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(Their) State of the Union

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Obama works on State of Union speech with Cody Keenan (White House photo by Pete Souza)

Obama works on State of Union speech with Cody Keenan (White House photo by Pete Souza)

This is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.

Our State of the Union might be strong – could it ever be otherwise? But as Obama spoke of his coming year of unilateral action the Middle East is boiling in actions not taken. It gets worse.

Take Syria for example. The recently concluded Geneva talks ended with a bitter whimper. As the New York Times reports, even that whimper is complicated. It’s about Syrian oil, some of which has fallen into opposition hands. That’s a biggie, with funding galore for rebel forces. Yes – and even more money when the oil is sold back to the Assad regime for financial and other purposes.

If this seems confusing – leading to another level of cynicism in an already spiraling devolution of hope – follow the thread:

Islamist rebels and extremist groups have seized control of most of Syria’s oil and gas resources, a rare generator of cash in the country’s war-battered economy, and are now using the proceeds to underwrite their fights against one another as well as President Bashar al-Assad, American officials say.

While the oil and gas fields are in serious decline, control of them has bolstered the fortunes of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, and the Nusra Front, both of which are offshoots of Al Qaeda. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria is even selling fuel to the Assad government, lending weight to allegations by opposition leaders that it is secretly working with Damascus to weaken the other rebel groups and discourage international support for their cause.
Although there is no clear evidence of direct tactical coordination between the group and Mr. Assad, American officials say that his government has facilitated the group’s rise not only by purchasing its oil but by exempting some of its headquarters from the airstrikes that have tormented other rebel groups.

The Nusra Front and other groups are providing fuel to the government, too, in exchange for electricity and relief from airstrikes, according to opposition activists in Syria’s oil regions.

The scramble for Syria’s oil is described by analysts as a war within the broader civil war, one that is turning what was once an essential source of income for Syria into a driving force in a conflict that is tearing the country apart. “Syria is an oil country and has resources, but in the past they were all stolen by the regime,” said Abu Nizar, an antigovernment activist in Deir al-Zour. “Now they are being stolen by those who are profiting from the revolution.”

Now if you can take it fast forward to Egypt. The Guardian reports on the trial of the ousted President, Mohamed Morsi. The last we heard of Morsi, he was defying the court, shouting down the judge’s orders and wearing his business attire. Then his next court date was postponed due to weather conditions which by all accounts were fine. Now Morsi is back in court, dressed in prison regalia and confined to a soundproof cage:

The trial is the second of four that Morsi will face. In November, he was charged with inciting the murder of protesters during his presidency, and he will be accused of espionage and insulting Egypt’s judicial system at a later date.

Tuesday’s session was procedural, and largely avoided the pandemonium that characterised his first appearance in November, when lawyers clashed with journalists and his fellow defendants chanted against the army that ousted them from power.

With the defendants this time enclosed in a soundproof cage fitted with a microphone controlled by the judge, Morsi had limited opportunity to question the authority of the court. At one point, he yelled at the judge, “Who are you?”, while his fellow accused chanted “illegitimate”, in reference to the validity of the court proceedings. But unlike in the first trial, Morsi was not able to continually state that he remained Egypt’s president.

The Guardian concludes on an ominous note:

Across the city, the anti-police violence that has blighted Cairo in the past few days continued, with two men on a motorcycle shooting dead General Mohamed Saeed.

It follows four bomb attacks on Friday which targeted police officers, and the shooting down of a military helicopter in Sinai by Islamist extremists. Militants have waged an insurgency in the Sinai peninsular since Morsi was ousted, killing more than 100 police officers and soldiers. One militant group says the attacks are revenge for the state’s crackdown on Islamist protesters. Now the insurgency appears to have spread to Cairo.

What did Obama say about Syria last night?

American diplomacy, backed by the threat of force, is why Syria’s chemical weapons are being eliminated. And we will continue to work with the international community to usher in the future the Syrian people deserve — a future free of dictatorship, terror and fear.

On Egypt, not a word.

Obama’s clincher on America’s mission to the world:

My fellow Americans, no other country in the world does what we do. On every issue, the world turns to us, not simply because of the size of our economy or our military might but because of the ideals we stand for and the burdens we bear to advance them.

Marc H. Ellis
About Marc H. Ellis

Marc H. Ellis is Professor of History and Jewish Studies and Director of the Center for the Study of the Global Prophetic. His latest book is Finding Our Voice: Embodying the Prophetic and Other Misadventures.

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4 Responses

  1. gamal
    January 29, 2014, 1:16 pm

    Ahmed Fouad Negm, Sheikh Imams lyricist died a couple of weeks ago, here is his celebration of the eternal revolt of the Egyptian masses, Erect Your Forts (on our farmland) with English subs,

  2. gamal
    January 29, 2014, 2:21 pm

    one of the best “state of the ‘Union’ ” poems in Egypt gets a mention in this excellent little piece from Al-Jaz on Negm, Neguib Surur’s (Neguib Muhammad Surur Hagrass) “Kuss Ummiyat”, “Mothers Cunt”, anyone who has been speed reading about Egypt, or Islam, but doesnt know the deep history may miss Negms words on the lips of Egypts sons and daughters, and what that may mean.

    the sultans seal may be of interest too, Egyptian History X

  3. StanleyHeller
    January 29, 2014, 3:45 pm

    I wrote this piece this morning
    “Words and Phrases Not Found in Obama’s State of the Union”

    On Syria and the starvation in Yarmouk, a group of eleven of us, including Noam Chomsky, Mazin Qumsiyeh and As’ad Abukhalil have sent a letter to the Iranian government asking them to talk to the Assad government of Syria and insist that it end its siege of the Yarmouk refugee camp.

    Join us in an open letter to the Iranian government. Click here:

    over 300 signers after a couple of days

    • Citizen
      January 29, 2014, 8:41 pm

      Currently they have 339 signatures and need 400. I’m not sure whether or not to sign as I don’t know who to support that would most benefit the Syrian people as a whole–do you?

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