August 1, 2014

Middle East Media Sampler for June 15, 2012


1) The 33% dissolution?

According to a number of news sources, Egypt's constitutional court disqualified approximately one third of the members of the Muslim Brotherhood dominated parliament. David Schenker and Eric Trager write:

Today, Egypt's Constitutional Court made two key rulings, confirming that former prime minister and air force chief Ahmed Shafiq is allowed to run in this weekend's presidential runoff and invalidating one-third of the seats in the Islamist-controlled legislature. The surprise move throws the country's political transition into further upheaval.

There may have been some legal basis for the decision to nullify election results for 166 legislators — party-affiliated candidates won seats that should have been allocated to "independents." In the wake of the ruling, the military has announced that it is dissolving the legislature and assuming law-making powers in its place. Indeed, the timing of the court's decision — just two days before the final round of the presidential election — has many observers casting it as a soft coup that will allow the military to remain the key power center. In short, the rulings undermine the credibility of this weekend's balloting, further jeopardize the reputation of Egypt's traditionally respected judiciary, and raise the specter of a new round of mass demonstrations.

The biggest loser in these decisions is the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), which controlled 47 percent of the parliament. Its presidential candidate, Muhammad Morsi, will face off against Shafiq, a retired general who is widely seen to be aligned with the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. Since March, when it first nominated Morsi, the MB has warned that the SCAF would engineer electoral fraud in favor of a former regime official. Today's court decisions seemingly validate these concerns.

Barry Rubin adds:

Yes, it is under legal cover, but nobody is going to see it as a group of judges — appointed by former President Hosni Mubarak, remember — looking deep into the law books and coming up with a carefully reasoned decision based on precedent. In theory, this will be seen by every Islamist — whether Salafi or Muslim Brotherhood — and by most of the liberals — who feel closer to the Islamists than to the government — as if the 2011 revolution has just been reversed. In preparation, the army prepared a new regulation allowing itself arrest anyone.

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Prediction: massive violence.

Still, there’s something strange going on. So far, the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists have not reacted so strongly. Is it that they were caught unawares, or want to keep quiet because they think they’ll win the presidential election, or maybe there will be some kind of deal in which the Muslim Brotherhood backs down, most of the parliamentary members will be allowed to stay on, and the military will retain a lot of political power? Everything is up in the air? So far the Brotherhood doesn’t seem so upset by the decision. Why is that?

The New York Times records an interesting reaction in Blow to transition as court dissolves Parliament:

Some lawmakers said they welcomed the dissolution of Parliament even though it cost them their seats. They were afraid of the power of the Islamists, said Emad Gad, a leader of the secular Social Democratic Party’s parliamentary bloc. He has endorsed Mr. Shafik.

“Definitely it is good,” Mr. Gad said, arguing that the ruling was a blow to the Islamists’ power and prestige, bolstering Mr. Shafik’s chances to win the presidential election. He was less afraid that Mr. Shafik might become a Mubarak-like strongman than he was of the Islamists monopolizing power through their victories at the polls. “We can demonstrate against Shafik, but we cannot demonstrate against the Islamists,” Mr. Gad said.

Al Ahram reports:

Egypt's High Constitutional Court on Thursday ruled that the Political Disenfranchisement Law, which had been referred to it by the Presidential Elections Commission, was unconstitutional. In the same session, the court found the election of one third of parliamentary seats, reserved for individual candidates, unconstitutional.

On the other hand, Deputy Speaker of Parliament and Salafist Al-Nour party figure Ashraf Thabet said that parliament will hold its Tuesday plenary as normal, denying that parliament will hold an emergency session upon the ruling.

He further said that parliament will be discussing its legal options following the ruling since it only concerns one third of its members.

2) Shifting standards

AP reports Aid Groups and U.N. Agencies Urge Israel to Lift Gaza Blockade:

Fifty international aid groups and United Nations agencies urged Israel on Thursday to open Gaza’s borders, saying its border blockade violates international law and indiscriminately harms Gaza’s 1.6 million people. The appeal was issued on the fifth anniversary of the imposition of the blockade, a response to the takeover of Gaza by the Islamic militant group Hamas in 2007.

How did Hamas effect the takeover of Gaza? Violently. Whatever happened to the "inadmissibility of acquiring territory by force?" Somehow to the UN and these aid organizations, such a conquest is sacred.

There's a full statement from the UN, UN Agencies join in shared call for end to Israeli blockade of Gaza:

“For over five years in Gaza, more than 1.6 million people have been under blockade in violation of international law. More than half of these people are children. We, the undersigned, say with one voice: ‘end the blockade now,’” the 50 organizations and agencies said in a joint statement.

“The government of Israel is facing mounting international criticism for the Gaza blockade and this unanimous statement from some of the most world’s most respected international organizations is likely to increase pressure for the blockade to be lifted,” they added.

"[M]ounting international criticism?" This is the first I've heard of it in some time. Still there's a phrase here that doesn't quite fit. "…in violation of international law." Following the Mavi Marmara incident, the UN commissioned the Palmer report. Here's the second finding of the panel. (I've bolded the relevant sentence.)

The fundamental principle of the freedom of navigation on the high seas is subject to only certain limited exceptions under international law. Israel faces a real threat to its security from militant groups in Gaza. The naval blockade was imposed as a legitimate security measure in order to prevent weapons from entering Gaza by sea and its implementation complied with the requirements of international law.

In other words a panel appointed by the UN found Israel's blockade to be legal, but UN related officials apparently aren't bound by that.

While researching the Palmer report, I found a blog entry at Amnesty International's website:

The media has gone crazy these past couple of days announcing that the UN-appointed panel of inquiry into the flotilla raid last summer, known as the Palmer Commission, found that the Israeli imposed blockade on Gaza is legal and that Israel used excessive force during the raid.

From the Jerusalem Post to the BBC, headlines scream that Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip is legal. This is not only completely false, it distracts from the main point of the inquiry which was to determine if excessive use of force was used by Israeli forces during the raid on the flotilla in international waters and how to avoid a similar incident like this from happening again.

The Palmer report’s finding that the naval blockade is lawful should NOT be interpreted to mean that the entire closure regime imposed by Israel on the Gaza Strip is legal.

This is ludicrous. The blockade was part of the closure. The whole point of the closure is to prevent weapons and materiel from reaching Gaza to limit the threats coming from the terrorists running Gaza. If there were only a naval blockade, the closure would be extremely porous. (As it is Hamas runs smuggling tunnels bringing in not only weapons, but luxury items too.) The blockade is legal as part of the closure, not exclusive of it.

This is the problem with the UN and related NGO's. They have one standard for Israel and none for its enemies.

In a recent article about the merger of CyberDissidents with Advancing Human Rights, Groups to aid online activists in Authoritarian countries, the New York Times describes Robert Bernstein's disillusionment with the current state of so-called human rights organizations.

In 2009, Mr. Bernstein broke publicly with Human Rights Watch, where he was chairman for 20 years, over what he had come to believe was its excessive attention to the misdeeds of Israel. More broadly, he said, he thought the group devoted too much energy on “open societies” like Israel and the United States, rather than on dictatorships.

The qualification "he had come to believe" is ridiculous. Anyone with a minimal amount of objectivity knows that this is true.

Aside from the false characterization of the blockade as illegal, the UN and its accomplices also ignore that Israel remains under attack from Gaza. Avital Leibovich tweeted earlier this week:

… over 7850 rockets that were fired from #Gaza into populated areas in #Israel from Jan07-Mar12.

That's roughly four a day. And that's even with the closure. And with Hamas using critical infrastructure for terror.

3) Be like Recep

David Kirkpatrick of the New York Times reports, Revolt Leaders Cite Failure to Uproot Old Order in Egypt.

Even before Egypt’s highest court dissolved Parliament on Thursday, and its military rulers reimposed martial law, the once close-knit team of young professionals who guided last year’s uprising had been pushed to the sidelines of a presidential runoff between two conservatives: Ahmed Shafik, Mr. Mubarak’s last prime minister, and Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist group that was Mr. Mubarak’s main opposition.

Some said they had become too taken with their own fame, distracted by the news media’s attention, and willing to defer to their elders in the Mubarak-era political opposition. They failed to build a movement that could stand against either the Muslim Brotherhood or the old elite.

“We are the spark that ignites the world; we know how to inflame things,” said Ahmed Maher, 31, a leader of the April 6 Youth Movement and one of the early organizers. “But when we have a strong entity that can stand on its own feet — when we can form a government tomorrow — then we become an alternative.” He said his group was embarking on a five-year plan to start building such a movement.

The Muslim Brotherhood was underground but organized and the military is in place. It probably will take a lot more than five years for true reformers in Egypt to be able to match those two institutions.

In Facebook meets brick and mortar politics, Thomas Friedman suggested how the "Facebook" revolutionaries could succeed in Egypt:

Let’s be fair. The Tahrir youths were up against two well-entrenched patronage networks. They had little time to build grass-roots networks in a country as big as Egypt. That said, though, they could learn about leadership and the importance of getting things done by studying Turkey’s Islamist Justice and Development Party, known as A.K.P. It has been ruling here since 2002, winning three consecutive elections.

Yes, indeed the reformers should follow in the footsteps of Erdogan. Michael Rubin wrote a few days later:

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s transformation of Turkey into a police state grew a little more complete earlier this week with the arrest of the mayor and two other officials in Van, a predominantly Kurdish city in southeastern Turkey. Turkish authorities charged the three with being members of a terrorist organization, the Kurdistan Communities Union (KCK). Let’s put aside the fact that Erdoğan argues that Hamas isn’t really a terrorist group because its members are elected. The root of the case to unseat and arrest the mayor should send chills down the spine of anyone who believed Erdoğan’s reforms were about making Turkey more democratic. The detainees’ crime? They “liked” articles on Facebook.

Wait a second. Thomas Friedman recommended that the "Facebook" revolutionaries should follow a party that arrests people for expressing themselves on Facbook. I'm pretty certain that paradoxes like that can cause a disruption in space-time continuum.

About Daniel Goldstein

Daniel Goldstein is a media critic and recovering blogger. He has been critiquing media bias against Israel since his first letter to the editor in 1987.