New Age Islam Edit Bureau
03 Dec 2015
7/7 Survivor: Why we should not bomb Syria
By John Tulloch
So much for US-Iran détente
By AMIR TAHERI
US 'terror' arrests at highest level since 9/11
By Al Jazeera
Assad the barrel-bomber
By Saudi Gazatte
Russian-Israeli relations reach new heights
By Yossi Mekelberg
As Turkey confronts Russia, World War III looms ever closer
By Maria Dubovikova
Boredom at the ballot box in Egypt
By Abdallah Schleifer
02 Dec 2015
On July 7, 2005, I had a kind of fantasy, lying in a London hospital bed hours after being two metres from Mohammed Sidique Khan when he exploded his bomb. For just a moment the regular movement of medical staff round my bed seemed to stop and the nurse who fixed the ever-tightening blood pressure equipment on me disappeared.
I thought about Fallujah where, I'd read in a column by Naomi Klein, that hospitals had been targeted in the allies' attack. What if the nurse was now dead; or worse, in his place came one of the heavy-booted soldiers we had all seen in images from Abu Ghraib?
I wasn't, of course, fantasizing. The pain was real enough, as in my forehead where I wear shrapnel to this day. The emotional rationality was real too, because my thinking was of the "as if" quality. It was a kind of projected empathy, not fantasy.
One of my post-traumatic stress therapists told me, when I mentioned my heightened emotional empathy after 7/7 - bringing me to tears sometimes in very public places - that it was a common condition among his patients.
But I want to go further than my psychologist to claim that empathy is part of the human condition, of human civilisation, of art, and of some photography.
It lies at the heart of the power of images like those from Abu Ghraib which I was remembering that day; and I feel that even more strongly after hearing Mark Neville, the official war artist in Helmand, Afghanistan, who was also suffering from post-traumatic stress, speak at the Archives of War conference in London about his photographic project, Battle Against Stigma.
Judith Butler, the American philosopher, has called these empathy-creating images a way of recognising "precarious life, grievable life" as a fragile, conjoint and contesting condition of our humanity; and Jay Winter, professor of history at Yale, spoke at the Archives of War conference about the personal transgressive images his research into World War I revealed in contrast to official war images.
I drew on that subjective emotive power in my book Experiencing 7/7 by ending it with my "Letter to Mohammed Sidique Khan"; and also by putting on the cover of my book, Icons of War and Terror, an image which was not an icon: two isolated, near-naked children surrounded by rocket bombs in war-ravaged fields during the West Pakistan military genocide against their own people in 1971, in what is now Bangladesh.
Butler, like Winter, talks of "ways of framing that will bring the human into view in its frailty and precariousness, that will allow us to stand for the value of and dignity of human life, to react with outrage when lives are degraded or eviscerated without regard for their value as lives"; and seeks "alternative frames" to government and military "frames of foreclosure".
Regular genres of images
So when governments go into war, as in Iraq 2004 and maybe Syria 2015, we see the regular genres of images in our newspapers: attack maps, latest military aircraft, drones, precision weaponry, smart bombs.
The "collateral damage" of citizens is not represented, but foreclosed as, in building-up towards bombing in Syria, we are again told about precision weaponry. Yet research published in The Lancet medical journal suggested that there were several hundred thousand innocent lives lost in the invasion of Iraq.
ISIL and other terrorist organisations aim at image foreclosure too, promoting those horrific things that our own media don't explicitly represent: like the beheading of hostages. ISIL looks for ever increasing ways of execution, as William Merrin, professor of media studies at Swansea University, noted at the Archives of War conference, using social media and our own mainstream media to advertise their atrocities and force worldwide participation in their horrors. They do this to ever reduce the barriers between war zone and everyday life and to encourage further Western aggression: so British citizens today are between a rock and a hard place.
But ISIL's atrocities must not stop us from thinking more deeply about our own modes of foreclosure, locked into an increasing nationalism which closes off, as Butler says, our ability to see the precariousness of ourselves symbiotically among the precariousness of others.
This is what Ken Livingston was implying last week on the television news when, opposing the bombing of Syria, he asked how it would look if we attacked ISIL in Syria in support of "our allies", having systematically ignored both politically and in our media the equally grievable ISIL killings of many more people in the Middle East.
It is also why Livingston talked of Mohammed Sidique Khan "laying down his life", to the distaste of his opponent in the news interview.
Good reasons not to bomb
There are many good reasons for not bombing in Syria: the considerable doubt that there exist any reliable "allies" in a ground war; the lack of any strategy for reconstruction "after ISIL" and "after Assad" threatening a replay of what happened in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya; the economic cost of more planes and latest military means to this country which is busy closing down its libraries and yet proclaims to the Muslim world its superior culture, politics and civilisation; and the unseemly scene of Blairites and grandees within the Labour Party seeking to rid themselves of a new leader who does indeed promote "alternative frames", both to foreign policy and to neoliberal economic policy, in response to political-ideological frames which create massive degrading and evisceration of lives.
But above all, for me the major reason for not bombing Syria is this diminishing of our humanity and civilisation, as we continue to foreclose our framing. It will fail as a policy too, because our main targets must be the war at home: the lost hearts and minds of so many of our own people - including Muslim people.
In a national news item which I produced for broadcast television on July 7, 2006, four Muslim university students told me that they did not agree with what Mohammed Sidique Khan had done a year before, but they agreed with what he had said in his suicide tape.
They taught me about their concept of umma and reminded me of the power of grievability: the ethical power to grieve about the fragility of our own lives always in the context of people well beyond our own (and our allies’) borders.
For Muslims it indicates a history of exploitation long before Chechnya, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria; and for all of us it offers the fragile future of humanity itself in an over-heating world.
John Tulloch is a British university lecturer who is best known as a survivor of the July 7, 2005 London Bombings.
Thursday 3 December 2015
By all accounts, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Tehran last Monday was a carefully choreographed piece of politico-diplomatic ballet to serve three precise objectives. The first of these was to show that Russia recognizes the “Supreme Guide” Ali Khamenei as the ultimate decision-maker in Iran.
Western leaders often blame Iran’s “unelected officials,” meaning the “Supreme Guide”, for its adventurism on the international stage. They delude themselves by thinking they could obtain better deals from “elected officials,” meaning the president. Based on that analysis, western leaders, notably successive US presidents tried to strike deals with a string of men who served as president in the Khomeinist regime- from the hapless Abol-Hassan Banisadr to the enigmatic Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and passing by the crafty Hashemi Rafsanjani. Their current hopes are pinned on President Hassan Rouhani, a protégé of Rafsanjani.
The western analysis is wrong because of two reasons at least. The first is that the words elected and unelected don’t mean the same thing in Iran as they do in western democracies. This is because only those authorized by the regime are allowed to be candidates. Even then, the pre-selected candidates of the regime cannot hope to win unless a 12-man body of mullahs endorses their “victory.”
Thus to suggest that Rouhani is the “elected” president of Iran requires a certain sense of humor. As a veteran of the Soviet system, Putin understands that perfectly.
Unlike leaders of western democracies, Putin has no difficulty understanding the Khomeinist system. This is why he went out of his way to pay respect to Khamenei. To start with he agreed to ride in a bulletproof Mercedes sent for him by Khamenei to the airport (Putin had brought his own bullet-proof Zyl, but didn’t use it). He drove directly to Khamenei’s palace, ignoring the welcoming ceremony prepared by the rudderless Rouhani. He spent almost eight hours in Tehran of which one and a half was devoted to the “Supreme Guide”.
Again, contrary to protocol, Putin brought a gift for Khamenei, a 300-year old copy of the Qur’an. (Gifts are exchanged by heads of states only on state visits; this was not one of them). He showered praise on Khamenei and made it clear it was only with him that Moscow would deal with on all key issues of international and bilateral relations.
That Khamenei was seduced by Putin’s show is clear from a long editorial in Kayhan, the daily that reflects the views of the “Supreme Guide.” “Putin’s intelligent move has provoked wonder and consternation in European and American circles,” it said. By paying homage to Khamenei, the Russian leader wanted to show that an alliance with Iran was a top priority of Russia’s new global strategy.
It was obvious that Putin’s decision to put all his chips on Khamenei had disturbed the rival faction led by former President Hashemi Rafsanjani, with President Hassan Rouhani as its current public face. Rouhani’s spokesman Baqer Nobakht telephoned the Tehran media to inform them that during a visit to Moscow, Rouhani, too, had received a “special gift” from Putin. The trouble was that Putin’s “gift” to Rouhani turned out to be a 17th century Persian shield captured by the Russians in one of their numerous wars against Iran.
During the ” summit”, Putin agreed to let Iran open a branch of its Free Islamic University in Moscow and to set up a religious seminary in Russia’s only Shiite majority city Darband, Dagestan. More importantly, Putin at least pretended that as far as Syria was concerned, it was the “Supreme Guide” who would lead the dance. If he wanted Bashar Assad to remain, the Syrian despot would stay; if not he would get the boot. According to Kayhan, the “Supreme leader” expressed satisfaction with Putin’s policies, “especially in the past year and a half.”
Putin’s second objective was to throw a monkey wrench in what he thinks is the American game plan for Iran over the next five years. In a few hours, Putin virtually destroyed President Barack Obama’s hope that the supposedly pro-American faction, led by Rafsanjani with Rouhani as its current field-man, might marginalize Khamenei and lead Iran in a different direction.
Finally, Putin wanted to send a message to others in the region and beyond that while alliance with the United States, a fickle friend, leads only to disappointment and grief, cultivating Russian friendship is a wiser strategy. On the surface, Putin achieved all three objectives in Tehran. However, only time will show whether those objectives were even worth reaching for.
01 Dec 2015
This has been a banner year for US law enforcement's battle against "terrorism".
As of right now, US authorities have arrested 56 people in 2015 on charges related to their attempts to join or aid the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group, according to a new report from George Washington University.
It's the most terrorism-related arrests in a single year since the 9/11 attacks on the US.
Why the high number?
"I think US prosecutors have gotten a bit creative on their charges in some cases," said Seamus Hughes, a former counterterrorism official with the US government and co-author of the report.
"I think there's a realisation and a concern on law enforcement's part to rightly try to prevent the next attack."
But ISIL's online efforts have also been a big contributor to the uptick in arrests.
"I think their use of social media has attracted more people than it has in the past," said Hughes.
Indeed, the majority of the people charged with aiding ISIL were between the ages of 18-26 years old, according to the report, a key demographic when it comes to social media. ISIL is particularly active on Twitter, the report found.
According to Ambassador Alberto Fernandez, a former state department official who specialises in ISIL's social media presence, the group produced 1,800 videos in the past year, 14,523 graphics, worked in nine languages and created 50 songs.
Much of the message to Westerners is positive and less religious than its Arabic output. "The material in English is more superficial," said Fernandez. "It's fervent, incessant, but shallow."
The report also found that 86 percent of the Americans who join ISIL are male and 40 percent of them are converts to the Muslim faith. Their motives vary.
Roughly half of those charged with an offence attempted to travel abroad or successfully left the US before they were caught, according to the report.
Although there were ISIL-related arrests in 21 states, New York and Minnesota had the highest numbers.
Dec 3, 2015
Thanks to Vladimir Putin’s military intervention in Syria, the international community, once united, if in nothing else, in damning the bloody Bashar Al-Assad dictatorship, has now muted its criticism. Leaders like France’s Francois Hollande and the UK’s David Cameron who once said they wanted Assad completely out of the political picture are now, apparently reluctantly, toeing the Russian line that maybe Assad can stay until a political solution is found.
It is not difficult to imagine the crowing of Assad and his henchmen in his Damascus lair. He has got way with mass murder, with the use of poison gas and with indiscriminate shelling as he seeks to bludgeon his own people into submission. His faithful Russian and Iranian allies have sustained him through four challenging years and he has survived. Better than that, some of the world leaders who said they were implacably opposed to his rule have eaten their words.
And perhaps the greatest satisfaction has been that despite widespread condemnation, Assad and his army continue to use the dreaded barrel bomb on civilian areas. One of the most recent deployments of this awful weapon was also one of the most horrific and inhuman.
On Monday a barrel bomb was rolled out of the back of a regime helicopter on to an area of the town of Zafaraneh where there were no concentrations of Free Syrian Army fighters, only civilians. A young girl and a man were killed and 16 others were injured. They were rushed to the town’s hospital, which is run by the French charity Medecins Sans Frontieres.
Anxious relatives and hospital staff were gathered around the wounded when the regime helicopter reappeared and dropped three more barrel bombs from above the hospital. Seven more people were killed and many more wounded. This horrific trick is known as “a double tap”. The regime creates carnage and flies away. Rescuers, including medical professionals, rush to the scene to help the victims. While they are trying to save lives, the aircraft come back and second time and bomb them.
The refinement of this week’s savagery was that the second barrel bomb attack was on the hospital to which the casualties had been taken. Beside the deaths and injuries, the hospital was badly damaged and surviving patients and staff have been evacuated to a field hospital outside the town.
Yet there is one extraordinary element to Assad’s use of barrel bombs. He actually denies that such weapons exist. It does not matter that his helicopters have been filmed time and again dropping them. It does not even matter that some of these fiendish devices have failed to detonate and been captured intact. Thus it is clear that they are oil barrels or gas cylinders packed with explosives, volatile liquids and metal fragments including sharpened nails.
Many will regard the dictator’s denial as a cynical ploy. Thinking himself safe behind the protection of Russian troops and warplanes, Iranian Revolutionary Guards and Hezbollah terrorists, he can protest his innocence just as he refused to admit that he had used poison gas and always insisted that the Syrians who had rebelled against him were actually foreign terrorists. The muted international agreement extracted by Putin that the dictator still has some residual political role in the country that he has savaged so monstrously will surely now encourage his further use of hideous weaponry, not least more barrel bombs and more poison gas,
Wednesday, 2 December 2015
A hastily arranged meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu back in September caused some raising of eyebrows.
It took place almost immediately after Russia made its intentions known to intervene militarily in Syria. This was enough to raise the alarm bells among the decision makers in Israel to seek an urgent meeting, aimed at ensuring that both countriesí interests would not clash over the Syrian skies.
Accompanied by top Israeli generals for his talks with Putin, Netanyahu sought to coordinate Russian military operations in Syria with Moscow to avoid both accidental firing inside Israel, as well as clashes between the two air forces. After the meeting the Israeli prime minister said somewhat cryptically, that ìIn Syria, Iíve defined my goals. Theyíre to protect the security of my people and my country. Russia has different goals. But they shouldn't clash.î
Considering the escalation in relations between Turkey and Russia as a result of the downing of the Russian Su-24 bomber aircraft last week, the importance of such military coordination in the currently congested Syrian airspace became obvious.
In contrast, when a Russian warplane recently erroneously entered Israeli-controlled airspace from Syria, it was warned and immediately returned to Syria without further frictions.
In the relatively small Syrian airspace, the U.S.-led international coalition and Russian and Israeli air forces are carrying out a considerable number of sorties. Not all of them have the same aims in mind, though with the exception of Israel, they are all committed to destroying ISIS. Nevertheless, they also run the risk of clashing with one another.
Only time will tell whether a very irritated Turkey was just looking for an opportunity to shoot down a Russian fighter jet, as an act of deterrence from future violations of its airspace, or rather if there was an agenda regarding the nature of the war in Syria. Whatever the circumstances of this incident, it is precisely the sort of situation, bearing in mind its far-reaching implications, that Israel wants to avoid. The conundrum for Israel is how to achieve this target without compromising its strategic aims in Syria.
For decades Israel has had complete superiority in patrolling the skies of both Syria and Lebanon. It enabled intensive intelligence gathering and, on occasion, the carrying out of military operations. The countryís two fundamental strategic aims in Syria have not changed since the war in its northern neighborís country began. Its primary concern was to ensure that weapons and ammunition, which could change the balance of power between the Jewish state and Hezbollah, would not be transferred from or through Syria to the Iranian-backed Lebanese movement. While Hezbollah is one of the backbones of support for Bashar al-Assad, it is regarded as an arch enemy by the Israelis. The second red line drawn by the Israeli security was to deter the ëleakingí of Syrian hostilities into the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, or even further into Israel proper. This two-tier approach has been adhered to for nearly five years by attacking suspected arms convoys and thus stopping them from heading toward Hezbollahís strongholds. Israel has also been responding with, mostly restrained, military power to any firing across the border with Syria. The current concern in Israel is that the theater of war in Syria is becoming increasingly congested with international actors, especially Russia, and consequently its maneuvering room there is becoming increasingly restricted.
Converging and conflicting interests
Russia and Israel have both converging and conflicting interests in war-torn Syria. Originally Israel was rather agnostic over whether it was in its best interests for the Assad regime to survive in power. But considering the alternatives to the current regime in Damascus and especially the rise of ISIS, Israel is tacitly getting closer to Russiaís position that the survival of the current regime in Syria is in its best interest. However, for the Assad regime to prevail, Israel has to swallow the bitter pill of Iranian and Hezbollah active involvement in Syria for probably a very long time. These concerns are surmounted by Israelís uneasiness about the sale of Russian S-300 anti-air missiles to Iran and the visit this year to Moscow by Qassem Soleimani of the Iranian Revolutionary Guardsí Quds force, which is regarded by Israel as a threatening entity.
These developments are perceived by the Israeli decision makers as an existential, direct, and immediate threat. Netanyahu went as far, in a recent interview with CNN, to imply that Iran might attempt to transfer nuclear weapons to Hezbollah. He warned that no one would stop his country from averting such an eventuality. Regardless of the customary Netanyahu nuclear rhetoric, Israel is genuinely troubled by the transfer of advanced military conventional capability to Hezbollah. Nevertheless, if thwarting it runs the risk of a direct Turkey-like clash with Russia, then at least avoiding an accidental clash is an imperative for both countries.
Both Moscow and Jerusalem will have to handle this new situation with great caution. Relations between Israel and Russia under Putin have improved in recent years, as has military cooperation. Recently, for instance, Israel has agreed to sell 10 unmanned IAI Searcher 3 drones to Russia, despite concerns about the close military ties between Russia and Iran. Also on a political-personal level Netanyahu has a rather keen interest in nurturing a better understanding with Russia, especially if one considers his strained relations with American President Obama. However, in the ever-growing intricacies of the Middle East in general, and Syria in particular, Russiaís proximity to the Israeli border presents mixed fortunes for Israel.
Yossi Mekelberg is an Associate Fellow at the Middle East and North Africa Program at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, Chatham House, where he is involved with projects and advisory work on conflict resolution, including Track II negotiations. He is also the Director of the International Relations and Social Sciences Program at Regentís University in London, where he has taught since 1996. Previously, he was teaching at Kingís College London and Tel Aviv University. Mekelbergís fields of interest are international relations theory, international politics of the Middle East, human rights, and international relations and revolutions. He is a member of the London Committee of Human Rights Watch, serving on the Advocacy and Outreach committee.
Right after the Russian fighter jet was downed by the Turkish F16 over Syria, most of the commentators expressed confidence that Moscow would not go to escalation over the incident.
The reasons they gave were simple. Turkey did not join the Western sanctions following the Ukrainian crisis. Russia depends a lot on Turkish imports, and trade was rising. Russia needs Turkey to avoid gas transit to Europe through Ukraine. Turkey was the number one destination for Russian tourists, and the two countries have a lot of projects in the economic, industrial and energy spheres.
The only point they missed in their analyses, however, was that Russia stopped being properly rational some time ago.
Deterioration of relations
Russia and Turkey had been developing their relations over two years, despite their disagreement over the situation in Syria and future of Bashar al-Assad.
The first signs of a deterioration in relations came right after the launch of Russian airstrikes in Syria. Four days before the downing of the fighter jet, Ankara demanded the immediate cease of operations, and threatened serious consequences in case Russia ignored its warnings.
The Turkish ìstab in the backî came with the downing of Su-24, when the deterioration reached its apogee. The red line was crossed. From this point the relations between the two countries degraded, putting the world on a very dangerous path.
It was wrong of political experts, politicians and world leaders to expect Russia to forgive the death of its pilot and the downing of its jet for the sake of economic interests.
Following the huge economic losses as a result of the sanctions imposed on it by its Western counterparts, Russia has started a very risky play on the international stage. What really matters for the Russian leaders now is to defend the image of a powerful, mighty and uncompromising country, ready to bear losses in defending its rightfulness and vital national interests. It is a luxury that not all countries can afford.
Russia took steps to punish Turkey. It effectively banned outbound tourism to Turkey, which is likely to cost Turkey billions of dollars per year. Many mutually profitable projects across many spheres will be suspended. Russian companies will be banned from employing Turkish citizens from Jan. 1. Many Turkish organisations, including cultural ones, will be closed or their activities will be highly limited by the Russian authorities, and the process has already started.
The cultural ties were the first to feel the blow of the Russian reaction to the Turkish provocation. Many of the measures also cause considerable damage to the Russian economy and interests. Turkeyís move to create difficulties for some Russian ships passing the Bosphorus and Dardanelles is not in Russian interests at all. However from the Russian side the most vital thing in the current situation is to save face and to respond to the Turkish slap in the face. Itís a matter of honor, and thus irrational.
Fight against ISIS
Among other things, Russia accuses Turkey of not playing fair in the fight against ISIS. After the accusations were officially announced, many international journalists from some of the most powerful news agencies ñ including The Guardian, Financial Times and New York Times ñ agreed that the accusations were not groundless.
It is globally acknowledged that Turkey is a jihadi hub, and a gateway that provides ISIS with new recruits from all over the world. Calls for Turkey to close its Southern border remain unheard by Ankara, despite Moscowís accusations.
Turkey prefers to shunt the attention on to other subjects, such as its right to defend itself, as if Russia was menacing Turkey. Nevertheless, the Russian calls for a deeper investigation into the matter remain unheard, and the European Union earlier this week promised Turkey visa-free entrance for its citizens, in return for Turkey helping stem the flow of refugees into Europe. The West cannot afford the luxury of being principled, as the military bases and aerodromes are far more precious than any proof of Turkey's involvement in the ISIS business.
However, the escalation can go too far and can threaten not only the international fight on ISIS, which has just shown the first signs of coordination following the Paris attacks and efforts of the French president, but also global stability and peace. Russia's deployment of its sophisticated S-400 air defence system in Syria, and the presence of Turkish submarines near the Russian cruiser Moskva, have put the world one step away from a full-scale war.
The problem with Turkey for Russia and the international community is its NATO membership. And even if Turkey itself put the world on the doorsteps of the World War III, in case of the further escalation the NATO members will have to take its side.
Such escalation is extremely undesirable for all sides. However the risk of dramatic mistakes from the confronting sides is extremely high. And the risks are becoming even greater, taking into account that now there are too many NATO-member forces involved in the fight against ISIS, and not all of them are going to coordinate with Russia.
Maria Dubovikova is a President of IMESClub and CEO of MEPFoundation. Alumni of MGIMO (Moscow State Institute of International Relations [University] of Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia), now she is a PhD Candidate there. Her research fields are in Russian foreign policy in the Middle East, Euro-Arab dialogue, policy in France and the U.S. towards the Mediterranean, France-Russia bilateral relations, humanitarian cooperation and open diplomacy.
Itís almost all over. A parliamentary election for Egyptís House of Representatives, which has dragged on for over a month and has been about as boring as it has been complicated, is drawing to a close.
There have been two stages to the elections, each with a run-off and a complicated ballot in which the large majority of seats has been contested by individuals running as ìindependentsî.
A minority ñ about 25 percent ñ of the total seats in the new parliament have been contested by party lists and there are so many candidates for the ìindependentî seats that in most cases in the first round, and now in the second round, no candidate had secured a majority of the vote. In the first round of the second stage there were 2,803 candidates competing to fill 222 seats for ìindependentsî, and 196 individuals competing for the 60 seats for party lists.
There are four serious alliances ñ broad coalitions combining parties and leading personalities ñ and one party running outside of the alliances, all of which support President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to a greater or lesser degree.
The For The Love of Egypt coalition ñ which includes three political parties including Wafd, the oldest liberal political party in Egypt, and two post-Mubarak era parties ñ is believed by many Egyptians to be the alliance favored by Sisi. The president denies that he is supporting any alliance, but the feeling persists and For The Love of Egypt has swept all of the party list seats.
It is no secret that the various alliances backed a number of candidates for the ìindependentî seats, which is why I put the word within quotation marks. For The Love of Egypt-backed candidates took a large number of those seats in the first-stage run-off, and are expected to do well in the second stage, and could conceivably end up with a majority of the seats in the new parliament.
The big surprise is that the Salafist al-Nour Party ñ which did so well in the last parliamentary election, having coming in second behind the Muslim Brotherhoodís party ñ has done so poorly this time around.
But the Salifists are not one organized and disciplined movement like the Brotherhood. Rather it is a religious perspective in which each individual Salifi sheikh, of which there could easily be two thousand in Egypt, and his immediate followers constitute a movement.
Many Salifis who voted for al-Nour the first time around, when the party participated in a short-lived coalition with the Muslim Brotherhood, were opposed to the partyís support for the army after it deposed former President Mohammad Mursi. They are expressing that by boycotting this election.
And of course the Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters have boycotted this election. While most of the Brotherhood cadre, and all of its leaders, are either in prison or in exile, the ordinary voter supportive of the Brotherhood, be they member or sympathizer, has stayed at home following orders to boycott. If an estimated 25 percent of the registered voters are members or sympathizers of the Brotherhood, it would be reasonable to assume that at least 40 percent of the many Egyptians who boycotted the elections did so out of sympathy for the Brotherhood.
What about the rest? Many are simply suffering voter fatigue: Since the January 2011 uprising, there have been two elections for parliament, at least two referendums and two presidential elections.
The Egyptian youth was most notably absent from the lines of voters in this election. Many had participated in the 2011 uprising, and their high hopes of dramatic change in both the political and economic life of the country have not materialized. They are at best bored with politics ñ and, at worst, they are now hostile to Sisi.
But one of the reasons for the boredom is that there was no real opposition party alliance in the race. That is because two small but serious parties ñ the Al-Dostour party and Socialist alliance ñ boycotted the elections. If those two parties had formed an opposition alliance of their own, many of those who stayed at home might have come out to vote. Their decision to boycott, for whatever reasons, was a mistake.
In the 2014 presidential election, when the one opposition candidate Hamdeen Sabahi came under pressure from some of Sisiís most over-enthusiastic ñ or, conceivably, opportunistic ñ voices in the local media to drop out of the contest, it was Sisi whom spoke out and encouraged Sabahi to remain in the race. He welcomed the opposition.
This time around President Sisi did not do so. That too was a mistake.
Abdallah Schleifer is a veteran American journalist covering the Middle East and distinguished visiting professor of political mass media at Future University in Egypt. He is also professor emeritus at the American University in Cairo where he founded as served as first director of the Kamal Adham Center for TV and Digital Journalism. He is chief editor of the annual publication The Muslim 500; a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute (USA) and at the Royal Aal al Bayt Academy for Islamic Thought (Jordan.) Schleifer has served as Al Arabiya Washington D.C. bureau chief; NBC News Cairo bureau chief; Middle East correspondent for Jeune Afrique; as special correspondent (stringer) , New York Times and managing editor of the Jerusalem Star/Palestine News in then Jordanian Arab Jerusalem.
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