Clearing up a few things about the Muslim Brotherhood

  • The fact that the Western press, in the wake of MB’s victory in Egypt, is already pontificating and calculating the chances of an Egypt-Israel military friction - and war - reveals the underlying, and a very poorly hidden, assumption that, just because the Brotherhood has the pre-fix Muslim attached to it, it will automatically go to war with the Jewish state because - obviously - Western scholarship has informed the media pundits that Muslim hatred for Jews is Muslim nature. Therefore, it’s a foregone conclusion that Israel is now even more unsafe in a hostile region, if not on a path of total annihilation. I’m sure that, if the Muslim Brotherhood was just called the Brotherhood, nobody would be panicking as they are now. This blatant racism and Islamophobia is nauseating.
  • Secondly, if you start to predict a war between Egypt and Israel, you miss the basic reality of today’s Egypt: The Muslim Brotherhood hardly has any significant power, let alone have any power over the Egyptian military. The SCAF has made sure that the ancien regime stays intact. The parliament has not control over the military budget, the armed forces, the military command, and security issues (which means relations with Israel). The SCAF didn’t even give the parliament enough power to write the new constitution. Moreover, the military is firmly backed and funded by the US and Saudi Arabia. 
  • Third, the Muslim Brotherhood doesn’t even want any sort of hostilities with Israel. No government is naive to put its own country in danger. At this moment, the Brotherhood hasn’t even formed a functioning government yet. They know very well that they need to fix the economy, which can’t be done if the country is at war with a country like Israel. Egypt needs stability instead of an upheaval with another country, and the government knows that. Also, a conflict with Israel will empower the Egyptian military, which is the last thing the Brotherhood wants.
  • Last but not the least, let’s not forget to mention that the West is not afraid of the Brotherhood. Have people forgotten that both of them, along with Israel and Saudi Arabia, worked side by side to undermine Nasser and his brand of Arab nationalism ? The fear over the Muslim Brotherhood is a total joke.

- Jahanzeb Hussain

The Egyptian Military Wins Again

Earlier this year, the Muslim Brotherhood announced that it was reneging on its promise not to field a candidate in the 2012 presidential election, held this week, arguing that it had been forced to seek executive power. The Brotherhood said that the parliament, in which it won a plurality of seats in early 2012, had no real authority. Even after the parliamentarians were seated, the military-led Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) retained the power to nominate the cabinet, and the generals continually intervened in the process of constitution drafting. There was something to Brotherhood’s point: days before the presidential election, Egypt’s highest court, headed by an appointee from the era of former President Hosni Mubarak, dissolved the legislature.

With the parliament losing power by the day, the presidency looked like a last refuge for the Brotherhood. And its candidate, Muhammad Mursi, appears to have won in a closely fought race. If the initial results hold up—at the time of this writing, the Electoral Commission is still reviewing the more than 400 appeals filed by the two campaigns—the victory will be in name only. Despite gaining executive authority in principle, Mursi will have little power in practice. After months of subtler maneuvering, the military did away with the charade of a democratic transition in a series of power grabs that bookended the presidential vote. The first salvo was the re-imposition of martial law on June 13. Then, just as the polls were closing on June 17, the generals issued a supplemental constitutional declaration that granted them legislative authority and reinforced their role in the drafting of a permanent constitution. Not to be reined in, the brass also exempted itself from civilian oversight, giving itself the right to appoint and promote its own leadership, manage its own economic projects, and conclude arms deals. Finally, on June 18, Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi announced the reestablishment of a national defense council, which puts the generals firmly in charge of Egypt’s national security policy.

The Brotherhood now faces a choice. It can seat Mursi and continue to legitimate a post-Mubarak transition that seems designed to advance the narrow interests of Egypt’s officer corps. Or it can return to the streets with the aim of unseating the military council.

Neither option offers the Brotherhood much benefit. Should Mursi take the oath of office as planned, it is unclear what authority he would actually have. The Egyptian military has already said that there will be no new parliamentary elections until a permanent constitution is drafted. The generals refuse to commit to a firm timeline, saying only that they hope to have a new constitution within four and a half months and a new parliament seated before the end of 2012. Operating in the absence of a permanent constitution and without a legislature, Mursi would have no authority to carry out the program of Islamic “renaissance” on which he ran, nor would he have any institutional allies. The ruling generals and the judiciary have shown no interest in Islamist-led change.

Moreover, should Mursi take up his position as the nominal president he will be exposing the Brotherhood to the familiar critique of intihaziya (opportunism. Many Egyptians already believe that the Brotherhood is happy to accommodate a military state when it means self-preservation, or when it gives them the opportunity to sideline their ideological competitors. In fact, this was the group’s pattern in the early 1950s and again during the 1970s, when the Brotherhood allowed itself to be used by the government as a tool to balance the secular left. The inclination toward intihaziya was visible in the run-up to the 2011-12 parliamentary elections, too. As the revolutionary groups battled security forces outside the Interior Ministry on the eve of the vote, the Brotherhood urged restraint. The fact that it then won a plurality reinforced the feeling that the group puts its political fortunes ahead of its principles.

On the other hand, should Mursi foreswear his post as the first freely elected president of Egypt after Mubarak, and the Brotherhood return to the streets, they may find that the moment for demonstrations has already passed. Sixteen long months after Mubarak was ousted, the star of the revolutionary youth has fallen considerably. Ordinary Egyptians appear weary of further unrest. Evidence of their exhaustion: only half of eligible voters turned out for the presidential runoff election, down considerably from the parliamentary elections. And around 48 percent of those who did show up voted for the stability candidate, Ahmed Shafiq, who did not bother to hide his connections to the previous regime. Egypt’s dismal economy exacerbates the fatigue; real per capita GDP contracted throughout 2011, and everyday Egyptians are feeling the pinch…

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Robert Fisk: Only the military are guaranteed victory in this Egyptian election

In other words, the Brotherhood are not necessarily the other side of the emperor’s coin. They can be stroked and bargained with, and lavished with false praise, and – as long as they do not try to dissolve the army and the security apparatus which has tortured them (literally) for so long – may well work within the system of the “deep state” which is emerging in Egypt.

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On Alice Walker’s decision regarding the publication of her book in Israel

I disagree with her decision because I don’t understand what the principle behind her decision is. If her book was printed in Israel, it would have allowed her to get her message across to the Israelis. Why did she have to refuse that ? Once I read an article about Edward Said and it said that he wrote back to Zionism and presented to the Israelis a counter-narrative and the Palestinian perspective and experience of Zionism. Would Said refuse to have his work published in Israel? No. His entire career was about engaging with Zionism, mainly through literature. It’s in this tradition of the great Edward Said that Alice Walker should have published her book in Israel. Said was Palestinian and he never refused and turned down a chance to talk or write to the occupier. One can’t be more catholic than the Pope - Alice Walker’s stance on Israel in this case is absurd. 

There are other occasions where I have disagreed with her. First, I don’t think that Israel should be compared to Apartheid South Africa because White South Africa was actually a lot worse than Israel’s occupation of Palestine. Above all, Palestine is a case on it’s own therefore I don’t understand why it should be compared to other atrocities in order to attract attention to it. The Palestinian suffering stands out on its own and it doesn’t have to be compared to anything else, otherwise it just discredits and compromises the Palestinian cause. I also don’t agree with her when she says that a two-state solution is not possible because Israel won’t allow it, therefore there has to be a single state. As if Israel is going to allow that. 

- Jahanzeb Hussain

The Path to War with Iran

Indeed, in the spring of 2005, Iran, in negotiations with European powers, offered to convert its enriched uranium to fuel rods, which would have precluded the country from using it for nuclear weapons. That was rejected by Britain at America’s insistence, says Mousavian. Later, in 2010 and 2011, Iran offered to limit its enrichment to 5 percent if the West would provide fuel rods for peaceful nuclear uses. Shortly thereafter, Russia put forth a “step-by-step” plan designed to break the impasse. Both times the United States balked, leading Russia’s then prime minister Vladimir Putin to suggest publicly that the West’s real design was regime change in Iran (a prospect guaranteed to generate powerful nuclear incentives in Tehran).

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Why you can’t compare Iran’s Green Movement protest of June 2009 with the Arab Spring.

  • The protests in Iran weren’t spontaneous like the ones in Tunisia and Egypt.
  • People in Iran protested against foul-play in elections, while the Tunisians and Egyptians rose against dictatorial rule in the name of human rights, dignity and respect. Arabs started protesting against regimes that have caused widespread misery, unemployment and growing gap between the rich and the poor. Iranians were only angry about their stolen votes.
  • People in the Arab world want an end to dictatorships and they call for a revolution. In Iran, nobody called for the overthrow of the clergy.
  • Arab Spring is a leaderless uprising, while in Iran the Green Movement was headed by two old regime insiders, which is a reason why the Green Movement is not a revolutionary movement – it only calls for reform.

 - Jahanzeb Hussain


Al-Jazeera’s (R)Evolutions

But in the weeks that followed, Al-Jazeera’s image as a news leader for Arab Spring coverage grew tainted as its tone toward uprisings in other countries showed signs of inconsistency. Uprisings in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern provinces, for example, were downplayed while protests in Iran received notable attention by the broadcaster amid growing tensions between Iran and the Sunni sheikhdoms of the Gulf. Most significant was its coverage of Bahrain in March last year, when protests in the tiny Gulf kingdom prompted intervention of the so-called Peninsular Shield, the military wing of the six member Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), of which Qatar is a member. It is worth noting that protests in Bahrain, which continue today, were underreported by most networks, Arab and foreign, which dedicated most of their resources to coverage of Egypt and Libya. Also, Al-Jazeera English has since produced May Ying Maya Welsh’s documentary, “Shouting in the Dark,”candidly examining the situation in Bahrain. The film, which earned numerous awards including the UK Foreign Press Association’s Documentary of the Year Award the George Polk Award in Journalism and the 2012 Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award for international television, aired only once on Al-Jazeera English, and never on Al-Jazeera Arabic). The film’s nomination by the prestigious British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) award thrust the network into the spotlight globally, after an online poll by Radio Times sparked a battle with “hate tweets” being directed at Al-Jazeera.

Since the late Libyan President Muammar Qadaffi maintained chilly relations with several leaders in the Arab world, particularly the Saudi king, many Arab heads of state were quick to denounce his heavy-handed response to protests and sought to cooperate with international efforts to help overthrown him. Qatar’s response to the escalating crisis in Libya began to reflect on Al-Jazeera’s coverage, particularly after the government committed warplanes in March 2011 to help NATO-led forces enforce a United Nations mandate to protect Libyan civilians.

Within weeks of Qatar’s involvement, the network began using the horizontal tri-color flag on the Libyan revolution chyron, instead of the solid green flag of the Qadaffi regime. The extent of Qatar’s role in Libyan transitional affairs, well before the fall and death of Qadaffi, drew particular concern given the backgrounds of key opposition figures which reportedly ranged from individuals who fought in Afghanistan in the 1980s to those who served jail sentences under Col. Qadaffi. The governments of Qatar and, to a lesser extent, the United Arab Emirates, became so engrossed in Libyan transitional affairs that they invited opposition members to use their countries as operational hubs.

Just a few weeks after the Libyan uprising kicked off, the Qatari government took yet another bold move in its opposition of Col. Qadaffi. The emirate invited opposition rebels to launch a television news station in Doha, The network, called “Libya TV” was funded entirely by the Qatari government, and recruited its staff via Facebook. The Guardian reported in March 2011 that Qatari police prevented journalists from approaching the Doha studio to speak to staffers as it was being built. While it was essential to give a voice to opposition groups whose voices were muted inside Libya, Qatar’s entrepreneurial venture with Libyan opposition figures further cast a cloud of bias, by association, over Al-Jazeera.

A similar stance was taken by the network amid the Syrian uprising to overthrow President Bashar Al Asaad, who has maintained an alliance with Iran, to the chagrin of many Arab governments. Qatar has recently teamed up with other Arab Gulf regimes to offer assistance to Syrian opposition fighters in the way of a salary and weapons. A number of Al-Jazeera employees in the Beirut bureau, including correspondent Ali Hashem, who covered both the Syrian and Libyan uprisings, resigned in March, citing the network’s bias. In an interview, Hashem cited a shift in policy toward coverage of the events in Syria and said it had become increasingly difficult to maintain this bias and neglect other important angles of the story. English-language daily Al-Akhbar released leaked emails, allegedly hacked and released by the Syrian Electronic Army, in which Hashem and another colleague, anchorwoman Rula Ibrahim, discuss “widespread disaffection within the channel” over its coverage of Syria.

A second leaked memo written by Ibrahim Helal, director of news at Al-Jazeera Arabic, dated 15 March 2012 with the title “Our Coverage of Syrian Affairs” further highlighted the shift in his stance compared to memos he had sent staffers when he assumed the role in November 2011Al-Akhbar reported in March 2012 that the memo “bars criticism of foreign intervention and the Free Syrian Army and encourages giving members of the opposition more airtime, especially from minorities.”

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Political Islam and the Arab Spring

… the other lesson of the Arab Spring is that the image which was being presented in the French media – or the Western media in general – of these countries has once again proven to be false. The image that the French media was trying to create of these revolutions reveals one of the facets of the Western ideological construction of the Orient. Both the Left and the Right celebrated the Spring as an event that marks the end of the difference between Us and Them. One could notice this at the annual Fete de l’Humanite as well. The precise image is that They are finally liberation themselves from their religion and culture to become like US; women are taking off the scarves (the West desperately wants to liberate the women of those who resist its hegemony); They are, at last, entering the world by accepting the West and not rejecting it, especially ending their incomprehensible hostilities towards Israel. The image of the Bad Arabwas gone and since, there were not anti-American and anti-Israeli slogans during the uprisings, the Good Arab had finally appeared.

However, this Orientalization is hopelessly empty because none of this is relevant for the people of the Arab countries. The uprisings are in the name of dignity, respect and freedom, instead of Islam. But what explains the electoral success of groups like Enahada and the Muslim Brotherhood is that, given the corrupt and opaque political and economic systems of North African and the Middle East, Islamistgroups are the only available outsiders and challengers to the status quo. Another important reason for the success of Enahda and the Muslim Brotherhood is that they talk in the language of Islam which has resonance among the population, since Islam promises a break from the colonial past, a return to the culture of the forefathers, as well as a chance for a new beginning. Thus, Islam is a part of identity politics and not theocracy because Arab societies have been going through a process of secularization for a considerable amount of time, therefore there’s absolutely no possibility of a theocracy in any of these countries. And those who are in the realm understand how important it is to talk in the language of Islam. It’s only Europe and North America – and a few rich Arab elites – who are outside of this realm. So it can be seen that the understanding of Islam for the Arabs has nothing to do with the ideologized Western perception of this religion. Furthermore, it’s imperative that Islam is allowed to be expressed because if the Islamists are constrained by the West then their expression will not be progressive and will become like that of Hamas.

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Work, capital and the Arab Spring

There are three characteristics of the Arab Spring. First, one has to look at the relation between work and capital. A large mass of Arab population, especially the youth, are unemployed. Contrary to the Arab countries, Europe was able to absorb its youth bulge of post-WWII because the continent had an active industrial policy. In France, the population benefited from this period which is called Les Trente Glorieuses – the glorious 30 years of state-planned economic development – but the Middle East and North Africa haven’t had such a period.

The second characteristic is that many Arab countries were forced by the IMF to cut their social budgets. Moreover, the agriculture sector of these countries was privatized. One of the consequences of this was that there was a massive immigration from the periphery to the center. To give an example, 50% of the population in the revolt areas of Syria is from the countryside. People are forced to leave their farms for the cities, but they can’t find jobs in the cities because there are none.

The third characteristic is the high rate of population growth – 8% in many Arab countries – which their economy is unable to absorb. When you talk to the people from the World Bank, they mention youth unemployment. But nobody asks what kind of a situation the employed are in. Since the public sector is being dismantled under the directives of international financial institutions, 70% of the work is in the informal sector. Also, those who are self-employed are considered employed. Therefore, Mohammad Bouazizi – the young Tunisian fruit vendor who set himself alight, sparking the Arab Spring – belonged to the category of the employed.

The employed don’t have social security either. Previously, Arab countries used have a helpful state, which included free health care, but basic services were privatized as a result of the structural changes imposed on their economies by the IMF. Even in public hospitals, there are different procedures for those who can pay and those who can’t; and those who can pay receive better services.

One of the biggest reasons why the population of these countries was able to hold on is due to foreign remittance, which made up 20% to 30% of the economy. However, the global financial crisis had an adverse effect on foreign remittance and many people saw their hopes evaporate as a result.

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Will Khamenei Compromise?

Please take a moment to read this article, especially if you think that it’s Iran which is the problem because they don’t want to negotiate. The only problem to the settlement is the United States, the biggest rogue state in the world.

Syria: The Answer is Dialogue

“The only solution for Syria is through the negotiation process initiated by Kofi Annan, the UN-Arab League Joint Special Envoy for Syria”, the veteran Guardian Chief Foreign Correspondent Jonathan Steele, said at ORG’s Liddite meeting on 21 March 2012.

Jonathan Steele has recently returned from Syria where he interviewed the disaffected, unemployed men aged under 30, who appear, he said, to make up the majority of the activists, and gauged what their interests were in the current deadlock. He found there was no appetite for foreign intervention. In their view it would mean a re-run of what happened in Iraq after the 2003 US-led invasion, when a million Iraqi refugees fled to Syria. There was also little or no support for the idea of outside states like Qatar or Saudi Arabia arming the Free Syrian Army. This was also true of the older oppositionist figures. In Jonathan Steele’s view, there is no evidence that the regime is on the brink of collapse – it probably has the support of the majority of Syrians, and with the exception of Homs, the major cities. So, in his view, dialogue is the only option remaining for a peaceful solution. Western media have been very critical of Annan’s mission instead of encouraging talks as the last option remaining, Jonathan Steele said. Despite much pessimism expressed already, these talks could be effective after all due to Kofi Annan’s balanced and even-handed approach, which only speaks of a ‘political transition’.

The Annan plan has been backed by the Russians – who, according to Jonathan Steele, are being unfairly criticised for their UN Security Council veto in February. The veto was prompted by the United States pushing a resolution proposed by Morocco, just as the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, was in Damascus to meet President Assad. After Russian cajoling, the Syrian government now accepts international mediation. This is a big shift. Mediation, however, requires the opposition and its western and Arab League backers to stop insisting Assad surrenders power before talks begin. The Western-backed Security Council draft in February had supported the Arab League’s call for President Assad to step down and transfer power to his Vice-President before any dialogue could begin. Western diplomats knew such a reference to regime change would mean the Russians and Chinese would veto the resolution. Knowing this, the US decided to put the Moroccan draft to a sudden vote, directly before Sergei Lavrov was meeting Assad to conduct negotiations. Now it seems that US demands for Assad to step down have been put to one side.

By contrast, the Annan plan, which has been called “Syria’s last chance” by Russia’s President Medvedev, does not call for Assad to stand down. As a result, it has been heavily criticised by the opposition Syrian National Council. Given the entrenched positions of both sides, former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has spoken of a long drawn out political process – saying there is “no deadline.”

One of the key questions in any dialogue process would be: Who will be the interlocutors – and who do the oppositionists represent? Also the timing of moves from the side of the government and the opposition is of the essence. In a situation of deadlock, such moves have to happen nearly simultaneously, backed by talks, and given that, first of all, there will need to be a ceasefire.

It remains to be seen if the ceasefire deadline next week will be adhered to.

For more by Jonathan Steele, see: ‘Syria might need its own Mandela to end this war’ in the Guardian, and his Syria Diary in the London Review of Books.

What perspectives for democracy after the Arab Spring?

By Jahanzeb Hussain


The most revealing position, however, is that of Iran. For many, this would be surprising, especially for those who read mainstream Western press, but the Iranians were ready to end their alliance with Bashar Al Assad. Iran started to establish links with the Syrian opposition in October last year; but as soon as it did so, the US pushed the United Nations to re-open Iran’s nuclear dossier and the following month the International Atomic Energy Agency published a harsh report on Iran’s uranium enrichment program. In face of renewed American pressure, Iran had no choice but to back off and, as self-defense, maintain its alliance with Assad. This shows that there is no Shia marriage between Iran and the Assads, but if the US plays the nuclear card then Iran is left with little option.

Mr. Lacroix stated that in fact the army was also opposed to Mubarak, especially his son Gamal Mubarak. This was not because of revolutionary reasons, but because Gamal, along with his young CEO friends, wanted to alter the structure of the economy and introduce changes which would undermine the army’s hold on the Egyptian economy. The military feared the Gamal Boys and, when the opportunity came – thanks to the Arab Spring – they used it as a cover to carry out an internal coup d’état.  This is the reason why the army didn’t open fire against the protestors at Tahrir Square. But the army’s support for the uprisings doesn’t go further than that.

Another important enjeux is the election itself. Tahrir square has its own two candidates. One is an ex member of the Muslim Brotherhood who is now very popular among young activists in the Egyptian streets. The other is a former Salafist.

However, the Muslim Brotherhood and the army are in the same camp when it comes to picking a candidate. They both support Amr Musa, the former finance minister under Mubarak. He is not only close to the system but if he is named candidate, this could see a tactical alliance between the Brotherhood and the military. Will this be durable alliance or just a short-term calculation? The Muslim Brotherhood is not naïve when it comes to its relations with the military establishment, because they remember their experience under General Nasser – the Brotherhood supported Nasser but when he came to power, he turned his back on them and jailed the Muslim Brotherhood.