The International Reporting (and Life) Adventures of Vivian Salama

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What’s Behind the Wave of Terror in the Sinai

Posted by vmsalama on November 22, 2013

In just five months, Egypt has suffered more than 200 attacks.
By Vivian Salama

Writing to a network of followers and potential followers around the world, the Mauritanian-born cleric Sheikh Abu al-Mundhir al-Shinqiti, one of the world’s most prominent jihadi ideologues, described a religious obligation for Muslims to take up arms against the Egyptian army. “The goal of the security campaign that the tyrannical army in Egypt is directing in the Sinai is to protect Israel and its borders after jihadi groups in the Sinai became a real threat to it,” the letter, dated October 17, said. “Jihad in the Sinai is a great opportunity for you to gather and unite under a pure flag, unsullied by ignorant slogans.”

Hundreds of miles from Tahrir Square, the epicenter of Egypt’s tumultuous revolution, the long-neglected Sinai Peninsula has become the frontline for the military’s fight against extremism. Having operated in a quasi-lawless state there for decades, jihadi groups are now finding an opportunity to ride on the coattails of discontent following the July 3 military-backed coup that ousted President Mohammed Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, and the interim government’s subsequent neutering of the organization.

Many militant groups see the Islamists’ fall from grace as justification for their claims that the creation of an Islamic state can only be achieved through violence, and not through the moderate political campaign waged by the Muslim Brotherhood following the fall of former President Hosni Mubarak in 2011. In response, the military has launched an unapologetic crackdown in the Sinai in an effort to crush any group or individual that might challenge its authority or uphold the legitimacy of the now-defunct Morsi regime.

While the military declared an end to a three-month state of emergency earlier this month, a strictly enforced curfew remains in effect in Sinai from 6 P.M. to 4 A.M., with military checkpoints commonplace across the peninsula. And while Egyptian tanks were barred from certain areas of the Sinai following the 1978 Camp David Accords, Israel authorized Egypt to deploy two additional infantry battalions to the region after Morsi’s ouster to counter terrorist threats. It did not end there. In September, the military stepped up its campaign to rid northern Sinai of militants, with Army Spokesman Ahmed Ali saying it would be “taking action against terrorists, instead of merely reacting to terrorist attacks.” That same month, dozens of homes were bulldozed and trees removed along the roads from the northern town of Al-Arish to Rafah, the border city with Gaza, according to witnesses and media reports, as the military prepared to create a 1,640-foot-wide, six-mile-long buffer zone around the Rafah border crossing. Schools in northern Sinai began the 2013-14 academic year five weeks later than scheduled amid fears that children would be at risk.

The military’s “heavy-handedness is more out of lack of experience than anything,” said Mokhtar Awad, an Egypt researcher at the Center for American Progress. “If the [militants’] goal is to make the military look weak then they can do that. I always compared [militancy] to a virus—that if it does spread to [the Nile] Delta and Upper Egypt, they won’t be able to control it.” (more…)


Israeli Search and Rescue Crews on the scene after an attack on the Taba Hilton in Sinai, Egypt (2004)//Photo by Vivian Salama

Israeli Search and Rescue Crews on the scene after an attack on the Taba Hilton in Sinai, Egypt (2004)//Photo by Vivian Salama

Israeli Search and Rescue Crews on the scene after an attack on the Taba Hilton in Sinai, Egypt (2004)//Photo by Vivian Salama

Israeli Search and Rescue Crews on the scene after an attack on the Taba Hilton in Sinai, Egypt (2004)//Photo by Vivian Salama

Posted in Africa, Al-Qaeda, al-Sisi, Algeria, Arab, Arab Spring, Arabic, Coup, dictatorship, discrimination, Economy, Education, Egypt, Elections, Employment, Environment, Foreign Policy, Freedom of Speech, Gaza, Hamas, Hosni Mubarak, Human Rights, Insurgency, Intervention, Islam, Israel, Jihad, Journalism, Libya, Media, Middle East, military, Mohamed Morsi, Mubarak, Muslim Brotherhood, Palestinians, Politics, Protests, Sahara Desert, Sinai, State of Emergency, Suez, Terrorism | Leave a Comment »

Egypt To President Morsi: No Dictators Allowed

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.

tahrir lights

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 »

Egypt Transition Run Amok: Morsi Decree Sparks Huge Protests

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 »

Mohamed Morsi’s Bittersweet Egypt Victory

Posted by vmsalama on June 24, 2012


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 »

Egypt: No Parliament, No Constitution, No President.

Posted by vmsalama on June 15, 2012

Greetings from Cairo, where there is NEVER a dull moment. The High Court decided today to dissolve the Islamist-dominated parliament, less than 36 hours before the presidential runoff. Here is my election preview, published by the Daily Beast. Observations to follow….

Showdown in Cairo: Egyptian High Court Dissolves Parliament

Egypt’s high court ruled the Islamist Parliament must dissolve immediately, paving the way for next week’s election winner to rise to power. But wasn’t the point of the revolution to avoid military and theocratic states? Vivian Salama reports.

Jun 14, 2012 

Daily Beast (click here to read original)

With just 36 hours to go until Egypt’s historic presidential election, the country has no Parliament and no new constitution. In a stunning 11th-hour decision, the country’s High Constitutional Court dissolved the Islamist-dominated Parliament, declaring that elections were unconstitutional, essentially leaving the new president at the mercy of the military. In the 17 months since Egyptians joined forces to topplePresident Hosni Mubarak, the country has evolved from one of collective euphoria to one limp with apprehension, this latest development sending the country into a tailspin.


Egyptians protest military rule in Tahrir Square // Photo by Vivian Salama

Egyptians will head to the polls June 16—many with heavy hearts—as they cast a final vote for a president, with the hope of dislodging themselves from more than a half century of status quo. But Tahrir Square still swells with protesters every few days—the upcoming vote creating a dilemma for many, pitting two of the least likely candidates against each other: one, an old guard from the defunct regime, the other, an Islamist heavyweight. With no legislative body to ensure checks and balances, the new president may have to take on the powerful military establishment on his own.

The military, de facto ruler of the country since Mubarak’s resignation, has suffered a severe decline in public opinion following a number of violent clashes with protesters that evoked a bitter outcry. Making matters worse, a government decree passed earlier this week allows military police and intelligence to detain civilians and refer them to military tribunals—a ruling reminiscent of Mubarak-era tactics used to crush dissent. The military may soon surrender the top seat, but recent developments signal that it will continue to play an active role in governance, regardless of who wins.

All the while, the economy is in shambles, and citizens who were already struggling to make ends meet before the revolution are now barely getting by, fueled only by hope that change for the better is on the brink.

Facing off this weekend: Ahmed Shafiq, 70, a former Air Force commander and the last prime minister appointed by Mubarak, and Mohammed Morsi, 60, a U.S.-educated engineer and chairman of the Muslim Brotherhood’s political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party. For weeks, the two have appeared in campaign ads and traveled across Egypt, meeting citizens and addressing their concerns, with hope of establishing new loyalties amid this turbulent period. Egypt’s high court also issued a last-minute ruling allowing Shafiq to continue his bid, despite his links to the previous regime. (more…)

Posted in Arab, Arab Spring, dictatorship, Economy, Education, Egypt, Elections, Employment, Foreign Policy, Freedom of Speech, Gaza, Hamas, Hosni Mubarak, Israel, Judiciary, Middle East, military, Mubarak, Muslim Brotherhood, Newsweek, Politics, Recession, Refugees, Religion, Salafi, Social Media, Succession, United States | Leave a Comment »

Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood Woos Washington

Posted by vmsalama on April 6, 2012

Look who’s visiting Washington!!

Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood Woos Washington

By Vivian Salama

The Daily Beast

Click here for original story

There was once a time when U.S. officials shunned Arab Islamist parties, frowned on their election victories, and denied them U.S. visas. But times are changing.

Delegates from Egypt’s Freedom and Justice Party, a group affiliated to the Muslim Brotherhood, are in   Washington for their first official visit since Hosni Mubarak was toppled last year. Only days after announcing their party’s candidate in the first presidential election since the revolution, the visiting delegates have met with members of Congress and White House officials and held public discussions at Georgetown University and Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Outlawed under the Mubarak regime, members of the Muslim Brotherhood and more hard-line Salafist parties have emerged, not surprisingly, as a powerful force in the Egyptian elections, thwarting the secular groups that are believed to have been the drivers of last year’s revolution. As a group that founded itself on the principles of grassroots activism, the Muslim Brotherhood has long resonated with the people of Egypt, where at many as 30 percent of the population lives below the poverty line, according to the United Nations.

The delegates sent to Washington were all articulate English speakers, two of whom hold doctorates from U.S. institutions. They were non-evasive, answering impassioned questions from the Georgetown audience about religious persecution and Sharia law. The message was not specifically linked to Islam. They did not criticize—or even mention—Israel. They stressed that Egypt is open for business and encouraged free trade and foreign direct investment. (more…)

Posted in Allies, American, Arab, Arab Spring, Arabic, Christian, Christianity, Coptic, dictatorship, Economy, Education, Egypt, Elections, Employment, Flip-Flops, Foreign Policy, Freedom of Speech, Gaza, Hamas, Hosni Mubarak, Human Rights, Islam, Israel, Jihad, Libya, Middle East, military, Mubarak, Muslim Brotherhood, Newsweek, Obama, Politics, Tunisia, United States | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Jailbreak to Gaza Fuels Israeli Hamas Fear in Post-Mubarak Era

Posted by vmsalama on March 7, 2011

By Jonathan Ferziger and Vivian Salama

Click here to view original story.

The Cairo protests that dislodged President Hosni Mubarak from power had an unexpected side effect: They also helped Hassan Weshah break out of an Egyptian prison, return to his home in the Gaza Strip and prepare for fresh attacks against Israel.

“Resisting occupation is the obligation of every Palestinian,” said Weshah, 28, a member of the so-called Army of Islam who had been arrested by Egyptian forces in October for planning to infiltrate Israel’s Sinai border. “I would not abandon the resistance.”

Palestinians such as Weshah are one reason why Egypt’s newly unstable border has become a headache for Israel. A pipeline that brings in 60 percent of Israel’s gas consumption looks more vulnerable after a Feb. 5 explosion from unknown causes shut it down for at least a month. The Sinai desert, a buffer for three decades between Egypt and Israel, may require a greater Israeli military presence.

“Our preparedness along the length of the border is high,” Defense Minister Ehud Barak said after viewing military exercises at a southern military base March 1. Israel has accelerated defensive operations “so that we can be as protected as possible” on the Egyptian frontier.

Security concerns are putting downward pressure on Israeli stocks. The TA-25 benchmark index has declined 4.1 percent since the start of the year while the MSCI Emerging Markets Index is down 1.6 percent. The yield on the benchmark Mimshal Shiklit bond maturing in January 2020 rose 46 basis points to 5.15 percent as the shekel declined 3.5 percent against the dollar to 3.62 in the period.

Abandoned Checkpoints

Checkpoints and security posts across Egypt were abandoned last month following a withdrawal by the police. Civilians took security into their own hands for several days before the military was deployed to restore order.

Both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer said last month that the government will probably need to raise defense spending. The country spent 7 percent of gross domestic product on defense in 2008, according to a database maintained by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, while the U.S. spent 4.3 percent and Egypt 2.3 percent.

“Let’s remember that this is a region that can change completely from today to tomorrow, not necessarily in our favor,” said retired Major-General Yaakov Amidror, former head of Israel’s National Defense College. “As a state we must look at the worst-case scenario, not just the optimistic scenarios.”

Hamas Control

The greatest security threat may be in Gaza, where Hamas seized control in 2007, a year after winning Palestinian elections, defeating forces loyal to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Hamas is considered a terrorist organization by Israel, the U.S. and the European Union.

Hamas, which rejects peace talks with Israel and opposes the 32-year-old peace treaty between the two nations, was founded in 1987 as an offshoot from Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, the strongest opposition group during Mubarak’s presidency.

Israel and Egypt both sealed off Gaza’s borders after Hamas took over, cutting off most civilian traffic and restricting trade with the territory. Israel has maintained a ground and sea blockade around Gaza ever since.

Egypt also enforced the blockade and occasionally cracked down on tunnel smugglers from its own side of the border, though limited exports and imports have been allowed in the past year.

Open Border?

Now the Muslim Brotherhood, banned in Egypt since 1954, hopes to open Egypt’s border with Gaza and raise the price Israel pays for Egyptian gas if it enters a coalition, said Essam El-Erian, a senior member of the group.

“The whole region is about to change,” he said in an interview. “We hope that the stupid policies that neglected the fact that Hamas ran and won a democratic election will also change. It’s time to see a real assimilation of what people want.”

Candidates from the Brotherhood won 20 percent of seats in Egypt’s parliamentary elections in 2005 even though the party was officially banned and the government closed polling stations in towns were it had widespread support. Hundreds of thousands of people flocked to Cairo’s Tahrir Square a week after Mubarak’s fall to hear Yusuf al-Qaradawi, a cleric who aligns himself with the Brotherhood.

Hamas expects Egyptian policy toward Gaza to soften after the new elections, said Mustawa Sawaf, a professor of media studies at the Islamic University in Gaza who is affiliated with the group. Egypt’s ruling army council said Feb. 14 it will hand power to a democratically elected government within six months.

Free Passage Hopes

“These changes will have great influence in supporting the rights of the Palestinian people,” Sawaf said. “We hope, as residents of the Gaza Strip who are blockaded by Israel, to have free commercial passage with Egypt.”

Weshah learned about the Cairo protests from watching Egyptian television in a group room in the prison. He described a scene that night, 14 days before Mubarak’s ouster, in which inmates started banging on the walls and bars of their cells and then overpowered guards who responded to the uproar.

“It was very scary, with intensive gunfire and prisoners shot dead on the floor,” Weshah said. “We just kept running and followed some Egyptian prisoners who took us to a safe place.”

Weshah was one of nine Palestinians who made their way to Gaza after the jail break, according to interviews with them all. Another was Ayman Noufal, one of the top commanders of the Hamas militia known as the Al-Qassam Brigades. He had been held for three years. A Hamas spokesman declined to comment.

Rockets From Gaza

Palestinian militants have fired at least 30 rockets from Gaza since Feb. 1, said an Israeli army spokesman, speaking anonymously under military rules. Israeli forces have killed seven Palestinians in Gaza during the period, said Adham Abu Selmeya, emergency-services chief in the Gaza Health Ministry.

After a taxi ride from Cairo, Weshah continued north through the Sinai desert, dodging police roadblocks by walking around the barriers and then switching to a new cab. At the border town of Rafah, a smuggler guided him to a tunnel.

The desert he crossed, the demilitarized Sinai on Israel’s southern border, is becoming more dangerous. Restoration of the gas supply cut by the Feb. 5 explosion at a pipeline metering station, planned for March 4, was postponed after a shootout between “suspected terrorists” and Egyptian security forces that delayed testing on the repaired system, according to a March 3 report to the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange by Ampal-American Israel (AMPL) Corp. Ampal has a 12.5 percent stake in pipeline owner East Mediterranean Gas Co.

Ampal Chairman Yosef Maiman in a March 1 interview called the explosion a terrorist attack.

Soldiers in Sinai

The Egyptian Oil Ministry said the blast appeared to have been set off by a gas leak. Israeli National Infrastructures Minister Uzi Landau said the country must have energy security” and declined to speculate about who caused the explosion, said spokesman Chen Ben-Lulu.

The metering station is outside El-Arish, before the spot where the 100-kilometer (62-mile) pipeline splits into two branches bringing gas separately to Israel and to Jordan, Maiman spokesman Zeev Feiner said. He said the explosion was apparently set off by unidentified “terrorist elements,” declining to say how it was detonated.

The pipeline currently provides Israel with 2.5 billion cubic meters of gas a year, about $400 million worth, according to Israel Electric Corp. That is expected to rise to 7 billion cubic meters in 2014, Feiner said.

“Let’s not forget that the most important economic arrangement signed with Egypt since the peace agreement is the agreement on gas,” Landau said March 6 in an interview with Israel’s Army Radio. “When events in Egypt settle down, we hope and certainly want the supply of gas to resume.”

Posted in Egypt, Gaza, Hamas, Hosni Mubarak, Israel, Middle East, Mubarak, Muslim Brotherhood, Palestinians | Leave a Comment »

Explaining Israel’s Military Strategy

Posted by vmsalama on December 30, 2008

by Vivian Salama

PostGlobal – WashingtonPost.com

It can be suggested that the build-up to this crisis in the Middle East began in 1967, when Israel earned itself a reputation – regionally and globally – as a military power to be reckoned with. In just six days, Israeli Defense Forces advanced to the edge of the Suez Canal, and in one foul swoop, gained control of Gaza, the West Bank, the Golan Heights, the Sinai Peninsula, and the whole of Jerusalem.

It was not until the Yom Kippur War of 1973 that Israel’s military would fall from grace, not by a decisive defeat or loss of land, but more symbolically in the face of a somewhat attenuating Arab military resistance.

In 2006, Israeli forces launched an unforgiving attack on Hezbollah strongholds in Southern Lebanon responding to the abduction of IDF officers both in Lebanon and in the Gaza Strip. The savvy and unexpected resistance campaign orchestrated by Hezbollah fighters during the month-long war earned the group global recognition, with the group’s leader Hassan Nasrallah hailed a hero across the Muslim world.

While the Israeli government maintained that its heavy-handed response was warranted in the face of an Hezbollah uprising, the Jewish State received staunch criticism for use of unnecessarily brutal force which claimed the lives of hundreds of civilians. For Israel, the 2006 conflict bore scars far deeper than its government may have anticipated as the world watched Hezbollah fighters defiantly take on the 600-pound gorilla.

Today, Israel may have earned itself another reputation – not just as a military power, but one that might be considered particularly merciless.

The images of smoke plumes, destruction and death emanating from Gaza over the past few days are a somber reminder of the country’s 2006 clash with Hezbollah and the great reality that years of neglect are wearing heavily on any hope for Arab-Israeli peace. Israel’s deadly response on Hamas and residents of the Gaza Strip is increasingly looking like an attempt to regain an air of indestructibility, and less like a defense strategy. The embattled government of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, still reeling from the ineffective military campaign of 2006, has but a few months left to salvage its reputation, as well as the beset image of Israel.


This point was illustrated in an analysis by Yossi Sarid, published over the weekend in Israel’s Haaretz Newspaper. Sarid wrote: “A million and a half human beings, most of them downcast and desperate refugees, live in the conditions of a giant jail, fertile ground for another round of bloodletting. The fact that Hamas may have gone too far with its rockets is not the justification of the Israeli policy for the past few decades, for which it justly merits an Iraqi shoe to the face.” [http://haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1050451.html]

Gaza has already been shut to the outside world for some 19 months, making it more of an open-air prison for its 1.5 million residents. Now, according to international aid agency Oxfam, most humanitarian work in the territory has been forced to a standstill and a program that would feed 25,000 people had also been put on hold.

The repercussions of Israel’s retaliatory attack on Gaza this week may come back to haunt it if it does not show mercy in the face of a humanitarian disaster. With its message now reverberating across the Gaza Strip, Israel should halt all attacks and give Hamas a hard deadline for compliance.

They say in life, timing is everything. For Israel, the timing could not be more ideal to wage this unforgiving show of strength on Hamas and with it, residents of the Gaza Strip who, in early 2006, may have cast a vote for Hamas. For one, the military campaign came sandwiched in between Christmas and New Year celebrations when much of the Western world is off from work, away from their television sets, and unwilling to acknowledge any bad news that does not directly involve them.

Further, much of the world is now busy piecing together what is left of the global economy and Washington has entered a twilight period where neither the lame duck president nor the president-elect is willing to make any significant statements or policy decisions that may alienate the other. This latest eruption of violence in the Middle East sends President George W. Bush out the door, tail between his legs, with a staunch reminder of his failed promise to revitalize his “Roadmap to Peace” plan before the end of 2008.

President-elect Barack Obama, meanwhile, has a unique opportunity to make history in the Middle East, just as he made history at home. The road to fixing the diplomatic disaster created by the Bush Administration in Iraq runs through Jerusalem. This new outbreak of violence should, if nothing else, move the Arab-Israeli conflict back to the top of the incoming administration’s “things to fix in the Middle East” list. The first step toward winning the hearts and minds of people from Morocco to Pakistan lies in a fair and genuine solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Posted in Gaza, Hamas, Israel, Lebanon, War | 1 Comment »

The Other Christmas Rush Is Christians Fleeing Arabia

Posted by vmsalama on January 7, 2008

 As always, I am eager to hear your thoughts!

By Vivian Salama


Jan 14, 2008 Issue 

Christmas is usually a time to celebrate the arrival of Christians in the Holy Land. But this year, as Patriarch Michel Sabbah of the Latin Rite Catholic Church revealed during his Christmas sermon in Bethlehem, local leaders are currently concerned with the opposite phenomenon: exodus. Speaking to the legions of Arab Christians fleeing the region, Sabbah said, “I say to you what Jesus told us: do not be afraid.”But there’s reason to be. Last year, dozens of Christians were slain in Iraq and a Syriac Orthodox priest was beheaded in Mosul. Two prominent Christian Palestinians were recently killed in Gaza. A political stalemate in Lebanon and the increased dominance of Shiite Hizbullah has made Maronites fear their traditional perks, like control of the presidency, are slipping. Even in Egypt, where religion has played little role in government, Christians now worry that the increasing popularity of the Muslim Brotherhood could lead to new restrictions.

Thus many are voting with their feet. There are now just 12 million to 15 million Arabic-speaking Christians left in the Middle East, and this could drop to 6 million by 2025. Countries are being transformed: in 1956, Lebanese Christians made up 54 percent of the country; today they’re about 30 percent. Iraq’s Christian population has fallen from 1.4 million in 1987 to 600,000 today. And Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, was 80 percent Christian when Israel won independence in 1948; now it’s 16 percent. Fred Strickert of Wartburg College estimates that hundreds of thousands of Christian Arabs have been displaced in the recent years, including half a million from Iraq alone. Christian Arabs emigration isn’t new. But according to Drew Christiansen, editor of America Magazine, the tide has increased since the second intifada in the Palestinian territories and the Iraq War. James Zogby of the Arab American Institute says most Christians chose to relocate to Europe and the Americas. Some 75 percent of the United States’ 3.5 million Middle Easterners are Christian, as are large slices in Canada, France, and Brazil. Many new exiles hope to relocate to the United States: no small irony given that the instability they’re fleeing was set in motion by the United States itself.

With the exodus, ancient practices and cultures are being lost, and Middle Eastern Christians risk eventually being “amalgamated into Western Christianity,” says Christiansen. The result will be “a dilution of the diversity of Christian traditions.” But given the life or death choices many Arab Christian emigrants now face, that looks like a small price to pay.

Posted in Arab, Christianity, Christmas, Egypt, Hamas, Iraq, Israel, Lebanon, Middle East | Leave a Comment »

Absence of Courage

Posted by vmsalama on December 19, 2007

A Palestinian official argues that international donors are pledging millions to Gaza and the West Bank because they hope their generosity will compensate for their lack of political will.
Aid package: A Palestinian woman receives food handouts in Jenin

Posted in Annapolis, Arab, condoleeza, Hamas, Israel, Middle East, Newsweek, Palestinians, Politics, United States | Leave a Comment »