Arab affairs

Editorial : Because it is Egypt

The eruption of the popular revolution in Egypt has seized international and regional attention and turned into the most prominent event around the world. It is clear that this attention originates from the strategic value that Egypt enjoys in the equations of the region and the world, considering it is the historical gateway of the conflict over the Arab East and North Africa. Consequently, the fate of the major imperial invasions which tried to control these two regions was always decided in Egypt, as well as in Syria.
 Firstly, the link between the popular revolution in Egypt and the defeats which affected the American empire in the East is quite clear. In historical and strategic sciences it is revealed there are results and consequences to the retreat of the imperial influence, a link which was always connected to the dismantling of imperial hegemony and the emergence of rebellious movements, and the examples for that are countless.
 Secondly, the American empire knows that the detonation of the revolution in Egypt is due to the failure of its adventures in the region, to Israel’s defeats in the East and to the fact that they both lost their deterrence capabilities in the face of the resistance movements, Syria, Iran and Turkey. Therefore, the Egyptian concern became a purely American concern round the clock, as it is stated in the reports of the White House, the Pentagon and the American Department of State.
 Thirdly, the strategic concern in the Western states and especially in the United States is focused on the fate of the regimes which Bush’s Administration dubbed the moderate regimes. Therefore, all efforts are deployed to contain the popular revolution in Egypt and prevent it from taking a radical turn at the level of the position toward Israel and the Palestinian cause.
 Fourthly, all priorities in Washington and the West in general are given to the repercussions of the revolutionary transformation in Egypt on Israel, which looked to be in total panic over the possibility of seeing the collapse of the political and security alliance it has established with the Egyptian regime since Camp David. As for the gas problem which preoccupied Netanyahu, it was merely the tip of the iceberg at this level. The partnership with Mubarak’s regime to blockade Gaza, pursue the resistance factions and in the battle against Hezbollah, Syria, Iran and the Iraqi resistance is on the brink of becoming a thing of the past, even if the Camp David agreement were to remain at the core of the commitments of any new Egyptian government.

The secret behind the Israeli concerns

The great Israeli concerns generated by the popular revolution in Egypt actually seem to be historical concerns over Israel’s fate during the next stage. Indeed, what Egypt is witnessing in terms of upcoming transformations is still at the beginning.
This is happening at a time when the strategic and fateful dimension of the Israeli calculations is based on the fact that throughout the past years, Israel relied on Egypt being the only remaining trusted ally in a changing regional environment.
The blow to Israel in the context of these transformations was the victory of the Iranian revolution in parallel to the signing of the Camp David accord and the establishment of the Syrian-Iranian alliance in which President Hafiz Al-Assad –with his great strategic vision- saw the strength with which to compensate for Egypt’s ousting from the equations of the conflict by America and Israel.
Israel is now receiving a dangerous blow affecting its strategic status following the Turkish turn, the victories of the resistance forces in Lebanon and Palestine and the emergence of a new regional fabric in which Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has been playing a decisive role for ten years now.

The Arab file

In Yemen and on the eve of the Yemeni day of anger which was called for by the Yemeni opposition, President Ali Abdullah Saleh made many promises to the people to conduct reforms, not to stay in power following the end of his term and not bequeath power to his son. In the meantime, Yemen witnessed peaceful demonstrations staged by both the loyalists and the oppositionists.

Hundreds of Sudanese young people demonstrated in Khartoum in the context of the day of national protests against the government. During the process, they clashed with the police which attacked them with clubs and arrested many among them. Mubarak al-Fadel, a member of the opposition Umma Party, stated in this context “what was seen in Egypt inspired the youth”. During an official ceremony in Juba, the capital of South Sudan, the directors of the referendum commission announced the results based on the regions. They stated that the secession choice earned 99, 57% of the votes in the South, 99% of the votes abroad and 58% of the votes in the North.

Jordanian Monarch King Abdullah II ousted the government of Prime Minister Samir al-Rifai and assigned former Prime Minister Marouf Bakhit to form the new government, whose main task will be to adopt practical, rapid and palpable steps to launch real political reforms. For its part, the opposition criticized the appointment of Al-Bakhit, adding he was not suitable to manage the transitory phase and exit the crisis currently witnessed in Jordan.

Algerian president Abdelaziz Bouteflika ordered - during a cabinet meeting - the immediate launching of the work to draft the legal texts that would allow the state to continue fighting ‘terrorism’ in a legal context, which will lead to the lifting of the state of emergency ‘as soon as possible’. In the meantime, the Algerian opposition groups said they were moving forward with the staging of a march scheduled next week, despite the president’s promises to respond to their demands and allow more political freedoms.

The popular demonstrations in Egypt continued as hundreds of thousands of people gathered in Tahrir Square in center Cairo and the other Egyptian cities to demand the departure of the regime and comprehensive political reforms. In the meantime, the army’s deployment was enhanced in all the cities as military aircrafts conducted repeated flyovers at a low altitude over the heads of the demonstrators. The spokesman for the Egyptian Ministry of Defense stated that the army was present on the streets to ensure the safety of the demonstrators and that it will never use force against them, stressing their right to demonstrate in a peaceful way.
In the meantime, Mubarak’s measures failed, namely the appointment of General Omar Suleiman as vice president and the assignment of Ahmad Shafik to form the government. The protests thus continued which forced the political command to adopt measures to prevent a number of senior officials from leaving the country, particularly Ahmad Ezz and the former ministers of interior, trade and housing. But when these measures also failed to appease the anger on the street, Mubarak issued an order to disband the leadership of the National Democratic Party, a step which mainly affected Safwat al-Sherif and Mubarak’s own son Gamal who were both replaced by Houssam Badrawi, a member of parliament’s Upper Chamber –the Shoura Council- and one of the NDP’s board of governors.
In an interview with ABC’s Christiane Amanpour, Mubarak announced it was not in his nature to relinquish the responsibility, which in this case featured the reinstatement of security to achieve a smooth transition of power to the candidate chosen by the people in the presidential elections which will be held next September.
At the level of the international reactions, the White House stated that President Barack Obama conveyed his support of the organized transition of power in Egypt. In this context, Obama dispatched an envoy to meet with Mubarak and his entourage and discuss the ways to secure this transition. Surprisingly however, the latter envoy, former US Ambassador to Egypt Frank Wisner, said during a security conference in Germany: “President Mubarak remains utterly critical as we sort our way toward the future,” adding “Mubarak must stay in office in order to steer those changes through.” However, spokesman for the Department of State P.J. Crowley immediately responded to those critical statements by saying that Wisner “has not continued in any official capacity following the trip. The views he expressed are his own. He did not coordinate his comments with the US government.”
The Arab League for its part demanded the opening of an investigation into the clashes witnessed in Tahrir Aquare on Wednesday and Thursday. Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa said in a statement that what happened on Tahrir Square raised numerous questions and required an investigation into the ways groups were allowed to enter the square, although their presence could lead to battles, victims and wounded. This came in response to the arrival of mobs to Tahrir square, some of whom riding camels and horses, to attack the peaceful demonstrators without the interference of the army.
The most prominent development that was witnessed last week at this level was the consent of the Muslim Brotherhood to negotiate with Vice President Omar Suleiman, despite the fact that the group had been refusing to do so before the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak. It is worth mentioning that these negotiations featured the presence of representatives from among the demonstrators, Mohammad al-Baradei as well the committee of the wise -Amr Moussa, Najib Sawiris. These negotiations are the first serious ones with a figure from the regime ever since the eruption of the popular demonstrations, and could constitute a passageway toward a solution by meeting the demands of the people and pushing toward the resignation of President Mubarak one way or the other.

The Israeli file

Israel after Mubarak
The Israeli papers talked about President Mubarak’s departure and the repercussions of this development on bilateral relations between Cairo and Tel Aviv, and especially on the Camp David accord signed in 1979 between the two countries. Haaretz thus mentioned that the revolution in Egypt was clearly generating panic in Israel. As for Yediot Aharonot, it assured that Israel’s government was the only one around the world that hoped Hosni Mubarak’s regime in Egypt would stand fast in the face of the popular anger that had invaded the country, indicating that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu changed directions as well as his tone after Mubarak announced he was not running for an additional term.
The Israeli media stressed that Israel was expecting any Egyptian government to respect the peace agreement and for the position of the international community to be identical to the Israeli position at this level.

Barak threatens to resign if Ashkenazi were to remain, and Galant outside the walls of the IDF General Staff
The Israeli papers tackled the escalation of the conflict inside the Israeli military institution over the appointment of a chief of staff to replace Yoav Galant, whose name was linked to a corruption case which prevented him from assuming this position. Last week, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak informed General Galant they had annulled their decision to appoint him as the IDF chief of staff, indicating that this decision was made “against the backdrop of the suspicions surrounding him in the case of the land scandal.” The papers also pointed to Barak’s threat to resign in case Ashkenazi’s term were to be extended.

Lebanese affairs

Lebanon’s new government: challenges and transformations

The consultations to form the new Lebanese government are ongoing and seem to have achieved a number of steps pointing to transformations in the domestic political climate and the Arab and international positions ever since the appointment of Prime Minister Najib Mikati. It looked clear that the negotiations over the formation of the new government are extending beyond the portfolios and the names.
Following the day of riots, the March 14 forces discontinued the attempts to carry out acts sabotage and to use the street, due to the refusal of their supporters to respond to the calls and the speeches made against the prime minister designate, but also due to messages received by former Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, France and the United States to calm down and not to get involved in any rash actions such as the ones witnessed on black Tuesday in Tripoli, Beirut and the Beqaa. It is worth mentioning that the latter disturbances placed the March 14 forces in an extremely awkward position and earned them a bad political reputation both domestically and abroad.

Lebanese file

Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati is proceeding with his contacts and consultations with the Lebanese political forces to form the new government.
In this context, Speaker Nabih Berri informed As-Safir newspaper he was expecting the formation of a political government which included some technocrats, calling for sensible rapidness in securing the formation of that Cabinet. He assured that the former opposition will present names that can reassure and facilitate the task Prime Minister Mikati, adding that Amal and Hezbollah were in agreement over the allocation of the Shiite seats equally among them and that he was in favor of seeing the prime minister-designate taking some time to try to include the March 14 team in the government.
General Michel Aoun announced that “Whoever wants to enter the government should take the robe he wore on the street and show solidarity with the government in accordance with the law.” Aoun pointed to the change which has affected the regional circumstances and the presence of many files such as the false witnesses file and the financial issues which will affect certain people.
During a meeting for the political bureau of the Future Movement, Saad al-Hariri assured there was “a foreign order” to prepare his ousting months ago, and this order was implemented with local tools. He thus compared the designation of Prime Minister Najib Mikati to the extension of the term of President Emil Lahoud, announcing that anything related to what was referred to as being the “S-S” was a thing of the past that did not exist in the dictionary of Saad al-Hariri or that of the Future Movement.
Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad conveyed his satisfaction with the smooth transition between the two governments in Lebanon, hoping to see the formation of a national unity government and assuring that the situation in Lebanon was heading toward better conditions. He revealed in an interview with the American Wall Street Journal that the adviser of the Saudi monarch, his son Prince Abdul-Aziz Ben Abdullah, will soon visit Damascus “and we will know what happened from him, especially since we were very close to reaching a final agreement with King Abdullah over Lebanon.”
The Syrian president assured that what was happening in Egypt and Tunisia will not extend to Syria because “the ruling hierarchy in Syria is closely linked to the beliefs of the people” and because “there is no popular discontent toward the state.”

The American file

The American papers issued this week showed great interest in Middle Eastern affairs and especially in Egyptian affairs.
The American position towards the popular uprising in Egypt.
The American position oscillated between extreme caution, confusion and the dispatch of coded and clear messages to the Egyptian president to launch the steps to transfer power to someone else “in an organized way”. Obama said “the Egyptian people have international rights, including the right to stage peaceful gatherings, form parties, express themselves freely and define their own future.”
American Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called on the Egyptian authorities not to use violence against the demonstrators and to lift the ban imposed on internet websites, including the social networking websites. She said that the Egyptian government currently had a great opportunity to implement political, economic and social reforms.
As for US Ambassador to Cairo Margaret Scobey, she pointed to the fact that the United States wished to see reform in Egypt and in other places to create larger political, social, and economic opportunities that go in line with the expectations of the people.
President Obama said in an internet recording that Egypt was America’s ally at the level of many issues, adding “I always said to Mubarak that moving toward political and economic reform was decisive for long-term stability in Egypt.”

The British file

Egypt’s events through British eyes.
The British papers issued last week tackled the protests on the Egyptian street. The Guardian thus said that “Blood is not the ideal lubricant for the orderly transition which all political forces in Egypt claim to want. Nor is deceit.” The Guardian added that Egyptian President Mubarak was using the scarecrow of political Islam to stay in power or maintain the current regime in Egypt, at a time when the ongoing controversy over the future of that country revolves around this scarecrow.
The paper believed that this concern was misplaced since it is limited to an exhausted and confused movement which is not ready to assume power in Egypt, i.e. the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Financial Times mentioned that the recent developments in the region surprised the West which until not too long ago was living in the illusion that the Arabs had become accustomed to living under the rule of tyrannical regimes and no longer cared about freedom and democracy.
It added that the West should encourage the voices calling for freedom and the rule of the law instead of standing by and watching with indifference what the region is witnessing in terms of major historical transformations.
As for The Independent, it featured an article by Robert Fisk who said that the counter revolution of President Mubarak caused an attack against his oppositionists with stones, clubs and iron bars in a battle that lasted an entire day in the heart of Cairo.
He believed that the fact that the two sides rose the Egyptian flag was highly symbolic, adding “It was vicious and ruthless and bloody and well planned, a final vindication of all Mubarak’s critics and a shameful indictment of the Obamas and Clintons who failed to denounce this faithful ally of America and Israel.”

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