Welcome to the Middle East Today

The Middle East has traditionally been important for the world economy. The Middle East situation today has an impact on all aspects of life in America and much of the world.

Only by understanding the motivations of the various factions in the Middle East can we hope to understand how to promote peace and national security for Middle Eastern nations, Europe, and the United States.

Aug 18, 2010

Israeli Policy of Ethnic Cleansing

Israel’s continuous suppression and ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians has been part of its governmental policy since its creation in 1948. This policy has even been used against Israeli Palestinians within the green line and not only in the occupied West Bank and Gaza.

The latest crimes are the ones that have taken place in the Israeli Negev desert. There is also the ethnic cleansing of Israeli Palestinians in the southern part of Israel, where around 170,000 Palestinians live. Since 1948, they have been deprived of basic services such as healthcare, education and other social services.

It was reported on July 26th, 2010, that, “Israeli police armed with tear gas, a water canon and two helicopters forced the 200 Bedouin residents of the Southern Israeli village of al-Arakib, out of their homes. Most of the furniture was then removed from the 45 buildings of the village and bulldozers were used to flatten the buildings. It is to be noted that the victims of this act are not residents of the occupied territories. They are non-Jewish citizens of the state of Israel. This sort of thing happens all the time in ‘the only democracy in the Middle East’. According to the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions, over 24,000 Palestinian homes have been torn down or blown up in the occupied territories alone.” The report further noted that the Israeli forces arrived in the village accompanied by busloads of Jewish civilians who cheered as the dwellings were demolished. Prior to the “demolitions”, the crowd went into the villagers’ homes to extract their furniture and belongings. They vandalized the sites and defaced family photographs. This was done in “plain sight of the owners”. (readersupportednews.org, 8/810).

This aggressive Israeli policy of demolishing entire villages inhabited by Israeli Palestinian citizens has been a continuous government policy of ethnic cleansing. According to a media statement released by Human Rights Watch (HRW), “Israel has demolished thousands of Negev Bedouin homes since the 1970s and over 200 since 2009. The land administrators also began spraying the villagers’ crops with herbicides in 2002 as a mechanism to cause evacuation, a practice deemed illegal by the Israeli Supreme Court in 2007. HRW says, “Thousands of Bedouins were displaced following the establishment of Israel 1948. Furthermore, HRW noted that, “tens of thousands of Bedouins live in ‘unrecognized villages in the south of Israel’ and Israel has refused to connect them to basic services and infrastructure. However, Israeli authorities granted large tracts of land and public funds for Israeli Jews to establish ranches in the area and connected them to basic electric and water grids. HRW continued to say, “It is clear to us that this action by the Israeli government is politically motivated and systematic discrimination.” (IPS-MIDEAST: Homeless Take On Israeli Forces, 8/17/10).

Many members of the American congress refer to Israel as the “only democracy in the Middle East”. That is one of the main reasons that the state of Israel has been acting above the law in violation of international law and U.N. resolutions.

Aug 17, 2010

The Iraqi War – A Failed Strategy

In a speech at a meeting of the American Veterans of Foreign Wars (8/2/2010), President Obama announced that American soldiers’ combat mission in Iraq will come to an end by August 31, 2010. American troops will leave Iraq by the end of 2011. Some analysts are not sure that a complete troop withdrawal will take place. Personally, I will believe it only when I see it. Nevertheless, there are some questions that require answers.

What did George Bush’s reckless invasion of Iraq accomplish? What have been the consequences of the war on the U.S.? What is the impact of the war on Iraq’s human resources, economy and physical environment?

First of all, President Bush, his vice president and their political advisors misled the American people by falsifying intelligence reports about Iraq “WMD”. Bush spoke publicly about Saddam Hussein’s nuclear arsenal and its threat to the security of the U.S. In one of his public speeches, he referred to the possibility of a mushroom cloud that he did not want to see explode over the U.S.

Iraq was invaded in March 2003 and no WMD were ever found. Even Bush publicly acknowledged that, but he said claimed America’s actions made Israel safer. That was one of the two objectives behind the invasion. The second objective was to control Iraqi oil resources, which was never accomplished.

Bush’s invasion of Iraq and its impact on the U.S. have been tragic. First, it led to the killing of more than 4,000 American soldiers. Second, more than 30,000 soldiers were wounded and more than half of them cannot perform the tasks they used to perform prior to their injuries. Third, it has been reported that the enriched uranium bombs that exploded in Iraq during the war affected the health of thousands of American soldiers. Many of them continue to require treatment. Furthermore, a high suicide rate among soldiers who served in the Iraqi war has been reported frequently in the American press.

Fourth, the financial cost of the war was estimated by experts to be between three and three and a half trillion dollars. Bush and his Congress were borrowing one million dollars per minute from foreign powers (mainly the Chinese government) to support the war adventure. In his book, “The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder”, Vincent Bugliosi noted that, “George W. Bush could be put on trial in an American courtroom for the murder of nearly 4,000 American soldiers fighting the war in Iraq. Bush’s invasion of Iraq was a war of choice. He and his vice president, and their top aids and advisors should be held accountable for the lies and fabrication of false intelligence reports that they used to mislead the American population in order to justify the Iraqi invasion. President George W. Bush has abused his executive privileges and should be accountable for his actions.”

Let us look briefly at some of the consequences of the American war on the Iraqi people and their society:

1) The impact of the first Gulf invasion (1991) and the embargo imposed on Iraq from 1991-2003 led to the deaths of more than 500,000 children according to UNICEF.
2) 1,370,000 Iraqi civilians died during the Iraq war from 2003 – 2008 (Lancet Rept. #2).
3) More than 5 million Iraqis fled Iraq as refugees to neighboring countries like Syria, Jordan and Lebanon. Other Iraq refugees went to several European countries.
4) 2,615 professors, scientists and physicians have been killed in cold blood by assassins, in addition to 338 dead journalists.
5) The war deaths resulted in more than one million widows and around 5 million orphans in Iraq.
6) More bombs were dropped on Baghdad than the total number of bombs dropped on Berlin during World War II.
7) The industrial sector was destroyed and more than 500,000 laborers are without jobs.
8) The Iraqi infrastructure, sewage treatment system and the electrical power were destroyed. At the present (2010), water and sewage systems and electrical power are performing at one-third their capacity.
9) The health condition of the majority of the Iraqi population is very poor and the infant mortality rate increased substantially due to polluted drinking water and lack of health care.
10) The impact of the enriched uranium bombs that exploded in Iraq created a dangerous hazard and its effect began to show in newly born babies with physical defects.
11) The Iraq war led to the rise of ethnic and religious conflicts. This is reflected in the result of the last election. Five months passed and there is no consensus yet to form a government.
12) The war put Iraq 50 years behind for the benefit of Israel and their neoconservative supporters in the U.S.
13) George W. Bush’s reckless adventure was the best gift that can be given to Iran and Bin Laden. The war increased terrorist activity by 300%. Bush would deserve a medal of shame, if such a thing existed.

Aug 16, 2010

Debate Over the Cordoba Islamic Center in New York City

During the past few months, the approval of the construction of an Islamic cultural center by Michael Bloomberg, the mayor of New York City, created a shameful upheaval in the United States. In New York City, 53% of the misinformed public opposed the construction of the mosque. Many opportunistic, racist and ignorant politicians publicly announced their opposition to the construction of the mosque near Ground Zero, where the 9/11 attacks took place. First of all, the proposed Islamic cultural center is located two blocks away from the site. Furthermore, many people of different faiths (Christians, Jews, Muslims and others) were killed in the attacks. Well known conservative politician Sarah Palin said that the construction of the mosque is a stab in the heart of every family who lost a loved one on 9/11. Newt Gingrich, an aspiring presidential candidate, as well as the leader of the Tea Party movement, Mark Williams, are among those leading the opposition to the construction of the Islamic mosque. The negative journalistic campaign, especially that of well-known Zionist and neoconservative journalists like the Washington Post’s Charles Krauthammer, has fueled the opposition to the construction of the mosque.

Mr. Krauthammer’s negative views of Islam and Arabs were well known even prior to the 9/11 attacks. There are conservative evangelical preachers who also joined the negative campaign to express their objections to the mosque’s construction. Also, some Jewish Zionist organizations, such as the Anti-Defamation League, joined the campaign to stop the construction of the Islamic mosque. This group was known for its negative campaign against Islam in general and Arabs in particular even before the 9/11 attacks. The main objective behind such an attack is to continue to create a wide gap between Christians and Muslims for the benefit of Israel.

The public call by a fanatic, ignorant preacher to burn the Quran on the anniversary of 9/11 reveals that many of these people are unfortunately ill informed of the content of the American Constitution. Among other important things, the constitution provides freedom of religious practices and beliefs for all people in the United States. Sometimes, many ignorant and fanatical people hide behind the First Amendment (freedom of speech). But with that freedom there is also a responsibility to stop freedom of expression from impeding upon the freedom of others.

The bright side of this issue is the fact that there are responsible and honest people who have stood their ground and publicly supported the construction of the Islamic cultural center in New York. Among the leading political figures is Michael Bloomberg, who condemned bigotry and discrimination and supported the construction of the mosque. President Barack Obama has also announced his support for the construction of the mosque and for freedom of religious beliefs. He said, “As a citizen and as president, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country. That includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in Lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances. This is America, and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakable. The principle that people of all faiths are welcome in this country and will not be treated differently by their government is essential to who we are. The writ of our Founders must endure.” (www.truth-out.org, 8/15/2010).

Some religious Christians and Jewish leaders came out in support of the project. One of these people is Rabbi Arthur Fascov, who spoke in favor of the Islamic mosque and criticized the Anti-Defamation League’s opposition to the construction of the Islamic Center. Also, some journalists came out in support of constructing the mosque, such as Joe Klein, who, in an article for Time Magazine, wrote a rebuttal to Krauthammer’s opposition to the construction of the Islamic Center.

The negative campaign against Islam pre-dates the tragic event of 9/11. Nevertheless, Osama Bin Laden provided the ignorant bigots with the rationale to create anti-Islamic fervor in the West. . He used Islam as a pretext to launch a terrorist campaign against the U.S. to protest American foreign policy in the Middle East. Bin Laden does not represent the 1.5 billion Muslim people around the globe. Nevertheless, the followers of the three monotheistic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) have a great deal more in common than the fanatics and bigots are aware of.

Aug 13, 2010

American Support of Israel’s Nuclear Strategy in the Middle East

Recently, the Saudi foreign minister Saud al-Faisal protested the new policy of the International Atomic Energy Agency's support of Israel. The agency has been providing the Israeli government with technical nuclear support, despite the fact that Israel has refused to sign the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. Also, Israel has refused to let the international nuclear agency inspect its nuclear facilities.

It seems to me that after all these years, Arab politicians have failed to learn a lesson from their negative experience with Western powers in general and the U.S. government in particular. Israel has been dictating its policies regarding issues pertinent to the Middle East with total support from the U.S. government, leading Israel to act as though they are above the law.

The Israeli pressure on the U.S. to stop Jordan from enriching its own uranium for its proposed nuclear reactor is a clear example of Israeli influence. The Emirates, who are building a nuclear reactor, caved to American pressure and signed an agreement to buy the enriched fuel from western consortium. Other Arab states that are in the process of building their own nuclear reactors, such as Egypt and Kuwait, have refused to sign a similar agreement to buy instead of enriching their own nuclear fuel. They are entitled to do so according to the International Nuclear Treaty. However, the U.S. has been an advocate of Israel nuclear strategy on a steady basis.

The Saudi government, which already announced their intention of building a nuclear reactor for peaceful means, didn't declare publicly if they will cave to American government pressure to purchase fuel or if they will enrich their own. The final decision of the Saudi and Egyptian governments will be interesting to the Arab world as a whole. The oil producing countries have more leverage than the U.S. government and they should insist on enriching their own nuclear fuel, rather than buy it and be at the mercy of the Western Nuclear Consortium. The Arab Oil Consortium could generate the influence in the West to stop Israel pressure on the U.S., which is doing Israel's dirty work. Israel strategy, which dates back more than half a century, has been consistent in preventing not only Arab states but other states in the region from acquiring nuclear technology. This strategy will provide Israel with the power to intimidate other states in the region, since it is the only government with a nuclear arsenal. The Israeli military power has been an effective means of intimidating others in the region. Furthermore, the Israeli pressure, which is applied on the U.S. to bomb Iran nuclear facilities, is a clear-cut example. It has been reported that, "On July 22, 2010, 47 members of the house of representatives introduced a resolution (H.RES.1553) expressing support for "Israel's right" to use "All means necessary to confront and eliminate nuclear threats" posed by Iran, "including the use of military force." (www.justforeignpolicy.org, 8/16/2010).

This is an attempt on the part of some Israel’s puppets to enhance a political campaign to justify an Israeli and American military attack on Iran. These members of the House have failed to learn a lesson from the Iraqi War, which has been classified as a disaster for both the U.S. and the Iraqi people. The only way to stop the spread of W.M.D. is to turn the Middle East into a region free from nuclear arsenal. Would the Israel’s puppets support such an idea?

Aug 12, 2010

Food Prices Increase During Ramadan

As usual, every year before the fasting period during the month of Ramadan in the Arab world in general and Egypt in particular, the mass media focuses on the increase in food prices. This trend began in Egypt when the government lifted its control of the business sector as part of the free economic policy. (al-infitaah al-iqtisaadi).

This led to increasing greed on the part of the business sector, causing them to take advantage of consumer needs, especially during the month of Ramadan. This situation led some organized political groups such as Free Society, 6th of April, the Keefayah group and a collection of young people who advocate development and justice, to protest the increase in food prices in front of the prime minister's office. Furthermore, the new rector of al-Azhar, Dr. A. alTyib, increased the assistance to the poor by 100% to reach 40 million Egyptian pounds. He also encouraged the able citizens to increase their zakat (charity) to help the poor. (www.almasry-alyoum, 8/5/2010).

The government, under the direction of the ministry of social welfare, supported the opening of a supermarket in Nasser City - with 260 food companies displaying their food products at 15% discount during the month of Ramadan to help consumers. (www.ahram.org, 8/5/2010).

Another socio-psychological factor began to influence consumers. This is the idea that fasting during the month of Ramadan is a period of festivities, which is reflected in the amount of money spent on purchasing food. This increasing demand by consumers led the business sectors greed to take advantage of the public by increasing their prices to expand the margin of their profits.

It seems to me that the public began to ignore the religious meaning behind fasting, which is, among other things, to remind the believers of the feeling of hunger and to be generous to the poverty-stricken people.

Keep in mind that nearly 41% of the Egyptian public is living below the poverty index level, which is $2 per person per day according to the U.N. The most effective policy to curtail the greed of the business sector that is supported by the government is to organize a campaign to boycott certain products and food items that they can do without. For example, meat is an expensive item and is not consumed on a daily basis by the majority of the public because of its high cost. Boycotting meat will teach the meat importers a hard lesson and the public can do without it, at least for a period of time. After all, more than one billion people in India are vegetarian and are doing well without meat. The idea behind such thoughts is to create an awareness among the public and send a message to the business sector to restrain their greed.

Illiteracy Rate and Population Growth

The illiteracy rates in the Arab world fluctuate from 35% to 45% in most populated states such as Egypt, Sudan, Yemen and Morocco, where more than half the population resides. However, the illiteracy rate among females is almost double the rate for men.

Available demographic research reflects that the educational attainment of individuals are inversely related to their fertility and directly related to their knowledge and practice of family planning and birth control.

The high illiteracy rate among female and their meager participation in waged economic activities will continue to be an influential contributing factor to the high birth rate in the Arab world.

Furthermore, the unemployment rates among females in general, especially in the college graduate group, are much higher than their equals among males. For example, the female unemployment rate of high school graduates was estimated at 83% and was 25% among college graduates. (www.ahram.org, 8/9/2010).

The high unemployment rate among females is not the result of discrimination, but it is attributed to the lack of job opportunities.

In conclusion, the Arab world's demographic profile reflects a critical and important feature. First, the age composition indicates that half of the population is under the age of 18 and may be classified as a consumer population. This implies that more resources must be allocated to take care of that dependent segment of the population, hence less capital will be available for economic investment in industry and agriculture, especially in populated states. Furthermore, the consequence of the present demographic momentum, which is the delayed impact of the recent rapid trend of population growth, is a ticking bomb. Nearly half of the population is under the age of 18 and within a short period many will be ready to marry; the rate of population growth will be further accelerated. Even under the most optimistic situation, where all newlywed couples limit themselves to two children, which is roughly the replacement level, Arab population will continue to increase because the large cohorts of children born recently will mature and reproduce. It will take nearly fifty years for the population to stabilize and the Arab world will add at least fifty percent more to its size from the time when the decline to replacement level starts.

Nearly half the Arab population is poverty-stricken and more than 2/3 of the land is unfit for cultivation. Shortages of food and scarcity of water is posing the biggest challenge to the Arab world. Population increase must be challenged by remodeling social, cultural and economic habits and by a highly organized independent apparatus of social production.

Early Marriages and Reasons for Large Families

Traditional cultural views of the importance of large family size are predominant in the Arab world, especially in the rural areas of this society. Such views are motivated by economic securities and health conditions. Children can be put to work, especially in rural areas, and many parents consider themselves blessed if they have more male offspring. Large family size is considered an economic asset and a source of security to parents in old age. Recent surveys conducted in Egypt reflect the desire by married women to have more than two children per family. 40% of Egyptian families expressed that having three children is the ideal family size. Furthermore, 33.5% of married women who already have two children expressed the desire to have a third one." (www.almasry-alyoum.com, 10/24/2009).

The high infant mortality rates, especially in the rural areas of populated states, exceed 40/1000 in comparison to developed nations. For example, infant mortality in Egypt has been decreasing significantly since 1945, but it is still high by comparison to western standards. In a recent survey of birth rates in Egypt, it is reflected, "that the rural population constitutes 25% of the total population as of 2009, but contributes 41% of the total population increase."

Early marriage has been a problem in the majority of Arab states, despite the fact that some of these states' legal marriage age has been defined. In Egypt, the legal age is 18 years old for both males and females. According to the law, those officials who conduct the marriage ceremonies of young people under the legal age will be prosecuted and sent to jail for two years. In addition, they will owe a 500 Egyptian pound penalty in violation of article 722 and 126 of Egyptian law.

Despite the clarity of the law, it has been reported by the ministry of family and population planning that, "A recent survey of marriage ceremonies in Egypt reflects that 9,351 marriages were officially registered for people who were under the legal marriage age of 18 years. Nearly half of these marriages took place in the Cairo governorate." (www.ahram.org, 12/18/2009).

The tragedy of such practices reflects that the law is not applied to punish those who violate the marriage code, which makes the legal system meaningless.

Socio-Cultural Factors Contributing to High Fertility Rate

Three major socio-cultural factors influence and contribute to the high fertility rate in Egypt: traditional Islamic religious beliefs, early marriages and husbands' and wives' pragmatic reasons for large families, and the high illiteracy rate.

Islamic Religious Beliefs

Religious beliefs, as a contributing factor to population growth in general and as an obstacle to family planning and birth control in particular, should be viewed from two perspectives. First, there is the official religious interpretation, as is explained by some of the leading ulama at al-Azhar University, which is supported by the government's official stand on the matter. Second, there is a traditional religious interpretation, as it is viewed and explained by other ulama and regular religious leaders (sheikhs), and also supported by local orientation, attitudes, and popular beliefs.

Since the 1960s, in Egypt, former and present rectors of al-Azhar University, former and present ministers of Waqf and Grand Muftis, examined and discussed the question of family planning and birth control policy. Officials’ fatwas were released quoting various passages from the Koran such as:

"God intends every facility for you. He does not want to put you into difficulties." (Koran: Surah 2 - Verse 185)
"And he has imposed no difficulties upon you in religion." (Koran: Surah 22 - Verse 78).

References to such verses and others from both the Koran and the Hadith was made by the ulama to officially justify the implementation of family planning and birth control programs. On the other hand, some ulama oppose the idea of birth control practices on a communal basis. They claim that such a program is not the only solution to population problems, nor is it the only alternative to improve the standard of living. They refer to other alternatives such as industrialization, land reclamation, the elimination of greed and corruption, and a just distribution of wealth. They refer to some suras from the Koran in support of their views:

"There is no moving creature on the earth but its sustenance depends on Allah: He knoweth the time and place of its definite abode and its temporary deposit. All is in a clear record book." (Koran: Surah 11 - Verse 6).

"Kill not your children for fear of want: We shall provide sustenance for them as well as for you." (Koran: Surah 17 - Verse 31)

This type of rationale predominates in the Arab world and creates opposition to family planning and birth control. It is, therefore, not surprising to hear people saying that children are gifts from God and that it is a sin to violate God's wishes by practicing family planning and birth control.

Aug 11, 2010

Obstacles to Family Planning in Egypt

Previous analysis ( see July Posts) focused on population growth in the Arab world and its negative consequences on food shortages, water scarcity, education, unemployment, poverty and housing. Family planning and birth control have not been successful in the few countries that introduced them. In Tunisia, which has the lowest birth rate in the Arab world, the program was a success. Egypt, the most populated country in the Arab world, officially introduced family planning and birth control more than fifty years ago, but it was not successful. Recently, President Mubarak stressed the importance and seriousness of the issue of overpopulation to the economic development in Egypt (www.ahram.org 12/27/09). During the previous four years, birth rates increased from 1.85 million babies in 2006 to 2.2 million babies in 2009.

This increase led Prime Minister Dr. Natheef and the minister of Family and population plan to reevaluate the old strategy and develop new ones to deal with the population growth. In addition, the minster of economic development, Dr. Othman Muhammad, also stressed the danger of population growth which hinders economic development. He stressed that Egyptian families should limit their family size to two babies and Egypt should reach that goal by 2017. He noted that at the present, Egyptians live on 7% of the total land and that area should increase to 17%-20% by the year 2017. He pointed out that the population density in Cairo is 2.5 million people per square km. (www.ahram.org, 12/16/09).

The two babies per family is the new target set by Mrs. Khattab, the minister of state for family and population plan. I am not confident that even the new strategy will work in Egypt. There are several socio-cultural factors contributing to the high fertility rate, not only in Egypt but the Arab world in general. This should be part of any new strategy focusing on family planning and birth control. They are:

1) Traditional Islamic religious beliefs.
2) Early marriages and husband and wives pragmatic reasons for a large family.
3) The high illiteracy rate, especially among females.

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