Sunday, January 30, 2011

Some thoughts on the Egyptian Intifada and the end of Mubarak

January 30, 2011

With Egypt falling into complete chaos during the last few days as a result of a massive popular arising against President Hosni Mubarak the atmosphere is quite tense. The current uprising, if successful, will certainly reserve a name alongside the key uprisings in Egypt’s modern history such as the Urabi revolt of 1882, the Dinshaway incidents of 1906, the 1919 revolution for independence, and the 1952 overthrowing of the monarchy, which ushered in Egypt’s most charismatic and popular leader Gamal Abdel Nasser (1954-1971). Since then, Egypt has seen only two leaders: Anwar al-Sadat (1971-1981), who was assassinated, and the current leader Hosni Mubarak, who has ruled undemocratically for the last 30 years. Therefore, if we place this uprising, or intifada, in a historical perspective, it seems likely that the Egyptian people will persevere and Hosni Mubarak’s time is in its last days, and within weeks or months will no longer be Egypt's President.

All knew that Mubarak fell ill during the last year, and despite his age of 83, he has come back resiliently. However, clearly his country is not in a “healthy state” and his people have become fed up with a leader that on one hand spoke as if his country was democratic but on the other hand rigged elections. Where he allowed much more freedom of expression than the other Arab dictators, such as the Assad regime in Syria, the recently ousted Ben-Ali regime in Tunisia, or the former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, a relevant political voice was left only within the corridors of his corrupt National Democratic Party (the headquarters which were burnt down last Friday evening).

Undoubtedly, Hosni Mubarak can mark successes in his early years of rule with Egypt technologically moving forward and marking great gains in terms of infrastructure. However, the economic gains would remain among a small class of businessmen leading to corruption and a huge lower class suffering from widespread poverty and frustration. This was exacerbated by a population boom which has brought Egypt’s population to over 80 million, with 33% under the age of 15, and my estimation of at least 50% being under 25-30 years of age, with the median age being 24 years old. Meaning, the majority of the population has never known any other leader than Mubarak and his ailing regime.

Internationally speaking, Mubarak placed himself as one of the main clients of the US in the region and has upheld close relations with many of the Arab countries and Israel. In my opinion, no leader in the region has worked harder to reach a peace agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians. It needs to mentioned that while many are quick to criticize him and other “moderate” Arab leaders, this is at the expense of equally undemocratic regimes such as Iran (whose oppostion was silenced by Ahmedinejad in the 2009 elections), and Syria. It is for this reason that Israel is certainly concerned about what the future holds; however, let us remember that this uprising has little to do with Egypt’s regional role, and the likely candidates who might take the reins of the state know that first and foremost he will need to work hard at securing major economic reforms.

It seems that if Mubarak stepped down now, transferred the control of the state to the army, or called for new and free elections and removed his candidacy, he could at least save a large part of his bureaucracy, the honor of the army, and to some sense his legacy. Clearly, if he does not act soon he is risking plunging Egypt into a even more chaotic state than it is now and will face violence which his regime will not be able to withstand for an extended period of time.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Turkel Report on the Mavi Marmara and the Valley of the Wolves

After over seven months since the Israeli raid on the Mavi Marmara, when nine Turkish protestors were killed after battling with Israel soldiers who forcefully boarded the ship, the event once again has taken the headlines in Israel and Turkey, and even in Europe.

First of all, earlier in the week the Israeli government investigative commission headed by retired Israeli Supreme court judge Y. Turkel released its findings (hereafter: Turkel Report). Well, to make a long story short, the report cleared Israel of any real wrongdoing and even went further to clarify that Israel had every right to board the ship even if it was in international waters, and that the Israeli blockade of the Gaza strip is not illegal and is not an act of collective punishment. Where Israelis have produced self-critical reports in the past, it was clear from the outset that this would place the blame on the IHH, the Turkish organization sponsoring the flotilla. Clearly, if the Turkish protestors had remained passive, like the hundreds of other protestors arriving on other ships wishing to break the Israeli blockade, it is apparent that incident would have ended relatively peacefully. Few would deny that the IHH provoked the situation. Nevertheless, the Turkel report expressed its worries over the lack of Israeli intelligence concerning what awaited them on board.

The conclusion of most Israeli analysts was that the commission in some sense was not necessary since all it did was strengthen the opposing sides’ previous stances. However, the fact that Israel released such an in-depth report should at least receive a more serious response than Turkish PM Erdogan’s, who immediately discarded it as biased. Especially, due to the fact that two international members served as observers and signed onto the report, one being Lord David Timble, a Nobel Peace prize recipient. Also, it needs to be pointed out that the second part of the report which will scrutinize the failings of the Israeli chain of command will be released in the next few months, a place where we will hopefully see a greater deal of internal criticism. For now, we will need to wait and see what the reaction of Turkey and Israel will be to the upcoming investigation of the incident by the United Nations. What will Israel have to say if this report finds that Israel violated international law (something the United Nations Human Rights Council already declared in September 2010)? Or, even more interesting, what will happen if the UN finds that the IHH and the Turkish protestors also played a part in the violence and with a little wisdom could have prevented the sad death of 9 of its members? Will, the Turkish government also claim this is biased? Sadly, even if I declared originally Israel as the guilty party, claiming that they should have taken other steps to stop the ship, it is clear that the incident happened first and foremost due to the fallout of Israeli and Turkish diplomacy, and leaders who allowed their soldiers and activists to act as mere pawns in a greater strategic chess game.

Well, the report was not the only reason the Mavi Marmara has made the headlines. This week was to be the official European debut of the Turkish film The Valley of the Wolves-Palestine. Well, it first shocked German parliamentarians once it was made known that this film was to be released on January 27, the Holocaust Remembrance Day. Even if this was an honest mistake of their advertising agent, the Valley of the Wolves film series, which has constantly been criticized in Turkey due to its extreme violent film scenes, has also been accused of being anti-Semitic. Sadly, I do not doubt the claims; however, to be completely honest I simply cannot stomach watching two hours of action packed scenes of Turkish hit squads slaughtering Israeli forces as revenge for the Mavi Maramara incident (this is despite the fact that I had access to the DVD before its release in Turkey). I have already have had my dose of Turkish Israeli bashing/hate films when last year I watched two episodes of the poorly produced and borderline anti-Semitic program Ayrilik*, which was scandalously aired on Turkish state TV channel TRT. These shows only hurts Turkey's image and happily many in Turkey know how ridiculous these films are.

Well according to the latest headlines the film now will be screened in Germany for viewers over 18 years of age. This was after it ran the risk of being permanently postponed. However, I am sure for those dying to see the film the producers have most likely uploaded it on Youtube. And, as a token of my sincerity I will even post a link for you to tap on to see the trailer (as a result of my New Year’s resolution to make my blog more technologically friendly).

You Tube Link to Valley of Wolves Trailer

Link to Turkel Report
Link to article on Film Postponement
Link to one of my former blogs on the Mavi Marmara Incident
Link to one of former blogs concerning the Ayrilik program

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A Demonstration for Democracy and Ehud Barak's Secret Operation

The demonstration last Saturday night to save Israeli democracy from the latest moves in the Knesset to investigate leftist organizations and from the likes of anti-democratic leaders such as Avigidor Liebermann was a huge success. During the last few years, I have participated in quite a few mass demonstrations (the Gaza War, the second Lebanon war, among others) and what made this one different than those was the sheer number of participants. Where the days of 50,000 plus people coming out to demonstrate have long gone perhaps, this one succeeded in bringing about 15-20,000 people, from a multitude of left political parties, with Jews and Palestinians (Israeli citizens) marching together waving Israeli and Palestinian flags, shouting in unison “Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies.” It was a true sign of force and it should be a sign to Prime Minister Netanyahu that even if the left has been weakened in the parliament one cannot simply ignore them.

"It is still possible to save Democracy"

I guess what united everyone was the sheer disgust over the fact that the Labor party still remained a part of the government giving credibility to Netanyahu's far right governement and to Liebermann's racist policies(if we only knew what was going to happen the next morning). Speaker after speaker challenged and publicly humiliated the once strong but now quite weak Labor party leader Ehud Barak. A nice welcome to the demonstration was Meir Shetrit of Kadima, who as a moderate right wing politician showed the level of frustration by right wing politicians who are not fooled by the new Liebermann legislation and who also see that Israeli democracy is in danger (see previous blog entry).

Well, even if this move was not the catalyst for the political earthquake which Israel would experience the next morning, it certainly provided a nice introduction to the mornings’ news. Ehud Barak,along with four of his party members defected from their own party and set up a new party, Atzmaut (Independence). This move led to the immediate resignation of the Labor ministers, who now are left with only 8 seats in the Knesset, and an even more internally divided party. Of course, this plan by Ehud Barak was masterminded along with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was thrilled that his internal opposition has now dissipated away into the back seats of the Knesset. In record time, a coalition agreement was signed allowing Ehud Barak to remain as Minister of Defense and giving 4 more portfolios to his unimportant Atzmaut posse.

Sadly, the outcome is clear: with Labor no longer a power broker, Avigdor Liebermann’s Israel Beitunu party is now stronger than ever and Ehud Barak has shown his true colors for the umpteenth time. He not only betrayed his party but also the Israeli electorate who voted for him. Yes, not much to say other than this was Israeli politics at its best; meaning its worst.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

An Attempt to Silence the Israeli Left

Well, after over a month of not submitting an entry here it is….Happily, I am back in Israel for four months working in the archives and making progress on my book. My academic year is progressing nicely, had an amazing time in Istanbul, and will be back in May. Then in September I will be back to the classrooms in New York! I also would like to wish all a Happy 2011! Let it be more fruitful than the last and more meaningful than ever (a hard statement perhaps to stand up to!).

During the last few months, the Israeli democracy has taken quite a few blows but the icing on the cake is the new call by the Knesset to investigate Israeli leftist/human rights organizations. Not surprisingly, it was none other than Foreign Minister Avigdor Liebermann’s Israel Beiteinu’s party which sponsored the bill. According to Haaretz, “The Knesset plenum voted Wednesday to order the House Committee to consider establishing a parliamentary panel of inquiry into left-wing Israeli organizations that allegedly participate in delegitimization campaigns against Israel Defense Forces soldiers.” Of course, the problem here is how one can check what it means to delegitimize the IDF. At the core, they will be investigating the sources of funding of these groups. Obviously, the problem lies in the fact that only the leftist organizations are being singled out which has rightly sparked claims of it being nothing more or less than McCarthyism.

I guess the tragedy in all of this is that so many people see this as a legitimate move by the government since all of these leftist “bogdim (traitors)” have been working “hand in hand with international organizations” to bring to justice the IDF officers who are accused of “committing war crimes” in Operation Lead Cast. Regardless of these claims, it must be stated that main role of the Knesset is to legislate laws and not to hold investigations, and if any of these organizations has violated Israeli law then please let someone open a case against them at the local police station. The fact is that rather than delegitimizing the IDF, many of these so-called traitors have served in the IDF, and have children serving as soldiers. Need we remind ourselves of the long time critic of Israeli policy, the international renowned novelist David Grossman, whose son was killed in the Lebanon war fighting just as he was being interviewed on television critcizing the Israeli aggression.

I guess for now the only shimmer of hope is to see that in the right wing we have found some impressive names of Knesset members such as government minister Dan Meridor and Benny Begin who have voiced their strong opposition to Liebermann and friends’ political probe (and were mocked by Liebermann himself for doing so). I have to say that Dan Meridor continues to impress me and has so for many years. In his words:

“To my way of thinking, the idea that MKs should examine bodies that have different opinions is extremely dangerous. I can already imagine the scene where MKs sit around the table and investigate. MKs should not be part of a political commission of inquiry; that is reminiscent of phenomena from other places that we don't want to emulate. MKs have to oversee the government, and there is an address for inquiries of that kind, if they are necessary - the attorney general, the state prosecution and the police.”

He goes on to link this inquiry, death threats against deputy state prosecutor Shai Nitzan to other recent threats to Israeli democracy:

"It is possible to include in this context the attempts to force the Arabs to take an oath of allegiance to the state - all the attempts to exclude the Arab population from any sense of belonging to the country; the outrageous idea of preventing a person from acquiring an apartment because he is not Jewish; the attacks by some of the rabbis against renting apartments to Arabs. All these proposals were meant to create the feeling that the state does not belong to the Arabs. If the state discriminates, it is not behaving like a Jewish state. I must say that I am amazed at the way in which the Jews have wiped out our national memory. Are people not shocked? Don't they remember the "Don't sell to Jews" in another language?"

I highly recommend that you read the article in its entirety (link below).

Haaretz Interview with Dan Meridor

As Dan Meridor highlights the move to silence the left should be seen as a wake-up call for all Israelis (Jews and Palestinians with Israeli citizenship alike) not just on the left. This weekend leftist organizations will take to the streets to protest this move. What remains clear is that if we do not stand up now, this could easily become the closing-curtain of the Israeli left, leaving us without the very organizations which we have prided our Israeli democratic values on.

Two article relating to the investigations:

Article about probe

Lieberman Slams Rightists MKS for Opposing Probe