Endless war in Afghanistan?

Published in Al Ahram Weekly on 6/9/2017

US President Donald Trump has announced the deployment of further US troops in Afghanistan without explaining how this will help to end the 16-year war in the country, writes Hany Ghoraba

 

The surprise declaration on 21 August by US President Donald Trump escalating the war in Afghanistan in an attempt to find a decisive victory to end an excruciating 16-year conflict has been met with mixed reactions.

Trump was an advocate of pulling US troops out of Afghanistan in 2013, and the mixed reactions to his new decision to keep them there and to increase their numbers were not entirely due to his change of heart. They were mainly caused by the complexity of a war that the United States has not been able to end, making it the longest war in American history and longer than the Vietnam War.

Few countries have been as afflicted by war in modern history as has Afghanistan. This landlocked Central Asian country has not witnessed a single day of peace since the Soviet invasion in 1979 when Soviet loyalist president Babrak Karmal was installed in place of former president Hafizullah Amin. However, the invasion of Afghanistan was only the beginning of the struggle, since US-backed Afghan mujahedeen fighters fought on until the Soviet Union withdrew its forces from Afghanistan in February 1989 after suffering huge casualties. The invasion and subsequent civil war left nearly two million civilians dead and a country that was completely shattered.

However, even the withdrawal of the Soviets was not the end of Afghanistan’s troubles and instead was the beginning of a new and worse chapter in its history. Further civil war erupted between the mujahedeen, ending in the victory of the Taliban faction that allied itself with former CIA-backed mujahedeen leader Osama bin Laden who went on to form the most infamous terrorist group of all time, Al-Qaeda.

In the aftermath of the horrific 9/11 Al-Qaeda terrorist attacks on New York and Washington in 2001, the United States and its NATO allies declared a war on terrorism that targeted mainly the Al-Qaeda network in Afghanistan and areas in neighbouring Pakistan in coordination with the Pakistani government. The ferocious military campaign the US launched against Afghanistan resulted in early victories for the NATO coalition and their Afghan tribal allies, the latter seizing the Afghan capital Kabul and installing a new government after ousting the Taliban.

With the shift in American strategy towards entering another war two years later by invading Iraq, plans in Afghanistan went awry and the Taliban forces that had earlier run for the hills regrouped and started attacking the new Afghan government along with its US and NATO allies. Some 16 years later, the situation is unchanged. The staggering human and economic costs of the war continue to rise, and the influence of the Taliban, far from receding, has in fact expanded further, including into Pakistan.

According to a US Brown University study, over 173,000 people died due to direct violence related to the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan in the period from 2001 to 2016, and over 31,000 Afghan civilians have been killed by the belligerents in the conflict. Moreover, according to the same report the war has created one of the most severe humanitarian crises since the Second World War.

Afghanistan now hosts more than 100,000 Pakistanis who have fled the military operations which began in the neighbouring Pakistani province of North Waziristan in June 2014. By June 2016 Afghanistan had 1.4 million refugees within its borders and nearly one million Afghans had been internally displaced. An additional 2.6 million Afghans are currently refugees in more than 70 countries. The war has also put an enormous economic burden on the US treasury, with the Americans having spent nearly $800 billion on military operations alone.

Trump’s announcement that more US troops will now be sent to Afghanistan does nothing to answer the crucial question of how his plans for the country will be different from those implemented during the previous administrations of presidents G W Bush and Barack Obama. The early news does not sound promising, with news of US airstrikes in the Afghan Herat Province leaving 13 civilians dead despite their managing to target 16 Taliban fighters.

Sources speaking to the US New York Times newspaper have claimed that the Taliban fighters left the area hours before the strike, which if true would mean that civilian casualties in Afghanistan on 29 August alone came to 29 dead with no corresponding deaths among Taliban fighters. This horrific incident is already all too familiar, since similar airstrikes in the past have led to the massacres of civilians rather than the deaths of targeted Al-Qaeda and Taliban terrorists.

Such incidents create an even more hostile environment for NATO forces and the Afghan government operating in the provinces, since no apologies or compensation payments can bring back the dead. Admittedly, the cowardly tactics of the terrorists in mingling with the population to avoid detection by drones or satellites complicate matters, but massacres resulting from airstrikes like these remain inexcusable.

The world cannot afford to wait to learn how Trump’s plan to deploy another 4,000 US troops in Afghanistan will be a game-changer in the conflict while such incidents continue. While former US president Barack Obama declared the US combat mission in Afghanistan at an end in 2014, in truth the American war in Afghanistan never really ended and its targeting of terrorists has continued as well.

It is to be hoped that the US campaign in Afghanistan will yield better results in 2017 than it has in the past and will end the presence of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan once and for all. However, the indications are that the new strategy adopted by Trump with this in mind is still vague, and this is all the more concerning since many strategies have been implemented in Afghanistan in the past that have all failed to eradicate Al-Qaeda despite the activities of the international terrorist group receding in favour of those of the Islamic State (IS) group that is now continuing the campaign of destruction set out by Osama bin Laden.

Further civilian casualties must be avoided at all costs. These have favoured the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in the past as the more civilians who are killed in airstrikes or in ground combat, the more recruits these terrorist organisations receive from tribesmen seeking to avenge the loss of their loved ones.

Original Post in Al Ahram Weekly

http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/News/22357.aspx

Advertisements

Trump’s flirting with disaster

Published in Al Ahram Weekly on 24/8/2017

In the wake of his remarks on the Charlottesville demonstrations in the United States, US President Donald Trump should stop flirting with disaster and rein in his rhetoric, writes Hany Ghoraba

US President Donald Trump’s first year in office has been a bumpy ride from the day he was sworn in. It seems that the American president is basking in the near daily confrontations and controversies he instigates, or that he likes to get drawn into such confrontations with the mainstream media, politicians and other heads of state.

He even finds joy in escalating these confrontations whenever he gets the chance.  Throughout his first few months in office he has managed to alienate a sizeable segment of his supporters and encouraged his older enemies to sharpen their spears.

However, matters took a different turn with the recent racial tensions that took place in Charlottesville in Virginia. A violent group of US white supremacists marched across the town of Charlottesville protesting against the decision to remove the statues of US Civil War Confederate commanders. Accompanied with Nazi slogans, swastika flags, guns and torches, the so-called “Unite the Right” movement aimed to strike fear into the heart of American society by sending the message that the Ku Klux Klan and other neo-Nazi groups are alive and well in America.

Trump’s first response to the ensuing clashes that resulted in the killing of one woman and the injuring of 19 others was nothing short of a political disaster. He equated the white supremacists and those opposing them by saying that “we condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides.”

This irresponsible statement has stirred waves of controversy across the United States as this is the first time in American history that a president has even considered comparing groups like the Ku Klux Klan or other white supremacist groups with other groups in American society. These groups were and should stay the pariahs of American society, but Trump has given their actions some legitimacy.

He failed to condemn the actions of the white supremacists only to show up two days later to condemn them by name after a deluge of criticisms from all sides including from his own Republican Party, which said that Trump had crossed the line.

Admittedly, the far-left used violence against the white supremacists in the days that followed, but to place matters in perspective they did not start the killings of peaceful protestors and neither did they shout racial chants while carrying torches in order to strike fear into peaceful citizens of the United States.

Racial clashes are not uncommon in the US as there was a sharp rise in their occurrence during the former Obama administration when white supremacists attempted to revive their vile activities by protesting against former president Barack Obama’s controversial economic and social reforms such as on healthcare and others.

Throughout his presidential election campaign and his eight-month presidency, Trump has not made efforts to distance himself from the far right, alt-right and white supremacist groups, which he feels should be part of his constituency. Ku Klux Klan former grand wizard and white supremacist David Dukes was among Trump’s most ardent supporters throughout his campaign. Through his radio show and writings, Dukes aimed to convince his racist followers that Trump was the saviour of the white race in the United States and therefore all white US voters should rally behind him.

Trump has seemed to be unwilling to part with this vile segment of American society for political reasons. However, as a result of the disastrous speech he delivered on 12 August, he felt compelled to condemn them by name two days later in a desperate attempt to contain the damage caused by the speech. Even so, he made things worse by entering into a bizarre debate with the media by calling a group of white supremacists who were protesting against the removal of the statues on that day and who were joined by alt-right groups as “very fine people”.

Trump then went on to compare racist alt-right groups with alt-left ones who utilise violent tactics against the former group. He thus intentionally or unintentionally tried to clear the name of groups that have been a menace over recent years and have wanted to destabilise American society. These alt-right groups have been attempting to mask the fact that they are watered-down white supremacists, even if they do not have the standard paraphernalia of skinhead haircuts and swastika tattoos.

Aggression unchallenged is aggression unleashed. The counter-protests that faced the white supremacists and neo-Nazis in Virginia were peaceful before they were attacked by those intentionally driving cars into them. These counter-protests that faced the neo-Nazis were a natural reaction by concerned US citizens witnessing their country moving towards racial violence, segregation and bigotry.

The Charlottesville incident is a public-relations disaster for Trump, who is still oblivious to the gravity of his words for the nation and how they have stirred up further anger and possibly more racial and social violence. The US president is still treating press conferences as if they were part of his former reality TV show “The Apprentice”. He seems to be incapable of taking responsibility for his words and actions. This strange attitude towards the press and the opposition in the US is becoming uncontrollable, and it is now also hurting the presidential office.

Last week’s sacking of Trump’s former chief strategist Steve Bannon may be a step in the right direction for a president who remains on a collision course with all the groups in the nation short of the alt-right movement whose twisted ideology Bannon had adopted. Trump may now do much better without Bannon in the White House because Bannon’s heavy baggage filled with anti-Semitic and white nationalist rhetoric mixed with alt-right views was an enormous liability for the president.

With every speech Trump delivers, the situation becomes more aggravated, however, and the rifts within the nation grow deeper. Trump has managed to alienate even ardent Republicans, who are now scrambling to contain the damage he has caused by his improvised speeches. The party is now in a conundrum, as Trump has ignored the norms that defined the Great Old Party. They Republican leadership seems to realise what Trump has been missing — that there is nothing American or patriotic in defending white supremacists when the great US president Abraham Lincoln fought a brutal Civil War against their ilk that ended slavery in the United States and paved the way for a great nation to rise.

Moreover, there is nothing patriotic or American about being a neo-Nazi when the United States fought a brutal war to stop Nazi aggression in World War II costing over 400,000 American lives at the most conservative estimates.

Should the president still plan to attain the goals he has set for himself and deliver the vast promises he made during his presidential campaign, he would be strongly advised to change his provocative rhetoric, which has tainted his entire presidency since January 2017. What is at stake here is a superpower on the brink of massive social and racial divisions that are poised to be exacerbated in upcoming months should the situation remains unchanged.

Running the United States is a far more daunting and complex task than a reality TV show or even any company. Trump seems to believe that America is part of his Trump Organisation and that he can boss it around as he wishes. It would be advisable for him to cease using Twitter to broadcast his provocative and controversial remarks, since these stir more waves of criticism from the media and population. Trump should stop flirting with disaster and rein in his provocative rhetoric as he is no longer an independent businessman but instead is the president of the United States.

The old proverb that “speech is silver, but silence is golden” is one that Trump needs to treat as a motto if he plans to continue as president of the United States.

Original Post in  Al Ahram Weekly :

http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/News/22252.aspx


Desecrating the Constitution (Political Blasphemy)

History repeats itself once again as some political and media vultures of are starting a slow yet an organized campaign seeking the amendment of the Egyptian constitution approved by the Egyptian nation in 2014 to extend the presidential terms from four years to six years per term. If passed, this would provide President Al-Sisi with four extra years should he win a second term in the upcoming presidential elections.

These shameful attempts to bypass the Ironclad clauses of the constitution and extend the terms by two years for a total of six years per term instead of the current four year terms are an assured road to hell if implemented. Despite that the clause governing the Presidential terms is held by an Ironclad one that prohibits any form of change or alterations under any pretexts, there are still among parliament representatives including Representative Ismail Nasr Al Din and others who wish to desecrate the constitution by an attempt to extend that term thus rendering all what has been stipulated then voted for by an overwhelming majority of Egyptians in the constitution referendum in 2014 as useless.

Men for all Seasons:

These heinous attempts will only serve the Islamists claims against the incumbent President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi that he has absolute power and a dictator. It will certainly not benefit the President’s legacy regardless of any achievements he may attain in the proposed four extra years. On the contrary, it will taint these legacies should such a shameful proposed amendment passes in the parliament or even in referendum. Among that group of political vultures are the same groups who pledged allegiance to former President Mubarak for long years and then disavowed him after the tides changed post the January 2011 revolution.

Certainly, they couldn’t care less about the nation highest interests democracy or a president’s legacy but they definitely care a lot to be among the inner circle of close confidants of the President as long as he stays in power. These types of men for all seasons TV anchors, journalists, politicians, etc represent a clear and present danger to Egypt’s future and stability in a no less capacity than the terrorist masterminds of Muslim Brotherhood and their affiliates who seek to destroy the nation from within to rule it. All of the above thrive within dictatorships and cannot survive in free democratic nation where the power transition is done in a civilized manner befitting a great nation such as Egypt.

 

Another ridiculous reason they are propagating to move forward with these proposed amendments is that that terms should accommodate the President’ economic plans for the country which indeed a farce. In any country an elected president should place his economic plans to fit the Presidential terms whether they are 4 years or more depending on the constitution of that country and not vice versa. This ludicrous reason would mean that any future presidential candidate could claim that he has economic plans that could last 20 years for example and then constitution should be amended for him to be given two terms with 10 years each. Once again it is the President that to adjust the economic plans according to the constitution and not the opposite.

These vultures have not the historical lesson from the smooth Power transition in 2014 from Interim President, the Honorable Judge Adly Mansour to elected President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi which was done in the most civilized manner since the establishment of the Republic in 1954. That transition should have served as an example to follow in Egypt’s political life from that date onwards to the next elected president following President Al Sisi. Any tampering with this process regardless of the causes is an imminent danger to the Egyptian state which cannot be allowed by any means.

Historical Blunders:

The former 1971 constitution of Egypt originally included a two term presidency clause with 6 years each and it was approved during late president Al Sadat first term in power. However, following the Camp David peace treaty with Israel in 1979 and the opposition against it led by leftists and Islamists, some political advisors of President Sadat advised him to have a minor yet a catastrophic amendment on the two terms clause to include the statement “A maximum of two terms or for further terms” which rendered the two terms rule as null and void.

Sadat’s had personal plans to step down in 1982 after the completion of the Israeli withdrawal from Sinai. However, his advisors claimed that an opposition leader may rise to the presidency and cancel the treaty with Israel thus jeopardizing Sadat long years of negotiations and peace treaty. In fear of this unrealistic possibility happening, President Sadat passed the amendment and it was approved in the parliament in a very ominous day for Egypt. What occurred later is that Egypt’s war and peace hero was assassinated in October 6th 1981 and never had the chance to benefit from the amendment. However, his vice president and successor former President Mubarak benefited greatly from that amendment and ruled Egypt for the next 30 years till 2011.

Accordingly, fear of the unknown has created a constitutional and political disaster for Egypt that ended up with a revolt in 2011 which Egypt’s is still paying the price for till this day in every aspect. Egyptians cannot afford to repeat that ominous past for the sake of two extra years per term which eventually will open the door for further amendments in the very number of terms so instead of two terms, it will be three terms or indefinitely such as the former constitution of 1971 ended with. There is no logical or political reason to do that especially that the President has another full term should he win the 2018 elections which is he is poised to do given his immense popularity.

The Egyptian Constitution is not tailor-made document fit for one president or another and every single clause in it has to be respected in order to guarantee the desired political stability. Amending the constitution clauses especially those concerning the presidential terms or years is the gate to hell that should be kept sealed shut. Those who are concerned about stability of Egypt or its economy should know that only a proper democratic system which secures the peaceful transition of power between elected Presidents is the sole guarantee for a flourishing economy, security and prosperity in general.

 

Moreover, should this heinous amendment pass it will provide immense unwarranted credibility to the terrorists propaganda against Egypt of the past few years. These amendments would be a gift to every enemy of the Egyptian nation to prove they were right all along and that their vile terrorism was some form of fighting for freedom. The President and all the men of honour of this great nation should never allow this to happen and provide a leeway for terrorist propaganda from the likes of Al Jazeerah even carry a shred of truth under any pretext. Any further extensions for the presidential years or terms will haunt President AL Sisi and open a Pandora box of trouble from International media that were against his presidency and now they will be given new ammo after they were finally discredited.

Sanctity of Constitutions:

Discussing such proposed amendments on the presidential terms let alone approving it is a desecration to the constitution and desecration to thousands of Egyptians who died for a hard earned freedom and fighting terrorism to pave the way for a free Egyptian state.  That Free State should be free from terrorism and tyranny under any religious or political pretext. Moreover, attempts to discuss any of these preposterous amendments is jeopardizing the state national security and eliminating all of the June30th revolution political gains.

No other achievement for Al-Sisi will supersede cementing the pillars of a democratic political life and peaceful transition of power. Late South African leader and Nobel prize laureate Nelson Mandela didn’t simply secure his great place in history by leading his country into three decades of struggle to end the vile apartheid system in South Africa, but his true greatness were manifested in ruling South Africa for only one term thus setting the precedence for a healthy democratic political life to last forever. Such has been the trait of great leaders and President Al Sisi will hopefully follow that path for he has already steered Egypt through dark times and an ongoing vicious war on terrorism while attempting to rebuild Egypt’s economy on modern basis.

Moreover, the President has repeatedly confirmed that he will not stay in power for a single day more than what is already stipulated in 2014 constitution. Accordingly, President Al-Sisi is urged to stop this political blasphemy at bay and prove once again that the future of Egypt’s democracy and stability are his paramount goals which will be indeed his crowning achievement.

For any civilized and democratic nation, the Constitution is the holy book of politics and defiling it in such manner is the equivalent of a political blasphemy.

 

A self-fulfilling prophecy

Published in Al Ahram Weekly on 9/8/2017

The clash between the US and Russia is a distraction from the real war that both countries should be fighting, which is the war on terrorism, writes Hany Ghoraba

When Donald Trump was sworn in as 45th president of the United States, the pro-Clinton American media accused him of forging secret ties with the Russian authorities and particularly Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The accusations became the daily topic of pro-Clinton campaign media outlets, and the campaign supporting Democratic Party elections candidate Hillary Clinton aimed initially at using them to cover up huge blunders during the campaign that led to the decisive defeat of Clinton against Trump. However, the campaign did not end there, as sectors of the US security apparatus got involved in the investigation process, seeking to find evidence in support of the allegations.

On 29 July, US lawmakers passed a bill to impose economic sanctions on Russia over its alleged interference in the 2016 US presidential elections, its annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region, and its involvement in the Syrian civil war. This package of sanctions seemed likely to stir up a wave of counter-measures, and fewer than 24 hours later Putin expelled 755 US Embassy staff and reduced US mission staff in Russia to 455 by September.

In response to the expulsion, US Vice President Mike Pence has continued the US rhetoric against Russia, citing Russian involvement in international crises and in undermining democracies around the world, along with an old list of accusations often repeated on similar occasions.

The allegations made by US lawmakers against Russia are unproven, however, and there is a lack of irrefutable evidence that could incriminate Russia of having had a hand in manipulating the US elections in favour of Trump, as many Democrats have claimed. With the matter still under investigation, the allegations certainly did not warrant a new set of sanctions to sour the already strained relations with Russia.

Moreover, accusing Russia of intervening in the Syrian war is laughable because this is what the US has been doing since the early days of that war. That said, the Russians can be credited with turning the tables on the Islamic State (IS) group and helping to contain the terrorist nightmare in Syria.

But with diplomatic ties between Russia and the US at their lowest for many years, the US public has the media and hardline Democratic Party politicians to thank for the self-fulfilling prophecy of worsening relations with Russia.

As investigations into the possible interference of the Russians in the elections continue, it seems unwise to jump to conclusions over allegations of hacking the elections in favour of Trump. At the same time, it seems not to have occurred to the accusers how the centuries-old elections system of the US could be disrupted in a computer hack and the divulgence of some emails from Clinton, if the contents of these e-mails were not already incriminating or damaging to the Democrats.

It seems that Democratic Party leaders and Democrats in general have not been able to grasp that Clinton was not as popular as they had led themselves to believe. The fact that she lost the 2008 party primaries against the young and inexperienced African-American candidate Barack Obama should have served as an early indicator of Clinton’s real election chances.

Despite her illustrious career as a US senator and secretary of state, she was marred by negative baggage collected during her long years of public service. Coupled with her heightened sense of self-entitlement, Clinton, along with her campaign, refused to acknowledge changes at the grassroots level and thus lost the chance to win the presidency.

The US media and Democratic Party have become frenzied by the idea that Russia should be punished because of its alleged role in the defeat of their glorious candidate. This frenzy is not just harmful for the Democratic Party, however, but also for the United States and even for world peace.

AVOIDING COLD WAR: The current clash with Russia is what the US media and politicians have produced through campaigns against the country and Trump’s alleged relations with it. It has thus been the result of a self-fulfilling prophecy. The question now is whether those who pushed the situation onto the present collision course will be willing to take responsibility for its repercussions.

Confrontational rhetoric and economic sanctions against the Russians have never yielded results before, and they are highly unlikely to do so in the current situation. Similar sanctions following the Ukrainian crisis led to the deeper involvement of Russia in Ukraine and Russian military intervention in the Syrian civil war in favour of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, thwarting American plans to depose him.

Moreover, discussions about arming Ukraine will not only harm the Ukrainian people and their government by placing them in the crossfire between two major powers, but they will also likely lead to a similar reaction from the Russians who will likely retaliate by either ramping up their army on the Ukrainian border, breaking the ceasefire in the conflict zones, or even carrying out a highly provocative act like arming North Korea.

The world cannot afford to regress to Cold War policies and the proxy wars that characterised the four decades following World War II, with wars across the globe being fought out by third parties to serve American or Russian ambitions.

The clash between the US and Russia is a distraction from the real battle that both countries, along with other civilised nations, should be fighting, which is the ongoing war on terrorism. IS, Al-Qaeda and Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated jihadists still represent a clear and present danger that threatens global stability, the world economy and the security of nations. These terrorist organisations will flourish if the major powers shift their focus from the war on terrorism, and they will likely rally their strength to attack the civilised nations.

For many, American-Russian relations in 2017 are reminiscent of an episode of US actor and director Kevin Spacey’s TV show House of Cards, in which international crises may be sparked to serve the personal gains of politicians notwithstanding the dire consequences they may have for others.

It is a time to heal the differences between the nations, especially the major powers, and not to widen rifts or recall old grudges when the war on terrorism is far from over.

Original Post in Al Ahram Weekly

http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/News/22122.aspx

The EU and Qatari blood money

Published in Al Ahram Weekly 2/8/2017

Many European Union governments are still playing politics with terrorism in the Qatar crisis, risking their own national security for economic gains or political influence, writes Hany Ghoraba

In the midst of the Arab quartet’s feud with Qatar, a dubious and controversial stance by several European Union governments has been displayed that seems to favour the terrorism-supporting regime of Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani. This has left many baffled in the Middle East, especially in the four countries representing the anti-terrorism coalition, namely Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.

It is a stance that has been neglecting the fair demands of the quartet, which seeks to stop the Qatari government from further endorsing terrorist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamic State (IS) and various other Al-Qaeda affiliates. The activities of these groups have wreaked havoc in the quartet countries along with others including, but not limited to, Libya, Iraq, Syria and Yemen.

For countries that have been under constant attack from the likes of Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated groups such as IS and Al-Qaeda, it has seemed unfathomable that EU governments would take such a passive stance and avoid pressuring Qatar to cease promoting terrorist groups and activities.

However, the reason for such a lenient stance takes us beyond political or security considerations towards financial reasons.

Regarding Qatari investments in the United Kingdom, on 12 June this year British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson urged Qatar to clamp down on the funding of terrorism, thus acknowledging the destructive Qatari role in the region. However, he also added that the quartet should ease its blockade on Qatar in a contradictory statement aiming to appease both sides in the conflict but failing to do so and instead triggering quartet disappointment at the weak British position.

It is no secret that UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s government is facing tough economic conditions at present, and the UK cannot afford to anger any of the belligerents in the Qatar conflict because they all have stakes in the British economy.

When countries face terrorism threats and manage to identify the financiers of them they usually take stringent measures to monitor and punish those financiers, as the British government did back in 1980s and 1990s against the former Qaddafi regime in Libya that sponsored the Lockerbie airplane bombing along with other terrorist activities. However, the case with Qatar seems to be different, and Britain has been unwilling to take a stand against this Gulf state’s support for terrorism.

Following the UK referendum decision to leave the EU, the so-called Brexit, the British government has been desperate for every penny it can get to cover the growing bill of the forthcoming Brexit. Qatar, being one of the biggest foreign investors in the British economy, receives special treatment despite its well-known ties to terrorist groups worldwide. It has already invested over 35 billion pounds sterling in the British economy, and it is expected to add another five billion in investment in the coming five years.

Over recent years, the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA) has bought major British assets and infrastructure projects in Britain that include chunks of Heathrow Airport owner BAA, the Shard skyscraper and sections of the Canary Wharf financial district in London, and major names in the British retail and hospitality sector including the Harrods stores and the Claridges Hotel in London.

These economic interests keep British politicians silent and even complacent in protecting Qatari aggression against its Gulf neighbours and other countries in the region. However, that policy is already backfiring on the UK, with more threats of attacks resulting from terrorists affiliated with IS, a group the Qataris have long endorsed and have even blatantly hosted some of its supporters on the Qatari TV channel Al-Jazeera.

PRO-QATARI STANCE: In Germany, the government of Chancellor Angela Merkel has a notorious history of supporting Islamist governments in the region that have included the ousted Muslim Brotherhood Morsi regime in Egypt, the ill-fated Al-Nahda government in Tunisia, and the Islamist dictatorship led by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey until the recent feud between the two countries.

The German government has been comfortable dealing with Islamist governments across the Middle East, and it has protected the Muslim Brotherhood presence across Germany.

It was thus not surprising that German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel should label the demands of the Arab quartet “very provocative” despite his government’s full knowledge of the ill deeds, conspiracies, and plots of the Qatari regime against the four members of the quartet. Unashamedly, Gabriel is sympathising with the aggressor and calling the victims’ demands “provocative” — something that renders his statement extremely provocative in itself.

However, Gabriel’s views seemed to change after a tour of the Arab Gulf and meetings with his Saudi counterpart Adel Al-Jubeir. After these occurrences, Gabriel said that his country no longer perceived the 13 demands made by the quartet as infringing on Qatar’s sovereignty, contrary to his earlier statements a week before.

Germany remains another recipient of Qatari investments. The Qataris have substantial investments in German economic giants such as Deutsche Bank, Hochtief, Siemens and Volkswagen. The Germans would hate these investments to be affected by the current crisis, so they are taking a very cautious position and are attempting to endorse a political solution to it. This, they believe, will avert Germany’s losing any of the belligerents’ business, considering the huge business interests the country has in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain.

It is unfortunate that many EU governments are still in the business of playing politics with terrorism, while risking the national security of their own states over economic gains or political influence. The quartet vs Qatar crisis has shown that the old politics of acquiring gains from terrorism still prevail in Europe, where European politicians have mimicked the actions of other European officials who have handed the keys to international sporting events to the Qataris on a golden platter.

Thanks to disgraced world football figures such as former FIFA officials Michel Platini and Sepp Blatter, the Qatari-owned network BeIN Sports is monopolising international sporting events broadcasting in the Middle East and many other regions. Such is the calibre of the European officials who helped in awarding one of the smallest countries on the planet the honour of hosting the biggest sporting event in the world, namely the FIFA Football World Cup in 2022.

With European leaders positioning themselves in the crisis and their keenness to keep Qatari investments rolling in despite their own national security interests, it is unlikely that Europe will witness an end to the rising tide of IS and Al-Qaeda-related attacks on its soil any time soon. In fact, the UK has extended a courtesy to Qatar by rejecting a ban on the Muslim Brotherhood, a group openly supported, propagated and financed by the Qatari government.

In the light of the above, the quartet leaders cannot sit idly by in the face of EU leaders’ stances towards Qatar and their lack of comprehension of the reasons behind the firm stance of the quartet against it. The British and German governments must realise that they are also dealing with regional players that hold much bigger assets and investments than Qatar will ever do. British economic ties with Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain are much more important than those with the Qataris. The combined economic, strategic and political weight of these countries renders Qatar negligible in comparison despite its gas wealth and large investments in the UK.

The same thing applies to Germany, whose investments and commercial ties with the quartet countries are enormous. Both these European countries and others that choose to follow suit may risk major losses to their interests in the region should they decide to side with a terrorist-supporting regime against the fair demands of the quartet alliance. This message must be clear to EU leaders because during a war on terrorism countries must choose sides and accept the consequences of their choice.

For the time being, it seems that legendary UK pop group The Beatles have been proven wrong when they sang “money can’t buy me love” because Qatari blood money is buying a lot of love from EU officials and politicians.

Original post in Al Ahram Weekly

http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/News/22054.aspx


The Tillerson affair

Published in Al Ahram Weekly in 26/7/2017 (Online Only)

It is time for the Trump administration to come clean and state which side of the Qatar crisis it stands on, writes Hany Ghoraba

Following the path of his predecessor, John Kerry, former oil tycoon and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is swiftly turning to be another controversial and inept chief diplomat for his country. The 65-year-old former Exxon CEO has been nothing but a source of disappointment and dismay in the eyes of the Quartet alliance that includes Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, all of which are united against the terrorism-financing and supporting Qatari regime.

Quartet alliance leaders may seek the support of the US administration, which on paper claims to fight terrorism worldwide. However, the alliance is not reliant on that support or approval. In fact, the role of the United States, though crucial, is more of a mediatory one in this case and it is highly unlikely that either the US or EU will persuade the alliance of the innocence of Qatar given its continued destructive role in the region and worldwide.

FRATERNISING WITH TERRORISM FINANCIERS: Much to the dismay of many in the region and after the meeting of Tillerson with his Qatari counterpart 11 July, Tillerson was praising Qatari regime figures due to their commitment to and signing of a new meaningless Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for fighting terrorism. This self-proclaimed achievement is utterly useless in light of the Qatari regime’s adamant drive to financially and politically endorse terrorist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamic State and the Taliban from Qatar, where leaders of these groups are finding asylum.

AMERICAN BASE IN QATAR: Tillerson is seemingly on a mission to manipulate both sides of the conflict and gain maximum benefits for the United States which entails upholding the status quo, mainly so the United States won’t be forced to change the location of its current Al-Udeid airbase located in Qatar with all the logistical problems and costs that could entail. However, if he is successful in his approach it would translate into Qatar’s continued financing and support for terrorist activities across the region, which is unacceptable by all means. It is understandable that the presence in Qatar of the biggest American military base in the region leaves the Trump administration in a bit of quandary. However, Trump himself didn’t seem too keen on keeping the base in Qatar should it interfere with the interests of the United States and the war on terrorism, and expressed explicitly that there are other options than keeping it there.

THE TILLERSON CONTROVERSY: “The nation of Qatar has unfortunately been a funder of terrorism, and at a very high level,” said Donald Trump on 9 June. One wonders what part of that historic speech Tillerson missed before embarking on his Middle East shuttle tour that included Qatar. The provoking nature of Tillerson’s statements that followed his meeting with officials in Qatar exacerbated the situation with the Quartet alliance. These statements also sparked the perception that the United States approves or is even colluding with the terrorist backing provided by the Qatari regime, in breach of what was agreed during the Arab-Islamic-American Summit that took place in Riyadh in May. The Trump administration, thanks to Tillerson, is failing to resolve the escalating crisis between Egypt and Arabian Gulf States on the one hand and Qatar on the other.

While President Trump attempts to rectify some of the huge blunders of US policies of the past six years by ordering the CIA to cease all operations supporting the so-called “Syrian opposition”, which was mainly composed of various Islamist and Jihadist groups, Tillerson is seen fraternising with officials of the country that has been financing these very groups that ransacked and destroyed entire towns in Syria, Libya and Iraq. The Qatari regime is directly responsible for the miseries of millions in the aforementioned countries, added to Egypt and all countries suffering from the Muslim Brotherhood, Islamic State and Al-Qaeda.

It is unfathomable that the US secretary of state would be so deluded. Accordingly, President Trump is urged to clearly decide which side his administration is on. He has to practically reaffirm his commitment to fighting terrorism and regimes that support it, regardless of their identity. Trump is required to reassess his secretary of state’s stance, to assure that he would cease and desist sending these abhorrent mixed signals that display a total lack of comprehension on how far the rift between the Arab Quartet alliance and Qatar has grown. Trump should realise that the current situation will endanger US interests in the Middle East.

Tillerson and some of the Qatari-affiliated Western media, has been trying desperately to provide the perception that the embargo against Qatar is not working and the Quartet should lift it, which is an oxymoron. They never explained why are they so keen on lifting an embargo that is — according to them — useless and ineffective in the first place. Moreover, the same groups are attempting to underline the importance of Qatar to alliance countries, which is a fallacy since Qatar is of no major economic, strategic, military or cultural importance to the region. Despite Qatar being a gas-rich country, to most Middle East countries that is equivalent to the importance of a sand vendor in the middle of the desert.

The Obama administration created unprecedented havoc in the Middle East with twisted policies that provided a catalyst to the rise of Islamist and jihadist groups all across the region. Chief allies and perpetrators of that policy were the Qatari and Turkish regimes who trained, abetted and financed most of the terrorist groups in the region since 2011. Qatari Prince Tamim Al-Thani is still defying regional powers in his latest televised speech 21 July where he mentioned that Qataris has a different definition of terrorism, and thus tougher measures may be taken by the Quartet to compel the Qatari regime to abandon its destructive policies.

Dealing decisively with Qatar: President Trump claimed to reject these policies and vowed to reverse them upon his ascent to the presidency. Thus far this promise has been mostly rhetorical. Nothing concrete has been done on the ground, including on the promise to ban the Muslim Brotherhood and its affiliates in the United States. The Arabian Gulf crisis is Trump’s chance to meet his promises of fighting effectively the terrorism financiers.

Tillerson’s approach is not only in contradiction to the Arab alliance against terrorism, but also his own president’s words last month. His continued demands for lifting the embargo is not going to work since Qatar didn’t even meet the most basic of demands and is continuing its provoking policies. Moreover, the embargo against Qatar by Egypt, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Bahrain doesn’t breach any international or United Nations accords since these nations are sovereign who have simply taken stringent measures to protect their national security. It’s noteworthy to remember that the United States embargoed the Castro regime in Cuba for over 55 years, and even without the Cubans supporting terrorist activities.

Many in the West are downplaying Qatar’s role in the international wave of terrorism post-2000 and believe that Qatar is too small of a country to play such a role. They are right about one thing: that Qatar is not alone in this role and the Turkish regime plays a similar role as well. However, the size of Qatar has nothing to do with the havoc it created. Western media pundits and politicians may need to remind themselves how miniscule diseases are that nonetheless destroy the human body. A malicious but small sized country can still do a lot of damage if left unchecked, and Qatar cannot be allowed to get away with its crimes anymore.

Original Post in Al Ahram Weekly

http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/News/22007.aspx

Egypt’s global firepower

Published in Al Ahram Weekly 19/7/2017

Despite fighting on multiple fronts in the war on terrorism, Egypt’s Armed Forces continue to improve in ranking as a formidable world military power, writes Hany Ghoraba

At times of war, armies are weakened by continuous fighting and the drainage of their financial, weaponry and manpower resources. However, against all the odds the Egyptian army has nevertheless been able to contradict this traditional state of affairs and turn the disadvantages resulting from fighting a war on terrorism on multiple fronts that include Sinai and Libya into a miraculous ascent within the ranks of world armies from 18th in early 2015 to 10th in July 2017, according to the Global Firepower Ranking.

Undoubtedly, Egypt’s army is now in the major league, and despite its fighting on multiple fronts in the war on terrorism it continues to improve in the world rankings as a formidable power and a force to be reckoned with despite the economic constraints and security odds stacked against it.

Global Firepower is an informative website that ranks the world’s armies according to some 50 different parameters, including the economic power and population of the country from which they come. The site doesn’t factor in the experience of battle-hardened armies in comparison to ones that have hardly witnessed any military actions in recent years, however.

Economic, geostrategic and logistical factors are factored in to the extent that most of the top 20 ranked armies in the world today are from countries with strong economies. This is a manifestation of the old Roman saying, attributed to the writer and politician Cicero, that “the sinews of war are money.” Accordingly, the site has factored in such economic conditions, bearing in mind that a war can take a long period, but also neglecting the fact that some wars could end in a matter of days, and sustaining the armed forces for long periods as a condition for the strength of an army may not be as simple as it seems.

Firepower, ideally, should be measured by actual firepower and not by economic conditions that can vary and fluctuate even in a strong country. For example, the United States is normally and deservingly ranked number one in military terms, but its economy is burdened by $20 trillion in debt, and this could be a destructive factor at any moment. Nevertheless, without a doubt American military supremacy is only rivalled at certain levels by Russian, and, further off, by Chinese capabilities.

Should economic conditions be factored in here and the US find itself in a confrontation with China, the Chinese will likely use their economic power against the US, causing a direct hit to the economy. However, even so the fact that the American military with all its firepower would still be standing and accordingly theoretically be able to fight a war, even a long one, despite any economic constraints shows that firepower is still firepower.

In other words, if a soldier is carrying a firearm, then he has a firepower amounting to the calibre and number of bullets that firearm can discharge. The fact that his wallet may contain $10 or $1,000 is irrelevant, as the firepower of that soldier is unaffected by his purchasing power. Accordingly, factoring economic conditions in can sometimes be misleading as a weaker country economically can still bring about the military defeat of a wealthier one if it has the necessary firepower.

Despite its excellent ranking of 10th place in the Global Firepower Ranking, Egypt should continue its military modernisation programme with further purchases and training that should include all sectors of the military. This should be done bearing in mind the costs and the maintenance requirements of any equipment acquired, because as a rule of thumb an army should not procure 50 tanks if it only needs and can service 15. It is easy to purchase arms, but the training and maintenance of this equipment to keep it in combat-ready form can be extremely costly in the long run.

INDIGENOUS ARMS MANUFACTURING: Some armchair experts downplay the Egyptian military ranking because they claim that the military industry in Egypt is not up to the standard of its Western counterparts.

Such accusations, while containing some truth, are unfair since the local or indigenous manufacturing of arms, while seemingly appealing as an idea, does not guarantee any form of supremacy in war. In fact, the opposite can be the case. For instance, years of boycott by the West has forced the Iranian army, once amongst the world’s elite military forces, into the indigenous manufacturing of arms. The results have been far from optimal, and the quality of the arms produced has set back the entire army, rendering it a second grade one in comparison to its former glory before the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran.

When it comes to arms manufacturing, it is the quality of the production that matters, not the quantity. Aside from the American and Russian armies and to a lesser extent the French and British ones, no other country is able to fully manufacture its military equipment and arms efficiently.

As a result, Egypt only manufactures equipment in which it can excel, such as training jets, drones, armoured vehicles, light tanks, air-defence systems, short, medium and long-range missiles, various kinds of guns and firearms, rocket-propelled grenades, mines, ammunition and so on. However, for heavier equipment such as tanks, attack helicopters and fighter jets, these are either partly manufactured in cooperation with foreign partners or imported entirely.

Theoretically, the Egyptian arms industries can manufacture fighter jets and training jets such as the Tucano, Alpha and K-8. These are almost entirely manufactured in Egypt and are testament to that fact. However, fighter jets and air superiority leave no room for trial and error as equipment of this sort is the backbone of any modern military, and accordingly such jets are imported from the United States, France, Russia and China, which have been pioneers in the field for decades.

In its currently difficult economic circumstances Egypt cannot afford to set up an ambitious programme to manufacture fighter jets as the country does not have the luxury to spend 46 billion euros, as the French did to manufacture the Dassault Rafale fighter aircraft, only to wait for over a decade to find its first buyers. Similarly, the Americans spent over $400 billion developing their latest F-35 masterpiece, and this still has technical issues.

Egypt cannot afford to enter a race of this sort, especially since Egyptian pilots cannot be seen to be using inferior jets to protect Egypt’s skies. Accordingly, purchasing such state- of-the-art equipment from abroad is imperative and the most logical solution to keep the Egyptian military’s strength and superior capabilities. Unlike in sports events, in a war there is no silver medal for second place but only defeat and destruction.

As for the importance of Global Firepower rankings, these could be seen as more or less similar to the FIFA world football rankings that list the rankings of national football teams on a monthly basis. The Firepower ranking is an excellent indicator of the strengths of each world army using statistics and over 50 independent parameters.

However, just like the FIFA rankings, the Global Firepower rankings are an indicator based only on current time, meaning that like in football if Germany or Brazil are ranked as No 1 this is an indicator of the strength of these national teams based on their latest results and records. However, this ranking does not guarantee that either Brazil or Germany will defeat a slightly lower-ranked team such as Holland or France in a friendly or official game because there are many parameters that could come into play with every game played.

Similarly, the United States as a supreme military power is not guaranteed a positive outcome from any conflict that it might enter into with lower-ranked armies. The Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan wars are proof of that assertion. That said, however, the United States army can wield huge power, and it has a power projection capability that is second to none, with its six fleets and 10 naval super-carriers that can bring war to the door of any rising threat.

The rankings accordingly cannot precisely forecast the outcome of any given war because the war theatre is a complex matter and hundreds of parameters must be factored in in order to project a result.

For all intents and purposes and regardless of its prestigious ranking in Global Firepower, the Egyptian military remains an instrument of peace. The world has realised the importance of Egypt’s maintaining a powerful military since it is a vanguard of civilisation from possible barbaric attacks from the likes of the Islamic State group, Al-Qaeda or any other group that may emerge as a result of the chaos that followed the Arab Spring.

The Egyptian military thus remains a colossus of peace in a region faced on all sides by terrorism, extremism and sectarianism.

Original Post at Al Ahram Weekly

http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/News/21944.aspx