Tuesday 20 August 2013

Shhh, it’s a secret!

I’ll be off for a couple weeks, hoping to be back online by September 9.
Keep well.

Saturday 17 August 2013

Adawiya afterthoughts of a young Muslim Brother

Habiba's last photo (posted on Facebook by Mohamed Osama)

By Jamal Khashoggi, Saudi Arabia’s authoritative political analyst and author, writing today for pan-Arab al-Hayat
In front of me is a picture of Habiba Ahmed Abd Elaziz, an ambitious young woman primed for a bright future.
She was known as a serious journalist from an early age and was well versed in Arabic and English.
All this came to an abrupt end in Cairo last Wednesday, when Habiba was felled by a deadly bullet at one of the entrances to the Rabaa al-Adawiya protest camp.
Search the social media for her last poignant picture showing a militant believer sitting resolutely while being surrounded by debris and destruction and engulfed in tear gas.
All men had gone their way while she stayed put doing what she was asked to do.
In her right hand is a small tin bowl she was using to bank a metal drum. Her ration is a bottle of water.
A hijab covering her head is wrapped around her shoulders.
The gas mask she held to cover her nose and mouth did not fend off the bullet that took her away in the springtime of life.
Who fired the bullet is immaterial.
It was most probably an Egyptian policeman or a sniper hiding on a nearby rooftop and rejoicing at killing “the other Egyptians” he hates and perceives as enemies.
I wouldn’t go into blaming the army, state security and the police.
Like their Arab counterparts, that’s what they have been training to do for decades – namely, to protect the regime and the state. Their mantra is to secure the state at any cost.
“The regime, the state, the leader” is what Egyptian media outlets are now trumpeting – much as they were doing on June 6, 1967. No freedom or dignity to freedom’s enemies, not even to a co-citizen, a cousin or schoolmate.
But I do blame, and call for holding to account, the Muslim Brotherhood leaders for promoting the illusion of steadfastness at the sit-ins in Nahda Square and Rabaa al-Adawiya as a means of political pressure.
They managed the sit-ins lightly and with total disregard for the blood of believers in the cause.
Martyrdom is a duty in defense of justice, but not to improve bargaining positions or score political gains.
Habiba and thousands of other victims were promised total victory the next day. They say victory is an hour’s patience away. That’s what they were promised.
They gave them the instructions: You build a berm; you bring some water and vinegar to treat tear-gas sufferers; you, Habiba, forewarn your brethren by banging this metal drum.
Even a 10-year-old would have expected the crackdown on the protest camps and that casualties would be in the hundreds. Watching the talkshows on Egypt’s official and “private” TV news channels for one hour would have sufficed to realize the buzzword was “terror and terrorist.”
And everyone, the 10-year-old included, knew the terrorist would be killed.
So what happened in the early hours of Black Wednesday was not surprising. No Brotherhood leader ought to come forward and accuse the army or police of treachery. He was told of their intent to take decisive action.
How many times did Brotherhood leaders say, “We should not be drawn into the (army and police’s) violence arena”? But Brotherhood leaders were nevertheless drawn into the arena, where they lost their trump card, namely: demands, competitiveness and politics.
The Brotherhood will henceforward be capitalizing on its victims.
It will use thousands of casualty images showing men and women in the springtime of life, elders with piety manifest on their faces and veiled women to appear as the scapegoat and win the battle for public opinion.
But it will be a losing battle. The gory images will only elicit verbal condemnations and suppressed anger from those who lost loves ones.
The January 25 revolution is over. Its most important values – freedom, dignity and the right to life – have fallen by the wayside. The majority cannot bear freedom abuses so long as their own freedom is not stake. The majority is unmoved by the sight of martyrs when they belong to the other side.
There is one advantage though in reviewing images of the dead, which is accountability.
This has more to do with self-accountability than with holding the army and police accountable.
A courageous young man from Rabaa al-Adawiya has to come forward and declare openly, “We don’t need salutes to the martyrs or acclaim for a couple ascending to paradise. Ours was an absurd battle that we could have avoided.”
Let someone come forward and enumerate the Brotherhood’s losses since holding the reins in Egypt 18 months ago.
It lost sitting at the helm after winning what it described as a divine mandate to move forward society and the nation.
It lost a massive segment of Egyptian society.
It lost its nationalist orientation and replaced its moderate jurisprudence by a narrow-minded one, which it cajoled for electioneering purposes.
It lost martyrs. It lost its revolution allies. And it lost its regional relationships.
Told by his leaders that the Brotherhood was brought down by innumerable conspiracies, I can imagine the angry young man retorting, “This does not absolve you of responsibility. Where was your wisdom and savoir faire?”
I can also imagine the young man returning home last Wednesday night. He is exhausted and bloodied. He weeps for his dead brethren. He searches the social media for reassurances his other friends are safe.
A knock at the door frightens him. He is a wanted man now. He does not wish to become a fugitive. He forswears violence and is aware the leadership has lost control, or almost.
He catches a glimpse on the TV screen of a church going up in flames.  On hearing a leader trying to justify the arson, he fumes.
And when the leader speaks of the Mubarak regime making a comeback, the young man says out loud, “Don’t you recall state security refusing to protect Mubarak at al-Ittihadiya Palace?”
Before going to bed after Thursday’s dawn prayers, the young man murmurs to himself: “The revolution is not over yet. Recourse to the people is still mandatory. There will be new and transparent elections. Political Islam and revolutionary forces have to reconnect. A new generation has to take the lead and look to the future, not the past.
“But accountability should come first. Those responsible for the failure and successive losses of the battles of governance and sit-ins have to be brought to account.
“Accountability is the sine qua non of victory. Losers have no place in leadership.”

Friday 16 August 2013

Is it “too late” for Egypt?

Wednesday was a long and gory day. All Egypt-lovers wished it would be sidestepped.
But all Egypt-watchers saw the day coming. Slamming the door shut tempts people to break it open.
It was difficult for two authorities to cohabitate in Egypt -- one headquartered in the palace and the other in Adawiya.
It was tough for the interim administration to tolerate a scene suggesting a face-off between two “legitimacies.”
The sit-ins were eroding the mandate sought and won by the interim administration.
At the same time, it was far from easy for the Muslim Brotherhood to consider Mohamed Morsi’s tenure a closed chapter. The defeat was more spectacular than the Brotherhood could bear. Its response was a mixture of bitterness and anger.
It reacted as if a tank storming the palace brought down Morsi. It did not try to understand that Morsi fell under the weight of a quasi-revolution and a quasi-coup.
It refused to notice the millions who gathered to give someone else authority to act. On that day, it only noted the portrait of Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
The Brotherhood did not perceive the decision to clear out the sit-ins as part of the authorization decision. It chose to break the will of both the mandated and mandating sides – namely, the millions of its detractors and the Military Establishment.
The Muslim Brotherhood dealt with internal and external mediations by setting the greatest possible demand. It never accepted anything short of Morsi’s reinstatement, meaning a full defeat of its opponents.
The Brotherhood behaved as an injured person so overcome by his wound as to refuse anything liable to alleviate his pain or cut his risks.
The Brotherhood could have embarrassed its opponents if it had capitalized on the mediations to propose a solution that would have made it hard for the interim administration to clear out the sit-ins.
It speculated that the price of disbanding the sit-ins would be so prohibitive as to deter the interim administration from implementing it.
The Brotherhood gambled when it insisted on recouping the presidential palace.
It left the interim administration no choice other than to crack down on the protest camps.
It let pass the fact it had clashed with most Egyptians before clashing with the police and the army.
It closed the eyes to the fact Sisi would not have asked directly for the peoples’ authorization if he, and the Military Establishment, did not feel the majority of Egyptians were intimidated by the Brothers’ rule. So much so that most Egyptians were willing to accept any measure to end their governance, even at the expense of dispersing an elected president’s administration.
The Brotherhood shut its ears to voices that spent months warning against exclusion, empowerment, Brotherhood-ization, reshaping the Egyptian citizens’ characteristics and manipulating Egypt’s spirit.
Any observer of developments in Egypt since the last days of Hosni Mubarak’s administration is aware that risk-taking by the Brothers started before Morsi.
The first gamble was when the decision was made to field a Brotherhood candidate in the presidential race and discounting chances the move would overburden Egypt and exceed its tolerance capacity.
This is due to the clout of revolution-breeders and makers, the Military Establishment’s deep roots and Egypt’s commitments resulting from its geographic position and economic conditions.
The degree of risk-taking deepened when the Muslim Brotherhood chose to singlehandedly share with the government of Hesham Qandil the burden of an extremely thorny transition.
Morsi found no effective partners and the Brotherhood didn’t help him unearth them.
He looked like dancing solo and dealing unattended with such files as the constitution, the judiciary and the rapport with the Military Establishment.
This risk-taking also led to loss of the compass, poor performance, a lack of perception and a dearth of cadres.
In politics, the Brotherhood or an individual has no right to push people to commit suicide and self-destruct the country. In politics, it is imperative to manage losses in the absence of profit.
Pictures of victims might serve a purpose. Numbers of martyrs and funerals might delay questions being asked and temporarily put off accountability for gambles made and responsibilities assumed.
But fact is the Brotherhood crossed swords with millions of Egyptians before coming under police fire.
Going forward, the greatest danger for Egypt is the Brothers’ acting with the “too late” mentality; that they have no choice other than confrontation, unrest, fires and other civil war practices; and that they can count on American and Western condemnations of the crackdown on protest camps.
Despite the inflamed feelings, the current leadership should avoid a victor’s arrogance, the “too late” approach and the politics of force.
The mandate that allowed the interim administration to clear out the sit-ins also demanded a constitution embracing all Egyptians, a revisit to the ballot box and free and transparent elections.
A return to the “too late” dictum is impermissible.
The priority now is to prevent a civil war and shut out Algerian scenes.

Thursday 15 August 2013

Egypt: More questions than answers for now

The crackdown
Egypt’s security forces, acting on the instructions of the military-backed interim administration, yesterday stormed and disbanded the two sit-ins in Cairo’s Nahda Square and near Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque.
Muslim Brotherhood supporters set up the two protests camps six weeks ago to demand the reinstatement of ousted President Mohamed Morsi.
Scores of civilians and security forces were killed or wounded in the crackdown on the two camps.
A month-long state of emergency was declared and curfews imposed in Egyptian cities.
Looking ahead, leading Egyptian media figure Emad Adeeb, writing for the Cairo daily el-Watan, wonders:
1. Does clearing the protest camps put an end to the crisis?
2. Does disbanding protesters in Nahda and Rabaa foreclose new Brotherhood sit-ins elsewhere in Cairo or in the provinces?
3. More importantly, in my opinion, what effect will clearing the two camps have on prospects of a negotiated political settlement between the old and new regimes?
Usually, whenever a crisis reaches violence level and political deadlock, chances are:
(a) The two sides realize there can be no winner or loser in the circumstances, so better to negotiate. This would see the authorities ditching the security option and the Brothers forsaking terrorist behavior.
(b) The situation remains unchanged, meaning the two sides continue playing the cat-and-mouse game of sit-ins and clear-outs.
(c) The more dangerous and costlier option is greater bloodletting resulting from violent tit-for-tat by the government and the Muslim Brotherhood.
This raises the question: How will the Muslim Brotherhood leadership be reading what took place in Rabaa al-Adawiya and Nahda?
Foresight, a responsible attitude and the fear of God are attributes liable to put pressure on the Brotherhood leadership to try and pick up the pieces of the flare-up and urge their supporters to remain calm and give time and space for political dialogue and rationalization to prevail so that the country can be spared the risks of civil war.
Though most Brotherhood leaders have been summoned to appear before the public prosecutor for questioning, it would be nonsensical if they thought in terms of, “Why fear getting wet when drowning?”
The crisis of the sit-ins is over. But is Egypt’s?

Monday 12 August 2013

Iran-Iraq pushing for Syria's balkanization

Barzani and Maliki (top) and a Balkanized Syria map

The specter of Syria’s balkanization has yet to pass from sight.
Tehran has now given the thumbs up for a “provisional civil administration” in Syria’s Kurdish areas and agreed to help clear out Qaeda-linked extremists there.
Fresh from talks in Tehran, Salih Muslim, head of the Syrian Kurds’ Democratic Union Party (PYD), an affiliate of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), says Iran gave the go-ahead for a “transitional civil administration” planned by the “Western Kurdistan Council.”
Western Kurdistan refers to the Kurdish areas in northern and northeastern Syria bordering Turkey.
Muslim also tells pan-Arab al-Hayat today agreement was reached with the Iranian side “to fight our common enemy,” chiefly Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
Muslim said he met with high-ranking foreign ministry and Revolutionary Guards officials during his August 7-8 stay in Tehran at the invitation of the foreign ministry.
“Iran is an important country. It is the only one in the region to have the ear of the [Syrian] regime,” he said.
On August 10, Masoud Barzani, president of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) in northern Iraq, posted a statement on the KRG’s official website saying:
For a while now, the print media and a number of political and media centers have been saying terrorists in Western Kurdistan have mobilized against Kurdish citizens and that Qaeda-linked terrorists are attacking innocent civilians and massacring Kurdish women and children.
To verify such news, I am calling for a special inquiry commission to travel to Western Kurdistan and investigate. If it finds that innocent Kurdish citizens, women and children are under threat of death and terrorism, the Iraqi Kurdistan Region will make use of all its capabilities to defend innocent Kurdish women, children and citizens in Western Kurdistan.
Barzani's statement referred to Kurdish areas in Syria as “Western Kurdistan.”
Spread over large, adjoining tracts of Iraq, Syria, Turkey and Iran, the Kurdish people are often described as the largest ethnic group without their own state.
The northern Iraqi region of Kurdistan, which has its own government and armed forces, is pursuing increasingly independent energy and foreign policies, infuriating Baghdad.
Iraqi Kurds have sent fuel, food and medical aid to their ethnic kin over the border in Syria, extending Barzani’s influence, but Saturday’s statement appeared to be the first time that he had suggested intervention.
In Syria, where they make up nearly 10 percent of the population, Kurds have been widely discriminated against under Bashar al-Assad and his late father before him, who stripped more than 100,000 of their citizenship.
For Syrian Kurds, the insurrection against Assad presents an opportunity to win the kind of rights enjoyed by their neighbors in Iraqi Kurdistan.
Quoting from Kuwait’s al-Seyassah newspaper, Baghdad’s Shafaq News reported August 9,  “Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki notified KRG President Masoud Barzani that the Assad regime is not against Peshmerga forces entering northern Syria to defend Syrian Kurds against attacks by al-Qaeda.
“A highly-placed Kurdish source in Baghdad said Iranian leaders, together with the Iraqi premier, are putting pressure on Barzani to stop supporting the Syrian revolution and back Assad’s regime… especially that al-Qaeda poses a threat to both Irbil and Baghdad.”
All this highlights the potential for Peshmerga, Syrian Kurd, Iranian and Iraqi forces banding together to help Assad win his presumed war on Takfiris, Jihadists and al-Qaeda -- at least in Western Kurdistan.
Separately, Lazar Berman wonders in his think piece for The Times of Israel this week: “Is a free Kurdistan, and a new Israeli ally, upon us?”
In his opinion, Syria’s Kurds are bent on carving out an autonomous enclave in northeastern Syria.
The PYD “has been taking advantage of the power vacuum caused by the two-year-old conflict to push out rival opposition fighters and move closer to autonomy…
“According to Kurdistan expert Ofra Bengio of Tel Aviv University, independence is not on the Syrian Kurds’ agenda any time in the near future. ‘The PYD is not talking about independence now and will be reluctant to use such terminology in order not to antagonize any of the governments or the international community. Autonomy is the safer goal now,’ she said.”
Berman says “Israel has long developed alliances with non-Arab countries on the periphery of the Middle East. Today, that policy rests on partnerships with Cyprus, Greece, Bulgaria, and Caucasian and central Asian countries. Kurdistan fits perfectly into that framework…
“With few friends in the region, the Kurds will likely look to Israel to help them gain security and closer relations with the United States. As Arab governments in the Middle East totter and fall, and Islamists look to exploit the chaos, the alliance is one that both countries may find beneficial to pursue.”
This reminds me of the presentation former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger made at the Ford School in New York City last June, when he said a Balkanized Syria is the best outcome to emerge of its current Assad-controlled unity.
“There are three possible outcomes. An Assad victory, a Sunni victory, or an outcome in which the various nationalities agree to co-exist together but in more or less autonomous regions, so that they can’t oppress each other. That’s the outcome I would prefer to see. But that’s not the popular view,” he said.
Are Assad’s allies heeding Kissinger’s counsel and pushing Barzani and Syria’s Kurds to go down that route?

Saturday 10 August 2013

Some FSA and SNC leaders equivocating on Latakia

Col. Mustafa Hashim (top right) being interviewed in Latakia province last night

I suspect something fishy is going on among Syrian opposition leaders.
Five days into the armed opposition’s spectacular advances on the mountains of the coastal province of Latakia, Bashar al-Assad’s heartland, bigwigs in the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and Syrian National Coalition (SNC) are believed to be lobbying for cessation of the campaign.
A comment today -- signed by the pseudonym “Sary Alsory” and carried on the SNC’s Facebook page – said: “Some Supreme Military Command and Coalition members revealed their ugly face and betrayal of the revolution and the nation by signing a document calling for a moratorium on the coastal campaign. We hope to publish the names of all signatories of the document.”
Interviewed live on air last night, the Latakia campaign’s field commander of the central western front, Col. Mustafa Hashim, said his men were being deliberately starved of arms and munitions.
“Our (western) front has not been treated on par with the other fronts since our (FSA) meeting in (the Turkish resort of) Antalya” last December, Col. Hashim told Melad Fadl, his interviewer from Aljazeera TV on the Latakia mountains.
The Antalya meeting organized the FSA into five fronts: the northern front (Aleppo and Idlib), the eastern front (Raqqa-Deir Ezzor and al-Hasakah), the western front (Hama-Latakia-Tartus), the central front (Homs-Rastan) and the southern front (Damascus-Dar al-Sweida).
Asked who was starving his western front of arms and munitions, Col. Hashim said cryptically: “The backer countries.
“The Unified Command apportions the military aid it receives. I voiced my objections at previous official meetings, saying I had my reservations about The Command unfairly arming one front at the expense of another. The coastal front has received very little.
“We have been hoarding arms and munitions and planning this offensive (since Antalya).
“The campaign we launched at 5 a.m. on August 4 is ongoing.  The regime’s army has not been able to advance a single meter anywhere. The offensive shall continue until Syria’s complete liberation.”
Reacting to Col. Hashim’s remarks, Egyptian military strategy analyst Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Safwat el-Zayyat told Aljazeera’s news anchor: “Had the armed opposition opened the western front earlier, it could have helped the other fronts immensely.
“The coastal front is the revolution’s success story of the year. It seems the man, Mustafa Hashim, fears being starved of weapons.
“The big question is: Are revolution backers shying away from killing (Assad’s) hopes of a safe haven in a rump coastal state? Are they trying to stave off a sectarian bloodbath (in the Alawite stronghold), which is the regime’s recruitment reservoir, now that mountain villagers have started fleeing to Latakia city?
“True, FSA and SNC leaders might be trying to stave off a sectarian bloodbath. But at the same time, they have to realize the battle for the coastline will force the regime’s hand to defend its last place of refuge, which would greatly reduce pressure on the opposition in Homs, Damascus, Deraa, Aleppo and elsewhere.”
Within 24 hours of the Latakia offensive kicking off, Khaled Yacoub Oweis wrote in a Reuters dispatch, “A senior opposition figure, who declined to be named, said the United States, a main backer of the Free Syrian Army, is against targeting Latakia, because it could spark revenge attacks by Alawites against its majority Sunni population and add to an already huge refugee problem.
“Diplomats say the coastal area and its mountain villages could be the scene of a bloodbath against the region's Alawite population if Islamist hardliners end up eventually gaining the upper hand in the conflict.”
In Washington yesterday, State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki told a press briefing former U.S. ambassador to Syria Robert Ford “is in Paris today and tomorrow. He’s meeting with members of the Syrian opposition to discuss the prospects of a Geneva conference.
“We remain committed to helping Syrians negotiate a political settlement along the lines of the June 2012 Geneva communiqué.
“In particular, Ambassador Ford is talking to them about the need for a unified opposition delegation headed by the legitimate representative of the Syrian people, the Syrian Opposition Coalition, which can strongly press the case for its vision of what a transition government – governing body should look like.”
Later in the day, Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister said they were continuing to try to find common ground on Syria and other issues
One thing I would emphasize is on Syria while Sergei and I do not always agree completely on responsibility for the bloodshed or on some of the ways forward, both of us and our countries agree that to avoid institutional collapse and descent into chaos, the ultimate answer is a negotiated political solution," Kerry said.
Syria indeed is at the top of our agenda," Lavrov said through an interpreter. "The goal is the same we need to start a political process.
However, Lavrov suggested the main cause for urgency in the Russian view is an influx of Islamic militant fighters into Syria.
We need to stage Geneva-2 conference and in my view the most important task for Geneva-2 would be to honor the commitment of all G8 leaders...who called for the government and opposition to join efforts to fight terrorists and force them away from Syria, the top Russian diplomat said. Especially in light of assessments we've been hearing lately this is of course our top priority.

Friday 9 August 2013

Assad’s motorcade and the state of play in Syria

President Assad at the mosque (top) and a woman grieving the loss of a loved one on Eid day

Did Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's motorcade come under rebel attack as it headed to a Damascus mosque yesterday?
Did the Katyusha and mortar rounds fired in the direction of the motorcade hit their target?
Did Assad seem perturbed while performing Eid al-Fitr prayers after his arrival at the mosque?
Was the attack a pointer to the state of play on the battlefield?
Yes, of course.
Syria's information minister denied rebel claims that they attacked Assad's convoy as it headed towards the Anas bin Malek mosque in the Maliki area, where the president has a residence.
Opposition activists and residents reported what seemed to be the sound of several incoming mortar explosions in the early morning.
The Eid prayers, which hardly take five minutes and are usually held shortly after sunrise, started an hour late at 8 a.m.
It was unclear whether the pictures of the president aired on Syrian state TV were pre-recorded, analysts at BBC Monitoring said. For a brief moment they carried a “live” caption, which then swiftly vanished.
It is possible the footage was pre-recorded, analysts told BBC News, as reports that the president's convoy was struck while travelling to the mosque had come around one hour previously.
Charles Lister, analyst and head of MENA at IHS Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Centre (JTIC) in London tweeted in relatively quick succession:
(1) “Combining reports of Internet access cut in attack location + heavy air force presence now over that location suggests something happened.”
(2) “#Damascus experiencing sig security this AM. New checkpoints hurriedly erected in Abbasiyeen Square. Low-flying jets over central districts.”
Two Syrian rebel brigades claimed responsibility for the attack – Liwa’ a-Islam commanded by Zahran Alloush and Liwa’ Tahrir al-Sham.
Alloush told Aljazeera TV by Skype from the Damascus suburbs, “We fired the Katyusha rockets in the direction of the motorcade, while Tahrir al-Sham used mortar shells…
“We are deployed in close proximity to the Presidential Palace and the Maliki area… We have a sizable surveillance force inside Damascus and we are privy to reliable and precise intelligence information.”
Having watched TV footage of Assad praying, Dr. Zahran Alloush, a Jordanian psychologist based in Amman, later told Aljazeera the Syrian president’s “body language was telling. He looked rattled and worried.
“I kept asking myself, ‘Why are his eyes looking left and right in quick succession while performing the prayers?’
“He also seemed in a rush. He just wanted to dash out. “
The pointers to the state of play on the battlefront after the failed attack were left for Egyptian military strategy analyst Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Safwat el-Zayyat, who told Aljazeera:
The armed opposition formed the “Front to Liberate Damascus” a fortnight ago and has started moving from Eastern Ghouta to the capital proper.
Within two weeks, we’re seeing clashes in Umawiyeen and Abbasiyeen squares, which are just over two kilometers from the site of the (motorcade) incident.
This means the armed opposition is now fighting inside Damascus.
At the same time, the regime is capitalizing on its airpower to bomb Qaboun, Jobar, Barza, Ghouta and other places in the Damascus countryside.
The armed opposition, in other words, has gone a long way since the regime announced in mid-April that it was winning the battle for Damascus.
The area targeted by the rebels today is a nerve center for the regime. It’s where the presidential offices and palaces are.
Although Katyusha and mortar rounds are not exactly accurate, I think the message was delivered to the regime: the president’s motorcade is on our radar.
We’re now into what is called fourth-generation warfare (4GW), in which no side lets its opponent rest.
For example, after capturing Minnigh airbase in Syria’s far north, we see the rebels targeting political and military regime leaders in the heart of Damascus.  The purpose is to keep the adversary under tactical, operational and strategic pressure.
On August 1, the president paid a symbolic visit to troops in the battered town of Darayya, southwest of Damascus, on the occasion of Army Day.
TV footage showed him surrounded by scores of presidential guards and exchanging a few words with 10 soldiers at most.
Why would a head of state need special protection when talking to his troops?
The answer came today in the capital’s Maliki area.
Also on August 1, the rebels sent a wave of rockets slamming into a huge advanced weapons depot in Wadi ad-Dahab, southeast of Homs.
How did the rebels know it existed?
A day later, they captured a major munition depot of anti-tank guided missiles in the Damascus northern countryside region of Qalamoun, where the Syrian army’s famed 3rd Armored Division is deployed.
Who led them to it?
Then came the armed opposition’s sweep on Latakia’s rural areas, where they captured 10 villages in two days.
This tells me, the armed opposition is now getting a trove of intelligence information from regime insiders.

Thursday 8 August 2013

What is Egypt’s Gen. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi after?

Gen. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi

The formidable challenge facing the “two Egypts” today is to rescue politics from the street as the first step towards national reconciliation.
The man central for finding the way to achieve this is Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi, commander-in-chief of the armed forces, long regarded as the sole political arbiter in Egypt.
Following days of mass protests against President Mohamed Morsi at June’s end, the military warned it was prepared to step in “to stop Egypt from plunging into a dark tunnel of conflict and infighting.”
The army issued an ultimatum to Morsi on June 30, instructing him to respond to people's demands or step down within 48 hours. When he failed to do so, it removed him from office on July 3, appointed an interim civilian administration and issued a roadmap leading to fresh elections.
The Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters have been protesting since. They insist that protests will continue until the military-backed administration steps down and the democratically elected one is returned to power.
Egged on by anti-Morsi protesters as the savior of democracy, the Sisi-led military shows no signs of backing down.
In this catch 22 setting, Egypt’s brilliant columnist and talk show host Imad Adeeb wrote this profile of Sisi in Arabic for the country's al-Watan daily:
One question incessantly and markedly posed by all foreign intelligence agencies in Cairo since last June 30 is this: What is Gen. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi after?
Is he power-hungry? Is he leading a military coup? Does he want to ride to the presidency on the back of a Military Establishment tank?
The question puzzling everyone is: What does this man want exactly?
Some in Egypt portray him as a revolutionary inspired by Nasserite thought who rallied the military.
Others who support the Islamic current depict Sisi as a putschist who rode the revolution’s second wave on June 30.
So is he a putschist who rode the revolution wave or a revolutionary who exploited the Military Establishment?
In truth, or at least in my personal humble opinion, the man is simpler than this and that.
Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is an Egyptian who comes from an above-average class, loves Egypt and is extremely loyal to the Military Establishment.
Sisi is a prototype of the professional Egyptian army general who strives to uphold the clout, repute and role of the Egyptian Military Establishment, which has entrenched traditions dating back to 1805 and the launch of Muhammad Ali Pasha’s era.
Sisi personifies a set of national and nationalist thoughts shared by the overwhelming majority of the soldiers and officers in the Egyptian Army.
Sisi attended the U.S. Army War College, but he is neither America’s lackey nor her traditional enemy.
Sisi is an Egyptian nationalist committed to Egypt’s full sovereignty over every handspan of its national territory.
Sisi is an Arab nationalist who believes in Egypt’s pan-Arab role but is not prepared to apportion Egypt’s security and independence to any Arab sisterly country, whichever it may be.
Sisi’s moderation is epicentral in its political grasp of the nation’s territorial integrity and independence – this, without extremism or exaggeration and in the accompanying absence of laxity or dereliction.
The second wave of the January 2011 revolution is what won the hearts of Sisi’s generation, which is the first generation to be in command of Egypt’s Military Establishment after replacing leaders of the 1973 October War.
This is an exceptional and rare fusion in Egypt’s political life.
So what does Sisi want specifically?
You may not believe me if I told you that – other than seeing Egypt safe, secure and stable in a modern civil state where the army plays its constitutional role in safeguarding security and stability – the general wants to retire early.
Sisi is not after power, money or fame.
He is folksy in his love of Egypt and a Sufi in the matter of  power.
All this makes his profiles in foreign embassy reports totally inaccurate because it is difficult for a pragmatic and utilitarian mind to imagine a general who reached the helm on the strength of the street and the backing of a tank continue to yearn for nothing.