May 18, 2006 12:01 pm


I dare not draw definite conclusions but these articles seem awfully interesting. For they seem to indicate a possible break between the Arab autocrats and their compliant elites, most importantly the Egyptian one. Note Hala Mustafa's Financial Times op ed entitled Blaming Hamas Sidesteps Regional Realities.

In it he argues that standing in the way of ME peace is not only the usual suspects, Syria and Iran, but also Egypt and Saudi Arabia:

the US has been unable to convince the two countries considered its closest regional allies -- Egypt and Saudi Arabia -- to follow through with their commitments to the road map, apart from occasional assurances and rhetoric.

Since Saudi Arabia is committed to the Islamic political agenda, it should not surprise anyone that its pledges to the US contradict its real position regarding support for the Palestinian resistance and Hamas in particular. It has agreed to a large assistance package to the Palestinian Authority, which comes after the Arab League spearheaded the effort to unite the Arab world to fund Hamas under the banner of"saving the Palestinians".

Similarly, although Egypt signed the first peace accord with Israel and has played the role of mediator, its policy remains complex. Since a large part of the regime's legitimacy is based on its support of the Palestinian cause, it is fully dedicated to the"legitimate" national armed resistance. So, while the Muslim Brotherhood is banned in Egypt, the regime gave full political recognition to Hamas -- which is part of the Brotherhood's transnational network -- even before the Palestinian legislative elections were held.

Accordingly, the"Egyptian-led mediation" has always revolved around reaching a truce between Israelis and Palestinians -- which remained fragile -- or, more recently, betting on giving Hamas time in order to preserve the regional status quo. This position is reflected continuously through the single voice of the state-controlled press and media which exclude any divergent views or opinions on this issue. Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian president, recently admitted in an Arabic-language interview:"Egypt has never pushed Hamas to recognise Israel." In light of this, it cannot be said that Hamas contradicts the mainstream policies of Arab governments, either radical or moderate.

There is nothing new in his argument. It is one I have made many times over the years. What is new is to have it made by a member of the Egyptian establishment such as an editor of the semi-official Al Ahram. What is important is the reason he made it. He recognized that reform agitation will fail again unless the opposition is willing to go after"the sacred cow" of Arab politics which is the Palestinian issue. Indeed, he ends thus:

Ensuring peace requires more than tactical steps or occasional moderation by Arab governments that fail to bring freedom and peace to a region that is in dire need of both. The lack of reform in the Arab world has only fuelled the fire of the Islamists. At the present moment, even Hamas's defeat in government will not be the magic solution that brings peace.

Peace requires that a new culture of openness be nurtured and supported by moderate liberal orientations throughout the region. It requires moving further for constructive change and not settling for the false stability of the status quo. While it is easy to blame democracy for bringing Hamas to power and halting the so-called"road map to peace", it is hard to ignore the fact that the policy of"stability" over reform has failed to achieve any progress towards peace.

In other words, if we are lucky, the Egyptian elite will follow in the footsteps of the Soviet one and put an end to the sclerotic Mubarak regime without heading Western cautionary words. No, I am not basing these hopes on a single article. Here is an Egyptian press review and yet another one about the struggles of the Egyptian judges and journalists by Khairi Abaza.

Also see, In a column in the UAE daily Al-Ittihad, titled"The Terrorists and the Final Smile of Death," Muhammad Al-Hamadi called upon the religious establishment in the Arab world to issue resolute fatwas against terrorism and its supporters. His call came in the wake of the April 2006 terror attacks in the Sinai.

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Steve Schippert - 5/17/2006