Tag Archives: egypt

Towards Civil War in Egypt? (Updated)

roxy-injury

A man succumbs to teargas inhalation near a Roxy Square field hospital

Update: Video here shows a Muslim Brotherhood member firing what appears to be birdshot from a shotgun at anti-Morsi protesters; this video confirms rumors that state security bolstered Muslim Brotherhood lines, firing on anti-Morsi forces when MB members retreated. Finally, another video contains footage of fire apparently exchanged from both sides.

Last night, thousands of opposition protesters appeared in front of Egypt’s presidential palace in the Cairo suburb of Heliopolis to voice their anger with President Mohamed Morsi’s draft constitution. Influenced almost completely by Muslim Brotherhood officials and their Salafist allies, the proposed constitution is a divisive document. At the protest, the mostly secular, upper middle class crowd went well beyond the demand for a constitutional dialogue, denouncing Morsi as a dictator and calling for his ouster. “Erhal!” (“Leave”), they chanted; “Dictator, Dictator, Morsi, it’s your turn!” was another cadence that filled the air outside the palace.

Though I was unable to confirm reports that state security were driven away from the protest, forced to leave their helmets and even teargas shells behind, I saw them boarding buses and trucks by the hundreds on Salah Salem Boulevard. Soon after, Morsi evacuated the presidential palace, with protesters pelting his motorcade with stones as it pulled away. The protest was apparently seen by the Muslim Brotherhood leadership as a major transgression. A red line had been crossed. As Yasser Borhami, a Salafist preacher supportive of Morsi, told Al Jazeera, the opposition provoked violence by “saying words insulting of the president.”

This afternoon, the Muslim Brotherhood called for a million man march on the presidential palace, where opposition protesters were still encamped. The clashes that had been expected all week were now inevitable, as Morsi seemed determined to prove his political legitimacy through a massive display of street-level manpower. By 6 PM, streets near Heliopolis’ Roxy Square were lined with buses and vans used to shepherd in thousands of Brotherhood supporters from the countryside and the provinces. The details of what happened next may require another day to clarify, but what is clear is that the Brotherhood organized a march that was certain to spark violent clashes, and that the decision was made at the highest levels of the organization’s political echelon.

I arrived at Roxy Square around 7 PM with Cliff Cheney, a Cairo-based photojournalist and videographer covering the revolutionary tumult. By then the fighting was in full swing. Huge throngs of opposition demonstrators swelled towards the pro-Morsi crowds, pelting them with stones. Fusillades of teargas flew in return, possibly from state security bolstering the pro-Morsi lines. The sound of shotguns loaded with birdshot thundered from inside the melee, and molotov cocktails streaked above the crowd, lobbed from both sides. One by one, young men came stumbling towards a makeshift field hospital and crumpled onto the sidewalk, overcome by gas inhalation. Others suffering more serious injuries were loaded into ambulances roaring through the crowd every few minutes.

An opposition protester who had been in the thick of the fighting told me the Brotherhood mustered larger numbers but the anti-government forces were “more daring.” To make up for lost ground, he said the Brotherhood activists began firing rubber and possibly live bullets. “Everyone around me was falling,” he said. Wael Eskandar, an Egyptian blogger and opposition supporter present during the clashes, claimed firearms, including an automatic rifle, were used by pro-Morsi activists “early and with high frequency.” On the other hand, a reporter for the Egyptian daily Al Ahram reported seeing a man “recklessly” using a gun against pro-Morsi demonstrators.

As the night wore on, a spokesman for the Brotherhood appeared on a local Cairo radio show to dismiss claims that the march was a violent provocation. He insisted no opposition protesters were in their tents when the Brotherhood members arrived at the palace. However, other witnesses at the scene told me those who had encamped at the palace were badly beaten. By 9 PM, hundreds were reported injured and each side reported at least one fatality. Among those reportedly killed was Egyptian Popular Alliance activist Mirna Emad.

During the clashes, countless activists told me to leave for my own safety. “This is not a foreign friendly demonstration,” one told me. Indeed, Western reporters are not always welcome at such events, and in contrast to my experience at the popular protests in the West Bank, some demonstrators treat those who brandish cameras with extreme hostility. So I could not take photos or shoot video with the kind of frequency I’m accustomed to. When a wave of Brotherhood activists broke through opposition lines, pushing the crowd back and sending hundreds sprinting away from the square, I ran with them. And I did not return. I learned later that a Western photojournalist became trapped in a dress shop as the situation deteriorated.

Each side took casualties and neither appears ready to relent. The polarization is deepening with each passing day. It appears that the fighting will persist as December 15, the date of the constitutional referendum, draws closer. If Morsi’s legitimacy is contingent on his ability to maintain stability, he risks forfeiting it by allowing the kind of violence seen in Roxy Square tonight to occur on his watch.

Mazhar Shaheen, the famed imam known as the “Tahrir Preacher” for his role in the January 25 revolution, said tonight, “What is happening threatens to lead to a civil war… We should all be ashamed to participate in the collapse of the nation.”

Amb. Michael Oren dishes out anti-flotilla “marching orders” in Jewish Federations call

Amb. Michael Oren dished out the flotilla talking points in a private call organized by the Jewish Federation's multi-million dollar "Israel Action Network"

Amb. Michael Oren dished out the flotilla talking points in a private call organized by the Jewish Federation's multi-million dollar "Israel Action Network"

On June 22, the Jewish Federations of America’s new, multi-million dollar “Israel Action Network” hosted a conference call with Israel’s Ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren. The call was an urgent response to the flotilla preparing to cruise towards Gaza in order to challenge Israel’s maritime blockade of the destitute coastal strip. David Sherman, the vice chair of the Federations’ board of trustees, introduced the new initiative and Oren’s involvement in it as a key to combating Israel’s “delegitimization.”

Throughout the call, Oren seemed more concerned about the Arab Spring, Israel’s relations with Turkey, and the Palestinian unity arrangement than the upcoming flotilla. He opened his remarks by launching into a fast paced survey of the myriad regional threats Israel supposedly faced, then explained how the state would tamp down on each one:

Egypt – Oren was convinced that the only parties that are poised to win upcoming elections are “well funded, well led extremist movements.” Presumably he meant the Muslim Brotherhood. But the Egyptian army’s stance reassured Israel. “The army has been telling us that they have every intention of maintaining Camp David and that there will be no substantive change in Egypt’s foreign policy,” Oren said. Israel’s biggest concern at the present moment was attacks on gas pipelines in the Sinai Desert, which Oren claimed were being carried out by Bedouins to extort protection money. He said that Israel’s gas supply was only at 2/3 capacity, forcing it to import environmentally hazardous coal.

Syria — Oren expressed frustration with rumors that Israel was urging a “go slow” approach to the Syrian revolt against the Assad regime. He referred indirectly to an article by Jerusalem Post military correspondent Yaakov Katz (he did not cite Katz by name, but was clearly pointing in his direction) claiming Israel’s military and political establishment would quietly support Assad because he was “the devil we know.” Complaining about Assad’s recent failures to keep the Israeli occupied Golan frontier quiet (Oren misleadingly described it as “Israel’s border”), Oren claimed that “no one in Israel will shed a tear” if Assad is gone.

Iran — Oren claimed Israel possessed intelligence showing that Iran had enriched uranium past the 20 percent level. “The 90 percent dial where they can develop nuclear grade material is a short leap,” he said. He went on: “We are in communication with the Obama administration about another round of sanctions. They are effective; they have taken a major chunk out of Iran’s economy, resulted in high inflation and high unemployment. This is a direct result of sanctions, but they have not had a big impact on nuclear program — we haven’t seen that yet. So in the next round the administration will announce various designations this week that will impair [Iran's] ability to import and export oil; that will hurt transportation and the airlines of Iran. It promises to be quite painful. Throughout, the policy of the State of Israel and America remains that all options are on the table to prevent Iran from developing nukes, the policymakers in Iran believe us when we say that. Look at Gaddafi: he was convinced by a credible military threat from the United States to stop developing nuclear weapons.”

Turkey — Israel’s greatest source of friction with Turkey, according to Oren, was Turkey’s demand that Israel formally apologize for killing several of its citizens on board the Mavi Marmara last year. “We’re trying to find some language to satisfy them that holds up to the unwritten constitution of the democratic state of Israel,” he remarked. He said Netanyahu had congratulated Erdogan for preventing the Mavi Marmara from sailing with the new flotilla. “The Marmara was too large and we couldn’t stop it with technical means,” said Oren, suggesting that the cruise boat’s exclusion from the upcoming fleet to Gaza was a source of great relief to both Israel’s military and diplomatic corps.

The new flotilla — Oren attacked the organizers of the flotilla as “radical anti-Israel organizations…known also for anti-American activities.” He cited statements by the US State Department and UN Secretary Ban Ki-Moon criticizing or condemning their actions. Then Oren claimed that the flotilla could simply deliver its aid through a “responsible organization” like UNRWA, or bring their materials through El Arish and allow Israel to offload it. “It’s not a fight between us and the people of Gaza,” Oren claimed. “It’s between us and the group Hamas which is determined to destroy the state of Israel.” (Never mind this Israeli government document). He went on to claim that Israel’s maritime blockade was “in full accord with international law,” though he did not explain how besieging a civilian population that was not actively engaged in a full-scale war against Israel comported with the 4th Geneva Convention or the San Remo Accords.

Next, Oren proudly announced that Israel had tentatively authorized an aid shipment to Gaza containing construction materials for 1200 new buildings and 18 new schools (UNRWA officials were skeptical that the aid would actually arrive as Israel said). The timing of the shipment and Oren’s promotion of it suggested that the flotilla had already made an impact. Would Israeli authorities have authorized the aid in without outside pressure? Whether or not they would have, Israel was seeking to extract as much propaganda value as it could from its agreement.

The Palestinian unilateral declaration of statehood — The ambassador seemed far more troubled about the Palestinian Authority’s plan to introduce a statehood resolution at the United Nations General Assembly in September than about any other issue. Oren suggested that Israel would attempt to force the Palestinians back to the negotiating table in order to keep them away from the UN. In other words, the peace process would be Israel’s tool for blocking Palestine from winning statehood on a unilateral basis. In this effort, Oren described Dennis Ross, the White House special advisor on Middle East affairs, as Israel’s ally.

“We are working closely with the Obama Administration in trying to find a common framework that would enable the European Union to support negotiations in the framework to get them back to negotiations and keep them away from General Assembly,” Oren commented. “Dennis Ross is in Israel today conducting negotiations so we have reasons for some optimism. But we have to prepare for the worst. [With the statehood resolution] we are preparing for various scenarios of unrest in the West Bank, further attempts by the P.A. to use their improved status to delegitimize israel a la Goldstone type initiatives. Netanyahu has been meeting with the Italian government about this, and they are working tirelessly. And he is working closely with the Canadians who are very supportive.”

When Oren finished his remarks, the administrators of the call allowed time for a few questions. One caller asked Oren what Jews in the United States could do about the flotilla. “Stress that there’s no humanitarian crisis in Gaza, the border is open for all materials, there is no shortage of food or medicine, and that our maritime blockade is upheld by the United States as completely legal and necessary for Israel’s defense,” Oren said.

Before I could ask a question about the legality of Israel’s siege of Gaza, Martin Raffel, the director of the Israel Action Network, came on the line to conclude the call. “I want to echo [what Oren said],” Raffel remarked. “Our role is not to be passive observers. We have to shake the public discourse so we’re sending message points and program guidance to everyone involved. And we hope you have some marching orders for when you go back to your communities.”

Ex-classmate of accused Israeli spy Ilan Grapel: He “was a standard campus pro-Israel…type”

Accused Israeli spy Ilan Grapel in Egypt's Tahrir Square

Accused Israeli spy Ilan Grapel in Egypt's Tahrir Square

I received the following from a friend who says he was personally acquainted with Ilan Grapel, the man Egyptian authorities are accusing of having spied for Israel:

knew the guy as we all worked for the security department at johns hopkins. the school provided these shuttles taking students/faculty/employees within a mile radius or so of campus, for safety. he was a dispatcher if i remember right, i was a driver of the vans. i’d say we were friendly acquaintances, the drivers would come into the office a couple times a night on the shift, drink slurpees with the other employees, that kind of thing. they used to call him screech, came from queens if i remember right.

was a fairly standard campus pro-israel rally attendee type in those days, when those groups were a lot louder than they are now. not really remarkable, same canned lines and the whole lot back then. other friends knew him a bit better. i don’t think bragging about wanting to join the israeli army some day was remarkable back then or even now.

last i heard about him from a friend was he got shot in the shoulder during the lebanon war in 2006 and couldn’t raise one of his arms over his head anymore, may have gotten some kind of compensation for that. there were a couple of kids i knew who had aspirations to go to the middle east in the future to learn arabic, to help “understand the enemy” in hopes of being of some use to israeli society.

i don’t want to misrepresent myself as someone close to him, i knew him casually and found him mildly interesting, but that’s about it, and it was more than 7 years ago. i think it’s entirely plausible that he was indeed motivated by nothing other than pro-israel romaticism, going to egypt for whatever reason, to talk up israel or do something that he thought would help that cause of his in some way.

JVP’s Rebecca Vilkomerson debates for BDS at J Street’s annual convention

JVP executive director Rebecca Vilkomerson debated in favor of BDS yesterday at J Street's annual convention

JVP executive director Rebecca Vilkomerson debated in favor of BDS yesterday at J Street's annual convention

Today at J Street’s annual convention, my friend and one-time debate partner Rebecca Vilkomerson, who is the executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace, made the case for BDS against liberal Zionist opponents Ken Bob of Ameinu and writer Bernard Avishai. I was not at the conference, in part because I am speaking at Rutgers’ Palestine Awareness Week later today. But I have heard that the session was packed; according to Vilkomerson, a sizable portion of the room was with her.

Because it wasn’t videotaped, I have reproduced the full text of Rebecca’s opening remarks below. Note that she identified BDS as a Palestinian-led movement that forms the international backbone of the Palestinian non-violent strategy and is “part and parcel of the Arab Spring sweeping the region.” Building on these points, Vilkomerson questioned why there were no Palestinian members on the panel (the BDS movement’s mastermind, Omar Barghouti, has been mysteriously denied a visa to enter the US to promote his book about the boycott). In the end, however, she was grateful to J Street for simply hosting the discussion while the rest of the Jewish establishment — including Ameinu — demonizes BDS proponents and tries to change the subject.

Remarks to Jstreet BDS Panel

February 28, 2011

Rebecca Vilkomerson.

I just want to take a moment in appreciation of J Street for including this discussion at the conference.  It is the most important conversation, in my mind, that we can have at this moment, and I thank you for having it.

I want to take a moment to make sure we all are clear about what BDS is.  BDS stands for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions. It’s a Palestinian led, globally active, non-violent movement in support of equality and freedom for the Palestinian people.

Continue reading

News from Chelm: Knesset discusses ways to pressure performers not to cancel concerts in Israel

Today in Knesset, Ronit Tirosh of Kadima (the opposition party that almost never opposes racist and anti-democratic legislation, and often sponsors it) convened a discussion in the Commitee on Education, Culture and Sport about compelling reluctant pop stars to perform in Israel. The legislators were joined by Shuki Weiss, a big time Israeli concert promoter who has lost thousands from last minute cancellations by artists like Elvis Costello. “The state must intervene,” Weiss said, according to Achbar Ha’ir, an Israeli arts and culture publication (I am summarizing the Hebrew article).

So what sort of intervention did the committee propose? First, Tirosh raised the idea of compensating promoters like Weiss for their losses with some form of state supervision or insurance. This is wonderful idea, but only if you are pro-BDS. One of the key argument against BDS hinges on the specious idea that the boycott targets innocent Israeli citizens. Why should we punish Israelis for their government? anti-BDS people argue, assuming that somehow the people didn’t elect their government and don’t participate in maintaining the Occupation. But if the Israeli government doles out money to wealthy promoters to cover their losses (while the Finance and Housing Ministries bilk, exploit and evict tens of thousands of working class Jewish families — and you won’t hear about their plight from the Z Word or other hasbarist blogs) the cultural boycott becomes a direct means of targeting the state.

The only other idea that Tirosh and the committee could come up with was to do hasbara, or officially sanctioned propaganda, on Facebook and social media sites to encourage artists to make good on their plans to perform in Israel. This seems to be Israel’s answer to all its problems, as though commercials filled with bikini-clad girls on Tel Aviv beaches can distract from or paper over the crimes those same girls commit while in IDF uniform.

Of course, if Israel wanted to improve its international reputation, it could give unlimited permits to Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza to attend concerts in Israel. Why are illegal Jewish settlers from Hashmonaim able to see Macy Gray perform in Tel Aviv while my friend Said Amireh, a 19-year-old from the Palestinian who lives a few hundred meters away in Nilin, imprisoned behind a giant wall, can not? The answer is that the state is built on a foundation of discrimination. Because it does not intend to change, it must prepare for worldwide castigation.

Weiss went on to predict that things will get worse for Israel, especially in the age of social media-inspired revolutions in the Arab world like the one in Egypt. On this point, he is completely correct. The Dizengoff Command Band’s semi-satirical hit from Israeli in 1970, “The Whole World is Against Us,” has become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Mike Huckabee speaks “very Zionistically” in Israeli Knesset, condemns Egyptian uprising

Avowed Christian Zionist Mike Huckabee is a natural ally of the Bibi-Barak-Lieberman government

Avowed Christian Zionist Mike Huckabee is a natural ally of the Bibi-Barak-Lieberman government

Mike Huckabee was in Jerusalem today on an important junket related to his likely presidential campaign. He used his speech before the Knesset to denounce the Egyptian uprising as a threat to all humankind, warning that “the situation could threaten the world and all those who seek peace and security. The real threat to Israelis is not the bomb but the people behind it, not weapons but the madmen behind them.”

Bibi has essentially muzzled his cabinet ministers, warning them not to make any public statements about the uprising. It is not easy for so-called “only democracy in the Middle East” to say that it wants to keep it that way. So Huckabee was left with a golden opportunity to channel the sentiments of the Israeli government and mainstream Israeli society in an address carried to the Israel public as a top story on radio and TV news (I listened to the speech on Israeli national radio today while riding a minibus from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem).

Huckabee’s speech earned praise from Yisrael Beiteinu’s Yulia Shamalov-Berkowitz, who said Huckabee spoke “very Zionistically.” MK Tzipi Hotovely from the governing Likud party echoed Huckabee, declaring that ”the conflict in this region is not a matter of territory, but simply Islam against Judaism, not 1967 borders but the very formation of the state in 1948.”

The language of religious warfare is not exclusive to the Zionist right. MK Binyamin Ben Eliezer, a leader of the shrinking and essentially moribund Labor Party, warned that the Egyptian uprising signals the beginning of renewed conflict. “There will be a new order in the Middle East,” he said recently, noting that he has been in discussions with Mubarak. “It will become more extreme, militant and radical towards Israel from an Islamic point of view. The conclusion that we will draw is that we did not take advantage of the potential for agreements when the Middle East was more moderate.”

Given the statements of Bibi-Barak-Lieberman proxies and supporters like Huckabee, it is not hard to predict Israel’s behavior after Mubarak finally capitulates. The Israeli military-intelligence apparatus and its public relations ancillary are almost certainly crafting a tentative plan to destabilize their neighbor, or simply touching up a dusty, well-worn blueprint. They know that if Zionism is to persevere in the heart of the Middle East, and to continue to besiege and colonize Arabs — Huckabee also called for more settlement building in the West Bank — the political aspirations of Egypt’s people must be crushed, again and again.

Huckabee’s visit marks the opening of what would be the first element of any plan to destabilize Egypt: a rhetorical campaign carried out by sympathetic media and political figures (the American right-wing, heavily influenced by Christian Zionist theology, is a natural ally) to delegitimize whatever comes after Mubarak as a radical Islamist regime that not only threatens Israel, but the Western world as well.

Is the Palestinian Authority cracking down on Egypt solidarity demonstrations? (Updated, and yes they are)

Update: Human Rights Watch was there and has confirmed that the PA crushed the demo.

I received this message from a friend in Ramallah yesterday. For obvious reasons, he can’t be identified (I hope I’ll have time to follow up; right now I’m working on a number of fronts. The Angry Arab has another report from the suppressed demo:

“We, a group of Independent, liberal leaning Palestinian youth, organized a demonstration near the Egyptian embassy using social media tools such as Facebook, to our surprise one of the organizers was upheld unlawfully and threatened by the Police, Intelligence service and Preventive force on separate basis that if the event takes place he will be tortured and made to pay a heavy price. According to their conversations, they claimed that the order came directly from President Abbas office. We are under constant surveillance and harassment since saturday.

After forcing one of the members to cancel an event on Facebook sending a message to thousands of ‘confirmed attendees’, we still went near the Egyptian embassy today at 4:00 pm. During the protest the police violently assaulted several peaceful protesters and threatened the use of brutal force if anyone raised any slogans.

These and other actions relating to the arrest of Journalists, activists and not as the PA claims only from the Islamist ranks, but also includes activists in Liberal and other leftist youth groups. Palestinians who used to express their opinions freely despite measures of occupation are now under the tutelage of two occupations suffocating our political, economic and social rights.”