Archive for the ‘ Israel ’ Category

Why Palestine Won Big at the U.N.

As Reported by TIME

An instructive week after Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip tested Israel on the battlefield, the pacifist politicians who govern the West Bank notched a significant diplomatic win without much of a fight at all. Just before 5 p.m. New York time, the U.N. General Assembly voted 138 to 9 to bring Palestine aboard as a “nonmember state.” Another 41 nations abstained. Assured of passage by a whopping majority, Israel and the U.S. noted their objections mildly and mostly for the record, their effort to limit the fallout for the Jewish state itself limited in the wake of Gaza.

The status of “nonmember state” — emphasis on the “state” puts Palestine on the same level of diplomatic recognition as the Vatican, which is technically a sovereign entity. The Holy See has its own ambassadors but, for a few, may be better known for its busy post office off St. Peter’s Square, where tourists queue for what quiet thrills are afforded by a Vatican stamp canceled with the Pope’s postmark.

Palestine already has post offices. The particular marker of sovereignty it sought from the U.N. is even more bureaucratic: access to international organizations, especially the International Criminal Court at the Hague. Experts on international law say that, armed with the mass diplomatic recognition of the 150 or so nations it counts as supporters, Palestine will be in a position to bring cases against Israel, which has occupied the land defined as Palestine — the West Bank and the Gaza Strip — since 1967.

The ICC, as it’s known, is on record as inclined to regard Israel’s more than 100 residential settlements on the West Bank as a crime of war. (The Jewish state pulled its settlers and soldiers out of Gaza in 2005 and argues that it no longer qualifies as its “occupier” under international law. Critics argue otherwise.) The physical presence of the settlements in other words would give Palestine a ready-made case to drag Israel before the court — or to threaten dragging it before the court. In the dynamics of the Israel-Palestine conflict, the real power lies in the threat. But in his last U.N. address, in September, Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas began to lay the foundation for charges based not on the settlements but on the violent behavior of some individual settlers, who attack Palestinian neighbors and vandalize property and mosques. Settler attacks have skyrocketed in the past two years, according to U.N. monitors, and now account for the majority of the political violence on the West Bank, despite the lingering popular impression of Palestinian terrorism dating back decades. On the West Bank, at least, the reality has changed.

“If you were in my place, what would you do?” Abbas asked TIME in a recent interview. “We will not use force against the settlers. I can use the court, but it’s better for the Israelis not to push us to go to the court. They should put an end to these acts committed by the settlers.” His address to the General Assembly in advance of the vote on Thursday made the stakes plain enough: Abbas blasted Israel for “the perpetration of war crimes” and “its contention that it is above international law.”

Abbas’ effort actually got an unlikely boost from Israel’s eight-day offensive in Gaza. Operation Pillar of Defense focused on attacking Hamas, the militant Islamist group that has governed Gaza since 2007. Hamas, and more radical groups also operating in Gaza, lost scores of fighters and rocket launchers to Israeli air strikes. But by standing up to overwhelming Israeli military power for more than a week — and sending missiles toward major cities previously left untouched — the militants stirred a defiant pride and solidarity across the Palestinian community.

“The armed resistance of Hamas in Gaza gave the people hope and the impressions that this is the only way to fight against the ongoing occupation,” Majed Ladadwah, 46, told TIME 0n a Ramallah street, in the West Bank. “I can’t say they won,” said Ladadwah, speaking before Thursday’s balloting, “but they surely gained a lot of points for Hamas in the streets of Palestine.”

That logic was pointed out to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton when she visited Jerusalem to coax him toward a cease-fire. In the days that followed, Netanyahu’s government stopped threatening to punish Abbas for going to the U.N., a move Israel has called a threat to the peace process, which has been stalled for at least four years.

At the same time, European nations rallied around Abbas, intent on shoring up a leader who is secular, moderate — and already at political risk for cooperating with Israel to suppress armed resistance even before Gaza seized the world’s attention. Many of the “marquee” countries of Western Europe that Netanyahu had hoped to vote against Palestine statehood, like France, instead lined up behind Abbas. Others, including Britain, abstained, after seeking assurances that Palestine will not to go the ICC, or that negotiations with Israel will resume. Abbas has already promised the latter. Thursday morning brought news that Israel had lost Germany, a stalwart ally in the wake of the Holocaust, to the abstention column. “If there is a poor turnout, a poor vote, the radicals gain,” India’s U.N. Ambassador Hardeep Singh Puri told reporters.

For their part, Palestinians overwhelmingly back the measure, despite an assortment of disappointments with Abbas — for wasting a year trying to get full U.N. membership in 2011 and for not visiting Gaza during the fighting, as foreign diplomats did. “We are for the U.N. bid because we anticipate this will help us legally to pursue our struggles and gain our rights,” said Ladadwah, the bank employee who spoke admiringly of Hamas’ stand in Gaza. Hamas itself said it backs the diplomatic effort, as do other factions.

“This is called resistance, whether armed resistance or peaceful resistance,” said Mahmoud Khames, 34, an unemployed West Bank resident, in advance of the vote. “It’s not a soccer match that someone has to win. Resistance is a matter of freeing one’s self and his people from the Israeli occupation.”

In downtown Ramallah, the crowd watching on an outdoor TV screen on Thursday night was large and festive despite the late November chill. Celebratory gunfire — fired by exultant uniformed police and soldiers — rent the night as the vote came in just before midnight local time. “I expect many things from this but the most important is the reconciliation of the two factions, Hamas and Fatah,” said Mohammad Abdel Moute, 40, a government employee who lives in a local refugee camp. “And now hopefully we’ll be able to address the world with our problems, and hopefully the world will be able to help us in obtaining our rights, to be able to live like normal human beings.” Nearby, Layla Jammal, 70, praised the strategy of putting the question of statehood to the General Assembly instead of to the U.N. Security Council, where the U.S. routinely vetoes measures opposed by Israel.

“We heard threats from Netanyahu this evening before the voting, saying that a Palestinian state at the U.N. is unilateral, one-sided,” Jammal said. “And we laugh, because the wall that they built is one-sided! They didn’t ask us. From here it makes us it makes us a state against another state.”

— With reporting by Rami Nazzal / Rama

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Israel keeps pounding Gaza by air, says it intercepted missile fired by Hamas at Tel Aviv

By Karin Brulliard and Abigail Hauslohner for The Washington Post

Israel’s four-day-old air offensive in the Gaza Strip expanded to target Hamas government buildings on Saturday and Palestinian militants continued firing a torrent of rockets at civilian areas in southern Israel as both sides stepped up diplomatic efforts to win support.

Israeli airstrikes over Gaza accelerated to nearly 200 early in the day, including one hit that reduced the offices of Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh to a smoldering concrete heap. That strike, along with others on a police headquarters and smuggling tunnels along the strip’s southern border with Egypt, raised questions about whether Israel had broadened its mission to including toppling the Hamas government that rules the coastal strip.

Just before sundown, Hamas said it had fired an Iranian-made Fajr-5 rocket at Tel Aviv, and air raid sirens sounded in that city for the third day in a row. The Israeli military said its newly deployed missile defense battery intercepted the rocket before it landed in the populous coastal city.

Even as airstrikes pounded the area Saturday morning, the foreign minister of Tunisia’s Islamist-led government, Rafik Abdessalem, arrived in Gaza with a delegation, underscoring Hamas’s newfound credibility in a region dramatically altered by the Arab Spring. Abdessalem expressed outrage at what he called Israeli “aggression” and pledged to unite with other Arab countries to end the conflict.

In Cairo, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, whose prime minister visited Gaza on Friday, held meetings with Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and the emir of Qatar, Sheik Hamad Bin Khalifa al-Thani — both Hamas supporters — to discuss what Morsi and other regional leaders have promised will be a more robust response to Israel’s actions than during past conflicts. By Saturday night, rumors of Morsi, Erdogan and Hamas chairman Khaled Meshal hashing out a cease-fire plan were swirling but unconfirmed.

Also in Cairo, the Arab League held an emergency meeting of foreign ministers to discuss a response to the conflict. Many participants called for Arab assistance to the Palestinians and a “reconsideration” of Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel. But it was unclear if the usually ineffectual league would deliver decisive action by the end of its summit.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, meanwhile, took his country’s case to European leaders. In conversations with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the prime ministers of Italy, Greece and the Czech Republic, Netanyahu argued that “no country in the world would agree to a situation in which its population lives under a constant missile threat,” according to an Israeli government statement. The government announced that it was launching a special operations center for public diplomacy, centered on “the unified message that Israel is under fire.”

The White House reiterated its support for the Israeli operation, which the military says is intended to stop rocket fire that has escalated in the four years since Israel last invaded Gaza to stunt attacks by Hamas, an Islamist movement that Israel and the United States consider a terrorist group.

“Israelis have endured far too much of a threat from these rockets for far too long,” Ben Rhodes, a deputy U.S. national security adviser, told reporters traveling with President Obama to Asia. Rhodes declined to comment on the Israelis’ choice of targets, but he said White House officials “always underscore the importance of avoiding civilian casualties.”

The death toll in Gaza rose to 45 by Saturday evening, Health Ministry officials said. Three Israelis have been killed by rocket fire from Gaza since the operation began. An Israeli military spokesman said about 130 rockets were fired from Gaza at Israel on Saturday, 30 of which were intercepted by a missile defense system known as Iron Dome.

Israel made preparations this week for a possible ground invasion, but there were no further signs of one coming on Saturday.

Israel: No shift in mission

The Israeli airstrikes, which continued to target rocket-launching sites and weapons depots, slowed throughout the day, even as Israel appeared to be channeling new efforts toward Hamas civilian institutions. Capt. Eytan Buchman, an Israeli military spokesman, said the strikes were “part of our overarching goal of toppling Hamas’s command and control capabilities” and did not mark a shift in mission.

Haniyeh, the Hamas prime minister, was apparently not at his office when it was hit.

According to the newspaper Haaretz, Israeli Interior Minister Eli Yishai said the “goal of the operation is to send Gaza back to the Middle Ages.”

That is how it felt to Hossam and Sanaa al-Dadah, two teachers who had the misfortune of living next door to a house the Israeli military said belonged to a Hamas commander.

At 6 a.m., the family’s windows shattered and their walls burst open. The adjacent house, in the Jabaliya refugee camp, had been demolished in an airstrike, and suddenly theirs was ruined, too.

In the terrifying moments that followed, Hossam al-Dadah, 50, frantically dug his five children out of the rubble, and a few hours later, they had been taken away to their grandparents’ home. But a dust-caked Sanaa, 40, rushed from room to room, crying and gathering her children’s clothing, school bags and dolls and placing them on a sheet.

Israel says Hamas operates in populated areas to use civilians as human shields, and it has dropped thousands of leaflets over Gaza warning civilians to stay away from Hamas operatives. Sanaa said she never got the message.

“Where are we going to go?” she said again and again. “The Israelis are responsible. They are the enemy of God. What did we do? Did we carry any missiles? Did we launch any rockets?”

Outside the house, children played insouciantly in rubble and scorched cars. Rami Mukayed, a 12-year-old in gray trousers, said he reserved his fear for darkness.

“At night, come see me, I’m panicked,” he said. “I play in the morning. I hide in the evening.”

Effect on peace process

In a speech in Cairo, Erdogan said the Gaza conflict called for a new era of Egyptian-Turkish cooperation.

“If Turkey and Egypt unite, everybody will be singing of peace in the region,” he said. “And if we stick together, the region will no longer be dominated by crying and weeping.”

Speakers at the Arab League meeting made the same argument.

“We can no longer accept empty meetings and meaningless resolutions,” said Arab League chief Nabil Elaraby, addressing the assembly at the start of the meeting. He urged Arab states to adopt a “strict stance” on the conflict.

Issandr El Amrani, a visiting fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations who heads a blog called the Arabist, said the Gaza standoff has presented the new Arab Spring governments and other regional heavyweights an opportunity to reconsider their position on Israel and the peace process in a series of talks that could have long-term regional implications.

For years, the Arab League has floated a proposal for an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal that Israel never took seriously, Amrani said. Arab states might now choose to drop that proposal and adopt more aggressive approaches — Egypt could revise the terms of its peace treaty with Israel; Arab states might consider providing covert aid to Hamas; and others will amplify the pressure on Israel through diplomatic corridors, he said.

By Saturday night, despite mounting rhetorical and symbolic support to Gaza’s Hamas leadership, the Arab ministers’ meeting had announced plans to send a delegation to Gaza but had stopped short of pledging immediate material support to Hamas.

“I’ve seen a lot of talk about doing something and how there’s a collective Arab responsibility to act,” Amrani said, “but no one has suggested anything concrete.”

A Bronx Tale

By Ted Regencia and Lindsay Minerva for Tablet Mag

Near the corner of Westchester Avenue and Pugsley Street in Parkchester, just off the elevated tracks of the No. 6 train, Yaakov Wayne Baumann stood outside a graffiti-covered storefront on a chilly Saturday morning. Suited up in a black overcoat with a matching wide-brimmed black fedora, the thickly bearded 42-year-old chatted with elderly congregants as they entered the building for Shabbat service.

The only unusual detail: This synagogue is a mosque.

Or rather, it’s housed inside a mosque. That’s right: Members of the Chabad of East Bronx, an ultra-Orthodox synagogue, worship in the Islamic Cultural Center of North America, which is home to the Al-Iman mosque.

“People have a misconception that Muslims hate Jews,” said Baumann. “But here is an example of them working with us.”

Indeed, though conventionally viewed as adversaries both here and abroad, the Jews and Muslims of the Bronx have been propelled into an unlikely bond by a demographic shift. The borough was once home to an estimated 630,000 Jews, but by 2002 that number had dropped to 45,100, according to a study by the Jewish Community Relations Council. At the same time, the Muslim population has been increasing. In Parkchester alone, there are currently five mosques, including Masjid Al-Iman.

“Nowhere in the world would Jews and Muslims be meeting under the same roof,” said Patricia Tomasulo, the Catholic Democratic precinct captain and Parkchester community organizer, who first introduced the leaders of the synagogue and mosque to each other. “It’s so unique.”

The relationship started years ago, when the Young Israel Congregation, then located on Virginia Avenue in Parkchester, was running clothing drives for needy families, according to Leon Bleckman, now 78, who was at the time the treasurer of the congregation. One of the recipients was Sheikh Moussa Drammeh, the founder of the Al-Iman Mosque, who was collecting donations for his congregants—many of whom are immigrants from Africa. The 49-year-old imam is an immigrant from Gambia in West Africa who came to the United States in 1986. After a year in Harlem, he moved to Parkchester, where he eventually founded the Muslim center and later established an Islamic grade school. Through that initial meeting, a rapport developed between the two houses of worship, and the synagogue continued to donate to the Islamic center, among other organizations.

But in 2003, after years of declining membership, Young Israel was forced to sell its building at 1375 Virginia Ave., according to a database maintained by Yeshiva University, which keeps historical records of synagogues. Before the closing, non-religious items were given away; in fact, among the beneficiaries was none other than Drammeh, who took some chairs and tables for his center.

Meanwhile, Bleckman and the remaining members moved to a nearby storefront location, renting it for $2,000 a month including utilities. With mostly elderly congregants, Young Israel struggled to survive financially and, at the end of 2007, was forced to close for good. The remaining congregants were left without a place to pray. During the synagogue’s farewell service, four young men from the Chabad Lubavitch world headquarters in Crown Heights showed up. Three months earlier, Bleckman, then chairman of the synagogue’s emergency fund, had appealed for help from the Chabad.

“The boys from the Chabad said they came to save us,” said Bleckman. “We were crying.”

At this point, Chabad took over the congregational reins from Young Israel, with members officially adopting the new name Chabad of East Bronx. Still, for the next six to seven weeks, Bleckman said they could not even hold a service because they had nowhere to hold it.

When Drammeh learned of their plight, he immediately volunteered to accommodate them at the Muslim center at 2006 Westchester Ave.—for free.

“They don’t pay anything, because these are old folks whose income are very limited now,” said Drammeh, adding that he felt it was his turn to help the people who had once helped him and his community. “Not every Muslim likes us, because not every Muslim believes that Muslims and Jews should be like this,” Drammeh said, referring to the shared space. But “there’s no reason why we should hate each other, why we cannot be families.” Drammeh in particular admires the dedication of the Chabad rabbis, who walked 15 miles from Brooklyn every Saturday to run prayer services for the small Parkchester community.

For the first six months, congregants held Friday night Sabbath services inside Drammeh’s cramped office. As more people began joining the congregation, Drammeh offered them a bigger room where they could set up a makeshift shul. (When it’s not in use, students from the Islamic school use it as their classroom.) Inside the synagogue, a worn, beige cotton curtain separates the men and women who attend the service. A solitary chandelier hangs just above the black wooden arc that holds the borrowed Torah, which is brought weekly from the Chabad headquarters. A large table covered with prayer books stands in the center, and a picture of the Lubavitcher Rebbe is displayed prominently on a nearby wall. During Shabbat, when Jewish congregants are strictly prohibited from working, they have to rely on the Muslim workers at the center or on Drammeh to do simple chores such as turning on the light and switching on the heater.

At first, it did not make sense, said Hana Kabakow, wife of Rabbi Meir Kabakow. “I was surprised,” said the 26-year-old congregant who was born and raised in Israel. “But when I came here I understood.” The Kabakows have been coming to the service from Brooklyn for the last two years.

Harriet Miller, another congregant, said she appreciated the center’s accommodating the synagogue. “They are very sweet people,” said the 79-year-old Bronx native and long-time resident of Parkchester, who added that she welcomes the new Muslim immigrants in her neighborhood: “We were not brought up to hate.”

Drammeh also understands the importance of teaching tolerance more broadly, and for turning the school—which was itself founded at the nearby St. Helena Catholic Church on, of all days, Sept. 11, 2001—into a model of sorts for religious tolerance in New York.

“We’re not as divided as the media portrays us to be,” Drammeh said. “Almost 90 percent of Jewish, Muslim, and Christian teachings are the same.”

His latest project involves introducing fifth-grade Jewish and Islamic school students to each other’s religious traditions. Other participants of the program, now in its sixth year, include the Solomon Schechter School of Manhattan, the Al Ihsan Academy of Queens, and the Kinneret Day School of Riverdale. At the end of the program, students organize an exhibit that shows family artifacts of their respective cultures and religion. The principal of the Islamic school, who is also Sheik Drammeh’s wife, said that even after the program ended, the participants became “fast friends” and would visit each other’s homes.

“They would have birthday parties together,” Shireena Drammeh said. “When someone invites you to their house, I mean, that says it all right there and then.”

While the Jewish congregants are thankful for their new home, they hope that one day they can rebuild their own synagogue. That day may be far off: Even now that they have space to worship, they still struggle to operate. They don’t have proper heating inside, and the portable working heater could not reach the separate area where the elderly women are seated, forcing them to wear their jackets during the entire service. Congregants are appealing for financial support from the Jewish community and other congregations.

But Leon Bleckman and others say they now also have loftier goals, including reviving the Jewish presence in the neighborhood and reaffirming the positive relationship with their Muslim friends. “We are able to co-exist together side by side in the same building,” said Assistant Rabbi Avi Friedman, 42. “That’s sort of like a taste of the future world to come—the messianic future where all people live in peace.”

Ted Regencia is a digital media student at the Columbia Journalism School. His Twitter feed is at @tedregencia. Lindsay Minerva, a digital media student at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, is an intern at Newsweek. Her Twitter feed is at @lindsayminerva.


Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s Note– A story like this illustrates the good in all of us. A few months ago, we highlighted an article on Heartsong Church in Cordova, Tennessee where Christians in that part of the US welcomed a Muslim community that was undergoing construction of their mosque nearby. Now this kind deed is being passed forward to another flock of faithful when Muslims in New York are offering a helping hand to Jewish members of their community. This is the type of love for one another God of all religions wants and appreciates. May God bless them all.

Syria Steps Up Crackdown; International Outcry Grows

As Reported by Voice of America

Syria has intensified its bloody military crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators, as international criticism against the government’s action mounts. Gunfire continued Tuesday in the flashpoint city of Daraa, where an armed assault to end anti-government protests was in its second day.

Human rights activists say at least 34 people have been killed and dozens more arrested since Syrian troops and tanks entered the city at dawn Monday to crush the demonstrations.

Residents were said to be too afraid to venture out in Daraa. Electricity, water and telecommunications to the city remain cut.

Also Tuesday, thousands of riot police deployed near the coastal city of Banias and in two areas on the outskirts of the Syrian capital. Activists say clashes have been especially brutal near the town of Douma. Demonstrators who attempted to enter Damascus from there during the last two weeks were met with bullets.

More than 400 people have been killed since pro-democracy protests erupted last month. The Syrian rights organization Sawasiah said Tuesday the government has arrested at least 500 people during the ensuing crackdown.

Also Tuesday, the international response to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s brutal crackdown intensified. The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations accused the Syrian leader of “disingenuously blaming outsiders” for the protests.

Susan Rice also reiterated that Washington has evidence of active Iranian support for what she called Syria’s “abhorrent and deplorable” crackdown on peaceful demonstrators. She said the “outrageous use of violence to quell protests” must end now.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also condemned “the continuing violence against peaceful demonstrators,” including the use of tanks and live fire that have “killed and injured hundreds of people.” The U.N. chief has called for an independent inquiry into the violence.

But Syria’s U.N. envoy said Damascus is capable of undertaking its own transparent investigation into the deaths of anti-government protesters, rejecting outside assistance.

Bashar Ja’afari also said the U.N. Security Council “should not rely on media reports” when making its decisions. Britain, France, Germany and Portugal asked the council to condemn Syria’s crackdown in a draft statement circulated on Tuesday.

Ja’afari told reporters Syria regrets civilian casualties, but said the unrest has “hidden agendas,” adding that some foreign governments are attempting to destabilize the country.

Earlier Tuesday, ltalian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and French President Nicolas Sarkozy urged Syria to “show moderation” and halt the “violent repression” of peaceful demonstrations.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan telephoned Mr. Assad and urged him to show restraint. British Foreign Secretary William Hague said the European Union is exploring possibilities for action against Syria, including asset freezes and targeted travel bans on the country’s leadership.

While U.S. officials have condemned the violence against Syrian citizens, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and his British counterpart, Liam Fox, played down the likelihood of a Libya-style intervention in Syria.

At a joint news conference in Washington Tuesday, Fox said the world’s response to popular revolts across the Middle East and North Africa must reflect the circumstances in each country. Gates made a similar point, saying that although the U.S. applies its values to all countries in the region, its actions will not always be the same.

A U.S. State Department official said Tuesday that, for now, Washington will limit its response to diplomacy and possible sanctions.

How Hosni Mubarak Got Filthy Rich

By Rick Newman for US News Money

There are no Mubaraks on the Forbes list of the world’s richest people, but there sure ought to be.

The mounting pressure from 18 days of historic protests finally drove Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak from office, after three decades as his nation’s iron-fisted ruler. But over that time, Mubarak amassed a fortune that should finance a pretty comfortable retirement. The British Guardian newspaper cites Middle Eastern sources placing the wealth of Mubarak and his family at somewhere between $40 billion and $70 billion. That’s a pretty good pension for government work. The world’s richest man—Mexican business magnate Carlos Slim—is worth about $54 billion, by comparison. Bill Gates is close behind, with a net worth of about $53 billion.

Mubarak, of course, was a military man, not a businessman. But running a country with a suspended constitution for 30 years generates certain perks, and Mubarak was in a position to take a slice of virtually every significant business deal in the country, from development projects throughout the Nile basin to transit projects on the Suez Canal, which is a conduit for about 4 percent of the world’s oil shipments. “There was no accountability, no need for transparency,” says Prof. Amaney Jamal of Princeton University. “He was able to reach into the economic sphere and benefit from monopolies, bribery fees, red-tape fees, and nepotism. It was guaranteed profit.”

Had the typical Egyptian enjoyed a morsel of that, Mubarak might still be in power. But Egypt, despite a cadre of well-educated young people, has struggled as an economic backwater. The nation’s GDP per capita is just $6,200, according to the CIA—one-seventh what it is in the United States. That output ranks 136th in the world, even though Egypt ranks 16th in population. Mubarak had been working on a set of economic reforms, but they stalled during the global recession. The chronic lack of jobs and upward mobility was perhaps the biggest factor driving millions of enraged Egyptian youths into the streets, demanding change.

Estimates of Mubarak’s wealth will probably be hard to verify, if not impossible (one reason dictators tend not to make it onto Forbes’s annual list). His money is certainly not sitting in an Egyptian vault, waiting to be counted. And his delayed exit may have allowed Mubarak time to move money around and hide significant parts of his fortune. The Swiss government has said it is temporarily freezing any assets in Swiss banks that could be linked to Mubarak, an uncharacteristically aggressive move for the secretive banking nation. But that doesn’t mean the money will ever be returned to the Egyptian people, and it may even find its way to Mubarak eventually. Other Mubarak funds are reportedly sitting in British banks, and Mubarak was no doubt wily enough to squire away some cash in unlikely places. Plus, an eventual exile deal could allow Mubarak to retain some of his wealth, no questions asked, as long as he and his family leave Egypt and make no further bids for power.

Epic skimming is a common privilege of Middle Eastern despots, and Mubarak and his two sons, Gamal and Alaa, were a bit less conspicuous than some of the Saudi princes and other Middle Eastern royals seen partying from time to time on the French Riviera or other hotspots. The family does reportedly own posh estates in London, New York, and Beverly Hills, plus a number of properties around the Egyptian resort town of Sharm El Sheikh, where Mubarak reportedly went after resigning the presidency.

Mubarak also spread the wealth far and wide in Egyptian power circles—another Middle Eastern tradition—one reason he incurred the kind of loyalty that allowed him to rule for a remarkable three decades. Top Army officials were almost certainly on his payroll, which might help explain why the Army eased him out in the end—allowing a kind of in-country exile—instead of hounding him out of Egypt or imprisoning him once it was clear the tide had turned against him for good.

That money trail, in fact, will help determine whether Egypt becomes a more prosperous, democratic country, or continues to muddle along as an economic basket case. Even though he’s out of power, Mubarak may still be able to influence the Army officials running the country, through the financial connections that made them all wealthy. And if not Mubarak, the next leader may be poised to start lining his pockets the same way Mubarak did. For Egypt to have a more effective, transparent economy, all of that will have to be cleaned up. There are probably a lot of people in Cairo who have been checking their bank balances lately.

U.S. Pressure on Mubarak Opens a Rift With Arab Allies

Adam Entous, Julian E. Barnes, and Jay Solomon for The Wall Street Journal

President Barack Obama’s attempt to abruptly push aside Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in favor of a transition government has sparked a rift with key Arab allies Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates, which fear the U.S. is opening the door for Islamist groups to gain influence and destabilize the region.

Vying to influence the outcome of events, Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. have sent public and private messages of solidarity to Mr. Mubarak and his vice president, longtime intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, diplomats said. The messages amount to support for the president and Mr. Suleiman to oversee the transition and to ensure that Islamists can’t fill any possible power vacuum.

The support from Arab states has provided a measure of comfort to Mr. Mubarak, who announced he wouldn’t take part in September’s election. It may in part explain why the Egyptian president rebuffed Mr. Obama’s call for an immediate transition that includes the opposition.

The backlash shows how the turmoil in Egypt is rapidly reshaping U.S. policy in the region. In deciding to set itself against Mr. Mubarak, a U.S. ally for decades, the United States is now facing the disquiet of other friendly Arab governments, who have long provided support for American policy goals. Meanwhile, Islamists in the region, including Hamas and Hezbollah, believe they are on the ascent as U.S. allies falter.

Such a scenario was one that defenders of the Middle East’s status quo warned was possible, and shows how Mr. Obama’s options were all, in some sense, unpalatable. The president was criticized early in the unrest for not clearly favoring antigovernment protesters. Now, having done so, he might have alienated key regional U.S. partners in the fight against al Qaeda and Iran. People familiar with the situation said Israel, the United States’ closest ally, has privately echoed Arab concerns about a U.S. push to kick out Mr. Mubarak, and worries Washington underestimates domestic Egyptian support for the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist parties.

It is unclear how much sway the Saudis have with Mr. Mubarak’s regime in Cairo, given that the extent of its financial aid to Egypt isn’t known. The United States gives Cairo about $2 billion a year. Egypt and Saudi Arabia are major trading partners, and experts say Saudi and Egyptian intelligence services have especially close ties.

Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud has harshly criticized Egyptian protesters in a statement carried by the Saudi state news agency, describing them as “infiltrators” bent on destabilizing Egypt and the region, accusing them of “malicious sedition.”

“You don’t need to read between the lines too much to see [the Saudis] are in favor of stability,” said Richard Fontaine, an analyst with the Center for New American Security and a former adviser to Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona.

Senior officials from the U.A.E., another key regional ally, have said in recent days that the unraveling of Mr. Mubarak’s government threatens to provide breathing room for Islamic extremists and Tehran. Egyptian security forces have been among the most aggressive in seeking to combat Hamas and Hezbollah, Palestinian and Lebanese militant groups that receive their arms from Iran and Syria.

“What hurts men and women as well as the leadership in Egypt hurts us all, and our standing with Egypt is an urgent need,” U.A.E. Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan said on a visit to Iraq this week. “But our disapproval is of certain parties who might try to exploit the situation with an external agenda.”

Another Arab official from a government aligned with Washington said the Obama administration seems to be humiliating Mr. Mubarak, despite his close cooperation over the years. This could lessen the willingness of Arab states to cooperate with Washington in the future, said the official.

“[The Saudis] are at odds with the U.S. position, publicly pushing Mubarak out. And frankly so are we—this isn’t how you handle issues in region,” said the Arab official. “Egypt needs to be treated with respect.”

Mr. Obama took a calculated risk by aligning himself this week with the opposition, which includes the powerful Muslim Brotherhood, a group banned by Cairo and long shunned by Washington because of concerns about its ties to Islamist extremism.

U.S. officials acknowledge that Mr. Obama’s decision to turn on Mr. Mubarak has raised ire in Arab states, which fear the United States could turn up the pressure on them next.

The perception among key U.S. allies in the region is that the U.S. “threw Mubarak under the bus,” a senior U.S. official said. “It is fair to say there is definitely concern.”

Another U.S. official said the Obama administration understood Arab concerns that Islamists might try to take advantage of the Egyptian elections to win power, but said Arab states nonetheless needed to revamp their sclerotic political systems. Officials are reassessing the extent it could engage with Muslim Brotherhood.

White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said what really matters is the “voices of the Egyptian people.”

Anthony Cordesman, an influential defense analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, played down the impact of outside influences on Mr. Mubarak, whether Saudi or U.S. Mr. Obama, he added, was “one voice among many” and argued that domestic considerations were the biggest factor for the regime in figuring out what to do next.

White House officials spent Thursday working on new language the U.S. president might use to make his demands on Mr. Mubarak more forceful, according to outside advisers. Much of the administration’s attention was on the treatment of journalists in Cairo. U.S. officials suspect regime element might have been behind the attacks.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged Mr. Mubarak to “immediately” begin talks with opposition leaders on handing over power to a transitional government. “I urge the government and a broad and credible representation of Egypt’s opposition, civil society and political factions to begin immediately serious negotiations on a peaceful and orderly transition,” Mrs. Clinton said.

Middle East experts say the goal of creating a new transitional government is not yet in reach. The Egyptian military would have to become more assertive to “control the arena,” said Martin Indyk, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel.

“This will require the military to undergo an overnight conversion to democracy promoters. That’s more than a stretch in the current circumstances,” Mr. Indyk said.

Administration officials are anxiously awaiting events Friday, a traditional day of protest in the Muslim world. “Friday could be a ‘Tiananmen moment,’ ” said Mr. Indyk. “If that happens, there will be no orderly and peaceful transition, just a bloody and long confrontation.”

—Jonathan Weisman contributed to this article.

Third World Thugs and Dictators- A History of Self Serving Interests

By Manzer Munir, Pakistanis for Peace

What is it about power and its hold on a person? Not just the common man, but even the most noblest and patriotic of men have let its allure defy the loyalty to their county’s best interests. They say that absolute power corrupts absolutely. The recent events in Egypt have proven this axiom quite aptly as we are witnessing history in the making with the protests against the regime of Hosni Mubarak.

There is a popular, grassroots, and mostly peaceful uprising against the repressive and longtime authoritative administration of President Hosni Mubarak. Only the fourth president in the history of the modern day republic of Egypt, Mubarak was a soldier in the Yom Kippur War against Israel and served as the Commander of the Air Force as well as the Deputy Minister of Defense.

Having served nearly 30 years, he is the only leader most people in Egypt have ever known where more than half the population is under 25. Long seen by the outside world as a model of stability in the volatile neighborhood of the Middle East, Mubarak’s policies of continuing the peace treaty with Israel signed by his predecessor Anwar Sadat, belied the fact that at home in Egypt he had employed many heavy handed and authoritarian tactics to quell dissent at various times in his 30 year rule.

But what may have appeared as strengths to the outside world were weaknesses at a domestic level. Mubarak came to be seen by the average Egyptians as presiding over policies that increased unemployment and also raised the cost of living for many already struggling people. For many, the economic reforms had come to be equated with corruption, as many political leaders were mixing  family business interests with their official roles, and corruption at the highest levels has fully become entrenched in all levels of Egyptian society, much like in many developing countries.

Another example of the measure of cronyism and despotic rule practiced in Mubarak’s Egypt that showed contempt for the democratic aspirations of the common man was his grooming of his son Gamal for eventual leadership of Egypt. It was no surprise in the international community that for the last 8 years Mubarak was exposing his son to more and more official state functions and visits, having most recently brought Gamal to Washington for the opening of Middle East peace talks in the fall of 2010.

Now in the last few weeks, after protests in another North African Arab country of Tunisia that saw the toppling of the 24 year reign of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Mubarak’s iron grip on power seems a lot less secure to Egyptians who have been bolstered by the ouster of Ali, another notoriously corrupt and dictatorial ruler of Mubarak’s ilk.

It has become common place to see time after time, in developing countries across the world, but especially in Africa and Asia, autocratic and corrupt rulers who either seize power in military coups or are initially elected in some democratic way, only to hold on to power any way they can. Whether the ruler be Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, who has held power of that country since 1980 and who despite having lost even the last few rigged elections, has remained defiantly in power. One could also point to another African leader, Laurent Gbagbo of the Ivory Coast who refuses to step down from power after having lost the elections of his country in November of 2010 to Alassane Ouattara. Despite losing the election he sits in the presidential palace in the capital Yamoussoukro, still refusing to listen to the world community and even personal pleas from President Obama to relinquish power to the victor of the Ivory Coast elections, Alassane Ouattara.

An Indonesian friend mentioned to me that what is happening in Egypt is exactly how the Indonesians got rid of Suharto, who had come to power and control over Indonesia 32 years prior in large part due to his service and rank in the military.

Examples of such greed for power, money and influence as well as the disregard for the health and well being of their nations are more commonplace in the developing world than in the industrialized nations. It is not to say that in European and western countries there have not been cases of greed and corruption.  However, when the stability and very health of a country’s political system was severely tested, as in my homeland of the United States, a president like Richard Nixon resigned from power, however embarrassingly and went off quietly into history, rather than hold on to the last vestiges of power and control over a sinking country and its national spirit.

For Mubarak, the question should be asked how can this soldier of the uniform can look in the mirror the last few days knowing that every passing day that there are riots in the streets of Cairo, he is undermining the sovereignty, nationhood and the very peace of his motherland. A person like this obviously cares more about their place in history than the well being of their people, their institutions, and their country.

Sooner or later, the chants will get loud enough to be heard outside Mubarak’s residence in the presidential Heliopolis Palace and the people will undoubtedly ask: “Oh Mubarak can’t you see? Time to join Ben Ali.”

Manzer Munir is a proud Pakistani American and peace activist, who is a Sufi Muslim and is also the founder of Pakistanis for Peace and blogs at www.PakistanisforPeace.com and at other websites such as www.DigitalJournal.com, www.Allvoices.com, www.Examiner.com and www.open.salon.com as a freelance journalist and writer. He asks that you join the official Facebook Page of Pakistanis for Peace to be informed of the latest articles  here: http://www.facebook.com/home.php#!/pages/Pakistanis-for-Peace/141071882613054

 

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