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9,500 Palestinians still living in Gaza UN schools

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Sakher al-Kafarneh in front of his destroyed home in Beit Hanoun in the northern Gaza Strip

Sakher al-Kafarneh used to have 3,000 chickens, 35 sheep, 5 cows and a horse. That was before Israel attacked his farm in the summer of 2014.

“We have lost everything,” he said. “Only two cows are still alive.”

Ever since the attack al-Kafarneh and his family have been living in a school run byUNRWA, the UN agency for Palestine refugees. They make trips to their home in theBeit Hanoun area of Gaza so they can use the toilet. It remains intact, although their house was mostly destroyed.

Al-Kafarneh estimates that it would cost $50,000 to repair the damage inflicted on his home and farm. He desperately wants the house to be made habitable again “to restore even a bit of our dignity.”

“My wife, three children, my parents and my grandmother all live in one classroom of this school,” he said. “I cannot even describe how miserable our life is here.”

Almost 9,500 people in Gaza were taking shelter in UN facilities, according to data released last week. UNICEF, the UN children’s fund, has reported that the humanitarian situation is worse than it was before Israel began its attack.

The “coping skills” of women and children have been badly affected as a result, UNICEF has stated.


Although international donors pledged $5.4 billion towards rebuilding Gaza in October last year, just a fraction of that aid has materialized. Robert Serry, the Dutch diplomat who has been overseeing the UN’s reconstruction activities, said on Monday that the slow pace of aid delivery was “frankly unacceptable.”

Oxfam has warned that at current rates of delivery, it will take a century to meet Gaza’s needs.

More than 43,500 families have been affected by the destruction of homes.

The family of Um Ahmad are among them. Before the attack, this mother of seven enjoyed spending “good times out in the sun” on the roof of the family home.

After that home was leveled to the ground, she took refuge with her sister-in-law inKhan Younis, a city in southern Gaza. She and her husband, Khaled Redwan (also known as Abu Ahmad), sleep beside the sofa in the living room. Ten people are taking shelter in that home, which has only one bathroom.

Ramez Qanou has an apartment in a four-story building in Shujaiya, a neighborhood in Gaza City where Israel carried out a massacre in July.

Qanou is an officer with the local police in Gaza. He has not been paid his salary for approximately eighteen months.

After borrowing some money recently, he is trying to repair his severely damaged apartment using old bricks. With building materials in short supply, he had no choice other than to buy a bag of cement on the black market for almost $30.

Like many others in Gaza, he needs to move back into his old home as a matter of urgency. “I can no longer afford the rent for another home,” he said. “What will I do?”

(Source / 06.03.2015)

Written by altahrir

March 6, 2015 at 8:45 pm

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Murder holes and hooligan chants: images of Israel’s war crimes

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A Star of David spray painted at the Future House Association in Khuzaa, a community center for women and children.

As well as killing more than 2,200 Palestinians and causing huge economic and environmental damage, the Israeli military left messages on the walls of Palestinian homes they occupied along Gaza’s boundary with Israel last summer.

On 20 July, at the height of the 51-day assault, Israel launched a ground invasion into Gaza’s boundary areas that lasted fifteen days.

A massive bombing campaign reduced to rubble wide swaths of the Shujaiya district of Gaza City.

Israeli forces occupied Shujaiya homes, transforming bedrooms and kitchens into military outposts from which snipers carried out killings of Palestinian civilians. The slaying of Shujaiya resident Salem Shamaly, gunned down by an Israeli sniper while searching for his family, was caught on video.

Several miles south of Shujaiya, Israeli forces besieged and invaded the village of Khuzaa near Khan Younis. Over a twelve-day period, Israeli forces bombed mosques and homes, wiping out families taking shelter inside, and executed villagers as they fled the attacks.

Among numerous atrocities, Israeli soldiers brutally executed six resistance fighters in a home, slashing them with knives used for slaughtering chickens and firing on them with bullets and grenades, before setting the corpses ablaze.

During subsequent ceasefires, thousands of Palestinians who had fled returned to their bombed-out neighborhoods. Amid the mass destruction, numerous homes that stood after the bombing campaign were littered with evidence of the presence of Israeli soldiers. Discarded food rations, used medical supplies, sandbags and hundreds of bullet casings of various calibers were scattered about.

In Shujaiya, soldiers wrote “price tag” — a term used for terror attacks on Palestinians that come in response to perceived Israeli government concessions to Palestinians. Below that is a menorah, a symbol of the Jewish temple and sovereignty, and finally “Yalla Beitar” — a cheer for Beitar Jerusalem, an Israeli soccer team synonymous with racism and hooliganism.

A Star of David etched into the staircase of a home in Shujaiya.

Next to a map of the surrounding area in Shujaiya, the Hebrew-language graffiti reads (from top to bottom): “Values, Toughness, Mutuality, Striving for contact” and “Understanding the forces.”

In a child’s bedroom in Shujaiya, a map depicts the homes in the immediate vicinity. Many of the numbered homes were destroyed.

In a child’s bedroom in Shujaiya, a map of a level of a floor in the same house.

A Star of David carved into a closet door is visible as young Palestinians inspect damage to their home in Shujaiya.

A destroyed floor in a Shujaiya house where invading Israeli forces tore the floor open searching for tunnels.

In Shujaiya, Israeli soldiers picked off Palestinians through what US soldiers in Afghanistan called “murder holes.”

(Source / 05.03.2015)

Written by altahrir

March 5, 2015 at 4:32 pm

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Gulf-Egyptian military and economic cooperation

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Abdulrahman al-Rashed

There is enthusiasm in most Gulf countries to support Egypt on all levels. This stance has restored trust in Cairo, and restored Egyptians’ confidence after a dangerous crisis that almost brought their country to the point of collapse. Gulf states are aware of Egypt’s importance to them and to the region, and want to be a partner in its successes, not a victim of its crises.

There is talk of establishing a Gulf-Egyptian military force. This is logical considering the spread of war in most of the region, but it is unrealistic. Gulf countries must not assume they are a superpower capable of changing the world around them.

Their financial capabilities are massive when spent right, and they are capable of negatively or positively leading the region. However, their fortunes can easily evaporate through unproductive political and military projects, like what happened to Saddam Hussein in Iraq.

Economic support

Regarding Egypt, Gulf states’ one urgent option is to support it economically. This must not be limited to providing grants, loans and funds, but must include giant projects that alter Egyptians’ future. This means the Gulf must help Egypt implement projects outside the context of corruption and bureaucracy, which have obstructed the country’s capabilities for decades.

If Egypt succeeds economically, its politics will be more stable and its army more capable. It will thus become a country that can be depended on to meet the needs of the entire region’s stability.

Egypt’s weakness during the past two decades was due to economic deterioration, which weakened its political capabilities until it became incapable of curbing small foreign powers such as Hamas in Gaza and Omar al-Bashir’s regime in Sudan. Egypt also became weak domestically, to the extent that the Muslim Brotherhood played the game of social support and managed the economy of poor neighborhoods.

There is talk of establishing a Gulf-Egyptian military force. This is logical considering the spread of war in most of the region, but it is unrealistic

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

The Egyptian leadership at this difficult transitional phase can grant Gulf investors, and whoever works with them from international institutions, free space to develop major sectors such as agriculture. Some 30 million Egyptians work in this field, which represents the country’s soul and does not get affected much by politics or terrorism.

If the government had granted this field the concern it deserves decades ago, it would have had time today to develop other productive sectors. Agriculture is a major industry in big countries, and is considered a permanent guarantee in times of war and peace.

If it does not yield results, Gulf investors can get involved in specific industrial and services projects that have operational and productive value and longevity, on condition of guarantees from Cairo such as being provided with an atmosphere free from bureaucracy and political greed. This will support Egyptians for the next 100 years, and will raise the rate of employment.

Relations and cooperation with Egypt are extensive, but we must think outside the box and alter an approach that failed during the era of Hosni Mubarak. Egyptians do not need supporters and charities, but partners. It is best for Gulf countries to participate with Egypt in building giant companies in the private sector. These companies can be established with government support, then gradually owned by the Egyptian private sector.

The army is one of the best institutions in Egypt as it is the most efficient and disciplined, and it can be a partner in giant developmental projects but via its executive role, not through its political or military role.

Military cooperation

As for establishing a regional military force, whose pillar would be Egypt and some Gulf countries, this would only work after meeting the needs of urgent circumstances such as economic ones, as it will be difficult to financially invest in more than one field simultaneously. Such a military establishment will also take a long time, and will be obstructed due to details that everyone will realize cannot be resolved.

The alternative to a joint military force would be strengthening military and security cooperation, which already exists but is largely unannounced. Cooperation can be expanded in disturbed countries such as Libya, Syria and Yemen, and can be improved in other areas that are sources of tensions. An example would be altering the Sudanese regime, which continues to be a source of trouble for Egypt and the region.

However, the priority is to invest in Egypt’s economy in a manner that benefits everyone, achieves stability and proves to the region’s peoples that old, moderate political regimes are more capable of serving them than alternative chaotic ones.

(Source / 04.03.2015)

Written by altahrir

March 4, 2015 at 8:45 pm

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Iran: Bibi Iranophobic talk election campaign

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Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Marziyeh Afkham

Iran calls Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s controversial address to a joint session of the US Congress “Iranophobic” and part of Israeli hardliners’ electoral campaign.

On Tuesday, Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Marziyeh Afkham called the speech a deceitful show and part of the hardliners’ political propaganda in Tel Aviv.

Netanyahu (pictured below during the address) addressed the Congress earlier in the day, calling on the United States not to negotiate “a very bad deal” with Iran over its nuclear energy program. He said, “We’ve been told for over a year that no deal is better than a bad deal. Well this is a bad deal, a very bad deal. We’re better off without it.”

Afkham said the address reflected the abject weakness and isolation of radical groups even among the supporters of the Israeli regime and their attempt to impose radical and illogical agendas upon the international politics.

She said “there is no doubt that the international opinion does not consider any value or standing for a child-killing regime” like Israel.

The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman further called the Israeli premier’s recurrent fabrication of lies about the intentions of Iran’s peaceful nuclear energy program very platitudinous and tedious.

“With the continuation of [nuclear] talks and Iran’s serious will to diffuse the fabricated crisis [over its nuclear energy program], Iranophobic policy has met with serious problems and the founders of such propaganda and the planners of the fake crisis have started struggling.”

Iran and the P5+1 group – Russia, China, France, Britain, the US and Germany – are negotiating to narrow their differences over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear energy program ahead of a July 1 deadline.

Netanyahu said that it is not true that “the only alternative to this deal is war.”

“The alternative to this deal is a much better deal. A better deal that doesn’t leave Iran with a vast nuclear infrastructure and such a short breakout point,” he added.

He said that the ongoing nuclear negotiations would provide Iran “with a short breakout time for a bomb.”

“According to the deal not a single nuclear facility would be demolished,” he said.

“So this deal won’t change Iran for the better, it will only change the Middle East for the worst,” he noted.

Netanyahu had been invited by US House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner hours after President Barack Obama threatened to veto any sanctions legislation against Iran during his State of the Union address on January 20.

Some 60 House Democrats boycotted the event. The Obama administration is both angry at Netanyahu’s accepting the Republican invitation to address Congress two weeks before the Israeli election without consulting the White House and excessive Israel Lobby interference in American foreign policy.

Unimpressed Obama

US President Barack Obama said there was “nothing new” in the speech.

He told reporters that Netanyahu “did not offer any viable alternative.”

“I am not focused in the politics of this, I am not focused on the theater,” Obama said. “As far as I can tell, there was nothing new.”

“We don’t yet have a deal. But if we are successful, this will be the best deal possible with Iran,” the US president said.

(Source / 03.03.2015)

Written by altahrir

March 3, 2015 at 10:27 pm

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Did Rome college censor Ilan Pappe because of “Zionist intimidation”?

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The new venue for a debate with Ilan Pappe was packed with a standing room only crowd

IIan Pappe, the outspoken Israeli historian, has criticized an Italian university for succumbing to “Zionist intimidation” by canceling a debate in which he was scheduled to take part.

Just days before the 16 February debate was due to take place, the University of Rome III denied the event’s organizers use of its prestigious Center for Italian and French Studies for the debate. The event — dealing with the use and abuse of identity in Europe and the Middle East — did go ahead, but at a different venue.

The last-minute cancelation is another case of preemptive muzzling by an institution of higher learning. “It is very disturbing to see how freedom of speech is framed in Europe,” Pappe told The Electronic Intifada. “Ridiculing the prophet Muhammad in cartoon is the litmus test for a society that cherishes freedom of speech; however an open candid conversation about Israel and Palestine is disallowed as an incitement.”

The initial reasons given by the university referred to “procedural errors.” Pappe found this excuse to be even more sinister.

“Nobody can really say openly that they disallow a debate on Palestine, so usually technical issues are mentioned by the prospective hosts of such events, while Zionist lobbies more openly celebrate another successful case of silencing debates on Israel’s policies in Palestine,” said Pappe, who is best known for documenting how Zionist forces uprooted almost 800,000 Palestinians and destroyed more than 500 Palestinian villages in 1948.

Indeed, a pro-Israel website, Informazione Corretta, claimed victory, stating that thanks to “friends in Rome,” the venue had been denied due to protests over its proximity to the city’s Jewish quarter.

University succumbs to “intimidation”

In an email message to The Electronic Intifada, the University of Rome III press office stated that the university had not refused to host the event, as an alternative venue had been offered.

The organizers, however, were quick to point out that the alternative venue was a wholly inadequate, ill-equipped space reserved for dance performances and offered as cover for the last-minute revocation. What was far more disturbing, they say, was the university’s efforts to delegitimize the debate, denying the use of its logos and scrubbing the event from its website.

The university’s initial announcement of the event is still visible via Google cache.

Pappe, who has experienced these attempts at censorship in many countries, said, “The bad feeling is not leaving us: yet another respectable institute of higher education in Europe succumbed to Zionist intimidation and terror.”

The Zionist lobby’s attempt to silence its critics did not work. The new venue was packed with a standing room only crowd, as was a last-minute overflow room, providing the opportunity “to listen to an open debate in which Palestine was one issue in a wider conversation about power and knowledge,” said Pappe.

It also laid bare the cowardice of the university, showing more concern for external pressure groups than its own reputation, independence and societal obligations.

As Pappe noted, “The struggle here is therefore not only for the right of the Palestinians’ plight to be heard but also for academia to cease its shameful surrender to the powers that be and fulfill more courageously the role they are paid for: to be society’s watchdogs and not the puppies of the governments.”

An open letter launched by the organizers and signed by Pappe expresses outrage at the university shirking its responsibility to increase “opportunities for debates that foster critical thinking” rather than censor them.

The letter also calls on “the academic communities in the world to stand against the selective use of the principles of freedom of speech and academic freedom.” The letter was published on Sunday and quickly received more than one hundred signatures from academics around the world.

Silencing Palestine across Italy

This is just one instance in a disturbing trend of efforts to shut down discussion of Palestinian rights and history in public spaces in Italy, and the more alarming tendency of authorities to succumb to pressure and unfounded accusations.

On 27 February, Rome’s La Sapienza University revoked authorization to screen the documentary The Fading Valley by the Israeli director Irit Gal. The film deals with waterissues in the occupied West Bank’s Jordan Valley.

The No Acea Mekorot Committee works to end an agreement between Rome’s water utility and the Israeli company responsible for the theft of Palestinian water resources. The group said in a press release that the cancelation followed a phone call from the Israeli embassy and objections by several students, after which the dean withdrew permission to use university facilities.

“It is unacceptable that the Israeli embassy intervenes in the decisions of Italian universities,” the committee said. “Worse still is the dishonorable and shameful way in which Italian academic institutions cave to its diktats.”

Negating Palestinian history

In Turin last November, days after an exhibition featuring photos from the digital archive of UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestine refugees, opened at the Museum of Resistance, efforts began to have it closed.

The archive is listed in the Memory of the World registry run by the United Nations culture and education organization UNESCO.

The Jewish Community of Turin threatened to cancel its organizational membership at the museum unless the exhibition was suspended, accusing the UN agency of “notoriously expressing anti-Semitic views.”

While the museum kept the exhibition open, it took the bizarre measure of posting a notice at the entrance and on its website informing visitors of the protests of the Jewish Community of Turin “criticizing the unilateral, biased and prejudiced anti-Israeli” nature of its contents.

The museum’s press office confirmed to The Electronic Intifada that this was the first time a disclaimer had been posted for an exhibition.

In addition, the museum canceled two events scheduled during the exhibition — a roundtable discussion, which included a speaker designated by the Jewish Community of Turin, due to “organizational reasons” — and a reading of the late Palestinian poetMahmoud Darwish’s work. According to the museum, these events were pulled in order to avoid “misrepresentation” of the exhibition.

The University of Padua also recently revoked a student association’s authorization for fundraising events for Syrian and Kurdish refugees. In a posting on Facebook, organizers said they had been told of the cancelation following complaints from a single Israeli student about a map near a fundraising table, not officially part of the event, where another student had written “Palestine” over Israel.

The student organizers said the dean not only canceled future fundraising events by the group but also required that requests for events dealing with Palestine be presented jointly with an Israeli student.

Also in November, as the newspaper La Stampa reported, Daniela Santus, a professor at the University of Turin, refused to chair a panel for a discussion of a thesis by two undergraduate students because the topic was Palestine.

That same professor had invited Israel’s deputy ambassador to Italy to speak at the university in 2005.

Ruba Salih, an academic with the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, took part in the discussion with Pappe in Rome. Referring to comments by the philosopher Judith Butler that “not all lives are grievable,” Salih denounced the selective way in which discussions about Palestine are censored.

“When Palestinian children are described as human shields, they inevitably enter the realm of non-human, they become objects and legitimate targets of war, deprived of subjectivity,” Salih observed. “They become non-lives, or expendable lives, to safeguard the lives of those that do exist.”

(Source / 02.03.2015)

Written by altahrir

March 2, 2015 at 10:24 pm

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How much longer until Egypt’s parliamentary elections?

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H.A. Hellyer

Egypt last had a full legislature combined with a civilian executive in February 2011. Back then after having lost popular legitimacy and effective control of the country, Mubarak was pushed from power, and parliament was then dismissed.

Since then, there have been legislatures, and there have been elected executives – but never both at the same time. Mursi came close, as he did enjoy the existence of the upper house of parliament, coinciding with his presidency – but not a full legislature.

March and April in 2015 were hitherto packaged as a landmark when there would be, for the first time in more than four years, a functioning legislative along with an elected executive. Cases brought to the Supreme Constitutional Court, however, meant that a series of challenges were heard against the legal regime that elections were meant to be held under.

The court rejected several challenges – crucially, the court has upheld the constitutionality of the electoral law and political rights law, which many political forces have convincingly argued will result in a fragmented and disproportionate parliament. As it is, that parliament debut will be yet further delayed.

The method of division for constituencies, which was to be governed by a presidential decree passed in 2014, was deemed unconstitutional. It’s not a small thing. Effectively, it means a delay in parliamentary elections – and that delay could easily stretch to the autumn or the winter, as a result of the hot summer months, Ramadan, and vacation periods.

One could argue that this would probably not bother the sitting executive. Indeed, many analysts speculate the former military officer has little patience for formal politics, having gone straight from the ministry of defense to the presidency, with virtually no time in between.

At the best of times, parliaments can be perplexing for an executive branch to work with – and Egypt’s parliament is unlikely to be an example of the best of times.

However, that is not the point. The current political dispensation is based on the road-map imposed by the military on the July 3, 2013 – and while that road-map has proven to be quite elastic in implementation since then, it does have certain elements built into it.

One of them is parliamentary elections – until that is carried out, there will be no opportunity for the Egyptian state to claim internationally that it has managed to fulfil even what it considers to be its transition to democracy.

No checks or balances

To put it another way – the executive may not be keen to have parliamentary elections, but it knows it has to have them. For many months, the presidency has been essentially advertising those elections in international engagements – and delays have been persistent.

The delaying of them now misses what was supposed to be an important symbolic milestone in advance of the economic conference in Sharm al-Sheikh later this month. That poses a difficult image control issue for the authorities to handle – one it didn’t want to have to deal with.

Of course, the authorities could easily package this as evidence that the judiciary is, indeed, independent, and the new political dispensation is committed to the rule of law. Yesterday’s ruling does not prove that assertion in the slightest – nevertheless, on one level, it’s irrelevant.

There has been no checks or balances on the executive throughout the post-Mursi period

The final result is the same: no parliament, and the continuation of the executive enjoying legislative authority without any checks or balances.

There are, however, two other things to keep in mind as this is pondered over. The first is that this is yet more evidence that the notion that Mubarak’s Egypt of 2010 has simply reasserted itself, and Egypt has come full circle is a simplification that does not really aid in much analysis. 2015 is not 2010 – and the regime of Hosni Mubarak is quite different from the emerging political dispensation of today.

That is not to say it may be a better dispensation. Indeed, in many ways, it is demonstrably worse. But it is also quite different. There are different elements at play in 2015, and the relationships between those elements are also different.

If that is not correctly and appropriately understood, any proper analysis of what is happening – as well as what may yet come to pass – will be deeply flawed.

The second thing to note, which is a comparison to the past – when then president Mohammed Mursi was ruling without a proper legislative check on his power, suggestions were made in some quarters to ameliorate that state of affairs until a legislature could be elected into office.

That ranged from a presidential council of sorts – or a legislative appointed committee made up of senior political and legal figures – and so forth. These were good suggestions, coming from a good place – seeking consensus and accountability at a time when Egypt needed it, and could have used it to push forward.

They were, as we know, ignored. The silence now, in contrast, is quite poignant. There has been no checks or balances on the executive throughout the post-Mursi period – and it is not clear that even the next parliament will be able to play a sufficient role in that regard.

Well beyond the parliamentary elections – whenever they happen – the need for effective accountability of the executive, regardless of who it happens to be, will remain a key challenge for Egypt.

(Source / 02.03.2015)

Written by altahrir

March 2, 2015 at 10:19 pm

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‘Islamic State’ mystery: The anti-history of a historic phenomenon

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The IS phenomenon is ahistorical and raises questions about its rapid geopolitical expansion despite lack of enthusiasm for its cause among ordinary people

From a people’s history (“history from below”, or “social history from below”) perspective, the so-called Islamic State (IS) phenomenon is at best, hard to explain, and at worst, beyond any comprehension.

True, at present, the Middle East region is the ideal incubator for violent militancy and political radicalisation. However, it is difficult to place IS even within that context without raising a host of questions that remain unanswered.

Starting with the first US-led western war in Iraq (1990-91), then a decade-long blockade, then the invasion of Iraq (2003), and the earlier invasion of Afghanistan (2001), the Middle East has undergone a rapid state of radicalisation that was more or less consistent with the violence visited upon the region by the US and its allies.

Coupled with the western-backing of Israel over the course of decades, and the constant support lent by the West to various corrupt and utterly violent Arab dictators, generation after generation of angry, radicalised, unemployed and humiliated youth was very much a reasonable and predictable outcome. Some of us warned tirelessly of the looming further radicalisation in the Middle East before and during the last Iraq war. We spoke of the destabilisation of the whole region, and that the conflict would eventually spill over into other countries, and would not be confined to Iraq or Afghanistan.

Progress interrupted

The Arab Spring could have been the political platform to offer a positive outlet for change, to absorb the existing anger and channel it, with time, into constructive energy that would reverse the tide of radicalisation, hopelessness and growing militarism.

That too was suffocated by the same traditional forces that engendered corruption and violence in the first place.

The post-Arab Spring reality has wrought a worst-case scenario even the most pessimistic amongst us couldn’t imagine. The “counter revolutions” backed by western military interventions remoulded the old reality, but in a much more violent and oppressive way than before. Moreover, it created a vacuum that was naturally filled by non-state actors, sometimes tribes – as in the case of Yemen, and partly in Libya – and other times by militant groups as is the case in Syria.

Most notorious among those were the so-called Islamic State. But that is where the logic of the story begins to dissipate.

Confines of historical analysis

Regardless of how one is to explain the rise of IS from a historical point of view, one runs into too many limitations facing any existing argument. In fact, there are more questions than answers.

People’s history attempts to study certain political and other phenomena by examining the underlying circumstances of history that go beyond the intrigues, interests and conspiracies of competing elites. It looks at the lives of ordinary people, united by the most common historical denominators to explain collective occurrences in the past or present, and attempts to explore future possibilities.

These variables could be as general as prolonged economic hardship and as specific as a singular event: war. The specific thinking process of the Egyptian military might not qualify to be an issue of concern to people historians, but the military’s role in managing the 25 January, 2011 revolution, and the coup on 3 July 2013 against the democratically-elected President Mohammed Morsi, is certainly a major variable in whatever collective phenomena that followed.

But can IS be considered a collective phenomenon?

Judging by the number of individuals we think might be involved in the formation of the group and their supposed outreach beyond certain geographies, IS could in fact be recognised as a collective phenomenon. IS members and supporters are heavily present in Iraq and Syria, but claim influence in other Middle Eastern regions including Sinai, Egypt, Libya and elsewhere.

In fact, they entered the Libyan scene, itself crowded with many militias and other violent manifestations, in a dramatic away by butchering 21 Egyptian labourers working in that war-torn North African country. The rationale given for their murder is not very clear, but the tacit understanding is that they were Christians, and that was meant to justify the slaughter.

The IS quandary

But a puzzling matter exists. While al-Qaeda during its most violent phases won the support of many people in the region, IS is hardly popular. Even the support of Salafist jihadists here and there is diminishing.

In fact, while many despise them, conspiracy theorists are busy linking them to Israel, the US and other Arab regimes, which could be considered the ultimate disavowal of the group.

Those who half-heartedly supported them during the first phase of the Syria civil war quickly turned against them. IS was later accused of being a Syrian intelligence outlet, or at least working closely with the regime with the aim of breaking the ranks of the opposition. That theory was marginalised quickly as IS began butchering Syrian soldiers, although the matter received scant media coverage.

Still, IS is growing; its tentacles are stretching further despite the declared US-led war to destroy it with the help of many powerful allies.

IS was arguably an outcome of various alliances that took place starting in Iraq 10 years ago, between al-Qaeda and other regional groups; they didn’t appear as a serious force until recently. Yet, in the matter of two years or less, it managed to achieve what al-Qaeda – which was much more popular for opposing the US and its allies – couldn’t achieve in nearly 15 years.

Within a matter of months, IS managed to claim and sustain its control over massive territorial gains in Syria but much more rapidly in Iraq, to operate a relatively functioning economy and to develop a most remarkable media apparatus. It even developed its own school curriculum.

From the notoriety of its methods, it seems that IS is little concerned about its own popularity among ordinary people, who are its ultimate victim. This has been demonstrated time and again, most notably in the killing of the Jordanian pilot, Muaz Kasasbeh, and the Egyptian workers in Libya and hundreds of cases that were less interesting for media outlets.

Beyond the ‘savages’ argument

While violence and war radicalise people, the size and nature of the IS phenomenon doesn’t seem consistent with its rational historical context.

Even the sectarianism argument rarely addresses the point. IS victims come from every class, religion, ethnicity, gender and political group. Most of their victims are in fact Sunni Muslim. If one follows the blood trail of their actions, one can rarely spot definable commonalities, or a unified rationale, aside from the fact that it is all “barbaric” behaviour bent on instilling fear.

The easily defensible “barbarians,” “savages” and “psychopaths” theories are last resorts for those who cannot find a plausible explanation for this kind of behaviour.

Some find IS’s behaviour as a handy opportunity to bash Islam, to the puzzlement of most Muslims, who know full well that setting people ablaze goes against every value that Islam stands for. Even al-Qaeda rejected IS, because of its brutal behaviour, which itself is telling.

However, none of this explains IS’s political savvy, let alone impressive media style. Indeed, IS actions seem to be politically calculated in such a way that appears to coincide with the interests of regional and western powers.

For instance, the group announced its existence in Sinai at a time when Egypt’s strongman, Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, was desperate to create distractions from his political and economic woes at home.

They butchered the Egyptian labourers just as Sisi was itching to get involved in Libya, to support forces allied with the CIA-trained General Khalifa Haftar, and as Sisi signed a lucrative deal with France to purchase Rafale French fighter jets, that no one seemed interested to buy.

Egyptian authorities had a 50-day notice to negotiate the release of the workers. Despite pleas by their families, it did next to nothing. Once they were killed, Egypt went to war, and within 24 hours signed a contract with France to purchase the war-planes.

It is important to note that France has taken a leadership position in the NATO war on Libya, and is largely responsible for the mess created since the ousting of murdered Libyan leader Muammar Gaddhafi. France is in need of regional backing for its Libya policy, and Sisi’s large army seems the best possible option.

It is astonishing that IS’s most disturbing videos seem to fit almost perfectly into existing political agendas.

Growing without popularity

Unlike al-Qaeda, IS’s religious agenda is hardly as pronounced. They carry out all sorts of bizarre actions in the name of Islam, but seem to lack deep Islamic theology or forward thinking vision. They are intensely militaristic and their body of Islamic literature is selective and lacking.

This is what was concluded by those who spent time with IS, expecting that the religious component would be the overriding element in their war. Hardly.

Yet, without major popular backing, and removed from much of the historical context in the Middle East, they continue to grow, and appear in the most politically convenient locations.

Thanks to IS’ despicable act of burning the pilot, Jordan is no longer polarised about their country’s war in Syria.  Egypt is following the same path of intervention, thanks to the butchering of the Egyptian workers.

This is not to propose a specific conspiracy or to purport to understand the exact dynamics that propel IS, but to raise questions: prominent among them is that IS’s mysterious roots, its sudden advent, massive growth, and unexplainable geopolitical expansion is inconsistent with the lack of enthusiasm for them and their cause among ordinary people.

In fact, if judged exclusively through the prism of people’s history, the IS phenomenon is ahistorical.

By exploring that assumption, IS can be better understood, and perhaps confronted. The answer does not lie in understanding either Islam or Muslims, but by following the money trail, regional intrigues, and obvious and not so-obvious competing political agendas. Simply put, ordinary people are not the force behind IS.

Not only does IS seem to have no strategy of its own, but its “strategy” is inexplicably and enigmatically consistent with those who are seeking to maintain military intervention, regionally and internationally, as the only way to handle Middle East crises.

If we accept that hypothesis, we are likely to change the way we explain and think about IS altogether.

(Source / 01.03.2015)

Written by altahrir

March 1, 2015 at 10:05 pm

Posted in Opinion others

Tagged with ,


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