The visit by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to Moscow yesterday [Aug. 12] seemed more practical than ideological. Egypt today is not the Nasserite Egypt [of the 1950s]. And Russia is not the Soviet Union.
Nevertheless, the visit happened in an atmosphere evocative of the 1960s. A swarm of Russian fighter jets escorted the Egyptian presidential plane, while a military ceremony was set up on a ship from the Black Sea Fleet, reflecting Russia’s desire to build new alliances to face the repercussions of the Ukrainian crisis.
Sisi’s visit to Moscow has taken a special dimension for Russia, and this dimension is no less important for Egypt. After the faltering of relations between Egypt and both the United States and the European Union, following the overthrow of President Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, Cairo is greatly in need of balance in its foreign relations and for some breathing room in the Levant to deal with the Western pressure on Egypt.
In this context, Sisi, who met Putin at the latter’s residence in the coastal city of Sochi on the Black Sea, said, “The entire Egyptian people are following my visit to Russia with interest and are expecting strong cooperation between our two countries … and I think that we will achieve the hopes of the Egyptian people.”
In addition to the political aspect, the United States' hesitation to provide arms to Egypt in light of the challenges faced by Cairo, due to the escalating terrorism on its eastern and western borders, has made Cairo look to Russian arms. Meanwhile, there are rumors that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are ready to finance a massive Russian arms deal to Egypt. Putin alluded to this during a joint press conference with Sisi by saying, “We are working on increasing cooperation in the field of arms.” He also spoke about “the possibility of establishing an Egyptian logistics center on the Black Sea coast,” and about “continuing to cooperate in the field of space.”
The Syrian army waited until yesterday evening [Aug. 14] to announce that it fully controls the town of Al-Maliha in the region of Damascus, after 130 days of fighting and hours after the news had already spread in the media.
The army waited before making the announcement because of the complex task of combing the tunnel networks and the many booby-traps in residential buildings, where snipers hid until their final moments.
Even before the army’s announcement, pro-government media outlets announced that the army-Hezbollah alliance took control of Al-Maliha, while state television announced that significant progress was made in the town, in a reference to the success of the army’s tactic to force the gunmen, most notably from Jaish al-Islam and Jabhat al-Nusra, to withdraw through the only outlet left open: a 300-meter path to east Ghouta, specifically to the towns of Jesrin and Zibdin.
It seems that the army was right to be cautious. Hours after the media said that the operation had ended, an explosion caused a building to collapse, killing at least two soldiers from the engineering and demining units. That building was among dozens that were being combed.
Nouakchott was simply a dream for the generation that participated in the establishment of the state of Mauritania.
The Mauritanian government’s first meeting was held in this city, during the French occupation, on July 12, 1957. In 1958, Moktar Ould Daddah, Mauritania’s first president, laid the foundation stone as he declared the city the capital of Mauritania. Charles de Gaulle, then president of France, was attending. On July 24, 1957, before laying the city’s foundation stone, a decree was issued to declare it the capital of the Mauritanian region, instead of Saint-Louis, Senegal.
Nouakchott residents only numbered a few hundred back then, and the city lacked even the slightest elements of a modern city. It was a small village on the Atlantic Ocean with a desert climate, sitting on a land with no water.
In his memoirs, President Ould Daddah explained the reason behind picking Nouakchott as the capital. He wrote: "Since there was no adequate place in the center of Mauritania, Nouakchott was unquestionably the right city. Despite the distance that separates it from the eastern and northern regions, this city has several significant advantages. It is less than 200 kilometers [124 miles] away from the river. … The fact that Nouakchott is situated on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean should make it a seaport. This would be a great advantage for the future capital. The city of Nouadhibou also has this same advantage, but Nouakchott is better, since it is neither close to the north nor isolated."
The city's founding generation expected residents of Nouakchott to reach 20,000 by 1975. However, climate change begged to differ. Mauritania was hit by drought at the end of the 1960s and the beginning of the 1970s. Living became impossible in many villages, and their residents were displaced to Nouakchott. The capital's population reached 130,000 in 1957. According to the National Bureau of Statistics, the population reached half a million in approximately a decade. Thus, the capital started its journey with chaos, without any consideration for modern city plans. Signs of poverty increased and the city spirit diminished, mainly due to the Desert War (1975-91) and the overthrow of the civil order in a 1978 military coup.
In the aftermath of the most recent attacks on Gaza, Glenn Greenwald is a changed person. This past war was not a turning point in the American journalist’s career, but rather a new chapter in a book that began on June 5, 2013 when Greenwald’s first interview with former NSA analyst Edward Snowden was published in The Guardian. That moment was critical in the lawyer and activist journalist’s career, since it turned out that he possessed a collection of the most dangerous confidential documents in the history of the United States. Snowden’s documents revealed that the U.S. intelligence was spying on people’s phones, the Internet, messages of social media users through a program known as Prism, in addition to spying on politicians’ phones in allied countries, such as Germany. What has thus far been concealed exceeds what has been revealed of those documents, as the details unfold day after day.
Even though the fuss of the battles in Arsal is, to some extent, far from the Syrian region of Qalamoun, people are concerned and fear the return of the militants to the fronts, especially with the change of circumstances and the Islamic State (IS) becoming stronger than ever. The road between Damascus and Homs, where the cities and villages of Qalamoun are situated, seems remarkably quiet. Only a couple of checkpoints and the ruins of the battles from last winter and spring remain. The villages of an-Nabek, Deir Atiyah, Qarah, al-Hamirah, Jarjeer and even Yabrud are relatively calm, with strict security measures at their entrances, especially in Yabrud where, despite the return of its residents, concerns are still rising since it is the closest to Arsal.
Perhaps the recent battles in the bordering village have made an impression on the Syrian mountains. Even though the clashes were far from reaching Qalamoun, a state of anticipation reigned a few days ago.
According to local sources, shops closed and a sort of night curfew was established in different villages amid a security spread. This indicates the anticipation of the battles’ aftermath, especially since Jabhat al-Nusra and IS militants moved to the rugged mountains between Lebanon and Syria.
Lebanon has regained Arsal, and the flag of the Lebanese army was raised. The dark banners were taken down after militants sought to remove the national identity and the people of the village to make it a safe haven for groups who only master the language of sedition and blood and have a talent for slaughter and beheading.
What if terrorist groups such as the Islamic State (IS) were able to occupy Arsal, its hills and barren mountains? Where would the demarcation lines between them and their surroundings have been?
Upon his arrest, Syrian rebel commander Abu Ahmad Jomaa revealed the bloody map developed by the IS group. It starts from Arsal, goes through Labwe to reach deep into the north and finally arrives at the coast of Akkar and Tripoli. Let us imagine the situation in Lebanon in light of this coup.
The Lebanese army prevented the implementation of this plan and the achievement of the militants’ objective of placing all of Lebanon on the altar of sedition, thanks to an epic fight by the military forces. They showed extreme courage in fighting the hordes of armed groups attacking military barracks in the area. Some military members were killed, some were injured and some went missing on the battlefield.
Imagine yourself in a quiet town, by a river along whose banks are fertile agricultural fields. Imagine you are walking by archaeological sites that imbue the place with a special charm. Imagine a city where the population works quietly, where the streets are clean, where you only find a few things rolling here and there, and where the squares are accustomed to hold rallies for a special recurrent event.
This special event is the execution and decapitation operation, and those few things rolling here and there are nothing but severed heads.
Welcome to Raqqa.
Despite everything that is happening, there is still movement to and from the “state of Raqqa,” be it from Deir Ez-Zor, or Turkey through the Tal Abyad crossing or the countryside of east Aleppo. The buses bound for Damascus, Hama and Homs also cross Raqqa. Naturally, everyone crosses the checkpoints erected by the Islamic State (IS), which is rigorously searching for military members or activists wanted on charges that range from secularism and cursing the “state,” among others. Naturally, women have to wear a veil and be accompanied by a man from the family, i.e., a muhrem [a man in a legal relationship with the women], in the arduous journey.
The city of Raqqa has not changed much from the inside, but it has put on an IS cloak. It transformed from being the capital city of the province of Raqqa into the capital city of the “Wilaya of the Islamic State.” Al-Nahim roundabout and Al-Saha roundabout are the theaters of death sentences, some of which are carried out by knife beheadings while others by shooting or stoning to death. In some cases, the victims are crucified for three days. In others, the severed heads remain in the squares or city streets.
Markets and cafes operate normally, especially during the evening. There is no deficiency or chaos in terms of prices, and there are no armed men on the streets, with the exception of the IS elements, that is. Everyone is expected to stop whatever they are doing and join the prayers on time. Women wear loose black clothes with the niqab. As for the men, they are not allowed to have a haircut that is “Western-style.” There are battalions specialized in monitoring people and detecting any kind of violation. In such cases, the punishment ranges from beatings to long detentions, which are reduced depending on the whim of the militant.
Services in the town have not experienced a significant change. While the power and water supply is experiencing great rationing, the local telephone services are working well. The international and cellular calls only work after several attempts.
A new danger extends along Egypt’s 1,000-kilometer (621-mile) western border with Libya. As conditions inside Libya deteriorate, especially in the east of the country, the Egyptian border is no longer threatened by the customary smuggling of weapons and drugs. Libya’s collapse — manifested in the impotence of the country’s governmental institutions — has made the entire shared border a staging ground for the spread of extremist organizations armed with weapons left behind by the [Moammar] Gadhafi regime, which they can easily distribute.
This danger has provoked a suggestion for Egyptian military intervention in Libya, to confront the threat emanating at its west. This call was not made by someone well-known for impulsiveness, but by a high-ranking diplomatic official, Amr Moussa, former general secretary of the Arab League and president of the Committee of Fifty for the amendment of the constitution. This imbues this suggestion with a certain amount of weight, despite Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry’s rejection of the idea of a military operation.
The danger coming from the west is compounded by an equally important danger inside Egypt. The fall of the Muslim Brotherhood regime following the June 30 Revolution was a defeat for political Islam, and specifically for its reformist and moderate wing. This may push the supporters of the Islamist political current to be disillusioned with the moderate path — democratic methods and ballot boxes — especially since this is the third time that Islamists have had this experience. Historical precedents include the Algerian elections of 1989, the victory of the Hamas movement in the legislative elections of 2006 and the advance of the more extremist portions of the Islamist movement in Iraq, Syria and Libya.
The mayor of Arsal, a northeastern Lebanese town bordering Syria’s Qalamoun town, has strictly condemned the presence of militants. “Not only do we want the militants out of Arsal and its rugged mountains, we also want every armed displaced person who supported them, in one way or another, out of the village.”
“We know how to protect our village,” he continued, suggesting that the residents of Arsal have established their own self-defense strategy in the event that the army is unable to enter Arsal and guarantee its security.
Since the 24-hour truce was broken yesterday by militants who attacked an army checkpoint in Wadi Aasa, many figures from Arsal came together to discuss their relationship with the Syrians in their village. While tensions have been steadily increasing, Arsal’s occupation by the militants was the straw that broke the camel’s back. The number of militants and displaced persons — both registered and non-registered — from Syria has totaled 150,000. Arsal is already not big enough to cater to its own residents and lacks the required services to support its population of 40,000. Despite this, the residents did not complain, instead, they sheltered 6,000 families in their homes and permitted the erection of 60 unofficial camps on their land and in their neighborhoods. Not one resident said a word about wanting to close the Syrian-Lebanese border.
The city of oil, wheat, cotton and the magical Euphrates lost all meaning of life. Life is lost with everything that has been occurring, on a daily basis, in the most heated area in Syria, on both temperature and military levels. As-Safir headed to Deir ez-Zor in pursuit of gathering details on life in the State of Goodness [Wilayat al-Khair].
Traveling overland [normally] would take five hours from Damascus to Deir ez-Zor. There are other options, of course, such as flying through Qamishli, which would take three hours, or even taking a ride on the river from Raqqa. But wait a minute, the situation has changed now. The only possible option is to go through the desert on a trip that takes over 10 hours.
A new phase of sorting and restructuring has started among Syria’s jihadist groups. If the headline of the preceding phase was the divorce between Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State (IS), then the headline for this phase will be yet another divorce — this time between Jaysh al-Islam and Ahrar al-Sham. This will mark the end of the alliance known as the Islamic Front after it lost its regional cover to continue.
Jaysh al-Islam, led by Zahran Alloush, is taking steady steps to complete the split with Ahrar al-Sham, after the two allied under the umbrella of the Islamic Front in response to a Saudi demand. Through this alliance, Riyadh wanted to stand in the way of the Geneva peace talks and prevent it from being used as a platform to declare a "war on terrorism" as per the request of the Syrian and Russian delegations.
Before the Geneva Conference, excluding IS and Jabhat al-Nusra, the main armed factions were part of two main fronts: the Syrian Liberation Front, which included Jaysh al-Islam and Suqour al-Sham Brigades, and the Syrian Islamic Front, which was dominated by Ahrar al-Sham and included Liwaa al-Haq. It seems that things are tending to shift back to this former structure, with the changes being imposed by on-the-ground developments and the confusing military challenges on the Syrian scene.
The Israeli enemy has rushed into its third, fourth and fifth war on Gaza, Palestine, taking advantage of Arab confusion and showing how much this confusion has impacted Arabs all over Asia and Africa (and the immigrants beyond).
Israel’s extreme right-wing leadership was aware of the powerlessness of the Arabs. They are drowning in bloody fights as well as complex political and economic problems, amid an absence of solidarity among kings, presidents, princes and sheikhs. Israel was also aware that Arabs were divided between those living in the heat zone and those displaced from their homes to near and far places. They left behind them civil wars between failed regimes and gangs who came from the era of ignorance [jahiliyya] to preach a religion other than the Islam people know and believe in.
As in the past Israeli wars on Gaza — the “City of Hashim” — during the last eight years (and also in the war on Lebanon), Arab rulers are treating the new war as another “disciplinary campaign” by the “State” of Israel on those who resist its will while temporarily residing on Israel’s “territory,” pending the importation of enough settlers to inherit the land, in accordance with the legendary divine promise.
In the past, Arab rulers used to avoid taking action by resorting to statements of condemnations, generous donations and communications with each other to “unify” their positions, which are impossible to unify except through “clever formulations.” Afterward, they would come together under the Arab League’s umbrella to take turns reading speeches carefully written in a way not to express any clear position. Then they leave it to professional clerks in the Arab League’s general secretariat to put together a concluding point-by-point statement by retrieving from the league’s archive terminology denouncing the new aggression.