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Hosni Mubarak

Behind the lines: Salafi insurgency fermenting

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By JONATHAN SPYERLAST UPDATED: 02/15/2014 03:44

While the main focus of the jihadi groups in northern Sinai is the regime in Cairo, the situation in the peninsula has serious implications for Israel.

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Funeral convoy of slain Islamists, Sinai. Photo: REUTERS

Northern Sinai has long played host to a variety of smuggling networks and jihadi organizations. Since Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s July 3 military coup in Egypt, however, there has been an exponential increase in attacks emanating from this area.
This increasingly lawless region is now the staging ground for an emergent Islamist insurgency against the Egyptian authorities.
Since July 2013, more than 300 reported attacks have taken place in Sinai. The violence is also spreading into the Egyptian mainland, with attacks in recent weeks on a security facility in Cairo, and the killing of an Interior Ministry official in the capital.
Some of the groups engaged in the fighting are linked to global jihadi networks, including al-Qaida.
Others have connections to elements in Hamas-controlled Gaza. The precise links between the various organizations engaged are difficult to trace.
This emergent reality in northern Sinai has serious implications for Israel. While the main focus of the jihadi activity is directed against Sisi’s administration in Cairo, some of the groups centrally involved have a track record of attacks against Israeli targets.

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EGYPT’S FORMER INTELLIGENCE CHIEF WARNS OF POSSIBLE CIVIL WAR

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Tahrir Square, July 8th 2011

Tahrir Square, July 8th 2011 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As the presidential choice for Egyptian voters is narrowed down to an uncertain Islamist future under Muslim Brotherhood candidate Dr. Muhammad al-Mursi or a return to quasi-military rule under Air Marshal Ahmed Shafiq, former Egyptian intelligence chief Major General Umar Sulayman has warned of a potential confrontation between the two political trends that could  lead to civil war. General Sulayman, whose own candidacy for the presidential post was nullified by an act of parliament earlier this year, made the remarks in a recent two-part interview with a pan-Arab daily (al-Hayat, May 22).

As Egypt’s intelligence chief, Sulayman earned an unwelcome reputation for his broad and consistent application of torture as an instrument of state, supervision of a domestic intelligence network that permeated Egyptian society and as Mubarak’s point-man on Egyptian-Israeli relations. None of these roles endeared him to Egyptian voters and his claims that he was running for president only in response to wide popular appeals appeared as contrived as the small demonstration of sign-waving supporters that appeared on cue to back the announcement of his candidacy (see al-Akhbar [Cairo], April 9). Nonetheless, by means both fair and foul, Sulayman has over several decades compiled a detailed knowledge of Egypt’s politics and political leaders that is frequently described as encyclopedic.

General Sulayman hands-on leadership of an often brutal campaign to quell the growing influence of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood has naturally placed him at odds with the movement, which successfully manipulated a largely secular revolution to become the dominant party in Egypt’s new parliament. Sulayman claims his own abortive run at the presidency was accompanied by repeated death threats from Islamist militants and the law that quickly disqualified ten candidates from running for president was so clearly directed at the ex-intelligence chief that it was nicknamed “the Umar Sulayman law”  (al-Akhbar, April 9; al-Hayat, May 22; Ahram Online [Cairo], April 14).

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Muslim Brotherhood shocks Egypt with presidential run

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 The Muslim Brotherhood‘s presidential nominee Khairat el-Shater is seen here in a Jan. 24, 2012 file photo. By Ayman Mohyeldin
NEWS ANALYSIS– CAIRO Few events have captured the attention of the global media like Egypt’s revolution. Culminating, like an earthquake, with the departure of Hosni Mubarak on February 11, 2011, the world was transfixed.

Since then, Egypt has gone through a series of political aftershocks. From the rise of Islam-centered ultra-conservative political parties to deadly street riots and the missteps of the country’s ruling generals, Egypt’s transition (or intransigence) has been the subject of intense speculation and analysis.Nothing, though, has piqued interest as much as the move by the Muslim Brotherhood to nominate a candidate for the country’s presidency.

Political U-turn

Things have come to full boil in the past few days. And what has emerged, according to analysts and commentators, is a rupture in trust between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Egyptian people. To say the Brotherhood has lost its base of support is inaccurate, but Egyptians across the political spectrum feel a sense of disappointment to come face to face with the duplicity of politics – common the world over and now seen and practiced openly in Egypt.

The culmination of this mood came on Saturday, when the Brotherhood, long a socio-charitable and religious organization, announced that it was nominating one of its own for Egypt’s top job, a move that sent shock waves through the nascent political establishment.

Why the shock? Well, for the past year, the Muslim Brotherhood has categorically denied it would field a presidential candidate and repeatedly has tried to assuage fears that it was seeking control of Egyptian political life.The signs, though, were there. Shortly after Mubarak’s ouster, the Brotherhood embarked on a process of “translating” its popular social support into mainstream politics. To do so, it launched a political party, called the Freedom and Justice Party, ostensibly aimed at putting a political face on a traditional image.

At the time,the Brotherhood was, at least in public, keen on showing that it was just a part of the quilt that makes up the Egyptian political fabric; it did not want to be too much in the background while at the same time it did not want to appear to be the quilt-maker.That image was crushed on Saturday, according to analysts and commentators, who say the move has exposed the movement’s true aspirations.

Notably, the decision to nominate a president didn’t happen at the Freedom and Justice Party’s headquarters – it took place at the Muslim Brotherhood’s headquarters. In addition, the announcement that Khairat el Shater was their presidential candidate was not made by the head of the political party (although he was present) but by the Brotherhood’s leader, Dr. Mohammed el Badie.Fueling fears

The decision by the Muslim Brotherhood to seek control of the executive branch highlights a potentially dangerous political reality that has many worried in Egypt.Already with control of the parliament and as the majority in the constitutional convention tasked with writing a new constitution, the Brotherhood is ubiquitous in Egypt’s political life. Add the presidency and they would control virtually the whole political system.

Critics say such a move would allow the Brotherhood to steamroll its conservative agenda across Egypt. They compare the monopolization of power by a single party to the Mubarak-era rule of the National Democratic Party, which also controlled all three branches of government and thousands of local councils.Proponents say the democratic consolidation of power will allow the Brotherhood to implement change at a time when political fragmentation threatens to paralyze a country in transition. They say that with a single cohesive voice in control, Egypt could take the hard decisions needed to bring about speedy reform. Read the rest of this entry »

Egypt’s Never-Ending Revolution

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Moises Saman for The New York Times

Protesters gather in Cairo on Jan. 25, 2012, marking the first anniversary of the 2011 revolution.

By STEVEN A. COOK    Published: February 10, 2012

Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images

CAIRO is tense and polarized. Egypt’s military is groping for solutions to the many political and economic problems that have beset the country since the fall of the old government. Various political parties and groups are united in their opposition to military rule despite being divided among themselves. The Muslim Brotherhood, meanwhile, is trying to remain above the fray and out of the line of fire by making deals with the army. And despite the promise of parliamentary elections and the prospect of a new constitution, the situation remains highly unstable.

One could be forgiven for thinking this is a description of early 2012, but it is actually an account of early 1954, when Gamal Abdel Nasser and his military colleagues, known as the Free Officers, first consolidated their power in Egypt. Read the rest of this entry »

Egypt’s Mohamed ElBaradei exits race for president

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The announcement by Mohamed ElBaradei, who appeared to have been outflanked by Egypt’s military rulers and the Muslim Brotherhood, is a setback and a disappointment for liberal and secular activists.

Mohamed ElBaradei drops out of Egypt's presidential race.

“My conscience does not permit me to run for the presidency or any other official position unless it is within a democratic framework,” Mohamed ElBaradei said in a statement. (AFP/Getty Images / January 14, 2012)

By Jeffrey Fleishman, Los Angeles Times

January 14, 2012, 7:52 p.m.

 

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mohamed ElBaradei quit the race for the Egyptian presidency Saturday in protest of the military’s persistent grip on power despite a year of revolution and political upheaval.

ElBaradei’s announcement was a strategic and emotional setback for liberal and secular activists who had hoped the former head of the United Nations nuclear watchdog agency would propel the country toward democratic reforms to replace the corrupt legacy of deposed President Hosni Mubarak.

“I have decided not to run for the post of the president of the republic,” ElBaradei said in a statement. “My conscience does not permit me to run for the presidency or any other official position unless it is within a democratic framework.”

ElBaradei’s chances of winning the presidential election, scheduled for June, had dimmed in recent weeks. He could not muster the organizational prowess and appeal of Islamist parties, most notably the Muslim Brotherhood, the country’s dominant political force.

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Egypt raids foreign organizations’ offices in crackdown

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Three U.S. groups are among those raided. Activists say the army is using the ruse of foreign intervention to stoke nationalism and deflect criticism of abuses.

Egyptian security forces raid  nongovernmental organizations in Cairo.

Egyptian security forces raid a nongovernmental organization in Cairo on Dec. 29, 2011. Troops and police officers swept into offices, interrogated workers and seized computers in what was seen as a bid to intimidate international organizations. (Mohammed Asad, Associated Press / December 29, 2011)

By Jeffrey Fleishman and Paul Richter, Los Angeles Times December 29, 2011 2:56 p.m.

Egyptian security forces on Thursday raided the offices of 17 nongovernmental organizations, including three U.S.-based agencies, as part of a crackdown on foreign assistance that has drawn criticism from the West and threatened human rights groups and pro-democracy movements.

The move appeared to be part of a strategy to intimidate international organizations. The ruling military council has repeatedly blamed “foreign hands” for exploiting Egypt’s political and economic turmoil. But activists said the army was using the ruse of foreign intervention to stoke nationalism and deflect criticism of abuses.

The military’s actions angered Washington at a time the White House is pressuring Egypt to respect civil liberties. But the Egyptian military has been increasingly agitated by democracy advocates and protests that have gripped the nation. Clashes last week between demonstrators and soldiers ended in the deaths of at least 15 people. Read the rest of this entry »

Review–Syria, the Arab Yugoslavia of Middle East

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Written by NICOLA NASSER Friday, 04 November 2011 05:30

Syria.BasharAlAssadSurrounded by the Turkish veteran member of NATO in the north, the Israeli NATO partner and the navy fleets of the member states patrolling the Mediterranean in the west, the alliance’s Jordanian partner in the south, and in the east hosting a NATO mission in Iraq, which is expectedto develop into the 12th Arab partner, and lonely swimming in a sea of the Arab and Israel strategic allies of the United States, the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad stands as the Yugoslavia of the Middle East, that has to join the expansion southward of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization as well as the “new world order” engineered by the U.S. unipolar power, kicked out as the odd regional number, or join Iraq and Libyain being bombed down to the medieval ages.Following its latest military success in opening the Libyan gate to Africa, the U.S. – led NATO seems about to recruit its 13th Arab “partner,” thus paving the way for the United States to move its Africom HQ from Germany to the continent after removing the Gaddafi regime, which opposed both this move and the French – led Mediterranean Union (MU), a removal that is in itself, for all realpolitic reasons, a threatening warning to the neighboring Algeria to soften its opposition to both Africa hosting Africom and NATO expanding southward and to drop off whatever reservations it still has to the revival of the MU, which lost its Egyptian co-chair with President Nicolas Sarkozy with the removal of former president Hosni Mubarak from power in Cairo.

The U.S. and NATO are poised now to shift focus from Arab North Africa to the Arab Levant to deal with the last Syrian obstacle to their regional hegemony. The U.S. administration of President Barak Obama seems now determined to make or break with the al-Assad regime, distancing itself from decades long policy of crisis management pursued by predecessor U.S. administrations vis-à-vis Syria, which stands now in the Middle East as former Yugoslavia stood in the wake of the collapse of the former Soviet Union when a series of ethnic and religious wars wrecked it, creating from its wreckage several new states, until the Serbian core of the Yugoslav union was bombed by NATO in 1999 to make Serbia now a hopeful member of the alliance.

However international and regional strategic geopolitical factors are turning Syria into a border red line that might either herald a new era of multipolar world order, which puts an end to the U.S. unipolar order, if the U.S. led alliance fails to change the Syrian regime, or completes a U.S. – NATO total regional hegemony that would preclude such a long awaited outcome, if it succeeds:

  • Internally, the infrastructure of the state is strong, the military, security, diplomatic and political ruling establishment stands coherent, unified and potent, and economically the state is not burdened with foreign debt and is self-sufficient in oil, food and consumer products. Imposing a complete suffocating economic and diplomatic siege on the country seems impossible. What is more important politically is the fact that the pluralistic diversity of the large Syrian religious and sectarian minorities deprives the major and better organized Islamist opposition of the Muslim Brotherhood of the leading role it enjoys in the protests of what has been termed the “Arab Spring” in Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen.
  • Contrary to western analyses, which expect the change of regimes by the “Arab Spring” to be a motivating drive for a similar change in Syria, the changes were bad examples for Syrians. The destruction of the infrastructure of the state, especially in Iraq and Libya, and leaving their national decision making to NATO and U.S., at least out gratefulness to their roles in the change, is not viewed by the overwhelming majority of the Syrians, including the mainstream opposition inside the country, as an acceptable and feasible price for change and reform. The Arab Egyptian veteran and internationally prominent journalist, Mohammed Hassanein Heikal, in an interview with the Qatar based Aljazeera satellite TV Arabic channel, cited these bad Iraqi and Libyan examples as alienating the Syrian middle class in major city centers away from supporting the protests demanding change of regime; he even accused Aljazeera of “incitement” against the Syrian regime of al-Assad.
  • This overall internal situation continues to deter outside intervention on the one hand and on the other explains why the opposition has so far failed to launch even one protest of the type that moved out millions of people to the streets as was and is the case in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain and Yemen, especially in major population centers like the capital Damascus, Aleppo, both which are home to about ten million people.
  • Moreover, the resort of a minority of Islamists to arms allegedly to defend the protesters has backfired, alienating the public in general, the minorities in particular, and highlighting their external sources of funds and arming, thus vindicating the regime’s accusation of the existence of an outside “conspiracy,” but more importantly diverting the media spotlight away from the peaceful protests, weakening these protests by driving away more people from joining them out of fear for personal safety as proved by the dwindling numbers of protesters, and dragging the opposition into a field of struggle where the regime is definitely the strongest at least in the absence of external military intervention that is not forthcoming in any foreseeable future, a fact that was confirmed in the Libyan capital Tripoli on October 31 by NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen: “NATO has no intention (to intervene) whatsoever. I can completely rule that out,” Reuters quoted him as saying.
  • Geopolitically, it is true that western powers after WW1 succeeded in cutting historical Syria to its present day size, but Syrian pan-Arab ideology and influence is still up to historic Syria, and is still consistent with what the late Princeton scholar Philip K. Hitti called (quoted by Robert D. Kaplan in Foreign Policy on April 21, 2011) “Greater Syria” — the historical antecedent of the modern republic – “the largest small country on the map, microscopic in size but cosmic in influence,” encompassing in its geography, at the confluence of Europe, Asia, and Africa, “the history of the civilized world in a miniature form”. Kaplan commented: “This is not an exaggeration, and because it is not, the current unrest in Syria is far more important than unrest we have seen anywhere in the Middle East.” The change of the regime in Syria will not bring security and stability to the region; on the contrary, it will open a regional Pandora box. Read the rest of this entry »