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The Turning Tides of Egypt

Abukar Arman

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Overcoming tyranny is neither easy nor impossible. The Egyptian people know this very well as Egypt is still living through a decade of hope and disenchantment. In that defining period, Egyptians have deposed a corrupt despot- Hosni Mubarak. They elected their first president—Mohamed Morsi—in a fair and internationally monitored election. And within 365 days, they cheered their military for executing a coup d’état that installed Abdel-Fattah el Sisi, then Egypt’s Minster of Defense, in power; and things have never been the same.

Since July 3, 2013, mass imprisonment and sporadic massacring of targeted civilians became widely tolerated phenomena. Crimes against humanity were committed in a broad daylight at Rabaa Square when the military and security forces killed more than 800 peaceful anti-coup protesters who belonged to the Muslim Brotherhood. It was a horrific mortal campaign that the Human Rights Watch called “one of the world’s largest killings of demonstrators in a single day in recent history, “though the Western ‘guardians of democracy’ mostly took position between apathy and equivocation.

Extreme Manipulation of Power

Sisi consolidated power and developed reputation for extreme ruthlessness. His government assumed absolute control of the flow of information which rendered any and all objective political discourse and power scrutiny of any kind criminal enterprise. Jingoism and contempt toward the Muslim Brotherhood became a national duty.

Mindful of what he has done in order to get to where he is, he relied on projecting himself as Egypt’s sole savior from the ever-present threat of terrorism. As a man who never sought power, but had to act because Egyptians demanded it. So, under the pretext of ‘eradicating political Islam’ by any means, the Arab Spring has withered.  

Egyptians had to undergo a long painfully cathartic period to learn a hard lesson and discover the real Sisi- an incompetent, corrupt man of countless broken promises. His publicly most ridiculed promise is his most repeated: he will uphold democracy and would not stay in power an extra second should he fail to deliver and Egyptians see him unfit. Sisi handpicked his own loyal parliamentarians who ultimately amended the constitution for him so he could rule Egypt at least till 2034.

Due to the negative effect of such constellation of false promises and the ruthless nature of his dictatorial rule, Sisi found hyper-militarization of Egypt is his best protection. He has built military barracks in virtually every neighborhood like police stations. He also built over 3 dozen mega prisons. Fighter jets routinely hover over Cairo to remind the public of an ever-present threat and to keep the average citizen’s psyche profoundly submissive.

Spark That Ignited Public Outrage

As Egyptians seemed paralyzed by political depression, there emerged a man who shook up the conscience of the nation. Mohamed Ali who is currently hiding in Spain has set in motion an avalanche of videos that exposed how Sisi, his close generals, and oligarchs have taken government corruption to new heights.

Ali was straight forward with the disenchanted and disgruntled masses. From the outset, he made it clear that he was not a formally educated man, that he was not motivated by moral rectitude, quest for redemption, or the desire to tip the scale in favor of one political party, religious faction, or another. He confessed that he was a construction contractor who has been receiving lucrative contracts from the notoriously corrupt military apparatus for 15 years. These contracts were routinely awarded without any bids to a favorite few who would be willing to play ball with the military.

For weeks, Ali has been releasing spontaneous, colloquially delivered, messages with irrefutable details and figures: Sisi is a hypocrite who was squandering the meagre resources of a nation suffering from mass unemployment, hyper-inflation, deteriorating education and health, and experiencing extreme deprivation resulting from economic austerity. He has commissioned, among other things, the construction of five massive presidential palaces for himself at a time when he was telling the public to tighten their belts because Egypt is a “very poor” nation.

His messages simply resonated with the average Egyptian who had enough of the military taking over almost every industry of the economy. In addition to the construction industry, the military has monopoly on construction materials such cement and paint, agriculture production, packaged foods, and now pharmaceutical industry- a project driven by Mahmoud el-Sisi, the president’s son.

Ali became an overnight folk hero, and his no-holds-barred videos have become popular in Egypt among Arabic-speaking peoples. And Mohamed Ali Secrets channel became the go-to platform for facts and figures. As someone who did not belong to any political, intellectual, or religious group at a time of broad-based cynicism, he became the unifying force that Egypt so desperately needed.

Futility of Resistance

So serious were the charges it compelled the state media—virtually all that are operational in Egypt since Sisi came to power—to switch to a higher gear in delivering their daily propaganda. They went back to their old playbook and set in motion their favorite play, the 3D or deny, discredit, and demonize.

Initially, the impact of the Mohamed Ali phenomenon and the massive protests it inspired in various cities was denied any coverage. Once the international media started to cover those events, Egypt’s state media started to discredit the organizers as cowards who would not show up at demonstrations   but would misguide others to march into harm’s way. When that didn’t work, they started accusing the demonstrators as traitors who were funded by the Muslim Brotherhood and foreign elements.

So implicating were these allegations and subsequent public outrage that it compelled Sisi to immediately respond. His message was tri-faceted. To his most credulous base, he had this:“To all elderly mothers who believe me and pray for me, I would like to tell them: your son is honorable.” To the outraged masses, he had this: So what? “Yes, I have built presidential palaces, and will continue to do so”.

The Crumbling Walls of Fear

After six years of iron fist grip, indoctrination, and being counted as people who ultimately succumbed to fear, the Egyptian people have proven to themselves and the rest of the world that they are far from being down and out.

September 20 has gone down in Egypt’s history as the day the tides turned against Abdel-Fattah el Sisi. Outraged masses defied Sisi’s zero tolerance for anti-government expression and protested across Egypt. They chanted anti-Sisi and anti-Military slogans and tore up the pictures of President Trump’s “favorite dictator” in public. This time, the outraged could not be dismissed as a conspiracy led by that all too familiar boogieman, the Muslim Brotherhood.

Sisi’s paranoia impulse started gauging in the red zone. The military and the security forces were ordered to setup strategic checkpoints where people are stopped to undergo strict searches. They are ordered to hand over their identifications, mobiles, and computers so the government forces could check how have they been getting their news, who have they communicated with, and what have they been filming.

Over two thousand people were arrested in what Amnesty International referred to as the “largest wave of mass arrests since (Sisi) came to power.” Many others were kidnapped by pro-government hired hoodlums known as Baltajiyah and the whereabouts are not known. Those arrested include well-known secular academics, journalists, political leaders, and activists. They also included foreign students who were arrested and tortured into a uniformed confession of being Muslim Brotherhood cells on a mission to create unrest in Egypt. Their confessions were televised by Amr Adeeb, one of the most notorious defenders of Sisi. Interestingly, 3 of those ‘foreign saboteurs’ were freed after their respective governments took issue with the false charges. One of them—a Sudanese student—revealed that he was physically electrocuted and psychologically threatened with death.

The following week, while Cairo was in shutdown to keep anti-government demonstrators away, pro-government demonstrators who were mostly government employees, military and police cadets, and paid people were unabashedly bused to the site, all holding up portraits of Sisi.

While that may give the impression that Sisi’s repressive modus operandi is still working and that the anti-government protesters are permanently silenced, it is too naïve to assume that this latest outrage has fizzled. Sisi’s repression and corruption have afflicted millions of households across the political, economic, social, and religious divides.

Egypt is at a turning point, and this time the protesters are equipped with great deal anger, experience, and unity of cause. If Sisi continues his tyrannical rule and good elements within the military remain passive, a volcano of public wrath is likely to erupt in Egypt around January 25-the ninth anniversary of the Egyptian revolution that ousted Hosni Mubarak.

Abukar Arman is a former diplomat, serving as Somalia's Special Envoy to the US. As a widely published analyst, he focuses on foreign policy, Islam, the Horn of Africa, extremism, and other topics. Twitter: @Abukar_Arman or reach him via e-mail: abukar_arman[at]yahoo.com

Middle East

U.S. multiple goals for possible military action in Iraq

Payman Yazdani

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The spread of the coronavirus and its devastating impact on the US economy and US efforts to reduce Iran’s regional influence are possible motives behind US potential military action in Iraq.

While the world is fighting against the COVID-19 outbreak, regional countries including Iraq have been witnessing widespread US military moves in recent days.

Most News outlets and political analysts have anticipated an imminent massive military action in Iraq due to the extent of US military moves.

Any possible military aggression carried out by Trump’s administration comes as the US and the world are struggling to contain coronavirus and the US economy, and consequently, the global economy has fallen into a major recession.

Trump is pursuing a number of goals by launching military aggression against Iraq and creating new military conflicts in the Middle East:

*In line with its maximum pressure policy, the US occupiers seek to target Iraqi groups close to the Islamic Republic such as Badr Organization led by Hadi Al-Amiri, Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq led by Qais al-Khazali, al-Nujaba Movement led by Akram al-Kaabi, and also Kata’ib Hezbollah. Washington assumes that adopting such an approach can reduce Iran’s influence in Iraq and undermine the economic, political and cultural cooperation between the two countries which play a significant role in reducing the impact of US sanctions on Tehran.

*After COVID-19 outbreak which triggered a global economic recession, Crude oil price dropped below $ 30 a barrel, causing serious damage to US  companies producing Shale oil and severely jeopardized their future production. Therefore, a military conflict in the Middle East can raise the global price of oil and prevent the bankruptcy of oil companies.

*Moreover, regional military conflicts and consequently a rise in the oil price can be a threat to the Chinese energy security, whose economy is heavily dependent on the Middle East oil. This can be used as a tool for the US to contain China and additionally obtain more business privileges from this country and other major economies, such as Europe whose economy are also dependent on the Middle East oil.

*Regional clashes can also possibly affect Saudi oil facilities and reduce their oil production which makes them lose some part of their share from global energy market which will be ultimately replaced by US oil.

*The US unemployment rate went up after many Americans lost their jobs due to the spread of coronavirus in the country and the world. Any US military adventure in the region can boost its military industry and consequently , to some extent, control the US unemployment rate.

*Ultimately, all of these goals can possibly save Donald Trump in the upcoming US election. Many polls suggest that Trump’s lying about the spread of coronavirus and his belated measures to contain the virus and also the subsequent economic pressure on the US citizens have cast doubt on his victory in the upcoming US election and helped his democratic rival have the upper hand.

From our partner MNA

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Middle East

Global Response to Coronavirus Exposes Governments’ Fault Lines

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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There’s a message in Pakistani and Egyptian responses to the Coronavirus: neither ultra-conservative science-rejecting worldviews nor self-serving autocratic policies aimed at regime enhancement produced initial prevention and mitigation strategies that could have blunted the impact of the disease.

To be sure, Pakistan and Egypt, although different in what drove their responses, are in good company. Overwhelmingly, governments across the globe with the exceptions of Singapore, Taiwan, and South Korea, failed to take the initial warnings signs seriously.

Unlike western democracies that have little to boast about in their handling of the crisis, countries like Pakistan and Egypt lack the checks and balances, robust civil societies, and independent media needed as correctives.

And both Egypt and Pakistan have gone out of their way to keep it that way.

Egypt, apparently taking a leaf out of China’s playbook, reprimanded foreign correspondents for The Guardian and The New York Times in Cairo for reporting that the number of cases in the country was exponentially higher than the 495 confirmed by authorities as of March 29. 

The coverage was based on conclusions by infectious disease specialists at the University of Toronto who had analyzed flight and traveler data as well as infection rates.

The scientists estimated that “Egypt likely has a large burden of Covid-2019 cases that are unreported.” They put the number of Egyptian cases as high as 19,130 as of March 15.

In response, authorities withdrew the press permit of The Guardian’s Ruth Michaelson and expelled her from the country while The New York Times’ Declan Walsh was forced to delete a tweet. Furthermore, several Egyptians have been detained on charges of spreading false and fabricated rumors.

Yet, Egypt imposed strict measures including the closure of all educational institutions and the suspension of flights on March 15, the day the scientists published their findings. The government also announced a $6.38 billion USD fund to fight the virus.

A World Health Organization (WHO) official in Cairo said the group could not verify the scientists’ methodology but added that “it is possible that there are many other cases with mild symptoms which did not result in hospital visits, and therefore are not detected or reported.”

Independent reporting is a crucial node in an effective early warning system. It creates pressure for a timely response. The effort to suppress it was in line with Egyptian general-turned-president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s initial reaction to the virus.

Rather than focusing on early preventive measures at home, Mr. Al-Sisi sought to benefit from China’s predicament.

With only one officially confirmed case of a Chinese national arriving in February at Cairo airport who was hospitalized and cured, Mr. Al-Sisi sent his health minister, Hala Zayed, to China to praise it for preventing a far worse global outbreak by taking very strong precautionary measures. This despite Beijing’s costly failure to confront the disease firmly from the outset.

Pakistan’s approach in recent months was no less negligent.

Like Egypt, a country in which the power of the military is thinly camouflaged by hollowed out institutions, Pakistan waffled until last week in its response to the pandemic.

The Pakistani government refused early on to evacuate some 800 students from Wuhan in a bid to earn brownie points in Beijing. It also failed to manage the return of potentially infected pilgrims from Iran. And finally, it catered to ultra-conservative groups whose worldviews were akin to ones long prevalent in Saudi Arabia with its significant cultural and religious influence in the South Asian nation.

As a result, Pakistan, a deeply religious country that borders on both China and Iran, allowed Tablighi Jamaat, a proselytizing group with a huge global following in some 80 countries that is banned in Saudi Arabia, to continue organizing mass events.

The group organized a 16,000 people mass gathering in early March in Malaysia where scores were infected with the Coronavirus.

Hundreds of Tablighi gathered from March 21 to 23 in the Mardan District of Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province to pray, listen to speeches, and eat and sleep in congested quarters.

One participant, professing his belief that God would protect the Tablighi, described spending almost six weeks together with thousands of others at Tablighi headquarters near Lahore, a city of 11 million, just before traveling to Mardan.

Pakistan Religious Affairs Minister Noor-ul-Haq Qadri caved in to demands by the clergy to keep mosques open but capped the maximum number of people at prayers at five.

The minister’s concession reinforced a popular perception of the government’s message that the virus crisis was less grave than projected by health authorities across the globe.

“If the pandemic was serious, the government would’ve shut down all the mosques,” said Sadiq Bhutt, speaking through an interpreter, as he entered a mosque in Islamabad for Friday prayers.

Eventually, overriding government policy, the Pakistan military intervened in recent days to impose a lockdown like in much of the rest of the world.

But as in Egypt it may be too late for Pakistan, the world’s most populous Muslim nation of 207 million, that is ill-equipped for a pandemic.

Ultimately, the lesson of Egypt, Pakistan, and China’s initial handling of the Coronavirus is that neither self-serving autocrats nor authoritarians have the wherewithal to confront a crisis like a pandemic in a timely fashion. Their much-delayed responses have failed

to take the public’s interests to heart rather than those of elites that prioritize geopolitical or political advantage.

Western democracies have performed not much better with US President Donald J. Trump seemingly more concerned about economic impact in an election year than about public health and people’s lives.

The difference, however, is that western democracies have the potential of holding leaders to account and implementing lessons learned from the costly mismanagement of the coronavirus pandemic.

It’s hard to hold out a similar hope for Arab autocracies or countries like Pakistan whose democratic façade is at best skin-deep.

Author’s note” This story was first published on Inside Arabia

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Middle East

Iran Proposed Five-Nation Bloc for Regional Stability, Peace, and Progress

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In February this year, Pakistan’s foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi received Syed Mohammad Ali Hosseini, an Iranian Ambassador to Pakistan. Pakistan’s foreign minister Qureshi expressed his thoughts through praising the traditionally strong ties between both the nations and showed his consent to further strengthen collaboration in all dimensions which would be mutually beneficial for both Tehran and Islamabad. As for as the historical, cultural, and religious affinities are concerned, both nations enjoy rich support of commonalities including similar views on the foreign occupation which proved as a source of disaster for them. Besides, Iran was the first country to recognize Pakistan after its independence in August 1947. As both Pakistan and Iran’s basic factor of the independence was Islam and current scenario portrays a bad picture of Islamic countries which are suffering from a cluster of problems under foreign agenda. In this connection, the role of Islamic nations has not been effective in addressing issues of the Islamic Ummah. Hosseini also expressed his grievances over the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) by explaining that it was not producing fruitful results for Muslim Ummah. He further talked about the sufferings of Muslim Ummah and the malicious plan of the United States along with Israel to subdue them.

Moreover, FM Qureshi showed consent to visit Iran for meeting with its leadership to talk about their concerns and disputes and their possible diplomatic solution. Moreover, during a meeting with Hosseini the Advisor to the Prime Minister on Finance and Revenue, Abdul Hafeez Shaikh, told that the government aimed at expanding the bilateral trade with Iran. So, giving more boost to the relation of both the nations, the Iranian Ambassador proposed a new bloc for addressing regional issues and promoting cooperation among themselves. This bloc will include Russia, China, Turkey, Pakistan, and Iran because these nations are capable of forming such an alliance that could effectively handle regional issues for the better future of the region. Similarly, he expressed his consent and help for solving the Afghan problem which is a great hindrance to regional peace and stability along with creating security issues for Pakistan. Iran aims at linking Pakistan’s Gwadar Port with Chabahar Port of Iran via rail link which ultimately generates the economic benefits for both the nations.

He dubbed the recent “Deal of the Century” proposed by American President Trump for peace in the Middle East irrational and unjust which consists of many doubts over American-Israeli Alliance. In this situation where the whole world is trapped with the fatal disease of Corona Virus, the United States which considers itself the oldest democracy, protector of human rights and most developed nation on earth, has imposed more sanctions on Iran. While UN Security Council Members and signatories of the 2015 Nuclear Deal with Tehran namely Britain, France, Russia, China, and Germany rejected Trump’s call for sanctions on Iran. President Trump’s action portrays that he is under stress in whichhe looks unable to understand repercussions and results of the policies and actions taken by him. While at the same time he is ignoring the traditions and values of the founding fathers of his nation as well as he has no respect and obligation for international rules and laws.Furthermore, the Iranian Ambassador showed enthusiasm for increasing and strengthening the multilateral economic cooperation. In this regard, Iran-Pakistan (IP) gas pipeline is an important project and will even become more productive if it is linked with the CPEC which not only brings the huge economic development in both Tehran and Islamabad but also the region through making it more stable and developed.

Thisnew regional bloc could prove productive through solving themulti-faceted issues faced by the countries of this region. Whereas America has remained unsuccessful in eliminating the problems of the region, therefore, it is the responsibility of regional states to become serious in making such bloc which seriously takes the vast problems towards the solution for the development, peace, stability, and progress of the underdeveloped nations of the region. Besides, the Iranian President has also proposed cryptocurrency for Muslim nations for settling payment transactions as an alternative to the US dollar such as proposed by BRICS nations earlier. He further explained that the US always uses economic sanctions as the main tool of domineering hegemony and bullying of other nations. As stated by Iranian President that there is always room for diplomacy, therefore “let’s return to justice, to peace, to law, commitment and promise and finally to the negotiating table” which is the last and effective solution for any issue.Iran’s proposal of five nations bloc portrays a rational and real picture of solving the staggering and long-lasting problems of the region. Furthermore, the nations which are proposed by Iran in the bloc have no history of worsening or spoiling the situation of the region as America has been involved in generating the multiple problems throughout the region via its policies and actions. All these five regional nations have stakes in the region such as political, economic, social and financial. Therefore if the region is developed, peaceful and protected than they collectively can secure their interests along with giving the benefits to other regional nations as well.

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