By Michael Petrou - Tuesday, January 29, 2013 - 0 Comments
In this narrated photo gallery, Michael Petrou explains why taking on al-Qaeda in north Africa is unavoidable
Suddenly, a crisis that only weeks ago appeared confined to a part of the world that epitomizes Western notions of exotic inaccessibility—Mali is home to the fabled city of Timbuktu—is pushing itself onto the agenda of strategists in Washington, Paris and Ottawa. Drained from more than a decade in Afghanistan and Iraq, no Western government, including Canada’s, wanted another potentially bruising war in a poverty-ravaged Muslim country. But this one may not be avoidable.
By Michael Petrou - Sunday, January 27, 2013 at 9:46 PM - 0 Comments
John Baird’s priorities for 2013 will focus on trade. Security issues, however, may force themselves to a more prominent place on this government’s agenda. Here are Baird’s most pressing international files:
The Keystone XL pipeline:
U.S. approval of the pipeline, designed to carry Canadian crude oil to U.S. refineries, has been long delayed. U.S. President Barack Obama sent the proposal to the State Department for a revised assessment to avoid dealing with the issue prior to the American election in November. American Environmentalists fiercely oppose the plan, and Obama wanted their votes.
The results of that State Department assessment are expected this spring. Obama’s nomination of John Kerry, seen as an environmental advocate, for secretary of state has raised concerns among Keystone advocates that America might reject the project. Canada is seeking alternative markets for Canadian oil, but America remains its most lucrative customer and Baird will be working hard to close this deal.
A Canada-European Union free trade deal:
The Foreign Affairs website still lists concluding an agreement with the European Union as a priority for 2012 — underlining the slower-than-expected pace of ongoing negotiations. Reports say a deal is imminent, but we’ve been hearing that for a while.
A Canada-India free trade deal:
Canada’s negotiations with India began in 2010. Canadian Prime Minster Stephen Harper and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh re-affirmed their desire to close the deal by the end of this year when Harper visited India last fall. A seventh round of talks will be held next month in New Delhi.
Just because a country doesn’t plan for a war doesn’t mean it won’t be involved in one. An unexpected advance by Islamist rebels in northern Mali toward the capital, Bamako, earlier this month prompted France to deploy troops at the request of Mali’s fragile, post-coup government. France and Mali’s poorly trained soldiers are now actively fighting Islamsits from al-Qaeda’s North Africa franchise, along with affiliated groups. Canada has committed one C-17 transport plane to ferry gear from France to Mali. Harper suggests Canada’s contribution may expand, but he wants “broad consensus” in Parliament. Mali will be debated during the first week the House returns.
Afghanistan has faded from the headlines with the end of Canada’s combat mission there, but it remains this country’s largest overseas military commitment, with some 925 Canadian soldiers and 45 civilian police deployed as part of a NATO mission to train Afghan soldiers and police. Foreign Affairs’ Stabilization and Reconstruction Task Force will spend about $25 million a year there until 2014, when the military mission is due to end.
Barring any Canadian casualties — especially from insider “green on blue” attacks by Afghan security forces that killed 60 foreign troops in 2012 — this file may be a quiet one in 2013. Next year, when Canadians will be forced to pay attention to the sort of country we’re leaving behind, it will heat up.
Iran: Baird calls Iran the biggest threat to international peace and security in the world. In an interview with Maclean’s, he voiced his support for President Obama’s position that military force may be necessary to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. If Israel or the United States strikes Iran this year, world opinion will be polarized. Canada may find itself among the few nations supporting such an attack, and it will be up to Baird to explain why.
Baird calls Iran the biggest threat to international peace and security in the world. In an interview with Maclean’s, he voiced his support for President Obama’s position that military force may be necessary to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. If Israel or the United States strikes Iran this year, world opinion will be polarized. Canada may find itself among the few nations supporting such an attack, and it will be up to Baird to explain why.
By Michael Petrou - Friday, January 25, 2013 at 9:30 AM - 0 Comments
Michael Petrou on why this war may be unavoidable
Robert Fowler got to know the Islamists now battling French and Malian troops in northern Mali pretty well during the 130 days he spent as their hostage in 2008 and 2009. Then the UN secretary general’s special envoy for Niger, he and fellow Canadian diplomat Louis Guay were kidnapped by al-Qaeda’s African franchise and lived with them in desert camps until they were freed.
Fowler describes men more single-minded than any he had previously encountered. Their devotion to Islam was constant, as were their attempts to convert them. They showed no interest in the usual concerns of young men: music, sports, fashion, sex. “The mujahedeen seemed perfectly content to talk and chant about Allah and their servitude to Him endlessly,” writes Fowler in a memoir. Life on Earth was a blink of the eye, and death was nothing when you would live in paradise forever. They hoped to die soon in the service of jihad, or holy war. Around the campfire, young recruits listened with wide-eyed wonder to stories of battles against Algerian soldiers that left a battlefield strewn with their apostate enemies’ blackened limbs—proof, if it was needed, that God was on their side. And yet for all their spiritual obsessions, Fowler’s al-Qaeda captors had practical strategies about how Islam’s victory in this world might be achieved. Continue…
By Michael Petrou - Wednesday, January 23, 2013 at 3:53 PM - 0 Comments
Election results in a real democracy are unknowable in advance, and the Israeli electorate is especially fickle. Even so, the results of yesterday’s legislative elections have surprised almost everyone.
Analysts and commentators — backed up by polling data — predicted a shift rightwards. And to be sure, the right did enjoy some success. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s combined Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu bloc won a plurality of seats with 31 out of a possible 120, but far fewer than the two parties won separately last time around. And a new right-wing force, Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett, has burst onto Israel’s political scene with 11 seats. Bennett is firmly opposed to the creation a Palestinian state, and wants Israel to formally annex a big chunk of the West Bank.
But the biggest surge belonged to the centrist Yesh Atid party, led by former television journalist Yair Lapid. It finished second, with 19 seats. Lapid aimed his campaign at Israel’s broadly secular middle class, whose members worry about the cost of living, the quality of Israel’s public services, and especially the lack of affordable housing. Significantly, he is confronting Israel’s growing community of ultra-orthodox Jews by arguing that they too must serve in the army and work for a living. (Many choose extended study instead.) Continue…
By Michael Petrou - Sunday, January 20, 2013 at 5:00 AM - 0 Comments
How a hawkish politician is shaking up Israeli politics
Naftali Bennett, a hawkish Israeli politician whose lightning-fast rise on the right has shaken up Israeli politics in the run-up to the country’s Jan. 22 parliamentary election, campaigns with a hip and folksy charm that seems to soften the edges of his radical and illiberal ideas of how Israel should get along with Palestinians.
Even former prime minister Ariel Sharon—“the Bulldozer”—eventually came around to the idea of Palestinian statehood. Current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he has, too, though he’s done little in practice to advance the proposition.
Bennett, leader of the Jewish Home political party, doesn’t bother with lip service. “There are some things that most of us know will never happen,” says one of his campaign ads. “The Sopranos will not return for another season. Rami Kleinstein [a bald Israeli singer] will not grow an Afro. And a peace agreement with the Palestinians will not happen.” Continue…
By Michael Petrou - Tuesday, January 15, 2013 at 11:22 PM - 0 Comments
Is there are a French television show equivalent of The Simpsons? If so, its writers should start working on some catchy anti-American slurs that imply military cowardice.
It was The Simpsons, back in 1995, that first dubbed the French “cheese-eating surrender monkeys” — a phrase that gained renewed currency in the run-up to the 2003 Iraq war, which France declined to join.
The barb stuck, at least in America, Britain and Canada, where it played into popular perceptions about France’s quick defeat and subsequent collaboration in the Second World War, and about its perceived disdain for America and Britain in general. For defenders of France, the sneer simply underlined America’s supposed penchant for imperialism in contrast to France’s preference for diplomacy and multilateralism.
These stereotypes were not accurate then and aren’t now. France has always been willing to act with force, and without permission, when doing so suited its interests. And from France’s perspective, many of its interests are in its former colonies in Africa. It’s not surprising then that on Friday France launched a military intervention in Mali, where al-Qaeda and other Islamists have taken over the northern half of the country and were poised to push south, threatening the capital Bamako. Continue…
By Michael Petrou - Monday, January 14, 2013 at 2:54 PM - 0 Comments
But the quasi-judicial process has no legal standing
Nina Toobaei last saw her younger brother, Siamak, in an Iranian prison in 1987. She kissed her hand and placed it against the glass dividing them. He did the same. Then she left Iran for a new life as a refugee in Canada.
Two years later, Siamak was given a day pass to visit family. On a trip to the market, he slipped away. Toobaei and her mother and father allowed themselves to believe he had escaped for good, and that one day they would hear his voice on the phone, or he would show up in person.
“Our eyes were on the door for 18 years,” she says. Her brother never came.
It wasn’t until one of Siamak’s friends and fellow prisoners wrote a memoir in exile that his family learned he had been recaptured and executed—one of perhaps 20,000 political prisoners killed by the Islamic Republic during the 1980s. Many, such as Toobaei’s uncle Bahman Nayeri, were leftists; others, including Siamak and another uncle, Bijan Nayeri, belonged to the People’s Mujahedeen of Iran, whose members actively fought the Iranian regime, including with bombings and assassinations. Continue…
By Michael Petrou - Tuesday, January 8, 2013 at 3:56 PM - 0 Comments
Chuck Hagel, President Barack Obama’s nominee for secretary of defence, is a former Republican senator, a decorated Vietnam combat veteran and, according to some of his critics, unfit to lead America’s military because of his supposedly anti-Israel and even anti-Semitic views.
Bret Stephens, writing in the Wall Street Journal, informs readers that prejudice, like cooking, has an “olfactory element” element to it, and the smell around Hagel is particularly ripe.
Hagel once said the “Jewish lobby” intimidates a lot of people in Washington. Stephens condemns this on the basis that the pro-Israel lobby is not exclusively Jewish, and because Jews are not a monolithic political bloc. Fair enough–but Stephens’ suggestion a few paragraphs later that Jewish Americans might want to re-consider their support for Obama because he’s no friend of Israel is built on the same assumption of Jewish groupthink. Continue…
By Michael Petrou - Thursday, January 3, 2013 at 9:25 PM - 0 Comments
Cindor Reeves, once the brother-in-law of former Liberian president Charles Taylor, and the man who risked his life to bring Taylor to justice, has been granted landed immigrant status in the Netherlands.
Reeves helped Taylor run guns and diamonds between Liberia and Sierra Leone during the 1990s and 2000s. He has never denied this. Then, at great risk to himself and without asking for anything in return, he helped the UN-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone build its case against Taylor. Taylor is currently serving a 50-year sentence for aiding and abetting war crimes, including murder, terror, and rape.
Reeves was initially put under witness protection in Holland and then Germany, but took his family to Canada on his own accord and in doing so lost the Special Court’s protection.
He lived here for six years and left in 2012, following a deportation order against him. Canada alleged he had been involved in crimes against humanity though it could not produce a shred of evidence that he had ever personally harmed anyone. Prosecutors at the Special Court were explicit that they would never had considered charging Reeves, regardless of the help he gave them. Reeves didn’t receive immunity because of the risks he took on the court’s behalf.
Reeves’ wife and children remain in Canada. This country granted them refugee status on the grounds that their relationship with Reeves would endanger their lives if they returned to Liberia, where Taylor still has allies. Canada didn’t extend this consideration to Reeves himself.
Reeves is 40 years old. He’s starting his life over for at least the fourth time. Canada, to its shame, denied him a chance to do so here. The Netherlands, to its credit, has shown more honour and morality than Ottawa.
By Michael Petrou - Thursday, December 20, 2012 at 3:02 PM - 0 Comments
Egyptian atheist Alber Saber is today out of jail, free on bail pending the results of an appeal against a three-year-sentence imposed on him last week for blasphemy and contempt of religion.
His sentence is an affront to justice and a worrying sign of where Egypt may be heading two years after the revolution that toppled Hosni Mubarak. On other hand, Saber’s lucky he’s not dead.
In September, a crowd surrounded Saber’s home, threatening to kill him and burn it down. Saber’s mother, a Coptic Christian, called the police for help. They came and arrested him instead. In prison, according to one of Saber’s lawyers, a police officer told the other inmates to kill him. The prisoners attacked him and cut his neck with a razor.
Saber’s supposed crimes are difficult to pin down. His arrest came during the height of public uproar over the trailer for a film, The Innocence of Muslims, that mocks Islam and the prophet Mohammad. Saber was initially accused of circulating the trailer. Police found no evidence he had done so and eventually based their charges on other online statements he had allegedly made. Continue…
By Michael Petrou - Sunday, December 16, 2012 at 7:00 AM - 0 Comments
A Michael Petrou report: Islamist terrorists spread chaos and fear in Africa while the West dithers
When Robert Fowler, who spent 130 days as an al-Qaeda hostage in the Sahara Desert, is asked how he’s doing, he often says he’s doing fine, then adds: “So are my former captors.” In December 2008, Fowler, then the UN Secretary General’s special envoy for Niger, was kidnapped along with his colleague, Louis Guay, in Niger and spirited to northern Mali. The two Canadian diplomats lived in punishing conditions and under the threat of execution for more than four months, until their freedom was negotiated—in exchange, it seems, for a ransom and the release of al-Qaeda terror suspects.
Fowler is now safely back in the embrace of his family in Ottawa, and he sometimes has the bizarre experience of watching YouTube videos of Omar, one of the men who kidnapped him, brandishing a Kalashnikov and issuing hyperbolic threats against France, the United States and all the countries in NATO.
Omar has a lot to gloat about these days. Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), along with affiliated Islamist groups, controls the northern two-thirds of Mali, an area roughly the size of France. Their territory consists mostly of desert, but also contains several cities, including fabled Timbuktu, whose ancient Muslim shrines and monuments al-Qaeda has destroyed because of the supposed affront they present to its rigid interpretation of Islam. While American drone strikes have decimated al-Qaeda’s leadership in Pakistan, it is comparatively unmolested, and flourishing, in Africa.
By Michael Petrou - Thursday, December 13, 2012 at 2:36 PM - 0 Comments
“It is only our task to bring democratic change to Russia,” says Russian opposition politician Vladimir Kara-Murza. “It’s for the democratic opposition. We don’t want or need outside actors to come in and do anything.”
But, says Kara-Murza, there is much that Western democracies such as Canada can do to help Russian democracy by passing legislation in their own countries.
Russia’s political elite routinely plunders the country of billions of dollars. They operate like organized criminals: protecting their own and murderously silencing those who expose them. They rule in the style of Zimbabwe or Belarus, says Kara-Murza, but prefer the West as a safe place to store their money, buy second homes, and send their children to school. And it is in the West where they are most vulnerable.
Kara-Murza was in Ottawa this week to urge Canada to pass a private member’s bill introduced by Liberal member of Parliament Irwin Cotler. The proposed legislation would render inadmissible to Canada Russians who played a role in a particularly egregious example of Russian state pillage and brutality. Continue…
By Michael Petrou - Tuesday, December 11, 2012 at 4:19 PM - 0 Comments
Revolutions make for unlikely allies, and Egypt’s is no exception.
I first met Mahmoud Ibrahim on the patio of an outdoor café in a trendy Cairo neighbourhood in October. He spoke clear English, had at least two smart phones, and was on this way to the United States to volunteer for Barack Obama’s re-election campaign after receiving a fellowship from an American NGO.
Ibrahim was a devoted supporter of the recently deposed Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, and had worked on the campaign of Ahmed Shafik, Mubarak’s last prime minister, who ran unsuccessfully to succeed him.
Ibrahim rejected the suggestion that Mubarak was a dictator and was of course opposed to the massive protests that toppled him. Egypt’s revolutionaries were not his political comrades then. Now many of them are. Continue…
By Michael Petrou - Thursday, December 6, 2012 at 5:28 PM - 0 Comments
Well, that didn’t take long.
Less than six months since Mohamed Morsi became Egypt’s first genuinely democratically elected president, it’s becoming clear he’s not all that interested in governing as a democrat.
Late last month, Morsi, a longtime member of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, granted himself sweeping new power preventing any authority, including the judiciary, from revoking his decisions. He said he will give these up after a new constitution is ratified following a referendum on Dec. 15.
But Morsi’s opponents fear the constitution, drafted by Islamists, will irrevocably change Egyptian society and politics, subverting democracy to sharia, or Islamic law. Opposition that had been bubbling for months has exploded.
Clashes between Morsi’s supporters in the Muslim Brotherhood and his opponents — who include secular liberal and leftist revolutionaries, as well as supporters of former president Hosni Mubarak — have resulted in at least five deaths and hundreds injured. The man who came to power on the heels of a democratic revolution now governs from a presidential palace fronted by barbed wire and guarded by tanks. Continue…
By Michael Petrou - Tuesday, December 4, 2012 at 2:20 PM - 0 Comments
Michael Petrou on the Muslim Brotherhood in post-revolution Egypt
Mohamed Morsi was never meant to be president of Egypt. When elections were called following the overthrow of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, it was Khairat el-Shater, deputy leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, who was chosen as the Islamist movement’s candidate. Morsi was the Brotherhood’s backup choice—derided in jokes as its spare tire.
But then the election commission disqualified Shater because he had recently been released from jail, and Morsi had to step in.
Mohamed el-Beltagy, a leading member of the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), founded by the Brotherhood in the wake of the 2011 revolution, was sitting between Morsi and Shater at a Muslim Brotherhood office when they heard the news.
“I saw the look of relief on the face of engineer Khairat el-Shater,” he recalls. Morsi’s expression clouded. He understood the responsibility that had just been thrust upon him and did not look happy about it.
Morsi had good reason to be daunted. Egypt was facing its first genuinely democratic presidential election, one that resulted from a tumultuous, riveting and world-televised revolution that unseated one of the longest-ruling dictators in the Middle East. Tunisia might have been ﬁrst. Libya was bloodier. But Egypt was home to the Arab Spring uprising that mattered most. Continue…
By Michael Petrou - Tuesday, December 4, 2012 at 5:00 AM - 0 Comments
Michael Petrou talks to Maajid Nawaz, author of Radical: My Journey from Islamist Extremism to a Democratic Awakening
For more than a decade, Maajid Nawaz was a leading member of the extremist Islamist group, Hizb ut-Tahrir — recruiting members in Britain, Pakistan, Denmark, and Egypt, where in 2002 he was arrested, abused, and jailed for four years. He renounced Islamism upon his return to Britain and co-founded the Quilliam Foundation, a think-tank that promotes pluralism and democracy, and Khudi, a Pakistani social movement with the same goals. His new memoir is: Radical: My Journey from Islamist Extremism to a Democratic Awakening.
Q: You describe a childhood in Essex, England, in which you were almost unaware that you had brown skin. How did that change?
A: I was at primary school. There was a football incident when I was punched in the stomach and told that this game is not for Pakis. All of a sudden during that year the racism kicked in, and I started feeling very different from everyone else.
Q: At first you found community and empowerment through hip-hop music. But eventually you turned Islamism. You say it was like a tool to force your enemies to respect you. It wasn’t really a religious thing for you.
A: No. I’ve often said that this was a political revolution with religious connotations, rather than a religious revolution with political connotations. My primary motivation for joining Hizb ut-Tahrir was one of a need for identity, a need to address the injustice that I saw. Basically I needed a framework to make sense of all the grievances that I saw around me.
Q: That does raise question about some of the religious-based strategies for confronting Islamism.
A: It does. I don’t think interfaith is the best way to challenge the rise of Islamist extremism.
A: Jewish leaders, Christian priests and bishops, imams, and all sorts of religious leaders getting together and discussing tolerance and harmony.
It misunderstands and therefore misdiagnoses exactly what the problem is. Islamist extremism isn’t born from religiosity. Most recruitment to Islamist organizations doesn’t occur in the mosques, and most Islamists do not respect mosque imams.
The guy who recruited me was a doctor studying at Barts (a British university). Osama bin Laden was an engineer. Ayman al-Zawahari was a pediatrician. Islamism was born from a milieu that was completely distinct from traditional theological centres of learning. In fact it was an anti-colonial struggle.
I was never religious growing up. I never really understood what Islam is at all. I joined Hizb ut-Tahrir, and most of my work was focused on the political, strategic, and tactical level. We emphasized very little of religion, to be honest.
There is a religious element to it now. The Taliban and al Qaeda are personally very devout. But even then interfaith misses the point, because they’re fighting for political dominance.
Q: What works?
A: My story is the exception. Most people, once they commit to Islamist activism, especially if they become jihadists, will never leave. And if they do leave, it will be to disengage from violence, but they will still believe in the Islamist ideology. It’s very rare for them to then both abandon jihadism and Islamism, and then even rarer for them to be willing to criticize Islamism in public. It’s not what we should be aiming for.
What we should be aiming for is preventing people joining in the first place. And that means looking at the youth bulge in the Middle East, Pakistan, and Central Asia. When they have problems, where to do they go? Who do they join? What is their vision?
Q: Does that mean that the current ranks of jihadists are a lost cause?
A: They’re not a lost cause. I think there are different objective we need to set for them. Disengagement is a very realistic objective for existing jihadists. There are always one or two who will go further. But for the bulk of them, disengagement from violence, as was done with the IRA, that’s a very realistic objective.
Q: Should governments ban Hizb ut-Tahrir?
A: I’m opposed to banning Hizb ut-Tahrir in countries where they’re not actively seeking power, such as Britain, Canada, America, Europe. In Muslim majority countries, where they have a specific and declared objective or overthrowing democratic regimes — not even governments, but regimes, the entire system — through a military coup, and where they’re actively planning that military coup, well that violates both the national law of that country and international laws.
But if they’re merely members of an organization whose franchise in a different country is attempting to do that, then there’s no direct criminal offence. And to criminalize that causes problems with issues of human rights and freedom of speech.
Q: You’re opposed to criminalizing propaganda?
A: Unless it incites violence directly.
Q: At the Quilliam Foundation, you’ve received some hostility from people one might assume would be your allies: non-Muslim liberals. What’s going on?
A: Let’s keep in mind that Quilliam was founded toward the end of the neo-conservative era and George W. Bush’s tenure. The left wing took the view that even to address the subject of Islamism meant serving the neo-conservative agenda. And of course the right wing took the view that Islamism needed to be addressed to serve the neo-conservative agenda.
It was very polarized. And into this mix we came. And we said we wanted to turn neo-conservatism on its head. In other words, we don’t want to bring democracy at the barrel of a gun. We don’t want to bring a supply led approach to democracy by trying to impose it from the top down. But rather we think we need to create demand for democracy from the grassroots.
We have consistently been oppose to human rights violations, rendition, occupation, torture. But the same reasons why we’re opposed to all those things — i.e. from a human rights perspective —oblige us to be opposed to Islamist excesses as well: such as the view that women must be stoned to death; women cannot be heads of state; homosexuals must be killed; non-Muslim minorities must be discriminated against; you must impose beards on men; you must impose headscarves on women.
Q. How do you feel about the future of political Islam and liberalism when you look at the ascendency of the Muslim Brotherhood in places like Egypt?
A: In the long run, I’m optimistic. This was a necessary step for the evolution of these societies. The fact that these uprisings have removed brutal dictators is a good step. But in the short term what that means, sadly, is that we’re going to have a new challenge. That’s how to come to terms with those who, as a result of being the most organized in society for a long time, won the elections. And that’s the Islamists.
Let’s be frank. They didn’t win by an overwhelming majority. In their strongest country, Egypt, they had to go to a second round of voting. And even then, Hosni Mubarak’s former prime minister was second. And that tells you the level of the protest vote that was against the Brotherhood. Everybody hates Mubarak, yet they were wiling to vote for one of his former acolytes just to keep the Islamists out. I think that bodes well for the future.
Q: Tell me about your work in Pakistan.
A: Islamist social movements have been working very diligently with young people to shift their vision of what the social contract should be — from one of democracy to one of theocracy. And that permeates into every institution in society, whether it’s the military, educational institutions, or even secular parties.
So what we’re trying to do is create an alternative social movement that over the long term can once again pull back that debate to bring about a consensus as to the social contract needing to be democratic, not theocratic.
Khudi is a mirror of the 13 years of experience I gained inside an Islamist organization, and an attempt to replicate that with a democratic culture and democratic values — which means that we’re not going to see results in the next five years. It’s a 10- to 20-year process before we even start seeing anything.
Q: Why did you pick Pakistan?
A: It was the country in the world where the most need was. The Taliban had taken over large chunks of the country. I thought if I can do it there, I can do it anywhere.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
By Michael Petrou - Thursday, November 29, 2012 at 7:14 AM - 0 CommentsThe storm now rolling through Egypt was brewing when I visited last month.
Secular liberals and leftists who had spearheaded the revolution that toppled former dictator Hosni Mubarak faltered in the political process that followed. Islamists, mostly from the Muslim Brotherhood, triumphed in parliamentary elections. And longtime Muslim Brother Mohamed Morsi won the presidency — albeit narrowly, and in a vote where barely half of eligible voters cast a ballot.
Islamists also dominated the Constituent Assembly, tasked with rewriting Egypt’s constitution, and it was here that most liberals focused their anger. They feared the new document would entrench Islam as the political foundation of the new Egypt.
The Constituent Assembly reportedly ignored the concerns of its liberal members, and at least one quit in frustration. But it at least has the veneer of pluralism. Morsi’s decree, announced last Thursday, that expanded his powers and put his decisions beyond judicial oversight, was more nakedly authoritarian.
Morsi might have felt emboldened by the international attention and praise he received for his role in negotiating a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas. But he grossly misread the mood of his fellow Egyptians. Continue…
By Michael Petrou - Wednesday, November 28, 2012 at 2:40 PM - 0 Comments
In the West Bank several years ago, I asked a Palestinian activist how he proposed convincing Israel to make some sort of concession to Palestinian sovereignty. I forget now the specific point we were discussing. But I do remember his response. Israel, he said, cannot be convinced of anything. It must be compelled — non-violently, he added.
Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, he said, is old-fashioned colonialism, and throughout history colonizers have never given up their colonies simply because they felt like it. They were pressured to do so. There may be exceptions to the rule, but broadly speaking, he’s right. Colonies are freed when the costs of keeping them outweigh the benefits.
I’d argue that Israel has long since passed this point with the West Bank. Controlling the territory without giving citizenship rights to the Palestinians who live there erodes Israel’s democratic legitimacy; annexing the place and enfranchising all its inhabitants would soon make Jews a minority in all of Israel.
By Michael Petrou - Wednesday, November 21, 2012 at 8:18 AM - 0 Comments
In this video gallery, Michael Petrou describes hopes and fears in the wake of revolution
Egypt, almost two years after the revolution that unseated Hosni Mubarak, is a divided country, Maclean’s foreign correspondent Michael Petrou reports.
As he explains in the current issue of the magazine: “many fear that what seemed within their grasp during the uprising in Tahrir Square—a liberal and democratic future—is slipping away.”
In this narrated slideshow, Petrou describes life in the wake of revolution.
By Michael Petrou - Tuesday, November 20, 2012 at 11:39 AM - 0 Comments
By Michael Petrou - Monday, November 19, 2012 at 12:03 AM - 0 Comments
Six days into the latest battle between Israel and Hamas, and other Islamist groups in the Gaza strip, there is no end to the fighting in sight.
It began in earnest on Wednesday, with Israel’s assassination of Hamas military leader Ahmed al-Jabari and assorted air strikes against Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which followed months of Palestinian rocket attacks on southern Israel. It still seemed possible a day or two later that the two groups might settle for a truce and another period of uneasy calm.
This is now clearly not the case. Both sides have continuously escalated their assaults — Hamas by sending rockets at Tel Aviv and Jerusalem; and Israel with its unrelenting air strikes and now naval artillery barrages. On Sunday it appeared to expand its targets to civilian ones, hitting the homes and offices of Hamas government officials and flattening police and security buildings.
There are several unanswered questions at this stage in the conflict:
1. What are Israel’s goals?
Its stated reasons for the offensive have been to degrade Hamas’s military capabilities and to re-establish the principle of deterrence — in other words, to make it clear to Hamas the future rocket strikes will trigger an overwhelming and punishing response.
Israel’s targeting of Hamas’s civilian infrastructure suggests it may be aiming to destroy it as a political force as well. This is unlikely to succeed and, if it did, would leave Gaza without political leadership Israel could hold responsible for future rocket attacks.
2. Is a ground invasion inevitable?
The answer to this question depends on what Israel’s goals are. It’s possible there are weapons caches and the like that Israel feels it needs troops on the ground to find and destroy. But its ability to assassinate Jabari, for example, suggests a sophisticated knowledge of where things are in Gaza, and therefore the ability to hit them from the air. Still, the 75,000 troops it is in the process of mobilizing are a heck of a bluff.
3. How will this end?
Israel failed to destroy Hamas in wars in 2006 and 2008-9. A wide-ranging and devastating campaign in Lebanon in 2006 left Hezbollah intact. Unless Israel is contemplating re-occupying the Gaza strip — and there is as of yet no evidence that it is — this war will also end with Hamas as the principle power in Gaza. Israel’s best hope is that it will be deterred and degraded. The fighting will likely end when a ceasefire is negotiated. Neither side will stop unless there is some assurance that their opponents will do the same.
4. What role will Egypt play?
Prior to the Arab Spring, Egypt and Israel enjoyed an alliance that was chilly and without affection, but nevertheless largely functional. Now the president of Egypt, Mohamed Morsi, comes from the ranks of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, of which Hamas is an offshoot. Morsi has decisively taken Hamas’s side in this battle, even sending his prime minister, Hashim Qandil, to Gaza in the midst of Israeli air strikes (requiring Israel to suspend them during his visit).
This inevitably strains Egypt’s relationship with Israel. Israel, however, has few friends who also talk to Hamas. Egypt is therefore still the party most likely to broker a ceasefire. There are no signs that one is imminent.
By Michael Petrou - Friday, November 16, 2012 at 4:11 PM - 0 Comments
Here is what’s making news on Sunday morning:
- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu emerged from a cabinet meeting to say that Israel is prepared to expand its operation.
- Reuters is reporting that Israel fired artillery into Syria on Saturday in response to gunfire aimed at its troops.
- The Washington Post reports that Israeli military hit two buildings used by journalists in Gaza. The paper also reports that the country’s missile defence system stopped a long-range rocket over Tel Aviv.
And here is Michael Petrou on what is at stake:
The ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, is on the brink of escalation into a much wider war and a possible Israeli ground invasion of the Palestinian territory.
Following months of Palestinian rocket attacks against civilian targets in southern Israel — as well as an anti-tank missile attack against a military jeep — on Wednesday Israel assassinated Hamas military chief Ahmed al-Jabari in a precise airstrike as he traveled in his car.
Israel also targeted a number of Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad weapons depots and rocket launching sites. The Palestinian militant groups responded with a flurry of rocket attacks, including several using what appear to be Iranian Fajr-5 missiles that were launched at Tel Aviv and Jerusalem — the first time Israel’s two largest cities have been attacked from Gaza. Continue…
By Michael Petrou - Friday, November 9, 2012 at 11:38 AM - 0 Comments
Cotler, in the House, continues his good and mostly ignored fight on Iran here. His point about our focus on Iran’s nuclear issue overshadowing its continuous human rights violations is a good one.
The latest on Sotoudeh is here.
Sotoudeh was last month awardedthe European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.
By Michael Petrou - Monday, November 5, 2012 at 1:47 PM - 0 Comments
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Ehud Barak ordered the country’s military…
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Ehud Barak ordered the country’s military to prepare to attack Iran’s nuclear program two years ago, and were opposed by the country’s top security officials, according to an Israeli news channel.
The report alleges that during a 2010 meeting with senior ministers, Netanyahu told Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazai, then head of the Israeli Defence Forces, to “set the systems for P-plus,” meaning that an attack could soon commence.
According to Channel 2’s Uvda (Fact) television program, Ashkenazai warned that Israel’s enemies would notice such a move and might respond in a way that would lead to war. Meir Dagan, then chief of the Mossad spy agency, told the channel Netanyahu and Barak were trying to “steal” a decision to go to war without the formal approval of the full Cabinet.
Ehud Barak told the channel such orders are reversible and that “at the moment of truth the answer was given that, in fact, the ability did not exist.”