Fertile Ground
Salama Ahmed Salama


The success of international terrorism in breaking through seemingly impenetrable security barriers and outwitting advanced intelligence techniques in the Nairobi and Dar es Salaam bombings lays bare a new fact. A far more complex form of terrorism has begun to flourish, spurred on to ever more horrifying peaks by US policy.

The task of mapping international terrorism — its sources of funding, policy and executive branches, international routes and arms suppliers — has become the major focus of intelligence services, governments and many think-tanks in the West. These institutions have targeted Islamism as their archenemy and braced themselves to destroy it, instead of reconsidering their own policies, which have created the ideal global arena in which terrorism can thrive and attract ever greater numbers of “fanatics” and “extremists” who believe in very different things, and whose only common ground may be their dispossession and desperation.

The gravity of the Middle East crisis, which has exacerbated Arab feelings of incapacity to breaking point, Israeli intransigence, US double standards, the indifference of the international community, and the humiliation of the Palestinians are not the only factors nurturing terrorism. The systematic and organised humiliation and mass murder of the Iraqi people are also unprecedented in the history of modern warfare. The West’s attitude toward Iraq is provoking hostility and hatred of the US and the West in general, generating an urge for retaliation among a large and diverse array of factions. Terrorism is feeding off this hostility. The attacks on US troops and US interests in the Gulf were only the most visible expression of a generalised sense of outrage at the US’s massive presence there. Arabs and Muslims have had enough.

President Mubarak’s repeated warnings that the present state of affairs in the Middle East can be more destructive than an all-out war seem to have been proven accurate.

The environment created by the West is spawning seemingly limitless violence.

US endeavours to assassinate Saddam Hussein, organise acts of sabotage and overthrow the regime in Baghdad violate international law and supply terrorist movements with justification to engage in extreme violence. The events taking place every day in Kosovo constitute systematic and premeditated ethnic cleansing.

The Serbs are slowly but surely eliminating the Albanian Muslims. The operations which have been going on for months under the auspices of NATO are yet another episode in the Bosnian tragedy….

The US can indeed track down and punish the men who plan terrorist operations, but flagrantly unjust and biased US policies will continue to provide the ideal environment for terrorism to flourish. As for us, we will pay the price for whatever Bin Laden — or “Bin Clinton” — chooses to do.

Book Review
by Mahmoud El-Wardani

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Qissat Al-Gam’iyat Al-Ghayr Hukoumiya… Tamwil wa Tatbi’e (The Story of NGOs: Funding and Normalisation), Sanaa El-Masri. Cairo: Dar Sina Lil-Nashr, 1998

The noble intentions of NGOs aside, their proliferation in Egypt since the early ’90s and the plethora of international agencies and organisations funding them give one pause for thought. Delving into the phenomenon, Sanaa El-Masri has conducted interviews, gathered statistics and sifted with a thin comb through reams of leaflets and reports issued by NGOs. Demonstrating that there is no such thing as a free lunch, El-Masri skillfully traces the strings attached to donations and funds in return for which NGOs (the vast majority of whose members come from the opposition) are expected to deliver detailed, extremely revealing reports. Despite its grim conclusions, the book also makes for an entertaining read, thanks to El-Masri’s witty accounts of the goings-on in NGO meetings and their no-expense-spared five-star hotel settings.

EDITORIAL: “Cause and Effect”

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The synchronised bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania last Friday are, in essence, a declaration of war on the primary advocate and executor of the New World Order. The choice of targets, the magnitude of the attacks (which left some 200 dead and 5,000 wounded), the precision of the operation and the solemn vows of retribution by Washington all indicate that the war will be widespread, vicious and protracted.

Nairobi and Dar es Salaam were the last places one would have expected to be the stage of a massive terrorist attack. But then, that is probably the very reason the terrorists targeted them. As the two capitals have never been known to harbour extremist organisations or to suffer from the plague of terrorism, security there was not at its tightest. This must have facilitated the logistics considerably.

In the absence of either a definitive claim of responsibility or official accusations from the US, Kenya or Tanzania, speculation has been rife as to the identity of those who planned and carried out the attacks. Islamist organisations, however — any or all of over half a dozen groups, acting singly or collectively — are the prime suspects for the moment.

The suspicion is well-grounded. Six such groups banded together last February and formed the so-called Islamic Front for Jihad (struggle) Against the Jews and the Crusaders — meaning Israel and, principally, the United States. The front’s founding statement included a fatwa (religious opinion) according to which Muslims are duty-bound “to kill Americans and seize their assets wherever they can be found”. The front included the Jihad Organisation, which has a record of violent activity inside Egypt, including the 1981 assassination of President Anwar El-Sadat. This group issued a threat against the Americans a few days before the East African bombings.

All of this means that the United States and its allies, notably Israel, are up against an highly professional organisation with a wide sphere of influence. All the Pentagon’s power may help in fighting terrorism, but it will never be fully effective as long as discontent and the will to resist persist. A better approach would be policy shifts in favour of the oppressed, such as the Palestinians, and away from Israel.

Rejecting Arafat’s “Formula”
Former Minister of Agriculture (PA), interviewed by Sherine Bahaa

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Why did it take Arafat a whole year to shuffle his cabinet despite repeated demands by the Palestinian Legislative Council?

Palestinians have been waiting this year to find real change whereby officials accused of corruption more than a year ago would be reprimanded and punished. In fact, people really thought that those corrupt officials will be referred to court.

Yet those people were reinstated in their positions. This led to deepening frustration and disappointment among the Palestinians. This was done in a way which would undermine the future of Palestinian democracy.

Do you think that the new cabinet will live up to Palestinian expectations?

If this government can guarantee the salaries of the old and new ministers (a total of 32), this will be an achievement in itself. I cannot understand the absence of a solid council of ministers who are really devoted to their cause, with determination to build their institutions, to build the bases towards sustainable development.

I am afraid this government is not the right choice for all these challenges.

What were the reasons behind your immediate resignation?

On 26 June, when the budget was submitted to the Legislative Council, I rejected it for a number of reasons. First, the absence of an institution called the cabinet and as such the absence of any institution which could really set priorities and draw conclusions on how we could really challenge and confront the expansionist policies of [Israeli Prime Minister] Mr Netanyahu.

Second, corruption and the formation of Mafia-type pockets within the system, wherein government positions are abused for the sake of personal profit. Third, the lack of respect for human rights. Fourth, the absence of any clear planning and division of responsibilities.

This was my position before knowing whether or not I was going to be included in the new cabinet. To be a minister under these restraints and problems is very difficult.

For the past three years, we have really failed to put an end to corruption or the lack of respect for human rights. I felt that I could not again be a part of this formula.

More of the Same
by Graham Usher and Tarek Hassan


A full year after 18 of the 21 ministers of the Palestinian Authority (PA) tendered their resignations, Yasser Arafat last week got round to presenting his “reshuffled” cabinet to the elected Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC). The unveiling was greeted with relief by a few hounded ministers, outrage by many PLC members and absolute cynicism by the majority of Palestinians.

The call for a new government had followed a special PLC investigation into mismanagement across the PA ministries.

Published in July 1997, the report exposed a misuse of public funds to the tune of $326 million out of the PA’s overall budget of $800 million and, in the cases of three ministers, evidence of criminal corruption. It recommended that the three ministers concerned be put on trial. It also called on Arafat to replace his existing executive with a new one made up of “technocrats and experts” authorised not only to clean up the PA’s act, but also to ensure respect of the separation of powers required for any genuinely independent legislature and judiciary.

Arafat’s response to these demands can only be described as one of contempt. The new executive not only retains the three accused ministers in their posts, but, far from streamlining in the name of efficiency, inflates it from 22 ministries to 30, adding eight new “state” ministers without portfolios.

In his speech commending the new government to the PLC, Arafat said its role would be to “build Palestinian institutions, reinforce law and order and the foundations of an independent judiciary”. Many PLC members took this as so much moonshine.

Ashrawi declined Arafat’s offer of the Ministry of Tourism. “I cannot be part of this cabinet,” she said on 6 August. “It reflects neither the attitudes nor the structural, procedural and personal reforms that are needed.” Ashrawi was joined in her resignation by Abdel-Jawad Saleh, former agriculture minister.

Saleh, who was made a state minister without portfolio in the cabinet, accused Arafat of running a “school for corruption” in which “effective ministers are kicked out and corrupt ones are retained”.

Nor was the discontent confined to “independents” like Ashrawi and Saleh. In an acrimonious PLC debate on the new government on 8 and 9 August, many members from Arafat’s own Fatah movement vented their anger at their leader’s new dispensation. Fatah member for Nablus, Hussam Khader, mused that Arafat should no longer be referred to as the PA’s “Rais” (president) but rather as “god of the Palestinian people”.

Alarmed by the possibility of a split in Fatah’s ranks, Arafat was quick to take preventive action. On 6 August, he convened the movement’s highest decision-making body, the Central Committee (FCC), and, the next day, followed up with a “special” meeting of PLC members. Sources say that at this session Arafat resorted to a mixture of personal pleading, calls for national unity and implied threats of force to haul his truculent followers into line.

As so often in the past, these methods worked. On 9 August, the PLC approved the new government by 55 votes to 28, a majority ensured by virtue of the fact that affiliates make up 64 of the PLC’s 87 members.

The vote certainly marked the temporary end of a struggle between two currents within Palestinian nationalism that has been simmering ever since the PLC was elected in January 1996. This tussle has been less about the merits and demerits of the Oslo process than over the vision and content of any future Palestinian polity.

For Arafat and many of the PLO functionaries who returned with him from Tunis, however, issues like democracy, accountability and law are wholly secondary to the “main” struggle against Israel. For them, the only response to the crisis is the establishment of a “national unity” leadership, with “unity” measured in terms of fidelity to the leader rather than by suitability or competence to do the job.

With the countdown to a unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood now only nine months away, Arafat appears to be relying on the leadership methods he forged during earlier national crises such as Black September and the siege of Beirut.

The problem is that such methods ended in defeat in Lebanon and squandered the political opportunities thrown up by the mass, popular and potentially democratic struggle released by Intifada. For many PLC members — especially those who were formed by the uprising — the saddest aspect of the cabinet reshuffle was that it proved that, 30 years after he took over the helm of the Palestinian national movement, Arafat has neither forgotten anything nor learned anything.

Underlining that as far as he was concerned the issue of the new cabinet has been closed, Arafat left for South Africa on an official visit.