Posted on September 04, 2013 in Countdown

The US’s Last Hope for Real Influence in Egypt

Fervor over a potential US strike on Syria has completely eclipsed continued unrest in Egypt. But as the most populous Arab state, Egypt and the attitudes of its people count, especially as the US potentially deepens its role in the region. A new Zogby Research poll on Egyptian Attitudes in the Post-Tamarrud, Post-Morsi Era, conducted in the second half of July 2013, shows that favorable ratings toward the US, Ambassador Anne Patterson, and President Obama are at 1%, 1%, and 3%, respectively. So what do these numbers tell us? Well, quite frankly that US presence, or perceived presence, in the Middle East is toxic – a reality we might do well to consider before entering into a conflict with Syria. Because of this toxicity, the US, by the President’s own admission, “cannot dictate outcomes in Egypt.” So, what is the US’s last hope for influence in one of the most important countries in the Middle East? Bob Bradley, the American head coach of Egypt’s national soccer team. If Bradley can get the Pharaohs to qualify for the World Cup in 2014, he could bring back – albeit most likely an ephemeral – sense of Egyptian unity. Even if you’re not a soccer fan, let’s hope he’s successful. Yeah, we know it’s soccer, but heaven knows Egypt needs a break.

A Split Community on Intervention in Syria

On a serious note, more than any other group in the country, the Arab American community is torn over a possible strike on Syria. Make no mistake, our community is divided on this issue. After two and a half years of armed conflict in Syria, the human toll of the crisis continues to worsen. The Assad regime’s initial brutal crackdown on the legitimate democratic aspirations of the Syrian people has escalated political unrest into a full-fledged civil war and has resulted in at least 100,000 deaths and the displacement of millions. Further, there is no question that chemical weapons were used on civilians more than once, including in an attack outside Damascus which the US government said has killed nearly 1,500 civilians. However, we strongly believe military action against the Assad regime will have little or no effect on curtailing the ongoing violence. To the contrary, a potential strike is more likely to cause further militarization of a civil war which must be solved through political means. We’re adamant about that point: to us, it’s about the Syrian people, and despite the Assad Regime’s brutality, military force will not solve the Syrian crisis.

It's War Powers Resolution Time, Now What?

President Obama was right to appeal to Congress for authorization for the use of force against Syria. But with Congress comes the often strange alliances we all love so much. Both Republican and Democratic leadership have come out in support of granting congressional authorization for military action in Syria. It’s not surprising that they have, they are the leadership after all and will sway the rank-and-file members to ensure that authority is granted to President Obama as expected. But if you want to see how this action will play out in communities across the country (or in the lead-up to the midterm elections if you are as cynical as we are), you must note the strange alliances forming – alliances that make polar political opposites sound one and the same. In the corner of opposing strikes, and consistent with the libertarian wing of the Republican Party, Senator Rand Paul led the charge during Secretary Kerry's testimony yesterday. And Representative Justin Amash is asking the tough questions on the House side. In a not-so-subtle tweet, Amash stated, "GWB-era foreign policy is nearly extinct among GOP grassroots. Some R's in DC either didn't get the memo or haven't been home in a while." For sure, many Republicans will be reflecting on this point--even when they ultimately vote in support of military strikes. Also in opposition to the use of force are some members of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, led by voices like Representatives Barbara Lee and Alan Grayson, the latter being the man behind the "" website that is collecting signatures to oppose a military strike. And in districts gerrymandered to be partisan for generations to come, this too will resonate with Democratic members as they cast their votes. The point here is both camps agree US military involvement in Syria is not a good idea, albeit for very different reasons. And both camps represent sizable electoral constituencies. On the flip side, there are Republicans and Democrats that favor intervention. The policy debate may be underway, but the politics of US strikes on Syria will not end anytime soon.

NYPD: Mosques are Terrorist Organizations

Just when you thought the New York Police Department couldn’t get any more obvious in its pernicious practices of targeting Muslims, AP reported this weekend that the Department “has secretly labeled entire mosques as terrorism organizations, a designation that allows police to use informants to record sermons and spy on imams.” That’s right, New York’s finest, in their endless zeal to spy on Muslims, have taken to saying that entire congregations of Muslims are terrorists, and listening to everything congregants say, as well as listening in to khutbahs from imams. NYPD calls these programs “terrorism enterprise investigations” (TEI’s), and the investigations can result in dragnet surveillance of mosques for years. The tactics the NYPD use are reportedly so invasive that Federal Government policy would prohibit the FBI from doing this kind of investigation. Needless to say, the investigations are almost never predicated on any specific evidence of criminal wrongdoing. And just as needless to say, NYPD has never broken up a terrorist organization or mosque through TEI. Not a single charge of that nature has been filed in New York against a mosque or organization. But for NYPD, stories like this are starting to be depressingly commonplace, between stop-and-frisk and the infamous “demographics unit,” which has no other purpose than to spy on Arabs and Muslims. The end of these abhorrent practices can’t come fast enough.

FBI Audio Equipment in our Kanafeh

Because the US may attack Syria, the FBI is increasing its surveillance of singer-dancer-choreographer Paula Abdul, actress Shannon Elizabeth and every other Syrian or Arab American of Syrian decent including possibly former governor of Indiana, Mitch Daniels. Even though this sounds crazy, we’re only half kidding. According to a New York Times report published this weekend, the FBI is increasing surveillance of members of our community to prevent some sort of potential attack after a potential US strike on Syria. They’ve done this before with Iraq and Libya and haven’t come up with anything. But, you know, if some attack somewhere in Syria or anywhere else in the world happens at some point down the line and is carried out by some strange offshoot of some estranged subgroup of a terrorist organization that happens to be Syrian, chances are, by apparent FBI logic, some Syrian falafel joint or pastry shop owner must have information about it. It just makes sense. Seriously, though, this is a question of intelligence. You can’t look at an entire group of people, put special audio equipment in everyone’s kanafeh, and expect to get actionable intelligence. Assuming a threat can come from anywhere is part of intelligence gathering, but it isn’t in and of itself intelligence. This is a big fail by the FBI and, as we’ve said time and time again, it drives a wedge between law enforcement and the community. Unfortunately, however, they never learn. If you are approached by the FBI, we do want to know. You have rights.

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