Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Egypt's chaos/ West Bank realities

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Update from AIJAC

February 14, 2013
Number 02/13 #03

This Update features two pieces related to the increasing street violence in Egypt, and the Muslim Brotherhood-led government's response to it, plus an important piece on the sad reality behind the Palestinian Authority's state building efforts in the West Bank, led by Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.

First up is author and scholar Lee Smith, who warns that by many measures, Egypt already appears to be heading in the direction of becoming a failed state. He looks at the street violence, the poor economic situation and high probability that things will get worse, the jailing of much of the technocratic class, the divisions in the society, and concludes that the problem is not the Islamist government but Egyptian society as a whole. He says that the only small upside is that fears that the Muslim Brotherhood will spread their model across the region appear to be unfounded, because no one would deliberately imitate what is going on in Egypt now. For Smith's complete argument, CLICK HERE. Plus, Canadian activist Ben Stiller describes the "Christian Winter" being experienced by Egypt's Coptic minority in the current unrest.

Next up comes some worrying reports, compiled by veteran Israeli journalist Khaled Abu Toameh, that the Muslim Brotherhood is turning to Hamas militiamen from Gaza to shore up its rule in the face of the increasing street unrest. According to stories from Egyptian opposition publications, as well as some reports from other Arabic newspapers from the Persian Gulf region, as many as 7,000 Hamas fighters could be involved and the activities may be funded by the Qatari government. Abu Toameh does note that these claims are being strongly denied by Hamas leaders, but that if the stories are accurate, a Hamas presence would likely anger many Egyptians and protesters are already starting to torch Hamas and Qatari flags. For this potentially explosive story, if confirmed, CLICK HERE. More comment on this story's implications comes from Jonathan Tobin.

Finally, American columnist and thinktank head Cliff May reports from the West Bank following a meeting with Palestinian PM Salam Fayyad. May is convinced that Fayyad is the kind of leader Israel could make peace with - but only if he could bring most Palestinians with him, something it is very clear that he could not do, having minimal popular support, and lacking the militia which stands behind most other Palestinian political players. May notes that, given the current realities - with Palestinians divided between a rejectionist Hamas and a vacillating Fatah, and Islamistsseemingly on the rise everywhere - it is very hard to see how we get from where we are to a negotiated two-state peace. For May's important insights into what is preventing progress toward peace despite the efforts of moderates like Fayyad, CLICK HERE.

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Egypt Against Itself

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The Hamas-Egyptian Alliance

 

by Khaled Abu Toameh

Gatestone Institute, February 8, 2013 The collapse of the Mubarak regime has been a great blessing for Hamas, which has emerged as a major player. Now Hamas knows that it can always rely on Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood to stay in power and increase Hamas's influence.

Did Hamas dispatch 7,000 militiamen from the Gaza Strip to Egypt to protect President Mohamed Morsi, who is currently facing a popular uprising?

Reports that appeared in a number of Egyptian opposition media outlets in the past few days claimed that the militiamen entered Egypt through the smuggling tunnels along the border with the Gaza Strip.

The reports quoted unidentified Egyptian security officials as saying that the Hamas militiamen had been spotted in the Egyptian border town of Rafah before they headed toward Cairo, to shore up the Muslim Brotherhood regime of Morsi, which Hamas may have feared was in danger of collapse.

The officials claimed that the Hamas militiamen had been deployed in a number of sensitive locations in the Egyptian capital, including the Al-Ittihadiyeh Presidential Palace, as part of a plan to protect the Muslim Brotherhood regime.

Hamas, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood organization, is a staunch supporter of the Morsi regime.

This week, a Gulf newspaper Akhbar Al-Khaleej published what it described as "secret documents" proving that Hamas, with the financial backing of Qatar, had plans to send hundreds of militiamen to Egypt to help Morsi's regime.

One of the classified documents, signed by Hamas's armed wing, Izaddin al-Kassam, talks about the need to send "warriors to help our brothers in Egypt who are facing attempts by the former regime [of Hosni Mubarak] to return to power."

The reports about Hamas's alleged involvement in the Egyptian crisis have been strongly denied by Hamas officials.

Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar lost his temper during an interview with an Egyptian TV station; he said the reports were lies intended to tarnish Hamas's image.

Zahar accused supporters of the Mubarak regime of being behind the reports depicting Hamas as a terrorist organization helping President Morsi to kill Egyptians.

But this was not the first time that Egyptians had accused Hamas of meddling in their internal affairs.

In August 2012, reports in the Egyptian media suggested that Hamas was involved in the killing of 16 Egyptian border guards near the border with the Gaza Strip. The perpetrators have never been caught.

Egyptians have also accused Hamas of involvement in a terror attack against a church and attacking prisons in Egypt.

Although the talk about Hamas's involvement in terror activities on Egyptian soil may in some cases be exaggerated, repeated accusations against Hamas show that many Egyptians continue to see the radical Islamist movement as a threat to their national security.

Hamas has further been accused by some Egyptians of helping other Muslim fundamentalist groups turn Sinai into a base for jihadis from all around the world.

During last week's street clashes in Cairo, anti-Morsi demonstrators torched Hamas and Qatari flags. They also chanted slogans condemning Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood organization for bringing Hamas militiamen to suppress Egyptian protesters.

There is no doubt that Hamas is prepared to do its utmost to help Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood organization stay in power, even at the cost of killing and torturing Egyptian civilians. The downfall of the Mubarak regime has been a great blessing for Hamas, which has since emerged as a major player in the Palestinian and regional arena.

Thanks to Morsi, an Egyptian prime minister visited the Gaza Strip for the first time ever last November to express solidarity with Hamas during Israel's "Pillar of Defense" military operation. Such a visit would have been unthinkable under Mubarak, who did everything he could to weaken Hamas and stop it from meddling in the internal affairs of Egypt.

But now Hamas knows that it can always rely on Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood to stay in power and increase Hamas's influence. In return, Morsi apparently expects Hamas to reward him by sending its men to defend his palace.

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Letter from the West Bank


By Clifford D. May

There are those here who seek peace and prosperity. The odds are against them.

Jewish World Review, Feb. 8


RAMALLAH— It’s difficult not to like Salam Fayyad. The prime minister of the Palestinian Authority has an avuncular demeanor and old-fashioned professorial charm. He boasts a doctorate in economics from the University of Texas at Austin and remains loyal to the Longhorns. He speaks in charmingly accented, rapid-fire English. In a spacious conference room in the palatial government complex where he maintains his offices, he is generous with his time, answering questions from me and other members of a delegation of American national-security professionals on a wide range of issues.

One need not agree with everything Fayyad says to appreciate that he is the kind of Palestinian leader with whom Israeli leaders could make peace — if Israeli leaders could negotiate with him, and if he could deliver a majority of Palestinians willing to accept a compromise solution to the conflict. Fundamentally, here’s what that would mean: Palestinians would have to unambiguously recognize Israel’s right to exist within secure borders. In exchange, Israel would do everything possible to facilitate the development of a free and viable Palestinian state.

What are the chances that Fayyad can achieve that? Roughly zero to none.

Fayyad has few supporters in the West Bank — and even fewer in Hamas-controlled Gaza. He was not elected prime minister; he was appointed in 2007 by Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas who claimed the power to do so on the basis of “national emergency.”

As for Abbas, he was elected to his position in January 2005. His four-year term ended in 2009. New elections have been postponed indefinitely. Similarly, the Palestinian Legislative Council, which sits in Gaza, was elected to a four-year term in January 2006. The following year, Hamas staged a bloody coup against the P.A. in Gaza. New legislative elections also remain unscheduled.

American and European diplomats value Fayyad’s skills and trust his integrity. So long as he is prime minister, they feel better about pouring in aid — more per capita than to any country in Africa, Asia, or Latin America —  that keeps the P.A. afloat. Israelis respect Fayyad, too. You do understand that all this makes him less popular — not more — with the broad Palestinian public?

Of course, popularity is not the only source — or even the primary source — of power in the Palestinian territories. But Fayyad does not command a militia. And, presumably because he is seen as a moderate, he receives no financial backing from such oil-rich Muslim countries as Iran and Qatar.

Hamas leaders — who do receive support from both Iran and Qatar — openly detest Fayyad. Finally, though Fayyad was appointed by Abbas, he is not close to Abbas, who, in addition to heading the Palestinian Authority, leads the Fatah faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization which holds the reins — more or less — on the West Bank.

Halfway through our conversation, Fayyad asked not be quoted, so I’ll respect that. But I’m revealing nothing new if I say he gets that Hamas’s openly declared threat to exterminate Israel is not conducive to peace processing. He understands, too, that there is a desperate need for political reform and institution-building in the Palestinian territories. He has been working toward that goal determinedly, if not entirely successfully.

As we leave the prime minister’s offices, we see that demonstrators have gathered outside, mostly civil servants peacefully protesting the fact that it has been a long time since they have received their paychecks.

Ramallah, the de facto capital of the West Bank, lies six miles north of Jerusalem in the Judean Mountains. By the standards of non-oil producing Middle Eastern countries, it is neither depressed nor depressing. Buildings are of white Jerusalem stone with red tile roofs. There are mosques with tall minarets and green domes; palm trees and stone walls; modern hotels and good restaurants that serve cold, locally brewed beer. A fair amount of new construction is underway, but there also are empty lots, strewn with rubble. In some of them, goats graze.

Ramallah may not be the ideal Palestinian city of the future, but, as it happens, an attempt to build that metropolis is underway on hilltops less than six miles to the northwest. It’s called Rawabi and it’s the first planned city in the West Bank, a project that will cost $1 billion, most of which is coming from Qatar. The first residents are to begin moving in within a year. In five to seven years, it is to have homes for 10,000 Palestinian families, as well as a commercial center, a cultural center, medical facilities, stores, cafes, and a giant amphitheater.

Bashar Masri, the elegant and eloquent entrepreneur behind this project, acknowledges that, to succeed, Rawabi will need businesses and jobs — high-tech would be his preference. That will require foreign investors confident that their money will not end up in the foreign bank accounts of corrupt officials. It would help, too, if Rawabi and all of what Masri calls Palestine were to enjoy not just peaceful but cooperative relations with the little start-up nation to its west.

Both Masri and Fayyad favor that outcome — of that I have little doubt. But with Palestinian power divided between a jihadist Hamas and a vacillating Fatah, and with Islamists who are committed to Israel’s extermination ascendant throughout much of the Middle East, I have no idea how they get there from here.

Clifford D. May is president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on terrorism.

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