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Al-Qaeda withdraws from parts of Yemen

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Flag of Yemen

Flag of Yemen

Al-Qaeda has pulled out from the town of Azzan, its last stronghold in the southeastern province of Shabwah, according to a local source.

The source, who requested anonymity for security reasons, told the Anadolu Agency that a large number of Al-Qaeda fighters withdrew from Azzan yesterday, as Saudi-led coalition forces launched a military campaign in some of the southern provinces against the militant organisation.

The source added that cars belonging to Al-Qaeda were seen carrying some of its members and escaping to an unknown destination following heavy bombing by the jet fighters of the Arab military coalition on some Al-Qaeda sites in the city during the past three days.

Last Saturday, an airstrike targeting an Al-Qaeda gathering in Azzan resulted in four deaths and three injuries that were described as “serious”.

Al-Qaeda gained control of the province in February.

(Source / 10.08.2016)

Written by altahrir

August 10, 2016 at 8:04 pm

Syrian Coalition Discusses Latest Developments on the Ground with US Envoy to Syria

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President of the Syrian Coalition Anas Alabdah and a number of political committee members met with the US special envoy to Syria Michael Ratney in Istanbul on Wednesday.

The two sides discussed the latest political and field developments in Syria, particularly developments in the city of Aleppo. They also discussed the US-Russian talks on Syria.

Ratney said that the US-Russian talks are still underway, explaining that no final agreement has been reached yet. The US envoy stressed the need to prioritize efforts to urgently address the situation in Aleppo.
Both sides also discussed the issue of sieges imposed on civilians, describing it as no longer acceptable from any side. The meeting agreed on the need to ensure safe exit for civilians from the besieged areas and to put an end to the suffering of the Syrian people. The meeting also stressed the need to give a new push to the political process leading to the creation of a new Syria without Bashar al-Assad.

President Alabdah stressed the need to address the humanitarian situation in Aleppo and all areas across Syria as well so to find sustainable solutions to all besieged areas. He reiterated calls to stop the targeting of civilians and medical facilities and to release detainees in Assad’s prisons.

Alabdah pointed out that the sheer scale of the humanitarian tragedy in Syria makes it imperative that the UN Security Council find radical solutions and push for the full implementation of international resolutions on Syria. He also said that political process needs to be restated to bring about a political transition without Bashar al-Assad and his inner circle.

(Source: Syrian Coalition / 10.08.2016)

Written by altahrir

August 10, 2016 at 7:34 pm

Posted in Revolution Syria

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Risking death to document life in Syria

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Hussam-Eesa

Hussam Eesa

Much like Syria as a whole, little was known of the city of Raqqa before the civil war and the establishment of Daesh. Now, however, Raqqa conjures up images that stretch to public square beheadings, women clothed in black and groups of unruly men running amok with tanks and guns. Little is said of the living hell its citizens are forced to endure as the five year conflict rages on and even less of the daily civilian death toll that fails to hasten its end.

Raqqa was captured in 2013 and made Daesh’s headquarters in Syria in 2014 and has since been the focus of airstrikes from Syrian government forces, the US-led coalition and Russia as well as suffering irreversible damage caused internally Daesh. Hunger, siege and destruction mark the conditions of Syrian families fleeing the war in the area.

Given how dangerous the situation on the ground has become very few journalists, if any, operate directly from Syria. As a result, reports to international media agencies remain unverified due to the complete reliance on citizen journalists and activists who challenge the state-sponsored narrative of events between rebel groups, Daesh and government forces.  Armed with their mobile phones these activists are civilians who face death to document atrocities taking place on their doorsteps, posting on social media sites and amassing global audiences following their daily updates. Without these uncensored sources very little would be known about the extent of the conflict.

Well known activists including Hadi Abdullah have dominated the internet for as long as the conflict has spanned and have proven to be invaluable actors in holding the Syrian government to account for its crimes. Theirs are the eyes which allow the world to see the onslaught from within.

Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently (RBSS) is a campaign launched by a group of non-violent activists in Raqqa to expose atrocities committed by the Assad regime and “terrorist extremist group” Daesh. Their website describes the group as a “nonpartisan and independent news page [not] tied to any political or military group.”

The group was first founded in April 2014 by Hussam Eesa and a few friends under the accountRaqqa Blog where news, pictures and videos from Raqqa were published regularly. Realising the support it was garnering they decided to branch out to other Syrian activists who were in the same line of work and create a bigger campaign called Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently. It was only a month later that the group would succumb to its first casualty: activist Almoutaz Bellah Ibrahim.

Based in Germany, Hussam Eesa works as RBSS’s public relations manager and recently represented the organisation at the One World Media Awards in London where they received the Special Award for their contributors’ “immense bravery” in exposing “…the atrocities committed by terrorist extremist group ISIS”, in reference to Daesh.

“Getting an award from One World Media makes us feel proud,” says Hussam. “It is a great honour for us, it is a great moral motivation to complete our work especially knowing that there are organisations that know our work and support us.”

Since 2014, the group has expanded its base beyond Raqqa, documenting not only atrocities committed by Daesh but those resulting from the Assad regime, Al-Nusra Front, the Free Syrian Army, Russia and the International Alliance’s involvement. The group now comprises of three main teams that operate from Raqqa, Turkey and Europe. Images, videos and news reports that are collated in Raqqa are then passed onto the teams in Turkey and Europe who then upload the content online.

Due to safety concerns and to minimalise risks, activists operate under pseudonyms and are not made given the names of the team member they work with online. However, these safety measures are not foolproof; four members of RBSS – two in Syria and two in Turkey – have been targeted and killed for their work.

Hussam explains that each activist that joins RBSS is fully briefed on the dangers they will face and given full personal and digital safety training. “They know our work and know that it may lead to death,” he says. However many are willing to take the risk in order to refute statistics that fail to measure up to the true extent of over five years of death and destruction.

Groups like RBSS are invaluable in shifting the global lens to where it matters most: civilians. They provide a voice for Syrians who are otherwise drowned out by the rhetoric of conflict resolution that has no place for them.

“The work of the team is important, [it has] uncovered many facts and a lot of the media and human rights organisations even consider us as a source [and] a lot of civilians in Syria believe that we are their voice,” Hussam explains.

“Everyone knows that our work is clear and we convey news from inside Syria,” he says. However the organisation often struggles to be noticed and believed on the backdrop of political disarray where the official narrative paints a very different picture.

Getting information out of war-torn Syria has proven very difficult for RBSS, constant power cuts and lack of equipment mean internet access is a luxury. But “we have alternative ways [to go online],” Hussam says. “We do not rely on internet cafes [and] have our own ways to convey information,” which is clearly evident by the daily Facebook and Twitter updates which have amassed a following of over a million users, and the content-laden website that documents atrocities, highlights regional statistics and provides a space for activists to post personal accounts of the war.

RBSS’s goal is simple: “To get Syria to [be a] free civilian democracy” and above all to be heard. “My message to the world would be that there are a lot of civilians who want freedom and democracy in Raqqa and in Syria, our problem is not just with ISIS. We are fighting ideologies, we are fighting all of the assaults on civilians [and] we must stop the war in Syria and see an end to Daesh, the Syrian regime and all the militia [that] are fighting our rights to freedom.”

This message is certainly not new; the same calls were made in March 2011, by Syrians who were out in their thousands peacefully singing in protest for an end to the Assad regime, raising roses to the sky for their fallen before being sprayed with bullets and seeing their country ripped apart by those violently scrambling to fill the gaping power vacuum. The international community repeatedly failed to meet the demands of Syrians in 2011, to fight a regime adamant on purging its citizens of dissent.

The singing may have quietened and the revolutionary spirit dimmed against the multi-faceted terror that has engulfed Syria but to say the demands of Syrians have been put aside is to deny a people who have held out for too long at a considerable price to gain back their country and their freedom.

“The best solution in Syria would be the elimination of the Syrian regime, ISIS and Kurdish militias, and all the groups that are fighting Syrians’ rights,” concludes Hussam. “The solution in Syria is supporting Syrians in achieving what they want and not what the international community wants.”

(Source / 09.08.2016)

Written by altahrir

August 9, 2016 at 9:19 pm

Posted in Revolution Syria

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Egypt’s jailed journalists’ prison conditions under the spotlight

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[File photo]

The Egyptian Press Syndicate is holding a conference today to discuss the prison conditions jailed journalists are enduring in addition to pre-trial detentions which have lasted longer than the two-year constitutional limit.

The organisation’s Freedoms Committee, which is hosting the event, will also addresses the grievances of the syndicate’s members and their families and the health conditions of imprisoned journalists, in addition to the strict way in which they and their families are treated by authorities.

The event comes after the syndicate received complaints from the families of a number of its imprisoned members about the deterioration of their health and the violations they are being subjected to.

(Source / 09.08.2016)

Written by altahrir

August 9, 2016 at 8:03 pm

Posted in Revolution Egypt

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British FM Reaffirms Commitment to Political Solution in Letter to the Syrian Coalition

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President of the Syrian Coalition Anas Alabdah earlier on Tuesday received a letter from the British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson about the situation in Syria and the political process. The British Foreign Secretary reaffirmed his country’s commitment “to supporting a political transition as the only way to bring an end to the tragic conflict in Syria and the terrible suffering of the Syrian people.”

Johnson stressed that this political transition should be based on UN Security Council resolutions on Syria, especially resolution 2254, and on the Geneva Communiqué of 2012.

The letter comes in response to a letter sent earlier by President Alabdah to foreign ministers of the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) and the British Government. Alabdah’s letter called for taking concrete and immediate steps to force the Assad regime to abide by the cessation of hostilities agreement; lift the siege on all civilian areas; and allow immediate and unfettered humanitarian access across the country.

Johnson stressed that “it is essential that we promote a genuine Cessation of Hostilities in Syria and secure full and sustained access for humanitarian aid to those in need.”

With regard to the worsening humanitarian situation in Aleppo and Daraya, Johnson said: “We are taking every opportunity, at the UN Security Council and other fora, to raise our deep concern about unacceptable regime attacks in these areas and to call for an end to attacks on civilians”

The United Kingdom has pressed toward holding a public meeting of the UN Security Council to address the situation in Aleppo. During the meeting, which was held on July25, the United Kingdom called for sustained, unhindered humanitarian access to all besieged areas across Syria.

“I will ensure that addressing the tragic but hugely important situation in Syria remains a priority for the UK and the international community,” Johnson added.

In his first remarks about Syria since he took office as the UK’s Foreign Secretary, Johnson said that Bashar al-Assad cannot remain in power in Syria.

“I will be making clear my view that the suffering of the Syrian people will not end while Assad remains in power. The international community, including Russia, must be united on this,” Johnson said in a statement released on July 19.

The Syrian Coalition’s political committee, meanwhile, held consultative meetings with the provisional council in Aleppo and other concerned organizations to discuss the latest developments in the province, most particularly the use of internationally banned weapons and the targeting of hospitals by the Assad regime and Russian forces. Participants in the meetings also discussed coordinating efforts to ensure a more effective campaign to protect civilians and introduce aid into the eastern parts of the city after the siege has been broken.

(Source: Syrian Coalition / 09.08.2016)

Written by altahrir

August 9, 2016 at 7:28 pm

Posted in Revolution Syria

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Jabhat al-Nusra’s rebranding is more than simple name change

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An Islamist Syrian rebel from Jabhat al-Nusra talks on a walkie-talkie while carrying his weapon on the al-Khazan front line of Khan Sheikhoun, northern Idlib province, May 17, 2014

On July 28, Jabhat al-Nusra announced it was severing all ties with its parent organization, al-Qaeda, and changing its name to Jabhat Fatah al-Sham (Conquest of Syria Front). Al-Qaeda gave its blessing to the move, reflecting an evolution by both organizations in their international strategies and a deep understanding of local Syrian dynamics.

Jordanian Salafist expert Hassan Abu Haniya, however, questions how much distance the secession will really put between the groups due to their complex ideological, historical and personal links.

Jabhat al-Nusra leader Abu Mohammed al-Golani appeared on camera late last month declaring “the complete cancellation of all operations under the name of Jabhat al-Nusra.” He said the new organization has no affiliation with any external entity.

On July 28, al-Qaeda’s second-in-command, Ahmed Hassan Abu al-Khayr, announced that Jabhat al-Nusra’s leadership had been instructed to “go ahead with what protects the interests of Islam and Muslims and what protects jihad.” Al-Qaeda’s No. 1 leader, Ayman al-Zawahri, added, “The brotherhood of Islam … is stronger than any organizational links.”

Yet Abu Haniya noted that Golani’s announcement carried many references to al-Qaeda: Golani was dressed in military fatigues, like the late al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden, and used Arabic expressions and references used by the infamous leader.

Besides the framing of the actual announcement, Abu Haniya explained, Jabhat al-Nusra’s decision was backed by major jihadi ideologues such as Sheikh Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi and Abu Qatada. Maqdisi and Abu Qatada are two influential Jordanian Salafist jihadi clerics with close links to al-Qaeda.

The move also garnered the approval of Saudi Sheikh Abdallah al-Muhaysini, the cleric of Jaish al-Fatah (Army of Conquest). Powerful Syrian rebel factions such as Ahrar al-Sham also applauded Jabhat al-Nusra’s decision, while figures such as Abu Hamza Hamawi, the head of the Salafist Ajnad al-Sham faction, said Jabhat al-Nusra’s decision could facilitate military unity.

In addition, al-Qaeda’s second-in-command, Abu al-Khayr, who blessed the secession, is currently in Syria with the consent of Jabhat al-Nusra. “What does this tell you of the supposed [split] in relations? If there was a real break of the pledge of allegiance between the two organizations, it is supposed to be [according to jihadi practices] condemned by death,” said Abu Haniya. He said the groups’ separation appears to be only tactical.

He added that the decoupling shows al-Qaeda prioritizes its affiliate’s survival. “Al-Qaeda has witnessed several phases since its inception as it went from a local organization [in Afghanistan] to a global organization after the September 2001 coordinated terror attacks on the United States, which was followed by a period of ‘indimaj,’ a period of mixed policies with a focus on both the far and close enemies. Now we are witnessing a return to the primacy of local dynamics,” Abu Haniya stressed.

The expert added that the transformation also indicates al-Qaeda’s move since the Arab Spring to an emphasis on Syria-centered politics.

That move to prioritizing local politics has translated into Jabhat al-Nusra adopting a pragmatic approach to external and internal pressures. On July 13, Russia and the United States discussed forming a Joint Implementation Group to share intelligence, to possibly direct operational cooperation against Jabhat al-Nusra and to keep Russia from targeting jointly designated, and presumably opposition-controlled, areas.

The new US-Russian partnership might have accelerated Jabhat al-Nusra’s departure from al-Qaeda. In his statement, Golani said the Syrian opposition to the regime has to “remove the pretext used by powers, including the US and Russia, to bomb Syrians.”

Internal pressures also might have influenced Jabhat al-Nusra’s leadership decision. In the past year, the group held various discussions toward that goal, with Jabhat al-Nusra member Abu Maria al-Qahtani of Iraq arguing for the “Syrianization” of Jabhat al-Nusra, according to Syrian Islamic sources. “Syrian members of Jabhat al-Nusra who represent the large majority were also in favor of severance of ties with al-Qaeda,” Sheikh Hassan Dgheim, a Syrian cleric who studies Islamic organizations, told Al-Monitor.

Aleppo-based journalist Ahmad Abi Zeid told Al-Monitor many Syrians within Jabhat al-Nusra do not necessarily espouse al-Qaeda’s ideology, but have joined the organization because of the power it projects.

However, Abu Haniya believes the break with al-Qaeda was the result of a simple opportunity-and-threat analysis. “Jabhat al-Nusra felt it was losing popularity, and it affected their relations with other groups. Since the break, the rebel coalition was given new impetus with the Aleppo offensive.” On July 31, rebel groups launched the “Great Battle” (malahem) on Aleppo, which is still underway.

Dynamics marking the fresh Aleppo offensive by a large rebel alliance, including Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, confirm Jabhat al-Nusra’s successful calculation to decouple from al-Qaeda. The separation allowed the new group to consolidate its presence on Syrian soil and form alliances with other rebel groups that previously were hesitant to join forces with them due to the al-Qaeda affiliation.

“The rebranding and fresh victories will add credibility to Jabhat Fatah al-Sham. This will certainly have repercussions on factions that were previously afraid of being targeted by cooperating with [al-Qaeda]. Salafist and Islamic factions will definitely perceive this move positively,” Abi Zeid said.

Nonetheless, severing ties with the global jihad movement may also place the organization at a disadvantage. Dgheim underlines that in the past three months, several members of the group defected to join the Islamic State. This phenomenon may indicate a wider dissatisfaction among Jabhat al-Nusra’s hard-liners, specifically its foreign fighters. Abu Haniya, however, disagreed.

“The decision to break ties with al-Qaeda had the approval of foreign leaders within the organization. During the secession announcement, Golani surrounded himself with a Syrian national, Abu Abdullah al-Shami, and a foreign fighter, Ahmad Salama Mabruk, also known as Abu Faraj the Egyptian, which is highly symbolic and shows the prevalence of its foreign affiliation,” Abu Haniya explained, adding that the number of defections to this date has been limited.

Regardless of the repercussion of its name change on the Syrian scene, Jabhat al-Nusra’s decision to rebrand is a clear indicator of al-Qaeda’s repositioning in the Levant. Jabhat Fatah al-Sham’s new coalitions and its view of the Syrian political system and the peace process will reveal the extent of the organization’s pragmatism and whether it is really willing to evolve.

(Source / 09.08.2016)

Written by altahrir

August 9, 2016 at 2:21 pm

Posted in Revolution Syria

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Why some Egyptians yearn for return to monarchy

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King Farouk and Queen Farida of Egypt at an event, circa 1940

The newfound nostalgia among Egyptians for the monarchical period did not emerge in a vacuum. Among the most important principles of the revolution of July 23, 1952, were the elimination of capitalism and monopolies, bringing about social justice and putting in place a functioning democratic regime to confront political distortion. Yet on the 64th anniversary of that revolution, these have yet to be achieved.

In the shadow of the political polarization that followed the January 25 Revolution in 2011 and the government’s failure to manage the country politically and economically, Egyptians suffer from a bout of nostalgia that is driving some of them to say, “May God have mercy on [the king]; If only another [like you] would come!”

Facebook has become a platform both for young Egyptians who support a return to the monarchical period and for those who oppose it. The official Facebook page of King Farouk is always posting bright, attractive images of Egypt during the period of the monarchy and contrasting them with the chaos and caprice that afflicts Cairo today.

Egyptians consider the July 1952 revolution a watershed moment in their modern history, one which helped to rid them of monarchical rule. Nevertheless, current repression by the security forces has caused many to reconsider the words attributed to King Farouk when he was leaving Egypt (“One drop of Egyptian blood is more precious to me than all the thrones of this world.”) and compare them with what happened after the January 25 Revolution and the killing of protesters that followed.

Egypt’s budget for the 1948-1949 fiscal year reached 183.4 million Egyptian pounds, with a surplus of 10 million Egyptian pounds. The single largest line item was named “Support for Palestine,” followed by defense and then education. Taxes were the main source of revenue, mostly upon the wealthy, not those with limited incomes. The budget also allocated to the poor something called “expense subsidies.” The Ministry of Finance estimates the budget deficit for the 2016-2017 fiscal year at 319.46 billion Egyptian pounds ($36.2 billion).

Hamdi Abd al-Tawwab, an Egyptian journalist, told Al-Monitor that “most of the information [presented by] the monarchy’s defenders is partial, especially when you consider that the period when King Farouk ascended the throne was one of the worst periods in Egyptian history in nearly every respect. The evidence shows that that period witnessed the spread of illiteracy, ignorance and poverty. The Wafd party arose as part of the Million Shoes campaign of 1948 to aid the poor.”

He added, “Those who defend the monarchical period are under the sway of lies, like [the streets of] Cairo and other cities were clean. They forget that [urbanization] was limited to only 2% of the population, mostly the king and his entourage.”

Muhammad Ghanim, a high school teacher, told Al-Monitor, “King Farouk was close to the clerics and the [Quranic] reciters, such as Sheikh Mustafa Ismail, and the [so-called] ‘prince of poets’ Ahmad Shawqi, while the clerics today cannot find anyone to provide for them.”

“The reality which our people are living through right now only confirms that the experiment in republican rule has failed. Egypt has been transformed from a creditor nation into an international debtor. Egypt’s debts had reached nearly 300 billion [Egyptian pounds] by 1969, and Egypt was forced to resort to American food aid, after having been a major cotton exporter. Moreover, the local currency declined,” he added.

Muhammad Ibrahim, a university student, told Al-Monitor, “On July 23, the terms ‘Basha’ moved from being used for landed gentry to a title for officers, namely those who rebelled against King Farouk’s corruption to govern the country themselves. They spread even more corruption, killed the young people and looted the country’s riches.”

In his view, the officers became the July 1952 revolution’s greatest beneficiaries. They succeeded in forming an empire for themselves, taking over vast swathes of land through their influence within the army.

Ibrahim added, “The two states of Sudan and South Sudan both belonged to Egypt, and the King refused to give them up to the influence of the Sidky-Bevin agreement of 1936, which enabled the evacuation of English occupation forces from Egypt. England refused to evacuate the Sudan, however. Contrast that with today, and the government is giving up the two islands of Tiran and Sanafir to Saudi Arabia.”

Zaydan Yahi, an engineer, told Al-Monitor, “Egypt enjoyed tremendous status within the international community. That much you can tell from the pictures showing King Farouk visiting the prime minister of Iran in 1938, where the latter took the king’s hand, and from Cairo’s manufacture of the Kiswah [which once] draped the Kaaba, dispatching it to Mecca in a convoy known as ‘Al-Mahmil,’ which also bore Egyptian pilgrims.” He added, “Now, Egyptians are insulted and humiliated abroad. Now, we [beg for] rugs from the UAE, and financial aid from Saudi Arabia.”

Yahi said, “King Farouk launched social projects like the founding of the Council to Combat Poverty, Ignorance and Sickness in 1946, as well as a project to house the poor and another to provide free primary and secondary education.”

“King Farouk closed the Al-Sukri gold mine in 1948 so that it would become a source of wealth for future generations. He loved Egypt and thought of its interest even after he left the country. Today we exhaust our natural resources, and plants close because of the lack of raw materials and workers threatened with arbitrary dismissal and displacement.”

Yahi stressed that the unemployment rate in Faruq’s era was only 2%, while today it has reached 12.7%. Then, $1 was equal to around 25 Egyptian piasters, while today $1 is worth more than 12 Egyptian pounds on the black market. In the monarchical period, Egypt lent Britain the equivalent of $29 billion in today’s dollars, whereas, in the present era, Egypt must negotiate with the International Monetary Fund to obtain a loan of $12 billion, in addition to aid from the Gulf.

He clarified to Al-Monitor that, at the cultural level, Cairo was a center of art. Giants in the world of music, poetry and literature resided there during the monarchical era, while today we’ve got what they call “the singers of the slums.”

Mohamed Nabil, a journalist, said in a Facebook post that “those defending the monarchy’s rule aren’t looking at the social variables and the sheer scale of beneficiaries from the July revolution, chiefly from the lower social class. As for those who attack the Republican regime, who mock [Gamal Abdel Nasser] because of the wave of security repression and the lies of the democracy present today, they imagine that the July revolution brought Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to power … [but] it was the officers who gave women the right to vote.”

Qadri Hafny, a professor of political psychology, told Al-Monitor, “The suffering that Egypt is going through at present is driving the youth to take out their wrath on the period of the Republican regime and yearn for a return to the period of the monarchy. But they are only focusing on that period’s positives, without addressing its mistakes.”

He added, “Absolute support for any period will lead to reverence for, and sanctification of, human historical figures. Thereafter, it’s a slippery slope to justifying [their] errors, because [people] begin to have it fixed in their mind that those mistakes were unavoidable, [or that] major achievements could not have been attained without them. From there it’s a short road to repeating those same mistakes, if they are accompanied by [similar] achievements. That’s what’s taking place now with the youth who are defending Nasser or opposing the Republican regime.”

(Source / 08.08.2016)

Written by altahrir

August 8, 2016 at 8:41 pm

Posted in Revolution Egypt

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