Tuesday, November 30, 2010
The government claims a 35% turnout (at least they're not insulting everyone's intelligence with the old 90% + claims), but independent estimates suggested 15%.
Unless there are surprises in the runoff, this will be the poorest showing in an election that wasn't outright boycotted by the opposition parties, and might even be worse than some that were. Obviously the NDP wants everyone to know who's in charge for the Presidential elections.
I'll have further thoughts between here and the runoff.
Or so several people are saying on Twitter. Some things never change.
Yeah, you've never heard of him. Neither have I. He's not one of the known names recently bandied about (Yuval Diskin, Amos Yadlin, even Ehud Barak). He's a former Deputy Director (never known except by initial) who stepped down in 2005 and has been an advisor to the IDF in the interim. That's why you haven't heard of him, unless you're in the loop. But Mossad wanted someone from within the organization, and he appears to have been the only internal candidate.
But since he's a career Mossad guy, you've never heard of him. That's kind of the idea. Only for a decade or so has the name of the Director been public.
Haaretz' profile here. Jerusalem Post's here.
Controversial blogger Richard Silverstein leaked the name early, though not by much. He notes that the Spanish name Pardo suggests he may be the first Sephardic director of Mossad.
Monday, November 29, 2010
Issandr El Amrani and Marc Lynch both address this issue today. As Issandr notes:
There is so much information flowing around about US policy — and often, a good deal of transparency — that a smart observer with good contacts can get a good idea of what's happening. Not so in the Arab world, and the contents of the conversations Arab leader are having with their patron state are not out in the Arab public domain or easily guessable, as anyone who reads the meaningless press statements of government press agencies will tell you. Cablegate is in important record from the Arab perspective, perhaps more than from the US one.Lynch echoes this and then raises a key dilemma for the Arab media:
But, as Issandr el-Amrani pointed out earlier today, the real impact may well be in the Arab world, where rulers go to great lengths to keep such things secret. The Arab media thus far is clearly struggling to figure out how to report them, something I'll be following over the next week. One of the points which I've made over and over again is that Arab leaders routinely say different things in private and in public, but that their public rhetoric is often a better guide to what they will actually do since that reflects their calculation of what they can get away with politically. Arab leaders urged the U.S. to go after Saddam privately for years, but wouldn't back it publicly for fear of the public reaction. It's the same thing with Iran over the last few years, or with their views of the Palestinian factions and Israel. But now those private conversations are being made public, undeniably and with names attached.
So here's the million dollar question: were their fears of expressing these views in public justified? Let's assume that their efforts to keep the stories out of the mainstream Arab media will be only partially successful -- and watch al-Jazeera here, since it would traditionally relish this kind of story but may fear revelations about the Qatari royal family. Extremely important questions follow. Will Arab leaders pay any significant political price for these positions, as they clearly feared? Or will it turn out that in this era of authoritarian retrenchment they really can get away with whatever diplomatic heresies they like even if it outrages public opinion? Will the publication of their private views lead them to become less forthcoming in their behavior in order to prove their bona fides -- i.e. less supportive of containing or attacking Iran, or less willing to deal with Israel? Or will a limited public response to revelations about their private positions lead them to become bolder in acting on their true feelings? Will this great transgression of the private/public divide in Arab politics create a moment of reckoning in which the Arab public finally asserts itself... or will it be one in which Arab leaders finally stop deferring to Arab public opinion and start acting out on their private beliefs?
All countries are more candid in private diplomatic exchanges than in public statements, of course; that's why diplomatic exchanges are not published until years after the fact. But the disconnect between public positions and private assessments is usually not as great in the West, where there is plenty of public debate about policy issues, as in the Arab world. (There are exceptions; the release of the Pentagon Papers during the Vietnam War showed such a divergence between public statements and actual policy as to provoke scandal.) But the culture of secrecy in the West is nowhere near as pervasive as in the Middle East, where even things that are well-known are routinely denied.
One of the most-headlined revelations, that Saudi Arabia is so concerned about Iran that it urged a US attack, is not a huge revelation to most Westerners who follow the region, but it no doubt comes as a surprise to many Saudis, since it doesn't reflect official statements. Certain realities that "everybody knows" or at least suspects, may not in fact be known to Arab populations back home. Some things, especially surreptitious cooperation with Israel, are absolutely taboo and always resolutely denied. Exact details of military cooperation with the United States are equally sensitive, even if details are easily learned from US military veterans returning home.
The US has always honored these local sensitivities, and thus certain questions remain unanswered. Certain aspects of the US air war against Iraq in 2003 have never been fully documented because of sensitivity over where the sorties originated. The Wikileaks documents apparently address the not-so-secret US role in air strikes in Yemen, also never publicly acknowledged.
As Lynch notes, the Arab media face a dilemma here: secrets that were fairly openly known in the West have just been publicly released, with names and direct quotes. Some in the West may say, "Oh, I knew that already, or strongly suspected it." But what in the past was coolly denied is more credible when a Ruler is being quoted by a US Ambassador. The tendency to distrust the US and question its reliability as a partner may be the first instinctive response. While the excessive culture of secrecy in the Arab world is easy to deplore, it is, for now, a fact of life in the diplomacy of the region. The harm created by these leaks is less likely to be a direct unraveling of policy than a growing unwillingness of diplomatic partners to confide their true thoughts for fear of reading them in the newspapers.
There will doubtless be more detail forthcoming. The government is admitting there were some irregularities bu claims the overall process was good, and is even quoting praise by foreign commentators (link is in Arabic). Opposition forces and human rights groups are telling a differen story.
The Egyptian Organization of Human Rights (EOHR) has been very active in trying to monitor the elections: here is their Report #1 and Report #2. More may appear.
Human Rights Watch has a report here. Their Deputy Director, Joe Stork, was briefly detained by police in the Delta.
Independent press accounts can be found here and here. A Muslim Brotherhood version here.
More as it emerges.
Last time around, in 2005, the Muslim Brotherhood won a stunning 88 seats, out of 508 elected seats. (That was, admittedly, permitted in part to show the US that pressure for democratization could produce unwelcome results. So far in yesterday's vote, not one Brotherhood candidate has been elected outright in round one, though 15 or so will go into next Sunday's runoff round. The Wafd, which many expected to replace the Brotherhood as the main opposition and which has seemed at times to be doing the government's bidding, has won at least five seats, perhaps more, and will have others in the runoff.
Nonetheless, and subject to the results of next week's second round, the opposition could end up with the fewest seats in years, at least in an election which the opposition parties did not boycott altogether.
The government, of course, is setting the stage for next year's Presidential elections, whether Husni Mubarak tries to run for another term or designate a chosen successor.
I'll post more as the final tallies from round one come in.
Hanukkah starts at sundown on Wednesday. The Muslim New Year 1432 (Ra's al-Sana) begins December 7, or more exactly at sundown the evening before; ‘Ashura, noted by all Muslims but the great observation of the martyrdom of Imam Husayn for Shi‘a, is December 16; Latin (Western) Christmas is of course December 25. One of the major seasonal Zoroastrian festivals begins at the end of the year. Since winter solstice fesztibals are common, I may have omitted some of the smaller Middle Eastern religions (Yazidis, Mandeans, etc.), and welcome knowing about additions.
So in advance, Happy Holidays.
Friday, November 26, 2010
Turkeys are not terribly intelligent birds (that's an understatement, and probably why "turkey" is a pejorative at times) but are very good to eat.
That begs the major question: If the turkey is an American bird, why is it named for Turkey?
Damned if I know, but Wikipedia offers this:
When Europeans first encountered turkeys on the American continent, they incorrectly identified the birds as a type of guineafowl (Numididae), also known as turkey fowl (or turkey hen and turkey cock) due to the birds' importation to Central Europe through Turkey. That name, shortened to just the name of the country, stuck as the name of the American bird.Okay, but Guinea and Turkey are not particularly close to each other. But that's just the first step.
The Turks call it Hindi, or the Indian bird. French dinde, similarly, started out as d'Inde. So in Turkey, it's Indian. Apparently languages ranging from modern Hebrew to most Slavic languages (indyk or something similar) follow suit. But it's not an Indian bird, either.
In Arabic, or at least every Arabic country where I've talked turkey, it called dik rumi, the "Roman fowl," but "Roman" here means pertaining to the Byzantine Empire, hence Greek or Anatolian. It's not Greek or Anatolian either, though Anatolia today = Turkey. But various sources say that Palestinian and other Levantine dialects call it dik habashi, or Ethiopian bird. (Maybe better "Abyssinian bird" since the Arabic habash and the Greek Abyssinia are the same word.) I guess I never discussed turkeys in the Levant, if that's the case. And it's not Ethiopian, either.
I'm on a holiday break so I'm stopping there. Bernard Lewis, who whatever you think of his current politics is one of the last of the old-school orientalists, has suggested the bird is called by whatever term people see as meaning "exotic" or "foreign": something like "It's Greek to me."
I don't care what you call the damned bird. Pass the dressing.
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
For the past three weekends, plus the Veterans' Day holiday, I've been doing my Weekend Historical Videos feature. Since this is a four-day weekend, it's only appropriate to double down, or more. There are a couple of hours or more of video below.
My Veterans' Day post dealt with videos from World War I in the Middle East, which is by and large our first real video record of the region: the armies on both sides took black and white, soundless, jerky video of some of the major events. There's more surviving footage than I posted there, though, and to give you something to do during my four days of absence (barring something big), I've decided to do a big video dump here. Some of these are as short as a minute, some more than an hour. Unlike the Veterans' Day post, these have no real connection to Thanksgiving, unless I make the really atrocious pun that they all involve Turkey in some way. But I would never stoop so low as to do that. So here goes:
Lawrence of Arabia
A collector has posted a video of what he originally thought was all the known video of T.E. Lawrence ("of Arabia")(but see below), with, perhaps inevitably, the theme from the David Lean film as background. Since Lawrence is the first thing most Westerners think of when they think of the Great War and the Middle East, let's start here. (two minutes, 33 seconds):
He subsequently found a bit over one minute more:
The British assault on the Dardanelles made a certain sense as long as it was a naval campaign, but when the Navy stalled and they decided to land ground troops, it became a great debacle. It ended Winston Churchill's career in the Admiralty and guaranteed he was never heard from again., (Well, almost.) The Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) bore the brunt of the bloodshed, and ANZAC day is still their patriotic remembrance, as is blaming pommy bastards. So here's an early, silent, Aussie documentary about Gallipoli, restored by Kiwi Director Peter Jackson of Lord of the Rings fame, with actual footage from the disastrous Dardanelles campaign, especially the ANZAC forces (just under three minutes):
Mesopotamia and the Rest
A BBC documentary narrated by Sir Michael Redgrave, on the Mesopotamian campaign, though starting with a general introduction to the War in the Middle East generally and ending with the Palestine campaign. (Redgrave uses the pronunciation that was still official BBC into the 1970s at least: pronouncing "Sinai" as "SINE-ee-ai" for no visible reason. It's not pronounced that way in any language, including English, except by the BBC, and even they seem to have dropped it.) Mesopotamia, or Iraq, which the soldiers charmingly dubbed "Messpot," was a huge hemorrhage for the British Indian troops fighting there, though now largely forgotten. Some day I want to write something about General Townshend at Kut, a delusional man who surrendered the largest British Army (though largely Indian) to surrender between Yorktown (1781) and Singapore (1942). In prison, he convinced himself that he ended the war with Turkey, and bragged of this in his memoir. He was wrong.
The documentary includes the Allenby campaign as well. (Many of the same clips and even some of the interviews were in the BBC piece I ran on Veteran's Day, in the latter part. The BBC recycles, apparently.) It's in four parts, 10 minutes each; total about 40 minutes.
A documentary on Kemal Atatürk in (sonorous, somewhat stentorian) English, but Turkish made and sponsored. While it does go into the 1920s and 1930s, the bulk of it deals with the war and the Greek-Turkish war which followed it, so I think it qualifies. Kemal was the only Turkish military commander to perform really well in the war (at Gallipoli, no less). Be warned. This is pure Kemalist/Turkish nationalist propaganda, but with lots of old video and stills in it. But take it with a grain of salt: the video accompanying the (poorly supported by the Royal Navy) naval attempt to run the Dardanelles, leading to the Gallipoli disaster, looks more like Jutland to me than the outmoded ships Britain actually used. If they'd had those dreadnoughts at Gallipoli, the Ottomans would have given up Constantinople and there might not have been a Russian Revolution. Then again, some documentary maker probably thought, ships are ships.
If you're Greek, Armenian, British, or possibly anything other than Turkish, it will seem heavy-handed at times, but watch it for the video. (Long: an hour and 21 minutes.)
This is probably just posturing but, combined with worries about a new Lebanese civil war, it reminds us that the STL is playing with fire. It's seeking justice, but even
Lebanon being Lebanon, he could ask Walid Jumblatt how he coped with his father's murder.
Oops. The incoming Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, now that the Republicans have taken the House, is Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), a longtime staunch supporter of Israel but, trumping that, a Havana-born Cuban-American who represents Miami's Little Havana, so she sent Bibi word that, as much as she loves Israel, she hates Castro more. Netanyahu has now clarified his position: he only agrees with Castro when he praises Israel, not for any of that other stuff.
Glad we cleared that up.
If you want to see the original report on which his column is based, it's here, though the file seems to take a while to load.
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
Qifa Nabki has, of course, been on the case. A first posting here; a longer post raising various questions here; and a post in which reporter Macdonald responds to some of the questions raised.
Qifa also quotes commenter T_DESCO, who has posted analysis quoting earlier reports from the STL to raise questions about Macdonald's report over at Josh Landis' Syria Comment blog.
Of course this kind of point by point criticism of a leaked story suggests the leak itself was planted by someone. All of which reminds us that in a region where every event produces a related conspiracy theory, this one clearly was a conspiracy that involved a lot of people, reached into the Lebanese security services, and perhaps involved some deliberate false flags.
Read both the CBC report and the commentaries. They'll likely preoccupy Lebanese coffeehouse debates until the STL really does unveil its conclusions.
I'll be watching the issue more closely as the deadline approaches, but the International Crisis Group has just released a report on the issue which can serve as a good backgrounder and analysis, including a look at potential scenarios. The summary is here; the full report in PDF is here; the first link also has links for French and Arabic versions.
Now the United States has weighed in and warned that it was a terrorist attack.
I'm sure the world's tanker traffic is grateful to know this. Four months later. To be fair, though, everyone concerned with oil security has been aware of this for some time.
Monday, November 22, 2010
I'm sure it has absolutely nothing to do with the news that King ‘Abdullah is heading to the US for medical treatment and his Crown Prince also-ailing Prince Sultan (also in his 80s) is filling in, but the author is rather livid that the British press might speculate about lines of succession:
No, nothing to do with succession speculation anywhere else. No lèse majesté for us please, we're Saudi.
Since the public has no say whatsoever when it comes to the royal line of succession, such polls are not only inconsequential but are also hurtful to the royal family. The Daily Mail got into the act as well with a Harris poll showing 48 percent of respondents prefer King William to King Charles.
For one thing, such questions are premature when the queen at age 82 is still healthy and has sworn to serve as monarch until her last breath. Indeed, if she carries the same genes as the late Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother she could remain on the throne for up to 20 years. Any speculation as to who should succeed her is disrespectful and akin to dancing on her grave.
They've just received a very complimentary review of their Indian Ocean site — calling it "easily the most comprehensive website for studying and teaching Indian Ocean history currently available" — from the World History Sources site of the George Mason University Center for History and New Media. The review, by Kristin Lehner of Johns Hopkins University, opens with the following:
Read the entire review, and by all means visit the website itself.
The Indian Ocean has been a zone of human interaction for several millennia, boasting a 1,500-year history of active high-seas trade before the arrival of Europeans in 1498. This website seeks to enhance the profile of Indian Ocean history, long neglected relative to the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean in both academic study and world history courses. To do so, it provides more than 800 primary sources, as well as ample contextual information and lesson plans, as a teaching tool for Indian Ocean history in upper elementary, middle, and high school classrooms. It is easily the most comprehensive website for studying and teaching Indian Ocean history currently available. Primary sources, including maps, objects, and excerpts from travelers’ accounts and official documents, are accessible through seven chronological maps ranging from the Prehistoric Era (90,000 BCE to 7000 BCE) to the present. These primary sources, along with contextual information on commodities, peoples and cultures, trade and migratory routes, and the environment, are embedded into the maps through eight icon classes: documents, technologies, places, goods, geography, routes, travelers, and objects. These icons, numbering more than 50 for each map, are distributed in relevant geographic locations. Clicking on an icon calls up a short primary source excerpt and/or between one and three images, as well as some contextual information.
The Indian Ocean has been a zone of human interaction for several millennia, boasting a 1,500-year history of active high-seas trade before the arrival of Europeans in 1498. This website seeks to enhance the profile of Indian Ocean history, long neglected relative to the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean in both academic study and world history courses. To do so, it provides more than 800 primary sources, as well as ample contextual information and lesson plans, as a teaching tool for Indian Ocean history in upper elementary, middle, and high school classrooms. It is easily the most comprehensive website for studying and teaching Indian Ocean history currently available.
Primary sources, including maps, objects, and excerpts from travelers’ accounts and official documents, are accessible through seven chronological maps ranging from the Prehistoric Era (90,000 BCE to 7000 BCE) to the present. These primary sources, along with contextual information on commodities, peoples and cultures, trade and migratory routes, and the environment, are embedded into the maps through eight icon classes: documents, technologies, places, goods, geography, routes, travelers, and objects. These icons, numbering more than 50 for each map, are distributed in relevant geographic locations. Clicking on an icon calls up a short primary source excerpt and/or between one and three images, as well as some contextual information.
Though ‘Abdullah's health has not been as precarious as his Crown Prince/brother Prince Sultan's, he is 86 years old. Sultan, who will run the Kingdom in his absence, was himself absent for most of last year, undergoing surgery in the US and a long recovery period at his palace in Agadir, Morocco.
The Hajj supervision was delegated to Prince Nayef, considered unofficially next in line after Sultan. The advancing age of the senior generation is likely to provoke new speculation about when and how the succession will pass to the next generation, the grandsons of the founder.
Friday, November 19, 2010
Now that 1956 is more than half a century in the past, the Suez War does not seem to occupy a very prominent place in most Westerners' collective memory; most aren't old enough to remember it. When it comes to Arab-Israeli wars, 1948 is enshrined in Israeli memory as the war of independence, and 1967 and 1973 are much studied as the formative matrices of the modern Middle East. Israel was a bit player in 1956, its invasion of Sinai a pretext (planned in advance) for the Anglo-French intervention. And in Britain and France, it's an incident best forgotten, the last death rattle of empire, when the once dominant powers were brought low by their erstwhile American ally, which turned out in those days to actually mean its anti-colonial rhetoric.
But Suez' memory is still alive in Egypt, for this was Nasser's finest hour, the defiant victory over the former colonial masters, his apotheosis as an Arab symbol, never completely erased even by the disaster of 1967. The victory over the "Tripartite aggression" is still a staple of school history in Egypt.
[In the documentary I do have one historical nit to pick. When discussing Nikita Khrushchev's nuclear threats against London and Paris, the documentary cuts to clips of a silo-launched missile and to another missile which is in fact an SA-2 surface-to-air missile. Neither of these was in service in 1956. The first Soviet ICBM, the R-7, was tested in 1957 (and launched Sputnik later that year) and none were silo-launched in the early days. The SA-2, which is an anti-aircraft defense, was also first introduced in 1957 and most famously demonstrated against Francis Gary Powers' U-2 in 1960. So those clips are anachronisms; though Khrushchev talked a lot about missiles, in those pre-Sputnik days most Westerners interpreted any nuclear threat as involving bombers.][End of Nitpick.]
The BBC documentary is in three parts, totaling about half an hour, below. Have a nice weekend.
As noted Wednesday, this isn't likely when the Hajj advances into the summer months; most of Mecca's rare rain falls in November. But it makes this year's pilgrimage, like last year's, memorable, though the flooding last year appears to have been more dangerous.
Admittedly, though, it's way down the web page from the lead, the Jonas Brothers' concert in Abu Dhabi. (And yes, with a 10-year-old daughter, I do know who they are.)
Somehow I think China's role in Abu Dhabi will last longer than the Jonas Brothers.
Thursday, November 18, 2010
This being the Middle East, of course, it's not as simple as it sounds, or as immediate as it might be. Although the Security Cabinet has authorized the withdrawal, the details are being negotiated between Israel and the United Nations (emphatically not between Israel and Lebanon), since Israel wants UNIFIL to take over security, fearing the alternative will be Hizbullah.
And of course no one asked the residents of Ghajar. Israeli reports suggest they want Israel to remain, and are protesting the withdrawal.
Most Ghajar residents consider themselves Syrian, and say they were never considered a part of Lebanon; the town expanded northward during Israel's long occupation of South Lebanon from 1982 to 2000, and has been reunited since 2006. They fear partition will separate families, and owners from their farmland. Many accepted Israeli citizenship during the long years of occupation, and may fear retribution, especially if Hizbullah moves in. So while the end of occupation is a step forward, absent a solution to the Golan Heights as well, it may have unfortunate personal impact on those involved.
Also, stand by: Israel still has to negotiate the details with UNIFIL, and Israeli negotiations with the UN (unless they've worked it out behind closed doors already) may not be automatic.
I don't know the reliability of this particular link but The Arabist seems to trust it, and I can assure you if this occurred it won't be in the UAE newspapers.
The technical details are way beyond me, so I merely refer you to the article, since we've dealt with this story before. It does sound increasingly like Iran may have been the target.
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
Average precipitation in Mecca is just over an inch a year, which would seem to suggest something unusual is happening for it to rain two years running, but then again, more than half of that inch of rain falls in November, and since the feast moves around the calendar, and has been in November the past two years, perhaps it's natural. Or global warming.
In recent years he had been ailing, and had given up his leadership posts to members of the
"New Guard" aligned with Gamal Mubarak; he himself was considered part of the NDP "Old Guard," like Safwat al-Sharif and others. (Oddly, in recent days there had been rumors he had died, and he reportedly threatened to sue a rival candidate for spreading the story. Apparently now that suit won't be filed.)
Issandr El-Amrani has an appreciation here; there's an Arabic obituary here; and a look at the fact that since nominations are closed, the NDP may lose the seat.
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
Last year, the ‘Id overlapped with the American Thanksgiving holiday, so my greetings were offered without much background. But since this blog is intended to educate as well as entertain, I'd like to take a little more time with it this year.
The Feast of Sacrifice is generally seen as the most important religious feast, hence the fact that it is often called the ‘Id al-Kabir or "Greater ‘Id," and it coincides with the central ritual of Islam, the fifth pillar of Islam, the hajj. Animals are sacrificed (the meat then distributed to the poor) in a ritual of great antiquity, one Muslims themselves say partially predates Islam itself.
What most non-Muslims probably do not know is the fact that, like the hajj itself, the ‘Id commemorates a story known to Jews and Christians as well: God's demand that Abraham sacrifice his son, only to relent and substitute an animal sacrifice when Abraham had demonstrated his obedience even in such a horrific task. The Qur'an and Islamic tradition say the son was Isma‘il (Ishmael in the Bible) rather than Isaac (Ishaq in the Qur'an) as in the Book of Genesis, but the story and its moral is virtually identical.
Now, these days Abraham, venerated by Judaism (Avraham), Christianity (Abraham), and Islam (Ibrahim) is often more of a source of conflict among the three faiths which claim him than a unifying factor, but he is a shared Patriarch of all three "Abrahamic" faiths: Our Father Abraham to Jews, the "first Muslim" and "friend of God" to Muslims, and a familiar patriarch to Christians, though he is not quite so central for them. Whether you consider Abraham a historical figure, a mythic culture hero, a Bronze Age myth or some combination of these, he is a potent symbol, and as I have noted, his tomb in Hebron is second only to the Temple Mount/Haram in Jerusalem as a disputed holy place.
The story of Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son, whether Isaac or Ishmael, strikes most modern people as something incomprehensible, but his absolute obedience is central to the symbolic message of the story: his profound obedience is what led God to proclaim his covenant with Abraham.
The hajj itself is profoundly linked to the Abraham story: the running between Safa and Marwa, part of the ritual, reflects Hagar's search for water for the infant Isma‘il, rewarded by the discovery of the well Zamzam, the water of which is drunk by every hajji, and the sacrifice of an animal today represents the sacrifice of Abraham. The Ka‘aba itself is said to have been first built by Abraham.
Despite the profound divisions Abraham's legacy sometimes creates today, the Abrahamic core of this particular feast could potentially, in some alternate universe, make it a potential meeting place for the three "Abrahamic" faiths.
Interestingly, Arab News, a Saudi English-language daily whose readership includes not only Westerners but many South Asians, including non-Muslims, takes this sort of "ecumenical" tack in its editorial today, seeking to link the interfaith dialogue promoted by King ‘Abdullah with the Abrahamic common ground the feast invokes. If such sentiments could prevail year round and not just on holidays, the region might be a better place.
‘Id Mubarak wa Sa‘id.
Monday, November 15, 2010
The proposal is expected to split Israel's diplomatic/security Cabinet, which must approve it. Since the religious Shas Party is expected to abstain, Netanyahu is likely to be able to count on about seven votes for the proposal, versus six against, for the narrowest possible win, by one vote.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak, from Labor, has said the defense package is more important than Likud's internal quarrels.
Israel had already ordered 20 of the Lockheed Martin Joint Strike Fighters, but the cost of the package was controversial; the US offer now would apparently provide them free in return for the 90-day setltement freeze.
Some are comparing the situation to 1991, when the George H.W. Bush Administration threatened to withhold loan guarantees unless Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir agreed to the Madrid Peace Conference. But the present incentive package seems to be all carrot, while that instance was mostly stick.
Mark Lynch today sagely asks, "What if they don't solve Israeli-Palestinian borders in 90 days?"
As he notes:
It's easy to be skeptical. The United States seems to be giving a lot for a temporary fix which only kicks the can down the road another few months, while neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians seem to see this as a moment of opportunity. The deal only makes sense if serious progress on reaching agreement on borders can be made in three months. But the three months in question include Thanksgiving, the Eid al-Adha, Hanukkah, Christmas, New Years, and the seating of the new U.S. Congress. Even if the parties have already sketched out the contours of the deal -- and I sure hope they did that spadework before committing themselves to such a high-stakes deadline, though I'm kind of afraid that they didn't -- experience suggests that getting that deal through the Israeli and Palestinian systems won't be easy. Since the United States promises not to ask for another extension, the 90-day deadline gives all kinds of incentives for those who don't really want a deal to stall. Oh, all right… I'm skeptical.So am I, mostly because of the sense of deja vu. We are essentially bribing Israel for a 90 day freeze, but for all the reasons noted above, does anyone really think the next 90 days are going to produce an agreement? And then what? Do we ante up more F-35s?
If Netanyahu does carry the deal by a single vote in the security Cabinet, he'll be unlikely to take even greater risks for future extensions. The present coalition, which is mostly to the right of Netanyahu, is hard to envision making hard decisions on settlements, but unless Netanyahu is ready to fight new elections for peace (which he's shown no sign of being eager to do), I'm not sure we'll be getting our money's worth.
King ‘Abdullah is said to be suffering from a slipped disc; Interior Minister Prince Nayif is accordingly overseeing this year's hajj.
The hajj is most likely the largest annual gathering of human beings at one time for a common purpose. More as it continues.
Friday, November 12, 2010
The first film clip is partially in color; though the two clips show the same events there are some differences in detail.
The US Marine Corps colonel appearing in the meetings with Roosevelt and Ibn Saud is Colonel Bill Eddy, the US Minister to Saudi Arabia. You can find an account of the meeting written by Eddy here. For more about Eddy, see my MEI colleague Tom Lippman's 2008 book, Arabian Knight: Colonel Bill Eddy USMC and the Rise of American Power in the Middle East.
I note that both newsreels say that this is the first time Ibn Saud had left his Kingdom. I guess they mean since he became King; he spent his youth in exile in Kuwait until he led the raid on Riyadh that expelled the Rashid family and restored the Sauds, beginning the formation of the Kingdom.
I'll have more as appropriate, and will cover the hajj more fully next week.
For more details see the always essential Reidar Visser here; also see Juan Cole here.
Thursday, November 11, 2010
Let me end, as I did last year, with a comment I made then and a video of Last Post in honor of what the Brits still call Remembrance Day:
Though Turkey (well, the Ottoman Empire) left the war a little bit earlier than November 11 (the Mudros Armistice was October 30), it was the war that really made the modern Middle East as well, or perhaps laid the groundwork for most of the battles of today: the Balfour Declaration, Hussein/McMahon correspondence, and the sore that still plagues Armenians and Turks, not to mention Greeks and Turks, and most of the territorial disputes in the region. I've always wished I'd used the title The Peace to End All Peace, but David Fromkin got there first in a highly readable book on the postwar Middle East settlements. (Actually, the line was first used, I believe, in 1066 and All That.)For many years, and perhaps still in parts of Europe, people would observe two minutes of silence at 11 am on 11/11. If it has taken you two minutes to read this, perhaps you just did as well . . .
Unfortunately, the war did not end all wars, and may have made several inevitable. But remembrance may help, in some small way, to remind us of what was once one of the major observances in the Western world.
Wednesday, November 10, 2010
Christianity reached Mesopotamia early, spreading from the early Christian center of Edessa (now Sanliurfa in eastern Turkey). The liturgy of the Iraqi Church of the East is believed to be the oldest Christian liturgical prayer still in use anywhere, dating from the third century AD. During the centuries when the two river valleys were under Persian rule and not part of the Eastern Roman Empire, the Church of the East (labeled "Nestorian" by Christians to the West; also called the Assyrian Church) became a major source of missions to India and as far afield as China. These ancient churches survived the coming of Islam, the Mongol invasions, and much else. The Assyrians had a difficult 20th century: facing Turkish hostility in World War I. Many did serve with the British Mandate in Iraq and were seen as collaborators; in1932 Iraq became independent, and in 1933 there was a wave of massacres of Assyrians.
Under the secularist Baath the Christians faced no more oppression than their fellow Iraqis; Tariq Aziz, one of Saddam's senior aides (and recently condemned to death) was raised a Chaldean Catholic. Christian Iraqis have been dwindling in numbers since the 1991 Gulf War, with the pace accelerating since the 2003 occupation. Other minority faiths, Yazidis and Mandaeans for example, have also been targeted.
Some reports indicate that those injured today include Muslims who were rushing to the aid of their Christian neighbors. That may be the only good news out of these recent events.
With the Islamic Action Front (essentially, the Muslim Brotherhood) boycotting, nobody is going to be sitting by the TV watching the vote count. The IAF boycotted because an electoral reform (or "reform" if you prefer) weakened urban candidates at the expense of rural, where the monarchy's traditional tribal support lies.
Above right, the King watches returns at the Interior Ministry, watched over by a picture of himself.
Tuesday, November 9, 2010
For Arabic readers, here's a website. For others, here's a piece at Carnegie on the Islamic Action Front (AKA Muslim Brotherhood) boycott. And at Foreign Policy's Middle East Channel, a piece on prospects for electoral reform and another on the boycott and other issues.
I'm not a Jordan expert, so I'll let others do most of the heavy lifting here, but let's wait until we see the results. Most of the experts see things as pretty retrograde in terms of real democracy: the King is not encouraging opposition. After the vote, I'll comment at greater length.
It contains the cartouche (left) of the great New Kingdom Pharaoh Ramses III (1186-1155 BC or a bit later depending on disputes about chronology).
Ramses III is known as the Pharaoh ruling during the invasion of the so-called "Sea Peoples" (memorialized in the Temple of Karnak) at the time of the "catastrophe" that concluded the Bronze Age (also roughly the period of the Trojan War, if there was one). His temple at Medinat Habu is in ruins near the Valley of the Kings.
For those who appreciate historical context, a number of the Saudi and other news reports note the distance from the find to the great Saudi monumental site of Mada'in Salih, a Nabatean city. Very informative, though, of course, Mada'in Salih flourished about — um, let's see,— 1200 or so years after Ramses III. You know, kind of like the relation of Charlemagne to Microsoft.
The new ownership is Egyptian again, though there've been some questions about the purchase, and apparently the head of the investment company that bought it, Mohamed Metwalli, is alleged to be close to the Muslim Brotherhood. I have no idea if that's true, but many MB supporters are very much committed to capitalism. (His wife is from the Lokma family, also said to have links to the Brotherhood, and owners of Groppi, the tea room/cafe/chocalatier institution. (The Lokmas are also said to have Brotherhood links, and Groppi's Bar closed decades ago when the once-Italian institution fell under devout Muslim ownership. I remember Groppi's Bar. I'm old.)
Monday, November 8, 2010
This may just be a trial balloon, but I thought I'd call it to your attention.
It's obviously a regrettable development since so many Iraqi Christians have already departed; these ancient churches held on through the millennia, though the rise of Islam, changes of dynasties, wars and revolutions, but are slowly giving up and emigrating today. One wants to encourage them to stay, but human beings will choose the safety of their families (and the promise of the West) when facing danger. Robert Fisk in The Independent recently surveyed the exodus of Christians not just from Iraq but from Israel and the West Bank, Lebanon and Egypt.
Marc Lynch, on the other hand, does. He wonders if the STL has any credibility today, or if it's just a "zombie" panel from an earlier reality. And he asks:
What are we to make of its really quite shocking reversal? Why should we consider the evidence now pointing to Hezbollah credible given the seeming collapse of the supposedly iron-clad case against Syria? Most discussion of this fairly obvious point that I've seen in the Western media has been framed around Hezbollah's "efforts to discredit the STL." But the STL's credibility problems seem a bit more real than that. If Hezbollah were really responsible than a strong case could be made for pursuing justice regardless of the consequences. But from the outside, it really does look an awful lot like the STL is being used as a political weapon against Hezbollah at a time of mounting fears of its power and of allegedly rising Iranian influence in Lebanon.That's the problem. Caesar's wife is no longer above suspicion, and the STL shifted suspects in mid-investigation. One can hardly blame former security chief Jamil al-Sayyed, unpleasant a person though he may be, for demanding that those "false witnesses" who kept him in detention for years without charge, be punished. It's not just an explosive situation because of Hizbullah's activities: many Arab observers have seen the STL's dramatic shift of course and see it as politicized, and that undercuts both its credibility and that of the UN.
Friday, November 5, 2010
The rich collections of old video on YouTube and old photos on Flickr offer great insight into Middle Eastern history, and I've embedded lots of historical videos on this blog already. I've decided to select old videos (usually: perhaps occasionally stills) on one subject of historical interest and post for your weekend perusal. I may miss some weekends and I may lose interest, but let's try it out.
I decided to start with something very early in the era of video of the modern Middle East, video from 1923. Saad Zaghloul (Sa‘d Zaghlul) Pasha (1857-1927) may not be a household name today, outside of Egypt, but he is one of that country's great national heroes, and his photo is still prominently displayed by the Wafd Party, which he founded. A nationalist follower of Ahmad ‘Orabi, he worked against the British occupation and was jailed periodically. At the end of World War I, taking Woodrow Wilson's 14 Points at face value, he created an Egyptian delegation (Arabic: wafd) to the Paris Peace Conference. This time the British not only arrested him but exiled him to the Seychelles. One result was the Egyptian Reovlution of 1919, which in turn led to a grant of independence (though with a great many limitations on true sovereignty) to Egypt in 1922. In 1923, Zaghloul returned from exile to a hero's welcome, and in early 1924 he was elected Prime Minister in elections swept by his Wafd Party, taking its name from the delegation he sought to take to Paris. In November that year he resigned after less than a year as Prime Minister, and died in 1927. Though he actually led Egypt for less than a year, he is an icon of Egyptian nationalism: his house (Bayt al-Umma, home of the nation)( and his tomb are preserved in central Cairo. He is still venerated by the Wafd and little invoked by the government for that reason, but his statue stands at one end of one of the main bridges, facing the city. He is said to have used the motto in colloquial Egyptian " kulla haga mumkin," : "everything is possible," but his last words were " ma fish fayda" : "It's no use."
The two videos I've chosen to launch the series are of Zaghloul Pasha's 1923 return: one shows him aboard ship and after his return; the second is a video of the crowds welcoming him. Though there are some captions the videos of course were silent in 1923, so you don't need Arabic.
On the first day for presenting candidates, 75 Muslim Brotherhood candidates were able to file thei candidacy but another 57 were barred; (also IkhwanWeb here and an Arabic account here).
On related subjects, Issander El Amrani on repeating patterns of previous elections; and also, Michele Dunne on the competition for NDP nominations, with much on the NDP, the role of NDP independents, the postponement of the Party's Congress, etc.
If you know Egypt, you may well guess: some non-Egyptians are making threats. In this case it's the Al-Qa‘ida-linked "Islamic State of Iraq." The group claimed responsibility for the hostage taking during Sunday services at an Armenian Catholic church in Baghdad last Sunday; some 60 people died either at the hands of the hostage-takers or during the rescue. The Islamic State of Iraq announced that Iraqi Christians were legitimate targets who would be "exterminated" if al-Qa‘ida militants in Iraq were not released, and also demanded that Egyptian Copts would become a target if they did not release "the Muslim women held hostage in its churches" referring to the Camillia Shehata affair and a similar case, Wafaa Constantine. The church denies that the two women are being held for trying to convert to Islam.
In the wake of the Iraqi threat, Egyptian security forces reportedly stepped up security around churches, and warned that the controversial bishop Anba Bishoi, whose previous comments about Islam stirred protests., might become a target. The head of al-Azhar, members of the Brotherhood, and other senior Muslim officials quickly denounced the threat and pledged to defend Egyptian Christians.
While the threat did remind many of the claimed conversion cases, the fact that much of Egypt's Muslim leadership sprang to the defense of the Church was, as Pope Shenouda III noted in his weekly Wednesday sermon, a positive result of the threat.
And Egyptian Muslim institutions showed that they would support their own fellow citizens against foreign threats.