A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Friday, June 28, 2013

"The Mood in Cairo" on the Eve

A report from The Arabist by an intern on "The Mood in Cairo," as Sunday's confrontations approach.

The Paradoxes and Contradictions of June 30

 On Sunday, June 30, opponents of Egyptian President Muhammad Morsi will take to the streets on the anniversary of his presidency to demand new Presidential elections and a reboot of the democratization efforts that began with the January 25 revolution. They want to remove the President, dissolve the Shura Council (Islamist dominated and acting as the sole legislative body), and rewrite the new constitution. The Tamarrud (rebellion, insurrection) movement, the main organizers of the protests, are mostly secularist revolutionaries of 2011 disillusioned and feeling their accomplishments were sidetracked, perhaps derailed, when the Muslim Brotherhood got control of the locomotive. As Zeinobia notes, they're now trying to institutionalize a front organization.

The Brotherhood and its Freedom and Justice Party intend to defend the regime, seeing it as legitimate, democratically elected. and, as Morsi said in his speech this week, needing more time. They wouldn't object too strongly if the independent press (and maybe a couple of state-owned papers as well) and the judiciary got hammered a bit in the process.

US Ambassador Anne Patterson came under fire this week for suggesting that protests against the elected government would be a bad idea (an oversimplification of what she said, but one feeding the conspiracy theory among some Egyptian conspiracy theorists among liberal secularists that the US is backing the Muslim Brotherhood).

There's rather open yearning among some secularists for a military coup, to reset the clock and restart the democratization process. Really? Wasn't that what the 1952 coup promised? Didn't you finally shuffle your last general off the stage in 2011. 59 years later? Yeah, that'll work. It worked so well the last time. What are you thinking?

The prospect of the demonstrations has also fueled insecurity. There's a gasoline shortage and runs on other necessities. Insecurity is just what Egypt needs.

So am I opposed to June 30 (conspiracy theorists could say I'm in league with Ambassador Patterson)? No, the right to demonstrate should be sacrosanct. But there are problems with the demands being made. They would roll everything back, in effect, to February 11, 2011. That is not going to happen,because it ignores the Parliamentary and Presidential election results. Morsi won an election (by 51%) and the Freedom and Justice Party won a plurality in the Parliament (since dissolved) while Islamists held a majority overall. That can't be ignored. The Brotherhood and its allies have proven their support base.

The other side of the coin is they've proven other things as well: 
  1. A remarkable incompetence and inability to address serious issues like the economy, and a tendency to rally against outside enemies (Ethiopia on Nile waters, the usual suspects of Israel, "outside influences" meaning the West, Syria) while ignoring horrors at home (the recent killings of Shi‘ites, continued looking the other way on Coptic-Muslim clashes, public harassment, abuse, and even rape of women, torture in the prison Morsi himself once spent time in, etc.)
  2. Despite the FJP having won only a plurality in Parliament and Morsi's narrow squeaker win for the Presidency, an unwillingness to compromise, a sense of "legitimacy is ours and you're the enemy," and an attitude to NGOs and the press that is indistinguishable from Mubarak's except for the identity of some of the targets.
  3. An overall performance that, in a Parliamentary system, might already have led to the fall of the government, and that might justify a constitutional impeachment if there were in fact a Parliament in place.
But the opposition doesn't want a constitutional removal; they want a new revolution. Or so they say.

Now as an American, I have standing to criticize emerging democracies because of our sterling record of our two major parties working together. OK, how about the House, Senate, and President fully understand the need for compromise and always work together. Oh, all right. At least all sides universally accept judicial decisions. 

OK I see your point, maybe I don't have standing to criticize. But hey, Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, and John C. Calhoun got on real well in the 1840s. Too bad about that little Civil War unpleasantness that followed.

It is in fact the refusal of either side in Egypt to recognize the legitimacy of the other or consider power sharing that is most disturbing. One of the best expressions of the conflicting issues and ambiguities of this quarrel I have seen is in this post by Egyptian journalist Sarah Carr (who has an English father and Egyptian mother and is always a good read). Excerpts (but read it all)(language warning for one phrase):
Ideologically, I am extremely torn about the protests’ demands. I would like nothing better than for Morsy and his arrogant, obstinate Brothers to be booted out of Egyptian political life (and I voted for Morsy in order to keep out Shafiq) but have three issues:
1. It would hit the Muslim Brotherhood harder if they were ejected from Egyptian public life via elections. They would not be able to cry foul, and this would hit at their precious legitimacy in a way that the protests don’t. I have long been of the opinion that the Muslim Brotherhood should be left to their own devices as long as the economy can stand it, so that they continue to fuck up, destroy their support base, and we can be rid of them forever. This is a problematic and unpopular position, I know and it assumes firstly, they hold elections and secondly, they don’t forge results.
2. I keep imagining that it was ElBaradei or Hamdeen [Sabahi] or someone non-MB and palatable to those taking to the streets on Sunday was elected. I imagine, what if Mr Palatable did something to garner the ire of his (Islamist) opposition on a par with Morsy’s constitutional amendment, something along the lines of removing all reference to Sharia in the constitution (PEDANTS: I AM JUST IMAGINING FOR THE PURPOSES OF THIS EXERCISE AND AM NOT SUGGESTING THEY WOULD).
Say that this inspired mass protests similar to those at the presidential palace in December 2012 and that Mr Palatable’s supporters used violence against the raging Islamist mobs. Now imagine that the political impasse dragged on and on until the exasperated Islamist opposition, together with ordinary Egyptians fed up at the economic situation and turmoil (I am assuming that no president could have fixed much in a year) took to the streets demanding Palatable go.
What would my position be? I would most likely stand against the Islamist mob and one of the arguments I would invoke is that Palatable was democratically elected and you, raving Islamist mob, represent nobody but yourselves.
3. If a miracle happened and Morsy did step down as a result of these protests it sets an awkward precedent. Particularly if the army is involved.
So I am in a quandary. I despise the Muslim Brotherhood and hate what they have done to the country. I like democracy, such as it is, and think that respecting clean election results is a useful and pretty essential rule in a functioning society, but then the Muslim Brotherhood themselves seem to have no respect for the rule of law. The reappearance of the Egyptian army in politics would be disastrous, and prompt a jingoistic army lovefest that my embattled nerves could not withstand. It would be ammunition for the Omar Suleiman “Egyptians are not ready for democracy” crowd, and that would be heartbreaking.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Culture Wars Watch: Turkish Deputy PM on Protester in Bikini

What is it about Islamists and bikinis? Well, I mean, I know the answer, basically, but why would the Deputy Prime Minister of Turkey (Mediterranean beaches, Aegean beaches, Black Sea beaches, big tourism sector) get tied in knots over a woman protester in Taksim wearing a bikini? They're not unknown on any of those beaches, last I heard.
The Culprit (Hürriyet Daily News)
Oh, I know that beachwear in countries with a big tourist sector is expected to be quite different from daily dress in downtown urban areas. If a tourist in Egypt from the beaches of Sharm al-Sheikh or Hurghada showed up in downtown Cairo, many Salafi heads would explode. (Make up your own minds whether that's a bad thing.) But as Hürriyet Daily News informs us: "Turkish Deputy PM says he could barely “restrain” himself from speaking out on bikini woman.":
Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç said he was “barely restraining” himself from saying certain things about the recent protests in Taksim where a woman danced around in her bikinis until police forces detained her, slamming the woman for believing “nudity is freedom.”

“We have a misunderstanding of freedom in a way that we see it as letting everyone on to the streets and stripping naked. Like in Taksim, recently, a woman came out eventually, and excuse me for saying this, just stripped off all her clothes, starting to dance in her underwear. Supposedly she came from Switzerland, and supposedly she brought freedom to Turkey. I can barely restrain myself from saying something,”
Either Mr. Arınç or his translator raises some questions here: "danced around in her bikinis": how many was she wearing exactly? She "just stripped off all her clothes, starting to dance in her underwear." Well, it wasn't all her clothes if she was wearing "underwear" or, apparently, a bathing suit. But the biggest question about his phrasing is: "I can barely restrain myself from saying something." Um, you didn't restrain yourself. You just said something to the Turkish national media and I'm blogging it over here in the US, OK?

An Interesting Research Project: "Islam, Trade and Politics Across the Indian Ocean"

I've recently learned of this interesting project from its website:  
Islam, Trade and Politics Across the Indian Ocean is a research project funded by the British Academy over the period 2009–2012 and administered by the Association of South-East Asian Studies in the United Kingdom (ASEASUK) and the British Institute at Ankara(BIAA). The project is directed by Dr Andrew Peacock (BIAA and St. Andrews University) and Dr Annabel Gallop (ASEASUK and British Academy).
The aim of the project is to investigate links between the lands of the Ottoman Empire and early Republican Turkey on the one hand and the Muslim peoples of South East Asia on the other over the sixteenth to twentieth centuries. The project is interested in all forms of interaction between these two regions, political, religious, literary, commercial and cultural, including exchanges and mutual influences in material culture. The project has conducted research on evidence for these links, and has offered small grants to researchers of all nationalities working on relevant themes.
At the conclusion of the project, an International Workshop From Anatolia to Aceh: Ottomans, Turks and Southeast Asia was held in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, 11–12 January 2012, in association with the International Centre for Aceh and Indian Ocean Studies (ICAIOS) and the State Islamic Institute (IAIN) Ar-Raniry.  The results of the project and workshop are presented in a travelling photographic exhibition, launched in London in 2012 in association with the British Library; which will travel to venues throughout the UK during 2012–2013. We also plan to publish two books: an edited collection of papers from the International Workshop, and a volume of selected documents in Ottoman Turkish, Arabic and Southeast Asian languages.

The Economist on Arabic Dialects

I've posted a lot here about Arabic diglossia and the various spoken Arabics, so here's another entry for the files: The Economist's language blog, "Johnson," offers "A language with too many armies and navies?" Note, too, the comments section,where Arab readers argue against some generalizations about mutual intelligibility among the dialects.

The column also links to a paper by Tunisian linguist Mohammed Maamouri on "Language Education and Human Development: Arabic Diglossia and Its Impact on the Quality of Education in the Arab Region." (Summary page at the link; full PDF here.)

By the way, I'm in the midst of reading final galleys for the Summer issue and blogging may be light today and tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Rouhani and the Israelis in 1986?

Here's a curious story from Yediot Aharanot, reprinting a 1994 article about a secret meeting between Hassan Rouhani, now Iran's incoming President, and Israeli adviser Amiram Nir in Paris in 1986, with Manouchehr Ghorbanifar (of Iran-contra middleman fame) also present. It suggests Rouhani told the Israelis what they wanted to hear, but there are some curious things about it, including a reference to Rouhani not being a cleric, which of course he is, and was then as well. Make of it what you will.

Morsi's Big Speech: Preaching to the Brotherhood Choir

Egypt has been increasingly on edge as the big demonstrations scheduled for June 30 (marking the anniversary of Morsi's Presidency) approach. With opponents demanding new Presidential elections and much speculation about the role of the Arm (which has said it will maintain order), uncertainty about what may happen has led to a run on gasoline stations and food stores.  Today, Morsi delivered a much anticipated speech defending his presidency and responding to his critics.

If anyone expected Morsi to express contrition or make conciliatory gestures, they haven't been watching the man's track record. He spoke for two and a half hours, addressing many issues and promising that he will move more quickly towards Parliamentary elections and improving daily life, but also denouncing or criticizing the courts, media, and other institutions that have opposed or criticized him. He never mentioned the recent killing of Shi‘ites.

I didn't hear the entire speech but from what I did, plus summaries on social media, he does no seem to have suddenly acquired rhetorical charisma.

Clearly, too, he was preaching to the choir. His Muslim Brotherhood supporters and other Islamists will doubtless applaud the speech; the demonstrators planning to turn out Sunday will remain unpersuaded.

The polarization in Egypt seems to be deepening. I'll have much more to say before June 30.

More New Faces for Qatar's New Cabinet

Newly installed Qatari Ruler Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad has named a new Cabinet, with Sheikh ‘Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa Al Thani as his new Prime Minister and Khalid al-Atiyah as Foreign Minister; both posts were formerly held by Sheikh Hamad bin Jasim ("HBJ"). The critical Energy Ministry is unchanged.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Meeting a Need Too Long Unmet: "The Doha Historical Dictionary of the Arabic Language"

Anyone who studies and works with Arabic is well aware that there are some major lacunae in the field of lexicography: despite the richness of the Arabic language and the great tradition of lexicography dating back to the Mamluk period, there is no decent, scholarly dictionary of Arabic etymology or, even more importantly, a comprehensive dictionary on historical lines comparable to The Oxford English Dictionary in English.

Though I'd missed it until now, late last month an ambitious project was announced in Qatar:
The Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies announced the official launch of the Doha Historical Dictionary of the Arabic Language, on May 25, 2013, following two years of extensive preparation by a select group of linguistic experts, lexicographers, and computational scientists from a variety of Arab countries . . . 
The new dictionary, which will chronicle the history of Arabic terms over 2,000 years, is projected to take 15 years until completion, with achievement highlights being presented every three years.  The dictionary hopes to make possible the facilitation of research on Arab intellectual legacy through the work it uncovers. As a comprehensive electronic corpus, the dictionary will be able to assist a number of projects related to machine language in Arabic, including machine translation and automated spelling and grammar checkers. A number of specialist lexicons will also be published as auxiliaries to the main project, including dedicated works on scientific terms, terms related to the study of civilization, a complete dictionary of contemporary Arabic, and educational dictionaries.
They also announced a temporary website for the project (in Arabic).

They have recruited Arabic linguistic experts from several parts of the Arab world, and they have something else going for them:
The project itself is sponsored by His Highness the Heir Apparent of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani.
Who, of course, as of this morning is the new Ruler.

A word of caution. That 15-year estimate may be optimistic. The Oxford English Dictionary began compilation in 1857, published its first fascicle in 1884, and was completed in 1928, with Supplements appearing soon thereafter. Of course they didn't have computers in those days.

Ammar Steps Down as Tunisia's Army Chief

If you followed the link in my previous post you may know this already, but the Chief of Staff of Tunisia's Army, Gen., Rachid Ammar, has announced his retirement.

During the Tunisian Revolution, the Armed Forces played a decisive but not terribly visible role. Ammar refused to use the Army against the demonstrators, but once the revolution was successful, the Army played no prominent role. (See my post, "Pay No Attention to the Man Behind the Curtain," from 2011.) More recently he has been criticized for the Army's role in returning former Qadhafi Prime Minister Baghdadi al-Mahmoudi to Libya, and the Army's failure to defeat jihadi rebels in the Jebel Châambi region near the Algerian border.

Ammar reportedly asked to take retirement; he is 66. He made it clear that he had not been dismissed, but would not agree to stay on.

Huffington Post Starts a Maghreb-Specific Edition

The news and opinion website the Huffington Post, which had previously launched a French-language version of its site, has now launched a version specifically dedicated to the Maghreb countries, called Al Huffington Post Maghreb. The website, which is in French, is here. For an English-language account about the new site, at Tunisialive, see here.

A Historical Note: Qatar Will Now Have Two Living Ex-Rulers

It is unusual enough for any Arab ruler (or President for that matter) to abdicate or retire, but with the abdication of Sheikh Hamad of Qatar in his son's favor, Qatar will actually have two living former rulers at the same time. While I don't think it's historically unique (after the 1952 Egyptian revolution Egypt had two ex-kings, Farouq and his son Fuad, until Farouq died),  it's probably more common in places where abdication is routine (as the Netherlands recently reminded us). (And Malaysia dosn't count, since the nine traditional rulers rotate the kingship among themselves every five years. Everybody's an ex-king.)

But Sheikh Khalifa bin Hamad Al Thani, father of Sheikh Hamad and grandfather of the new Amir, Sheikh Tamim, is still alive at the age of 80, having been overthrown by his son in 1995. After nearly a decade of living in France, he returned to Qatar in 2004. Sheikh Hamad, who is just 61, may also be around for some time to come.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Sectarianism Breaks Out in Egypt and Lebanon

The growing threat of sectarian conflict in the Arab world has seen two new outbursts: an anti-Shi‘ite pogrom in a village in Egypt, and the bloody clashes between the Lebanese Army and a Salafi sheikh's followers in Sidon, Lebanon.

We've talked about the curious fact that Egyptian Salafis and even the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt have a strong streak of anti-Shi‘ite rhetoric, despite the country that Egypt's Shi‘ite minority is minuscule.

Today is the 15th of the month of Sha‘ban, and the night before is celebrated in Muslim tradition (Sunni and Shi‘i) as a nignt when God's mercy is at its most forgiving, a night for prayer and repentance. In a village in Giza Governorate, a small group of Shi‘ites were gathered privately in a private home, with an Egyptian Shi‘ite figure and spokesman named Hasan Shehata attending. A mob, learning of the gathering, surrounded the house, dragged the worshippers out, killed Shehata and three others and injured more, destroying several houses in the process. Zeinobia has details and photos, including some bloody ones. While the lynch-mob killed its victims, police reportedly looked on without intervening.

The fighting in Lebanon is on a larger scale and involves the Lebanse Army, but is also sectarian in inspiration. At least 16 Lebanese soldiers have died in a confrontation between the Army and the supporters of raidcal Salafi leader Ahmad al-Assir in Sidon. Qifa Nabki offers some background on Assir's gamble, which is quickly turning against him; he's denouncing the Lebanese Army as instruments of Iran and Hizbullah. But in a country that has already postponed Parliamentary elections and witnessed fighting in its north and east as the war in Syria echoes inside Lebanon, it adds another front in southern Lebanon.

Will Sheikh Tamim Differ from His Father?

After a couple of weeks of rumors, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani of Qatar has met with members of the Royal Family and confirmed rumors that he will hand over power to his 33-year-old son and Heir Apparent, Sheikh Tamim.

The transfer of power in Qatar today is likely to draw a great deal more attention than when Sheikh Hamad took power in 1995, despite the fact that Hamad overthrew his father at that time. Qatar's international clout has vastly increased under Hamad's policy of making Qatar a regional power; its role in Lebanon, in Sudan, and more recently in the Syrian conflict and supporting the Morsi government in Egypt (not to mention the role of Al Jazeera), mean that any change at the helm will be closely watched.

Sheikh Tamim has been Heir Apparent since 2003 He is Sheikh Hamad's fourth son; the others were passed over for succession. He is the second son by Sheikh Hamad's second and best-known wife, Sheikha Moza. Before Hamad took power in 1995 the Al Thani family had a long history of internal feuding and maneuvering; at least visibly, Hamad seems to have kept that under control, and his meeting with the Royal Family this morning was presumably intended to smooth the way for Tamim.

Many reports suggest that Tamim is even more conservative and potentially supportive of Islamist groups than his father.

Another question will be the role of the powerful Prime Minister, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim, a royal cousin who is also Foreign Minister and CEO of the Qatar Investment Authority, the country's sovereign wealth fund (the British press has called him "the man who bought London").

The internal dynamic of Gulf royal families is often discussed but generally is opaque to those outside the ruling families. Expect a lot of speculation, but wait and see what happens. Sheikh Hamad (the ruler, not the PM) addresses the country tomorrow.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Satire Hits Critical Mass: Jon Stewart on Bassem Youssef's Show

Some things demand posting even on weekends. American comedian and political satirist Jon Stewart and Egyptian comedian and political satirist Bassem Youssef have become friends, and Youssef has appeared on Stewart's show (American media keep calling him "the Jon Stewart of Egypt" and now Egyptian media, at least the non-government kind, are returning and reversing the compliment); yesterday Stewart, who's working on a movie in Jordan and dropped in on Cairo, appeared on Youssef's Al-Bernameg (his inventively titled "The Program"). Except for the introduction (Stewart's introduced as "one of the world's most famous spies"),  it's almost all in English and needs no commentary, though Stewart uses some colloquial Arabic, and those who know Egypt may enjoy the jokes about food at the end. But it's a great interaction of two complementary wits. Stewart's growing a beard, and  makes the obligatory Ikhwan joke.

Friday, June 21, 2013

UNESCO Lists All Six Syrian World Heritage Sites as Endangered by the War

My frequent posting of old pictures as nostalgia for the weekend will be a little different this week, since UNESCO has listed six Syrian World Heritage Sites as endangered due to the fighting there. We've posted many earlier posts about damage to historic mosques, the old suq and the Great Mosque in Aleppo, and the ruins at Palmyra; now UNESCO has listed the six World Heritage Sites in Syria (all there are) as endangered: the old cities of Aleppo, Bosra, and Damascus; the Ancient Villages of Northern Syria (see my post on them here); the Crac des Chevaliers and Qal‘at Salah al-Din Crusader Castles, and the site of Palmyra. A news story here. So, in honor of these endangered sites, a nostalgia photo of the Citadel of Aleppo in the days of camel caravans:
Today the caravanserai is replaced by car parking, but there has been much damage in the old city generally, and many now expect a major government offensive in Aleppo. The human losses of the Syrian war are irreplaceable of course, but the heritage losses are also of great concern.

Gary Sick: Is the Supreme Leader Really So Supreme?

We've seen a fair amount of commentary belittling the importance of Rouhani's election in Iran, along the lines of "The Supreme Leader has all the power so it doesn't matter." Gary Sick takes a somewhat contrarian position: "Is the Supreme Leader Really So Supreme?" A few excerpts:
With the surprising Iranian election over, and the moderate Hassan Rouhani elected by a clear majority, a new narrative is emerging. It asserts that absolutely nothing has changed, that Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, let the election proceed for his own devious reasons, and that only he can make decisions about Iran’s strategic policies, regardless of who is president.

This is a facile and self-serving argument. After Friday’s election, which reversed all predictions, those of us who watch Iran closely should ask ourselves whether the supreme leader is as supreme as he pretends . . .
But it is not only the election. Just look at the record. Over the past 15 years, Iran has pursued a series of quite different negotiating strategies with the West: from a temporary suspension of enrichment under the new president-elect, to an on-again-off-again offer to compromise on 20 percent enrichment that resulted in a formal offer via Turkey and Brazil, then a full court stall and “resistance” strategy under the stewardship of the now-forgettable Saeed Jalili. The one constant during all these episodes was the unquestioned supremacy of one man.
This is the same man who reportedly mobilized Revolutionary Guard support for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2005 to avoid the threat of a new reformist surge. He then presided over the hasty coronation of the same man, under an even more immediate threat of reform, in 2009, proclaiming the results “divine.” He then turned around and began systematically stripping all powers from the recipient of that divine judgment, humiliating him and pondering openly the possibility of doing away entirely with the very office of the presidency. Eventually he came to view his divine choice as part of a “deviant current.”
 Read the whole thing: agree or disagree, it's a useful corrective to the emerging conventional wisdom.

For a Little Light Humor for Friday...

The Pan-Arabian Enquirer, an Onion-like website ("About Us: Is it real? No. It's made up. All of it.") offers us "In Pictures: Inside the Taliban's Plush New Qatar Offices," which imagines the Taliban offices in Doha as they would look if designed on Gulf shopping mall or office park lines:

“Interaction is a central theme of the building, with several large open-plan areas where radical extremists can sit and share ideas regarding the toppling of decadent Western principles, perhaps over an organic muffin or cup of fairtrade coffee from one of the several pop-up cafes scattered throughout.”

Do take a look at the rest.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Coptic Church's Synod Recognizes Two Modern Saints

The Coptic Church's Holy Synod, consisting of the bishops, has recognized the sainthood of two modern figures who had already been widely venerated by the Coptic faithful. And no, Gamal Abdel Nasser was not one of them, but Pope Kyrillos (Cyril) VI, shown with Nasser in this 1965 photo, was. The Coptic Pope from 1959 to 1971, prior to the late Pope Shenouda III who reigned from 1971 to last year, and the predecessor once removed of current Pope Tawadros II, has been widely acclaimed as a saintly figure among the Coptic faithful.

His good relationship with Nasser is often cited as a marked contrast to Church-State relations in the Sadat and Mubarak era and the awkward situation since the election of President Morsi. Nasser was a key patron of the building of the new Coptic Cathedral in Abbasiyya (the Pope and the President are shown above laying the cornerstone in 1965, and below, with Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie and Anwar Sadat at the dedication, 1968).
I'm a little uncertain about one thing: traditionally formal canonization of saints in the Coptic Church had to wait for 50 years after the person's death, while Pope Kyrillos died in 1971, 42 years ago. Perhaps they are making an exception due to the fact that he has long been acclaimed a saint by popular opinion.

The other figure is less well known outside Coptic circles: Archdeacon Habib Girgis (1876-1951), who played several key roles in the renaissance of the Coptic Church in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The Church had become calcified through the centuries, with poorly educated priests and Coptic faithful with little understanding of their Church, and it was losing adherents to Catholic and Protestant missionary efforts.

Habib Girgis
During the half-century long papacy of Pope Cyril V (Pope 1874-1927), both the papacy and the Coptic laity committed themselves to modernizing the church. The emergence of the Maglis Milli, a Coptic layman's council, created friction with the clergy, but the Pope also moved to improve education, founding the Coptic Theological School of Alexandria. Habib Girgis became its first student, and years later, its second head. He was consecrated an archdeacon as well.

Girgis as an Archdeacon
Girgis was also closely involved in the foundation of the Coptic Sunday School Movement, which sought to educate the faithful as the Theological School educated the clergy. He was one of a number of Coptic figures, clerics and laymen alike, who helped revive interest among Copts in their own tradition; I've written before about another figure from the Coptic revival: Claudius Labib, who sought to bring back the Coptic language.

Kuwait Calls Snap Elections for July 25

In the wake of the recent decision by Kuwait's Constitutional Court invalidating the Parliament elected in December and dissolving it, Kuwait will hold new elections on July 25. 

It will be the third general elections in 18 months, following those in February and December 2012. Both of the Parliaments elected last year were dissolved by court decisions.

A Little Advice from Clausewitz on Intervention

I've already expressed qualms and mixed emotions about the new US position on Syria, whatever exactly it is,
 I know there are a lot of folks, from neocons on the right to "humanitarian interventionists" on the left, who see no problems with a deeper commitment in Syria. Many of the advocates are people I admire, and several are personal friends. But I still hear somewhere in the background that old hippie peacenik from the Prussian Kriegsakademie, Carl von Clausewitz:
No one starts a war — or rather, no one in his senses ought to do so — without first being clear in his mind what he intends to achieve by that war and how he intends to conduct it. The former is its political purpose; the latter its operational objective. This is the governing principle which will set its course, prescribe the scale of means and effort which is required, and make its influence felt throughout down to the smallest operational detail.
— Carl von Clausewitz, On War (Vom Kriege), Book VIII, Chapter 2
Trans. Michael Howard and Peter Paret, Princeton University Press, 1976, p. 579
Are we there yet?

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Erdoğan Thinks He Has Problems? He Should Remember the Nika Riots

Justinian I
Turkish Prime Minister Erdoğan has been complaining loudly that the protesters in Istanbul are terrorists, "looters," and such. But Erdoğan, a former Mayor of Istanbul who still wants to micromanage the city from Ankara, ought to know enough about his great city's rich history to know that it has seen real protests in its day. Most notably the "Nika Riots" that began January 13, 532 AD and lasted for five days, at the end of which half the city was burned down, including the original Hagia Sophia, the greatest church in Christendom, built by the Emperor Constantine when he founded the city two centuries earlier, and parts of the Imperial Palace, and there were tens of thousands dead, allegedly including 30,000 rioters killed by the Army, not counting more tens of thousands dead at the rioters' hands or in the fires. The numbers may be exaggerated, but the devastation was not. And the Byzantine Emperor almost fled in terror, until his strong-willed Empress gave him a tongue-lashing and put enough backbone in him to fight back. The Emperor in question, who'd been on the throne only five years at the time and almost ran for exile, fought back and survived. And over the next 30 years in power he reconquered Italy and North Africa from assorted Visigoths, Vandals, Lombards and what not, fought Sassanid Persia, and created an enduring codification of Byzantine Law. He also rebuilt Constantinople, including a newer, bigger Hagia Sophia. His name was Justinian.

You've heard of him, most likely, but if he'd cut and run during the Nika riots, you wouldn't have; he'd have been one  more transient general-turned Emperor, deposed and forgotten; the remaining three glorious decades would never have occurred. The Empress Theodora gave him the necessary spine (and maybe a pair of other required body parts) with her famous lecture, and he is said to have always recognized that he owed his throne to his wife's courage and encouragement (see below: she essentially called him and his generals quitters and cowards).

Istanbul was known as Constantinople in those days, of course, But most of this took place only three miles or so from the site of the Taksim Square/Gezi Park demonstrations, in what then was as much the city center as Taksim is now. And what's the point of having a blogger with a doctoral minor in Byzantine history if I can't pull up parallels to the present like this? Of my minor fields, I get to draw on those Byzantine History courses the least by far.

In another parallel to today, when the "Ultras" football support clubs in both Egypt and Turkey have become not just booster clubs but a curious mixture of football fans, soccer hooligans, street gangs, and political movements, and have played key roles in the protests, so too, 1500 years ago, partisan groups supporting various "teams" of chariot racers became surrogate political "parties" of a sort, representing various classes, bodies of opinion, and interests. What had been four such parties or factions in Classical times had become two in Constantinople in Justinian's time, known as the Blues and the Greens. The Blues tended to favor Justinian, the Greens the old Senatorial nobility, with commoners taking sides according to the issue. Justinian, a military man who what risen to the Imperial purple, was still a bit of a newcomer to the throne, and higher taxes created by a war and negotiated peace with Persia had hurt his popularity.

The racing factions became political factions in part because the chariot races were the only time most citizens ever saw their Emperor. The Hippodrome,  the track for horse and chariot races, adjoined the Great Palace south of Hagia Sophia, and from a balcony on the Palace known as the Kathisma, (see the Wikipedia map below), the Emperor would watch the races, visible to his subjects.

The Blues and Greens in 531 AD found common cause when supporters of each were accused of murder in a riot over a race outcome, and condemned to death. Anger over this, higher taxes, and other issues led to rising tensions, which Justinian sought to defuse by commuting the death sentences. But the factions wanted a full pardon. Justinian called for a race on January 13, 532, aimed at calming things down. It did not.

Once the Emperor appeared on the Kathisma, both Blues and Greens began shouting against him and shouting Nika! ("Victory!", or perhaps "Win!" or "Triumph!"), hence the term "Nika Riots" for what followed. (Do you suppose the Nike Shoe folks are aware of this aspect of their sporting ancestry?)
Remnants of the Hippodrome Today

Soon the riots were out of control. The mobs attacked and besieged the Palace, which lay between the Hippodrome to the west, Hagia Sophia to the north, and the Bosporus and Marmara to the east and south. (Later Emperors preferred the Blachernae Palace in the northwest of the city, and the Ottomans would move the palace area to Topkapı).  The surviving remnants of the Hippodrome, a column and an obelisk, are in the Sultanahmet Meydanı, sometimes known as Atmeydanı or in English, as Hippodrome Square.

The city was burning, and Constantine's Hagia Sophia was destroyed. The mobs were besieging the Palace, and the only escape seemed to be by sea. Procopius, the first-hand witness of it all, tells the story of what happened next (The Wars, Vol. I, H.B. Dewing translation):
Now the emperor and his court were deliberating as to whether it would be better for them if they remained or if they took to flight in the ships. And many opinions were expressed favouring either course. And the Empress Theodora also spoke to the following effect: "As to the belief that a woman ought not to be daring among men or to assert herself boldly among those who are holding back from fear, I consider that the present crisis most certainly does not permit us to discuss whether the matter should be regarded in this or in some other way. For in the case of those whose interests have come into the greatest danger nothing else seems best except to settle the issue immediately before them in the best possible way. My opinion then is that the present time, above all others, is inopportune for flight, even though it bring safety. For while it is impossible for a man who has seen the light not also to die, for one who has been an emperor it is unendurable to be a fugitive. May I never be separated from this purple, and may I not live that day on which those who meet me shall not address me as mistress. If, now, it is your wish to save yourself, O Emperor, there is no difficulty. For we have much money, and there is the sea, here the boats. However consider whether it will not come about after you have been saved that you would gladly exchange that safety for death. For as for myself, I approve a certain ancient saying that royalty is a good burial-shroud." When the queen had spoken thus, all were filled with boldness, and, turning their thoughts towards resistance, they began to consider how they might be able to defend themselves if any hostile force should come against them.
In modern terms, she shamed the Emperor and his generals and ministers by showing she was the only one with the necessary gonads, and it worked. The phrase about "royalty is a good burial-shroud" is also frequently translated as "the imperial purple is an excellent winding-cloth," and the like.

Procopius, the official historian who makes Theodora look so good here, also wrote a Secret History (not paid for by the Emperor, to be sure) in which he portrayed Theodora (a bear-trainer's daughter who married Justinian when he was a soldier) as a former prostitute and dissolute still even as an Empress. Many feel the portrayals are incompatible. I'm not sure they are, though his Secret History suggestion that the Empress was an actual, real demon seems extreme. (First year Byzantine History grad students read The Secret History, which is full of salacious scandal before they ever look a The Histories, to be sure. For the same reasons Classicists prefer Suetonius to Tacitus.)

Justinian, taking new courage from Theodora's "Go ahead and run if you want to, I'm dying here as an Empress" ultimatum, decided to fight back. He called upon a loyal Imperial eunuch (a literal one, not the figurative ones Theodora had implied the Emperor and his generals were), Narses, to act as his agent with the factions. (Narses, of Armenian origin, would later become Justinian's second most famous general, after Belisarius, though eunuchs rarely had military careers.) Narses won over the Blues and they deserted the Greens; then Belisarius, with another general, Mundus, charged with Imperial troops and massacred (it's said) 30,000 rioters. Justinian turned the tide. The city was devastated and tens of thousands dead, but he rebuilt it with more glory than Constantine's, and his new Hagia Sophia rose again as the greatest church in Christendom. It has been a mosque (adding minarets in the process) and is now a museum, but the basic building is still Justinian's. That, the reconquista in Italy and North Africa, the Justinian Code, and much else associated with is reign, would not have occurred if he had fled during the Nika Riots.

This is why I always listen to my wife's advice. Or at least one of the reasons.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Turkish Neologisms and the New Protest: The Standing Man and "Çapuling"

The latest form of protest throughout Turkey is nonviolent and quiet: beginning with a single defiant man standing in Taksim Square, the method, dubbed Duran Adam, "the standing man," has spread to hundreds of men and women. After the renewed violence when Gezi Park was cleared over the weekend, the "standing" protests, quiet ad peaceable as they are, are a clear challenge to the authorities. Even the linguists at the Language Log blog have noted how duran adam has become the latest term to enter the lexicon. They had previously noted, though I had not, the arrival of the Anglo-Turkish neologism "Çapuling," adopted by Turkish protesters after Prime Minister Erdoğan referred to the demonstrators as çapulcu, "looters." Demonstrators redubbed Gezi Park as "Çapulistan."

Iran, Still Celebrating Rouhani, Makes it to the World Cup, Too

Iran, where many are still celebrating the election of Hassan Rouhani, beat South Korea 1-0 today to secure itself a place at the 2014 World Cup, adding a football celebration to the political one. (South Korea also qualified.)

UPDATE: Reports crowds are chanting, "Rouhani, Moussavi, we're going to World Cup." 

Something a Bit Different . . . the Archaeology of WWI Palestine and the Beginning of the Modern Middle East

Current Events are moving quickly so let's take a break in the past, from the Friends of the American Schools of Oriental Research, Jeffrey A. Blakely on "The Archaeology of World War I in Palestine and the Beginning of the Modern Middle East."

Monday, June 17, 2013

Egypt's Syria Break and the MB's New Anti-Shi‘a Rhetoric

Egypt's break with Syria over the weekend followed almost immediately after a meeting of senor Islamists with President Morsi in which the Islamists, particularly well-known preacher and senior Muslim Brotherhood adviser Yusuf al-Qaradawi called for "jihad" against the Asad regime. The Syrian conflict has increasingly been a subject of Qaradawi's statements; his anti-Shi‘ite rhetoric has become more pronounced lately, and on his website he has published congratulations from the Saudi Crown Prince for his stance. Once an advocate of Sunni-Shi‘i cooperation, he has become more and more confrontational; the Muslim Brotherhood as a whole has endorsed similar rhetoric, always having been rather suspicious of Shi‘ism.

The new anti-Syria rhetoric, combined with the recent tough talk about Ethiopia's dam project, may be intended to provide external enemies to rally support at a time of domestic dissent. Most recently Morsi's appointment of new governors for the provinces raised eyebrows when the new governor of Luxor turned out to be a member of al-Gama‘a al-Islamiyya, the group that staged the 1997 attack on tourists at Luxor. Al-Gama‘a al-Islamiyya has since renounced violence, but critics fear an impact on the already badly hit tourism sector.

But rhetoric aimed at Ethiopia and Syria at the same time could prove risky, and raises new questions about Morsi's (and the FJP Party's and its Brotherhood sponsors') foreign policy positions.

A Brief Word to Start the Week: Give Rouhani a Chance to Prove Himself

I'm sure we'll be saying a lot more on this subject, and much more since so much happened over the weekend. But after the initial surprise at Hassan Rouhani's first-round victory, the usual suspects started writing op-eds about he's not really a "reformist" ("moderate" is his own preference anyway), he's not a liberal democrat (you were expecting maybe Hubert Humphrey?); he's faithful to the Islamic system (well, duh, he made it past the Council of Guardians); and the Supreme Leader holds the real power (what part of "Supreme Leader" don't you understand?).

But the usual suspects are the same people urging war with Iran, by us or Israel or both. (Daniel Pipes "endorsed" Jalili since he thought he'd make things worse: I'm not kidding.)

Let me suggest we give Rouhani at least a "honeymoon" period to show us how much of his (impressive) campaign rhetoric was real, and how much his first round victory lets him push for it. Yes, Khamenei has the power. But Khamenei had a hardline President for the past eight years who gave him no end of trouble, and a moderate might be less of a pain in the Supreme Leadership than Ahmadinejad was.

It's true that Mohammad Khatami's election in 1997 was by a heavy margin and he was re-elected in 2001, yet was constantly frustrated in his attempts at reform. Yet he did moderate Iran's relations with the outside world, and the nuclear issue was less confrontational (and Rouhani was his nuclear negotiator). Even if Rouhani is as circumscribed as Khatami was, those days were better domestically and internationally than the subsequent eight years of Ahmadinejad. But Khamenei had far rockier relations with Ahmadinejad in his second term, at least overtly, than with Khatami. Who can say what happens next? Perhaps the Supreme Leader is even ready for compromise on the nuclear issue, and in any event wants a change in tone.

I don't know. The war hawks don't know either. I'm not sure Rouhani even knows. But before everyone piles on with opinions saying Rouhani's not a savior (which he hasn't claimed to be, anyway), let's let him show us what he can do and what he has in mind.

Something sure as hell happened in the Iranian elections. Before we dismiss the results, let's find out what it means first.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Early Takes on Rouhani's Win

It's father's day weekend so I'll hold my own comments till Monday. Nor is the Rouhani (Rowhani, Ruhani, Rohani, etc.) first-round win the only weekend news, but it's the most surprising. Meanwhile, early takes from others:

Farideh Farhi, "Iranians Vote for Hope and a Change of Course."

Shaul Bakhash for the Wilson Center, "Rouhani's Surprise Election."

Scott Peterson at CSM, "Hassan Rohani is Iran's Next President. What Will Change?."

Friday, June 14, 2013

Weekend Nostalgia for Turkey Watchers: Kemal Atatürk and his Dog

Almost a month ago I posted a "weekend nostalgia" photo of a smiling Kemal Atatürk swinging on a swing. But Atatürk is not just nostalgia anymore. As The Washington Post noted today, both sides in the Turkish protests are laying claim to his image; the protesters for his secularism, the government,which has not been a fan of his legacy, mostly as a symbol of national unity.

At the insistence of my dachshund, I wanted to note as this week's nostalgia photos that whatever you may think of the man's policies and legacy, he loved dogs and horses; he had a horse named Sakarya (after one of his military victories), and a faithful dog named "Fox" (I've also seen it Turkicized as "Foks.")  Fox was a street dog taken in by the Turkish leader.. Herewith, Atatürk with his dog, Fox:

If This Turns Out to Be True ...

The General Director of Fars News Agency in Iran is claiming Jalili is running third; Rouhani in the lead with a likely runoff with Qalibaf ... Can this be true, and will the official results look like this? (And yes, those are two different questions.)

The US and Syria: Diving in or Testing the Waters?

I'm going to be cautious in my response to the still somewhat vague commitment by the US to arm the Syrian rebels; the US commitment seems ambiguous at best. The evidence that the Syrian regime has used sarin is the ostensible reason for the change, but clearly the recent successes of the Syrian regime are also part of the calculation. But it's also clear the US is not diving in head first, but perhaps testing the water with a toe.

The Syrian regime's behavior is atrocious, but intervention without a clear understanding of what the US can actually do to change the outcome could be disastrous, especially as there seems to be no great reservoir of popular support for such a move. The Libyan model does not apply, since the factors of Iran, Hizbullah, and Russia were not in play in in Libya. The fact that the US Administration seems unenthusiastic but is responding to political pressure also may weaken any response.

I don't think the Libyan model applies. I worry that the Vietnam model does: a complicated geopolitical configuration that limits one's options and prevents an all-out commitment, combined with a lack of political support at home. Yet I know many people who know Syria far better than I do who are advocating doing more, and I also respect those views.

Graham Fuller on Turkey

 At The New York Times, Graham Fuller offers some balanced thoughts on the meaning of Taksim Square.

Last Call for Punditry on Iran: It's Election Day

Iranian election day is here, and despite all the non-free and non-fair aspects, it has turned into something of a three-way race. Not being all that much of an Iran expert I've been linking to others. Unless this goes o a runoff, these are among the last pundit analyses before the vote.

At Foreign Policy, Karim Sadjadpour notes, in his "Nate Silvering the Iranian Elections":
Mindful of the fact that the graveyard of Middle East analysis is littered with the bones of those who tried to predict Iranian presidential election outcomes, bear with me as I try to Nate Silverzadeh the Iranian electoral field. Rather than attempt to gauge the will of the people, what follows is an attempt to gauge the election from Khamenei's eyes.
And two different pieces by Trita Parsi, in The New Statesman,  "Can the Iranian Regime Survive Yet More Political Cannibalism?," on the prospects of another 2009, and at The Globe and Mail, "Iran's election is neither free nor fair, but its outcome matters," emphasizing the foreign policy implications.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Nuts and Bolts of Iran's Vote Tomorrow

Iran's Presidential election is tomorrow. There's been a lot of analysis but many of us know little about the actual mechanics of the vote. Yasmin Alem at Al-Monitor helps us out by spelling out "What Will Happen on Election Day in Iran"

I'm Jealous: Jadaliyya is the Subject of a Conspiracy Theory and I'm Not

Congratulations to Jadaliyya and co-founder Bassam Haddad on making the conspiracy theory hall of fame: Quoting the Turkish newspaper Radikal about a pro-government paper in Turkey:
Under today’s headline of choice, “The Devil’s Triangle,” [pro-government] Yeni Şafak newspaper accused Jadaliyya, an internet-based news feed published in English and Arabic, of conspiring to alter the Gezi Park demonstrations into one that would topple the Turkish government by “transforming them [the demonstrations] into a Turkish Spring everything being under the sponsorship of George Soros and Georgetown University ..."
As a Georgetown product it makes me proud to know the Jesuit plot is still alive and well and still trying to overthrow Turkey. [ For the humorless among my readers, I'm joking.]  More:
"The dirty alliance, forged on the Beirut-Istanbul-Washington line, with foreign media, finance, and academic circles in participation, is becoming more de-classified and decoded every day. Jadaliyya, which has been fanatically feeding the world news about what was happening first and foremost in Istanbul, but also in other parts of Turkey, in the institutional media wing of the Arab Studies Institute of Georgetown University [sic]. The financier behind Jadaliyya, which claims to be a not-for-profit site, is, however, none other than the famous speculator and founder of the Open Society Institute, George Soros—the same name behind the ‘Orange Revolutions’ that started in Ukraine in 2004, and continued in Georgia and Kyrgyzstan. Published as a monthly [sic], and carrying a 1.5 million sales in numbers, the internet site of the journal is supported by a great number of Middle Eastern and Western academics and activists. Even in its very first news reports on the demonstrations, Jadaliyya not only dubbed them as ‘Turkish Revolution’ and ‘Turkish Spring,’ but also generously featured the ugliest adjectives describing Erdoğan, ones that even the demonstrators against him did not dare to mouth."
As Bassam explains in an interview with the newspaper Radikal, reproduced at Jadaliyya, the Arab Studies Institute, though founded at Georgetown years ago, has been independent since the 1990s, and the Open Society Institute is one of many organizations to have given support with no policy strings. As he tells Radikal, “It is almost comical what was written about Jadaliyya . . . [t]hey have really overestimated us!”

I'm pleased that Jadaliyya, always worth reading, has made the big time in conspiracy theory. "Devil's Triangle," no less. I'm definitely jealous. I'll bet Jadaliyya's web traffic is soaring.

But, :"forged on the Beirut-Istanbul-Washington line"?

The Denshawai "Incident" 107 Years Later: A Symbol of Colonial Arrogance Unforgotten in Egypt

The pigeons of Denshawai have come home to roost.
—Mohamed Hassanein Heikal on the Suez Crisis of 1956, 50 years after Denshawai.
One of the prisoners ascends the scaffold, June 1906
Denshawai (Dinshaway, Dinshwai, etc.: دنشواي) is hardly a household word among Westerners today. The "Denshawai Incident," as it is usually called (though George Bernard Shaw called it "The Denshawai Horror": see below) began 107 years ago today, on June 13, 1906 in a small Egyptian Delta village in Menufiyya Governorate. If it is forgotten elsewhere, it is hardly forgotten in Egypt. Yet in four years of blogging, though I've mentioned it in other contexts, I've never told the story in detail.

Certainly it was not forgotten by Anwar Sadat, who was raised close by:
But the ballad which affected me most deeply was probanly that of Zahran, the hero of Denshway. I recall my mother reciting it to me as I lay stretched out on top of our huge rustic oven, half-asleep while my younger brothers (and our rabbits) had all fallen asleep. It appealed to me afresh every time I listened to it. Denshway was only three miles away and the ballad dealt with a real incident . . . Zahran was the hero of the battle against the British and the first to be hanged.The ballad dwells on Zahran's courage and doggedness in the battle, how he walked with his head held high to the scaffold, feeling proud that he had stood up to the aggressors and killed one of them.
I listened to that ballad night after night, half-awake, half-asleep, which perhaps made the story sink into my subconscious. My imagination roamed free. I often saw Zahran and lived his heroism in dream and reverie — I wished I were Zahran. 
Anwar el-Sadat, In Search of Identity: An Autobiography I (1977), pp.5-6
(Three miles? Google maps says it's 15 km from Sadat's home village of Mit Abu'l Kom by road to Denshawai, but as the crow flies it's closer I'm sure, maybe four or five miles?)  Nor was it forgotten by a very different type of Egyptian, Ayman al-Zawahiri:
On 16 November 2005 Osama bin Laden’s right-hand man, Ayman al-Zawahiri, expressed his satisfaction at the 7 July bombings in London. He announced that Britain was one of Islam’s worst enemies; it had been responsible for the deaths of thousands of Muslims across the ages, from Palestine to Afghanistan, Delhi to Denshawai. This reference to a small town in Egypt may have perplexed the western audience, but Denshawai meant more to millions of others. Gamal Abdel Nasser mentioned it on 26 July 1956 in his historic announcement of the nationalisation of the Suez Canal Company.
Alain Gresh in Le Monde Diplomatique English Edition, October 2007, "Denshawai 1906"
Denshawai was one of many small cruelties of colonialism, but the arrogance of the British response gave a new impetus to Egyptian nationalism. One can trace a direct line from the scaffold at Denshawai to the 1919 revolution, to the nationalization of the Suez canal (see Heikal above) and much of the history of modern Egyptian nationalism.
Pigeon raising in the Delta in the era
Like many villagers in the Delta, the villagers of Denshawai raised pigeons in conical pigeon-cotes, primarily for food. A year before, in 1905, British officers had come to the village shooting pigeons, A local named Hasan Mahfuz had resisted them, and the British Army banned further hunting there. But 107 years ago today a party of five British officers, with an Egyptian policeman and interpreter,  returned to Denshawai. Given the fact that four Egyptians would soon be hanged, there is a particular irony in the name of the ranking officer in the group: Major John Edward Pine-Coffin. (Really.)

Major Pine-Coffin (1866-1919), a Boer War veteran from an old Devon family whose son would later serve in the Normandy invasion, had reportedly hunted at Denshawai before. When Mahfuz and other villagers again resisted, the British shooting party agreed to retreat a few hundred yards from the village. The exact distance they moved back is disputed. As they started shooting birds, a threshing floor in the village caught fire. The villagers, already infuriated by the pigeon shooters, attacked the soldiers with stones and sticks. Somehow in the confusion the wife of the prayer leader of the local mosque was shot. In the fight that ensued one British officer, a Captain Bull, was injured. He and another officer escaped, and Bull, running for help, collapsed and died of apparent heatstroke, combined perhaps with a concussion from the fight or a heart attack.

British troops arriving on the scene found a local peasant who had sought to help Bull, saw that Bull was dead, assumed the peasant had killed him, and beat the fellah to death.

Meanwhile the village elders had calmed things down, and the other officers escaped. The only dead British officer had died of mostly natural causes, but when the British Army arrived in force the next day, they arrested 52 villagers.

The British then proceeded to take a tragic case of poor communication and cultural myopia and turn it into a scandal that echoes more than a century later. Lord Cromer, the de facto if unofficial British viceroy of Egypt, saw it as a sign of fanatical hostility to be put down with force. The natives were restless and had to be shown due respect for their colonial masters.

Boutros Ghali
Under agreements signed between Britain and Egypt, the British set up a joint tribunal of two Egyptians and three British. The President was an Egyptian, a senior Cabinet figure, Boutros Ghali (grandfather of the UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali), but the man who mattered was the British Vice President, Sir Walter Bond. (The other Egyptian was Fathi Zaghloul, brother of Saad Zaghloul, but no one remembers this. Neither Bond, who really ran the show, nor the other British judges understood much Arabic, if any.) Four of the accused, Hasan Mahfuz, Zahran (see Sadat quote above), a man named Darwish accused in the death of Captain Bull, and another man were sentenced to hang. Four more were sentenced to life in prison and more to terms of various years along with flogging; others received only the flogging, 50 lashes.
Painting of the Tribunal, Denshawai Museum

The accused at the tribunal
The British decided that the hangings, and floggings, would take place at Denshawai, on June 27 (only two weeks after the "Incident," no appeal being permitted), with the villagers forced to witness them.

Lord Cromer was en route to London when the verdicts came down. He supposedly told Sir Edward Grey that he was shocked,  but both men agreed it would be a sign of weakness to overrule the verdicts.

Egyptian nationalism, which had been struggling, received a new invigoration. British Anti-imperialists like Wilfred Scawen Blunt were outraged, but the strongest and most endurng outburst came from George Bernard Shaw. In the "Preface to Politicians" that introduces his 1911 John Bull's Other Island (available free online at Google Books), following a lengthy defense of Irish Home Rule, he moves on to what he calls "The Denshawai Horror":
Denshawai is a little Egyptian village in the Nile delta. Besides the dilapidated huts among the reeds by the roadside, and the palm trees, there are towers of unbaked brick, as unaccountable to an English villager as a Kentish oast-house to an Egyptian These towers are pigeon houses; for the villagers keep pigeons just as an English farmer keeps poultry. Try to imagine the feelings of an English village if a party of Chinese officers suddenly appeared and began shooting the ducks, the geese, the hens and the turkeys, and carried them off, asserting that they were wild birds, as everybody in China knew, and that the pretended indignation of the farmers was a cloak for hatred of the Chinese, and perhaps for a plot to overthrow the religion of Confucius and establish the Church of England in its place! Well, that is the British equivalent of what happened at Denshawai ...
Shaw is at his acerbic best in describing the day of the public hangings and floggings:
Ages of the four hanged men respectively, 60, 50, 22 and 20. Hanging, however, is the least sensational form of public execution: it lacks those elements of blood and torture for which the military and bureaucratic imagination lusts. So, as they had room for only one man on the gallows, and had to leave him hanging half an hour to make sure work and give his family plenty of time to watch him swinging ("slowly turning round and round on himself," as the local papers described it), thus having two hours to kill as well as four men, they kept the entertainment going by flogging eight men with fifty lashes each: eleven more than the utmost permitted by the law of Moses in times which our Army of Occupation no doubt considers barbarous. But then Moses conceived his law as being what he called the law of God, and not simply an instrument for the gratification of his own cruelty and terror. It is unspeakably reassuring to learn from the British official reports laid before parliament that "due dignity was observed in carrying out the executions," that "all possible humanity was shown in carrying them out," and that " the arrangements were admirable, and reflect great credit on all concerned." As this last testimonial apparently does not refer to the victims, they are evidently officially considered not to have been concerned in the proceedings at all. Finally, Lord Cromer certifies that the Englishman in charge of the proceedings is "a singularly humane man, and is very popular amongst the natives of Egypt by reason of the great sympathy he has always shown for them." 
Troopers at the Gallows
The anger of Shaw, Blunt, and other anti-Imperialists (to the credit of British popular opinion if not their rulers) eventually brought about the release of those imprisoned. The dead remained dead.

The repercussions of Denshawai continue, as the quotes at the beginning show, to this day. That the Suez crisis came exactly 50 years after Denshawai was evoked by both Nasser and Heikal.

But there was a more immediate repercussion as well. Two years later, in 1908, Boutros Ghali became Prime Minister of Egypt. His role on the Denshawai tribunal was exacerbated by the fact that he was a Copt, and in a predominantly Muslim country many prominent Copts were accused of being instruments of the (Christian) British. The British did little to alter this perception, often favoring Copts and other minorities. On February 20, 1910, less than four years after his role on the Denshawai Tribunal, Prime Minister Ghali was shot while leaving the Foreign Ministry by Ibrahim Nassif al-Wardani, a nationalist. He was neither the first nor, arguably, the last, victim of Denshawai, but was surely the highest-ranking.
The dying Boutros Ghali, 1910

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Turkish News on a Lighter Note

With everything that's been taking place in Turkey, it's time for something a little lighter, even  if it is from that paragon of respected journalism, The Daily Mail: "Schoolgirl, 9, passes through Turkish customs with toy passport identifying her as a UNICORN." 

A nine-year-old schoolgirl has managed to enter Turkey using a passport that identified her as a pink unicorn.

Officials at Antalya airport even stamped Emily Harris's travel documents before waving her through customs despite the official photograph showing the face of her favourite stuffed toy.

Her mother and father today admitted they were left stunned after they handed their daughter the wrong passport when they landed to start a week's holiday in the country.
There's a photo at the link.  Actually, Prime Minister Erdoğan is probably wishing he had more unicorns about now.

Bouteflika Reappears in Photos, on TV

Bouteflika with PM Sellal (R) and CoS Gaid Salah (L) (APS)
Yesterday the Algerian Press Service released the first photos of President Bouteflika since his stroke, shown meeting with Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal and Deputy Minister for National Defense and the Chief of Staff of People’s National Army Ahmed Gaid at the Invalides Veterans' Hospital in Paris. The meeting lasted two hours, and Algerian television also showed video of Bouteflika talking and drinking coffee.

Official statements are also now using
the term "cerebrovascular accident," rather than "transient ischemic attack," suggesting the stroke was indeed more than the "mini-stroke" originally described. But the photos of the meeting are clearly intended to put to rest the rumors that Bouteflika is in a coma. It remains to be seen, however, whether the ailing 76-year-old President will run for a fourth term next year.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Today's Violence in Taksim: Preliminary Thoughts

In the 12 days or so since the Taksim Square/Gezi Park violence in Istanbul escalated, both sides have held back from truly violent confrontations since the police pulled back after the initial clash. Although Prime Minister Erdoğan had been taking an increasingly hard line in recent days, he had also insisted he was willing to meet with the original environmental demonstrator, and said they would be permitted to remain in Gezi Park.

If I understand the authorities' position correctly, they are saying those points still hold; today's action cleared the demonstrators, barricades, and banners from Taksim Square, but not from the adjacent Gezi Park, though the saturating clouds of teargas surely had an effect there as well.

The violence, though non-lethal (water cannons and teargas), certainly escalated the situation, and it is unclear tonight if  any genuine protesters will meet with Erdoğan tomorrow.

As I, and many other commentators, have said before, the major difference between Turkey and the Arab uprisisngs, between Taksim and Tahrir, is that Erdoğan is democratically elected and enjoys a comfortable electoral majority after 10 years in power. Unquestionably Turkish society is increasingly polarizing along class lines, urban/rural lines, and religious/secular lines, and that is dangerous. But Erdoğan might win another election if held right now; his constituency is a real one. But if he chooses religious dogmatism and class warfare over dialogue with his opponents, the situation could deteriorate into something that could look like — well, Taksim today.

As the former Mayor of Istanbul Erdoğan may still feel a proprietary right to micromanage his city, but the degree to which an urban planning dispute escalated into a deeply divisive symbolic battle suggests it is time for dialogue. But today's violence may have made that less likely, as may Erdoğan's apparent intention of distinguishing which demonstrators he will negotiate with.

CNN Today:

Iranian Moderates Uniting Behind Rowhani as the Vote Approaches

There were a couple of developments in Iran's Presidential election campaign today, as the vote on Friday approaches. Candidate Mohammad ‘Aref announced he was withdrawing, at the request of former President Khatami (whom he had served as a Vice President) from the field of eight. He and former nuclear negoitiatoir Hassan Rowhani had been considered the most moderate candidates; the attempt is apparently aimed at uniting the reformist vote behind Rowhani, who also received the endorsement today of former President ‘Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsajani, who had been barred from running. Rowhani has been waging a campaign aimed at winning the moderate vote, as The Guardian spells out:
"We will open all the locks which have been fastened upon people's lives during the past eight years," Rowhani said during a speech on 1 June in the north Tehran neighbourhood of Jamaran. "You, dear students and hero youth, are the ones who have come to restore the national economy and improve the people's living standards. We will bring back our country to the dignity of the past."
Rowhani, who may have already had a progressive bent due to his long-standing relationship with reformist ex-president Mohammad Khatami, has been engaging in such talk in televised interviews and debates all week. The serene-looking cleric has thereby generated at least a faint spark in a reformist camp that has been moribund for some time.
Tuesday night, in a 30-minute documentary more biography than manifesto, he verged on crossing Iran's media "red lines" as he criticised the harassment of Iranian civilians by "plainclothes people" – a clear reference to the Basij militia – and the country's "securitised atmosphere". He also poured scorn on Ahmadinejad's record, though that is by now a million miles from any red line.
Elsewhere in the documentary, Rowhani, who is campaigning on the slogan Government of Proficiency and Hope, talked of "interaction with the world" and gender equality. "In my government, differences between women and men won't be tolerated," he said.
In an interview on state TV on 27 May that received little attention in the west, Rowhani, Iran's lead nuclear negotiator during Khatami's 1997-2005 administration, blamed the nezaam (ruling system) of the Islamic Republic for the failure to engage in direct talks with the US. "[Non-negotiation] was the decision and, thus, the US was set aside," he said. When asked directly if it was the US that had in fact taken the first step towards negotiation, Rowhani simply replied, "Yes." This contradicts the prevailing orthodoxy not only in the west, but the official line in Iran as well.
The mere fact that one candidate is expressing such opinions is news in itself, though after the 2009 Presidential elections, the odds of his actually being certified winner seem remote.

Some other commentaries on the elections:

Barbara Slavin at Al-Monitor: "Iranian Activism Abroad Mirrors Low-Key Election Campaign,"

Farideh Farhi at LobeLog: "Should Iran's Election Really Be Discounted?" A response to Dennis Ross' somewhat deceptively titled piece in Foreign Affairs, "Don't Discount the Iranian Election."

Showdown in Taksim Square

Turkish police have moved into Taksim Square with tear gas and water cannons, while Prime Minister Erdoğan is expressing a willingness to meet with environmental protesters but insisting that barricades come down and "other" protesters disperse. Following several days of tough talk, the government has finally moved in.

The clashes are still continuing. I'll post more thoughts on this once the situation clarifies a bit.

Morsi's Brinksmanship on Ethiopia: A Dangerous Game?

Egypt's President Morsi, in an address to a rally of Islamist groups yesterday, called for Egyptians to unite against an external threat, in this case the controversial Ethiopian dam.

Conventional wisdom seems to be that Morsi is using the dam project as an attempt to rally the opposition behind him prior to big anti-Morsi demonstrations scheduled for June 30 and marking one year in power. From Ahram Online:
The president also said that "all options" were on the table to respond to the current situation and insisted that Egypt would not accept infringements on its water security.
"We have said several times that Egyptians with their revolution carry a message of peace...We do not want war, but we do not accept threats to our security."
Morsi also asked opposing political forces to stand united at a time when Egypt faces hard challenges and to put aside all political rivalries. He went on to call for "national reconciliation," adding that he was certain that political figures would respond positively to his appeals.
"The country demands that we stand united," he said, issuing his call for reconciliation only weeks before planned mass demonstrations on 30 June to demand snap presidential elections.
Morsi did say Egypt is committed to dialogue with Ethiopia and praised dialogue over other approaches, but the implied threat was clearly there.

While the outreach to his domestic opponents may be welcome, the apparent escalation of an international dispute in order to rally unity at home can be risky, and is already drawing criticism. International grandstanding and brinksmanship in an escalating situation can spin out of control easily; that should be obvious in the week of the 46th anniversary of the 1967 war, when Egypt paid a huge price for just such brinksmanship. True, Ethiopia and Egypt share no common border, and threats may be seen as empty, but domestic posturing in international disputes can put diplomatic solutions at risk.