INDEX (stories follow)
But Egypt is now allowing the circulation outside the Strip of certain categories of Palestinians (40% of whose families were chased out of their homes in what became Israel in 1948 and who often still live in refugee camps). The whole of the population has been kept in a kind of big jail by the Israelis for the past 4 years, as collective punishment in the Israeli struggle with the Hamas organization. The overthrown Hosni Mubarak regime had completely cooperated with Israeli policy toward the Palestinians, in ways that might be explained by personal corruption at high levels, even though Egyptian popular opinion opposed it.
Even the usually neutral International Committee of the Red Cross lambasted the Israeli blockade of Gaza last year as a clear breach of international law.
‘ In fact, the blockade is not the problem but is rather a symptom of the underlying issue, which is Palestinian statelessness. Gazans have no state. What the Israelis deign to call the ‘Hamas regime’ is no such thing because it lacks sovereignty, over its borders, air, sea, imports and exports. (The idea that Israel is ‘at war’ with its own occupied territory is laughable.) The Israeli ‘withdrawal’ of 2005 simply removed a few thousand colonists and withdrew troops, usually, to the borders. But it did not allow the creation of a sovereign state. Gazans are excluded from a third of their own farmland by Israeli restrictions on where people can live. That so many Gazans are unemployed, that their industries have collapsed, that they are food insecure, and that malnutrition is causing stunting in 10% of children– all these outrages derive from their lack of a sovereign state to look out for their interests […] Nevertheless, the problems inflicted on Gazans by the Israeli blockade will not be resolved by a loosening of the blockade. They will only be resolved by the bestowal of citizenship on Gazans, either by a Palestinian state (which does not exist and would have to be created) or by Israel (which does not want the Gazans as citizens but may end up being stuck with them). ‘
Aljazeera also reports on the conclusion by the Palestinian leadership that the Netanyahu government is not in the least interested in pursuing peace negotiations:
A cornerstone of U.S.-Israel policy over the past five years has just partially dissolved with Egypt’s reopening today of the Rafah border crossing. This will allow passenger traffic (but not goods) to cross every day with little hindrance (though men from 18-40 will have to undergo a special security screening). It leaves Israel to maintain its siege on its own border with Gaza. Israel currently maintains the only border crossing that allows goods to cross. But Egypt is considering removing even this restriction. When it does (as I presume it will if there are no major problems with the Rafah opening), then the Israeli siege will be dead. And yet another punitive U.S.-Israeli policy toward the Palestinians will have bitten the dust and shown itself to have served no useful purpose.
Ethan Bronner, as usual acting as the stenographer for the Israeli government and conveying the wishful thinking of its policy “experts,” claims the lifting of the Egyptian siege will actually help Israeli policy goals. It supposedly will place a greater burden on Egypt to police its borders and, by extension, Hamas. But the most laughable claim by the Israelis is that lifting the siege will actually release international pressure on Israel, since there presumably would no longer be any humanitarian crisis to make the world scream bloody murder. What this neglects though, is that Egypt will likely shortly allow everything to enter Gaza, not just people. And when that happens, Israel will look stupid if it maintains a blockade. It’s reminds me of the extraordinary lengths to which the French went to build the Maginot Line, which they believed made them impregnable to German attack. There was only one problem: when the Germans attacked, they went around it and conquered France in record time. Maintaining a siege on one border when the other is completely open looks not only mean-spirited and ineffectual, but downright dumb. Israel doesn’t like to be seen by the world as dumb. So I predict even the Israeli siege will be drastically modified in six months or less.
Returning to Hamas, as Tony Karon so aptly writes at his Time Magazine blog, there is only one way to deal with it: engage. If there is ever to be real peace between Israelis and Palestinians it will have to receive at least a tacit blessing from Hamas. Laying siege to Gaza was a useless, wasted policy. It secured nothing, proved nothing. We (that is, the U.S., I can’t speak for Israel) should try something else. Something more positive. If we don’t, we will have only ourselves to blame and the corpses of hundreds or thousands more dead laid at our doorstep until we look at things more pragmatically and less ideologically.
- IDF’s Gaza Siege Provides Hamas Showcase Yesterday, I interviewed the director of the Israeli NGO, Gisha,…
- Jeffrey Goldberg Falsely Claims Palestinian Authority Supports Gaza Siege I was listening the PRI’s The World radio news program…
- Senior IDF Officers Opposed Gaza Flotilla Attack, Security Council Debates Resolution Calling for End to Gaza Siege Thanks to Oren Persico of the extraordinary Israeli media watchdog…
The G8 is only ponying up $10 billion itself, and that is only in the form of relatively vague promises of a sort that have often not been completely followed through on in the past. It is urging that the Gulf oil states to give $10 billion, though some of them, like Saudi Arabia, were not actually very happy about Hosni Mubarak being overthrown and it is not clear that they will want to help grassroots democratization succeed. That $10 bn. may or may not come through, and if it did it might have strings attached that would actually be undemocratic. Saudi Arabia is very afraid of the outbreak of press freedom in Egypt, which could end its stranglehold over Arabophone journalism and open its authoritarian system to critique. What price would it extract from Cairo for its billions in aid?
Then the G8 is urging that the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank provide another $20 bn., but that aid is likely to be in the form of loans.
But Egypt alone is carrying $80 billion in debt, and its debt servicing costs have risen because its credit rating has been downgraded in the wake of the political crisis.
Tunisia is even worse off, with 1/8 of Egypt’s population but a debt of $50 billion racked up by the Zine El Abidine kleptocracy. Before the crisis, Tunisia had been looking to borrow nearly $3 billion this year just to pay the interest on the old debt and cover budget shortfalls (caused by the ruling class stealing the country blind).
So the G8′s idea of getting these countries further in debt, and making vague promises on direct aid, isn’t probably actually very helpful.
There is, moreover, a contrast to be made here in what the wealthy countries seem to most value when it comes to their financial dealings with places like Egypt. In 1990-1991, Egypt was $50 billion in debt, and then its government joined in the Gulf War against Saddam Hussein’s forces occupying Kuwait. After the Gulf War, $25 billion of the debt was forgiven, i.e., half, which uplifted the Egyptian economy in the early to mid 1990s. Pakistan also got very heavy debt forgiveness after 2001 for turning on the Taliban and allying with the United States and NATO.
If joining a war is worth half a country’s debt, then moving from a military dictatorship to trying to become a democratic country should be worth just as much. That would mean Egypt alone should be getting $40 bn. in debt forgiveness. After all, the debt was incurred by a military dictatorship that did not consult the people, and which was in the hip pocket of the Western Powers. Why should poor Egyptians in Ismailiya and Asyut be held hostage for repayment?
And, the $25 bn. in debt forgiveness for Egypt of the early 1990s was a sure thing, not vague promises and ‘calls’ on other countries and institutions of the sort that just came out of the G8.
It is also true that in the 1990s, US debt was relatively small and that Bill Clinton even had a budget surplus late in his term, whereas G.W. Bush and his Republican majority doubled the national debt and created long term structural deficit with his tax cuts and wars. (Obama’s deficits have been one-off and won’t affect things going forward.). But all that is not the fault of the Tunisian and Egyptian people, though it underlines how much Bush weakened America.
Egypt’s transition to democracy is going to be rocky enough without the albatross of Hosni Mubarak’s debts hanging around its neck. The world community needs to be far more generous and pro-active if Egyptians are going to feel rewarded rather than punished for their remarkable achievement in moving toward popular sovereignty and a rule of law. The same holds true for Tunisia. But Egypt is a fourth of the Arab world and an opinion leader, and its success really would resonate widely in the Arab world and Africa.
The G8 gesture was good as a confidence-building measure, but it is piddling in relationship to the real needs and is short-sighted in its picayune dimensions. It also signals that war-fighting is more valued than democracy-making.
One good thing about the likely victory of the Free Libya forces is that that country’s oil wealth ($26 bn a year) could be used in part to support the new democracies in its neighborhood, while Qaddafi would have tried to undermine them.
Few people know this better than Kamal Sharaf, a freelance cartoonist.
Sharaf’s cartoons about Yemen and other Arab struggles in countries like Palestine were published in newspapers and on websites. He often mocked President Saleh and consequently received emails warning that he would regret it. “Don’t step on people who are above you,” said one email.
In August 2010, Kamal was at home breaking the Ramadan fast when “special forces surrounded the house like American marines,” he recalls. “They had lasers on their guns. It smelled like America. Even their bodies were different from Yemeni soldiers.”
One of the soldiers shouted: “Kamal come down or we will break the house.” Kamal and his brothers went out.
A police officer told him there was a warrant for his arrest and he would find out what the charges were later. Two soldiers cuffed his hands behind his back, blindfolded him and forced him to lay down in their vehicle. He could feel their gun barrels touching his head and stomach.
“I was surprised and didn’t understand anything,” he said, “in the ride they didn’t say anything. I asked them to remove the gun from my stomach because it hurt with bumps on the road – but they just pressed harder.”
They took him to the national security headquarters where his cuffs were changed from wire to metal, “American made, I can assure you,” he said.
They put another blindfold on his eyes and left him standing alone.
“It was intended to terrify me,” he said.
Cartoonist to al-Qaeda ‘terrorist’?
He was eventually interrogated with the blindfold still on by what he guessed were seven people. The interrogation lasted until dawn. They asked about his charicatures of the president and about his relationship with another journalist called Abdelillah Shay’a who specialised in Islamist movements.
Kamal was accused of working for al-Qaeda’s media wing along with Abdelillah, as well as with the Zeydi Shia rebels in the north called the Houthis.
The Houthi website, Ansar Allah, had copied some of Kamal’s cartoons which criticised the Yemeni regime’s policy and attacks by Saudi forces which killed Yemeni civilians. Becuase of that, Kamal was accused of running the website. While some interrogators were polite, others began to raise their voices and threaten him.
“We can squash you with our feet,” they warned, telling him “you are less than a bug.”
They accused him of going to Marib in southern Yemen for training with al-Qaeda and to Sada in north Yemen for training with the Houthis. What’s more, they claimed they had proof.
“Choose one, either Houthi or al-Qaeda,” said one interrogator, “don’t dream of going out. We have proof that you are either dealing with the Houthis or al-Qaeda and your anger against the regime is obvious in your work.”
Kamal was confined alone in a small cell where the limited ventilation gave him a lung infection. He remained in the national security prison for 24 days and was interrogated eight times before being transferred to the political security prison for an additional 28 days. At the political security prison he was given an old, heavy pair of handcuffs. He was handcuffed together with his friend, Abdelillah, and other prisoners being transferred.
In the political security prison he was not interrogated. His case was given to the prosecutor and he was told that there was no strong evidence against him. A political security officer said that he had angered certain people and because of that, he had to be “disciplined”.
Kamal was asked to sign a statement saying that he would never draw President Saleh again on the basis that mocking the president is mocking the nation.
“I said of course I will do it, the most important thing is for me to see my family. I signed the paper. Since that time I didn’t draw president directly in any of my work,” Kamal said.
However, when the Yemeni revolutionary protests intensified, Kamal resumed mocking president Saleh in his cartoons. He joined a coalition called “The Nation For All”, and worked with youth groups. They exhibited art in ‘Change Square’, the center of the protest movement, and helped organise a children’s art exhibit as well.
During this time, his old friend and neighbour, Abdelillah, remained in prison.
Kamal was with Abdelillah when he was first kidnapped in July 2010. Two cars pulled up and eight men in civilian clothes carrying guns violently forced him out of the car.
“You crossed red lines in your statements on satellite television and if you don’t listen to what we say and understand the message we will destroy your life,” they told him.
During the interrogation they punched him in the face. His head was covered so he didn’t know where they had taken him.
“You are a smart boy,” one of them said to him, “if you listen to our message we will support you and make a famous journalist out of you.”
Then he was dressed in prison clothes and photographed. He was forced to sign statements he had not read. Finally, he was blindfolded and thrown back into the street at 3am. The next day, Abdelillah was interviewed by Al Jazeera about what happened to him. He soon received a phone call from a Yemeni security officer.
“We didn’t agree that you would talk on satellite channels about what happened to you,” he was told.
Before his July arrest, Abdelillah had been threatened on Facebook. Messages warned that he and his children would be hurt because of the interviews he gave to Al Jazeera and other satellite channels about Islamist groups.
On BBC and Al Jazeera, Abdelillah complained that American missile strikes in southern Yemen had killed civilians. Abdelillah also interviewed the American born cleric, Anwar al Awlaki, for Al Jazeera’s arabic website in the cleric’s home in Shabwa.
Abdelillah was arrested again in August on the same day as Kamal. Abdelillah’s brother, Abdelqudus, was living with him at the time and described what happened during the arrest.
One evening in August more than 20 armed men broke into Abdelillah’s house while even more waited outside in the yard and on the street. Some were in uniforms while others wore civilian clothes. Some wore masks. Abdelillah was home with his wife and four children as well as Abdelqudus, his wife, their children and another sister-in-law.
The armed men took Abdelillah forcefully from his bedroom while he was still in his undergarments. He lost a tooth and one soldier bit deeply into his flesh in the struggle. He demanded to see an arrest warrant. They showed him a search warrant instead.
“Daddy! Daddy!” his children screamed, “where are you taking daddy?”
Abdelillah asked them what they wanted from him but they did not answer. They searched the house, taking his children’s laptop, CDs of games and programs, his personal IDs, and some of his notebooks. As they were carrying him away Abdelillah struggled so they opened fire on the door. They took him without his glasses, which he needed to wear all the time, and without shoes.
For the first 35 days his family had no idea where he was. The family, civil society organisations and the journalists’ union tried to locate him unsuccessfully.
He was initially placed in a dirty bathroom for six days. For the next 31 days he ate only dates and water because the food he was given was so dirty. He was told that his brothers and children had abandoned and denounced him.
After 35 days, Abdelillah was transferred from the national security prison to political security prison and the family finally received a phone call about his whereabouts. Abdelillah refused to talk to the prosecutor without the presence of his lawyer, insisting that it was unconstitutional to kidnap him for 35 days.
Abdelillah still had bruises from the beating he received during his arrest when he was charged with joining an armed group with the aim of destroying the security and stability of country – a reference to al-Qaeda. He was also charged with acting as the information advisor to al-Qaeda, of recruiting people to join the organisation, and of encouraging al-Qaeda to assassinate the president and his son.
The defense lawyers boycotted the trial because they viewed it as unconstitutional.
Abdelillah continued to refuse to talk, rejecting the basis of the trial. He demanded that those who assaulted him and kidnapped him for 35 days should be put on trial. In the end, he was sentenced to five years in prison and two years in which he could not leave Sanaa. His lawyers were shocked and insisted there was no basis in the law for the sentence.
US interests behind the arrest?
In February, it was widely claimed that President Saleh had tried to order his release but that the American government had asked the Yemenis to prevent that. Abdelqudus was very concerned about his brother’s mental and physical state.
“He is very thin,” he told me, “his limbs shake. But he smiles. As a family, we live in shock because it came from the people who were supposed to keep us secure. But these people are the very people who terrified the women and the children. [The children] who were there are in psychological shock – whenever they see a soldier or policeman in the street they cry and get afraid. His son wonders where his father is and when is he coming back. His mother is in her 60s, she suffers a lot.”
Abdulrahman Barman was Abdelillah’s lawyer.
“They did not produce any evidence. The things they produced can’t be called evidence. They produced a Word file in a laptop and claimed that Abdelillah owned it but even if it was his, Abdelillah was kidnapped for more than one month by armed civilians before he was officially arrested and his laptop was confiscated.”
“All the security organisations confirmed that they did not have Abdelillah and they were not responsible for his arrest. We were protesting in front of chief of security for Sanaa until 3am, while military intelligence, political security and national security who were there confirmed that they did not have Abdelillah.”
After Abdelila was arrested and his other laptop confiscated, his emails were opened. They read thousands of emails but still couldn’t find a single word proving Abdelillah’s relation with al-Qaeda. So they took the old laptop and they faked a Word file with a conversation between two people whose names were not known, the date of the conversation was not known, the sender and receiver were not known.
“You cant use this as proof if there was decent justice,” Barman said.
Abdelillah’s lawyers were promised every two or three days for a month that the official investigation would start.
After 27 days the prosecutor called Barman and said they were going to skip the investigation and proceed immediately with charges.
“Your presence or absence won’t affect anything,” they told Barman, the lawyer, “it’s just one question and they will tell him what he is charged with.”
Barman demanded that they present Abdelillah with the evidence as they had promised. They refused.
“The reason was that they didn’t have any evidence,” Barman told me, “there are suspicions that the US is behind his arrest. I was told that the US put pressure on the investigation and trial of Abdelillah. My source was in the ministry of justice and was involved in Abdelillah’s case.”
Barman believed that it was Abdelillah’s reporting and analysis which led to his arrest. He had also been communicating with American media about the massacre of Yemeni civilians in American airstrikes.
“Abdelillah was the first person to talk about it and he spoke about the killing of 45 civilians – including women and children. He produced the names and ages of children, he talked about a father and mother and five children who were murdered. He exposed the Yemeni and American government.”
Nir Rosen is an American journalist who writes on current and international affairs. He has contributed to The New Yorker and Rolling Stone, among others. His latest book is Aftermath: Following the Bloodshed of America’s Wars in the Muslim World.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.
Of course Obama does not call for change in Saudi Arabia because he finds the regime there perfect and ideal
from AMERICAblog: A great nation deserves the truth by Chris in Paris
Britain is training Saudi Arabia’s national guard – the elite security force deployed during the recent protests in Bahrain – in public order enforcement measures and the use of sniper rifles. The revelation has outraged human rights groups, which point out that the Foreign Office recognises that the kingdom’s human rights record is “a major concern”.
In response to questions made under the Freedom of Information Act, the Ministry of Defence has confirmed that British personnel regularly run courses for the national guard in “weapons, fieldcraft and general military skills training, as well as incident handling, bomb disposal, search, public order and sniper training”. The courses are organised through the British Military Mission to the Saudi Arabian National Guard, an obscure unit that consists of 11 British army personnel under the command of a brigadier.
The MoD response, obtained yesterday by the Observer, reveals that Britain sends up to 20 training teams to the kingdom a year. Saudi Arabia pays for “all BMM personnel, as well as support costs such as accommodation and transport”.
Please, Ahmet Davutoglu, get a better turn of phrase. Something like “truly transformational reform”, perhaps?
* * *
On Tuesday, Turkey is hosting a meeting of Syrian opposition activists and leaders in Antalya. The goal is, I think, to enable them to form a joint coordinating body. Sevil Kucukkosum of Hurriyet writes that the Syrian NGO the National Organization for Human Rights is the sole organizer of the gathering. Syrians do not need visas to visit Turkey. But I imagine the Turkish government is allowing this gathering to proceed.
The Hurriyet report says that representatives of the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, “could participate at the Syrian opposition meeting.” The Syrian MB has never systematically followed the decision its Egyptian counterpart took in the early 1980, to hew to a solely nonviolent path.
* * *
If Syria is really to enter the “grand constitutional process” that will be necessary to transform the country into a democratic, accountable, and inclusive democracy, then all parties (including above all, the government) will need to agree to a cessation of armed operations. All parties will also need to be able to negotiate the terms of the democratization, the rules going forward, and what to do about the many painful legacies of the past. The government needs to prepare and organize itself for this negotiation; and so does the opposition. From that perspective, having the opposition get organized is an excellent step. And it is doubtless good that the government is sending a (relative) reformer, Abdullah Dardari, to Ankara as ambassador in place of the harder line Nidal Kabalan.
Still reading the Hurriyet report there, however, I see it says this:
- Turkish officials have urged al-Assad to conduct a national dialogue that would include the Muslim Brotherhood, perhaps even bringing that group into the government by granting it two ministries, according to a report in The New York Times. They have also suggested an anticorruption campaign, which would undoubtedly reach into al-Assad’s inner circle, and greater accountability for the security forces that have often been granted free rein in suppressing dissent.
Honestly, I don’t think any of this goes far enough. What is needed is a thoroughgoing transformation to a real, functioning, one-person-one-vote democracy, not just bringing two MB members into a Baath-dominated government. And this transformation will involve many other changes, as well, including institution of a transparent economic system and a system for ensuring civilian control of the military.
* * *
Can this be achieved while a portion of Syria is still chafing Israeli occupation, while the Israeli military daily threatens Damascus and the whole of Syria and Lebanon, and while Syria is still in a formal state of war with Israel? I believe it can. If the United States is able to do only one thing to help support the process of democratization in Syria it should be to use all the levers at its command to tell the Israelis not to intervene in any way in Syria, and to assure Syrians that the U.S. still fully supports the concept of a “full land for full peace” deal between Israel and Syria and will work actively to see its speedy implementation.
The Asads, father and son, both pursued the “full land for full peace” deal actively with Israel through negotiations. But the negotiations were always stymied and blocked by Israel (with help from Dennis Ross and others) and never got anywhere. Though the Asads maintained a strategic posture toward Israel based on general military deterrence, over time that deterrence became puny in the extreme; and it cannot serve any longer to “justify” the maintenance of the bloated national-security apparatus that currently hangs over the whole society like a very heavy weight.
* * *
Syria has been reeling from several years of drought and many more years of economic mismanagement and the economic burden of its national-security apparatus. It urgently needs economic help and the institution of sound economic policies. Turkey can do a lot to help in both regards, but it cannot do it alone.
* * *
The two countries are extremely important to each other. Each is an important gateway between the other and a significant hinterland. They have many geopolitical interests in common. Turkey is about four times the size of Syria in population and about 12 times as big as it in GDP.
This report from the Ankara-based think-tank the International Strategic Research Organization (USAK) looks very interesting.
that report on it, from Today’s Zaman, says,
- A report released by an Ankara-based think tank indicates that as the Syrian regime faces hardships with the continuing public uprisings for a more democratic regime, Turkey should develop policies to influence the process to evolve democratically, since Syrian matters are “family matters” to Turkey.
- The report released on May 9… titled “The Name of Walking in a Mine Field: Forcing Change in Syria,” indicates that Syria is in need of “urgent change” and Turkey needs to develop policies in the direction of democratic change, as human rights groups say the death toll from Syria’s crackdown on a nine-week uprising has exceeded 1,000.
The report states that Turkey’s priority should be preventing a foreign intervention.
“A foreign intervention in Syria means disaster for both Turkey and the region. A solution is necessary before it reaches that point. Turkey should focus on Syria with all of its power. If the issues in Syria are not solved as soon as possible, Turkey’s initiatives in the region will fail,” the report said and continued: “Turkey’s assertion to be a model state in the region will weaken in particular. A Turkey that cannot be influential in solving matters in Syria will lose its positive image in the eyes of the Arab public. The situation in Syria could be seen as a foreign policy problem in other countries, but it is a family matter for Turkey. Events in the region will greatly affect Turkey.”
I’d love to see an English-language version of the whole report…
* * *
As I noted in this piece that I blogged on Tuesday, I do think South Africa’s experience of a negotiated transition from minority rule to full democracy is one that can be very valuable for Syria. Of course, the South African parties and movements were able to complete their big constitutional transformation more or less on their own, while the Syrians evidently need a friendly outside force to act as mediator, convenor, and general chivvier, and structurer of the incentives. But still, there are a lot of excellent lessons the South Africans can offer.
One key one, I think, is that the focus of all participants should be determinedly forward-looking– laying the basis for a decent, egalitarian, accountable, and cooperative system going forward– rather than vindictive and backward-looking, seeking to settle endless old scores here and there. The Spaniards could offer some good lessons in this regard, too.