Tag Archive: Gaza Strip


Arab strongman: With Gadhafi death, an era passes

FILE - This undated photo shows Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. A U.S. official says Libya's new government has told the United States that Gadhafi, 69, is dead. The official said Libya's Transitional National Council informed U.S. officials in Libya of the development Thursday, Oct. 20, 2011. His death on Thursday, confirmed by Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril, came as Libyan fighters defeated Gadhafi's last holdouts in his hometown of Sirte, the last major site of resistance in the country. (AP Photo/File)http://news.yahoo.com/arab-strongman-gadhafi-death-era-passes-151535237.html

CAIRO (AP) — He often looked like a comical buffoon, standing before audiences, bedecked in colorful robes, spouting words that most of the world considered nonsense.

Yet the death of Moammar Gadhafi was a milestone in modern Arab history, in some ways more significant than the overthrow of lesser autocrats in Tunisia and Egypt.

Gadhafi was the last of the old-style Arab strongmen — the charismatic, nationalist revolutionaries who rose to power in the 1950s and 1960s, promising to liberate the masses from the shackles of European colonialism and the stultifying rule of the Arab elite that the foreigners left behind after World War II.

He was swept aside by a new brand of revolutionary — the leaderless crowds organized by social media, fed up with the oppressive past, keenly aware that the rest of the world has left them behind and convinced that they can build a better society even if at the moment, they aren’t sure how.

Gadhafi was the last of a generation of Arab leaders such as Gamal Abdel-Nasser of Egypt, Hafez Assad of Syria and Saddam Hussein of Iraq who emerged from poverty, rising to the pinnacle of power either through the ranks of the military or the disciplined, conspiratorial world of underground political organizations.

None of the latter crop of Arab autocrats, including Assad’s son Bashar, Yemen’s Ali Abdullah Saleh and even Egypt’s colorless, ousted president Hosni Mubarak, could rival them in their heyday in terms of charisma, flair, stature and power.

Their model was Nasser, the towering champion of Arab unity who ousted Western-backed King Farouk in 1952 and inspired Arab peoples with fiery speeches broadcast by Egyptian radio from Iraq to Mauritania.

But Nasser’s dreams of Arab unity and social revival crumbled in defeat in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, when Israel seized East Jerusalem, the West Bank, the Golan Heights from Syria and the Gaza Strip and Sinai Peninsula from Egypt. Nasser died three years later, and the fellow strongmen left behind led their countries instead into a political swamp of corruption, cronyism and dictatorship now challenged by the Arab Spring.

The hallmark of the Arab strongman was unquestioned power, the use of state media to promote a larger than life image and a ruthless security network that stifled even a whiff of dissent. That worked in an age before the Internet and global satellite television which opened the eyes of the strongman’s followers to a world without secret police and economic systems run by the leader’s family and cronies.

The Arab political transformation is far from complete. Autocratic rulers are facing challenges from their own people in Yemen and Syria. Bahrain’s Shiite majority is pressing the Sunni monarchy for reform. Rulers in Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states are maneuvering to contain the Arab Spring.

Iraq is struggling to build a democracy eight years after American-led arms brought down Saddam’s rule.

With Gadhafi’s passing, however, a milestone has been passed. The future belongs to a different style of ruler, whoever it may be.

It may be difficult to imagine that the Gadhafi of his final years — with his flamboyant robes, dark and curly wigs and sagging, surgically altered face — was a trim, handsome, vigorous 27-year-old when he came to power as a strong and vigorous leader. Over the years he had become a caricature figure associated with grandiose dreams such as a “United States of Africa” or seizing all of Israel and sending Jews “back to Europe.”

Even when he was younger, eccentricity was the mark of Gadhafi’s public persona.

A generation ago, President Ronald Reagan described him as the “mad dog of the Middle East,” and his fellow Arab leaders such as Egyptian President Anwar Sadat considered him a dangerous megalomaniac.

Journalists covered his speeches and international visits primarily for amusement.

Images of Gadhafi’s final moments — toupee gone, terrified, confused, powerless in the grip of men who may be about to kill him — make the ousted tyrant appear more pitiable than powerful.

All that was far from his image when he and his comrades toppled a Western-backed monarchy in 1969 in a bloodless coup, promising to transform his poor, backwater country into a modern state.

Promising a new era for his people, Gadhafi closed a U.S. air base, forced international oil companies to hand over most of their profits from Libyan oil to the Libyan state and shook the world with his unabashed support for terrorist or insurgent movements in Northern Ireland, Palestine, Latin America, Africa and Asia.

Oil gave him a reach beyond his sparsely populated desert land and enabled him to pursue his revolutionary dreams.

In the 1980s, the lobbies of Tripoli’s few hotels were populated by representatives of what the West considered the most dangerous groups on Earth — stiff North Koreans wearing lapel buttons of their leader Kim Il-Sung, Palestinian extremists huddled over cups of sweet tea, European anarchists and revolutionaries — all come to town to seek the oil-fueled largesse of the “Brother Leader.”

While insisting that Libya was the freest nation on Earth, Gadhafi ruthlessly suppressed dissent, dispatched agents to assassinate his opponents abroad and drove thousands of Libyans into exile.

It all came crashing down in the final battle in his hometown of Sirte. A man who came to power as an Arab revolutionary and self-styled leader of the oppressed and downtrodden died a brutal and inglorious death at the hands of the people he purported to lead.

___

Eds: Robert H. Reid is Middle East regional editor for The Associated Press and has reported from the Middle East since 1978.

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Egypt permanently opens Gaza border crossing

Palestinian Yasser Srsaui, right, embraces a family member before crossing into Egypt through the Rafah border crossing, southern Gaza Strip, Saturdayhttp://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110528/ap_on_re_mi_ea/ml_gaza_border

By IBRAHIM BARZAK, Associated Press Ibrahim Barzak, Associated Press 2 hrs 58 mins ago

RAFAH, Gaza Strip – Egypt lifted a four-year-old blockade on the Gaza Strip’s main link to the outside world Saturday, bringing relief to the crowded territory’s 1.5 million Palestinians but deepening a rift with Israel since the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak earlier this year.

The Egyptian move will allow thousands of Gazans to move freely in and out of the area — heightening Israeli fears that militants and weapons could easily reach its doorstep.

Israel and Egypt imposed the blockade after the Islamic militant Hamas seized control of Gaza in June 2007. The closure, which also included tight Israeli restrictions at its cargo crossings with Gaza and a naval blockade, was meant to weaken Hamas, but it also fueled an economic crisis in the densely populated territory.

Hundreds of Gazans gathered early Saturday as the first bus load of passengers crossed the border at 9 a.m. Two Egyptian officers stood guard next to a large Egyptian flag atop the border gate as the vehicle rumbled through.

Rami Arafat, 52, was among the earliest arrivals. He said he hoped to catch a flight out of Cairo on Sunday to Algeria for his daughter’s wedding.

“All we need is to travel like humans, be treated with dignity, and feel like any other citizens of the world who can travel in and out freely,” Arafat said. He said he believed the relaxing of travel restrictions “will guarantee more support from all Arabs and Palestinians for the new Egyptian regime.”

Nearby, 28-year-old Khaled Halaweh said he was headed to Egypt to study for a master’s degree in engineering at Alexandria University.

“The closure did not affect only the travel of passengers or the flowing of goods. Our brains and our thoughts were under blockade,” said Halaweh, who said he hadn’t been out of Gaza for seven years.

Until Saturday, the Rafah border terminal had functioned at a limited capacity. Only certain classes of people, such as students, businessmen or medical patients, were eligible to travel and the crossing was often subject to closures, leading to huge backlogs that forced people to wait for months.

Under the new system, most restrictions are being lifted, and a much larger number of Palestinians are expected to be able to cross each day.

Inside the border terminal Saturday, the atmosphere was orderly, as Hamas police called up passengers one by one to register their travel documents.

After 5 1/2 hours of operation, terminal officials said 340 people had crossed from Gaza into Egypt. None were forced to return, a departure from the past when Egypt had rejected passengers found to be on “blacklists.” Another 150 people crossed from Egypt into Gaza.

“Today is a cornerstone for a new era that we hope will pave the road to ending the siege and blockade on Gaza,” said Hatem Awideh, director general of the Hamas border authority in Gaza. “We hope this facilitation by our Egyptian brothers will improve travel and will allow everyone to leave Gaza.”

One after another buses crossed Rafah, pulling blue carts behind them with luggage piled high. Inside the terminal, many waited with high hopes.

One woman, who gave her name as Aisha, said she was headed for a long overdue medical checkup in Cairo. She underwent surgery for blocked arteries at a Cairo hospital in October, but Egyptian authorities had prevented her from returning for checkups because a distant relative was caught — and killed — operating a smuggling tunnel on the Gaza-Egypt border. During the four-year blockade, a thriving smuggling business has grown along the border.

Salama Baraka, head of police at the Rafah terminal on the Gaza side, said travel has been limited to about 300 passengers a day under the old system. He said it was unclear how many people would pass through Saturday, but that officials hoped to get about three days’ worth of people, or roughly 900, across.

About 100 Hamas supporters marched with Palestinian and Egyptian flags outside the border terminal in a gesture of gratitude to Egypt.

“This courageous step by Egypt reflects the deep historic relations between the Palestinian and Egyptian nations,” said Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zahri. “We hope this will be a step in the long process to end the blockade imposed on Gaza.”

The new system will not resolve Gazans’ travel woes completely.

While Egypt has dropped its restrictions on who can travel, bureaucratic obstacles remain. Men between the ages of 18 and 40 will have to apply for Egyptian visas, a process that can take weeks. Women, children and older men need easier-to-obtain travel permits, which can be obtained in several days.

Israel, which controls Gaza’s cargo crossings, allows most consumer goods into Gaza, but it still restricts exports as well as the entry of much-needed construction materials, saying they could be used by militants. Israel also enforces a naval blockade aimed at weapons smuggling.

Israeli and American officials have expressed concerns that Hamas will exploit the opening to bring weapons and fighters into Gaza. In January 2008, masked militants blew open the Rafah border wall, allowing thousands of people to pour in and out of Egypt.

Egyptian officials say they have security measures in place to keep weapons from crossing through Rafah.

Hamas has long used tunnels to get arms into Gaza. Gaza militants now have military-grade rockets that have hit cities in southern Israel.

Amos Gilad, a senior Israeli Defense Ministry official, told Channel 2 TV Friday that Israel’s primary concern is that military training personnel could cross to instruct Hamas fighters.

“One trainer who tells them how to set up the rockets and how to use them is equal to a large quantity of weapons,” Gilad said.

Egypt’s decision to open the border is also meant to boost an Egyptian-mediated unity deal between the rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah. Hamas has governed Gaza since routing Fatah forces in 2007, leaving the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority in control only of the West Bank.

Last month, the Egyptian regime brokered a reconciliation deal. With details still being worked out, Hamas will be in charge of the Palestinian side of the Rafah crossing, but Egypt coordinated the opening with the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank, said Yaser Afnan, Egypt’s ambassador in the West Bank.

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