Seizing the assets of leading Egyptian human rights groups sends a hollow message that the president is fully in charge
Hours before President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi left for the UN General Assembly, an Egyptian court ruled that the assets of five prominent human rights activists and three NGOs would be frozen.
The justification for this ruling was that the groups had received foreign funding without state approval.
The verdict, based on a testimony from Egyptian security agency officials that the work of NGOs is “harming national security, encouraging a state of chaos and a security breakdown”, could lead to criminal proceedings.
"Today is a good sign that criminal indictments are probably imminent," Hossam Bahgat, an investigative journalist and former director of Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, who was named in the ruling, told Reuters on Saturday.
Just as the Muslim Brotherhood has been crippled by a fierce clampdown following the 2013 coup, liberal human rights defenders have become a nightmare alarming Sisi’s government.
Not only have they kept a vigil over Sisi’s human rights abuses against dissenters, but also they are backed by the West, fuelling the Egyptian military’s paranoia that western-funded NGOs are attempting to destabilise the state.
Foreign funding is a Catch-22 accusation that all governments since Mubarak have turned to when they were preparing to clamp down on civil society and want to silence rights groups causing them embarrassment.
Meanwhile, Sisi arrived in New York on Sunday to speak before the UN about “Egypt’s political and economic developments”.
Solidity to pure wind
What Egyptian officials call “developments” is a euphemism for something much more sinister. As George Orwell put it in his 1946 essay, they are "designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind”.
Will Sisi be able to convince the international community and the UN General Assembly about his achievements at a time when the facts on the ground prove the opposite?
In Sisi’s case, the worsening political and economic turmoil, largely caused by his repressive policies, are portrayed as “developments”. Locally, there are mouthpieces whose job is to brainwash the public with Sisi’s image as a “saviour” and to boast of his unproven “achievements”.
In fact, the anti-Western conspiratorial rhetoric that Sisi used for local consumption to justify crushing dissent is likely to be rehashed when he speaks to Western officials on Tuesday into assurances that he is the only alternative to chaos.
Like a narcissistic father who beats up his sons in public to show off his strength among others, the timing of the recent verdict is not coincidental. It fuels Sisi’s ego at the UN where he will be able to show how his government is strong and subordinating other players before the international community.
First, he hit the Muslim Brotherhood at the core. Then he made progress in the counter-terrorism campaign in Sinai. Now, he would like to show off his power over liberal groups. “You would be better off fully accepting and dealing with me or nothing,” he seems to be saying.
In fact, the more Sisi loses popularity at home, the more he seeks to gain international legitimacy in the face of western media criticism. According to the government, putting around 40,000 political opponents in jail, the use of widespread detentions without trial and other atrocities are acceptable because the country is “undergoing a change amidst regional turmoil”.
Since the outbreak of the 2011 uprising, the military repeatedly attempted to scare democracy defenders with the phrase “Do you not see countries around us? Do you want us to be like them?”
In Egypt, no journalist dares to ask Sisi a question related to his repressive policies. Yet in New York, where he will be interviewed by US media, his answer related to the recent court ruling will be more or less “Well, we have an independent judiciary and I cannot intervene in its work, this is democracy, is it not?”
“What about civil society?” they will ask. “We are fighting terrorism, plus the situation in Egypt is different from what it is in the US,” he will probably answer.
US destruction-and-reconstruction policy
In fact, US policy toward Egypt is two-faced. Egypt has received an annual $1.3bn military package from Washington since 1975. In addition, the US-government USAID allocates around $50m each year to promote democracy and human rights in Egypt.
The aid, mostly paid by US taxpayers, funds conflicting camps, the oppressor and the oppressed. On the one hand, it equips the military with weapons used to crush civil society, and on the other hand, it funds and backs battered civil society organisations.
The US destruction-and-reconstruction policy, adopted across the region, is aimed at maintaining US interests on both sides. Moreover, Washington is using its leverage in each camp in order to guarantee the loyalty of both sides to the US. It’s the same policy that backed Mubarak and now Sisi.
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, who met Sisi yesterday, is the same person who boasted about walking in Tahrir Square after the 18-day uprising and meeting activists who inspired it.
Clinton's nemesis, Republican candidate Donald Trump, who earlier called for a complete ban on Muslims entering the US, expressed “his high regard for peace-loving Muslims" when he met Sisi in New York.
The attack on civil society began shortly after the Egyptian uprising, fuelled by conspiracy paranoia of the potential for a Western “soft power” intervention. The military junta - which governed the country for around 16 months after the ousting of Mubarak – dealt a blow to US and German pro-democracy groups, including the National Democratic Institute (NDI), International Republican Institute (IRI), Freedom House, and German-funded Konrad Adenauer-Stiftung.
Despite the Western outcry at the time, the military’s suspicions of a Western intervention, regardless of the intention of these groups, was understandable, given the political motivations related to some of these organisations.
For instance, NDI is funded by the US Congress and former secretary of state Madeleine Albright, who set the stage of a human catastrophe in Iraq with the devastating UN sanctions of the 1990s, is the chair. Meanwhile, the IRI is chaired by pro-war Republican Senator John McCain.
In 2013, a court ordered the closure of the foreign organisations and gave jail sentences to 43 NGO staff ranging from one to five years in jail, including 15 Americans who had already fled the country after a US-Egyptian ransom deal.
The second blow against civil society began in 2013 when Sisi launched a fierce crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated organisations, including its charity activities. The group’s NGOs were widely spread in rural and underprivileged areas, long neglected by Egyptian governments.
As the Muslim Brotherhood became fragmented, with thousands of members put in jail and others fleeing the country, Egyptian rights defenders and pro-democracy NGOs became the only groups able to challenge Sisi’s government.
Thanks to their Western connections with international groups who hold the same values, they have more influence than the crushed Islamists, especially after the rise of the radical militants of the Islamic State group that fuelled the Islamophobia trend in the West.
In March, 17 NGOs released a joint statement condemning an “orchestrated onslaught” on civil society by Sisi government. The statement shed the light on retaliatory attacks which came after a group filed a memo to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights detailing all types of abuses linked to the Egyptian government.
As the crackdown intensified, the European Parliament passed a resolution condemning the worsening human rights situation in Egypt in the wake of Italy’s outcry over suspicions of government links to the murder of Italian academic Giulio Regeni.
Human rights group have landed some serious blows against Sisi. In June, an Egyptian court ruled that the country could not hand over the Red Sea islands of Tiran and Sanfir to Saudi Arabia as Sisi had promised. The heroes in this case is a group of rights lawyers.
“We are just a small fraction of the defenders movement, the biggest part is on the street, including volunteers and January 25th revolutionaries,” said Gamal Eid, one of the convicted rights defenders in the latest ruling.
Furious MPs have accused the British government of “obstruction” after it refused to share the contents of Sir John Jenkins’ controversial secret report into the Muslim Brotherhood.
Crispin Blunt, the chairman of the parliamentary foreign affairs committee, which is conducting its own inquiry into “political Islam”, also told Middle East Eye that it was “unnecessary and regrettable” that Jenkins had declined to appear before the inquiry.
Blunt’s comments follow acrimonious exchanges in Westminster last week when members of the committee expressed concerns to Tobias Ellwood, the foreign minister for the Middle East, about the handling of the report and Jenkins’ refusal to appear.
They also ordered the British government to hand over documents showing its contemporary attitude to the military coup which supplanted Mohamed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt in July 2013.
Jenkins was in 2014 commissioned to conduct a review into the activities and ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood by then-prime minister David Cameron, but the full report has never been made public.
An 11-page summary of the main findings was published in December last year.
Blunt said that Jenkins was “probably by virtue of his study of the Brotherhood the premier expert in the field” and that his failure to appear as a witness for the committee would “impede transparency”.
Jenkins, who was the serving ambassador in Riyadh when he carried out his report, justified his refusal to answer questions on the grounds that he would only appear alongside a “serving minister”. But Ellwood insisted on appearing alongside a current official.
Jenkins has since retired from the Foreign Office, and now works as executive director of the IISS thinktank in Bahrain.
Speaking from Bahrain he told MEE that even though he had quit the foreign office he had a “duty of confidentiality to HMG [Her Majesty’s Government] and that put me in an extremely difficult position”.
The bruising public row over the Muslim Brotherhood review broke out as the committee’s formal inquiry into political Islam reached its final stages.
The committee is examining the Muslim Brotherhood’s relationship with democracy and assessing British policy towards political Islam.
During last week’s evidence session, Blunt told Ellwood that it had been “pretty clumsy... to appoint our ambassador to Saudi Arabia to conduct an inquiry into the Muslim Brotherhood”, suggesting that it opened the inquiry to allegations that the review was a “set-up job”.
Saudi Arabia regards the Muslim Brotherhood with deep hostility and categorises it as a terrorist organisation.
The Muslim Brotherhood, in a statement through ITN solicitors, has gone even further in its criticisms of the Jenkins report.
In evidence to the foreign affairs committee it accused the government of a “bad faith attempt to shore up commercial deals and alliances abroad”, suggesting that the report was intended “to damage the reputation of an Islamic movement that promoted democracy in the Middle East”.
Jenkins’ refusal to appear before the committee meant that no authoritative spokesman for the British government has been able to reply to such criticisms.
In his evidence before the committee Ellwood appeared to justify Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s 2013 power grab, saying that there was “growing public despair at the mishandling of Eqypt’s economy” and a “rejection of the attempted Islamisation of the Egyptian state and society”.
He also called the coup against Morsi a “popular uprising”.
In reply, Blunt asked for “chapter and verse... on what interventions we actually made at the time with what was in effect then the Egyptian military authorities”.
Blunt demanded that documents should be handed to the committee by the end of this week.
U.S. State Department: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry meets former Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi (file photo).
The U.S. government has reportedly released about U.S.$575 million of suspended funds to Egypt. The Americans ‘froze’ some of the annual military aid they give the north African country following the ouster of former president Mohamed Mursi.
Senior State Department Officials
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: All right. Hello, everyone. This is a background briefing to preview Secretary Kerry’s trip to Cairo, Egypt tomorrow. We have a couple of Senior State Department Officials with us, but I’m going to turn it over to [Senior State Department Official Two], who’s going to preview the meetings that the Secretary will be doing tomorrow, and then we’ll take some questions.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Thank you very much. Can you guys hear me okay?
QUESTION: No, I can’t hear.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Okay, all right. Secretary Kerry has three meetings scheduled for Cairo. He’s going to see President al-Sisi, he’s going to see Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri, and he’s going to see Arab League head Nabil Elaraby. Just a couple of sort of broad points that I’m sure are sort of going to shape these meetings.
They come after the election that was recently held, the presidential elections. This is also part of a broader trip to the Middle East and to Europe that the Secretary is making. Some of the sort of themes and things that I think will come out in these meetings include things like recognition that Egypt has been going through a very difficult transition. There’s a strong desire on the part of the United States for this transition to succeed. Egypt is a strategic partner and we have a longstanding relationship with Egypt. It’s a partnership that’s based on shared interest, strategic interest.
This visit follows up on the President’s June 10 call toward President al-Sisi. The President made clear in that phone call that after congratulating President al-Sisi he made clear that he looks forward to working with the president and looks forward to continuing the longstanding partnership.
A couple things that I would point out in addition to those broad themes, which are relatively positive, key concerns still remain and these will be certainly dealt with in the course of the meetings. We have lots of concerns about a range of issues that are related to the political environment, such as the demonstrations law, the imprisonment of journalist and secular activists, the lack of space in general for dissent, the mass trials and death sentences, as well as the need for redressing the verdicts in the NGO trial that took place last year.
We realize that there have been a few positive signs recently, relatively limited in the political environment area. We don’t want to overstate it, but a few flickering signs of positive movement: the release of an Al-Jazeera journalist early this week, Abdullah Shami; beginning steps to address sexual harassment and sexual violence against women; as well as the president’s call in his first cabinet meeting for the revision of human rights law in Egypt.
In addition to the concerns about the political environment, of course, the issue of security will come up and will be dealt with. We can talk about that if you have questions about it. The main point I think that we would make on security is that we recognize that Egypt faces a serious security challenge. We stand with them and want to be supportive as they confront the threat of terrorism mounted by groups like Ansar Beit al-Maqdis. We recognize they have a serious problem in the Sinai.
We are concerned that some of the tactics that they’re using to address their security issues are polarizing, and this relates back to the political environment that they are polarizing and that they in some ways are radicalizing certain aspects of Egyptian society in ways that are not supportive of overall stability in Egypt.
The final point that is a general note that will come up in meetings, I think, is support for economic and prosperity in Egypt, and we’ll talk about the need for economic reforms that will encourage job creation, economic growth, attracting investment, foreign investment, and getting tourists back to Egypt. All these things, of course, are related to the broader political and security environment.
I think maybe I’ll stop there and see if you have questions.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Okay. Why don’t we go straight to questions and we’ll just pass you the microphone and pass it back. Who’s first? Lesley.
QUESTION: Is any of this about restoring aid that was suspended? Any of that going to come up?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: I’m sure that the Egyptians are going to have questions about it, and I think that the Secretary is going to make clear that we want to be as supportive as possible of Egypt’s transition. We have made efforts with Congress to free up a substantial amount of the military assistance, Foreign Military Financing, FMF money, part of the FY14 money, as well as Economic Support Funds, which is the civilian type economic assistance, about 200 million in economic assistance. So we are doing what we can to provide assistance to Egypt. Obviously, we do that in consultation with Congress and addressing the concerns that they have as we move forward trying to meet the requirements of the legislation.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Can I just add one thing? But also during the meetings the Secretary will make clear there are certain requirements the Egyptians need to meet in order for the additional certifications to be made. And as you all know, those are abiding by rule of law, taking additional steps toward democracy. It’s not just about an election; it’s the steps they take from here. So he will reiterate that. And these are congressionally mandated steps, so they’re steps they need to take moving forward, not that have happened to date.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: Sorry. I’d just add that the assistance that [Senior State Department Official Two] mentioned that was released through FMF in the past month was also released pursuant to the Egyptians meeting congressionally mandated requirements, the first being that they are maintaining a strategic relationship with the United States, and the second that they are adhering to, living up to maintaining the peace agreement with Israel.
QUESTION: Do you have a number on that? The number (inaudible)?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: The number on what was released before?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Was that —
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: I think she’s asking the number on what was released.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: The FMF money was about north of $500 million.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) that’s being held?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: What’s that?
QUESTION: (Inaudible) is that being held?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: No. I thought she asked what was – what had been released.
What was your question?
QUESTION: I thought Leahy had put a hold on some of that money through Congress and said he wasn’t going to release it.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: Do you want to (inaudible)?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: We requested about $650 million in FMF to be released, and the vast majority of that money has been released. There is a hold on a limited amount of that money. It’s something around – I think it’s about $70 million that’s still being held.
QUESTION: How much? 70?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: A little more than $70 million.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Seven-zero out of about 570 that was released.
QUESTION: When did it get released?
QUESTION: When did it get released?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: This was – the money was obligated about 10 days ago, I think.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: (Inaudible) go over there. James.
QUESTION: Thank you for doing this. Before we proceed, I don’t have to tell you that it’s very difficult to hear just because you’re a soft-spoken gentleman to begin with and the acoustics are bad. So before we land or before we are able to report on the trip to Egypt, I would be grateful – I think everyone would be grateful – if just the little litany of numbers that you just went through, if we could get a fact sheet on that before you get the full transcript together just so we have that.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: (Inaudible.)
QUESTION: Okay, and then proceeding to my question, sir. What messages will the Secretary and his team be conveying to Sisi with regard to the Muslim Brotherhood? Does the Administration see the Muslim Brotherhood as part of the security challenges to the state of Egypt that you were just describing? And in short, is it the view of the U.S. Government that absent some progress in the relationship between the Egyptian military and government and the Muslim Brotherhood, that al-Sisi won’t, in fact, be able to move forward, he won’t have the political space he needs to be able to move forward on the various reforms, economic and political, that you’d like to see him undertake?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: With regard to the approach of the Egyptian Government towards the Muslim Brothers, I’d make a couple of points. We do not share the view of the – sorry, we do not share the view of the Egyptian Government about links between the Muslim Brothers and terrorist groups like Ansar Beit al-Maqdis. We do not have information that would substantiate that link. We have asked the Egyptians to share that information with us if they have such information, but at present we do not have that information.
We believe that in a general sense, the Egyptian Government needs to have a very politically inclusive approach, which means that they need to include and find ways to reach out to the Muslim Brothers. We think it’s very important that President al-Sisi have a politically inclusive approach.
So I think that addresses the gist of your question. Is that —
QUESTION: In other words, (a) do you regard the Muslim Brotherhood as part of the security challenges to the Egyptian state that you were just discussing with us earlier? And (b) if he fails to secure some sort of detente or some kind of reconciliation process, does that – do you regard that it will be impossible for al-Sisi to move forward with the kind of reforms you want to see him undertake?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: With regard to the challenge that the Muslim Brother poses, I would characterize it more as a political challenge than a security challenge.
QUESTION: A what challenge?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: A political challenge. I think it’s a challenge that the Egyptian Government needs to find a way to address, to reach out. We understand that the Egyptian Government for their part believe that the Muslim Brothers have basically opted for a policy of confrontation with the government, and that if the Muslim Brothers want political reconciliation and want to be included, then they need to make clear – and we have told them that – they need to be very clear that they don’t support violence and they need to make clear that they want to be a part of the political solution going forward in Egypt. And we’ll continue to send that message to them.
QUESTION: Thank you.
QUESTION: Clearly, Egypt is concerned with its own internal problems, which are considerable. But given that Secretary Kerry is meeting with Egyptian leaders and also the Arab League, is there a message that he’s sending with regard to the role he would like to take these leaders in a Sunni state with regard to Iraq and influence that they would like the leaders he’s meeting with to try to exert perhaps on Sunnis in Iraq and on the Iraqi political process, and what is that message?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: I would say that message has two main parts and it’s very similar to the two main parts of a message that we use in discussions with Iraqi official and leaders as well. And the first is to underscore the severity of the threat posed by ISIL and certainly to Iraq, but we believe also very much to Iraq’s neighbors, to the entire region, and to the United States. And first and foremost, we are urging countries that have diplomatic dealings with Iraq and that are in the region to take that threat as seriously as we do.
Second, we are underscoring the need for Iraqi leaders to expedite their government formation process and to come together around a new government that is inclusive and that takes into account the rights, aspirations, and legitimate grievances of all Iraq’s communities. This is a message that we’re conveying to countries in the region not because we are asking them to intervene in any way in Iraq’s politics – there are obvious sensitivities around that – but because many of these countries maintain their own relations with Iraqi officials and leaders, and we ask that they are echoing the same message that we’re conveying that addressing Iraq’s security situation, the threat posed by ISIL, is much more likely to be successful in the context of an inclusive government that is formed in short order and can begin addressing this threat from a solid, broad foundation of support.
QUESTION: Can I follow up and just ask whether – or how you interpret Sistani’s recent comments as to the progress that might be made to create a new kind of coalition?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: Look, Grand Ayatollah Sistani is obviously one of the most influential voices on matters inside Iraq. I don’t particularly want to add to the body of commentary sort of interpreting and ripping on what he said or what his representative said on Friday. But I will say that the message to a very large extent is consistent with the message that I just described: the need for Iraqi leaders to come together and form a government quickly – this was a long process in 2010 and we don’t want to see that repeated; and the need for that government to be inclusive of all Iraq’s communities, and including its sizeable minority communities. So I think if you looked closely at the message that was conveyed on Friday that you would find a lot of common ground with what we’re saying.
QUESTION: I wanted to ask whether you’re concerned that coming so soon after President Sisi’s inauguration before he has really had a time to establish and show the colors of what kind of rule he’s going to have, is actually going to send the wrong message to many people who are concerned about the political environment in Egypt going forward.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: I’d make a couple of points. First, we have a longstanding relationship with Egypt. It’s a very important relationship that’s build on several different pillars. It’s at a difficult juncture right now; that’s true. And we have serious concerns about the political environment, the lack of political space; all these things are true. But because it’s a complicated relationship and we’re balancing different interest and we have a significant number of shared interest, we felt like this was the appropriate time following up on the President’s phone call to – for the Secretary to come here and to explore those shared interest both for regional security, trying to help Egypt address critical concerns like counterterrorism, border security, proliferation of weapons, security issues related to regional concerns like Libya. But also it’s an opportunity for us to raise the political environment in the context of what you described as an issue of concern and to make clear that we think that many of the tactics that they’re using are counterproductive and that they’re polarizing Egyptian society. So it’s – we’re balancing those different concerns, but we think that the timing is appropriate to do that.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: I guess I’ll just add that, obviously, Egypt has a new president, Egypt is an important strategic partner. It’s very much, I would say, consistent with our dealings with a range of countries that would fall into that category for us to pay a visit on the new president early in his term. And I would add that to the extent that there are complexities and complications in our relationship with Egypt, it is, I would say, always been this Administration’s view that those sorts of complexities and complications are better addressed through engagement than in any other way.
QUESTION: I just want to go back over the numbers again. So for Fiscal ’14 Egypt is getting a total of 650 million in FMF from the U.S, of which only 70 million has been held back?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: There’s 1.3 billion in —
QUESTION: I can’t (inaudible).
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Sorry.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: We’ll get you the numbers. But basically it’s 1.3 billion total for FY ’14.
QUESTION: What’s the (inaudible)?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: But right now we have asked Congress for a release of an initial tranche of that money. And that tranche that we asked for was $650 million. Okay? And they – the appropriators looked at that and they ultimately released most of it.
QUESTION: But the request was long before that.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Yeah. They released about $575 million, something like that.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: No, (inaudible) certified until about a month (inaudible).
QUESTION: Yeah. No, right.
QUESTION: Again on those numbers, can you clarify for us what that can be used for? The amount that you’ve said was just obligated 10 days ago – there had been, I guess, recently helicopters, about 10 of them I think it was, that were released. Can you detail where we are? Because I think a lot of that hardware, after what happened last July, was actually put in storage in the U.S., and the U.S. was helping to pay for the bill essentially and not handing over the hardware. So does what just happened in the past 10 days clear the way for the delivery of anything in particular? Can you clarify that? Like what’s the money actually being used for right now?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: (Inaudible.)
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: She was asking what the money – what the FMF money that was being released is being used for, basically.
The money is being used to pay existing defense contracts. Most of it is used to pay for what we call sustainment of defense systems, a range of equipment and training, much of which is already in Egypt because this is a 30-year military-military relationship. So a lot of the equipment is already there. The money is primarily being used to pay for equipment that needs replenishing or being sustained, being prepped and taken care of in Egypt. It’s not being used to pay for new systems.
QUESTION: But so – but those 10 helicopters in particular —
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: (Inaudible.)
QUESTION: So there’s no deliveries that are happening right now to Egypt beyond those 10 helicopters? No new (inaudible)?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: There’s no new defense contracts that are being done and there’s no delivery of —
QUESTION: And the ones that were frozen from last year?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: The 10 helicopters are still held.
QUESTION: Can you repeat that? Can you repeat what you just said about (inaudible)?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: The 10 helicopters have not been delivered yet.
QUESTION: What were they?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: What’s that?
QUESTION: What were they?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Apaches.
QUESTION: Okay. And?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: And?
QUESTION: They were Apaches.
QUESTION: Great, thanks.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: (Inaudible) separate from the FMF.
QUESTION: At the beginning you mentioned the judicial issues, the jailing of several journalists. And I know one has been released, but there are numerous others held, including from Al Jazeera, and also the mass death sentences. Can you talk a little bit more about what the Secretary’s message is to Sisi specifically about the judicial issues? And do you believe that he actually has the power to change any of those sentences or judicial proceedings in a way that would be, to the United States view, more – be fair?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: The message that the Secretary will convey in these meetings about those issues is as follows. With regard to the mass trials and death sentences, he has made clear in the past in his meetings with Egyptian officials and he will do so in the future, including on this trip, that basically those trials are, in essence, an outrageous sort of flouting of the ordinary norms of due process. I mean, it’s difficult to see how people could receive – individuals could receive due process especially in cases that involve the death penalty where several hundred people or more are on trial in a single trial that lasted two hours or less. We understand that these verdicts are going through the judicial process and that there have been appeals and those appeals are continuing and that the numbers are dropping every – at every stage. But it remains true that those trials are a serious issue of due process concern for us and for others in the international community.
With regard to the journalist, we remain very concerned about the journalists that are detained simply for doing their jobs. We have made it clear to the Egyptians in the past publicly and privately and will continue to do so on this trip that we would like to see these journalists released. And I would just say that we’ve also made the case in the past and the Secretary, I think, will make this point, is that these cases have done significant damage to Egypt’s image internationally and that it’s in Egypt’s interest to redress these cases.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: (Inaudible) Lara (inaudible).
QUESTION: Sorry, thanks. So maybe I didn’t hear it, but could you answer or repeat the part of Anne’s question about whether or not you think the Government of Egypt has any power to change the legal system? What the Egyptians tell us is that the mullahs have set this system and they can’t do anything about it, or the mufti – yeah, I mean, but basically that they are powerless to stop this.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: (Inaudible.)
QUESTION: The mufti. I mean clerics, basically.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: In Egypt?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Yeah. Are we talking about Egypt?
QUESTION: Yes. So they basically say that they have no power to change the legal system and so they’re trying to – that’s why they’re trying to do it on appeal, but that basically the first trial or the first kind of round of the legal system is out of their hands.
QUESTION: That it’s independent of them.
QUESTION: Also on the 1.3, so if I’m doing some fuzzy math here basically to figure out how much money is still – has still not been given yet, I just basically subtract 575 from 1.3, right? Okay, good. And then also I’m correct that this is – Kerry is the highest ranking U.S. official to go to Egypt since al-Sisi was inaugurated, correct?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Yes.
QUESTION: Okay, thanks. So if you could answer that legal question, that’d be great.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: On the judicial system, I mean, I think I would need to be candid and say I’m not an expert on Egypt’s judicial system. What we have observed and what we have learned talking to people who are experts is that there’s – there are – there is a certain level of independence that is built into the system. There is a tradition of judges being able to make decisions with a certain degree of autonomy. There are also countervailing indications of the government being able to find ways to influence that system through the people that they appoint to the judiciary and through other more – I would call them subtle means of sending signals.
And I would say in a broader sense that the political environment that the Egyptian Government has created over the past year is in many ways the most critical element that is shaping how the judiciary is dealing with these cases. The judiciary in many ways is clearly responding to a political environment that the government has created. So it’s a complicated reality, and I’ve tried to sort of point to some to some ways in which there is influence, some ways in which there is some independence. But the critical issue is the political environment and the judiciary is responding to that.
QUESTION: This is for [Senior State Department Official Three] and it is – it’s regarding Iraq.
QUESTION: [Senior State Department Official Three.]
QUESTION: [Senior State Department Official Three]. Sorry. As of when senior Administration officials briefed on Thursday, they said that U.S. troops already in Iraq had legal protection and they were confident that the new troops to be deployed would have the same protection. If you saw Admiral Kirby yesterday, he had trouble confirming that. I wonder if that’s still an open question. Has that issue been resolved for new troops to be sent in? And if not, is that something that Secretary Kerry has to resolve on this trip?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: In terms of any personnel on the ground right now, I would just refer you to what’s already been said, which is that troops on the ground —
QUESTION: I’m talking about new troops.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: Right – would have the protections they need or would not have been deployed. In terms of new people who are sent in to the theater, I think what we’ve been saying and I what I think is – remains the case is that we believe that they will expeditiously and before they are deployed have the legal protections they need because – and the reason we believe that is because the Iraqi Government is directly asking and calling on us to provide support.
Exactly what form those legal protections will take I think is something that we are working out. Whether that’s going to be part of the Secretary’s business I don’t know for sure, but I would say that he is more likely to be focused on the two top level topics that I mentioned in the beginning: one, focusing on the security questions and how to address the ISIL threat inside Iraq; and two, the political environment inside Iraq. This issue, I know, is being actively worked by our embassy and by others, but I don’t know that’s it’s necessarily going to be a focus of the Secretary’s trip.
QUESTION: But just to be clear, it has not been resolved yet?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: It’s in the process of being resolved.
QUESTION: In the process of being resolved.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: I think that’s right.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) how do they have these legal – how do they have these legal protections? Because no one has explained. Everyone just says they’ll have what they need. No one, including [Senior State Department Official One], has said what they’re going to get and what is the legal rationale that provides it. Can you explain it?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: I mean, again, I can’t go into detail of how each and every person on the ground has – is protected the way —
QUESTION: (Inaudible) coming in?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: Right.
QUESTION: No one has explained it. (Inaudible.)
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: Michael, I don’t think there is an exact answer to that question because it’s being worked through as we speak. As you know as well as anyone, there are a range of ways in which to do this, but I don’t know that the exact modality in this case has been settled on yet.
QUESTION: President Obama in some of his public remarks over the last week identified it as one of the diplomatic missions of the Administration to work with our allies in the Gulf, particularly the oil-producing states, to create what he called a backstop for any potential disruptions of supply that might arise out of the Iraq situation. And I just wonder if you could give us some update as to whether any progress has been made in that front and where specifically that progress might have been made.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: I don’t have an update on progress. What I can tell you is that in Secretary Kerry’s conversations with leaders from whom that sort of discussion would be relevant – so oil-producing countries primarily – this, I would expect, will be a topic of discussion. But I don’t have a real-time update on where that all stands.
QUESTION: Are you liking what you’re hearing?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: I would say that I don’t want to get ahead of the conversations he’s going to be having later on this week, and we’ll be in a better position to talk about that after the conversations have taken place.
QUESTION: [Senior State Department Official Three], (inaudible) is there going to be a discussion about – I just want to be clear. Is there going to be a discussion about global (inaudible) global supplies, or just supplies from Iraq?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Those supplies are —
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: I think there will generally be a discussion among energy-producing countries about the possible impact of the Iraq situation on (inaudible) energy markets. But again, I don’t want to get ahead of a conversation that takes place four days from now, and a lot could happen between now and then.
QUESTION: Thanks. When the Secretary was in Cairo last year, I believe it was November of late October, early November, he said some of the same things that you are mentioning now, that the political process needs to be inclusive, that the Muslim Brotherhood is a political challenge not a security challenge, that there needs to be due process in the trials, that you shouldn’t polarize society, et cetera. The Egyptians don’t seem to be listening. Why do you think you might have more luck this time? I understand there’s a new president, but why do you think – what is going to make a difference this time? Why would they listen this time?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: I think these types of conversations that the Secretary has with foreign leaders, it’s an iterative process, it’s an ongoing dialogue. And the situation in Egypt today is quite different than it was in November in some critical ways. I think Egyptians have had a chance over the last eight months to look at what has transpired in Egypt. I think some are reevaluating the approaches that have been used. And I think this process of reevaluating creates a new – sorry, creates a new environment or helps to contribute to it.
I think the security environment has evolved in ways that will allow for a good conversation to take place. And I think ongoing economic hardship has also probably had an impact on Egyptians as they evaluate the policies that are being implemented and the results of those policies. It’s true what you say that Egyptians have had certain attitudes. President Sisi remains quite popular and that’s also a constant. That’s been a bit more of a constant factor. But if you look at all the factors since November, I think there’s significant amount of change that would make a conversation worthwhile. And the critical ones on the political side, of course, are the constitutional referendum that was passed in January, the presidential election, and ongoing progress on the roadmap.
QUESTION: Here you go.
QUESTION: Thanks. So [Senior State Department Official Two], quickly, more math. That 1.3 minus the 575, is that also minus the 200 million in economic assistance?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: No.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: The 200 million in economic assistance is (inaudible).
QUESTION: Wait. Actually, I have a quick question for [Senior State Department Official Three] too.
[Senior State Department Official Three], in Iraq as these things, the talks occur, not just with the Iraqis but also with Gulf partners, what more can Gulf partners do to kind of beat back some of the ISIL insurgency or the threat? Like what are you guys looking for the Gulfies to do – and Jordan?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: Do you want me to go first?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: (Inaudible.)
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: Okay, I’ll go first. So I just want to adjust slightly the sort of premise of your question because it’s not just consultations with Gulf partners, although we will be consulting with Gulf partners. It’s also conversations that we’ll be having with European partners in and around the NATO meetings in Brussels, with other regional partners that aren’t in the Gulf like the Jordanians and others. So just to be clear, this is not like what can the Gulf do to help Iraq.
But in terms of what some of these other countries can do to be constructive, I would say a lot of the funding and support that has over a long period of time fueled extremism inside Iraq has flowed into Iraq from its neighbors. And that does not mean that it’s the result of an official government policy in many if not most cases, but it does mean that some of these governments can do more to stop some of that facilitation. And that, by the way, goes not just for Iraq but also for Syria and is a frequent topic of conversation on those issues with these countries.
I would also say that for ISIL specifically, that’s not the sole source of their income. There is – our understanding is that they have an extension – extensive extortion network inside Syria and Iraq – kidnaping for ransom, illicit trade based on things that they seize and then sell. So this is in addition to being a highly capable and sophisticated terrorist organization is also essentially a criminal syndicate that is able to sustain some of its operations in that way. But all of these are going to be topics that we are going to take up with our partners to focus them on what we consider to be, as we’ve said, a very severe threat.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: I’m just going to say we’re going to wrap this up soon.
QUESTION: What about the 200 million?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: Go ahead. He’s going to answer your 200 million question, then we’re going to wrap it up and we’ll do it again tomorrow. And we will get you guys a breakdown of the money before we land in Egypt if that is helpful.
QUESTION: Embargoed till we land —
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: The 200 million is a part of the ballpark 1.3 million.
QUESTION: That’s already gone?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: What’s that?
QUESTION: That’s already gone. So that’s gone and then 575 million is gone?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: The 200 million is still being – I guess you’d call it in the pipeline. It’s not being implemented because of the difficulties on the ground, but it’s not being held up by Congress.
QUESTION: Okay. So (inaudible) the money that is being held up, I subtract 200 from 575 (inaudible) 775 from 1.3, right?
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Yes.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL TWO: Ballpark numbers, yes. But you’re mixing the – it’s easier with the – talking about held money to just talk about the FMF, the military money, because the other assistance, the ESF, the economic assistance, is not being held up.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: You have one too. (Inaudible.)
QUESTION: I have one follow-up. It’s a factual question that’s been bothering me, if you can answer it or take it.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: (Inaudible.)
QUESTION: Okay. This regards the criminal syndicate that is ISIL or ISIS. It’s been widely reported it’s become part of what I would call urban legend that they looted a bank in Mosul or banks in Mosul to more than $400 million. Now, the way I do the math, with – if it’s dollars and not dinars, which the governor of Nineveh province has said it is, and denominations do not exceed 100, it would be nearly impossible to carry $400 million on the backs of this insurgent group. Also, if you do the math, just to be a wonk about this, the total number of cash deposits in U.S. banks last week were 50 billion. To think that on the order of 400 million was in one bank in Mosul is pretty – but it’s been now repeated in every newspaper. The Guardian took it up. It’s in The New York Times (inaudible). And I was told by officials in another building that it’s just totally in tens of millions, but I don’t know if you want to put something on the record there.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL THREE: I can’t speak to why you guys keep reporting it, but – no, I’m just kidding. In terms of – I’ve seen the reports. I’ve seen what Governor Nujeifi has said, who, whatever you think of the viability of that number, I mean, he’s in a position to know something. But what I think we’ve talked about this fairly extensively internally as well. I mean, it does seem to be an inordinately large amount of money to be held in essentially one or maybe a couple of banks even in one city in a country the size of Iraq. So I can’t tell you unequivocally that it’s true or not true, but I think we’ve discussed – we’ve raised some of the same questions that you have about the figure.
Look, that said though, they’re undoubtedly very, very well-funded. And whether it’s $400 million or tens of millions of dollars, that’s a lot of money for an insurgent organization that has on the order of thousands of members and is enough to allow them or to enable them to do a lot of damage in a short amount of time. So I don’t want to say it doesn’t matter, but to some extent, in terms of the outcome, we’re focused more on capabilities than on finding facts like that.
SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL ONE: All right. Thanks, everyone.
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International Summit on Public Accountability and Transparency in Africa
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First ever Africa Trade Week Opens in Addis Ababa
Language: en | Date: 2016-11-28 17:46:36
One of the issues that participants will discuss is the relationship between Africa and the United States following the recent election of business magnate Donald Trump as President-elect of the US, the changing architecture of global trade, AGOA implementation, trade partnerships, the CFTA, trade facilitation and related issues
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Donald Trump has praised Abdul Fattah al-Sisi as a "fantastic guy"
Egypt under Sisi
Egypt's revolutionaries - where are they now?
Enduring repression and insurgency in Egypt's Sinai
Why US-Egyptian ties are warming
What's become of Egypt's Morsi?
As President Donald Trump tries to re-instate his controversial travel ban, there is one thing he does not need to worry about - any opposition from Egypt.
When President Trump decided to temporarily close America's borders to citizens of seven mainly Muslim nations, the response from Cairo was striking.
The Arab world's most populous nation made its silence felt. Egypt's hardline leader, and his supporters, are on the Trump train.
President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi was the first Arab leader to congratulate Mr Trump on his election victory. The bromance began at their first meeting in New York last September, when Donald Trump was still on the campaign trail.
"There was good chemistry there," Mr Trump said afterwards. "He's a fantastic guy." He praised the general-turned-president for "really taking control of Egypt" as indeed he did - in a popularly backed coup in 2013.
While the US did not call it a coup, the military's removal of Egypt's first democratically elected president - the Islamist Mohammed Morsi - caused a rupture with President Obama. Now President Sisi is looking forward to a reset in relations, and a visit to the White House - which the Obama administration denied him.
When he gets there (the visit is still being planned) human rights are unlikely to be on the agenda. Neither leader has much to say about that, but they speak the same language about tackling Islamic extremism.
President Trump has vowed to wipe "radical Islamic terrorism" from the face of the Earth. President Sisi has promised to "combat and eradicate terrorism and extremism". _________________ www.lawyerscommitteefor9-11inquiry.org www.rethink911.org www.patriotsquestion911.com www.actorsandartistsfor911truth.org www.mediafor911truth.org www.pilotsfor911truth.org www.mp911truth.org www.ae911truth.org www.rl911truth.org www.stj911.org www.v911t.org www.thisweek.org.uk www.abolishwar.org.uk www.elementary.org.uk www.radio4all.net/index.php/contributor/2149 http://utangente.free.fr/2003/media2003.pdf
"The maintenance of secrets acts like a psychic poison which alienates the possessor from the community" Carl Jung
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is visiting Washington. Since being elected in 2014 after orchestrating a coup d’état in the summer of 2013, the Egyptian leader has sought a White House meeting. President Barack Obama resisted, given the iron fist Sisi has employed to establish control over Egyptian society. The country is now among the top jailers of journalists in the world, thousands of others have been arrested for their opposition to the government, and Egyptian security forces killed about 800 people on a single day in August 2013.
Sisi’s visit signals the end of this period of mistrust and tension between the two countries. Egyptian officials were extremely pleased when, after meeting Sisi last September in New York, then-candidate Donald J. Trump’s campaign declared, “Mr. Trump expressed to President el-Sisi his strong support for Egypt’s war on terrorism, and how under a Trump Administration, the United States of America will be a loyal friend, not simply an ally, that Egypt can count on in the days and years ahead.”
It is hard to know for sure given the Trump administration’s policymaking style, but it seems clear that the White House wants to turn back the clock to the Hosni Mubarak era. During those three decades, successive U.S. administrations supported Mubarak because he ensured that the Suez Canal would stay open, maintained peace with Israel and kept his boot on the throat of Islamists. For the Trump White House, with its emphasis on fighting extremists, a Mubarak redux makes a lot of sense. American officials will likely discover that this is going to be hard. Egypt is very different today, and does not necessarily compare well to the country that Mubarak once ruled.
On March 24, Mubarak left the Maadi military hospital where he had been more or less under arrest since the summer of 2011. The former president faced charges of ordering the killing of protesters during the uprising that had toppled him six months earlier, misappropriating funds for the presidential palace, and various forms of graft and corruption. Having been cleared of all charges and with all appeals exhausted, the man whose ignominious fall from power six years ago was to have begun Egypt’s path to democracy drove across greater Cairo to a villa in Heliopolis, an upscale area of the Egyptian capital.
Mubarak’s release prompted articles in the New York Times and Washington Post decrying the state of Egypt and the Egyptian state. Mubarak is mostly vilified in Egypt — though he has his supporters — and remembered in Washington as the man who succumbed to the combination of his own imperviousness to change, authoritarian outlook and effort to hand the country over to his son who had no known qualifications for leadership. This unsparing portrait is true but also imprecise. The Mubarak era was far more complicated and, in important ways, more successful than the post-Mubarak commentary suggests.
In between the time that Mubarak took the oath of office on Oct. 14, 1981, and his fall on Feb. 11, 2011, Egypt underwent a wide-ranging socioeconomic transformation. It was not South Korea, a country against which it is often measured, but Egypt had progressed. According to the World Bank, life expectancy for both males and females approached developed-world levels. Both the birth rate and the infant mortality rate dropped significantly, and the annual rate of population growth began to level off. Immunization of children for tuberculosis, DPT (diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus), hepatitis B, measles and polio reached from 96 to 98 percent; three decades earlier, they had ranged from 41 to 57 percent. The age-dependency ratio — a measure, albeit not perfect, of the proportion of the population that is financially dependent on others — fell by almost a third, which reduced the overall burden on Egyptians in the workforce as well as the government.
Almost three-quarters of the population was literate, a figure that remained too low but was still an improvement. And almost the entire population had access to electricity. This is not to suggest that Mubarak was a great man, or that these changes would not have happened without him, or that his economic team had finally resolved Egypt’s perennial economic problems. But the country was hardly stagnant during his time in power. Still, there was a widely held perception that precisely the opposite was true, which contributed to the 2011 uprising.
To be fair, Sisi has only been in power for a fraction of Mubarak’s long tenure, and has undertaken some highly touted (mostly by the Egyptian government) economic reforms that may produce positive results. But in the meantime, Egyptians are certainly poorer than they were during the latter part of the Mubarak era. In addition to the subsidy reforms and other positive measures, Sisi has undertaken a number of economic decisions that are curious, including constructing a Suez Canal bypass that the Egyptian government has endlessly hyped as the “New Suez Canal” and committing resources to the construction of a new capital. These are projects that might be defensible when times are flush, but not when the country needs to climb out of the economic mess that the instability and poor decisions of the last six years have wrought.
Like Sisi, Mubarak jailed his political opponents, intimidated journalists, abused bloggers, crammed the political arena with fake nongovernmental organizations and enjoyed the indulgence of a rubber-stamp parliament. But it was easier to express oneself in Egypt in the 1990s and 2000s than it is today. Egyptian liberals loathe Mubarak, and some freely admit that another uprising would be a mistake, but not because of their misbegotten support for Sisi when, on July 3, 2013, he arrested former President Mohammed Morsi — the man who had made him defense minister — and reset Egyptian politics. Rather, it is because the country has become more illiberal with every outpouring of popular frustration and anger.
For all of the gross violations of freedom of expression under Mubarak, during the last decade of his rule newspapers, magazines and other outlets leveled withering criticism of the government and even the president and his family. Only the military remained taboo. Mubarak’s opponents were well aware of the risks they faced, but for the most part operated openly because they understood the informal rules of the game. Now there are no rules, leaving journalists, activists and other opponents of Egypt’s political order vulnerable to the whims of the security services who, in Sisi’s Egypt, flaunt their brutality with more confidence than before.
Then, of course, there is the central drama of Egyptian politics today: the showdown between the Egyptian state and the Muslim Brotherhood. In the early years, Egyptians often made fun of Mubarak. He was alleged to be dimwitted. He certainly lacked charisma, but until his last years in office he was a fairly shrewd political operator. He recognized that the Brothers could be usefully blamed for a variety of Egypt’s ills and, because they had deep roots in Egyptian society, that they would be costly to destroy. To Mubarak, the Brotherhood was a problem to be managed.
Sisi has taken precisely the opposite approach, declaring the Brotherhood to be a terrorist organization and unleashing the full force of his country’s security apparatus to root it out. The Brothers are not exactly the reformists that they, their supporters and a surprisingly large number of analysts have often portrayed them to be. In their early efforts to capture the state, they flirted with violence. When the Brothers eschewed political change by force in the 1970s, they sought to delegitimize it and mobilize Egyptian society in opposition to the state by providing social services and articulating a moralizing mission that resonated with the values of many Egyptians. They have also been consistently and perniciously anti-American and anti-Semitic. Even with this loathsome history, Sisi’s effort to rip the Brotherhood out of Egyptian society is unlikely to work. The organization remains deeply connected to Egyptian society and its members are too tenacious to give up. Rather, they are likely to take up arms against the state. This is a self-fulfilling prophecy that is politically useful for Sisi, but it is also destabilizing and polarizing for Egypt as a whole.
No doubt there is an air of familiarity to Egyptian politics. Sisi’s Egypt is a reflection of Mubarak’s Egypt, which was a reflection of Sadat’s Egypt, which was inherited from Gamal Abdel Nasser, who built the national security state in the 1950s and 1960s. Yet the combination of Sisi’s violence, his crackdown on expression and the impoverishment of his people sets him apart. It is early, of course. Perhaps Egypt’s economic reforms will produce prosperity and the Muslim Brotherhood will give up, which will pave the way for more open and consensual politics. Given the country’s trajectory, the reality is likely to be much different.
Values were never part of the American approach to Egypt, with the exception of brief moments during the presidencies of George W. Bush and Obama. But at least American presidents could make the argument that close ties with Egypt made sense, in part because Egypt was stable and shared Washington’s interests. Only if one defines U.S. interests solely in terms of annihilating extremists, as the Trump administration does, does this still hold true today.
02/2016 Ricard González, Journalist and Political Scientist
Translation from Spanish: Tom Hardy
Five years after the first shoots of the Arab Spring appeared, the landscape in the region is bleak: Syria, Iraq and Yemen are torn apart by violence and sectarian hate, Libya is engulfed in chaos, and Daesh already casts its threatening shadow across the whole region. And yet, in no country is the gulf between the hopes raised during the first months of 2011 and the sad present-day reality wider than in Abdul-Fattah al-Sisi’s Egypt. The former military chief has established the most repressive regime in the Arab giant’s contemporary history. Only Tunisia, cradle of the transnational uprising, has managed to stay out of these fires.
Sisi’s government has taken the country back several decades, installing a rough approximation of the reviled Hosni Mubarak regime with its police abuse, fraudulent elections, demonisation of the Muslim Brotherhood and implementation of neoliberal policies. However, Egypt and the Middle East are very different places in 2016 than they were in the eighties. To seize control and hold on to it, the counterrevolution has had to use even more extreme violence.
In the past two and a half years, Egyptian authorities have arrested thousands of people from among the ranks of the opposition, hundreds more have disappeared – probably locked up in secret prisons – and more than 200 have died in police custody, whether through torture or medical negligence. Anti-government protests are banned. While the Mubarak regime tolerated the Muslim Brotherhood and never dared arrest its Supreme Guide, now the leader faces 40 judicial processes and has already been handed a death sentence. The activists who led the 2011 revolution, such as Ahmed Maher and Alaa Abd El Fattah, also now find themselves behind bars.
The brutality and impunity of the security forces has reached the point that all indications point to them being responsible for the torture and murder of Giulio Regeni, an Italian researcher who disappeared in the centre of Cairo after being taken by police on the 25th of January, the fifth anniversary of the revolution. According to the New York Times, three different sources from the interior ministry have confirmed that Regeni was detained on that fateful day. A week later his body was found in a ditch in one of the capital’s suburbs, displaying signs of “inhuman violence”, according to the Italian interior minister. The authorities said at first that it was a road accident. An incident like this would have been unthinkable during the previous regime, when westerners were safe behind an inviolable red line.
Regeni’s murder may confirm the theses of various experts, such as Nathan Brown and H. A. Heller, that what is called the “Sisi regime” is nothing of the sort. The concept of a “regime” requires the existence of a strong executive power that the other state institutions obey, resulting in unity of action by public authorities. By contrast, today’s Egypt more closely resembles a coalition of diverse institutions with wide scope for autonomy in the pursuit of their own interests. The presidency is certainly the most powerful institution, but it appears unable to impose its will on the rest, especially the interior ministry.
The recent formation of the parliament after three and a half years of absence does not seem likely to change the institutional set-up of the new political order, despite the extensive prerogatives granted to legislative power in the constitution approved in 2014. In fact, the coalition of parties that won last autumn’s elections, which declares itself pro-Sisi, announced its intention to reform the constitution to strengthen presidential powers at the expense of the legislative. Thus, beyond the complaints of the few members of parliament in favour of democratising the country, the chamber is unlikely to become a centre of opposition to or scrutiny of the government.
On Egypt’s confused post-revolutionary journey, 2013’s coup d’état marked a genuine turning point. Consciously or not, Sisi opened up a Pandora’s box by overthrowing Mohammed Morsi. Since then, a powerful and tenacious Islamist insurgency has formed that is no longer confined to the Sinai Peninsula, its traditional fiefdom, but is active throughout the country, especially in Greater Cairo. Within this insurgent fog, the group formerly known as Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, renamed Wilayat Sinai after swearing loyalty to Islamic State, is the most murderous. Its most audacious act, the downing of a Russian civilian aeroplane above the Sinai Peninsula, was a fatal blow to tourism in Egypt. State and terrorist violence feed each other in a spiral with no end in sight. Sisi promised order, stability and prosperity upon taking the reins of the country, but no Egyptian government has ever been so far from achieving those goals.
“You can’t make war in the Middle East without Egypt and you can’t make peace without Syria.” – Henry Kissinger
In Egyptian mythology, gods were considered heroes. In more modern times, it is men who are the heroes. Without a doubt, General Gamal Abdul Nasser has secured his legacy as a hero – a revolutionary who fought for Egypt and strived for Arab unity against Israel and Western imperialism. This month marks the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Arab-Israeli war; a pre-planned war of aggression and expansion by Israel against Egypt, Jordan, and Syria, aided by the US and Britain.
Israel’s cronies assisted in the planning and execution of the war which led to the seizure and occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank, Syria Golan (Golan Heights) and the Sinai Peninsula. Prior to the start of the war, as early as May, Lyndon Johnson who assumed the presidency after the tragic assassination of JF Kennedy, authorized air shipment of arms to Israel . Furthermore, the United States facilitated Israeli air attacks and advances by sending reconnaissance aircraft to track movement of Egyptian ground forces and American spy satellites provided imagery to Israel . According to reports American and British carrier-based aircraft flew sorties against the Egyptians and U.S. aircraft attacked Egypt. Judging by their cover-up, the American leadership had as little compassion for American blood as it did for Arab blood. The Israeli attack against USS Liberty that killed and injured American servicemen was buried in a sea of lies.
Fifty years on, the war rages on and Israel has a different set of cronies. In sharp contrast to Nasser, el-Sisi, Egypt’s antihero has thrown his lot in with Israel and Saudi Arabia against his Arab brethren. El-Sisi’s betrayal has been so outlandish and stark that even the neocon leaning New York Times published a scathing article titled: “Egypt’s Lost Islands, Sisi’s Shame” by Adhaf Soueif. This is a remarkable piece rarely seen in the pages of the NYT given its reputation (see LOOT for example).
Saudi King Salman and Egyptian President El-Sisi at a meeting in Cairo
Saudi King Salman and Egyptian President El-Sisi at a meeting in Cairo (Source: Geopolitical Intelligence Services)
Soueif rightly calls el-Sisi’s to task for handing over the Tiran and Sanafir Islands at the mouth of Gulf of Aqaba to Saudi Arabia. More telling is the fact that the transfer had been discussed with, and had received the blessings of Israel, according to Israel’s Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon. The implications of an Israeli-Saudi-Egyptian alliance are enormous; though hardly the first act of treason by el-Sisi.
In his article Soueif also touches on the dam being built by Ethiopia (the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam) which was opposed to by former President Mohamed Morsi who was ousted in a coup by el-Sisi. It is crucial that this project be further explored as it relates not only to Egypt, but also the past and future politics and geopolitics of the region.
Former President of Egypt Mohamed Morsi (Source: Wikipedia)
Before moving on however, it is important to recall that Morsi was democratically elected to office in the aftermath of the Egyptian ‘revolution’. His support of the Palestinians and his opposition to the dam did not sit well with Israel. Morsi had even called “Jews descendants of pigs and apes”. Both HAMAS and the U.S.-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas welcomed Morsi’s election. Abbas called Morsi “the choice of the great people of Egypt” while one of his senior aides, Saeb Erekat, said the democratic vote for Morsi “meant the Palestinian cause was the Number One priority for all Egyptians“. Though perhaps the greater concern for Israel was Morsi’s opposition to the construction of the dam. A construction favored by Israel and Saudi Arabia.
In 2012, it was reported that Saudi Arabia had claimed a stake in the Nile. Israel’s ambitions went much further back. First initiated by Theodore Herzl in 1903, the diversion plan was dropped due to British and Egyptian opposition to it only to be picked up again in the 1970s. At that time, Israeli’s idea was to convince Egypt to divert Nile water to Israel. In 1978, President Anwar Sadat “declared in Haifa to the Israeli public that he would transfer Nile water to the Negev. Shortly afterward, in a letter to Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, Sadat promised that Nile water would go to Jerusalem. During Mubarak’s presidency, published reports indicated that Israeli experts were helping Ethiopia to plan 40 dams along the Blue Nile.”
On May 30, 2013, The Times of Israel reported that the construction on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (on the Blue Nile) had sparked a major diplomatic crisis with Egypt. The article also reported (citing Al-Arabiya) that Major General Mohammed Ali Bilal, the deputy chief of staff of the Egyptian Armed Forces, had said Egypt was not in a position to confront the project (countries).
“The only solution lies in the US intervening to convince Ethiopia to alleviate the impact of the dam on Egypt.”
No such solutions from the U.S.
On June 3rd, Morsi met with his cabinet to discuss the dam and its implications. Cabinet members were surprised to learn that the meeting was aired live. During the meeting, a cabinet member said:
“Imagine what 80 million of us would do to Israel and America if our water was turned off”.
Morsi contended that
“We have very serious measures to protect every drop of Nile water.”
With el-Sisi’s “democratic coup” which was handsomely rewarded, the dam project is on schedule to be completed by year’s end. As Israel has expands and accelerates its wars of aggression, the wider implications of el-Sisi’s will reverberate throughout the region as serve-serving Arab leaders fight their own to execute Israel’s agenda.
Soraya Sepahpour-Ulrich is an independent researcher with a focus on U.S. foreign policy and the influence of lobby groups.
 Camille Mansour. “Beyond Alliance: Israel and U.S. Foreign Policy” Columbia 1994, p.89
 Stephen J. Green. “Taking Sides: America’s Secret Relations With A Militant Israel”. William Morrow and Co., NY 1984
 “Will Nile water go to Israel? North Sinai pipelines and the politics of scarcity”, Middle East Policy (Sep 1997): 113-124.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OGyF8fK_90s _________________ --
'Suppression of truth, human spirit and the holy chord of justice never works long-term. Something the suppressors never get.' David Southwell
Martin Van Creveld: Let me quote General Moshe Dayan: "Israel must be like a mad dog, too dangerous to bother."
Martin Van Creveld: I'll quote Henry Kissinger: "In campaigns like this the antiterror forces lose, because they don't win, and the rebels win by not losing."
An article published in an Egyptian newspaper by Britain's Middle East minister suggests that London now wholeheartedly supports the Sisi regime in its war on the Muslim Brotherhood
Friday 1 September 2017 13:26 UTC
When Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi led his coup d'etat against the democratically elected president Mohamed Morsi on 3 July 2013, Britain pretended to be neutral.
This was never convincing. Britain tacitly endorsed the coup. Neither prime minister David Cameron nor his ministers ever called the Sisi seizure of power by its real name – a coup d'etat.
Burt has sent out a message that was very deliberately calculated to delight not just the Egyptian military government, but also Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies
Soon Britain was supplying arms to Sisi's despotic regime. Just over two years later, Sisi came to London on an official visit to meet Cameron.
There was however always an element of caution in Britain's approach to the Egyptian military government. This has now been abandoned.
During his visit to Egypt last week, there was no let up in Middle East Minister Alistair Burt's fulsome embrace of the Sisi regime.
A translation of Alistair Burt's piece in Al-Ahram
Not merely that. Burt also declared British opposition to and contempt for the Muslim Brotherhood in a way that no British minister had previously done.
He sent out a message about the Muslim Brotherhood that was deliberately calculated to delight not just the Egyptian military government, but also Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies.
'An end to this ambiguity'
In a groundbreaking article in the Egyptian paper Al Ahram - an establishment organ close to the regime - Burt devoted a substantial proportion of his piece to a direct attack on the Brotherhood.
He attacked it for links to extremism, while emphasising that Britain has imposed an outright ban on any contact with the organisation since 2013.
Burt said that "now is the time for everyone who defends the Brotherhood in London or Cairo to put an end to this confusion and ambiguity".
'Now is the time for everyone who defends the Brotherhood in London or Cairo to put an end to this confusion and ambiguity'
- Middle East Minister Alistair Burt
Not surprisingly, Burt's remarks have been greeted with profound pleasure in Cairo, where they have been seen as legitimising what many still see as an illegal regime. In addition, Burt's comments have given Sisi carte blanche to continue his brutal suppression of the Brotherhood.
This became clear when his article was picked up by pro-government figures as a vindication of Sisi's brutal policies.
According to Abdel Latif El Menawy, one of Cairo's best-known journalists, Burt was breaking new ground.
In an article published on Monday in the Arab News significantly headlined "Have no illusions about the Brotherhood" - a translation of his piece in Arabic from Al-Masry Al-Youm on 23 August - El Menawy told his readers: "I believe this is a major development in the British vision that I think we should build on."
El Menawy revealed that Burt's article followed local briefings which had already been delivered by John Casson, the British ambassador to Cairo.
British Ambassador to Egypt John Casson speaks to journalists at the Sharm el-Sheikh airport in November 2015 (AFP)
According to El Menawy, Casson has been talking about "a new direction in British policy on its dealings with terrorism and its threat, and a new position on Britain's view of the Muslim Brotherhood".
If El Menewy is right, then Burt's remarks have not come out of the blue. They are carefully prepared and should be seen as part of a new British strategy towards Egypt and the Arab world.
Where are the human rights concerns?
In his article for Al Ahram newspaper, Burt claimed that "the British fight against terrorism took place within a solid framework that protects human rights".
However, in his article, he made no mention at all of human rights abuses carried out by the Sisi regime. According to a report released last year by Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, almost 60,000 political prisoners and detainees are incarcerated in Egyptian prisons.
There is little doubt that supporters of ex-president Morsi and members of the Muslim Brotherhood constitute a high proportion of this figure. According to the Muslim Brotherhood itself, 29,000 of its members are in custody.
A prison on trial in Cairo (AFP)
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists in 2016, Egypt ranks as the country with the third-highest number of journalists jailed, behind only Turkey and China. Human Rights Watch says that officers of the Egyptian National Security Agency have a record of routinely torturing and forcibly disappearing suspects with very few consequences.
Burt's failure to address any of these hugely serious human rights issues is significant.
Just as interesting was Burt's decision to link the British domestic battle against Islamist terrorism with the Egyptian war on terror.
Burt suggested that there was not so much as a cigarette paper between Britain's domestic struggle against Islamist terrorists and President Sisi's illegal battle against the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.
Burt declared that Britain and Egypt "have fought their wars against terror for over forty years".
Burt suggested that there was not so much as a cigarette paper between Britain's domestic struggle against Islamist terrorists, and Sisi's illegal battle against the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt
This statement is misleading. Bear in mind that in Britain, the terror threat comes mainly from al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (IS), as well as the racist extremists on the far-right.
These are violent, nihilistic groups that are hostile to democracy and the rule of law, and are wholly committed to violence and wanton destruction.
This is emphatically not the case with the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood.
A world of difference
As Burt and Casson must know, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood has been committed to peaceful political methods for more than four decades, and has remained committed to non-violence ever since the military seizure of power four years ago.
The Foreign Office is well aware that there is all the difference in the world between IS and al-Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood. They know very well that the Brotherhood does not promote violence. They understand that dictators like Sisi hate the Brotherhood not because it is violent but because it represents a democratic opposition to dictatorship.
Muslim Brotherhood a 'firewall' against extremism, says UK
It is worth quoting Burt at some length to demonstrate the new hostility in Britain's tone towards the Muslim Brotherhood:
"We will impose tight surveillance on the Brotherhood's behaviour and their activities including their visa requests, source of funding for charity organisations and their relationships with international organisations. Britain is now one of the few countries around the world that [has] banned, on all levels, any communication with the Brotherhood since 2013.
"Throughout our observation of the Brotherhood's activities around the world, it became completely clear that this movement uses ambiguity to hide their extremist agenda in Egypt. These evasive tactics, used by the organisation and which were observed by those who prepared the 2015 report, still continue to be used in 2017. Now is the time for everyone who defends the Brotherhood in London or in Cairo to put an end to this confusion and ambiguity.
"All of this leads to a question for those who support the Brotherhood: will you ignore the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood has failed in one of today's biggest challenges? Or would you prefer to join Britain and Egypt in condemning this poisonous extremist ideology, wherever it may exist?"
So why is Alistair Burt making these remarks?
I contacted the Foreign Office to ask if Burt's article - and Casson's briefings - indicate a change in British foreign policy towards fighting terrorism and the Brotherhood.
In answer to my questions, an official referred me to the government's response to last year's Parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee inquiry into political Islam and the Muslim Brotherhood review from last February.
Burt's opinion piece, the official said, was "making clear that the UK is tough on extremism and getting tougher as we set out in 2015 [when the Muslim Brotherhood review was released] and that includes challenging all groups including the Muslim Brotherhood when they contradict our values and interests".
The piece, he added, is "an example of that UK approach which is more proactive than any other Western country".
And Casson's briefings? Based on the same stances.
Sisi says goodbye to Saudi Arabia's King Salman at Cairo's international airport in April 2016 (AFP)
Let me decode all of this: I believe that Britain has embarked on a new strategy of appeasement towards Arab dictators.
Burt’s remarks in Cairo last week have sent a message to democrats across the Middle East that Britain will not back them.
They have reinforced al-Qaeda's contention that Western claims to support democracy in the region are hypocritical and fake. And they have given enormous reassurance to one of the most brutal dictators in the Middle East as he cracks down on free speech, democracy and the rule of law.
- Peter Oborne won best commentary/blogging in 2017 and was named freelancer of the year in 2016 at the Online Media Awards for articles he wrote for Middle East Eye. He also was British Press Awards Columnist of the Year 2013. He resigned as chief political columnist of the Daily Telegraph in 2015. His books include The Triumph of the Political Class, The Rise of Political Lying, and Why the West is Wrong about Nuclear Iran.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.
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