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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Theresa May's "clean Brexit" is hard Brexit with better PR

The Prime Minister's objectives point to the hardest of exits from the European Union. 

Theresa May will outline her approach to Britain’s Brexit deal in a much-hyped speech later today, with a 12-point plan for Brexit.

The headlines: her vow that Britain will not be “half in, half out” and border control will come before our membership of the single market.

And the PM will unveil a new flavour of Brexit: not hard, not soft, but “clean” aka hard but with better PR.

“Britain's clean break from EU” is the i’s splash, “My 12-point plan for Brexit” is the Telegraph’s, “We Will Get Clean Break From EU” cheers the Express, “Theresa’s New Free Britain” roars the Mail, “May: We’ll Go It Alone With CLEAN Brexit” is the Metro’s take. The Guardian goes for the somewhat more subdued “May rules out UK staying in single market” as their splash while the Sun opts for “Great Brexpectations”.

You might, at this point, be grappling with a sense of déjà vu. May’s new approach to the Brexit talks is pretty much what you’d expect from what she’s said since getting the keys to Downing Street, as I wrote back in October. Neither of her stated red lines, on border control or freeing British law from the European Court of Justice, can be met without taking Britain out of the single market aka a hard Brexit in old money.

What is new is the language on the customs union, the only area where May has actually been sparing on detail. The speech will make it clear that after Brexit, Britain will want to strike its own trade deals, which means that either an unlikely exemption will be carved out, or, more likely, that the United Kingdom will be out of the European Union, the single market and the customs union.

(As an aside, another good steer about the customs union can be found in today’s row between Boris Johnson and the other foreign ministers of the EU27. He is under fire for vetoing an EU statement in support of a two-state solution, reputedly to curry favour with Donald Trump. It would be strange if Downing Street was shredding decades of British policy on the Middle East to appease the President-Elect if we weren’t going to leave the customs union in order at the end of it.)

But what really matters isn’t what May says today but what happens around Europe over the next few months. Donald Trump’s attacks on the EU and Nato yesterday will increase the incentive on the part of the EU27 to put securing the political project front-and-centre in the Brexit talks, making a good deal for Britain significantly less likely.

Add that to the unforced errors on the part of the British government, like Amber Rudd’s wheeze to compile lists of foreign workers, and the diplomatic situation is not what you would wish to secure the best Brexit deal, to put it mildly.

Clean Brexit? Nah. It’s going to get messy. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.