Commentary Magazine


Topic: Mubarak

Flotsam and Jetsam

So naturally, she had to go. “[Michelle] Rhee added a new urgency and righteous anger to the school reform movement, one that she will now take to a national platform. She asked how the District could compile an abysmal academic record and yet rate most of their teachers as meeting or exceeding expectations. She decreed that poverty was no longer a reason for expecting less of a child in Anacostia than one in Tenleytown.”

So now the New York Times sounds like National Review: “Rather than entertaining the possibility that the program they have pursued is genuinely and even legitimately unpopular, the White House and its allies have concluded that their political troubles amount to mainly a message and image problem.” The Gray Lady has also discovered Obama has an “elitism” problem. Who knew?

So smart are these Obama diplomats, we were told. Alas: “The White House spent an hour Friday afternoon trying to convince angry Hill staffers and human rights activists that ‘naming and shaming’ governments that recruit child soldiers, rather than imposing Congressionally-mandated sanctions on them, will better address the problem. But advocacy leaders are upset with the administration and rejected top White House officials’ contention that removing sanctions against four troubled states will be a positive move. … Overall, the call showed that the White House realized it botched the rollout of the decision but is standing by the decision itself. Next, they will have to defend it on Capitol Hill, where staffers are set to receive a special briefing on the issue next week.”

So let me see if I got this straight? President Obama goes to Florida in August to campaign for Rep. Kendrick Meek. Then recently, former President Clinton goes in to ‘campaign’ for Meek by trying to get him to drop out of the race. And voters this year are being accused of being ‘radical’ and ‘too angry’ because they are rejecting politics as usual?” That, from Susan Molinari.

So the administration’s flunky on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights walks out to deny a quorum, preventing a vote on the interim report concerning the New Black Panther Party scandal. (But the vice chairman is no better — she didn’t show up.) Remember, your tax dollars are paying these people to play hide and seek.

So what is not to like about this man? Nothing yet.

So Obama is no George W. Bush. “Mr. Mubarak’s tightening sharply contrasts with his behavior during Egypt’s last major election season, in 2005. Then he loosened controls on the media, introduced a constitutional amendment allowing the first contested election for president, and released his principal secular challenger from jail. He did all this under heavy pressure from then-President George W. Bush, who had publicly called on Egypt to ‘lead the way’ in Arab political reform. … Mr. Mubarak’s actions reflect a common calculation across the Middle East: that this U.S. president, unlike his predecessor, is not particularly interested in democratic change.”

So what grade does he get? Obama said we should evaluate him on the economy: “An economy growing at a sluggish 2 percent, almost all economists agree, cannot produce nearly the demand needed to lower the nation’s painfully high 9.6 percent unemployment rate. And inventories continued to grow and the trade gap remained wide, as imports outpaced exports. The numbers are not likely to provide much of a morale boost for President Obama and Democrats, who are days away from crucial midterm elections. High unemployment and soaring foreclosure numbers in the Midwest and West already made this a particularly difficult election for Democrats. Friday’s numbers offer little relief.”

So what is missing from David Brooks’s excellent advice? “First, the president is going to have to win back independents. … Second, Obama needs to redefine his identity. … Third, Obama will need to respond to the nation’s fear of decline. … Fourth, Obama has to build an institutional structure to support a more moderate approach.” Well, a president who is moderate, flexible, and self-reflective.

So how did Obama get his reputation as an “intellectual”? James Taranto and I agree: “Professors imagine Obama is one of them because he shares their attitudes: their politically correct opinions, their condescending view of ordinary Americans, their belief in their own authority as an intellectual elite. He is the ideal product of the homogeneous world of contemporary academia. In his importance, they see a reflection of their self-importance.”

So naturally, she had to go. “[Michelle] Rhee added a new urgency and righteous anger to the school reform movement, one that she will now take to a national platform. She asked how the District could compile an abysmal academic record and yet rate most of their teachers as meeting or exceeding expectations. She decreed that poverty was no longer a reason for expecting less of a child in Anacostia than one in Tenleytown.”

So now the New York Times sounds like National Review: “Rather than entertaining the possibility that the program they have pursued is genuinely and even legitimately unpopular, the White House and its allies have concluded that their political troubles amount to mainly a message and image problem.” The Gray Lady has also discovered Obama has an “elitism” problem. Who knew?

So smart are these Obama diplomats, we were told. Alas: “The White House spent an hour Friday afternoon trying to convince angry Hill staffers and human rights activists that ‘naming and shaming’ governments that recruit child soldiers, rather than imposing Congressionally-mandated sanctions on them, will better address the problem. But advocacy leaders are upset with the administration and rejected top White House officials’ contention that removing sanctions against four troubled states will be a positive move. … Overall, the call showed that the White House realized it botched the rollout of the decision but is standing by the decision itself. Next, they will have to defend it on Capitol Hill, where staffers are set to receive a special briefing on the issue next week.”

So let me see if I got this straight? President Obama goes to Florida in August to campaign for Rep. Kendrick Meek. Then recently, former President Clinton goes in to ‘campaign’ for Meek by trying to get him to drop out of the race. And voters this year are being accused of being ‘radical’ and ‘too angry’ because they are rejecting politics as usual?” That, from Susan Molinari.

So the administration’s flunky on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights walks out to deny a quorum, preventing a vote on the interim report concerning the New Black Panther Party scandal. (But the vice chairman is no better — she didn’t show up.) Remember, your tax dollars are paying these people to play hide and seek.

So what is not to like about this man? Nothing yet.

So Obama is no George W. Bush. “Mr. Mubarak’s tightening sharply contrasts with his behavior during Egypt’s last major election season, in 2005. Then he loosened controls on the media, introduced a constitutional amendment allowing the first contested election for president, and released his principal secular challenger from jail. He did all this under heavy pressure from then-President George W. Bush, who had publicly called on Egypt to ‘lead the way’ in Arab political reform. … Mr. Mubarak’s actions reflect a common calculation across the Middle East: that this U.S. president, unlike his predecessor, is not particularly interested in democratic change.”

So what grade does he get? Obama said we should evaluate him on the economy: “An economy growing at a sluggish 2 percent, almost all economists agree, cannot produce nearly the demand needed to lower the nation’s painfully high 9.6 percent unemployment rate. And inventories continued to grow and the trade gap remained wide, as imports outpaced exports. The numbers are not likely to provide much of a morale boost for President Obama and Democrats, who are days away from crucial midterm elections. High unemployment and soaring foreclosure numbers in the Midwest and West already made this a particularly difficult election for Democrats. Friday’s numbers offer little relief.”

So what is missing from David Brooks’s excellent advice? “First, the president is going to have to win back independents. … Second, Obama needs to redefine his identity. … Third, Obama will need to respond to the nation’s fear of decline. … Fourth, Obama has to build an institutional structure to support a more moderate approach.” Well, a president who is moderate, flexible, and self-reflective.

So how did Obama get his reputation as an “intellectual”? James Taranto and I agree: “Professors imagine Obama is one of them because he shares their attitudes: their politically correct opinions, their condescending view of ordinary Americans, their belief in their own authority as an intellectual elite. He is the ideal product of the homogeneous world of contemporary academia. In his importance, they see a reflection of their self-importance.”

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Time for Democrats to Correct Course on Israel

In an interesting interview with Steve Moore, Minority Whip Eric Cantor explains the new face of the Republican Party — reform-minded, fiscally disciplined, and energetic. He also has this interesting observation on the pro-Israel coalition:

Mr. Cantor believes the American-Jewish community is overwhelmingly Democratic because Jews “are prone to want to help the underdog.” But he thinks the Jewish allegiance to the Democratic Party is changing, in large part because of Israel. “I tell the Jewish groups that more and more of the problems with convincing folks that Israel’s security is synonymous with our own comes from the Democrats. There are a lot in the progressive movement in this country who do not feel that the U.S. should ever be leaning towards Israel. They are openly hostile” toward the Jewish state.

Mr. Cantor points to a poll indicating that 46% of American Jews say they would consider voting for another individual for president. “That is astonishing given the history. Reagan got 40%—that was probably the high water mark.”

There are multiple reasons for Jewish allegiance to the Democratic Party, and I tend to favor an explanation other than Cantor’s. But his analysis of the Democratic caucus is candid and accurate. However, there is an opportunity for the Democratic Party, or a significant segment of it, to right itself and re-establish its full-throated support for Israel.

Certainly there are hard-core leftists who played footsie with Soros Street, signed on to the Gaza 54 letter, and cheered Obama’s Israel policy. But far more members of the Democratic caucus in the Senate and House were pulled by partisan concerns and felt obliged to run interference for Obama. For months and months they dared not criticize the administration. When Obama “condemned” Israel, many reacted with platitudes rather than a sharp rebuke of the president. When it came to the flotilla, the Senate letter (and the House letter to a lesser extent) revealed Democrats’ reluctance to challenge the president on his straddling at the UN.

But the landscape is about to shift dramatically. Obama’s approval ratings are tumbling. Those Democrats who survive the 2010 tsunami will owe little loyalty to the Obama team. And the putrid results of Obama’s flawed Middle East policy are now there for all to see. In other words, there is little reason for House and Senate Democrats to follow the Obama administration’s lead on Israel. We already saw a hint of this when 87 senators signed on to a letter that, in effect, warned Obama not to blame Bibi for the potential collapse of the peace talks.

Once the 2010 midterms are behind us, J Street completes its collapse, and the damage to the Democratic Party is assessed, there is an opportunity for those pro-Israel Democrats who pulled their punches to reconnect with their Republican colleagues and re-establish that broad-based pro-Israel coalition. A good start would be a unified message on Iran along the lines Joe Lieberman detailed in his recent speech on the subject. Another would be some congressional action with regard to political and human rights abuses in the Muslim World. Why are we giving billions to Mubarak when he represses his people? Why aren’t we cutting funds to the UN Human Rights Council?

There are still liberal Democrats who will shy away from such moves and be uneasy about confronting the administration. But frankly, carrying water for the Obami is not good for one’s political health. And Democrats will be all too familiar with that truism come November.

In an interesting interview with Steve Moore, Minority Whip Eric Cantor explains the new face of the Republican Party — reform-minded, fiscally disciplined, and energetic. He also has this interesting observation on the pro-Israel coalition:

Mr. Cantor believes the American-Jewish community is overwhelmingly Democratic because Jews “are prone to want to help the underdog.” But he thinks the Jewish allegiance to the Democratic Party is changing, in large part because of Israel. “I tell the Jewish groups that more and more of the problems with convincing folks that Israel’s security is synonymous with our own comes from the Democrats. There are a lot in the progressive movement in this country who do not feel that the U.S. should ever be leaning towards Israel. They are openly hostile” toward the Jewish state.

Mr. Cantor points to a poll indicating that 46% of American Jews say they would consider voting for another individual for president. “That is astonishing given the history. Reagan got 40%—that was probably the high water mark.”

There are multiple reasons for Jewish allegiance to the Democratic Party, and I tend to favor an explanation other than Cantor’s. But his analysis of the Democratic caucus is candid and accurate. However, there is an opportunity for the Democratic Party, or a significant segment of it, to right itself and re-establish its full-throated support for Israel.

Certainly there are hard-core leftists who played footsie with Soros Street, signed on to the Gaza 54 letter, and cheered Obama’s Israel policy. But far more members of the Democratic caucus in the Senate and House were pulled by partisan concerns and felt obliged to run interference for Obama. For months and months they dared not criticize the administration. When Obama “condemned” Israel, many reacted with platitudes rather than a sharp rebuke of the president. When it came to the flotilla, the Senate letter (and the House letter to a lesser extent) revealed Democrats’ reluctance to challenge the president on his straddling at the UN.

But the landscape is about to shift dramatically. Obama’s approval ratings are tumbling. Those Democrats who survive the 2010 tsunami will owe little loyalty to the Obama team. And the putrid results of Obama’s flawed Middle East policy are now there for all to see. In other words, there is little reason for House and Senate Democrats to follow the Obama administration’s lead on Israel. We already saw a hint of this when 87 senators signed on to a letter that, in effect, warned Obama not to blame Bibi for the potential collapse of the peace talks.

Once the 2010 midterms are behind us, J Street completes its collapse, and the damage to the Democratic Party is assessed, there is an opportunity for those pro-Israel Democrats who pulled their punches to reconnect with their Republican colleagues and re-establish that broad-based pro-Israel coalition. A good start would be a unified message on Iran along the lines Joe Lieberman detailed in his recent speech on the subject. Another would be some congressional action with regard to political and human rights abuses in the Muslim World. Why are we giving billions to Mubarak when he represses his people? Why aren’t we cutting funds to the UN Human Rights Council?

There are still liberal Democrats who will shy away from such moves and be uneasy about confronting the administration. But frankly, carrying water for the Obami is not good for one’s political health. And Democrats will be all too familiar with that truism come November.

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Does the Administration Mean What It Now Says About Human Rights?

Obama and his secretary of state are making some effort to step up — or start, some would say — support for human rights. Obama spoke on the topic at the UN. Albeit too little and too late, the administration is taking action against Iranian human rights abuses:

Citing “mounting evidence” of repression of the Iranian opposition, the Obama administration added more sanctions against Iranian government officials, members of the Revolutionary Guards Corps and others accused by the United States of being responsible for human rights abuses.

The sanctions, announced Wednesday by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, block the assets of, and prohibit U.S. citizens from engaging in any business with, those on the list, which includes the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, the country’s prosecutor general, and the ministers of welfare and intelligence.

There’s less here than meets the eye, however. As the Washington Post editors note, ” The high-profile announcement could give important encouragement to Iran’s opposition. But it’s worth noting that the sanctions themselves were recently mandated by Congress.” Oh. And why haven’t we committed ourselves to full support for the Green movement?

The real proof of the Obama administration’s devotion to democracy promotion will come with clear and decisive action. When do we adopt regime change as our official policy? When do we call it quits and pull the financial plug on the UNHRC? These would demonstrate actual, rather than rhetorical, support for human rights.

The Post editors observe that there’s another opportunity to prove the administration’s bona fides on human rights. Why not take action against the repressive Mubarak government, which is in the process of rigging another election?

[A] resolution authored by Sens. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) has won broad and bipartisan support. The resolution urges Mr. Mubarak’s regime “to take all steps necessary to ensure that upcoming elections are free, fair, transparent and credible, including granting independent international and domestic electoral observers unrestricted access.” …

After the president’s last meeting with Mr. Mubarak this month, a White House summary said Mr. Obama had referred to the need for “credible and transparent elections in Egypt.” The question is whether the administration is willing to take action in support of its words. So far, it has offered no indication that Mr. Mubarak’s failure to accept election observers will result in any consequence for a country that receives $1.5 billion annually in American aid. Nor has the White House offered support for the Senate resolution, in public or in private. It could, at least, do that.

Let’s see what the Obama administration does. Frankly, the president’s words don’t carry all that much credibility these days.

Obama and his secretary of state are making some effort to step up — or start, some would say — support for human rights. Obama spoke on the topic at the UN. Albeit too little and too late, the administration is taking action against Iranian human rights abuses:

Citing “mounting evidence” of repression of the Iranian opposition, the Obama administration added more sanctions against Iranian government officials, members of the Revolutionary Guards Corps and others accused by the United States of being responsible for human rights abuses.

The sanctions, announced Wednesday by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, block the assets of, and prohibit U.S. citizens from engaging in any business with, those on the list, which includes the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, the country’s prosecutor general, and the ministers of welfare and intelligence.

There’s less here than meets the eye, however. As the Washington Post editors note, ” The high-profile announcement could give important encouragement to Iran’s opposition. But it’s worth noting that the sanctions themselves were recently mandated by Congress.” Oh. And why haven’t we committed ourselves to full support for the Green movement?

The real proof of the Obama administration’s devotion to democracy promotion will come with clear and decisive action. When do we adopt regime change as our official policy? When do we call it quits and pull the financial plug on the UNHRC? These would demonstrate actual, rather than rhetorical, support for human rights.

The Post editors observe that there’s another opportunity to prove the administration’s bona fides on human rights. Why not take action against the repressive Mubarak government, which is in the process of rigging another election?

[A] resolution authored by Sens. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) has won broad and bipartisan support. The resolution urges Mr. Mubarak’s regime “to take all steps necessary to ensure that upcoming elections are free, fair, transparent and credible, including granting independent international and domestic electoral observers unrestricted access.” …

After the president’s last meeting with Mr. Mubarak this month, a White House summary said Mr. Obama had referred to the need for “credible and transparent elections in Egypt.” The question is whether the administration is willing to take action in support of its words. So far, it has offered no indication that Mr. Mubarak’s failure to accept election observers will result in any consequence for a country that receives $1.5 billion annually in American aid. Nor has the White House offered support for the Senate resolution, in public or in private. It could, at least, do that.

Let’s see what the Obama administration does. Frankly, the president’s words don’t carry all that much credibility these days.

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Nothing to Show for It

The walls are closing in on Obama’s Middle East policy. He flattered and cajoled the Palestinians while bullying the Israelis. He insisted on unilateral concessions from Bibi. He urged proximity talks to spare Fatah the trouble of getting in the room with the Israelis — and giving up both terrorism and the dream of a one-state solution (i.e., the right of Palestinians to return and demographically swamp Israel). None of it worked to move the parties closer to a peace deal.

Now signs abound that proximity talks will not lead to direct negotiations (which Obama said during Bibi’s visit were the next step in the “peace process”) but to a dead end. Since Obama’s declared preference for direct talks, Palestinian figures have thrown out a variety of new preconditions. The Egyptian foreign minister says the parties are “too far apart.” (I suppose ignoring Mubarak’s political crackdown and plying him with billions in new aid didn’t transform him into a helpful promoter of the “peace process.”)

In sum, Obama has invested enormous time and prestige and done immense damage to the U.S.-Israel relationship with nothing to show for it. There is no peace deal, and not even direct talks are on the horizon. And all this has diverted attention from (intentionally, one might conclude) his failure to derail Iran’s nuclear program. There, too, his engagement policy and pursuit of consensus (the lowest common denominator sanctions minus any gasoline sanctions) have also failed. Rather, his efforts have emboldened the mullahs and encouraged their junior partners in Damascus and Ankara to step up their anti-Israel behavior.

Along the way he’s frightened and angered American Jews, raised and then dashed Palestinians’ expectations, and undermined human rights and democracy activists in the Muslim World. It is what critics warned would happen. The Obami said they knew best. Turned out they didn’t.

The walls are closing in on Obama’s Middle East policy. He flattered and cajoled the Palestinians while bullying the Israelis. He insisted on unilateral concessions from Bibi. He urged proximity talks to spare Fatah the trouble of getting in the room with the Israelis — and giving up both terrorism and the dream of a one-state solution (i.e., the right of Palestinians to return and demographically swamp Israel). None of it worked to move the parties closer to a peace deal.

Now signs abound that proximity talks will not lead to direct negotiations (which Obama said during Bibi’s visit were the next step in the “peace process”) but to a dead end. Since Obama’s declared preference for direct talks, Palestinian figures have thrown out a variety of new preconditions. The Egyptian foreign minister says the parties are “too far apart.” (I suppose ignoring Mubarak’s political crackdown and plying him with billions in new aid didn’t transform him into a helpful promoter of the “peace process.”)

In sum, Obama has invested enormous time and prestige and done immense damage to the U.S.-Israel relationship with nothing to show for it. There is no peace deal, and not even direct talks are on the horizon. And all this has diverted attention from (intentionally, one might conclude) his failure to derail Iran’s nuclear program. There, too, his engagement policy and pursuit of consensus (the lowest common denominator sanctions minus any gasoline sanctions) have also failed. Rather, his efforts have emboldened the mullahs and encouraged their junior partners in Damascus and Ankara to step up their anti-Israel behavior.

Along the way he’s frightened and angered American Jews, raised and then dashed Palestinians’ expectations, and undermined human rights and democracy activists in the Muslim World. It is what critics warned would happen. The Obami said they knew best. Turned out they didn’t.

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RE: Obama’s Lousy Record on Religious Freedom

As I noted yesterday, the U.S. Commission on International Freedom released its annual report. Its chairman, Leonard Leo, writes a column highlighting some of its findings. Two in particular stand out, in large part because U.S. policy is so badly out of sync and at odds with those striving to promote religious freedom.

First is Sudan. Critics on the right and left have deplored the administration’s feckless envoy, retired Maj. Gen. J. Scott Gration, and the administration’s “spectacularly naïve perspective—and accompanying policy of appeasement.” Meanwhile, the religious atrocities continue, as Leo details:

USCIRF has focused since its inception on Sudan because Khartoum’s policies of Islamization and Arabization were a major factor in the Sudanese North-South civil war (1983-2005). During that period, Northern leaders, including Sudan’s current President Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir, exploited religion to mobilize northern Muslims against non-Muslim Southerners by appealing to Islam and calling for jihad. USCIRF remains concerned about continuing severe human rights violations committed by the Sudanese government against both non-Muslims and Muslims who depart from the government’s interpretation of Islam; the two million Southerners who reside in the North as internally displaced persons (IDPS); and the dramatic need for international support to develop Southern Sudan. … As the USCIRF delegation carried out its work, visiting displaced South Sudanese Christians living in camps outside Khartoum, the ominous sights of barricaded streets, armed military and security personnel around the National Assembly were a sobering reminder of the challenges to peace that lay ahead for Sudan.

Gration and the administration remain mute.

Then there is Egypt. The administration again is apathetic, it seems, to the religious persecution taking place there. Rep. Frank Wolf observed this about the virtual enslavement of Coptic women: “I expect the State Department to do nothing because that’s the way the State Department has been responding.” Leo explains what fails to interest the Obami:

In Egypt, serious problems of discrimination and intolerance against non-Muslim religious minorities and disfavored members of the Muslim majority remain widespread. The Egyptian government’s inadequate prosecution of those responsible and the politically expedient and occasional use of an ineffective reconciliation process, an improper substitute for conviction and punishment, have created a climate of impunity. Although the government has arrested three Muslim men and put them on trial for the Coptic Christmas Eve attack on six Coptic Orthodox Christians and one Muslim, the Coptic community fears reprisals and is skeptical that the government will either follow through with the trial of the three men in question or use its authority to create an environment in which individuals safely exercise their internationally guaranteed rights of religious freedom. However, President Mubarak publicly condemned the violence and acknowledged its sectarian character, and the Egyptian press for the first time called for a national conversation and an investigation on the root causes of this violence. Juxtaposed against these signs are the USCIRF delegation’s visits to the Muslim Koranist, Jehovah Witnesses, and Baha’i communities, each victimized by state-sponsored discrimination and repression. The government also has responded inadequately to combat widespread and virulent anti-Semitism in the government-controlled media.

The administration’s verbiage provides a clue to its disinterest in elevating this issue to a top priority. This report explains:

[C]ommission chairman Leonard Leo says the shrinking importance of religious freedom can be seen in the Obama administration’s evolving rhetoric on the issue. Whereas Mr. Obama came into office speaking of “freedom of religion,” Mr. Leo says, the president more recently has opted for speaking about “freedom of worship,” which the USCIRF chairman says has a more limited connotation. “Freedom of religion” is more broadly understood as a universal right and more specific in its referral to religions than is the more ephemeral phrase “freedom of worship,” some religious experts say. Critics say Obama’s recent preference for “worship” raises doubts about the administration’s determination to aggressively press for the rights of religious minorities in “friendly” countries such as Iraq, Egypt, and Pakistan – all of which receive billions of dollars in US aid. The president referred to “freedom of worship,” for example, during his Asia trip last fall, when he was castigated by rights groups for downplaying the issue of religious freedom in China and the status of the Dalai Lama.

The administration’s slothful indifference to the uptick in religious persecution in the “Muslim World” stands in stark contrast to its obsession with the Palestinian-Israel conflict. Months and months of diplomacy, countless speeches and appearances by the president and high-level officials, condemnations for the Jewish state, and a special envoy are all focused on what is largely a fruitless endeavor — getting to the bargaining table (not even the same table at which the Israelis sit) with recalcitrant Palestinians who lack the will and the ability to make a peace deal. Meanwhile, virtually no time or focus and no ambassador is named to deal with a problem that could, if sufficient resources were devoted, be ameliorated by a forceful American policy. It is a vivid display of the misplaced priorities and wasted opportunities that characterize much of the Obama foreign policy.

As I noted yesterday, the U.S. Commission on International Freedom released its annual report. Its chairman, Leonard Leo, writes a column highlighting some of its findings. Two in particular stand out, in large part because U.S. policy is so badly out of sync and at odds with those striving to promote religious freedom.

First is Sudan. Critics on the right and left have deplored the administration’s feckless envoy, retired Maj. Gen. J. Scott Gration, and the administration’s “spectacularly naïve perspective—and accompanying policy of appeasement.” Meanwhile, the religious atrocities continue, as Leo details:

USCIRF has focused since its inception on Sudan because Khartoum’s policies of Islamization and Arabization were a major factor in the Sudanese North-South civil war (1983-2005). During that period, Northern leaders, including Sudan’s current President Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir, exploited religion to mobilize northern Muslims against non-Muslim Southerners by appealing to Islam and calling for jihad. USCIRF remains concerned about continuing severe human rights violations committed by the Sudanese government against both non-Muslims and Muslims who depart from the government’s interpretation of Islam; the two million Southerners who reside in the North as internally displaced persons (IDPS); and the dramatic need for international support to develop Southern Sudan. … As the USCIRF delegation carried out its work, visiting displaced South Sudanese Christians living in camps outside Khartoum, the ominous sights of barricaded streets, armed military and security personnel around the National Assembly were a sobering reminder of the challenges to peace that lay ahead for Sudan.

Gration and the administration remain mute.

Then there is Egypt. The administration again is apathetic, it seems, to the religious persecution taking place there. Rep. Frank Wolf observed this about the virtual enslavement of Coptic women: “I expect the State Department to do nothing because that’s the way the State Department has been responding.” Leo explains what fails to interest the Obami:

In Egypt, serious problems of discrimination and intolerance against non-Muslim religious minorities and disfavored members of the Muslim majority remain widespread. The Egyptian government’s inadequate prosecution of those responsible and the politically expedient and occasional use of an ineffective reconciliation process, an improper substitute for conviction and punishment, have created a climate of impunity. Although the government has arrested three Muslim men and put them on trial for the Coptic Christmas Eve attack on six Coptic Orthodox Christians and one Muslim, the Coptic community fears reprisals and is skeptical that the government will either follow through with the trial of the three men in question or use its authority to create an environment in which individuals safely exercise their internationally guaranteed rights of religious freedom. However, President Mubarak publicly condemned the violence and acknowledged its sectarian character, and the Egyptian press for the first time called for a national conversation and an investigation on the root causes of this violence. Juxtaposed against these signs are the USCIRF delegation’s visits to the Muslim Koranist, Jehovah Witnesses, and Baha’i communities, each victimized by state-sponsored discrimination and repression. The government also has responded inadequately to combat widespread and virulent anti-Semitism in the government-controlled media.

The administration’s verbiage provides a clue to its disinterest in elevating this issue to a top priority. This report explains:

[C]ommission chairman Leonard Leo says the shrinking importance of religious freedom can be seen in the Obama administration’s evolving rhetoric on the issue. Whereas Mr. Obama came into office speaking of “freedom of religion,” Mr. Leo says, the president more recently has opted for speaking about “freedom of worship,” which the USCIRF chairman says has a more limited connotation. “Freedom of religion” is more broadly understood as a universal right and more specific in its referral to religions than is the more ephemeral phrase “freedom of worship,” some religious experts say. Critics say Obama’s recent preference for “worship” raises doubts about the administration’s determination to aggressively press for the rights of religious minorities in “friendly” countries such as Iraq, Egypt, and Pakistan – all of which receive billions of dollars in US aid. The president referred to “freedom of worship,” for example, during his Asia trip last fall, when he was castigated by rights groups for downplaying the issue of religious freedom in China and the status of the Dalai Lama.

The administration’s slothful indifference to the uptick in religious persecution in the “Muslim World” stands in stark contrast to its obsession with the Palestinian-Israel conflict. Months and months of diplomacy, countless speeches and appearances by the president and high-level officials, condemnations for the Jewish state, and a special envoy are all focused on what is largely a fruitless endeavor — getting to the bargaining table (not even the same table at which the Israelis sit) with recalcitrant Palestinians who lack the will and the ability to make a peace deal. Meanwhile, virtually no time or focus and no ambassador is named to deal with a problem that could, if sufficient resources were devoted, be ameliorated by a forceful American policy. It is a vivid display of the misplaced priorities and wasted opportunities that characterize much of the Obama foreign policy.

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RE: No Condemnation Forthcoming

Well, we called that one. The State Department did not “condemn” the brutality of the Egyptian police or the detention of demonstrators (who were subsequently released). As this report explains, all that came was a gentle prod, an ever-so-diplomatic nudge, from Foggy Bottom:

In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said the United States was “deeply concerned” about the arrests and called on the Egyptian government to uphold the rights of its people “to express their political views peacefully.”

“The people of Egypt should be able to participate in the political process and ultimately determine who will run and win Egypt’s upcoming elections,” Crowley told reporters Wednesday.

Even Human Rights Watch, which usually reserves its fire for Israel, did considerably better than that:

At the demonstration, which called for an end to Egypt’s restrictive “emergency laws,” Human Rights Watch staff witnessed security officials beating and arresting the protesters, including two women. The state of emergency, which allows the authorities to restrict basic rights, has been continuously in effect for 29 years.

“The Egyptian authorities respond with lawless brutality to protesters peacefully demanding restoration of their human rights,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Let today’s beating and arrests of demonstrators remind countries that finance and arm the Egyptian government what their ally is really all about.” …

During the review of Egypt’s record by the UN Human Rights Council in February, Egypt once again promised to end the state of emergency, a commitment first made by President Mubarak in 2005. … “Egypt keeps promising to end the emergency law, but year after year, it’s one broken promise after another,” Whitson said.

The contrast between the namby-pamby response to Egyptian human rights abuses and the conniption displayed when a midlevel Israeli bureaucrat stamped a housing permit vividly encapsulates the Obama Middle East approach. Kid gloves and averted eyes for the Muslims; bullying for the Jewish state. It’s “change” certainly.

Well, we called that one. The State Department did not “condemn” the brutality of the Egyptian police or the detention of demonstrators (who were subsequently released). As this report explains, all that came was a gentle prod, an ever-so-diplomatic nudge, from Foggy Bottom:

In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said the United States was “deeply concerned” about the arrests and called on the Egyptian government to uphold the rights of its people “to express their political views peacefully.”

“The people of Egypt should be able to participate in the political process and ultimately determine who will run and win Egypt’s upcoming elections,” Crowley told reporters Wednesday.

Even Human Rights Watch, which usually reserves its fire for Israel, did considerably better than that:

At the demonstration, which called for an end to Egypt’s restrictive “emergency laws,” Human Rights Watch staff witnessed security officials beating and arresting the protesters, including two women. The state of emergency, which allows the authorities to restrict basic rights, has been continuously in effect for 29 years.

“The Egyptian authorities respond with lawless brutality to protesters peacefully demanding restoration of their human rights,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Let today’s beating and arrests of demonstrators remind countries that finance and arm the Egyptian government what their ally is really all about.” …

During the review of Egypt’s record by the UN Human Rights Council in February, Egypt once again promised to end the state of emergency, a commitment first made by President Mubarak in 2005. … “Egypt keeps promising to end the emergency law, but year after year, it’s one broken promise after another,” Whitson said.

The contrast between the namby-pamby response to Egyptian human rights abuses and the conniption displayed when a midlevel Israeli bureaucrat stamped a housing permit vividly encapsulates the Obama Middle East approach. Kid gloves and averted eyes for the Muslims; bullying for the Jewish state. It’s “change” certainly.

Read Less

Another Cairo Speech

Lady Catherine Ashton is no Barack Obama, and she should be forgiven if her utterances may not generate the kind of wild adoration (adulation?!) that the U.S. president became accustomed to earning at each speech. But speeches are about the message and not only the charisma with which they are delivered, and Lady Ashton’s speech, yesterday, in Cairo, has so much substance that it deserves some comment.

There are three elements to her speech. First message: the nature and importance of the relation between Europe and the Arab world. Second message: the danger of Iran’s nuclear program. Third message: the importance and urgency of the peace process. Let’s dissect them by first quoting her words.

On relations between the EU and the Arab world, Ashton says:

I am especially pleased to be here at the headquarters of the Arab League. For Europe and the Arab world share a common history and, I believe, a common destiny. Our relations go back a long way. The footprints of your culture are scattered throughout Europe: literature and science, words and music, and of course our food.

No mention of human rights’ violations there — only a reference to orange water in Naples’ Pastiera cake and the sprinkle of Arabic in Sicilian dialect (but, presumably, not to the croissant, which was thus shaped to celebrate the Arab defeat at the Gates of Vienna). And yes, the footprint is truly scattered all over Europe: the watchtowers on the entire Mediterranean coast to warn of Arab marauders coming to kill, loot, plunder and enslave; the glorious-sounding names of battlefields like Poitiers and of naval battles like Lepanto; the early French literature of the Chanson de Roland — and many others. It all attests to conflict, war, clashes, and attempts to conquer, efface, subdue.

A common history, perhaps — but only to a certain extent. And hardly a common destiny. Like President Obama, then, Lady Ashton’s speech is an exercise in historical revisionism — papering over the inconvenient truth of the past as a way to appease our interlocutors, reminding them of a mythical time of idyllic friendship that never existed in order not to remind them of their present shortcomings: authoritarianism, social and economic injustice, human rights’ abuses, oppression of religious and ethnic minorities, gender apartheid, fomenting of hatred, condoning of terrorism, among other things. By ignoring the present and subverting the past, Lady Ashton has confirmed what the EU priorities are in the region — work with the powers that be, condone their errors as well as their horrors, ignore the broader regional context, and focus on one thing and one thing only: Israel.

This she does well, but not before she lists the perfunctory policy guidelines on Iran:

Our double track approach remains valid and we stand ready for dialogue. But the EU also fully supports the UN Security Council process on additional measures if, as is the case today, Iran continues to refuse to meet its international obligations. Our position is based on the firm belief that an Iran with nuclear weapons risks triggering a proliferation cascade throughout the Middle East. This is the last thing that this region needs.

Now that must have been exceptionally hard to pronounce. It almost sounds like a threat! How ominous, to have an EU high official (the highest one, in fact, when it comes to foreign policy) evoke the threat of a “proliferation cascade” throughout the Middle East.

So to ensure that no one became upset that the EU foreign-policy tsar was thundering, for a moment, against a Muslim nation without apologizing first, Lady Ashton threw in this closing line: “A nuclear weapons free Middle East remains a European goal.” That little reference to Israel gets everyone off the hook!

It seemed the perfectly seamless way to transition from the things she had to say pro forma and what she really wished to say:

The primary purpose of my visit is to show the continued importance that the European Union attaches to the resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict. This is a vital European interest and is central to the solution of other problems in the region.

Truly central: if you are a political prisoner languishing in an Egyptian prison and electric wires are about to be attached to your genitals for a bit of rough interrogation (surely not the one EU officials denounce on their trips to Cairo), what are the chances that you’ll feel better knowing the Palestinians will get a state? And what are the chances the police will forego this act of kindness as a result of Palestinian statehood?

Lady Ashton may not have the charisma of Barack Obama — but she can’t be so naïve as to believe that what is currently happening in Yemen is a byproduct of Palestinian-Israeli disputes; that piracy off the coast of Somalia would be called off at the announcement of a historic compromise; that al-Qaeda would lay down its weapons and the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood would stop calling President Mubarak “Pharaoh” as soon as the Palestinian flag flies over the Noble Sanctuary. She must know. And so she says what she says — “central to the solution of other problems in the region” — because she is pandering to an audience of Arab autocrats.

From this we move on to the next step — one where Israeli wrongs are listed in excruciating detail and Israel’s government is slapped on the wrist repeatedly — its intentions are called into questions and its actions are blamed for lack of progress. But what of the Palestinians?

Much in the way of “the footprint of your culture” and other such rhetorical niceties, the share of responsibility the Palestinians get in the list of Lady Ashton’s no-no’s comes down to a gentle reminder to be more fraternal to one another. Just compare and contrast.

Premise of her comments on peacemaking:

Everyone has to make their contribution and take their responsibility. As the European Union we have a firm commitment to the security of Israel; and we stand up for a deal that delivers justice, freedom and dignity to the Palestinians.

The overall goal:

The parameters of a negotiated settlement are well known. A two-state solution with Israel and Palestine living side by side in peace and security.

So far, nothing too shocking. But then Ashton offers details to her vision of a negotiated settlement:

Our aim is a viable State of Palestine in the West Bank including East Jerusalem and the Gaza strip, on the basis of the 1967 lines. If there is to be a genuine peace a way must be found to resolve the status of Jerusalem as the future capital of Israel and Palestine. And we need a just solution of the refugee issue.

The EU is here reiterating its bias in favor of the Palestinian position. But there is more:

Recent Israeli decisions to build new housing units in East Jerusalem have endangered and undermined the tentative agreement to begin proximity talks. …

Settlements are illegal, constitute an obstacle to peace and threaten to make a two-state solution impossible. …

The decision to list cultural and religious sites based in the occupied Palestinian territory as Israeli is counter-productive. …

The blockade of Gaza is unacceptable. It has created enormous human suffering and greatly harms the potential to move forward.

So many details of Israeli mischief! But, again, what about the Palestinians?

The Palestinians too of course have responsibilities. First however I want to commend President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad for showing us that they can build the institutions of a future Palestinian State. But the Palestinians must get their house in order. Continued Palestinian divisions do not serve their interests. The political and physical separation between Gaza and the West Bank is dangerous. Palestinian reconciliation is more crucial than ever. The PLO must take its responsibilities in this regard, and face the challenge of renewal and reform.

Yes, that’s what is wrong with the Palestinian side of the equation. They are not fraternal enough to one another and the political and physical separation of Gaza and the West Bank is dangerous — though Ashton blamed Israel for it before!

For a brief period in the long history of EU-Israel relations, it looked like the EU had finally understood that to influence Israel it had to be friendlier to Israel — not just in words but also in deeds. That included being more understanding of Israeli concerns and more nuanced about the complexities and intricacies of the Arab-Israeli conflict, its history, and its challenges.

Lady Ashton has just made it abundantly clear that Europe has reverted to its old habits of appeasing Arab authoritarianism while chastising Israeli democracy.

In a different time, we would have dismissed it all as yet another example of European irrelevance and a guarantee that only the U.S. would really have a role in being the midwife of regional peace. But now, given the United States’s substantive and rhetorical posture vis-à-vis Israel, Lady Ashton’s speech should have Jerusalem worried. There aren’t any friends left around to shield Israel from this kind of European worldview — and so it might just stick.

Lady Catherine Ashton is no Barack Obama, and she should be forgiven if her utterances may not generate the kind of wild adoration (adulation?!) that the U.S. president became accustomed to earning at each speech. But speeches are about the message and not only the charisma with which they are delivered, and Lady Ashton’s speech, yesterday, in Cairo, has so much substance that it deserves some comment.

There are three elements to her speech. First message: the nature and importance of the relation between Europe and the Arab world. Second message: the danger of Iran’s nuclear program. Third message: the importance and urgency of the peace process. Let’s dissect them by first quoting her words.

On relations between the EU and the Arab world, Ashton says:

I am especially pleased to be here at the headquarters of the Arab League. For Europe and the Arab world share a common history and, I believe, a common destiny. Our relations go back a long way. The footprints of your culture are scattered throughout Europe: literature and science, words and music, and of course our food.

No mention of human rights’ violations there — only a reference to orange water in Naples’ Pastiera cake and the sprinkle of Arabic in Sicilian dialect (but, presumably, not to the croissant, which was thus shaped to celebrate the Arab defeat at the Gates of Vienna). And yes, the footprint is truly scattered all over Europe: the watchtowers on the entire Mediterranean coast to warn of Arab marauders coming to kill, loot, plunder and enslave; the glorious-sounding names of battlefields like Poitiers and of naval battles like Lepanto; the early French literature of the Chanson de Roland — and many others. It all attests to conflict, war, clashes, and attempts to conquer, efface, subdue.

A common history, perhaps — but only to a certain extent. And hardly a common destiny. Like President Obama, then, Lady Ashton’s speech is an exercise in historical revisionism — papering over the inconvenient truth of the past as a way to appease our interlocutors, reminding them of a mythical time of idyllic friendship that never existed in order not to remind them of their present shortcomings: authoritarianism, social and economic injustice, human rights’ abuses, oppression of religious and ethnic minorities, gender apartheid, fomenting of hatred, condoning of terrorism, among other things. By ignoring the present and subverting the past, Lady Ashton has confirmed what the EU priorities are in the region — work with the powers that be, condone their errors as well as their horrors, ignore the broader regional context, and focus on one thing and one thing only: Israel.

This she does well, but not before she lists the perfunctory policy guidelines on Iran:

Our double track approach remains valid and we stand ready for dialogue. But the EU also fully supports the UN Security Council process on additional measures if, as is the case today, Iran continues to refuse to meet its international obligations. Our position is based on the firm belief that an Iran with nuclear weapons risks triggering a proliferation cascade throughout the Middle East. This is the last thing that this region needs.

Now that must have been exceptionally hard to pronounce. It almost sounds like a threat! How ominous, to have an EU high official (the highest one, in fact, when it comes to foreign policy) evoke the threat of a “proliferation cascade” throughout the Middle East.

So to ensure that no one became upset that the EU foreign-policy tsar was thundering, for a moment, against a Muslim nation without apologizing first, Lady Ashton threw in this closing line: “A nuclear weapons free Middle East remains a European goal.” That little reference to Israel gets everyone off the hook!

It seemed the perfectly seamless way to transition from the things she had to say pro forma and what she really wished to say:

The primary purpose of my visit is to show the continued importance that the European Union attaches to the resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict. This is a vital European interest and is central to the solution of other problems in the region.

Truly central: if you are a political prisoner languishing in an Egyptian prison and electric wires are about to be attached to your genitals for a bit of rough interrogation (surely not the one EU officials denounce on their trips to Cairo), what are the chances that you’ll feel better knowing the Palestinians will get a state? And what are the chances the police will forego this act of kindness as a result of Palestinian statehood?

Lady Ashton may not have the charisma of Barack Obama — but she can’t be so naïve as to believe that what is currently happening in Yemen is a byproduct of Palestinian-Israeli disputes; that piracy off the coast of Somalia would be called off at the announcement of a historic compromise; that al-Qaeda would lay down its weapons and the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood would stop calling President Mubarak “Pharaoh” as soon as the Palestinian flag flies over the Noble Sanctuary. She must know. And so she says what she says — “central to the solution of other problems in the region” — because she is pandering to an audience of Arab autocrats.

From this we move on to the next step — one where Israeli wrongs are listed in excruciating detail and Israel’s government is slapped on the wrist repeatedly — its intentions are called into questions and its actions are blamed for lack of progress. But what of the Palestinians?

Much in the way of “the footprint of your culture” and other such rhetorical niceties, the share of responsibility the Palestinians get in the list of Lady Ashton’s no-no’s comes down to a gentle reminder to be more fraternal to one another. Just compare and contrast.

Premise of her comments on peacemaking:

Everyone has to make their contribution and take their responsibility. As the European Union we have a firm commitment to the security of Israel; and we stand up for a deal that delivers justice, freedom and dignity to the Palestinians.

The overall goal:

The parameters of a negotiated settlement are well known. A two-state solution with Israel and Palestine living side by side in peace and security.

So far, nothing too shocking. But then Ashton offers details to her vision of a negotiated settlement:

Our aim is a viable State of Palestine in the West Bank including East Jerusalem and the Gaza strip, on the basis of the 1967 lines. If there is to be a genuine peace a way must be found to resolve the status of Jerusalem as the future capital of Israel and Palestine. And we need a just solution of the refugee issue.

The EU is here reiterating its bias in favor of the Palestinian position. But there is more:

Recent Israeli decisions to build new housing units in East Jerusalem have endangered and undermined the tentative agreement to begin proximity talks. …

Settlements are illegal, constitute an obstacle to peace and threaten to make a two-state solution impossible. …

The decision to list cultural and religious sites based in the occupied Palestinian territory as Israeli is counter-productive. …

The blockade of Gaza is unacceptable. It has created enormous human suffering and greatly harms the potential to move forward.

So many details of Israeli mischief! But, again, what about the Palestinians?

The Palestinians too of course have responsibilities. First however I want to commend President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad for showing us that they can build the institutions of a future Palestinian State. But the Palestinians must get their house in order. Continued Palestinian divisions do not serve their interests. The political and physical separation between Gaza and the West Bank is dangerous. Palestinian reconciliation is more crucial than ever. The PLO must take its responsibilities in this regard, and face the challenge of renewal and reform.

Yes, that’s what is wrong with the Palestinian side of the equation. They are not fraternal enough to one another and the political and physical separation of Gaza and the West Bank is dangerous — though Ashton blamed Israel for it before!

For a brief period in the long history of EU-Israel relations, it looked like the EU had finally understood that to influence Israel it had to be friendlier to Israel — not just in words but also in deeds. That included being more understanding of Israeli concerns and more nuanced about the complexities and intricacies of the Arab-Israeli conflict, its history, and its challenges.

Lady Ashton has just made it abundantly clear that Europe has reverted to its old habits of appeasing Arab authoritarianism while chastising Israeli democracy.

In a different time, we would have dismissed it all as yet another example of European irrelevance and a guarantee that only the U.S. would really have a role in being the midwife of regional peace. But now, given the United States’s substantive and rhetorical posture vis-à-vis Israel, Lady Ashton’s speech should have Jerusalem worried. There aren’t any friends left around to shield Israel from this kind of European worldview — and so it might just stick.

Read Less

A Peace Treaty At Risk

Lee Smith thinks that part of what Hamas and its patrons in Damascus and Tehran have been working toward is the scuttling of the 1979 peace treaty between Israel and Egypt, which remains one of the cornerstones of the American security architecture of the Middle East. Smith writes:

Another way to understand the Gaza breach is as part of Syria and Iran’s war against the regional order imposed by Washington. To be sure, Egypt is scared of Iran and even stands with Washington in supporting the Lebanese government against Hezbollah and against Iranian and Syrian meddling, but having to fight Tehran and Damascus openly on Egyptian soil is something else entirely, especially as Egypt, like many Sunni states around the region, suspects that the Bush administration has gone soft on Iran.

Think about it this way: What if Hamas ends up being able to stage attacks on Israel from the Sinai? This would be brilliant on Hamas’ part, because Israel would be put in the position of having to choose between acquiescing to the opening of a new front against it, or striking back at Hamas on Egyptian soil.

Israel’s dilemma would only be matched by Mubarak’s: allow Hamas, as Lee puts it, to effect the Lebanonization of the Sinai by extending its terror mini-state there, or move in and crush the Hamas presence and be seen by the Arab world, and especially by his own people, killing brother Arabs on behalf of the Jews. A more serious betrayal hardly exists in the Middle East.

These calculations surely have a lot to do with the recent firming up of Egypt’s dedication to ensuring that another breach does not happen.

Lee Smith thinks that part of what Hamas and its patrons in Damascus and Tehran have been working toward is the scuttling of the 1979 peace treaty between Israel and Egypt, which remains one of the cornerstones of the American security architecture of the Middle East. Smith writes:

Another way to understand the Gaza breach is as part of Syria and Iran’s war against the regional order imposed by Washington. To be sure, Egypt is scared of Iran and even stands with Washington in supporting the Lebanese government against Hezbollah and against Iranian and Syrian meddling, but having to fight Tehran and Damascus openly on Egyptian soil is something else entirely, especially as Egypt, like many Sunni states around the region, suspects that the Bush administration has gone soft on Iran.

Think about it this way: What if Hamas ends up being able to stage attacks on Israel from the Sinai? This would be brilliant on Hamas’ part, because Israel would be put in the position of having to choose between acquiescing to the opening of a new front against it, or striking back at Hamas on Egyptian soil.

Israel’s dilemma would only be matched by Mubarak’s: allow Hamas, as Lee puts it, to effect the Lebanonization of the Sinai by extending its terror mini-state there, or move in and crush the Hamas presence and be seen by the Arab world, and especially by his own people, killing brother Arabs on behalf of the Jews. A more serious betrayal hardly exists in the Middle East.

These calculations surely have a lot to do with the recent firming up of Egypt’s dedication to ensuring that another breach does not happen.

Read Less

Free Suleiman!

On March 12 an Egyptian court began hearing the appeal of Abdel Kareem Suleiman, an Egyptian blogger sentenced to four years in prison for his writings. This case is unlike that of Alaa, a prominent Egyptian blogger imprisoned for forty days last year. Alaa had been arrested at a demonstration, thus leaving some ambiguity about whether he had been singled out because of his blog or merely suffered the fate of other street protesters in Egypt. But Abdel Kareem was charged purely on account of his writing.

This is therefore a portentous civil liberties case. Blogging has exploded in the Middle East, rapidly eroding the region’s tradition of state control of communications. Not everyone has access to the Internet today, but it is only a matter of time until they do. Last year, an association of Egyptian bloggers announced that it had passed the milestone of one thousand members. The number in Iran is much larger. And even in Saudi Arabia, with its tight traditional controls, I discovered many bloggers on a recent visit. State interference has consisted of blocking sites that go too far, but this can be circumvented by the tech-savvy, and it cannot stop communications that rely on a satellite signal rather than on a wire, as will also become universal.

Read More

On March 12 an Egyptian court began hearing the appeal of Abdel Kareem Suleiman, an Egyptian blogger sentenced to four years in prison for his writings. This case is unlike that of Alaa, a prominent Egyptian blogger imprisoned for forty days last year. Alaa had been arrested at a demonstration, thus leaving some ambiguity about whether he had been singled out because of his blog or merely suffered the fate of other street protesters in Egypt. But Abdel Kareem was charged purely on account of his writing.

This is therefore a portentous civil liberties case. Blogging has exploded in the Middle East, rapidly eroding the region’s tradition of state control of communications. Not everyone has access to the Internet today, but it is only a matter of time until they do. Last year, an association of Egyptian bloggers announced that it had passed the milestone of one thousand members. The number in Iran is much larger. And even in Saudi Arabia, with its tight traditional controls, I discovered many bloggers on a recent visit. State interference has consisted of blocking sites that go too far, but this can be circumvented by the tech-savvy, and it cannot stop communications that rely on a satellite signal rather than on a wire, as will also become universal.

The prosecution of Abdel Kareem sets a chilling precedent that threatens the emerging free space of the Arab blogosphere. His harsh sentence raises the stakes.

There is also one other important aspect to this case. Even while the Mubarak government maintains strong prescriptions against the Muslim Botherhood and often imprisons its activists, the two camps collaborate, sub rosa, against Egypt’s liberals. Suleiman’s conviction reflects this unholy alliance. A former student at the theological center Al Azhar, Suleiman was given three years for insulting Islam by calling the prophet Mohammed and his contemporary followers “spillers of blood.” He got an additional year for calling President Mubarak a “dictator.” (His conviction puts the lie to that one, eh?)

The Egyptian blogosphere is understandably up in arms about this case. (You can follow it at the delightful blog, Freedom for Egyptians, and at other Egyptian blogs linked there.) With the U.S. government now soft-peddling the promotion of democracy in Egypt, it’s all the more important that American bloggers, who have spoken up on this matter but not loudly or often enough, raise their voices in defense of Abdel Kareem.

Read Less




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