The Sino-American trade war

Originally published in Al Ahram Weekly on 7/4/2018

The developing trade war between the United States and China is bad news for the countries concerned as well as for the rest of the world, writes Hany Ghoraba

The huge budget deficit of the United States has irked many American politicians and citizens alike for decades, as today the world’s biggest economy is also the world’s most indebted one. With the current US national debt standing at over $21 trillion, the American economy, with its enormous GDP of $19 trillion, is indebted at a rate of 106 per cent of its value and has a trade deficit with the rest of the world that is estimated at $568 billion, most of it with China.

In an attempt to reduce these figures that may prove costly in the long run, US President Donald Trump has imposed $60 billion in tariffs on Chinese goods entering the US, citing breaches of intellectual copyright as one of the reasons for this surprising move. The $60 billion will be made up of tariffs of up to 25 per cent on a list of goods that is to be unveiled shortly.

These may include Chinese exports related to robotics, aerospace, maritime equipment, rail equipment, electric vehicles and biopharma products. They represent, according to Chinese President Xi Jinping, the key to the Chinese aim of dominating the Chinese domestic and to a certain extent world high-tech industries in a strategy entitled “Made in China 2025”. The new US tariffs thus appear to have more to do with American attempts at containing the Chinese strategy of trade domination than a reaction to the alleged intellectual property thefts of which the Chinese have been accused.

The astounding US trade deficit with China stands at some $375 billion despite the Chinese market being the third-biggest for American products. For nearly two decades, the Chinese have managed to dominate the US market with a wide variety of goods that have beaten back competition with US local industries in many areas. The free-market laws of the United States have exacerbated this phenomenon, eventually meaning that areas in which the US once enjoyed a clear advantage, including electrical appliances, electronics, clothes, toys and even heavy industries such as vehicles, have all seen declines.

The tariffs will likely cause major price hikes in the US market, as Chinese products known for their affordability will increase in price. There will be a decrease in competition on prices in the US markets, and this will be bad news for consumers.

Relations between the US and China has been complicated for decades. American companies have invested massively in the Chinese market, and many American brands have manufacturing plants in China from where they export their products to Europe and other parts of the world, benefiting from cheap labour, huge infrastructure, and a proximity to US ports.

While this has been incredibly successful for both US and Chinese businessmen, local industries in the United States have suffered tremendously from shipping American jobs offshore. Nevertheless, the Chinese have invested heavily in the US economy in many industries, and more importantly they have invested hugely in US government treasury bills, notes and bonds to a staggering amount of $1.17 trillion, or 19 per cent of the $6.26 trillion foreign debt of the USA.

This amount is considered to represent huge leverage for the Chinese, which they may be tempted to use if the trade feud escalates further. Moreover, the US tariffs may send all sorts of wrong signals to investors and trade partners in the US if attempts at appeasing them are not undertaken. It is for this reason that the US has been neglecting possible similar complaints against EU, South Korean and Japanese exports to the United States, even though these have also alarmed US politicians.

For the moment, the US administration has focused on rallying allies against China instead of opening up a multi-front trade war that the United States risks losing. The US also plans to file a complaint against China at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) on alleged Chinese intellectual property violations, and it wants the support of other economic powers to isolate China.

However, Sino-American interests have in the past mostly been served within the context of free-trade rules, and these have led to a win-win situation in most cases. But the rise of the massive production abilities of the Chinese over the past two decades has turned China into a threat to American interests rather than just a trading partner. This was especially the case when the Chinese shifted their export production from cheap products such as toys, home utensils and clothes to high-tech mobile phones, TVs, computer components and vehicles.

Today, even US technology giants such as Apple produce their mobile phones utilising Chinese-made motherboards along with others that have followed the same path of utilising Chinese components in their products. The US has also not only focused on curbing the rise of Chinese products in US markets that have led to the staggering $375 billion deficit in China’s favour, but it has also opted to look into using anti-dumping regulations against many Chinese products as well.

In response, China has announced that it will defend its trade interests, and it has already placed $3 billion in tariffs on 128 American products imported into Chinese markets. This is a small amount compared to the $60 billion in tariffs imposed by Trump on Chinese products, but it could be the beginning of retaliation by the Chinese. The US tariffs will put a dent in Chinese plans for global trade hegemony and their ambitions for the Chinese yuan to replace the US dollar as a global currency.

With the world’s two largest economies skirmishing with punitive economic measures and counter-measures, recent developments could lead to a trade war that would be brutal in terms of its ramifications on both countries and on the rest of the world as well.

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Russo-British shadow wars

Originally published in 24/3/2018

The British authorities have failed to provide proof that Russia was behind this month’s assassination attempt on a former Russian spy in southwest England, writes Hany Ghoraba

Another episode unfolded in the turbulent relations between Britain and Russia this month, pushing them further towards a dark abyss. The tension escalated after former Russian spy Sergei Skripal was poisoned with a military-grade nerve agent in a sleepy town in southwest England. Britain, the US, Germany and France then labelled the event the first time such a nerve agent had been used in Europe since World War II.

Britain has hosted a plethora of former Russian spies over the past decade, and according to the British authorities these have been targeted by the FSB Russian Intelligence Agency. The British authorities do not respond to Russian demands for the extradition of runaway agents, and instead Britain uses them as sources of information and for leverage against Russia. This has caused recurring political and security tensions between the two countries.

In response to the attack on Skripal Britain expelled 23 Russian diplomats from the UK and is now mulling further actions against the Russian state. The British government seems to be quite certain of the involvement of the Russian authorities in the assassination attempt, and it has also alleged that the Russians were involved in other similar cases in Britain over the past year.

 However, the British authorities have failed to provide conclusive evidence of Russian involvement in the assassination attempt. Though Britain addressed the UN Security Council and accused Russia of carrying out the attack, it has thus far failed to produce any evidence of the direct involvement of Russian security or intelligence agents in the assassination attempt.

The involvement of Russian intelligence agencies in hunting former double-agents or defected spies seems logical according to the rules of the espionage world. In every country there are spies who roam around freely, while being recognisable to the counter-intelligence agencies, but they are usually left unharmed as arresting them could cause diplomatic feuds. Arrests only happen if they attempt to steal confidential information or come close to revealing state secrets.

In the present case, Russia had little to gain by assassinating a former agent in a foreign country with which its diplomatic relations were already sour. Russia has offered to assist the British authorities in their investigations, but the request was turned down as the British are adamant about Russian guilt. Over the years, Britain has several times accused Russia of assassinating its former agents on British soil, notably in the case of Alexander Litvinenko in 2006. An investigation has also been opened into the death of Russian dissident Nikolai Glushkov, found dead in London this month.

British politicians have been using phrases like “highly likely”, “possibly”, and “probably” in their accusations against the Russian government and the attempted assassination of the former Russian spy. Their accusations of alleged Russian interference in the US presidential elections that led to the election of US President Donald Trump and in the UK referendum on leaving the European Union have been presented in the same terms. But thus far the British authorities have not presented a shred of evidence or even an investigative lead justifying their accusations against Russia.

Something similar occurred between Britain and Egypt in 2015 regarding the horrendous Russian civilian airplane crash over Sinai that the British authorities attributed to the Islamic State (IS) terror group. The British believed that IS was behind the downing of the Russian plane and banned all UK flights to Sharm El-Sheikh for two consecutive years.

Moreover, some 15 years ago, a British intelligence report claimed that the regime led by former president Saddam Hussein in Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction that could be launched in only 45 minutes at targets in the Middle East and Europe. Former British prime minister Tony Blair cited this report in a speech to the British nation and used it as a pretext for joining the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

The report was later proven to contain bogus information and more fiction than a Stephen King novel. However, it helped to build up the case for the invasion of Iraq, and what has since transpired has been 15 years of misery and destruction in Iraq and the wider region. The fact remains that British intelligence reports are not written by oracles with mystical powers capable of revealing hidden truths. They are drafted by human security analysts who gather information to the best of their abilities. Whether they are accurate or not depends on the source of the information they contain. In the case of the Iraq report, the information was nonsense.

The point here is not that Russia did not attempt to assassinate Skripal, because in all probability it did. Instead, it is that the British authorities’ inability to provide any evidence or even leads justifying the accusations made against Russia is extremely dangerous as they could lead to devastating feuds. Given the ongoing tensions that already exist between the United States and its allies and Russia, it would have been more prudent to investigate first and acquire irrefutable evidence against Russia, instead of relying on presumptions, when issuing such allegations.

Such accusations should be based on clear intelligence reports that include details of who, where, why, what and how and give conclusive proof. Otherwise, they may be perceived as acts of provocation even if the accusations turn out to be true.

Words such as “hypothetically”, “theoretically”, “presumably”, “likely” and others have no place in diplomatic and political terminology. Only absolute certainty should be allowed into political circles, especially when launching accusations, and this is the case regardless of their truth. This is even more crucial when pointing the finger of accusation at a superpower such as Russia at a time when a new cold war is already on the horizon, if not something worse.

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Southern Libya: Terrorists’ Next Frontier

Originally Published in IPT on 21/3/2018

ISIS’s recent battleground defeats and its loss of most of the areas in Syria and Iraq it once controlled have forced group leaders to find an alternative operating base to regroup. Libya, without a unified government or secure border, as well as vast expansive desert, remains the most alluring country for the remnants of ISIS and al-Qaida.

It was in that sparsely populated Libyan desert that ISIS set up a new “army” last fall after the group was driven out of Sirte and liberation by the Libyan army, supported by U.S. airstrikes. Libya’s southern desert is a lawless region known for major smuggling operations and human trafficking. ISIS treats Libya as its next frontier, creating alarm among North African security agencies.

ISIS is aggressively targeting more Libyan army outposts and checkpoints. It used suicide bombings to attack the army in southern Libya.

ISIS in Libya is now a merger of three groups loyal to Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi, said Libyan General Prosecutor Al Sadiq Al Sour. Its leader is a Libyan-born jihadist named Al Mahdi Salem Danqo, aka “Abou Al Barakat.” He is suspected of participating in the 2015 massacre of 21 Egyptian Copts which prompted Egypt to retaliate with airstrikes in Libya. Abou Al Barakat reportedly worked in Mosul’s Sharia courts in Iraq for ISIS leader Abou Bakr Al Baghdadi. Between 2,600-3,500 foreign fighters from 41 countries have flowed into Libya during the past seven years, but the pace reportedly has escalated as ISIS suffered defeats in Syria and Iraq.

Most, around 1,500, come from Tunisia.

The new ISIS campaign adds to the turmoil in southern Libya, which already is home to African mercenaries. Recent clashes in the strategic city of Sabha led Libyan Army Commander Brigadier General Khalifa Haftar to initiate operation “Law Enforcement.” Libya’s air force conducted airstrikes on the mercenaries’ camp to restore order; however, they still face a much larger threat from ISIS. According to United Nations Libya Panel report, ISIS has been trying to gain favor with southern Libyan tribes through cash offerings. In addition, ISIS emissaries are offering protection to smuggling networks in exchange for long term financing sources and help establishing a solid presence in the south.

Coinciding with the ISIS expansion in southern Libya, al-Qaida affiliates also are active in the area and support its expansion. The rival terrorist groups “have never attacked each other here and now we have evidence that they are actively cooperating,” said Libyan Defense Minister Mahdi Barghathi. “Al-Qaeda is providing logistics and support to help [ISIS] re-group and launch attacks.”

Barghathi claimed that notorious al-Qaida terrorist Mokhtar Belmokhtar, who was believed to have been killed in 2016, is alive and supervising some ISIS remnants who fled Sirte when it was liberated by Libyan forces. Belmokhtar led the deadly 2013 attack on an Algerian gas plant, killing 37 Western hostages. Al-Qaida in Libya has an estimated 5,000 fighters and has been trying to grow since the 2011 revolution. Al-Qaida’s presence in Libya dates back to the 1990s, through different names including Ansar Al Sharia and Shura Councils in Benghazi, Derna and Sirte. The latest recordings by al-Qaida leader Ayman Al Zawahiri confirm that the group plans to expand in the Maghreb region (Libya, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco) by inciting the Muslims to rise against tyrants and invaders such as the French.

Moreover, new reports confirm that Nigerian based Boko Haram is planning to infiltrate Europe using migrant paths running through southern Libya. U.S. officials reported in 2016 Boko Haram was sending fighters to ISIS in Libya.

Terrorist groups already have used their Libyan base to spread terror into Europe. Salman Abedi, who killed 22 people in last May’s suicide bombing at an Arianna Grande concert in Manchester, England, is believed to have been trained in Libya with the ISIS-affiliated special operations unit Katibat al Battar al Libi. Similarly, Tunisian born terrorist Anis Amri, who killed 12 people when drove a truck through a Berlin Christmas market in December 2016, also was connected to Libyan ISIS affiliates. Those ties led the United States to bomb ISIS camps in southern Libya hours after Amri’s terrorist attack.

The two European terrorist attacks and the ongoing threat of similar violence is a direct consequence of ISIS’s expansion in Libya, where it has proven capabilities of training recruits to attack elsewhere.

As the ISIS threat grows and more foreign fighters join them in Libya, it may be time to consider dealing with it in the same manner that curbed ISIS in Syria and Iraq. The Trump administration ordered airstrikes in September, which were instrumental in helping Libyan forces to eliminate ISIS presence in Sirte. Will the United States form another strong international coalition against terrorists in Libya? The Libyan army and regional powers such as Egypt, Algeria and Tunisia all have an interest in stopping the spreading cancer of ISIS and al-Qaida in Libya and the rest of the world.

Failing to confront ISIS in Iraq and Syria led to catastrophe.

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Meanwhile in Africa

Originally Published in Al Ahram Weekly on 17/3/2018

Western countries are risking their own security by ignoring the spread of Islamic State and other terrorist groups in Africa, writes Hany Ghoraba

While all eyes have been focused on the purging of the Islamic State (IS) group in the Middle East and preventing its members from reaching Europe, this group has been very active expanding on the African continent since 2016.

The bombing of the French Embassy and army headquarters in the West African state of Burkina Faso earlier this month delivered a message that has been consistently sent over the past few years but that has been just as consistently ignored by the international community. The message says that IS and Al-Qaeda are gaining ground and recruiting new members in Africa and that this can no longer be ignored. The deadly bombing in Burkina Faso was so shocking at least in part because the country has traditionally been far from the centre of terrorist activities.

The earlier bombing in Mogadishu in Somalia in October 2017, which resulted in the killing of at least 655 people and the injuring of 303 others, did not lead to retaliation despite the massive casualties. These casualties made the Mogadishu bombing the third-worst terrorist attack in history, though readers of the western media may be forgiven for not knowing this, since much-smaller attacks in European cities generally occupy world headlines for weeks, unlike what took place in Somalia.

There is a widespread belief that the massive casualties that result from such attacks are somehow “normal” when they happen in Africa because civil wars and political conflicts are thought to be endless on that continent. This notion has led many western pundits to ignore the impacts of these horrific attacks as long as they happen far away from the West. However, in truth they will sooner or later affect the West due to mass migration and modern methods of transportation.

Some countries have reacted to the threat of terrorism in Africa, such as Egypt, France and the United States. But these three are almost the only countries that seem to take the escalating phenomenon seriously, offering assistance ranging from military training and financial aid to the governments of countries afflicted by terrorist activities to military operations, such as those that have been carried out by France and the US.

Egypt was one of the first countries to warn about the escalating activities of terrorists in the Middle East and Africa, and it called upon the international community to unite to nip this danger in the bud. Egypt is currently training the Nigerian air force and assisting it in maintaining military redeployment aircraft such as the CH130 Hercules. This assistance aims to help the Nigerian government to fight the IS-affiliated Boko Haram group that has been wreaking havoc in the north of the country. Egypt also announced during the African Security Conference held in Sharm El-Sheikh in 2016 that it would provide military training at Egyptian facilities for 1,000 African army officers to assist them in counter-terrorism efforts.

Starting in 2014, France has also been carrying out military operations in Africa, in this case Operation Barkhane, from its headquarters in N’djamena, Chad, in order to assist the Sahel countries of Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Burkina Faso and Niger in combating IS and Al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorist groups such as Nusrat Al-Islam, Ansar Dine, Morabitoun and Al-Qaeda in the Maghreb that have been attempting to establish a foothold in the region. With 3,000 French troops stationed in Chad, France’s ongoing Operation Barkhane is one of the most important efforts to eradicate the spreading menace of Al-Qaeda and IS in Africa.

From its military base in Mogadishu, the US has conducted military training programmes for Somali forces to fight Al-Shabab group terrorists and has extended operations across Africa. Many of these have been clandestine, despite their numbering 3,500 missions per year. A video released this month by IS showing the brutal killing of four soldiers in Niger last October has shed light on the depth of US operations in Africa, which have involved covert operations in some 20 countries. Despite dozens of ongoing US missions in Africa, these rarely reach the pages of the daily newspapers.

Africa is becoming a hotbed for terrorist groups that have been spreading their venom in already poverty-stricken and war-torn areas of the continent. The miseries of the African countries are starting to be become problems for the European and Western countries as well, as the terrorists continue to expand their operations on the continent. One result has been the mass migration of African refugees who have been fleeing their homes in search of safer countries, most often in Europe. African jihadists are also likely to move their operations to western countries once they gain strength in Africa, using the continent as a launch pad for attacks on Europe and the Americas.

The terrorist groups are attempting to mimic their early successes in Iraq and Syria by trying to control large areas of the African continent. They aim to replicate their dream of establishing a “caliphate” in the heart of the continent in order to compensate for their losses in Iraq and Syria. Despite the efforts exerted by the countries mentioned in this article, these will be far from sufficient without full-scale support from the United Nations in the war against terrorism in Africa. In a global war against terrorism, no country can afford to sit idly by while others are doing the work on its behalf because it too could soon find itself in the sights of terrorists.

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Towards a new cold war?

Published in Al Ahram Weekly on 10/3/2018

As tensions between the US and Russia continue, there is a real danger that the world may be entering a new period of cold war between the superpowers,  writes Hany Ghoraba

The global struggle for domination between the US and Russia is not a novelty or a temporary state of conflict. This struggle has been ongoing for seven decades with short periods of dormancy. However, strong words and the exchange of accusations between the two superpowers are now reaching alarming new heights, with Russian President Vladimir Putin bragging about the development of new Russian nuclear inter-continental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) to counter the US redeployment of nuclear missiles in Europe.

Putin declared on 28 February that his country had tested an array of new-generation hypersonic nuclear ICBMs and cruise missiles called “Sarmat” and “Avantgarde”. The cutting-edge Sarmat RS 28 missile, referred to by NATO as the SS-30 Satan 2, is capable of carrying 10 heavy warheads or 15 lighter ones with an “unlimited” range, according to the Russian president’s statement.

The new RS 25 “Avantgarde” nuclear missile is capable of travelling at speeds reaching Mach 20, or 20 times the speed of sound. It has been described as “unstoppable”, as it can render all known anti-missile defence systems obsolete since most of these respond to missiles of a maximum speed of Mach 8, as in the case of US THAAD defence system.

Other weapons announced by Russia include underwater drones capable of launching nuclear missiles. The shocking development of these new weapons announced by the Russian president may ignite a new arms race similar to that between the US and the former Soviet Union during the Cold War, but with even more devastating capabilities.

Putin’s speech was delivered in the same month as the US Pentagon announced a new nuclear policy that includes the introduction of low-yield nuclear weapons launched on ballistic missiles from submarines in an attempt to match Russian capabilities. The Pentagon announcement said that “our strategy will ensure that Russia understands that any use of nuclear weapons, however limited, is unacceptable.”

The policy is an outcome of US President Donald Trump’s vow to develop a strong US nuclear arsenal to deter any future aggression. The developments were exacerbated by a statement by the Russian foreign minister that the US military was preparing the militaries of the European states to use tactical nuclear weapons against Russia.

The two superpowers already possess 90 per cent of the known nuclear warheads in the world, with Russia having around 7,000 and America 6,800. However, Russian delivery methods and capabilities excel those of the Americans in terms of speed and payload, while the Americans have excelled in their missile-distribution capabilities with the ability to launch them at Russian targets from countries including the US European and Asian allies.

Putin said in his announcement that the new Russian weapons did not violate any international agreements and that they had been developed in order to maintain the balance of power in response to US actions. But this does not stop a new arms race from looming on the horizon that has not been caused by such announcements.

The reason for this alarming news is that the US, which has the highest military budget in the world, is continuing on its path towards further military expenditure, with the US Department of Defense requesting the huge sum of $686 billion in the 2018 budget. This is a whopping 4.7 per cent jump from the 2017 budget, and it is said that the extra expenditure will be focused on missile-defence systems and naval expansion.

The traditional response among US politicians to such alarming developments is to pass new bills calling for sanctions against Russia, even though these never actually work. They rarely work against small developing countries, let alone against a nuclear superpower with devastating capabilities that match those of the US.

Instead of passing such new sanctions, the US would be better off developing more efficient negotiations with the Russians on how to stop the alarming nuclear arms race and simultaneously diffuse the escalating situations in the world’s conflict zones, where US and Russian interests are on a collision course. These conflict zones include Syria, the Korean Peninsula, Ukraine and Eastern Europe.

The policies of both nations have exacerbated the above-mentioned conflicts in these countries, as the warring factions in them tend to fight proxy wars on behalf of their superpower masters, thus prolonging the conflicts. While there is nothing new about the conflict of the superpowers, there is no prediction on how far these conflicts may develop in the future. Some pundits may argue that these developments are nothing but business as usual when it comes to the turbulent history of relations between the two countries. However, the alarming announcement of further nuclear weapons development and testing may take matters to a different level should the countries’ leaderships refrain from restraint and engage in provocation.

Many Americans see Putin as their country’s enemy and hope for the day when he will be ousted or leave power, believing that this will make the world a better place. However, this naïve hope could not be further from the truth, as should Putin leave office he will be unlikely to be replaced by a Russian liberal politician despite the hopes of many. The chance that he is more likely to be replaced by a Russian having an ultra-nationalist military background is a real one, and such a president is unlikely to show the compromises or willingness to negotiate associated with the pragmatism of Putin.

With a lot at stake as a result of the recent developments, initiatives to de-escalate the situation between the two superpowers should be at the top of the world’s priorities, as the planet braces itself for further exchanges of threats and fear-mongering between the superpowers. These threats are once again heating up a Cold War that lasted for decades, and action by other powers is now imperative to render it cold again.

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Islamists Scheme to Disrupt Egyptian Presidential Elections.

Published in IPT on 27/2/2018

Islamists have been attempting to unsettle the Egyptian political scene for decades by infiltrating the political process or disrupting it through systematic negative propaganda and violence. After the Muslim Brotherhood’s 2013 ouster, Islamists’ despair in the political process has only translated into threats and violence to impede the process in Egypt, especially during the upcoming presidential elections.

Egypt holds its presidential election March 26-28, the second ballot since the Brotherhood’s removal from power by the Egyptian army. Incumbent President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi is heavily favored to survive a challenge by Al Ghad liberal party leader Moussa Mostafa Moussa.

Islamists, led by the Muslim Brotherhood, have called for the boycott of elections, while their affiliated terrorist groups Hasm and Liwa Al Thawra (Revolution Brigade) – designated as terrorist groups by the United States on Jan. 31, are still operating to disrupt and sabotage the elections process. The Egyptian police forces arrested 14 and killed three Hasm members in a preemptive operation before Hasm executed its plan to attack during elections.

At the same time, ISIS vows to attack voters and polling stations across the country. Elections mark “the greatest day of polytheism in the land of Egypt,” said a Feb. 11 ISIS recording, titled “Guardians of Al Sharia.” “These days, Egypt’s tyrants are preparing for their day of polytheism, election day. So ruin their day of polytheism,” said an ISIS terrorist identified as Mohamed Al Masry. “Spill their blood, and start with the heads of unbelief among them. We hereby warn the Muslim public in Egypt and Sinai during these polytheist days not to come near the polling stations and the courts, and to [avoid large] gatherings, for they are a target for us. We will go forth on this path, Allah willing, determined to shatter every idol and remove every tyrant.”

He added a special threat to Christians: “And it is worth mentioning in these days that the mujahideen (jihadists) in all regions of Egypt aim to escalate their attacks against the apostates, belligerent Christians.” Al Masry also called upon non-Islamists, whom he called “monotheist brothers,” to join in the violence. “Kill whoever you can among the soldiers of the apostate Al-Sisi or belligerent Christians, if you are sincere in your support and love for the truth.”

Similarly, al-Qaida leader Ayman Al Zawahari has called on Muslims to rise against what he labeled as the tyrannical regime in Egypt during the elections. “I call on everyone … to work to uproot this apostate, criminal and corrupt regime, and to [wage] jihad with weapons, money, word and actions, raids and ambushes, strikes and protests,” Al Zawahiri said. He remains focused on establishing a foothold in Sinai where ISIS-affiliated groups such as Ansar Beit Al Maqdis already have gained followers. Al-Qaida’s new Sinai affiliate, Minbar Sinai, is waging a social media war against ISIS’s Wilayat Sinai, accusing it of cowardice.

Muslim Brotherhood plot

Egyptian authorities arrested Islamist former presidential candidate Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh in Cairo Feb. 8 for allegedly plotting to support terrorist acts with the Muslim Brotherhood branch in United Kingdom. Authorities say a search of his home uncovered documents with Muslim Brotherhood instructions for inciting citizens against the Egyptian government during elections and spreading rumors aimed to create instability and pave the way for the Brotherhood to re-emerge as political force. Aboul Fotouh is a former Muslim Brotherhood member and a co-founder of the Gamaa Islamiya in Egypt in the 1970s. Gamaa was responsible for major terrorist operations including the 1981 assassination of President Anwar Al Sadat and the 1993 World Trade Center bombing under instructions from its former spiritual leader Omar Abdel Rahman, known as “the Blind Sheikh.”

Aboul Fotouh left the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood in 2009 and formed his own Islamist party “Strong Egypt,” which attracted a handful of liberal and leftist activists through a platform emphasizing social justice. Aboul Fotouh enjoyed an image of a unifying leader that encouraged him to run for president in 2012, when he lost to his former Brotherhood colleague Mohamed Morsi. Despite formally leaving the Brotherhood, he remains a staunch believer of the group’s rhetoric and has maintained ties with its leaders. This was reflected when Egyptian authorities arrested six Muslim Brotherhood members who had taken refuge on a farm he owns.

Aboul Fotouh gained his popularity among Islamists due to his open rejection of the 1979 Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty. He joined the Afghan mujahideen in the 1980s, and had photos taken with them during his stay. He claimed that he was there for humanitarian aid purposes.

Meanwhile, the Egyptian army launched its largest counter-terrorist operation in years on Feb. 9, with “Sinai 2018.” It involved 60,000 troops and 10,000 police officers. The ongoing operation has killed 71 terrorists and caused the arrests of another 1,852 people, though many were released after being cleared of all charges. The military claims it destroyed 158 terrorist sites along with 1,282 hideouts and stores. Al Sisi vowed to secure Sinai within three months in November and Operation “Sinai 2018” maybe the final step in attaining that goal.

Though Islamist groups have been weakened since 2013, their statements, combined with recent investigations, make it clear they will continue to disrupt Egypt’s political process. While their methods may vary, they see democracy as an act of apostasy, or as a means to an end. Each vision leads to restoring power to Islamists who seek a theocratic caliphate on the ruins of the countries they attempt to infiltrate, as they deem democracy an act of apostasy.

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Erdogan’s aggression unleashed

Published in Al Ahram Weekly on 15/2/2018

The international community should not allow the aggression of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to go unchallenged

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan rarely wastes an opportunity to ignite more conflicts in the Middle East. Erdogan’s latest incursion into Syria has left little shadow of doubt about the Turkish president’s expansionary ambitions in the region and his desire to restore an archaic caliphate befitting his affiliation to the Muslim Brotherhood group, which sees this caliphate as an ultimate goal.

Erdogan’s latest military campaign, ironically labelled “Olive Branch”, has seen Turkish forces invading northern Syria and attacking the Syrian Kurdish population in the town of Afrin in order to tackle terrorists there, according to Erdogan’s claims. This major offensive has utilised air bombardments, heavy artillery and a fully-fledged ground invasion by tanks and infantry.

The campaign, launched on 17 January, marks the epitome of Turkey’s series of interventions in the Syrian Civil War, which it has been fuelling for the past seven years in an attempt to take down Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad and establish a client Islamist regime. It comes as no surprise that the Muslim Brotherhood group in Syria has welcomed the invasion of its own country. It has shown support for the invasion and blamed the Kurds for their attempt to “divide the country”.

Turkey has constantly supported Islamists of different sorts abroad, and it was a constant supporter of the ill-fated Islamic State (IS) group. The latter, as is well known, has wreaked havoc on the entire region, and its fighters have found safe passage through Syria as well as an easy getaway after being besieged by Syrian and Iraqi forces in Syria and Iraq. Russian intelligence has documented that the Turkish border with Syria has seen countless smuggling operations of oil products from Iraqi oilfields sold on the black market to traders in Turkey.

Operation “Olive Branch” has already claimed the lives of over 1,000 Kurds and caused the deportation of over 16,000 civilians, according to a US CNN report. The Turkish regime has declared that the aim is to destroy the Kurdish groups and IS operating in northern Syria, and it has plans to expand the offensive to the Syrian city of Idlib, completely disregarding Syrian sovereignty and international law.

The operation has also come at a high price for the Turkish army, which has already lost over 20 soldiers and a military helicopter. Some 115 of the Turks’ Syrian allies have also been killed in battle. However, the real victims have been Syrian civilians, who have been facing shelling and bombardments by the Turkish forces, and there have been reports of the Turkish army shooting fleeing civilians attempting to run for their lives.

The Turkish army has been decimated recently by Erdogan, with patriotic and secularist commanders finding themselves facing court martial and being replaced by pro-Erdogan military men supporting his expansionist dreams of a new caliphate. Domestically, the Turkish security apparatus has practiced its favourite hobby of silencing dissidents, and it has already arrested some 310 journalists, politicians and activists who objected to the Turkish invasion of northern Syria.

The Turkish minister of interior justified these arrests by accusing those concerned of “spreading terrorist propaganda”. This accusation has often been made by the Erdogan regime against the country’s opposition since the failed coup d’état in Turkey in July 2016, and the massive purge that followed has targeted hundreds of thousands of Turkish citizens to date.

Egypt was the first country to denounce the Turkish invasion of Syria as a clear violation of Syrian sovereignty. Countries such as the United States and France informed the Turkish regime of their disapproval, calling for restraint and the ceasing of the operation. French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian blasted the Turkish invasion for violating international law and called upon the Turkish forces to retreat, saying “don’t add war to war” in Syria. Erdogan’s actions are escalating a dying civil war that was on the verge of reaching its last chapter by the defeat of jihadist factions such as IS and Jabhat Al-Sham at the hands of the Syrian government and the International coalition.

Turkey’s president seems adamant about leading his nation into an abyss of turmoil, war and dictatorship. His regime now poses a threat to the security of an already troubled region. Erdogan is systematically turning his nation into a liability for the European Union and NATO, as his policies are leading to nothing but further bloodshed and further war. Erdogan’s bullish attitude has even led him to threaten the US with severing bilateral ties over the case of a jailed banker who exposed a web of corrupt politicians close to the Turkish president. He has accused the US of undermining his country’s economy in a desperate attempt to blame it for the falling Turkish currency, which hit its lowest value in 2017.

Erdogan’s stance today is hardly different from that of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, with the exception that his country is a member of NATO, meaning that he can escape criminal prosecution and international condemnation. However, this situation may not last, since should he continue on his path of destruction, ignoring international law, the Turkish nation may find itself paying a hefty price for electing this tyrant in 2003.

It may be time for peace-loving countries everywhere and for the international community to take Erdogan’s unrelenting aggression more seriously, remembering the ancient proverb that “aggression unchallenged is aggression unleashed.”

Original Post in Al Ahram Weekly:

Original Post in Al Ahram Online: