Arab Nations Strike in Libya, Surprising U.S.

Islamist fighters in the Libya Dawn coalition guarded the main airport in Tripoli, Libya, after its capture on Sunday. Credit Mahmud Turkia/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

By DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK and ERIC SCHMITTAUG in The New York Times

CAIRO — Twice in the last seven days, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates have secretly launched airstrikes against Islamist-allied militias battling for control of Tripoli, Libya, four senior American officials said, in a major escalation of a regional power struggle set off by Arab Spring revolts.

The United States, the officials said, was caught by surprise: Egypt and the Emirates, both close allies and military partners, acted without informing Washington, leaving the Obama administration on the sidelines. Egyptian officials explicitly denied to American diplomats that their military played any role in the operation, the officials said, in what appeared a new blow to already strained relations between Washington and Cairo.

The strikes in Tripoli are another salvo in a power struggle defined by Arab autocrats battling Islamist movements seeking to overturn the old order. Since the military ouster of the Islamist president in Egypt last year, the new government and its backers in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have launched a campaign across the region — in the news media, in politics and diplomacy, and by arming local proxies — to roll back what they see as an existential threat to their authority posed by Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood.

Read more at The New York Times

Egypt: sentencing to death of more than 500 people is a ‘grotesque’ ruling

Relatives cry sitting outside the courthouse after hearing the verdict. © AFP/Getty Images

‘This is the largest single batch of simultaneous death sentences we’ve seen … anywhere in the world’
Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Middle East & North Africa Director

Numbers are more than total death sentences in Egypt in last three years combined

The handing down of mass death sentences by a court in Egypt today has been condemned as a grotesque move by Amnesty International. According to state media reports in Egypt, in a single hearing this morning the Minya Criminal Court sentenced 529 supporters of former President Mohamed Morsi to be executed for their alleged role in violence following his ousting last July.

Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui said:

“This is injustice writ large and these death sentences must be quashed. Imposing death sentences of this magnitude in a single case makes Egypt surpass most other countries’ use of capital punishment in a year.

“This is the largest single batch of simultaneous death sentences we’ve seen in recent years, not just in Egypt but anywhere in the world.

“Egypt’s courts are quick to punish Mohamed Morsi’s supporters, but ignore gross human rights violations by the security forces.

“While thousands of Morsi’s supporters languish in jail, there has not been an adequate investigation into the deaths of hundreds of protesters. Just one police officer is facing a prison sentence for the deaths of 37 detainees.”

The Egyptian authorities do not release figures on death sentences and executions, despite repeated Amnesty requests. However, Amnesty knows that Egyptian courts handed down at least 109 death sentences in 2013. There were at least 91 death sentences in 2012, and at least 123 in 2011. The last known execution in Egypt was carried out in October 2011, when a man was hanged for the killing of six Coptic Christians and a Muslim police guard in a drive-by shooting in 2010.

via Amnesty International UK

Exploiting Egypt’s Rape Culture for Political Gain | The Nation

In Egypt, as well as in the West, outrage over rampant sexual assault has too often been about political agendas rather than concern for the actual victims.

Women shout slogans against Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi and members of the Muslim Brotherhood during a march against sexual harassment and violence against women in Cairo February 6, 2013. (Reuters/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)

by Anna Lekas Miller August 8, 2013

Since the most recent wave of protests began in Tahrir Square on June 30, there have been 186 recorded sexual assaults—including eighty the night that former President Mohamed Morsi was overthrown. Many of these attacks are mob-style sexual assaults, often involving between fifty and 100 assailants, in which a woman is surrounded, stripped, groped and in some cases beaten and gang-raped until she needs medical attention. And in some recent cases, women were attacked and penetrated with knives and other weapons.

In Egypt, they call this the “Circle of Hell.”

Since the Egyptian Revolution began more than two and a half years ago, hundreds of thousands of women have been sexually assaulted in Tahrir Square. And over the past two and a half years, not a single assailant of the thousands who participated in hundreds of attacks has been prosecuted.

“These men attack women because they know they can get away with it,” said Yasmine, an Egyptian activist who doesn’t wish to give her last name.

Many of the women surveyed agree that sexual violence has gotten worse since former President Hosni Mubarak was overthrown. Up until the most recent wave of protests, during which the Muslim Brotherhood pointed to sexual assaults in Tahrir Square in an attempt delegitimize anti-government opposition, the rampant attacks that happened under President Morsi’s leadership have gone largely ignored.

According to a recent survey from UN Women, 99.3 percent of all Egyptian women report being sexually harassed, and 91.5 percent have experienced unwelcome physical contact. The country has three laws in the penal code that address sexual harassment, assault and rape—and though the punishments range from fines to imprisonment, including life sentences and the death penalty, these laws are rarely enforced. Instead, most women are discouraged from reporting their sexual assaults to the authorities. For most, the high risk of shame and humiliation in publicly outing oneself as a sexual assault survivor—and the assumption that one is tainted or, if unmarried, now unfit for marriage—far exceeds the likelihood that the assailant will be held accountable.

Like in the West, women’s attire is often blamed for attacks, particularly Western-style clothing that many conservative Egyptians claim attracts assailants and in some cases even justifies rape. According to a 2008 survey with the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights, 53 percent of all men believe that a woman invites harassment through what she is wearing. Many of the women surveyed agree.

Despite these stereotypes, a woman’s clothing doesn’t have much bearing on the likelihood of an attack. One of the most famous photographs of the recorded history of Egypt’s sexual assault epidemic is of a woman sprawled on the floor in only her blue bra, her traditional niqab veil ripped and shredded next to her after her attack.

Read more @ The Nation

Egypt, Turkey, and the Future of Middle East Democracy

First published July 25, 2013

Aside from the fact that religious fundamentalism and the democratic ideal are polar opposites, Islamist leaders like Morsi and Erdogan, who have professed to be democrats, just can’t help it. When backed into a corner politically, they are forced to reveal their true disdain for popular opinion, which is the very basis of democracy. Fairness and equality are not factors in their calculus.

Religious fundamentalism is absolutist. Democracy is populist. Reconciliation of these does not seem a logical possibility. The idea of fundamentalist Islamic democracies is the world’s latest political version of a “good used car.” It looks nice on the lot. The salesman does a good job describing its virtues. But it just doesn’t run very well, and it is likely to leave you stranded some place you don’t want to be.

But this idea that a democracy has been undone is precisely the starting premise of the Western liberal media and political establishment and the cause of so much principled handwringing: An Egyptian Islamic democracy has been killed in the cradle. How tragic! No, actually, it was stillborn. Because a democracy born of religious fundamentalism is the offspring of an unnatural union.

What we have in the Middle East today, especially in Turkey and Egypt, is a clash of two temporal cultures. One looking anxiously to its past failures and another to the possibility of a more prosperous and liberal future. Turkey is the most successful Muslim country in the world for the same reason that America is the world’s most successful Christian majority state. It is a fact rife with historical irony, and one that illuminates the way forward to the development of true Islamic democracies: That the success of Turkey has in large measure been due to its historic, constitutional separation of religion and the political state.

One need not look far to see what the future of Egypt would have looked like under Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. For Islamists like these, the ruse of democratic elections is a means to an end. In Turkey, the people talk of Erdogan “pulling a Putin,” that is, of changing the constitution to perpetuate his own hold on power by allowing himself to become president.

Turkey has more journalists in jail than any other country on Earth, including China and Russia, and twice as many journalists in jail as Syria! College and high school students who protested in the streets have been arrested in government raids, held without legal counsel, and are being indicted on “terrorism” charges. Seriously. Soon, many of Turkey’s former top military officers, who were imprisoned years ago on bogus conspiracy charges fabricated by the AKP, will be put on trial as traitors.

Freedom is being slowly, systematically crushed in Turkey by an Islamist regime that cares nothing for democratic ideals. With each passing day, Turkey becomes more and more like Iran. Where is the Western outrage? What about Turkish democracy?

In Egypt, the Islamists have murdered Christians, blamed women for their own gang rapes, and repeatedly violated the Egyptian constitution and judicial injunctions, even while attempting to replace judges who did not please them, in order to ramrod through a constitution hostile to the most fundamental principles of democracy, like respect for women’s and minority rights. In stark contrast, when the opposition group Tamarod called for more demonstrations a couple of weeks ago, only a few hundred people showed up. The opposition protests that ousted Morsi were comparatively peaceful. It is the Muslim Brotherhood that has repeatedly called for violent, massive public demonstrations. It is the Islamists who have refused abatement.

Western critics of the Egyptian military’s actions betray their ignorance of the fact that there is an enormous difference between having a democratically elected leader–which is itself debatable in Egypt’s case–and having a democratic government. It’s disappointing that so many Americans don’t seem to know the difference. As I told a friend of mine in Egypt today, Thomas Jefferson believed that when any government demonstrates an open hostility to the will of the people that it is the right of the people to institute new government. It is the ideal of an Egyptian democracy that our American critics have romanticized in their high-minded protestations, while the fact that the Egyptian people were faced with the prospect of living under a repressive Islamist dictatorship does not seem to have concerned them. Democracy is not just about form; it is also about content.

Syria’s 1982 Hama Massacre Recalled: Lesson for Assad Today?

FEBRUARY 3, 2012 BY DAVID ARNOLD

After violent clashes between government forces and Muslim Brotherhood insurgents in several trouble spots in 1982, then-President Hafez Al-Assad ordered troops into the restive city of Hama. For three weeks Syrian tanks and planes bombarded Hama while soldiers airlifted in by helicopter carried out house-to-house searches and on-the-spot executions. Estimates of the total number of civilians who died in the siege range widely between 10,000 and 45,000.

A Syrian-American with family roots in Hama recently described the stories she heard from family members who escaped the massacre and found refuge in her father’s house in Damascus.

“I was 16 and I was just like hearing every day those horror stories when people were coming,” said Rana al-Hamwi. “I can start telling you books of stories from every person and what they saw over there.”

“Even now, all I can see from life is a black cloud following me and that has been with me for a long time.”

Read more at Middle East Voices-Voice of America