For most Egyptians, security and economic growth issues trump other considerations

Published in The Arab Weekly on 11/2/2018

If Sisi is the safest bet for 2018, what of 2022, when his second term as president would end?

The age-old argument of democracy versus stability seems settled for most Egyptians in favour of stability ahead of the country’s presidential election in March. It is likely to yield the same result as in 2014 — a landslide victory for President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

Few Egyptians admit to as much enthusiasm about the March election as in 2012 or even in 2014 when Sisi was first elected. For most, however, security and steady economic growth trump other considerations, not least freedom of speech.

This pragmatism is the product of the events of 2011 and 2013. A national uprising, begun in January 2011 by idealistic young Egyptians, was hijacked by Islamists. The Muslim Brotherhood managed the country’s takeover in record time. Fortunately, its way of thinking could not be hidden once it took charge of the country.

This triggered the June 30, 2013, revolt against Muslim Brotherhood rule. It was perhaps the first time in modern history that an Islamist regime was ousted by means of massive organised protests.

Both uprisings took their toll on Egypt. Businesses, tourism, the stock market and other sectors suffered losses conservatively estimated by Egyptian economists of at least $100 billion.

These losses were huge for a country struggling before June 2013 to push a development agenda. Egypt’s international debt is double that of 2011 and the debt looks likely to rise because of the $25 billion nuclear power deal with Russia.

The Egyptian currency is at one-third of its 2011 value. Prices are nearly four times what they were but salaries are at the same level. Egyptians labour under the twin burdens of record inflation rates and lack of opportunities.

The inflation rate, which soared to more than 35% in July 2017, dropped to 22.3% by year-end but that’s still extremely high. Egyptian news portal Masrawy reported that the government is expected to raise the price of electricity, gas and fuel this year with knock-on effects on foodstuffs and other commodities.

Higher utility prices are the result of the deal struck between the Egyptian government and the International Monetary Fund as part of its economic reform plan. Egyptians, however, are feeling the effects of inflation. Subsidies on bread and other basics go only so far.

Unsurprisingly, the fear is that political change could lead to higher inflation rates and fewer certainties. Sisi wins on those counts, if no other.

That said, all is not doom and gloom in Sisi’s Egypt. The president has adopted effective energy policies and Egypt is moving towards energy self-sufficiency. The government has promised two expensive ventures — a new administrative capital and Suez Canal development. Also, the tourism sector is gradually improving, ending 2017 with a 54% jump over 2016 to 8.3 million tourists visiting the Egypt, a government official told Reuters.

If Sisi is the safest bet for 2018, what of 2022, when his second term as president would end?

It may seem a rather long way off but the response to projections for 2022 is telling. Egyptians seem to believe a lot less in more change leading to better things. They seem largely inclined to repose faith in the military rather than in politicians.

Unless the situation changes drastically in the next four years, Egyptians are likely to favour a leader with a military background so long as he promises the same levels of security and stability they’ve come to expect.

Clearly, in a decade of uprisings and change, Egyptians have come to fear more change. The next great revolution for Egypt would be for the freedom from fear.

Original Post in The Arab Weekly:


Islamists Endorse Deadly Turkish Assault on Kurds

Published in Investigative Report on Terrorism IPT on 12/2/2018

A full-fledged military assault on a predominantly Muslim community typically sparks a global wave of protests, condemnation, and sometimes calls by Islamist leaders for retaliation. This has not happened, however, with Turkey’s massive military assault on the northern Syrian border district called “Afrin.” The operation, labeled by Turkey, “Olive Branch,” was launched Jan. 17 on Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s orders to eradicate what he calls terrorists. Turkish air force bombings in Afrin have killed 142 Kurdish civilians and displaced 16,000 others.

Turkey’s state-run Anadalou News Agency claims that 1,141 terrorists are among the dead. That number includes members of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK), along with ISIS terrorists. The PYD and PKK are sworn enemies of ISIS. By lumping them together in casualty counts, the Turks hope to cast them all as threats.

Afrin was among the few Syrian safe havens for civil war refugees. The Turkish bombing compounds the massive human catastrophe, as civilians are forced to flee the constant Turkish shelling. According to Kurdish TV sources, the Turkish army shelled an Afrin primary school and water plant, and shot fleeing civilians.

Rev. Valentine Hanan of Afrin’s Church of the Good Shepherd sent a plea to save the lives of the Christian minority as the pro-Erdogan Islamist militants were besieging the area and vowing to invade: “We as the Church seek the Lord’s protection and then need aid and prayers from the brothers.”

These Islamists include ex-ISIS terrorists who joined Turkey’s assault on Afrin, the Independent reported. Videos show a female Kurd being savagely mutilated and killed by jihadists in Afrin. The victim, Barin Kobani, was a known hero who helped the U.S.-backed campaign to drive ISIS out of the city of Kobani.

Turkey lost 30 soldiers in the assault, including 11 who were killed during weekend fighting and a helicopter crash. Another 115 Syrian troops reportedly were killed. Syrian Kurds protested in Afrin, shouting, “Down with mercenaries, down with Erdogan,” while seeking more American support and action against Turkey.

In the meantime, the Turkish government is riling up its citizens through patriotic and religious messaging. Pro-Erdogan Islamists say that Muslims in Mecca support the Turkish invasion of Syria and are praying for their victory.

“With all our hearts, we support the campaign of Turkey – a glimmer of hope for the world of the oppressed to disrupt the game set up by foreign powers to put the country on the spot,” the International Solidarity Association of Muslim Scholars said.

In an appeal to patriotism, Turkish hardliner and pro-Erdogan writer Ibrahim Karagül blasted the United States as an enemy state because it “released the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and Daesh [ISIS] on us.”

America “is now the closest, greatest and most open threat for Turkey,” Karagül wrote Jan. 26. “It is an enemy country. It is a serious threat to our country’s existence, its unity, integrity, present and the future. It is carrying out an open attack, and an undeclared war against Turkey.”

He advocated ending the alliance with the United States and shutting down the NATO Incirlik Air Base.

Inside Turkey, security officials detained 310 people earlier this month for “spreading terrorist propaganda” in social media posts criticizing the invasion of northern Syria. Detainees include politicians, journalists and activists.

Turkey is providing refuge to Muslim Brotherhood members chased out of Egypt, and to other Islamists. Erdogan is keen on keeping Islamists as his allies, and allows them to attack the Egyptian government through an Istanbul-based television network. In return, Brotherhood leaders praise and support Erdogan.

The Syrian Muslim Brotherhood supported the Turkish aggression against Kurds in Afrin in a Jan. 24 statement, in which they ironically quoted the reason for that support as a step towards the unification of the Syrian lands.

They also mentioned that they support the Turkish state right to defend its national security, a right that they seem to exclusively grant the Turkish State.

While the Brotherhood and other Islamists in the region support Erdogan’s aggression, Islamists elsewhere in the world have had little to say despite the killing and possible violations of international law.

Moreover, even mainstream Islamic institutions have not condemned the continuous attacks on Kurds by Erdogan’s regime. The silence of Egypt’s Al Azhar Institute, considered the most prominent Sunni academic center, remains baffling because it normally condemns any form of aggression against Muslims worldwide and calls for United Nations intervention in cases like the Bosnian war and the Rohyingya crisis. In contrast, Egypt’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a clear condemnation of operation “Olive Branch” as “a fresh attack on Syrian sovereignty.” The condemnation stands alone among nations so far. The U.S. State Department has urged Turkey to limit its incursion and minimize civilian casualties.

It seems the preservation of human life remains a selective matter for Islamists with their reactions are guided more by who they deem as the aggressor against Muslims. Apparently, even though a majority of Kurds are Muslims, Erdogan’s invasion and killing of hundreds of Kurds and forcing thousands others to evacuate doesn’t count.

Original Post in IPT :

Putin: The Shrewd Tsar

Published in Al Ahram Weekly on 10/2/2018

Despite some domestic opposition, Russian President Vladimir Putin is likely to score a landslide victory in March’s presidential elections, writes Hany Ghoraba

While maintaining a tight grip on a vast nation that occupies one-sixth of the earth’s surface, Russian President Vladimir Putin has managed to bring about an almost miraculous recovery for the Russians since 2000 and after the fall of the former Soviet Union in 1991.

However, he is now facing a new challenge in the shape of the March 2018 presidential elections, and the Russian opposition seems to be rising again as it does before each set of elections. Yet, despite facing opposition domestically, Putin’s popularity is nearly unrivalled in Russia’s modern history, and there is a solid foundation for it even if this may sound implausible to some Western observers.

A riddle to many Western intelligence agencies, Putin’s resolute handling of world affairs, especially concerning Russian interests overseas and protecting its allies, has been forthcoming on many occasions. For nearly a decade, he watched NATO take advantage of the collapse of the former USSR and dismantle the Cold War world piece by piece, including by taking over former Russian satellite states and allies. However, Putin later managed to stop this advance, starting with the Georgian-Russian War in which Russia invaded the Georgian provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

This marked the first true involvement of the Russian military in an overseas conflict since the fall of the former USSR. The official aim of the war was to protect the ethnic Russian population in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, but the undeclared goal was to draw a red line against NATO plans to set foot in countries bordering the Russian Federation and especially within former countries of the USSR.

In the same way, after Putin was Russian prime minister from 2008 to 2012 he launched a campaign in Ukraine in 2014 following a Western-backed uprising that ousted the pro-Russian Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych who had refused to sign an association agreement with the European Union. In response to the ousting of Russia’s ally, pro-Russian Ukrainians backed by Russia organised massive protests in the eastern Ukrainian region of Donbass that ended in a civil war that has taken the lives of over 10,000 people, including nearly 3,000 civilians. Russia then annexed the Crimea after a controversial referendum allowing it to join the Russian Federation. The economy and not military conflict was the main catalyst for the fall of the former Soviet Union in 1991, since the latter had amassed huge debts as a result of its outdated communist policies. Putin thus established stabilisation funds for the successor state the Russian Federation funded by petroleum revenues, enabling Russia to pay off the Soviet Union’s debts by 2005. The Russian Federation then joined the World Trade Organisation in August 2012.  Contrary to what some Western pundits may claim, Putin’s ambition was never to resurrect the former Soviet Union. In reality, he has been aiming for the glories of Imperial Russia before the Russian Revolution in 1917. His foreign policy is intended to bring prestige and security to Russia and the Russians and not to expand Russian territory.

Putin’s main political skill has been to turn the odds against him into points of strength. This was seen during the Ukrainian crisis when Russia was hit by harsh economic sanctions imposed by the United States and its allies in the European Union intending to force it to withdraw from Crimea and stop arming pro-Russian militants in the Donbass area of Ukraine. Many Western pundits naively predicted Russia’s collapse as a result of its strained economy.  However, this assessment was wrong, as the nation that defeated Napoleon Bonaparte and Adolf Hitler is unlikely to fall as a result of Western economic sanctions. Within months, Putin had signed the biggest gas supply deal in history with China worth $400 billion. He had also signed billions of dollars’ worth of export deals for arms and other Russian equipment with countries including Egypt, effectively rendering the sanctions null and void.

As a sign of Putin’s determination to reaffirm Russia as a major player on the world scene, he decided to involve Russia in the Syrian Civil War, and in September 2015 he ordered airstrikes on the terrorist groups the Islamic State (IS), Ansar Al-Sham and others fighting the government led by Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad. The Russian airstrikes have proven to be the turning point in the war, and on a larger scale they have been a turning point in putting an end to the rise of armed Islamist factions in the Middle East.

The defeat of IS was begun as a result of the Russian intervention in Syria, which led to the near demise of the group in both Syria and Iraq and encouraged the latter to launch its own offensive to reclaim territory lost to the terrorists. While many believe that the US led the international coalition to fight IS and was the key to its success, in fact it was the Russian airstrikes that made all the difference.

Putin is no Jeffersonian democrat, and his tolerance of the opposition in Russia is almost negligible. The country is still seeing many infringements of human rights, especially against dissidents who find themselves jailed on often flimsy charges. But to his credit, Putin has abided by the constitutional limit of two presidential terms, and when this had been achieved he changed places with former prime minister Dmitry Medvedev.

Putin, a former KGB agent, still keeps up the appearance of a democratic state in Russia by abiding with the constitution, and unless something unforeseen happens he is likely to win the presidential elections in March by a landslide. He has proven to his nation that he is a binding force, since ruling the Russian Federation with its 21 constituent republics requires a high degree of tact and shrewdness – exactly the qualities that Putin has mastered over the years.

Original Post in Al Ahram Weekly

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Empowering Egyptian women

Published in Al Ahram Weekly on 1/2/2018

Recent years have seen unprecedented achievements by Egyptian women, encouraged by the support of society and the state, writes Hany Ghoraba

While some may argue about the economic achievements of the current cabinet and how far it has delivered on promises of better economic conditions for the country, few will argue that women’s representation has witnessed a very welcome increase. After decades of near neglect, women are finally starting to acquire their deserved ministerial positions in the cabinet led by Prime Minister Sherif Ismail.

For the first time in Egypt’s history, six women have been chosen for ministerial positions that include tourism and investment, and they hold positions in ministries that include culture, international cooperation, social solidarity, immigration and planning and administration reform. Many Egyptians are looking forward to women holding portfolios in strategic ministries such as defense, the interior and foreign affairs. Nevertheless, the above-mentioned ministries still affect the lives of the entire population.

At the same time, parliament has female representation of over 15 per cent, which may seem little compared to some other countries, but is still the highest rate in Egypt’s parliamentary history. The number is expected to increase in the upcoming parliamentary elections. These numbers are not huge compared to the developed countries or even some developing ones that have blazed the trail. However, they are an encouraging start for greater things to come for Egyptian women.

There has hardly ever been a previous time when the leadership of the state actually encouraged the involvement of women in all areas such as it does at present. However, this is just a step on a long road, as part of the problem remains with many Egyptian women themselves who restrict their freedoms in order to conform to what they suppose are religious or customary social norms.

But most freedoms have to be grabbed. They are not received as gifts from others. And therefore it is time for Egyptian women to stand their ground on issues relating to their social status, employment and other matters restricted as a result of misunderstood religious or social practices over recent centuries. The present time is also propitious, as the influence of the Islamists is receding, and their fanaticism has been exposed for what it is to the whole nation. Liberty is part of human nature, and so women are urged to return to their natural and rightful place in the new Egyptian society.

Egyptian women already carry the burden of financing 30 to 34 per cent of Egyptian households, according to statistics. This means that women share a major proportion of maintaining the welfare of Egyptian society, and it is only natural that they should attain their rights to hold key executive positions in the country.

Furthermore, with an alarming illiteracy rate of 30.8 per cent, according to the 2017 census, Egyptian women are still behind international levels of education despite many of them having attained high-ranking positions. Thirty young women managed to acquire top positions in the high-school certificate (thanaweya amma) results this year compared to 26 young men, which is a very positive indication.

The untapped potential of educating illiterate women is also huge judging by their ability to affect their households and their community positively. Moreover, there are serious issues involving equal wages and job opportunities between men and women that it is imperative are ironed out, especially since many women are doing the same work as men in many fields.

One indication of the success of Egyptian women is in sports, where several world championships and titles have been won. A prime example is squash, which is currently dominated by Egyptians of both genders who have won trophies and championships on every continent. For the first time in the history of the game, four Egyptian women are among the top 10 ranked female players, including the first two rankings held by Nour Al-Sherbini and Raneem Al-Weleily leading the pack almost uncontested in 2017 and early 2018.

This may seem to be a new dawn for Egyptian women in general and for society to recognise their rightful place. However, it goes without saying that some conservatives in society will not let these triumphs go uncriticised, as they attempt to imprison women in older ways by falsely citing baseless religious justifications.

However, these calls are falling on deaf ears, starting from the head of the state and moving on to the average Egyptian citizen. Many people now feel that it is high time for Egyptian women to blossom and take leading roles that they have been eligible for but were forcibly held back from by social norms.

The Egyptian state has taken unprecedented steps to empower Egyptian women and activate their enormous and untapped social and economic potential for the benefit of the entire nation. While Egypt is still lagging behind on many women’s issues, it is now poised to march on the right path towards a more progressive, liberal and equal society. This also builds on the ancient Egyptian legacy as a prime example of how men and women interacted in the past and how they can create a model society for the region in the years to come.

Original post in Al Ahram Weekly:

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President Oprah?

Published in Al Ahram Weekly on 20/1/2018

Despite her achievements in other spheres, US TV personality Oprah Winfrey does not have what it takes to become a successful US president, writes Hany Ghoraba

At a time when the US seems to be wracked by divisive policies, TV’s most famous woman presenter, Oprah Winfrey, nicknamed “O”, delivered an inspiring speech during the 2018 Golden Globe Awards recently. Her speech addressed the state of the American nation past and present, while focusing on her humble upbringing during a time of racial discrimination against African-Americans in the United States.

Judging by the large number of sexual harassment cases that surfaced in the US in 2017, last year could easily be dubbed the “Year of Sexual Harassment”. In her speech, Oprah applauded the women who had come forward and pointed the finger at those in the US entertainment industry who had taken advantage of women, such as film producer Harvey Weinstein. Oprah called upon women in the United States to stand tall and fight for an equal place in the world along with men.

The speech was received with a standing ovation from the celebrity attendees, many of whose lives and successes Oprah has played a part in. The speech also seemed to inspire the whole American nation, and there were calls to nominate her to run on the Democratic Party ticket as president in the 2020 elections. As much as the idea seems enticing to many, from a political standpoint it has a lot of shortcomings that its advocates are overlooking.

The fact that a celebrity can motivate a nation does not alter the fact that politics works within a different set of rules. Whereas an activist places the cause they are fighting for against all other considerations, and most are unwilling to see the other side of the equation, a seasoned politician is obliged to do exactly that.

Being president of the United States involves a lot more than adopting great causes such as women rights, civil liberties and social justice. Since World War II, no American president has been spared the burden of having to order covert operations in a foreign country, a military strike or even declare a fully-fledged war with all the consequences that this has. The US is not a small European country that can afford to be neutral while sharing little or no involvement in the world political theatre. Despite recent recessions in the economy and military spending, the US remains a superpower with all the burdens that comes with it.

Moreover, just like many other celebrities before Oprah who have got involved in politics, the moment she decides to step into the political battle for the presidency she will lose half of her fans who support Republican Party or other candidates. During these divisive times that America is witnessing, people tend to be overtly emotional about the causes they adopt to the extent that they are willing to part ways with their own friends and family over political disputes. There have even been reported cases of divorce over the disputes about presidential nominees.

Furthermore, if it was not for the lack of other Democratic Party candidates Oprah would not have been considered to run. She is an outsider in political circles despite her great status and achievements. However, as the Democrats suffered from a critical blow with the victory of Republican Party candidate Donald Trump against Hillary Clinton in the last presidential elections, when Clinton looked the obvious winner, the party is now scrambling for more options, including unorthodox ones such as Oprah Winfrey.

Many believe that if a controversial billionaire such as Donald Trump, whose fame stems not simply from being rich but also from being a TV personality, can win the presidency, why not a billionaire like Oprah, who has been a TV personality over the past three decades and has engaged in many humanitarian and social activities.

 Alas, it is highly unlikely that Oprah will be the woman who can win the United States presidency, even with her humanitarian side that surpasses many other activists. This does not mean that a politician should not possess a humanitarian side — it would be great if this could be combined with pragmatic political skills. However, in the case of Oprah, her humanitarian nature would impede her ability to take drastic measures during times of war or threats against the country.

Would Oprah launch a retaliatory attack on another country if the US was attacked? As president she would hold the codes for the US nuclear arsenal. Would she know how to use them?

Over the past two decades, the American political spectrum has been suffering from the implications of radical shifts between far-left and far-right political rhetoric. This rift has narrowed the ground for moderates and centrists to work effectively together nationwide. The two ends of the spectrum vilify each other, leaving the majority of the nation in distress and oblivious about what the future may hold for them.

Oprah would serve her country and the world in a much greater fashion if she decided to continue her path as a great philanthropist, humanitarian and activist who inspires women and men alike in the United States and beyond.

Original Post in Al Ahram Weekly:

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Analysis: Why the Muslim Brotherhood Declared U.S. an Enemy State?

Published on Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT) on 16/1/2018

In the first official statement of its kind, the Muslim Brotherhood announced last month that it now regards the United States of America as an enemy, following President Trump’s decision to move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. The statement was published on the Brotherhood’s Arabic language website, where it often publishes more incendiary rhetoric.

“Jerusalem is an Islamic and Arab land, for which we make blood, freedom and life, and we fight every aggressor and every supporter of aggression,” the statement said.

It called for a unified Islamist and Palestinian response “to ignite an uprising throughout the Islamic world against the Zionist occupation and the American administration in support of the occupation and against the rights and freedoms of the peoples.”

A week later, the Brotherhood issued a second release, an open letter to Arab leaders with similarly inciteful rhetoric, accusing the leaders of weakness in face of the “Zionist entity.” It urged these leaders to “enable their people” to defend Jerusalem and the Al-Aqsa mosque.

This statement cannot be brushed aside as simply harsh words or empty threats by some anonymous jihadist group online. The Brotherhood is the world’s oldest and most famous Islamist group. Its message declaring America an enemy state is enormous because it reaches millions of followers across the globe. It is an unprecedented official confrontation with the United States.

While the statements mark a change in strategy by the Muslim Brotherhood, it isn’t likely to lead to immediate violent action. The Brotherhood does not issue statements like these without a careful plan. It may wait to see if the U.S. embassy relocation takes place before any escalation.

The Diplomatic English language Message

Despite issuing an official statement in Arabic, the Brotherhood never posted it on its London-based English language website, Ikhwanweb. Instead, it published an alternative version of the second statement in the form of a plea to Muslims and their leaders convened in Istanbul to remain united on the Jerusalem issue. This is standard Brotherhood behavior, to striking a more “moderate” tone to Western audiences, while showing its true face to Arabic-speaking Muslims.

The toned down message published on Ikhwanweb called for “peaceful” protests in contradiction to the Arabic call to ignite “an Intifada.” Though the message was directed to Arab and Muslim leaders, it was meant to be read by Western readers.

“The group urges Muslims in various parts of the World to rise up in peaceful popular protests to express their support of the freedom fighters in Palestine in their rejection of this move…” It called upon the Muslims and others “to express firmly the rejection of all evils committed (sic) against Palestine, and the determination to fully restore Palestinian people rights.”

Antipathy toward the United States is nothing new for the Muslim Brotherhood. The group’s literature includes dozens of references vilifying America. In addition, the group’s most famous scholar, Sayyid Qutb, berated Americans in his 1951 essay, “The America I have seen.”

“It is the case of a people who have reached the peak of growth and elevation in the world of science and productivity, while remaining abysmally primitive in the world of the senses, feelings, and behavior,” he wrote.

Next to Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna, Qutb remains the ultimate scholar for jihadist rhetoric. Yet Brotherhood Secretary General Ibrahim Munir recently described Qutb as a humanitarian teacher.

Nevertheless, the Muslim Brotherhood – through diplomacy and duplicity – managed to keep its real attitude toward the United States hidden over the years. That finally changed in the Dec. 6 official statement, and it remains quite a gamble. It could cost the Brotherhood diplomatic relations that it forged with the U.S. politicians in recent years. It also risks being lumped in with terrorist organizations that express blatant hostility towards the United States and its interests. But it is a gamble that the Brotherhood seems to be willing to take because the Palestinian cause has been its bread and butter issue since the 1940s. Traditionally, the group would use offshoots such as Hamas to do its bidding against America. For instance, Hamas leader Ismail Radwan said this after the Jerusalem embassy announcement: “Trump’s decision will open the gates of hell on U.S. interests in the region.”

This method provided the luxury of deniability and distancing itself from such inflammatory statements while presenting the Brotherhood as the “moderate” Islamist group to western media and political circles. In this case, however, the Muslim Brotherhood chose a more zealous stance in its Arabic statement in a desperate attempt to garner some of its lost popularity in the Middle East after its political fortunes suffered in Egypt, Tunisia, Syria, Iraq and elsewhere.

The Muslim Brotherhood is beleaguered; its leadership is either in jail or on the run. It may feel a tougher line is necessary to maintain relevance in the streets that it once dominated. The Muslim Brotherhood has exploited the Palestinian-Israeli conflict for decades to maintain its “Vanguard of the Faith” reputation. At this critical and desperate moment in its history, its leadership is willing to place all its chips on this cause, even if it means the group is in a direct political conflict with the United States.

Original Post on IPT :

Prospects for the Iranian uprising

Published in Al Ahram Weekly on 13/1/2018

The current protests in Iran are the most challenging to the country’s Islamic regime since the crushing of demonstrations against massive election-rigging in 2009, writes Hany Ghoraba

The Iranian authorities have managed to keep the country ruled with an iron fist for nearly four decades. The security apparatus along with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards have managed to weed out all forms of dissent and nip all forms of rebellion in the bud.

Oppressive measures were taken in June 2009 when major protests across Iran were sparked as a result of controversial presidential election results that witnessed the victory of the conservative candidate Mahmoud Ahmadinejad over the reformist Mir-Hussein Mousavi. The elections, which witnessed massive rigging, inspired major protests across the country, and these were met with brutal force by the Iranian security forces backed by the paramilitary Basij troops that managed to crush the opposition. Countless Iranians were arrested, jailed or even killed by regime forces.

History repeated itself in December with the outbreak of new protests across Iran and backed by many in the Iranian Diaspora. The protests started in the city of Mashhad and then spread across the country. By 2 January, they had claimed the lives of 21 protesters as a result of the draconian measures taken by the Iranian authorities.

The reasons behind the new wave of protests have been cited as both economic and political. Despite the optimism that followed the partial lifting of the economic sanctions on Iran as a result of the nuclear deal in 2015 between Iran and six world powers, despair has prevailed as economic hardship has persisted during the rule of reformist president Hassan Rouhani. Four decades of oppressive practices by the regime have led many Iranians to revolt against the country’s theocratic regime, one of the most oppressive in the world and only rivalled by the likes of North Korea.

Unfettered by any international human rights obligations, Iranian Minister of the Interior Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli said that the “improper use” of social media was causing the violence and added that such behaviour would be “smashed.” The ministry’s draconian measures have expanded to block Internet access in many Iranian cities. There have been reports of independent media being restricted and even the official Iranian TV network of being banned from covering the protests.

While the uprising may come as a shock to the tyrannical regime, there is little evidence that it will attain its desired results despite its scope and intensity. The Iranian regime has been notorious in its violent modus operandi towards dissidents on any level. In the mentality of the regime, there is no act too base or too unethical that it will not carry out in order to maintain order and regime hierarchy.

Over four decades of control it has managed to instil fear in the hearts of most Iranians and install loyalists throughout the Iranian state. Moreover, years of radicalisation and blaming the West and the country’s Arab neighbours for all Iran’s troubles have been the methods of the mullahs’ regime in order to dissuade Iranians from participating in any such uprisings, which the regime will always paint as acts of treason and the results of plots by the West, thus annihilating the opposition.

If there is one lesson to be learned from the 2011 Arab Spring Revolutions, it is that the political future is not decided by the dreams of protesters but by other factors that come into play such as the political balance of power and who has the most firepower. These things often determine the victors. In this case, it’s the Iranian regime that has the firepower, which it never falters in using on civilians whenever the need arises.

However, this does not mean that the Iranian protests will entirely fail as they may place pressure on commanders in the armed forces to consider moving against the regime, even if the likelihood of that happening appears far-fetched at the moment since the protests are being dealt with by such heavy-handed methods. Even if some military commanders lean towards the protesters’ demands, it is unlikely that the rest of their peers will do so as almost all of them have been chosen based on their loyalty to the Islamic Revolution and particularly to Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

International support for the protests has also been quite mild in comparison to those that took place during the Arab Spring. Many countries including the EU states have refrained from putting themselves on a collision course with the Iranian regime lest they lose the economic ties they have forged over recent years. Despite the support of US President Donald Trump for the uprising, the US administration has limited means of supporting the protests other than the political support that the protesters in Iran will be wary to accept lest they be labelled as traitors by the regime if they are seen as courting the Americans.

Observers of the Iranian uprising should therefore not hold their breath for positive results coming from Iran. However, political and moral support should be provided to dissidents fighting against one of the most oppressive regimes in modern history, in order to help them to continue their struggle for the freedom of a nation that deserves a lot better than the current assortment of mullahs and theocrats that governs it.

Originals post in Al Ahram Weekly :