A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Saturday, July 23, 2016

64 Years Ago Today

July 23, 1952 (second clip in Arabic):

Friday, July 22, 2016

There's Nothing Loaded About This Question

Not "Did the US support the coup?" but "Which agency?"Daily Sabah is considered a supporter of Erdoğan's AKP.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

A Seemingly Credible Account of What Went Wrong in the Turkish Coup

An unidentified "correspondent in Turkey" writing at Al-Monitor's ''Turkey Pulse" offers an account of "How They Blew the Coup."

It seems credible: basically, Turkey's National Intelligence Organization (known as MIT in its Turkish acronym) got wind of the plot and this forced the plotters to move their plans up by six hours.That information failed to reach the unit tasked with arresting President Erdoğan, and he had escaped by the time they arrived. The change in timing also accounts for the failure to coordinate between military units. Of the accounts I've read, this seems to explain the collapse of the coup as credibly as any.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

July 19, 1916: Turkey Begins Advance in Sinai

In January and February 2015 I posted a detailed account of the Ottoman advance on the Suez Canal a century before. After that campaign British forces in Egypt and their Australian and New Zealand colonial troops remained in the defenses east of the canal, while heir Ottoman opponents remained in eastern Sinai, with both sides conducting forward reconnaissance by air and ground forces.

With the end of the Gallipoli campaign, both sides were able to redeploy forces on the Sinai/Palestine Front. In June of 1916 the Ottoman Fourth Army in Syria and Palestine held forward positions at Bir el-Mazar in eastern Sinai, while the forward British lines were around the wells a Romani (near the ruins of ancient Pelusium, about 42 miles to the west. The British commander. General Sir Archibald Murray, had been constructing a railroad and water supply eastward into Sinai as support for a move toward El Arish. The position at Romani was commanded by Maj. Gen. H.A. Lawrence,The Turks, with the 3rd Infantry Division fresh from battle experience at Gallipoli were under pressure to move closer to the Suez Canal, where artillery could threaten shipping.

Both sides were using the new tool of airborne reconnaissance to track the others movements. The British 5th Wing of the Royal Flying Corps had two squadrons in Egypt, mostly in Sinai and a a few in the Western Desert.

Most of these were B.E.2Cs with a few De Havilands.

Rumpler C.I. model
Opposite them on the Ottoman side was the German 300 Fliegerabteilung ("Pasha"), operating initially from Beersheba and by June from El Arish. It deployed 14 Rumpler C.I. aircraft, though the British histories call them Fokkers. The Germans had several advantages: their planes were faster and equipped with interrupter deices which synchronized their machine guns with their propellers. By mid-July, the British were detecting more German reconnaissance flights.

Gen. Chaytor
On July 19, a century ago, a British aircraft with Brigadier General E.W.C. Chaytor, commander of the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade, aboard as an observer, discovered an advance force of some 2,500 Turkish forces at Bir Bayud, a comparable force plus 6,000 camels were found to the north at Bir al-Abd, and a smaller force at Jamiel. By the morning of the 20th, Turkish advance forces had reached Oghratina and Mageibra. It was clear the Ottomans were advancing.

The British quickly reinforced the position around Romani and moved all their aircraft in Egypt (including those in the Western Desert) to Ismailia and prepared a forward landing strip at Romani.

This was the beginning of what is often called the second Ottoman attempt on the Suez Canal, though it never came near that waterway. It would end in a battle at Romani in early August.

Neither the senior German officer in Palestine, Djemal Pasha's Chief of Staff Freiherr Kress von Kressenstein, nor the head of Germany's Military Mission, Otto Liman von Sanders, thought the advance could succeed against a superior British force. Liman von Sanders, in his memoirs, says:
The instructions of the expeditionary corps (they came by way of Constantinople, but I do not know who originated them) required an advance so near to the canal that the long range guns could stop the passage of ships.

The instructions I have never understood. The question arises at once how long this interruption by artillery was to last. If it was to be a prolonged one, which alone was of substantial value, it entirely depended on whether the British would tolerate it, or whether the Turko-German troops could enforce it. The former as well as the latter had to be answered in the negative, without question.

The instructions were neither fish nor fowl; they reminded one of washing the hands without wetting the fingers.
He was right. In early August, we'll return to this story for the anniversary of the Battle of Romani.

Further Thoughts on the Turkish Coup as Purges Intensify

The more we learn about the Turkish coup, the more improbable it seems that the coup was staged, since it seems clear that the attempt was real. It does seem possible, however, that the government had gained some prior knowledge of the coup plans, allowing it to outmaneuver the plotters. The Air Force was clearly involved, and the Navy's role is unclear, with some naval vessels reportedly unaccounted for. 

But the sheer scale of the purges goes far beyond the actual participants in the coup, including some 35,000 people from the military, government officials, and academic institutions. If all these people were involved in planning a coup, it would have succeeded. Clearly the government had a target list ahead of time.

Why it failed is still being debated, but my suspicion that the government had foreknowledge of some sort seems likely, given the fact that President Erdoğan evaded capture despite a reported assault on his hotel, and that the plotters were unable to take key command centers in Ankara.  The failure to seize private broadcasting centers (which are more popular than the state-owned media) has been much remarked upon. Clearly, the coup failed to ensure sufficient unanimity in the chain of command. Its execution was a disastrous mess.

The what-went-wrong argument is interesting and I may have more to say as we learn more, but clearly the excessive purges have rapidly become the main story.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

The Coup that Couldn't Shoot Straight: Whatever Really Happened, Erdoğan Can Now Consolidate Control

It's no surprise that yesterday's failed coup (if that's what it was) in Turkey is being used by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is using it as an excuse to purge not only the Army but the judiciary as well, perhaps clearing the way to achieve the strengthened Presidency he has been seeking. Given the haphazard execution of the coup, it is hardly a surprise that some have speculated it was staged, a burning-the-Reichstag moment. That may be overly conspiratorial, but it could hardly have worked so well for Erdoğan if he had scripted it. (One person suggesting it might have been staged is Fethullah Gülen on whom Erdoğan is blaming the coup.)

If we reject the idea it was staged, then we're left with having to explain the incompetence of the plot. The plotters seized the state television station according to the classic coup playbook, but neglected to seize private TV stations or cut social median for several hours, allowing  Erdoğan to rally support and retake the support. It was a 1960s coup in 2016. The plotters seem to have been unaware of  Erdoğan's whereabouts, and lacked the support of most of the general staff. It's been suggested that the authorities knew it was coming and were prepared for it. Was this just a classic case of incompetence and f[oul]ing up? Whatever it was, Erdoğan seems intent on capitalizing on it.

Friday, July 15, 2016


The apparent coup in Turkey is still unfolding, and I'm hesitant to comment on the implications until it's clearer what is happening. I'll post more soon.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

For Nice . . .

What else is there to say?

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

NYT Updates the Ongoing Gilles Kepel vs Olivier Roy Feud: The Debate in France over the Nature of Islamic Radicalism

Gilles Kepel
This week The New York Times offered a piece on the increasingly bitter personal feud between France's two best-known experts on Jihadist Islam. .
It's a fight that erupted late last year after the Paris terrorist attacks and that has grown increasingly heated, with two longtime scholar-experts and onetime friends resorting to names like "ignoramus." I've started to write about this particularly Gallic intellectual feud between Olivier Roy and Gilles Kepel more than once but my surgery delayed the post so I'll use the NYT article as an excuse..

While the US Presidential campaign spouts a lot of ill-informed rhetoric about the dangers of radical Islam, real or imagined, France, which has had much first-hand experience, is also witnessing a debate over the nature of Islamic radicalism. The difference is that the main proponents on each side actually know what they are talking about. In fact, they have long dominated the conversation.

Olivier Roy
When it comes to the study of political Islamic movements, radical and otherwise, Gilles Kepel and Olivier Roy have dominated the field in France, and arguably in Europe, for decades. Both were once fixtures at Sciences-Po in Paris, though Roy is now at the European University Institute in Florence. And many of he best of the younger generation of specialists in political Islam and jihadism came out of Sciences-Po had studied under one or both. (Off the top of my head, Jean-Pierre Filiu, Stephane Lacroix, and Thomas Hegghammer, but there are many more.)

For those who don't read French, the NYT piece provides a short introduction, as does this Washington Post column. 
Subscribers to The Chronicle of Higher Education will find a good summary behind a paywall here.

If you read French, however, you might as well go to the source. Last November, in the wake of the Paris terror attacks, Roy published an article in Le Monde called "Olivier Roy: « Le djihadisme est une révolte générationnelle et nihiliste »."

His argument, oversimplified of course from its Gallic precision, is that the radicalized Muslims of the Paris suburbs are not really motivated by religion but by nihilism and anarchism, and that Islam is a rationalizing overlay, or, in Roy's aphoristic summary, "the Islamization of radicalism."

By December, Gilles Kepel was taking exception in articles such as this interview in the conservative Le Figaro: "Gilles Kepel: «L'objectif de l'État islamique ? Déclencher une guerre civile en France»." An English summary of the objections to Roy can be found in this piece by Francois Burgat. Kepel and his supporters take a more  traditional approach, seeing  European Islamists more traditionally, as radicalized Islamists.

After the Brussels attacks, Kepel emphasized his views:'"Molenbeek français': la mise au point de Gilles Kepel." Roy reiterated his views in other articles, and in March Kepel struck back with a provocatively titled article in Libération: "«Radicalisations» et «islamophobie»: le roi est nu."
"Le roi est nu," or "The king is naked," is an obvious pun (roi/Roy) on Olivier Roy's name.

And that only brings the back-and-forth up to March. The rhetoric has gotten increasingly personal.

Now, while I am generally familiar with the literature on Jihadism, I am no expert, and certainly not in a league with Gilles Kepel and Olivier Roy, nor have I studied radical Islam in Europe, as both men have.  As a historian rather than a political scientist, I tend to be skeptical of theory and rigid structural analysis, and I tend to be pragmatic. From that perspective, the difference between "the Islamization of radicalism" and "the radicalization of Islam" seems to be the question of which you address first. But it also seems that both Islam and a nihilistic desperation play a role. Do we really need a Manichean dichotomy, a zero-sum construct where either one formula or the other is sacrosanct? or could we learn more from reading both Kepel and Roy?

But what do I know? I'm not even French.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Capture of Airbase from ISIS a Stepping-Stone to Mosul

The Air Base on Google Earth
Even as the Islamic State has stepped up terrorist attacks, it continues to lose ground steadily on the battlefield. The capture July 9 by Iraqi and coalition forces of the Al-Qayyarah West Air Base could prove to be a major stepping stone en route to the recapture of Mosul, some 75 kilometers to the north. The base could provide, if cleared, a base of operations for helicopter gunships and ground attack aircraft.

The capture of Mosul is still distant, however. ISIS remains in control of the town of al-Qayyarah, on the Tigris to the east of the airbase, and also of the town of Shirqat farther south on the river.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

What Time is It? In Egypt, it's Complicated.

Egypt was supposed to begin Daylight Savings (Summer) Time this week, but on Monday, just days before it was due to begin, the Cabinet voted to abolish it. The result is some confusion, and EgyptAir is warning there is likely to be much confusion in coordinating airline connections and could face losses of $2 million.

The recent history is just as confusing. In the wake of the Revolution of 2011, the summer time change was abolished. In 2014 it was restored, but suspended during Ramadan. In 2015, President Sisi temporarily suspended it.This year it was announced by the Cabinet that it would begin after Ramadan. The Parliament, however, voted to abolish it, though the Cabinet said it would begin as scheduled. Then, on Monday, the Cabinet reversed itself. So Standard Time remains in effect.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

‘Eid Mubarak

‘Eid Mubarak as an unusually bloody Ramadan comes to an end.  I wish my Muslim readers a joyous ‘Eid al-Fitr, and let us remember that the attacks in Istanbul, in Dhaka, in Baghdad, in Jidda, in Qatif, and in Medina were all in Muslim cities, and many were aimed at purely Muslim targets.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Still "Not a Coup," But Now a National Holiday

June 30, 2013, three years ago today, was the first anniversary of Mohammad Morsi's election as President of Egypt. It was also the day massive popular demonstrations were called to demand the Muslim Brotherhood government accept new elections. The result was a military ultimatum that Morsi comply or face military action. On July 3, the military moved.

It still isn't a coup
The mythology promoted by President Sisi and his supporters has continued to deny that the intervention on July 3 was a coup, portraying it instead as a logical outcome of the "June 30th Revolution," which has superseded the "January 25 Revolution" of 2011 in prestige. It's still taboo to call it a coup.

In keeping with the emphasis on June 30 over July 3, Egypt celebrated today, which has become a national holiday.

I mean, is this how you celebrate a coup?

On the Lighter Side of Brexit, Karl Sharro . . .

Yesterday I posted some links about Brexit's impact on the Middle East. Those were serious assessments, whether one agrees with them or not. On the other hand, there's Karl Sharro.

Satirist Karl Sharro has been on the case, beginning last week with his piece for The Atlantic, "Brexit: A Tale of ‘Ancient Ethnic Hatreds’: What if columnists wrote about the U.K. the way they do about the Middle East?"

He traces it all  to the age-old conflict between Normans and Anglo-Saxons, of course. After interviewing the inevitable taxi driver.

Separately, he came up with this explanatory graphic;
And finally, here's a last word:

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Brexit and the Middle East

In the wake of Britain's "Brexit" vote, it's hardly surprising that the move's implications for the Middle East have drawn commentary. Here are a few links:

Friday, June 24, 2016

Arab Authors on Brexit

From the Arabic Literature (in English) log, a useful collection of "Arab Authors on Brexit," including the inimitable Karl Sharro:

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

June 1916: Outbreak of the Great Arab Revolt

First let me say I'm recovering from my surgery, and let me thank the many kind wishes I received in the comments.

Sharif Hussein in 1916
Between my health and the Journal's deadlines, it's been a while since I dealt with the centennial of the First World War in the Middle East. But June marks a century since the outbreak of the Arab Revolt led by Sharif Hussein of Mecca, or the Great Arab Revolt as it is sometimes known.

We've talked about the Hussein-McMahon correspondence and the genesis of the idea on more than one occasion, Interpretations of the significance (or peripheral nature) of the Revolt have differed widely, with what might be called the British and Hashemite view of history playing up its importance. The role of T.E. Lawrence has enhanced the mythology surrounding the Revolt, and added to the emphasis on the tribal and guerrilla aspects of the Revolt, at the expense of the regular Sharifian Army. There will be plenty of time to debate the myths versus the realities; let's begin with the outbreak.

On May 28, 1916, Ronald Storrs, Oriental Secretary, left Cairo, accompanied by Lt. Cdr. D.G.Hogarth, archaeologist and intelligence agent, and Captain Kinahan Cornwallis, the latter two attached to the Arab Bureau. With them was £10,000 destined for Amir ‘Abdullah, son of Sharif Hussein and their main interlocutor with him at this time. They were also authorized to promise another £50,000 to the Sharif after the actual outbreak of the promised revolt.

Reaching Jidda on June 5 they did not find  ‘Abdullah as expected (who was in fact preparing for the revolt), but rather a message saying his youngest brother Zayd was coming instead. Zayd arrived with a message promising simultaneous attacks at Mecca, Medina, Ta'if, and Jidda. Indeed, on June 5, Hussein's sons ‘Ali and Faisal made an initial attack against Medina, and on June 6 Zayd met with Storrs and informed him of this. The main revolt had been moved up from June 16 to June 10.

But Medina was a very different target than Mecca would prove to be. A strong Ottoman garrison of 10,000 under Fakhri Pasha defended it, and it was the railhead of the Hejaz Railway, which allowed easy resupply from Damascus.

Ironically, the very same day as the attempt on Medina, far away in the North Sea north of Scotland, HMS Hampshire, en route to Russia, was torpedoed and sunk with all hands. One passenger was far more famous than the others: the Secretary of State for War, Lord Kitchener of Khartoum, former virtual ruler of Egypt and Storrs' former boss. A failed tribal raid on an Ottoman provincial capital would garner no headlines in London.

Kitchener was a national hero. Liberator of Khartoum, master of Egypt and, since the outbreak of war, the most famous recruiting poster. Though disliked by his subordinate officers and the rest of the Cabinet, he was idolized by the public and by Tommy Atkins in the trenches,and his death was a national shock. Egypt, where Kitchener was still known just as "the Lord" (al-Lurd) as Cromer had been before him, was also in shock.

Meanwhile, on June 10, Sharif Hussein proclaimed revolt in Mecca, declared the Young Turk regime had betrayed Islam, proclaimed an Arab Caliphate, and attacked the Turkish garrison in the Holy City. After a short siege, Mecca mostly was  under control by June 13, though resistance continued until July 9. 

On June 10 also, ‘Abdullah attacked Ta'if. The town was soon taken but the garrison hunkered down in the fort.

The port of Jidda was critical as a means of supplying Mecca and the rebels. The Royal Navy moved an aging, obsolete warship, HMS Fox, and a seaplane tender, HMS Ben-My-Chree, a converted Manx packet steamer.

HMS Ben-My-Chree (note hangars)
The rebels attacked Jidda with support from Fox's guns and air cover from Ben-My-Chree's seaplanes, and the garrison surrendered on June 16.,

Once Jidda was taken, the British began creating a series of ports along the coast controlled by the Royal Navy, provided Hussein with artillery from the Egyptian Army, and began assembling a regular Sharifian Army from Arab officers and men of the Ottoman Army assembled from POWs and deserters.The Arab Revolt had begun.


Egyptian Court Annuls Tiran/Sanafir Agreement

An Egyptian Administrative Court has annulled the April agreement with Saudi Arabia transferring the islands of Tiran and Sanafir to Saudi sovereignty.

The agreement had provoked widespread demonstrations and charges that the government was selling Egyptian sovereign territory to Saudi Arabia. As I noted in April, the history of the islands is complex, and further complicated by the fact that they are part of Area C in the Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty.

The government has already said it will appeal to the Supreme Administrative Court, which will have the final say. Although President al-Sisi has said that there are documents proving the islands are rightfully Saudi, no such documents were reportedly introduced at the trial.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Another Round of Surgery

As I posted before, I spent Memorial Day weekend in the hospital due to foot surgery. The infection has persisted, accounting for my sparse blogging, and tomorrow I will go in for another surgery to remove the infected toe and adjacent bone. I hope to resume regular blogging soon.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Thoughts on Orlando

The horrible slaughter in Orlando has tragically become entangled with the US Presidential campaign. The perpetrator proclaimed his allegiance to ISIS, but had previously expressed support for Jabhat al-Nusra, ISIS' bitter rivals. Anti-gay animus is clearly another motive, and the massacre has also reignited the gun debate.

It can never be repeated too many times: the purpose of terrorism is to terrorize, and ISIS also seeks to promote a war between the West and Islam, and apparently some in the West are eager to accommodate them. But ISIS is losing on the battlefield: at Falluja in Iraq, Manbij in Syria, and Sirte in Libya, it is on the ropes, so it is seeking to encourage civilian attacks by sympathizers and fellow travelers.

Obviously we must continue to guard against these kinds of horrific domestic terror attacks, but without sacrificing our ability to lead normal lives or sacrificing the values ISIS seeks to undermine.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Israeli Sociologist Prof. Michael Feige Died in Sarona Market Attack

Michael Feige
One of the four Israelis killed in yesterday's attack on the Sarona  Market in Tel Aviv was a noted scholar of Israeli society, the sociologist and anthropologist Professor Michael Feige of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. I only knew him by reputation, but it is a reminder that attacks on civilians (by either side) leave everyone vulnerable.

BGU has posted a tribute to Prof. Feige here.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

How Involved is the US in the Manbij Campaign?

Since the first of June the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the Peoples' Protection Units (YPG) have made major advances into the so-calleed Manbij Pocket along the Syrian-Turkish border, occupying hundreds of square kilometers west of the Euphrates and threatening to cut off one of the Islamic State's remaining outlets to the Turkish border.

Though the Manbij campaign has received less attention than the advance on Falluja i,n Iraq, it is a major success for US-backed forces. In fact there is reason to believe that US Special Forces are embedded with and possibly directing the advance.

Although about 60% of the SDF consist of YPG fighters. the US has sought to emphasize the Arab components in the SDF, in order to persuade Turkey that it is not primarily a Kurdish force advancing along its border. The SDF also includes Arab groups as well as Assyrian, Turkmen, Circassian and other minority groups. It's been reported that the YPG is leading the advance and capturing territory, and then handing control over to non-Kurdish forces.

The SDF says it is refraining from entering Manbij city to avoid civilian casualties,  but appears intent on cutting the routes from Manbij to the Turkish border.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Muhammad Ali and the Middle East

With Nasser, 1964
The late Muhammad Ali, who died this weekend, was often described in his heyday as the most famous man on earth. It may well have been true, especially in the Third World, where his embrace of Islam, his willingness to give up his title rather than support the Vietnam War, his staging championship bouts in Kinshasa and Manila, all added to his global fame.

When he announced his conversion to Islam, it was to the extremely unorthodox Nation of Islam, which many Muslims did not accept as Islamic. Later, in 1975, he converted to mainstream Sunni Islam. In 2005, he announced himself an adherent of the Universal Sufism movement led by Inayat Khan.

Praying at Hussein mosque, Cairo
Throughout his career, he made many visits to the Middle East, beginning with a visit to Egypt in 1964, where he met with Nasser and visited the High Dam under construction at Aswan. It should be remembered at the time meeting with Nasser was itself cause for controversial, as was his meeting with Mu‘ammar Qadhafi in Libya. It added to his reputation as a rebel.

At the Kaaba
In 1972, Ali famously made the hajj. He would thereafter speak of how moving he found the experience.

He would make many other visits to the Middle East. He was decorated by heads of state from Morocco to the Gulf, He generally drew crowds wherever he went. In 1982, having retired from the ring, he held two exhibition fights in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

In 1986 he visited Egypt for the second time, posing at the pyramids.

This is only a partial catalog of Ali's love affair with the Middle East, which was very much mutual.
Receiving a decoration from King Hasan II of Morocco

Ramadan Karim!

Wishing a blessed Ramadan to all my Muslim readers!

Friday, June 3, 2016

On Eve of Ramadan, ISIS Declares Ramadan :"Month of Conquest"

With Ramadan only a couple of days away, ISIS has called for stepped-up attacks in the West, calling Ramadan 'the month of conquest and jihad," In recent years, violence has marked the holy month. So, it may be time for a rerun of my post from last year on the history of fighting during Ramadan, going back to the Prophet's Battle at Badr. Here's that post:

 God  gave you victory at Badr when you were weak; fear God and perhaps you will be grateful.

  When you said to the Believers, "Is it not enough that God reinforced you with three thousand angels sent down?
           —Holy Qur'an, Sura 3 (Al ‘Imran), 123

It is proving to be another violent Ramadan, with violent jihadi attacks in Kuwait and Sousse and Grenoble, and today's assassination in Cairo. Ramadan is meant to be a month of peace and reconciliation, and warring Muslim states have sometimes held cease-fires during Ramadan, but in  fact there is no outright prohibition on fighting during Ramadan, a fact jihadists use to step up violence in what they see as a holy war against those they see as enemies, even their fellow Muslims.

The precedent lay in the very earliest years of Islam, just two years after the Prophet's hijra from Mecca to Medina. In AH 2 (AD 634), the Prophet Muhammad and his small Muslim forces fought against the more powerful Meccans in their first great battle, at Badr. It is one of the few battles mentioned by name in the Qur'an (above), which attributes the victory to Divine intervention. The traditional date of Badr is the 17th of Ramadan, AH 2.

Nor was Badr that unusual. Saladin's defeat of the Crusaders at Hattin in 1187 was also in Ramadan, and in Muslim tradition is said to have taken place the morning after the Laylat al-Qadr. (See the link for explanation.)

Less than a century later in 1260, the Mamluks finally stopped the Mongol invasion of the Middle East at another Battle in Galilee, at ‘Ain Jalut, fought in Ramadan.

On October 6, 1973, Egypt and Syria launched the 1973 Arab-Israeli War. The crossing of the Suez Canal may be remembered for taking place on Yom Kippur, but it was also the 10th of Ramadan. A code name for the Canal crossing was, in fact, Operation Badr. One of Egypt's satellite cities near Cairo is named 10th of Ramadan.

And during the Iran-Iraq War Iran even named an offensive which it launched in Ramadan the Ramadan Offensive.

Most Muslims would prefer not to fight in Ramadan, but there are numerous precedents, and in recent years jihadist terror violence has often spiked in Ramadan.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Erdoğan's Anti-Birth Control Campaign

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan a few days ago delivered a speech, or perhaps I should say a sermon, on birth control. He's against it.

Saying that no Muslim family can accept birth control, Erdoğan urged Turkish women to have many children in order to increase Turkey's population, a topic he has addressed before.

If his argument is that Turks should reproduce to increase population, that is one thing, but if he means that Islam forbids contraception, he is well outside the religious consensus. While there are conservative scholars who oppose all contraception, most Islamic legal schools  accept artificial contraception as long as it is reversible (not vasectomy or tubal ligation), and all oppose abortion. This is not a modernist issue: several hadith indicate that the Prophet Muhammad himself was aware of, and did not express disapproval of, the withdrawal method (‘azl in Arabic, coitus interruptus), the main form available in his day, unless it was done without the wife's permission. Other reversible methods are also generally accepted, and many governments actively promote family planning. Even the most theocratic regime, Iran's, actively promotes family planning and has seen a plunge in birthrates. Iran's program was directly authorized in a fatwa by Imam Khomeini himself, which in the eyes of the regime gives it the highest authority.

So Erdoğan, however much he may believe "no Muslim family" may practice contraception, is well outside the pale of mainstream Islamic jurisprudence.

Bassem Youssef on Trusting Your Muslim Neighbors

The brilliant Egyptian satirist Bassem Youssef has been banned from Egyptian TV,  but apparently we're going to see more of him over here, starting with this:

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Bernard Lewis is 100 Today

The scholar and academic (and sometimes polemicist) Bernard Lewis is 100 years old today. That is a notable birthday for anyone. The remarkable size of his output, scholarly and popular, is also remarkable. Especially in the past 20 years, he has become a political lightning rod in Middle East policy studies.

I won't criticize a man on his birthday, especially such a landmark one. In person he has always seemed an eloquent English gentleman. I will note that if Lewis' academic output had ended at, say age 70 or 75, his legacy would be less controversial. Works like The Emergence of Modern Turkey stand as major contributions. (Though that book was not without controversy when later editions softened the language on the Armenian massacres.) Lewis always had his opponents: Jewish and a lifelong Zionist, he was an outspoken supporter of Israel when that was rare in a field dominated by Arabists, though he had a full command of that language.

When Edward Said, in Orientalism, painted Lewis as a prime example of Orientalist discourse, Lewis welcomed the title and debated Said in print and in person. More recently, some of his works on Islam have been increasingly controversial, and he was often seen as the favorite public intellectual of the neocon movement, and seen as a supporter of invading Iraq (though he has denied he supported the war).

There will be time to assess the man and his legacy. Meanwhile, Happy Birthday.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Why I've been Absent

On Friday I underwent emergency surgery for an infected toe. I am still in the hospital undergoing inter venous antibiotic treatment to try to clear the infection. While I have a recovery ahead of me I hope to go home tonight (today's a US holiday anyway) and to resume blogging soon.

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.