SISI’S SECOND COUP
Al-Araby al-Jadeed, London, February 19
The constitutional amendments approved by the Egyptian parliament last week, in preparation for a referendum that will be held as an issue next month, represent a new catastrophic measure that will completely destroy Egyptian political life. We can clearly say that we are in the midst of a second Egyptian coup, which is now underway with the passing of such changes. It is shameful that this coup is being carried out by those who should work to protect the constitution and respect it, and are supposed to represent the people of Egypt. The approved amendments constitute a clear violation of the 2014 constitution, which was passed by a large majority and celebrated by all parties across the political spectrum.
Perhaps the most serious change proposed relates to Article 226, which stipulates that no amendments will be made to the re-election of the president in a way that consolidates his power and postpones elections. However, according to media sources in Egypt, the recent changes prolonged the presidential term from four to six years. It also added a so-called “transitional clause,” which guarantees that President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi would remain in office for two more terms, until 2034. To make matters worse, the proposed amendments also give the president – as a representative of the executive branch – new authority, particularly in relation to the judiciary. According to several sources, the new constitution will grant the president the power to appoint the heads of judicial bodies, and not as was customary when these decisions would be made by the bodies and later ratified by the president.
In addition, there are rumors about a clause that grants the armed forces authority over the republic’s civic affairs. This means that the Egyptian army will turn into an overarching institution that goes beyond the law. Finally, such an article, if added to the constitution, would implicate the army in the political conflict, which is contrary to the nature of the military institution, which must be neutral and far from ideological or political conflicts. It comes as no surprise that Sisi has no respect for political institutions, social movements, civil society, or elections. It is also clear that he despises the constitution and the law, despite vowing to protect them when he entered office. He reversed his pledge and rescinded his promises. Instead of strengthening the rule of law and the democratic process in Egypt, Sisi will do anything to pass these amendments in order to tighten his grip on all political, legislative and judicial institutions in Egypt. Sadly, he is doing so in a manner that none of his predecessors – all of whom were corrupt and dishonest – ever dared. – Khalil al-AnaniWHAT IS LEFT OF THE SIEGE OF QATAR?Al Jazeera, Qatar, February 20
Thirteen demands were imposed on Qatar by its neighbors as a precondition to restoring relations to their normal state. Qatar was given 10 days to implement these demands lest it wanted to find itself outside the Gulf’s embrace. A breakdown of these conditions revealed political conditions, such as reducing the level of diplomatic representation with Iran; economic conditions, such as prohibiting business operations with Iran; and military conditions, such as prohibiting the establishment of Turkish military bases in the territory of Qatar. Therefore, Doha quickly found itself between a rock and a hard place, and was forced to make a tough decision. Observers of Qatari politics believed that Doha will quickly surrender. Today, more than a year-and-a-half after this crisis, we find that Qatar has managed to get out of this sticky situation without making any concessions and made good accomplishments, even while it is geographically surrounded by three neighboring states who declared war with it. The foreign relations that Qatar has been asked to cut or limit are still there, and the volume of trade exchange required to be abolished by Qatar is growing.
The deputy head of the Iranian ports, Hadi Haq Shinas, said that Qatar could benefit from the Iranian port of Bushehr for the export and import of goods, and that part of the agricultural production is transferred from there to the Qatari port of Hamad. This is done to make up for the growing demand in imports. In regard to the establishment of the Turkish military base in Qatar, the first Turkish troops arrived in Qatar last year and established the first Turkish military presence in the Middle East, amid great resentment by the Gulf countries. It has been estimated that the number of Turkish military personnel in Qatar now stands at about 3,000 soldiers, and may reach up to 5,000 according to the agreement between the two states. When it comes to media conditions regarding the closure of Al Jazeera, the station is still operating, its correspondents are in the field, and none of its offices have been closed outside the siege countries. Common political sense suggests that when a country is under siege, its political activity is shrinking regionally. However, Qatar experienced the opposite: Its relations and trade are flourishing. The Emir of Qatar has repeatedly made clear his willingness to negotiate an end to this blockade. Thanks to Qatar’s resilience, there are currently signs indicating an upcoming end to this dispute.
– Abd al-Salam Fathi FayezWILL THE PA COLLAPSE?Al-Bayan, UAE, February 20
The Israeli government decided to deduct half a billion shekels (about $138 million) from the payments made to the Palestinian Authority (PA) in order to offset the stipends given to families of Palestinian prisoners. In the past, the PA refused to accept the payments unless they consisted of the full amount owed to the Palestinians by Israel. Therefore, it will be interesting to see what happens this time around. There have already been rumors that the PA will accept the Israeli sanctions but choose to “retaliate” at a different time. This is a dangerous move. In order to make up for the lost money stolen by Israel, the PA will likely increase taxes in the West Bank.
This will put increased pressure on an already strained population that is discontent with its leadership. Most importantly, the Palestinian leadership must reinvent itself.
The PA is an antiquated body that longer represents the interests of the Palestinian people. The Israelis have been the first to take advantage of this situation. By growing and expanding the Israeli civil administration, the Israeli government has been de facto increasing its control over the Palestinian population while turning the PA into a mere security apparatus that guards the occupation. The Americans have also exploited this situation.
US diplomats have encouraged Palestinian civil society organizations and political activists to circumvent the PA and establish direct ties with the US through its embassy. By cultivating a new tier of US allies within the Palestinian public, the Americans hope to prepare the ground for the day after PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s rule will end. Granted, the Israeli sanctions could be temporary and related to the upcoming elections, which is witnessing a fierce competition between the far Right and the Right over who is more hostile and extreme against the Palestinians. But all of this doesn’t matter. This is a wake-up call.
The Palestinian people must revive their institutions to fight for their goal of self-determination rather than to serve as an empty bureaucracy that serves the Israeli occupation. While Israel and America are trying to divide and conquer, the Palestinian people must coalesce. The first step in doing so is by pumping new blood into the Palestinian leadership and revamping its institutions. Unless it wants to collapse and go down in the pages of history as an utter disaster, the PA must reform itself today.
– Hani al-MasryTHE FIRST FEMALE SAUDI AMBASSADORAl-Okaz, Saudi Arabia, February 25
“I extend the most sincere thanks and gratitude to His Majesty the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques and to His Highness the Crown Prince – may God preserve them – for this precious trust in my appointment as ambassador to the United States of America. And I will work, God willing, to serve my country and its leaders and all its people.” This is the message with which Princess Reema bint Bandar Al Saud accepted her appointment as the new Saudi ambassador to the US. This historic precedent is an important milestone in Saudi history and in the history of women rights in the Middle East. Why? Because she is not only the first female ambassador to be appointed in Saudi Arabia, but she is also being appointed to the most important ambassadorship abroad: that in Washington DC.
Princess Al Saud has clear abilities and skills, especially in conversation, persuasion, and in the English language. She has served as a consultant to the Saudi crown prince’s office, as well as a Planning and Development Secretary at the General Authority for Sports and Education. The new ambassador’s challenge is to deal with the hostile American media that has become obsessed with negative coverage of Saudi Arabia, as an effort to get back at US President Donald Trump. This is a difficult task, but it is not impossible. Princess Al Saud is armed with the support of the Saudi leadership and the immense talent that she brings to the table. The time has come for a female fighter who would stand at the forefront of the Saudi diplomatic battle.
– Mashry al-Zayidi
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