The classified ’28 pages’: A diversion from real US-Saudi issues

Gareth Porter writes

The controversy surrounding the infamous “28 pages” on the possible Saudi connection with the terrorists that were excised from the joint Congressional report on the 9/11 attacks is at fever pitch. But that controversy is a distraction from the real problems that Saudi Arabia’s policies pose to the United States and the entire Middle East region.

The political pressure to release the 28 pages has been growing for the past couple of years, with resolutions in both houses of Congress urging the president to declassify the information. But now legislation with bipartisan sponsorship has advanced in Congress that would deprive any foreign government of sovereign immunity in regard to responsibility for a terrorist attack on US soil and thus make it possible to sue the Saudi government in court for damages from the 9/11 attacks.

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Donna Edwards’s campaign unsettles the Israel lobby inside the Democratic Party

Donna edwards 2

Philip Weiss writes

When I hear Democratic Party friends snicker over the explosion of the Republican Party, I have to ask them why they think the Democratic Party is so stable? It’s not. Everyone in the establishment is worrying what Bernie Sanders is going to do now. His populist base is bound to become more and more voluble in months to come, amplified by social media. And of course Palestine is helping to destabilize the Democratic power structure. When Bernie Sanders stood up for Palestinian dignity at the April 14 debate in New York, people cheered him, and Hillary Clinton got nervous; there are bound to be similar pro-Palestinian demonstrations at the Democratic convention in Philadelphia in late July, and I wonder how much of that energy the party will be able to contain. Hillary Clinton is the most hawkish of all the candidates for president. How many Sanders supporters are going to work for the election of someone who resorts to war as readily as she does? –

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Donna Edwards’s campaign unsettles the Israel lobby inside the Democratic Party

 

 

Don’t Be Fooled by Stories that the Rich Pay Eighty Percent of the Taxes

David Haggith writes

Year after year around tax time, a tired war horse of a story gets trotted out about how the heavily burdened rich already shoulder eighty percent of the tax load. Poor rich. They are oxen doing the heavy pulling to make things easier on the rest of us dumb cows. Thank God we have them!

Don’t believe a word of it!

… It is hard for people to believe that the huge majority of all the money made in the US is going to such a small percentage of the population. As a result, when they hear that this group is paying 80% of the taxes (oh my!), they think that group is clearly pulling more than its fair share of the load. (Let’s hope the rich never get mad at us for putting this load on them and decide to stop carrying it.) I mean, expecting the smallest number of people to carry 80% of the load is crazy!

Actually, the crazy truth is that so much money is made by so few that their taxes only appear to be an unfair burden. The wealthy’s portion of all income tax paid in the country looks outlandishly huge, yet it is lower than their portion of all money made in the country. (As has been often said, “I’d love to pay their taxes.”) In fact, the higher you look into the wealth strata, the crazier the truth becomes.

The higher tax rates for the wealthy are fiction because they don’t apply to the real world of the rich … especially the really rich. The 23.8% that the rich pay on capital gains, which is half of their income, is no more than what the middle class pay on theirs … and less than some of the middle class pay.

…The higher income-tax bracket is how your government pretends to be taxing the rich more than anyone, while actually taxing the richest of the rich far less. Those who are in the top ten percent of the income stream pay an even lower percentage of their total income in taxes than the top twenty, and the top ten percent of the top ten percent (the infamous One Percenters), pay a lower percentage in taxes still…. The top tenth of a percent of the top one percent pay only 17.6% tax on their income … and that’s on the dollars of income they actually report. Those below them in the top one percent paid 23 cents on the dollar (that is, on the dollars that they actually report as income).

…The higher you are within the crème de la crème, the faster your income is rising, too. (Go figure. You’re paying less in taxes on all you make; so, of course, your income is rising faster than anyone else as you compound this by putting your money out to make money.) Between 2003 and 2012, the bottom 99.9 percent of the top one percent (the poorest of the super rich) saw their income grow by $412,000 a year. That’s dreadful compared to the top tenth of a percent of the top one percent (1,361 American households). This cream off the top of the cream saw its income grow by $84.6 million annually per household!)

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Don’t Be Fooled by Stories that the Rich Pay Eighty Percent of the Taxes

 

 

Let us remind ourselves why Sisi is supposed to be in charge in Egypt

The chaos growing in Egypt proper doesn’t seem to concern the governments of the US and Europe unduly, although this will eventually lead to total meltdown, but what about the ‘War against Terror’ In Sinai, which problem the ‘international community’ had been relying on Sisi to solve.

Follow Omar Ashour on this:

Don’t send reinforcements to Sinai,” Kamal Allam, the military commander of Wilayat Sinai, or Sinai Province (SP), taunted Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. “Send your whole army. It will die here in desert.” Allam’s video message came in April 2015 after a complex attack on seven military and security targets. Two months later, SP was able to launch an even more complicated operation. In July that year, it simultaneously attacked 15 military and security targets and briefly occupied the town of Sheikh Zuweid. During the fighting, around 300 militants were able to cut off certain posts from incoming Egyptian reinforcements. As ever, the number of dead army soldiers and officers is contested. The Egyptian military claimed 17; unofficial sources claimed over 100.

The July episode might have been the most spectacular, but it was far from the last. Throughout the rest of 2014 and early 2015, SP conducted well over 200 attacks And as recently as September 2015, four American and two Fijian peacekeepers were wounded in blasts near the North Camp of the Multinational Force & Observers, the group formed to monitor the Egyptian-Israeli peace deal.

The attacks in Sinai came despite Cairo’s extremely brutal counterinsurgency campaign, which was ramped up in North Sinai starting in September 2013. And the Sinai fighters’ ability to nonetheless expand their battle’s geographic scope is just one puzzle about the insurgency.

Sinai’s northeastern coast, where the insurgency is centered, is not exactly rugged terrain. Most of the high mountains are in the south of the peninsula. Its population is relatively small. The North Sinai Governorate has a population of only 434,781 (40 persons per square mile). Further, the loyalty of this population seems to be divided. At least some members of almost every northeastern tribe and clan have joined the insurgency or support it, but not all or even a majority. These divisions do not follow clear rural-urban, settler-Bedouin, tribal, or administrative fault lines. Finally, there is no state sponsorship for the insurgents, and the regime forces outnumber the militants by at least 500 to 1. Regime forces enjoy U.S. financing, training, equipping, and intelligence support, as well as intelligence and tactical support from Israel.

All of these factors mean that Allam’s taunt should have been wildly off base. But it wasn’t.

INSURGENT SURGE

Since the last quarter of the twentieth century, insurgent capabilities have steadily risen. Scholars such as Andrew Mack, Ivan Arreguín-Toft, Jason Lyall and Isaiah Wilson, Ben Connable and Martin C. Libicki, Seth Jones and Patrick Johnston, Sebastian Schutte, and others have reported a significant rise in the victories of insurgents over stronger incumbents or in the inability of incumbents to defeat much weaker insurgents. This is a change in historical patterns. In a study of 197 asymmetric conflicts, Arreguín-Toft argued that 55 percent of militarily weaker actors were victorious between 1950 and 1998, as opposed to only 11.8 percent between 1800 and 1845 and 34 percent between 1900 and 1945.

The literature provides a wide range of explanations, many of which are centered on population, geography, external support, military tactics, and military strategy. The U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual concludes that insurgencies represent a “contest for the loyalty” of a mostly uncommitted general public that could side with either the regime or the insurgents, and that success requires “winning their hearts and minds.”

Other explanations center on geography. Professors James Fearon and David Laitin of Stanford University, for example, stressed that rough terrain is a critical support for insurgency. In his seminal work Counterinsurgency Warfare, the French officer David Galula argued that “the role of geography . . . may be overriding in a revolutionary war. If the insurgent, with his initial weakness, cannot get any help from geography, he may well be condemned to failure before he starts.” Others have argued that it isn’t the roughness of the terrain that matters but how far away the terrain is from the center: the farther it is, the harder for the regime to accurately project power.

Other scholars highlighted foreign sponsorship. In their study of 89 insurgencies, Connable and Libicki argued that insurgencies that “benefitted from state sponsorship statistically won a 2:1 ratio out of decided cases.” Once sponsorship was wholly withdrawn, the victory ratio for the insurgent side fell to one to four. This is relevant only to clear-cut victories, not to mixed cases or enduring insurgencies.

Finally, scholars explained why weaker insurgents win or survive in terms of military tactics and strategy. Tactically, many have argued, insurgent access to new technologies in weaponry, communications, intelligence, transportation, infrastructure, and organization has allowed them to punch above their weight. Strategically speaking, Arreguín-Toft has modeled how strategic interactions between militarily weaker actors and their stronger enemies work. His study concludes that weaker forces can overcome their deficits by employing the opposite strategy of a stronger opponent.

Some of these explanations do apply to the Sinai insurgency—at least at different stages and points in time—most notably, the arguments about distance from the center and military tactics and strategy. But the story of its survival and expansion also deviates from these explanations in important ways.

TAKING SIDES IN SINAI

The story of the Sinai insurgency goes back to the Israeli withdrawal from the territory in 1982. Since then, Egypt has mostly treated the area as a threat rather than an opportunity; Sinaians are potential informants, potential terrorists, potential spies, and potential smugglers, rather than full Egyptian citizens. According to a cable published by WikiLeaks, a senior Egyptian police official in Sinai once told a visiting American official delegation that “the only good Bedouin in Sinai was the dead Bedouin.”

Cairo’s official policies were designed to control and disempower Sinaians. They included preventing Sinaians from owning land, subjecting them to invasive scrutiny, and limiting any developmental projects. Such policies were ramped up after the second Palestinian intifadain 2000. Back then, several Egyptian security bureaucracies—principally the State Security Investigations (SSI, now renamed the National Security Apparatus) and the General Intelligence Service—believed that northeast Sinai was sending direct logistic support to Palestinian militant groups in Gaza. Since then, repression and attempted co-optation of selected tribal leaders has ruled the day.

Things escalated further after the simultaneous bombings of Taba and Nuweiba, where Israeli tourists used to spend vacation, in October 2004. The SSI had almost no information about the terrorists responsible and therefore conducted a wide crackdown in northeast Sinai. With the help of the Central Security Forces (CSF), the SSI arrested around 3,000 and held women and children hostage until other suspects surrendered. “They electrocuted us in the genitals for hours before asking any questions,” one of the former detainees told me in 2012. “Then the torture continues during and after the interrogations. Many of the young men swore revenge.”

A second wave of bombings hit Sharm el-Sheikh, a resort town, in July 2005. This time, an organization did declare responsibility for the attacks. Al-Tawhid wa al-Jihad(Monotheism and Struggle, or TJS) was inspired by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s organization in Iraq, but most of its leaders and members were locals. The founder, Khaled Musa‘id, was a dentist from one of the largest and most influential tribes in Sinai. Musa‘id was killed in a firefight with the CSF in 2005. His legacy was the transformation of an ideological current into a real organizational structure, with a hierarchy and multiple cells.

A second wave of crackdowns followed the 2005 bombings. Many suspected TJS members and sympathizers (as well as their relatives, acquaintances, and neighbors) were arrested. “We met them in prison. Most of them did not know anything about ideology, theology, or jurisprudence. Some were illiterate and we had to teach them how to read,” said a former Islamist detainee who was imprisoned with the “Sinai group,” as they were known.

Some imprisoned fighters radicalized, and others abandoned their belief in jihad. But back in Sinai, the environment was significantly changing. A 2007 Gaza conflict between Hamas and Fatah, and a 2009 crackdown by Hamas on Salafists, pushed some former Fatah officers and Salafi militants into northeast Sinai. By early 2010, the jihadists in the area began to regroup into different organizational structures. Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis (Supporters of Jerusalem, or ABM) emerged as the most active armed organization in Sinai, among at least four others.

Between June 2010 and July 2013, ABM focused primarily on attacking Israeli civilian and military targets. But the insurgency did go after Egyptian police stations and security headquarters in January, February, and July 2011, partly to avenge the crackdowns of 2004–2006. By early February 2011, Egyptian security forces had fled both Rafah and Sheikh Zuweid towns.

Soon thereafter, the caretaker government under the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces launched Eagle 1, a counterinsurgency operation designed to fight the militants in Sinai. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s eventual successor, Mohamed Morsi, launched Eagle 2 during his short tenure. Both operations failed to quell the insurgency and, in many ways, seemed to be a continuation of previous counterinsurgency policies rather than a new approach. The local perceptions changed, however, after the July 2013 coup against Morsi and the August 2013 massacre of protesters in Rabaa and al-Nahda squares in Cairo. “We knew torture is on its way. It was just a matter of time,” one of the residents of Sheikh Zuweid told me. He had been detained in 2004 for a few months, before being released uncharged.

ABM responded with changes of its own. Whereas the group had previously stressed that it was targeting Israel, after 2013, it spoke primarily of “defending the Muslims of Egypt against the onslaught of an ‘army of apostates,’” as went the title of a series of videos documenting armed operations against security forces, including an assassination attempt on the former minister of the interior. By November 2014, most ABM factions had pledged an oath of loyalty to the upstart Islamic State (also known as ISIS). Previously, the group had an undeclared affiliation to al Qaeda and had followed al Qaeda’s post-2011 tactic of combining political violence with social services to win over local support. This combination endured, despite the new affiliation with ISIS.

OVERPOWERED

There are many reasons for the durability of the Sinai insurgency. Of particular importance are the military capacity and resources of the insurgents, the regime’s counterinsurgency blunders, and the changing political environment in which both operate. Other elements do matter, of course, including SP’s propaganda and perceived legitimacy, but they are secondary to the others.

In Egypt’s history of insurgencies, SP’s combat capacity is unprecedented. The group employs mainly two types of tactics and field operations. The first are the common tactics of “urban terrorism.” They include attacks in cities and towns via a combination of car bombs, suicide attacks, and targeted assassinations. The second type is guerrilla warfare, involving small mobile units and hit-and-run strikes on security and military targets. The units are lightly armed and avoid any prolonged direct confrontation with the incumbent’s forces.

To be sure, guerrilla warfare is not new to Egypt. What is new is the quality, which is comparable to regular Special Forces operations. Since early 2014, SP has made use of a combination of heavy and light mortar artillery, guided and unguided surface-to-surface missiles, guided surface-to-air missiles, heavy machine guns, and snipers to cover the advance or the retreat of infantry formations composed of tens or hundreds of militants (depending on the operation). In January 2014, militants shot down an Mi-17 helicopter that belonged to Egypt’s Second Field Army, killing all five of its crew members. The weapon the insurgents used was an infrared-homing, surface-to-air missile from the Russian-made Igla family. This was the first time in Egyptian history that an armed nonstate actor dropped a state’s military helicopter by a missile.

Then, in October 2014, SP seized a large number of weapons after a twin attack on military checkpoints in Karm al-Qawadis (Sheikh Zuweid) and El-Arish City. During fighting, SP killed more than 30 soldiers and destroyed an American-made M60 Patton tank and an M11 armored vehicle. In November, the organization issued a propaganda video entitled The Charge of the Supporters, in which it showed some of the weapons seized from the incumbent’s forces, including heavy mortars (120 millimeters).

The intensity and the scale of attacks expanded in January 2015, when SP simultaneously targeted 11 military and security posts in three towns: El-Arish, Sheikh Zuweid, and Rafah. Simultaneous attacks on such a number of targets was by itself unheard of in Egypt, even compared with the times the British armed forces and Egyptian insurgents clashed in the Suez Canal cities in the 1940s and 1950s. The targets of SP’s attacks were hard ones: well armed and heavily guarded. They included the camp of Battalion 101 in El-Arish (which is the headquarters of some of the military forces deployed in the northeast; and the place where the military police and intelligence interrogates suspects). Locals referred to it by the term “Sinai’s Guantánamo.”

In May 2015, SP issued The Charge of the Supporters 2, a propaganda video well documenting simultaneous attacks on seven military targets in April. But SP’s most complex attack came on July 1, 2015. It targeted 15 military and security posts simultaneously and succeeded in destroying at least two. An estimated 300 insurgents took part in the July operations, and the fighting lasted for more than 20 hours. SP used guided antiaircraft Igla missiles again and seemed to have forced the Apache helicopters to retreat. Then the incumbent forces used F-16 fighter jets to bomb from higher (and much less accurate) altitudes. The insurgents retreated, mining the route behind them.

In total, SP and its predecessor, ABM, conducted well over 400 attacks between 2012 and 2015, with the most sophisticated attacks in terms of the quality of the military tactics and quantity of the insurgents taking place in 2014 and 2015. The overwhelming majority were aimed at either the military or the security forces and took place in the northern coastal road between El-Arish and Rafah. The number of dead military officers and soldiers in North Sinai is difficult to verify but is estimated to be over 700, compared with 401 in all of Egypt between 1992 and 1997. The number of dead insurgents is even more difficult to ascertain. Adding the numbers provided by the military spokesperson since 2011, dead insurgents will exceed 3,000 (compared with 425 during the 1990s insurgency). However, the identity of the deceased persons is contested. Some of them appear to be civilians killed in aerial or artillery bombardments and detainees held by the security forces before being eventually listed as killed during combat.

By continued targeting of the incumbent’s forces and its brutality while executing captured soldiers and officers, SP aims to destroy or undermine the soldiers’ will, not necessarily their capacity, to fight. So far, SP is in the first phase of this strategy: still attempting to secure strongholds as it gains support and resources. But where do the resources come from? Regime figures and supporters accuse Libya and Gaza of supplying arms and Israel, Qatar, Turkey, and the United States of conspiring with the insurgents. In fact, although some arms have come from Libya, many are taken from regime forces during local attacks. As for training, SP draws on a few defected members of the Egyptian armed forces to train its ranks, including former Special Forces, navy, and police officers. The group also recruits battle-hardened insurgents trained in foreign combat zones, including in Gaza, Syria, and Iraq. A third category is the persistent local insurgents, who, over the last decade, accumulated significant experience combating the incumbent’s forces and building logistic support networks. Given the political environment, SP faces no real problems recruiting members.

COUNTERPRODUCTIVE COUNTERINSURGENCY

Even as the insurgents have waged an unusually effective guerrilla war, the regime has waged an unusually ineffective counterinsurgency. Cairo’s counterinsurgency policy in Sinai was built on three pillars: repression, intelligence, and propaganda. Intensive, reactive, and mostly indiscriminate repression was the hallmark of the policy in the north. The goal was to terrorize and hence subdue a population perceived as potentially rebellious. But it was also reactive in some cases, slipping toward outright revenge. Tactics used included torture of suspects, extrajudicial killings of suspects and detainees, demolition and burning of homes, forced evacuations, destruction of property and farms, and use of heavy artillery and aerial bombardment in residential areas.

The alleged 3,000 militants killed since 2011 included perhaps 438 in ten days in September 2015, 232 in four days in August 2015, 241 in four days in July 2015, and more than 170 in a week in February 2015. Sinai’s Human Rights Committees in the Egyptian Observatory for Rights and Freedoms (EORF) and the Sinaian Observatory, two local nongovernmental organizations critical of Cairo’s human rights record in Sinai, report that some of the dead suspects were in the custody of the military or the security forces. Overall, an EORF report claimed that the military extrajudicially killed 1,347, detained 11,906, and forcibly deported 26,992 between September 2013 and June 2015. Human Rights Watch reported the large-scale destruction of at least 3,255 buildings and indicated that “the Egyptian army provided no written warning of the impending evictions and that many residents heard about the coming demolitions from army patrols, neighbors or media outlets.” To be sure, the most damning effect of the military strategy is the loss of countless civilian lives.

Propaganda is another pillar of Cairo’s strategy. But the low quality of the propaganda has hurt the regime’s credibility. For example, Cairo has declared Kamal Allam, an SP commander, dead a few times now. But he keeps on showing up. The government is also misleading and inaccurate in statements on military operations; deaths of soldiers, civilians, and insurgents; collateral damage; and inducements for cooperation. The regime’s strategy is out of the 1960s, when the rulers had a monopoly of information.

The pillars of the government’s counterinsurgency strategy are, in many ways, undermining one another. Repression and mediocre communications undermine attempts to get locals to cooperate. “When you go there [to a military checkpoint] to tell them that there is a bomb beside your house, they tell ‘you planted it, you dirty Bedouin’ and then beat or arrest you,” a local resident of Sheikh Zuweid told me, recounting the experience of his neighbor. Beyond that, the quality of the soldiers’ training and low morale are also problematic. Soldiers sent to North Sinai are often conscripts in the last few months of their service; the thinking is that they will not risk desertion and military tribunals in their last few months. This type of soldier is no match for ideologically committed, locally rooted insurgents.

It is extremely difficult to survey the Sinaian population to see what side it supports. In any case, both sides claim the hearts and minds of the region’s residents. In August 2013, a video released by ABM (and confirmed by local journalists) showed a massive funeral involving hundreds of pickup trucks and four-by-four SUVs marching to bury four members of the organization who had been killed by an Israeli drone while trying to launch a missile attack against Israel. This would not happened had they been members of the incumbent’s forces, but it doesn’t mean that the ideological extremism or the brutal tactics of SP are popular. Tribal loyalties and grief are key, but at any rate, the government is not winning the contest for the public. And there are no indications that Cairo plans to change policies in the near future.

CAMPAIGN CRISIS

On a national level, the escalation of Egypt’s political crisis since the July 2013 military coup had major implications for the security situation. Eradicationist factions have gained power in the security and military institutions. These factions believe that Sinai’s crisis—among others—could be resolved by eradicating opponents and subduing dissent via brutal force. Mubarak’s main mistake, they contend, was that he was too lenient.

The government’s campaign of repression also created an environment where arms became an essential tool for both survival and justice. “Many of the young men carrying arms in Sinai today are not affiliated with any organizations,” Yehia Akeel, former MP representing North Sinai in the dissolved Consultative Council, told me. “For them, the coup and what it unfolded meant that they are back to the pre-2011 days of torture and imprisonment without charge. And they prefer the desert and the gun to that.”

SP insurgents have been able to capitalize on these developments to bolster both recruitment efforts and its legitimacy.

CORRECT COUNTERINSURGENCY

The Sinai crisis calls for a complex and long-term counterinsurgency policy. In other words, it calls for anything but the current repression-intensive policies, which are likely most effective at driving locals into the arms of the insurgents.

It is well past time for Cairo to try something new. It should identify the threats, their nature, and the surrounding conditions. Any comprehensive counterinsurgency should address the long-term developmental needs of the peninsula, including the tribal, socioeconomic, political, identity, and demographic dimensions of the problem.

In the short term, a change in the pro-regime media rhetoric is essential to signal policy change for North Sinaians. Refraining from the negative stereotyping in media campaigns is both morally and instrumentally required. On tactical grounds, enhancing the credibility of the incumbents’ statement as well as the sustainability of its policies is essential to build stronger local intelligence and support networks. More reliance on such networks, besides better-trained and -equipped Special Forces, while limiting the use of heavy artillery and aerial bombardment, will positively affect the overall campaign’s objectives. This should be executed in parallel with a policy to “win hearts and minds,” which starts with appropriate compensation for the residents of demolished homes, the owners of destroyed farms, and the recognition of the “collateral damage” done by the military.

In the middle to long term, Sinai should not be dealt with as merely a security threat to Cairo. Parts of Sinai’s problem are rooted in Egypt’s crisis of national reconciliation, its extremely polarized political environment, the absence of a nonviolent conflict resolution mechanism, the lack of security sector reform, and the structural deficiency in civil-military relations. Cairo has never undertaken a thorough revision of its military and security policies in Sinai. The only open discussion that occurred regarding Sinai was in the brief transition period between February 2011 and June 2013. It did not yield any executive policy, and it died out quickly following the July coup. This needs to change. In general, insurgencies do not pose a major threat to legitimate, well-institutionalized governments following competent counterinsurgency practices. This is not the case in Egypt, where legitimacy is contested, institutions are corrupt, and the counterinsurgency practices have been far from ideal.

The situation in Sinai is important to the United States for various reasons, including the stability of the region, the 1979 Peace Treaty between Egypt and Israel, the security of the allies, and the need to counter terrorism/violent extremism. But the video showing an American-made M60 Patton tank bombing a residential building in Rafah, among others, can be a powerful, counterproductive tool for both instability and anti-American local radicalization. Despite the fact that many locals seek refuge near the Multinational Force & Observers camp as a safe zone from the Egyptian military’s indiscriminate bombardment, many perceive the United States as supportive of the incumbent’s policies. Already, notorious interrogation facilities are dubbed “Sinai’s Guantánamo” (camp of Battalion 101) and “Egypt’s Guantánamo” (Al-Azouly military-run prison in Ismailia).

The United States supports Egypt’s military through its Foreign Military Financing and its International Military Education and Training (IMET) programs. On a moral level, the United States needs to ensure robust human rights vetting for all military aid and security assistance and also to conduct full end-user agreement monitoring for American military equipment in the Sinai Peninsula. On a strategic level, the United States Army and Marine Corps already produced one of the best field manuals on counterinsurgency. The Obama administration should urge the incumbent’s forces to abide by it, especially the components related to “winning the hearts and minds” of the locals and to altering the well-established culture of tolerating “collateral damage.”

The United States can also help tackle some of the long-term structural problems. Civil-military relations and security sector reform courses should be introduced in the curricula of the IMET programs and added to the many training courses provided to Egyptian officers in the United States. Finally, related to the political environment, the Obama administration resumed financial aid to the ruling regime in Egypt, even though it has not met the congressional condition of taking “steps to support a democratic transition.” The absence of national reconciliation, poor counterinsurgency strategy, and lack of oversight over military aid fosters an environment in which the Sinaian crisis may endure and possibly expand.

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Egypt’s campaign against dissent extends to UNSC

Colum Lynch writes

Egypt has quietly blocked a staunch critic of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s government from a job on a U.N. human rights panel, the latest sign of Cairo’s increasing willingness to flex its diplomatic muscles at Turtle Bay.

The move last month to prevent the appointment of Yemen specialist Said Boumedouha, which has not been reported previously, comes as Cairo enters the fourth month of its two-year term on the U.N. Security Council. In that time, Egypt has watered down Security Council measures designed to combat rights abuses from Burundi to the Central African Republic. During its presidency of the 15-nation council in May, Egypt plans to host a public debate on the need to fight incitement to terrorism and extremism, a move that Western diplomats suspect is aimed at securing international legitimacy for squelching free speech at home.

The behind-the-scenes diplomatic activism has fueled concern among human rights advocates and some Western governments that the Sisi regime is using its newfound powers at the U.N. to extend its crackdown on dissent beyond its own borders while weakening international human rights norms abroad.

Egypt’s new moves also add another complication to the Obama administration’s efforts at the Security Council, where Russia and China have pushed back on U.S. initiatives from South Sudan to Syria.

“We always saw them as being potentially difficult because of our analysis of the Sisi regime and its own atrocities,” said Simon Adams, the executive director of the New York-based Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect. “They have exceeded everybody’s expectations.” On virtually every international front where atrocities occur, Adams said, Egypt has “consistently, across the board, been intransigent, verging on obstructive.”

In Burundi, where a bloody government crackdown on opposition figures has led the United States and other countries to invoke fears of mass atrocities, Adams and other critics say Egypt has sought to weaken a resolution paving the way for the deployment of a U.N. police force to protect civilians. In South Sudan, Egypt has resisted calls by European powers to impose a full-fledged arms embargo on the warring parties. Egypt has also rankled its Persian Gulf allies for failing to use its position as the lone Arab country on the Security Council to draw greater attention to the humanitarian plight of Syrian civilians by, for instance, calling for meetings to discuss the Syrian government’s blockade of aid shipments to besieged towns.

Egypt maintains that its positions at the U.N. have been largely caricatured by human rights advocates and some Western officials, who paint international diplomacy as a morality play populated by heroes and villains. Its diplomats believe that the invocation of human rights to justify interventions from Libya to Iraq has wrought chaos for those countries and their neighbors. An Egyptian official told Foreign Policy that Cairo’s diplomacy is “nuanced,” crafted to fit a range of crises in its neighborhood and restrain the council from taking what Sisi’s government considers to be rash steps. The official pointed out that Egypt is planning to take advantage of its presidency of the council in May by sponsoring, along with New Zealand and Spain, a resolution urging governments and armed groups to respect the sanctity of medical workers and hospitals in conflict zones.

“The Security Council has been polarized on many issues way before we joined it. We are in fact trying to bridge the gaps,” the Egyptian official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said. “We have been proactive on almost every item. We simply refuse to be part of the furniture, as we are stakeholders on most of the issues on the council’s agenda.”

Egyptian diplomats maintain that Cairo has been unfairly pilloried for resisting efforts to impose an arms embargo in South Sudan. While Egypt has opposed a full-blown embargo, which it claims is impossible to implement, it has supported issuing a threat to impose a partial arms embargo, which would ban the import of aircraft and attack helicopters.

The diplomats also claim that Egypt shares its Western colleagues’ concerns about the plight of civilians in Burundi, where Human Rights Watch recently documented an escalation in violence. But it feels a confrontational approach, favored by the United States, that seeks to force the Burundian government to accept the deployment of blue helmets against its will is counterproductive. It prefers cajoling Burundian authorities behind the scenes to secure their consent for a broader U.N. role in ensuring the protection of civilians.

And in Syria, Egypt argues that the West’s efforts through the council to highlight the Syrian government’s abuses have fed unnecessary tensions with the country and its chief military backer, Russia, that complicate attempts to negotiate a peace deal. Instead, Cairo prefers to keep the council’s focus on supporting U.S.- and Russian-sponsored U.N. mediation efforts.

Egypt’s diplomatic counterparts at the U.N. say Cairo is shrewdly deploying elaborate and sophisticated arguments on a range of issues to mask its efforts to push back on human rights and on efforts by the West to interfere in the domestic affairs of U.N. member states.

Some U.N. officials have also credited Egypt with helping to press for a cessation of hostilities in Yemen, where Saudi Arabia is leading an air campaign against forces loyal to Houthi insurgents and fighters loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh. According to diplomatic sources, Egypt, like the United Arab Emirates, fears the Saudi-led war is planting the seeds for greater extremism that could come back to haunt the region.

Michael Wahid Hanna, an Egypt expert at the Century Foundation, views Egyptian diplomats as skillful and sophisticated procedural emissaries. “They know how to play the game. But the broader question is, ‘To what end?’”

Hanna sees Egypt’s diplomatic activism as part of a strategy to demonstrate to the world that after a period of turbulence, the country’s international position “has been normalized [and] that Egypt is back.” But Cairo’s push has also revealed a sometimes “obstructionist agenda that is often at loggerheads with the United States.”

Even before it began its term, Egypt had made clear to the United States and other major U.N. powers that it would act aggressively to assert its interests, even if that meant butting heads with Washington or other big powers.

When Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, pressed for a vote last month on a resolution that requires expelling entire foreign contingents from peacekeeping missions if their governments fail to hold alleged sexual abusers accountable for their crimes, Egypt pushed back.

Egyptian Ambassador to the U.N. Amr Abdellatif Aboulatta denounced the U.S. approach as amounting to “collective punishment” that would sap the morale of foreign peacekeepers. He proposed an amendment that would have required a series of conditions — including proof that a government had failed to punish alleged abusers — be met before an entire contingent could be cast out of a mission.

Power said the Egyptian amendment undermined the “purpose of this resolution, which is to get countries to respond to credible allegations against their personnel — to change the system that isn’t working.”

On March 11, Power published a chart on Twitter that listed Egypt as a nation “voting (but failing) to undermine a UN Security Council resolution combating sexual abuse by UN peacekeepers” and said it was “sad.” The following day, Egypt’s Foreign Ministry spokesman fired back, saying on Twitter: “What is sad is for a #UNSC Permanent Rep. to impose resolution on security council for publicity & personal ambition.”

In a speech last week to the U.S. Naval Academy, Power singled out Egypt, saying that while Cairo “faces very real, very grave security threats,” the government’s “crackdown on Islamists, on the independent media, and even on apolitical civil society reaches far beyond tackling these grave threats. These actions suggest a government deeply uncomfortable not just with dissent, but with any activity that is not directly controlled or monitored by the state.”

In recent weeks, she noted, Egyptian authorities have reopened an investigation into more than 150 of the country’s human rights advocates. “Staff from these organizations have been interrogated and threatened, banned from traveling abroad, and smeared in the state-run media,” Power said.

But while they may have sharp differences over policy, council diplomats say they have been deeply impressed with their Egyptian counterparts’ diplomatic savvy.

In contrast to most newcomers to the council, the Egyptians hit the ground running. In its first week on the council, Egypt led the effort to adopt a statement condemning the attacks on Saudi Arabia’s embassy and consulate in Iran.

Colleagues of the Egyptian mission at Turtle Bay say they have mastered the U.N. Security Council’s working procedures, an essential skill for influencing council debates, and Egypt’s experts on Burundi, Somalia, Syria, and North Korea have all served in those countries before coming to New York.

“They are the best diplomats in the Arab world,” one North African diplomat at the U.N. said of Egypt’s foreign service.

Still, Egypt has made clear that it is perfectly willing to obstruct the council’s business on matters that hit close to home.

At the end of March, Egypt blocked a routine decision to approve the hiring of Boumedouha, an Algerian national who serves as deputy director of Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa division.

Boumedouha had run afoul of the council’s lone Arab government after sharply condemning Sisi’s latest crackdown on human rights activists. “Egypt’s civil society is being treated like an enemy of the state,” he said last month. A week later, Egyptian diplomats categorically rejected him for the U.N. post on the grounds that he had shown bias by criticizing Middle East governments, including Egypt.

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Egypt Extends Campaign Against Dissent to Turtle Bay

 

Sanders’ unprecedented call for ‘justice and peace’ marks decline of lobby’s power

Ilene Cohen writes

I make a point of not watching the Democratic debates—they’re simply too stressful for my system. I fear the yelling and name calling, there’s usually not much to learn anyway, and we have to be positioned to fry those bigger fish come November. Thursday was the same, but I’d had the TV on mute, just in case. And—this is critical—my brave friend Jamie, who does gird her loins and watch, texts throughout to keep me updated. When she texted that they were moving on to Israel/Palestine, the sound went on.

A moment not to be missed. Sanders:

“There comes a time when if we pursue justice and peace, we are going to have to say that Netanyahu is not right all of the time.”

So obvious as to be banal, you say? Not in this context, when a candidate for president from one of the two major parties finally talks about justice and peace during a prime-time national debate—and then doesn’t back down. It’s unprecedented: as many in the audience cheered him on as cheered for Hillary.

Let’s be clear: no political candidate—not Democrat, not Republican—has ever ventured into this zone during a campaign for such high office. The article today by Jason Horowitz in the New York Times nails it, writing that Sanders said that Israel had

“every right in the world to destroy terrorism.” “But,” he said, “we had in the Gaza area — not a very large area — some 10,000 civilians who were wounded and some 1,500 who were killed.” [And he stood by his use of the word “disproportionate.”]

The applause and cheers that accompanied Mr. Sanders’s answers — someone yelled “Free Palestine!” — might have been the most vocal signs yet of shifts in the Democratic Party. 

In a sense, Hillary’s pathetic blubbering of all the tired talking points is as much emblematic of the collapse of the ancien régime among Democrats as Bernie’s talk of justice and peace. There she was saying it was all Arafat’s fault for nixing the “holy Barak offer” (as Tamar used to call it), a self-serving, long ago discredited theory advanced by Bill C. and the Israelis. Or that Israel turned over the keys to Gaza in 2005– “They turned the keys over to the Palestinian people”– so they could have had a great little state. There’s she’s channeling Thomas Friedman’s nonsense that Gaza could have been a little Singapore once Gaza was no longer occupied (and had “the keys,” as Hillary put it so succinctly). It’s true that Gaza is no longer colonized in the technical sense, because in 2005 Sharon dismantled the settlements and removed the settlers, who had been a great burden on Israel. (And without the settlers in Gaza, Israel is free to bomb to its heart’s content.) 

But Gaza is as occupied as ever. And Hillary’s vocabulary doesn’t include the word “occupied.”

The bottom line: even before the debate and before this presidential campaign, unease over Israeli policies within the Democratic Party was rising. As Peter Beinart is quoted in the Times article, which is titled “Criticizing Israel, Bernie Sanders Highlights Split Among Jewish Democrats”:

“What Bernie said last night, and the crowd’s response, were a sign of things to come.”

And the Friends of the Israeli Occupation know it.

Eliot Engel, Democratic congressman from the Bronx, resorted to the desperate old name-calling, labeling Bernie’s comments, “disgraceful and reprehensible.” Further, Horowitz writes, 

Andy Bachman, a prominent Brooklyn progressive rabbi [but not really all that progressive], said the energetic applause at Mr. Sanders’s criticism of Israel “spoke to this growing rift in the Democratic Party — it was proof of a major crisis in the Jewish community that no major Jewish organization has resolved or figured out to handle.”

Some advice to those, including the liberal Zionists like Rabbi Bachman, who are wringing their hands over “how to handle” the crisis: as long as you view the crisis as something to be solved by hiring a better PR agency and writing some new talking points, you’ll never be able to “handle” it.

Let me channel Bill Clinton on this one: it’s about the policies, Stupid.

So yes, the change in public opinion in this country has been glacial, but it’s happening. Sanders actually spoke truths—and here’s the crux of it: he will live to tell. That’s the news. A lot of Democrats and younger Americans in general, including many Jews, are breaking out of the old stranglehold. And the Democratic old guard, slow on the uptake, needs to take note: AIPAC is essentially a Republican organization. There are those who say Bernie could afford to do this because he’s going to lose the primary in New York anyway. Who cares? He had to think it first. And then he had to say it. And he did.

Does this major change in discourse (and more) mean there’s a rosy future ahead for Israel and Palestine? Alas, no. The Israelis just this week announced more settlement construction. They are as determined as ever to go careening over that cliff.
Nevertheless, it’s been fully ten years since John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt published their groundbreaking “The Israel Lobby” in the London Review of Books in March 2006 (http://www.lrb.co.uk/v28/n06/john-mearsheimer/the-israel-lobby).
And here we are. Today’s Israel lobby is no longer the lethal third rail of American politics. And everyone knows it.
In the words of the great Sam Cooke (in the 1964 song that became an anthem of the civil rights movement), “A Change Is Gonna’ Come” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wEBlaMOmKV4).

Read on

Sanders’ unprecedented call for ‘justice and peace’ marks decline of lobby’s power

9/11 chickens coming home to roost for Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia has told the Obama administration and members of Congress that it will sell off hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of American assets held by the kingdom if Congress passes a bill that would allow the Saudi government to be held responsible in American courts for any role in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

The Obama administration has lobbied Congress to block the bill’s passage, according to administration officials and congressional aides from both parties, and the Saudi threats have been the subject of intense discussions in recent weeks between lawmakers and officials from the State Department and the Pentagon. The officials have warned senators of diplomatic and economic fallout from the legislation.

Adel al-Jubeir, the Saudi foreign minister, delivered the kingdom’s message personally last month during a trip to Washington, telling lawmakers that Saudi Arabia would be forced to sell up to $750 billion in treasury securities and other assets in the United States before they could be in danger of being frozen by American courts.

read in the New York Times

 

Authoritarian Politics in the Age of Civic Illiteracy

Henry Giroux writes

The dark times that haunt the current age are epitomized by the monsters that have come to rule the United States and who now dominate the major political parties and other commanding political and economic institutions. Their nightmarish reign of misery, violence, and disposability is also evident in their dominance of a formative culture and its attendant cultural apparatuses that produce a vast machinery of manufactured consent. This is a social formation that extends from the mainstream broadcast media and Internet to a print culture, all of which embrace the spectacle of violence, legitimate opinions over facts, and revel in a celebrity and consumer culture of ignorance and theatrics. Under the reign of this normalized ideological architecture of alleged commonsense, literacy is now regarded with disdain, words are reduced to data, and science is confused with pseudo-science.

Thinking is now regarded as an act of stupidity, and ignorance a virtue. All traces of critical thought appear only at the margins of the culture as ignorance becomes the primary organizing principle of American society. For instance, two thirds of the American public believe that creationism should be taught in schools and most of the Republic Party in Congress do not believe that climate change is caused by human activity, making the U.S. the laughing stock of the world. Politicians endlessly lie knowing that the public is addicted to shocks, which allows them to drown in overstimulation and live in an ever-accelerating overflow of information and images. News has become entertainment and echoes reality rather than interrogating it. Unsurprisingly, education in the larger culture has become a disimagination machine, a tool for legitimating ignorance, and it is central to the formation of an authoritarian politics that has gutted any vestige of democracy from the ideology, policies, and institutions that now control American society.

I am not talking simply about the kind of anti-intellectualism that theorists such a Richard Hofstadter, Ed Herman and Noam Chomsky, and more recently Susan Jacoby have documented, however insightful their analyses might be. I am pointing to a more lethal form of illiteracy that is often ignored. Illiteracy is now a scourge and a political tool designed primarily to make war on language, meaning, thinking, and the capacity for critical thought. Chris Hedges is right in stating that “the emptiness of language is a gift to demagogues and the corporations that saturate the landscape with manipulated images and the idiom of mass culture.”[1] The new form of illiteracy does not simply constitute an absence of learning, ideas, or knowledge. Nor can it be solely attributed to what has been called the “smartphone society.”[2] On the contrary, it is a willful practice and goal used to actively depoliticize people and make them complicit with the forces that impose misery and suffering upon their lives.

read on in Counterpunch