The following are selections from articles which appeared in the Egyptian English weekly, “Al-Ahram” of Al-Ahram Weekly, during July, 1998

Why is Netanyahu So Popular
by Mohamed Sid-Ahmed


A nagging question that refuses to go away is whether Arab political forces can continue to maintain a total boycott of their Israeli counterparts at a time official Arab parties are engaged in a peace process with Israel. The question has become even more urgent since Netanyahu came to power, not least because the main argument he uses to justify not pulling out of the Occupied Territories is that the Arab states are not democratic, that they do not have solid institutions, that they have no scruples about resorting to military coups d’Žtat and that if Israel were to implement the ‘land for peace’ trade-off it could well end up with neither land nor peace. The indiscriminate boycott of all Israeli political forces consolidates Netanyahu’s argument. An effective way of countering it would be to develop relations with forces inside Israel which accept the restoration of occupied Arab territories and the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Surprisingly, however, all attempts made so far to establish contacts with the ‘peace camp’ in Israel have had only a limited impact. Moreover, it is a fact that Netanyahu enjoys wide popularity in Israel despite his blunders, mistakes and scandals. In his article entitled Netanyahu’s Safety Belt published in this month’s issue of Foreign Affairs, Ehud Sprinzak, professor of political science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, calls the Israeli prime minister’s continued popularity “the great paradox of Israeli politics today”….

The most salient development in Israel in the recent period has been the shift in the political balance of power in favour of the Jewish religious forces at the expense of the traditional Zionist forces. Today, the newly powerful ultra-Orthodox forces are more concerned with their Jewish identity than with the Zionist solution of the Jewish problem. Sprinzak is sceptical about the possibility of any solution of the conflict under Netanyahu. He does not believe, however, that Netanyahu will always enjoy the support he now gets. He writes that “unlike the Israeli right’s hard core, which is ready to fight for the land of Israel and to accept the concomitant sacrifices, most Israelis are opposed to spilling blood to keep the West Bank or maintain Gush Emunim’s settlements”. Still, Sprinzak believes that the alternative to Netanyahu need not be a Labour-led government, but could be a government led by “a less tainted Likud figure like Olmert, Jerusalem’s ambitious mayor,” who could pre-empt upcoming disasters by accepting a territorial compromise. In such a context, the soft right could become a bridge between the moderate wing of the Likud and supporters of peace on the left.

This, of course, is a rather optimistic scenario, presupposing a dialogue between religious forces on either side of the confrontation line taking precedence over the traditional confrontation between pan-Arabism and Zionism. For a long time, hopes of a breakthrough towards peace were pinned on leftist forces on both sides of the barricades. Then came talk of the secular forces being the best equipped to achieve that objective. Now the task has been assigned to the conservative religious forces, who are totally out of touch with the requirements of the present so-called ‘globalistic’ world. Actually, it is important for the Arabs to prove themselves capable of becoming part of that world: the question is whether they can reach that objective better through communication with Israel or by remaining totally aloof from it. It will probably prove necessary to explore both courses concomitantly. How this can be achieved will need much creative thinking.

Writing on the Wall
Editorial, Al-Ahram Weekly, 23th – 29th July, 1998


A foiled car bombing attempt in West Jerusalem last Sunday should be seen as a warning of the mayhem expected to erupt in the event of the total collapse of Palestinian-Israeli peace talks…. While the Palestinians have accepted a US proposal for Israeli withdrawal from 13 per cent of the West Bank, Binyamin Netanyahu remains adamant in his rejection of the plan. He is simply turning a deaf ear to serious warnings by American, Egyptian and other leaders about the dire consequences of a complete breakdown in negotiations. President Hosni Mubarak has voiced strong fears of an uncontrollable outbreak of violence and acts of terror, not only in the Middle East but also in the United States, Europe and elsewhere. American officials have also sounded the alarm. Assistant Secretary of State Martin Indyk did not mince his words, describing the situation as “very serious” and warning that “we’re in the end-game.” In fact, Washington appears to be in a quandary: slighted by its ally’s rejection of its peace plan, but unable or unwilling to act against Netanyahu because of the strong pro-Israel lobby in the United States. Casting about for a way out, Washington proposed direct Palestinian-Israeli talks without US participation…. Washington is distancing itself from Israel without upsetting the Israeli lobby with outright action to pressure Netanyahu, such as a full official disclosure of the US peace plan. All indications are that Netanyahu is not budging and that the renewed Palestinian-Israeli talks will get nowhere. Netanyahu will have only himself to blame if a new Intifada, more violent than the 1987 movement, breaks out in the Occupied Territories, with fallout elsewhere.

FGM [female circumcision] Claims Another Victim
by Mariz Tadros

Early on Saturday morning, Mona’s mother heard that her sister-in-law was going to have her two girls, aged 11 and 12, circumcised. “When Mona found out, she told me that she, too, wanted to be circumcised like her cousins. She was so happy when I told her that I’d take her to be circumcised along with them.” Female circumcision, which is the excision of the clitoris and part or all of the labia minora, is rarely referred to as anything but as tahara, or “purification”. Mona Abdel-Hafez died Saturday night in a private hospital in the northern suburb of Madinet El-Salam.

Mona’s mother, who lives in a shanty Ain Shams neighbourhood, recounts the incidents that took place that night. At 7:30 p.m., doctors administered anaesthetics to the first of the three girls, but when they began operating on her, her screams were so loud that they gave her another dose to relieve the pain. She consequently remained unconscious until the next morning.

Doctors were in a rush to finish, so when it was Mona’s turn, they gave her two injections right away, one after the other. That was when the complications began. When her uncle insisted on knowing what was wrong, he was told plainly by the doctors — there were three of them — that she was dead. “Then they told us to take the body home and not to give them any hassle. When we objected, they tried to convince us that she was unconscious and that we should take her out of the hospital, but my brother informed the police,” said Mona’s mother, in tears. She is a widow and Mona was her only child. “She was going into fifth grade next year; you should have seen her, she was such a brilliant student,” she cried.

The mother was surprised to learn that the operation is banned in both public and private hospitals. “This is the first time we hear this today. We are poor and uneducated women; we have never heard that it is banned. If it does harm to a woman’s body, why did the doctors not tell us so?” she lashed out. The doctors charged LE80 for each circumcision.

One woman, a neighbour, interrupted: “We have been circumcising our girls from the dawn of time at the hands of midwives and barbers, and this has never happened except at the hands of doctors.” Many of the women agreed.

To them, the idea that some women may not be “purified” seems not only unimaginable, but also absurd. “Girls have to be circumcised, otherwise their sexuality will be uncontrolled,” explained one of the mourning women. “If they are not circumcised, no man will agree to marry them.” “Even if a man is sure of his bride’s chastity, he will be outraged when he finds out that she has not been circumcised. He probably will take her to a doctor himself to make sure she is circumcised,” another woman added. “To circumcise a girl is to obliterate the faintest possibility that she will grow up to be unchaste.”

A man who arrived to convey condolences said that since the days of Adam and Eve, all men and women have been circumcised, “and now they tell us that the government has prohibited the practice; you must be joking.” He added that he was aware that Sheikh Mohamed Sayed Tantawi, the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, issued a fatwa (religious ruling) that the practice is not obligatory under Islam. But the man said he was a devoted follower of the late Sheikh Mohamed Metwalli El-Shaarawi, who stressed several times that girls must be circumcised. Among the mourning men, the judgement was unanimous: it was the doctors’ fault; they should have been more careful with the anaesthetics.

Officers at Madinet El-Salam police station appear to be in agreement. The police report charged the doctors with negligence of duty while performing the operation. Nobody at the police station was aware that an order by the State Council, the highest administrative court, had banned the performance of the operation in public and private hospitals and clinics. A medical examiner’s report stated that Mona died of cardiac arrest that resulted from circulatory failure. The doctors were released on a bail of LE100 each.

Next morning, visitors to the private hospital where Mona died were confused when they found it totally deserted, except for one nursing attendant who said that all the doctors were away and that “there are no patients right now.”

The prosecution has ordered an investigation and Minister of Health Ismail Sallam has announced that the necessary legal action will be taken against the doctors. They will also be held accountable before the Doctors’ Association which will conduct its own investigation. If found guilty, the doctors may face up to three years in prison.

Dr Seham Abdel-Salam, from the FGM Task Force (a coalition of NGOs and individuals researching and lobbying against the practice) said that she hopes that Mona’s death, though a tragedy in itself, will provide additional proof that female genital mutilation (FGM) is not safe. Since 1994, the FGM Task Force has recorded more than 17 cases of FGM-related deaths that were published in newspapers, “in addition to the many, many who have died at the hands of midwives, barbers or doctors that we never heard of.”

The majority of circumcision operations are performed by the local midwife or barber, but some mothers believe that if the girl is taken to the doctor, it will be safer and less painful.

In Abdel-Salam’s opinion, this is an illusion, because research has shown that having a doctor perform the operation is by no means safer. If the doctor administers anaesthetics to the patient, it is only to make his job easier and not to relieve the patient’s pain. “After all, it is easier for him to cut an unresisting, unconscious girl than one who is crying, screaming and trying to escape. But from our research, it has been shown that once the effects of the anaesthetics wear off, the pain that these girls feel is tremendous,” she said.

“It is sad that the level of awareness about the harm caused by this ritual is still so low, but it is so difficult to change a tradition that has been upheld for thousands of years,” she added.

Arrogance and Amnesia
by Edward Said

[Heading:] US Foreign Policy Depends Purely on the Above [title]. And it will continue to do so as long as we all concur, writes Edward Said.

When it comes to Israel (leaving aside Indonesia, Laos, Cambodia, Bosnia, Chile, Iran, Grenada, Panama, and many other places where the US bears responsibility for international terrorism) there is a sublime sense constantly projected that the US is on the side of the right, justice, morality and peace. All challenges to that view are considered terrorism, unless Israel does it.

… The trouble is that as Arabs we never seem willing to engage the US intellectually and morally in ways that highlight the crimes committed against us. I have long said that the dismal ignorance of the US that exists in the Arab world — an ignorance blithely disconnected to the system of US exploitation and its organised cruelties against the non-white peoples of the world — makes us prey to the illusion that America is the only arbiter, the last superpower, the power with the greatest chance of giving us our due. At the core of our difficulty is the lamentable disunity of the Arab world, where rulers think in terms of the narrowest interest and no concern is given to the way in which Arab states are used against each other, traduced, robbed, punished and endlessly manipulated. To the official US we remain only “the Arabs”, an undifferentiated mass of turban-wearing nomads much given to fanaticism and violence.

… America cannot be confronted by brave slogans and the purchase of more new weapons from it. Like everything else in this secular world of ours the US has to be faced in detail, its policies exposed, its positions disallowed and unaccepted. What else is the unseemly begging directed at the US to continue its putrefying “peace process” now, after Netanyahu and the US have made (as they always intended to) a shambles of the whole thing, what else is this indecent appeal to revive the process but a shabby admission of impotence and acquiescence? Why don’t the Arab states in their greater wisdom declare their own peace plan — in which the whole world concurs — and prove to the whole world that no amount of American chicanery or cruelty will deflect us from our resolve?

I suppose that to wait for such determination is like waiting for Arab leaders with policy intellectuals and makers in tow, to come to the conclusion that if we need anything now it is a complete reevaluation of our policies vis-a-vis the United States, led by a critical evaluation of such arch-villains as Henry Kissinger.