A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Friday, September 28, 2012

The Bomb Keeps on Giving ...

Another in the ongoing series, via Facebook:

42 Years After Nasser's Death: What Would Nasser Think of Morsi?

Nasser's burial mosque
Today marks 42 years since the death of Gamal Abdel Nasser on September 28, 1970. Several hundred supporters reportedly visited his tomb-mosque today: family members, nostalgic Nasserites, and ex-officials. The report says nothing about any seismic activity that might have been detected as a result of unusual spinning in the grave, but it would seem likely that Nasser would not rest comfortably if he knew a Muslim Brother was President of Egypt.

Nasser the Day Before He Died
Nasser died at the end of a critical, high-stress Arab summit which he hosted in the midst of the "Black September" crisis in Jordan. The photo at left was taken September 27, the day before he died, with King Faisal of Saudi Arabia and PLO Leader Yasser Arafat. His sudden death evoked real mourning, not just in Egypt, but throughout much of the Arab world. He once loomed so large in the region that it is hard to realize he was only 52 when he died.

I ran this video before, but it captures something of the man's way with an audience, in which he jokes about meeting with the Supreme Guide of the Brotherhood, and scoffs at the idea that Egyptian women should wear the hijab. ("Let him wear it!" somebody shouts.) The video has English subtitles but watch the intonation and body language as he works the crowd. He may not have ever had to actually run for a real election, but he was a born politician.

So he would be amazed,I'm sure, to know Morsi is President. He might be far more amazed to know that Morsi was elected with 51.73% of the vote, just edging out his rival. Gone, perhaps forever, are the old days when the state newspapers could report with a straight face (though not all Egyptians could) that Nasser had been "re-elected," as here in 1965 ["99.9% Elect Gamal Abdel Nasser President of the Republic."] (To be fair, Nasser never claimed more than 99.9% of the vote. Saddam Hussein's last election before the US invasion officially got 100%.)

Online Sources for Ancient Geography

Here's an interesting roundup of links to online sources for ancient geography, including maps and mapping, several of them dedicated to the Ancient Near East or to specific Middle Eastern countries. Thanks to AWOL - The Ancient World Online.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Has Bushra al-Asad Left Syria?

I'm going to note this Reuters report that Bushra al-Asad, Bashar al-Asad's sister and the widow of Assaf Shawkat, who was killed in July, has left Syria for the UAE. Shawkat was the longtime intelligence chief, and later Deputy Defense Minister, and died in a bomb blast aimed at senor security officials.

Bushra, who is Asad's older sister, is a key member of the family and her departure with hr children would be another sign of the unraveling of the inner circle. But I would also note that there is a lot of disinformation floating around and claims such as this should be taken with some skepticism. Asad's wife Asma has been the subject of such rumors as well, but has regularly shown up in Damascus to refute them.

Netanyahu's Bomb Drawing

Twitter is having fun with Netanyahu's bomb drawing at the UN. Here's a collection of comments on Al Jazeera,

His cartoon-style bomb and his literally drawing a red line are being praised by those who support him and lampooned by those who don't; I guess we'll see whether this proves to be an effective piece of pub;ic theater or whether it backfires.

UPDATE: And +972 has a collection of Israeli cartoons lampooning Bibi.

I'm down with a bug today so don't expect much in the way of posting.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

My Third Post on Demotic Egyptian in One Week

Maybe it's the fact that sometimes things come in threes. Anyway, after posting a week ago about the completion of the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago's Demotic Egyptian Dictionary, and noting a few days later that their Demotic Grammar was also available online,  now I find yet a third reason to mention Demotic Egyptian in a week. This one is, admittedly, a bit kinkier. From a report at LiveScience, to wit:
A recently deciphered Egyptian papyrus from around 1,900 years ago tells a fictional story that includes drinking, singing, feasting and ritual sex, all in the name of the goddess Mut.
Researchers believe that a priest wrote the blush-worthy tale, as a way to discuss controversial ritual sex acts with other priests.
"Our text may represent a new and hitherto unrecognized Egyptian literary genre: 'cult' fiction, the purpose of which was to allow controversial or contentious matters pertaining to the divine cult to be scrutinized in this way," wrote professors Richard Jasnow and Mark Smith, who published their translation and analysis of the papyrus in the most recent edition of the journal Enchoria.
Since it's fragmentary and still being studied, it's probably not a good starter text for the beginner, if you were hoping for a sort of Fifty Shades of Ancient Egypt or some such.
The newly deciphered tale refers several times to having sex. At one point a speaker implores a person to "drink truly. Eat truly. Sing" and to "don clothing,* anoint (yourself), adorn the eyes, and enjoy sexual bliss." The speaker adds that Mut will not let you "be distant from drunkenness on any day. She will not allow you to be lacking in any (manner)."
The speaker defends his views by saying, "As for those who have called me evil, Mut will 'call' them evil."
Mut was a major Egyptian mother goddess.

[*"don" clothing? I think they're doing it wrong.]

Does Anyone Know the Story Behind This Picture?

That's King Fuad I of Egypt (Sultan 1917-22, King 1922-36) in front,with what looks like some senior officials and Army troops. They are riding donkeys. This is all I know. Does anyone know the backstory?

Ahmadinejad Week

Even before Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made his speech to the UN General Assembly, Amin Azad's guest post at Juan Cole's blog pretty much called it: "Has-Been, Lame Duck Ahmadinejad's UN Speech is Empty Mugging for the Camera." 

Ahmadinejad not only will be finishing up his second term, but there's even talk of abolishing the office of President. Ahmadinejad may be enjoying his last moment in the limelight, though as Azad notes:
If nothing extraordinary happens between now and the end of his presidency, the best fate that Ahmadinejad can hope for is to return to teaching civil engineering (his specialty is traffic engineering) at university. One thing, however, could change things for him dramatically, keeping him in the limelight and guaranteeing him a prominent political role well into the future: an Israeli attack on Iran. In such a case, all the Iranian leaders will forget their political differences and form a united front against aggression.
Ahmadinejad's speech today was not his only limelight, as he also gave a number of media interviews. Why, if his influence at home is on the wane? I think part of it is the need to find news in the ceremonial parade of speakers that is General Assembly week.  And, of course, the fact that the US media usually has to go to Iran to interview Ahmadi, and now he's coming to them.

Egyptian President Morsi's UN debut is today's other news, but no one expected Morsi to make huge headlines. For Ahmadinejad, the news seems that he didn't say anything too outrageous about Israel. His last appearance before the General Assembly seems to have been an anticlimax.

But Ahmadinejad was never known particularly for bizarre General Assembly behavior. The late (and otherwise unlamented) Libyan leader Mu‘ammar Qadhafi was unsurpassed in his ability to, well, do whatever it was he did. If you miss the unpredictability, go back three years to this post of mine from 2009: "Qadhafi on Taliban, Vatican, US Civil War, Saving Humanity, etc., etc." 

And believe me, there is a lot in each of those "etc."s. Qadhafi stretched his 15 minutes to 95 minutes and the simultaneous translator gave up at one point. Ahmadinejad never came close.

President Ahmadinejad, we remember Qadhafi. We listened to Qadhafi (and listened, and listened). And Mr. President, you're no Mu‘ammar Qadhafi.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Stark Polarities: Photos of Nile Towers and Ramlat Bulaq

Last month I blogged about the tensions between the huge Nile Towers development along the Nile in Cairo and the adjacent slum of Ramlat Bulaq. Now Al Jazeera English has a picture essay that starkly illustrates the contrast, really opposite poles of Egypt's class divide. Don't miss it.

Yom Kippur

G'mar Hatimah Tovah to Jewish readers as the Yom Kippur fast begins this evening.

Kilroy was There: 33 Centuries of Leaving Your Mark at the Nahr al-Kalb

The pillars which Sesostris of Egypt set up in the various countries are for the most part no longer to be seen extant; but in Syria Palestine I myself saw them existing with the inscription upon them which I have mentioned and the emblem.
      Herodotus, The Histories, Book II, 106
There's a place in Lebanon where conquerors have been making their mark — literally — for 33 centuries. There is an inscription of Ramses II from year four of his reign (1275 BC, more or less) and one marking the withdrawal of Israeli troops from Lebanon in 2000 AD.  Sesostris, mentioned by Herodotus, is partly mythical and partly a conflation of real Pharaohs, but the monument Herodotus tells us he saw with his own eyes was probably one of the monuments left by Ramses II at the Nahr al-Kalb. The Nahr al-Kalb ("Dog River" in Arabic) is the River Lycus of the Classical geographers, and runs into the Mediterranean a few miles north of Beirut. There is an Ottoman bridge and traces of Roman ones; a bluff rises sharply above the ancient road, so travelers had to pass through a narrow passage between the sea and the cliff. A marching army passing by the cliffside would want to record its passage. So would their kings and generals.

Ramses II and Esarhaddon
In between Ramses and the Israelis there are more monuments of Ramses II, one from Esarhaddon (his text here) and some from other Assyrian Kings, the Babylonian Nebuchadnezzar, a Seleucid (Antiochus the Great), the Roman Emperor Caracalla, the Mamluk Sultan Barquq, Napoleon III, and, just in the past century, British and French inscriptions from the collapse of the Ottomans in 1918, a 1920 inscription by Gen. Gouraud celebrating the French defeat of Faisal's Syrian forces at Maysalun, other inscriptions from the Mandate era, a Free French inscription from driving out Vichy in 1941, Lebanese independence and the withdrawal of French forces in 1946, and the aforementioned Israeli withdrawal of 2000.

Either the Crusaders somehow missed it, or theirs has weathered away. You can find a list of the monuments here.

Allied Armies 1918
I don't doubt the common soldiers wrote the usual things, the Bronze Age version of "Kilroy was here," or obscenities or dirty pictures or whatever; later passers-by, weather and the centuries doubtless erased these. But once Ramses II started the fashion of carving his victories there, later conquerors had to do the same, and these were carved in stone. Esarhaddon specifically brags about how he conquered Egypt, and put his monument next to Ramses, posthumously rubbing it in, I guess.

Israeli withdrawal
And so it continued, and continues into our own day. It is a testimonial I suppose to geography in two ways: geography determined the site, where the road passed between a cliff and the sea and crossed a river, but Lebanon's geography as the center point in the Fertile Crescent (the river was once the boundary between the Egyptian and Hittite Empires) meant that marching armies going to conquer one of its bigger neighbors nearby were likely to pass along this road. It is a great lesson in geographical determinism in history, and a reminder of how often war has come to this region.

I saw the Nahr al-Kalb only once, some 40 years ago. It's seen more wars and acquired at least one monument since then. But I don't know why it hasn't occurred to me to blog about it before.

UPDATE: On Herodotus' use of "Palestine," see the comments below.

Monday, September 24, 2012

A Challenge Accepted, An Article "Liberated"

Last week I linked to Marc Lynch's post on Jordan, in which he offered a number of suggestions for readings on Jordan, including one from The Middle East Journal, of which Marc noted, "(paywall,  unless Michael wants to liberate it)."

Well, I know when I've been challenged, and publicly on the Internet no less. The article, Andrew Barwig's "The New Palace Guards: Elections and Elites in Jordan and Morocco" is now made available for free download at the link. Thanks to our hosting partners at Ingenta for making it available. After 90 days or thereabouts it will revert to a paywall, but for now it's free.

Of course, members of the Middle East Institute receiving The Middle East Journal regularly would have read it a couple of months ago, so you might want to consider joining MEI now so as not to miss future articles like this one.

The Great Firewall of Iran: Blocking Google and Gmail

Though not as well known as the Great Wall of China, Sassanian Iran (in the centuries before the coming of Islam) was once protected by the Great Wall of Gorgan, protecting northeastern Iran from steppe peoples of Central Asia. With other fortifications to the west of the Caspian, Iran was protected by a network of defensive walls  rivaled in length only by their more famous Chinese counterpart. The eastern and western walls protecting the "Caspian gates" came to be associated with the mythological tales surrounding Alexander the Great and the so-called Wall of Gog and Magog.

Iran is now talking about erecting a wall of another sort, a firewall against the world, apparently as part of its declared intention of creating a national Intranet independent of the global Internet. It's latest step: 
Iran has cut off access to Google and Gmail,  Officially, the moves against Google were in retaliation for YouTube's not taking down the controversial film attacking the Prophet. YouTube is owned by Google.

Most access to Facebook, Twitter and other social media has been blocked for some time.

Iran claims its attempt to create a self-contained national Intranet is not primarily aimed at isolating its people from information, but at blocking the sort of cyber-attacks on its computer and scientific infrastructure, including its nuclear program, that it has experienced in recent years.

Another Country, Another Street of Booksellers Attacked

Following the distressing police breakup of the bookstalls on Nabi Daniel Street in Alexandria earlier this month, we learn that the Baghdad Municipality similarly dismantled bookstalls along al-Mutanabbi Street in the Iraqi capital last week. Again, the excuse is one of licensing violations. Again it is the readers who are victimized. The parallels though — a street of bookstalls selling all manner of books and well known as the place to go to find unusual and hard to find volumes — seems all too familiar.

Neither instance was, overtly at least, aimed at the books themselves. Ostensibly they are about licensing, but the power to license, like the power to tax, is ultimately the power to censor.

Friday, September 21, 2012

The MEK is Delisted

The controversial Iranian exile group, the People's Mujahedin or MEK, has won its fight to be removed from the US terrorism list. I am no fan of the MEK, but their huge lobbying campaign won a lot of support in Congress.

These guys, once Saddam Hussein's best friends forever, are now getting support from some Israel's best friends. Of course the common element is their hostility to the Iranian regime.Here are some of my comments on them last year.

Comments by Barbara Slavin and Laura Rozen at Al-Monitor here.

Coming on the eve of the anniversary of the Iran-Iraq war, this will be seen in Iran as a poke in the eye, but that perception will be shared by many Iranians who despise the Tehran regime, but also consider the cultlike MEK a dangerous group who supported Iran's mortal enemy, Saddam.

While the delisting may have been timed to show hostility to Iran in an election year, it also was buried in the classic news sinkhole of Friday afternoon.

Enjoy your weekend. The People's Mujahedin will.

Happy Birthday to Jadaliyya at Two

One of the best online magazines on the Middle East, Jadaliyya,is celebrating its second birthday today. If you don't check it out regularly, now would be an excellent time to start.

Now That You Have the Demotic Dictionary, You Need a Grammar

I'm sorry for an omission. I posted a link to the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago's Dictionary of Demotic Egyptian, now available online. A great many other media (The New York Times, BBC, etc.) did the same, usually trying to link Demotic to something their readers might have heard of ("one of the languages on the Rosetta stone," "Cleopatra would have known it,"), etc. I did about the same amount of explication that they did.

But then, I may have forgotten my audience. This is a blog where my three-part "Why did Aramaic survive while Coptic is only a liturgical language?" series (here, here, and here) was in response to a question from a commenter on the blog. (And after all, Demotic evolved into Coptic by adopting the Greek alphabet, with a few Demotic characters, but they are two phases of the Egyptian language.)  I realize I have ill-served those of my readers whose first response may have been, "first dictionary of Demotic Egyptian, great. But how am I going to learn to actually speak Demotic if I don't have a decent grammar to use with the dictionary? What if time travelers abduct me and drop me in Ptolemaic Alexandria tomorrow?" For those of you hoping to be able to converse with Cleopatra, I was neglectful.

I may have failed you, but the Oriental Institute at U. Chicago has not. Egyptologist Janet H. Johnson, longtime Editor of the Dictionary (and whom I knew many years ago when she and Donald Whitcomb were digging the port of Quseir in Egypt), has also written Thus Wrote 'Onchsheshonqy - An Introductory Grammar of Demotic.

Once again, through the generosity of The Oriental Institute, the text is available online as a .pdf.

So now you have pretty much all you need to teach yourself Demotic. Except maybe tapes to show you how to pronounce 'Onchsheshonqy. Seriously, though, I want a copy.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Lynch on Jordan with Lots of Links

You should read Marc Lynch's latest on Jordan's new media law, which could severely restrict the Internet, and his collection of links on the subject. He also has a discussion with Curtis Ryan, one of the better known country experts. Marc has been warning for some time that things are not well in Jordan and that the rest of us are not paying attention.  He knows the country well and I suspect we should all pay attention. We often talk about the "monarchical exceptions" to Arab change, but will the monarchies always be exceptions? One advantage of this post is he also offers lots of links for background reading.

And a note: he includes an MEJ article and notes it's behind a paywall "unless Michael wants to liberate it." I will consult our tech folks but am making no promises.

Egyptian PM Calls for Graffiti to Return

I don't know whether it's just typical bureaucratic miscommunication in a country which invented bureaucracy and has over 5,000 years of practice, or whether the Egyptian authorities were taken by surprise by the outcry over the removal of the Mohamed Mahmoud graffiti, but now a Cabinet statement is saying that the removal "is contrary to [the Cabinet's] will to commemorate the revolution" and noting:
Prime Minister Hesham Qandil calls on artists and painters and others to turn Tahrir Square into a space worthy of the martyrs of the revolution in order to become a symbol of the Egyptian revolution. He called for it to become a platform for freedom of opinion through wall paintings and graffiti, which reflect the spirit of the 25 January revolution, and the principles and aspirations of the Egyptian people.
As I noted earlier today, they're already being repainted.

"The Walls Will Not Be Silent"

As this post notes, "The walls will not be silent": scarcely had the authorities finished whitewashing the murals on Mohamed Mahmoud street (see my post of yesterday) than artists started filling them again. Bravo.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Chicago's Demotic Egyptian Dictionary is Online

The Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago has completed work on its landmark dictionary of Demotic Egyptian. The work, edited by Janet H. Johnson, is being made available to the public online, as the Oriental Institute has also done with its monumental Assyrian Dictionary, which I blogged about a while back. 

To access the Demotic dictionary online or download it, or read more about it, go here.

Demotic, the simplified script used for everyday purposes, reflects the daily language of Egypt as opposed to the formal language of the hieroglyphs; Demotic was the third language, along with hieroglyphic Egyptian and Greek, on the Rosetta stone.

Whitewashing a Revolution

Yesterday, ostensibly as part of a clean-up of the Tahrir Square area, Cairo city workers painted over the famous blocks-long revolutionary murals along Mohamed Mahmoud Street. Zeinobia's comments here.  Here's a series of photos of the whole thing. This blog has frequently noted the murals, and the efforts by the American University to preserve then, under the graffiti label.

This is a loss for Egyptian culture,  and a triumph for the bureaucratic mind,

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Syrian Media Say Saudis Block Syrians from Hajj

Syrian state media is reporting that Saudi Arabia will not allow Syrians to make the hajj this year, because the routine approval was not forthcoming:
"The Syrian High Committee of hajj has announced the halt to the pilgrimage this year, due to a failure to reach consensus with the Saudi authorities," the official SANA news agency reported.
The Syrian committee "took all necessary steps for the 2012 hajj season, but the relevant ministry in Saudi Arabia did not sign the accord as it does every year," SANA said.
The tensions over the conflict in Syria are presumably to blame, but the move is highly unusual. Saudi Arabia has long imposed national quotas on hajj pilgrims based on the originating country's Muslim population, and has sometimes sharply reduced quotas due to political issues. In 1987, after years of tension, clashes broke out with Iranian pilgrims and some 400 people died; Iran and Saudi Arabia broke relations and the Saudis sharply reduced Iran's hajj quota by more than half, but did not eliminate it. Iran boycotted the hajj for three years as a protest, but that decision came from the Iranian side, not the Saudis.

These reports are already provoking some comment on the Internet; the hajj has almost never been affected by political disputes, aside from the Iranian case in the 1980s.

The hajj will take place in late October this year.

If You're Looking for Something to be Angry About ...,

UNICEF say 1,600 people were killed in Syria last week; other reports say 5,000 died in the month of August.

The overwhelming majority of these dead were Muslims. And yes, I know, many were killed by the opposition. In a civil war, both sides kill. It's the killing we need to address.

I am not a Muslim, but everything I know about the Prophet Muhammad, may God Bless Him and Grant Him Peace, from reading the Sira and the Hadith, tells me that he would be more concerned by this number than the juvenile effort by some ignorant racists who can't even make a decent video.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Newsweek, "Muslim Rage," and the Best Response: Muslim Humor

Newsweek, which was once something you younger folk may have heard about, a weekly newsmagazine, has changed hands recently and is trying to figure out what role a weekly magazine may have in reporting news in a round the clock online world, and now has provoked controversy over a seemingly provocative if not incendiary cover called "Muslim Rage." It has also provoked something else, which is both reassuring and encouraging: widespread ridicule (of the funny, not the angry, kind),  in the Muslim world. Newsweek actually tweeted asking for responses to its cover, so it deserves everything it's gotten:
Gawker put up 13 images of "Muslim rage" showing Egyptians having fun, Iranians building snowmen, and other such, though I can't reproduce their photos here. But Twitter, which can create a massive humor wave instantly, produced a wave of commentary. Some was serious, like veteran journalist Larry Pintak:

And there was sharp criticism as well, including some requiring a crude language warning, but still worth noting:
But most was tongue in cheek, with Muslims describing various day-to-day annoyances as #MuslimRage. There are news accounts here and here, but it may make more sense just to let the contributors speak:

30 Years Since Sabra and Shatila

Yesterday marked the 30th anniversary of the first day of killing at the Sabra and Shatila Palestinian refugee camps on the edge of Beirut, one of the most notorious incidents in the long conflict in Lebanon, During three days from September 16 through 18, 1982, Lebanese Forces Christian militia led by Elie Hobeiqa killed Palestinians; though the exact death toll is disputed, it was high. Since the Israel Defense Forces were, at the time, occupying southern Lebanon as far as Beirut, and surrounded and controlled access to the camps, many accused Israel of complicity. In 1983 Israel's own Kahan Commission found that Israeli commanders were at least aware that killing was taking place and did not stop it; Ariel Sharon, the Kahan Commission found, bore indirect responsibility for not blocking militia access to the Palestinian camps.

Hobeiqa, who shifted allegiances later in the Lebanese civil war, went on to serve in various posts. He was killed by a car bomb in 2002,

And a Happy Edward William Lane's Birthday

Today is not only the first day of Rosh Hashona, it is also Edward William Lane's birthday. 

Longtime readers know that Lane's birthday is celebrated annually on this blog. The man born in Hereford, England, on September 17, 1801, gave us the richest anthropological description of Egypt in the age of Muhammad Ali (The Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians) and the hefty eight-volume Lane's Lexicon, the fullest Arabic-English dictionary of the classical language, not to mention a version of the Arabian Nights, with extensive cultural notes. Lane was perhaps the first truly great English Arabist, and founded a dynasty that included his sister Sophia Lane Poole, who wrote about women in Egypt, and his nephew, Sophia's son Stanley Lane-Poole (who acquired a hyphen somewhere), who wrote widely on Arab and Islamic history.

I posted on his birthday in 2009, 2010, and 2011, and on the Lane dynasty here,

His contributions to anthropology/sociology (Manners and Customs), literature (1,001 Nights), and linguistics (the Arabic-English Lexicon) would make his birthday worth noting, even if, 146 years after Lane, I hadn't come along to share the birthday.

For much more detail, please see the earlier posts. And let's dance with the Ghawazi (or Ghawazee as Lane spelled it), whose sensual public dances, said to be one origin of the belly dance, so shocked Lane's Victorian (and pre-Victorian) sensibilities, that he wrote (at great length) about them, and provided illustrations. Happy birthday, Ed:

Friday, September 14, 2012

שנה טובה: Shona Tova 5773

Given the pace of events, I may well need to post over the weekend, but otherwise I'll be back Monday. Since Rosh Hashona begins at sundown on Sunday, I will therefore take the occasion to wish my Jewish readers a happy new year 5773.

Going After the Peacekeepers: MFO Under Attack in SInai

The growing unrest across the region has now merged with the growing instability in Sinai as the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO)'s North Camp in northeastern Sinai has come under attack, apparently from "bedouin" forces equipped with sophisticated weaponry; some wounded MFO personnel are being treated for wounds in Israel.

Now even the peacekeepers are under attack. More later.

Ignorant Armies, Continued

Nor can goodness and Evil be equal. Repel (Evil) with what is better: Then will he between whom and thee was hatred become as it were thy friend and intimate!
—Holy Qur'an Sura 41:34
 Returning to the subject of my earlier post, "When Ignorant Armies Clash," the growing waves of rage throughout the Muslim world seem increasingly remote from the specific presumed provocation: a poorly made, overdubbed, ignorant amateurish film attacking the Prophet of Islam. Clearly organizers of demonstrations are channeling ill-informed popular rage not just at symbols of the United States, but at the West generally. Besides US Embassies and targets such as the American School in Tunis, rioters are going after Western targets of all sorts. Though Germany had no connection, even remotely, to the film that allegedly provoked the violence, the German Embassy in Khartoum has been burned. The photo above shows a KFC and a Hardee's in Tripoli, Lebanon, aflame, though since these are franchised chains, I'm wagering the owners are Lebanese and (in Tripoli) quite probably Muslim.

Since the perpetrator of all this is turning out to be a small-time operator with multiple pseudonyms and a conviction on drug charges, this clearly isn't about the film anymore, but it already has become another outburst of rage, on the pattern of the Satanic Verses or the Danish cartoons, to be directed by organizers towards symbolic targets, but with real people dying in the process.

All this in defense of a Prophet who preached mercy and returning evil with good (see above), and of whom there is a hadith to this effect:
[The Prophet said] So I departed, overwhelmed with excessive sorrow, and proceeded on, and could not relax till I found myself at Qarnath-Tha-alib where I lifted my head towards the sky to see a cloud shading me unexpectedly. I looked up and saw Gabriel in it. He called me saying, 'Allah has heard your people's saying to you, and what they have replied back to you, Allah has sent the Angel of the Mountains to you so that you may order him to do whatever you wish to these people.' The Angel of the Mountains called and greeted me, and then said, "O Muhammad! Order what you wish. If you like, I will let Al-Akh-Shabain (i.e. two mountains) fall on them." The Prophet said, "No but I hope that Allah will let them beget children who will worship Allah Alone, and will worship none besides Him."
There is also the ominous fact that the perpetrator seems to  be a Copt, which could lead to new sectarian violence, especially in Egypt. I will have more to say on that a bit later.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

There's Good News and Bad News This Month for Farouq Hosni

Amid all the Sturm und Drang in the last couple of days, a reminder that there is still room for absurdity: The Sharja International Book Fair has announced that the winner of this year's "Cultural Personality of the Year" award — which comes with a 50,000 dirham prize — has gone to former Egyptian Culture Minister Farouq Hosni. Egypt is also the guest of honor at this year's Book Fair. The timing is interesting since only last week, Hosni was charged with corruption:
Mr. Hosni, who was made culture minister in 1987 and was close to Mrs. Mubarak, failed to convincingly explain how he had gotten about $3 million in assets, the state news media said, and has been referred to court for trial. In a slightly different account, Al Ahram, a semiofficial newspaper, said Mr. Hosni was asked to return about $1.5 million in state assets and was fined the same sum.
He claims he's innocent, but it is kind of interesting that, while he's charged with this, he's being given an award described as follows:
given to a distinguished person, organization or company whose cultural, literary or social contribution to society is found to be invaluable and of high caliber, deserving rightful appreciation and recognition.
Even before he was ousted in the revolution against Mubarak, Hosni was widely criticized as a Culture Minister in Suzanne Mubarak's pocket, while (allegedly) lining his own. The Sharja authorities emphasized that  they were rewarding Hosni for his tenure as Culture Minister, but as one Egyptian cultural figure noted:
Farghali said that, if the award was to honor Hosni’s tenure as culture minister, that time was hardly sterling, and that “most of the intellectuals have seen a lot of catastrophes during the twenty-something years he spent as culture minister, from the stolen work of Van Gogh to the burning of the Beni Suef culture center, where a number of our best theater artists, writers, and critics died.”
At one point he was forbidden to leave Egypt, so it's not certain if he'll be able to accept the award at the ceremony in November.

Next up: the Nobel Peace Prize to North Korea? 

A Timeless Village Scene

In the midst of more violence in the region, and being tied up with other work for the afternoon, I thought I'd share this timeless scene in an Egyptian village, said to be from around 1940, though it could be almost anytime in the last thousand years or so. The man, the boy, the gamusa, the houses ... a little nostalgia at a rough moment in the region.

An Elusive Filmmaker Who's Riled the Islamic World

I'm on deadlines and will write more when I can, but as demonstrations against the mysterious anti-Muslim film spead, the mysterious and shadowy producer is starting to emerge, and it seems clear that the actors in the film were unaware it had anything to do with Muhammad, which explains why all the religious dialogue appears to have been dubbed.

The multimedia revolution: Salman Rushdie needed a publisher and a hardcover book to anger as many people as these (still mostly anonymous) folks did with bad production values and YouTube.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

When Ignorant Armies Clash

There is much we do not know about the attacks in Benghazi and Cairo. Who organized them? The presence of jihadi black flags is ominous. They do not appear to have been entirely what they purport to be: purely spontaneous outrage at a video no one has seen, or seen more than a trailer for.  It may well be that this was merely a pretext for attacking US Embassies on the anniversary of September 11.

What is clear enough is that the US Embassies found themselves caught, as it were, in the crossfire of two ignorant armies: rabid Islamophobes determined to attack the Prophet of Islam on the one hand, and the most extreme Islamists on the other, determined to avenge him. As is so often the case, the two extremes have more in common with each other than they do with the vast majority of Christians and Muslims and Jews in between. Both consider that there is a war to the death between Islam and the West. There is not, yet. And it is important for people of good will on all sides to prevent their vision from becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Some of the scurrilous charges being made against the Prophet are ancient slanders that are older than the Crusades; antiquity does not add credibility: they are as old as, and as false as, the blood libel against the Jews.

The First Amendment guarantees any bigoted American the sovereign right to parade his ignorance in public; I treasure the freedom, but that does not lead me to defend ahistorical rhetoric.

Just as we are not sure who organized the Embassy attacks (but there is little doubt about their intentions), it is also still not clear who is behind the video that provoked the outrage. A well-known evangelical preacher whose fame exceeds his minuscule congregation has said  he was going to distribute it but didn't make it; a report that a "Sam Bacile," first identified as an Israeli, was behind it, has evaporated. Many Egyptians are blaming a well-known US Coptic activist, but I won't name him as I don't want to add further fuel to a burning fire; I hope that it isn't true.

There is only one remedy for this clash of ignorances: one of the longstanding goals of the Middle East Institute has been to educate the US about the Middle East and the Middle East about the US. This tragic intersection of Western Islamophobia and radical Jihadi murderous outrage is a sign there is still a lot to be done, on both sides. We are still with Matthew Arnold on Dover Beach:
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

Marc Lynch on Benghazi and Cairo

Until I find time to get my own thoughts together, I can unreservedly recommend Marc Lynch's piece today on the events in Benghazi and Cairo. He's measured, but justifiably critical of the weak response so far from President Morsi and the Egyptian government, in contrast to the much stronger statements coming from Libya., Do read it.

The Deaths in Benghazi

We learned today that the US Ambassador to Libya and three members of his staff were killed in yesterday's attack on the consulate in Benghazi, ironically on September 11, making the Benghazi attack far more serious than th attack on the Cairo Embassy. I'm rather busy right now and will reserve further comment for later.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Cairo Embassy Attack

The attack on the US Embassy in Cairo today, and the raising of a Jihadist flag (a black flag with the Muslim shahada), raises a lot of questions. The supposed provocation — a reputed anti-Islamic film about the Prophet — obviously has no official US support and appears to have been used to rally popular fury; in fact it seems to be a fringe product which will now draw far more attention than it otherwise would have. The identity of all the attackers is not yet clear, but Muhammad al-Zawahiri (brother of Ayman) and other radical Salafis are claiming credit.

I'll have more if more becomes known, but it seems likely that this will harm the image of Muslims in US opinion far more than a fringe film could have done. The fact that a US flag was burned raises questions about the Embassy's protection, both by Egyptian police and the Marine contingent. It appears that Egypt's Salafis — who have also stormed the Israeli Embassy and tried to storm Syria's — are testing their strength.

Neyrouz (Coptic New Year) 1729

For Coptic readers, and members of the Ethiopian and Eritrean Churches as well, happy new year. Besides September 11's obvious meaning for so many of us, it also marks the new year in these traditions. Known in Coptic tradition as Neyrouz (said to be a conflation of an ancient Egyptian word with Persian Nowruz, which of course is in the spring), the calendar also dates from the persecutions of Diocletian, AD 284, so that this is Year of the Martyrs 1729.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Nabi Daniel: Outrage Continues as Government Backs Away

Last Friday, I noted the destruction of booksellers' kiosks in Nabi Daniel Street in Alexandria, and expressed my disgust. So has much of Egypt's literary community and anyone who loves books and the joy of browsing used book carts. There has also been widespread backlash against President Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, though it is far from clear that they instigated or were aware of the raid. The police have reportedly apologized (a sentence never uttered in Mubarak's Egypt) and pledged to improve matters. It looks like it may be a case of overreach and bureaucratic screwup, or perhaps they're trying to cover their tracks by making it sound like it. Ahram Online's piece is a curious blend of "they deserved it," "it never happened," and "besides, we're going to make it good." To wit: it was only about unlicensed bookstalls; only eight out of 40 were destroyed (other reports say 16, and say they were legally licensed); and besides, it was all a bit mistake. Also, the Muslim Brotherhood can't have been behind it, since religious books were destroyed, too! (So does that make it all right?) This mix of the defensive and the exculpatory is not so pronounced in Egypt Independent's story, which makes it sound, however, as if the authorities are going to buy off the booksellers by setting them up again.

Trashed Text: Islamic Religious Education
Now, admittedly, when the Syrian Government is systematically slaughtering its own people, when Gaza remains under siege and tensions run high in many places, it may seem out of place to become overly upset about the destruction of bookstalls, especially in a region where censorship is endemic. But books are (as the recently deceased Ray Bradbury recognized in his classic, Fahrenheit 451), the ultimate defense against tyranny, and the first target of the tyrant: the Nazi book-burnings were a prelude to the literal burnings of people. Maybe this will turn out to be a bureaucratic screwup or maybe it is the prelude to something worse, but whatever the reason, there are going to be a lot of people justifiably alarmed by the sight of books scattered in the street.

I spent many a day in the 1970s lingering over the bookstalls along the fence of Ezbekiyya Gardens in Cairo. Those bookstalls have been uprooted and relocated and then returned to Ezbekiyya during the building of various flyovers, bypasses, and in the 1990s the underground tunnels for the Metro. But they have survived. Now, Ezbekiyya's analog in Alexandria, the bookstalls of Nabi Daniel Street, whve been attacked. The images or books thrown about in the street, however, has outraged book lovers throughout Egypt and brought protests from the country's literary community. See some of the Twitter and literary comment at Global Voices Online and at Arabic Literature (in English). The comments at Nervana are also definitely worth reading, whether or not Islamists turn out to have had any role. And it's worth revisiting the sadly prophetic piece I linked to recently by Khaled Fahmy on "The Tragedy of Books in Egypt."

"Used book markets around the world": Paris, Boston, Bandung, Tokyo. The center photo is labeled "Alexandria, Egypt."

Videos of Old Hama

The Syrian city of Hama suffered heavily from government shelling in 1982 and is suffering again today. Here's a nostalgic selection of video, some very old and some newer, of Hama, including many shots of its famous water wheels (called "Norias" in English, from Arabic نواعير).

The Short-Lived Internet Death and Subsequent Resurrection of Abdelaziz Bouteflika

In case you missed it, Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika died for a while over the weekend, but like Husni Mubarak and others who have died on the Internet, Bouteflika's death was greatly exaggerated and limited to social media rumors. He has, in fact, died frequently in the rumor mills since 2005. French blogger Alain Jules, whose original post said Swiss sources indicated he had been declared clinically dead in a Swiss hospital, but whose original post has since been replaced by a "Mea Culpa au President Bouteflika et a ses Compatriotes," was apparently the sole origin of the story, after which various Algerian opposition sites and Twitter took it and ran with it.

Unlike Husni Mubarak, whose last of many Internet deaths was last June and was actually reported by the official state news agency, there was never any major media report of Bouteflika's alleged demise. The Algerians took a little while to deny it, which may have fueled the speculation.

[Update: Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal is not dead either, despite media reports.]

Bouteflika yesterday: Apparently he's feeling MUCH better now:

Friday, September 7, 2012

The Raid on Nabi Daniel: Targeting Booksellers in Alexandria

Nabi Daniel St. Before and After (Al-Wafd)
Apparently at the behest of the newly-appointed Governor of Alexandria, security forces early today destroyed book kiosks on historic Nabi Daniel Street in Alexandria. As the photos show, books were piled in the street after security forces dismantled the kiosks. The booksellers insist they have valid licenses, and the resulting outcry has led to a pledge from the Minister of Culture to look into the case and punish those responsible if it was done illegally. Writers and others are naturally protesting, and let me add my own voice to theirs: there is no justification for destroying bookstores so precipitately. If there is some legal issue, settle it in the courts.

The Nabi Daniel booksellers have their own website and their own Facebook page. Not, in other words, some sort of clandestine, underground operation. It isn't clear why the new Governor, Muhammad Atta Abbas, took the move; there has been a government campaign against street vendors in Cairo, but targeting long-established booksellers specifically is particularly alarming.

I plan to follow this story as it evolves. There is no justification for destroying booksellers. None.

Philip K. Hitti, "History of the Arabs" at 75, and the Birth of Arab Studies in the US

Philip K. Hitti at Princeton
Philip Khuri Hitti (1886-1978) may not be a familiar name among younger students in the Arabic Studies field in the US today, but once, he virtually was the Arabic Studies field in the US. This year marks 75 years since the publication in 1937 of the first edition of  History of the Arabs, which he started writing a decade earlier. That book, still in print in its 10th edition (revised), was for many years (including when I started out in the field 40 years back), not just the history of the Arabs but virtually the only one-volume history of the Arabs that took the story from the beginnings to the present in anything like a comprehensive manner. Today there are many, of which Albert Hourani's History of the Arab Peoples perhaps replaces Hitti's work most effectively.  Today, re-reading Hitti, it strikes one as rather old-fashioned, a lot of it a narrative of names and dates, but it is still a useful compendium of the basic narrative. Hourani is better written and more modern and nuanced in its sensibilities. (Eugene Rogan's The Arabs: A History is impressive but only begins with the Ottoman conquests, and so is limited in scope. I omit multi-volume and multi-author histories here.)

A Maronite from Shimlan, Lebanon, born under Ottoman rule, Hitti, trained at AUB and Columbia, came to Princeton in 1926 as a Professor of Semitic Languages, at a time when "Oriental Studies" was mostly linguistic and literary. But most of his writing was to be history.

Hitti wrote many other books, on Lebanon, Syria, and much else; for a long time he was the only Middle Eastern scholar writing in the US in English on Middle Eastern history (though he was soon joined by Aziz Atiya and other pioneers). He was a man of his times; some of his books on Lebanon dwell a bit awkwardly on trying to interpret the "racial" characteristics of Maronites, Druze, and others. (A friend, himself a distinguished historian today, once privately told me Hitti spent too much time "measuring noses.") But that is a product of his era. Hitti was a founding father.  Without him, and without History of the Arabs, the whole Arab Studies field would look quite different today. Medicine has outgrown Galen, and mathematics has outgrown Euclid; so in the light of today's Arabic Studies literature, Hitti's work seems old-fashioned, stuffy, and incomplete. But if we see farther today, as the cliche goes, it is because we stand on the shoulders of giants, and in the US Arab Studies community, the man at the bottom of that inverted pyramid is Philip Hitti.

I am told that there is, or was, a Lebanese cedar growing at Princeton, where Hitti taught for decades, because he had brought it over from Lebanon. Cedars can live a thousand years; may it do so. Seventy-five years since History of The Arabs first appeared and nearly 35 years after his death, we still owe much to Hitti, who brought much more than that cedar to this country.

WINEP's "Who's Who" of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood

 I don't agree with everything coming out of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, but their new "Who's Who in Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood" is a useful guide to the players for anyone watching Egypt today.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Odds Are This Egyptian Stamp Will Not Be Reissued by the Present Government

The (Arabic) post accompanying this Egyptian stamp posted to Twitter by @Hragy reads: "Egyptian postage stamp from my childhood [not specified when] before Egypt became extremist, celebrating Eastern dance [what the West calls "belly dance"]."

 (It may be a tax stamp rather than a postage stamp, but I think it's real.)

Ah, those were the days ...

"E-Militias of the Muslim Brotherhood"

Here's another post that's mostly just a link: Linda Herrera and Mark Lotfy at Jadaliyya on "E-Militias of the Muslim Brotherhood: How to Upload Ideology on Facebook." It provides a fairly detailed look at how the Muslim Brotherhood uses websites and social media, including both the official sites but also those that appear to have no link to the MB but do.

Iraq Lays Foundation for Sabean Cultural Center

I'm really busy with Journal work today s please forgive a post that is little mre than a link: "Iraq Lays Foundation for Sabean Cultural Center." Like other non-Muslim minorities in Iraq, the Sabeans (or Mandaeans as they call themselves) are in sharp decline: the article estimates only about 5,000 remain in Iraq, down from 100,000 in the 1980s. They suffered under Saddam Hussein and have been targeted by Islamists more recently (as have Iraq's Christians, Yazidis, and others, while the Jewish population has left).  Many Mandaeans still speak a variety of Aramaic. They practice a gnostic, syncretistic religion in which Adam and John the Baptist play major roles.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Democrats and the Jerusalem Flap

I don't discuss US politics much here, though it's not always easy in a Presidential election year, and this is the first Presidential election since MEI started this blog. Opinions expressed here are my own, not MEI's, but I'm still not going to take partisan sides on US political issues, except as they involve the Middle East.

My Middle Eastern readers, however, may be puzzled by some of the rituals of the US nominating conventions, especially the strange events this afternoon relating to Jerusalem.

US policy, under Democratic and Republican Presidents, remains officially that the status of Jerusalem is a final status issue to be decided in negotiation between Israelis and Palestinians. As a result, the US Embassy in Israel, like other foreign Embassies (except for a tiny handful of Latin countries I think) remains in Tel Aviv. Our Jerusalem consulate exists in a sort of transnational status.

Nevertheless, every four years both major political parties declare Jerusalem the capital of Israel. Congress periodically votes to move the Embassy, but the President's foreign policy powers are then invoked to waive moving the embassy until a final status agreement.

For reasons still unclear (though this Laura Rozen column seems to explain it pretty well) the ritual declaration about Jerusalem was not included in this year's Democratic platform, despite otherwise extremely pro-Israeli provisions. Today an amendment from the floor was introduced to add the Jerusalem language, as well as a mention of God, which had also been omitted. The spin is that President Obama wanted these provisions included, but the result is to call attention to the ritualistic (and in real terms, rather meaningless) Jerusalem language. But it was done awkwardly, and the result was that the chairperson had to gavel through an alleged two-thirds majority on a voice vote, though only the truly faithful can hear two-thirds saying "aye" in the video below. It was handled rather poorly, but the result is not a change in US policy, just an invocation of a ritual shibboleth in American politics.

It has been asked, "why not just say that Jerusalem is the capital of both Israel and Palestine?" Good question.

The Arab Organization for Industrialization

The Egypt Independent has a "Profile" of the Arab Organization for Industrialization, a major component of Egypt's defense-industrial complex. In an earlier incarnation, writing about indigenous Middle Eastern defense industries in the 1980s, I had considerable familiarity with AOI. Based on the article, things haven't changed all that much.

AOI had its origins in the 1970s, when the idea of a joint Arab defense industry seemed feasible, and the Gulf states (Saudi Arabia., Qatar, and the UAE), fueled with money from the oil price spike in the 1970s, decided to fund a joint industry based on Egypt's industrial base. After Sadat made peace with Israel the inter-Arab component vanished, but the organization remained a separate (though state-owned) entity from Egypt's Ministry of Military Production. I'm not sure even most Egyptians know why it's a separate entity anymore, though it retains the "Arab" in the title.

As the article notes, a great many of its products are for civilian use; the military manufacturing sector makes lots of non-military products. Sometimes it makes sense (jeeps for both military and civilian markets); more often, it's just a way for the military to have its own sector of the consumer market.

As the article notes, AOI has always had a head from a military background, and President Morsi last month named the forcibly-retired head of the Air Defense Forces as its latest chief. It also enjoys the perk the rest of the military sector enjoys: its budget is not public and is not voted by Parliament. There are moves to change that in the new Constitution, but the military will fight to keep it.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Is Israel Looking for a Way to Climb Down from War Rhetoric?

Although you wouldn't know it from last week's Republican National Convention in Tampa, there seems to be a growing consensus that the likelihood of Israel attacking Iran in the near term is somewhat reduced. Amos Harel in Haaretz argues that Netanyahu and Barak overplayed their hand (in a poker game with Washington, not Tehran):
Here is a less speculative assessment: In the Iranian poker game, which they are playing primarily against Washington, Netanyahu and Barak raised the stakes a few weeks ago. From Haaretz's interview with "the decision maker," aka Barak, to the leaks of classified information regarding the dialogue with the United States, Netanyahu and Barak have been ratcheting up the pressure. But they appear to have overplayed their hand.
The result has been a tougher American stance that has led Israel to calm down a bit, as reflected in recent reports that Barak has changed his mind and now opposes attacking at this time. Thus many officials now believe an attack is not as inevitable as it previously seemed.
The Washington Post  sees Israel easing tensions with the US but wanting a strong statement on Iran from the US; while a Reuters article reports:

Stunned by a rebuke from the United States' top general, Israel is preparing a climbdown strategy in its war of words over Iran's nuclear program, aware that its room for maneuver is shrinking rapidly.
Anxious to prevent any flare-up in the Middle East ahead of November elections, there is also a good chance that U.S. President Barack Obama will provide Israel with enough cover to avoid a loss of face, analysts say.
A burst of bellicose rhetoric over the last month led Western allies to fear that Israel was poised to launch a unilateral strike against Iran in an effort to hobble the Islamic Republic's contested nuclear facilities.
So is Israel looking for a way to climb down? A few of us have thought so all along: Gary Sick's "Please Exhale: Israel is Not Going to Attack Iran" appeared last month and I commented on it then. Soon after, Shai Feldman assured us that "The Israeli Debate Over Attacking Iran is Over."

The facts are that Netanyahu has not only faced opposition from the Obama Administration and the US Joint Chiefs; Israeli President Shimon Peres, opposition leader/former IDF Chief Shaul Mofaz, and a number of former intelligence figures have all openly opposed an attack or dismissed Iran's threat; it's widely believed serving security figures also oppose the idea. If Netanyahu and Barak cannot command public support in Israel (however much they are backed to the hilt by AIPAC and the US Republican Party), then the hand they have overplayed was a weak one indeed. As the Reuters story previously quoted notes:
Despite all the obvious activity, it is hard to shake off a sense of skepticism. Although Israel is believed to have the region's only nuclear arsenal, it lacks the sort of conventional firepower pundits believe is necessary to put a serious dent in Iran's far-flung, well-defended atomic installations.
"All this talk of war is bullshit. If they could do it, then they would have already done it long ago," a senior European diplomat in Israel said.
As I have noted before, it would also be the most publicized surprise attack in history.

Of course, there is still a danger that Netanyahu and Barak, having talked themselves out onto a limb, will make a desperate move because they can't find a way to retreat. Many wars have been blundered into out of desperation, but I'd at least say the odds are against an attack at least in the short term.

Algeria's Water Minister Named PM: Is This the New Trend, or What?

Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika named Water Resources Minister Abdelmalek Sallal as Algeria's new Prime Minister yesterday. He replaces veteran Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia. The appointment ends a period of uncertainty since the Parliamentary elections in May, after which no new government was announced.

You may recall that Egypt's new Prime Minister, Hesham Qandil, was Water Resources Minister before he was named PM by President Morsi. Water is certainly important in the region, but when did this traditionally technocratic position become the route to the Prime Ministry? Is this a new fad? Morsi was new at his job, but Bouteflika is, well. rather experienced at this sort of thing,  to say the least. And Ouyahia has been a veteran figure. Water Resources: the New Road to Power?

Reshuffling the Egyptian Army

Though it's still unclear what role, precisely, the Supreme Council of the Armefd Forces (SCAF) will retain when Egypt's new Constitution is ready, Gen.‘Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi, named Defense Minister last month, has redefined the SCAF membership in the wake of last month's retirements and has also announced another round of retirements of senior generals. The first move seems merely to formlize what had never been very clearly defined. As for the second, it is not immediately clear if, like last month's changes, it merely removes the aging senior command leadership while moving other officers up in normal promotion order, or if it is aimed at rewarding particular political views. Last month's dramatic changes were accepted by the armed forces (most likely) because the removal of the aging senior command opened up new opportunities for promotion, proving popular among younger officers, but did not change the military institution itself or alter the chain of advancement.