Saturday, February 26

Now it is Libya's Turn

The leader de facto of Libya, Muammar al-Gaddafi.Image via Wikipedia
Now the unrest has reached Libya. Muammer Gaddafi, Libya's unpredictable maverick tyrant, whose sanity is questionable, is in deep trouble. His cruelty and autocracy, unchallenged for over 40 years, is now on the firing line.

Gaddafi, the maverick and unchallenged dictator, had maintained a "divide and rule" policy during the years of his rule in order to ensure his rule until his last breath. He had never honed a successor. His country became prosperous (or rather Gaddafi and his family) while the oil wealth never reached the Libyan people, who like in most oil-rich Arab countries, remained in abject poverty.

While sweeping changes are occurring all over the Arab world, starting with Tunisia as a result of a poor vegetable vendor and spread like wild fire over the Arab world. Libya was not expected to be on the list as the country is composed of many tribes who are not united as many reports claim. An interesting observation is that Libya has a high literacy rate (For the total population of Libya the literacy rate is about 82.6%. For those that are male the literacy of Libya is about 92.4%, and for female, it is 72% according to the 2003 estimate. Libya has the highest literacy rate in northern Africa) contrary to what one may expect. Education is readily available but the Libyan people have no political or human rights.

Gaddafi's power is under threat and from what we see now his power base is weakening. Many parts of Libya have fallen to the opposition and the price paid by the Libyan people in blood has been high and continues to be so.

Gaddafi's cruelty knows no bounds. His army and police force have defected to the rebels. Libyan diplomats all over the world are resigning. They refuse to represent the Gaddafi regime. Most have changed allegiance to the opposition. Gaddafi has taken on mercenaries to kill his people. The sight of bound bodies in the streets, shot at point blank range are gruesome.

The UN and the US are slow to react. Even the UN Human Rights Commission is making belated sterile clucking noises about the cruelty perpetrated by Gaddafi. The call for sanctions and no fly zones will take a while to institute. Meanwhile the killings go on unabated. The US is dithering again as it did in Egypt. They are not keen on taking military action as they know that they screw up everything wherever they become involved. Iraq, Afghanistan and even further back in time - Vietnam remains etched in their collective memory. If they botch up again, the Arab world will turn against the US as they have done in the past and Obama seems very sensitive to that possibility. President Obama seems satisfied to utter words of condemnation of Gaddafi and the violence towards the Libyan people and paying lip service to severe sanctions and severing diplomatic relations.

Meanwhile, Gaddafi is still holding on to Tripoli while Benghazi and Tobruk have fallen to opposition groups.

Despite the "divide and rule" policy of the Gaddafi regime, the large number of tribes in Libya seems very united in ridding their country of this insane tyrant. The opposition groups are motivated to achieve the removal of Gaddafi from power by force. We all hope that they succeed in their common goal. This common cause of their fight for human rights and equality is the glue that is uniting the Libyan people. It is hoped that this unity will last in the post Gaddafi period which is on their doorstep. The unity of the Libyan people must overcome all tribal differences which may or may not be exaggerated by the press.

The speeches that Gaddafi made were incoherent, lacking in logic and cast great doubts on his sanity. There is nothing worse for any country than having a tyrant who is insane and massacres his people. Gaddafi is a desperate, tyrannical lunatic. He knows that the end of his rule is near. It would be no surprise if he commits suicide when he loses his grip on power.

The situation in Libya is very unstable and many foreign nationals are lining up in their thousands to board the nearest ship or plane for evacuation.

Every Arab state that has been swept up by the uprisings, despite their differences, has much in common. It is the desire for change from the old order of corrupt autocrats. They are fighting for the same goals of freedom, democracy, human rights and employment. The mantra that the West was led to believe by the autocratic dictatorships, that democracy is not suited to Islam and the Arab world is falling apart. All the Arab world uprisings have their sources of information from the youth using Face book and Twitter. (I wonder what Mark Zukerburg, the inventor of Face book, is feeling now. His software programme has changed the Arab world by sparking off revolutions.)

As an Israeli, I think we have a wonderful opportunity to make peace with our Arab neighbours. The opportunity may or may not be fraught with dangers of the unknown. There is room for cautious optimism. The youth are discarding the mantras of their aging autocratic dictatorships. Surely the time has come for us to do the same towards a changing Arab world. Even in Libya, there have been no anti-Israel slogans as was Gaddafi's habit in the past and present.

Perhaps it is to Israel's advantage that apart from with Egypt and Jordan, Israel had no diplomatic relations with the old Arab world and its autocratic corrupt leadership. When the Arab world moves towards democracy, Israel has an opportunity to make peace with the Arab people and not corrupt tyrannical regimes as in Egypt and maybe even Jordan.

However, Israel's right wing government with its total lack of vision for change will not take the plunge and they will continue with their old mantras of occupation and discrimination against its non-Jewish citizens.

As I mentioned in my previous article, there are steps that Israel must take to end her increasing isolation in the Arab world. Israel must decide to negotiate with the Palestinians to freeze settlements in the occupied territories and to end the occupation. Only after doing this will Israel regain her stature in the world. The racial bills that the right wing government of Israel under the patronage of Avigdor Lieberman, are trying to pass into law, must be abolished.

When the Israeli electorate realizes that it is in Israel's interest to rid their country of this right wing, visionless, racist government at the ballot box, can we take our rightful place amongst the world of nations with pride rather than being a polecat as we are at present.



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Saturday, February 19

The Aftermath of Mubarak

a map of the Arab WorldImage via Wikipedia
The Egyptian people have achieved their objective - the overthrow of the autocratic Mubarak regime. We should be supporting the Egyptian people in this achievement. It is important to achieve peace with the Egyptian people's democratically elected leadership, when that occurs and the Egyptian Military does not remain in power beyond the transition period after elections, rather than a dictatorship that does not have the support of the people. Israel must come to terms with this. It is not contrary to peace and stability.

Now the massive task begins in rebuilding Egypt, which means that a constitution has to be drawn up to ensure that the Egyptian people's human rights are maintained and that the democracy for which they fought will be carried out.

The Egyptian Military may be able to bring a semblance of order for a limited period but this is not the answer for building a democracy where it had never existed. As I mentioned in my previous post, military rule can never be democratic rule. Whenever military rule was prevalent in many countries, the people protested and transition to civil, democratic rule was hard and bloody. It is hoped that the Mubarak regime will not be replaced by a military dictatorship.

Meanwhile the repercussions of the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings with their successes in overthrowing their autocratic dictatorships are sending rumblings all over the Arab world, including non-Arab Iran.

The hypocritic Iranian regime praised the Egyptian uprising for human rights which is non-existent in Iran. They soon blamed Israel when young Iranians demonstrated in their thousands in their demand for human rights and democracy. The Ahmadinajad revolutionary guards were quick in acting against the opposition’s demonstrations with a heavy hand resulting in scores of injuries and even deaths. This says much for Ahmadinajad's "democracy" and its despotic Ayatollahs.

Demonstrations were held in Bahrain as well. The domino effect of all these demonstrations will be pounding the despotic rulers of the Middle East. No Arab country is immune from these protests. The people of Yemen, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Libya have now joined the bandwagon of demonstrations in the Middle East. It is still too early to predict whether they will be successful in achieving their goals.

These uprisings have the same message for all the despots of the Middle East - the fight for human rights, democracy, freedom of speech and employment. There are no religious slogans for support of a theocratic Islamic state having sharia (Muslim Law) as its basis. The people of the Arab world have had enough! Their contemporaries in the democratic world enjoy freedom, democracy and the right to choose.The youth of the Arab peoples wishes the same.

Today's computer technology, with Face book and Twitter so readily available, has exposed everybody to modernity and awareness of an uncensored, progressive human spirit that crosses all boundaries making the world a global village. The Arab youth have had enough of repressive religious dogmas, lack of vision and the extreme wealth of the ruling autocratic dictatorships that have denied them a share in their countries of birth. Poverty, unemployment, severe unequal distribution of wealth has been their lot for generations.

Israel's leadership is watching these developments with suspicion. The right wing government fears these changes and views them as a sign of danger towards "the only true democracy" in the Middle East. The Arab people are fighting for civil rights and a new secular democracy. Israel is still in denial and is mourning the loss of an ally, Hosni Mubarak. We must move on and accept the change in a positive light. After all the Egyptian and Tunisian people are struggling for values in which we believe. All the hostilities against Israel in the past have been initiated by Arab despotic regimes with no history of democracy. The silent majority of the Middle East wants peace and Israel must reach them.

It is uncertain at this stage as to which Middle Eastern country is next online. There are still a number of despotic Arab regimes indulging in Israel-bashing as a diversion. They do this as a diversion to unite their oppressed people and keep them from revolting against their autocratic leadership.

The uprisings are having a snow ball effect and no Arab country is immune from it. It is all about empowerment and thanks to Twitter, Face book and mobile phones, the youth are engaged in a struggle for human rights, democracy and education as well as the right for a decent future. It is not about Israel's destruction or Islamic extremism to conquer the world.
Despite the fears and risks, Israel must cease to pine for their ally, Hosni Mubarak. They must adapt to the new situation and cease the stereotypic paranoid statements. The Hamas regime in Gaza is also under threat as the people want democracy. The anti-Israel rhetoric from the Hamas leadership will not last indefinitely. The Palestinian people will rise up against their autocratic despotic leadership whether it is Hamas in Gaza or Fatah in the West Bank. It is a matter of time before they rise above the mantra of self pity against the occupation and fight for democracy, transparency, better economic conditions and human rights. Many have Face book and Twitter and are aware of the uprisings in the Arab countries surrounding them. Meanwhile the Israeli occupation will go on the backburner until the situation in the neighboring Arab states stabilizes one way or the other. This does not mean that Israel must be complacent. Israel must change its policies towards the Palestinian people and take concrete steps to end the occupation. The autocratic dictatorships of the Palestinian people are playing their part in uniting the Palestinian people against Israel thus maintaining the occupation. Now more than ever it is important to maintain dialogue with the opposition groups in Palestine to make way for the dramatic changes that will soon be on their doorstep.

We must also remember that much of the anti-Israel rhetoric comes from despotic regimes in the Arab world including Iran. Israel has an excellent opportunity to make peace with the Arab peoples engaged in their uprisings against their dictatorships which are technically at war with Israel.

Unfortunately, Israel still adheres to its old mantras and the right wing government with Netanyahu-Lieberman at the helm is unimaginative and carries on as usual as if there are no winds of change with its domino effect.
There are signs of rumblings in Syria and the next Arab country in line could be anybody's guess. Nobody can predict what the future will be. One thing for sure - the Middle East will never be the same and Israel must heed the wake up call. Here is an opportunity to make peace with the Arab people and take steps to solve Israeli-Palestinian Conflict and end the occupation. The time is more than ripe.

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Saturday, February 12

The End of the Mubarak Era

The will of the Egyptian people has been accomplished. President Hosni Mubarak has resigned. After nearly three weeks of protests and shouting of anti-Mubarak slogans, the Egyptian people achieved what they wanted in a peaceful manner. Deaths have resulted because of the actions of Mubarak's goons.

One cannot help empathizing with the Egyptian people and identifying with their fight for freedom, democracy and human rights which had been denied them under the Mubarak era and its state of emergency that had never been lifted since Mubarak came into power thirty years ago.

The Egyptian people had their say and emphasized their standpoint. The fact that they achieved this with the minimum of violence is to their credit.

Nobody can predict what the future holds for Egypt and we, in Israel, do have some trepidation which is justified. A revolution in the Arab world including Iran (which is a non Arab country) has ended up in replacing one dictatorship by another. In Iran the dictatorship became Islamic in the extreme. The dictatorship of Iran is hypocritical in its cheering of the Egyptian revolution. Iran is no paragon of  democracy. The Ahmadinajad regime under the Ayatollahs is even worse than the Mubarak dictatorship ever was. Democracy is not tolerated there at all under any guise.

Perhaps the difference between Egyptian revolution and Iraqi revolution is that the Mubarak dictatorship was overthrown by the Egyptian people without any foreign aid in contrast to Iraq, where the US and its allies had overthrown the evil Saddam Hussein regime. At the same time, they left a chaotic situation behind with warring factions of Islamic terrorists killing innocent people at every opportunity.

The Egyptian people are mostly Sunni Muslims with a Coptic Christian minority and there is no strife amongst them. They are united in their common desire to rid their country of Mubarak, a dictator, who had no sympathy for his people's difficulties, lack of democratic rights and severe poverty as well as severe unemployment which was the plight of most of the population. The youth of Egypt was the spearhead that initiated the revolution. They had nothing to lose and everything to gain. They had no future under the autocratic Mubarak regime.

The Egyptian Army has now taken over and even Mubarak's sidekick, vice-President, Omar Suleiman, has been pushed aside. The army has reacted with restraint, and has managed to retain the respect and support of the Egyptian people. This is a good sign towards returning to order and the cessation of chaos. Despite the statements of support for democracy coming from the army, one must view this with great caution. Military rule usually ends in a military dictatorship and this would be contrary to the will of the Egyptian people. A new order of checks and balances must be introduced to prevent this from occurring and free democratic elections must be held as soon as possible so that a new constitution can be drawn up to ensure and protect the nascent democracy whose future is still very uncertain.

The situation in Egypt is uncertain with an opposition that is far from being united. The only thing that united them was ridding the country of the Mubarak dictatorship. Now that this has been achieved it remains to be seen who will replace him.

We Israelis are very close neighbors of Egypt. We have been watching with great interest the latest developments there, and we are all hoping that the peace between Israel and Egypt will be maintained even though it is a cold peace. Maybe the departure of Mubarak will improve Egyptian-Israeli relations. I say this with cautious optimism.

Israel does have legitimate fears as to the worst possible scenarios that could occur. The Muslim Brotherhood could possibly win in the elections and their members in this organization who have gone on record against Israel’s existence and the signing of the peace treaty with Egypt. On the other hand, there are moderate, pragmatic members of the Muslim Brotherhood who recognize Israel's right to exist and wish to maintain peace with Israel. The support of the Egyptian people for the Muslim Brotherhood remains untested at this stage. We will be the wiser when the situation in Egypt stabilizes resulting in free and democratic elections being held. However, Egypt has so many problems and even after the elections renewal of hostilities against Israel is unlikely.
Egypt's priorities are rebuilding its economy, creation of jobs and ensuring that human rights are not abused.

According to reports, the Muslim Brotherhood is not interested in becoming part of the new government and to date has not put up a candidate for the presidency despite the fact that they are the largest and most coherent opposition.

A rather interesting observation is that those who led the revolution are not Muslim fundamentalists but rather secular young people. There was no shouting of anti-Western or anti-Israel slogans. There may have been minority rabble rousing in this direction but it certainly was not characteristic of this revolution.

Israel must also be prepared to accept the new situation and support the Egyptian peoples’ desire for democratic change and their fight for human rights. This is to the advantage of all the peoples in the Middle East.

Israel could also take steps in freezing the building of new settlements and work systematically to end the occupation by deeds and not pay empty lip service to the establishment of a Palestinian state which can only be established once the territories occupied in the June 1967 War are liberated from Israeli rule with territorial adjustments agreed to by both Palestinians and Israelis. This would go along way to achieving a true and lasting peace between Israel, Palestine and the rest of the Arab world.

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Saturday, February 5

Exit Mubarak - Enter Democracy?

Members of the Kefaya democracy movement prote...
Image via Wikipedia

The Egyptian People's struggle to remove President Mubarak from power over the last couple of days seems to be gaining increasing momentum with pockets of resistance by Mubarak's thugs and hoodlums in a futile last minute attempt to prevent his downfall.

The crowds surging on Tahrir Square grows by the day and its determination to oust Mubarak and his corrupt regime is reaching a climax - how it will end remains unpredictable.

One thing is certain - the Egyptian people have shown their determination to rid their country of an autocratic despot who kept his country under emergency rule for as long as he has been in power. He has oppressed his people and had forged elections to maintain control for 30 years. Much of his opposition has been languishing in jails for many years - tried by Mubarak's kangaroo courts.

The Egyptian People have spoken. They want Mubarak to go now.

Meanwhile, the opposition seems to be united around one aim - the ousting of Mubarak and his exile from Egypt. No compromise is on the horizon yet. The Egyptian people have suffered enough! The lack of employment, rising food prices and immense poverty, despite an Egyptian economy that is attracting many foreign investors, and the wealth accumulated by the Mubarak regime has been a ticking time bomb. The so called financial successes have not trickled down to the Egyptian people.

The US and Israel are supportive of the most repressive and autocratic regimes in the world. Both countries have different reasons for this. The US has vital economic interests in Egypt as well as a window on the Middle East to protect those interests. Israel has another reason - the stability of the Peace Treaty signed between the two countries in 1979. Both countries never showed any concern for the suffering of the Egyptian people under the Mubarak dictatorial regime!

What will be the outcome of the Egyptian People's struggle for regime change is wide open for speculation. In a country of over 80 million people with many different ideologies, there are groups with various differing opinions. There is the Muslim Brotherhood which seems to be the most cohesive but whose power base is largely unknown. Within this group are relative moderates who are pragmatists as well as Islamic extremists. Israel's biggest concern is the maintenance of the peace treaty signed between Israel and Egypt. Rather a cold peace as in the past 30 years than a hot war, which is a matter of concern if an extremist Islamist group fills the chaotic vacuum that exists at present.

Israel should remain on the sidelines and not support Mubarak - even tacitly. Israel must support the progressive pro democratic forces of the opposition the moment this becomes evident. After all the Mubarak era is over and there is no point in supporting the despot who has oppressed the Egyptian people for so long. It would be detrimental to future relations between Israel and Egypt, if not the changing Arab world with which Israel has still failed to improve.

There are signs that the uprising in some sectors may turn against Israel especially from Moslem extremists. On the other hand, the secular people are crying for democracy which is incompatible with Moslem extremism. After the Mubarak era it is unlikely that the Egyptian people will agree to another despot whether he is an Islamic extremist or a corrupt secular leader.

Another point about the uprisings is the relative backseat position taken by the Moslem Brotherhood. It appears that the support it enjoys from the Egyptian people is not as large as many Israelis fear. We are all aware of the "democracy" that its offshoot organization, Hamas, has instituted in Gaza which is under Hamas rule. When order is restored in Egypt under a responsible transitional government, there will eventually be democratic elections under international supervision. The possibility that the Moslem Brotherhood may win these elections is a true concern. They may exploit democratic elections to replace the autocratic Mubarak regime with another autocratic Islamic regime. This, of course, is a great risk. On the hand, the absence of extremist hate filled Islamist slogans in this uprising is an important point to the credit of the majority of the Egyptian people. Perhaps this is a cause for cautious optimism in Egypt's future.

Today the Arab people are in many Arab countries are rising against their despotic rulers and the specter of violent Islamic extremism may not be as large as Israel claims Young Arab people are travelling more to Europe and the US. They see democracy in action enjoyed by their western counterparts that is denied to them. This, undoubtedly, has some influence in the direction of the uprisings in their respective countries.

I once spoke to a Lebanese friend some years ago who was complaining about the difficulties she faced in her  country and her wish that her people could enjoy the essential services that Israel gives its citizens, especially in the health services.

Another point is how the Egyptian People's struggle for a new order will affect the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. The Hamas leadership in Gaza should be shaking as well because they are no less despotic than Mubarak and his croneys. The torture of those who oppose Hamas and the hate filled slogans of Hamas against Israel and the Jews in order to detract the Palestinians from their real problems remains the Hamas mantra for deceiving and exploiting their people.

The Palestinian Authority controlled West Bank - the future Palestine - is also not democratic and is being propped up by Israel and the US. There have not been elections there since 2006! The chance of a popular uprising is not as remote as one is led to believe. The Palestinians are not living in a vacuum. What happens in Egypt influences the Palestinians as well. It would be in the interest of both Israel and Palestine if Israel took concrete steps to end the occupation and to facilitate economic development there at the same time.

There is no doubt that Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, and possibly Syria, Jordan, and even Saudi Arabia will soon be undergoing dramatic changes in government - hopefully in the direction of true democracy and basic human rights which are non existent. The status of Moslem women must also change for the better. Hopefully, there will be separation of Islam and state where true religious freedom can take its rightful place. There is also a lesson for Israel to learn as separation of state and synagogue is partial.


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