Saturday, January 29

Winds of Change in the Middle East

Official photograph of Egyptian President Hosn...Image via Wikipedia
In the last few weeks we have witnessed protests in Tunisia where the Ben Ali dictatorial regime has been overthrown. Now it is Egypt's turn. The dictatorial regime of President Hosni Mubarak is on the verge of collapse.

After 30 years of dictatorial rule, nepotism and corruption which had been propped up by the US, who had turned a blind eye to the Egyptian people's economic woes - severe poverty, unemployment, rising food prices and one must remember that 40% of Egypt's citizens earn less than $2 a day. Mubarak has ruled the people with a heavy hand. He was re-elected in a fraudulent election and the opposition groups, who are liberal and disunited apart from the Muslim Brotherhood, received no votes to speak of.

The Moslem Brotherhood is not taking a prominent role in the uprising which seems to be a free for all at this stage. No alternative leader can unite the various opposition factions, presenting a viable democratic alternative to the despised Mubarak dictatorship. Young Egyptians are frustrated because of the hopelessness of their situation since their birth.

This is a tinderbox. When there is violent and widespread protest, it will be difficult to contain.

Much lies in the hands of the army’s ability to crush the Egyptian uprising.
They may lose that ability as the army has family involved in the widespread protests, and it is not likely that they will fire on their own people for any length of time. It is possible that many members of the armed forces could join the ranks of the Egyptian protesters as was the case in Tunisia. The situation is very uncertain now.

Dr Mohammed El Baradei, the Noble Prize winner, who was director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), is a possible alternative leader but he does not have grass roots support because of his long absence from Egypt. Now he has been placed under house arrest.

Meanwhile the streets of Cairo, Alexandria and Suez are still simmering with protesters. Their goals are clear but there is no alternative leadership. The situation is approaching anarchy. It could allow the Muslim Brotherhood to take the initiative and be a uniting force even temporarily. If this happens, it would not help Egypt's transition towards democracy.

Egypt has a very prominent group of educated people in the opposition who could be alternative leaders. It remains to be seen if they could garner enough support from the people. Now many are heads of opposition splinter groups with which are disunited.

How this will affect the Palestinians - Israeli Conflict is anybody's guess. Mubarak was an important facilitator and this is now over, at least for now. The insensitivity of the US presidents towards the Egyptian people's economic plight is also a factor in anti-American sentiments that seem to be coming out of the protests. The reason is US unqualified support for the Mubarak dictatorship and very tenacious lip service supporting the wellbeing of the Egyptian people. In practice, Mubarak is viewed as a strategic ally of the US and this has been demonstrated by the US pouring billions of dollars into Mubarak's coffers rather than into projects that are beneficial to improving living standards and Egypt's  economy to create jobs and ease the horrifying poverty so rampant n Egypt. This could be an impetus for Islamic extremism and anti-Americanism to gain the upper hand. This would be disastrous for the future of peace between Israel and the Palestinians as well as an end to Israel's peace treaty with Egypt signed 33 years ago.

Mubarak's situation is very shaky and his only option available to him to retain his power grip on the country is by sending in the Egyptian Army to use unlimited force to quell the widespread protests. If the army deserts and joins the protesting people then the Mubarak dictatorship is doomed.

However, Egypt does have a high proportion of moderate people who are traditional Moslems and not extremists. There is no chants of "Allah Akbar" in the streets which means that there are a large number of secular people involved in protests and this maybe a check on the emergence of Islamic extremism that could become a dominant factor in the post Mubarak period.

Maybe the winds of change are not very bleak either. When one views the cracks occurring in the despotic and corrupt Arab dictatorships, there is a feeling of déjà vu when the autocratic communist dictatorships of Eastern Europe fell because of popular uprisings in the early 1990s.

No country in the Arab world, where undemocratic rule corruption and nepotism is dominant, is immune from a potential popular uprising. The evil Ahmadinajad regime in Iran will probably be on the firing line as well in the near future.

Returning to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, especially on the Gaza front ruled by an undemocratic Hamas regime which is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt may also crumble. Hamas is responsible for untold suffering of the Gaza people where corruption, nepotism as well as clan warfare is rampant. The only thing that unites the factions in Hamas is the common hate for Israel and the Jewish People.

It seems possible that a revolution inspired by the people of the respective country and not a foreign power such as the US has a greater chance of success. Wherever the US had come “as liberators” against tyrants in the Middle East the results have been utter chaos and further bloodshed. Examples of this are Iraq and Afghanistan.

It would be prudent to support the Egyptian People's struggle for achieving democracy and economic improvements to their lives. This would be for the good of all the peoples of the Middle East including Israel. The future of the unknown is always a risk but one thing for sure is that it could decrease Hamas's power as well as Hezbollah's influence which is no less corrupt, cruel and autocratic.

The people of the Arab world are beginning to rise against their despotic rulers and this could weaken the various terrorist Islamic groups. Who knows?

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Saturday, January 15

Israel's Tarnished Image

Portrait of Avigdor LiebermanImage via Wikipedia
We are all aware that Israel's image in the world is becoming tarnished. There are a number of reasons for this. It is not anti-Semitism as the paranoid right wing Zionists is so quick in claiming. It is the external and internal situation of the present Israeli Government's own creation.

I shall try to describe Israel's relationship with friendly countries beyond its borders and see what went wrong. Of course it is my personal gut feeling and I am aware that many people who are supporters of Israel will find my view unacceptable to their Zionist dreams and world view.

The Israeli Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, must be blamed for legitimizing right wing extremism and his hate for the left wing in Israel. He has even gone so far as to attack members of Netanyahu's coalition government of which he is part. It seems as if those who do not agree with him and his party's right wing views are against Israel's fight against terror and are aiding Israel's enemies.

Lieberman is trying to teach moderates and people with left wing views what Zionism is and deviation from his racist views is suspect of being treacherous.

Today it is the beginning of the witch-hunt for human rights organizations which are the checks and balances organizations against the abuse of power whether it is by the majority against the minority or vice versa. The excuse given by Avigdor Lieberman is that these leftists are getting funds from organizations that promote terrorism and delegitimize the IDF.

Avigdor Lieberman is playing a dangerous game. It is part of a grand plan, orchestrated by Avigdor Lieberman and his right wing cronies, to make laws that will investigate the funding of human rights groups. I presume that Lieberman will accuse even the mainstream politicians in the Knesset as not serving Israel's interests by not supporting Lieberman's anti-democratic bill.

It is inevitable that democracy in Israel will be compromised while Lieberman's Yisrael Beitenu Party remains in the ruling coalition. The essence of democracy is to ensure the electorate the right to choose the government that protects human rights as well as the rule of law with its healthy checks and balances against abuse of power.

Thanks to Lieberman and his cronies, democracy in Israel is threatened and the threats and xenophobia towards foreigners and minority non-Jewish Israelis is becoming common place.

The emphasis on Israel being a Jewish and a democratic state and the pledge of allegiance by non-Jewish citizens of Israel is a sign that national paranoia is increasing.

B'tzelem, the Israeli human rights organization, whose findings on human rights abuses towards Palestinians as well as violence against Israelis are investigated by this organization. Even the IDF relies on their findings. They are also on Lieberman’s firing line. The Physicians for Human Rights organization have also not escaped Lieberman's wrath. It is unclear how this organization is a danger to Israel’s security. This organization has established clinics to tend to the health of foreign workers and their offspring who have no medical cover. If anything, this organization's absence would create an increasing load on Israel's health services.

Lieberman as Foreign Minister is toadying to some of the most anti democratic leaders in the world. The leader of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, and Vladimir Putin of Russia are his friends. He panders to these post communist dictators with a history of suppressing opposition to their regimes. Both intimidate their opponents while poker-faced Putin has contracts for destroying and intimidating journalists who criticize his rule ruthlessly. This is part of Russia's heritage. Russia has never been a democracy - not under the Tsars, the Communists, or even today. This is Lieberman's heritage as well which is directed towards his pet hates - the Arabs and leftists. This is hardly surprising as they share a common anti democratic heritage and common language.

Lieberman's racism and intended witch-hunts against those whom he hates is doing a great amount of damage to Israel. Countries friendly to Israel are becoming more critical of Israel than in the past. Undoubtedly, some of this is Lieberman's doing.
Eli Yishai, leader of Shas, the ultra-Orthodox Party and Minister of the Interior holds similar views to Lieberman towards the Arabs. He has his own agenda of Halacha (Jewish Law – somewhat akin to Moslem Sharia or Islamic law under extremists) and this is not foreigner friendly.

We in Israel seem to forget that we happen to be part of the planet called Earth and that we are dependent on other nations of the world as well as their friendship. If Israel adopts policies that are discriminatory towards Arabs and non-Jews, we cannot expect to be free from criticism. The accusation that the whole world is anti-Semitic as a reaction to Liebermanism rings hollow. 

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