary to do this. He is urged to expose those who are opposing his social and religious reform plans because at the end of the day it is his legacy as president that will carry the glory of success or the burden of failure. The déjà-vu reactions which the nation witnesses after every terrorist attack on Christians hardly suffice, and they are becoming unbearable for patriotic Egyptians to endure.

The Roman Catholic Pope Francis’s visit to Egypt on 28 April signifies the immense international support for the Egyptian people and all Egypt’s Christian denominations, including the Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant, and Anglican sects. Despite the majority of Egypt’s Christians following the Coptic Orthodox Church, the visit signifies the importance of Egypt to the Christian faith in general, being the country that embraced Christianity in its very earliest days.

Indeed, the history of Christianity in Egypt can be traced back to the trip of the Holy Family to Egypt over 2,000 years ago, which was followed by the establishment of the first ever Christian monastery in the world, St Anthony’s Monastery in Suez. The Catholic pontiff’s visit to Egypt will be an ideal occasion for Egyptians to display their unity with the rest of the world.

The passion of Egyptian Christians is manifested in remarkable examples of patience, patriotism and solidarity against the odds. For decades, Muslim Brotherhood terrorists and Salafi extremists have managed to escape the hand of the law, while patriotic Christians have paid the price. It is time to reverse older policies and protect all patriotic citizens, while prosecuting the treacherous for their ill deeds which strike deep in the hearts of all Egyptian patriots.

Experience has shown that while no country can ever fully protect its citizens from terrorist attacks, many democratic countries have been able to provide equal opportunities for all citizens without exceptions. The war on terrorism will only be won when Egypt as a great nation becomes the opposite of what the Muslim Brotherhood and other terrorists have dreamed it to be. Only then will the proud Egyptian nation be able to claim a truly decisive victory over terrorism.

Original Post in Al Ahram Weekly

http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/News/20246.aspx

Banging the drums of war

 

Published in Al Ahram Weekly in 14/4/2017

A week is a long time in politics. Many treat that statement lightly but this fact manifests itself at its finest in the current exploding situation between the United States and Russia over Syria. The Syrian war has entered its sixth year after the initial protests of March 2011 that quickly turned into an armed struggle fuelled mainly by Islamist and terrorist groups against their belligerents represented by the Bashar Al-Assad regime and his allies, which include the Lebanese Hizbullah, Russia and Iran. Russian involvement has changed the tide of events and balanced the field for the Syrian army to rout most of the advancing Islamists financed and armed by Erdogan’s Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and trained by CIA operatives.

On 4 April, a horrific video was circulated depicting a heinous scene allegedly taking place in Khan Sheikhoun, Syria, the result of a massive chemical attack on a civilian district, killing 30 children with many others either dead or suffocating. The video resulted in a major world outcry against the Syrian regime who denied involvement in the attack. Syria’s ally Russia suggested that if authenticated there was a good chance that stockpiles of chemical weapons in the vicinity were detonated as a result of an air strike.

The video was released by two very questionable sources. One of them is the White Helmets, which worked for a long while with Al-Qaeda’s affiliate Al-Nusra Front. The other is the controversial NGO the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which ironically enough isn’t operating from Syria but from the United Kingdom.

As a reaction to this unverified video, and prior to any investigations, on 7 April President Donald Trump ordered a rushed strike on the Shayrat airbase in Syria, believed to be the launching airbase for the chemical attack. The strike was performed by two US Navy destroyers stationed in the Mediterranean, which fired 59 Tomahawk missiles, most of which hit critical targets and killed 15 Syrians according to Syrian government sources. Trump acted without a clear casus belli or United Nations mandate, which is required and only given via a Chapter VII resolution by the Security Council. Thus, the US air strikes on Syria are constituted a unilateral “act of aggression”.

In a short press conference, Trump justified the attack on the Syrian airbase as a targeted attack and specific punishment for the chemical attack that was launched from that airbase. In another joint press conference with Jordanian King Abdullah, Trump said he now had a responsibility concerning Syria after witnessing the chemical attack.

CIA’S VESTED INTERESTS IN SYRIA: The first question that comes to mind is if the intelligence and advice presented to President Trump was gathered by the same heads of intelligence who are questioning his presidential campaign ties to President Putin. These sources were aching for months to create the biggest possible rifts between the two countries. Moreover, it is yet to be known if it is the same intelligence sources represented by the CIA who invested incredible resources in training, financing and arming the once called Free Syrian Army, now amusingly called Syria’s Democratic Forces.

The Central Intelligence Agency has been rooting for an involvement in the Syrian civil war since its start and has been in dismay that its efforts produced nothing but more terrorist groups in the region affiliated to Al-Qaeda, such as Al-Nusra Front, Ahrar Al-Sham and the bloodthirsty Islamic State group. CIA analysts and advisors may have finally reached a breakthrough in convincing Trump to act based on what can be described as shoddy evidence at best. Neither a neutral United Nations-affiliated committee nor any other credible entity has attested to the video’s authenticity or whether the attack was committed by the Syrian government or not.

TRUMP’S BUMPY START AS PRESIDENT: For many years Trump argued against the involvement of the United States in Syria and vowed that he would change such interventionist policies once he took the helm of the United States. In August 2013, he tweeted: “What will we get for bombing Syria besides more debt and a possible long term conflict? Obama needs Congressional approval.” During his election campaign, he questioned the importance of the NATO alliance and US commitment to it, adding that European allies don’t share enough of its surmounting costs.

At the moment, Trump is facing heavy criticism on the air strikes, even from some of his most ardent supporters. These erstwhile supporters believe that not only he betrayed his vows on non-interventionism in global conflicts that the United States is not involved in, but also for provoking what could possibly be a long conflict with the Russians, Syrians and other belligerents in the Syrian civil war.

DOMESTIC AND INTERNATIONAL REACTIONS: Libertarian guru and former Senator Ron Paul connected the dots on the whole issue by posing the following questions: “Does anyone believe on that on the eve of peace talks, just after the White House said the Syrian people should choose their own leaders, that Assad would launch a gas attack to turn the whole world against him? We are back to the same lies that got us into Iraq? Do we never learn to question the propaganda?”

The Russians who pulled most of their troops out of Syria after finishing their mission helping the Syrian state stop the terrorist caliphate of the Islamic State group and other terrorist groups from expanding further in Syria, are likely to return in full force if no quick diplomatic solution is found. Russia already redeployed its navy in the Mediterranean to their naval base in Syria. The Russians are unlikely to see wasted the efforts they made to protect the Syrian state, regardless the cost. Consequently, this may lead to further complexities on the ground as the Russians are unlikely to allow US missiles to be launched towards their troops or navy. To make matters worse, they suspended a memorandum with the US that ensured flight safety in Syria, which signals that military engagements against American targets could occur in time.

Russian President Vladimir Putin views the US missile strikes as an aggression against a sovereign state in violation of international law and conducted under false pretexts. According to Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, “With this step Washington has struck a significant blow to Russian-American relations, which were already in a sorry state.” Former Russian president and current Prime Minister Dimitri Medvedev said the United States is “on the verge of a military clash with Russia”. Finally, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov compared the action to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, but said: “At least that time they tried to bring some evidence forward.”

THE MIDDLE EAST’S ENDLESS PAIN: Trump has already given his opponents an incredible gift that they will use to taint his legacy as president much worse than he thinks. However, the greater gift was presented to his most loathed enemies, which are the terrorists and jihadists who have rejoiced in Syria after over a year of Russian involvement against their expansion and strong presence in Syria.

That amazing service to Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group was done 7 April by taking down part of air force that was causing terrorist militants heavy losses recently. The same terrorists represented by the likes of Jaysh Al-Islam (The Army of Islam) spokesman Mohamed Alloush are demanding that the air strikes should destroy all Syrian air forces bases. “Hitting one airbase is not enough — there are 26 airbases that target civilians,” said Alloush. Thanks to Trump’s air strikes, these terrorists just had their hopes rejuvenated.

The Middle East is the most volatile region in the world. It has been the same since Ancient Egypt ruled most of it through the Medieval Crusades, all the way to modern times. This region’s deeply rooted problems cannot be solved through Tomahawk missiles fired from US destroyers on other standing armies. Such brash and uncalculated actions could turn an already flaming region into a living hell for its natives, and consequently the rest of the world.

CONCLUSION: With US national debt approaching $20 trillion in 2017, Trump can’t afford another trillion-dollar war on Syria, and much more if it involves Russia. For all intents and purposes that air strike may have served as a warning to America’s enemies, but its affects will be short lived and counterproductive. On the contrary, the long-term ramifications of these air strikes on both the United States and the Middle East will be terrible if is not diplomatically contained at the highest levels.

Moreover, with every war that the United States enters, its real and more powerful enemies — such as Iran and North Korea — make gains. This Syrian conflict, should it escalate, will prove to be no different than all the pointless wars that the United States launched in the past three decades.

Reigniting a war that was entering its final stages and drawing more belligerents to it will not save Syrian children or bring peace to the country. The strikes were based on an unverified video that indicates nothing about the true aggressor since no investigations took place yet in Syria.

The world cannot be led into a third world war like lemmings jumping over a cliff. This alleged sarin gas attack came just as five days after the Trump administration signalled that the Syrian president would not be held accountable and Syrians should choose their leaders freely. Hence, it is inconceivable that Assad would welcome that declaration by launching a sarin gas air strike on civilians.

Al-Assad may be a lot of things, but the fact that he is still standing and most of his adversaries either left office or are dead during the past six years, displays he is smarter than he is credited for. Accordingly, to foolishly commit such a heinous war crime against civilians and children a week before peace talks where he had the upper hand simply doesn’t make any strategic, military, political or even logical sense, especially that all those who benefit from it are his sworn enemies.

Till proven otherwise, the attack maybe rendered as a false flag to provide a casus belli for Trump to intervene in Syria.

On the other hand, it may later prove to be trap set for the new American president that he recklessly stepped into due to his known impetuous nature.

Trump dismally failed his first test in handling an international crisis as president and only destiny will reveal how far this mess will escalate from here. Trump can no longer brag about being the non-interventionist president he was voted in for, and instead will carry the warmongering stigma that tainted many of his predecessors. Undoubtedly, it is a victory for American neo-conservatives who managed to turn a self-proclaimed non-interventionist into a warmonger in less than three months.

For decades the world has paid hefty prices for American presidents attempting to divert attention from internal issues and failures towards international conflicts to gain credibility lost before their people. Evidently, we are witnessing another case where the world might pay another hefty price for Trump to keep his seat as president.

Original Post in Al Ahram Weekly

http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/News/20161.aspx

The Unreformable Islamists

Published in Al Ahram Weekly on 4/7/2017

The Muslim Brotherhood is clinging to its last hopes of restoring the organisation’s efficiency in Egypt after the critical hits it has suffered from the police and armed forces.

Yet, bizarrely every few months this terrorist group propagates the idea that the government is in the midst of indirect negotiations with it. It claims that the government is desperately seeking negotiation towards a peaceful settlement, and it says that it is the one that is refusing any reconciliation. It even adds delusional demands like the release of prisoners and the dropping of the charges of espionage against ousted former president Mohamed Morsi. The government has denied these baseless allegations, signifying the desperate condition of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Some politicians or security experts have proposed similar reconciliation initiatives with Muslim Brotherhood leaders and youth members, who they say are willing to reconcile themselves with Egyptian citizens. One of the latest of these has been proposed by former police commander and security expert Fouad Allam. His initiative proposes reconciliation after the repentance of Muslim Brotherhood terrorists and says that this should be supervised by a panel of clerics from Al-Azhar in order to convince the prisoners of their ill deeds from a religious standpoint.

This is extremely disturbing news, and it would be an enormous setback for the nation should this initiative be activated. Not only would it provide convicted terrorists and group members with a free pass out of jail, but it would also represent a clear and present danger to the security forces during the ongoing war on terrorism, especially in North Sinai.

For years, politicians, journalists and others have insisted on bringing up the idea of amnesty for those whom they believe have repented of their membership of the Brotherhood. They should be urged to cease and desist from these demands because history has repeatedly proven them wrong. They cannot continue to be obtuse about the nation’s plight and the apparently endless bloodshed it has suffered as a result of the deaths of thousands of its finest men and women in the line of duty and through acts of terrorism.

These casualties mean that thousands of families are in mourning for their loved ones and that their pain will never be over. Those who are feeling sorry for the Brotherhood youth wing today should at least have the decency to show the same sentiments to the young people of the armed forces and the police who have lost their lives fighting terrorist aggression. The Brotherhood youth members did not show any mercy when they spilled these people’s blood or were willing to do so in the group’s name.

The very act of discussing the subject of repentance by Muslim Brotherhood leaders is a desecration to the fallen heroes and a stab in the back of the nation that has paid a hefty price for its war against these terrorists. The youth members of the Brotherhood along with their leaders have sealed their fate by joining the dark forces of terrorism against their own nation and brethren. They should not be given free passage to repeat their ill deeds.

Time has proven that the Muslim Brotherhood would not have spared the lives of those who opposed it if it had been victorious. The Brotherhood would not have given its opponents the right to a fair trial that group members are enjoying now. The heinous crimes committed in Egypt’s burned police stations, with some policemen skinned alive, in August 2013 still come to people’s minds. The scenes we see in the media in Libya and Syria are also testimony of what would have befallen the Egyptian nation had the Muslim Brotherhood managed to emerge victorious in the war on terrorism.

FAILED RECONCILIATION: In almost every decade since the 1940s the Muslim Brotherhood has approached the government asking for reconciliation.

This started with the famous declaration of the founder of the group, Hassan Al-Banna, who had earlier approved the assassination of judge Ahmed Al-Khazendar in March 1948 and had then attempted to deceive the nation by denouncing the act. He lied by saying that those who had committed the act were “neither Brothers nor Muslims.” Later that same year, the Brotherhood assassinated the then prime minister Mahmoud Al-Noqrashi Pasha who had banned the group earlier in the year.

During the rule of former president Anwar Al-Sadat, a similar initiative was adopted by the president himself. As a result, the Islamists were given ample time and space to practise their propaganda and infiltrate society. A few years later, Al-Sadat was assassinated by the Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya, an offshoot group of the Muslim Brotherhood, on 6 October 1981.

More recently, in 1997 a wave of repentance and reconciliation declarations among the Islamists took place. These declarations ended terrorist activities temporarily, only for them to begin again a few years later. In 2007, the declaration by Sayed Imam, former mufti of the Al-Jihad terrorist group and one of its most influential figures, resulted in the release of large numbers of terrorists from Egyptian jails. But that reconciliation did not hold long either before terrorist activities were resumed. Imam’s declaration, entitled “Rationalising Jihad Activities in Egypt and the World,” was not treated by the Islamists with the interest that the government had anticipated.

Most recently, in 2013 during Morsi’s reign of terror some 810 Islamists and terrorists were released from jail by executive order. Of course, these releases took place in spite of the objections of the security forces. Unsurprisingly, many of those released then joined the terrorists operating in North Sinai or their ilk in Syria fighting alongside the likes of the Ahrar Al-Sham or the Islamic State (IS) groups. Some of them, including one of the assassins of prominent Egyptian writer Farag Fouda, have been found dead in Syria after fighting for IS.

From their earliest years, Islamists such as the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood and its youth group are trained to adopt a concept called taqiya, which can be translated as “prudence” or “caution”. Through taqiya and according to their doctrines they are permitted to lie to others to save their own skins if they are captured, if they are pressed by others to reveal their real identities, if their lives are endangered, or if the safety of the group is compromised. It is this taqiya that has allowed countless Muslim Brotherhood and other jihadists to sign declarations that they have given up violence while in fact they are still wedded to militant jihadism.

Unfortunately, security experts along with the clerics who supervise the signing of these declarations have been deceived over and over again over recent decades into believing that these terrorists have in fact repented and intend to follow a peaceful path. As a result, as soon as they are released and the police supervision of them is toned down, most of them rejoin their old groups or form new terrorist cells.

The reason for this is simple: All the members of the Brotherhood and other Islamists believe that they are locked in a mortal struggle to attain their final goal of establishing a global caliphate. As a result, the struggle with the Islamists and the jihadists is not a simple ideological or political one. Instead, it is an existential struggle for Egypt itself. Either Egypt maintains its place as one of the world’s cultural, economic, military and political centres, or it will be engulfed in an endless sea of troubles.

Furthermore, there is no religious guidance or counselling that is able to turn bloodthirsty terrorists into decent citizens. For years even the most prestigious Islamic religious institutions have failed to succeed in this task, and they have even been infiltrated by Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi clerics.

Brotherhood members, with very few exceptions, have shown themselves to be unreformable as they have desecrated everything that is holy and patriotic in the lives of their fellow citizens. The few repentant former jihadists who have become law-abiding citizens may be treated as anomalies. It is impossible to release thousands of terrorists back onto the streets when the result will be only a handful of reformed citizens.

FAME-SEEKERS: Egypt has recently been plagued by a deluge of politicians, pundits and pseudo-experts who are addicted to fame and are regular guests on night-time TV talk shows.

These people produce nonsensical initiatives every now and then to stay in the spotlight of events. But the fate of the Egyptian people and the Egyptian state cannot be decided by a group of fame-seekers who may claim that their initiatives are intended to bring peace to society but are in fact mostly in the interest of personal gain. The nation has already tasted the medicine offered by these fame-seekers, who time and time again have played a role in marketing the Muslim Brotherhood as a moderate group, especially after the 25 January Revolution.

This bizarre show must now end as the nation has already paid a hefty price for entertaining such drivel. For the first time in many decades, most of the nation has realised who its true enemies are, and these initiatives serve only as a diversion from the goals of the war on terrorism. The president and the government must be urged to declare clearly and unequivocally that no negotiations with the terrorist group the Muslim Brotherhood can take place. Without such a declaration, the present rumours will continue to spread with the aim of breaking the nation’s unified front against terrorism.

Furthermore, opening the door to any political reconciliation with the Muslim Brotherhood would be a negative signal to the world that the state has lost the war on terrorism and all the efforts by the Egyptian government to convince other nations to list the Brotherhood as a terrorist group will be in tatters.

Peace with terrorists is an illusion that only the delusional could be led to believe. The Egyptian people and consecutive governments have been deceived numerous times over the past eight decades by such attempts at reconciliation. After the sacrifices that have yielded great victories against the Muslim Brotherhood, and with world public opinion now finally starting to realise the danger of the group by connecting the dots that tie it to IS and Al-Qaeda, it is inconceivable that we stop fighting these terrorists now.

On the contrary, the battle against the group should be escalated across the globe, and hostile regimes that are harbouring group leaders such as the Turkish and Qatari regimes must be exposed to the world.

The Egyptian people, some of whom once made the mistake of trusting the Muslim Brotherhood during a period of uncertainty, are adamant that this should not be repeated. Though most Egyptians are peace-loving individuals who abhor wars and conflict, they are resolute about never following the path of forging a deal with the devil again. The nation that refused to surrender to the will of the Muslim Brotherhood at the height of its power and under extreme duress will not accept any form of reconciliation from the remnants of the same shattered group that was then defeated and ran to the hills.

They will not be fooled again by claims of moderation and acts of piety. Most Egyptians now understand the truth of the proverb that says “fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”

 

Original Post in Al Ahram Weekly

http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/News/20078.aspx

 

Erdogan: The Sick Man of Europe

Published in Al Ahram 24/3/2017

Hardly a few weeks pass without Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan fuelling a new series of problems with his Middle East neighbours or even his NATO allies. The latest spree of troublemaking witnessed Erdogan’s attempt to garner support for a new controversial referendum to change the Turkish constitution. If approved by Turkish voters, on 16 April, it will give limitless powers to the Turkish president and place a final nail in the coffin of Turkish democracy. Given how referendums and elections have been conducted in Turkey in recent years, unless a miracle takes place it is very likely that the referendum will pass. Once passed, it will secure Erdogan the presidency till at least 2029, or, in other words, till he comes up with a new idea to alter the constitution to prolong his endless power grab in Turkey.

As devastating as the new referendum may be for Turkish democracy, that is not the only problem Erdogan has stirred recently. The Turkish president is apparently not content at the masses in Turkey whom he rallies with red flags in Nazi-styled parades; he wants to expand these massive rallies into European countries with Turkish descent populations who are eligible to vote in the upcoming referendum.

ERDOGAN AND GERMANY: At one time, Germany — and especially German Chancellor Angela Merkel — was considered to be Turkey’s biggest ally in Europe and probably in the world. With about 2-3 million Germans of Turkish origin living in Germany, Turkish-German ties, spanning back as far as World War I, were always strong. But these ties witnessed a severe deterioration after Erdogan called the Germans and German chancellor terrorist supporters for demanding the immediate release of German-Turkish journalist Deniz Yücel in Turkey.

The 43-year-old Yücel is a reporter for the prominent German newspaper Die Welt who has been charged with spreading terrorist propaganda and inciting hatred. The truth is that Yücel received data from a hacker who infiltrated the e-mails of Berat Albayrak, Turkey’s energy minister and Erdogan’s son-in-law. These e-mails, exposing his connection with the terrorist Islamic State group’s oil smuggling from Syria into Turkey, revived a scandal that was previously uncovered by Russian intelligence and denied and covered up by the Turkish regime. Among other subjects, the e-mails contained information about the control of Turkish media groups and influencing the public by means of fake users on Twitter. Yücel is still held in custody and German authorities are adamant he must be released.

Meanwhile, Germany banned the proposed demonstrations organised by Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) to rally support for approving the new Turkish constitutional amendment. Erdogan has labelled Germans as Nazis, which sparked anger in Germany on both the street level and in political circles. Many Germans are demanding their government place sanctions on Turkey as a result of such irresponsible behaviour from the Turkish president. The row is still taking place and is escalated by the continuous flaming rhetoric of Erdogan.

ERDOGAN AND HOLLAND: To garner more support from eligible Turkish voters across Europe, the AKP decided to plan massive rallies across many European cities with significant Turkish populations. The Dutch government decided that this move would harm integration policies between immigrants and Dutch citizens as well as it being an infringement of Dutch sovereignty. Accordingly, a ban on these rallies was issued. Despite the warning, the Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu insisted on travelling to Holland to lead one of the rallies but his airplane was refused permission to land and he had to go to France instead. At the same time, Turkish Minister of Family Fatma Betül Sayan Kaya was held in Holland and deported after attempting to lead one of the pro-Erdogan rallies.

Furthermore, Dutch police clashed with Turkish protesters, dispersing mobs that demanded to see the Turkish minister at the Turkish Consulate in Rotterdam before she was deported. Water cannons and dogs were used to confront the angry mobs of the pro-Erdogan rally. Angered, Turkish officials who instigated this entire situation bizarrely labelled Holland and the Dutch — who were once occupied by the Nazis and fought vehemently to push them out — as “Nazis”. Also sanctions were declared and Dutch officials were restricted from entering Turkey. But economic sanctions by Turkey on Holland would be farcical since Turkey exports products amounting to over $3 billion annually to Holland, while Dutch investment in Turkey is massive. According to economic reports, Dutch direct investment in Turkey amounts to $22 billion, making Holland the biggest source of foreign investment with a share of 16 per cent. Accordingly, Erdogan is sanctioning the biggest investor in Turkey, thus risking billions of dollars of losses to the Turkish economy along with even bigger losses from any potential investors in the long run.

STIRRING WAVES OF TROUBLE: Time and again the Erdogan regime proves a liability to NATO, the Middle East and the EU. The Turkish regime has been a catalyst of chaos and trouble in the Middle East region and Europe. The cult of personality Erdogan has fostered for himself in Turkey has swayed the Turkish state towards a dictatorship of the worst type. Erdogan has upped the ante time and again, and so have European countries such as Germany, Austria and Holland who are finally realising — a bit too late — that they have pampered a dictator and invested in his tyranny for too long. Being a liability to Europe and the US, along with the Middle East, is likely to shorten the shelf-life of Erdogan despite him feeling extremely powerful lately.

On the other hand, Erdogan’s tomfoolery is a blessing to real fascists in Europe who utilise his blunders to bolster their racist claims of cleansing Europe of non-European origin citizens. Fascist, far right and Alt-Right leaders use the actions of the Islamist leader and his jihadist rhetoric and mindset in support of their claim of the Islamisation of Europe.

According to a Pew Forum report in 2011, the number of Muslims in Europe, excluding Turkey, is about 44 million, representing six per cent of Europe’s population with a projected increase to up to 10.2 per cent by 2050. None of the far right and fascist groups have elaborated amidst their heated and bigoted rhetoric how six per cent of the population now, or 10.2 per cent by 2050, will “Islamise” the remaining over 90 per cent of Europeans. These projections also presume that all European-born Muslims will remain devout Muslims and don’t factor in the existence non-practising Muslims or any conversions to other religions. The true danger stems from groups such as the Salafis and Muslim Brotherhood, the latter of which Erdogan is an active member. Nevertheless, bigots and racists bolster their presence based on fear and xenophobia and will continue utilising the likes of Erdogan as proof of their bigoted vision of the grim future that awaits Europe with the presence of Muslims within its countries.

THE SICK MAN OF EUROPE: “Aggression unchallenged is aggression unleashed,” wrote the Roman author Phaedrus. Middle Eastern countries became accustomed to Erdogan’s antics over the years. Most Middle Eastern leaders ignore Erdogan’s attention seeking gambits unless they are immediately affected. The Turkish tyrant seems to be following the playbook of late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi who failed miserably to fulfil his dream of becoming leader of the region. Accordingly, Erdogan is resorting to Third World dictator rhetoric of empty threats and adding to that support for terrorist groups in the region who destabilise neighbouring countries such as Syria, Iraq and as far as Egypt and Libya.

In the early days of his reign, Erdogan was hardly challenged or kept at bay by any of the region’s leaders, and that encouraged him and his diehard supporters to take matters to the next level. For over a decade this pro-Erdogan populist movement, which could be described as the “Erdo-goons” movement, comprised of overzealous Erdogan supporters, has resembled the Revolutionary Guard in Iran. This sort of social and political aggression from Erdogan’s regime on the sovereignty and integrity of European Union countries will never be acceptable.

Erdogan insists on playing a dangerous game in Europe as he attempts to turn Europeans of Turkish decent into his own “Fifth Column” agents. These agents would serve as pressure groups against their host governments as he can rally thousands of them at his request to serve any political goal he is pursuing. Knowing that the majority of Erdogan’s supporters in Europe are Muslim Brotherhood members, the extent of the danger of such a movement can be massive if not dealt with decisively. European countries such as Holland, Austria and Germany who refused to be a ground for pro-Erdogan propaganda campaigns are righteous in their position and should hold their ground in this stance.

Erdogan may have borrowed a page from the Gaddafi playbook, but he is tenfold the danger that Gaddafi represented to the region and the world. The Sick Man of Europe was a description of the Ottoman Empire during its decades of decline in the 19th century all the way to its fall in 1922. That name seems to be equally adequate to label the Turkish president who is becoming a liability to his nation and his allies equally. Erdogan, who once claimed to adopt a “zero problems” policy with allies and neighbours now has “zero friends” and no real allies.

At the moment, the Turkish tyrant is banking on reinvigorated relations with Russia. However, he forgets that on Turkish soil a Russian warplane was downed by Turkish air-defences and the Russian ambassador was assassinated live on air as well. Russia is holding back its vengeance on Erdogan’s regime and will seize the right opportunity to have its payback. With Erdogan moving closer to Russia, Vladimir Putin will likely seize the opportunity to exploit this relation to the maximum.

The Russians will hardly forget how coarse and arrogant Erdogan was after downing the Russian fighter jet and how he sought NATO protection after committing that act of aggression. Attempting to pin the downing of the plane and the assassination of the Russian ambassador on the Gülen Movement, which is Erdogan’s favourite scapegoat, doesn’t fool even a child in Russia. The Russians know that it was Erdogan’s attempt to force Russia out of Syria by fair means or foul. However, the pragmatic Putin chose not to escalate with Turkey at the current moment and live to fight another day as the days of Erdogan in power seem numbered.

The Sick Man of Europe is garnering support for an extended presidency to reach 2029, and near absolute power. Nevertheless, as with the Ottoman Empire, Erdogan’s shelf-life as a politician has expired and every day he is costing Turkey and the region significant losses, which signals his imminent end as a president.

Original Link in Al Ahram Weekly

http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/News/20007.aspx

Mending Egypt-US ties

Published in Al Ahram Weekly on 31/3/2017

There have been numerous visits exchanged between Egyptian and American heads of state over the past four decades, but the visit of President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi to Washington on 3 April in reply to US President Donald Trump’s invitation has a deeper significance this time round.

This upcoming visit will be the first official visit for Al-Sisi to the United States on an invitation from his American counterpart. Al-Sisi has already visited the United States twice as Egypt’s president to attend UN General Assembly meetings in New York.

The United States may have lost a significant portion of its standing in the Middle East after losing the support of Egypt and some of the Gulf states during the turbulent post-Arab Spring period. As former US president Barack Obama’s political credo of “leading from behind” was applied in the Middle East conflict it turned into a self-fulfilling prophecy and left the United States far behind in many areas.

A political void is always filled by other powers, and accordingly Russia, France, the United Kingdom along with other European Union states such as Germany and Italy became more involved politically, militarily and economically in the Middle East.

The Obama administration’s ventures in Syria, Libya and Iraq, as well as its support for Islamist rebels and jihadists under the title of the “armed opposition” in these countries, distanced it from the Egyptian administration. Relations with the United States were at an all-time low as a result, especially in Obama’s second term. In August 2013, Obama froze military ties between the US and Egypt and ended the biennial joint military exercise Operation Bright Star that takes place in Egypt.

This exercise was one of the largest of its kind in the world, and for many years dozens of NATO and non-NATO countries participated with personnel and monitors in this important military event. As the war on terror then ignited against the Muslim Brotherhood, the Obama administration appeared to be taking the side of the terrorists by downplaying the violence of the Brotherhood that left thousands of people killed in Egypt after June 2013.

Al-Sisi has also been treated unfairly by the US media since June 2013, which has sometimes blindly parroted the lies of Brotherhood propaganda, financed mainly by Islamist regimes in Qatar and Turkey, against the Egyptian 30 June Revolution. For over three years, the US media has been painting a negative picture of the situation in Egypt, corresponding to the position of the Obama administration which saw the Muslim Brotherhood as a possible partner in Egypt and the region.

A NEW BEGINNING: During his meeting with Trump, Al-Sisi is expected to make the case for the US government listing the Muslim Brotherhood and its affiliate organisations as terrorist groups, a step which would in itself help to end global terrorism.

Once the US lists the Brotherhood as a terrorist organisation, it will oblige its European allies to do the same, thus rendering the group a pariah in the West. This step will be a monumental one in defeating the likes of the Islamic State (IS) group and Al-Qaeda, which are the offspring of the Brotherhood. Both Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi and Ayman Al-Zawahri, leaders of IS and Al-Qaeda, respectively, were active members of the Muslim Brotherhood.

For Trump, Al-Sisi’s visit may serve many purposes, among them proving that his administration is not bigoted against Muslims, Arabs or Middle Easterners when the leader of the largest Middle Eastern nation is officially hosted by the White House. Moreover, it will be an attempt to regain lost ground in the Middle East as Egypt with its important military can serve as a key ally in combating IS and Al-Qaeda. Moreover, it might help curb some of the influence France and Russia have gained in the region, thus creating investment and export opportunities for American companies as per Trump’s election campaign vows.

Both the US and Egyptian presidents suffer from internal problems that could be manifested in economic struggles for Al-Sisi along with the ongoing war on terror against the Muslim Brotherhood and its affiliates, while Trump has his own problems, including internal conflicts with the US intelligence agencies, media and his traditional opponents in the Democratic and Republican parties. Both presidents require the other’s assistance in delivering political gains that could persuade voters that they are moving in the right direction.

Despite Trump’s leanings towards a more isolationist foreign policy for the United States, especially when it concerns the Middle East, there are certain issues that no American president can afford to ignore as they concern the political hegemony of the US worldwide. One of them is the US presence in the Middle East and fighting terrorism and stabilising the region. For the past two decades, the United States has not been an element of stabilisation in the region, and in fact has been quite the opposite. Trump vowed during his presidential campaign to reverse such policies, which according to him have cost the US over $6 trillion, or enough to “rebuild” the US twice over.

Though the numbers could be less than this, already over $1.6 trillion has been spent on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars alone. Trump is keen to cut these loses through a new approach to be discussed with the Egyptian president.

The Palestinian-Israeli conflict and Middle East peace process have been the elephant in the room in Egyptian-American meetings over the past four decades. With the situation now more complex than at any time in recent decades, Trump and Al-Sisi may feel compelled to come up with a new path towards a permanent peace treaty between Israel and its Arab neighbours that, though distant, may not be impossible given the sacrifices of both the Palestinian and Israeli authorities.

The recent meeting between Al-Sisi and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas signified that the frozen peace process in the Middle East will be a key topic during the Egyptian-American negotiations.

Trump and Al-Sisi are both hardliners on fighting terrorism. Both presidents have been subjected to vicious propaganda campaigns by the media, and this is another common denominator. While criticisms of politicians are normal practice for a free media, many of these campaigns have been subjective and have used ad hominem attacks.

Moreover, during his successful campaign for the presidency Trump met and had discussions with only one acting president, namely Al-Sisi during his visit to New York to deliver a speech at the UN General Assembly. At Trump’s request, Al-Sisi met with the then Republican Party candidate, who praised the Egyptian president’s achievements in the war on terror. He also vowed that there would be closer ties with Egypt should he become president.

Al-Sisi is an admirer of Trump’s stance on the war on terror, as he has himself suffered from the cataclysmic effects of Obama’s Middle East policies on Egypt and the region. Political circles in both countries now believe that it is time to turn that page and start a fresh one. Several delegations from the US Senate and from US military and trade sectors have recently visited Egypt in parallel to visits by Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri to Washington to prepare for Al-Sisi’s visit.

MILITARY COOPERATION: As a result of the Obama administration’s objections to the dispersal of the armed encampments of the Muslim Brotherhood in the heart of Cairo in August 2013, the US issued a temporary ban on weapon supplies to Egypt.

In response, the Egyptian military adopted a policy of expanding the diversity of its foreign weapons purchases and ceased its reliance on US military equipment despite the annual $1.3 billion in US aid to Egypt in accordance with the 1979 Camp David Peace Accords.

During the period from August 2013 to today, Egypt has purchased over $12 billion of armaments that include cutting-edge technology such as French Rafale and Russian Mig35 fighters along with K-52 helicopters to be used on newly purchased state-of-the-art Mistral helicopter carriers. Further weapon systems and naval pieces have been purchased from France, Germany, China and Russia as part of a rearmament programme.

These purchases by the Egyptian military have led the arms industry in the United States to demand the revision of Washington’s policies. More importantly, Russian-Egyptian ties were reinvigorated during the same period in ways unseen since the 1960s, and this has worried Washington politicians and the US arms industry since it has seemed to mean that the US is in danger of losing a key ally to its Russian arch-rival.

Traditionally, military cooperation between the United States and Egypt has rivalled if not surpassed some US relations with some NATO members. However, neither country can rely entirely on military and security cooperation to keep relations strong, since Egypt has already taken the decision to diversify its weapons purchases.

Moreover, it is important to establish Egyptian-American relations on strong foundations and beyond the influence of individual political leaders or heads of state. Presidents may come and go, but nations stay. Relations between two great nations should not be dependent on who is in charge in Cairo or Washington, but should be set on secure foundations that transcend the decisions of any individual Egyptian or American president.

This may prove hard to accomplish at the beginning, but it is attainable, especially if the lessons from the deteriorating relations during the Obama administration act as a guiding light for the importance of creating sustainable relations. Military relations between the US and Egypt can serve as the foundations for a secure future, but expanding trade and cultural relations are also key to bringing the two nations closer together.

The Egyptian-American community in the United States, over 250,000 strong, is another strong tie between the two nations. Egyptian expatriates and Egyptian-Americans are among the most highly educated and best-paid professionals in the United States in all areas of life, including the media, science, business, medicine, and engineering. Similarly, there are thousands of Americans living in Egypt, reaching some 50,000 in 2011. These people work as skilled professionals and experts in many fields.

Furthermore, both countries boast deep cultures, with the ancient Egyptian culture fascinating the Americans and the Egyptians being fascinated by American cultural products such as films, literature, and music. Accordingly, the ties between the two nations are stronger than the politics that may separate them.

The challenge facing Trump is to restore the US presence in the region and maintain its interests in the Middle East while standing by his political motto of non-interventionism, one of the elements that led a majority of Americans to vote for him. On the other hand, Al-Sisi’s key challenge is to restore Egyptian-American relations to pre-June 2013 Revolution levels, while maintaining the hard-gained political independence for which Egyptians have paid a hefty price.

Only time will tell if the two presidents are able to reach these goals.

Original link in Al Ahram Weekly

http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/News/20020.aspx

Turkey: The journalists’ gulag

Original post at Al Ahram Weekly 17/3/2017

Once the Middle East’s flourishing democracy, Turkey under Erdogan is lost in a sea of tyranny and political mayhem

For all free and democratic societies, freedom of expression and the press are deemed sacred rights and it is considered sacrilege that any governmental authority attempts to control or censor these freedoms. Many in the US and Europe are under the impression that countries such as Cuba or North Korea may have the worst records of human rights violations along with the prosecution of journalists on flimsy accusations. The truth is that one of the worst records of human rights violations and the actual very worst in terms of journalist prosecutions is closer to their doors than they think. It is actually taking place in Turkey. Turkey, the neighbouring country to the European Union and the effective NATO member, has become under the tyrannical reign of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan the journalists’ gulag on earth.

Hardly any country outside the communist or Islamist regimes’ sphere imposes harsher or unjust freedom of expression laws as Erdogan’s Turkey does. Similar to its Iranian regime counterparts, the Erdogan regime managed to sway a sizeable segment of the population in its favour by convincing them that their great nation is under peril unless he purges all dissidents that seek to destroy their homeland from within.

ERDOGAN’S PURGE: As a consequence of the July 2016 failed coup d’état, Erdogan decided to purge the nation of any significant opposition and labelled the Gulen Movement, which was ironically once Erdogan’s most powerful supporters, as a terrorist organisation. Scores of journalists, writers, and artists joined judges, officers, clerks and others in jail as a result of the purging policies of the Turkish dictator.

Erdogan utilised the coup as a pretext to finalise his power-mongering campaign by routing and destroying all dissidents to his rule. On 27 July 2016, the Erdogan regime shut down 16 television channels, 23 radio stations, 45 daily newspapers, 15 magazines and 29 publishing houses in an imposed decree under the newly adopted emergency law. Closed outlets include the Gulen-affiliated Cihan News Agency along with Muhabir Haber Ajansi, and SEM Haber Ajans. Also shut down by government decree were Samanyolu TV and the previously leading newspaper Today’s Zaman. The opposition daily newspaper Taraf, which was known to be in close relations with the Gulen Movement, was also not spared the same fate.

Furthermore, in October 2016, Turkish authorities continued their assault on freedom of expression by shutting down another 15 media outlets, including one of the world’s only women’s news agencies, and detained the editor-in-chief of the secularist Turkish newspaper Cumhuriyet, based on flimsy accusations that they committed crimes on behalf of Kurdish militants and a network linked to Erdogan nemesis cleric Fethullah Gulen. With over 100,000 Turkish citizens sacked and suspended from their jobs, there are tens of thousands who were arrested by the Turkish police and await trial in very harsh conditions. Erdogan has demanded the reinstatement of the death penalty in a move that displays his malevolent intentions towards the opposition.

Not content by destroying entire networks of independent and opposition press outlets, the onslaught reached the Internet and social media outlets in an unprecedented move by the standards of tyrannical regimes. In November 2016, Turkish authorities blocked access to social media outlets such as WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Skype and Instagram throughout Turkey. By December 2016 around 1,656 social media users were arrested based on flimsy charges.

THE JOURNALISTS’ GULAG: The case of Ahmed Şık remains one of the most abusive of the tyrannical reign of Erdogan. Şık is a journalist, photographer, writer and investigative reporter who stirred a lot of waves in Turkey in the past decade. The award winning writer has been constantly prosecuted for both his anti-Gulen Movement and anti-Erdogan regime stances. He renders both as dangerous to the Turkish state as well as a cause of chaos and diminishing democracy.

Ahmet Şık, born in Adana in 1970, is the author of several books. His famous book The Imam’s Army, investigating the controversial Gulen Movement, led to his detention for a year in 2011-2012 and the book was banned in Turkey. In a bizarre twist, Şık got arrested for allegedly committing a crime he was personally investigating, and exposed and published in the book, which about the infiltration of the Gulen Movement of Turkish military and other state institutions. Şık remains a staunch press freedom defender and his case is among the few that being followed by the international media.

Şık’s cause has been taken up by the English non-profit organisation PEN, which is calling for his immediate release. On 29 December 2016, Şık was taken into custody once again on charges of creating “propaganda” for “terrorist organisations” in utilising social media to express his opposition to the government. He was held in reference to 11 tweets. According to his lawyers, Şık was denied access to legal advice, held in solitary confinement and not given drinking water for three days.

DENIZ YUCEL: Another case of journalist prosecutions is the German-Turkish 43-year-old reporter Deniz Yucel, of the prominent German newspaper Die Welt (The World) in Turkey. Yucel was arrested in Turkey upon receiving data from a hacker who hacked the e-mails of Berat Albayrak, Turkey’s energy minister and son-in-law of Erdogan, exposing his connection with the terrorist Islamic State oil smuggling from Syria into Turkey, which Erdogan categorically denied repeatedly. These e-mails may serve as the “smoking gun” evidence that ties Erdogan with the Islamic State group. The accusations against Yucel of espionage and propagating for terrorist organisations appear to be Erdogan’s attempt to cover up the scandal exposed by Yucel. The latter is still in prison and his incarceration has created the worst diplomatic row between Turkey and Germany in decades. Erdogan publicly labelled Yucel a “terrorist not a journalist” and claims he told the German chancellor that. However, Angela Merkel is adamant not to let this matter pass peacefully and will keep pressuring Ankara for his immediate release.

ZEHRA DOGAN: Zehra Dogan, a journalist and painter, has been sentenced to two years and 10 months for drawing a painting that depicts the destruction of the Turkish city of Nusaybin by government forces. This is the same massacre committed by Erdogan’s regime that was reported by the UN Human Rights Office on 10 March 2017, detailing allegations of massive destruction, killings and numerous other serious human rights violations committed between July 2015 and December 2016 in southeast Turkey, during government military operations that have affected more than 30 towns and neighbourhoods. These operations have resulted in the displacement of between 355,000 and half a million people, mostly of Kurdish origin. This report describes the extent of the destruction in the town of Nusaybin, in Mardin Province, where 1,786 buildings appear to have been destroyed or damaged. When Dogan illustrated these human atrocities that the Turkish regime was attempting to cover up, she was arrested and imprisoned. Dogan’s story is one of many heart-wrenching attacks on Turkish journalism while the world simply watches in silence.

ERDOGAN’S FINAL POWER GRAB: With new constitutional authorities for the president to be voted on, with the result always certain, Erdogan will amass absolute power only rivalled by single party regimes such as China, North Korea and Soviet-era East Europe. Erdogan’s thirst for power has turned Turkey into a police state and a journalists’ gulag where laws are formulated and interpreted according to the whims of pro-regime judges.

For nearly two decades European Union leaders have been entertaining Erdogan’s eccentricity, treating the Turkish tyrant as a spoiled child while keeping Turkey as an ally to curb Russian expansion. Now his madness is reaching them personally and German Chancellor Merkel among others is being openly bashed by Erdogan in public speeches that label her and Germans as Nazis whenever the German state doesn’t bow to his insane wishes. Turkey’s economy is mainly reliant on European investment, tourism and exports to EU countries, yet Erdogan is displaying disdain towards the very EU that his regime was so desperate to join. The Turkish people remain victims of Erdogan’s Stalinist policies with more arrests and flimsy accusations pointed towards all dissidents indiscriminately.

Ironically, NATO, which was formed to curb Soviet expansion in Europe, still regards Erdogan’s Turkey as a key ally despite the Turkish tyrant becoming a replica of Soviet-era European leaders such as former East Germany’s Erich Honecker and Romania’s Nicolae Ceaușescu. Day after day, Erdogan is becoming more of a liability than a friend or an ally. He has been manipulating the Syrian civil war refugee crisis, which he helped exacerbate, to extort billions of dollars from the EU.

Moreover, under the leadership of Erdogan, Turkey became a hub for terrorist leaders from groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood, the Egyptian Islamic Jihad and recently Islamic State fighters who receive safe passage to other countries in the Middle East through Turkish soil. Reports and even footage from Turkey testify to the inhuman treatment of prisoners and arrested suspects. The accused, meanwhile, are subject to sham trials befitting of Soviet-era Russian gulags and not a modern democratic NATO member state.

All Turkish journalists who oppose the Islamist regime of Erdogan are under threat of prosecution on flimsy and frail charges that are usually fabricated or based on twisted interpretations of the law by the pro-Erdogan law enforcement apparatus. Any phrase or statement by a journalist or writer that is deemed anti-regime is met with immediate arrest and prison sentences as part of the draconian measures taken by the extremely paranoid regime.

It is depressing that world leaders still treat Erdogan as an elected official while he is literally getting away with murder, torture and even mass killings. Erdogan’s reign of terror is continuing with little signs of light at the end of the tunnel. Around 191 journalists are behind bars and that number is growing every day with fresh convictions.

The more unfortunate is that most Turkish opposition figures and parties are still under the delusion that Turkey is a democracy with some of them are even colluding with Erdogan in his witch-hunt against dissidents. It is becoming a truth that an actual terrorist can enjoy more freedoms in today’s Turkey than a journalist, writer or an artist who faces Erdogan’s ire. The great nation of Turkey, the once flourishing democracy in the Middle East, is now lost in a sea of tyranny and political mayhem.

Original Post at Al Ahram Weekly :

http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/News/19934.aspx