Lessons of empire
The Arab and Egyptian press this week focussed on continuing fallout from the Iraq war, with an emphasis on events in Palestine, writes Aziza Sami
The Arab press continued to reflect developments in the region after the war on Iraq this week, with the Arab League coming under strong criticism in the Kuwaiti press. But while the daily Al- Qabas quoted an Egyptian source as saying that one impediment to the League's "reform" was the "personality" of its current Secretary-General Amr Moussa, Al- Hayat reported that "Cairo strongly Ádefends Moussa". For its part, the Egyptian press celebrated President Hosni Mubarak's 75th birthday, with a clear contrast between the manner in which the national and independent papers dealt with this occasion. The "roadmap between Palestinians and Israelis" was also highlighted in all newspapers, as was its impending implementation in the midst of tensions between Palestinian National Authority (PNA) President Yasser Arafat and the new prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas, aka Abu Mazen, on the one hand, and rising violence in the occupied Palestinian territories on the other.
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Clockwise from top: Haddad drew a cartoon in Al-Hayat showing how the Arabs expect US State Secretary Colin Powell's visit to the region to combine a pedantic attitude with force; in Al-Quds, Haggag showed the Iraqi people held at gun-point by the US with a sign reading "freedom on the way: please wait"; Al-Ahali's Raouf depicted Uncle Sam carrying his own version of the roadmap with an itinerary of 'interventions' in Syria, Iran, Sudan, etc
"The Iraqis do not want a foreigner to rule them, especially when they see the Americans exporting their oil, while they go hungry"
Iraqi businessman Hassan Abdel-Wahab speaking to the Kuwait daily newspaper Al-Siyasa
ABU MAZEN, AND ARAFAT: The Egyptian weekly newspaper Al-Ahali, issued by the left-wing Tagammu' pposition party, published an article on 30 April by its editor-in-chief, Nabil Zaki entitled "Palestine in Danger", the topic of which was "the American-Israeli axis that aims to choke Palestinian President Yasser Arafat and to take away all of his prerogatives, turning him into a mere symbol," the newspaper said.
"If the new game is to use Abu Mazen to hit Arafat, then the Washington/Tel-Aviv axis should know that he can do nothing without Arafat, who remains the democratically elected president of the Palestinian people, and symbol of its struggle. The one criterion by which developments may be judged is the setting of a timetable for complete Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian territories occupied during the June 1967 aggression, and the recognition of the right of the Palestinians to an independent, fully sovereign state, with East Jerusalem as its capital."
In an article entitled "Abu Mazen and Arafat", political analyst Mohamed Sid-Ahmed also wrote in Al-Ahali that "it is required that Abu Mazen marginalise Arafat. Abu Mazen, however, is exerting efforts to appear concerned about breaking the siege enforced upon Arafat, and to undertake his role in a manner not contradicting Arafat's. The dispute which arose between the two leaders over the [formation of the new Palestinian cabinet] was resolved through Egyptian mediation. But this does not guarantee the resolution of similar crises arising in the future".
The Egyptian national daily Al- Ahram's banner on 30 April announced that "Abu Mazen asserts his rejection of terrorism and asks Israel to implement the roadmap without modification". On 1 May the newspaper highlighted President Hosni Mubarak's statement made during his Labour Day speech that "now that a Palestinian government has been formed and approved by the Palestinian legislative assembly, implementation of the roadmap must begin."
For its part, the Kuwaiti daily Al-Qabas published a news item on 2 May saying that "Abu Mazen's government meets without Arafat and condemns [Israel's attack] on Palestinians. Sharon tears up the 'map' and sprinkles the bodies of Gaza's children along the 'road'."
AS DID THE BRITISH: Political analyst El- Sayed Yassin wrote in Al-Ahram on 30 April under the title "British Empire becomes a model for American Colonialism" that the Washington Institute for Near East Policy was recommending that America follow the model set by the British occupation of Iraq in 1917. The Zionist-oriented institute, wrote Yassin, has published a study entitled "US Policy in Post-Saddam Iraq: lessons from the British experience", referring to the Iraqi state built by the British along the lines of democracy, but in a manner serving Britain's interests.
Yassin wrote that this study, this time meant to serve Israel's interests, has been presented to the US Congress as well as to American businessmen. Yassin also referred to a book published recently by the prominent British historian Niel Ferguson entitled "Empire: the Rise and Demise of the British World Order and Lessons for Global Power". Ferguson, Yassin wrote, significantly glorifies the British Empire, denying its negative aspects alluded to by other historians. "Within the context of the rise of the American empire after 11 September, such attempts to recapture previous imperial experiences become noteworthy," wrote Yassin, but "despite the illusions now entertained by the Bush administration, history's laws, which determine that empires fall after their ascendancy, will inevitably apply here as well."
ON HIS BIRTHDAY: The Egyptian national dailies Al-Akhbar and Al- Ahram on 3 May published personal photographs of President Hosni Mubarak on their front pages on the occasion of his 75th birthday, as well as editorials. Al- Ahram's , entitled "A Seat on the Train of Wisdom", started with the question: "What do we tell him on his birthday? Do we tell him: thank you Mr President, you have born Egyptian concerns, day and night, as well as Arab concerns from the ocean to the gulf, as no one else has? Do we tell him: thank you, you have thought well and managed well, and led this train, with your wisdom, through storms, winds, and events of great magnitude?" The article commended the president's wisdom in "not going after empty slogans [in dealing with the Iraqi and Palestinian crises]," and in engaging instead in "a broad diplomatic campaign throughout the 20 days of war, until the fog cleared, and the war-machine became silent".
The editorial described Mubarak's diplomacy as "preemptive", calling it "the Arab political strategy of the President". The "tactical aspects" of this "strategy" operated "through the diplomacy of Arab communications and meetings". The president's achievements on the economic front were also delineated, as was his "overcoming of all difficulties with economic reform implemented on the basis of minute calculations, which he undertakes day by day, hour by hour". As for the freedom given to the press, the editorial cited wisdom expressed by the president himself, to the effect that "they will write what they will write. But it is the people who will judge for themselves who is with them and who is against them".
On a different note, the independent weekly Al- Arabi posed this question in its banner: "On his birthday we ask: is President Mubarak democratic?" This was also the title of an article in the inside pages, interviewing commentators who pointed to the fragility of organisations which should operate within a democratic context, such as human rights as well as social, economic and religious institutions. They referred to the absence of the "rotation of power" through elections, and the fact that it was the Egyptian government which formed parties, and not the opposite.
The president's recommendation of a gradual implementation of democracy made during his Labour Day speech came under criticism from writer Fahmy Howeidy, who said that "there are neither controls, nor real supervision, over state institutions, leading to failure on all fronts. If we speak of limiting the president's prerogatives and his term in office, this should become effective immediately. If we reject hereditary rule, then the regime is obliged to state, explicitly, whether it refuses or supports this principle of heredity."
Prominent Judge Yehia El-Rifa'i, who resigned his post in protest at alleged government "violations of the constitution", described the current "democracy" adopted by the regime as "a theatrical prop". El-Rifa'i had published a book entitled "The Judiciary's Independence and the Predicament of Elections" in which he claimed that officially certified election had been fraudulent, inducing the Court of Cassation to demand action by the government. "But neither it nor the People's Assembly responded, the excuse given being that parliament has the constitutional right to determine whether an MP has been properly elected or not." The outcome was the complete subordination of the constitution, law, and judiciary's independence, to "criminals and violators", El-Rifa'i said.
NO VISION, NO POPULARITY: Editor-in- chief of the independent Egyptian weekly newspaper Sout-el-Umma on 5 May launched a fierce attack on Prime Minister Atef Ebeid and members of his cabinet, singling them out and saying that even those who had displayed competence in their former careers had now been relegated to the condition of inept government employees.
The top banner of the newspaper read in English and in Arabic: "Ebeid, go to Hell", Hammouda's article being entitled: "No Popularity, No Transparency, No Credibility, No Development!". Hammouda wrote that in his view members of the current government were displaying neither vision nor any clear affiliation by which people could identify them. They operated as "islands", he said, incapable of working together as a team, except for seeing one another at formal meetings and weddings. This cabinet "must go", Hammouda argued, since it was not up to facing the challenges of internal reform, which had now become pressing.
"This is not a political government, and it does not realise that the absence of political freedom holds negative consequences for economic freedom," he wrote, citing failures ranging from inept management of the exchange rate, to a failure to cope with unemployment, or the international funding agencies that continue to require the implementation of significant economic reforms.
On 5 May, Al-Ahram's banner read that "LE158.6 billion in public expenditure will be allotted to wages, pensions and education in the new budget for 2003-2004," with Finance Minister Medhat Hassanein quoted as saying that the aim was "to stabilise prices and control inflation".
MORE FALLOUT: The London-based Al-Quds banner on 2 May read "The day of attacks on marines: seven wounded in Al-Falouja, and an eighth in Saudi Arabia", describing this as "the biggest attack since the end of battles in Baghdad". Underneath, there was a photograph of Ahmed Ayad, a Palestinian child killed in the district of Shijaia in Rafah, Palestine, with the headline, "Fifteen Palestinians Martyred in a New Massacre on the Eve of the Dissemination of the Roadmap".
Editor-in-chief of the paper, Abdel-Bari Atwan, wrote that "the Americans have pulled out of Saudi Arabia without bringing to it democracy or human rights. They pulled out because they thought -- wrongly -- that they have now put their hands on Iraq's oil, and can set up bases on its soil. But the US must re-map its policies in the region, based on its real interests and not on those of Israel, as exemplified in aggression and expansion. However, this will never happen since America is like an airliner that has been hijacked by a gang of Israel's most extreme supporters. Those who set America's policies in the Middle East are individuals like Richard Pearl, Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Bolton, who totally support the massacres undertaken daily by Sharon against the Palestinians, the most recent of which saw 15 people killed in Gaza and the West Bank."
Al-Quds on 30 April also published a letter which its editor-in-chief said had been handwritten by Saddam Hussein and dated 28 April. Atwan said this had been faxed to the newspaper from an unknown address. In the letter, Hussein admonishes the Iraqi people not to lose sight of the most pressing priority, which is to rid Iraq of the American occupation, and not to give in to attempts to fragment and weaken Iraq through sectarianism. Hussein also alluded in the letter to "the hands of traitors and clients", which had been extended to the Americans in Iraq.
The Saudi pan-Arab daily Al-Sharq Al Awsat attempted to explain the quick fall of Baghdad during the US-led war against Iraq in its front- page headlines, writing on 2 May that "an Iraqi General Explains the Reasons for the Quick Collapse: The Army did not Believe in the War, which they saw as Suicide, and Everybody lied, even Saddam". On 3 May, the newspaper published an article headed, "Saddam and Qusai killed the Republican Guard Commander before the Fall of Baghdad. Arrests of Four Iraqi Officials, including the Minister of Military Reconstruction".
The banner of the Kuwaiti daily Al-Siyasa on 1 May stated that "Paris calls upon Syria to withdraw completely from Lebanon: De Villepin asks for the positioning of the [Lebanese] Army in the South, in its implementation of Resolution 520 and in support of the Roadmap". A smaller news item on the front page read that "Jean Ebeid, the Lebanese prime minister, rejects de Villepin's suggestions, saying that "this matter is determined by Lebanon's interests and its mutual interests with Syria". Ebeid also said that the Syrian military presence in Lebanon was "determined by the 1989 Al-Ta'if Agreement, supported by the UN, the Arab League and the 1991 Agreement for Cooperation and Coordination which guides Lebanon and Syria's bilateral relations".
Al-Siyasa's economics section on 2 May contained a report stating that "The shadow of debt and conflict of interests take their toll on Iraq's reconstruction", with another report reading that "Washington is considering implementing the Alaskan model on the Iraqis". According to this item, the US is considering the redistribution of Iraqi oil wealth among the inhabitants of Iraq by means of a fund allotting to each person a portion of the proceeds accruing from Iraqi oil sales. "In the year 2000, each Alaskan received around $1,500 from such a fund," the report said.
VOID NOT FILLED: Al-Siyasa on 2 May also published an interview with Iraqi businessman Hassan Abdel-Wahab, who warned of "a civil and sectarian war in Iraq, if the void is not filled and an Iraqi government formed". Abdel-Wahab appealed to Arab governments to support his people with humanitarian aid and medical teams, and to help combat epidemics that have already spread, "especially after the looting of a nuclear reactor, causing contamination with radiation".
Arms were widely available, according to Abdel-Wahab, and the American army should investigate neighbourhoods to confiscate them and to avert incidents of vendetta. The Iraqi businessman also predicted that Kuwait would in future play a prominent role in regional trade, especially as a transit point, since the Iraqi port of Umm Al-Qasr was too small to sustain Iraq's expected trade movements. Kuwaiti banks will also be resorted to by Iraqis on a large-scale, given the current absence of an Iraqi banking sector.
"The Iraqis do not want a foreigner to rule them, especially when they see the Americans exporting their oil while they go hungry," the businessman concluded. "The US has completed 60 per cent of its mission, but the remaining 40 per cent will entail cooperation by the Arab countries to reconstruct Iraq," which he said he hoped "will soon join the Gulf Economic Cooperation Council".
The pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat on 3 May published a news item on its front page stating that "An Iraqi Imam calls for women to don the veil, and men to grow their beards", saying that "from now on women must not be allowed to go out without the veil", and that these procedures must be implemented by both Muslims and non-Muslims. There was no need, the clergyman said, "for men to go on shaving their beards, now that they no longer have to fear the regime of Saddam Hussein".
NEITHER NOR: Al-Qabas on 2 May highlighted on its front page what it described as "a proposal for developing the Arab League: An Arab Security Council, a Court of Justice, and Cancellation of the Unanimous Vote". The paper wrote that a "high-placed Egyptian source" had informed it that Egypt had presented specific ideas to Arab League Secretary- General Amr Moussa, formally requesting him to prepare a proposal for "reforming and upgrading" the League. The Egyptian vision, according to Al-Qabas, was based on five points including the formation an Arab security council with the aim of resolving Arab disputes and enforcing sanctions on any party not complying with its resolutions.
An Arab Court of Justice would be formed to adjudicate between inter-Arab organisations, as well as between individuals and states. The need for a unanimous vote would be cancelled at all of the League's functions, including its summits and ministerial council. Inter-Arab economic agreements would be totally reviewed, especially the Arab Common Market, and non-trade barriers removed. A small, elected ministerial council would "run" Arab affairs between ministerial meetings.
However, according to Al-Qabas the Egyptian source said that these proposals faced "obstacles" which could impede their realisation, the most important of which was the "personality" of its current Secretary-General Amr Moussa, who "does not enjoy the trust of several Gulf States and the US". A further impediment was "opposition by countries who "hold on to the slogans of the past". Al-Hayat on May 7 reported meanwhile that " Cairo has strongly defended Moussa, with Foreign Minister Ahmed Maher describing him as "an Arab nationalist figure educated in the Egyptian school of diplomacy" and that "any differences in opinion...must be resolved away from press campaigns".
On 5 May, Al-Hayat had published an article on its front page saying that "Mossad incites the CIA against Ahmed Chalabi, and an Israeli Official Anticipates his Assassination". Al-Hayat quoted the Israeli daily Ya'diot Ahranot, which had written that the old friendship between Chalabi and the Zionist state was starting to turn sour, since Israeli authorities had discovered that he was "untrustworthy" and would be assassinated within less than a month should he become Iraq's president.
Al-Hayat quoted a Pentagon advisor as saying that the real reason behind the fallout between the two parties was "Chalabi's reluctance to set up diplomatic ties with Israel should he become Iraq's president," and his saying that "this does not top his list of priorities".