Jerusalem Post, April 26, 2012
For all the attempts from all sides to belittle Egypt’s unilateral abrogation of its gas transaction with Israel, the move hardly augurs well. Regardless of all the whitewash prodigiously applied to it, this was the bad, hardly unexpected, outcome of a long sequence of inimical developments which Cairo at best just failed to stem or, worse, which it actively inflamed.
Both Egyptian and Israeli officials sought to pooh-pooh the deal’s scrapping as a business squabble. Both know it’s anything but. Indeed, the 20-year agreement signed in July 2005 was based no less than on the peace treaty between the states and was contracted by the two governments. Significantly, it was Cairo, not Jerusalem, which insisted on state involvement. Egypt unwaveringly preferred governmental auspices in order to minimize the semblance of normalization, whereby ordinary firms are free to negotiate directly.
Therefore, when Cairo now reneges on the contractual agreement, it means more than a soured business venture. Firstly, it’s a basic violation of a key peace treaty provision. That this is allowed to pass without much squawk indicates Israeli wishful thinking: if we pretend that things aren’t too awful, perhaps they might not get too awful.
At this juncture only the Israel Electric Corporation isn’t playing make-believe. Saying it like it is, the IEC notes that it can’t actually be materially hurt by Egypt’s contract termination because for over a year now no gas has been coming from the Sinai fields anyhow. No fewer than 14 pipeline blasts have irreparably disrupted gas supplies. Their eventual total discontinuance has forced the IEC to resort to massively costlier and more polluting liquid fuels instead.… Nonetheless, the manner in which this lifeless agreement was revoked and the pretexts used to justify its cancellation are particularly galling.
Ever since the Arab Spring’s advent and the ouster of Hosni Mubarak, Israel was systematically turned into Cairo’s bête noire. Egyptian politicos vie relentlessly for the distinction of the most anti-Israeli candidate in the running.
The Mubaraks now stand accused of having sold gas too cheaply to Israel in return for kickbacks. The truth is irrelevant in Cairo, if not altogether undesirable. Israel is cast as the villain and allegations of association with it serve to smear downfallen figures. Such incitement is hardly conducive to coexistence. The attacks on Israel’s embassy and the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood indeed don’t point to a predilection for coexistence. This needs to worry us deeply.
Concomitant with Cairo’s negative attitudes is rampant lawlessness in Sinai, where Beduin tribes have made the peninsula a highway for illegal migration from Africa, human and drug trafficking and, most of all, terror operations.… Although Israel has allowed Egypt to increase the numbers of armed personnel beyond what the peace treaty stipulates, there seems no inclination on Cairo’s part to lay down the law and assert its sovereignty in Sinai.
Under these circumstances, the gas deal with Egypt was a goner anyway.… Like it or not, we are sliding frighteningly backward to pre-peace days. No trace of normalization with Egypt remains. The repealed contract underscores that.
EGYPT’S MISPLACED FURY
Times of Israel, April 27, 2012
Israel’s ties with Egypt went up in flames [last month], like so much natural gas burning in a sabotaged pipeline. Indeed, Egypt has sabotaged its ties with Israel—and the blowback will leave scars.
The sudden announcement of the cancellation of the deal to supply Israel with Egyptian natural gas had officials in both Jerusalem and Cairo rushing to “explain” away the thing as just some ho-hum business dispute. But the political implications quickly became glaringly apparent.
On the face of it, the Egyptians were merely frustrated by the economic conditions of the deal, as rising prices in the natural gas market have made the 2005 contract look more and more like a bargain for Israel and, therefore, an embarrassment for Egypt.… But even a bad deal can still be good in the end. This one brought Egypt billions of dollars from a dependable client on its own back porch. And the “losses” that Cairo politicians had originally bemoaned were soon mitigated when the Egyptians strong-armed Israel into a nearly 50% price hike.
It would be reasonable to assume, then, that Egypt could have worked out a compromise with Israel, if only a modicum of diplomatic good will were flowing together with all those billions of cubic meters of natural gas through the Arish-Ashkelon pipeline. Alas, there wasn’t.
If a long list of slights and insults—inaction in the face of Hamas arming itself through tunnels in Sinai, officially endorsed blood libels against Israel, public disdain for a peace partner that selflessly helped Egypt save water, grow more crops and lose less livestock to disease, etc.—were not enough to prove that point, then perhaps another incident [last month] will.
During a presidential election campaign already marked, in part, by candidates who use their anti-Israel stances to gain the public’s trust, Egypt’s military leader Muhammad Hussein Tantawi unleashed a threat to “break the leg” of anyone (read, “Israeli”) who approaches Egypt’s northern border. Field Marshall Tantawi, the head of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Armed Forces and the country’s de facto leader, was enraged that Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman had had the audacity to suggest, in a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, that the escalating lawlessness in Sinai and chaos in Cairo posed a threat to Israel.…
Tantawi’s bluster…is misplaced. Egypt should be rallying against the threat posed by armed Bedouin gangs that sabotage the natural gas pipeline, demand protection money from Sinai businesses and carry out bombings of tourist sites along the Red Sea. Egypt should rise up to thwart the incursion of Islamist terrorist groups into Sinai, whose attacks against Israel threaten the stability of the peace treaty. Egypt should marshal its forces to seal off the southern border—across which have poured…tens of thousands of African migrants who have flooded Cairo and snuck into Israel.… Egypt should be vigilant about the flow of weapons and drugs from Libya, to the west.
It isn’t, though. Instead, Egypt treats as an enemy the country that buys its natural gas, patronizes its resorts, improves its farms and establishes factories in its employment-starved towns. Egyptians regularly burn Israeli flags in the streets, so setting fire to a lucrative energy deal must have seemed just a minor step. But now it will have to sit in the ashes.
EGYPT IS TAKING U.S. MONEY AND RUNNING
Washington Post, April 30, 2011
It’s been [six] weeks since the Obama administration granted Egypt its full $1.3 billion in annual military aid despite its government’s failure to meet conditions set by Congress for advancing democracy. In granting a waiver on national security grounds, administration officials argued that continuing the funding was more likely to encourage cooperation with the United States and progress on human rights than a cutoff would.
As it turns out, the administration was wrong. In a number of tangible ways, U.S.-Egyptian relations and the military’s treatment of civil society have deteriorated since the waiver was issued March 23. The threat to nongovernmental organizations, whose prosecution triggered the threat of an aid suspension, has worsened. Conditions for U.S.-backed pro-democracy groups elsewhere in the Middle East have deteriorated as other governments have observed Egypt’s ability to crack down with impunity.
Consider the situation of the three U.S. organizations whose offices were raided and closed by Egyptian security forces in December—the National Democratic Institute, the International Republican Institute and Freedom House. Before the waiver, senior Egyptian officials repeatedly promised U.S. envoys that the groups would be legally registered, their offices allowed to reopen and their property returned. The fine points of a settlement were under discussion. Once the waiver was issued, the process was frozen and communication ceased, according to Nancy Okail, the head of the Freedom House office in Cairo.
The government, meanwhile, has begun pressing a new law on civil society groups that would stop all foreign funding for Egyptian NGOs, prohibit them from engaging in any work related to democratic politics and force many existing organizations to close. Other Arab governments have taken the cue: The United Arab Emirates last month shut the regional office of the National Democratic Institute.
The one concession Egypt made to the United States before the waiver was allowing a half-dozen American employees of the NGOs, who had been on trial in Cairo, to leave the country. But following the waiver, the government asked Interpol to issue warrants for their arrest. The trial of 14 Egyptian staffers left behind, meanwhile, continues, under harsher conditions. During their last court appearance, they were placed in a cage along with common criminals, and they have been threatened with having the charges against them upgraded to treason—which carries a death sentence.…
U.S. officials argued that an aid cutoff might cause a dangerous political backlash in Cairo. But since the waiver was issued, Egypt’s government-owned press, which is controlled by the military’s intelligence agency, has continued a toxic campaign of anti-Americanism. The State Department also argued that aid should continue because Egypt had stuck to the 1979 Camp David agreements with Israel. But after the waiver, the government unilaterally canceled a deal under which it was supplying Israel with gas.
Though Egypt has scheduled a two-round presidential election for this month and next, it remains unclear whether a promised transition to democratic civilian rule by July 1 will take place. One thing is certain: The Obama administration has lost much of its leverage over the Egyptian military—and its credibility with Egyptian democrats.
OBAMA EMBRACES ISLAM
Washington Times, April 25, 2012
The Obama administration is doing its utmost to promote the fortunes of the Islamist parties in Egypt. A State Department official declared that with the rise of these radical groups after the Arab Spring, “people who once might have gone into al Qaeda see an opportunity for a legitimate Islamism.” They see this as a victory. The problem is, so do the terrorists.
Last year, the White House began peddling the line that the uprisings in the Middle East were a repudiation of the al Qaeda model of seeking change through terrorism. The argument was that while America opposed violent extremism, the rise of nonviolent radical movements was just fine, and even commendable. Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri quickly dismissed this claim, saying that from the terrorists’ point of view, it didn’t matter whether an Islamist victory came through violence or not. The means were unimportant except as they related to the end state: the imposition of hard-line Shariah-based laws and policies.
From Zawahri’s point of view, it makes no difference whether the caliphate is born of the ballot, bomb or bullet. The important thing is the victory of Islamism.…
The notion that there is a legitimate form of Islamism reflects a serious intellectual failing on the part of the Obama administration. President Obama seems to believe the Islamists are legitimized simply by participating in the political process. Some argue that the demands of electoral politics will moderate the Islamist parties, whose members will evolve from stern-eyed theocrats into social reformers. Others believe the only path to modernity is through embracing the Muslim Brotherhood’s barbarous values.
No matter what the source of the delusion, no political movement that exalts the Koran can peaceably coexist with the concept of freedom at the root of Western governance. Islamist notions of democracy are constrained by the strictures of their religion. Radical Muslims reject the humanistic values that gave birth to modern Western government; the self-evident truths regarding everyone’s inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are just so much infidel heresy to the Islamists.…
The Islamist parties in Egypt and elsewhere are promoting democracy simply as a means of consolidating their power. They see the process as a ratchet effect, with every gain they make as one more step toward erecting a Shariah-based theocracy. Increased power will not lead—and in fact, never has led—to moderation.… The model is the Iranian Revolution, in which a brief period of openness was followed by the ascent of Islamic hard-liners who snuffed out any hint of liberty and executed those who had the nerve to differ.
To anyone who believes in the Western concept of freedom, Islamism by its nature cannot be legitimate. The White House needs to answer the question: If Islamism is a legitimate political movement, should it come to America, and if so, how soon?
HOW EGYPT’S PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION
WILL CHANGE THE MIDDLE EAST AND THE WORLD
Rubin Reports, April 30, 2012
What might well be the most significant election in Middle East history is about to happen yet the situation and its implications are simply not understood abroad. On May 23-24, with a probable run-off on June 16-17, the most important country in the Arabic-speaking world is almost certainly going to choose a revolutionary transformation that will ensure continuous earthquakes of war, suffering, and instability for decades to come.
Of the dozen [Egyptian] candidates only three are important and the question is which of them will end up in the run-off: Muhammad Mursi, head of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party; Abdel Moneim Aboul Fatouh, a former Muslim Brotherhood leader who resigned to run for president; Amr Musa, a radical nationalist who…has proclaimed the Egypt-Israel peace treaty to be dead.…
The mainstream Western view of the election is bizarre and very damaging. In this fantasy, Aboul Fatouh is portrayed as the liberal candidate. If he wins, everything will be just fine and dandy. You can go back to sleep.
What evidence is adduced for this picture? Basically, none. The idea is that his moderation was proven because he defied the Brotherhood to run for the office. Yet the reality is the exact opposite. The Brotherhood refused to run a candidate at a time when it was following a cautious strategy.… By declaring his candidacy, Aboul Fatouh was in fact taking a more radical approach. Later, when the Brotherhood felt more confident after winning almost half the parliamentary seats it became more aggressive.
Most important of all, Aboul Fatouh is the candidate endorsed by Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the Qatar-based anti-American, antisemitic hardliner. Qaradawi would never endorse anyone who was actually “moderate” much less “liberal.”
There are three factors likely to determine the outcome of the first round:
1. What proportion of Muslim Brotherhood (parliamentary) voters will support Mursi?… Will they stick with the Brotherhood for the presidency or will they go for Aboul Fatouh or even Musa?
2. Having no candidate of their own who will the Salafi support? Since their goal is to provide a more radical alternative to the Brotherhood, some—but not all—of the leaders will probably go for Aboul Fatouh.…
3. Who will support Musa? There is no nationalist bloc in Egypt today. Might Musa emerge as the…candidate uniting those voters (only 25 percent we should remember) who don’t want Islamism? No. The Christians and liberals don’t look at Musa as their man and will probably split their vote among three competing liberal candidates who don’t have a chance.
The result may well be an Islamist versus Islamist run-off. In any event, it is likely that by the end of the year Egypt will have an Islamist president, parliament, and Constitution. Laws will be drastically altered, women’s rights will disappear, and Hamas would be backed up if it attacked Israel. Once in power, an Islamist government would eventually appoint similar people to run the military, the religious establishment, the schools, and the courts. Those who don’t like it will head for the West in droves.
The alliance with America would be over, whatever cosmetic pretense of friendship remained and despite how much money the Obama Administration pumped in. And the whole region will be sent a signal that this is the era of revolutionary Islamism and jihad at a time when America is weak or even—as many moderate Arabs believe—siding with the Islamists.
In the West, no one in power is prepared for this revolution, an upheaval that will rival or exceed the 1979 one in Iran for its impact.