Egypt's oppression of the Palestinians

The Galloway eviction and the "Israeli/Egyptian" blockade of Gaza

Reports of George Galloway's eviction from Egypt -- from where he "was reportedly trying to return to Gaza to help members of a humanitarian convoy who had been arrested" -- remind me of a text I received from a politically active Muslim friend earlier this week:

Dear all. Egypt has systematically been doing Israel's dirty work by besieging the Palestinians. And it has employed every dirty trick and used shameless force on humantiaran aid convoys and peace activists trying to enter Gaza. We should start a "boycott Egypt" campaign now.

I'm not keen on boycotts myself, but I am delighted to see British Muslims -- finally! -- taking a public stand against Muslim (in particular, Arab) regimes that employ "shameless force" against civilians, and that "talk tough" on Israel but do so little to help the Palestinians. (Did you know that Jordan, for example, killed more Palestinians in the ten days of "Black September" than Israel killed in the three weeks of "Operation Cast Lead"?)

In recent months, there has been much talk of a "boycott" of Israeli goods but -- as defenders of Israel often point out -- advocates of such a strategy have to be consistent. If you're going to boycott Israel because of its morally reprehensible and near-criminal economic blockade of the Gaza Strip, why not boycott its accomplice Egypt as well?

Egypt, like so many despotic Arab nations, has long been complicit in either the abandonment, or the outright oppression and suppression, of the Palestinians and their historic cause. I'm glad Muslims, as well as western commentators, have cottoned on to this (and thereby, perhaps, neutralised a constant refrain of the pro-Israeli brigade).

Seumas Milne, writing in yesterday's Guardian, pointed out:

For the last fortnight, two groups of hundreds of activists have been battling with Egyptian police and officials to cross into the Gaza Strip to show solidarity with the blockaded population on the first anniversary of Israel's devastating onslaught.

. . . while the Egyptian government claims it is simply upholding its national sovereignty, the saga has instead starkly exposed its complicity in the US- and European-backed blockade of Gaza and the collective punishment of its one and a half million people.

The main protagonist of the siege, Israel, controls only three sides of the Strip. Without Egypt, which polices the fourth, it would be ineffective. But, having tolerated the tunnels that have saved Gazans from utter beggary, the Cairo regime is now building a deep underground steel wall -- known as the "wall of shame" to many Egyptians -- under close US supervision, to make the blockade complete.

And, as my former colleague Tim Marshall, the Sky News foreign affairs editor, wrote on his blog over Christmas:

For years now, almost all media, when writing about the "siege" of Gaza, have referred to it as the Israeli blockade. This term is misleading, not because there is no Israeli blockade, but because it gives the impression that it is only Israel which prevents the free flow of goods in and out of the territory. Israel imposed the blockade after Hamas took control of Gaza, and tightened it when thousands more rockets were fired into Israel leading to the war of Dec 08 -- Jan 09.

However, there are no Israelis inside Gaza, nor along the border with Egypt, nor at the Rafah crossing into Egypt which is controlled by the Egyptians. Cairo does not allow goods to pass into Gaza through Rafah because it does not want to recognise the authority of Hamas.

Now the Egyptians, with US assistance, are building a formidable underground steel barrier along the eight-mile border to prevent the rampant smuggling through tunnels. All manner of goods pass this way, as well as weapons and extremists. It is Gaza's lifeline to the outside world.

. . . So much for pan-Arab values. Statecraft trumps it every time, and yet again the ordinary Palestinians suffer. The blockade needs to be described in terms which inform us what is going on. Calling it an Israeli blockade serves to let the Arab countries, which have always used the Palestinians as pawns, keep getting away with it.

Marshall concludes: "The blockade of Gaza needs to be called what it is -- the Israeli/Egyptian blockade." He is absolutely right. How can anyone, on the pro-Palestinian side or anywhere else, disagree with him?

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

Paul Marotta
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England is now a more expensive place to study than the US. Why?

Is a university education in this country really worth £44,000, and how does our system compare to higher education funding elsewhere?

England has long sneered at American universities and their exorbitant fees. It cannot do so any longer: England is now a more expensive country to study than the US, and is easily the most expensive of eight Anglophone countries – the four UK nations, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the US – analysed in a new Sutton Trust report. English students graduating from last year left university with an average of £44,000 in debt £15,000 more than Americans studying at for-profit universities across the pond.

Why do English students have it so much worse than other students in the UK? There are two answers. The first is the government's decision in 2010 to shift much of the cost of university from the general taxpayer to the beneficiaries: the students themselves. The second answer is devolution. The devolved governments in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales have made political choices to differentiate themselves from Westminster by prioritising keeping fees down – even when, as in Scotland, the effect is to benefit middle-class students at the expense of disadvantaged ones. Students in Wales who study in England are eligible for generous grants, meaning they pay less than £4,000 a year rather than up to £9,000. Those studying in Northern Ireland have their fees capped at £3,925. 

Even England's £9,000 fees are puny set against those at elite American universities. In 2016/17 annual, tuition fees at Harvard are $59,550 and, when all else is accounted for, Harvard reckon each year costs students $88,600. But such exorbitant numbers are not the real story. About 60% of Harvard students receive the Harvard Scholarship: a microcosm of how US students benefit from a culture of graduates giving endowents to their old universities that is still lacking in England. Scholarships and bursaries at universities in the US are far more generous than in other countries. And those who go to public universities within their own state pay far less: those graduating after four years leave with an average debt of only US$27,100 [£19,100]. This is why the average debt of US graduates is now considerably less than in England. But those who berate that even America now has a more benign system for students than England should not be so hasty. The majority of US loans are not income contingent, meaning that low earners who are already struggling still have to pay.

Governments throughout the world are grappling with how to fund send an increasing proportion of students to university in an era of austerity. In the last two decades at least 14 countries in the OECD, including Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the UK, have implemented major reforms to fees, according to the Sutton Trust. In general these reforms have led to students paying a greater share of the cost of their tuition. 

So in a sense what has happened in England is merely an extreme example of an international trend. And the introduction of tuition fees in 1998, which have been hiked up twice since, has been managed better than most acknowledge: indeed, the proportion of disadvantaged students at university has actually risen by one-fifth since tuition fees rose to £9,000.

But, with the poorest students in England now graduating with £50,000 in debt, more students will be driven to ask whether a university education is really worth it. For a small but significant minority, it isn’t. A recent IFS report found that male graduates from 23 low performing institutions – though it sadly declined to name them - earn less, on average, than those who do not go to university, and end up with huge debt to boot.

No matter how expensive a university education has become, not having one is even more expensive. Throughout the world demand for university education continues to soar; in England the average graduate premium is £200,000 over a lifetime. Yet too many dunce universities are saddling students with debt without giving them anything in return.    

Tim Wigmore is a contributing writer to the New Statesman and the author of Second XI: Cricket In Its Outposts.