It’s Official: Stop the War is responsible for the Syrian Civil War

I am not a member of the Stop the War Coalition, but I have been part of the movement ever since it developed in the lead up to the Iraq War.  I may not agree with all of its positions, and I don’t share the politics of some of its members, but I share its central aims, and I can’t help noticing that the usual criticisms against it have risen to a new crescendo recently.

No one will be surprised that Douglas Murray regards Stop the War as ‘ a meeting point for hardline Stalinists and Islamists to pursue their own imperial policies.’  Or even that the Guardian’s Rafael Behr sees it as  ‘a doctrinaire pressure group that sets its moral compass by quasi-Leninist rejection of “western imperialism”’ – a concept that less ‘doctrinaire’ pundits like Behr always put in scaremarks, because as every liberal interventionist knows, there is no such thing as western imperialism, only lots of good men and women trying to do the best thing in a bad world.

The traces of that touching benevolence can be found from Central Asia to North Africa, in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Yemen – and to some extent Syria, but none of that ever seems to phase the Behrs and Nick Cohens of this world, who always seem to know, or at least believe, that the next ‘intervention’ will be better than the last.

So criticisms of STW are only to be expected from such quarters.   But Stop the War has also been attacked from the left  over its position on Syria.  In the past four years it has been accused of hypocrisy,double standards, racism and Orientalism, betraying the Syrian revolution, supporting Bashar al-Assad and acting as apologists for dictatorship.

At times anyone listening to these criticisms would be forgiven for thinking that if Stop the War didn’t exist, then the Syrian revolution would have triumphed, or at least that this horrific war would have been brought to some kind of positive conclusion. .

Some of these criticisms were repeated during last week’s discussion in London, which Peter Tatchell and a number of Syrian and non-Syrian solidarity activists attempted to disrupt, on the grounds that Syrians were not represented.  I wasn’t at the meeting, but from what I have read, and from what I have seen in the long section devoted to this episode in Andrew Neil’s Daily Politics show, it is clear that by Syrians, these protesters only referred to Syrians in favour of Western military intervention.

The sudden interest that a rightwinger  like Neil should take in Stop the War discussions is partly an indirect tribute to the coalition’s influence, and partly yet another attempt to undermine Jeremy Corbyn by association with ‘Stalinists and Leninists’,  following last week’s announcement that the Labour leader may consult Stop the War in the event of proposals to extend Britain’s bombing campaign in Iraq to Syria.

Certainly one would like to see Neil hectoring Philip Hammond or Michael Fallon the way he hectored Diane Abbott about why no Syrians were allowed to attend diplomatic talks in Vienna, .but don’t hold your breath about that.

The criticisms emanating from Tatchell and the Syrian solidarity activist Muzna cannot be dismissed as part of some rightwing smear plot however,  regardless of how they might be used by people like Neil.  For some leftists, Stop the War is the most visible manifestation of the supposedly intellectually and morally decadent left that has ‘turned its back’ on Syria and the Syrian revolution and embraced a phony internationalism that is only directed at the West.

These accusations can be found in articles, Internet sites and Facebook chat sites, and some of them have been directed at me personally, in response to articles that I have written.  Their tone is often as inquisitorial and hectoring as Neil’s faux-moralistic interrogation of Diane Abbott.

Speaking for myself, I am ready to admit that my position on Syria is not without contradictions, but I don’t think that contradictions are unique to those of us who have opposed western military intervention in this war.

As far as being an ‘apologist’ for Assad is concerned, I have never really doubted the brutality of the Syrian regime..  That was clear long before the war started, whether it was the behavior of the Syrian army in Lebanon or its participation as offshore torturer during the Bush terror wars. Those who praise Syria as part of the ‘axis of resistance’ often ignore such things, just as they ignore the participation of Bashar al-Assad’s father in the first Gulf War.

Nevertheless, it was clear quite early on in the war that some of the violence attributed to Assad was being deliberately exaggerated by the regime’s opponents – both Syrian and non-Syrian, in order to justify another ‘humanitarian intervention’. . I cannot think of any armed conflict in history in which major news outlets have relied for casualty figures and details for the most part on a single organization, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights – run by an opponent of Assad’s who runs a clothes shop in Coventry.

I didn’t believe that Assad used chemical weapons on the eve of UN weapons inspections – not because I am an ‘apologist’ for such actions, but because it was so obviously not in Assad’s political and military interests to cross Obama’s ‘red line’ and trigger military intervention which his government was clearly anxious to avoid.

It is a legitimate criticism to say that I – and other sections of the left – have not always spoken out against the atrocities carried out by the Syrian security forces and their paramilitary allies.  But those leftists who accuse us of being apologists for genocide etc. have been equally silent about the massacres of Christians and the killings of Syrian army prisoners by elements of the opposition – and I’m not referring to Isis/Daesh here.

Those who accuse us of betraying the revolution ignore the reactionary politics that permeate so much of the Syrian opposition and their foreign backers.  Should I call people who don’t mention such things hypocrites and ‘apologists’?  No, and I won’t do it.  But those who throw out such accusations at Stop the War fail to explain which elements of an opposition that now includes about 1,000 armed groups could take power or hold Syria together.

Those who protest the exclusion of Syrians from Stop the War conferences are unlikely to refer to polls – admittedly made in wartime conditions – that continue to suggest that close to half the Syrian population has supported Assad’s government throughout the war.

Could that support disappear if the war ended? Almost certainly, but the presentation of the Syrian war as a conflict between the radical evil of ‘ Assad’ on one hand and ‘the Syrian people’ on the other entirely fails to explain how the regime has lasted so long, or why some 35,000 Syrian soldiers have died defending it, or what would happen to the Syrians that have supported the regime if the Free Syrian Army or Jabhat al-Nusra took power.

There was a similar tendency amongst the liberal advocates of military intervention in Iraq to talk about nothing but ‘Saddam’, as though the Iraqi state and Iraqi society were embodied by a single person, and all that was necessary was to ‘remove’ him, as Tony Blair likes to put it.   Those interventionists often referred to Iraqis and their ‘Iraqi friends’ to support their cause and give it greater credibility.

I agree that is a tendency amongst some sections of the left to take an all-encompassing conspiratorial view of the Syrian war that ignores Syrians and the internal dynamics of Syrian society that drove the conflict.  There are those who believe that the entire war was solely due to proxy interventions.   That isn’t a view that I share.

The protests that began in 2011 were clearly the consequence of the political and economic failings of an authoritarian political system that was well past its sell-by date, all of which were exacerbated by the country’s longrunning drought, the disastrous and bloody development of the Iraq war and the onset of the ‘Arab spring.’

Though Assad had previously presented himself as a political reformer – not without justification, his government reacted to these protests with extreme violence, as Arab governments often do whenever their power is threatened.  But these developments provided an opportunity to Syria’s neighbors – and the Western powers that had wanted regime change in Syria  for years beforehand – to enter the conflict and militarize it still further without regard for the consequences..

In these circumstances it was entirely logical to regard the proposals for military intervention as an extension of the process begun in Afghanistan and Iraq, and to regard no fly zones as a lever to bring about regime change, just as they had been in Libya. There was in the recent history of such interventions to suggest that they would have any other result, except to turn Syria into yet another failed state, and a base for further attacks on Iran and Hezbollah that would strengthen Israel and the reactionary Gulf tyrannies into the bargain.

That position doesn’t make us ‘apologists’; it’s simply a question of priorities in a situation where the options quickly ranged from bad to worse.  It was and is a question of trying to separate what is desirable – the end of the Ba’athist regime and a democratic government that represents all Syria’s minorities and upholds their political and civil rights – from what was always more likely – the complete destruction of Syria as a society and as a state and the destabilisation of an entire region.

When the war began, I thought that the best possible outcome  was an interim political arrangement in which would Assad would temporarily remain before paving the way for some kind of coalition government – but the humanitarians of the Gulf States and their western allies shot down that option at Geneva with their insistence on his departure as a precondition for further talks.

Now, in the short term at least, I think that a temporary political/military arrangement between the Assad government – preferably without Assad himself – and those elements of the Syrian opposition and their foreign supporters (and not only Russia and Iran) may be the only way to defeat Daesh and the takfiri groups, prevent Syria from total disintegration and endless violence and ensure a future in which politics becomes possible once again.

Calling for the ‘Syrian revolution’ to do this, and berating Stop the War for not doing so too, is just posturing and pointscoring.    In a war in which neither side can defeat the other, the choices are not nearly as pristine as some of these critics sometimes seem to think they are.  Wars like this tend to end in ugly, messy compromises – Algeria being one of many examples.

Right now, ending the war in Syria ought to be the single, overriding priority, rather than criticizing those who oppose yet another strategically clueless British military intervention.

And even though my position doesn’t fill me with a warm glowing feeling,  I have yet to hear any arguments, whether from Syrians or non-Syrians, to make me change it..

 

Hey look: we’re at war against evil again

With ‘reluctant warrior’ Barack Obama’s declaration of war against Islamic State, the United States has found another in a seemingly endless series of justifications for waging war in the Middle East. In 1990/91 it was saving Kuwait.  In 2003 it was weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.  Last year it was the chemical weapons ‘red line’ in Syria – an attempt that only failed because of vocal public opposition.  Now it’s ‘evil’ and ‘extremism’ and a ‘network of death’ and this time there is very little opposition at all.

Ostensibly, this war is directed against the IS ‘caliphate’ in Iraq and Syria, and is being waged by a coalition that includes Arab states, but that coalition is essentially a fig-leaf for yet another Western intervention in which IS is as both a pretext and a military objective.

Even as the US is bombing IS it is already paving the way for the formation of ‘moderate rebel’ enclaves in Syria that will be used to attack the Assad regime – a development that will intensify the civil war and escalate the destruction.    Already the US has identified another organization called Khorasan, which some analysts claim is even worse than IS, so that even if IS is ‘degraded’ there will be another enemy to take its place.

Generals and politicians now insist that the war against IS/extremism/whatever will last not for months, but for years.  All this points once again to a very disturbing conclusion: that Western democracies have tacitly embraced the toxic principle of permanent war as an instrument of policy in order to achieve specific strategic objectives internationally (control and supply of vital resources, strategic denial, the elimination of regional competitors in areas of strategic interest), while simultaneously imposing ever more authoritarian models of national security governance on the population.

In this sense we are edging closer to the world that George Orwell satirised in 1984, of endless wars with a constantly shifting array of enemies and alliances.   In Orwell’s novel the Party promotes its wars through the orchestrated ritual of ‘Hate Week’ directed against the enemy de jour, a festival of militarism which exhausts Winston Smith with its ‘processions, the speeches, the shouting, the singing, the banners, the posters, the films, the waxworks, the rolling of drums and squealing of trumpets, the tramp of marching feet, the grinding of the caterpillars of tanks, the roar of massed planes, the booming of guns.’

Orwell was writing in the age of mass politics, of Busby-Berkeley style orchestrated crowd spectacles and displays of militarism that were associated with the European dictators.  Today the West’s ‘generational’ wars on more subtle forms of manipulation.

Ever since the first Gulf War, when the Pentagon first rolled out its ‘information warfare’ strategies for the CNN era,  Western governments have attempted to transform war into a pervasive but acceptable media spectacle, humming pleasantly in the background of our lives like a fishtank in an office.

For the most part the public doesn’t have to participate in these spectacles.   All it has to do is accept that such wars are necessary, because our governments are fighting evil or ‘terror’ and ‘extremism’, or  opposing tyranny or trying to stop rulers from carrying out genocide against their own people, or trying to ‘keep us safe.’.

On one hand we are encouraged to be afraid, and very afraid, of whatever our governments say we should be afraid of.    At the same time we are also expected to ‘go shopping’ as George Bush once urged Americans to do after 9/11, and leave these wars to Cobra and the National Security Council and all the big boys who know what they are doing, occasionally oohing and aahing like a crowd at a fireworks display while our governments unleash their latest weaponry or boast about the killing prowess of our special forces.

The war against Islamic State has already begun to follow the same familiar parameters.  As in Operation Desert Storm and Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom, there are the daily presentations from generals with chestfuls of medals, pointing to charts and listing strikes on  IS ‘ vehicle staging’ ‘storage facilities’, and ‘compounds’, and even a Khorasan bomb factory supposedly preparing ‘non-detectable’ bombs for use against the West,  like factory production managers listing the day’s output.

Once again there are the newsclips of cruise missiles and warplanes taking off from aircraft decks and the video-game imagery of exploding buildings in crosssights, silently bursting into smoke and flames like blooming roses. Yesterday AOL News published videos containing ‘raw footage’ of Islamic State strikes, and cheerfully reminded its readers to ‘ Be sure to tell us what you think in the comments’.

Readers duly obliged, with comments like this:

They say that death is more important to them than life. Our job is to make them happy.

Great shot. just make sure you don;t send any of our tax dollars there to rebuild that country,

Blow the towels off their filthy heads! The nerve of these bastards to think they actually
“terrify” us! Keep messing with us and we’ll turn your God-forsaken land into carnival glass.

Not impressed, want to see troops and bodies, this could be anything.

NUKE EM ALL and make it the overflow parking lot for Euro Disney!!

Well no one can say that those wars against evil don’t have the capacity to bring out the finest instincts in the population.  In 1984, the Party needed daily hates and hate weeks to bring emotions like these into play.  Now all you need to do is sit back on a sofa in front of an HD television or a computer screen and eat popcorn while F-22 Raptors and Reaper  drones eliminate evil from the world-beyond-our-borders.

It’s all rather painless and satisfying – to us, especially when we don’t have to think about the consequences of the latest war or who is being killed and for what.  It should be the job of journalists to inform and educate the public about the meaning and motives behind these wars,  but war has an astonishing ability to rob mainstream journalists of their critical facilities

In his superb introduction to 1984, Thomas Pynchon compared the more direct forms of censorship imposed by the Party to the more indirect forms of control employed by democratic states in which ‘ Every day public opinion is the target of rewritten history, official amnesia and outright lying, all of which is benevolently called ‘spin’, as if it were no more harmful than a ride on a merry-go-round.’

This ‘merry-go-round’ has become the stuff of democratic politics for many years, but it tends to speed up once the bombs start falling.   Yesterday I watched Jon Snow interview former general Tim Cross and a creepy former advisor to Tony Blair on the Iraq war.  Snow, like many mainstream journalists, is clearly somewhat in awe of military men.   At one point he actually apologised to Cross for ‘talking politics to a general’ – as though war is some kind of apolitical activity.

Having a former Blair advisor on Iraq might have provided an opportunity for some forensic questioning about that war and its connection to this one.  Instead Snow’s guests were allowed  to pontificate with Cross on the pros and cons of ‘boots on the ground’ – an expression that increasingly makes me want to bite my own hand whenever I hear it.

At  no point have I heard or read any mainstream attempt to critique the official representation of the war against IS as a ‘war against evil’; or analyse the historical factors that gave rise to it, the impact of previous interventions, or the deeper strategic and political objectives behind the war.  Few journalists question the Imperium’s right to ‘intervene’ anywhere in the world or ask whether the seemingly endless capacity of Western states to create enemies that it must fight against might have ulterior motives.

There are a number of questions that Snow could have asked:  Was it a good idea to fund Islamist rebels in Syria, either directly or with the same proxy states that have now joined in Obama’s grand coalition?   Isn’t it odd, that the West should find itself fighting ‘extremism’ with the assistance of Saudi Arabia, a corrupt tyranny which has done more to promote IS-style jihadism than any other state, with the exception of the United States?  How can Saudi Arabia train ‘moderate Syrian rebels’, as Obama is now proposing, when IS came from those same rebels?   Why did the Iraqi army collapse despite a $25 billion training and equipment programme?

But such questions aren’t asked because they aren’t acceptable in a time of war, which is one reason why war is so useful to those in power.

And there is one other question that Snow could have posed: when does this end?  The answer is that it won’t, because too many powerful people simply don’t want it to, and unless we can figure out a way to stop them, we are heading towards far worse conflagrations than those we have already seen.

 

 

The Strategy of Blood

If the twists and turns of US foreign policy in the Middle East were ever presented to a Hollywood producer as a script or treatment for a movie or a tv drama, it is very likely that it would be sent back for serious revision because of their seeming contradictions and sheer plot implausibility.

Imagine your wannabe scriptwriter explaining that the US is currently supporting a rebellion in Syria with the Muslim Brotherhood at its core, while providing de facto support to the al-Sisi regime’s vicious repression of the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria.  Or that in Iraq, Obama is preparing to carry out air strikes against the Islamic State of Syria and Iraq (ISIS) – a Syrian rebel group which may have initially been trained by the United States military.

Other confusing narratives thicken the plot still further.  After years of sabrerattling with Iran over its nuclear program – not to mention various forms of ‘cyberwar’ and special operations inside the Islamic Republic that include bombings and assassinations carried out by jihadist groups, the US has begun discussions to enlist Iranian help in countering ISIS.  But such collaboration is proving difficult, because the US doesn’t want Nouri al-Maliki to remain in power, even though it wanted him back in 2010, because his administration is now deemed to be too corrupt and sectarian to deliver ‘stability.’

Instead it wants a ‘government of national unity’ possibly headed by the fraudster and all-round conman Ahmad Chalabi, another Shia politician with dubious allegiances who the Bush administration once favoured back in 2003, before it discovered that Chalabi was a possible Iranian intelligence asset.  Meanwhile, the Syrian government, which the US wants to overthrow,  has also begun carrying out air strikes against ISIS, which seems to signify that Syria and the United States are on the same side, except that the US is in fact continuing to promote ‘regime change’ in Syria, by supporting rebels whose most effective military forces are – ISIS!

And now the Obama administration is requesting $500 million from Congress for an ‘overseas contingency operation’ that will train and equip ‘moderate’ Syrian rebels, at which point the would-be producer of ‘US Foreign Policy – the movie’ is likely to say ‘you’ve lost me kid’ and walk away with their latte in hand.

According to National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden, this aid is intended to ‘help defend the Syrian people, stabilize areas under opposition control, facilitate the provision of essential services, counter terrorist threats, and promote conditions for a negotiated settlement.

Elsewhere, administration officials are saying that the aid package has been increased in response to the rise of ISIS in Iraq, and that it is intended to ‘help build the capacity of the moderate Syrian opposition and our partners in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq to manage the growing spillover effects of the Syrian conflict.’

None of these explanations make logical sense on any level.   Firstly the rebels, whether ‘moderate’ or ‘extremist’ do not represent the ‘Syrian people’, any more than Assad does – they represent sections/factions of the Syrian population which the US has chosen to support in order to further its strategic interests in the region.

American military aid is not intended to ‘defend’ anyone, but to exacerbate and extend the conflict, and will ensure that many more Syrians die.  The ‘provision of essential services’ is nothing but a phony humanitarian figleaf, intended to disguise what is in fact the deliberate the intensification and escalation of violence and destruction in pursuit of its ‘regime change’ agenda.

If the US was seriously interested in protecting the ‘Syrian people’, it would have used its power and influence, in partnership with all relevant parties, to try and demilitarize the conflict and stop the fighting.   Instead it has done the opposite throughout the war, and now it wants to ‘stabilize areas under opposition control’, even if that means the disintegration and fragmentation of Syria itself – and perhaps Iraq too.

The notion that this will lead to a ‘negotiated settlement’ is a joke in very poor taste.   The US might believe – or pretend to believe – that these ‘stabilised areas’ will give the ‘moderate rebels’ a stronger hand in future political negotiations, but the more ‘stabilised’ these areas become the least inclined they will be to pursue ‘negotiations’, and the more likely it is that these ‘stabilised’ areas will fight each other in order to dominate the rebellion, and in order to undermine the ‘stabilised’ areas controlled by ISIS.

At the end of all this, there is likely to be very little of Syria remaining.    As for ‘counter terrorist threats’.  Please.  Everything that the US has done in Syria and the Middle East for the last ten years has facilitated, boosted and empowered ‘terrorist threats’ across the region.

It has done this essentially in three ways 1) By creating the instability/destabilisation in which groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS can prosper 3) By providing such groups with a cause celebre/rallying cause/recruitment tool and 3) Through facilitation/ training either direct or channelled through proxies.

ISIS is merely one more product of this ‘politics of chaos.’  The idea that weapons and training can be restricted to ‘moderate’ rebels rather than ‘extremists’ is another fantasy/delusion intended for propaganda consumption.  Such distinctions have proven difficult, and generally impossible to enforce in Syria, and it is doubtful whether the US or any of the other states looking to overthrow Assad have any interest in enforcing them.

The most likely outcome is that ISIS will end up with more weapons, just as the al-Nusrah Front did before it – as long as the former continues to demonstrate its military capabilities against Assad.    So why would the US help an organization in one country when it is supposedly seeking to prevent its ‘spillover effects’ in another?  A clue may be found in a New York Times op ed by the conservative American strategist Edward Luttwak in August last year, entitled ‘Syria: America Loses if Either Side Wins.’

Luttwak is a particularly ruthless and amoral exponent of American realpolitik, who once approved the genocidal counterinsurgency campaigns waged by the Guatemalan military  in the 70s and 80s.   As the title suggests, his preferred outcome in Syria is a ‘prolonged stalemate’, in which the Assad regime and its opponents fight each other endlessly without either side gaining victory.  In this way, Luttwak argues:

‘By tying down Mr. Assad’s army and its Iranian and Hezbollah allies in a war against Al Qaeda-aligned extremist fighters, four of Washington’s enemies will be engaged in war among themselves and prevented from attacking Americans or America’s allies.’

Neat huh?   And how can the US achieve this ‘indefinite draw’?   According to our imperial grand strategist, ‘ the only possible method for achieving this is to arm the rebels when it seems that Mr. Assad’s forces are ascendant and to stop supplying the rebels if they actually seem to be winning.’

Of course Luttwak notes that this is a ‘tragic’ choice, from the point of Syria, but then, he argues, things are bad enough there already so what will it matter if the war goes on and on?

There is no evidence that the US has formally adopted these recommendations, but the strategy of playing off American enemies/competitors against each other is not new.  During the Iran-Iraq war the US shifted back and forth between the two sides and sometimes provided weapons and military assistance to both of them at the same time in order to ensure that both were weakened and neither gained the upper hand.

Those who approved this strategy were not concerned with how many Iraqis or Iranians died in order to achieve this outcome, and it may well be that what is about to happen in Syria will follow the direction that Luttwak has outlined.

It may well be that such an outcome requires the deaths of tens, if not hundreds of thousands of people, a trail of wrecked cities and broken states, and an endless ‘war of all against all’ throughout the Middle East.  But exponents of ‘American exceptionalism’ have never shown any scruples about such matters in the past, and there are clearly those who, as Madeleine Albright once said in a different context, believe that the price is ‘worth it’ if America’s enemies can ‘bleed’ and the Imperium and its allies can inherit the ruins.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Egypt’s Trial of the Century

How many Egyptians does it take to kill one policeman?  Exactly 529, if they are members of the Muslim Brotherhood, according to Judge Saeed Elgazar.   That is the number of people Elgazar sentenced to death two days ago for the killing of a deputy police commander in the southern Egyptian city of Minya in August last year.

Capital punishment is a serious business, and no one can say the Judge reached this verdict lightly.   On the contrary, he took this momentous decision after two days of careful deliberation.  Given that there are 1440 minutes in a day, that would have allowed five minutes per each defendant for evidence to be presented and subjected to a rigorous defense and prosecution.

In fact the actual time span was considerably less.  The Saturday session took forty-five minutes.   The final session on Monday lasted five.    Not much time to present a defense, but then no defense was required since no evidence was presented.

All that certainly speeded things up a bit, and made possible what appears to have been the largest number of death sentences ever handed out by a civil court in a single sitting.

Now some of you cynics out there might question the logistics of this alleged crime.  Did the 529 defendants kill the policeman simultaneously?   In which case one can only marvel at the disciplined choreography and use of physical space that enabled so many people to get close to their victim and kill him at the same time.    Or was the unfortunate commissioner killed bit by bit – a gory business to be sure, but one which would at least have allowed the 529th person to play a part in the murder.

At least two of the accused deserve special commendation for their ingenuity.  One was so disabled that he couldn’t walk.   Another was in another town when the murder was committed.

Not surprisingly, this grotesque travesty has drawn widespread outrage, incredulity and mockery from within Egypt and across the  world.   Even the US, which supplies the Egyptian army with $1.3 billion of military aid,  has declared itself ‘deeply concerned’ about  the verdict.   And State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf has condemned  it as ‘ a flagrant disregard for basic standards of justice’ and declared that any implementation of the sentences would be ‘unconscionable’.

‘Unconscionable’ is one word that could be used, but one suspects that stronger language would have been found had these sentences  been decreed by Gaddafi, or Assad say.  But Egypt is a special case, as Harf reminded the world when she insisted that US ties with one of its key Middle Eastern allies remained important and that  ‘We don’t want to completely cut off the relationship.’

We can be fairly certain that General Al-Sisi and his cronies are aware of that.   Not all these sentences are likely to be carried out, but as many commentators have noted, the fact that they were decreed at all as a sinister declaration of intent by a regime that appears determined to wipe out the Muslim Brotherhood, both physically and politically, even if it becomes look viciously ridiculous in the process.

682 members of the Brotherhood are still to go on trial for various offenses including murder, and further death sentences may also result, including Mohammed Morsi himself.

This severity contrasts dramatically with the official response to the killing of at least 1,400 Muslim Brotherhood activists by the security forces following the military’s toppling of the Morsi government in July last year.  Only last week a Cairo court tried four policemen for manslaughter and negligence, as a result of their involvement in a horrendous incident last August when  37 Muslim Brotherhood activists were gassed to death in the back of a police van.  One police officer got ten years; his three companions were given suspended sentences.

These are, to my knowledge, the only prosecutions of military or police officers in connection with the events of last year.   Anyone who believes that any of this will lead Egypt to a better or more democratic future is dreaming, but that was never the purpose of the whole enterprise.  The Egyptian army doesn’t get $1.3 billion because of its commitment to democracy, but primarily because of its adherence to the Camp David Accords and its willingness to discipline its population in line with US/Israeli/Saudi strategic objectives in the Middle East.

Morsi’s government, for all its many faults, didn’t entirely comply with this agenda.  Though it had begun to destroy some of the Gaza tunnels in its last months in office, it kept the Rafah crossing open and provided the beleaguered Palestinians with a vital lifeline to the outside world.

Al-Sisi’s mob have closed most of these connections.  Earlier this month, the authorities announced that they had destroyed 1, 370 tunnels.  That’s why it gets the $1.3 billion.  That’s why the ‘Peace Envoy’ and reconciler of the world’s religious conflicts Tony Blair recently condemned the Brotherhood  and called on the world to support a dictatorship that would ‘ take the country to the next stage of its development, which should be democratic.’

Should be, but don’t expect the Peacemaker or many who think like him to bothered if it isn’t.   When the interim government designated the Muslim Brotherhood as a ‘terrorist organization’ last December,  the US also ‘ expressed concern’ and suggested that the government might be ‘going too far’ – but it explicitly ruled out any punitive action in response.

So no one should be surprised that an Egyptian court has taken the lunatic decision to sentence 529 people to death.

It knows that it can.