In this issue:

Exit From Gaza in 'Eternal Limbo'

Egyptian Constitutional Changes Pave Way for Elections

Opposition Walkout Marred Egyptian Election Law Reform

Egyptian Judges Reject Bush Offer of Election Monitors

Iranian Candidates Announce for Presidential Election

From Volume 4, Issue Number 20 of EIR Online, Published May 17, 2005
Southwest Asia News Digest

Exit From Gaza in 'Eternal Limbo'

Israeli journalist Amir Oren, writing in Ha'aretz on May 10, said what many have already concluded: Ariel Sharon's "disengagement" from the Gaza Strip is being put into "eternal limbo." And, at the same time, the far right wing in Israel's think tanks and military is upping the pressure for a preemptive military strike on Iran to eliminate that country's nuclear program.

Thus, only a month after Sharon's meeting with George W. Bush, as New Federalist warned May 23, "peace" is further away then ever—as long as the neo-con cabal run out of Vice President Dick Cheney's office continues to maneuver.

On May 10, Sharon announced that he has officially postponed his disengagement plan for the evacuation of all Jewish settlements from the Gaza Strip, and four from the West Bank, from July 25 to Aug. 17, for religious reasons. In making the announcement, Sharon also made a point that the so-called West Bank settlement blocks "will be part of the State of Israel, territorially connected to Israel, and with a much larger population than today," after the Gaza evacuation. But, one day earlier, Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres, the leading Laborite in the shaky coalition, told the Jerusalem Post that the disengagement was not a "done deal."

The game of delay, said Oren, is always to keep the Gaza withdrawal on a horizon that is never reached. The charade was cooked up by Sharon, with his Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, and special assistant Dov Weisglass, an operative with strong links to Vice President Cheney and the White House. Weisglass long ago told Israelis that the Gaza "disengagement" was a way to make sure that there never would be negotiations for a Palestinian state.

One of the tip-offs that there really was no Gaza evacuation plan is that the Israeli government had not even decided where to move the 7,500 settlers who are being evacuated. The Gaza settlers demand that their community—1,500 households—be kept together. There are thousands of available homes, apartments, and farmsteads throughout Israel, but since Sharon acquiesced to the settlers' demands, it would be required to build new housing complexes, costing hundreds of millions of dollars.

Oren notes, however, the disengagement "won't be cancelled, just the timing will go through occasional updating...." And, the longer the delay of withdrawing, the greater "the intensity of the vow in its name.... Sharon cannot cancel the evacuation, lest he ignite George Bush's rage."

Egyptian Constitutional Changes Pave Way for Elections

The Egyptian Parliament has approved changes in the Constitution to allow for multi-party candidacies in the upcoming Presidential elections. The amendment to Article 76 was endorsed by an overwhelming majority of the 454-seat lower house of Parliament, dominated by President Hosni Mubarak's ruling National Democratic Party (NDP). After the new rules have been approved by the lower house, they are put to a referendum. The rules say that, to be a Presidential candidate, one has to either be a member of an official party, or get a minimum of 65 recommendations from members of the lower house of Parliament, 25 from the Shura Council, and 10 from local councils, from 14 governorates.

The new rules come in the context of growing mass protests against President Mubarak's long rule.

According to a well-informed Arab expert, the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), which has been leading the mass demonstrations in Egypt, calling for regime change, has been in contact with the U.S. Administration. The contact was initiated by the U.S. Ambassador in Cairo, but has been played down by the Brotherhood, in order not to discredit itself. Brotherhood spokesmen say they don't want to discredit themselves, but at the same time, don't want to waste the opportunity provided by the possible support by a superpower. (A similar phenomenon is noted in Syria, where an MB representative said on TV that he was in favor of overthrowing the Assad government, but feared this would be exploited by the U.S. According to the source, intellectuals throughout the region perceive this dilemma: They want effective political and social change, but do not want to serve the interests of the U.S.)

The Egyptian MB leaders are also wary of U.S. aims, i.e., they are not sure that Washington really wants honest cooperation. The U.S. is in favor of contacts, because it realizes the Brotherhood is the only political force in Egypt which can control the street, i.e., organize masses of people.

The source said he believed Mubarak's days as leader were numbered, because of the rising tide of protests, as well as his ill health.

Opposition Walkout Marred Egyptian Election Law Reform

The Constitutional amendment providing for new election procedures was passed by the Egyptian Parliament, but opposition MPs walked out. They protested the law, which makes it difficult for candidates to run, without having the blessing of Mubarak's ruling NDP. Reportedly 405 of the 454 MPs voted for the new rules.

The opposition movement known as Kifaya (Enough) announced it would boycott the elections. It called for a political mobilization to get the population to boycott the referendum on the changes.

The leader of the opposition alliance, Khaled Mohieddin, from the leftist Tagammu Party, said he was withdrawing his candidacy. The leadership of the opposition Nasserite party expelled its member, an MP who had voted for the resolution, against the party's stance.

If this becomes a trend, then it may be that, as one Egyptian source told EIR, the opposition as a whole could decide not to run any candidates, thus leaving Mubarak (or his ersatz candidate) to run unopposed.

The Muslim Brotherhood, prior to the passing of the resolution, had voiced its objections to the rules: that voting in one day would be impossible; that candidates would de facto be vetted by the ruling party; and that the committee overseeing the elections would not be objective.

The MB organized a demonstration in the Asyut governorate, mobilizing 4,000 members, to protest the arrest of students belonging to their movement. The Mubarak government is responding to the growing protest movement with hard-line tactics, which will only make things worse.

Egyptian Judges Reject Bush Offer of Election Monitors

While in Latvia, launching provocations against Russia, U.S. President George W. Bush also threatened Egypt, the Daily Star reported May 5. Bush said that the wave of democracy, in eastern Europe, was also sweeping the "broader Middle East," and named Lebanon, as well as Egypt, which "will hold a Presidential election this fall. That election," he announced, "should proceed with international monitors, and with rules that allow for a real campaign."

In response, about 350 judges, members of the General Assembly of the Appeals Courts in greater Cairo, had an emergency meeting on May 8, to "unanimously reject ... any foreign intervention in Egypt's internal affairs." In a separate development, 90% of the country's 2,000 judges who are to run the elections, said they wanted local, not foreign, authorities to do the monitoring.

Iranian Candidates Announce for Presidential Election

Former Iranian President, and current head of the Expediency Council, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, confirmed that he would run for President in the June 17 elections, his spokesman told AFP May 10.

Many polls have placed him far ahead of what is expected to be a field of mostly hard-line contenders. Rafsanjani was President from 1989 to 1997.

According to a high-level Iranian source, who spoke with EIR, Rafsanjani is the front-runner. Number two is reform candidate Mostafa Moin; third is Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, former national police commander; fourth is former IRIB (Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting) head Ali Larijani; followed by Ali Akhbar Velayati, and Tehran Mayor Ahmedzadeh.

Other reformists in the running are Mehdi Karoubi, former Speaker of the Parliament, and Mehr Ali Zadeh, deputy to the President for sports affairs. Another conservative, in addition to those named above, is Hassan Frowhani, currently head of the National Security Council, and a negotiator in the nuclear energy talks.

The line put out by the press is that the U.S. is waiting for the outcome of the June elections, to see whether a hardliner or a reformer is elected, in order to decide what to do about Iran's nuclear program. Those who push this line ignore the fact, known to everyone in Iran, that no matter who is elected, no compromises will be made on this program. Any political leader who were to back down on this, would be out on his ear in a minute.

In a clear political move to clarify that it is not willing to compromise on nuclear technology, Iran confirmed on May 9 that it had converted 37 tons of raw uranium into gas. This was announced by Mohammad Saeedi, deputy head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi had said the day before, that Iran would resume some uranium processing activities in order to show its dissatisfaction with the lack of progress in talks with the EU. However, after the foreign ministers of Germany, France, and Great Britain signalled that they would back a U.S. initiative to bring a sanctions resolution before the UN Security Council if Iran resumed the reprocessing, the Iranian government indicated it was prepared to delay the resumption and restart talks.

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