A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Friday, August 30, 2013

Three-Day Weekend

It's the three-day Labor Day weekend in the US; normal blogging will resume Tuesday, though circumstances may require me to comment on events.

The US Case

Here's the US statement on the details of the attack of August 21 in Syria: Government Assessment of the Syrian Government’s Use of Chemical Weapons on August 21, 2013.

And the map:

Colonial Echoes: 1925-1926: France Bombs Damascus

Damascus, 1925
Americans did not get drawn into the Middle East (except as Christian missionaries) until the Second World War; prior to that time US imperial experience was in Latin America and the Pacific,  and as a result there is often a remarkable myopia about how Middle Easterners see the West, due to a lack of context/historical memory of the European colonial era.  During the campaign in Iraq, US planners often seemed only barely aware of the British colonial experience there in World War I and the 1920s; if the US strikes Syria with only France as an ally, it may be well to remember the French role in Syria, where its League of Nations Mandate was used to create a divide-and-rule confessional partition of the country, and during which aerial bombing was used extensively, including in 1925-26 against Damascus itself. Even Syrians who support the downfall of the regime will be aware of historical echoes if French bombs fall on the capital again.

Aerial bombing, in fact, was a prime tool of European colonial power projection in the Middle East. Eight years after the Wright Brothers first flew, on November 1, 1911, an Italian aircraft bombed Turkish positions from the air during Italy's colonial invasion of Libya, the very first aerial bombing, as I noted during the air campaign against Qadhafi. During the Iraqi uprising against the British Mandate in 1920-21, Britain, having honed its bombing skills in World War I, used aerial bombing against Iraqi villages.

In the ancient city of Damascus, between the famous Suq al-Hamidiyya and the Suq Midhat Pasha, southwest of the Umayyad Mosque, is an area still known today as Al-Hariqa, and even a Hariqa Square:
Al-Hariqa, as many of you will recognize, means "the fire." In October, 1925, French aerial and artillery bombardment set the ancient quarter afire and burned much of it to the ground. The French bombed again in March 1926. (Other, later revolts also saw bombing.) Al-Hariqa was rebuilt from the rubble up.

Maurice Sarrail
The cause was the Great Syrian Revolt in 1925-1927. Begun as a Druze revolt under Sultan al-Atrash, it spread to most of France's Syrian Mandate and at its height saw some 50,000 French troops deployed to put it down. French Governor-General Maurice Sarrail bombed the city for 48 hours and it is said that some 1,500 died. Bombardments continued into March 1926. An account of the use of French Air Power is here. Photos and a video of the damage below.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Mother of Parliaments Says "No."

David Cameron has been handed a defeat in the House of Commons, which voted against military action in Syria by 285 to 272. Right now my primary comment is, "Wow."  Efforts to find a multilateral front just got harder.

UPDATE: This would also, I presume, remove the British Sovereign Air Bases at Akrotiri and Dhekelia on Cyprus from the Allied playing board.

Lynch on Syria

Amid the growing debate about what to do about Syria, Marc Lynch offers a nuanced assessment, recognizing the dangers and limitations.

Today seems to be a sort of breathing space. France, which has generally been ahead of the US on Syrian issues, is calling for a delay until the UN investigation is complete, and both the British Parliament's Labour opposition and the US Congress are asking questions. The evidence still needs to be laid out; that I think is critical because of cynicism over the failure to find WMD in Iraq in 2003. But barring some totally unforeseen revelation, action seems inevitable. If so, it should be effective, not symbolic: aimed at genuinely degrading the regime's ability to use prohibited weapons.

Somebody Thought This Was a Good Way to Support the Egyptian Army?

But no, it doesn't work for me:
"Egyptian Army style?" Oh my, I hope not. Unless that's something like "Gangnam Style," but even then, I still hope not. There's an "Egyptian Army" logo at the lower left, but ...?

Leaving aside the fact that the outfits look nothing like military uniforms, what's with the hand signs? Gang signals? What's the message here? The Internet uses the acronym "WTF" way too much. But really, bride and bridesmaids, ladies,  WTF?

Karl Sharro: "The Phoenicians Invent Government"

Some lighter stuff as the cruise missiles may be fueling, though I think they're solid-fueled actually. The satirist Karl Sharro ("Karl reMarks") has a recurring Lebanese cartoon semi-series starring the Phoenicians Abdeshmun and Hanno. This one, from earlier this month, is called "The Phoenicians Invent Government," but seems appropriate not merely for Lebanon but for much of the current constitution-making in Egypt, Tunisia, and elsewhere. And may also be applicable to the US Congress.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Le Monde on Witnessing Chemical Weapons; NPR on Whether Rebels Could Be Responsible

As we wait for the US to provide evidence that the Asad regime is responsible for the use of chemicals in Syria, here's an eyewitness report from Le Monde that claims to have witnessed such a use.

That seems to be fairly conclusive, and most have dismissed Syrian government claims that it was the rebels who used the weapons. But to give the Devil's Advocate an argument, NPR addresses the question "Is it Possible the Syrian Rebels (Not Assad) Used Chemical Weapons?"  I'm not endorsing the idea, merely pointing to the article.

Mahmoud Salem on the Egyptian Media

Mahmoud Salem skewers the Egyptian media's heavy-handed propaganda efforts: "Here to Inform ..."

"The Koshks of Cairo"

Here's something about Egypt that isn't so gloomy: a piece on Cairo's well-equipped kiosks: "The Koshks of Cairo."  If you need it, they've got it.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Syria: Taking Action Without a Clearcut Objective?

There seems to be little room for doubt that the US is about to take military action against Syria. Certainly, assuming the evidence of the Asad regime's use of chemical weapons really exists, anyone with a sense of moral outrage will want to lash out. But to what end? (And unlike 2003 in Iraq, I hope the evidence really is conclusive and indisputable this time.)

It seems clear that the US is seeking to "send a message" to Asad to deter further use of chemical and nerve agents, but that it is not seeking to plunge itself into the Syrian civil war or effect a regime change.

Using bombing to "send a message" rather than achieve a specific and realistically achievable military purpose is not a new idea. It was tried in Vietnam. The Onion, as often happens, gets to the point: "Experts Point To Long, Glorious History Of Successful U.S. Bombing Campaigns." The late Robert McNamara was a pioneer of the idea of bombing as message-sending, and eventually realized his error. The other side had a clear objective, and took Saigon.

A case can be made, I think, for staying out of the Syrian affair altogether, and a case can be made for going in and changing the situation on the ground. But a middle ground that accomplishes little but to make us feel better? The worst of all possible worlds.

And George Packer at The New Yorker captures an internal dialogue that recognizes both sides of the argument, 

I hope, first, that the US makes evidence of the use of chemical weapons public, along with clear evidence of who used them. I hope that whatever action it takes is not just aimed at feeling something has been done, but is actually aimed at degrading the regime's ability to repeat its actions. And I hope there is some sort of clear and achievable objective. Am I expecting too much?

Fuad II Again: And You Thought I Was Kidding Before

Some laughed (well, to be honest, so did I) at my earlier post about apparent Internet efforts to promote deposed King Fuad II of Egypt, who went into exile when a babe in arms in 1952 after his father, King Farouq, abdicated in his favor. Egyptian monarchists are still lurking out there, somewhere. Consider this:
Young (well, 60ish) ex-King and old King with the old flag.

As I previously noted, he's ideally qualified except for having spent only his first few months of infancy in Egypt and not (apparently, since he gives interviews, even to Arab media, in French) speaking the language. (I'll leave out the rumors that his divorced wife is an Israeli citizen since I don't think that should be a factor, but some Egyptians may disagree.)

In my earlier post I suggested restoring the Ptolemies instead, but that's probably not practical. Perhaps I should look into offering my own services as a potential retirement career? Fuad and I are roughly contemporaries, but I have probably spent more time in Egypt than he has. (He usually returns only for family funerals, which the regime okays if he keeps a low profile.) My Arabic may be better than his, if his public utterances are any indication. And while his ancestors are mostly Albanian, mine are heavily Irish, which has ancient links to Egyptian Coptic traditions and the Desert Fathers.

But then, I really don't want to be a King, so I'll stick to being an Editor. I think Fuad should probably stick to being an ex-King as well. He knows how by now.

Almost Certainly the Best Headline About Avicenna You Will See Today

Avicenna (not from life)
Ibn Sina, the great Persian-born 11th century polymath, philosopher and physician known to the medieval West as Avicenna, doesn't make a lot of news these days, and I don't think this blog has had an Avicenna post before. So how can I possibly resist linking to the headline, "Did Avicenna kill himself by having too much sex?"

One of the best Avicenna headlines ever, to be sure (though it's not a huge universe of competitors), but sadly the post summarizes a paper not linked, which apparently answers the question, "no, not really."

But it's a headline that grabs you, doesn't it? At least if you're a medieval Islamic historian at heart, as I am.

And as both a philosopher and a physician, I sort of like to think Avicenna might have said, what a way to go.

Monday, August 26, 2013

The Big Pharaoh Explains the Present Middle East Situation in One Graphic

Egyptian blogger The Big Pharaoh has put together a chart which more or less offers a unified field theory of the Middle East today (click image to enlarge):   "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Understanding the Middle East":
Yeah. That's about it.

400 Years of Arabic Studies in the Netherlands Exhibit in Leiden

Here's something for those too mired down with chemical weapons attacks and other issues of the day:  an exhibition at the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden in Leiden: Excellence and Dignity. 400 years of Arabic studies in the Netherlands.
May 2013 marked the 400th anniversary of the inaugural lecture by Leiden’s first professor of Arabic studies, Thomas Erpenius (1584–1624): ‘On the Excellence and Dignity of Arabic’. In Leiden, Arabic studies are a deep-rooted local tradition that is well known all over the world. Scholars such as Scaliger, Erpenius, Golius, De Goeje, and Snouck Hurgronje have become world renowned.
Happy 400th, Leiden.

David S. Landes, 1924-2013

David Saul Landes
David S. Landes, who died August 17 at the age of 89, was one of the most distinguished economic historians this country has produced; he taught at Harvard from 1964 until his retirement in 1997 as both Coolidge Professor of History and Professor of Economics. He may be best-known to the world at large as the author of The Wealth and Poverty of Nations, but to the Middle East Studies community, and particularly to those of us who are historians of Egypt, he will be remembered as the author of his only foray into our field, Bankers and Pashas: International Finance and Economic Imperialism in Egypt, a 1958 history of how European financiers and the Khedive Ismail's excesses steered Egypt towards economic dependency and ultimately British occupation, based on his discovery of a correspondence between a French banker and the Khedive's personal banker. Except for Bankers and Pashas, Landes had no real Middle East links other than a personal commitment to the State of Israel, but Bankers and Pashas remains an essential contribution to understanding 19th century Egypt and the origins of the colonial era.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Egyptian Constitutional Amendments Analyzed

Details of the proposed amendments to the 2012 Egyptian constitution have leaked. (Link is in Arabic.)

Some analysis of individual points by Bassem Sabry at Al-Monitor and more by Zaid al-Ali at Foreign Policy. Also at Foreign Policy, you should read Nathan Brown's take from a few days ago.

Syria: Is the US Considering an Airstrike?

Most of the commentary in Washington is increasingly questioning the US' lack of response to the claimed atrocities and use of chemical warfare by Syria. But some are suggesting that this may be a tactic while preparing for a possible airstrike. Certainly there are reports the Pentagon is working on strike packages (story behind a paywall), and I doubt the US will act alone or without unmistakeable evidence of what happened and who is responsible. Russia is in denial (or perhaps, in collusion).

It goes without saying that a few airstrikes or cruise missile barrages can provide a certain amount of satisfaction when one is watching a country in full collapse, enormous refugee flows and what may prove to be one of the worst use of nerve agents or other weapons in recent history, but it is also still sound military doctrine not to take precipitate action unless there is some clear cut strategy, including an achievable objective, in sight. If one can degrade the regime's ability to use chemical agents against its own people, that may justify a few strikes. But if one expects to bomb Asad into a regime change, they haven't been paying attention. That would take a much greater level of commitment than I think US opinion is prepared for. Can it be done? Syria has already shown it is not Libya; this regime has deeper roots, though sectarian-based, and the position of Russia is an obstacle not to be dismissed. (And the Russians are alleging the claims were prepared in advance, thus they see them as fabricated).

It seems clear thousands have been affected. If it is truly chemical use and the Asad regime is behind it,  then the world should not stand idly by. But it needs to consider what action will have the most effect in actually preventing a recurrence.

Tripoli: Lebanon Gets Worse

Today's blast in Tripoli, following the earlier attack on Hizbullah in Beirut, escalates the sectarian killing in Lebanon. This attack, aimed at mosques in the heavily Sunni city during Friday prayer is probably a direct response to the previous one. Once again, Syria's war is having direct resonance next door.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

EIPR on Mubarak's Legal Status

The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) has a useful FAQ on the legal status of Husni Mubarak's various cases. Since most of the Western media is just reporting "Mubarak released" without any sense of the process, this is very useful. He's out of jail, but not out of the legal woods yet. (But he's also not nearly as dead as the last time he died, in June 2012. He got better.)

Back from the Brink in Tunisia? Nahda, UGTT Agree to Transition?

Tunisia's dominant Al-Nahda Islamist Party may just have agreed to do what the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt could not bring itself to do: share power with the opposition in order to avoid an Egyptian-style race off a cliff. Nahda leader Rached Ghannouchi and the UGTT Trade Union Conference agreed to a UGTT proposal that would lead to talks between Al-Nahda and the opposition aimed at a power sharing agreement and a technocratic government in the run-up to new elections. The agreement today (here and here) follows European pressure for a settlement and meetings in Paris and elsewhere.

It will still take determination to make it work, but this agreement is a first step.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

More Pieces of the Egyptian Story

Here are some more useful pieces toward piecing together the Egyptian jigsaw:
  • As many of you already know, General Sisi's 2006 "thesis" (more of a brief essay or short term paper really)  at the US Army War College in Carlisle on "Democracy in the Middle East" was released earlier this month under the Freedom of Information Act. A lot of pundits have read it as a "radical" or "Islamist" document, but I think this is over-analyzing a very short paper that expresses views not that uncommon in Egypt, where even the secularists don't usually call for excluding Islam from politics entirely. Read it yourself and decide how sinister it may be.

Ruhi Ramazani on Iran, Teaching, History and Much Else, in 5 Minutes

I have posted about Ruhi Ramazani, the great expert on Iranian Foreign Policy at the University of Virginia, on several occasions. Scott Harrop at UVA haas called my attention to this interview, filmed in 2007 but now online. Ruhi has been a strong supporter of MEI and especially the Journal,  publishing with us since the 1950s.  He doesn't get to DC much anymore due to age and illness, but he's still active. For all who know him, some vintage Ramazani; for the unlucky ones who don't, a sampling worth watching:

R.K. Ramazani, Interview, UVA Today from R.K. Ramazani on Vimeo.

Syria Reminds Us the War Goes On

I admit to being preoccupied with events in Egypt lately, but with the latest allegations of chemical weapons use in the eastern outskirts of Damascus, Syria is forcibly reminding the world that the bloodshed there has not gone away. Regardless of whether chemical weapons were actually used, it seems clear that significant civilian casualties have been inflicted, including children.

The ongoing violence in Iraq, despite its recent intensification, seems to have dropped off the world's radar. But Syria has not yet completely been forgotten. And as the attack on Hizbullah in Beirut's southern suburb recently reminded us, Lebanon is increasingly torn by the war next door. Hizbullsh, which more or less invented the car bomb in the 1980s, now finds itself on the receiving end, but it is also increasingly a major combatant inside Syria.

The future does not seem bright.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Writing the Brotherhood's Obituary: Not So Fast: Remember the Past

The Washington Post suggests that "Egypt's Brotherhood Seems at Risk of Falling Apart." They assert:
CAIRO — The world’s most influential Islamist movement is in danger of collapse in the land of its birth — its leaders imprisoned, its supporters slain and its activists branded as terrorists in what many are describing as the worst crisis to confront Egypt’s 85-year-old Muslim Brotherhood.
Obviously they didn't read my post of earlier today about 1954, when Nasser dissolved the Brotherhood and jailed the Supreme Guide. It was 20 years before the Brotherhood emrrged from underground, and nearly 30 more years before it won the Presidency. And 1954 wasn't even the first time it was banned; it had been banned in 1940-42 and again in 1948. Its first Guide was assassinated, its second spent much of his tenure in prison, and Anwar Sadat, who had tolerated the Brotherhood, jailed the third in 1981.

They are comeback champions, and I suspect this latest obituary may be as premature as all the others.

Echoes of 1954: Nasser, The Brotherhood and the Manshiyya "Incident"

Mark Twain allegedly said (in one of many Twain quotes that Twain scholars can't confirm but that keep being attributed to him), that "History doesn't repeat itself, but it rhymes." Whether Twain or not, it's a useful observation. And it seems to be rhyming again.

Badie Under Arrest
The Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, Muhammad Badie, one of the few leaders of the organization not already in detention, has been arrested. Multiple reports indicate the state will move to dissolve the Muslim Brotherhood imminently. General Sisi, who seemed to be on good terms with the organization just two months ago (and some Brothers hinted he was a member), is now denouncing it as a terrorist organization.

It does not repeat, but it does "rhyme with," 1954. In October, 1954, a charismatic military leader of Egypt, who up to that time had worked with the Brotherhood since at least 1947  and may even have once been a member, and had tolerated the Brotherhood even when he dissolved other political parties, suddenly banned the Muslim Brotherhood, arrested its Supreme Guide and the rest of its leadership, and soon consolidated his own power within the military leadership. That officer was Col. Gamal Abdel Nasser, and he was responding to a very public assassination attempt against himself.

The Podium at Manshiyya, 1954
In October 1954, two years and three months after the July 1952 Free Officers' coup, Nasser was embroiled in a power struggle with Muhammad Naguib, and had largely won it. Muhammad Naguib was still nominally President of the Republic, but that was an increasingly empty title. The headlines and video below call Nasser ra'is, as he was both Prime Minister (President of the Council of Ministers) and Chairman/President of the Revolution Command Council, the ruling military junta. Naguib was on the way out.

The old political parties had already been dissolved, but the Free Officers had an ambivalent relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood, with whom they had conspired against the King. The link cited above includes an excerpt from the memoirs of the leftist Free Officer Khalid Mohieddin (the only surviving Free Officer, 91 this year), remembering meeting Nasser and the Brotherhood as far back as 1947, when MB founder Hasan al-Banna was still in charge. Nasser, Anwar Sadat, and other Free Officers worked closely with the Brotherhood and both were rumored to have been onetime members. Sadat later strongly denied this, though in his Presidency he let the Brotherhood re-emerge; the evidence on Nasser is inconclusive. One or two less-influential Free Officers seem to have been full members.

Supreme Guide Hasan al-Hudaybi
After the 1952 Revolution the Brotherhood and the Free Officers coexisted for a while, even as the old political parties were suppressed. Banna's successor and the Brotherhood's second Supreme Guide, Hasan al-Hudaybi. cooperated, and reportedly shut down the Brotherhood's Secret Apparatus (Al-Jihaz al-Sirri), its secret, armed, revolutionary wing. But as Nasser consolidated power against Naguib, there remained one major political force besides the Revolutionary Command Council, and that was the Muslim Brotherhood.

Even nearly six decades later, the events of October 26, 1954 (a week after a treaty was signed with Britain for withdrawal from the Canal Zone, a treaty the Brotherhood opposed) remain controversial. The ascendant Nasser made a trip to Alexandria, Egypt's second city. Among several stops was a public speech in the city's Midan al-Manshiyya (Midan Muhammad ‘Ali), the city's biggest open space. His speech was being broadcast live to the entire Arab world, and midway through the speech, a former member of the Brotherhood's supposedly dissolved Secret Apparatus, Muhammad ‘Abd al-Latif, pushed his way forward and fired eight shots at Nasser. They all missed him. Nasser quickly recovered and continued his speech:
My countrymen, my blood spills for you and for Egypt. I will live for your sake and die for the sake of your freedom and honor. Let them kill me; it does not concern me so long as I have instilled pride, honor, and freedom in you. If Gamal Abdel Nasser should die, each of you shall be Gamal Abdel Nasser ... Gamal Abdel Nasser is of you and from you and he is willing to sacrifice his life for the nation.
Here's the audio of Nasser speaking, just before the shots ring out, and the chaos afterward:

Obviously, his blood did not in fact spill. Al-Gumhuriyya was at the time the Free Officers' main voice:

"Eight Stray Bullets: Brotherhood Member Fired at President in Alexandria and Did Not Hit Him"

If you're feeling a bit skeptical about all this, you're not alone. (eight  bullets and all missed? While being broadcast live? And Nasser had a ready-made and heroic response? What happened next: did the Brotherhood burn the Reichstag?) But sixty years later the truth is no clearer. The shooter was indeed a former member of the supposedly dissolved Secret Apparatus. After the Brotherhood finally won the Presidency in 2012 the waters remained just as muddied, with official statements saying the whole thing was staged but other reports saying some Brothers were now claiming credit for involvement.

We may never know. I suspect revisionist history is about to revision back again.

A few weeks later Naguib lost his last official titles and was arrested; Nasser was supreme. The Brotherhood was formally dissolved, its leaders arrested, and several were executed. Hudaybi, who had worked with Nasser, was jailed.

The video below, apparently from November after Naguib's final fall, is heavy on overdone propaganda but shows Nasser's visit. The narration is all Arabic but you do hear the shots on the soundtrack midway through, also heard in the earlier audio clip.


Monday, August 19, 2013

Making the Rounds: Mubarak 2014?

Talk about fallul:
"Mubarak 2014 President of Egypt: Restoring Egypt to its Place."

It's a joke, of course. Isn't it?

Please reassure me.

Some Sensible Commentary from Egypt

So much of the opinion coming out of Egypt is as polarized as the country itself, either portraying the Morsi supporters (all, not just some) as terrorists or the regime as fascist, that I thought I'd point to some sensible commentaries in English from Egyptians:

Sarah Carr, "With or Against Us," compares the pressures on media under recent regimes:
It's trite but worth remembering that an excellent barometer of political freedom is how a regime treats the media. Deposed President Mohamed Morsi attempted to shut critics up through clumsy litigation — charges of insulting him or the judiciary, and so on. It was a classic Hosni Mubarak technique, but Morsi used it far more frequently.
Another technique was tacitly approving Salafi preacher Hazem Salah Abou Ismail and friends setting up shop outside the Media Production City in October 6 City — or at least not doing anything about it — in order to intimidate Lamis al-Hadidi and other vocally anti-Brotherhood television presenters who were beyond state control.  
But just like the Muslim Brotherhood failed in everything they did while in power, they failed in this, too: The cases never had the chilling effect desired, and Morsi and company were regularly ripped apart in the press, by comedian Bassem Youssef and others. In fact, the Brotherhood themselves liked to crow about their critics being left alone as an example of their political largesse. They never understood that using underhand measures to intimidate your opponents does not make you a just leader, and that leaving the press alone is a positive obligation, not an act of charity.
Wars on terrorism rely on crude binaries: You are either with us or against us, and this is the constant message being relayed to us. 
The current regime, meanwhile, is combining the very best of pre-2011 media repression techniques with a classic February 2011 xenophobia campaign, combined with the force of an Interior Ministry stretching its sinewy muscles as it resurrects itself. 
"Sandmonkey" (Mahmoud Salem) on "Four Common Misconceptions Egyptians Have":
It’s the golden age of rumors and misconceptions in Egypt these days, especially with the lack of credible “unbiased” news channels or sources for information. Add that to the nationalistic wave in the country, misconceptions do not only get viewed as fact, it actually leads to bad planning, policy and actions. Very few people will attempt to clear those misconceptions now without risking to antagonizing others, but it is a risk I am willing to take, because I cannot take having the same discussions over and over. Let’s go:
Abridged version, but read it all: 1) The US is not against June 30; 2) There is no Giant global conspiracy against us; 3) The International media isn’t in the MB’s pockets; 4) The War on Terror Will Not End This Way.

Iris Boutros in Daily News Egypt: "#Egypt Needs More #Facts":
Egyptians are devastated by the loss of life and bloodshed of the last week. We are also frustrated and angry by the amount of misinformation spread. The misinformation has aided the violence. This is why I argue that Egypt needs more facts.
We have an opportunity to move forward as a nation. That opportunity is always there for us, despite the horrifying events of the last week. In it is a power that cannot be taken away by the powerful entities around us. We can seize the opportunity and harness that power by working together to spread more #facts. Here are six important points for consideration.
Again, the abridged version: 1) #Egypt dominated social media, which is an important information source. 2) Traditional media is influenced by social media. 3) Misinformation expends energy with less positive consequence. 4) Spreading misinformation is civic corruption. 5) Information gives the population power. 6) Reconciliation will come through real facts and information. But again, it's worth reading her supporting arguments.

Some Lingering Questions About Egypt

I think there are many lingering questions surrounding last week's events in Egypt, but among them are these:

1. Egypt's military deposed Muhammad Morsi on July 3. The crackdown to disperse the pro-Morsi demonstrators took place last Wednesday, six weeks later. The military leadership had warned the dispersal was coming, but had delayed it several times. Why did the military move when it did, when little had changed? Especially when the US was clearly urging its clients in the Egyptian military not to move? There are hints that while the US and Europe were urging caution, others in the region were not. Saudi Arabia and the Emirates, for example, have openly supported the crackdown, if deploring the deaths. And this New York Times article mentions (almost in passing) that General Sisi has good ties with the Israelis since his days running military intelligence, and that Israel reassured him he should move. Israel and the Gulf States (except Qatar) have their own reasons for wanting to see the Brotherhood suppressed, and this may be a case of some key US allies urging another key US ally to make a move that the US opposes. If so, this may be another example of the decline of US influence in the region, even among its friends.

2. Could the bloodshed have been avoided or reduced? This is tricky; many on the pro-Morsi side did clearly arm themselves and fight back despite offers of a safe exit, seeking martyrdom; the attacks on churches and police stations voids their claim to have been merely peaceful protestors. But I remain struck by the contrast between the numbers killed since last Wednesday and those killed in the government's long war against Al-Gama‘a al-Islamiyya in 1992-1997. While I have not found exact numbers who died in that "war," it seems to have been in the hundreds on each side. In one of the better known cases, the so-called "Siege of Imbaba," when part of the Cairo district of Imbaba known as al-Munira al-Gharbiyya had made itself virtually self-governing and was called "the Islamic Emirate of Imbaba, the government, beginning on December 8, 1992, surrounded the quarter with between 12,000 and 18,000 troops and gradually reduced it over several months. Thousands were arrested and there were widespread reports of torture, but the death toll was apparently much lower than last week.

It's true the parallels are inexact. Al-Gama‘a al-Islamiyya was smaller than the Brotherhood, and after a year in power, the Brotherhood supporters were able to arm themselves for resistance far better than the Gama‘a. And Imbaba was not located in such central locations as the Morsi demonstrations, and could be more readily sealed off. The high casualties however, create a new set of  "martyrs."

The government may not have sought such carnage; there is the old saw that one should never attribute to malice what can adequately be explained by incompetence, and many victims were indeed provocateurs. But the high casualties make it even harder to avoid a civil conflict that could be much bloodier than that in the 1990s.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Friday of Rage

It looks like at least another 100 dead today in Cairo and Alexandria. At this point I have little to say but will have more next week.

How Many Died on Egypt's Bloody Wednesday? And Now What?

Officially, during the Egyptian Revolution of January-February 2011, the total number of dead was 836. In the conflicts that followed the departure of Mubarak, the number was in excess of 300 but imprecise.
The current official death toll for Wednesday stands at 525 but nobody (including the government) considers that final. Over a hundred bodies seen by Western TV cameras at the Iman Mosque and presumably not included in the total were taken away after a government raid yesterday and may or may not ever show up in the count. Ursula Lindsey at The Arabist offers some of the official numbers:
Dead (according to Ministry of Health, and still counting): 525

Wounded: 3,500

Churches, monasteries, Christians schools and libraries attacked (Source) : 56

Days that Mohamed ElBaradei lasted as a civilian figure-head of the army-run "second revolution" before resigning in protest: 28

Other resignations: 0

Justifications presented by Egypt's non-Islamist media and political parties for the gratuitous murder of hundreds of their fellow citizens, and commendations of the security forces for their "steadfastness" and "restraint": too many to count.
The Muslim Brotherhood is claiming immense numbers in the thousands. I don't believe them but don't believe that even the government believes the official numbers yet, and tomorrow may be another bloody day.
"All of them are killers": Nobody's innocent
Whichever side you're on, please consider a few numbers: though far less than Egypt's losses in the wars with Israel, no day of domestic unrest in Egypt even remotely comes close to this. The official toll for Black Saturday of 1952 was 26. In the 1977 food riots the official fatalities were 79.  The whole conflict with Islamists in the 1990s, including the notorious "Siege of Imbaba." had no days with deaths in more than the two figures. The "Battle of the Camel" in February 2011 left only 11 dead. The Maspero demonstrations of October 2011 left only 28 dead, and the "Battle of Mohamed Mahmoud" and other serious lashes took a handful of lives but injured and maimed many more.

The present numbers also exceed, for one day, the total dead claimed by the Iranian opposition for the 2009-2010 election protests is between 36 and 72 over several months.

It may be worse than we know. I know that there were armed forces on both sides, and I know that the Brotherhood continues to attack targets with arms, including churches. At this point the issue is not who started it or who can stop it, for perhaps we have reached Yeats' nightmare:
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
I can't put it as well as Yeats, but I can't see a positive outcome just now for a country I love. I cannot imagine it becoming Lebanon in the eighties or Algeria in the nineties or Syria today. But I'm looking for the bright spots and not finding them. I hope all sides pull back from the brink, because otherwise, it may go there.

Tanned, Rested and Ready to Rule? Ex-King Fuad II Reappears

Oh, hell, has it gotten this bad? A (presumably Egyptian?) "Liberal Royalist Movement" (Huh? Please don't ask me) has posted this photo of Egypt's last king, Ahmad Fuad II, who was deposed when he was a year old and in exile, on Facebook:
He's spent all but about six months of his life in Europe and when interviewed by Arabic channels always speaks in French, but hey, there are leadership issues in Egypt, right? Are they hinting it's time for the Return of the King?

I suppose the monarchy could be restored. I'd put the odds somewhere between a Martian conquest installing a lizard king and conversion of the whole country to Lubavitcher Hasidism, but hey, anything's possible. Maybe he could pull a sword from a stone or something.

King Fuad II has one major thing going for him: having left the country as a babe in arms he may be the only literate adult Egyptian who hasn't contributed to the present problems.

Too bad he doesn't actually speak the language, has probably spent less time in Egypt than I have, and increasingly looks way too much like his late father, King Farouq, remembered mostly for corruption, weakness, and an allegedly awesome collection of pornography. Sure makes you yearn for another King.

Commenters: I'm kidding. I'm not a monarchist even in cute countries like the UK and Scandinavia since my Irish ancestors haunt me if I even watch Royal Baby news, which is hard to avoid. The Muhammad ‘Ali dynasty has about the same chance of being restored as the Ptolemies do, and Cleopatra was a hell of a lot sexier and had spent more time in Egypt, so if we can find a Ptolemy claimant . . . Keep enjoying Switzerland, King Fuad.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

It's Come to This: Cairo Graffiti "Down With the Whole World"

 Via Sarah Carr, Egyptian graffiti artist "Sad Panda's" latest work:
"Yusqut al-‘Alam Kulluh": "Down with the whole world."

Senator Who? Egypt Independent Discovers a New One

I knew it was bad news back in April when Al-Masry al-Youm closed the print issue of Egypt Independent and announced that the English-language website would draw its editorial content from the Arabic daily.

Today, Egypt Independent managed to discover a 101st US Senator: "Firm action against terror must be taken, Republican senator says."
Egypt Independent sits down with Republican senator Maurice Bonamigo.
Egypt Independent: How do you see the scene in Egypt after the 30 June revolution?
Maurice Bonamigo: Let me begin by saying that Egypt is now living an historic and decisive moment. The people were able to overthrow Mohamed Morsy, and the military stood by their legitimate demands.
Umm ... Maurice Bonamigo?

Al-Masry al-Youm, an independent, non-government paper, is not fond of the Muslim Brotherhood, but surely there are enough Republican Senators and Congressmen who share that view that you shouldn't have to make one up?

The conservative Weekly Standard wrote a piece called "Egyptian Media Creates US Senator Out of Thin Air," and I'll admit that most Google searches bring up only the Egypt Independent Story, but the Weekly Standard updated to say there is a political consultant by that name. No, I never heard of him either. It's certainly possible they interviewed him, but who gave them the idea he was a US Senator? [UPDATE: The Washington Post has more. He's apparently a Florida hairstylist.]

Can we bring back the old Egypt Independent staff now, please?

US Cancels Bright Star. But Wait: The Last One was in 2009

The US has canceled the Bright Star joint military exercise with Egypt, scheduled to begin next month. What isn't being mentioned as frequently is the fact that the last exercise was actually held in the fall of 2009.

Originally begun in 1980 after Egypt's peace treaty with Israel. Bright Star originally began as an annual exercise but for some time has been held every two years. But the last one was Bright Star 09/10, held in October 2009. The one scheduled for 2011 was postponed since the Egyptian Army was busy running the country at the time; the next one would have been this fall.

So, while the cancellation of Bright Star sends a message that the US is displeased, it is hardly equivalent to cutting off the billion-plus in military aid provided to Egypt annually.

While I think the bloodshed of yesterday could have been avoided with more careful implementation (far more people died in a day than in the five-month "siege of Imbaba" in 1992, an event I hope to post about soon), I also agree with the caution the US is showing about canceling aid. The aid is the last card the US has to play with Egypt, and, once played, the last bridge may be burned. Secular Egyptians blame the US for supporting Morsi, and and the Brotherhood blames us for, well, all the troubles in the world. Once canceled, the aid might be difficult to restore. At any rate, I think the US is wise to move deliberately and with caution before taking a precipitous act. Whether canceling Bright Star (which a once-again-busy Egyptian Army might have been looking to avoid anyway) is enough of a slap on the wrist, though, is another question.

Ironic Timing: Wafa' al-Nil and Isis' Tears

In a bit of ironic timing, August 15 traditionally marks the date when Egypt begins the annual celebration of Wafa' al-Nil, "the fullness of the Nile," marking the annual Nile flood. Along with Sham al-Nassim in the spring, it is one of only two holidays to date from Pharaonic times. As I noted yesterday, in Ancient Egyptian folklore the annual flood was attributed to the tears of the goddess Isis, weeping for the dead Osiris. And there is mourning in Egypt today on this year's Wafa' al-Nil, though the Nile flood ended in 1964 with the closing of the floodgates on the High Dam at Aswan. (August 15 is the modern date for the celebration, but in earlier times it was held when the Nile reached a certain height. There were several Nilometers, including a surviving one at Roda Island in Cairo.)

The flood nearly to the Pyramids, 1927
In a post four years ago I discussed the celebration of Wafa' al-Nil and the history and importance of the annual inundation; and I refer you there.

Whatever side one takes in the troubles today, there are many to mourn on all sides. Isis was able to reassemble and resurrect Osiris. Let's hope her descendants can do the same for Egypt.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The Arabist: "It Only Gets Worse from Here."

Of the huge outpouring of commentary on today's events, some of the best and clearest analysis I've seen is from Essandr El Amrani at The Arabist: "It Only Gets Worse from Here."

I think he captures the zero-sum thinking we're seeing on both sides, in which neither side has really sought to find a middle ground. His analysis of the liberal predicament:
The fundamental flaw of the July 3 coup, and the reason those demonstrators that came out on June 30 against the Morsi administration were wrong to welcome it, is that it was based on an illusion. That illusion, at least among the liberal camp which is getting so much flak these days, was that even a partial return of the old army-led order could offer a chance to reboot the transition that took such a wrong turn after the fall of Hosni Mubarak on February 11, 2011. This camp believed that gradual reform, even of a much less ambitious nature than they desired in 2011, would be more likely to come by accommodating the old order than by allowing what they perceived as an arrangement between the military and the Islamists to continue. Better to focus on fixing the country, notably its economy, and preventing Morsi from sinking it altogether, and take the risk that part of the old order could come back.
In this vision, a gradual transformation of the country could take place while preserving political stability through the armed forces.  It would be negotiated and hard-fought, as so many democratic transitions in other parts of the world have been, but the old order would need the talent and competence of a new technocratic, and ultimately political, class to deliver and improve governance. Their hope was that the Islamists would understand that they had lost this round, and that they could be managed somehow while a new more liberal order emerged. This, in essence, was what Mohamed ElBaradei and other liberals bought into on July 3, no doubt earnestly, and what so many other outside of formal politics fervently hoped for: not the revolution radicals want, but a wiser, more tolerant, order in the country.
Unfortunately, among the broad liberal camp in Egypt, those who entertained such hopes are in a minority. Even among the National Salvation Front, as its obscene statement praising the police today showed, most appear to have relished the opportunity to crush the Muslim Brothers and appeared to believe that other Islamists could simply choose to be crushed alongside it, kowtow to the new order, or be pushed back into quietism. It appears that much of the business and traditional elite – represented politically by the Free Egyptians and the Wafd Party among others – falls into that category. They are joined by the security establishment, or deep state if you prefer.
 He doesn't excuse the Brotherhood:
An Islamist camp that, as elements of it are apparently beginning to, sets fire to churches and attacks police stations is one that becomes much easier to demonize domestically and internationally. But it is also much more unpredictable than Egypt's homegrown violent Islamist movements were in the 1980s and 1990s, because there is a context of a globalized jihadi movement that barely existed then, and because the region as a whole is turmoil and Egypt's borders are not nearly as well controlled as they were then (and today's Libya is a far less reliable neighbor than even the erratic Colonel Qadhafi was then.)  
In their strategy against the July 3 coup, the Brothers and their allies have relied on an implicit threat of violence or social breakdown (and the riling of their camp through sectarian discourse pitting the coup as a war on Islam, conveniently absolving themselves for their responsibility for a disastrous year) , combined with the notion of democratic legitimacy, i.e. that they were after all elected and that, even if popular, it was still a coup. On the latter argument, they may have gained some ground over time both at home and abroad. But on the former, they got things very, very wrong: their opponents will welcome their camp's rhetorical and actual violence, and use it to whitewash their own.
I think he nails it pretty well here, and the growing dangers come, of course, amid a collapsed economy and a vanishing tourism sector. It may indeed only get worse from here.

MB, Salafi Attacks on Churches Across Egypt at Unprecedented Levels

Muslim Brotherhood supporters and sympathizers are now openly attacking churches (as well as police stations), though unlike police stations, which are symbols of the state, the attacks on Christian sites have little obvious link to the events of today. From the Maspero Youth:
 The Maspero Youth Union operations center is monitoring the attacks on churches and Coptic property in 5 provinces.
Extremist groups from the Muslim Brotherhood, the Salfyeen, and Jama’a Islameya implemented their threats of attacking Christians and police departments in of the dispersion of the sit ins at Nahda in Giza and Raba’a eladaweya in Nasr City. Starting from early morning, these terrorists began attacking churches and Coptic property in the provinces of Minya, Fayoum, Al Suez, Luxor, and Sohag. The losses have been reported as follows: 
1: Attacking the bishopric of Sohag and the burning of St. George’s Church (which is a part of the bishopric), resulting in heavy losses due to the late arrival of the fire trucks.

2: The attack on the Monastery of St. Mary and Anba Abraam in the village of Delga, as well as the Monastery of Mowas in el Minya and the burning of three churches therein: St. Mary’s ancient church from the third century, St. George’s Church, St. Antony’s church and the attached services building, as well as the bishop’s headquarters.

3. The attack on the houses and stores of Christians in the village of Delga, where the robbing and burning of 20 houses and stores took place as well as the injury of 3 people with rubber bullets. The attacks continue in the absence of the police after the burning of the precinct in Delga. The house of the priest Angelos, the priest of St. Mary and Anba Abram’s church, was also burned.

4. The attack on St. Mina’s Church in the Abo Helal area and throwing of Molotov cocktails into the church, as well as the burning of the medical center associated with the church. A nearby church, Anba Moussa’s, was also defamed, as well as the burning of a nearby pharmacy owned by Dr. Nabil Qebty and a doctor’s office owned by Dr. Amir Fahmy.

5. The attack on a Baptist church in Beny Sweif in the province of El Minya.

6. The entire burning of St. Mary’s Church in the village of Nazla, a part of Joseph the Just’s Center in Fayoum.

7. The burning and destruction of the Monastery of Al Amir Tadros the Shetby, east of the village of Nazla, also a part of Joseph the Just’s Center. Homes and stores of Copts there were also attacked.

8. The attack on a St. Joseph’s School, which is run by nuns, in El Minya.

9. The attack and defamation of St. Tadros el Amir’s Church in El Minya, as well as the burning of the “golden boat”, which was part of a Protestant church in El Minya.

10. A Copt named Askandar Tos was shot and killed in the village of Delga, following the break in on his house.

11. Attacks on the stores and hotels owned by Copts in El Karnak Street and Cleopatra in Luxor, including the looting and destroying the Santa Clause chain of stores, the “Arkhashom lelglod” stores, the Moris Pharmacy, and Horus Hotel.

12. The defamation of St. George’s Church in El Wasty as well as the breaking of the windows of the office of the church’s priest.

13. The defamation of the Archangel Michael’s Church in Asyout without any losses.

14. The burning of a Greek church in Barades Street in El Suez.

15. The burning of Franciscan schools in the “Army Street” in El Suez. The Good Shepherd School which is run by nuns was also attacked, and some machinery was destroyed , but they were stopped by those living in the area.

16. The burning of the “Friends of the Bible” Organization in Al Fayoum, which is in front of the Mu’almeen club.

17. The complete burning of St. George’s Church in July 23rd Street in Al Areesh.

18. The attack on the bishopric and surrounding streets in Atfeeh.
This may be the largest number of concerted attacks on Copts and other Christians in modern times; somewhere between 17 and 21 churches and schools were reportedly burned today alone. Nor is this just "government propaganda":  some Brotherhood officials have openly justified attacks on churches. In Egypt's deepening divisions, the Copts find themselves in the crossfire.

The Twitter hashtag #EgyChurch is following the events.

Earlier, Muslims defending a church in Sohag against attack:
In better times

The same church today

Tiananmen Comes to Cairo

Ancient Egyptians believed the tears of Isis gave birth to the Nile flood. She has a lot to cry about today.

The "dispersal" of the pro-Morsi demonstrations at two sites in Cairo has predictably led to bloodshed, and Egypt has declared a State of Emergency. (Egyptians are well aware that the Emergency declared at the Sadat assassination in 1981 lasted more than 30 years.) The total number of dead is unclear, but there have  been clashes around the country as well, including Alexandria. The possibility of hundreds dead does not seem out of the question.

There have been some high-profile resignations (including ElBaradei) and will perhaps be more, but the fact is that many secular Egyptians were eager for this showdown and criticized the earlier decision to postpone it. The Sheikh al-Azhar, however, says he was not informed in advance and condemned the violence. The US has also condemned the violence; Marc Lynch has written an "Enough is enough" column saying it is time for the US to cut Egypt loose. It will be much harder to argue against such a move after the bloodshed.

Make no mistake: all the responsibility is not on one side. The Brotherhood supporters are attacking churches and initiating some of the clashes, but the descent into chaos is deepening regardless of the instigators.

A corner has clearly been turned. What lies beyond is another question.

Three Unrelated but Serendipitous Reminders That Egypt is Not Just Cairo

Misr, as perhaps most of my readers know, means Egypt. But because it also means Misr al-Qahira, Cairo, sometimes just called Misr in other parts of Egypt, the capital and the country can be semantically confused or conflated. (The same holds true for Tunis (for the city and for Tunisia), Al-Jaza'ir (Algiers and Algeria), and sometimes Al-Sham (for Damascus and for Syria or the whole Levant). The confusion is not merely semantic. In the world views of many Cairenes, Egypt consists of Cairo, of Alexandria (one does need the sea), perhaps some Red Sea resorts, the rural village your grandfather came from, and the roads in between. If this is true for Cairenes, it is even more true for the Western media. During the Egyptian revolution and all that has happened since, probably 80-90% of the reporting was from Cairo and the rest from Alexandria with occasional, rare, reporting from the Canal cities where, obviously, a vital Western interest is located.

Exceptions remain rare but, intriguingly, three separate and unrelated links came to my attention in the past 24 hours, so I thought I'd use the serendipity to note each of them.
  • At The Christian Science Monitor, Kristen Chick offers a lengthy (8 web pages) tour of Upper Egypt since the coup-or-whatever-it was, "In Egypt, journey down a Nile of discontent." She does start in Aswan so she gets the "down the Nile" part right.
Through a microhistory of a small province in Upper Egypt, this book investigates the history of five world empires that assumed hegemony in Qina province over the last five centuries. Imagined Empires charts modes of subaltern rebellion against the destructive policies of colonial intruders and collaborating local elites in the south of Egypt.
Abul-Magd vividly narrates stories of sabotage, banditry, flight, and massive uprisings of peasants and laborers, to challenge myths of imperial competence. The book depicts forms of subaltern discontent against “imagined empires” that failed in achieving their professed goals and brought about environmental crises to Qina province. As the book deconstructs myths about early modern and modern world hegemons, it reveals that imperial modernity and its market economy altered existing systems of landownership, irrigation, and trade— leading to such destructive occurrences as the plague and cholera epidemics.

The book also deconstructs myths in Egyptian historiography, highlighting the problems of a Cairo-centered idea of the Egyptian nation-state. The book covers the Ottoman, French, Muhammad Ali’s, and the British informal and formal empires. It alludes to the U.S. and its failed market economy in Upper Egypt, which partially resulted in Qina’s participation in the 2011 revolution. Imagined Empires is a timely addition to Middle Eastern and world history.
  •  Lameen Souag's always interesting Jabal al-Lughat blog has a piece on "Siwi Political Slogans" (a specialist on Berber linguistics among others he has studied the dialect of Egypt's Siwa oasis), and apparently they may not be General Sisi's biggest fans:
However, this year's events in Egypt have apparently brought even Siwa to the point of mounting a couple of demonstrations. Egyptians have displayed a seemingly inexhaustible facility for coming up with rhyming couplets for use as slogans in demonstrations, and I woke up this morning and saw an example of the same genre in Siwi:
فل اسيسى فل نشنى نمل لا جندول
fəl a Sisi fəl • nišni nəṃṃəl la ga-nədwəl
Go, Sisi, go! • We have said we won't go back
I asked a few Siwis about the issue, and apart from general points, one reason they gave for supporting Morsi particularly struck me. Since long before the revolution, the Egyptian security forces have viewed the border populations – Bedouins in Matrouh and Sinai, as well as Siwis – with great suspicion; many army/police jobs are closed to them simply for where they come from. As far as the core state is concerned, they're not thought of as real Egyptians, but as clannish minorities under Egyptian control, with undesirable cross-border ties and a predilection for going places the state doesn't want them to be in. Many Siwis felt that Morsi was reversing this situation, attempting to develop the border regions and treating their inhabitants as fellow Egyptians; a resurgence of military rule obviously threatens those gains. 

Two Interesting Posts at Arabizi

 It's been a while since I'd checked in at the Arabizi blog, and I want to link to two recent posts:

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Saab and Singh: One Carrier in the Gulf is More Than Enough

For those of you interested in defense debates, an area I once wrote about a lot myself, here's a challenging piece by defense analysts Bilal Saab (also a contributor to the current issue of MEJ) and Joseph Singh: "Forget the Second Carrier, It's Time to Rethink the Fifth Fleet in the Persian Gulf."

Do read their reasoning. 

Updating the Look of the Blog

I hope you like the new look. Our tech folks are trying to make it look more like the main MEI website; that was also the intent back in 2009, but the main website has gone through two or three evolutions and this blog had not. I hope you like it, and the branding should be clearer with the new banner.

What is Actually Going on in Sinai?

Before you plunge in expecting a lot, my answer to the question in the headline is "I don't know."

The widespread reports last week of an "Israeli drone strike" against a jihadi site in Sinai, and claims by various jihadi groups operating in Sinai to the effect that the Egyptian and Israeli armies were cooperating in that operation, were swiftly and sharply (and predictably) denied by Egypt. In reading the denials, however, it is not entirely clear what is being denied: certainly Egypt says it is not coordinating with Israel, but is it also denying any Israeli involvement? Israelis are themselves well aware of the sensitivity of cooperating openly with Egypt, but have done so in the past, especially on issues involving Sinai and Gaza.

For a year, since a jihadi attack on Egyptian border guards, the Egyptian Army has stepped up its operations in Sinai, which had been neglected in the Mubarak years and which became a sanctuary for radical (and some criminal) elements after the 2011 revolution and opening of many prisons. But since the July 3 military coup-or-whatever-it-was, there have been reports of greatly stepped-up operations in Sinai. The military characterizes this as a "war on terror," and since the presence of Egyptian troops in Sinai is limited and restricted under the terms of the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, one has to presume that there is at least some consultation between the two countries concerning where Egyptian troops may operate. It is also obvious that that is a highly sensitive subject right now. Israel also recently reported a rocket attack aimed at Eilat which was reportedly intercepted by its Iron Dome defense system; Egypt is aware that any attack launched on Israeli territory from Sinai is destabilizing and could provoke an Israeli incursion into Egyptian territory. How much coordination is taking place beyond these considerations is a trickier issue.

The exact scope of the Egyptian Army's operations are also unclear. (And for the purpose of this discussion, the question of whether they are Army, Border Guards, or Interior Ministry troops or even General Intelligence operatives involved is also somewhat beside the point.)  Some jihadist claims (which of course should not be assumed to be trustworthy) have suggested that the Army has actually been fairly ruthless in Sinai; it's widely believed that one reason the Army moved was a growing sense that President Morsi was not willing to wage a major campaign in Sinai. But as with so much else, the exact details are unclear.

Major operations by Egyptian forces in Sinai do appear to be under way. Beyond that, expect more sensitivity about any Israeli role beyond that required by the terms of the Peace Treaty, and denials of direct cooperation.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Can Tunisia "Avoid the Egyptian Scenario"?

As Tunisia's current political crisis began developing  while I was on vacation I haven't really talked about it, but I wanted to point to this thoughtful piece by Michaël Béchir Ayari at Tunisia-Live: "Tunisia: Avoiding the Egyptian Scenario."

Michaël Béchir Ayari
Michaël Béchir Ayari

The General Sisi Comments Continue

The satirical comments to my original post about General Sisi really picked up after my second post noted that my readers have a keen sense of humor. The second post now has 37 comments, in addition to the original five at the first post.

A small selection:
Abdel Moneim said...
That's not the only invention that our kindly leader for life came up with.

In order to pay for his sister's wedding he sold the Winklevoss Brothers the idea for Facebook or Kitab al Wag as he called it for Fifty Pounds. They were visting on Spring break from Harvard.

As an honorable man, he never went back on his word on the sale or tried to extract money from them because to a man of honor his word is more important than mere money.

The General's idea came from his study of ancient Egyptian temple paintings. A story for another time of how he influenced a young Zahi Hawass choice of career and later guided him to make several important discoveries in the Valley of the Kings.
Zahi said...
Even the hat was his idea.
M. H. Heikal said...
You published the picture of a young AlSisi giving flowers to President Nasser but you did not tell the story!

Maybe you do not know or maybe you are trying to hide our selfless leaders accomplishments.

When he gave Nasser the flowers, Nasser bent down to thank him and AlSisi said "You should build a dam at Aswan".

Nasser liked the idea and later used to consult him on a regular basis.

AlSisi was sick with influenza in June 1967. Had he been well, the course of history might well have been changed.
My readers are kidding, but the state media continues to draw parallels between Gen. Sisi and Nasser, and I think they're serious.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Solution to This Morning's Photo Quiz

It's five PM and time to post the answer to this morning's nostalgic photo quiz. As you'll recall, this was the photo:

Unfortunately, the contest provoked only one response, unlike the great responses I got to the General Sisi post. The one answer was from "Karl," who said "Dubai."

A very reasonable guess. The dhows on the beach guarantee it's somewhere in the Gulf, and as I said, it doesn't look like this anymore. A reasonable guess, but wrong. Here's the picture with the original caption, which is scanned from Lorimer's Gazeteer.
Yes, not Dubai, but Doha. Pre-Oil, pre-Natural Gas, pre-Al Jazeera, pre-Education City, pretty much pre-everything.

Prize quote from Lorimer, Vol. IIA (1908), p.489:
"The general appearance of Dohah is unattractive; the lanes are narrow and irregular, the houses dingy and small. There are no date palms or other trees, and the only garden is a small one near the fort, kept up by the Turkish garrison."
Enjoy your weekend. Doha today:

General Sisi Post Generates My Best Comment Thread Ever

My post yesterday on General Sisi's possible ambitions has produced an unusually long, and inventive, comments thread for this blog. After a first comment that was a bit tongue in cheek but fairly straightforward, things started off in a whole new direction, for example:
While still a young lad, he used his slingshot in 1956 to stop an Israeli tank in Suez. The rock he hurled went straight through the driver's view slit causing the tank to swerve off the track, causing the entrapment of several tanks behind it. This bold move and not Eisenhower's intervention was the real cause of the end of the 1956 aggression . . .

While not technically yet in the military, he was the first Egyptian to cross the canal. The true hero of 1973. Sadly, his accomplishments were not honored because of a jealous Sadat eager to claim all glory from the war  . . .

So he studied at home at night by candlelight and wrote his lessons out on a shaduff using fakhm. A practice that also developed his reflexes and coordination skills.

Later when he was a young man he sold bread to travelers at the Ramses train station. One day he discovered that he had shortchanged a traveler 1 piastre. He walked all the way from Cairo to Menufia to repay the man . . .
That's nothing.

While a young cadet at the Military Academy in 1973, Al Sisi analyzed the Vietnam War and prepared a plan that would have ensured an American victory.

His letter was only delivered to the Pentagon in 1975 because of the incompetence of the American postal system. 
And several more in this vein. Read them and, by all means, keep them coming.  My readers are funnier than I am.

UPDATE:  And now you're commenting on this post. Great.

And more seriously. don't miss Issandr El Amrani's take on Sisi, including a lot of links.

Copts Caught in the Crossfire: Sectarian Attacks by Islamists since July 3

In an unusual move, Coptic Pope Tawadros II has canceled his activities in Cairo this week, reportedly fearing attacks. Earlier, the Church had denied reports that the Pope had survived an assassination attempt. This rather unusual announcement does not occur in a vacuum.

Since the July 3 military intervention to remove President Muhammad Morsi, Egypt has been torn by continuing clashes that left 300 dead in a little over a month. The bulk of those killed died in clashes between pro- and anti-Morsi demonstrators or between pro-Morsi groups and the security forces. But there has been a troubling (if all too familiar) subset of violence in the form of Islamist groups attacking Coptic Christians individually or collectively (destroying Coptic homes or shops or, in several cases, churches). These attacks, which have occurred sporadically since the 1970s, were greatly stepped up during and after the 2011 revolution, but further accelerated in the wake of the deposition of Morsi.

One of the more disturbing elements has been in the form of charges by Islamists that the Coptic Church is somehow responsible for the coup that toppled Morsi, including slogans such as "the Military Republic of Tawadros" and suggesting that General Sisi (who just a few months ago the Muslim Brotherhood was hinting was one of its own) is somehow under the Church's thumb. Certainly the Church was not enthusiastic about Morsi or his Constitution, and Copts privately will mostly have welcomed his fall, but the Church played no active role in the coup, though the Pope did appear with other public figures, including the Sheikh al-Azhar, at the announcement of the road map for the future.

As attacks on Coptic targets have been stepped up, security forces have often been accused of inaction. This is not new, but a recurring issue, particularly in the countryside, where the police may have family or clan links with the Islamists.

Although the Western media is only just beginning to note the sectarian clashes (The Washington Post here, AP here), human rights groups have been on the case. Human Rights Watch, in a recent report, noted that "Since Morsy’s ouster on July 3, at least six attacks on Christians have taken place in governorates across Egypt, including Luxor, Marsa Matrouh, Minya, North Sinai, Port Said, and Qena." HRW not that several were killed in Luxor Governorate on July 5, and subsequently three were killed in Sinai, including a priest.

The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights has also reported details of the July attacks. (Fuller report here.)

Some of the worst violence has been in familiar places, particularly in Upper Egypt. Cities such as Minya and Asyut have large Christian populations (Asyut is believed to have the largest percentage of Copts of any major Egyptian city) but also are hotbeds of Islamist radicalism (Asyut rose up at the time of the Sadat assassination in 1981 and was a focus of the Islamist insurgency in the 1990s.)

Not all the signs are negative. In late July not only security forces but. reportedly, organized groups of Muslim youth helped defend two churches in Minya from attacks.

The Pope's cancellation of meetings may help focus more attention on the sectarian question; what is also clear enough from past experience is that if violence in Egypt continues to spread, the Copts will find themselves caught in the crossfire of radical Islamists and the secular state, as has too often been the case in recent decades.