A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Thursday, December 18, 2014

December 18, 1914: A Khedive becomes a Sultan, but Egypt Becomes a British Protectorate

In our discussion of the centennial of the First World War in the Middle East, we have already discussed the anomalous position of Egypt: though ruled by a hereditary Khedive, it was still de jure a province of the Ottoman Empire, paying annual tribute to Constantinople.But, since 1882, it had been de facto under British control, occupied by Britain, whose innocuously titled "British Agent and Consul-General" functioned as a virtual viceroy. It was an awkward legal status often referred to as "the veiled protectorate," and once Britain went to war with the Ottoman Empire, It became wholly untenable.

A century ago today, the veil came off. Britain declared a protectorate over Egypt, deposed the Khedive and installed his uncle as ruler with the new title of "Sultan," but it was not as simple as that, as there was a month or so of hard bargaining before the deed was done.

Ronald Storrs
Lord Kitchener had been British Agent at the time of the outbreak of the war, when he was kept in Britain to take over the War Office. In his absence, Milne Cheetham was the Acting British Agent, with Ronald Storrs as his "Oriental Secretary," his Middle East expert.

Once Turkey entered the war, there was no question that Britain had to alter the status of Egypt. But to what? In London, many favored outright annexation, making Egypt as much a part of the Empire as India. The Agency in Cairo was alarmed: direct rule would alienate Egyptians and the Muslim world generally, while the policy since 1882 had been to govern through a local ruler. Cheetham and Storrs pleaded for a protectorate instead, On November 19, London agreed, but it took another month before the protectorate was proclaimed.

‘Abbas Hilmi II
The reason was Britain needed a candidate for ruler of Egypt; the incumbent Khedive, ‘Abbas Hilmi II, was in Constantinople, recovering from a failed assassination attempt, and he was an inveterate opponent of British rule. Kitchener had been determined to depose him even before; now he had to go.

‘Abbas Hilmi II was the son of the Khredive Tawfiq and grandson of the great Isma‘il, the man who both glorified and bankrupted Egypt the previous century. Isma‘il had two surviving sons, uncles of ‘Abbas Hilmi; the elder of these, Hussein Kamil, was respected by both the British and the Egyptian establishment, and he became Britain's candidate. But he was to prove a hard negotiator: insisting on protecting the hereditary rights of the Muhammad ‘Ali family among other issues. Ronald Storrs in his Memoirs (as the British edition was called; the US edition is called Orientations) tells the story:

Sultan Hussein Kamil
But before proclaiming the good news it was necessary to provide the throne with an occupant. Prince Hussein procrastinated in the hope of better terms. The fact of the negotiations was known, and strong family and general pressure was secretly exerted upon him through emissaries from Constantinople to drag on discussions until mid-January by which time the Turks would be ready to attack Egypt and then to break them off. I do not think the Prince was appreciably influenced by this sort of thing, though Harims in those days were almost exclusively Turkish, and domestic pressure, like the Mills of God, though it grind slowly yet grinds exceedingly small. He considered, and I agreed, that he was conferring as well as receiving a favour and that, in the matter of status, his wishes should be met. The Prince was strongly of opinion that Egypt should be transformed into a Kingdom under an Egyptian King. As it was impossible that a vassal prince should bear the same style as his suzerain, I ventured to suggest the alternative of Sultan, an Arab name signifying "the bearer of ruling power" which had been first adopted in Egypt by Saladin, and which was incidentally the title of the ex-Suzerain ruler of the Ottoman Empire. My proposal was accepted by both sides. Majesty being impossible for the same reason as King, Hautesse, the ancient and dignified double of Altesse, was suggested in order to distinguish the sovereign from the spate of obscure and sometimes ignoble collaterals all claiming the title of Highness. Meanwhile, nothing was settled, neither side was committed to anything, and a sharp Allied reverse on any front might plunge us into the dreaded inferiority of hawking round an ever less desirable crown and continually having to offer higher inducement for its acceptance. I had spoken frequently but, as a junior, unofficially, with Prince Hussein, having fresh in my memory the perplexities and humiliations of the Mustafa Fehmy crisis. Negotiations dragged on for about a month. At last the question was narrowed down to the offer by the Government of the throne of Egypt to Prince Hussein with the title of Sultan and - nothing more. The Prince behaved with great dignity, but pointed out that the document contained no mention of heredity in his family or indeed among the descendants of Muhammad Ali; that he, was allowed no voice in the choice of a flag nor was even sure he would have one at all; and that he was not informed whether Egyptians would be British subjects or retain their own entity and nationality under a British Protectorate. I considered him entirely justified on these three points, but we had our instructions, and it seemed impossible to persuade him to accept. The alternative was the proclamation of a Protectorate without any Egyptian Sovereign at all.

The imposition of the Union Jack, containing as it does the cross in three forms, would have had a bad effect in Egypt and a worse throughout Arabia; and the Khedivial Turkish party, which though dormant still existed, would have been immensely strengthened when it became known that we had not been able to make the rival claimant an offer which his dignity could accept. The Ministers told us frankly that they would not continue in office under a throneless Protectorate. We had given up all hope, and a telegram embodying the Prince's refusal, drafted and typed, lay ready for ciphering on Cheetham's table. As a last resort I primed Shaarawi Pasha, a rich landowner who had been intimate with the Prince all his life, and Ambroise Sinadino, a Greek, in more or less in timate contact with the Agency for the past thirty-five years. They went round independently and as if with no knowledge of the circumstances (I had in fact told them very little) pointed out to Prince Hussein how nervous the country was getting at the prolonged delay in the pro duction of the proclamation, and hoped that the responsibility did not lie on his side, as that might force the English to do things repugnant to them and disastrous to the country. On Sunday evening I received a note from Sinadino. "Mon cher Storrs, J'ai fait de la bonne besogne pendant une heure et demie. Son Altesse aimerait beaucoup avec l'autorisation de Monsieur Cheetham que vous alliez le voir demain lundi avant midi a sa Daira; il pourra ainsi vous parler a coeur ouvert. ]e vous serre la main; bien a vous. Ambroise."  I persuaded Cheetham to postpone his final telegram and telephoned to the Prince asking him to see me that evening instead of the next day. He received me very kindly in his Palace at Heliopolis and kept me from 10 till 12. A laconic brevity and a direct coming to the point are not the virtues of Prince Hussein, and he began by quoting a number of instances of his friendliness and loyalty to Great Britain from the very beginning. My soul fainted within me when he described with a wealth of horticultural detail how he had rooted up trees from his own garden at Giza and presented them to the first Lady Cromer and I longed to say: "Monseigneur! passons au Deluge" However, he eventually attacked the subject and speaking without any reserve at all told me that he wanted to accept the Sultanate, but as offered by H.M.G. could not face it. I begged him for his own sake and that of the country to trust the British Government, which had recalled him from exile and which had never yet betrayed him; still he would not accept. At about half-past eleven I said I feared I was intruding upon his leisure, and he asked me whether I would leave with an impresion of an obstinate man: I said No, but with a distinct impression of a Prince who had no confidence in Lord K. or the British Government. He appeared a little staggered at this and said: "I cannot let you go away under this impression; what do you think I had better do?" I recommended him to allow us to put in a strong appeal for the heredity, and to leave the question of the flag and the nationality to the wisdom of the British High Commissioner who was coming out. I pointed out that a Sultan on the throne was in a much better position for bargaining than a claimant however illustrious, and that the Foreign Office, confronted with this notable proof of his bonne volante would be likely to allow him a larger share of confidence and consequently a freer hand in the future. He thought awhile and said: "If you will guarantee that the High Commissioner will decide the other two points in my favour and procure for me the heredity, I accept." I told him that this was not an acceptance at all, but only a post-dating of his demands, that I regretted so small a thing should keep him from doing all the good I knew he would be able to do, but that there was nothing for it now but to dispatch the telegram embodying his refusal. He took leave of me very cordially, and said he very much appreciated my anxiety that the Sultanate should not pass into less worthy hands. I left him at midnight, impressed by his dignity and the real justice of his cause, and informed Cheetham of his offer. Early next morning Prince Hussein sent for the Ministers and, after informing them of what had happened, telephoned to me that he was prepared to accept my suggestion of the night before. He visited Cheetham (who was not a little pleased), with drew his former refusal and made the new proposal which we have now embodied in a telegram and sent home. 
At the end of this long saga, Storrs comments:
I have ventured to record thus at length the last inner workings of that rumbling and irregular but beneficent old machine, then about to be thrown on the scrap-heap -- the British "Occupation" of Egypt.
So the Khedive became a Sultan, Egypt became a protectorate, and the British Agent/Consul General became a High Commissioner. And the new Sultan did get a new flag and Coat of Arms:

Flag of the Sultanate of Egypt

Something Lighter in a Dark Week

In this week that brought us the horrors of Peshawar, it may be worth a diversion into Ancient Near Eastern Studies humor.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Four Years Ago Today, Mohamed Bouazizi Set Himself on Fire...

Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fir on December 17, 2010. The flames from the self-immolation of the young street vendor in Tunisia soon spread throughout the Arab world.

Mohamed Bouazizi
Ironically but perhaps fittingly, it is only in Tunisia that the legacy of Arab Spring still offers promise. Egypt has come full circle, actually welcoming military leadership; Syria and libya are devastated, and Bahrain's spring was cut short. Though Tunisia's two runoff candidates for President are flinging charges at each other,  constitutional process is in play. Good for Tunisia.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Naguib Mahfouz's Widow Has Passed Away

Just days after what would have been Nobel Laureate Egyptian novelist Naguib Mahfouz's 103rd birthday (see here for my post on the 100th three years ago, interviewing his translator and biographer),his widow,  Atiyatallah Ibrahim Rizq, has reportedly passed away. (Link is in Arabic).

Mahfouz kept his family life extremely private, and this has received little attention.

Hanukkah Greetings

Greetings to my Jewish readers for the first night of Hanukkah, which begins at sundown.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Erdoğan's Ottoman Script Revival and the Legacy of Kemalism

I haven't commented Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announcement last week  that he intends to institute the teaching of Ottoman Turkish as a requirement in high schools. Those unfamiliar with the history of Modern Turkey may wonder why the idea of teaching people the language used in the early 20th century is provoking a backlash in Turkey.

It is not just a sign of Erdoğan's "neo-Ottoman" proclivities as well as his continuing efforts to dismantle the secular "laicist" aspects of Turkish society; it is also one of his most direct assaults to date on the Kemalist legacy.

Of all of Kemal Atatürk's reforms aimed at radically transforming Turkey — abolition of the Sultanate and Caliphate, declaring the republic, instituting secularism and a Western work week, adoption of regularized surnames, banning traditional headgear like the fez and the veil — perhaps none more thoroughly undercut traditional Ottoman ways more than the language reform of 1928, which abandoned the Arabic/Persian script used to write Ottoman Turkish and adopted a modified Latin script. At the same time and after (with the founding of the Turkish Language Association in 1932), efforts were made to purge the language of the large vocabulary of Arabic and Persian loanwords and to replace them with Turkic words.

The Kemalist reforms made much linguistic sense: Turkish is an agglutinative language in which vowel harmony plays a major role, but the Arabic script is usually written with few or no vowels. But the other side of the reform was to cut modern Turks off from their heritage; only scholars and historians still learned Ottoman, so most Turks could not read materials written before 1928 unless they were transcribed into Modern Turkish.

So by seeking to require the teaching of Ottoman and the Arabic-Persian script in secondary schools, Erdoğan is directly attempting to reverse perhaps the most sweeping of the Kemalist reforms and thus the whole Kemalist legacy, which he has been  chipping away at as long as the AKP has been in power.

Haaretz on "The Forgotten Jews of Sudan"

Haaretz' title sums it up: "The forgotten Jews of Sudan even researchers haven't heard of."

In its heyday, the Jewish community in Sudan had fewer than 1,000 members – a drop in the sea compared to the 260,000-strong Moroccan-Jewish community, the 135,000-strong Algerian community, the 125,000 Jews living in Iraq, the 90,000-strong Tunisian community, and the 75,000 Jews who lived in Egypt before Israel was established.
The Jewish community in Sudan dissolved after 1956, when the country became independent and joined the Arab League. An estimated 500 Jews came to Israel, while the rest dispersed around the world.

Friday, December 12, 2014

December 13, 1914: Submarine HMS B11 Sinks Turkey's Mesudiye in the Dardanelles

A fanciful portrayal as B11 was submerged
Tomorrow marks the 100th anniversary of the first loss of a major warship in naval action in the Middle East in the First World War. Smaller river patrol craft had been lost in the Mesopotamian campaign, and some Russian vessels in Admiral Souchon's Black Sea Raid, but on this day the British submarine HMS B11 (Lt. Norman D. Holbrook, Commanding) sank the Turkish battleship Mesudiye (Maj. Beşiktaşlı Arif Nebi Bey, Commanding, but with Captain Üsküdarlı Rıfat Bey in acting command during the attack) as she was moored to protect minefields at Sarısığlar Bay off Chanak (Çanakkale), at the narrowest point in the Dardanelles.

It looked nothing like the fanciful sketch above, however, since His Majesty's Submarine B11 remained submerged at periscope depth throughout the entire attack

The achievement earned for the 26-year-old Lieutenant Holbrook the first Victoria Cross ever awarded to a submariner, and the first naval VC of the war. The VC is of course Britain's highest military honor.

Holbrook souvenir card
Holbrook even became a celebrity of sorts for a while, as the trading card at right shows; and in 1915 the Australian town of Germanton in New South Wales, feeling "Germanton" was not suitably patiotic, changed its name to Holbrook (who was English); and today, Holbrook, NSW houses the Holbrook Submarine Museum (though it is not on the coast). and features a scaled-down model of B11.

Scale model of HMS B11 in Holbrook, NSW
The war would see far more dramatic instances of submarine warfare, but the war in the Middle East was still new and in need of heroes.

Mesudiye after her refit
B11's daring was real enough (she also appears as B.11, B-11,  etc.), but Mesudiye was very much a sitting duck, anchored as a floating battery to defend the minefields. Her captain and officers had vigorously protested this role, but she was old and slow and the Ottoman Navy was now under German command, and Souchon and the Germans insisted.

Mesudiye was old (launched in 1874) after being built, ironically given her ultimate fate, at the Thames Iron Works in Britain. She was originally rated as a central-battery ironclad. In 1903 she was sent to Genoa for a complete rebuild and refit, and was subsequently classed as a pre-Dreadnought battleship, though her tonnage was less than half of that of the modern battle cruiser Yavuz (ex-Goeben). Worse still, her two big central guns had never been installed. 

B11, decks awash
HMS B11 was a British "B"-class sub launched in 1906. With her sister boats B9 and B10, she had been based in Malta since 1912 and was now operating from Tenedos with her sister boats and three French submarines as the sub force attached to the British flotilla patrolling the Aegean and blockading the exit from the straits since the flight of the Goeben and Breslau. Lt. Holbrook had taken command of B11 in December 1913.

Here's a period newspaper illustration; the narrative of the battle follows below.

Let's begin with the British side first. From the History of the Great War - Naval Operations, Volune 2, by Sir Julian Corbett (himself a distinguished sea power theorist), we find the details of Lieutenant Holbrook's attack:
So great was the demand for destroyers at home to meet the submarine menace that he [Admiral Carden] was only allowed to keep the six he had on his urgent representation that the six boats the French had sent were of too old a type to deal with the modern Turkish ones. The Goeben moreover was soon active again. From December 7 to 10 she had been out in the Black Sea with the Hamidieh escorting troops and transports, and had bombarded Batum for a short time. At the same time the Breslau had been detected apparently laying mines off Sevastopol, but had been met by bombing aeroplanes. In the Dardanelles was another cruiser, the Messudieh, guarding the minefield below the Narrows. Without more cruisers it was therefore impossible to maintain a blockade of Smyrna and Dedeagatch, and at the same time guard the flying base which had been established for the flotilla at Port Sigri, in Mityleni. The French, however, came to the rescue by sending up two ships, the cruiser Amiral Charner and the seaplane carrier Foudre, which, having left her sea-planes in Egypt, had been doing escort duty on the Port Said-Malta line. They were still on their way when a brilliant piece of service was performed, which did something to relieve the Admiral's anxiety and much to brighten the monotony of the eventless vigil.
For some time the three British submarines (B.9, 10 and 11) and the three French, had been itching for a new experience. There were known to be five lines of mines across the fairway inside the Straits, but Captain C. P. R. Coode, the resourceful commander of the destroyer flotilla, and Lieutenant-Commander G. H. Pownall, who commanded the submarines under him, believed that by fitting a submarine with certain guards the obstacle could be passed. Amongst both the French and the British submarine commanders there was keen competition to be made the subject of the experiment. Eventually the choice fell on Lieutenant N. D. Holbrook, of B.11, which had recently had her batteries renewed and had already been two miles up the Straits in chase of two Turkish gunboats.
On December 13, having been duly fitted with guards, she went in to torpedo anything she could get at. In spite of the strong adverse current Lieutenant Holbrook succeeded in taking his boat clear under the five rows of mines, and, sighting a large two-funnelled vessel painted grey with the Turkish ensign flying, he closed her to 800 yards, fired a torpedo and immediately dived. As the submarine dipped he heard the explosion, and putting up his periscope saw that the vessel was settling by the stern. He had now to make the return journey, but to the danger of the mine-field a fresh peril was added; the lenses of the compass had become so badly fogged, that steering by it was no longer possible. He was not even sure where he was, but taking into consideration the time since he had passed Cape Helles, and the fact that the boat appeared to be entirely surrounded by land, he calculated that he must be in Sari Sighlar Bay.
Several times he bumped the bottom as he ran along submerged at full speed, but the risk of ripping open the submarine had to be taken, and it was not till half an hour had passed and be judged that the mines must now be behind him that he put up his periscope again. There was now a clear horizon on his port beam, and for this he steered, taking peeps from time to time to correct his course since the compass was still unserviceable. Our watching destroyers noticed a torpedo-boat apparently searching for him; but after he had dived twice under a minefield and navigated the Dardanelles submerged without a compass, so ordinary a hazard seems to have escaped his notice. It was not till he returned to the base, having been nine hours under water, that he learned that the vessel he had torpedoed was the cruiser Messudieh. Such an exploit was quite without precedent. The Admiralty at once telegraphed their highest appreciation of the resource and daring displayed. Lieutenant Holbrook received the V.C, Lieutenant S. T. Winn, his second in command, a D.S.O., and every member of the crew a D.S.C. or D.S.M. according to rank. (The Turks state that the Messudieh was placed in this exposed position by the Germans contrary to Turkish opinion. They also say she was hit before she saw the submarine or could open fire, and that she turned over and sank in ten minutes. Many men were imprisoned in her, but most of them were extricated, when plant and divers arrived from Constantinople and holes could be cut in her bottom. In all 49 officers and 587 men were saved. The casualties were 10 officers and 27 men killed. She sank in shoal water and most of her guns were afterwards salved and added to the minefield and intermediate defences.)
Encouraged by this success Admiral Carden asked for one of the latest class of submarines. He was sure that if fitted like B.11 she could go right up to the Golden Horn. But as the Scarborough raid had just taken place and the High Seas Fleet showed signs of awakening none could be spared, and the blockade settled down again to its dull routine. Though there were constant rumours of a coming destroyer attack in retaliation for the loss of the Messudieh, the indications were that at the Dardanelles the enemy's only thought was defence.
It may be worth mentioning that B11 was operated by a crew of two officers and 11 men. In these early days of submarine warfare, it is worth noting how frequently the accounts note with some wonder that B11 remained submerged for nine hours. At this time surface vessels had no sonar and no way of detecting submarines unless they spotted the periscope. Even if spotted, they had no depth charges, while the sub had the torpedo.
Mesudiye after sinking
 To offer the Turkish perspective, I am quoting this from the website Turkey in the First World War's page on Major Naval Opeations: I urge you to visit their site. They quote the Mesudiye's acting commander in the course of the account:
The Allies were planning first to cross the straits with submarines, which would make the warships’ job easier in the subsequent phases of the war. However, crossing the straits was not an easy job, not only because of the mine barrages, coastal barriers, observers and projectors, but also because of the strong currents and differences in water density. The first Allied submarine to be sighted by the Turks was the French Faradi, which, on November 23, approached the entrance of the Dardanelles, but had to retreat as the Turkish batteries at Seddülbahir opened fire. A few days later, the British submarine B-11, commanded by Lt Cmd Norman Holbrook was given the task to attempt to force the Dardanelles.B-11 set sail from Tenedos during the early hours of December 13, 1914. Successfully passing under five mine barrages, she arrived at the Sarısığlar Bay where she sighted Mesudiye at around 11:30 am. B-11 fired two torpedoes. Mesudiye immediately opened fire with her remaining guns, but this was to no avail. In ten minutes the battleship capsized and sank in shallow water. In his memoirs, Captain Üsküdarlı Rıfat Bey, who was the acting commander of Mesudiye at the time of the attack, wrote about the details of the event: “There was no point in continuing to fire. I had to think about the personnel, so I ordered ceasefire to be followed by an order to leave the ship. The first torpedo of the enemy submarine hit a little above the ammunition storage of Mesudiye’s stern guns. If it were only 15-20 cm below, it would be a direct hit on the ammunition storage and the ship would blow up in the instant. We had replaced the removed guns with sand and chains in order to keep the balance. If that had not been done, the ammunition storage would be elevated and that would result in a direct hit.”

As B-11 returned to its base, the Turkish transport Bolayır rescued 48 officers and 573 men from Mesudiye. Some sailors were trapped inside the ship and it took 36 hours to release them. Total Turkish losses were 34, including ten officers and 24 men. The guns salvaged from Mesudiye were installed at a coastal battery named after the ship itself.

The loss of Mesudiye was a psychological blow for the Turks, which forced them to strengthen the defenses of the Dardanelles. New mine barrages were erected by Samsun and Nusrat. By the end of 1914, there were nine lines comprising of a total of 324 mines inside the Dardanelles. On the Allied side, encouraged by B-11’s success, Vice Admiral Sackville Carden asked for more submarines to be deployed in the area, although his request could only be fulfilled to a limited extent by the Admiralty. Carden also decreed that no Allied submarine would sail on patrol without his express permission.
As for the aftermath, I've mentioned the naming of Holbrook, New South Wales, at the beginning. Holbrook rose to the rank of Commander during the war. He returned to England after the war and lived in Sussex until his death in 1976, aged 87. After his death his widow donated his VC to the town named for him. At last report it was on loan to the Australian War Memorial.

Even the sunken Mesudiye would have a measure of revenge. As the accounts above note, one reason that so many were rescued was that it went down in shoal-depth. As a result, her guns were also salvaged, and they were installed ashore in a shore battery also named Mesudiye.

Mesudiye's Guns'  Revenge: Bouvet sinking, March 1915
Ironically, Mesudiye's guns would be responsible for gaining a measure of revenge. During the Allied attempt to force the Strait on March 18, 1915, the beginning of the Dardanelles campaign, the Mesudiye shore battery provided some of the fire that sank the French battleship Bouvet.

At least one of her guns is still reportedly on display at Gallipoli (left).

Two New Sites for Digitized Arabic Texts

 Not one but two new projects are digitizing Classical Arabic texts online:
  • Arabic Collections Online is funded by New York University Abu Dhabi and partner institutions (Princeton, Columbia, Cornell and AUB are reportedly among them) and isays "this mass digitization project aims to expose up to 15,000 volumes from NYU and partner institutions over a period of five years. NYU and the partner institutions are contributing all types of material—literature, business, science, and more—from their Arabic language collections. ACO will provide digital access to printed books drawn from rich Arabic collections of prominent libraries."
  • A somewhat more specialized collection is A Digital Corpus for Graeco-Arabic Studies, a joint project of Harvard and Tufts, is dedicated to digitizing Greek texts and Arabic translation of Greek works, during the 8th to 10th centuries AD.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Ambassador Robert B. Oakley, 1931-2014

Robert B. Oakley
Ambassador Robert B. Oakley, whose long and distinguished diplomatic career was often spent in trouble spots such as Pakistan and Somalia, has passed away at the age of 83. He held a range of posts during his career in the State Department, the National Security Council, and as a Special Envoy.

Joining the Foreign Service in 1957, his first posting was to Khartoum. He also served in Abidjan, Saigon, Paris, and Beirut. He was Senior Director for the Middle East and South Asia at the National Security Council. In 1979 he was named Ambassador to Zaire, and in 1982 Ambassador to Somalia.

In 1984 he became Director of the State Department Office for Combating Terrorism, and in 1987 he returned to the NSC as Assistant to the President for the Middle East and South Asia.

In 1988, when US Ambassador to Pakistan Arnold Raphel died in the same air crash that killed Pakistani President Zia ul-Haq, he was named Ambassador to Pakistan at a moment of crisis.

Oakley retired from the Foreign Service in 1991, and served at the US Institute for Peace but he was soon back at work as in late 1992, President George H.W. Bush named him Special Envoy to Somalia. He served in the same capacity for Bill Clinton in 1993-94.

He later served at National Defense University. With his wife Phyllis, who held senior State Department positions as well (including Spokesman), and who survives him, he was a familiar and approachable figure in the foreign policy community here in Washington.

The Birth of ANZAC: "Birdy" Birdwood is Ordered to Egypt, December 1914

So many World War I in the Middle East anniversaries are clustered in December and January that I'm going to have to do some of them a day early or late; this marks the centennial of something that happened on December 12, but I don't want to clump too many WWI posts together, and I need to deal tomorrow with an event that happened 100 years ago from the coming weekend.

William Riddell Birdwood, later General Sir William Birdwood, later still Field Marshal the 1st Baron Birdwood of Anzac and of Totnes, with a string of letters after his name, may be little known in this hemisphere, but for most of the past century, Lord Birdwood has been well-remembered Down Under by a shorter name; Birdy. There is a whole subcategory of folklore devoted to "Birdy" and his rapport with the men under his command, much of it centered around his moving among the men without his rank insignia, and echoing Shakespeare's Henry V before Agincourt in being mistaken for a common soldier.

Birdwood at dugout, Anzac Cove, Gallipoli
It may be mythology, but the men he commanded have earned  mythical status all their own. For Birdwood would combine a number of Australian and New Zealand Imperial Forces into a combined corps, the Australia and New Zealand Army Corps. Birdwood was the first commander of the legendary ANZACs. Although he had already been informed in November 1914 (at which time he was Secretary of the Indian Army Department) that this would be his assignment, he received his promotion to temporary Lieutenant General rank and his formal order sto Egypt on December 12, 1914. He arrived in Egypt on December 21.

Once the Ottoman Empire entered the war, the Imperial troops originally scheduled for the European front had been redirected to the Middle Eastern war. The Australian, New Zealand, and Indian troops were already being trained in Egypt, the British having felt it was better to train them there than in a British winter on the Salisbury plain. Now they were repurposed for the defense of Egypt, and would become famous for their sacrifices at Gallipoli and their daring during the Palestine campaign.

Birdwood was not himself from Australia or New Zealand. He was born in India, son of a British member of the Indian civil service and later judge. Both his parents were also Indian-born. Birdwood attended Sandhurst and served in the British Army in India, and in the Second Boer War. He became attached to the staff of Lord Kitchener, and when Kitchener was sent to India, he followed, soon becoming Kitchener's Military Secretary, and thereafter rose through the Indian military.

Kitchener of course served in Egypt thereafter, until being named to the War Office in the summer of 1914. When the defense of Egypt became an issue, he turned to Birdwood to forge a corps from the "Imperial" (colonial) forces.

In a bush hat on a visit to Australia
As the ANZACs' fame and reputation grew, Australians and New Zealanders would form their own national identities separate from Great Britain, in part at least due to the nightmare of Gallipoli, in which they were the sacrificial lambs slaughtered through the incompetence of the British (or as they are known Down Under, "Pommy bastards") generals. But the resentment of British generals did not extend to "Birdy"; he was one of their own in a way, a colonial born in India of Indian-born parents. And he was loyal to them. The photo at right shows Birdwood on a later visit to Australia, wearing the typical Aussie bush hat or slouch hat.

Of the British generals in the Middle East campaigns in the Great War, probably only Allenby surpasses Birdwood, though in the southern hemisphere, "Birdy" may have the advantage. Allenby won more battles, but Birdwood became a legend among his men even in the defeat at Gallipoli.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Makovsky: Netanyahu "No Longer the Presumptive Favorite"

David Makovsky at The Washington Institute looks at the shifting alliances and pre-election maneuvering in Israel, including the new alliance between Labor and Tzipi Livni's Hatnua. It's a good summary of the shifting alliances on the right as well as the center-left.

Egypt's Draft Parliamentary Election Law is Weighted against Party Lists

Egypt's draft law spelling out the details of the Parliamentary election promised for early next year was approved by the Egyptian Cabinet today. Like previous Egyptian electoral laws, it calls for a mixture of constituency races and party lists, with the balance heavily weighted towards constituencies, where all candidates are supposed to be independents. (Historically this has tended to favor big landowners or others capable of dispensing patronage.)

Unsurprisingly, some political parties are complaining,  and others are expressing concerns that the constituencies may not provide a just distribution based on population.

Parliament will have 567 seats; 420 will be independents elected in 231 constituencies, with each constituency returning between one and three candidtes. Party lists will choose another 120 MPs, and the President will appoint 27.residential appointments have usually been used to assure that Copts and women, for example, are represented.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

This is All I Will Have to Say About the Senate CIA Torture Report

From Notes On the State of Virginia.

November-December 1914: Djemal Pasha Discovers Logistics Problems First Hand, the Hard Way

I've noted that in November 1914 Ottoman Minister of War Enver Pasha, frustrated that the Commander of the Fourth Army in Syria, Zeki Pasha, was reluctant to plan an attack on the Suez Canal, relieved him and named Djemal, his fellow member of the Young Turk triumvirate and at that time Navy Minister, to take over both the Fourth Army Command and also, essentially, the political administration of Syria. In late November and early December 1914 Djemal set out to make his way to Damascus. Last Friday, in discussing the strategic reasons for the (never implemented) plan for British landings at Alexandretta, I noted that since the Taurus and Amanus tunnels on the Baghdad railway were not yet cut through and the Amanus Pass was impassable by automobile, to travel from Adana to Aleppo one had to take a train on an often washed-out line to Alexandretta, then cross to Aleppo over a highway often impassable as well before rejoining the railroad. Djemal may have been one of the most powerful men in the Ottoman government, but he discovered the transportation problem at first hand and the logistical difficulties it would present to moving troops to the Egyptian and Mesopotamian fronts.

Djemal Pasha
Djemal told the story of his rather harrowing journey in his postwar memoirs, which appeared in English in 1922, the year he was assassinated in Tbilisi by Armenian nationalists) as Memories of a Turkish Statesman 1913-1919, now in the public domain and available at the link from Google Books. The account of his journey quoted below is from pp 141-144 of the 1922 New York edition. (Despite that the spellings and punctuation are all British.)
At that time the Adana-Aleppo railway was only working to the station of Taprak Kaleh. Although the Taprak Kaleh-Alexandretta sector had been finished, the line had been washed away at various points in the neighbourhood of Dort Yol owing to the rains, and communication with Alexandretta was interrupted. the rains, and communication with Alexandretta was interrupted.
I therefore decided to go by train to Taprak Kaleh or even Mustafa Bey, and if possible to continue my journey from there by car or horse to Alexandretta and Aleppo. Accordingly I left Adana very early next morning. As I had ascertained that the Bozanti-Tarsus sector, the only route which offered secure communication with the army in Anatolia, was in very bad communication in various places, I asked Ismail Hakki Bey, the Governor-General of the province, to have the repair work put in hand as soon as possible. An hour or so after leaving Adana we reached Mustafa Bey, where the horses and cars were detrained. We had barely got a yard or two in our cars before they sank in the mud. As we realised that we should get no further that way, we mounted our horses and I started off, after instructing my aide-de-camp, Captain Selaheddin Effendi, to have the cars towed to Alexandria, whence he was to follow us.
Three or four hours later we came to Dort Yol. This is a large and important village on the shores of the Gulf of Alexandretta, and lies almost equi-distant from five or six other villages, which are inhabited almost exclusively by Armenians, and celebrated for their orange trees.
During the time I was Governor-General of Adana I had had a plan drawn out by German engineers for another colony, to be built on the extensive plot of ground between Dort Yol and the five other villages. But as I had to leave the vilayet this scheme, like so many others, had not been carried out.
In the years 1910 and 1911 I had often visited Dort Yol, and the villagers, whom I had often helped, now came down in crowds to meet me. As I had heard that I could get from Dort Yol station to Alexandretta by an ordinary trolley in two hours, while it would take me six hours to ride there, I preferred to use this method of locomotion and started off with my Chief of Staff.
Never shall I forget this journey by trolley on the slippery track. More than once we went in danger of our lives as in pouring rain we passed along the coast, which was watched by enemy ships. After a violent storm, the moon emerged from the clouds and then disappeared again, after lighting up the sea in a wonderful way, so that in the distance we could see the enemy's ships — a sight which intensified the bitterness in my heart.
I did not conceal from myself that our foes were strong and stubborn. But as there was no other way of preserving our existence, we were compelled to resort to arms for weal or woe. I had sworn to leave no stone unturned to break the power of our adversaries.
Djemal on horseback (Dead Sea)
Clearly the man who until recently had been Navy Minister knew full well the vulnerability of the coastal rail line to the Royal Navy. He continues:
I remembered my oath, and seeing the difficulties which stood in my path, I realised the terrible weight of the burden which rested upon my shoulders. We reached Alexandretta after a journey during which the trolley passed over rails which, in some places, hung suspended over a void for fifteen to twenty metres, and in others were under water. It was four or five hours before the other General Staff officers turned up. We spent the night in Alexandretta.

According to the information we received, the road between Alexandretta and Aleppo was not passable for cars. The road which had thus been allowed to become unusable for motor traffic was the only road connecting Aleppo and the district around, or, to speak more accurately, the whole of Northern Syria, including the regions of Urfa, Diarbekir and Mosul, with so important a Mediterranean depot as Alexandretta. When I returned from Bagdad some years before and passed this road in a car, I had ascertained that repair work had been taken in hand at many different points. It had been undertaken by the General Road Construction Company, and since August, 1912 — two years back — it would have been perfectly possible to finish it. Thanks to the difficulties innumerable which the Roads Department had met with — a department totally incapable of doing anything on its own initiative — the restoration of the road had been neglected. Until we make up our minds to free our administration from the shackles of bureaucracy, neither a Constitutional Government nor the help of God will enable us to carry anything through to a successful conclusion. The most extraordinary thing of all was that, on the excuse of the repair work, those parts of the road which had previously been in good condition had been allowed to get into a wretched state. All the stones had been taken from the crown of the highway, and they were piled up in two long heaps on each side. The holes between these heaps had filled with rainwater, and the result was a perfect canal. Such was the condition of the Alexandretta-Aleppo road in November, 1914.
We were compelled to stop one night in Bilan whether we liked it or not. On the following morning we continued our journey on horseback, after arranging that three strong cars should be sent from Aleppo to the nearest village. From here we reached Katma Station by car. This station is the second from Aleppo on the Bagdad line. As it is also the point of junction of the Aleppo-Alexandretta road and the Bagdad railway a lines-of-communication depot had been established there. The zeal and industry of those concerned
The zeal and industry of those concerned may be well imagined from the fact that, when we were about fifty metres from the station, it was impossible to get the cars any further, and we had to be carried in by soldiers in the inky darkness.
At that moment I remembered the Kirk Kilisse-Adrianople road and the Kirk Kilisse-Bunarhissar- Wiza-Serai road during the Balkan War. Here again the roads had a pile of stones on each side, and as the rain had filled up the centre they looked exactly like ditches.
What a dismal prospect it was for the march of the army I had been appointed to command! Once more I had before my eyes the unforgettable picture of wretched misery presented by our batteries, ammunition wagons and limbers failing to make any further progress along the roads and being compelled to strike across the fields until they stuck in the mud. "And here is the only road which keeps my army in touch with the home country!" I thought.
I think it's telling that he clearly is thinking like the Turkish nationalist he was: Anatolia is "the home country," and Syria is not.
Aleppo was the point of concentration of the 13th Army Corps, which had completed its mobilisation in Mosul and neighbourhood. Colonel Fahri Bey, of the General Staff, was in command. The bulk of this corps consisted of Kurds, and the balance of trained Arabs. One division was at Aleppo, the other at Hama. I stayed two or three days at Aleppo and inspected the troops. In spite of Fahri Bey's extraordinarily hard work, the divisions and the formations independent of the corps were not in a very satis factory condition. The material required for a mobilised army corps had not been completed, and indeed, we could not hope to complete it, for there was no chance of getting the necessary equipment in and around Mosul, which was the mobilisation zone of this corps.
I asked the Vali of Aleppo to take in hand the repair of the Aleppo-Alexandretta road, and also to construct a new road from Islahie to Katma Station via Radjo. Then I went to Hama to inspect the division in garrison there. It was in exactly the same condition as the division at Aleppo. It was my intention, before going to Damascus, to visit Northern Syria, to see for myself the condition of that region.
Even from postwar retrospect I find it interesting to note how candid he was about the poor shape of his new command.
It was my intention, before going to Damascus, to visit Northern Syria, to see for myself the condition of that region. First I went through Horns to Tripolis [Tripoli in modern Lebanon], returning the same day to Horns, where I spent the night. Next morning I continued my journey and went to Damascus through Rayak [now in Lebanon]. In all the towns through which I passed, the people displayed the greatest patriotism and devotion to the Turkish cause. It gave me enormous pleasure to see and feel that the majority of the Arabs would not hesitate to make any sacrifice in this great war for the liberation of the Mussulman Khalifate. It was my duty to make the best use of that frame of mind and to preserve this region, a region in flammable as powder, from the enticements of traitors who had sold themselves to the enemy.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Syria at Night From Space, 2011 and Today: The Lights are Going Out

They say a picture is worth a thousand words These two pictures are powerful. Via The Atlantic.

Aleppo has nearly disappeared;  Damascus is a shrunken shadow; Homs and Hama are much reduced; Deir al-Zor and the other cities in the east are faded to remnants.

Any questions about the time of night etc. are covered by the fact that southern Turkey, all of Lebanon, northern Israel and northwestern Jordan are about the same in both photos.

Welcome to a new dark age.

43 Years After the Retreat from "East of Suez," Britain Will Have a Base in the Gulf Again

J.B. Kelly, thou shouldst be living at this hour! (If you don't get the reference, see my 2009 obit, "J.B Kelly, 84: The last Imperial Briton.")

Back in 1968, British Prime Minister Harold Wilson and Defence Secretary Denis Healey announced that for budgetary and strategic reasons, Britain would be withdrawing from its remaining bases and colonial relationships in the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean, many of which dated back to the days when Britain's control of India required chains of defense positions along the routes of empire. Aden had already been given up with the independence of South Yemen in 1967, and the Suez Canal itself, of course, in 1956 (though from 1967 the Canal itself was closed to traffic until after the 1973 war). The policy meant pulling British bases out of Malaysia, Singapore, the Maldives, and the Gulf states, and granting independence to those Gulf states that had remained protectorates. This was known as the policy of retreating from "East of Suez," (the phrase was Kipling's), and led to the formal independence of Bahrain, Qatar, and the formation of the UAE in 1970-71.

In addition, the British withdrew forces from Malaysia, Singapore, and the Maldives, leaving no formal bases between Cyprus and Hong Kong.

British advisers and seconded officers remained influential in some of the newly-independent states (some until quite recently), and British special forces (along with the RAF and Jordanian and Iranian troops) assisted Oman in putting down the Dhofar rebellion down to 1975, but the era of permanent British bases "East of Suez" ended in 1971.

Well, they're baaack, or soon will be.

During the various Iraq wars, Britain has kept up a naval presence in the Gulf when needed and currently operates four minesweepers out of Bahrain, but Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond has announced an agreement to set up a base in Bahrain that, in The Guardian's words, "will also be a base for much larger ships including destroyers and aircraft carriers." 

The more Tory Telgrraph  offers its interpretation here.

Hammond reportedly noted that Britain and France are seeking to play a bigger role in Gulf Defense now due to the US "pivot' towards East Asia. (France has an air base at Dhafra in the UAE.) Ironically, the large US role in the Gulf was originally developed to fill the vacuum created by the British fallback of 1971.

Some critics have characterized the announcement as a "reward" from Bahrain for Britain's silence about Bahraini human rights issues post-Arab Spring. Bahrain is, of course also the headquarters off the US Fifth Fleet. Patrick Cockburn offers an example of this criticism in his "Building a British naval base in Bahrain is a 'symbolic choice' – for no clear reason" in The Independent:
The British decision to spend £15m establishing a naval base at Mina Salman Port in Bahrain is being presented as a "symbolic" deal to increase stability in the region, guard against unnamed threats and strengthen Britain's partnership with the states of the Gulf.
The agreement will identify Britain as an old colonial power strongly supporting the Sunni monarchy in Bahrain that mercilessly crushed demands for democracy and civil rights from the island's Shia majority during the Arab Spring in 2011. Even by the standards of the time, repression was excessive. Shia mosques and holy places were bulldozed. Doctors at the main hospital in Bahrain that treated injured protesters were tortured by being forced to stand without sleep for days on end. Other prisoners were told that unless they sang the praises of the king their interrogators would urinate into their mouths.
And for historical trivia buffs: Back in 1968 when Defense Secretary Denis Healey announced the British retrenchment, he did not originally say "East of Suez," but "East of Aden," though Britain had lowered the Union Jack in Aden the year before. "East of Suez," however, became both the official and unofficial shorthand for the policy, inspired by the lines from Rudyard Kipling's "Mandalay":
Ship me somewhere East of Suez, where the best is like the worst
Where there aren't no Ten Commandments an' a man can raise a thirst.

Key Figure in Morocco's PJD Killed When Hit by Train (?)

Abdellah Baha, a key figure in Morocco's Islamist Justice and Development Party (PJD), a Minister of State and a man frequently described as the "right-hand man" of Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane, was killed yesterday when he was hit by a train, according to an announcement by the Interior Minster. Official reports did not make clear if he was on foot or in his car, but an unofficial report had earlier said he suffered a car accident. (See here for a longer account in French.)

The accident reportedly occurred at the town of Bouzika between Casablanca and Rabat, and the news raised some eyebrows since a Parliamentary Deputy from the leftist Socialist Union of Popular Forces (USFP), Ahmed Zaidi, died on November 9 when his car was submerged in the Oued Cherrat river. Some reports suggested Baha was checking out the site where Zaidi died. The coincidence of two national political figures dying in the same town just a month apart in somewhat uncommon accidents may be expected to fuel conspiracy theories. They're probably unjustified, but I'm still not planning to drive through Bouzika just now.

Friday, December 5, 2014

War Plans and Strategies 1914: The Alexandretta Scenario Part I: Strategic Origins of the Idea

One of the great "What ifs" of the First World War in the Middle East stems from prewar strategic planning and events in the early months of the war, when British planning against the Ottoman Empire focused on two competing plans for attacking the Ottomans. The War Office, under Lord Kitchener (who until the outbreak of war had been Britain's man in Egypt) advocated an amphibious landing on the Syrian coast at the port of  Alexandretta (today the Turkish town of İskenderun) to disrupt Turkish communications and cut the railways. The Admiralty, on the other hand, under First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill, was backing Churchill's pet project of a landing on the Dardanelles and opening the Turkish Straits.

I assume my readers know enough about the war to know that the Gallipoli project carried the day, and failed massively. Fans of alternative history and "what if?' scenarios may speculate on whether the Alexandretta project could have worked. I intend to devote a post to that subject, but first I want to look at the strategic origins of the idea as part of a number of posts on war plans and strategies.

Interestingly, the idea first originated with an event that was the subject of a recent post: the Taba Crisis of 1906. That alerted British planners to the potential danger of a Turkish attack against the Suez Canal, the critical Imperial lifeline to India. Given the anomalous position of Egypt as both an Ottoman province and a de facto British protectorate, especially as the Young Turks with German help were strengthening the Ottoman military, an attack on the Canal was not completely out of the question even absent a general European War.

The Haifa Scenario

The contingency planning scenarios which followed envisioned not a passive defense of the Canal against a Turkish attack, but a more aggressive forward defense. At least as early as 1909 the Committee on Imperial Defence (CID) approved a contingency scenario under which in the event of a threat to the Canal, Britain would land four divisions at Haifa (the head of a rail spur from Damascus) to cut the Turkish lines of communications and supply. At the time, other landing sites (Alexandretta, Beirut, Acre, and Jaffa) for this intervention were considered; Haifa was initially chosen, and British intelligence reportedly carried out some reconnaissance.

The original plans seem predicated on a war with Turkey alone, in which Britain would have significant forces available. By the time it became clear that Turkey might actually enter the war on the German side, Britain was already bogged down on the Western Front in France, and moving troops from Egypt and India to that Front. Britain had fewer forces available for a Syrian landing, as it had to simultaneously defend the Canal and maintain forces on the Mesopotamian Front (though admittedly the Russian campaign in the Caucasus also created another front for Turkey).

The Gaps in the Baghdad Railway

The strategic situation in 1914 also made Alexandretta more attractive than Haifa. The Ottoman (and German) vision for tying the far-flung parts of the Empire centered around the German-funded project called the Baghdad Railway (popularly the Berlin-to-Baghdad Railway, though the Berlin-to-Constantinople parts already existed). By 1914 the railway was still incomplete. Because Ottoman planners wanted to keep the railway inland, where British Navy guns could not threaten it, they decided to avoid routing it down the coast. This meant though, that it would have to go through both the Taurus and Amanus mountain ranges. The tunnels were not yet ready. There was a 30-mile gap in the Taurus range, and the five-mile-long Bagche tunnel in the Amanus was also incomplete. Worse still, the road through the Amanus passes was unsuitable for motor traffic. There was no easy way to connect with Aleppo, where the rail lines could connect one to Damascus, Haifa and Medina.

As a result, the only practical connection between Adana and Aleppo was to take a spur line along the coast, that terminated at Alexandretta, and then travel by road from Alexandretta to Aleppo. But the road from Alexandretta to Aleppo was rocky and muddy and was considered nearly impassable for motorized traffic.

And worse still, the rail line north of Alexandretta ran along the coast, making it vulnerable to naval gunnery, and also was just above the high-water line; heavy winter showers could wash out parts of the line. This period map shows the situation:
Ironically, when Djemal Pasha, one of the Young Turk triumvirate, headed to Syria in November-December 1914 to take up his new duties as Fourth Army Commander and also political authority in Syria, he experienced the problem firsthand; the rail line between Adana and Alexandretta was washed out in places and the road from Alexandretta to Aleppo nearly impassable by motor vehicle. (I'll be quoting his account in a forthcoming post.) As bad as this route was, it was faster than the Amanus pass until the tunnel was complete.

So a major Ottoman force seeking to move from Anatolia to either the Suez Canal or the Mesopotamian theater of war had to endure one of these routes through the mountains, and the easiest of these was via Alexandretta. An occupation of Alexandretta by the British would cut a key line of communications; even just naval raids along the coast (which did occur in December 1914-January 1915) could disrupt the rail traffic.

The British already had hopes for risings among the non-Turkish citizens of the Ottoman Empire. Although Sharif Hussein of Mecca's Arab Revolt would not occur until 1916, there were Arab nationalist secret societies not just in the Arab Vilayets but within the Ottoman Army itself. Both the British and especially the French also hoped for an uprising of Lebanese Maronites, with whom French intelligence had contacts. The dream of detaching the Arab provinces might be sped along by an Alexandretta landing.

The second part of this series will deal with the War Office versus Admiralty, Gallipoli versus Alexandretta debate, and a third part will consider the "what ifs" and in mid-December I'll be detailing the British raids along the Sinai and Syrian coasts, including Alexandretta.

Egypt's Answer to Orion?

This will only be funny to those of you familiar with Cairo, but hey, we finally learn what the Cairo Tower is actually for:

Diglossia Watch: Marzouki Lashes Out at Reporter for Saying "Plutôt"

We often discuss diglossia here, usually in terms of the interplay of colloquial Arabic and Modern Standard Arabic. Bit in the Maghreb (and in Lebanon), the use of French, either in its own right or by peppering one's Arabic conversation with French words, is criticized by some linguistic purists, Lameen Souag at Jabal al-Lughat, the Algerian linguist who knows the territory well, has a post called "Good prescriptivism?" stemming from this interchange between Tunisia's current President, Moncef Marzouki (who ran second in the Presidential elections and is in this month's runoff) lambasting a reporter in October (I think) for dropping  "plutôt" in an Arabic sentence:
"Respect the Arabic language! Plutôt, what does plutôt mean? You say plutôt, what's that? My sister in Douz won't understand plutôt. [...] [Interviewer: It's a chance for her to learn...] No, she needn't learn - you learn the language of Tunisians!"
For those who know Arabic (and this mixes Standard and Tunisian colloquial) here's the exchange:

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Karam on Baghdadi's Wife/Ex-Wife/Utter Stranger Story

For reasons noticed in my previous post,  blog time is limited, so here's an interesting link to read: we've all heard how the "Caliph's" wife/ex-wife/not related at all has been captured entering Lebanon/inside Lebanon, and lots of confusing reporting including, tonight, claims of DNA evidence. (DNA evidence is tricky and frequently misreported.)

Confused? Joyce Karam at Al-Arabiya tries to sort it out for you: "Arrest of an ISIS ex-wife: Between truth and distortion."

You'll still be confused, but if she doesnt clear the fog, she surely shows you where the fog is to be found. As she notes, catching what many have missed, whatever the links with Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi,
But it’s al-Dulaimi in particular that is the treasure trove for the Lebanese authorities. Her tribal roots descending from one of the largest and most widespread tribes in the Arab world, Dulaim, give her high status.

Why Blogging is Light this Week

Most of you probably won't have noticed, but blogging has been light this week, and perhaps a structural/historical footnote is in order.

The Middle East Institute was founded in 1946 and the first issue of The Middle East Journal appeared in January 1947. In those days of paper editing, remote typesetting and mailed galleys, not to mention hot lead type, I assume the turnaround time for an issue could have been months. In this electronic era, it's not. Our deadlines are the first (or given weekends, the first few days) of January, April, July, and October. But the Winter issue is the killer. It needs to go to press around January 1. But during the Winter issue cycle (October to January) the following always occur: 1) the MEI Annual Conference, which our staff must attend; 2) MESA, where we always send somebody and when (as this year) it's in Washington, even more; 3) Thanksgiving weekend; and the 4) Christmas to New Year's period, when MEI offices are frequently closed. So the usual cycle time on the issue is much foreshortened and compressed for Winter. (If there's an afterlife I plan to raise this with the founding fathers of 1946: younger publications like Middle East Policy sensibly put their Winter issue in December so it doesn't burden the holidays.)

Last year we ran late and it caused problems, cascading down the schedule. I'll not let that happen again, ever, and I also don't want myself or my staff working through the holidays, so we're racing flat out on the Winter issue, and I have less time for the blog. Things should ease considerably by next week, so forgive if there's dearth of postings this week.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Haaretz Report on Regular Flights between Israel and "Gulf State"

Haaretz has an intriguing investigative report: "Haaretz investigation: Secret flight operating between Israel and Gulf state."

Without identifying the unnamed "Gulf State," Haaretz says in part:
The airplane parked in a side lot at Ben-Gurion International Airport for the past several months does not attract any particular attention. But the plane, which bears a foreign flag on one side, is one of the more interesting of the hundreds of aircraft that take off and land at the airport every week.
A Haaretz analysis of publicly available online flight data indicates that this civilian plane follows what appears to be a permanent flight path between Ben-Gurion Airport and an airport in a Gulf state.
Israel’s relations with the Gulf states are extremely sensitive, however, and the flights are indirect because Israel does not have official diplomatic relations with the country in question.
The flight data indicate that after taking off from Ben-Gurion, the plane spends a few days in the Gulf state in question and then returns to Israel. There have been several flights between Israel and the Gulf state recently.

It remains unclear who or what is using the route, and whether that entity is Israeli. What is clear is that the Israel-Gulf route is being kept extremely low-profile.
File under "Hmmm . . .'

Sisi to Criminalize "Insulting" January 25 and June 30

I'm very much in the midst of work on the current issue of the Journal, but I can't let this go by without comment.
President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi is to issue a presidential decree that "criminalises insulting;the 25 January and 30 June uprisings."
The news was issued in a press release on Tuesday without providing more details.
My first reaction is to note that the story more or less equates the ouster of Mubarak in 2011 with the ouster of Morsi in 2013, but that's been the official line all along.

The second reaction is to wonder if this is a response to the outrage many are expressing about the Mubarak verdict.

And, finally, I have to wonder: since many Sisi supporters have been saying the January 25 uprising was a sinister plot by foreign intelligence tto destabilize Egypt, are they going to be punished?

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Netanyahu's Gamble on New Elections: A Coalition without the Centrist Parties?

Binyamin Netanyahu's call for new elections after public divisions within his coalition led him to oust two of his centrist coalition partners is likely to produce an electoral campaign largely based on personalities; he is clearly gambling on the fact that present polling suggests that the results may allow him to form a government consisting solely of rightist and religious parties. Polls can change in the course of a heated campaign, but by scrapping the parties of Yair Lapid nd Tzipi Livni, who were moderating elements in the 19th Knesset, the prospect may be for an even more rightist coalition by next spring.

I'm sure I'll have more to say as we go along.