Archive for the ‘Israel’ Category
Posted by vmsalama on January 27, 2013
Some brief thoughts on the unrest in Port Said this week…. While the verdict against a group of soccer hooligans (who many allege to have been innocent) sparked the riots, there are a great many underlying economic and political issues that may have driven people in the canal cities to spill out into the streets this week.
The Porto World resort in the northern Egyptian city of Ain El Sokhna appears suddenly in the desert like a magnificent mirage. Miles of rolling sand dunes come to an end where this colossal complex begins, with pristine swimming pools and fountains and luxury villas imbedded in the sandy hills. It was one of the pet projects of the Hosni Mubarak administration, which had vowed to invest billions on tourism and real estate development as a means for boosting economic activity, embarking on projects that often involved intricate planning and engineering to get water and other resources to manmade oases like this one.
Some 55 kilometers away, the canal cities of Port Said and Suez offer a shockingly contradicting reality. Homes are dilapidated and roads unkept. Water supplies at nearby wells are filthy from dust and pollution continues to pile in the streets. Government neglect is part and partial of life in these cities — home to more than one million residents — and resentment has grown in recent years as many watched the government pour its resources into the country’s sprawling tourism resorts, while leaving its own citizens begging for the most basic services.
At least 50 people were killed in Port Said over the weekend following death sentences against 21 soccer fans in connection with the death of 73 soccer fans in a post-game riot last year. The verdict sparked an uproar as family and friends raided the prison in Port Said where the defendants were being held, claiming that the true perpetrators have gone free and that security forces rounded up a bunch of innocent boys to save face. The upheaval prompted President Mohamed Morsi to declare a state of emergency in the three canal cities — Port Said, Suez and Ismailia.
Port Said was the sight of a 1999 attempted assassination on former President Hosni Mubarak. Since then, many residents I’ve spoken with claim that they were cut off — alienated from the many basic services that their fellow Egyptians in Cairo or Alexandria may have enjoyed. What’s more, one of Egypt’s most frequented Free Zones sits in Port Said. While it had the potential to bring a great deal of commerce-driven-business to the canal cities, many claim it was neglected and poorly promoted, and residents could not reap the benefits. Residents of Port Said and Suez who are old enough to have lived through the wars with Israel in the 1950s and 60s feel they did a great deal for their country. These cities were regarded as a frontline in those wars, sine the Suez Canal was greatly at the heart of tensions after then-President Gamal Abdel Nasser declared it a nationalized asset of Egypt. Much was lost in those wars and many had hoped that the government would repay them for their sacrifices. They are still waiting.
Indeed, events of the past two years have caused many economic and social issues to surface, but the grievances of the canal cities run deep and residents there say their fight for justice and equality has lasted the greater part of the past 50 years.
Posted in Arab, Arab Spring, dictatorship, discrimination, Economy, Egypt, Elections, Employment, Foreign Policy, Freedom of Speech, Hosni Mubarak, Israel, Media, Middle East, military, Mohamed Morsi, Muslim Brotherhood, Port Said, State of Emergency, Suez, Tourism | Leave a Comment »
Posted by vmsalama on January 25, 2013
Newsweek Magazine (click here for original link)
January 25, 2013
Ismail Ahmed passes much of the day sitting on a small wooden chair outside his grocery–cum–souvenir shop in Giza, on the outskirts of Cairo, watching the cars drive by while smoking Cleopatra cigarettes, which crackle loudly with each drag. Gone are the days when busloads of tourists would pour into his shop near the Pyramids to pick up bottled water and $3 statues of the Sphinx. Since his fellow countrymen rose up against President Hosni Mubarak in January 2011, Ahmed’s business has dwindled. Gone are his hopeful expansion plans for the tiny shop, and his son Mohammed, who used to work alongside him, is looking for other jobs, because income from the store has become but a trickle. “Now if I see two tourists in a day, it means it’s a good day,” Ahmed says as he lights another cigarette. “The tourists are too scared to come to Egypt now. My store is not receiving enough income to support the family.”
Two years after revolutions unsettled and redrew the political map of the Arab world, the hope that inspired so many has not brought the desired change. Across the region, economies are unraveling, opposition groups splintering, and promises for establishing democratic secular governments now seem like a pipe dream.
War rages on in Syria, with more than 60,000 people killed so far. On one single day recently, more than 100 people were shot, killed, stabbed, or burned to death by the brutal security forces taking orders from President Bashar al-Assad. Many Syrians lucky enough to have survived the fighting are on the run, and with no end in sight, the 22-month-old conflict threatens to reshape the region. Some 2 million people—more than half of them children—have already fled Syria for Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, and beyond. Already there has been trouble in Lebanon, which has its own bloody history, easily recalled and ignited, and regional observers fear political and sectarian grievances will follow the flow of refugees.
Gomaa, a 35-year-old restaurant owner who prefers to go by one name for security reasons, believes his country was better off before the uprising, and certainly his family was. His hometown of Idlib, an opposition stronghold, has been battered hard by the government, and after snipers moved into his apartment building, his family’s life turned into a nightmare punctuated by volleys of gunshots. Fleeing to Egypt with his wife and two young boys, he found that work was scarce and impossible to come by for a foreigner, though eventually he found a lead on a job as a restaurant busboy in Morocco, where he’ll be living with a large group of men in an apartment in Rabat. With little money to his name, he has arranged for his wife and kids to stay for free with family friends in Algeria. “Of course, I wish to be with my family, but I thank Allah that we are alive.”
In Tunisia, where, in despair over government injustice, vegetable seller Mohamed Bouazizi set fire to himself, inspiring the wave of protests that came to be known as the Arab Spring, demonstrators flooded into the streets earlier this month. Marking the two-year anniversary of the ouster of former president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, this was no celebratory gathering, but rather a show of frustration by people who fear their new government is corrupt, religious, and self-serving. “Where is the constitution? Where is democracy?” they chanted, as police fired tear gas to disperse the crowds. Tunisia has recently been rocked by a scandal dubbed Sheratongate, which centers on allegations that Tunisia’s foreign minister, Rafik Abdessalem, abused public funds to pay for rooms at the five-star Sheraton hotel in Tunis, where he would meet his mistress for illicit trysts. “There are fewer jobs, and corruption and crime is worse than before,” complained Yazid Ouerfelli, 19, a university student from Tunis. “The country is also more divided now because of religion—it didn’t used to be like that.” (click here to read more…)
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Posted by vmsalama on December 3, 2012
Newsweek International (click here for original link)
by Vivian Salama
December 3, 2012
Amr Darrag is on a call when a second phone in his Cairo office begins to ring. He’s been awake since 6 a.m., and the stack of papers on his desk swells with every passing minute. A leader in Egypt’s Freedom and Justice Party, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, Darrag is also part of the 100-member committee scrambling to draft the country’s new constitution—a pending document that has hit every possible bump in the road since Egyptians toppled President Hosni Mubarak last year.
“We have a couple more days until we finish our mission,” says Darrag, secretary-general of the Constituent Assembly. “Those who are not interested in stability in Egypt or want to keep the Muslim Brotherhood out of the scene are trying to stop us from issuing the constitution. The courts want to dismantle the assembly. The president had to stop these tricks or the country would fall into chaos.”
On Nov. 22, as Americans sat down to Thanksgiving dinner, Egypt’s first post-revolution president, Mohamed Morsi, issued a decree exempting all of his decisions from legal challenge. The move was a stunning power grab that quickly earned him the nickname “Egypt’s new pharaoh”—a title once bestowed upon his defunct predecessor. Hundreds of thousands of disbelieving Egyptians flooded city streets from Alexandria to Aswan with a familiar cry: “The people want the fall of the regime!” Tahrir Square came alive once again with tents and bullhorns and a howl so loud—so impassioned—that it was dubbed the “19th Day” of last year’s revolution. Angry female protesters returned in masses to Tahrir, resilient after months of deteriorating security that included repeated incidents of harassment and sexual assault.
Morsi also declared that the courts cannot dissolve the Assembly, which many say is unfairly dominated by his fellow Islamists. As tensions built nationwide, the Assembly slammed together the first finalized draft of the constitution last week—a text that could set the course for Egypt’s future and that few have been privy to see.
“He shot himself in the foot,” says Steven A. Cook, the Hasib J. Sabbagh senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. “Perhaps ‘new pharaoh’ is an overstatement, even though Morsi is no democrat. Somewhere within the councils of the Muslim Brotherhood, someone thought this decree would play well in Tahrir.”
Play well it didn’t. As antagonized protesters violently clashed with pro-Morsi demonstrators, the president defended his decision, insisting it is temporary and geared toward eliminating the bureaucratic hurdles obstructing Egypt’s unraveling transition. The comment inspired the snarky headline in independent daily Al-Masry Al-Youm: “Morsi is a ‘temporary’ dictator.” The Brotherhood brushed off the protests as merely “politics,” distinguishing it from the 2011 revolution, when “united Egyptians revolted against autocracy.” The organization warned, via Twitter, that a revolution without the Muslim Brotherhood is no revolution.
But that was a tough sell to make to those who descended on Tahrir, driven by lingering memories from 30 years of Hosni Mubarak’s chokehold. Less than two years after Egyptians earned their first taste of democracy, the country once again has a president with near-absolute power and no constitution to dictate otherwise (the decree was ironically introduced as a “constitutional declaration”). There is no Parliament, since the military generals dissolved it in June. Then the generals were replaced by Brotherhood loyalists—as were the heads of most state-run media organizations.
Posted in Arab, Arab Spring, Arabic, Cairo University, Coptic, dictatorship, Economy, Education, Egypt, Elections, Employment, Hamas, Hosni Mubarak, Inflation, International Monetary Fund, Islam, Israel, Journalism, Media, Middle East, military, Mohamed Morsi, Mubarak, Newsweek, Politics, Protests, Religion, Salafi, United States | Leave a Comment »
Posted by vmsalama on November 23, 2012
by Vivian Salama
Nov 23, 2012
The Daily Beast (Click here for original link)
A day after being hailed for mediating the Israel-Hamas truce, Egypt’s president issued a decree giving himself sweeping powers—uniting the opposition and protesters against him. Vivian Salama on the fallout.
A decree from President Mohamed Morsi is sending shock waves across Egypt, driving hundreds of thousands of demonstrators on Friday back to Tahrir Square and other protest points across the country.
In a decision seen as disturbingly reminiscent of Egypt’s former status quo, Morsi issued a decree Thursday exempting all decisions made since he took office from legal challenge until a new parliament is elected. He also sacked the prosecutor general, an unpopular figure with many Egyptians, for failing to issue harsher sentences against Mubarak regime officials. Morsi also declared that the courts cannot dissolve the committee that is writing the country’s new constitution.
Crowds of protesters greeted the decree on Friday with chants of “Wake up, Morsi, it’s your last day,” and a familiar call from the earliest days of the revolution, “The people want the fall of the regime!” Secular leaders including Amr Moussa, Hamdeen Sabbahi, and Mohamed ElBaradei, once political opponents, marched arm in arm in solidarity through the throngs. A Photoshopped image circulated on Facebook of Morsi in a Nazi uniform, raising his hand over the caption “Heil Morsi,” suggesting what protesters see as his desire to create a totalitarian state.
Demonstrations turned violent in a number of cities, including Cairo and Alexandria, and casualties were reported in al-Mahalla, Assiut, and Suez, where shouting matches between pro-and anti-Morsi protesters quickly escalated into clashes. Morsi opponents torched local branches of the Freedom and Justice Party, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, to which Morsi is a loyalist.
The latest upheaval threatens the very concept of reform in a region hungry for change. In the five months since a majority of Egyptian voters just barely elected their first post-revolution president, the Arab world’s most populous nation has been forced to come to terms with a transition seemingly running amok. In some ways, change has come quickly since the revolution’s beginning nearly two years ago. A civilian, Islamist president is in office, two firsts for this ancient society. Voters elected a new parliament, and then that parliament was dissolved. Military generals sought to thwart the transition, and then the generals were dismissed. State media, once gagged by Hosni Mubarak, found its voice—and then lost it once again. (more…)
Posted in Arab, Arab Spring, dictatorship, Egypt, Elections, Employment, Foreign Policy, Gaza, Hamas, Israel, Judiciary, Middle East, military, Mohamed Morsi, Mubarak, Muslim Brotherhood, Politics, Protests, Salafi | Leave a Comment »
Posted by vmsalama on August 13, 2012
by Vivian Salama
The Daily Beast (click here for original link)
Aug 13, 2012
Egypt’s president, Mohamed Morsi, proved the power of his might Sunday with a shakeup both rumored and surprising to many—sacking the head of the military, Egypt’s de facto ruler throughout the transition period, and several other key members of the distrusted Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.
Morsi resolved to scrap a constitutional document that handed sweeping powers and autonomy to Egypt’s military and ordered the retirement of Hussein Tantawi, defense minister and commander of the armed forces, and Chief of Staff Sami Anan, awarding both men state medals and appointing them presidential advisers. He also made his highly anticipated selection of vice president, naming Senior Judge Mahmoud Mekki as his deputy.
While many saw the expanding powers of the military as an attempt to hijack the revolution, the shuffle comes amid a violent standoff with militants on the Sinai Peninsula near the border with Gaza, and an overall lapse in security nationwide. Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhoodand Egypt’s first civilian president, was viewed by many as nothing more than a figurehead, since measures taken by the military left little room for a second-in-charge. This latest move leaves many observers questioning whether Morsi’s ability to seize authority had been underestimated.
“This is a palace coup and a very risky one,” said Paul Sullivan, a North Africa expert at National Defense University. “Firing most of the SCAF is a bold move that could backfire at Morsi. He has been losing credibility with the Egyptian public since his election. The Sinai attack was seen by many in Egypt as a sign of Morsi’s weakness, not the military and intelligence people. Now he is trying to turn the tables on them.” (more….)
Posted in Arab, Arab Spring, dictatorship, Economy, Egypt, Foreign Policy, Gaza, Hosni Mubarak, Israel, military, Mubarak, Muslim Brotherhood | Leave a Comment »
Posted by vmsalama on July 18, 2012
Had a fascinating chat with a 25-year old man who until 6 months ago, served in the Egyptian military as a tank driver. He was assigned to the Rafah post, the Egyptian border city with Gaza. Here are some excerpts from our discussion:
“I was in the middle of nowhere when the revolution started last year. We didn’t really understand what was happening. We heard people are in Tahrir protesting and we heard that our colleagues in the military were clashing with them. If I was there, I would have joined the people to protest, but I wouldn’t have fought with the soldiers. they are my brothers.
[WHERE WERE YOU WHEN MUBARAK RESIGNED?] We didn’t know anything about it until 5-6 days later. We didn’t believe it. Imagine you are in the desert and somebody tells you Hosni Mubarak resigned — you wouldn’t believe it. You’ll laugh and tell him he’s dreaming! It wasn’t until a soldier came from Cairo and told us what happened that we really said ‘oh. this is real!’ And even then, I didn’t REALLY believe it until I returned to Cairo 6 months ago. It was like traveling to another world. The city was so different. Even the people were different. I have been back for 6 months now and I am still not used to it.
“We used to sleep in a school in the (Sinai) desert, about 450 km from Cairo. Our beds were small and on some nights, the bombs that fell on Gaza were so strong, it would throw us from our beds, even though we were across the border. I swear to you. Sometimes we saw the Israeli soldiers. We didn’t talk to them very much. There was an incident near the border where 3 of my military colleagues were killed while doing a patrol. Bullets hit their car (He showed me video on his cell phone of the bullet-ridden jeep). Nobody told their families what happened because it would make them too upset. But we think there was a clash between drug smugglers and Israeli soldiers, and the Egyptian soldiers were in the wrong place. We weren’t supposed to talk about it otherwise it could make problems with Israel.”
Posted in Arab, Arab Spring, Economy, Education, Egypt, Elections, Employment, Freedom of Speech, Gaza, Hosni Mubarak, Israel, military, Mohamed Morsi, Mubarak, Muslim Brotherhood, Politics | Leave a Comment »
Posted by vmsalama on June 26, 2012
My latest from Cairo:
Mohamed Morsi’s Great Burden
The Daily Beast
By Vivian Salama
June 26, 2012
With millions of people still flooding the streets of Egypt in a frenzied celebration over the results of the historic presidential election, Mohamed Morsi delivered his first televised address to the nation. Standing behind a tall podium marked with the presidential seal only hours after he was named the winner, he called for national reconciliation between fractured political powers. Morsi vowed to be president to all Egyptians in an effort to win the confidence of the 12 million people who voted for his opponent, Ahmed Shafiq, and the disenfranchised millions who abstained from casting a ballot. “I am aware of the challenges which face us now, but I’m sure if we work together, with your support, we will be able to pass through this transitional moment,” Morsi said in his victory speech.
The roller-coaster presidential race now behind him, Morsi, 60, must confront his fiercest opponent yet: the military. Days before the electoral runoff, the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) took several measures to consolidate power and limit civil rights, sparking outrage that drew tens of thousands of protesters back to Tahrir Square and around the nation. The Islamist-dominated parliament was dissolved a mere two days before voters went to the polls. The military also passed a decree stating that it—and not the president—will preside over the national budget, particularly with regard to defense. (Egypt receives $1.3 billion annually in military aid from the U.S.) Finally, it ruled that military officers can arrest civilians—a decision that was overturned Tuesday in an early victory for Morsi. The move kicked off the latest phase of Egypt’s revolution under conditions of great uncertainty, with no parliament, no constitution, and a preemptively weakened president.
Agreeing on the fundamental principles that will guide Egypt’s future may be easier than finding the people to implement them. Boycotts and bitter allegations tarnished initial efforts to form a constitutional committee. The makeup of the panel has been a sore spot for secular activists and politicians after the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party and the more hardline Al Nour Party claimed most of the seats. After months of wrangling, a new assembly was named just days before the presidential election, including representatives from most political parties, the country’s Islamic and Christian institutions, formerly jailed opposition members—even actors and artists.
The 100-member multiparty committee has already begun its work ahead of Morsi’s July 1 inauguration in an effort to rewrite the constitution with greater emphasis on a balance of powers between the executive, legislative, and judicial branches and the military. Defining the role of the president is particularly urgent as Morsi prepares to take office, with questions still lingering over term limits, whether or not he should have legislative powers, and his dynamic with the military. The military last week issued an “addendum” to a constitutional declaration written last year, stating that it can dissolve the constituent assembly if the governing body confronts any hurdles. (click here to read more…)
Posted in Arab, Arab Spring, dictatorship, Economy, Education, Egypt, Elections, Employment, Foreign Policy, Hosni Mubarak, Islam, Israel, Media, Middle East, military, Mohamed Morsi, Mubarak, Muslim Brotherhood, Politics | Leave a Comment »
Posted by vmsalama on June 24, 2012
by Vivian Salama
Jun 24, 2012
Daily Beast (click here for original link)
Cairo erupted in cheers for Egypt’s first-ever president-elect—but the country is still fractured. Vivian Salama on the tough road ahead for the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi.
In a victory 84 years in the making, Mohamed Morsi, a U.S.-educated engineer and head of the Muslim Brotherhood’s political arm in Egypt, was officially named the country’s first-ever president-elect, 16 months after Egyptians ousted their president of 30 years, Hosni Mubarak, in a popular revolt. The victory positions Islamists to lead renewed calls for revolution against the military rulers, accused by many of hatching a soft coup to monopolize power.
Morsi clenched the presidency with 51.73 percent of the vote, while his opponent Ahmed Shafiq, the last prime minister to serve under Mubarak, earned 48.24 percent, according to Farouq Sultan, head of the election commission and chairman of the Supreme Constitutional Court of Egypt. Euphoria instantly erupted in Tahrir Square as tens of thousands of Morsi supporters and pro-revolutionaries shot off fireworks, waved flags, and cheered in a frenzied celebration. Drivers honked car horns, and people ran through the streets shouting “God is great!”
“This is the happiest day of my life,” said Salah El-Din, 28, a Morsi supporter celebrating in Tahrir Square. “Dr. Morsi will defeat the military, and the power will belong to the people again.”
Celebrations extended to the neighboring Gaza Strip as well, where supporters of Hamas, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, rejoiced at news of an Islamist Egyptian president.
Morsi, who earned a doctorate in engineering from the University of Southern California, is considered a soft power in the Muslim Brotherhood and has long been overshadowed by more conservative members of the group. He has run on a free-market platform, but with a heavy emphasis on improving social services. While his official platform does not mention the military, he has repeatedly said that no institution will be above the Constitution once he is sworn in July 1. He has vowed to support the Palestinian people in their struggle for statehood, and while he has made provocative comments about Israel, once calling it a “vampire” state, he has repeatedly promised that the Camp David accords will remain untouched. (more….)
Posted in Arab, Arab Spring, dictatorship, Economy, Education, Egypt, Elections, Employment, Foreign Policy, Gaza, Hamas, Hosni Mubarak, Islam, Israel, Middle East, Muslim Brotherhood, Obama, Politics, Protests, Salafi, State of Emergency | Leave a Comment »