A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Yitzhak Shamir, 1915-2012: A Life Largely Lived in the Shadows, Then the Prime Minister Who Wasn't Supposed to Be

Former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir has died at age 96.

In the mid-1980s I was for a few years in a job where I was working on Israeli (and Arab) defense issues; that job meant I visited Israel at least once a year for several years, and sometimes twice. During much of that period Yitzhak Shamir was either Prime Minister, Foreign Minister in rotation, or leader of the Opposition. I didn't meet him as much of my work was with the Defense Ministry, but I did see him on public occasions.

And I have one other quick story from that era: I was talking with a friend in the defense world who didn't know Israel particularly but had been reading up on the pre-state guerrilla movements and had an interest in the Irgun (Etzel) and Lehi (the "Stern Gang"), the two more radical guerrilla groups. We were talking about the leadership of Lehi and the name of Yitzhak Yzernitzky came up: one of the three co-leaders of Lehi after Stern's death, famous for his role in the assassination of Lord Moyne; imprisoned by the British; later deported by the British to a prison camp in Africa (from which he escaped); after independence Lehi was disbanded after the assassination of UN mediator Count Folke Bernadotte and the new State of Israel declared its leadership terrorists. Yzernitsky was a legendary underground figure. My friend asked, "Do you know whatever happened to Yzernitsky?" I answered, "Yes. He's the Prime Minister of Israel."

Wanted: Yzernitsky (Shamir), center
One of his underground noms de guerre had been "Rabbi Shamir." He adopted it as his Hebrew name.

Shamir was never supposed to become Prime Minister. He entered politics in his mid-50s, but became Menachem Begin's successor in 1983. Before that, he served in Mossad, serving (among other postings) in Paris and being, it is said, Mossad station chief for European operations. (His Israeli obits say he served in Mossad but omit details.)

When he left Mossad he entered politics, and his background in Lehi drew him to Likud, then headed by the old Irgunist Menachem Begin. Though Shamir became Speaker of the Knesset in 1977, but abstained on the peace with Egypt, despite his mentor Begin supporting it. He became Foreign Minister in 1980.

Shamir was not a career Likud politician and became Prime Minister almost accidentally, though in the endhe served as Prime Minister longer than anyone since David Ben-Gurion. The Lebanon War in 1982, the massacre at Sabra and Shatila, and the subsequent Kahan Commission Report sullied Ariel Sharon's reputation and blocked him from the Likud succession at that time, while Shamir challenged the next in line, David Levy, and won the leadership. He became Prime Minister in 1983, but the 1984 elections left both major parties without a majority, and a agreement was reached under which Labor Leader Shimon Peres and Shamir "rotated" the premiership, with Shamir replacing Peres in 1986. The rotation continued after a 1988 election but Labor withdrew in 1990, during the First Gulf War buildup, and Shamir led a narrow coalition until his defeat in elections in 1992.

Shamir was born in 1915 in the Russian Empire in a place that was Poland when he left it at age 30 to go to Palestine and is part of Belarus now.

Friday, June 29, 2012

For a Landmark Moment for Egypt and Egyptians: The National Anthem

I may or may not post over the weekend, but tomorrow is a landmark day even if, like me, you are not totally happy with the results of Egypt's elections. Egyptians have elected a President in a tight competitive race, and he is a civilian. Tomorrow, in theory, SCAF "gives up power" to the elected President. We all know how many asterisks and conditions are attached to that statement, but it is still a turning point for Egypt and for the Arab world. None of us know what the Muslim Brotherhood will do, or what SCAF will do, or what will happen next. But something has happened that we have not seen before.

As someone with a lot of personal concern for Egypt and Egyptians, I choose to hope for the best.So for the first time since February 11, 2011, when Husni Mubarak resigned, I think it's appropriate to play the anthem, Sayed Darwish's Biladi, Biladi, Biladi (My Country, My Country, My Country). You can find the Arabic and English lyrics through my earlier post.

Who is Muhammad Morsi's Spin Doctor?

Since virtually no one — even within the Muslim Brotherhood, for whom Muhammad Morsi was their second choice for candidate — had previously detected any traces of charisma or eloquence in Dr. Morsi, it's natural for someone like me who lives and works in Washington to assume the man has acquired both an image coach and a spin doctor to make him seem inspiring. Maybe I'm too cynical; maybe we just never noticed he was a charismatic figure before but it was there all the time.

Morsi in Tahrir Today
The bits of his speech in Tahrir that I've seen (haven't seen it all yet) seem to show a populist side that seeks to identify his victory with the goals of the revolution, while proclaiming his independence of SCAF and demanding the full powers of the Presidency. He is also getting the tone right according to the occasion: for his first speech on TV after victory and his visit to the Presidential palace he was clad in a conservative business suit and tie; for his talk in Tahrir Square today he had an open collar. (He also unbuttoned his jacket to show he was not wearing a bulletproof vest.) I wonder if the man even owns the white galabiyya that is the marker of the Muslim Brother.

But what really makes me wonder if he has a spin doctor from the US or Europe or somewhere else that's been doing democratic politics longer than Egypt is the way he finessed a really sticky quandary today.

As I think I have mentioned, the President takes the oath in front of Parliament. But the Supreme Constitutional Court dissolved Parliament and then, to complicate things, SCAF said the oath would take place in front of the Court itself. But that would recognize the Court's dissolution of Parliament, which Morsi says he rejects. But if he didn't, he wouldn't be legitimately President. Yesterday it was announced that he would indeed take the oath tomorrow, in front of the Court. So it looked as if he had caved to SCAF and the Court.

But then, as part of his Tahrir appearance today (to call for, among other things, and end to military rule), he mingled with the crowds and then swore the Presidential oath "among the people." It's all window-dressing, of course, as he will take the oath in front of the Court tomorrow and that's the one that counts, but as a piece of PR spin it strikes me as brilliant. He takes the oath "among his people" in the Revolution's iconic spot, Tahrir Square; then tomorrow he takes the "real" oath as required.

Ever since Jimmy Carter walked in his inaugural parade 35 years ago, most US Presidents have gotten out of their car to walk a block or two. Of course they get back in the limo, and Morsi is still getting sworn in tomorrow by a body he claimed recently lacked authority to do so, so he's still dancing to SCAF's tune, but symbolically he's finessed things rather well. The empty but potent symbolism is so reminiscent of American politics I have to wonder who his spin doctor is. 

Mark Katz in The Moscow Times: "Your Syria is My Bahrain"

Mark Katz of George Mason University is one of the best known specialists in this country on Russian-Middle East relations. At this timely moment in Russian-US discussions on Syria, he happens to be visiting Moscow, and he has a very timely piece in The Moscow Times: "Your Syria is My Bahrain." While the title clearly underscores his main point, it's worth a read.

Rumors of War, Stirrings of Diplomacy: Is the Noose Tightening on Syria?

Turkey has been slowly but surely escalating both its rhetoric and its military position all week in the wake of the downing of the Turkish F-4 and the subsequent NATO meeting. Turkish troops and anti-aircraft batteries have moved into the Hatay region and Turkey has openly said that any Syrian troops approaching the border would be considered an act of aggression. If it seems like Turkey is almost spoiling for a fight, I suspect that may be a fair reading: and there are unconfirmed reports that Turkey wants NATO to enforce a no-fly zone inside Syria, to protect refugees along the Turkish border.

Harder to confirm were reports yesterday that Saudi Arabia has been mobilizing troops and conducting troop movements. The Saudis are famously both exceptionally cautious and terribly secretive; other than their intervention in Bahrain they are not known for adventures outside their own borders. Many of these rumors are appearing in dubious places known for sensational reporting, but they are more than one or two isolated rumors.

All these gestures and rumors may be posturing. Secretary Clinton is in Russia today, amid talk that Russia might finally be trying to find a formula that gets rid of Asad but retains Russian interests in Syria,  and tomorrow there is an international meeting in Geneva called by UN envoy Kofi Annan to try to find a solution. Threats may simply be a form of diplomatic pressure here, or a reminder of the alternative if diplomacy fails.

We have gone in a short while from a semantic debate over whether Syria was in a civil war yet to a point where Asad himself says Syria is in an all-out war, and the internationalization of that war seems less remote than it did a week ago.

It's true that at first,Turkey didn't seem very belligerent over the downed plane. (Nor, in 1914, did Austria-Hungary seem all that upset about one assassinated Archduke. But then it found it a useful provocation.) But that has changed.

Whether the saber-rattling is real or posturing, whether the diplomatic maneuverings have any chance of success, I would not be resting easily if I were Bashar al-Asad. Things seem to be escalating towards — something.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Articles on Egypt's Armenian and Jewish Communities

The Egypt Independent has started a series on Egypt's minority communities. So far it has dealt with the well-established Armenian community and the tiny remnant still present of Egypt's once large and influential Jewish community. It's good and rather rare to see Egyptian media (albeit in English) paying attention to minority issues.

Okasha, Other Shafiq Supporters Turn on SCAF

We've occasionally mentioned Egyptian television host and "personality" Tawfiq Okasha here; a highly opinionated figure with his own television network, many (like this Arab News article) have dubbed him "Egypt's Answer to Glenn Beck." Okasha is equally opposed to Islamists of all colorations and to the Egyptian revolution; he was a strong supporter of SCAF and of Ahmad Shafiq. More distinctively, he is known for his vigilance against the ongoing plots of the Freemasons against Egypt; he uncovers Masonic plots everywhere.

Until Sunday, he was one of SCAF's staunchest supporters. Then they "let" the Muslim Brotherhood win the election, so now SCAF is the enemy. He is leading a demonstration tomorrow to protest SCAF's betrayal of Egypt (and of Tawfiq Okasha). In fact, this may be the first demonstration in recent memory to be called to begin at the tomb of Anwar Sadat. He has called on "honorable Egyptians" to protest what he sees as dishonorable behavior by SCAF.

Okasha may be a clown, but he has his listeners and can cause trouble; he seems to have been responsible for the violence at the US Embassy in March. Nor is he alone in his disillusionment with SCAF, though he may be the only one to perceive the role of the Freemasons in the plot. Many of Shafiq's supporters were absolutely convinced they were going to win, and there seems to be an implication they expected SCAF to help facilitate that. Just a week ago (back when Husni Mubarak was dead, if you recall), a lot of us thought that was the way the wind was blowing. The election results proved us wrong, and stunned the Shafiq supporters, many of whom are likely to join Okasha's demonstration. Also, backers of former intelligence chief ‘Omar Suleiman are joining in, also disappointed that SCAF didn't prevent Morsi's win.

SCAF, of course, denies it had any role in influencing the electoral results.

Besides the followers of Okasha, Shafiq, and Suleiman, blogger Zeinobia notes that the Twitter account called @Military_Secret, who has been posting pro-military and pro-SCAF tweets for months, has also turned on SCAF; his tweets are in Arabic but her post translates a number of them. He seems to be more or less openly calling for a coup by junior officers against the generals in SCAF; some of Okasha's over-the-top rhetoric has seemed to trend that way as well.

It would seem that many SCAF admirers who thought SCAF was Egypt's only salvation are now shocked that the generals saved it for the wrong candidate.

BBC on Russia and the Port of Tartus

The BBC has a timely assessment of Russia's use of the Syrian port of Tartus, often cited as a major reason for Russia's willingness to support the Asad regime to the last ditch. There is a tendency sometimes to overinflate the importance of access to naval facilities in assessing political calculations, and in the article Russian analysts downplay the importance of Tartus.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Short-Lived Republic of Hatay, 1938-39

Today was MEI's Center for Turkish Studies' Third Annual Conference, and coincidentally tensions are continuing to ratchet up between Turkey and Syria over the Turkish F-4 downed by Syria late last week. Following its take-off from a Turkish air base, the aircraft, which the Turkish opposition is now saying may have been accompanied by an aircraft from another NATO country, operated over the Turkish Province of Hatay and then over the Mediterranean off the Syrian coast where it was shot down. Today there are reports of Turkey reinforcing its troop presence in Hatay, the small thumblike projection of Turkish territory along the coast that includes the historic city of Antakya (Antioch) and the port of Iskenderun (Alexandretta).  I thought this might be an appropriate time for one of my historical asides, on the short-lived "Republic of Hatay."

State of Hatay Stamp with Map
At least until fairly recently Syria claimed the Hatay, and showed it as Syrian territory; it was part of the French Mandate of Syria after World War I, but France separated it from Syria and oversaw its transfer to Turkey before World War II. As part of that transfer process, it briefly became an independent state, prior to voting to join Turkey; it was formally called the State of Hatay and informally as the Republic of Hatay. Though never really intended to remain independent, it issued a few stamps and adopted a flag based on Turkey's during the transition period. Much of the story can be found here.

France had pursued a divide-and-rule policy under the Mandate, creating separate Alawite and Druze substates within Syria while combining Christian and Muslim parts of Lebanon into "Gran Liban"; the Sanjak of Alexandretta, as the Hatay was then known, was problematical as an ethnic mix of Arabs and Turks, and a religious mix of Sunnis, Alawites, and Christians (including many Armenians). From 1923 onward the Turkish republic claimed it as Turkish territory (Atatürk said it had been Turkish "for 40 centuries"), while Syrians insisted it was an integral part of Syria. France was prepared to find a modus vivendi that would improve its relations with republican Turkey. Turkey took it to the League of Nations and the League in 1937 created the Sanjak of Alexandretta as a separately-administered part of Syria with France and Turkey sharing defense responsibilities.

Flag of Republic of Hatay 
(note star is outlined, not solid)
In September 1938 the region — called "Hatay" in Turkish from the word "Hittite"; the coinage is said to be Atatürk's — became formally independent, adopting a constitution making Turkish the primary language and French a secondary one; the teaching of Arabic was allowed where it already existed. Its flag was reportedly designed by Atatürk, which tells you which way everyone knew the wind was blowing. By July of 1939 it had voted for, and the Turkish Grand National Assembly approved, its annexation into the Turkish Republic. After a few months, the Republic of Hatay was no more.

Syrians still think Turkey basically stole it; Turkey considers it integrally Turkish.

One thing I should clarify: In the film Indiana Jones and the Lost Crusade, the action moves to a place identified as the State of Hatay, though this Hatay has a different flag, is apparently Arab, is ruled by a Sultan, and contains among other things Petra and the Holy Grail. I'm not 100% certain but I think this may be a sign that you should not take the Indiana Jones series as accurate accounts of history, geography and archaeology.

Morsi to Have Woman, Christian VPs: Would Rafiq Habib be the Christian?

Egyptian President-Elect Morsi's advisors yesterday promised that he will appoint a woman Vice President and a Christian Vice President.

The aides have said that they will have real powers and will not be mere tokens. Morsi also met with the "Acting Pope" (locum tenens) of the Coptic Church (photo), Metropolitan Bakhomius, in an attempt to reassure Egypt's Coptic community.

A lot will depend on who the woman and Christian Vice Presidents may be. The Freedom and Justice Party, for example, even has a Christian Second Vice President, Rafiq Habib, but while he may be a fine person, I have to wonder if he would be the right candidate. (Interviews with him here and here.)

Although as a Christian, Habib cannot join the Muslim Brotherhood as such, he formerly joined the Wasat Party and more recently the FJP. Both of those credentials would no doubt impugn his credibility with many Christians, but there is another issue which is not immediately obvious from the FJP's talk about its "Coptic Vice President." It is that Dr.Habib is a Protestant in a country where the overwhelming bulk of the Christian community is Coptic Orthodox.

Dr. Habib is the son of a pastor (and later head of) the Evangelical Church of Egypt, an indigenous church originally created by Presbyterian missionaries, and sometime referred to as the Coptic Evangelical Church. (The Samuel Habib who wrote the linked article in the Coptic Encyclopedia kwas, I believe, the same Samuel Habib who was Rafiq Habib's father.) While in  that sense he can be called a Copt,  And, while evangelicals and Orthodox cooperated during the revolution, many Coptic Orthodox, including senior clergy, do not really consider Evangelicals to be Copts. Habib's ability to be a representative of most Egyptian Christians might, therefore, be somewhat limited, even without his Brotherhood ties. A prominent Coptic businessman or political figure without these limitations might prove a more politic choice.

Morsi: To Deal With Egypt's Traffic Problem in First 100 Days!

President-Elect Morsi in Egypt hopes to tackle Egypt's intractable traffic issues in his first 100 days in office. He has also promised to deal with the country's collapsing economy.

Given the fact that we've all been saying he's not going to have real Presidential powers, he's certainly ambitious. (Next: healing the sick?) All I can say is, good luck with that.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Chicago Assyrian Dictionary: A Monumental 90-Years-in-the-Making Work Available for Free Download

This blog has been stuck in the third millennium most of the past few weeks, what with the developments in Egypt, Syria, etc. so I thought I'd talk about something dealing with a rather older period. A colleague sent me a link to a story from June of last year on the completion of the Chicago Assyrian Dictionary, surely one of the most monumental contributions to the study of the Ancient Near East ever attempted. That may now be old news (that's the BBC account; the New York Times story is here), but since they started compiling the dictionary in early 1920s and finished it in 2011, a year late in talking about its completion seems about par for the course. Especially since the language which now has a 21-volume dictionary hasn't been spoken for about 2,200 years. (Though it was used for maybe 2,400 years up to that time.)

We're talking here about the language(s) collectively usually called Akkadian today, and its later dialects Assyrian and Babylonian. When Egyptologist James Henry Breasted founded the Oriental Institute in 1919 and started the project in 1921, the language was called Assyrian in all its forms, and the dictionary has been stuck with what is now an anachronistic term usually restricted to the later form; the Chicago dictionary deals with Akkadian-Assyrian-Babylonian in all its time periods. The BBC account refers to it as "the language of Ancient Mesopotamia," which must have gotten them some angry letters from Sumerians and some Elamites, but it was indeed both the primary language of Ancient Mesopotamia for and the lingua franca of the Ancient Near East until the rise of Aramaic.

The dictionary was produced by the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, one of the great temples of classical Ancient Near Eastern scholarship.

Let me note as well that friends who do comparative Semitic linguistics tell me this should be of interest to anyone dealing with any Semitic language, since it gives us the most comprehensive record of the oldest Semitic language (depending on how you date the earliest extant Hebrew) which is well-enough attested to really study comparatively. An example of that below. So a serious linguist in Arabic and Hebrew might have occasion to refer to it for comparative reasons.

And that brings us to the reason I bring it up on this blog: obviously a serious student of Arabic or Hebrew linguistics (or Syriac or Aramaic or South Arabian or Amharic or any other Semitic language) might have need to refer occasionally to such a work. But works on Ancient Near Eastern languages are notoriously expensive. Most are priced beyond the reach of students or even professors; in the case of Middle Eastern scholars, even the university libraries may not have them. And indeed, ordering all 21 volumes of the Chicago Assyrian Dictionary will set you back $1,995.

Or, if you lack room on the shelf or don't have two grand in your pocket, you can download the whole thing in PDF files for free. 

That's right, the whole thing, subject to the usual sort of terms of use:
Terms of Use: The electronic files are only to be distributed from the Oriental Institute's Web site. Individuals, libraries, institutions, and others may download one complimentary copy for their own personal use. ©The University of Chicago. Links to the Institute's Web site are welcomed.
And that fact is being appreciated. Completed a year ago in June 2011, by last August the dictionary hat hit 100,000 downloads.   As a press release at the time noted:
“The fact that there have been more than 100,000 downloads of the Assyrian Dictionary reflects the tremendous value of this work as a resource for scholarship,” said Stein, who is pleased that PDFs of all Oriental Institute-published research are available free on the Internet.
“This is especially important because it makes publications like this easily accessible to scholars in the Middle Eastern countries, who often have difficulty obtaining the print versions of the dictionaries and other research in archaeology and ancient textual studies,” Stein added. “The Internet is helping us make the CAD — the key to the Akkadian language — available to researchers in Iraq, ancient Mesopotamia, the land that gave birth to written language.”
I was trying to think of a way to make my point that a comprehensive study of Akkadian could be of interest to those doing Arabic or Hebrew linguistics. I could pick an entry dealing with some common Semitic cognate for writing or speaking or some such, but that wouldn't make a lasting impression. Then it hit me: pick a dirty word and they'll remember it. Arabic speakers, even native speakers, may not realize the antiquity of a common if somewhat vulgar term for copulation, the Arabic verb naka and its various noun forms, which are generally equivalent to their well-known vulgar English equivalents starting in "f". Though everyday speakers may not realize it this is not only a very old root in  Semitic, occurring in Akkadian, but it also appears in Ancient Egyptian (where its hieroglyphic is quite graphically obscene in its own right) and is found in many Afro-Asiatic languages as well. That may be a future post if I think I can get away with it, but here is the erudite Chicago Dictionary's treatment of that same Arabic root's ancestor in Akkadian:

See what I mean?

Some Wise Words on Egypt

I think Marc Lynch gets it right and writes it well:
The Arab world has never seen anything quite like Sunday's excruciatingly delayed announcement that the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohammed el-Morsi had won Egypt's Presidential election.  The enormous outburst of enthusiasm in Tahrir after Morsi's victory was announced -- and the rapid resurgence of Egypt's stock exchange -- suggests how narrowly Egypt escaped the complete collapse of its political process.  This isn't the time for silly debates about "who lost Egypt," since against all odds Egypt isn't lost. On the contrary, it has just very, very narrowly avoided complete disaster --- and for all the problems which Morsi's victory poses to Egypt and to the international community, it at least gives Egypt another chance at a successful political transition which only a few days ago seemed completely lost.  
Outside of the Brotherhood itself, this popular response was more a celebration of Shafik's defeat than of Morsi's victory. The signs leading up to the announcement strongly suggested that the SCAF had carried out a "soft coup" aborting its promised transition to civilian rule.   The dissolution of Parliament and the issuing of the controversial constitutional annex, along with the long delay in releasing the results and the rampaging rumors of the deployment of military forces and warnings of Brotherhood intrigues, all pointed to the announcement of a Shafik victory. 
Indeed. Morsi may prove to be a disaster, a tyrant, a nonentity, or he may be preoccupied by a long struggle with SCAF,  but the alternative was starting to look like renewed violence. Do read Marc's entire piece.

Turkey Talks Tougher

After several days of expressing concern but by no means saber-rattling over the Turkish F-4 shot down by Syria. Turkey is now talking tougher, saying it is changing its rules of engagement and that if Syrian forces approach the Turkish border, that will be considered a threat.

Turkey admits the aircraft entered Syrian airspace over the Mediterranean but now says it then was ordered to leave by Turkish controllers and was 24 kilometers or 13 nautical miles from shore when downed, outside Syrian territorial waters.

The flight path shown by Syria suggests the aircraft was circling off the Syrian coast, possibly on a reconnaissance mission to gather electronic intelligence. Turkey has indicated it was on a training mission to test radar.

Turkey appears to have waited until it had the opportunity to consult with its NATO allies before taking a somewhat more threatening stance on the downed aircraft.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Snapshots and Glimpses from the Morsi Administration, Day 1

Morsi Checks Out the Presidential Office
There had been some uncertainty as to whether the new President of Egypt would use the Presidential Palace favored by Husni Mubarak as his day-to-day office, ‘Uruba Palace in Heliopolis, or one of the other Presidential Palaces. Today, he motorcaded to ‘Uruba and checked out the office.

But the uniforms were visible too. Perhaps the generals needed to make sure all the hidden microphones were working:
Among other developments, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Freedom and Justice Party ended Morsi's membership officially, so the President will be above party. (No one believes this means anything. They are right.)

The Cabinet under Prime Minister Ganzuri resigned. The President will name a new Prime Minister and Cabinet, though in addition to SCAF having reserved the Defense Ministry to itself, there were reports that it will also appoint the Foreign and Interior Ministries.

Morsi will also be appointing one or more Vice Presidents. The Prime Minister, Cabinet and Vice Presidencies will be the first test of whether the Muslim Brotherhood will in fact share power with a broad spectrum of Egyptian political life.

There is still some confusion over whether he will take his oath before the Supreme Constitutional Court, in the absence of Parliament (the officially correct place) or whether he might continue to challenge the dissolution of Parliament by taking the oath in front of the dissolved body, though it's likely he has already cut a deal with SCAF on this issue.

Meanwhile, a website and Facebook group (both links in Arabic) called "MorsiMeter" (مرسي ميتر) has been set up to monitor and rate Morsi's first 100 days in office. Here's an article about it.

Meanwhile on the lighter side, there's a Facebook group for opponents of the Brotherhood planning a march on the Presidential Palace carrying bottles of beer. (Site is mostly in Arabic.) I guess they're making their priorities clear to the new President.

I'm adding a "Muhammad Morsi" tag beginning with this post, but earlier postings won't carry it; use the search field to find earlier articles.

New US National Intelligence Officer for Iran

Laura Rozen notes at Al-Monitor's "The Back Channel" that the National Intelligence Council now has its first National Intelligence Officer (NIO) for Iran, Jillian Burns.

The NIO for the Near East traditionally handled the entire region. The National Intelligence Council brings together the consensus of the intelligence community under the Director of National Intelligence and prepares National Intelligence Estimates.

Morsi is a President with No Parliament, No Constitution, and Few Powers: Why He Must Be Conciliatory

Egypt has its first competitively elected President, its first civilian President, and its first Muslim Brotherhood, and they are all named Muhammad Morsi. For all the celebrations yesterday in Egypt, he has neither an overwhelming mandate or universal support, and even if he did, the absence of a constitution means it is far from clear what powers he can exercise. He will name a Prime Minister and a Cabinet but has no Parliament; he cannot declare war, is not the Commander-in-Chief, and does not control the defense budget. It is not even clear if he will serve a full term or face new elections when the new constitution is drafted. This Ahram Online piece notes the timeline of SCAF's stripping the Presidency of its powers.

One of the reasons Morsi was so inclusive in his acceptance speech, appealing to Copts, women, ethnic minorities, etc.,  is surely that he knows all this and also knows that the Muslim Brotherhood hardly swept the elections. In the first round, Morsi won 24.9% of the vote. Less than a quarter of the population. In round two, only 52% of eligible voters voted, and of those voters, Morsi won just under 52% in a near tie with Shafiq. (And the final results almost exactly matched the Brotherhood's claims of victory. Half those who voted preferred Shafiq, a relic of he old regime, over any Brotherhood candidate. This is from Juan Cole:

A lot of Egyptians (not just secularists, women, and Copts, but certainly including them) don't trust the Brotherhood's promises of pluralism, democracy,and tolerance. Having pledged for most of the past year not to run a candidate for President, the candidate they elected in the end may have problems convincing people the Brotherhood keeps its promises.

And of course, there's SCAF, which has been pretty clear that it intends to keep a close watch on things  until a new constitution is place. Or as this notes:
"President of the Republic" (Morsi)
"President of the President of the Republic" (Tantawi)

Sunday, June 24, 2012

An Empty Downtown Cairo

You've seen the crowds in Tahrir Square during the extended wait for the results, but this shot shows a really rare scene in Cairo: the Corniche and the bridge approaches empty in mid-afternoon: everyone was either at their TV (or the coffeehouse's TV) or in Tahrir.

My apologies that this has been reposted so many times on Twitter and Facebook that I'm unsure of the original photographer. If someone knows I want to give proper credit.

Morsi Wins: Was There a Deal? Now What?

After the postponement from Thursday, after all the rumors and speculation, and after Presidential Election Commission Chairman Farouq Sultan's hour-long prologue to the final result (sparking jokes he was planning to read each of the 26 million votes one by one), Muhammad Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood becomes the fifth President of Egypt, and its first civilian.

The results appear extremely close to those released almost a week ago by the Brotherhood. So why the delay? (I know, that's supposedly what Sultan was explaining at such excruciating length.)

And were the rumors of difficult negotiations between the MB and SCAF true? If so, we may expect to see a rather limited Presidency, with SCAF looking over his shoulder, and perhaps with new elections once a constitution is written. Will a new Parliament be elected to replace the one recently dissolved? Or will the constitution come first? (Until now Morsi has insisted Parliament still exists. But he will have to take his oath and will be required to support the constitutional declaration.) Will Morsi be a toothless President, or one who challenges SCAF?  And of course, will the Brotherhood really work with other parties? It has alienated some of its original support through its attempts to control the process.

What about Ahmad Shafiq and his supporters? They represent a significant force, and many of those who voted for Morsi saw him as a lesser evil.

SCAF is supposed to hand over power in a week. How much power will Morsi have? That's the next big question awaiting an answer.


Friday, June 22, 2012

Whatever Happens in Egypt This Weekend, the Delay Has Made Things Worse

 UPDATE: See Michele Dunne's take: "Morsy's Choice: Abdeen or Tora?"

The conflicting rumors about the Egyptian Presidential electoral count that I mentioned earlier continue and I see no point in quoting to them, though certainly many people are convinced that the decision will go to Ahmad Shafiq and that the Muslim Brotherhood and perhaps a broad spectrum of the public will explode in fury.

I have no idea who really won; we may in fact never know. But in an electoral process that, until this week, seemed fairly honest and legitimate (with some obvious exceptions), the authorities have succeeded in convincing virtually everybody that they're cooking the results this time. The official explanation that the results were delayed to recount and address complaints of irregularities sounds suspiciously like they're disqualifying inconvenient results. Maybe that's unfair, but it's hard to imagine a more heavy-handed approach, or one that seems to amount to, "Give us a few more days; we're not done with the ballot boxes yet." If they were going to fix the results, they should have fixed them on the originally announced schedule. This way even if they're playing it straight, no one believes they are. It certainly looks like the most ham-fisted stolen election in history, even if that isn't what happens.

Rami Khouri has a piece on SCAF's major mistakes; but this latest risks the worst of all possible worlds: if the secular parties and the young revolutionaries and the hardline Salafis, none of whom like Morsi (he was even his own party's second choice) believe that Shafiq is a restoration of the old regime, they may form a united front. Most of the gains since February 2011 seem to be slipping away. Tensions are rising and that Economist cover of an erupting pyramid seems increasingly apt.

I may have more posts today, but I'll most likely post over the weekend if we do indeed finally get results. Of course it could still go to Morsi. But if it does, then why the long delays in which much of the country has become convinced it would go to Shafiq?

This past week, SCAF has abandoned pretense of being about to give up power. What it has not done is dispel its impression of incompetence: but now it is a brutal incompetence, no longer a directionless one. Again, a Morsi victory might mean that things are not as dire as they seem: but then, why the delays in announcing the results?

Sudan's Week of Protests

Protests against the government of Sudan over economic austerity are entering their second week with today's protests after Friday prayers.The ongoing wave of protests is in response to an austerity regime imposed to make up for the loss of oil revenues when South Sudan seceded, but the fierce response of security forces has exacerbated the situation.

The arrest and subsequent release yesterday of Bloomberg reporter Salma El Wardany, an Egyptian journalist working for a US agency, attracted international attention to the situation, which is starting to look like a classic "Arab spring" scenario, with demonstrators responding to harsh repression by continuing protest.

Syria Reportedly Downs Turkish F-4

A Turkish Air Force F-4 Phantom reportedly lost contact with its base while operating in the Mediterranean just off the Turkish province of Hatay, and reports indicate that Syrian air defenses brought it down in Syrian territorial waters. There are unconfirmed reports that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told reporters that Syria has expressed regret over the incident.

With Turkish support for and apparent arming Syrian rebels, an incident such as this obviously creates a potential for escalation. This situation bears watching though so far both sides appear to be avoiding any belligerent posturing. But it also underscores the risk of escalation ftom the ongoing conflict inside Syria.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Well, I'm Glad THAT's All Cleared Up Now

Today was the original day when the election results in Egypt were to be announced. Now it appears they'll be announced Sunday.That announcement has, of course, put a stop to all the competing rumors. [No, Just Kidding!] There are confident reports making it pretty clear that one side or the other is going to win. Or vice versa.

Here's a report that says that SCAF will never let the Muslim Brotherhood be declared the winners.

And here's a report that says the Muslim Brotherhood candidate will be declared the winner on Sunday:
Take your pick. Meanwhile there have been statements suggesting that the new President's term will last only until there is a new constitution in place, so that even if Morsi wins he might be out in new elections in less than a year, with Big Brother SCAF keeping a close eye in the meantime.

Most of these reports come from reporters who heard it from a friend who has a cousin who's close to somebody in SCAF, and similar confident sourcing. I suspect some of these "military source" quotes may be from somebody's nephew who's a second lieutenant in the Quartermaster Corps or some such, too. And is thus privy to the inner workings of the high command. (Notice I said second lieutenant. If it was a first sergeant I might believe it.)

All the rumors should probably be discounted. Although I think we can be confident that Husni Mubarak is still either dead or alive. Or vice versa.

But wait! Hold the presses! This one may be true:

Why is Palmyra Where it Is?

Though the mission of this blog is "Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context" (it says so right up there under the banner), this week's posts have been dominated by current developments in Egypt. So it's time to change the pace a bit, By, oh, 18 centuries or so.

Ruins of Ancient Palmyra
If you've ever visited the ruins of the ancient city of Palmyra in the Syrian desert, one of the things you are likely to remember from the trip is, well, the Syrian desert. Lots and lots of Syrian desert. It lies out in the desert between the major cities of Syria to the west and the Euphrates to the east. Yet Palmyra (Tadmur in Arabic and other Semitic languages; Palmyra is the Greek name) was a major city, a key post on the desert trading route, a link between the Mediterranean world and the Euphrates and therefore Mesopotamia. But Palmyra seems at best a small oasis to have supported a major city and a local kingdom that, under its Queen Zenobia, even established a short-lived Middle Eastern empire that challenged Rome. How did a major city sustain itself so far from abundant water supplies?

Well, according to this piece at Archaeology News Network,  (Hat Tip: Diana Buja) Norwegian researchers led by Jørgen Christian Meyer think they have discovered some of the answers as to how the ancient Palmyrenes stored water and supported a major city deep in the desert.

Read the story, but here are some of the key points:
Professor Meyer and his colleagues came to realise that what they were studying was not a desert, but rather an arid steppe, with underground grass roots that keep rain from sinking into the soil. Rainwater collects in intermittent creeks and rivers called wadi by the Arabs.

The archaeologists gathered evidence that residents of ancient Palmyra and the nearby villages collected the rainwater using dams and cisterns. This gave the surrounding villages water for crops and enabled them to provide the city with food; the collection system ensured a stable supply of agricultural products and averted catastrophe during droughts.

Local farmers also cooperated with Bedouin tribes, who drove their flocks of sheep and goats into the area to graze during the hot season, fertilising the farmers’ fields in the process.
To return to the contemporary scene, Tadmur, the modern town adjacent to the ancient ruins, has reportedly suffered considerably during the current Syrian troubles. It is not only surrounded by desert but also by Syrian military bases.

The Economist's Cover: About to Erupt?

With the Presidential election results now delayed until (at least) Saturday or Sunday and rumors continuing rampant in Egypt, The Economist's cover seems particularly appropriate:

Anouar Abdel-Malek, 1924-2012

I missed it as it was overshadowed by so much else Egyptian news, but the exiled leftist Egyptian political thinker and sociologist Anouar Abdel-Malek died late last week at the age of 88, in Paris.

A pan-Arabist Arab nationalist, and a Marxist critical of the Egyptian Communist Party, he fled Nasser's Egypt when Nasser, whom he initially admired, cracked down on leftists, and spent most of his subsequent life in Paris. He is probably best known in the English-speaking world for his 1968 book (1962 in French) Egypt: Military Society: The Army Regime, the Left, and Social Change. Much of his work appeared in French; some see his 1963 article "L'orientalism en crise" as anticipating the critique of Edward Said.

Much of his work was highly intellectual; he was a leftist social critic of the West.

An appreciation by Hamza Qinawy is here.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Schrödinger's Ex-President

Meaning no disrespect to an obviously ailing, and just yesterday dead, Husni Mubarak, but it occurs to me that we may finally have a real-world embodiment of that quantum physics paradox known as Schrödinger's Cat. As Wikipedia simplifies it:
According to Schrödinger, the Copenhagen interpretation implies that the cat remains both alive and dead (to the universe outside the box) until the box is opened. Schrödinger did not wish to promote the idea of dead-and-alive cats as a serious possibility; quite the reverse, the paradox is a classic reductio ad absurdum. 
Although the most recent claim is that Mubarak is not only not clinically dead any more but just slipped and fell in the bathroom,  it seems his apparent alive-and-dead-at-the-same-time status yesterday may have given us our first proof of the Schrödinger's Cat thesis, but it's a longtime world leader as well.

Election Results: Oh, Maybe by the Weekend

It's Wednesday. Ahram Online (website of a government paper)  published a vote count  early Monday. Both political candidates have vote counts (though they claim to show different results). So why did we first have to wait until Thursday for the electoral commission to tell us officially who won the Egyptian Presidency? And why, now, with rumors rampant and talk of military vehicle movements, has the announcement been delayed until (in sha' Allah) the weekend

Officially, the reason is more time is needed to investigate complaints, but they usually release results first and investigate later. Rumors of military movements aimed at clamping down hard if a Shafiq win is announced and the Brotherhood erupts, and the like, have been rampant. This just fuels the fire of conspiracy theories. Do they need more time to cook the results because they aren't quite done yet?

Maybe it's all above board, but it looks suspicious as hell.

Another Court Dissolves Another Parliament

 UPDATE: Kristian Coates Ulrichsen on the background at Foreign Policy Mideast Channel.

Kuwait's Constitutional Court has declared that the Parliamentary elections in February were invalid, thus declaring the new Parliament dissolved and reinstating the old one. The move comes less than a week after a court dissolved Egypt's Parliament.

The Amir had previously suspended Parliament for a month to avoid the body questioning a member of the Royal Family. The new Parliament had been controlled by the "opposition," critical of the government's policies. (Only in such Gulf States as Kuwait and Bahrain can Parliament be controlled by the "opposition,": since Parliament does not appoint the Cabinet.)

"Clinically Dead" Mubarak is All Better Now?

Apparently he was dead yesterday but he got better. He's "conscious and stable. He's not mechanically ventilated."

So what irresponsible tabloid was it that proclaimed him "clinically dead" yesterday? Why, just the official state news agency, MENA. Of course I can't be sure he's really conscious; this condition might prove as transient as his death proved to be.

I empathize with the ailing man, but is it any wonder that many protesters are assuming that the whole Mubarak-is-dying interlude is an attempt to divert attention from the outrage over the dissolution of Parliament?  Just because you're a conspiracy theorist doesn't mean they're not plotting against you.

UPDATE: Now he just slipped and fell in the bathroom.  Next: just a hangnail all along?

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Some Days, Everything is Happening at Once, and then Mubarak Dies or Doesn't

Some of those things may be true. (The monkey is in a cage in a Cairo nightclub and its welfare is today's Internet sensation; there'll be no more about it in this post.) With both Presidential candidates claiming victory, crowds assembled in Tahrir to show the military their strength, and the future of the revolution in great doubt, while official results of the election aren't due until Thursday (why, when others have published unofficial tallies?), it's not surprising that rumors are rampant. And then came Husni Mubarak's health crisis. This post is going to use Twitter posts to capture some of the day. As one post put it:

As I write this it appears that Mubarak is still among the living, though earlier the official state news agency said he was clinically dead. Unlike many of the previous times he has "died," he was clearly in a health crisis: he was rushed from Tura Prison to the Maadi Military Hospital today, reportedly after his heart stopped three times and he had to be resuscitated. A glimpse of the confusion on Twitter:

Mubarak's death has been rumored so many times that it has even generated a website, ismubarakdead.com,  which is still returning a "NO" at this writing. But the fact that he apparently is at death's door raises the question of what his death at this time might mean in the present tense circumstances. In the meantime, I'll hold off the obituary until we know more.

But while we're discussing the tensions in Egypt, don't miss Nathan Brown's fuller assessment of the constitutional declaration at Carnegie: "Egyptian Political System in Disarray."

Another exchange from the crazy day:
And finally, let Mahmoud Salem, aka "Sandmonkey," have the last word:

Hamas Fires Qassams as Gaza Escalates

Following a string of Israeli air strikes inside Gaza which Israel said were aimed at breaking up terrorist plots, Hamas has begun firing Qassam rockets into Israel for the first time in over a year, escalating an already tense situation. There was also a recent clash on Israel's border with Egypt.

It is the first attack Hamas has taken credit for since April 2011, and while it was linked by Hamas to the Israeli attacks, Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff in Ha'aretz suggest that it is at least indirectly connected with events on the Egyptian border.

During the transition/elections/ongoing crisis in Egypt, Sinai has continued to be a vacuum of authority and Gaza and Israel have entered a period of escalation. The situation is explosive (even without the issues of Syria and Iran which exacerbate tensions in the Israeli-Palestinian arena).

Though the present escalation is linked more to the Sinai border than to events in Egypt proper, there is potential danger that, if a power struggle emerges between the Muslim Brotherhood and SCAF, that could have repercussions in the Gaza sphere. Hamas emerged from the Gaza Muslim Brotherhood, whose formative years were during the 1948-1967 Egyptian occupation of Gaza, so Hamas has closer links to the Egyptian MB than most Muslim Brotherhood national groups do. And SCAF has demonstrated itself to be a defender of the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, though not as enthusiastic in that regard as the Mubarak-era regime was.

Egypt is Not Algeria and This Isn't 1992

Today the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt has been leading demonstrations to protest the dissolution of :Parliament and challenge SCAF's amended constitutional declaration; many see this as the beginning of a power struggle between the Brotherhood and SCAF. It may be, but it also may be a case of the two institutions testing each other's will before making some sort of accommodation. That would make far more practical sense to both than an open conflict does.  One thing I do not anticipate, but that many Egyptian commentators on Twitter and elsewhere keep mentioning, is a repeat of what happened in Algeria in January 1992.

The long and bloody Algerian Troubles began after liberalization led to victories by the Algerian Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), first in local elections and then in the first round of legislative elections. Before it could win a certain victory in the runoff round, the Army deposed President Chadli Benjedid and took over. In the decade that followed, 150,000 to 200,000 people are estimated to have died; the 1990s were a devastating decade in Algeria.

Trying to see what is happening in Egypt as a parallel is not very persuasive. Though many are calling SCAF's  power grab a coup, it is really just the military retaining the power they have been exercising since Mubarak's fall. The runoff round of the Presidential elections was held. Morsi may well be declared the winner; if he is not, then open conflict is possible. But I don't think it's inevitable.

Algeria is a very different country. A decade of struggle for independence from France produced a country in which war for political ends was part of the legacy of the nation. Protracted civil war has been rare in Egyptian history and nonexistent in the past several centuries. The Army has not fought a war since 1973 (the internal "war" against radical Islamists in the 1990s was mostly fought by State Security).

The Brotherhood has waited 84 years to arrive at the brink of power. Is it likely that it would throw that away unless it is clearly and blatantly denied even a share in power, which hasn't happened yet?

Ask me again if, on Thursday, the electoral commission names Shafiq the winner. Right now I think the Brotherhood wants to show its strength, bare its claws but not use them; it's maneuvering for a partnership with SCAF, not a protracted war with it.

I can understand that a large number of Egyptians do not find a joint SCAF-MB system a congenial one. Nor do I.  Half the country in round one voted for neither Morsi nor Shafiq.  But Algeria 1992? I think not. But let's be candid: no one is sure what the next few days will bring.

More importantly for over a year SCAF and the Brotherhood have managed to work tp

Election Day at the Cap d'Or

 Ahram Online has a piece in which a reporter spent Saturday, the first day of the runoff elections, interviewing patrons at the Cap d'Or, a semi-baladi bar in Cairo.  Surprise, surprise! Utterly astonishing discovery: people who hang out in bars don't vote for the Muslim Brotherhood.

I link to this mostly for the (non-Ikhwan) old Cairo hands who may know the Cap d'Or. The article says its been there over 100 years; I can personally attest that it's been there for 40.

An observation: this short article in which most of the patrons support Ahmad Shafiq (out of fear the Brotherhood will close their local bar) spells Shafiq as "Shaqif," "Shafig," and "Shaifq," as well as the correct way. Guys, it's okay to write the first draft during the field research, but proofread it once you sober up,

Monday, June 18, 2012

"Sandmonkey" Assesses Blame, Finds Some Ground for Optimism

There is a plethora of "How the Revolution Failed" and "What We Did Wrong" and "The End of the Egyptian Revolution? think pieces out there today. There is also an original, thoughtful, and outside-the-box assessment from Mahmoud Salem, aka "Sandmonkey," called "Chapter's End." He sees this as the end of Stage One of the Egyptian Revolution. He recognizes the failings of the revolutionaries and how the old regime and the Muslim Brotherhood ended up as the last men standing in the Presidential election. He sees the road ahead in fairly pragmatic terms:
If you are a revolutionary, show us your capabilities. Start something. Join a party. Build an institution. Solve a real problem. Do something except running around from demonstration to marsh to sit-in. This is not street work: real street work means moving the street, not moving in the street. Real street work means that the street you live in knows you and trusts you, and will move with you , because you help them and care for them, not because you want to achieve some lofty notions you read about in a book without any real understanding on how to apply it on Egyptian soil. You have done nothing of the kind so far, and it’s the only way you will get ahead.
While I wouldn't exactly call his post optimistic, it does seek to lookforward rather than merely bewail that all is lost, and he recognizes that much that was achieved remains:
While we are too busy to mourn our losses, we should also not forget our gains; This is what we won:

  • Hosny Mubarak, his son and his VP are not ruling us.
  • The NDP is broken into many different pieces
  • The next President is chosen through fair, competitive and democratic elections, not matter what the outcome.
  • Freedom of Expression, press and speech.
  • The weakening of the MB, the salafis, the end of using religious speech for political gains (Notice how Morsy didn’t say a single Sharia thing in the past 2 weeks)
  • Serious understanding to the nature of the state we live in and the roots of its problems, which we never really knew before.
  • Interlinking between individuals all over the governorates that would’ve never taken place otherwise.
  • Serious weakening of classism in a classist society
  • Incredible amount of art, music and culture that was unleashed all over the country
  • Entire generations in schools and universities that have become politicized, aware and active.
  • A serious evaluation of our intelligentsia and why they suck.
  • Discovering the difference between symbols and leaders, and our need for the latter than the former.
Read the whole thing. It's thoughtful and doesn't repeat the same laments.

Some Odd Indicators and an Explanation

Despite unofficial returns showing Morsi ahead by close to a million votes, the Shafiq campaign are reporting their numbers show them ahead, so both sides are currently celebrating. And according to Al-Shorouk, SCAF has just appointed a military man as Chief of Diwan for the President of the Republic, the kind of appointment you might have thought the President himself would get to make.

At this point I think almost anything could happen. [UPDATE: They've also named a new "National Defense Council" with its membership specified (and unlike SCAF, including the President), but with its actual responsibilities, duties and powers unexplained.]

Normally, I don't hold much faith in political scientists who rely on models, but I think Marc Lynch's interpretation of Egyptian politics in terms of Calvin and Hobbes is not only brilliant but possibly the best way to approach developments right now. If you haven't read it, do so. SCAF is clearly playing Calvinball right now.

How Egypt Voted

Map at the Morsi Campaign's Link is Interactive
Whether or not Muhammad Morsi ultimately is sworn in as Egypt's first elected civilian President, it's clear this was a very close election; by Ahram Online's provisional count, Morsi has 51.8% to Shafiq's 48.10%; Governorate-by-Governorate breakdowns are here. Out of some 25 million votes cast, the two candidates are separated by under a million votes. (And a warning: all these numbers are from party poll counters, not the official count; official results won't be announced until Thursday.)

The Ahram Online results can be usefully supplemented by a map put out by the Morsi campaign (above); the original, unlike the static image above, is interactive and the results of each governorate is show if you hover your cursor over it. I wonder if the Muslim Brotherhood are used to the US political "Red State/Blue State" convention, since they've made themselves Red, which would make them the Republicans.

What's clear from either means of approaching the returns is that Shafiq's strength was (as in round one) the Delta (Mubarak home country, strong old NDP party apparatus) plus a strong showing in Cairo (secularists and Copts?), where Hamdeen Sabahi ran strong last time. He also carried thinly populated South Sinai and Red Sea, both areas with heavy tourism. (The booze and bikinis vote?) The Brotherhood carried almost everything else, including Alexandria and Giza governorates, both urban. But both sides ran well in many governorates, and the overall result was a close one.

SCAF Tries to Reassure: It's Just Separation of Powers

General Muhammad al-Assar, a member of SCAF and, as it happens, the Ministry of Defense's liaison with the United States, said the following at a press conference: ""We'll never tire or be bored from assuring everyone that we will hand over power before the end of June."

How does that square with the new constitutional declaration whereby SCAF holds legislative power and controls the writing of the new constitution?  Is it qualified by "within certain limited meanings of 'hand over power,'" or is the key that "we'll never tire of assuring you," rather than "we'll actually do it."?

SCAF has a long history of saying or doing something and then explaining that they never intended what they just said or did.

They're saying they're just preserving the separation of powers between the President and Parliament. Really? (I might say, "what separation of powers?" since it hasn't really existed before.) Maybe so, but they asserted their powers in such a heavy-handed way it's hard to read other than that SCAF will be calling the shots.

A Morsi Win (?) But With Military Rule: SCAF Drops All Pretense

In retrospect, the military coup in Egypt did not take place on Thursday when the Supreme Constitutional Court dissolved Parliament, and it did not take place over the weekend when SCAF rewrote the Constitution yet again, this time to basically say it can do whatever it wants to. The military coup in Egypt took place on February 10, 2011, the day before Husni Mubarak stepped down, when the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, a statutory body which had not held a publicly announced meeting in years, met and issued "Communiqué Number One." Egypt has been under military rule ever since, but it was a "transition," so that was all right. Now we are seeing what it is transitioning to.

The (apparent and still unofficial) victory of the Muslim Brotherhood's Muhammad Morsi has surprised many who thought the fix was in for Ahmad Shafiq, but SCAF's move over the weekend has stripped him or any other civilian President of any real authority. (And as some are warning, there is no guarantee the official results won't be, uh, slightly different.)

Consider: Under the "revised Constitutional Declaration" SCAF has released, it will have legislative powers until a new Constitution is adopted. And to that end, it may name the constituent assembly. And, just to be safe, if it doesn't like the constituent assembly, it can dissolve it and name another one. Why doesn't it just write the constitution itself? Come to think of it, it just did. Also, credit Nathan Brown for picking up on a detail others seem to have missed:
Article 53: The incumbent SCAF members are responsible for deciding on all issues related to the armed forces including appointing its leaders and extending the terms in office of the aforesaid leaders.  The current head of the SCAF is to act as commander-in-chief of the armed forces and minister of defense until a new constitution is drafted. 
Under the existing statute, SCAF is headed by the President of the Republic in his constitutional role as Commander in Chief. But "until a new constitution is drafted" (and they've already taken care of that little detail), they're having none of an elected civilian Commander-in-Chief: the "incumbent" SCAF members make all military decisions, appoint members and set their terms (another provision bars the President from declaring war without their approval). And Tantawi is Commander-in-Chief, not some civilian.

Forever? Of course not, just "until a new Constitution is adopted." See Catch 22 above.

So are they going to let Morsi win? I don't know, but does it matter? They'd be wise not to pull the (much devalued) prize away at this point,which could produce an open revolt by the Brotherhood; better to have an elected, but powerless, figurehead. They're going to need somebody to blame when people finally notice the economy is a disaster. And a co-opted Brotherhood could be helpful in many ways, as long as Morsi understands who is co-opting whom.

I expect there's going to be a lot more to say on these matters.

The Death of Prince Nayef and the Saudi Succession

As the generation of the sons of the founder of Saudi Arabia move through their 80s, and the grandsons' generation greys and whitens, it is hardly surprising that the older generation are going at an accelerated pace. The death of Saudi Crown Prince Nayef over the weekend followed months of speculation about his declining health. It also means that King ‘Abdullah, at 88, has lost two Crown Princes in eight months, Prince Sultan last October and now Nayef.

It also means that the rules of Middle East punditry require that everyone talk at length about the question of when the next generation will reach the throne (quick answer: not just yet) and who will be the new Crown Prince (quick answer: Prince Salman, who moved from Governor of Riyadh to Defense Minister when Sultan died, and who's the last of the full Sudeiri brothers). But the fact is the House of Saud, after some rough starts back in the fifties and sixties, long ago figured out how to weather succession crises and keep the family business on a steady keel. So consider this the limit of my contribution to the punditry. My colleague Tom Lippman, who actually knows the Kingdom well, may contribute something at MEI or the Council on Foreign Relations and you should read it if (when) he does, but this will have to serve as my lip service to the required punditry on the Saudi succession. [UPDATE: And here's Tom now.] I'm still busy trying to figure out what the Egyptian returns mean and will be back later with my best guess.

UPDATE II: And Prince Salman gets the job as expected. "No surprises" could be the Kingdom's motto.

Friday, June 15, 2012

40 Years Ago, A Young Grad Student Arrived in a Different Middle East for the First Time . . .

This week isn't just the 40th anniversary of the Watergate break-in. The exact date is probably buried in a box somewhere in my basement, but I know it was about the middle of June, 1972, that I landed at Cairo airport (only the oldest of today's three terminals was there then) and set foot in the Middle East for the first time.  And it was probably about June 10-20, I believe, so I'll settle for this as an approximate anniversary.The Middle East has changed a lot in that 40 years, and so have I, but the memories of those first impressions are still fresh. So as we move into the weekend I'll ask you to indulge me in some personal reminiscence of 40 years of hanging around in a rough neighborhood, or at least of my first stay there.

In 1972, I had finished three years of Modern Standard Arabic at Georgetown, and set out for a year in the Center for Arabic Studies Abroad (CASA) Program at the American University in Cairo. The CASA Program is still with us, and much bigger than 40 years ago when it was relatively new (it began in 1967). There were participants there only for the summer, and a smaller, core group (I think only 20 or so, perhaps 25) there for the full year, I was one of these. The CASA Fellows for that 1972-73 school year have gone on to various careers, but several have risen to head Middle East Studies centers, and at least one made Dean; another is something of a media personality. A few spent careers in government, or finance, and there are several I've never heard from again, I won't name names here, but those of you reading this will share many of these memories.

I was a 24-year-old graduate student who had never been anyplace more exotic than the border regions of Canada and Mexico, and I had committed to spend a year in a country with which, at that time, the United States had no diplomatic relations, Egypt having broken them in 1967. Instead of the huge US Embassy of today (which was our largest abroad until Baghdad surpassed it), there was a small US Interests Section under the Spanish flag. Russian military advisors and other East Bloc personnel were still present in force; as a foreigner, Egyptians would sometimes address me with "Dobry d'yen," although "Welcome to Egypt" was also common.

Nasser had died in September of 1970, less than two years before; Anwar Sadat had consolidated his power the year before, but had not yet embarked on his reorientation from East Bloc to West. So there was a bit of trepidation. It was only two weeks or so since the Lod Airport massacre in Israel at the end of May, and Egypt had increased security at its airports, fearing an Israeli strike. So as the bus pulled away from the plane to carry us to the terminal, a military vehicle — the East Bloc equivalent of a Jeep — mounted with a .50 caliber (or 12.7mm) machinegun pulled in front of the bus with the barrel pointed at us, the arriving passengers. A cheerful welcome.

It was a wartime feel, both for genuine reasons and because the government wanted to maintain an atmosphere of siege. Israel had remained in occupation of all of Sinai since the 1967 war, and the Suez Canal was unusable. Although the 1967-70 War of Attrition was no longer raging, the canal cities of Port Said, Ismailia, and Suez had been shattered and evacuated except for the military. Throughout Cairo, brick walls had been built up as blast deflectors in front of the main doors of apartment buildings. Foreigners were banned from travel outside the Nile Valley (the resorts on the Red Sea were in the far future anyway, but the Western Desert was also off limits). Western goods were rare and expensive, imports blocked by an austerity economy.

Cairo was smaller then, and much different, though the Nile and the pyramids do not change. What is now called the 6 October bridge was in the early phases of construction (and 6 October had no meaning as yet), and the spaghetti-networks of superhighways and approach ramps were not yet there. 26th of July Street in Zamalek had not acquired its flyover highway, and the Opera Square-Midan Ataba-Ezbekiyya area had not yet been buried in highway ramps and flyovers. There was one ring road, not several. There were only a few luxury hotels: the Nile Hilton, the Sheraton in Doqqi, the second Shepheard's, the old Semiramis. Not much else yet, and not many tourists to visit a country legally at war.

During breaks that year I also made my first visits to Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Turkey, and Greece. Lebanon was still in that pre-civil war golden age when Gulf Arabs flocked to Beirut or to the casino at Junieh; Cairo would later benefit from their largesse when Beirut descended into civil war, but then the oil price rise was a year in the future so the petrodollars weren't as plentiful. I and some friends rented a car — 5 people in an old VW beetle — and toured all of Lebanon except the deep south, which was too tense; a few years later we'd have been unable to do so due to armed checkpoints.

Syria was fascinating. And even 40 years ago, it had a President named Asad. In Jordan, Petra was almost empty when we visited: I think one other group of tourists were there. There was a government rest house where we stayed, and maybe one or two other hotels. Even five years later, that had changed, but no one went to Jordan, or to Petra, in 1972.

From Damascus we traveled north to Aleppo; I recall spending time while our taxi underwent car repairs in Homs, 40 years before that ancient city would be in the headlines. From Aleppo we crossed to Antakya in Turkey, then across Turkey to Istanbul. We crossed the Bosphorus on a ferry; the bridge was not quite finished yet.

In those days, too, before the Gulf Arabs replaced Beirut with Cairo as their chosen destination, rents were quite low, even in the high-rent districts. Two other CASA fellows and I shared a top floor apartment in Zamalek, with one balcony directly over the Nile on Saray al-Gezira Street, and the other overlooking the Sporting Club with a view of the pyramids. I think the rent was something like LE 125 a month (maybe a bit more, but I think under 200), but in those days the exchange rate was inflated; only five years later that flat would go for 1000 or more no doubt, and today I don't want to know. Indeed, five years later I paid more for a flat in Bab al-Luq with cracking plaster. Taxis still relied on their meters, even with foreigners, so daily life was quite inexpensive,

Prices may have been low, but as I said, it wasn't the "good old days"; wartime austerity meant no foreign goods and many restrictions.

While in my 40 years dealing with the Middle East I've managed to witness a few of the turning points (Sadat's visit to Jerusalem, for one, in 1977; the first GCC Summit in 1981, and some others), I've often just missed them: in 1981 I got to Cairo two weeks after the Sadat assassination. And when I left Egypt after my 1972-73 CASA year, I had no clue that "1973" would be a turning point, The October 1973 war broke out four months or so after I left,

Petra, 1973. I know, I know.
And things have been in flux since. If you'd told me in 1973 that ten years later, I'd be taking my first El Al flight out of Cairo airport,I'd have thought you were insane. Yet I did.

I may reminisce more about my early days in the Middle East, four decades ago. Please indulge me. I feel old sometimes when I contemplate the changes, but the memories remain fresh.

UPDATED: By popular demand (one person) I've found a picture from Petra in 1973. Yes, a lot of us had longer hair and strange pants in 1973.

Hamalawy and Others on Revolution and Counter-Revolution

You know things are bad when some of the most sensible analysis is coming from self-declared Marxists, but Egyptian leftist activist Hossam Hamalawy has a piece at Jadaliyya, "The Troubled Revolutionary Path in Egypt: A Return to the Basics," which makes the valid point, among others, that the military coup didn't take place yesterday but in February of 2011. Hamalawy has long urged more attention and organization to the labor movement and strike movements that actually proceeded and continued throughout the revolution. It's one of the better of a large array of what-went-wrong pieces we're starting to see.

There are a lot of think pieces out there right now focusing on how the revolutionaries' lack of unity allowed the revolution to be railroaded, but I suspect the lack of a clear focus and agenda that could rally the vast Egyptian countryside was part of the problem. When the workers and peasants are struggling to find bread, the revolution got sidetracked into other issues: and the Islamists in particular, who had a real grass-roots base that could have been used to rally a real revolution, got focused on debates on Shari‘a, "booze and bikinis," and covering up mermaid statues while the economy spiraled downward. Nobody really sought to fix the country's real problems: they were too intractable, so they went after soft targets: arresting key figures of the old regime, or in the Islamists' case going after issues such as women's rights and public behavior, which deepened the split between the secular revolutionaries and the Islamists. Everybody was posturing, but no one was baking more bread for the hungry, who are going to be the source of the real Egyptian revolution if things keep spiraling downward. A relevant tweet:

Oddly, it was the old establishment, the old NDP elite, along with the Muslim Brotherhood on the other side, who seem to have done a better job of using the old patronage networks to rally the countryside, than did the revolutionaries who no doubt saw themselves as the vanguard of the workers and peasants, Shafiq used the old patronage networks to carry the Delta in round one (no doubt there was some rigging, but he also had real support); the old Sadat/Mubarak home base of Menufiyya went for him overwhelmingly. In Upper Egypt he, like the Brotherhood, understood how to manipulate the tribal alliances. Shafiq may be the military's man, but he used the old NDP power base to get this far.

And neither the young folks in Tahrir nor the Muslim Brotherhood noticed what was happening, nor did the outside analysts, because all were watching Tahrir, or Parliament, or arguing about what tourists could wear to the beach. Though the Brotherhood, at least, was handing out flour on the countryside.

Whether Shafiq wins or SCAF lets Morsi pull out a victory, we may be back to square one, or back to "January 24, 2011" as some of the revolutionaries are lamenting. But not entirely. The revolutionaries have seen both their power and, in the end, their lack of unity and organization. And they are no longer afraid to challenge the regime.

Writing Levantine Colloquial on Facebook

My readers know that Arabic diglossia and the spoken Arabic dialects are a persistent interest of this blog, so here's a post that has nothing to do with Egypt's politics (or the death thereof), Iranian nukes, or whether Syria is in civil war: a paper on "Facebook Written Levantine Vernacular Languages."

It's in the first issue of a new e-journal called Levantine Review, It deals with the ways Facebook posters using Roman script write Levantine colloquial Arabic online, creating what the author describes as "electronic amiyya" using Latin script. The author describes herself thus:
Dua’a Abu Elhij’a is a Fulbright Scholar and Ph.D candidate in the department of linguistics at Indiana University Bloomington. She holds an M.A. in Linguistics from the University of Haifa, Israel, and her article is based upon her M.A. research and thesis.
This article isn't for everyone but it happens to interest me, and hey, it's my blog. The link above will allow you to read the paper online, or you can download the PDF here.