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Entries in Egypt (9)


Gaza Latest: Cairo Intercepts Missiles, Mossad's Flotilla Testimony, and Hamas on Direct Talks

Missiles Intercepted by Cairo: Palestinian news Agency Ma'an reported on Saturday that Egyptian authorities intercepted a shipment of at least 190 anti-aircraft missiles, rockets, and other ammunition in Sinai and seized explosives and weapons in Rafah.

Mossad to Give Flotilla Testimony: The Turkel Commission, an independent public commission set up to investigate the Freedom Flotilla attack, sent a letter to Mossad's Director Meir Dagan to give testimony. The commission has already called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and top Israel Defense Forces officials for testimony on the decision-making process before the Israeli forces' raid on the Mavi Marmara, the flotilla's lead ship.

Israel: A Rabbi’s War on Palestinians (Yenidunya)
Israel-Palestine Opinion: Hamas, Northern Ireland, and US Diplomacy (Abunimah)

An Israeli military investigation team has already concluded that the operation's planners lacked critical intelligence. The team concluded there were "operational mistakes" but no “operational failures”, and it was possible to prevent the flotilla’s mission to Gaza by political means, such as the opening of land crossings.

Hamas United against Direct Talks: Last week Hamas' Damascus bureau leader Khaled Meshaal stated that the upcoming talks between Israelis and Ramallah were illegitimate and the result of Washington's coercion.

Gaza's leader Ismail Haniyeh followed this with the assertion that the Palestinians cannot give up Jerusalem or any other part of Palestine. Haniyeh said: "Israel is trying in dozens of ways to achieve its goal, and now it is through negotiations."

Israel-Palestine: The Hamas Factor

First, Hamas accused its rival Palestinian party, Fatah, of “waging war on Islam and Allah” by detaining and firing hundreds of imams and shutting down hundreds of centers for teaching the Koran in the West Bank". Then, last Sunday, it postponed a meeting with Fatah indefinitely, due to the Palestinian Authority's decision to enter direct talks with Israel.

On Tuesday, Hamas' exiled leader Khaled Mashaal said that direct talks are "illegitimate" and are "the result of coercion by Washington". He called on Fatah to "wake up" and added: "Do not allow for these adventures and sins to take place under your name."

Middle East Inside Line: “Warm” Turkish-Israeli Relations; Latest on Israel-Palestine Talks

Meshaal also called on Cairo and Jordan to "boycott" the negotiations: "The results of these negotiations will be catastrophic for the interests and the security of Jordan and Egypt."

On Wednesday, while Hamas detained four members of the rival Islamic Jihad, a source told Haaretz that the Palestinian Authority has arrested dozens of Hamas and Islamic Jihad militants in the West Bank over the past two weeks. In a contrasting sign, Gaza's sole power plant, generating 25% of the electricity for the area, was reactivated after Hamas rulers reached agreement on fuel payments to Ramallah.

Despite all these developments, no one is mentioning Gaza and Hamas ahead of the beginning of the direct talks between the Israeli Government and the Palestinian Authority. Reuters' Douglas Hamilton points to the "ghost at the Mideast banquet":
Even if Israel and the Palestinians can scale a mountain of skepticism and reach a peace treaty in the next 12 months, 40 percent of Palestinians would be part of it in name only, because they live in the Gaza Strip.

Gaza's Islamist Hamas rulers say they will never give Israel what it most wants from a Middle East deal, which is recognition of the Jewish state and a legitimate place in the Middle East.

A settlement to "establish a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza," as key texts have put it for 20 years, would start life with a fictional element. As things stand now, about 1.7 million Palestinians would be excluded from statehood.

So, what can be done? One option is an Israeli reoccupation of Gaza; in contrast, Hamas could be recognised and invited to the negotiations in Washington. The first possibility would not only discredit Israel in the eyes of the international community but would double violence against West Jerusalem. The second possibility cannot be tolerated by West Jerusalem, given the social and political situation in Israel, and the Palestinian Authority will not be receptive.

Daniel Byman puts forth an intermediate option:
If Hamas cannot be uprooted, it might be convinced to not disrupt peace talks with violence and tone down its rhetoric. In order for Hamas to want a lasting cease-fire, Israel and its allies must change the organization’s decision-making calculus — a process that will require both incentives and threats.

One way to go about this would be for Israel to allow the regular flow of goods into Gaza with international, rather than Israeli, monitors manning the crossing points. Israeli intelligence would still watch what goes in and out to ensure that the monitors did their job, but symbolically the switch would be important.

In exchange, Hamas would commit to a lasting cease-fire and agree to stop all attacks from the territory under its control. Hamas would also close the tunnels and end its smuggling.

Such a deal would allow Hamas to claim credit for improving the lives of Gazans, and it could use the resulting increase in the flow of goods to reward its supporters. For Israel, the regular rocket attacks would come to a complete halt and the threat of renewed attacks would diminish.

This still appears to be wishful thinking. Hamas' priority is not to increase its per capita GDP and become a financial rival of the West Bank. Whatever the economic progress, the Gazan leadership would risk the appearance of being no more than a complementary organisation to Fatah. Instead, Hamas needs its social organisations to obtain as much support as possible from Gazans, in the face of "difficulties", to position itself as preferable to Fatah.

Handing the reins to an international organisation would also raise issues for Hamas, notably over its "transparency" on political and economic areas, and it would take away one of its biggest political weapons --- its claim of insufficient aid for Gazans --- used for the "legitimisation" of its struggle against Israel.

Nor should one expect Hamas to be silent over the prospect of direct talks with a lasting cease-fire. Such a peace agreement could herald the the hardest days for the organisation as it positioned itself both against Israel and against the Palestinian Authority and Fatah.

So, what is left? Hamas will settle for no less than political recognition. If that is not possible in the short term, because of Israel's internal position as well as negotiating stance, then it must be envisaged further down the road. Hammering Hamas after an Israel-Palestinian Authority peace agreement is far more risky than putting in effort for a Hamas-Fatah agreement for a single body representing Palestinians. Only then, can there be a Palestinian leadership with a stronger position, with more acceptance of its legitimacy, both in the eyes of Palestinians and of the rest of the world.

So, if the short-term answer to the "Hamas factor" is No Dialogue Now, that cannot stand --- provided one is looking for stability --- for No Dialogue Later.

MENA House: Ramadan Begins and Food Prices Soar  

The Muslim feast of Ramadan begins today. With it comes the start of special television soaps, exclusive programmes, traditional Ramadan lanterns, and LOTS of food. Oh, and the clock has gone back one hour.

Imagine Christmas in the West. Imagine that it is every day for a month: that is Ramadan in Egypt and the surrounding MENA region.

Fasting from dawn till dusk, but as soon as the sun sets, the celebrations begin. Exchanging of gifts, gatherings of friends and family through the evening until the early hours of the morning, and a banquet of food are daily events.

Traditionally, food prices increase around the start of Ramadan. However, this year prices have soared well above inflation rates. Despite predictions and debates over the matter, in the hope that there would be some checks and balances over the rising costs, very little has been done.

Only today a regular shopper claimed that, within a day and night, the price of chicken breast had increased by 15 Egyptian pounds (EGP). The prices of nuts, pistachios, pumpkin seeds and Middle Eastern sweets have all risen by a minimum of 5EGP. The cost of bread, cooking oil, sugar, lentils, and pasta among other household basics has also increased by up to 20% in the past month. The government agency CAPMAS produced figures revealing that vegetable prices had moved upwards by 45%.

Egypt, in the summer of 2008, experienced a severe food crisis. However Ramadan 2010 will witness greater inflation. The Cairo-based Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics reported that prices increased in July by 2.3% reaching the urban inflation rate of 10.7%, its highest rate since August 2008, was largely because of food (especially meat and poultry) and tobacco.

Mehwar’s 90 minutes collected a range of opinions. Whilst some people argued that the increase in food prices were too unreasonable, others claimed that it would not put them off purchasing their traditional Ramadan food even if it may hurt their bank accounts. All agreed, however, that this was an inconvenience that they may have to put up with until the end of Ramadan.

The government has attempted to combat the problem by providing basic household goods for a reduced price, and according to officials, outlets will be supplied with extra quantities of food. Ahmed el-Rakaybi, president of the state-run Holding Company for Foodstuffs, said that vendors had been supplied with 47,000 tons of sugar and 3500 tons of rice. Sugar, rice, flour, cooking oil, beans, and lentils will all be sold at lower prices, while the cost of meat will range between LE23 and LE38 per kilo and fish between LE6.5 and LE13.75 per kilo.

This may be a more financially restrained month of festivities, nevertheless the celebrations will continue. Happy Ramadan!

MENA House: Egypt wins the Robocup (Robot Soccer World Cup) 2010

The German university of Cairo Pharoahs (GUC) came first place beating robOTTO (University of Magdeberg, Germany) in the final and winning the World Cup in Robotics and Artificial Intelligence known as RoboCup within the Festo Logistics League. This year RoboCup 2010 took place in Singapore from 19th -25th June 2010.

The GUC team was the only team participating from Africa, the Arab World and the Middle East. It is their first year to participate in the Robot games since its introduction to the international scene in 1997.  Participants ranged from Germany, Switzerland, Hungary, Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore and Egypt among others.  A total of 500 teams entered the competition from 40 different countries.   

The Robocup is similar to the world cup, but with robots.  The Robocup is an international competition which was founded in 1997 (with a pre-trila robotcup held in Japan in 1996 for domestic teams).  The competition and conference is designed for participants to test advanced robotics and Artificial Intelligence on a playing field.  Most participants are Undergrads, postgraduates and PhD holders who focus their research on this particular field.  

The Robocup objective is:

To creat a team of full autonomous humanoid robot football players who can play and beat the winners of the most recent (human) world cup, complying with official FIFA rules, by the year 2050.
Members of the GUC team consisted a variety of Undergrads, Postgrads and PhDs.  In fact, the Egyptian representatives were the only team to encoorporate undergraduates into their team.  A risky, but successful move paid off.  Team GUC Pharoahs consisted of: Ahmed Hani, Yomna Gamal, Mustapha Abdullah, Summer Kassem, Hesham Raouf and Nehal Hassan. The team was supervised by Prof. Dr. Hani Hagras, Dr. Rabie Ramadan, Dr. Hisham Elsherif and Engineer Mosutafa Nawito.

The GUC team played two group stages before going on to play in the Semi finals and then the finals of the Robocup.  Teams in their group included: The University of Bern, Switzerland and two teams from Singapore polytechnic and Nanyang Technology University, Singapore. In the second group stages, the GUC team went on to play against their group in the 2nd round which included The University of Magdeburg (Germany) and KAIST (South Korea). The GUC team then went on to beat Hungary in the Semi Final before beating the University of Magdeburg (Germany) in the final to be crowned as World Champions in Robocup 2010.

While it may seem iroic that the German University of Cairo beat representatives from of Germany, The University of Magdeberg, we look forward to the day when Egypt can once again, qualify to play in the (human) world cup and maybe, potentially, win. 

Congratulations to the GUC Pharaohs!

Hamas Watch: Rockets, Gaza's Power Plant Closed, and A Secret Meeting with Israel?

Rockets and Hamas: On Saturday, London based Arab newspaper Al-Quds Al-Arabi reported Hamas official Khaled Mashaal to the Jordanian government, saying that Hamas had nothing to do with rockets fired from Egypt's Sinai Peninsula into Eilat in Israel and Aqaba in Israel on Monday.

Mashaal accused Israel and Egypt of jointly exploiting the rocket attacks to justify a future military operation in the Gaza Strip.

On Thursday, the head of Israel's security agency Shin Bet, Yuval Diskin, was in Cairo for a further exchange of information on the rockets, according to a report by London-based Arab newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat. Egyptian officials told Diskin that the rockets did not originate from their country and assured him that investigations were continuing to find the rocket-launching trucks.

Hamas vs Fatah on Energy: Gaza's only power plant was reportedly closed because of a fuel shortage. 

The plant provides Gaza City and its surroundings with 6 to 10 hours of electricity a day. The rest of the densely-populated territory receives its electricity from Egypt and Israel.

Normally, Hamas collects the bills and officials from the rival party Fatah in Ramallah buy the fuel. Palestinian Authority spokesman Ghassan Khatib says Hamas is not sending enough money, an allegation denied by the Gazan leadership.

Israeli and Hamas Officials Met Secretly?: On Friday, the Israel Defense Forces West Bank division commander, Brig. Gen. Nitzan Alon, warned Israeli settlers to be on alert for possible abduction attempts across the territory, following interrogations of Palestinians arrested on suspicion of involvement in kidnappings.

The IDF said intelligence has shown Hamas leaders in Damascus are pressuring  followers in the West Bank to abduct Israeli settlers and citizens.

Meanwhile, Asharq Al-Awsat quotes Palestinian sources that the former Treasury Minister in Hamas' Gaza administration, Omar Abed al-Razak was taken from Nablus in the West Bank to the Israeli city of Netanya on Tuesday.

In a secret meeting, Israeli officials allegedly warned Hamas against kidnapping settlers in the West Bank. Both sides discussed the recent rocket attacks and the situation of the Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, detained by Hamas.