Tag Archives: Muslim Brotherhood

SURVEYING THE REGION

            A quick sweep across the Middle East can give some information that will help us understand where the pieces are during this moment of relative quiet in the chess game of international diplomacy. A number of items are worth noting.

            Iran just reported they have found new Uranium deposits in the northern and southern coastal areas that may have tripled the amount reported in previous estimates. However, there has been no independent confirmation of these claims. Previously, western experts had thought their uranium mines were close to exhaustion of raw uranium. If they actually made these discoveries, Iran would be in a position to forge ahead in weapon building if that is their ultimate intent.

However, the timing of the announcement could indicate a desire to strengthen their negotiating position when they meet in Kazakhstan this week with the United States, Russia, China, Britain , France, and Germany. The West continues to believe that enrichment up to 20 percent demonstrates intent to build nuclear weaponry. Iran could only be positioning itself for a more signification status at the negotiating table.

Iran has also sounded a warning that it will stand behind the Assad government in Syria. However, conditions continue to deteriorate in that country. Lebanon has been pushed to the wall with overflowing refugees escaping into their country. As a result sectarian tensions continue to rise. In some areas fugitive rebels from Syria has clashed with Lebanese soldiers. Moreover refugees live amid mud and sewage in some area like the village of Mejdel Anja. The number of people fleeing Syria has strained Lebanonese provisions nearly to the breaking point.

Lebanon has always maintained a delicate balance between various ethnic groups. Many Lebanonese now worry that the influx of 400,000 Syrians can disrupt the mixture because most refugees are Sunnis. From l975 to 1990, Lebanon fought its own civil war over sectarian issues. No one wants to return to this status.

My son Dr. Robert Todd Wise taught at Balamand University in Tripoli when these eruptions began. Even at night, his family could hear shooting in the streets. This condition has not improved.

In Egypt, the turmoil also continues. This past week opposition leader Mohamed El-Baradei called for a boycott of the approaching parliamentary elections. Baradei will be remembered for the role he played in the United Nations nuclear control efforts and for being a Nobel laureate. Immediately critics within his own movement disagreed with him. This dispute demonstrated the fragility of the new opposition to the leadership of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi. Many feared that a no-show response would only strengthen the hand of the Muslim Brotherhood.

A frequently heard sentiment across Egypt is that Morsi is acting like Mubarak and the country is going nowhere but backward. Mubarak held rigged elections and his party stayed in a dominating position in parliament.

While there has been somewhat of a lull in reporting chaos in the Middle East, it is only momentary. Watch these trends I have been discussing. They are a prelude to the next song to be sung. Hard to tell whether it will be a fugue, but probably it won’t be a symphony.

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DECIPHERING SYRIA

The situation in Syria remains a prime concern because of the impact on the entire region. Should the Assad government fall, probably a more radical group similar to the Moslem Brotherhood would move into power. While the Assad family haven’t been a gift to humanity, they could be replaced by a more destructive mentality. In one of her last addresses before leaving office, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned the terrible war could actually get worse.

            Israel made no bones about its recent air strike inside Syria to destroy a convoy carrying anti-aircraft weapons. Defense Minister Ehud Barak made it clear that Israeli threats are not empty. As Bashar Assad’s grip on power weakens, Israelis fear Syria’s substantial stockpile of chemical weapons could fall into the hands of Hezbollah or a similar radical group. We can conclude that the air attack was probably a sign of what may be ahead as the Syrian nation continues to crumble.

A week ago the Syrian rebels scored one of their most significant victories by capturing the nation’s largest dam which had been a symbol of Assad family’s rule for four-decades. An al-Qaida linked militant group now controls a significant amount of the water in the north and east portions of the country. The rebels also have command of three dams on the Euphrates River. Fighting continues in Damascus as the rebels keep pushing closer to the heart of Assad’s seat of power.

Kidnapping has now become common. As government control eroded  in northern Syria, kidnapping for money became frequent. Kidnapping of civilians on both sides has raised fears of what is ahead. The raping of women and girls is now widespread. In many areas of the country the battle continues between the Sunnis and the Shiites.

How do we decipher where the conflict may be going? The Muslim Brotherhood can give us some important clues. Beginning in Cairo in 1928, the organization believed  in the establishment of a fundamentalist state ruled by the strictest interpretation of Shari’ia or Islamic law. They view secular Arab regimes as the foremost obstacle to establishing a state ordained by the Koran. Should the Brotherhood come into power, Israel can expect trouble. The Brotherhood views on jihad are not unified although they basically have no problem with the use of arms and revolution to achieve their objectives. Because America is a secular government and certainly not an Islamic nation, the USA also comes into their crosshairs for conflict.

The bottom line is that the future for Syria cannot be good. Chaos and killing will continue until the current stalemate is broken. While it is taken much longer for the rebels to prevail than was thought earlier, the government is certainly not winning. In Middle Eastern countries, revenge always remains a factor and memories are long. Because the Assad family comes from a religious minority, sooner or later, they will fall. The history of the groups opposing them doesn’t promise relief for the Western world.

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CONTINUED UNREST IN EGYPT

            Cairo’s Qasr el-Nil Bridge came under fire this week. The path over the Nile to the major hotels turned into the scene of the death of a protestor while youth threw stones at the police. The make-shift battle raged day and night with the police firing tear gun. At the same time, demonstrators in nearby Tahir Square set fire to a police armored personnel carrier. A young man wearing a Guy Fawkes mask swore to return to the struggle endlessly until the “blood of our martyrs” had been revenged.

            The bottom line? The chaos in Egypt is far from over!

Shortly after the last American presidential election,  I released a blog suggesting that “the word” for this time in history was change. One of the reasons that the Republicans lost was because they had failed to grasp how sweeping changes had been. At this point, I fear we must add another word: confrontation. The relative political calm following the fierce election I believe is about to shift. Usually, these swings aren’t positive.

For example, Iran defiantly announced it would increase the pace of uranium enrichment. While no timetable was mentioned, it would probably take months to receive and install the centrifuges needed to complete the new rate of production. Such reports are not easy to decipher as they may be only a straw in the wind to test the response that they get. With the nomination of Chuck Hagel, a more dovish secretary of state, the Iranians may be pushing the envelope in hopes of getting away with a continued upgrade. What they may seriously miscalculate is the confrontation that Israel is more that willing to make. Confrontation is certainly blowing in the wind.

It is exactly this variety of conflict that is boiling in Egypt. No longer is the problem a strong disagreement of opinion. Rather, the blows are falling thick and fast.

The goal of the rebels is nothing less than the downfall of the new president Mohammed Morsi and the political control of the Muslim Brotherhood. Th current instabilities and the weight of the turmoil in Egypt could ultimately bring down the entire government system.

General Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi released a strongly worded statement warning such a crisis of control is now erupting and he feared a collapse of the government. His first statement since the conflict began was aimed at pushing both sides toward a resolution of the clash between pro and anti-government forces. While not stated in the warning, one could well read between the lines and guess that the military might have to take control of the country once more.

The force of the el-Sissi statement fell heaviest on President Morsi because of his inability to halt conflict. However, the general’s statement indicated that the military would not stop protestors. To make matters worse, the government was forced to apologize after the police were caught in a televised beating of a protestor. Egypt’s prime minister, Hesham Qandil, not only apologized but recognized the perception that the government was losing all control.

The most painful issue is that the country’s future is in peril. Stay tuned. There’s surely much more to come.

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HAMAS & EGYPT: CHANGE? MORE OF THE SAME?

With the roar of rockets quieted, what’s going on in the Middle East? The Gaza crowds celebrating an artificial truce have gone home and the noise of guns has been displaced by the usual market place clatter. But what’s the story behind the story?

Moussa Abu Marzouk, Hamas’ second in command, said that Hamas would not stop arming itself because only force can bring Israel to the negotiating table. Of course, Israel refuses to recognize Hamas because they are a terrorist group. The complication is that Hamas totally controls Gaza while the Palestinian Authority is left with the West Bank. In other words, a divided front claims Palestine but no one can say with certainty who speaks for this group. However, Abu Marzouk’s statements indicate that Hamas has learned nothing from the three day shoot out that left Gaza City in a serious condition.

Israel insists that any easing of the blockade will depend on Hamas’ willingness to stop smuggling and producing weapons. Because Hamas’ founding charter calls for the destruction of Israel, any threat must be taken seriously. They have also claimed to be manufacturing rockets inside Gaza. Because the Iranian made Fajr-5-rockets came close to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, this problem will be given serious study. Possibly three days of war has changed nothing except to force the Palestinians to stop firing rockets for the moment. No one believes this concession will last.

Where are we now? Back to the status quo?

Matters in Egypt seem to be getting worse by the day. On Saturday, Egyptian judges and prosecutors struck back against President Morsi’s degree to supersede all legal restraints. The stock market went to the bottom and protestors again filled Tahrir Square. Rioting broke out and demonstrators were on the march.

At stake is an expected December 2 ruling by judicial review to disband the constitutional assembly. Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood are attempting to sidestep that possibility by declaring the president above all constitutional powers. The procedure has backfired. A council overseeing the judiciary called Morsi’s decree “an unprecedented attack” on its authority. If Morsi thought his quick maneuver would succeed, he obviously misread the Egyptian public.

Mohamed Morsi’s election was only by the thinnest margin. At least half of Egyptian did not want the Brotherhood in the driver’s seat. This conflict will only bring his opponents back in force. Unless Morsi makes a serious retreat, Egypt could well explode again.

The end result? The status quo would only be re-enforced.

What happens next? Former  chief of Mossad Efraim Halevy sees only three alternatives in Gaza: destroy Hamas and possibly  invite even more radical groups to take over; occupy Gaza; attempt to reduce the hostile environment by preventing the influx of new weapons while allowing Hamas to increase its civilian political role. The last idea would be a victory for Hamas because Israel doesn’t now recognize them.

With the American elections concluded, Israel has a number of important issues to ponder. Palestinian leader Abbas will go back to the United Nations seeking formal recognition, but how can he seriously do so when he doesn’t control any of Gaza?

The status quo remains. Israel may have to determine which way the future unfolds.

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