Day of Division in Middle East: Bloody Clashes in Egypt, Iraq

Sunday was another bloody day in the Middle East. In Egypt, the establishment commemorated the success of the Egyptian army 40 years ago in crossing the Suez Canal and taking back most of the Sinai Peninsula, Egyptian territory occupied by Israel in 1967. But the commemorations, which were lively and joyous in Tahrir Square and other sanctioned demonstrations, were marred by smaller counter-demonstrations (still often in the thousands) by the Muslim Brotherhood against the army, complaining about the July 3 military coup that removed elected president Muhammad Morsi from power. The military effectively strangled these protests, sometimes with excessive use of force. The Brotherhood cadres sometimes deployed guns and violence. In some places, such as Ramsis Square, angry anti-Brotherhood crowds tried to attack the Muslim fundamentalists, and the army had to step in to protect the Brotherhood. Over 50 protesters were killed.

Euronews reports:

Egypt is deeply divided, and can only heal if the military hardliners relent and allow a place for the Muslim Brotherhood in electoral processes. At the moment they seemed determine to ban the organization. Likewise, the remaining Muslim Brotherhood leadership appears so wedded to attempting to restore Morsi that they risk their followers’ lives in fruitless demonstrations that impede any further bargain between the two sides. I can’t imagine protests against the army on October 6 are likely to make the Brotherhood more popular in Egypt.

Then in Iraq, where bombings left dozens of Shiites dead on Saturday, on Sunday the bombings shifted north to the mostly Sunni Arab province of Ninewah. Presumably the Sunni radicals are trying to bait the Shiites into taking them on, and are trying to regiment Sunnis behind their leadership.

PressTV reports:

Iraq got where it is because its elites and workers refused to compromise or make a grand bargain after the fall of the old regime in 2003. They gradually drove the Sunni Arab population into despair, into supporting or joining the guerrillas. Once a guerrilla insurgency is established and institutionalized, it typically goes on for a decade or more, and only about 20% are militarily defeated.

Egypt would be most unwise to drive the Brotherhood to create an insurgency. In today’s world, weapons and C4 explosives aren’t that hard to get hold of and small cells can disrupt large events. Iraq should stand as an object lesson to other countries in the region as to what can happen if divisions are allowed to fester.

No one thinks it can happen to them. As an Algerian, UN special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, tried to warn the Iraqi elite in late spring of 2004 that you can fall into a civil war without meaning to, piecemeal. The elite was furious with him for comparing Iraq to divided and violent Algeria. By now Iraq has surely outstripped the violence that beset Algeria in the 1990s. Brahimi is now trying to warn the Syrians that yes, it can get worse.

23 Responses

  1. If the Egyptians were not demonizing Islamists, there might be conflict between liberals and the military. But as it is, security is the main focus, and most folks, including the new left and the unions, are content to live in a patriotic police state. Having an internal enemy that’s not too strong can unite a country.

  2. Meanwhile, it was a very good weekend for US counter-terrorism with the capture by US Special Forces of Nazih Abdel-Hamed Ruqai (Nazih Al-Libi) in Tripoli, Libya. He masterminded the 1998 US Embassy bombings in Nairobi and Dar es Salam. He no doubt is on a US navy vessel being interrogated and will be brought to the US to stand trial.

    Regretfully, the Special Forces team that was after the leader of Al-Shabab in Somalia had to withdraw before confirming whether they killed him or not. Apparently the ground commander decided the firefight was so intense that it endangered many civilians. This illustrates the value of drones to kill terrorists, as they produce far fewer civilian casualties than full-blown fire fights usually do.

    • Mr. Bill,
      To end terrorism you need to address the causes of terrorism. In past twelve years American anti-terrorism seem to have only increased terrorism agains the United States. That’s one. Second, save us your concerns for civilian life’s in the Middle East. Drones are responsible for the death of hundreds of civilians in Pakistan and Yemen. Third, think about what “killing terrorists” means. It means Mr. Obama and US government are the judge, the jury, and the executioners at once. No due process. No assumption of innocence. How long before using drones inside US? And, finally, you must have read about NSA “war on terror” relatedl violations. Any concerns there?

      • Actually, there have been far fewer international terrorist attacks against the United States recently than there were twelve years ago. Compared to the two WTC attacks, the Cole bombing, the embassy attacks, the US has been subject to a great deal fewer such attacks in recent years. Perhaps “address the cause of terrorism” means something different than you are assuming.

      • Second, save us your concerns for civilian life’s in the Middle East. Drones are responsible for the death of hundreds of civilians in Pakistan and Yemen.

        There have been fewer civilians killed by drones in 12 years of strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia combined than were killed in one day in Mogadishu when a special forces raid went bad.

        Do you even care?

        • Quite an effectively subtle riposte, Joe. Might one turn the question around and ask you the same thing? And what the internal moral (il)logic of your analogy is supposed to be?

      • Farhad, I totally agree with you. Having served when I was a naive and young man as a medical corpsman in Vietnam, I saw first-hand how many innocent Vietnamese civilians were indiscriminately wounded by American forces during battles and firefights. That’s how we lost “the hearts and minds” of the Vietnamese civilians whom we said we wanted to give them our wonderful gift of “American democracy” and to supposedly “protect” them from the communist VC guerrillas just as President Obama has lost “the hearts and minds” of the average Muslim civilians with his drone wars in Pakistan, Yemen, Somali, etc. But most U.S. civilians are clueless and have never really seen how we treat innocent civilians in our war overseas. And you’re also right that these drones will probably be used in this country if we have another economic meltdown in this country as we did in 2008 and if society breaks down into lawlessness and anarchy and rioting this time.

      • No, Farhad, the US counter-terrorism program has not increased terrorism; it in fact has degraded the top echelons of Al-Qaeda Central and its affiliated organizations. Drones have killed nowhere near the number of civilians that firefights on the ground would have killed. And finally, yes, the Administration, after careful intelligence and vetting, does kill terrorists who otherwise would not be brought before tribunals to receive the justice they so richly deserve.

        • People* have been threatening the US with “it will increase terrorism” for over a decade now.

          So where is this increase in terrorism? Where are all of these Iraqi, Pakistani, and Afghan terrorist attacks on the United States? And why did all of these Egyptians and Saudis launch them in the decade before 9/11, without there ever having been an American military action in those countries?

          *Predictably, the people issuing this threat are the same ones who, in every other circumstance, downplay the threat of terrorism, changing the subject to traffic fatalities and Mohammmed Mossedegh whenever it comes up. Sort like how they insist that al Qaeda isn’t al Qaeda if it’s in the Arabian Penninsula, while describing everyone who took up arms against the Assad regime as “al Qaeda.”

          You know, it’s almost as if these people aren’t actually discussing the subject of al Qaeda terrorism and American policy in good faith at all.

    • I’m sure they struck a mortal blow at Terrorism. No more terrorism will ever happen again. The world expresses its unending gratitude.

      And oh yes. Did they remember to dump the bodies in the ocean, per SOP?

      • I would expect a more mature response, Roland, than the cartoon image you project in your comment.

      • I remember when it was the right-wingers who insisted that the proper measure of America’s efforts against al Qaeda as “no more terrorism will ever happen again.”

        That was, of course, an irresponsible bit of propaganda intended to shut down meaningful consideration and bully the other side by drawing an unachievable line.

        And it remains so.

  3. Whilst America and Britain are responsible for the overall situation in Iraq today, which wasn’t there before our illegal attack on this Country, it does not help the Shiites when the government carries out weekly hangings of Sunnis. I think there would be far less backlash from the Sunnis if these hangings (actually murders as it was the case with Saddam Hussein) were to cease completely. The hate these murders by the Shiite government foster cannot be under estimated. The horror of these endless executions started when America handed over Saddam Hussein to be murdered on their behalf like some kind of internal rendition, for which the Americans and we British are famous.

    • Excellent comment, John. It is important to recognize that Iraq experienced zero suicide bombings before the 2003 US invasion. However, as you and Juan state, Shia elite must make meaningful accommodations to Sunnis.
      Yet, to repeat, violent sectarianism is a tragic consequence of the invasion, and not due to Islam or Arab culture. When do massive US reparations start flowing to Iraq (and Vietnam, etc.)?
      link to detailedpoliticalquizzes.wordpress.com

      • I’ll have to disagree with the ‘violent sectarianism being a tragic consequence of the invasion’.

        Sectarian oppression has been around for quite some time, and such tensions existed under Saddam and the region’s Sunni hegemony, and it really needs to be addressed. It just happened that Iraq’s vacuum after Saddam’s controlled state, due to an unjustified and ill-conceived invasion, became a rallying call for such extremist ideologues who were always likely to justify their intolerance one way or another.

        Pakistan is a clear case for decades of sectarianism, and that is a country with a majority Sunni population that is battling (or sometimes accommodating) foreign Wahhabi/Salafi/Sunni jihadists and local Deoband/Ahl-e-hadith/Sunni Islamist insurgents who target the minority non-Sunni populations such as Shias or Christians, but are now somewhat overall suffering a blowback with the Afghanistan invasion and seeing it pro-longed due to self-sabotage.

        If we were talking about any other non-Sunni group being marginalized, let’s say Shias or Christians in the ME or Pakistan, the expectations of such a destructive violent backlash would not be as assumed. Such acts only feeds into the cycle of violence for those in power who want to retaliate. It really does become difficult and taxing to try to appease such self-perpetuating ideological outrage.

        Even faraway Canada lists religio-political Sunni Islamist extremism of the Wahhabi/Salafi kind as its number one domestic or foreign threat. At some point we have to realize that there is an ideology that is dangerously growing, supplanting and being adopted culturally by certain populated segments.

      • Seems like the blame is once again all or predominantly on the head of the Shiite’s. Why? When we hear of so much interference being financed and encouraged from the Gulf Sunni Monarchies, why is it still and always the Shiites fault? The amount of men and material from the above mentioned non-democratic Monarchies far outstrips anything a poor and maligned Iran can even dream of mustering up? Yet here the blame game is being solely targeted on one player. Is there some sort of bias by the west against the Shiites as opposed to Sunni Royalty? Why?

    • Let’s not leave out the role of al Qaeda in Iraq’s sectarian conflict. They spent years conducting a campaign of anti-Shiite atrocities for the purpose of inspiring revenge attacks, in the hope of creating a civil war – and it worked. Ali Al-Sistini held that nation together by his fingertips for years, but after the Golden Mosque bombing, it was open warfare.

      • Maybe we are jealous because the terrorist salient carried out by the US-sponsored Contras in Nicaragua didn’t work out as well? Or UNITA’s gentle ministrations? Lots of other examples to pick from, on all “sides…”

        And for people interested in context and detail, beyond the usual everyone-ought-to-know Authoritative Assertions, there’s a lot to ponder. Here’s just one example of maybe more comprehensive analysis of Who Shot Ahmad Who Shot Mohammed Who Shot Ahmal, from googling “al quaeda’s role in iraq sectarian violence”…

        link to opendemocracy.net

        • Do you ever see anything I write and NOT feel an unendurable desire to change the subject to what Random Bad Stuff ‘Bout ‘Merica happens to be floating through your brain?

          The multi-variate causes of the sectarian conflict in the Middle East deserve more serious treatment than a springboard for the bitterness of some crackpot.

  4. The October 6 events could not have unfolded along the lines desired the Egyptian government. First, the bloodly clashes and deaths refuted the argument that, as the Interior Minister puts it, “security will return back to what it was even before January 25.” The idea that there is stability or a safe environment for tourism is incompatible with the escalating bloodshed, especially as foreigners are frequently targeted for violence by ultranationalists.

    Even more importantly, however, is the fact that, despite entreaties from the president, the crowd turnout for the celebrations were not all that impressive. In the past, Tamarod was able to help Sisi and others raise huge crowds. This time? No where near as large; not even all that much larger than the pro-Morsi ones. Perhaps part of the reason is that the discourse surrounding the events is mainly attracting Mubarakists, military fascists, and extreme nationalists that will believe the army equals salvation no matter what. Fewer liberals, leftists, or those of independent political persuasion seem to be exert much effort to defend the interim government.

    The leaked video just goes to further show that the Egyptian media, largely controlled by a very low number of individuals, is being increasingly subject to militarists. Also that militarism is a major source of misogynist discourse and action.

    You cannot dine on partiotism. Nationalism and national security can’t fill stomachs. If the interim government wants to avoid falling victim to the same fates that its predecessors have, it would keep this in mind. Right now, it is displaying the same insular, opaque, out of touch, and uncomprising traits that the led to the end of the previous cabinets. This is not to say that the Brotherhood will recover, but that there are other political forces awaiting the chance to capitalize on the next major political upheaval to seize power.

  5. Part of the reason why “it” is so hard and “it” can get so much worse is “institutional” stuff like this:

    “Supreme Owner Made a Billionaire Feeding U.S. War Machine,” a clumsy headline at best, if you read the story–

    link to bloomberg.com

    This is just one little part of the stuff that lies behind the Potemkin facade of the Great Patriotic Game that so many tapeworms live off of while bush-wah-ing and rah-rah-ing the rest of us into tribal frenzies.

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