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Egyptian democracy and the Sabbahi effect

Egypt’s newest candidate for president could be the perfect test case for Egyptian democracy and a lightening rod for opposition to the military.

Following the unfolding Egyptian revolution is not often rewarded with good news. Today was a little different: Hamdeen Sabbahi, one of the surprise stories from Egypt’s first post-revolution presidential election, has announced his candidacy for the office, once again. Sabbahi, who came in third place after Mohamed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood candidate who was ousted from power last July, and Ahmed Shafiq, the former commander of the Air Force who was considered by many as faloul, or a remnant of the Mubarak regime, is a staunch leftist nationalist who gained immense popularity from revolutionary forces as well as a broad segment of the Egyptian population skeptical of the other leading candidates.

Sabbahi’s campaign will be a bellwether for the state of Egyptian democracy after the coup d’etat that unseated Mohamed Morsi and the subsequent attack on the Muslim Brotherhood by the Egyptian military. What has taken place in Egypt over the last several months has marked the reversal of Egypt’s once promising revolution and the slow return of the security state backed by the Egyptian military, whose current head, Gen. Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, is widely considered to be gearing up to run for the presidency, himself.

It is not altogether clear whether what is happening is the silencing of the Muslim Brotherhood or opposition in general. The interim regime that is currently governing the country recently put a revised constitution up to public referendum in what was considered an attempt to shore up its legitimacy and public support in the aftermath of the coup. In the run-up to the referendum’s vote, Egypt’s public was inundated with a heavy dose of pro-referendum advertisement, while any opposition was met with harassment and violence.

The new constitution also outlaws political parties based on religion (i.e. Muslim Brotherhood) from taking part in political system. More devastating has been the government initiative to eradicate the Muslim Brotherhood from the public space, declaring it a terrorist organization, arresting its leadership, and making membership a criminal offense. While the Brotherhood is far from guiltless in its fate, the entire affair has been a massive blow to a pluralistic future for Egypt.

What Sabbahi’s candidacy now indicates is whether any form of free opposition will be tolerated or whether Egypt has finally...

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Three years later, Egypt's revolution coming full circle

Three years after the revolution that set the benchmark for the Arab Spring, Egypt is now coming full circle, and the promise of the mass movement with it.

On the first anniversary of Egypt’s momentous 18-day revolution, the country was still in a state of flux. A powerful military council remained in charge of a transitional government and the outcome of the revolution was unclear, but people were cautiously optimistic of what the future might hold if they kept pushing. By the second anniversary, the Muslim Brotherhood was in power, the country was polarized and in upheaval over the Islamists’ continued acquisition of authority and their desire to pursue their agenda at the expense of others. Today, on the third anniversary, Egypt is one small step away from coming full circle, back to the same style of military-backed dictatorship that endured before the revolution even took place.

What is unfolding in Egypt today is the absence of politics and a recipe for longterm instability. The intense desire for a return to normalcy, after three years of civil unrest, escalating violence, and a hemorrhaging economy, is pushing Egypt back into the arms of a security state ruled by the military. And the worse the situation gets, the stronger their grip on power will be.

The Muslim Brotherhood is far from blameless. The manner in which they used their time in power was disastrous and divisive. Morsi and the Brotherhood isolated a large portion of the Egyptian population, pursuing their agenda at the expense of others, and the popular indignation that emerged from that was real and consequential. They paid for their mistake by being ousted from power in a military coup d’etat. But the Brotherhood has remained unwilling to accept any responsibility for their actions, the first step in reemerging from the shadows, regrouping and reconciling themselves to a place at the table, if that is still possible (The new constitution ratified by public referendum last week outlaws parties “formed on the basis of religion.”)

Since the coup d’etat of 2013 against Mohamed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood has been violently purged from the public space. It has been declared a terrorist organization, its leaders jailed, its media silenced, its membership criminalized, and its assets seized. Today, the Muslim Brotherhood is on the outs, but it is Egypt as a whole that will suffer. The reason can be boiled down to...

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George Washington on Mark Kirk's mission to save Israel

It embarrasses me to write these words. Quoting George Washington just reeks of tackiness and a lack of imagination. And though undoubtedly wise, who says the words of America’s Founding Fathers should be held sacrosanct?

But damn it to hell, for some reason American presidents tend to speak with profound insight in their farewell speeches. Dwight D. Eisenhower did in his farewell address on the perils of the military industrial complex, and I love that speech!

So, when U.S. Senator Mark Kirk (R. Ill) is quoted by Salon.com saying, “It’s the reason why I ran for the Senate, [it] is all wrapped up in this battle. I am totally dedicated to the survival of the state of Israel in the 21st century,” Washington’s words come ringing in my head like sleigh bells (especially around Christmas time).

So although I am loath to bring George Washington’s 1796 Farewell Address into a debate that should be patently obvious, I feel we ought to one more time for good measure:

Now pay attention, Kirk.

That last part seems to describe Sen. Kirk to a T.

Moreover, the United States continues to appoint pro-Israel hawks into important positions in the mediating process between Israelis and Palestinians, time and again. Please read Noam Sheizaf’s piece on the appointment of David Markovsky. This is an enterprise doomed to fail because we repeat the mistakes of the past while not heeding the past’s wisdom, even when it comes from a few centuries ago.

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Yair Lapid reveals true nature of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

During a recent interview with Charlie Rose in New York, Israeli Finance Minister Yair Lapid tacitly reveals why the Israeli-Palestinian conflict endures and why Israel will only accept peace on its own terms.

Yair Lapid on the Charlie Rose Show (Screenshot)

Over the past week or so, as the United Nations General Assembly brought leaders from around the world to New York, several of them made their way onto American political talk shows.

Charlie Rose, one of America’s best and most watched interviewers, hosted a number of political leaders from the Middle East, including Bashar al-Assad of Syria (from Damascus) and Hassan Rouhani of Iran. Rose also interviewed three major politicians from Israel: Benjamin Netanyahu, Tzipi Livni, and Yair Lapid.

Lapid, in particular, sat with Charlie Rose for extended coverage, receiving a lot of attention for a public show at the 92Y in New York. The event actually overshadowed an interview with Rose from earlier in the night on his show that I thought was more interesting. While the majority of the interview was an expose of Lapid as a journalist turned politician, there is a telling six or seven minutes near the end that should be watched closely.

Rose begins on the Palestinian issue by inquiring as to the differences between Lapid and Prime Minister Netanyahu over Palestinian recognition of Israel as a “Jewish” state. Lapid replies by saying that such recognition is not important. “My father did not come to Haifa from the Budapest Ghetto to get recognition from Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas],” he quips.

Lapid says the Israeli non-Jewish minority should have its rights, like any minority, but that Israel is a Jewish state, and he aims to keep it that way. He delves into the demographic threat facing Israel, saying “if we continue to rule three or four million Palestinians, the identity of Israel… will vanish.”


All of this is not new, but the really interesting part begins after 44 [it is easy to skip ahead].

Lapid tells Rose:

Rose catches the significance of that statement, inquiring:

This is where Lapid begins to get a little flustered, not losing his cool, but clearly not knowing how to answer without being completely forthright. He says that justice...

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WATCH: Al Jazeera takes on the segregated bus debate

Al-Jazeera’s Inside Story covers the segregated bus debate and the question of apartheid in Israel.

Al Jazeera’s Mike Hanna is joined by Ben White, Mustafa Barghouti and Gregg Roman in what turns out to be probably the biggest shellacking of an Israeli spokesperson I have ever seen on a mainstream news network.

To be fair, Roman does say some absurd things, such as: “Actually I do know what I am talking about because I worked side by side with Palestinians for three years while I was a member of the Civil Administration in Ramallah (note: Israel’s occupation government in the territories–equivalent to a colonial administration. It is not based in Ramallah either, it’s located in the Jewish settlement of Beit El, which overlooks Ramallah)… if you look at the everyday Palestinian worker, what he wants to do is have independence, feed his family, and he wants to be able to have autonomy.”

This is actually one of the essential counters being made by Israel supporters in this general debate over buses and segregation: that Palestinian workers prefer this system because it expedites the process of working in Israel and makes their living conditions easier. However, this does not negate the accusation of segregation and apartheid. By having reduced average Palestinians to prioritize feeding their families over obtaining their human and legal rights, you have in no way relieved yourself from the obligation under international law to respect those rights.

There is much more to go into in this debate but it is worth watching if you have some time. If nothing else, there are few places you get to see this kind of debate happen. Pretty entertaining to say the least.

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Those who say there's no honor among thieves haven't heard of Naftali Bennett

Many Palestinians — on both sides of the Green Line — see the rise of the openly fascist right wing as a positive development, because eventually it will work to sever the umbilical cord of support to Israel from the world.

Leader of the National Religious Party (“Jewish Home”) Naftali Bennett (photo: Yotam Ronen / activestills.org)

As Israelis go to the polls to cast their ballots for the Knesset, many Palestinian citizens will not be voting in this round of elections. In a recent New York Times article, correspondent Jodi Rudoren expounds as to the many reasons why this is the case, save one. On a recent trip to the country I spoke with many Palestinian citizens of Israel who actually expressed a desire to see the further ascendancy of the Israeli Right. Their logic is based on the inadvertent consequences of right-wing control of Israeli politics. Essentially, the further movement of Israel to the right intensifies its ugliest and most undemocratic tendencies, which leads to further estrangement and isolation in international politics.

They view the rise of the openly fascist right wing as a positive development, because eventually it will work to sever the umbilical cord of support to Israel from the world. Europe, and even possibly the United States, will find it progressively more difficult to ideologically support a nation that is so unabashed in its views and against any form of peace process with the Palestinians. Israel is increasingly becoming Frankestein’s monster that even its former patrons are looking upon in disgust.

Some appreciate the brutal honesty of Israeli right-wing officials, as opposed to what they consider a more duplicitous rhetoric from Israel’s left and center parties, who only come knocking around election time. They believe the fall of the Left in Israel is due to a fundamental dishonesty inherent in their ideological position as well as crucial mistakes they have made during past periods of governance.

Essentially, the Left-Labor movement was the progenitor of the illegal settlements in the West Bank and Gaza to begin with, and continued to strengthen them even during the peace accords — an enterprise which marks the entire history of Israeli state building and colonization. While understanding the nature of...

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UPDATE: ‘Welcome to Palestine’ campaign planned via Jordan

Nearly one hundred delegates from North America and Europe were refused entry into Palestine on Sunday as part of the ‘Welcome to Palestine’ campaign to raise awareness about Israel’s border policies.

International activists from the United States and Europe were denied entry into the West Bank on Sunday by Israeli border control after successfully crossing in from Jordan. Around 80 people were planning on visiting Bethlehem as part of the Welcome to Palestine campaign, which organized two previous events where activists attempted to visit Palestine through Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv (Palestine’s airports have been closed by Israel since the Second Intifada). Following the second “flytilla“ in April of this year, in which hundreds of people from all over the world participated, the “Welcome to Palestine” campaign was hoping to keep the momentum going by addressing the border with Jordan.

The campaign is part of a larger attempt to raise awareness about Israel’s policies regarding control of entry into the occupied territories. Unlike the “flytillas,” however, the activists were not entering any territory inside of Israel, but attempted to cross through the Allenby/King Hussein entry point directly into the West Bank. The border crossing is still controlled by Israel, however, along with the entire Jordan Valley.

Activists were responding to an invitation from the Governor of Bethlehem and several civil society organizations. They were traveling with over a ton of stationary that will be delivered to Palestinian children getting ready to go back to school after the summer, according to a press release.

Traveling to Palestine can be a humiliating experience for people as they are subjected to aggressive Israeli questioning and security, even when they are entering their own country.

The Welcome to Palestine campaign highlights one of the great shortfalls of the Oslo Accords, which gave Israel ultimate control over Palestinian borders (along with sea and airspace), and thus, control over who could enter and exit from occupied territory. This has had the effect of isolating the Palestinians from their large diaspora community outside the occupied territories, as well as anyone Israel is not interested in letting through.

Related:
Activists reach Israel in new ‘flytilla’ bid; dozens refused entry
Reframing non-violent resistance: An act of moral piracy
IDF, police remove Palestinian “Freedom riders” from Israeli bus
“Air Flotilla” successful in exposing Israeli blockade of West Bank


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Israel's African problem: An interview with Mark Regev

The full transcript of an interview with Mark Regev, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s official spokesman, on the African refugee problem in Israel.

In light of the recent events concerning Sudanese refugees in Israel and the outburst of violent demonstrations in Tel Aviv, I have decided to publish an interview I conducted with Israel’s Mark Regev on April 2 to better understand the government position in regards to the African refugees in its borders.

The interview, which was conducted for an article I was writing in Rolling Stone magazine, took place shortly after a court injunction was placed on the Israeli government’s decision to begin deporting South Sudanese refugees back to their country of origin amid a deteriorating situation between Sudan and South Sudan. The interview gives good insight into how the government perceives and treats the issue of asylum seekers.

 

[interview]

OR: Could you explain the government’s decision to deport the South Sudanese refugees?

 

MR: The policy is clear. Last year, I think in 2011, we had more illegal immigrants entering Israel than we had legal immigrants. And Israel is a small country; we are some 8 million people. And I think we have to deal with this issue. It would be irresponsible not to deal with this issue. The government has adopted a 4-tier strategy of dealing with the issue of illegal immigration.

One is of course what David sent you [he is referring to a link that was given to me by his staff], the issue of the border fence. Two, is making it much more difficult for illegal immigrants to work in Israel. Ultimately the Israeli economy is a first world economy and that serves as a magnet to people who are coming from many places, but specifically Africa. Thirdly, the prime minister has talked about a detention center to be established for illegal immigrants; to make sure their needs are taken care of, that they have housing and healthcare and other services, until…you know… humanitarian treatment.

And finally, is deportation to their countries of origin. That’s the four-tier process. Now we can’t ignore this issue, we have to deal with it. We can be flexible in the way we deal with it but we are not going to solve anything by ignoring the issue.

 

OR: One of your orders is saying to prevent them from work because Israel is a first world...

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Hunger Strikes: what have we learned?

There are always lessons to be learned in the observing of events, and the recent hunger strike movement is no exception.

As the details on the agreement to end the collective hunger strike of thousands of Palestinian prisoners continue to unravel, it is important to begin addressing what we have learned from this whole, momentous episode.

For one thing, these Palestinians demonstrated once again that they are willing to sacrifice everything—including their lives—to challenge the injustice of the Israeli occupation. This was a tremendous act of willpower, in which people starved themselves for more than two months, in order to draw attention to their plight. And what is this plight? It is being thrown in prison for months, or even years, without charge, trial or evidence. It is about lives suddenly broken and upended without the slightest recourse to justice as we know it.

We have also learned once again about the ease with which a Palestinian can be taken from his or her home and tossed into a prison cell for no apparent reason. And when Israel is demanded to proffer evidence, it cannot, hiding behind the excuse that the evidence is secret and risks exposing certain sources. Thus, an unaccountable intelligence agency can offer secret “evidence”—that cannot be challenged by the accused—in a military court in which the judge does not question the reliability of the information. (If you want to see how this works, watch the documentary “The Law in These Parts,”  or read the report, “Without Trial” by B’Tselem.) And this is the daily reality that a people have lived in for nearly 45 years of occupation.

This should also make us realize—if we have not already—that despite the Oslo Accords and the existence of a quasi-Palestinian government, the people have absolutely no security and no protection. Whether it is from the Jewish settlers who attack Palestinian farmers and burn their crops, or from the Israeli military and security forces that arrest arbitrarily, the Palestinian Authority is powerless to do anything about it. This in turn causes average Palestinians to question what the point is in a government that cannot even protect its citizens, undermining the entire foundation of a state.

We must also remember that Israel holds all the chips. These hunger strikers have managed to pressure Israel into a level of accommodation, but only while people are focused on the issue. As...

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UPDATE: Prisoners agree to end hunger strike

An agreement was reached on Monday between the representatives of Palestinian prisoners and Israel to end the collective hunger strike that had been going on for months inside Israeli jails. Israel apparently has 72 hours to implement the agreement, however, many of the details have yet to be released and a public inquiry of how the deal was formulated and by whom must still be addressed. A prisoner rights group, Addameer, has confirmed the end of the strike but said in a press release, “Until Addameer sees the written agreement, we do not know the status of other hunger strike demands, such as the use of solitary confinement as punishment and access to education.”

Over 1,600 Palestinian prisoners had been on a collective hunger strike since April 17, and eight others were on individual hunger strikes for much longer. Two prisoners, Bilal Diab and Thaer Halahleh, had gone without food for 77 days, the longest hunger strikes in the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It was not immediately clear whether the deal met the demand of the two for immediate release, or whether they had agreed to call off their strike with the rest. Other sources had claimed that no such deal had been reached, and that reports to that effect constitute efforts by the Palestinian Authority to hijack the hunger strike.

Early Tuesday morning more information was leaked that Thaer Halahleh had agreed after midnight to end his hunger strike in exchange for either being released or charged at the end of his administrative detention term, on June 5. He will spend the remainder of his detention order in a public hospital. This is very similar to the deal struck with Khader Adnan, the first to launch his hunger strike back on December 17, 2011, and who was released on April 17 after Israel failed to bring any evidence against him. Bilal Diab will be released in August.

Sources had reported the two prisoners as very close to death. Both official Israeli and Palestinian sources revealed that they were worried that the death of a prisoner could spark widespread unrest in the occupied territories and that they were working hastily on a deal.

It is still unclear what has been agreed to at this point. The hunger strike movement—which has been popularly labeled the Battle of Empty Stomachs—is two-pronged: contesting the policy of administrative detention and also the treatment...

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Palestinian protesters block entrance to UN in Ramallah

In solidarity with Palestinian hunger strikes, demonstrators block UN employees from entering Ramallah offices to protest inaction.

Palestinian demonstrators staged a sit-in at the entrance to the United Nations offices in Ramallah Wednesday morning to protest inaction by the international body on behalf of the approximately 2,000 Palestinian prisoners now on hunger strike.

The sit-in, which was organized by the group Palestinians for Dignity, prevented UN employees from entering the offices in order to raise international awareness and bring about some type of action. In the early morning a small group of 20-30 people made up of the family members of prisoners, supporters and other activists attended the demonstration calling for protection from the UN instead of more aid.

PA security forces were deployed in the area. There were reports of threats in the beginning of the protest from security but no actual clashes have taken place.

Protests in support of the prisoners have been happening every day now for weeks, despite the hunger strikes having received very little media attention and virtually no response from governments around the world, including the United Nations. On Tuesday, another sit-in was staged in front of the Palestinian Authority presidential offices to protest inaction by the government.

Two prisoners, Thaer Halahleh and Bilal Diab, have passed the 70-day mark of their hunger strikes and could die at any time. Several others are close behind. Approximately 2,000 prisoners launched a collective hunger strike on April 17 in conjunction with the independent hunger strikes already taking place since Khader Adnan began his on December 18.

On Monday, Israel’s Supreme Court rejected appeals by Halahleh and Diab for release from their administrative detention, in which they are held without charge or trial. The court’s decision has made the deaths of the prisoners very likely and it is difficult to predict what the public response to such an outcome will be.

UPDATE:

Similar protests were reported to have taken place Wednesday at the UN offices in Jerusalem and Geneva. A small protest on the issue of hunger strikes was conducted at the gates to Tel Aviv University, as well.

 

Read also:
‘Empty stomachs’ hunger strike spreads across prisons 


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From Ofer to Ramle: Impressions of protests across the Green Line

From the River to the Sea, Palestinians are prevented from protesting freely for their rights.

Yesterday, I attended my first Palestinian demonstration across the Green Line, in front of Ramle Prison. Having been to many protests in the West Bank I was eager to assess the differences between the two events and how the Israeli authorities respond to each.

The day before, I had attended a demonstration in front of Ofer Prison near Ramallah. Both events were in support of the Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike in Israeli jails, and therefore, relatively parallel.

In the occupied West Bank, peaceable assembly by Palestinians is prohibited unless authorized by the Israeli military, which does not happen. Thus, any form of collective protest is dealt with harshly by the Israeli military, leaving Palestinians with no outlet for releasing public frustration or protesting for their basic rights.

On Wednesday, Palestinian demonstrators once again tried to reach Ofer prison in order to show their support for the approximately 2,000 Palestinian prisoners now on hunger strike in what has been billed the “Battle of Empty Stomachs.” Yet before the protest could even begin, the Israeli soldiers assembled on the road that leads to the prison began firing endless volleys of teargas canisters and excessive amounts of plastic-coated steel bullets.

I was nearly hit by these so-called “rubber” bullets on several occasions during the protest, even when I had moved from the front lines to a position in the back a few hundred meters from the soldiers. Some 20 Palestinians were reported injured. In the end, what could have been a peaceful demonstration and public expression of discontent devolved into riot control and stone throwing.

On Thursday in front of Ramle Prison, the scenario was much different. Peaceable assembly was permitted in the vicinity of the prison, to a small area designated by the Israeli police. There the protesters chanted slogans and displayed posters and flags for nearly an...

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As prisoners reach the breaking point, what will Israel do?

A fateful moment awaits as Israel is forced to choose how it will handle the Palestinian prisoner revolt.

In the next few days, something momentous will occur. A group of Palestinian prisoners on hunger strike for over 60 days will either be released from incarceration in Israeli prison without charge or trial, or they will likely die.

And it will not end there, either. Many more have followed them down this perilous road of life, death and principle. In fact, thousands more.

Two Palestinians—Khader Adnan and Hana Shalabi—have already crossed the finish line, securing their release from prison—through deals cut with the Israeli government. Yet will Israel release any more, and in so doing, allow the military justice system, in place in the occupied territories for decades, to crumble?

Know their names. Bilal Diab. Thaer Halahleh. Hasan Safadi. Jafaar Izzedine. These men and thousands more men and women—prisoners with no rights—have usurped some of the power from their jailers and are challenging the system of imprisonment that has been used to subjugate Palestinians for nearly half a century.

Under the radar, Israeli leaders are scrambling for a way out. All types of measures have been used to break the will of hunger strikers, including excessive bouts of solitary confinement and psychological pressure aimed at weakening their resolve. The tactics have not worked. As thousands have joined the hunger strike movement it appears it has gone well beyond Israel’s ability to stop.

The future remains uncertain. Will the death of prisoners in Israel jails ignite the occupied territories or will they simply fizzle out? Although very little seems capable of mustering mainstream Palestinian society these days, the reaction to this eventuality is unpredictable. Prisoners are a decisive issue for Palestinians (read here). Moreover, as the peace process comes to an inglorious end, the status quo is increasingly fragile. The political and economic horizons for Palestinians are beginning to close once again. Times are changing.

LATE ADDITION:

One reader pointed out the connection to Bobby Sands and the IRA hunger strikes of the early 1980s. This connection was pointedly made during the 66-day hunger strike of Khader Adnan (coincidentally Sands would die of starvation on the 66th day of his own hunger strike). @RichardL also gave a link to a Guardian piece on the impact of the IRA hunger strikes, which ended in the deaths of 10...

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+972 is an independent, blog-based web magazine. It was launched in August 2010, resulting from a merger of a number of popular English-language blogs dealing with life and politics in Israel and Palestine.

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