A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Thursday, May 26, 2016

ECFR: A Guide to Libya's Main Players

The European Council on Foreign Relations has published A Guide to Libya's Main Players
 with sections by several experts, which you may find useful. Downloadable PDF here.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

More Sykes-Picot: The Unraveling, 1917

Continuing my argument that the Sykes-Picot agreement was never really implemented, let's begin by looking at the gradual unraveling. One has to begin even before it was signed, with the promises made by Sir Henry McMahon to Sharif Hussein in their correspondence, especially in the "borders" letter of October 24, 1915. Whatever  interpretation one places on the contentious text, it is hard to reconcile the promise of an independent Arab state (a Caliphate) with the spheres of influence and direct rule carved out by Sykes-Picot, which, of course, was secret and unknown to Hussein.

Then on November 2, 1917, Arthur James Balfour wrote his letter to Lord Rothschild:
His Majesty's government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.
The vague wording of the Balfour Declaration might be compatible with Sykes-Picot's international regime for Palestine. But the agreement was secret, and unknown to the Zionists, who presumed Britain was free to make promises. (UPDATE: Martin Kramer notes in a comment that the Zionists knew about it from a leak, and links to his article.)

  Then it all started to come apart. Only six days after the Balfour Declaration, this happened:
Russia had already left the war after the March (Old Style February) 1917 Revolution, but with the Bolshevik takeover on November 8 (Old Style October 26), they began publishing the text of Sykes-Picot and other secret treaties.

On November 23, both Pravda and Izvestia published Sykes-Picot. Three days later, The Manchester Guardian followed suit.

The cat was out of the bag. Britain denied it, but not very convincingly. Things were starting to unravel.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Moshe Ya'alon, Former General, Replaced as Israel Defense Minister by Avigdor Lieberman, Former Bouncer and Non-Veteran. Does Israel Feel More Secure Now?

Please forgive the multi-tiered headline, but I couldn't resist. You probably already know that in order to expand his coalition, Binyamin Netanyahu replaced his Defense Minister, retired General Moshe Ya'alon, of his own Likud Party, with Yisrael Beitenu's Avigdor Lieberman, who indeed was once a bouncer who did not serve in the IDF. Netanyahu had been trying to enlarge his fragile coalition and had been making overtures to Zionist Union (Labor) leader Isaac Herzog. Bringing the Opposition leader into the coalition would have tilted the coalition, now the most right-wing in Israel's history, a bit to the center-right. Bringing in Lieberman instead, moves it even farther right.

But reaction has been harshly critical beginning with Ya'alon himself, who chose not to go gentle into that good night. Instead of attending Lieberman's swearing-in on Sunday, he resigned effective Friday afternoon, and went out with several blasts at Netanyahu for abandoning him and defending hisown behavior. No dove himself, h criticized Israel's rightward drift.

Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak warned that the government was sowing the "seeds of fascism," while former Defense Minister Moshe Arens, once a Likud stalwart, wrote in a column in Ha'aretz, (paywalled) in which he said:
The coalition representation in the Knesset will increase to 67 from 61. But the price Likud’s leaders paid for these six extra votes is a heavy one for both the country and Likud far heavier than they seem to realize. Their simple-minded explanation that a stable government is good for Israel and therefore replacing Ya’alon with Lieberman must be good for Israel is not likely to be accepted by most Israelis.
The defense minister is not just another of Israel’s many government ministers. He is by far the most important minister, shouldering direct responsibility for Israel’s security, the personal security of Israel’s citizens, and the lives of their children serving in the Israel Defense Forces.
Defenders of the murky deal to oust an xcellent defense minister offer an explanation: that in addition to the defense minister, many others are involved in taking decisions on defense matters which presumably means that it’s not so important who the defense minister is. This shows an abject ignorance of the workings of the defense establishment.
All Israelis were lucky to have Ya’alon as defense chief these last few years, and this luck now seems to have run out. Choosing between an excellent defense minister serving in a narrow coalition and firing an excellent defense minister and obtaining a few more coalition votes should have been easy. But Benjamin Netanyahu made the wrong choice.
Tensions between the IDF command and the security services on the one hand and Netanyahu on the other hand have been bad for years due to disagreements over Iran and other issues, but the Ya'alon dismissal seems to have exacerbated the problem.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Sykes-Picot: Others are Making the Same Point

I'll be returning to my series on Sykes-Picot and how it was only one piece in the complex mix that was the postwar settlement, but I thought I should note that while the anniversary was marked, as I'd predicted, by far too many articles about how Sykes and Picot drew the borders of the modern Middle East, there were also a number of voices who took the more realistic view. few of them:
More on this subject soon.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Yemen Bans Qat in Aden on Weekdays. Does Anyone Expect This to Work?

Authorities in South Yemen (the areas controlled by President Al-Hadi rather than the Houthis) have decided to ban the importation of qat into the city of Aden on weekdays. Qat, of course, is the mildly narcotic leaf chewed daily by many Yemenis, and there is no question that its use reduces efficiency and productivity.

The Hadi government, while claiming to be the internationally recognized government, recaptured Aden only with the help of Saudi and GCC troops. does it really feel confident that it can break a national habit quickly? Or is this perhaps an outburst of Saudi-influenced puritanism?

While wishing them luck, count me as a skeptic until I see it working.

Latin Leaders of Arab Origin

Now that the new interim President of Brazil is of Lebanese origin, The Washington Post surveys the success of Latin American politicians pf Arab origin.

Which reminds me of a brilliant remark I saw somewhere on social media, though I must apologize to the author for forgetting who said it:  Brazil now has a Lebanese President, while Lebanon still doesn't.

The Lebanese Presidency has been vacant since 2014.


Update: a commenter credits Karl Sharro and it certainly sounds like him, though I can't locate the original.

Update II: Apparently a lot of people had the same thought.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Clovis Maksoud, 1926-2016

Source: American University
Clovis Maksoud, diplomat, writer, intellectual, professor, and a familiar figure in Washington since the 1970s, has passed away at the age of 90.

He served for many years as a Representative of the Arab League, and was sent as a Special Representative of the League to the US during the oil crisis of 1974. From 1979-1990 he was the Arab League's Ambassador to the US and the UN. Maksoud, a proponent of Arab unity, resigned that post over the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. He was also a frequent spokesman for Palestinian issues.

At earlier periods in his career he had served as a writer and editor, and continued to write newspaper columns and articles for many years, as well as books. In recent years he served as Director of the Center for the Global South at The American University in Washington.

Ambassador Maksoud and his late wife Hala were prominent figures around the Washington diplomatic, Arab, and Lebanese communities for decades. He was always friendly, accessible, and outspoken, a highly visible voice for Lebanon, for Palestine, and for the Arab World as a whole.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Did the First Black Aviator Fly for Turkey in WWI?

Aviation buffs, especially those interested in early aviation and World War I, may know the name of Eugene Bullard, a black American who flew for France during World War I as a member of the Lafayette Flying Corps (a broader grouping than the elite Lafayette Escadrille).

Eugene Bullard is generally agreed to be the first African-American combat pilot, but he served in the French Foreign Legion until wounded at Verdun in 1916, and only took up flying late that year.

But by 1916, a military pilot of African descent was already flying: Ahmet Ali Çelikten.

This is a reminder that bloggers can learn from their readers. Back in April I posted about the centennial of a British air raid on Constantinople in 1916 and one of the comments on that post noted this:
Did you know that the first black air force pilot was Turkish? Can't remember his name, but he was the son of slaves that had to follow their Muslim owners when they had to leave Crete. His family, like many of the Afro-Turks, settled in the Izmir area especially after extracting themselves from agricultural work on the cotton farms. He got an education and made his way into the military school and the rest was history.
I'd offer thanks except the cementer was anonymous; I told him/her I'd give credit if she/he could self-identify, but heard nothing. And the details may not all be accurate  but the basic story is.

Çelikten's biographical details are a bit hazy. English profiles at Wikipedia, at BlackPast, and at other sites essentially replicating these. Turkish Wikipedia is fuller for those who read the language, as is another Turkish source here. He was indeed born in İzmir of African slave ancestry, but most accounts do not mention the Crete connection. His dates are given as 1883-1969. It is usually said his grandmother, or at least an ancestor, originated in the Emirate of Bornu in what is now now northeastern Nigeria and northwestern Chad.

Whatever the ancestry, he was African, trained as a Naval Aviator and then flew for the Ottoman Air Force beginning in 1914. He was almost certainly the first military aviator of African descent.

"Don't Go to Iran"

A clever little three minute effort at making a point:

Thursday, May 12, 2016

More on Sykes-Picot: The Agreement as Written

As I noted in my first post on the Sykes-Picot Agreement, which was concluded a century ago this month, "Sykes-Picot" has become a convenient shorthand for the entire constellation of agreements and understandings that contributed to the postwar settlement, agreements spread out from as early as 1915 to as late as 1939, or even later if we include the partition of Palestine. In coming days I'll be dealing with the actual agreements, but first let's look at the real Asia Minor Agreement negotiated between Sir Mark Sykes and M. François Georges-Picot in 1916 and what borders it actually envisioned.

Britain and France began discussions of a post-Ottoman settlement on November 23, 1915, with Georges-Picot negotiating with Sir Arthur Nicolson, soon replaced by Sir Mark Sykes,. At that time efforts by David Lloyd George and Herbert Samuel to promote a Jewish state in Palestine were already under way, and Sir Henry McMahon in Egypt was already committing Britain to support an independent Arab state in correspondence with Sharif Hussein of Mecca. Another round of negotiations took place in December, and in February 1916 Sykes visited Petrograd to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Segey Sazonov. Negotiations with the Zionists and the commitments to Sharif Hussein were known to Sykes.

Sir Mark Sykes
F. Georges-Picot
The basic text was ready by May. On May 9, French Ambassador to London Paul Cambon transmitted it in a letter to British Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey, who returned it  with approval on May 16. Signed May 19 and with a formal exchange of notes May 23, the precise date that should be "celebrated" as the centenary is a little slippery.

The agreement's text is below after the map. Although the agreement gives lip service to the idea of an "independent" Arab stste, it would be subordinate to British and French zones of influence, and both had zones in which they claimed direct control. Britain and France made a umber of guarantees to each other (Palestine would be under international control but with Britain controlling Haifa, Acre, a railway to Egypt and a future railway to Iraq.)

Both parties seemed to recognize that the agreement had potential conflicts, but it was a secret agreement, and intended to remain so. As I've tried to make clear, I'm not defending Sykes-Picot, which was imperialist arrogance at its worst; I'm simply saying that, except for a general role for France in Syria (but then including Mosul) and Britain in Iraq, the borders are not today's.. The status of Mosul and Palestine would be among the first things to change, and of course the whole disposition of Anatolia would change.

One thing that would speed the unraveling of the details of  Sykes-Picot was its sudden revelation by the Bolsheviks in November 1917, which we'll discuss in Part 3.

Text of Sykes-Picot Agreement

It is accordingly understood between the French and British governments:
That France and Great Britain are prepared to recognize and protect an independent Arab states or a confederation of Arab states (a) and (b) marked on the annexed map, under the suzerainty of an Arab chief.
That in area (a) France, and in area (b) great Britain, shall have priority of right of enterprise and local loans. That in area (a) France, and in area (b) great Britain, shall alone supply advisers or foreign functionaries at the request of the Arab state or confederation of Arab states.
That in the blue area France, and in the red area great Britain, shall be allowed to establish such direct or indirect administration or control as they desire and as they may think fit to arrange with the Arab state or confederation of Arab states.
That in the brown area there shall be established an international administration, the form of which is to be decided upon after consultation with Russia, and subsequently in consultation with the other allies, and the representatives of the Shariff of Mecca.
That great Britain be accorded (1) the ports of Haifa and Acre, (2) guarantee of a given supply of water from the Tigris and Euphrates in area (a) for area (b). His majesty's government, on their part, undertake that they will at no time enter into negotiations for the cession of Cyprus to any third power without the previous consent of the French government.
That Alexandretta shall be a free port as regards the trade of the British empire, and that there shall be no discrimination in port charges or facilities as regards British shipping and British goods; that there shall be freedom of transit for British goods through Alexandretta and by railway through the blue area, or (b) area, or area (a); and there shall be no discrimination, direct or indirect, against British goods on any railway or against British goods or ships at any port serving the areas mentioned.
That Haifa shall be a free port as regards the trade of France, her dominions and protectorates, and there shall be no discrimination in port charges or facilities as regards French shipping and French goods. There shall be freedom of transit for French goods through Haifa and by the British railway through the brown area, whether those goods are intended for or originate in the blue area, area (a), or area (b), and there shall be no discrimination, direct or indirect, against french goods on any railway, or against French goods or ships at any port serving the areas mentioned.
That in area (a) the Baghdad railway shall not be extended southwards beyond Mosul, and in area (b) northwards beyond Samarra, until a railway connecting Baghdad and Aleppo via the Euphrates valley has been completed, and then only with the concurrence of the two governments.
That Great Britain has the right to build, administer, and be sole owner of a railway connecting Haifa with area (b), and shall have a perpetual right to transport troops along such a line at all times. It is to be understood by both governments that this railway is to facilitate the connection of Baghdad with Haifa by rail, and it is further understood that, if the engineering difficulties and expense entailed by keeping this connecting line in the brown area only make the project unfeasible, that the French government shall be prepared to consider that the line in question may also traverse the Polygon Banias Keis Marib Salkhad Tell Otsda Mesmie before reaching area (b).
For a period of twenty years the existing Turkish customs tariff shall remain in force throughout the whole of the blue and red areas, as well as in areas (a) and (b), and no increase in the rates of duty or conversions from ad valorem to specific rates shall be made except by agreement between the two powers.
There shall be no interior customs barriers between any of the above mentioned areas. The customs duties leviable on goods destined for the interior shall be collected at the port of entry and handed over to the administration of the area of destination.
It shall be agreed that the french government will at no time enter into any negotiations for the cession of their rights and will not cede such rights in the blue area to any third power, except the Arab state or confederation of Arab states, without the previous agreement of his majesty's government, who, on their part, will give a similar undertaking to the french government regarding the red area.
The British and French government, as the protectors of the Arab state, shall agree that they will not themselves acquire and will not consent to a third power acquiring territorial possessions in the Arabian peninsula, nor consent to a third power installing a naval base either on the east coast, or on the islands, of the Red Sea. This, however, shall not prevent such adjustment of the Aden frontier as may be necessary in consequence of recent Turkish aggression.
The negotiations with the Arabs as to the boundaries of the Arab states shall be continued through the same channel as heretofore on behalf of the two powers.

It is agreed that measures to control the importation of arms into the Arab territories will be considered by the two governments.

I have further the honor to state that, in order to make the agreement complete, his majesty's government are proposing to the Russian government to exchange notes analogous to those exchanged by the latter and your excellency's government on the 26th April last. Copies of these notes will be communicated to your excellency as soon as exchanged. I would also venture to remind your excellency that the conclusion of the present agreement raises, for practical consideration, the question of claims of Italy to a share in any partition or rearrangement of Turkey in Asia, as formulated in Article 9 of the agreement of the 26th April, 1915, between Italy and the allies.
His Majesty's Government further consider that the Japanese government should be informed of the arrangements now concluded.



Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Rant: The Next Week will be Full of Op-Eds about Sykes-Picot: Almost All of them Will Get it Wrong

May 19th will mark the 100th anniversary of the "Asia Minor Agreement," or as it is universally known today, the Sykes-Picot Agreement. Brace yourself.

They're going to tell you that Sykes-Picot created the modern borders of the Middle East (only a few of them), that it is being overturned by ISIS (even less so), that it was ever really implemented /imposed (only in a limited sense),  and that all the problems of the Middle East stem from it (a bit more arguable), not to mention that the whole reason that the Middle East is such a clusterfu mess today is because of Sykes-Picot (even more arguable).

Not because I approve of British and French diplomats carving up the Middle East while a) not asking the locals what they wanted and b) in the British case, promising the Promised Land to themselves, Jews, and Arabs at the same time. The fact is, though, that Sykes-Picot is not what you think it is because, as I've ranted before, and in fact more than once, Sykes-Picot, deplorable as it may have been, was never implemented as written.

Look at the map above. Does it look like today's Middle East? In addition to the British and French (pink and blue) zones, Zones A and B are areas of their influence. France controls Mosul, Kirkuk, and northern Iraq. Britain gets the rest of Iraq, plus southern Palestine, while northern Palestine and Jerusalem are internationalized. Russia controls Constantinople and the Straits, and Armenia. Italy gets its own pound of flesh. But that is not the postwar map of the Middle East.

The reason is simple: "Sykes-Picot" has become a convenient shorthand for "the entire postwar settlement of the Ottoman territories," not the original agreement.

My readers who have studied the history know this: even before the agreement the Hussein-McMahon correspondence, and soon after,the Balfour Declaration,  the Paris Peace Talks, the Treaty of Sèvres, the San Remo Conference, the Treaty of Lausanne, and other agreements.

I will be discussing the whole postwar settlement package in coming days. My goal is not to exonerate Sir Mark Sykes and M. Picot, but to place their colonial enterprise in broader context.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Thoughts on the Latest Saudi Reshuffle

The latest Saudi Cabinet reshuffle over the weekend included  the replacement of powerful Petroleum Minister‘Ali al-Na‘imi, and the realignment of several other ministries, and serves as a reminder of just how much things have changed under the ascendancy of Deputy Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman. The 80-year-old Na‘imi had had disagreements with Muhammad in Salman (or MbS as he's sometimes referred to) and had held the position for 20 years. The oil experts can debate what the change means for energy policies, but the change underscores just how unusual a change in the Oil Ministry has been: in the 54 years from 1962 (a decade before the rise in oil prices) until last Saturday, Saudi Arabia had six Kings (Sa‘ud, Faisal, Khalid, Fahd, ‘Abdullah, Salman), but only three Oil Ministers (Shaikh Ahmad Zaki Yamani, 1962-1986, Hisham Nazer, 1986-1995, and ‘Ali Na‘imi, 1995-2016). The selection of Aramco President and CEO Khalid A. Al-Falih is no surprise, since that's the classic route to the Oil Minister's job, but it's indicative of how rare such changes are.

Khalid al-Falih
In fact, those of us who have followed the KSA for years have gotten used to the fact that barring death or serious illness, key posts in Saudi Arabia rarely change.  The late Foreign Minister Sa‘ud al-Faisal served from 1975 until 2015, a full 40 years, and when he stepped down for health reasons only a few weeks before his death, he was the world's longest-serving Foreign Minister. The late Prince Sultan, though admittedly a senior prince and full brother of King Fahd, held the Defense Ministry from 1963 until his death in 2011; Prince Nayef was Interior Minister from 1975-2012; the late King ‘Abdullah, before taking the throne, headed the National Guard from 1962 to 2010 and passed command to his son. Traditionally, "Cabinet reshuffle" in Saudi Arabia either meant changing the Deputy Minister of some obscure ministry or replacing somebody who died.

The rise of 30-year-old Muhammad bin Salman has turned much of the usual way of doing business in the KSA leadership on its head, and whether that's good or bad remains an open question.


Friday, May 6, 2016

Beirut in the "Golden Age" Before the Civil War


A little Friday night nostalgia: I first saw Beirut in 1972, three years before the civil war began. For those who never saw the Lebanese capital in its glory days, or for those who want to recall it as it once was, here is a collection of photos from the 1960s.

Writing in Arabia Before Islam

The history of pre-Islamic Arabia, and of what languages preceded the rise of Classical Arabic, is a fascinating subject and one still emerging. Most may have heard of the Old South Arabian languages, which are quite a separate matter, but the various scripts and languages of Northern Arabia are less well known. The 15-Minute History Podcast at the University of Texas at Austin has a podcast for those interested in Ancient Arabia and Comparative Semitics (and who isn't?), "Episode 82: What Writing Can Tell Us About the Arabs before Islam", which is introduced as follows:
In most world history survey courses, Arabia is introduced for the first time only as backstory to the rise of Islam. We’re told that there was a tradition of oral poetry in Arabic, a language native to central Arabia, and that the Qur’an was the zenith of this oral tradition. New evidence, however, suggests that Arabia was linguistically diverse, that the language we’ve come to know as Arabic originated in modern day Jordan, and that the looping cursive writing system that’s become the language’s hallmark wasn’t the original system used to write it. What to make of all this?
Guest Ahmad al-Jallad co-directs archaeological/epigraphic projects in Jordan and Saudi Arabia, uncovering new inscriptions thousands of years old, and shares his research that’s shedding new light on the writings of a complex civilization that lived in the Arabian peninsula for centuries before Islam arose.
You can listen to the podcast at the link.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

That Explains It: Mideast Vioence is Tom & Jerry's Fault


For years, the Middle East has tended to blame others for its woes: the US, Israel, the Muslim Brotherhood, Iran, or all of the above conspiring together. But now the Head of Egypt's State Information Service, speaking at a Cairo University Conference, has uncovered another culprit: Tom & Jerry cartoons. (Also here.)


So when we talk about addressing the root causes of ISIS, we should go after MGM and Hanna-Barbera?

Personally I find this ridiculous. I blame Warner Bros.: the Roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote are much more violent.

Davutoğlu's Fall

The "resignation" of Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu marks another step in the continuing concentration of power by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. He "resigned" after losing the confidence of the AKP Party's Board, which has increasingly been packed with Erdoğan loyalists. Tensions between the President and Prime Minister have been rising for some time, as described here.

Erdoğan's desire to amend the Constitution to create an executive Presidency is well known,  but  he lacks a sufficient majority to do so, and a referendum is considered unlikely to carry. When the AKP Board meets this month to choose a successor to Davutoğlu it will presumably choose a more malleable ally of the President.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Nusra, ISIS Push Back in Aleppo and Deir al-Zor

Although the pro-regime alliance have declared completing the encirclement of Aleppo and the lifting of the siege of the garrison at Deir al-Zor as its primary military objectives, in the past few days Jabhat al-Nusra and its allies counterattacked in Aleppo and set off a tunnel bomb under several regime controlled buildings, a tactic the the rebels have used previously, having bombed Air Force Intelligence in Aleppo in March 2015 using a tunnel bomb; some accounts suggest this bomb was under or near the ruins of that building.

Meanwhile, in the east, ISIS sought to expand its control in Deir al-Zor by pushing back the regime defenders there; ISIS presumably hopes to gain control of Deir al-Zor airfield, which has been essential to Syrian regime and Russian resupply of the besieged garrison.

Although regime reports suggest that both offensives has been pushed back, today's announcement that the partial troop has been extended to Aleppo mat be a sign that the offensives had some effect. Regime and Russian news reports that were touting both the Aleppo and Deir al-Zor advances seem more muted.

Below is a pro0-regime video of drone footage purporting to show the latest tunnel bomb damage.




Monday, May 2, 2016

Sham al-Nassim

Sham al-Nissim delicacies (Al Kahira-Cairo-LeCaire)
Greetings to Egyptian (and Sudanese) readers on Sham al-Nassim, the national spring holiday for "smelling the breeze"," when locals travel or picnic along the Nile, marked by traditional foods (above) and celebrated on Coptic Easter Monday, though it is celebrated equally by Muslims and Christians, and formerly, by Jews.

Said to be a survival of the Ancient Egyptian spring feast Shemu, which would make it, with Wafa' al-Nil, the Nile Flood holiday in August, one of two holidays surviving from Ancient Egypt.

Relax and enjoy the long weekend if you've had off since Friday.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Easter Greetings

Easter Greetings to all who celebrate according to the Orthodox and other Eastern Christian traditions that celebrate today.

Friday, April 29, 2016

April 1916: The Easter Rising and its Echoes in Egyptian, Indian, and Zionist Nationalist Thought, Part III: Zionism

Briscoe as Lord Mayor of Dublin
The late, great baseball catcher and folk philosopher Yogi Berra, who sadly died last year, is credited with many quotes, some of which he may actually have said. One goes like this: when Yogi was told in the 1950s that the visiting Lord Mayor of Dublin, Robert Briscoe, was Jewish, Yogi responded, "only in America."

Robert Briscoe was not only the first Jewish Lord Mayor of Dublin (his son later held the same job): he was a veteran of the original IRA, a gun-runner in the War of Irish independence, but also a fervent Zionist and a friend of Revisionist leader Ze'ev Jabotinsky. When Jabotinsky visited Ireland as part of a European tour in 1938, Briscoe introduced him to Prime Minister Éamon de Valera, and reportedly advised Jabotinsky on how to fight the British.

Yitzhak HaLevi Herzog
Briscoe is just one example of the intersection of Irish nationalism and the Zionist movement. Briscoe during his Irish political career was a member of the Fianna Fáil party, after its split with Sinn Féin, but the Chief Rabbi of Ireland from 1919 to 1936, and before that Rabbi of Dublin, Rabbi Yitzhak HaLevi Herzog,  supported the Irish war of independence, spoke the Irish language fluently, and was both an avid Irish republican and committed Zionist. He came to be nicknamed "the Sinn Féin rebbe." When the Free State won independence his appointment as Chief Rabbi was formalized.In 1936 he moved to Palestine, became Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi of Palestine, and later the first Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi of Israel. One of his sons, Chaim Herzog, became a general, Ambassador to the United Nations, and the sixth Preaident of Israel, while a grandson, Yitzhak or Isaac Herzog, is head of the Labor party/Zionist Union and current Leader of the Opposition in the Knesset.

As World War II approached, the mainstream Zionist movement, including the Haganah, agreed to support British war aims for the duration. The Revisionists and their armed wings, Irgun or the IZL and Lehi or the Stern Gang, continued to resist British rule during the war.Thy were able to point to the Easter Rising of 1916 as a model, since the rebels fought Britain while it was at war with Germany.Avraham Stern, founder of LEHI, arranged to have P.S. O'Hegerty's The Victory of Sinn Féin translated into Hebrew. IZL and Lehi both drew inspiration from the guerilla war in Ireland between 1919 and 1921 and the tactics of Michael Collins, and LEHI underground operative Yitzhak Yezernitsky, who would eventually become Israel's seventh Prime Minister as Yitzhak Samir, adopted the nom de guerre "Michael" after Collins. (Another underground pseudonym was "Rabbi Shamir," from which the would take his Hebrew name.)

There are other  parallels. Irish republican and Land reformer Michael Davitt, mentioned in Part II as an inspiration for Gandhi's nonviolence, famously published an investigation of the Kishinev pogrom of 1903 (then in Russia but today Chisinau in Moldova), and subsequently expessed his sympathies for Zionism. Davitt is said to have been the first to apply the English word  "pale," originally used to refer to the area reserved for English settlement in Ireland, to the Jewish Pale of Settlement in Russia.

Not all parallels apply. Arthur James Balfour became a hero to the Zionists for the Balfour Declaration, but as Secretary for Ireland had been a staunch opponent of Home Rule, but as I hope these three posts have shown, the events of Easter 1916 an the war of independence that followed inspired national movements elsewhere; the list could be longer.

April 29, 1916: Surrenders in Dublin and Kut

Part III of my series on the Middle Eastern echoes of the Easter Rising will be up later today but  I thought I should note an important anniversary today: on April 29, 1916, the very same day the last of the Dublin rebels surrendered to the British, in Iraq another British general was surrendering a British and Indian force in the largest surrender of British forces in history up to that time. It would only be exeeded by Singapore in 1942. After a months-long siege marked by four failed relief expeditions and even a blatant attempt at bribing the Turkish commanders (under the guise of a "ransom"), in which T.E. Lawrence and Aubrey Herbert were negotiators. General Charles Townshend, a military incompetent even by British World War I standards, surrendered more men than Cornwallis had at Yorktown.

In 2014 I ran three posts on the siege and surrender of Kut (Part I; Part II; Part III); because I told the story then I have not noted the centennials of each of the failed British attempts to lift the siege. But it marked a disaster for British arms compared to which Gallipoli, that other disaster in the war with the Turks, seems almost successful in that the troops were successfully withdrawn.

In the end. Townshend surrendered unconditionally. In the campaign Britain had lost between 23,000 and 30,000 killed and wounded (the relief expeditions lost more men than were in the besieged garrison at Kut) and surrendered some 12,000. Townshend and other British officers were given comfortable quarters in detention; the largely Indian rank and file were sent to turkis prisons in the east from which few survived the war. For more, see my earlier posts.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

April 1916: The Easter Rising and its Echoes in Egyptian, Indian, and Zionist Nationalist Thought, Part II: India


Irish Stamps Honoring Gandhi
Yesterday we looked at echoes of the Easter Rising of 1916 on Egyptian nationalism.Today we'll look at influences in Indian nationalism and Zionism.

India and Ireland
It is easy to forget today that many supporters of Irish Home Rule were Protestants rather than Catholic, from rebel leader Wolfe Tone to Parliamentarian Charles Parnell. Yesterday we mentioned W.B.Yeats, Lady Gregory, and G.B Shaw, all Protestants from the Anglo-Irish ascendancy. Anglo-Irishmen had long been involved in the British Army (including Wellington, though he didn't identify with Irish causes (he notoriously responded to being called Irish by saying being born in a stable did not make him a horse), and the Administration of the Raj,

But not all the Irish in India were defenders of the status quo. Alfred John Webb (1834-1908), a Dublin Quaker and supporter of Irish Home Rule, in 1894 in Madras became the third non-Indian presiding officer of the Indian National Congress, which led the independence movement. Margaret Gillespie Cousins (1878-1954), a Protestant from Boyle in County Roscommon, was a supporter of Home Rule  and women's suffrage who had founded the Irish Women's Franchise League before moving to India, where she co-founded the Women's Indian Association. In 1922 she became the first female magistrate in India. She is credited with writing the tune of the Indian National Anthem Jana Gana Mana (the words are by the poet Tagore).

But the Irish in India were not the only influences of the Irish on India. Michael Davitt (1846-1906) was an Irish republican and agrarian reformer, founder of the Irish National Land League, who was an early advocate of nonviolent resistance; Gandhi would explicitly cite him as an inspiration for his own movement.

Gandhi supported the movement for Irish independence but predictably deplored the violence of the war of independence. Many Indian nationalists saw parallels between the massacre on Bloody Sunday at Croke Park in Dublin on November 21, 1920, when Black & Tans killed 14 civilians at a Gaelic football game, and the far bloodier Amritsar massacre of 1919, when hundreds were killed. Ironically, the perpetrator of Amritsar, Col. Reginald Dyer, was himself of Irish background.

This article cites a number of Gandhi's speeches and writings referring to Ireland.

As this is running late, I'll deal with Zionism in a Part III tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

April 1916: The Easter Rising and its Echoes in Egyptian, Indian, and Zionist Nationalist Thought, Part I

We know their dream; enough
To know they dreamed and are dead;
And what if excess of love
Bewildered them till they died?
I write it out in a verse--
MacDonagh and MacBride
And Connolly and Pearse
Now and in time to be,
Wherever green is worn,
Are changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.
—W.B. Yeats, Easter 1916

This week marks a century since Easter Monday, 1916,  when Irish nationalists seized the control of the General Post Office in Dublin and other key sites and proclaimed the Provisional Government of an Irish Republic.  The Easter Rising, which was put down on April 29, is part of the creation myth of Ireland today, complete with its list of martyrs shot by the British. Though the Irish Republic celebrated the centenary on Easter weekend, the 24th to the 29th, this week, is the actual anniversary.

But Yeats' "terrible beauty" influenced (if not "changed utterly") events far beyond those regions "wherever green is worn." As the First World War ended, the Irish events influenced nationalist movements worldwide. I'll deal here only with the resonances in the broader Middle East. Long-established links between Egyptian and Irish nationalists were invigorated and reinforced. In India, Mahatma Gandhi, while deploring the resort to arms, often drew parallels between the Irish and Indian struggles. And in the coming years the Irish model would influence the Zionist movement, most profoundly its rightwing "Revisionist" wing. The underground operative who eventually became Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir took his Hebrew name from his nom de guerre Rabbi Shamir, but his earlier revolutionary pseudonym was "Michael," after Irish guerrilla commander Michael Collins.

Ireland and Egypt

Long before 1916, there were many critics of British colonial policies who recognized parallels  between Irish and Egyptian nationalism. Augusta, Lady Gregory, the Anglo-Irish dramatist and folklorist who was a co-founder with Yeats of the Abbey Theater, wrote her first non-fiction essay on Arabi and his Household, an 1882 defense of Col. Ahmad ‘Urabi's revolt, which had been put down by Britain's intervention in Egypt. ‘Urabi's most vocal English critic, Wilfrid Scawen Blunt, who also knew Gregory, was also a strong supporter of Irish Home Rule, as well. His 1907 The Secret History of the English Occupation of Egypt  was a staunch defense of ‘Urabi and a critique of British policy.

Another Anglo-Irish advocate of Irish Home Rule, who made the parallels between the Irish and Egyptian cases explicit, was George Bernard Shaw, who in the "Preface for Politicians" to his 1911 Irish play John Bull's Other Island wrote a defense of Irish Home Rule to which he appended a denunciation of what he called "The Denshawai Horror," referring to the 1906 "Denshawai incident" in which several Egyptian peasants were hanged by the British after defending their village against British soldiers who had been shooting the town's pigeons.

So there were parallels between Irish and Egyptian Nationalism even before the 1916 Rising. Another irony linking the two: a figure we have already met in his role as General Officer Commanding, British Troops in Egypt: General Sir John Maxwell. On April 28, 1916, Maxwell was named Military Governor of Ireland with plenary powers under Martial Law. After the Rising was crushed he held a series of field court martials under Martial Law, which involved trial in secret and did not permit defense counsel. Ninety were condemned to death, though after 15 had been shot by firing squads, the remaining sentences were commuted to life after public outrage in England.

The subsequent history of the Irish independence movement would also have echoes in the Egyptian and other nationalist movements. In the elections of 1918 for the British Parliament, 73 members of the Sinn Féin independence movement won election to Westminster, but refused to go to London and instead proclaimed themselves the Parliament of the Irish Republic, Dáil Éireann. By creating a self-proclaimed provisional government, Irish nationalists created a model much used in other anti-colonialist movements, including the Egyptian move to name a Wafd or delegation to the Paris Peace Talks in 1919. Though the British exiled Sa‘ad Zaghloul, his Wafd became Egypt's nationalist party. In 1919 Egypt's Revolution of 1919 broke out (called by the British an uprising). That same year the Irish war of independence began (called by the British terrorism). In 1920 Britain began talks in Egypt on semi-independence. In 1921 they negotiated a limited independence for all but the northern six counties of Ireland. In 1922 both the Kingdom of Egypt and the Irish Free State came into being.

Tomorrow, we'll look at the echoes in India and Revisionist Zionism.

A 1930s Travelogue of Cairo that Touches Just about Every British Colonial/Orientalist Stereotype

Hat tip to Sarah Carr for this: a 1930s travelogue of Cairo that touches all the bases of Orientalist and British colonial stereotypes, starting with Shepheard's and ending with the pyramids. Not to mention the music.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

An MEI/MEJ Connection to Tonight's Maryland Primary

Tonight's Maryland Democratic primary result has a connection to both the Middle East Institute and to The Middle East Journal. The Democratic nomination for Senate, to replace the long-serving Sen. Barbara Mikulski, was won by Congressman Chris Van Hollen, a rising star in the Democratic leadership. Since Maryland Democrats have a two-to-one registration advantage in Maryland, he is likely to win in November.

Van Hollen is the son of Ambassador Chris Van Hollen, Senior, onetime Ambassador to Sri Lanka and the Maldives, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Near East and South Asia, and a career diplomat. (The younger Van Hollen was born in Karachi.)

Ambassador Van Hollen
As I noted after the elder Van Hollen's passing at age 90 in 2013, after retiring from the Foreign Service, Ambassador Van Hollen served as Vice President of the Middle East Institute from 1988-1992, and concurrently as Editor of The Middle East Journal (and thus a predecessor of mine) in 1991-1992.

Back in the 1990s, long before I was myself at MEI, I remember a conversation with Ambassador Van Hollen in which he told me his son had been elected to the Maryland State Legislature, saying, "someday he may be better known than I was."

Indeed.

Souag on Arabic Colloquial Folk Etymologies

 Scholars routinely lament the lack of a really good, scholarly, dictionary of etymology for Classical and Modern Standard Arabic. Even more wanting are decent studies of etymology for the spoken colloquials; there are many dictionaries, but few that are very helpful for etymology of distinctive dialectal terms. Instead there are many websites that offer assumptions with no sourcing cited, and many of these are popular folk etymologies. Linguistics blogger Lameen Souag has a very interesting post at Jabal al-Lughat on this theme: "Arabic Substrate Etymologies as Urban Legends."

As he notes:
In Arabic as in English, social networks have a constantly flowing undercurrent of poorly sourced, manipulative stories being shared and reshared by people who vaguely think they sound right. Over the past, say, five years, I've noticed the emergence of a linguistically interesting new subgenre within this miasma of lies and half-truths: etymological tables purporting to prove the massive contribution of Berber, or Syriac, or (more rarely) Coptic, or perhaps some other pre-Arab substrate to the local Arabic dialect. These tables, in my experience, never cite an academic source, and rarely cite anything at all; closer examination generally reveals a farrago of correct etymologies and bad guesses. 
He links (included in the post, and all in Arabic) to social media posts for Berber, Coptic, and Syriac, and then examines some of the assertions, finding some of them valid, others unsubstantiated, or just plain wrong, concluding:
The optimistic take on this is that it shows that there's a real public demand in the Arabic-speaking world for information on etymology and on substrate influence. The pessimistic take is that people just want "information" confirming what they want to believe - in this case, that they're not really that Arab after all. (The converse case also exists, of course - recall Othmane Saadi - but I haven't seen as much of it circulating on social media, though that may just reflect my own bubble.) The reality is probably somewhere in the middle.
But read the whole thing, especially the case studies. I should note that Dr. Souag himself started a blog on the historical origins of Algerian colloquial (الأصول التاريخية للدارجة الجزائرية), but there have been no posts since last year.

Frederic Hof on Syria in Oslo

The Atlantic Council has posted the transcript of an address by Atlantic Council Resident Senior Fellow Ambassador Frederic C. Hof opening the Aspen Ministers' Forum in Oslo, addressing the Syrian peace process and refugee issues. It's a concise and incisive analysis and I recommend you read it. As I have noted previously for full disclosure, I have known Fred since undergraduate days and consider him extremely well-informed on Syrian (and Lebanese) issues, so I acknowledge a certain bias.

France24 English Documentary on YPG Victory in Shaddadi

The Kurdish YPG and its allies in the Syrian Democratic Forces recovered the northeastern city of al-Shaddadi from ISIS at the end of February. France24 English has broadcast this week a documentary by its journalists accompanying the YPG. There are clearly Western special forces accompanying the Kurds.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Holy Week Greetings to Orthodox and Other Eastern Christian Readers

Bethlehem: Palm Sunday at the Church of the Nativity yesterday
Greetings for Holy Week to readers in the Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Church of the Est and other Christians who celebrate Easter according to the Eastern tradition. This year, the two dates of Easter fall a full month apart (the maximum).

Friday, April 22, 2016

The Regeni Case Refuses to Go Away

Although Egypt has offered various attempts to explain the disappearance of Italian researcher Giulio Regeni, including blaming it on a criminal gang (all conveniently now dead), Italy has remained openly dissatisfied with the explanations, summoning its Ambassador home for consultations and expressing anger when Egypt refused to supply requested information from mobile phone tower data, which  Egypt claims would violate privacy rights. For all its efforts, the suspicions will not go away.

Regeni, of course, is not the only "disappeared" victim found dead in mysterious circumstances, but he s one with a major European trading partner of Egypt pressing his case. Yesterday, Reuters broke a major story citing three intelligence and three police sources:
All six intelligence and police sources told Reuters that Regeni was picked up by plainclothes police near the Gamal Abdel Nasser metro station in Cairo on the evening of Jan. 25. Security had been heightened that day because it was the anniversary of the beginning of the 2011 Arab Spring uprising that toppled President Hosni Mubarak.
An Egyptian man was picked up at the same time. Three sources gave his name but Reuters was unable to verify the man's identity. His connection to Regeni, if any, is unclear. 
It is also unclear why the men were picked up, though all the sources said the two had not been specifically targeted but were detained as part of a general security sweep. 
One of the intelligence officials said the two men were taken to the Izbakiya police station, a fortress-like compound located beneath a flyover near downtown Cairo.
"They were transported in a white minibus with police licence plates," he said.

The three police sources said officers on patrol in the area that night confirmed to them that Regeni had been taken to Izbakiya.
"We were told that an Italian was arrested and he was taken to Izbakiya police station," said one of the police officers, who confirmed the detainee was Regeni. 
A senior police official in the Izbakiya station told Reuters that he recalled an Italian being brought in and said he would check the records to confirm the name. He subsequently declined to comment.
"I don't know anything about it," he said. "I checked the books. Regeni's name was not there. 
One of the intelligence sources said that Regeni was held at Izbakiya for 30 minutes before he was transferred to Lazoughli, a state security compound run by Egyptian Homeland Security. 
The sources did not say what happened to the Italian after that. Reuters was unable to obtain information on the whereabouts of the Egyptian.
A few glosses: I assume by Homeland Security Reuters means National Security, the former State Security. Gamal Abdel Nasser station is located near the High Court at Tal‘at Harb Street and 26th of July Streets. Izbakiya refers to the neighborhood also spelled Ezbekiyya.

Now, the US State Department, asked about the Reuters report, called for resolution "through an impartial and a comprehensive inquiry."

The Reuters report, dismissed offhandedly by Egyptian officials, was quickly cited by Egyptian opposition websites and went viral on social media. Th Regeni case will not go away.