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“I Am a Member of the Muslim Brotherhood, Not a Terrorist”

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An interesting essay by Gehad El-Haddad in the NY Times:

I write this from the darkness of solitary confinement in Egypt’s most notorious prison, where I have been held for more than three years. I am forced to write these words because an inquiry is underway in the United States regarding charges that the Muslim Brotherhood, an organization to which I have devoted years of my life, is a terrorist group.

We are not terrorists. The Muslim Brotherhood’s philosophy is inspired by an understanding of Islam that emphasizes the values of social justice, equality and the rule of law. Since its inception in 1928, the Brotherhood has lived in two modes: surviving in hostile political environments or uplifting society’s most marginalized. As such, we have been written about, spoken of, but rarely heard from. It is in that spirit that I hope these words find light.

We are a morally conservative, socially aware grass-roots movement that has dedicated its resources to public service for the past nine decades. Our idea is very simple: We believe that faith must translate into action. That the test of faith is the good you want to do in the lives of others, and that people working together is the only way to develop a nation, meet the aspirations of its youth and engage the world constructively. We believe that our faith is inherently pluralistic and comprehensive and that no one has a divine mandate or the right to impose a single vision on society.

Since our inception, we have been engaged politically in the institutions of our country as well as socially to address the direct needs of people. Despite being the most persecuted group under former President Hosni Mubarak’s rule in Egypt, our involvement in the Parliament, either in coalitions with other political groups or as independents, is a testament to our commitment to legal change and reform. We spoke truth to power in an environment full of rubber-stamp parties. We worked with independent pro-democracy organizations against plans to hand the presidency to Mr. Mubarak’s son. We also worked closely with an array of professional syndicates and labor unions.

During the one year of Egypt’s nascent democracy, we were dedicated to reforming state institutions to harbor further democratic rule. We were unaware of the amount of pushback we would receive from hard-liners in these institutions. We were ill-equipped to handle the level of corruption within the state. We pursued reforms through government, ignoring public protest in the streets. We were wrong. By now I am sure many books have been written about what we got wrong, but any fair analysis of the facts will show that we are fundamentally opposed to the use of force. Our flaws are many, but violence is not one.

Nothing speaks more to our unequivocal commitment to nonviolence than . . .

Continue reading.

See also this interesting Lawfare article on why the US should be circumspect in how it treats the Muslim Brotherhood, which is not a monolithic organization but a loose confederation of various national groups. And Declan Walsh in the NY Times points out how already we see negative fallout from a frontal attack on the Muslim Brotherhood by the Trump administration. We should not be link the bull in a china shop.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 February 2017 at 11:17 am

Talk of Terror Listing for Muslim Brotherhood Alarms Some Arab Allies

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I blogged earlier on how the issue of the Muslim Brotherhood is quite gnarly and pretty much the opposite of the clear-cut, easy-choice decisions Trump seems to prefer based on the remedies he offers. The easy choice that the Trump administration seems to be favoring is to designate the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization. Declan Walsh reports in the NY Times on how the impact is already being felt:

In Morocco, it would tip a delicate political balance. In Jordan, it could prevent American diplomats from meeting with opposition leaders. In Tunisia, it could make criminals of a political party seen as a model of democracy after the Arab Spring.

Of all the initiatives of the Trump administration that have set the Arab world on edge, none has as much potential to disrupt the internal politics of American partners in the region as the proposal to criminalize the Muslim Brotherhood, the pre-eminent Islamist movement with millions of followers.

“The impact would be great,” said Issandr El Amrani, an analyst with the International Crisis Group based in Morocco, where a Brotherhood-linked party won the last election in October. “It could destabilize countries where anti-Islamist forces would be encouraged to double down. It would increase polarization.”

For President Trump, the designation debate is an election promise made good. He has made no bones about taking an approach to the Middle East that is narrowly focused on counterterrorism, and that plays to domestic supporters who view all Islamist movements — or even all Muslims — as potentially hostile.

In much of the Middle East, though, the rapid pace and embattled rollouts of Mr. Trump’s early orders have induced anxiety. Now many are following the potential indictment of the Muslim Brotherhood as a harbinger of things to come.

“The Obama administration moved us away from the ‘clash of civilizations’ narrative,” said Emad Shahin, a dissident Egyptian academic who lectures at Georgetown University. “Trump is taking us deeper into it.”

Not all are unhappy about the move to list the Brotherhood.

One leader the designation would surely delight is President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt, the former general who has led a harsh crackdown on the Brotherhood since the military ousted a Brotherhood leader, Mohamed Morsi, as president in 2013. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates also would support it.

But in countries where Brotherhood-linked parties are prominent in Parliament or are in power, experts say a sweeping indictment could have serious implications for domestic politics, American diplomacy and the broader fight against Islamist extremism.

In Jordan, a crucial ally in the fight against jihadist groups, Islamists constitute a small but significant bloc in the Parliament. Tunisia’s Ennahda party, which has won wide praise for its democratic engagement and moderate stance since 2011, might be shunned. The prime minister of Morocco, technically, could be considered a criminal.

“You would throw many babies out with the bath water,” said Gerald M. Feierstein, a former United States ambassador to Yemen, now at the Middle East Institute in Washington. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 February 2017 at 1:56 pm

Israel Bulldozes Democracy

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Ayman Odeh, the chairman of the Hadash party, leads the Joint List, the third-largest bloc in the Knesset, Israel’s Parliament. He writes in the NY Times:

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel is expected to visit Washington this week to meet with President Trump, presumably to discuss the political philosophy they share: power through hate and fear. A government that bars refugees and Muslims from entering the United States has much in common with one that permits Israeli settlers to steal land from Palestinians, as a new law that Mr. Netanyahu’s coalition pushed through Parliament last week did.

Like Mr. Trump, Mr. Netanyahu used blatant race-baiting tactics to win his last election, in 2015. Since then, he has made discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel central to his agenda. This takes many forms; a particularly painful one is his government’s racist, unjust land use and housing policies.

Arabs make up one-fifth of Israel’s population, yet only 2.5 percent of the state’s land is under Arab jurisdiction. And since the founding of the state, more than 700 new towns and cities have been built for Jews, while no new cities have been built for Arabs.

In Arab towns, the government has made building permits so difficult to obtain, and grants them so rarely, that many inhabitants have resorted to constructing new housing units on their properties without permits just to keep up with growing families that have nowhere else to go. As a result, Arab communities have become more and more densely populated, turning pastoral villages into concrete jungles.

In southern Israel, more than 100,000 Arab citizens face a particular crisis. In the Naqab desert, known in Hebrew as the Negev, there are 35 villages that are officially “unrecognized” by the state. The residents of these unrecognized villages have Israeli citizenship, yet the state has refused to provide even basic services like water, electricity utilities, paved roads and schools.

Worse, because the Israeli government refuses to recognize these villages’ existence, they all live under the shadow of demolition orders from the state. Residents never know when the police will come to evict them and bulldoze their homes.

These policies have existed for decades, but Mr. Netanyahu has turned them into a political bludgeon. Several weeks ago, when it became clear that the government would be forced to implement an Israeli High Court ruling to evacuate Amona, an illegal settlement in the occupied West Bank built on land stolen from Palestinians, Mr. Netanyahu vowed to destroy Arab homes throughout Israel in retribution.

The prime minister soon made good on his threat. That was why, a few weeks later, a huge force of armed police arrived to destroy homes in the unrecognized village of Umm al-Hiran.

I first visited Umm al-Hiran not long after I had been elected secretary general of the Hadash party. I spent several weeks living in the Naqab and took part in a nonviolent protest against the demolition of another village, Al Araqib. I was beaten by police and arrested. I had to call my wife, Nardin, from jail.

After a long legal battle, the government has moved to destroy Umm al-Hiran so that a religious Jewish community can be built in its place. This new town would erase all traces of Arab presence, even replacing the town’s name with the more Hebrew-sounding Hiran.

The residents suggested a compromise: Create an Arab neighborhood within the new town so that their community could remain intact. The state rejected this idea: Hiran was to be for Jews only.

A few weeks ago, I had reason to call my wife from the Naqab again. This time, I was in an ambulance on the way to the hospital. On Jan. 18, as I stood with the residents of Umm al-Hiran, Israeli police who had arrived to demolish the village pepper-sprayed me and then shot me in the head and the back with baton rounds.

These bullets, which are about 3 inches long and 1.5 inches in diameter, have a hard plastic base and a high-density foam tip. Supposedly nonlethal, they have caused numerous serious injuries, including skull fractures and eye loss, and have been associated with at least one fatality. In my case, the bullet missed my eye and only grazed my skull.

More grave, police actions that day resulted in two deaths: . . .

Continue reading.

Apartheid, pure and simple.

Sometimes two relatively harmless things (bleach and household ammonia, for example), each useful in its own right, become a toxic mess when mixed. Religion and government are like that. It turns out to be very important to keep them separate, as we see not only in Israel but in certain US states where religion pushes into government.

Written by LeisureGuy

14 February 2017 at 9:02 am

An example of why the President’s job is difficult: Muslim Brotherhood edition

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It’s the trade-offs that get you. I think that the nature of things and the laws of organizations mean that all the easy problems are solved before they reach the President’s desk. At every level of government, you have people working to solve problems. A problem moves up only when it becomes too difficult to be solved at its current level.

So you can think of the levels of government as salmon ladders, the problems (salmon) leaping up until caught (fixed), whereupon no more upward movement for that problem since, as it turned out, that problem was too easy to pass on the President, and it was solved at a lower level.

Question: How difficult are the problems that survive all the way to the President’s desk (or, in this case, Bannon’s desk)? Answer: Very damn difficult unless you simplify the hell out of it to make it a black/white sort of thing (no tradeoffs), so the decision is made easy, which the President likes, since he wants to be decisive. Wham! Done!

And then, of course, all the chaos and human suffering and loss of status in global eyes, not to mention financial losses. It turns out that maybe the simple-answer-to-complex-problems approach has some drawbacks.

Or, to take the case at hand, what about the Muslim Brotherhood? At Lawfare Lorenzo Vidino has a post that looks at the trade-offs: “Why the United States Should Be as Circumspect as the British about the Muslim Brotherhood.”

It begins:

Editor’s Note: The Muslim Brotherhood is a troubling organization for policymakers. Many terrorists passed through its ranks, and the Trump administration, spurred on by some in Congress and several U.S. allies, is even considering designating it a terrorist group.

Yet at the same time the Brotherhood has embraced peaceful politics and is cast as a barrier to radicalism. Lorenzo Vidino of George Washington University’s Program on Extremism places the Brotherhood somewhere in between. He calls for a more careful and nuanced approach that neither caricatures the group as a variant of the Islamic State nor whitewashes its many nasty aspects.

***

Over the next few weeks the Muslim Brotherhood is likely to feature at the center of Washington’s political debate. Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart and Senator Ted Cruz have recently introduced the Muslim Brotherhood Terrorist Designation Act and various indications point to the Trump administration’s inclination to take similar measures against the world’s oldest and largest Islamist group.

These moves have immediately sparked a heated debate. Their most visceral critics see the Brothers as the godfathers of modern terrorism and devious wolves-in-sheep’s-clothing engaged in the stealth subversions of the societies in which they operate. Their staunchest defenders see them simply as religiously conservative forces who have eschewed bullets for ballots—a source for stability in the Middle East, for integration of Muslims in the West, and a bulwark against jihadist wrath. . .

Read the whole thing. And think about how Bannon/Trump will make the decision—the process and the personnel.

It occurs to me that the combination of being contemptuous of experts and being woefully ignorant of knowledge your job requires is about as bad as it gets—like having sea-sickness and lockjaw.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 February 2017 at 1:50 pm

Amona and the Settlement Regularization Bill: The Politicization of Suffering and the Threat to the High Court

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The Israeli government’s toleration and even encouragement of illegal settlements has been a major barrier to a peaceful settlement between Israelis and Palestinians (though certainly not the only barrier). Yishai Schwarts writes at Lawfare:

Last week, after years of stays and delays, the Israeli government finally enforced a ruling of the country’s High Court and began dismantling the settlement of Amona. In scenes of resistance designed to haunt policymakers who favor further withdrawals, Israeli security forces dragged wailing protesters out of homes and synagogues.

Late Monday night, the settler movement exacted its price. Despite furious criticism from opposition parties and the country’s legal establishment, Israel’s parliament passed the “Settlement Regularization” bill. The legislation, expertly outlined by Elena Chachko here, permits the formal expropriation (in return for compensation) of private Palestinian land that has been settled by Israelis in cases in which the land was settled a) absent knowledge of the private ownership and b) with some form of government support.

The law—and the role of the Amona controversy in justifying its passage—exemplifies one of the great tragedies of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: the politicization of personal suffering. Over the years, both sides have spent the agony of their supporters as political currency; the Israeli right now stands to do so again after the demolition of Amona. And even if the new law fails legal challenges, forcing the High Court to overturn legislation will advance another key objective of the settler movement: weakening the already embattled judiciary.

Speaking with people who grew up near Amona, it is easy to forget that by rights the community should never have been built. They often talk of the constant breeze, the children clambering up the hill from the neighboring town of Ofra, and the panoramic vista that includes a glorious view of Jerusalem. For those who came of age after its founding in 1995, Amona is a home like any other; its destruction, an unforeseen tragedy.

The settlers who first erected trailers in Amona in 1995 should have known that their presence was tenuous; they acted outside of the law and without proper permits. But they also knew that initial tenuousness is the origin story of much that is now permanent. The story of many settlements in the West Bank—even those now part of the Israeli “consensus”—is one of legal limbo, of winks and nods from local military commanders and sympathetic bureaucrats, of racing from hilltop to hilltop and slowly extracting government acquiescence. The story of Israel’s early pioneers is not so different: secret land purchases, circumvention of British policy, and the bold creation of “facts on the ground” built much of the modern state.

Of course, these precedents have a crucial difference. The kibbutzim of the early 20th century—and even the West Bank settlements established after the 1967 war—were not built on private land. Amona was different—it was illegal under Israeli law—and so the High Court ordered its demolition.

Amona’s supporters countered that the settlement’s founders never knew they were building on land owned by others. The residents have lived here in good faith for two decades, they insist. Why expel citizens from their homes rather than simply providing the previous owners with just compensation? This, then, is the fundamental defense of the Settlement Regularization Law: it is, proponents say, a sensible response to tragic misunderstandings, an equitable solution that protects the rights of Palestinian owners while allowing innocent Israelis to remain in their homes.

This argument omits crucial context: These are not simple property disputes; they are conflicts mired in ideology and national struggle. The law’s solicitousness toward residents who built on the property of others is not simply driven by sympathy for an innocent mistake. It is, rather, driven by the desire to secure a national movement’s claims, even at the expense of private individuals who lack their own state to defend their rights.

Nor can the decision to build in these settlements usually be categorized simply as “a good faith” mistake. Even as the first homes were erected in Amona, Palestinian locals were already protesting and petitioning authorities to preserve their property. Less than two years after Amona’s founding, Israeli authorities ruled on the land’s ownership and ordered the settlers to relinquish the hill. Settlement leaders were surely aware of the legal challenges. If families who chose to join a community under such a legal cloud still claim innocence, it is an innocence born of ignorance, deliberately curated by cynical leaders.

And that is the central tragedy. The instrumentalization of suffering is not new to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In the aftermath of the 1948 war, rather than absorb Palestinian refugees, Arab countries left them stateless. Their suffering and their need for statehood have long served as a bludgeon with which to batter Israel. Hamas, with each bloody war it launches from the Gaza Strip, seeks to gain as much from sympathy with the plight of Palestinian innocents caught in the crossfire as it does from Israeli losses.

The Israeli right has learned this lesson as well. Rather than devoting its resources to ameliorating the suffering of those expelled, the settler movement maximizes the trauma. Families remain in their homes until the eve of evacuation; court orders are fought for decades but alternate arrangements are never made; throngs of young protesters lock arms and cry, ensuring that removing them is emotionally and financially costly. Some of the settlers expelled from their homes in Gaza in 2005 remained in temporary housing for a decade. In part, this reflects bureaucratic incompetence by the Israeli government. But their suffering has also served as a useful propaganda tool for the settler movement—not so different from the Arab states’ use of Palestinian refugee suffering.

If the Regularization Law withstands the coming legal challenges, it will represent one of the great triumphs of this strategy. The removal and suffering of a single 40-family outpost, the movement’s more pragmatic leaders admit, represents a worthy price for such a far-reaching legal victory.

But the law will not stand. The High Court will strike it down, and in so doing, perhaps hand the settlers a more incremental, but potentially more lasting, victory.

In Israel, the legal consensus is clear: The law is unconstitutional. There is simply no way the expropriation of private land for private purposes can be reconciled with Israel’s Basic Law regarding human dignity and liberty. Even Israel’s right-leaning parliamentarians (and certainly its prime minister) know this. But as has too often been the case, Israeli politicians find it simpler to avoid responsibility and instead rely on the High Court to preserve the state’s core values. The Court will have no choice but to oblige.

For some, the inevitability of the High Court’s review is reason to say the law simply does not matter. This seems to be the position of the Trump administration. But this ignores the long campaign that the settler movement has waged against the High Court’s legitimacy. Judicial review of statutes in a country without a formal constitution will inevitably be controversial. As irresponsible politicians have increasingly relied on the judges to save the Knesset from itself, and as right-wing populists denounce the Court as an elitist institution out of touch with the values of the country, the Court’s legitimacy has been eroded. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 February 2017 at 1:03 pm

Trump increases risks for U.S. troops in Iraq

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Trump is incompetent. He acts on impulse, he doesn’t think things through, and he fails to consult with competent advisers (and shows bad judgment in picking his closest advisers: Michael Flynn, Stephen Bannon, Stephen Miller, Kellyanne Conway, and so on, including the White House lawyer who though it would be a good idea to fire all the Inspectors General in the Federal government and replace them with Trump stooges.

David Zucchino reports in the NY Times:

Capt. Ahmed Adnan al-Musawe had survived another day battling Islamic State fighters in Mosul last weekend when he heard startling news: The new American president had temporarily barred Iraqis from entering the United States and wanted tougher vetting.

Captain Musawe, who commands an infantry unit of the Iraqi Army’s elite counterterrorism force, considers himself already fully vetted: He has been trained by American officers in Iraq and in Jordan. And backed by American advisers, he has fought the Islamic State in three Iraqi cities, including three months of brutal street combat in Mosul.

“If America doesn’t want Iraqis because we are all terrorists, then America should send its sons back to Iraq to fight the terrorists themselves,” Captain Musawe told a New York Times reporter who was with him this week at his barricaded position inside Mosul.

President Trump’s Jan. 27 executive order has driven a wedge between many Iraqi soldiers and their American allies. Officers and enlisted men interviewed on the front lines in Mosul said they interpreted the order as an affront — not only to them but also to fellow soldiers who have died in the battle for Mosul.

Continue reading the main story

“An insult to their dignity,” said Capt. Abdul Saami al-Azzi, another officer with the counterterrorism force in Mosul. He said he was hurt and disappointed by a nation he had considered a respectful partner. “It is really embarrassing.”

The American and Iraqi militaries have negotiated an often tenuous and strained relationship over the years. But few episodes have so blindsided the current generation of Iraqi soldiers, who are accustomed to viewing the United States as their partner in a shared struggle to defeat insurgents and build a viable nation.

The timing of the order hit the Iraqi military in Mosul like an incoming rocket. Iraqi forces have reached a pivotal moment, seizing half of Mosul and preparing to assault the remaining half — supported by American advisers, Special Operations forces and airstrikes by the United States-led coalition.

Why, some soldiers asked, had Mr. Trump chosen this moment to lump together all Iraqis as mortal threats to America — soldiers, civilians and terrorists alike?

“This decision by Trump blows up our liberation efforts of cooperation and coordination with American forces,” said Brig. Gen. Mizhir Khalid al-Mashhadani, a counterterrorism force commander in Mosul.

Astounded by the announcement, General Mashhadani, who speaks English, said he asked his American counterparts about the president’s order. He said several told him they considered the decision hasty and its consequences poorly considered.

The travel ban was all the more perplexing to those Iraqi troops who had heard Mr. Trump vow as a candidate to wipe out the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, ISIL or Daesh. Some also heard the president promise, when issuing the order, to keep “radical Islamic terrorists” out of the United States.

For some soldiers, those comments seemed to equate Iraqi soldiers — by virtue of their nationality and religion — with the very terrorists they were fighting. . .

Continue reading. There’s more and it’s bad.

Trump should be removed from office.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 February 2017 at 6:46 pm

A little surprise for Netanyahu: “Trump Tells Israel to Hold Off on Building New Settlements”

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Trump is too changeable to make a good and reliable ally. Peter Baker reports in the NY Times:

President Trump, who has made support for Israel a cornerstone of his foreign policy, shifted gears on Thursday and for the first time warned the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to hold off new settlement construction.

“While we don’t believe the existence of settlements is an impediment to peace, the construction of new settlements or the expansion of existing settlements beyond their current borders may not be helpful in achieving that goal,” the White House said in a statement.

The White House noted that the president “has not taken an official position on settlement activity,” but said Mr. Trump would discuss the issue with Mr. Netanyahu when they meet Feb. 15, in effect telling him to wait until then. Emboldened by Mr. Trump’s support, Israel had announced more than 5,000 new homes in the West Bank since his Jan. 20 inauguration.

The statement resembled those issued routinely by previous administrations of both parties for decades, but Mr. Trump has positioned himself as an unabashed ally of Israel and until now had never questioned Mr. Netanyahu’s approach. Mr. Trump picked as his ambassador to Israel a financial supporter of West Bank settlement, and he harshly criticized former President Barack Obama in December for not blocking a United Nations resolution condemning settlements.

Continue reading the main story

But Mr. Netanyahu’s coalition government seemed to take Mr. Trump’s inauguration as a starting gun in a race to ramp up its construction in the occupied territory. Since the president was sworn in, the government announced that it would authorize another 2,500 homes in areas already settled in the West Bank, and then followed that this week with an announcement of 3,000 more. On Wednesday, Mr. Netanyahu took it a step further, vowing to build the first new settlement in the West Bank in many years.

For Mr. Netanyahu, the settlement spree reflects a sense of liberation after years of constraints from Washington, especially under Mr. Obama, who like other presidents viewed settlement construction as harmful to the chances of negotiating a final peace settlement. It also represents an effort to deflect criticism from Israel’s political right for complying with a court order to force out several dozen families in the illegal West Bank outpost of Amona.

The Israeli housing ministry on Thursday announced tenders for 2,000 homes, which appeared to advance some of those announced earlier this week.

Peace Now, an advocacy group that opposes settlement construction, accused Mr. Netanyahu of trying to shore up his political position at a time when he is under fire for the Amona evacuation and under investigation on corruption allegations.

“Netanyahu must not let the two-state solution be the casualty of his fight for political survival,” the group said in a statement. “Yesterday’s announcement include the promotion of housing units deep in the West Bank and in highly problematic areas for a future agreement.”

Mr. Netanyahu vowed earlier on Thursday to continue settlement construction in the West Bank. He made the comments while attending a memorial service marking fourth anniversary of the death of Ron Nachman, a founder and longtime mayor of the settlement of Ariel. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 February 2017 at 4:42 pm

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