A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Friday, October 29, 2010

Yemen Army Fails to Find AQAP Even as World Suspects AQAP in Bomb Plot

In an unfortunate piece of timing, Yemen's Saba News Agency announced today that the Yemen Army has ended its operations in the al-Kur Mountains of Shabwa Province, after failing to locate any Al-Qa‘ida in the Arabian Penuinsula (AQAP) elements there. This comes at a time when the US and UK assume AQAP is behind today's interception of explosive devices on cargo flights.

AQAP, which emerged from the merger of the Yemeni and Saudi branches of Al-Qa‘ida, has become one of the most active movements in recent years, with operations ranging from the USS Cole to the attempt to assassinate Prince Muhammad bin Nayef of Saudi Arabia. Lately, they have of course shown a serious interest in striking inside the United States, with reported links to both the Fort Hood shooter and the "underwear bomber" of last Christmas. One reason for the focus on the US may be the presence in Yemen of Anwar al-‘Awlaqi, the New Mexico-born radical of Yemeni descent.

Western intelligence sources reportedly believe ‘Awlaqi is hiding in the mountains of Shabwa, despite the Yemeni Army's aforementioned inability to find any AQAP there. (One reason he will be hard to find: before the British left South Yemen, a major part of what is now Shabwa was called the Sultanate of ‘Awlaq. His tribal roots are there, and if the tribes are protecting him, the government won't find him. So far the Predators haven't found him either, though they've reportedly been given the right to take him out. Usama bin Ladin's ancestral roots, of course, lie in neighboring Hadramawt.)

AQAP is serious about striking the US: earlier this year they published a colorful, English-language jihadi magazine called Inspire, the first issue of which included the article "How to Make a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom," (a pressure cooker is involved). The second issue was released just a few weeks ago. It offers (in a section it calls "Open Source Jihad") advice to potential Jihadis living in the West on how to conceal their identity, avoid suspicion, and plan their own attacks. (Since it includes bombmaking instructions and other unpleasant — and illegal — stuff, I've linked to the Jihadica analysis, not the magazine itself, but copies are out there, and I've looked the first two issues over.)

I suspect we're going to hear a lot more about AQAP and ‘Awlaqi in coming days.

Asymmetry 101

UPDATE: The President says the packages did contain explosive material. I don't think that changes the basic point below that a limited threat can nevertheless produce asymmetric levels of disruption.

Today's international security alerts still have a lot of unanswered questions attached, so bear in mind that I'm offering some first reactions here, not a considered evaluation. So far it seems that the hard evidence is a few suspicious packages originating in Yemen and reportedly sent to Chicago, perhaps to Chicago synagogues. One is described as a toner cartridge with attached circuit boards. No explosives have been confirmed [SEE ABOVE].

So far, international cargo has been scrutinized at Dubai, East Midlands Airport in the UK, and Newark and Philadelphia in the US, while an Emirates flight origainating in Yemen has been escorted in to New York, first by Canadian and then by US fighter jets.

Now, assuming no explosives turn up, what should we make of all this? Some are suggesting a "dry run," but there isn't much evidence that Al-Qa‘ida believes in dry runs. More likely might be an attempt to test defenses, to judge security by watching the reaction of the security forces in the UK and US.

But I think it's just as likely that the whole purpose was simply to force the security services to spend a lot of time and man-hours coping with these potential threats. If it is, as many seem to be assuming, Al-Qa‘ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), and possibly, once again, the long arm of Anwar ‘Awlaqi, it's worth noting that he has talked in the past about emphasizing opreations that produce maximum disruption for limited effort, as opposed to spectacular 9/11-style attacks. This could be an example if, as seems possible, several countries and much of the cargo system has been snarled by a few packages: and packages that might attract attention (if reports that the packages were addressed to Chicago synagogues are true, that would seem to be planting a red flag and waving it).

This could be either a test of defenses or simply a ploy to occupy security forces and force expenditures of effort and money. If so, it may be a classic case of Asymmetric Warfare 101. More later if developments warrant.

If You Build the Burj Khalifa, Hollywood will Come

Don't tell me you didn't see this one coming: now that Dubai has the world's tallest building, the Burj Khalifa, somebody was going to use it as a movie set. Sure enough, Tom Cruise and company have arrived in Dubai for filming of the fourth film in the Mission: Impossible franchise.
Filming will start next week and is likely to last more than three weeks. It will take place in locations across Dubai, including the Burj Khalifa and the Meydan racetrack, said an industry insider, who asked not to be named. Car chases will be filmed on the Sheikh Zayed Road and in Bur Dubai and Deira, the source said.
I guess it's a step up from the last Sex and the City, in which Abu Dhabi was played by Morocco, with lots of CGI. Dubai is presumably playing itself.

Side note: four of my last five posts have dealt with the UAE. That may be a first.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Sheikh Saqr and the Tunbs

When Queen Mary of England learned of the fall of the long-English town of Calais to the French, she reportedly said that when she died and her body was opened, "you will find 'Calais' written upon my heart."

For Sheikh Saqr of Ras al-Khaimah, who died yesterday at age 92 (earlier posts here and here), the word would be "Tunbs."

If you're not familiar with the Tunbs, you probably haven't known many Emiratis, since the subject does tend to come up. The Greater and Lesser Tunb Islands (Tunb al-Kubra and Tunb al-Sughra in Arabic; Tonb-e Bozorg and Tonb-e Kuchek in Persian)(pronounced in Arabic as if spelled Tumb) are two tiny islands in the Strait of Hormuz. Since November 1971 they have been occupied by Iran, but claimed by the UAE, along with the island of Abu Musa. Before 1971 the Tunbs were administered by the Emirate of Ras al-Khaimah, ruled from 1948 until yesterday by Sheikh Saqr, while Abu Musa was administered by Sharja. (My sense is the two Wikipedia links lean to the Iranian view of the dispute, but they introduce the subject.)

As the map shows, the Tunbs are located between the main shipping lanes of the Strait of Hormuz, the key outlet for Gulf oil. Abu Musa sits just to the south. They are a strategic planner's delight: potential power bases on a key global chokepoint.

In 1971, as the British retreated from "East of Suez," what had been the "Trucial States" prepared to join together in the UAE, and Iran — Imperial Iran under the Shah, remember — claimed the islands as historically Iranian. The withdrawing British were not prepared for a confrontation and may have felt Iran would be the better steward of the Strait. (After all, Iran would always be a staunch ally of the West.)

Under the gun, Sharja reached a deal allowing Iran sand Sharja to share Abu Musa. Sheikh Saqr of Ras al-Khaimah steadfastly refused to compromise on the Tunbs. Iran occupied Abu Musa peaceably, the Tunbs by military force.

Since that time, Iran has been in possession of all three islands (eventually taking full control of Abu Musa in effect) and keeps them well garrisoned (even Lesser Tunb, which historically was uninhabited). The UAE has never relinquished its claim, and has produced a lot of documentation arguing its case, but Iran has refused to take the case to the World Court. Sheikh Saqr never forgot the Tunbs. The UAE has produced reams of documents, but Iran has the islands.

I won't judge the historical claims. Sovereignty has meant different things at different times, and the two sides of the Gulf have traded and fished and pearled since Classical times. There are Arab speakers on the Iranian side and Persian speakers on the Arabian side, and no argument is likely to persuade an Iranian or an Emirati of the merit of the other case. Like the "Persian Gulf" controversy, it is a matter of firm national conviction.

But Sheikh Saqr never lost faith, and never compromised.

UAE Bids Farewell to Saqr; Welcomes Sa‘ud

From the UAE English papers, farewells to Sheikh Saqr of Ras al-Khaimah: The National emphasizes his role as the last of the UAE's founding fathers, while Gulf News offers a review of his long life. Certainly in his 92 Hijri years (about 90 Gregorian) he saw his territory grow from a remote pearl fishery to a constituent part of a modern state. (For a somewhat less adulatory appreciation, try The Daily Telegraph.)

Also, two profiles of the new ruler, Sheikh Sa‘ud bin Saqr Al Qasimi, again from The National and Gulf News.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A Useful Guide to the Israeli Press

Blogger Noam Sheizaf offers "The Political Line of Israeli Papers (a Reader's Guide)."

It's a useful introduction, especially for those of us with limited Hebrew, and also reminds those of us in the West that however much we may love to quote Ha'aretz, it has a rather limited market share at home.

Ruler of Ras al-Khaimah Dies at 92

Sheikh Saqr al-Qasimi, Ruler of the UAE Emirate of Ras al-Khaimah, has died at age 92. He was reportedly the world's oldest reigning monarch (though not longest reigning: the King of Thailand holds that title), and died at dawn today.

His presumed successor is the Crown Prince, Sheikh Sa‘ud, though the succession has been disputed by the deposed and exiled Crown Prince, Sheikh Khalid; see my earlier post on the issue, but also be sure to read the exchange of comments by people who know more about it than I do.

Ras al-Khaimah is the northernmost emirate of the UAE, and its name can be translated as "top of the tent," (or Cape of the Tent), though whether that relates to its geography, I don't know.

Carnegie's Egypt Election Guide Revisited

One month from tomorrow, Egypt holds Parliamentary elections, the last before the critical Presidential elections next year. There's no doubt that the National Democratic Party will win the Parliamentary vote, and of course that their candidate will win the Presidency, but who their candidate will be is still shrouded in mystery. And how free the Parliamentary vote will be is also up in the air, though not looking optimal just now.

I've mentioned it before, but this seems to be as good a time as any to again refer you to the Carnegie Endowment's Guide to Egypt's Elections, which includes excellent data on such obscure issues as all the legal parties, some of which are known only to their own limited membership, the non-party opposition movements, one of which, the technically illegal Muslim Brotherhood, is the largest opposition bloc in the present Parliament, details of the constitutional and legal framework, which is sometimes deliberately obtuse, and issues relating to election monitoring.

If they — mostly, I think, Michele Dunne and Amr Hamzawy — had n't done this, I'd have to write a lot more in the coming month. This way I can just link.

Egyptian elections do have some suspense, though not about who's going to run the country; they do matter to local folks in local places, the smaller the better because they are below the government's radar. Let the games begin.

A Couple of Links

A couple of quick links relating to Egypt:

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Clinton to Keynote MEI Banquet

The Middle East Institute has announced that former President Bill Clinton will be the Keynote Speaker for its Annual Banquet next week. For information about the Banquet and the 64th Annual Conference, go here.

More Thoughts on Another Mubarak Term

Amr El Shobaki in Al-Masry al-Youm ponders, "Will Mubarak Run Again in 2011?"

Rather as I did, he does not take Ali Eddin Hilal's recent expression of confidence that the President will seek a sixth term as definitive. He notes:
Helal's uncertain statements about Gamal’s prospects in fact tell us more about the current political situation than his seemingly conclusive remarks about Mubarak’s re-nomination . Helal’s latest pronouncement will certainly open the door for all kinds of speculation about the future. But of all the possible scenarios that can unfold next year, Mubarak’s re-nomination now seems the least likely.
Now one element, clearly, has been the clear lack of popular enthusiasm for the prospect of a Gamal Mubarak succession. If the recent wave of pro-Gamal posters were a trial balloon, they seem to have been a leaden one. Husni Mubarak may not be the charismatic speaker that Gamal Abdel Nasser was, but Gamal tends to come across as having all the charisma of a banker, which is what he was before he started to dabble in politics. And, since his father has not personally indicated he won't run, Gamal can't seem too eager. So the poster campaigns are done by his allies in the Party leadership, presumably.

Many Egyptian commentators have noted that after his trip to Washington with his father, Gamal stopped making public appearances. Some think this is another sign that the inheritance project has failed. I'm guessing it's a bit early to write Gamal off completely, but note two things:
  1. Gamal is by no means the unanimous choice of the entire leadership of the National Democratic Party. The "Old Guard" of the NDP has shown no outward enthusiasm; Gamal's business cronies and younger allies in the Party leadership seem to be the core of his support.
  2. As I and everyone else have noted frequently, no one is going to be anointed the successor without the (at least tacit) approval of the Armed Forces and the security services. Yet those bodies, never very talkative to begin with, have been utterly silent on Gamal. A combination of a belief that the country needs a military President (an idea that has appeal to many beyond the uniformed services: see my comments on the ‘Orabi theme) and doubts about a civilian with few obvious qualifications other than his name may be at work here, though no one really is certain. What is clear is there's no bandwagon for Gamal in the uniformed services. (Some have hinted that State Security, in the Interior Ministry, is more pro-Gamal than the Army, but if they have evidence it isn't very visible.)
So, arguably, Gamal's star is fading, or at least refusing to rise, and Hilal's statement may be more a reassurance of continuity than a real statement of probability. Once the Parliamentary elections are past (November 28), the countdown for the Presidential elections will begin.

Lately some Israeli media have picked up on older speculation that ‘Omar Suleiman might be named Vice President, succeed for a year or so, and then hand off to Gamal. That strikes me as a fantasy. If a military man succeeds, even temporarily, Gamal is history. His power base goes when his father goes.

Simon Henderson on Prince Bandar

Over at Foreign Policy's Middle East Channel, Simon Henderson offers his take on the return of Prince Bandar. He sees it as possibly related to other repositionings in anticipation of succession in in the Kingdom. As he himself acknowledges, those who talk as if they know what's going on in the Royal Family, don't (and those that know don't talk), but it's interesting speculation.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Autumn Issue of MEJ is Online

The Autumn issue of The Middle East Journal is now available. The online access is here. (For subscribers wishing to access the electronic edition, instructions are here. You can find information about subscribing here. Non-subscribers can purchase individual articles for a fee.)

The articles (click through to read the abstract) are:
Plus, as always, the Book Reviews, leading with a review of "Exploring and Photographing the Empty Quarter," by Lydia Beyoud, and the Chronology, completing its 64th continuous year.

Egyptian Court Orders Cops Off Campuses

The last few days have been interesting ones for Arab court activism; besides the Iraqi Supreme Court telling Parliament to get serious, Egypt's Supreme Administrative Court has rejected a government appeal of a previous ruling and ordered the Interior Ministry to stop deploying police forces on university campuses, saying the practice violates constitutional guarantees of university independence. Other reporting here, here, and at greater length here.
The power of the police on campuses has been a major issue in recent months, as students have been roughed up and sometimes arrested for attempting political protest. During recent student council elections, candidates were reportedly vetted by the police.

Though the particular court case that led to the ruling is a couple of years old, the issue has been a hot one of late, with Parliamentary elections set for November 28. Police have intensified pressure on student activists, especially the Muslim Brotherhood. Opposition forces recently distributed cell-phone videos showing police beating a young woman from the Islamic Religious Studies faculty at Zagazig University, and then ambulance atrtendants seeming to resist taking her to the hospital due to police pressure:

Again, though that incident only coincidentally was fresh in students' minds when the ruling came down, it shows the increasing tensions over police presence on the campuses, especially at the provincial universities.

So what happens now? There is plenty of precedent for te government and security forces simply invoking the Emergency Law and ignoring court decisions that seek to restrain the Interior Ministry but with those videos circulating and elections imminent, this might not be a time for flouting the court. On the other hand, State Security tends to do what it wants to. For the moment, though, student activists are savoring a victory.

Iraq Supreme Court Tells Parliament to Meet

The Iraqi Supreme Court yesterday ordered Parliament to convene within 14 days and get on with the business of electing a Speaker.

You will recall (at least if you have a long memory) that elections were held last March, and Iraq still has no Prime Minister. Other than one meeting in June, Parliament has failed to reconvene. Electing a Speaker has become just as big an obstacle as electing a Prime Minister,and for the same reason, the even split between the two main Arab blocs, which has made the Kurds rhe kingmakers. Reidar Vissar looks a some of the considerations here, and many of the comments on his post are also worth your time.

Further complicating the math is the recent Wikileaks document dump, which implicated Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in alleged Shi‘ite death squads, which, as Juan Cole has noted, jeopardizes his bargaining position.

As Vissar notes, there are no guarantees, but there is a possibility that, with the impetus of the court, a decision might finally be within reach.

Shi‘ites Do Well in Bahrain Elections, Round One

I was away over the weekend so I'm a little late for the Bahrain election wrap-up, but here goes: on the whole, despite the arrests of Shi‘ite activists and others in the runup to the vote, the main Shi‘ite bloc Al-Wifaq (sometimes transliterated Wefaq) did well, winning all 18 seats it was contesting and holding its own from the last Parliament, where it had 17 seats and one aligned independent. Only nine of the 40 seats have to go to runoff next weekend.

Salafi and Islamist groups, even some previously allied with the government, did poorly; most of the remaining seats won so far went to pro-business, pro-government elements.

If two candidates of the leftwing Wa‘d movement who made it into the runoff should win seats, Parliament would be divided equally between pro-government forces and "opposition," though that may be a big "if."

On the whole, in the up-and-down drama of Gulf Parliamentary life, the results are more credible than they might have been, given widespread criticism of the recent arrests.

I know some of my regular readers know Bahrain well; if I get highly informative comments I may move some into the post itself, with our permission of course.

Here are some of the main analyses in English:


Al-Jazeera English

Arab News (Saudi Arabia)

Gulf News (Bahrain) with more election coverage from them here

The National (Abu Dhabi)

For Arabic readers, the main Bahrain papers Akhbar al-Khalij, Al-Watan, Al-Ayyam, and the voice of the Wifaq bloc, Al-Wifaq.

Friday, October 22, 2010

New Website responds to Juan Williams: Muslims Wearing Things

In the wake of the whole Juan Williams/NPR firing episode (in which the commentator was fired for saying seeing someone in Muslim garb when he flew made him nervous), someone has inevitably created a website of Pictures of Muslims Wearing Things. Since humor is usually the best response, bravo. Muslim in NYPD uniform, Rima Fakih, other well known folks.

And do note the picture of King ‘Abdullah II (when he was a Prince) in a Starfleet uniform in a 1996 episode of Star Trek: Voyager. [UPDATE: Go to Page 1 or 2. The site has grown exponentially over the Weekend.]

Have a good weekend.

Waiting for the STL

Though no one is certain when, precisely, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon will issue its long anticipated indictments of Hizbullah members for the 2005 assassination of Rafiq Hariri, everyone expects it to be very soon, perhaps imminent. The STL's Outreach Section has been holding a three day media event in The Hague, to explain to the media the context and how to report on international criminal tribunals, which suggests the coin may be about to drop. (Somehow I don't think Nuremberg did media spin [or needed to], but I could be wrong.)

Obviously this was a major subtext of Ahmadinejad's Lebanon excursion, and is a potential grenade in Lebanon's precarious political situation.

The fact of the matter is the STL's investigation has moved dramatically from Syria (everyone's prime suspect originally) to Hizbullah, and thus has become a major issue for Lebanon's largest communal group, the Shi‘a. The "false witnesses" (in quotes because it'd become a cliche now in Lebanon) who pointed the finger at Syria are seen as discrediting the whole STL process.

We're still not 100% sure who killed Kamal Jumblatt, Rashid Karami, Bashir Gemayel or Danny Chamoun, or what happened to Musa al-Sadr (to cover as broad a spectrum of Lebanese as possible politically). Will a clearer answer — assuming they get it right this time, unlike last time — on Rafiq Hariri be for the good, or will it provoke new conflict? Justice is essential (if all too rare in Lebanon: see list just above), but in the present circumstances, I'm not sure it won't carry a high cost. Is anyone?

Bahrain Election Day Tomorrow

Tomorrow, Bahrain holds Parliamentary elections. The main Shi‘ite opposition group, Al-Wefaq, is urging participation despite pressures against the Shi‘ite opposition. (Human Rights Watch here; Amnesty here; BBC here; The Economist here; Carnegie here. And an editorial (if just a tad patronizing in tone) in Bahrain's English Gulf Daily News here.

It's not looking like the most free-and-fair poll ever, but Bahrain is still fairly new at this, and whether there will be a real result remains to be seen. It is, however, important, for Bahrain of course, for Sunni-Shi‘ite relations in the Gulf, and for the Gulf's nascent Parliaments, few as they still are, generally.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

NDP Official: Mubarak will Run for Sixth Term

Ali Eddin Hilal, a senior official of Egypt's ruling National Democratic Party, has told AlHurra that Husni Mubarak will run for a sixth term next year, dismissing the idea that Gamal would succeed him. The BBC reports the story here; but if you read the version at Al-Masry al-Youm, you'll see thsat the goes on to talk about Egypt being a system of institutions not of personalities, that a stable succession system is in place, etc. All of which could suggest — as people quoted in the story do — that this is all for show and that at the last minute Mubarak can step aside if he chooses. We shall see. After the Parliamentary elections, the Presidential issue should start to gather momentum.

A New Mossad Controversy

Ha'aretz is reporting a new controversy involving Mossad. Chief Meir Dagan is in a dispute with the legal advisor of the agency, a woman identified only as H., over whether the legal advisor has a right to intervene on issues involving operational activities. The article is detailed and deserves a read, though there seems to be a lot left unsaid. (They refer to US blogger Richard Silverstein at one point in the article; I believe the post they mean is this one.

Israeli reporting on intelligence issues is better than it was 30 years ago, but it still leaves out far more than the reporter probably knows. Dagan's tenure and his successor (both who and how soon) are in play, so the issue is an important one. Read the links.

The Washington Post on Jim Zogby

I probably should have linked to this yesterday, when it appeared, but better late than never. (I think I sometimes assume that all my readers wake up with The Washington Post on their doorstep, as I do, and I don't need to comment on it. Then I remember the Internet reaches beyond the Beltway.) Yesterday's Washington Post Style section led with a front page article on James Zogby of the Arab American Institute. Jim is no stranger to those of us who do the Middle East beat in Washington, but he may be less familiar to some of those outside the Beltway or across the pond, so do read it if you don't know him. (And of course you should read it if you do know him. So just read it anyhow, okay?)

I first crossed paths with Jim in the 1970s I think, and we've both grayed a bit. In those days I hadn't yet heard of his brother John, the pollster, though John today is the better known brother. But Jim keeps doing the work that needs to be done.

I'm not sure if it's the "Ground Zero Mosque," the general atmosphere of suspicion of Islam, or what exactly, that made them profile Zogby now. I'm also not sure why they made sure to put "Catholic" in the headline itself. Are they saying, "he's not a Muslim, so you can read about him", or what? After all, many Arab-Americans of deep roots in this country are Arab Christians, particularly among the Lebanese. I guess they're trying to make him less threatening. (Jim Zogby is a bright and intense guy, but anything but threatening.) Congratulations Jim, for a well-deserved tribute.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Egypt Shuts Down 12 More Channels; Rounds Up Brothers

Egypt's press crackdown is continuing now that the date of the Parliamentary elections is set. The latest move: shutting down another 12 private satellite channels for "license violations."

In related news, the Muslim Brotherhood is reporting continuing arrests of members since announcing that it would contest about 30% of the seats in the elections. About 150 brotherz hazve been arrested, though about half were promptly released; such detention is a common tactic forthe government to send a warning to the Brotrherhood, which is the largest opposition bloc in the outgoing Parliament. (Its deputies stand as independents and the Brotherhood is technically banned.) Here's an interview with the head of the Brotherhood's Parliamentary bloc.

The decision by the Brotherhood not to boycott the elections almost guarantees additional tensions in the runup.

There is already concern about possible violence at the local level as the electioons approach. Many local races are genuine contests, and feelings tend to run high.

Militants Surrendering to Saudis

The Saudi press has been filled lately with reports of Al-Qa‘ida operatives returning to the Kingdom and turning themselves in, for example, here. Now, one of the most wanted, Badr Muhammad Nasser al-Shihri, has joined the trend.

The Saudis' efforts at luring radicals home seems to be working, and is, of course of those stories thsat tends to be ignored in the West, where the notion that the Kingdom tacitly supports radical groups seems entrenched.

Egypt Sets Election Date

Egypt has set the date for next month's Parliamentary elections forNovember 28, with runoffs to be held December 5.

Egyptian officials recently indicated that Egyptians living asbroad will be allowed to vote in the elections, although specific procediures were not spelled out.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Hebrew Anniversary of Rabin Assassination

I'll say more on November 4, the Western calendar 15th anniversary of Yitzhak Rabin's assassination, but Israeli President Shimon Peres, Rabin's longtime rival/partner in power, spoke today on the 15th anniversary using the Hebrew calendar.

If one has to choose the moment when the hopes of the Oslo Agreements began to expire, when the peace process began its downward spiral, it was surely the Rabin assassination. It's not the only cause or the sufficient cause, but it was the first pebble in what would become an avalanche.

I'll say more on the 4th.

Prince Bandar bin Sultan Resurfaces after Mysterious Absence

Prince Bandar bin Sultan, former almost-permanent Saudi Ambassador to the US, has returned to Saudi Arabia after having dropped from sight for nearly two years. This English-language Saudi report doesn't say where he's been; others say he's been undergoing medical treatment in London involving at least four surgeries and a long recovery. Arabic accounts are here, here, and here, among others, all saying the same thing. For the non-Arabists, here's an account in Italian, since there are few in English. As The Gulf Blog notes, and as I have noted previously, there has been no shortage of rumors and speculation: he's ill; he's in jail; he's in trouble. Officially, at least, it was the former. But given his high international profile, why was his whereabouts so closely held?

Ah, when you combine royalty, intelligence matters, and backroom diplomacy, things get murky. Anyway, he's back.

Kissinger, Vietnam, Golda,Thieu, and 1973

An interesting piece in this morning's Ha'aretz (at least to those of my vintage) quotes recently released conversations of Henry Kissinger in which he reportedly wished, both to his own team and to a South Vietnamese interlocutor, that Golda Meir might negotiate with truculent South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu. The Israeli article links the revelations with the recently declassified Israeli inner Cabinet minutes from the 1973 War, suggesting that Israel never fully understood the various constraints under which the US labored. It makes a number of comparison between Israel and Vietnam in that era.

It's an interesting argument, but it doesn't quite hold up; as the author himself notes, Israel was not dependent on the Administration alone, having (then as now) the staunch support of Congress. Nguyen Van Thieu and the Republic of South Viet Nam (as it was then officially spelled) were in an opposite situation: the Nixon and later Ford Administrations were seeking to enforce the Paris Peace Accords, but Congress wanted nothing of it, while it was ready to offer Israel a great deal.

I know that the Baby Boomer Generation, of which I am one, tends to compare everything to Vietnam, and so will find the Israeli parallels interesting. But whatever quips Kissinger may have made (and as the first Jewish Secretary of State he could get away with more than his predecessors), Golda Meir was never really in an analogous position to Nguyen Van Thieu,who, according to Wikipedia:
In the early 1990s, Thieu took up residence in Foxborough, Massachusetts. Thieu lived reclusively in Massachusetts, and took his secrets with him in death. He never produced an autobiography, and rarely assented to interviews and shunned visitors. Neighbors had little contact or knowledge of him, aside from seeing him walking his dog.
Golda is buried on Mount Herzl, has a major boulevard in Jerusalem and streets in most Israeli towns, and a major performing arts center in Tel Aviv, named for her, not to mention several things in the US,.and has appeared on Israeli currency.

So an interesting story, but not a very solid parallel.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Maliki in Tehran

Iraqi PM Nuri al-Maliki has been in Tehran, following his recent visit to Syria. There's talk that Iran is pushing for Muqtada al-Sadr to back Maliki against ‘Iyad &lssqu;Allawi, but even so the math still makes a resolution of the Iraqi standoff difficult. Maliki is also planning to go to other regional countries soon.

The Economist on Arab Elections

The Economist has a piece on upcoming Arab elections.

It's as negative as you'd expect, but worth a read.

To Start Your Week: Camel Polo

Monday mornings being Monday mornings, and the Middle East being the Middle East, let's start your week with something a little lighter: Camel Polo Comes to the UAE.

More serious stuff to come, I fear.

Friday, October 15, 2010

UAE Artistic Awards

No, it's not a mausoleum for Madonna. It's the UAE pavilion at the Shanghai Expo. Given that Shanghai is perhaps the only city that can outdo Dubai for extreme architecture, it may almost seem subdued. It's one of an extraordinary three rewards the UAE has won in the US National Council of Structural Engineers Association competition: for the Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building (see story earlier today), for a bridge in a Formula One racetrack, and for this. From today's The National.

Abyei Dispute Threatening Sudan Solution

A Sudanese government statement that it will be impossible to hold a planned referendum in the Abyei region by January 9 could jeopardize what had looked like a peaceful separation of southern Sudan from the rest of the country as the end point of the country's peace process. The South holds a referendum on the same day and is generally expected to opt for full independence. Abyei, which is on the border between north and south, is supposed to hold a separate referendum on which way it, and its oilfields, would go.

Lately there have been many statements of concern coming from Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt, and from the recent Arab/African summit in Libya, raising alarm about the possibility of southern secession. Some point to the conflict-ridden history of Eritrea and Ethiopia since Eritrean independence, the only successful secession from a state based on inherited colonial-era borders.

Should the referendum not come off in time, or Abyei not be settled before southern secession, the possibility of a resumption of warfare seems likely.

Hunting for Housing?: A Bargain in Dubai if You Don't Mind Heights

We all know Dubai has been hit hard by the property values crash, so much so that the World's Tallest Building®, the Burj Khalifa (AKA the Burj Dubai before Abu Dhabi bought the naming rights), has a major fire sale going on because only 8% of the giant tower is occupied: the cheapest studios starting at 80,000 UAE dirhams annually. or some $21,780. I suppose that's not really that bad (though it's more than I pay in mortgage annually, but I'm not in the world's tallest building), and it's a 40% cut from the list.

Of course it's renting, and the article doesn't state the size of a studio, and I still can't afford it, but it almost is starting to sound affordable. Not to me, but it's not pricing itself out of the depressed Dubai property market I suspect. So what began as wretched excess has become affordable? But can it sustain itself? We'll see. Prices slashed! Unprecedented bargains! You can see Iran from your house!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Egypt's Kind of Town, Chicago Is

There's been a lot of international pressure on Egypt to allow international observers at this fall's Parliamentary elections, in part because of a fair number of cell phone videos last time around that showed pre-marked ballots being stuffed en masse into the ballot boxes. While the Egyptians may balk at international observers (except perhaps in selected [by the government] precincts), there may be a source of observers even the Mubarak campaign could love. I refer to the great American city of Chicago, City of the Big Shoulders, home of Polish sausage, deep dish pizza, and a Democratic political machine known (perhaps unfairly) as a true Jeffersonian democracy: one man one vote, at least; no voter discrimination, even against the dead, etc. Now I shouldn't evoke an outmoded stereotype, especially since our current President is a Chicago man, but then, just when you think the stereotypes are dead, we find this in today's Chicago Sun-Times:
The last name of Green Party gubernatorial candidate Rich Whitney is misspelled as "Whitey" on electronic-voting machines in nearly two dozen wards -- about half in predominantly African-American areas -- and election officials said Wednesday the problem cannot be corrected by Election Day.
That's right: in 23 wards, half of them African-American, the Green Party candidate is listed (admittedly, on the review screen), as "Rich Whitey."

Oh, sure, it's the review screen, and sure, the odds of a Green Party candidate being elected governor of Illinois are, um, slim. And it could be a typo, though it hasn't been reported from downstate (AKA "little Dixie") so far.

Ah, Chicago. Mubarak's kind of town.

At least if they overlook the "Hog butcher to the world" part.

As Ahmadinejad Goes Home, Who Benefits?

Ahmadinejad did Beirut yesterday, and Qana and Bint Jbeil and then Beirut again today, and now is heading home.

A couple of other perspectives: Qifa Nabki, always worth reading, suggests that whle this has beren portrayed as a boost for Hizbullah, it may be that Ahmadinejad owes more to Hasan Nasrullah than the other way around.

And a colleague who asks for anonymity writes:
In the final instance Ahmadinejad's trip to Lebanon is more about weakness than strength. Both his own and Hizbullah's.His visit is a warning to domestic opponents not to press Hizbullah. Presumably on the STL issue, which has the potential to do great damage to its reputation and standing. It also serves to rally supporters by demonstrating that the party has a powerful external friend who can help Hizbullah weather any storm. Even one so severe as the STL will cause.
If Hizbullah were strong enough or confident enough in its position, it wouldn't need the visit.

The fact that this visit is likely to damage Hizbullah allies - the FPM or Tashnaq for example, supports this view. Their constituencies may well be unsettled by the fear of greater Iranian influence in the country. And it may be harder to mobilize their existing partisans for elections and to attract new voters to their banners. The parties of the so-called majority will no doubt mine many useful campaign images from the visit.
Hizbullah knows that. But it is sacrificing its allies' strategic position for its own.

As to Ahmadinejad, he is playing the "foreign card" to buttress his support back home, especially among the hard liners.
Wrapping himself in the mantle of resistance by a visit to the capital of the resistance, Bint Jbeil. Perhaps followed by a symbolic rami al jamaraat at the border.
As well, his visit breaks the sanctions blockade. Scenes of welcoming crowds prove that the West has failed. Iran is not isolated. Showered by foreign crowds with roses and cheers, he stands for Iran.
Guide for the perplexed: The FPM is Michel Aoun's Free Patriotic Movement; Tashnaq is an Armenian nationalist movement: both are Christian political allies of Hizbullah. Rami al-Jamaraat refers to throwing stones at the devil during the Meccan pilgrimage, and refers to talk Ahmadinejad might throw some symbolic stones at the Israeli border; I don't think he got closer than Bint Jbeil, though.

Why Are These Men Smiling? Day Two of Ahmadinejad's Excellent Adventure

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Lebanese Prime Minister Sa‘d al-Hariri; Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and Syrian President Bashar al-Asad (below): it's pretend-you-aren't-ancient-enemies day!

Seriously though, the visit of Ahmadinejad to Lebanon (he's been speaking in the South, and saying the usual inflammatory stuff about Israel) and of Maliki to Damascus will both be seen as boosts for the Iran-Syria-Hizbullah alliance, because, well, they are. Somehow this doesn't look much like Beirut Spring, or that new, democratic, utopian Middle East the neocons promised.

And yes, everyone is smiling, but does anyone else think Maliki is looking to see if Asad has something up his sleeve?

Then there's this:
I guess he's throwing kisses to the crowd, or something. The blogger Abu Arqala at Suq al-Mal has taken a variant of that picture and riffed on it, here.

More on Coptic Tensions in Egypt

If it seems as if this blog has devoted more time to Coptic-Muslim issues this year, it is because Coptic-Muslim issues in the last six months or so have reached levels of tension, and vitriol, rare in recent times. As a perusal of this blog's Copts topic will reveal, we've had the dispute betweeen church and state over divorce, and then its sudden resolution; the long-running and still tense dispute over the Camillia Shehata "conversion" (or non-conversion?); Bishop Bishoy's foot-in-mouth provocation of Muslims and, in response, an Al-Azhar Salafi group questioning Christians' right to citizenship, as well as Pope Shenouda's criticism/non-criticism of Bishoy.

And that's just since July: if you go back to January you had the Nag Hammadi killings.

Adding to all this, of course, is the presumably imminent double succession: Husni Mubarak is 82 and Pope Shenouda III is 87, and both are in uncertain health. Certainly Coptic-Muslim tensions have not been exacerbated to this degree since 1981, when Anwar Sadat deposed Shenouda and sent him to a desert monastery, though these days the Church and State tend to be on the same side, with Islamists and ordinary Muslims on the other.

In the midst of this, here are a couple of additions: First, Mariz Tadros has a good summary of the issues at MERIP. It may be easier to read it than to click on all my blogpost links above.

Now, there's s story in yesterday's Al-Masry al-Youm that may or may not relate to the internal and external maneuverings of the Church. It seems Bishop Theodosius of Giza left Wednesday for Jerusalem, and a pilgrimage to Christian sites there. It also reports that he has previously visited the Coptic Bishop of Jerusalem and has other Israeli visas in his passport.

Now, after he Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, Pope Shenouda banned Copts from making pilgrimage to Jerusalem, in part over the Palestinian issue, in part because the Coptic Church blames Israel for taking sides in a religios turf dispute. The Coptic Church and its daughter Church, the Church of Ethiopia, have long engaged in a bitter dispute over the Deir al-Sultan, a monastery that occupies part of the rooftop of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Israel backed the Ethiopians, jand they occupy the Deir today, impoverished and unable to enter the Church below because the Copts bar the way. So in theory at least, Bishop Theodosius is, as the headline claims, defying a papal ban.

But I'm struck by several things. First, if this list of the Coptic Holy Synod is in fact current, Theodosius is only the Auxiliary Bishop of Giza, number 46 on the list in seniority while Metropolitan Domadius of Giza is number four. Second, if he has done this one or more times before without being disciplined, it may well be that he is serving as a liaison to the Coptic Church of Jerusalem; the papal ban applied to individual Copts, but perhaps not to hierarchy on Church business.

In any event, and despite the fact that Al-Masry al-Youm has some Coptic ownership and a generally favorable approach, I suspect this report is more a symptom of current high levels of attention to things Coptic, rather than a real story of episcopal defiance. Let's see if there is any follow-up.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Ahmadinejad in Lebanon

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's visit to Lebanon, long awaited/feared depending on one's faction, is under way. Coming at a moment when a confrontation between Hizbullah and the government over the Special Trbunal for Lebanon is looming, it's clearly a great propaganda ploy for Hizbullah.

Rami Khouri in The Daily Star offers an insightful analysis. Hizbullah's Al-Manar is bubbling over the visit, leading practically every regional category (including "Zionist Entity") with the visit. Lebanese bloggers, on the other hand, have been fairly witty about the whole thing; Beirut Spring shows an AP photo and comments "We have our priorities right in this country":

(Via The Arabist)

Seriously, though, this is a serious power move, a signal that Hizbullah does not stand alone, confirming that this is a tough and dangerous time for he fragile stability of the Lebanese system, still, as Michael Hudson labeled it decades ago, a Precarious Republic.

Burston: Top 10 Errors Israel is About to Make

Bradley Burston in Ha'aretz offers the Top 10 Worst Errors Israel is About to Make.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Bad Times for Media in Egypt and Morocco

The crackdown on the independent media in Egypt is getting worse, and though I haven't mentioned it things aren't bright for Morocco's independent media either.

Egypt first. The Ibrahim Eissa firing seems more and more to have been a planned strike, probably with government backing: Sayyid Badawi, the Wafd Party head and businessman who bought the paper with partner Reda Edward, has now announced that he has sold his shares to Edward; so it looks more and more as if Badawi's role was to fire Eissa and then sell is shares. Edward says Eissa will not be rehired. Updates are here and here. The silencing of Al-Dostour and Eissa is not all, however: the government has ordered four satellite TV channels to shut off service (some of them Salafi/Islamist) and is demanding that newspapers obtain a license before sending text message updates to subscribers' phones.

Absolutely no one seems to doubt that this crackdown, seen by some as ending the "Cairo Spring" of press freedom in recent years, is intended to smooth the way for a succession.

One of Morocco's most daring magazines, the colloquial-Arabic Nichane, had to shut down recently after a government-inspired boycott on advertising cut its revenues by some 80%. In this case, the pressure was purely financial: Morocco's big state-owned corporations, including many owned by the Palace, backed the boycott, which killed the magazine. Stories here and here; see also here.

Of course in many Arab countries there is nothing resembling a free press, so the crackdowns in Egypt and Morocco would make little sense in Libya or Syria (though Syria has toyed with some independent media). But when a relatively outspoken paper like Al-Dostour sees its editor purged and an innovative magazine like Nichane closes due to a government ad boycott, its a rollback to what has already been achieved.

Tenth Anniversary of Attack on USS Cole

Today marked the tenth anniversary of the attack on the US Navy's guided missile destroyer USS Cole in the port of Aden, an attack which killed 17 sailors as well as the two attackers. Al-Qa‘ida claimed responsibility. Less than a year later the Cole attack was of course overshadowed by 9/11. But it deserves to be remembered and the occasion marked, as it was today in the ship's home port of Norfolk.

The vessel's homepage is here. She is still in service after repairs.

The Naval Academy choir in the Academy ("John Paul Jones") Chapel, singing the Navy Hymn:

Posts are Coming Soon

Some personal issues that arose over the holiday weekend have kept me busy today. Posts will appear later this evening.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Long Weekend

This is the three day Columbus Day weekend in the US; barring major events, I'll be back on Tuesday.

Emiratis Will Keep Their Blackberries

The UAE's Telecommunications Regulatory Authority, which had threatened to cut service to Blackberries on October 10, has announced that Research in Motion (RIM), the Canadian firm behind Blackberry, is now in compliance with UAE requirements and that Emiratis will be able to continue using their Blackberries.

The UAE set the October deadline last summer when the Saudis were threatening to shut down Blackberry service (see earlier posts here).

Though the Emiratis get to keep their Blackberries, they presumably understand that the government may be reading their mail now.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Dostour Website STILL Run by Eissa Loyalists

Over two days after his firing, Ibrahim Eissa's loyalists still control the Al-Dostour website, and have posted the Foreign Policy piece on the death of Egypt's free press that I linked to yesterday.

At least so far, the electronic free press isn't dead yet. Meanwhile Egyptian blogger Baheyya has weighed in; she's always good but posts rarely (this is her first post since August).

Along with various Facebook groups, one of the better ways to track this ongoing drama is the dostor.org page, assuming you read Arabic, though I imagine the powers that be will wrest the URL away from the Eissa loyalists at some point.

Settler Arrested for Identifying Shin Bet Official on YouTube

Israeli police have arrested a 17-year-old Jewish settler from Hebron for posting a video on YouTube clearly showing the face and identifying the head of the Jewish Division of Shin Bet, the General Security Service (the internal security service). His role is to keep an eye on settler violence, so the teenage settler has revealed his name and identity.

There was a time when neither the head of Shin Bet nor of Mossad were publicly identified; today the chiefs are well known but the second-echelon officers are referred to only by initials. Thus Ha'aretz, due to military censorship, has to be circumspect:

The Shin Bet official, known only as A., is the head of the service's Makhlaka Hayehudit ("The Jewish Division"), which is tasked with monitoring the activities of the extreme right wing in the West Bank.

A. resides in a tiny settlement in the West Bank. Military censorship laws do not permit media outlets to publish A.'s full name and place of residence, though this information is common knowledge among wide swaths of the settler population in the territories.

The video allegedly uploaded by the 17-year-old Hebron resident, and which has been available online in recent months, clearly exposed the face of the top Shin Bet commander as he was patrolling the West Bank city, and included a caption indicating his full name.

I don't generally care for exposing security officials' identity since it can subject them to danger, but this has been on YouTube since July (an earlier story before the leaker was identified is here) and besides, if the hardline settlers are out to get him, he must be doing something right. As the Israeli press (who tend to find continuing military censorship of stuff everyone already knows annoying in the age of the Internet) no doubt expected their readers to do, it took me only minutes to learn that "A." is Avigdor Arieli, that the "tiny settlement in the West Bank" is Kfar Edumim, and to find the YouTube video, shown below.

Though the video claims it was posted by a whistleblower outside of Israel, it appears the authorities have concluded otherwise.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

1973 War Minutes Stir Controversy in Israel

The release of the minutes of Israel's "kitchen cabinet" on the eve of the 1973 war and after a day of fighting is stirring controversy in Israel, depicting a depressed Defense Minister Moshe Dayan and a picture of confusion and pessimism from other members of Golda Meir's Cabinet.

Here are accounts of the meetings on the eve of the war, and after the first day's fighting, when the line of the Suez Canal had been lost. (The "Dado" referred to in the storiers is then-Chief of Staff David Elazar.)

Did Israel consider using nuclear weapons in 1973? Here's Yossi Melman on the question. And here's background on declassification of the "kitchen cabinet" meetings.

And here's an op-ed by Gideon Levy arguing that Israel is still in the same rut it was in in 1973.

Much of the substance of these meetings has leaked out previously, but seeing them officially declassified seems to have driven the confusion and depression of the time home, at least judging from the press commentary so far.

More Fallout from Eissa Firing

The firing of Ibrahim Eissa yesterday is being described as "The Death of Egypt's Free Press" and widely interpreted as a heavy-handed use of pressure by the government to clear away major opposition voices before the elections. The assumption is that Wafd Party leader Sayyid Badawi was acting at the instigation of the regime, presumably in exchange for more seats for the Wafd in the elections. True or not, a lot of people seem to believe it. Eissa of course has been speaking out (see the Al Jazeera clip I posted at the earlier post, and the Foreign Policy link above).

Meanwhile, at least as of right now (Wednesday evening), Al-Dostour's website (Arabic) is still controlled by Eissa loyalists, who are printing the articles and other news suppressed by the firing. I'm not sure how long that will last, but it's interesting that it's lasted more than a day.

Also, see Issandr's latest column.

Carnegie's Guide ro Egyptian Elections

While Egypt's Parliamentary elections are only moderately competitive by international standards, they do have some meaning, and so the Carnegie Endowment has put together an online guide to Egypt's elections. Michele Dunne and Amr Hamzawy at Carnegie are two of the best analysts on Arab electoral politics generally and Egypt specifically, so this can be a useful guide for anyone who has trouble remembering what the Tagummu&lsuo; Party stands for or how, exactly, the rather byzantine electoral system works. It's a useful guide as we approach the Parliamentary vote and, of course, next year's Presidential vote.

On the same subject, I should also mention Mona El=Ghobashy's piece at MERIP.

Anwar Sadat 29 Years Later

Having offered my assessment of Gamal Abdel Nasser on the 40th anniversary of his death, it may be appropriate today, the 29th anniversary of the assassination of Anwar Sadat, to offer some reflections on Nasser's successor. (And, of course, I offered an appreciation of Egypt's first President, Muhammad Naguib, in July.)

Whereas Nasser died before I ever visited the Middle East, I lived in Egypt for two of Sadat's 11 years as President, watched the parade when he returned from the Knesset, and was in Cairo again only a couple of weeks after the assassination. If you had asked me when I first lived in Egypt in 1972 if we would ever see the picture that appears above right, I'd have said not in my lifetime. Yet it happened seven years later. (Sadat, Jimmy Carter, and Menahem Begin, for those of you who weren't born yet.)

October 6 is, as I noted last year, a curious double anniversary in Egypt: Sadat's greatest pride was the crossing of the Suez Canal on October 6, 1973, restoring the honor of Egyptian arms after the debacle of 1967; even if the 1973 war had its reverses as well. October 6 became Egyptian Military Day (it still is), and it was at a Military Day Parade in 1981 that Sadat was assassinated. (Two years later, at an Egyptian Military Day reception at Fort Myer, I met the lady who would become my wife, but that's another story, and off-topic.)

Sadat's legacy is somewhat curious. In life, he had more admirers toward the end in the US than at home. In death, he remains controversial: one's opinion of his opening to peace with Israel is part of it, but his drastic crackdowns on many elements of Egyptian society in his last months have soiled his reputation at home. He was a better diplomat and strategist, perhaps, than executive of Egypt with its many problems and challenges.

One thing for certain: Sadat was interesting in ways that Husni Mubarak is not. He loved the dramatic reversal: purging the Nasserists of the ‘Ali Sabri group (his "Corrective Revolution" of 1971, though some saw it as a counterrevolution), throwing Russian advisors out of Egypt in 1972, launching an attack across the Suez Canal in 1973, shifting to a US alliance in 1974-75 and, of course, offering to go to the Knesset — and then actually going — in 1977, and Camp David in 1979. The assassination of Sadat also marks 29 years of Husni Mubarak's rule, and one has to say that, whatever else, any given year of Sadat held more surprises than all 29 of Mubarak's put together. Of course, that's the stability Mubarak's supporters see as his legacy.

Sadat's success on the international stage may have served as the nemesis that undermined his leadership at home. As Time's Man of the Year, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, a regular on the American TV networks, Sadat was on a global stage, and like many world leaders, seemed to believe his own publicity. But not all was well. Earlier in 1977 (the year of the trip to the Knesset), major bread riots broke out in Egypt, leading to use of the Army to calm things down, a rare use of the military as opposed to the security services. The first stirrings of radical Islamist violence were being felt. Sadat's infitah or "opening" economically opened up the economy a bit but also encouraged corruption. Domestically, he did not enjoy the success he relished on the international stage.

And the man's style was very different from Nasser's. Nasser always sought to be the man of the people; Sadat preferred some combination of paternalistic village elder (when he went to his home village of Mit Abu'l-Qom, he'd pose in galabiyya, smoking a pipe) and hints of pharaonic splendor.

Sadat redesigned the dress uniform of senior officers (actually, I think he had Pierre Cardin or someone similar design it) as shown at left. It had some faintly Pharaonic touches, but he also posed with a field marshal's baton with the lotus and papyrus emblems of Upper and Lower Egypt, a distinctly Pharaonic touch. I couldn't find a photo online, however.

When his assassins were on trial, his primary assassin publicly boasted "I killed Pharaoh." This was not just a reference to Pharaoh as a monarch: in the Qur'an, Fir‘awn, Pharaoh, symbolizes worldly power and corrupt tyranny, so it has an Islamic as well as an Egyptian reference.

His ego grew with the Nobel Prize and international fame: his autobiography In Search of Identity rewrote the earlier versions of the Free Officers he'd published in the fifties under Nasser, and took more credit for himself. He kept rewriting his own autobiography until I'm not sure he knew the truth himself.

While many Arabs (and Egyptians) still disagree with his opening to Israel, that is not, contrary to the usual assumption in the West, what led to his death (though it was surely part of the mix). In the summer and fall of 1981 he cracked down on all his enemies at once: he jailed the Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood and also exiled the Coptic Pope to a desert monastery; he jailed Mohammed Hassanein Heikal (who after his death wrote a take-no-prisoners deconstruction of Sadat called Autumn of Fury; it remains the most savage interpretation of the man I know of, and a lesson in why you shouldn't jail journalists). And he was rounding up opposition party heads (even the ancient Fuad Serageddin, King Farouq's last Interior Minister and head of the Wafd Party) and jailing them as well. More and more, he appeared in military uniform; in Nasser's later years, he rarely did so.

In the end, in this period of high tension and repression, Sadat was gunned down on the eighth anniversary of his proudest triumph. (Two innocent bystanders were collateral damage: the Omani Ambassador and Coptic Bishop Samweel, head of the interim bishops' council Sadat named to replace the exiled Pope; both were behind him on the reviewing stand and died in the crossfire.)

I noted last week the contrasts between the funerals of Nasser and Sadat. To be fair to the latter, since he died by assassination, the security establishment he had retained from Nasser's day was naturally paranoid (as security establishments tend to be) and did not trust the populace to attend. Two or three weeks later, when I was in Cairo, armored vehicles were still parked around Tahrir Square.

Sadat's historic accomplishments need no apologies: the Canal crossing, the strategic shift to the West, the peace with Israel.

In his own country, his memory is more ambiguous than in the West, but he still has many admirers. And of course, the ending, while memorable, was violent, and one of the more violent early manifestations of Islamist fury.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Dostour Editor Fired

Ibrahim Eissa, outspoken Editor of the independent Egyptian opposition newspaper Al-Dostour, has been fired by the paper's new owner, reportedly at least in part because of his plans to publish an article by Mohamed ElBaradei.

Eissa, who has been prosecuted a number of times, was fired by Sayyid Badawi, a wealthy businessman who bought the paper recently and who also heads the opposition Wafd Party. (Al-Dostour is not, however, a Wafd-leaning paper.) Eissa wass the founding Editor of the maverick Al-Dostour.

Once the firing was announced many of the journalists issued statements supporting Eissa, and the newspaper's website has several articles about the issue, including the one by ElBaradei (Arabic), so the story may not be over just yet. The journalists have published a statement on Facebook, There are reports that a Deputy Editor of the Wafdist newspaper Al-Wafd would replace Eissa.

Eissa has appeared on Al Jazeera and it's on YouTube (Arabic):

It's being claimed that the government wants to silence Eissa and may have put pressure on Badawi. That this is all connected with the succession issue seems to be taken for granted by Eissa and his supporters.

UPDATES: Thoughts on the subject from The Arabist and Zeinobia; Bikya Masr has the Dostour journalists' letter in English as well as an analysis.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Iraq Breaks World Record for Longest Time to Form a Government

Iraq has apparently broken the world record for longest time taken to form a government after an election, surpassing the 208 days the Dutch ran up in 1977. And the Dutch presumably did not have bombs going off throughout the process.

I haven't commented much of late about the Maliki/‘Allawi standoff; mostly I think because not much new has happened. But at least they'll make it into the Guinness Book.

A Pipe Dream for a Monday Morning: Cairo's Future "Ramses Park"

If you love Monday mornings as much as most people do (and I'm on my fall issue deadline), how about a little fantasy pipe dream to start your work week? It's a vision for a future park in Ramses Square, where Cairo's main railway station, main tram line, main subway station, and several main roads converge. If you know Cairo and the present mess (which I haven't seen for a few years, so it's probably worse now), it's an intriguing vision, though I doubt I'll live to see it realized; if you don't know Cairo there's some (unnecessarily speeded up) video at the beginning to give you an idea of the present mess. (Via Zeinobia):

Just one question: the narrator says, "In what is officially called the Mubarak [Metro] Station, we create a different atmosphere. We open the ceiling of the station and let daylight come into each level. It becomes fresh and transparent."

There's a slight emphasis on "what is officially called the Mubarak station." What, do they think the name might change someday? And is somebody hinting st something with the whole "fresh and transparent" thing? Nah, couldn't be.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Ten Years Since the Second Intifada

Palestinians and Israeli Arabs are using today as a day of protest to mark the outbreak of the second or Al-Aqsa Intifada in 2000. Though the visit of Ariel Sharon to the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif on September 28 precipitated the violence, today was chosen to mark the anniversary, probably to capitalize on crowds gathering for Friday prayer.

Coming as it did in the wake of the failed Camp David II, the Second Intifada in many ways marked the end of whatever lingering optimism had survived from the Oslo peace process. With peace talks again hanging in the balance, it is a reminder of how fragile the process can be, and how persistent the same issues (settlements, return) are.

Another Stuxnet "Signature"?

Here's another potential "fingerprint" in Stuxnet: an embedded date corresponding to the 1979 execution of the head of the Iranian Jewish community. With yesterday's reputed reference to Queen Esther, it could be used to argue that this is more evidence of Israeli involvement. On the other hand, I take Yossi Melman's point, quoted in the link, that even though Israel is a prime suspect, it's questionable they'd leave such obvious clues.

Or is it? I still wonder if there isn't a psyop element here along with the cyber warfare element.

Said on Al-Ahram Photoshopping

Here's a condensed English version from Al-Ahram Weekly of an interview with Al-Ahram Chairman Abdel Moneim Said defending the Photoshop of Mubarak. Said is a serious man, long with the Al-Ahram Center for Strategic Studies, but I feel he's defending an outpost that has already been overrun here. He also avoids the question of how Al-Masry al-Youm's circulation compares to Al-Ahram's.

It reads as defensive, self-justifying, and with a bit of tu quoque (other newspapers do it! But note he cites a doctored photo of the Sheikh al-Azhar in the Coptic Pope's robes, clearly a satirical commentary, whereas moving Mubarak in front of Obama looks like tampering with reality.)

Posts Coming Soon

I blog from home on Fridays; last night storms knocked out our power; it came back this morning but one computer had to run a diagnostic, so I'm late with posts. The usual content will be up this afternoon; sorry for the delay.