Friday, October 29, 2010
AQAP, which emerged from the merger of the Yemeni and Saudi branches of Al-Qa‘ida, has become one of the most active movements in recent years, with operations ranging from the USS Cole to the attempt to assassinate Prince Muhammad bin Nayef of Saudi Arabia. Lately, they have of course shown a serious interest in striking inside the United States, with reported links to both the Fort Hood shooter and the "underwear bomber" of last Christmas. One reason for the focus on the US may be the presence in Yemen of Anwar al-‘Awlaqi, the New Mexico-born radical of Yemeni descent.
Western intelligence sources reportedly believe ‘Awlaqi is hiding in the mountains of Shabwa, despite the Yemeni Army's aforementioned inability to find any AQAP there. (One reason he will be hard to find: before the British left South Yemen, a major part of what is now Shabwa was called the Sultanate of ‘Awlaq. His tribal roots are there, and if the tribes are protecting him, the government won't find him. So far the Predators haven't found him either, though they've reportedly been given the right to take him out. Usama bin Ladin's ancestral roots, of course, lie in neighboring Hadramawt.)
AQAP is serious about striking the US: earlier this year they published a colorful, English-language jihadi magazine called Inspire, the first issue of which included the article "How to Make a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom," (a pressure cooker is involved). The second issue was released just a few weeks ago. It offers (in a section it calls "Open Source Jihad") advice to potential Jihadis living in the West on how to conceal their identity, avoid suspicion, and plan their own attacks. (Since it includes bombmaking instructions and other unpleasant — and illegal — stuff, I've linked to the Jihadica analysis, not the magazine itself, but copies are out there, and I've looked the first two issues over.)
I suspect we're going to hear a lot more about AQAP and ‘Awlaqi in coming days.
Today's international security alerts still have a lot of unanswered questions attached, so bear in mind that I'm offering some first reactions here, not a considered evaluation. So far it seems that the hard evidence is a few suspicious packages originating in Yemen and reportedly sent to Chicago, perhaps to Chicago synagogues. One is described as a toner cartridge with attached circuit boards.
So far, international cargo has been scrutinized at Dubai, East Midlands Airport in the UK, and Newark and Philadelphia in the US, while an Emirates flight origainating in Yemen has been escorted in to New York, first by Canadian and then by US fighter jets.
Now, assuming no explosives turn up, what should we make of all this? Some are suggesting a "dry run," but there isn't much evidence that Al-Qa‘ida believes in dry runs. More likely might be an attempt to test defenses, to judge security by watching the reaction of the security forces in the UK and US.
But I think it's just as likely that the whole purpose was simply to force the security services to spend a lot of time and man-hours coping with these potential threats. If it is, as many seem to be assuming, Al-Qa‘ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), and possibly, once again, the long arm of Anwar ‘Awlaqi, it's worth noting that he has talked in the past about emphasizing opreations that produce maximum disruption for limited effort, as opposed to spectacular 9/11-style attacks. This could be an example if, as seems possible, several countries and much of the cargo system has been snarled by a few packages: and packages that might attract attention (if reports that the packages were addressed to Chicago synagogues are true, that would seem to be planting a red flag and waving it).
This could be either a test of defenses or simply a ploy to occupy security forces and force expenditures of effort and money. If so, it may be a classic case of Asymmetric Warfare 101. More later if developments warrant.
Filming will start next week and is likely to last more than three weeks. It will take place in locations across Dubai, including the Burj Khalifa and the Meydan racetrack, said an industry insider, who asked not to be named. Car chases will be filmed on the Sheikh Zayed Road and in Bur Dubai and Deira, the source said.I guess it's a step up from the last Sex and the City, in which Abu Dhabi was played by Morocco, with lots of CGI. Dubai is presumably playing itself.
Side note: four of my last five posts have dealt with the UAE. That may be a first.
Thursday, October 28, 2010
For Sheikh Saqr of Ras al-Khaimah, who died yesterday at age 92 (earlier posts here and here), the word would be "Tunbs."
If you're not familiar with the Tunbs, you probably haven't known many Emiratis, since the subject does tend to come up. The Greater and Lesser Tunb Islands (Tunb al-Kubra and Tunb al-Sughra in Arabic; Tonb-e Bozorg and Tonb-e Kuchek in Persian)(pronounced in Arabic as if spelled Tumb) are two tiny islands in the Strait of Hormuz. Since November 1971 they have been occupied by Iran, but claimed by the UAE, along with the island of Abu Musa. Before 1971 the Tunbs were administered by the Emirate of Ras al-Khaimah, ruled from 1948 until yesterday by Sheikh Saqr, while Abu Musa was administered by Sharja. (My sense is the two Wikipedia links lean to the Iranian view of the dispute, but they introduce the subject.)
As the map shows, the Tunbs are located between the main shipping lanes of the Strait of Hormuz, the key outlet for Gulf oil. Abu Musa sits just to the south. They are a strategic planner's delight: potential power bases on a key global chokepoint.
In 1971, as the British retreated from "East of Suez," what had been the "Trucial States" prepared to join together in the UAE, and Iran — Imperial Iran under the Shah, remember — claimed the islands as historically Iranian. The withdrawing British were not prepared for a confrontation and may have felt Iran would be the better steward of the Strait. (After all, Iran would always be a staunch ally of the West.)
Under the gun, Sharja reached a deal allowing Iran sand Sharja to share Abu Musa. Sheikh Saqr of Ras al-Khaimah steadfastly refused to compromise on the Tunbs. Iran occupied Abu Musa peaceably, the Tunbs by military force.
Since that time, Iran has been in possession of all three islands (eventually taking full control of Abu Musa in effect) and keeps them well garrisoned (even Lesser Tunb, which historically was uninhabited). The UAE has never relinquished its claim, and has produced a lot of documentation arguing its case, but Iran has refused to take the case to the World Court. Sheikh Saqr never forgot the Tunbs. The UAE has produced reams of documents, but Iran has the islands.
I won't judge the historical claims. Sovereignty has meant different things at different times, and the two sides of the Gulf have traded and fished and pearled since Classical times. There are Arab speakers on the Iranian side and Persian speakers on the Arabian side, and no argument is likely to persuade an Iranian or an Emirati of the merit of the other case. Like the "Persian Gulf" controversy, it is a matter of firm national conviction.
But Sheikh Saqr never lost faith, and never compromised.
Also, two profiles of the new ruler, Sheikh Sa‘ud bin Saqr Al Qasimi, again from The National and Gulf News.
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
It's a useful introduction, especially for those of us with limited Hebrew, and also reminds those of us in the West that however much we may love to quote Ha'aretz, it has a rather limited market share at home.
His presumed successor is the Crown Prince, Sheikh Sa‘ud, though the succession has been disputed by the deposed and exiled Crown Prince, Sheikh Khalid; see my earlier post on the issue, but also be sure to read the exchange of comments by people who know more about it than I do.
Ras al-Khaimah is the northernmost emirate of the UAE, and its name can be translated as "top of the tent," (or Cape of the Tent), though whether that relates to its geography, I don't know.
I've mentioned it before, but this seems to be as good a time as any to again refer you to the Carnegie Endowment's Guide to Egypt's Elections, which includes excellent data on such obscure issues as all the legal parties, some of which are known only to their own limited membership, the non-party opposition movements, one of which, the technically illegal Muslim Brotherhood, is the largest opposition bloc in the present Parliament, details of the constitutional and legal framework, which is sometimes deliberately obtuse, and issues relating to election monitoring.
If they — mostly, I think, Michele Dunne and Amr Hamzawy — had n't done this, I'd have to write a lot more in the coming month. This way I can just link.
Egyptian elections do have some suspense, though not about who's going to run the country; they do matter to local folks in local places, the smaller the better because they are below the government's radar. Let the games begin.
- Brian Whitaker (whose personal blog is here) offers a piece in The Guardian about Egypt's rather problematical lack of reliable statistics. It addresses a problem most journalists and even academics rarely acknowledge: how little reliable data we often have.
- Whitaker, in passing, refers to an Egyptian site that seeks to track the taboo subject of sectarian violence in Egypt, particularly acute with the Coptic-Muslim tensions of recent months. and which of course is a taboo subject in the official media. The site is in Arabic (mostly, with an odd admixture of English in tables and such). It probably deserves caution until it's been read for a while, to make sure it's not just a Coptic propaganda site, but it does seem interesting. It could be a useful tracking device if handled right.
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
Rather as I did, he does not take Ali Eddin Hilal's recent expression of confidence that the President will seek a sixth term as definitive. He notes:
Helal's uncertain statements about Gamal’s prospects in fact tell us more about the current political situation than his seemingly conclusive remarks about Mubarak’s re-nomination . Helal’s latest pronouncement will certainly open the door for all kinds of speculation about the future. But of all the possible scenarios that can unfold next year, Mubarak’s re-nomination now seems the least likely.Now one element, clearly, has been the clear lack of popular enthusiasm for the prospect of a Gamal Mubarak succession. If the recent wave of pro-Gamal posters were a trial balloon, they seem to have been a leaden one. Husni Mubarak may not be the charismatic speaker that Gamal Abdel Nasser was, but Gamal tends to come across as having all the charisma of a banker, which is what he was before he started to dabble in politics. And, since his father has not personally indicated he won't run, Gamal can't seem too eager. So the poster campaigns are done by his allies in the Party leadership, presumably.
Many Egyptian commentators have noted that after his trip to Washington with his father, Gamal stopped making public appearances. Some think this is another sign that the inheritance project has failed. I'm guessing it's a bit early to write Gamal off completely, but note two things:
- Gamal is by no means the unanimous choice of the entire leadership of the National Democratic Party. The "Old Guard" of the NDP has shown no outward enthusiasm; Gamal's business cronies and younger allies in the Party leadership seem to be the core of his support.
- As I and everyone else have noted frequently, no one is going to be anointed the successor without the (at least tacit) approval of the Armed Forces and the security services. Yet those bodies, never very talkative to begin with, have been utterly silent on Gamal. A combination of a belief that the country needs a military President (an idea that has appeal to many beyond the uniformed services: see my comments on the ‘Orabi theme) and doubts about a civilian with few obvious qualifications other than his name may be at work here, though no one really is certain. What is clear is there's no bandwagon for Gamal in the uniformed services. (Some have hinted that State Security, in the Interior Ministry, is more pro-Gamal than the Army, but if they have evidence it isn't very visible.)
Lately some Israeli media have picked up on older speculation that ‘Omar Suleiman might be named Vice President, succeed for a year or so, and then hand off to Gamal. That strikes me as a fantasy. If a military man succeeds, even temporarily, Gamal is history. His power base goes when his father goes.
Monday, October 25, 2010
The articles (click through to read the abstract) are:
- Yusri Hazran, "The Rise of Politicized Shi'ite Religiosity and the Territorial State in Iraq and Lebanon ."
Roozbeh Safshekan and Farzan Sabet,"The Ayatollah's Praetorians: The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and the 2009 Election Crisis."
- Ali Rahigh-Aghsan and Peter Viggo Jakobsen, "The Rise of Iran: How Durable, How Dangerous?"
The power of the police on campuses has been a major issue in recent months, as students have been roughed up and sometimes arrested for attempting political protest. During recent student council elections, candidates were reportedly vetted by the police.
Though the particular court case that led to the ruling is a couple of years old, the issue has been a hot one of late, with Parliamentary elections set for November 28. Police have intensified pressure on student activists, especially the Muslim Brotherhood. Opposition forces recently distributed cell-phone videos showing police beating a young woman from the Islamic Religious Studies faculty at Zagazig University, and then ambulance atrtendants seeming to resist taking her to the hospital due to police pressure:
Again, though that incident only coincidentally was fresh in students' minds when the ruling came down, it shows the increasing tensions over police presence on the campuses, especially at the provincial universities.
So what happens now? There is plenty of precedent for te government and security forces simply invoking the Emergency Law and ignoring court decisions that seek to restrain the Interior Ministry but with those videos circulating and elections imminent, this might not be a time for flouting the court. On the other hand, State Security tends to do what it wants to. For the moment, though, student activists are savoring a victory.
You will recall (at least if you have a long memory) that elections were held last March, and Iraq still has no Prime Minister. Other than one meeting in June, Parliament has failed to reconvene. Electing a Speaker has become just as big an obstacle as electing a Prime Minister,and for the same reason, the even split between the two main Arab blocs, which has made the Kurds rhe kingmakers. Reidar Vissar looks a some of the considerations here, and many of the comments on his post are also worth your time.
Further complicating the math is the recent Wikileaks document dump, which implicated Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in alleged Shi‘ite death squads, which, as Juan Cole has noted, jeopardizes his bargaining position.
As Vissar notes, there are no guarantees, but there is a possibility that, with the impetus of the court, a decision might finally be within reach.
Salafi and Islamist groups, even some previously allied with the government, did poorly; most of the remaining seats won so far went to pro-business, pro-government elements.
If two candidates of the leftwing Wa‘d movement who made it into the runoff should win seats, Parliament would be divided equally between pro-government forces and "opposition," though that may be a big "if."
On the whole, in the up-and-down drama of Gulf Parliamentary life, the results are more credible than they might have been, given widespread criticism of the recent arrests.
I know some of my regular readers know Bahrain well; if I get highly informative comments I may move some into the post itself, with our permission of course.
Here are some of the main analyses in English:
Arab News (Saudi Arabia)
Gulf News (Bahrain) with more election coverage from them here
The National (Abu Dhabi)
For Arabic readers, the main Bahrain papers Akhbar al-Khalij, Al-Watan, Al-Ayyam, and the voice of the Wifaq bloc, Al-Wifaq.
Friday, October 22, 2010
And do note the picture of King ‘Abdullah II (when he was a Prince) in a Starfleet uniform in a 1996 episode of Star Trek: Voyager. [UPDATE: Go to Page 1 or 2. The site has grown exponentially over the Weekend.]
Have a good weekend.
Obviously this was a major subtext of Ahmadinejad's Lebanon excursion, and is a potential grenade in Lebanon's precarious political situation.
The fact of the matter is the STL's investigation has moved dramatically from Syria (everyone's prime suspect originally) to Hizbullah, and thus has become a major issue for Lebanon's largest communal group, the Shi‘a. The "false witnesses" (in quotes because it'd become a cliche now in Lebanon) who pointed the finger at Syria are seen as discrediting the whole STL process.
We're still not 100% sure who killed Kamal Jumblatt, Rashid Karami, Bashir Gemayel or Danny Chamoun, or what happened to Musa al-Sadr (to cover as broad a spectrum of Lebanese as possible politically). Will a clearer answer — assuming they get it right this time, unlike last time — on Rafiq Hariri be for the good, or will it provoke new conflict? Justice is essential (if all too rare in Lebanon: see list just above), but in the present circumstances, I'm not sure it won't carry a high cost. Is anyone?
It's not looking like the most free-and-fair poll ever, but Bahrain is still fairly new at this, and whether there will be a real result remains to be seen. It is, however, important, for Bahrain of course, for Sunni-Shi‘ite relations in the Gulf, and for the Gulf's nascent Parliaments, few as they still are, generally.
Thursday, October 21, 2010
Israeli reporting on intelligence issues is better than it was 30 years ago, but it still leaves out far more than the reporter probably knows. Dagan's tenure and his successor (both who and how soon) are in play, so the issue is an important one. Read the links.
I first crossed paths with Jim in the 1970s I think, and we've both grayed a bit. In those days I hadn't yet heard of his brother John, the pollster, though John today is the better known brother. But Jim keeps doing the work that needs to be done.
I'm not sure if it's the "Ground Zero Mosque," the general atmosphere of suspicion of Islam, or what exactly, that made them profile Zogby now. I'm also not sure why they made sure to put "Catholic" in the headline itself. Are they saying, "he's not a Muslim, so you can read about him", or what? After all, many Arab-Americans of deep roots in this country are Arab Christians, particularly among the Lebanese. I guess they're trying to make him less threatening. (Jim Zogby is a bright and intense guy, but anything but threatening.) Congratulations Jim, for a well-deserved tribute.
Wednesday, October 20, 2010
In related news, the Muslim Brotherhood is reporting continuing arrests of members since announcing that it would contest about 30% of the seats in the elections. About 150 brotherz hazve been arrested, though about half were promptly released; such detention is a common tactic forthe government to send a warning to the Brotrherhood, which is the largest opposition bloc in the outgoing Parliament. (Its deputies stand as independents and the Brotherhood is technically banned.) Here's an interview with the head of the Brotherhood's Parliamentary bloc.
The decision by the Brotherhood not to boycott the elections almost guarantees additional tensions in the runup.
There is already concern about possible violence at the local level as the electioons approach. Many local races are genuine contests, and feelings tend to run high.
The Saudis' efforts at luring radicals home seems to be working, and is, of course of those stories thsat tends to be ignored in the West, where the notion that the Kingdom tacitly supports radical groups seems entrenched.
Egyptian officials recently indicated that Egyptians living asbroad will be allowed to vote in the elections, although specific procediures were not spelled out.
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
If one has to choose the moment when the hopes of the Oslo Agreements began to expire, when the peace process began its downward spiral, it was surely the Rabin assassination. It's not the only cause or the sufficient cause, but it was the first pebble in what would become an avalanche.
I'll say more on the 4th.
Ah, when you combine royalty, intelligence matters, and backroom diplomacy, things get murky. Anyway, he's back.
It's an interesting argument, but it doesn't quite hold up; as the author himself notes, Israel was not dependent on the Administration alone, having (then as now) the staunch support of Congress. Nguyen Van Thieu and the Republic of South Viet Nam (as it was then officially spelled) were in an opposite situation: the Nixon and later Ford Administrations were seeking to enforce the Paris Peace Accords, but Congress wanted nothing of it, while it was ready to offer Israel a great deal.
I know that the Baby Boomer Generation, of which I am one, tends to compare everything to Vietnam, and so will find the Israeli parallels interesting. But whatever quips Kissinger may have made (and as the first Jewish Secretary of State he could get away with more than his predecessors), Golda Meir was never really in an analogous position to Nguyen Van Thieu,who, according to Wikipedia:
In the early 1990s, Thieu took up residence in Foxborough, Massachusetts. Thieu lived reclusively in Massachusetts, and took his secrets with him in death. He never produced an autobiography, and rarely assented to interviews and shunned visitors. Neighbors had little contact or knowledge of him, aside from seeing him walking his dog.Golda is buried on Mount Herzl, has a major boulevard in Jerusalem and streets in most Israeli towns, and a major performing arts center in Tel Aviv, named for her, not to mention several things in the US,.and has appeared on Israeli currency.
So an interesting story, but not a very solid parallel.
Monday, October 18, 2010
More serious stuff to come, I fear.
Friday, October 15, 2010
Lately there have been many statements of concern coming from Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt, and from the recent Arab/African summit in Libya, raising alarm about the possibility of southern secession. Some point to the conflict-ridden history of Eritrea and Ethiopia since Eritrean independence, the only successful secession from a state based on inherited colonial-era borders.
Should the referendum not come off in time, or Abyei not be settled before southern secession, the possibility of a resumption of warfare seems likely.
Of course it's renting, and the article doesn't state the size of a studio, and I still can't afford it, but it almost is starting to sound affordable. Not to me, but it's not pricing itself out of the depressed Dubai property market I suspect. So what began as wretched excess has become affordable? But can it sustain itself? We'll see. Prices slashed! Unprecedented bargains! You can see Iran from your house!
Thursday, October 14, 2010
The last name of Green Party gubernatorial candidate Rich Whitney is misspelled as "Whitey" on electronic-voting machines in nearly two dozen wards -- about half in predominantly African-American areas -- and election officials said Wednesday the problem cannot be corrected by Election Day.That's right: in 23 wards, half of them African-American, the Green Party candidate is listed (admittedly, on the review screen), as "Rich Whitey."
Oh, sure, it's the review screen, and sure, the odds of a Green Party candidate being elected governor of Illinois are, um, slim. And it could be a typo, though it hasn't been reported from downstate (AKA "little Dixie") so far.
Ah, Chicago. Mubarak's kind of town.
At least if they overlook the "Hog butcher to the world" part.
A couple of other perspectives: Qifa Nabki, always worth reading, suggests that whle this has beren portrayed as a boost for Hizbullah, it may be that Ahmadinejad owes more to Hasan Nasrullah than the other way around.
And a colleague who asks for anonymity writes:
In the final instance Ahmadinejad's trip to Lebanon is more about weakness than strength. Both his own and Hizbullah's.His visit is a warning to domestic opponents not to press Hizbullah. Presumably on the STL issue, which has the potential to do great damage to its reputation and standing. It also serves to rally supporters by demonstrating that the party has a powerful external friend who can help Hizbullah weather any storm. Even one so severe as the STL will cause.
Guide for the perplexed: The FPM is Michel Aoun's Free Patriotic Movement; Tashnaq is an Armenian nationalist movement: both are Christian political allies of Hizbullah. Rami al-Jamaraat refers to throwing stones at the devil during the Meccan pilgrimage, and refers to talk Ahmadinejad might throw some symbolic stones at the Israeli border; I don't think he got closer than Bint Jbeil, though.If Hizbullah were strong enough or confident enough in its position, it wouldn't need the visit.
The fact that this visit is likely to damage Hizbullah allies - the FPM or Tashnaq for example, supports this view. Their constituencies may well be unsettled by the fear of greater Iranian influence in the country. And it may be harder to mobilize their existing partisans for elections and to attract new voters to their banners. The parties of the so-called majority will no doubt mine many useful campaign images from the visit.Hizbullah knows that. But it is sacrificing its allies' strategic position for its own.
As to Ahmadinejad, he is playing the "foreign card" to buttress his support back home, especially among the hard liners.Wrapping himself in the mantle of resistance by a visit to the capital of the resistance, Bint Jbeil. Perhaps followed by a symbolic rami al jamaraat at the border.As well, his visit breaks the sanctions blockade. Scenes of welcoming crowds prove that the West has failed. Iran is not isolated. Showered by foreign crowds with roses and cheers, he stands for Iran.
Seriously though, the visit of Ahmadinejad to Lebanon (he's been speaking in the South, and saying the usual inflammatory stuff about Israel) and of Maliki to Damascus will both be seen as boosts for the Iran-Syria-Hizbullah alliance, because, well, they are. Somehow this doesn't look much like Beirut Spring, or that new, democratic, utopian Middle East the neocons promised.
And yes, everyone is smiling, but does anyone else think Maliki is looking to see if Asad has something up his sleeve?
Then there's this:
I guess he's throwing kisses to the crowd, or something. The blogger Abu Arqala at Suq al-Mal has taken a variant of that picture and riffed on it, here.
And that's just since July: if you go back to January you had the Nag Hammadi killings.
Adding to all this, of course, is the presumably imminent double succession: Husni Mubarak is 82 and Pope Shenouda III is 87, and both are in uncertain health. Certainly Coptic-Muslim tensions have not been exacerbated to this degree since 1981, when Anwar Sadat deposed Shenouda and sent him to a desert monastery, though these days the Church and State tend to be on the same side, with Islamists and ordinary Muslims on the other.
In the midst of this, here are a couple of additions: First, Mariz Tadros has a good summary of the issues at MERIP. It may be easier to read it than to click on all my blogpost links above.
Now, there's s story in yesterday's Al-Masry al-Youm that may or may not relate to the internal and external maneuverings of the Church. It seems Bishop Theodosius of Giza left Wednesday for Jerusalem, and a pilgrimage to Christian sites there. It also reports that he has previously visited the Coptic Bishop of Jerusalem and has other Israeli visas in his passport.
Now, after he Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, Pope Shenouda banned Copts from making pilgrimage to Jerusalem, in part over the Palestinian issue, in part because the Coptic Church blames Israel for taking sides in a religios turf dispute. The Coptic Church and its daughter Church, the Church of Ethiopia, have long engaged in a bitter dispute over the Deir al-Sultan, a monastery that occupies part of the rooftop of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Israel backed the Ethiopians, jand they occupy the Deir today, impoverished and unable to enter the Church below because the Copts bar the way. So in theory at least, Bishop Theodosius is, as the headline claims, defying a papal ban.
But I'm struck by several things. First, if this list of the Coptic Holy Synod is in fact current, Theodosius is only the Auxiliary Bishop of Giza, number 46 on the list in seniority while Metropolitan Domadius of Giza is number four. Second, if he has done this one or more times before without being disciplined, it may well be that he is serving as a liaison to the Coptic Church of Jerusalem; the papal ban applied to individual Copts, but perhaps not to hierarchy on Church business.
In any event, and despite the fact that Al-Masry al-Youm has some Coptic ownership and a generally favorable approach, I suspect this report is more a symptom of current high levels of attention to things Coptic, rather than a real story of episcopal defiance. Let's see if there is any follow-up.
Wednesday, October 13, 2010
Rami Khouri in The Daily Star offers an insightful analysis. Hizbullah's Al-Manar is bubbling over the visit, leading practically every regional category (including "Zionist Entity") with the visit. Lebanese bloggers, on the other hand, have been fairly witty about the whole thing; Beirut Spring shows an AP photo and comments "We have our priorities right in this country":
(Via The Arabist)
Seriously, though, this is a serious power move, a signal that Hizbullah does not stand alone, confirming that this is a tough and dangerous time for he fragile stability of the Lebanese system, still, as Michael Hudson labeled it decades ago, a Precarious Republic.
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
Egypt first. The Ibrahim Eissa firing seems more and more to have been a planned strike, probably with government backing: Sayyid Badawi, the Wafd Party head and businessman who bought the paper with partner Reda Edward, has now announced that he has sold his shares to Edward; so it looks more and more as if Badawi's role was to fire Eissa and then sell is shares. Edward says Eissa will not be rehired. Updates are here and here. The silencing of Al-Dostour and Eissa is not all, however: the government has ordered four satellite TV channels to shut off service (some of them Salafi/Islamist) and is demanding that newspapers obtain a license before sending text message updates to subscribers' phones.
Absolutely no one seems to doubt that this crackdown, seen by some as ending the "Cairo Spring" of press freedom in recent years, is intended to smooth the way for a succession.
One of Morocco's most daring magazines, the colloquial-Arabic Nichane, had to shut down recently after a government-inspired boycott on advertising cut its revenues by some 80%. In this case, the pressure was purely financial: Morocco's big state-owned corporations, including many owned by the Palace, backed the boycott, which killed the magazine. Stories here and here; see also here.
Of course in many Arab countries there is nothing resembling a free press, so the crackdowns in Egypt and Morocco would make little sense in Libya or Syria (though Syria has toyed with some independent media). But when a relatively outspoken paper like Al-Dostour sees its editor purged and an innovative magazine like Nichane closes due to a government ad boycott, its a rollback to what has already been achieved.
The vessel's homepage is here. She is still in service after repairs.
The Naval Academy choir in the Academy ("John Paul Jones") Chapel, singing the Navy Hymn:
Friday, October 8, 2010
The UAE set the October deadline last summer when the Saudis were threatening to shut down Blackberry service (see earlier posts here).
Though the Emiratis get to keep their Blackberries, they presumably understand that the government may be reading their mail now.
Thursday, October 7, 2010
At least so far, the electronic free press isn't dead yet. Meanwhile Egyptian blogger Baheyya has weighed in; she's always good but posts rarely (this is her first post since August).
Along with various Facebook groups, one of the better ways to track this ongoing drama is the dostor.org page, assuming you read Arabic, though I imagine the powers that be will wrest the URL away from the Eissa loyalists at some point.
There was a time when neither the head of Shin Bet nor of Mossad were publicly identified; today the chiefs are well known but the second-echelon officers are referred to only by initials. Thus Ha'aretz, due to military censorship, has to be circumspect:
I don't generally care for exposing security officials' identity since it can subject them to danger, but this has been on YouTube since July (an earlier story before the leaker was identified is here) and besides, if the hardline settlers are out to get him, he must be doing something right. As the Israeli press (who tend to find continuing military censorship of stuff everyone already knows annoying in the age of the Internet) no doubt expected their readers to do, it took me only minutes to learn that "A." is Avigdor Arieli, that the "tiny settlement in the West Bank" is Kfar Edumim, and to find the YouTube video, shown below.
The Shin Bet official, known only as A., is the head of the service's Makhlaka Hayehudit ("The Jewish Division"), which is tasked with monitoring the activities of the extreme right wing in the West Bank.
A. resides in a tiny settlement in the West Bank. Military censorship laws do not permit media outlets to publish A.'s full name and place of residence, though this information is common knowledge among wide swaths of the settler population in the territories.
The video allegedly uploaded by the 17-year-old Hebron resident, and which has been available online in recent months, clearly exposed the face of the top Shin Bet commander as he was patrolling the West Bank city, and included a caption indicating his full name.
Though the video claims it was posted by a whistleblower outside of Israel, it appears the authorities have concluded otherwise.
Wednesday, October 6, 2010
Here are accounts of the meetings on the eve of the war, and after the first day's fighting, when the line of the Suez Canal had been lost. (The "Dado" referred to in the storiers is then-Chief of Staff David Elazar.)
Did Israel consider using nuclear weapons in 1973? Here's Yossi Melman on the question. And here's background on declassification of the "kitchen cabinet" meetings.
And here's an op-ed by Gideon Levy arguing that Israel is still in the same rut it was in in 1973.
Much of the substance of these meetings has leaked out previously, but seeing them officially declassified seems to have driven the confusion and depression of the time home, at least judging from the press commentary so far.
Meanwhile, at least as of right now (Wednesday evening), Al-Dostour's website (Arabic) is still controlled by Eissa loyalists, who are printing the articles and other news suppressed by the firing. I'm not sure how long that will last, but it's interesting that it's lasted more than a day.
Also, see Issandr's latest column.
On the same subject, I should also mention Mona El=Ghobashy's piece at MERIP.
Whereas Nasser died before I ever visited the Middle East, I lived in Egypt for two of Sadat's 11 years as President, watched the parade when he returned from the Knesset, and was in Cairo again only a couple of weeks after the assassination. If you had asked me when I first lived in Egypt in 1972 if we would ever see the picture that appears above right, I'd have said not in my lifetime. Yet it happened seven years later. (Sadat, Jimmy Carter, and Menahem Begin, for those of you who weren't born yet.)
October 6 is, as I noted last year, a curious double anniversary in Egypt: Sadat's greatest pride was the crossing of the Suez Canal on October 6, 1973, restoring the honor of Egyptian arms after the debacle of 1967; even if the 1973 war had its reverses as well. October 6 became Egyptian Military Day (it still is), and it was at a Military Day Parade in 1981 that Sadat was assassinated. (Two years later, at an Egyptian Military Day reception at Fort Myer, I met the lady who would become my wife, but that's another story, and off-topic.)
Sadat's legacy is somewhat curious. In life, he had more admirers toward the end in the US than at home. In death, he remains controversial: one's opinion of his opening to peace with Israel is part of it, but his drastic crackdowns on many elements of Egyptian society in his last months have soiled his reputation at home. He was a better diplomat and strategist, perhaps, than executive of Egypt with its many problems and challenges.
One thing for certain: Sadat was interesting in ways that Husni Mubarak is not. He loved the dramatic reversal: purging the Nasserists of the ‘Ali Sabri group (his "Corrective Revolution" of 1971, though some saw it as a counterrevolution), throwing Russian advisors out of Egypt in 1972, launching an attack across the Suez Canal in 1973, shifting to a US alliance in 1974-75 and, of course, offering to go to the Knesset — and then actually going — in 1977, and Camp David in 1979. The assassination of Sadat also marks 29 years of Husni Mubarak's rule, and one has to say that, whatever else, any given year of Sadat held more surprises than all 29 of Mubarak's put together. Of course, that's the stability Mubarak's supporters see as his legacy.
Sadat's success on the international stage may have served as the nemesis that undermined his leadership at home. As Time's Man of the Year, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, a regular on the American TV networks, Sadat was on a global stage, and like many world leaders, seemed to believe his own publicity. But not all was well. Earlier in 1977 (the year of the trip to the Knesset), major bread riots broke out in Egypt, leading to use of the Army to calm things down, a rare use of the military as opposed to the security services. The first stirrings of radical Islamist violence were being felt. Sadat's infitah or "opening" economically opened up the economy a bit but also encouraged corruption. Domestically, he did not enjoy the success he relished on the international stage.
And the man's style was very different from Nasser's. Nasser always sought to be the man of the people; Sadat preferred some combination of paternalistic village elder (when he went to his home village of Mit Abu'l-Qom, he'd pose in galabiyya, smoking a pipe) and hints of pharaonic splendor.
Sadat redesigned the dress uniform of senior officers (actually, I think he had Pierre Cardin or someone similar design it) as shown at left. It had some faintly Pharaonic touches, but he also posed with a field marshal's baton with the lotus and papyrus emblems of Upper and Lower Egypt, a distinctly Pharaonic touch. I couldn't find a photo online, however.
When his assassins were on trial, his primary assassin publicly boasted "I killed Pharaoh." This was not just a reference to Pharaoh as a monarch: in the Qur'an, Fir‘awn, Pharaoh, symbolizes worldly power and corrupt tyranny, so it has an Islamic as well as an Egyptian reference.
His ego grew with the Nobel Prize and international fame: his autobiography In Search of Identity rewrote the earlier versions of the Free Officers he'd published in the fifties under Nasser, and took more credit for himself. He kept rewriting his own autobiography until I'm not sure he knew the truth himself.
While many Arabs (and Egyptians) still disagree with his opening to Israel, that is not, contrary to the usual assumption in the West, what led to his death (though it was surely part of the mix). In the summer and fall of 1981 he cracked down on all his enemies at once: he jailed the Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood and also exiled the Coptic Pope to a desert monastery; he jailed Mohammed Hassanein Heikal (who after his death wrote a take-no-prisoners deconstruction of Sadat called Autumn of Fury; it remains the most savage interpretation of the man I know of, and a lesson in why you shouldn't jail journalists). And he was rounding up opposition party heads (even the ancient Fuad Serageddin, King Farouq's last Interior Minister and head of the Wafd Party) and jailing them as well. More and more, he appeared in military uniform; in Nasser's later years, he rarely did so.
In the end, in this period of high tension and repression, Sadat was gunned down on the eighth anniversary of his proudest triumph. (Two innocent bystanders were collateral damage: the Omani Ambassador and Coptic Bishop Samweel, head of the interim bishops' council Sadat named to replace the exiled Pope; both were behind him on the reviewing stand and died in the crossfire.)
I noted last week the contrasts between the funerals of Nasser and Sadat. To be fair to the latter, since he died by assassination, the security establishment he had retained from Nasser's day was naturally paranoid (as security establishments tend to be) and did not trust the populace to attend. Two or three weeks later, when I was in Cairo, armored vehicles were still parked around Tahrir Square.
Sadat's historic accomplishments need no apologies: the Canal crossing, the strategic shift to the West, the peace with Israel.
In his own country, his memory is more ambiguous than in the West, but he still has many admirers. And of course, the ending, while memorable, was violent, and one of the more violent early manifestations of Islamist fury.
Tuesday, October 5, 2010
Eissa, who has been prosecuted a number of times, was fired by Sayyid Badawi, a wealthy businessman who bought the paper recently and who also heads the opposition Wafd Party. (Al-Dostour is not, however, a Wafd-leaning paper.) Eissa wass the founding Editor of the maverick Al-Dostour.
Once the firing was announced many of the journalists issued statements supporting Eissa, and the newspaper's website has several articles about the issue, including the one by ElBaradei (Arabic), so the story may not be over just yet. The journalists have published a statement on Facebook, There are reports that a Deputy Editor of the Wafdist newspaper Al-Wafd would replace Eissa.
Eissa has appeared on Al Jazeera and it's on YouTube (Arabic):
It's being claimed that the government wants to silence Eissa and may have put pressure on Badawi. That this is all connected with the succession issue seems to be taken for granted by Eissa and his supporters.
UPDATES: Thoughts on the subject from The Arabist and Zeinobia; Bikya Masr has the Dostour journalists' letter in English as well as an analysis.
Monday, October 4, 2010
I haven't commented much of late about the Maliki/‘Allawi standoff; mostly I think because not much new has happened. But at least they'll make it into the Guinness Book.
Just one question: the narrator says, "In what is officially called the Mubarak [Metro] Station, we create a different atmosphere. We open the ceiling of the station and let daylight come into each level. It becomes fresh and transparent."
There's a slight emphasis on "what is officially called the Mubarak station." What, do they think the name might change someday? And is somebody hinting st something with the whole "fresh and transparent" thing? Nah, couldn't be.
Friday, October 1, 2010
Coming as it did in the wake of the failed Camp David II, the Second Intifada in many ways marked the end of whatever lingering optimism had survived from the Oslo peace process. With peace talks again hanging in the balance, it is a reminder of how fragile the process can be, and how persistent the same issues (settlements, return) are.
Or is it? I still wonder if there isn't a psyop element here along with the cyber warfare element.
It reads as defensive, self-justifying, and with a bit of tu quoque (other newspapers do it! But note he cites a doctored photo of the Sheikh al-Azhar in the Coptic Pope's robes, clearly a satirical commentary, whereas moving Mubarak in front of Obama looks like tampering with reality.)