Letters to the editor
The people speak
Sir -- Shortly after the death of former prime minister Rafiq Al-Hariri, the events in Lebanon have unfolded at a breathtaking pace. The Lebanese people became divided into two camps: those supporting Syria's presence on the one hand, and on the other (the majority) rejecting Syrian presence in Lebanon and insisting on its withdrawal from their territories.
I was impressed when I saw the Lebanese people coming out in mass demonstrations, such a civilised manner to express their opinion. It was a true expression of the will of the people.
Mohamed Ali Naseb
Sir -- It appears that the opposition has trumped Hizbullah's pro-Syria gathering with a larger "Lebanese for Lebanon" rally. I found this quote by Hassan Nasrallah to be, at least in part, oxymoronic: "The main purpose was to thank the Syrians for the sacrifices they had made for Lebanon and to protest against foreign intervention in Lebanese affairs." If he wants to protest against foreign intervention in Lebanese affairs, why isn't he calling for protests to get the foreign occupiers (Syrians) out of Lebanon? Isn't it slightly hypocritical for these statements to come a group whose strings are pulled in Tehran and Damascus?
I'm curious about the references to Hizbullah as a resistance movement. What is it they are resisting? Certainly not foreign occupation, since they are calling for rallies in favour of the foreign occupiers. Or maybe it means resistance to peace with Israel? Perhaps paying goons in Palestine to send suicide bombers and fire mortars into Israel, to try to thwart the elected Palestinian government's efforts at reaching a peace agreement, is what they consider Lebanese resistance.
In case you're wondering, I do find it extremely hypocritical of the Bush administration to be demanding Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon, whilst maintaining an invasion force in Iraq. I do believe in the old saying "two wrongs don't make a right".
In Syria's defence
Sir-- I wish to respond to Sami Moubayed's article 'Damascus holds its ground' ( Al-Ahram Weekly, 10-16 March). Like many on this side of the Atlantic, I want to thank Syria for the positive role it played in stabilising the Lebanese government and helping end that country's civil war in the 1980s. I am eternally grateful to Syria for its many acts of kindness towards Lebanon -- often at great expense to its own taxpayers.
I find the current treatment of Syria by our American leadership and the Israeli leadership dreadful. Indeed, I cannot but feel that the current demands by our American leadership and the Israeli leadership are full of gross contradictions. Originally, Syrian troops were invited into Lebanon by the government under UN Resolution 1559 as a peace-keeping force. Unlike the Syrian troops who helped stabilise and end the civil war in Lebanon, Israeli troops were uninvited into the Palestinian territories since 1967 according to UN Resolution 242. Unlike Syrian troops, Israeli troops have done everything they could to destabilise and undermine the Palestinian Authority and create civil unrest.
There is also the matter of our own "illegal" American war on Iraq and our troops' continued "illegal" presence in Iraq. American presence is "freeing" the Iraqis to death daily with one explosion after another. And how many times has the international community demanded that the US pull its troops out of Iraq, and that Israel pull its troops out of the Palestinian territories? But they have not acted upon this. At the same time, these are the same leaders who are demanding "a complete and full withdrawal" of Syrian troops from Lebanon. What hypocrisy.
To top off this great hypocrisy, President Bush has said that the freedom-loving people of Lebanon should be allowed to rule their own country, without any outside interference from Syrian troops.
Let's see him apply those conditions to the Palestinians and Iraqis too. I am sure those freedom-loving people want to rule their own countries too. I am glad Syria is holding its ground according to its own terms and timetable.
Sir-- After reading Azmi Bishara's commentary 'On democracy' ( Al-Ahram Weekly, 17-23 March), I am again struck by the constantly pessimistic and negative tone of your opinion writers.
And this attitude is found in so much of Middle Eastern thought today. It is very clear what he is against, but he cannot find an action worth supporting. There is a constant drone of anti-America, anti-West, anti-Israel, anti-this and anti-that; but no statement of what should be done to make things better.
Because of this pervasive thought, when an active movement for positive change comes along like the "Enough" movement, it must spend too much energy defending itself against anti-foreign attacks. Anything that stands for change is castigated as wrong, simply because it may have come from the West.
Democracy in the region is now facing this type of challenge. I only hope Mr Bishara can find time to consider how democracy can be shaped for a better Egypt, rather than saying how it should not be formed.
The real reasons
Sir-- Last week, a friend from the US forwarded to me an article published in The Washington Post in support of Ayman Nour and Kifaya movement. The article's language was so provocative that I wondered what the Washington Post has to do with Ayman Nour, or with Egyptian democratic reform in the first place.
I also wondered what made the US so interested in Egyptian political reform. Does the US administration really want to boost democracy and reform in the Arab world? Do they really want what's best for us? If this was the case, it would be so noble and exemplary, but I think that we know what is best for us better than America does.
I respect President Hosni Mubarak for his firm stance in assuring everybody that only reform according to domestic needs will be applied. We will not accept a reform tailored to serve dubious interests.
Alternatives to Nasser
Sir-- Hala Sakr's article on Farouk's demise 'The king is dead' ( Al-Ahram Weekly, 17-23 March) raises the sensitive subject of Britain's plans for a successor administration to Nasser, following the Suez invasion of 1956. Sakr is quite right in asserting that Farouk was considered a liability by all concerned.
The article goes on to quote Mohamed Saber Arab, chairman of the Egyptian National Library and Archives, as saying that any foreign power wanting to intervene in Egypt "would have done better to bet on the rival factions within the regime, or on social and political powers outside it". Based on my own research in the UK archives, it is clear that British policy- makers in 1956 thought along similar lines, albeit with one caveat: they wanted to co-opt leading personalities from both inside and outside the military junta.
Britain's plans for an alternative administration recognised the need to win over sections of the Egyptian armed forces. The focus was on those elements who had rallied behind President Naguib during Egypt's internal crisis of March 1954. (Unlike the Americans in Iraq, Britain always knew that its forces would be stretched, unless post-invasion internal security was provided by indigenous forces). Nasser was acutely aware that Naguib would be a likely leader for a successor regime, and so spirited him away to Upper Egypt weeks before the invasion began. British intelligence also contacted senior figures from the Wafd and the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's largest mass organisations under the ancient regime, both of which Nasser had outlawed.
Britain's whole point was to install a broad-based successor administration with discontented elements from across the political spectrum -- and this included the military after 1952. Without making any moral judgements, there was, in this respect, far more realism in Britain's Suez planning than in America's invasion of Iraq in 2003. That said, Tony Blair's partnership in the latter enterprise suggests that the British Foreign Office suffered a collective bout of amnesia when it came to these issues -- or was it just a profound fear of looking back to Suez in any way?