As Trump cozies up to Saudi Arabia, the rule of law collapses further

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE GUARDIAN NEWS)

 

From the moment he laid his stubby hands on that glowing orb in Riyadh, Donald Trump signaled to the world what kind of leader he aspired to be. Bathed in a spectral light, standing alongside the Saudi King Salman and the Egyptian dictator, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, the man formerly known as the leader of the free world smiled with self-satisfaction that he had arrived at his chosen destination.

Despite the object’s likeness to the orb of Saruman, this was no secret society of evil wizards. Instead, it was a brazenly open society of corrupt old men with a clear disregard for the rule of law, if not a cruel desire to brutalize their opponents.

The fact that they were standing in the Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology was either an exercise in paper-thin deception or some kind of sick joke. It’s hard to express your disgust at Isis beheadings, as Trump has done, but feel nothing about the Saudi beheadings of 48 people in just four months this year.

Then again, we’re talking about Donald Trump’s feelings and his limitless capacity to lie. Of course it’s possible to condemn the “bloodthirsty killers”of Isis at the UN, and praise the “unbelievable job” of the death squads of President Duterte in the Philippines. He’s Donald Trump, a bear of very little brain who convinced himself that someone in China thinks he has a “very, very large brain”.

As a self-certified genius, Trump now finds himself in something of a Saudi pickle. The supposedly reformist crown prince Mohammed bin Salman was supposed to help him clean up the world by taking on Tehran. But Saudi Arabia can’t even clean up an Istanbul consulate after their own goons are alleged to have hacked to death a single troublesome journalist.

First Trump promised “severe punishment” for those responsible for Jamal Khashoggi’s death, albeit punishment that didn’t harm any arms contracts the Saudis were interested in. No matter that the Saudis can’t easily substitute another country’s weapons after spending gazillions of dollars on US ones. This commander-in-chief obviously knows his arms from his elbows.

Then Trump spoke to the crown prince, who pinky-promised he had nothing to do with the 15 men identified by the Turkish media as belonging to a grisly hit-squad, which reportedly included an autopsy specialist carrying his own bone saw. So the 45th president of the United States gullibly and dutifully bleated something about “rogue killers” and “very, very strong” denials. In what is surely a remarkable coincidence, Saudi sources leaked word that they were preparing to admit the killing, but insisted it was an interrogation that went wrong.

Interrogations tend to go wrong when they include someone armed with a bone saw.

To clear up this most unfortunate dismemberment, Trump sent his trusted former CIA chief, now the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, on a fact-finding mission to Riyadh and Ankara. Pompeo’s approach to the facts was hardly inspiring. “I don’t want to talk about any of the facts,” he said. “They didn’t want to either, in that they want to have the opportunity to complete this investigation in a thorough way.”

 ‘I don’t want to talk about any of the facts’: Mike Pompeo on Jamal Khashoggi case – video

That would be an investigation by the crown prince into his own security detail inside his own consulate. Naturally, these things can take time. People are busy. Consulates are hard to find. Word from the palace takes time to write down on parchment scrolls.

Oh yes, and there’s this other thing we need to remember, Pompeo explained: money.

“I do think it’s important that everyone keeps in mind that we have a lot of important relationships – financial relationships between US and Saudi companies, governmental relationships – things we work on together all across the world. The efforts to reduce the risk to the United States of America from the world’s largest state sponsor of terror, Iran.”

If you’re thinking Trump himself is compromised by Saudi money, why, that’s no more true than the notion that he’s compromised by Russian money. But don’t take my word for it, take his.

“For the record, I have no financial interests in Saudi Arabia (or Russia, for that matter),” he tweeted, dismissing anything to the contrary as so much fake news. This is a touch embarrassing for the Donald Trump who told an Alabama rally in 2015 that he loved doing business with the Saudis. “They buy apartments from me,” he said. “They spend $40m, $50m. Am I supposed to dislike them? I like them very much!”

Of course, you’re only supposed to dislike the ones carrying the bone saws.

The Trump administration is not the first to bow and scrape to the Saudi power of oil and cash. But it is the first to surrender all pretense of upholding democracy and human rights – commonly known as American values – while making pathetic excuses for what is widely accepted to have been a barbaric murder. What is the moral difference between Iran sponsoring Hezbollah and the humanitarian disaster triggered by the Saudi attacks and blockade in Yemen?

They deserve one another, the house of Saud and the house of Trump. One is hotheaded enough to bomb Yemen into oblivion and blockade Qatar. The other is hotheaded enough to blow up historic alliances and international trade. Both have managed to look weaker by straining to look stronger.

Their incompetence is only matched their greed; their grand visions of global leadership look as genuine as Jared Kushner’s Middle East peace plan, or the official Saudi investigation into what happened to Khashoggi.

Like all pathological liars, they now find themselves caught in their own web of deceit and delusion. The crown prince was never a reformist, just as the reality TV star was never going to drain the swamp.

No number of expensive Saudi lobbying contracts will wash away the bloodstains. And no amount of Trump’s crazy-sounding tweets – about porn stars or Pocahontas – will distract from his disastrous undermining of American values. Like the catchphrases of an old standup comedian, Donald Trump’s stage act is losing its power to shock and awe.

After a couple of days of pesky questions about whether his friends decapitated a journalist, Trump had reached the limit of his very, very large brain. “Here we go again with, you know, you’re guilty until proven innocent,” he told the Associated Press. “I don’t like that. We just went through that with Justice Kavanaugh and he was innocent all the way as far as I’m concerned.”

If you’re still looking for an illustration of how the rule of law collapses, here’s one straight from the horses mouth. The bone-saw-wielding Saudis are as innocent as our own supreme court justice. At this point, a good lawyer might rest her case because this sucker just can’t stop talking.

Lebanese woman sentenced to eight years for ‘insulting’ Egypt

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF AL JAZEERA NEWS)

 

Lebanese woman sentenced to eight years for ‘insulting’ Egypt

Tourist Mona el-Mazbouh complained about sexual harassment in profanity-laced video, with Egyptians responding in kind.

The day before being arrested, Mona el-Mazbouh posted a second video on Facebook apologising to Egyptians [Al Jazeera]
The day before being arrested, Mona el-Mazbouh posted a second video on Facebook apologising to Egyptians [Al Jazeera]

A Lebanese tourist who was arrested last month for posting a video on Facebook complaining about sexual harassment and conditions in Egypt, was sentenced to eight years in prison by a Cairo court on Saturday, her lawyer said.

Mona el-Mazbouh was arrested at Cairo airport at the end of her stay in Egypt after she published a 10-minute video on her Facebook page, laced with vulgarity and profanity against Egypt and Egyptians.

During her tirade, Mazbouh called Egypt a lowly, dirty country and Egyptian men pimps and women prostitutes.

Mazbouh, 24, complained of being sexually harassed by taxi drivers and young men in the street, as well as poor restaurant service during Ramadan, in addition to an incident in which money and other belongings were stolen.

Mazbouh said in the video that she had visited Egypt several times in the past four years.

A Cairo court found her guilty of deliberately spreading false rumours that would harm society, attacking religion and public indecency, judicial sources said.

An appeals court will now hear the case on July 29, according to Mazbouh’s lawyer, Emad Kamal.

“Of course, God willing, the verdict will change. With all due respect to the judiciary, this is a severe ruling. It is in the context of the law, but the court was applying the maximum penalty,” he said.

Kamal said a surgery Mazbouh underwent in 2006 to remove a blood clot from her brain has impaired her ability to control anger, a condition documented in a medical report he submitted to the court.

She also suffers from depression, Kamal added.

The video went viral, prompting many Egyptian women to take to social media with their own videos to express their anger at Mazbouh, while responding in kind against Lebanon and Lebanese women.

The day before she was arrested, Mazbouh posted a second video on Facebook apologising to Egyptians.

Egyptian rights activists say they are facing the worst crackdown in their history under President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, accusing him of erasing freedoms won in the 2011 Arab Spring uprising that ended Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule.

His supporters say such measures are needed to stabilise Egypt after years of turmoil that drove away foreign investors and amid an uprising concentrated in the Sinai Peninsula.

SOURCE: AL JAZEERA AND NEWS AGENCIES

Egypt’s Sisi Seeks more Coordination with EU to Confront Terrorism

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Sisi Seeks more Coordination with EU to Confront Terrorism

Tuesday, 31 October, 2017 – 10:30
Egypt’s President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi speaks during a news conference at the El-Thadiya presidential palace in Cairo, Egypt. (Reuters)
Cairo – Mohammed Abdo Hassanein

Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi stressed the importance of strengthening coordination and consultations with the European Union (EU) in regional files to confront joint challenges emerging from the existing regional crises, topped by terrorism and its repercussions on the security of the Middle East and Europe.

Sisi received on Monday Commissioner for European Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations Johannes Hahn in the presence of Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry.

The president welcomed the EU official, stressing that Egypt pays great attention to its ties with the EU in light of their bilateral cooperation within the framework of the Egyptian-European partnership agreement, said presidential spokesman Bassam Rady.

Sisi also affirmed that the EU is the first trade partner of Egypt.

For his part, Hahn voiced the EU’s keenness on bolstering the existing cooperation with Egypt, which is considered one of the most important neighboring countries.

He hailed Egypt’s pivotal role in the region as it is the main pillar of stability and security, lauding steps taken over the past years to achieve stability and efforts exerted to fight terrorism and illegal migration..

The meeting tackled means of promoting joint cooperation in various developmental issues, as well as the latest regional developments, including Egypt’s efforts to achieve Palestinian reconciliation and settle the Libyan crisis.

The two sides agreed on continuing coordination and consultation pertaining to the various regional issues, the spokesman reiterated.

In this context, during a joint press conference with Hahn, Shoukry pointed out that the meeting provided ample opportunity to address human rights issues.

The Egyptian point of view was raised regarding the aspirations of the society and the government to promote human rights, the positive role of civil society organizations and the attention given by the government to address these issues from a comprehensive perspective.

Shoukry also shed light on Egypt’s efforts to prevent any type of illegal immigration from its territory, stressing that this stems from the Egyptian state’s responsibility to control its coasts, prevent illegal immigration and eliminate human trafficking.

The meeting also included the singing of a memorandum of understanding, which outlined the allocation of European financial assistance to a number of development projects in accordance with Egypt’s Sustainable Development Strategy 2030.

Egypt Conducts Air Strikes Against Terrorist Group In Eastern Libya That Massacred Christians Earlier Today

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF REUTERS NEWS AGENCY)

By Ahmed Aboulenein | MINYA, EGYPT

Egyptian fighter jets carried out strikes on Friday directed at camps in Libya which Cairo says have been training militants who killed dozens of Christians earlier in the day.

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said he had ordered strikes against what he called terrorist camps, declaring in a televised address that states that sponsored terrorism would be punished.

Egyptian military sources said six strikes took place near Derna in eastern Libya at around sundown, hours after masked gunmen attacked a group of Coptic Christians traveling to a monastery in southern Egypt, killing 29 and wounding 24.

The Egyptian military said the operation was ongoing and had been undertaken once it had been ascertained that the camps had produced the gunmen behind the attack on the Coptic Christians in Minya, southern Egypt, on Friday morning.

“The terrorist incident that took place today will not pass unnoticed,” Sisi said. “We are currently targeting the camps where the terrorists are trained.”

He said Egypt would not hesitate to carry out further strikes against camps that trained people to carry out operations against Egypt, whether those camps were inside or outside the country.

Egyptian military footage of pilots being briefed and war planes taking off was shown on state television.

East Libyan forces said they participated in the air strikes, which had targeted forces linked to al-Qaeda at a number of sites, and would be followed by a ground operation.

A resident in Derna heard four powerful explosions, and told Reuters that the strikes had targeted camps used by fighters belonging to the Majlis al-Shura militant group.

Majlis al-Shura spokesman Mohamed al-Mansouri said in a video posted online that the Egyptian air strikes did not hit any of the group’s camps, but instead hit civilian areas.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack on the Christians, which followed a series of church bombings claimed by Islamic State in a campaign of violence against the Copts.

Islamic State supporters reposted videos from earlier this year urging violence against the Copts in Egypt.

At a nearby village, thousands later attended a funeral service that turned into an angry protest against the authorities’ failure to protect Christians.

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Ambulances and medics outside Maghagha Hospital in Minya Province, Egypt in this screen grab take on May 26, 2017. REUTERS TV
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“We will avenge them or die like them,” mourners said, while marching with a giant wooden cross.

GUNFIRE AND BLOOD

Eyewitnesses said masked men opened fire after stopping the Christians, who were in a bus and other vehicles on a desert road. Local TV channels showed a bus apparently raked by gunfire and smeared with blood.

Clothes and shoes could be seen lying in and around the bus, while the bodies of some of the victims lay in the sand nearby, covered with black sheets.

Eyewitnesses said three vehicles were attacked. First to be hit was a vehicle taking children to the monastery as part of a church-organized trip, and another vehicle taking families there.

The gunmen boarded the vehicles and shot all the men and took all the women’s gold jewelry. They then shot women and children in the legs.

When one of the gunmen’s vehicles got a flat tire they stopped a truck carrying Christian workers, shot them, and took the truck.

One of the gunmen recorded the attack on the Copts with a video camera, eyewitnesses said.

The attack took place on a road leading to the monastery of Saint Samuel the Confessor in Minya province, which is home to a sizeable Christian minority.

Security forces launched a hunt for the attackers, setting up dozens of checkpoints and patrols on the desert road.

Police armed with assault rifles formed a security perimeter around the attack site while officials from the public prosecutor’s office gathered evidence. Heavily armed special forces arrived later wearing face masks and body armor.

The injured were taken to local hospitals and some were being transported to Cairo. The Health Ministry said that among those injured were two children aged two.

U.S. President Donald Trump, who has made a point of improving relations with Cairo, said his country stood with Sisi and the Egyptian people.

“This merciless slaughter of Christians in Egypt tears at our hearts and grieves our souls,” Trump said.

The Grand Imam of al-Azhar, Egypt’s 1,000-year-old center of Islamic learning, said the attack was intended to destabilize the country.

“I call on Egyptians to unite in the face of this brutal terrorism,” Ahmed al-Tayeb said. The Grand Mufti of Egypt, Shawki Allam, condemned the perpetrators as traitors.

The head of the Coptic Christian church, Pope Tawadros, who spoke with Sisi after the attack, said it was “not directed at the Copts, but at Egypt and the heart of the Egyptians”.

Pope Francis, who visited Cairo a month ago, described the attack as a “senseless act of hatred”.

ONGOING PERSECUTION

Coptic Christians, whose church dates back nearly 2,000 years, make up about 10 percent of Egypt’s population of 92 million.

They say they have long suffered from persecution, but in recent months the frequency of deadly attacks against them has increased. About 70 have been killed since December in bombings claimed by Islamic State at churches in the cities of Cairo, Alexandria and Tanta.

An Islamic State campaign of murders in North Sinai prompted hundreds of Christians to flee in February and March.

Copts fear they will face the same fate as brethren in Iraq and Syria, where Christian communities have been decimated by wars and Islamic State persecution.

Egypt’s Copts are vocal supporters of Sisi, who has vowed to crush Islamist extremism and protect Christians. He declared a three-month state of emergency in the aftermath of the church bombings in April.

But many Christians feel the state either does not take their plight seriously enough or cannot protect them against determined fanatics.

The government is fighting insurgents affiliated with Islamic State who have killed hundreds of police and soldiers in the Sinai Peninsula, while also carrying out attacks elsewhere in the country.

(Reporting by Ahmed Aboulenein; Additonal reporting by Eric Knecht, Mostafa Hashem, and Omar Fahmy in Cairo; Writing by Giles Elgood; Editing by John Stonestreet, Lisa Shumaker and Andrew Hay)

Egypt Solidarity: After ISIS Church Bombings Outrage Muslims And Christians Alike

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

(CNN) Egyptians of different faiths rallied together on Sunday in defiance of ISIS, after the group claimed responsibility for two Coptic Christian church bombings hundreds of miles apart. The attacks left at least 43 dead and dozens more injured, amid grim scenes of hollowed-out churches, with body parts and blood scattered among the debris.

Outraged Egyptians posted messages of solidarity with members of the embattled religious minority on social media, using a hashtag saying “your terrorism brings us together.”
Video posted on Facebook shows an angry crowd surrounding and beating Maj. Gen. Hussam Ad-Din Khalifa, director of security in Gharbiya Province where Tanta is located, when he tried inspecting the damage at St. George church. Shortly afterward, President Abdel Fatah el-Sisi relieved Khalifa of his duties.
Sunday’s bombings came nearly four months after a suicide bomber killed 23 people in a Coptic Orthodox cathedral in Cairo. Copts, who make up about 10% of Egypt’s 91 million residents, have been the target of increased persecution and discrimination since the toppling of Hosni Mubarak’s regime in 2011.
Despite tensions between the groups, the country’s Muslim community has frequently shown support for Christians following acts of violence. Images on social media showed Muslims gathering inside mosques Sunday to donate blood for victims.
After a deadly Alexandria church bombing in 2011, Egyptian Muslims attended Coptic Christmas services in a show of solidarity.

‘Blood and body parts everywhere’

St. George’s Church in Tanta, a small city located between Cairo and Alexandria, had been the target of a bomb threat in March. That didn’t deter an estimated crowd of 2,000 congregants from attending Palm Sunday mass, the start of Holy Week before Easter.
The first bomb went off around 9:00 a.m. Church camera footage showed that the choir was in the middle of performing before the feed abruptly cut off.
Peter Kamel was about to leave home for mass when he learned about the explosion and rushed over to look for friends.

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 Source: CNN
“The bombing was so loud that even people who live far away could hear it,” Kamel told CNN. “Everything is destroyed inside the church.”
The bomb appeared to have exploded near the altar, striking choir members and priests, Kamel said.
On Facebook, Kamel posted scenes of the devastation inside the church:
A pair of sneakers laying among the debris.
Blood splashed on marble pillars, spattered across paintings and woven stalks of green palms.
The bodies of victims, many of them burned, among splintered pews.
Mina Abdel Malak said he was outside St. George’s during the explosion and rushed inside to look for his cousin.
“It was horrible; blood and body parts everywhere,” he said. “People on the other side of the street felt the explosion shaking their cars.”
He rushed to the hospital and saw the name of his cousin, a teacher with two young children, on a list of the deceased.
The previous bomb threat should have put authorities on notice, he said.
“This shouldn’t have happened. This is our feast and there was supposed to be strict security measures,” he said. “For someone to get this amount of explosives inside, then security wasn’t doing its job.”

‘Thank God it is a Sunday’

Fadi Sami heard about the Tanta bombing during mass at St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Alexandria. The church had drawn an especially big crowd because Pope of Alexandria Tawadros II was leading prayers.
The Pope did not mention the bombing but Sami said a feeling of uneasiness hung over the congregation. He said he left after the sermon, and 20 minutes later, a suicide bomber blew himself up outside the church’s gate.
“It’s difficult to process this idea, that if I had left 20 minutes later, I would have stopped to exist in this world,” Sami, 26, told CNN.

Egyptians gather near a church in Alexandria after a bomb blast struck worshipers.

The blast tore through nearby storefronts, he said. The area was enveloped in smoke as people rushed over to find bodies and body parts scattered among debris, he said.
“I saw a man put together what was left of his son in a bag,” he said.
The death toll could well have been worse if it had been a weekday, Egyptian blogger Maged Butter said. Usually, this commercial part of downtown Alexandria is crowded with shoppers.
“Thank God it is a Sunday, and many shops are closed.”
He recorded video showing crowds filling the streets as emergency vehicles tried to pass.
“Every now and then, I see a person crying — I think they are Christian — and they keep saying: Have you seen my family? Have you seen my family?”

A violent act ‘against all of us’

As the protesters were gathering outside St. Mark’s on Sunday night, volunteers were searching for remains in a secured area nearby.
Meanwhile, Sisi gave a televised speech in which he declared a state of emergency and called for unity.
“What’s happening now is against all of us” — not just Copts, he said. “The main aim is to destroy the unity of our country, Egypt.”
“We will defeat terrorist groups, the killers and will continue fighting and building at the same time,” he said.

On 4th Day Of Opening Egypt Only Allows Students Entrance At Rafah Crossing

 

NOV. 17, 2016 4:12 P.M. (UPDATED: NOV. 17, 2016 8:52 P.M.)

(File)

GAZA (Ma’an) — Egyptian authorities opened the Rafah crossing between the besieged Gaza Strip and Egypt for the fourth consecutive day on Thursday, but only permitted the passage of students into Egypt.

Egyptian authorities announced on Sunday that they would open the Rafah crossing for five consecutive days, beginning Monday morning and ending Friday evening, only for humanitarian cases, students, holders of Egyptian passports, patients and visa holders.

According to the Palestinian border and crossing committee, 600 students were expected to travel from the besieged coastal enclave into Egypt on Thursday and Friday, the last two days the crossing will remain open.
The committee added that six buses, transporting 668 travelers, were able to pass through the crossing on Wednesday, while 55 Palestinians were denied entry into Egypt for unknown reasons. In addition, 324 Palestinians who had been stranded on the Egyptian side of the crossing were permitted to return to the Gaza Strip.
Egypt has upheld an Israeli military blockade on the Gaza Strip for the majority of the past three years, since the ousting of former President Muhammad Morsi in 2013 and the rise to power of President Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi in Egypt.
While the Egyptian border has remained the main lifeline for Gazans to the outside world, Egyptian authorities have slowly sealed off movement through the border since Morsi was toppled by the Egyptian army.
Due to the constraints on Palestinian movement through the crossing, many Gazans are commonly barred from leaving or entering the besieged coastal enclave, sometimes for months at a time, as the crossing is only periodically opened by Egyptian authorities, stranding Palestinians on both sides of the crossing during closures.
In 2015, the Rafah crossing was closed for 344 days. The crossing has been reopened on a much more regular basis since the beginning of 2016.
The near decade-long Israeli blockade has plunged the Gaza Strip’s more than 1.8 million Palestinians into extreme poverty and some of the highest unemployment rates in the world.