Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Gamal Abdel Nasser

Maintaining an autonomous foreign policy comes with the steepest of prices: Case of Syria in last 4 decades

Syria during the reign of late Hafiz Assad undertook a consistent strategy to master the autonomy in its foreign policies, against all odds.

Before Hafez Assad military coup in 1972, Syria witnessed a succession of coups.

The people in Damascus knew that a coup is being prepared when the Saudis left the country: The monarchy in Saudi Arabia was the financial deep pocket for every military coup.

It is documented that the first monarch Ibn Saud wrote in his testament to his descendants:

1. Egypt is the head of the Arab World. Decapitate Egypt.

2. Syria is the heart of the Arab World: Plunge a dagger in this heart

3. Syria must never link with Iraq.

Obey these orders and the monarchy will survive and strive. (Yemen was still under British dominion)

Hafez was able to sustain this strategy after the death of the Arab Leader Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1970,  whom no Arabic leader could circumvent without terrible repercussions to his regime.

In order for an autonomous Syria to bear fruit, it was necessary and indispensable to focus on the moot flank which was Lebanon: Lebanon was the main hub for all kinds of undercover foreign machinations to destabilize the Middle-East.

After the death of Gamal Abdel Nasser, Lebanon was wide open to the preparation of all kinds of foreign plans to wreck havoc in the Orient.

By 1972, the Palestinian Organization Fateh of Yasser Arafat was the powerbroker in Lebanese politics and matched the Lebanese army military might. Fateh was ousted from Jordan and they settled in the Arkoub region in south Lebanon before they moved their headquarters to Beirut.

Arafat feared Hafez most and he did his best to find a balance between satisfying Hafez dictate and keep the flow of financial and political supports from Saudi Arabia, Iraq of Saddam and Egypt.

All the political manoeuvring of Hafez to firmly bring Arafat under his wing failed. Hafez then created a parallel military Palestinian wing (The thunderstorm) under the umbrella of Fateh (Al Sa3ikat) and used this branch to squeeze Arafat for political concessions.

It is related that most of the Palestinian heavy weapons were stashed in Sa3ikat warehouses, and that is why Arafat could not kill the emerging civil war in Lebanon swiftly and in its bud.

Direct interference in Lebanon was becoming an urgent matter and the USA provided the Green Light to Hafez to control Lebanon for over 3 decades.

The funny part is that Hafez never asked any financial aid or support from the successive US governments in order to maintain his autonomy.

In order to safeguard Syria from foreign interventions, particularly military wars that he is not prepared for, Hafez obliged the Turkish government to hand over the Kurdish/Turkish resistance leader Abdullah Ocalan. He managed not to let the US get involve in Syria internal affairs and negotiate better term for the distribution of the Euphrates River.

The successor of Hafiz, his son Bashar opted to try an alternative policy of openness to the western nations since 2001. The globalization process was very tempting to allow many close relatives to the family of Assad to monopolize many State institutions and trafficking.

Soon the Syrian regime was under heavy pressures from the USA and France to support their foreign policies.

During Hafiz, Syria played skilfully the political navigation of regional game of influences between the rising Khomeini Iranian Islamic State and the neighboring Arabic States.

Thus, Hafiz allowed that Hezbollah remains the main resistance force in Lebanon against the Israeli occupier while sustaining the standing political power of Nabih Berry (current Parliament chief), leader of the Shi3a AMAL militia.

When the western powers, backed by Turkey, decided to destabilize Syria, Iran was already firmly implanted in Syria and Lebanon and had managed to organize and finance a powerful resistance movement in south Lebanon and in the Bekaa valley.

It is thanks to Iran and Hezbollah, backed by Russia and China, that the regime in Syria was able to withstand the onslaught of the civil war for the 5th year.

The irony is Israel failed to take advantage politically in this period.

Instead of opening political negotiations, Israel kept opting for pre-emptive wars in Lebanon and Gaza and failed miserably, while the resistance forces increased its firepower and political standing.

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23 Vintage Photos of Egypt’s Golden Years

Egypt cinema in the 1900s was the third largest in the world, Cairo was a city that foreigners dreamt of spending their holidays exploring.

Egyptian music flourished and shook the world, Jews, Muslims and Christians lived together as neighbors, and women had freedoms that were unheard of in many other countries.

Egypt was a place of liberal spirits, unhampered by sectarian and ethnic prejudices.

The rights of men, women and children were championed.

A woman reading a magazine in the 1950s

All that has changed.

Often Egyptians may forget the Egypt that used to be. Here are 23 photographs of vintage advertisements and other images that will teleport you to Egypt’s ‘golden years’ and show you an Egypt you may have forgotten ever existed.

(These photographs are available thanks to ’Vintage Egypt. Click here for more)

1. “The Japanese do not respect women.”

shadiatokyo1961

This magazine cover of Egyptian actress Shadia in 1961 after a trip to Tokyo has her boldly declaring that Japan does not respect women. A lot has changed: in 2013, Egypt was ranked among the ‘worst places to be a woman.’

2. “Let’s just kiss and play”

An advertisement for children's toys at Omar Effendi, a popular department store, in 1948.

Kissing of any kind in Egypt is nowadays frowned upon. Once upon a time, ‘love’ was freely expressed on the silver screen. This is almost unheard of today.

3. Cairo or Rome?

A Vespa advertisement from 1950 showing the Cairo Citadel.

Women driving cars in Cairo face numerous problems today: not only is the traffic suffocating, but the cat-calls and the harassment that many endure while in the comfort of their cars has become a daily occurrence for many. Imagine a woman driving a Vespa (motor cycle) in the middle of Cairo.

4. Skirts, school and the open air

aswanteacherstudents1966

Recently, a young woman was harassed at Cairo University for wearing a pink sweater and black pants and not covering her long blonde hair. Yet, decades ago, skirts attracted little to no such harassment.

5. A Jewish department store…in Egypt?

benzion

Benzion department store was founded in Cairo by Moise Levy de Benzion, a Sephardic Jew who had lived in Egypt. Benzion’s legacy, however, ended while he was in Europe during World War II.

Benzion was captured and killed in a camp by the Nazis. Shortly after his death, the government ran the department store until it shut down several years later.

The idea of a Jewish department store in Egypt will likely surprise many: a few years ago Sainsbury’s was forced to shut down over rumours that the owner was Jewish spread like wildfire in Egypt.

6. “Let’s head to the beach…in speedos!”

1964beach2

Swimwear fashion has changed worldwide. Men and women in swimsuits enjoying the sand and the water at a public beach in 1964. You do not want to see what a public beach looks like these days.

7. BEER!

stella1961

Alcohol advertisements are no longer in existence in Egypt today. Last year, alcohol was almost completely banned from the country by the now-removed Islamist government.

8. The man who united the Arabs

nasser1965

Gamal Abdel Nasser was hailed during his reign as the man who stood up against imperialism and the man behind the idea of ‘Pan-Arabism.’ He attempted to adopt a ‘socialist (Nasserist)’ economic policy in Egypt and attempted to unite the Arabs in a scheme similar to the European Union.

9. Are you sure this is Assiut?

assiut

These are groups of Egyptian women at a political rally in Assiut. Not a single woman was wearing the veil or a baggy dress, yet they were considered to have been dressed appropriately and were not attacked for their fashion.

10. The Egyptian Female Revolutionary

Egyptian women volunteer to bear arms in 1956

Egyptian women volunteered in 1956 to bear arms in resistance to a joint Israeli-French-British attack, after Egypt nationalized the Suez Canal in what became known as the 1956 Suez Crisis. Today, Egyptian women do not participate in the military (unless its in an administrative role).

11. Military propaganda existed in 1957 and it still exists today

1957 Military Propaganda

If you drive around Cairo today, you’ll find plenty of similar propaganda: soldiers holding children, a child with a flower, and many more.

12. Turning over the page to a bright future

imperialismfeudalismtranditionalism1956

This piece of propaganda shows a man with the Egyptian Eagle on his arm turning over the page to a bright future that hails “justice,” “democracy,” “elections,” and the “military”.

The previous page included feudalism, imperialism, and traditionalism. Did Egypt achieve democracy and elections? Well…

13. The Star of the East (of the Orient)

1975funeralomkalthoum

When Om Kalthoum (Um Kulthum) died in 1975, heartbreak erupted across Egypt, the Arab World and the globe. Decades after her death, she is still regarded as the greatest female Arabic singer in history.

14. The Cairo Swimsuit Competition

cairoswimsuit

For a woman in Egypt to wear a swimsuit these days, she has to be at a private beach, a private pool, or at a private residence. Imagine what would happen if we re-introduced the Cairo Swimsuit Competition.

15. Who needs Coca-Cola when we have ‘Egypt Cola!’

Egyptian Cola Advertisement: 100% Egyptian

At some point in history, Egypt was not only producing cars and appliances, but also its own version of Coca-Cola.

16. Clearly, Coca-Cola won

1952cocamagda

‘Egypt Cola’ no longer exists: we now have Coca-Cola and Pepsi!

17. The First Arab Car

ramsees1960

Like the Coca-Cola, Egypt also decided to produce automobiles (Ramsis). While the industry did not end up surviving, it does show the potential future economic capabilities of Egypt.

18. Who is our beauty queen?

A 1956 Beauty Competition

This is an interesting article. It proclaims “Seven Queens in the Republic!” We rarely hear of Miss Egypt these days. In 1954, Miss Egypt Antigone Costanda won the coveted Miss World title.

19. Soap, please?

1960stantasoap

Have you been to Tanta recently? If someone were to replicate this advertisement today, it would likely be torched.

20. This isn’t a desert: it’s Cairo

mukattam1948

Cairo was not always a concrete jungle.

21. Vogue (Casino Palestine)

Vogue model Tatjana Patiz at a Cafe in Cairo in 1992

The early 1990′s were perhaps Egypt’s last few ‘good’ years before rapid economic and social deterioration. While this does not show much, it is an enjoyable photograph of a world-wide famous model, Tatjana Patitz, enjoying herself with some locals at a cafe.

22. The beacon of light

Cairo University in 1960

Education in Egypt in the mid 1900′s was considered to be among the best in the world, and especially in the Arab world. Queens, Kings, Princes and Princesses would all travel to Egypt for education.

23. Some things never change

marlboroad

If there is one thing that has not changed, it’s Egypt’s smoking culture. The biggest shift has been the move away from cigarettes and towards shisha (Houka)However, Egyptians are still known for their smoking habits decades after this advertisement.

BONUS: Is that a…camera?

A 1951 magazine page

(Many of these photographs are available thanks to ’Vintage Egypt.’ Click here to see more)

What “Rhinoceros” play of Eugène Ionesco has to do with Egypt?

Are we celebrating the third anniversary of Egypt’s 2011 revolution?

Seems like yesterday: The euphoria never abated, from one uprising to another revolt to a mass revolution to another “popular” military coup…

DELPHINE MINOUI,  Middle East correspondent for the French daily Le Figaro. published this Feb. 19, 2014 in The Opinion Pages of the nyt:

Egypt’s ‘Rhinoceros’ Allegory

CAIRO — I’ve just finished rereading “Rhinoceros,” the 1959 play by Eugène Ionesco.

For someone living in Cairo these days, the parallels between the Roumanian-French playwright’s mid-20th century parable about the rise of fascist and Stalinist conformity in Europe and the growing  mass hysteria surrounding the rise of Field Marshal Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi are striking.

Café windows are covered with posters of the man who overthrew the elected Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi.  El-Sisi  is already seen as the next leader of Egypt, after his government bestowed on him the baton of Field Marshal before he retires in order to run for the presidency.

In central Cairo, you can buy chocolates featuring his picture. All day long, TV channels run excerpts from his speeches mixed in with patriotic hymns. At a recent wedding party at a luxurious hotel facing the Nile, guests started hitting the dance floor as soon as the D.J. played “Teslam al ayadi” (“Bless your hands”), an old nationalist song that many Sisi groupies have turned into an ode to the man, even setting it as the ringtone on their cellphones.

The Egyptian friend who brought me to the party described this Sisi-mania as “a real epidemic,” a virus afflicting even the once-rebellious youth who filled Tahrir Square three years ago.

A few days ago, outside the courthouse where Mr. Morsi is on trial, two girls had proudly strapped military boots to their heads in a gesture of submission to Field Marshal Sisi — like the characters in the Ionesco play who, one by one, grow bumps on their forehead that end up turning into rhinoceros horns.

The first time I read “Rhinoceros,” I was in secondary school in Paris. My teacher told us it described the roots and danger of fascism, and how an ideology combined with a conformist mind-set can reshape people’s minds.

The play, a classic of the “theater of the absurd,” was a vivid allegory of the upsurge in totalitarianism across Europe, and the conformity, fear and collective psychosis that came with it.

Fear is an irrational thing,” says Le Logicien, a character in the play. “It must yield to reason.

In Act 1, the sudden appearance of several rhinoceroses in a small town in France raises more fear and suspicion than fascination.

In Act 2, people start becoming contaminated by the “rhinoceritis” bug. That’s the case of Botard, one of the characters.

After fighting the epidemic, even calling it “monstrous,” he ends up growing a horn himself.

By the end of Act 3, all but one character, Bérenger, have turned into beasts.

Today’s Egyptian liberals and leftists mostly remind me of Botard. After resisting the manipulations of the military for two and a half years, many of them finally succumbed to its will, despite suffering pressure and humiliation.

Like Botard, the Egyptians seem to have lost their sense of resistance.

In parallel with a heavy crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood and revolutionaries, the cult of Field Marshal Sisi has reached a level of collective madness.

In mid-January, as Egyptians were invited to vote on a new Constitution, polling stations turned into pro-army rallies — with fanfare and candies — while opponents were kept away from the show, hiding in their little corner.

On the TV, newscasters have metamorphosed into agents of the official truth. The army is fighting terrorism. Doubters should watch their backs. Field Marshal Sisi is the man of the hour.

Comforted by the mainstream trend, and giving up on their individual free thoughts, many Egyptians take this narrative for granted.

Dudard, another rhinoceros of the play, summarizes it perfectly: His desire, he explains, is to join the “universal family.”

In some ways, the widespread propaganda resonates as a bad version of absurd theater. Last month, a puppet character featured in a Vodafone commercial was put under investigation after someone accused it of secretly passing on terrorist instructions.

Even my daughter’s well-educated and polyglot pediatrician contracted the virus. To him, the army is doing nothing else than protecting the country from a big “American plot” to weaken the region by destroying the military forces.

Ironically, the newly turned rhinoceroses of Egypt are the same ones who used to accuse the Muslim Brotherhood’s supporters of being nothing more than a bunch of sheep. “You have to go with the flow,” one character in the play explains.

Of course, Egypt has its unique story.

It is a country where people have grown up with real love for the army and a nostalgia for the blustery nationalism of Gamal Abdel Nasser.

But there are definitely patterns inherent to other fascist states: the blind submission to authority, the persecution of those who think differently, and the tendency of unifying around a common enemy, in this case, the Brotherhood.

For many, putting on an awkward rhinoceros horn is more comfortable than risking losing everything in the name of freedom.

On Jan. 25, the anniversary of the revolution, I followed the few hundred ex-revolutionaries who had gathered in front of the Union of Journalists while facing off against tear gas volleys. A few blocks away, tens of thousands of rhinoceroses had charged in the very symbolic Tahrir Square — where activists had confronted President Hosni Mubarak’s forces three years ago — cheering on their new hero, Field Marshal Sisi.

In the middle of the crowd I recognized the journalist and activist Khaled Dawoud. Once an opponent of the Muslim Brotherhood, he is now a hardcore critic of the army. But to many Egyptians, he is an alien. I asked him if he still had hope for his country. “Yes,” he replied with no hesitation. “As long as I see these young people in the streets, the revolution is not over.”

Saved by his love for another character as well as his devout belief in critical thinking, Bérenger, too, manages to resist the stampede.

I am the last man left, and I am staying that way till the end! I am not capitulating!” says Bérenger before the curtain falls.

A version of this op-ed appears in print on February 20, 2014, in The International New York Times.

The Druze of Lebanon and Syria: Esoteric sect?

The Unitarian sect, the “Muwwahhidoun” (among themselves and excluding the Ignorant Juohhal)

The Druze religious sect constitutes one of the most extravagant of sects. The adepts, persecuted by the majority of Moslems, began to keep their distance from Islam to the point of having nothing much that links it to Islam.

The Druzes took refuge in the center of Mount Lebanon and in the surrounding high plateau in south of the Bekaa Valley, in Hasbaya and Rashaya, and in the Houran plateau in adjacent Syria and the Golan Heights.

The Druze adepts formed a distinct community and counted about 30,000 in 1860 when the mass massacres between the Druze and Maronite spread into Syria and Damascus and harvested thousands of civilians.

This peculiar religion appeared around the year 1,000, during the reign of the Fatimid Caliph Al Hakem (985-1018) in Egypt. (Read Note 2)

The Fatimid Caliph Al Hakem (985-1018) was a bizarre and complex person. He assassinated his tutors, gave order to kill all the prisoners in Cairo, and organized bloody combats as the night fell.

He drowned all his favorite women and his spouses in the Nile River, and ordered women never to leave their homes.

El Hakeem forbade eating the main food Mloukhia and many other ingredients, prohibited fishing and to sell fish with no scale…

He was a grand persecutor of Christians and burned their churches in Egypt and Syria…

El Hakem was claimed to have disappeared in 1021, to return at the End of Time.

This Caliph is believed to be God incarnate on earth by the Druze, and he is to be the last incarnate God.

The real founder of the Druze is Hamzeh, of Persian origin who settled in Cairo and was one of the closest to the caliph. Somehow he managed to be spared assassination by el Hakem.

Hamzeh began proselytizing in 1018 and proclaimed the divinity of his master el Hakem. Hamzeh dispatched his emissary Darazy to preach in Lebanon, in the regions of Hasbaya and Rashayya, close to the current Syrian borders with the Golan Heights.

Darazy ended up proclaiming to be divine and was assassinated, but the adepts had taken the name of Druze.

Hamzeh wrote 111 letters called “The Wise Letters”, which constitute the saint book for the Druze.

One of the letters attacked all the prophets and lambasted Prophet Mohammad as the calf, the devil, the bastard and the immature

The first dogmas is Metempsychosis, the soul is reincarnated into another mankind body  in order to resume its purification… This process continues until the Coming of Al Hakem.

The second main dogma is to rally the most powerful empire dominating the region and the most dominant of religion.

Since the dogma is of a high level rank that even the initiates have difficulty understanding, the Druze adepts must hide the mysteries, refrain from discussing the religion, and externally profess the dominant religion at the time...”. This attitude is referred to by “Takiyya

Actually, the Druze behavior was to adhere to the foreign missionaries religion who represented the most powerful nation at any period, studies in their schools and worked for them…

At the time, Islam was the dominant religion and they claimed to be Moslem.  The domination of Islam lasted too long in the region to be able to shift allegiance to another major religion.

As power shifts, the Druze shift allegiance. (Read Note 3)

A third dogma is to practice “Revenge” as a sacred responsibility against any one who kills a Druze.  The revenge should be dealt in a surprise manner, after a long time has elapsed to the killing, so as not to divulge the main perpetrator and why the target was killed…

The non Druze are called the Ignorant (as is the case in every religion), and the highest in the clergy are called the Wise (Okkal).

The Sheikh Akal is but the symbolic highest clergy or the main speaker in the name  of the sect: The real power resides in the highest group located in the saint place in Bayyada (the Hasbaya region). This assembly is the power who decides politically, militarily, socially, and religiously for the Druze… (Read Note 4)

Note 1: From the book “Memoirs of Syria: French expedition of 1860 to Lebanon and Damascus“, written by a French diplomat who attended all the negotiations to end the series of secular massacres between the Maronites and the Druzes

The first western published book on the Druze sect (1838) was by Sylvester de Sacy  in “Exhibit of the Druze religion”. The book is objective in the description and analysis, but lack the Orient comprehension of the deeper reality of this religion.

Sylvester de Sacy accompanied Bonaparte in his Egyptian campaign and stayed in Egypt for 40 years. 

One of the more recent books on the Druze sect was published in Paris in 1980 by 3 anonymous (non-western) authors and titled “Between the Logos (reason) and the Prophet” (Bayn al 3akl wa al nabi)

Note 2: Mind you that it was about this period that Byzantine Empire in Constantinople started another round of major persecution of the “heretic” Christian sects that opted to pay allegiance to the Pope of Rome. Among those persecuted Christian sects was the Maronite sect which fled and took refuge in the northern parts of the mountainous Mount Lebanon.

The Melkite (Royalist) Christian sect, later called the Orthodox Church, was the main persecutor of the Maronites and not any Moslem sect.

It is at the turn of this first millennial that many mysterious and underground religious sects were created and prospered. The Alawit sect spread at this period too.

The people were fearful and apprehensive of the coming calamities, but the extreme zealot people took advantage of people emotional weaknesses

Note 3: When the Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser was dominating the politics of the Arabic World, the Druze sided with Nasser.

In 1975-76, the Druze, represented by the leader Kamal Jumblat, sided with the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) that dominated Lebanon and headed by Yasser Arafat.

In 1976-82, the Druze, headed by the son Walid Jumblat, sided with the Pro-Syrian political factions

In 1982, the Druze sided with the invading Israeli troops and facilitated their advances and refused to confront them…

Note 4: The Takkiya is performed not just on the non-Druze, but this habit applies on their political leaders. For example, the Okkal Assembly were very displeased with Kamal Jumblat alliances with the PLO and communist Soviet Union. They gave Syria dictator Hafez Assad the green light to assassinate Kamal in 1978.

Note 5: The son Walid Jumblat got the message loud and clear and never ceased to obey the Okkal Assembly orders and decisions. Every season, Walid changes his position to coincide with the perceived strength of local and foreign powers. Walid keeps apologizing for his frequent “momentary lapses in judgments“.  But Walid doesn’t care, as long as the Druze believe that he is exercising wise intelligence.

A Neglectful government in Lebanon? Responsible for a migrants’ boat sinking off Indonesia?

We have no government for the last 6 months. The new appointed Prime Minister Salam has not been able to form any government, and is yet not ready to throw the towel and nobody can force him to step down from a responsibility he is not up to it.

The Parliament has extended its tenure for another 2 years, on the lame excuse that civil wars are raging on the borders…

A Neglectful government in Lebanon? With or without government, Lebanon political system is neglectful of its citizens, and women have no full citizenship…

This is the story of how the Syrian war reached out 5,000 miles across the globe and destroyed at least 29 Lebanese lives in the Indian Ocean.

It is a story of tragic irony; the destitute Lebanese families who wanted to live in Australia and left their arid villages in the hills of the northern Akkar plateau had been warned by their relatives not to leave their homes, and they died just off the coast of Indonesia.

And it is a story of a country whose authorities take no responsibility for the deaths of their own people

Robert Fisk published in The Independent this October 7, 2013 “A tragedy off the coast of Indonesia that should shame Lebanon’s neglectful government

The migrants’ boat carrying a dozen Lebanese heading to Australia sank. And the blame must start in Beirut.

The sinking of the overcrowded refugee boat that set off from the Java district of Cianjur 10 days ago cannot match the hundreds of fatalities of the north African boat that sank off the Italian island of Lampedusa last week, where up to 350 people are thought to have died and divers were still recovering bodies from the Mediterranean yesterday.

These disasters do not match in terms of scale or loss, but some features are the same: the desperation of the passengers to find a new life, the involvement of ruthless people-smugglers, the wooden hulks in which they sought illusory safety.

What is different is the nationality of the refugees. For Lebanon – of all Middle East countries – is a place of comparative security and wealth, despite the Syrian conflict and the violence it has brought to Beirut and Tripoli.

In some south-west Asian countries, television advertisements warn would-be asylum seekers of the fate that awaits them.

Scarcely an hour passes on an Afghan TV channel without an ominous man’s voice – against a black screen – telling viewers in Dari (Farsi) and Pashtun: “Australia is not a country to reach by boat. If you attempt to go by boat, you will not be allowed onto Australian territory. You will be sent to the island of Papua New Guinea and will never be allowed to live in Australia…”

No such warning has ever been broadcast on Lebanese television. There seemed to be no need.

Unlike the anonymous victims off Lampedusa, where there were too few coffins for the dead, the Lebanese who lost their lives and drifted ashore from the Indian Ocean have known identities.

Careful investigations by the local Lebanese press have discovered their Sunni Muslim home villages: Qabaait, Khreibet and Nabaa Fnaydaq, close to the Syrian border, and the Tripoli suburb of Bab el-Tabbaneh, whose militias have been at war with pro-Syrian Alawite gunmen east of the city for two years.

The remote hamlets astride the Bared river – which dribbles into the Mediterranean from the Palestinian Nahr Bared refugee camp – have been neglected for years by the Beirut government, no more so than now, when the political feuds between pro- and anti-Syrian Lebanese parties means that no new Lebanese cabinet can be created.

There are no schools in much of the Akkar countryside, few hospitals, almost no jobs.

The young men have no money to get married. Many of them are forced to join the Lebanese army in order to survive. The “outgoing” Lebanese government – elected in a poll now hopelessly out of date – didn’t care.

Almost an entire family were lost from Qabaait. The Khodr family’s only survivor was the father, Hussain, whose wife and 9 children all perished. The remains of his wife and one daughter were brought ashore.

In Tripoli, the Gamrawy and Hraz families lost their loved ones, while Talal Rai died with his 3 children and his sister.

Ahmed Abdo, the father of Mustafa who was 24 – who is still missing – borrowed $10,000 from his friends to pay for the journey to Australia; the total cost for each family was $60,000 to be paid to an Iraqi smuggler known as “Abu Saleh”.

Many relatives had begged the families not to leave. Abdo told one local paper that “my son is one of the good young boys who sought to live in peace. The economic and security problems we have suffered through forced him to emigrate and look for peace of mind”.

To the Lebanese government, Abdo declared: “You should look after your people, and your country, and enough of your disputes.”

A photograph survives of the passengers aboard their boat, sitting on rough, wooden benches in the choppy seas off Java. The picture is spotted with raindrops, but you can clearly see the doomed Lebanese aboard. One smiles broadly, another waves at the camera, most stare at the camera.

Behind them is a bleak, grey sky and a sinister, frothing sea. They are only minutes from death. We know that in the last moments, one Lebanese used his mobile phone to call a relative in Melbourne to seek help. The relative called the Australian naval authorities, who later launched helicopters and jets in a hopeless search for a boat that had already sunk.

But when the scale of the Lebanese losses reached Beirut – only 18 Lebanese survived – their pseudo-government sprang into action. It promised that survivors would be brought home, and that all those whose bodies were found would be brought back to be buried in the barren soil of their own land.

In fact, they spent more time making pledges about the dead than they did about the living. And what does that tell you about Lebanon?

Another story: Gamal Abdel Nasser’s wife memoirs

Tahia Nasser (wife of late Egypt Gamal Abdel Nasser) appears to have been a typical Egyptian housewife. She worried about her kids’ health, thought her husband worked far too hard, delighted in her daughters’ marriages. Her dictator husband, Gamal Abdel Nasser, appears in her memoirs (now published for the first time in English) as a loving, faithful, reliable, doting spouse and father.

Not a hint that he hanged his enemies when they tried to kill him – no Muslim Brother would forget that – and the word “torture” does not appear on these pages.

Reading them, I kept remembering my old Egyptian colleague at Associated Press, the late Ali Mahmoud, who was hung upside down by Nasser’s goons and dipped head-first into a vat of warm faeces to make him talk. And I asked the usual question: could this be the same Nasser?

Tahia’s book – she died in 1992 after both Sadat and Mubarak had prevented its publication – is not exactly a rip-roaring read. But there are a few moments that bring you up short. Returning home on leave from the 1948 Arab-Israel war after sending his wife a series of letters assuring her of his good health, Nasser revealed that he had been wounded.

“I saw a fresh wound and stitching on the left side of his chest and asked him about it,” Tahia wrote. “He told me it was nothing, just a small wound. When I was unpacking his bag, I found a handkerchief, vest and shirt heavily soiled with blood.”

Nasser had been hit by an Israeli bullet which ricocheted off his vehicle’s windscreen. Before the 1952 revolution which overthrew King Farouk, Tahia found herself hiding rifles and ammunition in the family home – and for many weeks, it seems, thought nothing was amiss. Only when she was congratulated on her husband’s successful coup did she understand his role in history.

She blithely accepts the line that General Mohamed Neguib – a friend of Nasser and the first post-revolutionary president of Egypt – tried to stage his own coup against her husband. But Neguib’s own memoirs and subsequent research suggests that Colonel Nasser falsely accused his former senior officer in order to get rid of a rival.

Loyal to the end, Mrs Nasser was no tell-all widow.

Note: My niece Joanna in London commented:

“This is heartbreakingly tragic. My grandmother used to tell me stories of Lebanese who migrated to Africa after having been deceived with stories that the boat was heading to the USA, the land of freedom. Still they settled for Africa and became merchants. This was in the 1920s. So sad to hear that now in 2013, this is still happening and it’s costing people their lives.

What are your questions about Egypt? No need to feel embarrassed to ask…

Today’s violence in Egypt is claiming hundreds of lives, worsening the country’s already dire political crisis and putting the United States in a quandary.

It’s also another chapter in a years-long story that can be difficult to follow even for those of us glued to it. You might have found yourself wondering what Egypt’s crisis is all about, why there’s a crisis at all, or even where Egypt is located on the map.

Admit it, and fire up your questions: not everyone has the time or energy to keep up with big, complicated foreign stories.

This story is important and critical.  Here are samples of the most basic answers to your most basic questions.

First, a disclaimer: Egypt and its history are really complicated; this is not an exhaustive account of that entire story, just some background, written so that anyone can understand it.

Max Fisher published this August 14, 2013 in The Washington Post World Views (with slight editing):

9 questions about Egypt you were too embarrassed to ask

(Laris Karklis/Washington Post)

(Laris Karklis/The Washington Post)

1. What is Egypt?

Egypt is a country in the northeastern corner of Africa, but it’s considered part of the Middle East. It’s about the size of Texas and New Mexico combined and has a population of 85 million. Egyptians are mostly Arab and mostly Muslim, although about 10% are Christian Copts. Egyptians are very proud of their history and culture; they are among the world’s first great civilizations.

You might have heard of Egypt from its ancient pyramids and Sphinx, but Egyptians are still changing the world today. In the 20th century, they were in the forefront of the founding of two ideological movements that reshaped – are still reshaping, at this moment – the entire Middle East: Arab nationalism and Islamism.

2. Why are people in Egypt killing each other?

There’s been a lot of political instability since early 2011, when you probably saw the footage of a million-plus protesters gathered in Cairo Tahrir Square (Liberation) to demand that the president of 30 years, Hosni Mubarak, step down.

Mubarak did and that opened up a big power struggle that hasn’t been anywhere near resolved. It’s not just people at the top of the government fighting among one another, it’s lots of regular people who have very different visions for where they want their country to go.

Today is the latest round in a two-and-a-half-year fight over what kind of country Egypt will be. Regular people tend to express their political will by protesting (keep in mind that democracy is really new and untested in Egypt), and because Egyptian security forces have a long track record of violence against civilians, the “fight for Egypt’s future” isn’t just a metaphor. Often, it’s an actual physical confrontation that happens on the street.

3. Why are they fighting today specifically?

Egyptian security forces assaulted two sprawling sit-in camps (of the ousted Moslem Brotherhood from reigning) in downtown Cairo this morning and tried to disperse the protesters. The protesters fought back.

So far, the casualties are rising every day.  The assault “to clear” the squares left over 560 killed (officially) and 4,000 injured. A lot of them apparently civilians shot by live ammunition rounds used by security forces.

The protesters were there in support of former president Mohamed Morsi, who was deposed in a military coup in early July (the military is still in charge). Morsi hails from the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist group to which a number of the protesters in today’s clashes belong. He was also the country’s first democratically elected leader.

4. If the military staged a coup against Egypt’s first democratically elected leader, then all those Egyptians who protested in 2011 for democracy must be furious, right?

Actually, no. A whole lot of Egyptians, especially the liberal groups that led the 2011 revolution, were happy about the coup. A number of them were even calling on the military-led government to break up the largely peaceful pro-Morsi protest camp, even though there were children present and no one thought it would disperse without bloodshed.

There are two things to understand here.

First is that Morsi did not do a good job as president. He had a difficult task, sure, but he really bungled the economy, which was already in free fall.

(Morsi didn’t receive any financial aid from either the rich Arab States or the IMF or the US and European countries. After the military coup, the new government received $12 bn within a week from the rich monarchic Arab States)

Morsi did precious little to include non-Islamists, and took some very serious steps away from democracy, including arresting journalists and pushing through an alarming constitutional change that granted him sweeping powers. (No political parties accepted to join the Morsi government)

The second thing to understand is that Egypt is starkly divided, and has been for decades, between those two very different ideologies I mentioned. Many Egyptians don’t just dislike Morsi’s abuses of power, they dislike the entire Islamist movement he represents.

What you’re seeing today is a particularly bloody manifestation of that divide, which goes far deeper than liberals distrusting Morsi because he was a bad president. (The army is a class by itself and enjoys vast privileges, facilities and independent enterprises…)

5. This stuff about ideologies sounds complicated. Can you just tell me why Egypt is such a mess right now?

The thing about today’s crisis is that it has to do with basic stuff like the breakdown of public order and some really ham-fisted governance by the military. But it also has to do with a 60-year-old ideological conflict that’s never really been resolved.

ack in the years just after World War II, Egypt was ruled by a king who was widely seen as a British pawn. Egyptians didn’t like that. They also didn’t like losing the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, and they wanted a way out of their long period of national humiliation.

A lot of them were turning to a movement called the Muslim Brotherhood (founded in the 20’s), which argued, and still argues, that Islamic devotion and unity are the ultimate answer. Their ideas, and their campaign for an Islamic government, are called Islamism.

A group of Egyptian military officers had a different idea. In 1952, they led a coup against the king. A charismatic lieutenant colonel named Gamal Abdel Nasser came to power and promoted, as his answer to Egypt’s problems, an ideology called Arab nationalism. It calls for secularism, progress, Arab unity and resistance against Western imperialism.

Both of those movements swept through the Middle East, transforming it.

Arab Nationalists took power in several countries; the Syrian regime today is one of them, and so was the regime headed by Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi.

Islamism also expanded in many countries, and sprouted some violent offshoots. But the two movements prescribe very different paths to the Middle East’s salvation, see themselves as mutually exclusive and have competed, at times violently, ever since. That is particularly true of Egypt, and has been since Nasser took power in 1952.

And that’s why you’re seeing many Egyptian liberals so happy about a military coup that displaced the democracy they fought to establish: Those liberals are closely linked to secular Arab nationalism, which means that they both revere the military and hate the Muslim Brotherhood, maybe even more than they crave democracy. Old habits die hard.

6. Getting really complicated? Do you need to take a music break?

Egyptian pop culture dominates the Arab world, in part because Egypt is so populous and in part because it’s really good. Their most celebrated singer is Omm Kalthoum (known as Planet of the Orient), whom Egyptians revere in the way that Italian-Americans do Frank Sinatra. Her recordings can sound a bit dated. Here is a cover by the contemporary singer Amal Maher:

7. Lots of people are upset with the U.S. for not doing more to support democracy in Egypt. What’s the deal?

The United States is a close political and military ally of Egypt and has been since 1979, when President Jimmy Carter engineered an historic peace treaty between Egypt and Israel (Sadat and Begin) that involved, among other things, enormous U.S. payouts to both countries as long as they promised not to fight any more wars. That also required the U.S. to look the other way on Egypt’s military authoritarianism and its bad human rights record. It was the Cold War, and supporting friendly dictatorships was in style. And we’ve basically been stuck there ever since.

The Obama administration most recently drew withering criticism for refusing to call the military’s July 3 ouster of the president a “coup.” Doing so would likely require the U.S. to cut its billion-plus dollars in annual military aid to Egypt. That is also why you’re seeing the White House appearing very hesitant about responding to today’s violence with actual consequences.

Sure, the U.S. wants democracy in Egypt? And it wants leverage with the Egyptian government even more? That has been true of every administration since Carter.

It was not actually until the Obama administration that the U.S. came to accept the idea that Islamists, who have been a big political force in Egypt for almost a century now, should play a role in governing. But they’re sticking with the status quo; no one wants to be the administration that “lost” Egypt.

8. Are you getting depressed. Surely someone wants Egypt to be a peaceful and inclusive democracy?

Not really. Most Egyptians are way too preoccupied with their ideological divide to imagine a government that might bridge it. Self-described liberals seem to prefer a secular nationalist government, even if it’s the military regime in power today, as long as it keeps Islamists out.

The Islamists, for their part, were more than happy to push out anyone who disagreed with them once they took power in 2012 through a democratic process that their leader appeared very willing to corrupt.

Both movements are so big and popular that neither one of them can rule without at least attempting to include the other. But neither appears willing to do that.

When I asked Steven Cook, an Egypt expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, what he made of the liberals’ embrace of the military coup and why he had started referring to them as “alleged liberal groups,” he wrote as part of his response, “I think Amr Hamzawy and Hossam Bahgat are the only true liberals in Egypt.”

9. And What happens next?

No one has any idea, but it looks bad. There are 3 things that most analysts seem to agree on. Any or all of these could prove wrong, but they’re the most common, short-term predictions:

1• The military-led government will keep cracking down on the Muslim Brotherhood and stirring up preexisting public animosity toward the group, both of which they’ve been doing since the 1950s.

2• The U.S. will call for a peaceful and inclusive democratic transition, as Secretary of State John Kerry did this afternoon, but will refrain from punishing the Egyptian military for fear of losing leverage.

3• The real, underlying problems — ideological division and a free-falling economy — are only going to get worse.

In the aggregate, these point to more violence and more instability but probably not a significant escalation of either. Medium-term, with some U.S. pressure, there will probably be a military-dominated political process that might stagger in the direction of a troubled democracy. Longer-term, who knows?

As the highly respected Egypt expert and Century Foundation scholar Michael Hanna told me recently, “Egypt might just be ungovernable.”

Note: Before the latest bloody crackdown, a feasible alternative would have been to bring back Morsi for another year, after a parliamentary election. Unless a drastic deal is reached with the Moslem Brotherhood movement, Egypt might be sinking into a civil war within a very populous State.

“Thugs in the Egyptian Army are still ruling”: Robert Fisk

Which Egyptian Presidential candidate won the election?

Murci of the Moslem Brotherhood that Saudi Arabia hate?

Chafic of the Mubarak regime that the Egyptian army, Saudi Arabia, Israel and the US love?

The Egyptian high command of the army wants us to wait till Thursday to decide, not what the people voted for…

Is Mubarak dead yet?  The Egyptian high command of the army wants us to wait for the proper timing to declare the status of the former dictator…

Robert Fisk wrote in The Independent this June 18:

“Millions of Egyptians turn their backs on the brave young revolutionaries of Tahrir Square. Time to remember old General Mohammed Neguib who kicked off Egypt’s first post-war revolution by plotting the overthrow of King Farouk almost exactly 60 years ago.

Neguib and his fellow Egyptian army officers had been debating whether to execute the obese Farouk or send him into exile. Nasser opted to shoot the monarch. Neguib asked for a vote.

In the early hours, Nasser wrote a note to Neguib:

“The Liberation Movement should get rid of Faruk [sic] as quickly as possible in order to deal with what is more important – namely, the need to purge the country of the corruption that Faruk will leave behind him. We must pave the way towards a new era in which the people will enjoy their sovereign rights and live in dignity. Justice is one of our objectives. We cannot execute Faruk without a trial. Neither can we afford to keep him in jail and preoccupy ourselves with the rights and wrongs of his case at the risk of neglecting the other purposes of the revolution. Let us spare Faruk and send him into exile. History will sentence him to death.”

(Zionist Trosky begged to differ and executed Russia Tzar and all his family members, without trial)

The association of corruption with the ancien regime has been a staple of all revolutions.

Justice sounds good. And today’s Egyptians still demand dignity. But surely Nasser got it right: better to chuck the old boy out of the country than to stage a distracting and time-consuming trial when the future of Egypt, the “other purposes of the revolution”, should be debated.

Today’s military played an equally shrewd but different game: they insisted Mubarak go on trial – bread and circuses for the masses, dramatic sentences to keep their minds off the future – while realigning the old Mubarakites ( and Mukhabarat) to preserve their own privileges.

The ex-elected head of the judges’ club in Egypt, Zakaria Abdul-Aziz, has rightly pointed out that even if Mubarak was put on trial, the January-February 2011 killing went on for days, “and they [the generals] did not order anyone to stop it. The Ministry of Interior is not the only place that should be cleansed. The judiciary needs that.”

It was Mubarak’s senior judges who permitted the deposed dictator’s last Prime Minister, Ahmed Shafik, to stand in this weekend’s run-off for President.

As Omar Ashour, an academic in both Exeter and Doha, has observed, “when protesters stormed the State Security Investigations [SSI] headquarters and other governorates in March 2011, torture rooms and equipment were found in every building“.

And what happened to the lads who ran these vicious institutions for Mubarak, clad alternatively in French-designed suits or uniforms dripping with epaulettes? They got off scot-free.

Here are some names for The Independent’s readers to stick in their files: Hassan Abdul-Rahman, head of the SSI; Ahmed Ramzi, head of Central Security Forces (CSF); Adly Fayyed, head of “Public Security”; Ossama Youssef, head of the Giza Security Directorate; Ismail al-Shaer, boss of the Cairo Security Directorate – “shaer”, by the way, means “poet” – and Omar Faramawy, who ran the 6 October Security Directorate.

I will not use the words “culture of impunity” – as Omar Ashour does without irony – but the acquittal of the above gentlemen means that Mubarak’s 300,000-strong SSI and CSF thugs are still in business.

It is impossible to believe the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces – still running Egypt and commanded by Mubarak’s old mate Field Marshal Tantawi – was unaware of the implications of this extraordinary state of affairs.

If Mubarak represented Faruk, and his sons Gamal and Alaa the future leaders of the royal family, then the 2011 Egyptian revolution represented 1952 without the king’s exile and with a shadow monarchy still in power.

The belief among journalists and academics that Tahrir Square would fill once again with the young of last year’s rebellion, that a new protest movement in its millions would end this state of affairs, has – so far – proved unrealistic.

Over the weekend, Egyptians wanted to vote rather than demonstrate – even if the country’s security apparatus would end up running the show as usual – and if this is democracy is going to be of the Algerian rather than the Tunisian variety.

Maybe I just don’t like armies, while Egyptians do?

But let’s go back to Neguib. He went aboard the royal yacht in July 1952 to say goodbye to the king he was deposing.  King Farouk told Neguib: “I hope you’ll take good care of the army. My grandfather, you know, created it.(Meaning Muhammad Ali)”

Neguib replied: “The Egyptian army is in good hands.” And Farouk’s last words to the general? “Your task will be difficult. It isn’t easy, you know, to govern Egypt…”

Neguib concluded that governing would be easier for the military because “we were at one with the Egyptian people”.

Indeed. Then Nasser kicked out Neguib, prisons reopened and torturers were installed. Then came General Sadat and General Mubarak. And now?


adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

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