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.

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Is defeat in Stoke the beginning of the end for Paul Nuttall?

The Ukip leader was his party's unity candidate. But after his defeat in Stoke, the old divisions are beginning to show again

In a speech to Ukip’s spring conference in Bolton on February 17, the party’s once and probably future leader Nigel Farage laid down the gauntlet for his successor, Paul Nuttall. Stoke’s by-election was “fundamental” to the future of the party – and Nuttall had to win.
 
One week on, Nuttall has failed that test miserably and thrown the fundamental questions hanging over Ukip’s future into harsh relief. 

For all his bullish talk of supplanting Labour in its industrial heartlands, the Ukip leader only managed to increase the party’s vote share by 2.2 percentage points on 2015. This paltry increase came despite Stoke’s 70 per cent Brexit majority, and a media narrative that was, until the revelations around Nuttall and Hillsborough, talking the party’s chances up.
 
So what now for Nuttall? There is, for the time being, little chance of him resigning – and, in truth, few inside Ukip expected him to win. Nuttall was relying on two well-rehearsed lines as get-out-of-jail free cards very early on in the campaign. 

The first was that the seat was a lowly 72 on Ukip’s target list. The second was that he had been leader of party whose image had been tarnished by infighting both figurative and literal for all of 12 weeks – the real work of his project had yet to begin. 

The chances of that project ever succeeding were modest at the very best. After yesterday’s defeat, it looks even more unlikely. Nuttall had originally stated his intention to run in the likely by-election in Leigh, Greater Manchester, when Andy Burnham wins the Greater Manchester metro mayoralty as is expected in May (Wigan, the borough of which Leigh is part, voted 64 per cent for Brexit).

If he goes ahead and stands – which he may well do – he will have to overturn a Labour majority of over 14,000. That, even before the unedifying row over the veracity of his Hillsborough recollections, was always going to be a big challenge. If he goes for it and loses, his leadership – predicated as it is on his supposed ability to win votes in the north - will be dead in the water. 

Nuttall is not entirely to blame, but he is a big part of Ukip’s problem. I visited Stoke the day before The Guardian published its initial report on Nuttall’s Hillsborough claims, and even then Nuttall’s campaign manager admitted that he was unlikely to convince the “hard core” of Conservative voters to back him. 

There are manifold reasons for this, but chief among them is that Nuttall, despite his newfound love of tweed, is no Nigel Farage. Not only does he lack his name recognition and box office appeal, but the sad truth is that the Tory voters Ukip need to attract are much less likely to vote for a party led by a Scouser whose platform consists of reassuring working-class voters their NHS and benefits are safe.
 
It is Farage and his allies – most notably the party’s main donor Arron Banks – who hold the most power over Nuttall’s future. Banks, who Nuttall publicly disowned as a non-member after he said he was “sick to death” of people “milking” the Hillsborough disaster, said on the eve of the Stoke poll that Ukip had to “remain radical” if it wanted to keep receiving his money. Farage himself has said the party’s campaign ought to have been “clearer” on immigration. 

Senior party figures are already briefing against Nuttall and his team in the Telegraph, whose proprietors are chummy with the beer-swilling Farage-Banks axis. They deride him for his efforts to turn Ukip into “NiceKip” or “Nukip” in order to appeal to more women voters, and for the heavy-handedness of his pitch to Labour voters (“There were times when I wondered whether I’ve got a purple rosette or a red one on”, one told the paper). 

It is Nuttall’s policy advisers - the anti-Farage awkward squad of Suzanne Evans, MEP Patrick O’Flynn (who famously branded Farage "snarling, thin-skinned and aggressive") and former leadership candidate Lisa Duffy – come in for the harshest criticism. Herein lies the leader's almost impossible task. Despite having pitched to members as a unity candidate, the two sides’ visions for Ukip are irreconcilable – one urges him to emulate Trump (who Nuttall says he would not have voted for), and the other urges a more moderate tack. 

Endorsing his leader on Question Time last night, Ukip’s sole MP Douglas Carswell blamed the legacy of the party’s Tea Party-inspired 2015 general election campaign, which saw Farage complain about foreigners with HIV using the NHS in ITV’s leaders debate, for the party’s poor performance in Stoke. Others, such as MEP Bill Etheridge, say precisely the opposite – that Nuttall must be more like Farage. 

Neither side has yet called for Nuttall’s head. He insists he is “not going anywhere”. With his febrile party no stranger to abortive coup and counter-coup, he is unlikely to be the one who has the final say.