A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Senussi Campaign: Action at Wadi Majid and Gebel Medwa, Christmas Day, 1915

The holidays and a strained back have impeded blogging for a few days, but I wanted to continue my series on the Senussi Campaign in World War  (see Parts I, II, and III) with a discussion of actions which took place on December 25, Christmas Day, 1915. a century ago last week.

After the mid-December clashes at Wadi Senab and Umm al-Rakham, weather conditions made operations impossible between December 15 and Christmas Eve, so the Western Frontier Force remained in Mersa Matruh, where it was reinforced by a battalion of the New Zealand Rifle Brigade while the Senusi and their Turkish advisers concentrated at Gebel Medwa to the west.

A British spotter aircraft identified the Senussi concentration as consisting of 900 troops in three battalions, four mountain guns and two machine-guns, under Gebel Medwa, on the Khedivial Motor Road to the west.

The overall commander of the Western Frontier Force, Maj. Gen. Alexander Wallace, decided to dispatch an expedition to disperse the Senussi buildup. Once again, the force was divided between infantry moving on the Khedivial Motor Road, and the cavalry making a wide flanking movement through the desert. The infantry column was commanded by Lt. Col. J.L.R. Gordon and included the 15th Ludhiana Sikhs, a battalion of the 1st New Zealand Rifle Brigade, and the 2/8 Middlesex, a British Territorial unit.The cavalry column was commanded by the WFF's overall cavalry commander, Brig. Gen. J.D.T. Tyndale Briscoe, and consisted of elements of the 1/1 Buckinghamshire Yeomanry Regiment (Yeomanry were the cavalry equivalent of Territorials), Hertfordshire and Dorsetshire squadrons of the Composite Yeomanry Regiment, and Squadron A of the Australian Composite Light Horse Regiment. General Wallace and his headquarters were to follow the infantry as a reserve.

The map above shows the thinking: the infantry would push back the Senussi while the cavalry would come up in their rear and block their retreat.

Beginning the campaign under cover of darkness, Gordon moved the infantry out of Matruh at 5 am Christmas Day. As they proceeded towards their objective, the Senussi sighted them around dawn and the engagement began to develop. The 15th Sikhs were in the lead and Gordon noticed that the Senussi were not in position on Gebel Medwa, he sent one o the two Sikh companies to hold he hill and protect his right flank.  By 8 am the Senussi had brought up a mountain gun, which slowed the advance. A Nottinghamshire battery and the guns of HMS Clematis offshore and firing at a range of 10,000 yards. Once the hostile gun was silent,  Middlesex unit replaced the Sikhs on the Gebel, and ll the Sikhs plus the New Zealanders advanced against a ridge line, which thy had secured by 10 am. The infantry side of the action was largely a success, but the cavalry had still not appeared, having been delayed by difficulty moving its guns over rugged terrain, and had also been delayed by a skirmish with Senussi cavalry that occurred in the morning. The cavalry arrived around 3 pm and sought to drive the enemy towards the coast, but by 5 pm the late December light was failing and Gordon broke off pursuit. Both columns were ordered to return to Mersa Matruh.

But the bulk of the Senussi forces retreated to the west. On paper, it was a British victory. They dispersed the concentration of Senussi. he Empire forces lost 13 dead and 51 wounded; they estimated Senussi losses at between 300 and 400 dead and took 80 prisoners. But the bulk of the Senusi force escaped and lived to fight another day.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Christmas Greetings and Posting

A Merry Christmas to all who celebrate on the Western date.

MEI offices will be closed until January 4.  I will be blogging though probably at a reduced rate. Tomorrow, Christmas Day, marks the 100th anniversary of an engagement at Wadi Majid in 1915;  and I'll be writing about that early next week, so as not to have to write on Christmas Day.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Isis Pharmaceuticals Becomes Latest to Change its Name

Isis & Horus. The other ISIS would blow this up
The great Egyptian Mother Goddess Isis, wife of Osiris and mother of Horus, seems to be rather out of favor in the corporate world these days for some reason. The latest instance is Isis Pharmaceuticals, which has suddenly decided it would rather be Ionis Pharmaceuticals, whatever that may mean.

Earlier, the Isis Wallet mobile app decided it would rather be called Smartcard. (They must not know the reputation of the Washington Metro, which issues SmartCards as well.) An Isis Bookstore in Denver has been vandalized; a woman named Isis has had her Facebook disabled, and so on. The NYT discusses similar cases around the US.

I guess few businesses are named Isil, IS, or Da‘ish, and the acronym works mainly in English. But lots of things are named for the goddess (especially in Egypt, where hotels, shops, and products bear her name).

Hocine Aït-Ahmed (1926-2015), Last of Algeria's "neuf chefs historiques," Dies at 89

Veteran Algerian political figure Hocine Aït-Ahmed, founder of the opposition Socialist Forces Front (FFS) and the last of the nine "chefs historiques" who launched the Algerian Revolution, has died in Lausanne at age 89 after a long illness.

A Kabyle Berber by background, the erudite Aït-Ahmed helped launch the uprising against France in  1954, alongside Ahmed Ben Bella, Rabah Bitat, Mohamed Boudiaf, Belkacem Krim, Mostefa ben Boulaid, Mohamed Khidr, Larbi Ben M'Hidi, and Mourad Didouche.

He served as the chief diplomat of the Provisional Revolutionary Government (GPRA), based in Cairo, until he and other key leaders were intercepted by the French and imprisoned in 1956. He was released on independence in 1962, but he soon fell out with Ahmed Ben Bella, resigned from the ruling FLN, and founded the Socialist Forces Front (FFS) as an opposition party, though it remained illegal until 1990. Though the FFS is ostensibly a democratic socialist movement and a member of the Socialist International, it has always appealed primarily to the Berbers of his native Kabylie.

Arrested under Ben Bella and exiled to Switzerland, he periodically returned to Algeria once parties were legalized, even running as the FFS candidate for President. As his health began to fail in 2013, he retired as head of the FFS and returned to Switzerland.

With the passing of the last of the nine historic chiefs, one of the few remaining figures of the Revolution still active in politics is, of course, the ailing President Bouteflika.

Mawlid al-Nabi

Holiday wishes to my Muslim readers for the Prophet's birthday, which as I noted earlier just happens to fall in December this year.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

For Christmas Week, More Fairuz Carols in Arabic

I know I've been posting Fairuz singing Western carols with Arabic lyrics; I'll post her and other artists singing traditional Eastern music as the Eastern date of Christmas approaches. For "Silent Night," see my weekend post.

Jingle Bells:

Go Tell it on the Mountain:

Angels we Have Heard on High:

Her version of "Joy to the World" is about Beirut;

God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen:

Monday, December 21, 2015

Race for the Bottom: Latest "The Muslims Are Coming" Hysterias

The United States, in part due to the Donald Trump provocations and the San Bernardino attacks, is approaching hysterical levels of Islamophobia not seen since the 9/11 aftermath and arguably worse. The reaction to the idea of allowing any Syrian refugees into this country is still fresh, with governors barring them from their states (which they have no constitutional authority to do), but the Descent Into Stupid seems to be accelerating.

Just last week, Augusta  County, Virginia, a beautiful place in the Shenandoah Valley that I know well, closed its school system on Friday because parents were up in arms over one high school teacher's assignment, as part of a unit in world religions, of an example of Arabic calligraphy and asking the students to try to reproduce it. It happened to be the shahada, seemingly appropriate in a course attempting to explain (not proselytize) Islam. They were not asked to translate it, recite it, or affirm it. But many parents saw it as an attempt to convert their children, or brainwash them in Islam. Apparently the calligraphy alone is magical and can turn young minds into Muslims. (The area is overwhelmingly Christian, but I wonder if the unit on Judaism mentioned the Shema‘ and whether anyone objected.)

I suppose I can see how some religious folk might have qualms about how other religions are taught, but simply seeing the calligraphy of a creed, untranslated, seems unlikely to lead to a wave of conversions, Augusta County has been called the most Scotch-Irish county in the US, and those Ulster Presbyterians may be Baptists or Methodists today, but I wouldn't be afraid of some calligraphy.

Now, there's an arguably even sillier issue. The rightwing Islamophobic folks now are riding this horse:
What, you didn't know the Muslim Grinches stole Christmas Eve? Obviously the Mainstream Media is hiding this at the order of the Kenyan Muslim Obama, right?

Snopes.com has already taken this one apart pretty well, but let me pile on as well.

The Prophet Muhammad's birthday according to the Islamic Sira tradition of the Prophet's biography has been reported since the earliest Islamic traditions as the 12h day of the Islamic month of Rabi‘ al-Awwal. It is not a "new" holiday but instead has been celebrated since the early Islamic world.

As I mentioned in passing in my immediately previous post, the fact that the Prophet's Birthday, Mawlid al-Nabi, falls this week is a rare calendrical coincidence, not a plot. The Islamic calendar is purely lunar, with no intercalary days or months, and is thus 354 days long, while the solar Gregorian calendar is 365 (or 366) days long. So Muslim dates generally fall about 11 days earlier in each solar year and there are 103 Muslim years for each Gregorian century. Muslim holidays rotate backwards through the Western calendar. By pure chance, Mawlid al-Nabi this year falls on December 23 (not December 24 as claimed above).

Strictly speaking if "this year" means 2015, this will be the year's second Mawlid al-Nabi, since 12 Rabi‘ al-Awwal 1436 occurred on January 3, 2015, and 12 Rabi‘ al-Awwal 1437 falls Wednesday.

Christmas Eve is safe.

Holiday Greetings for Yalda

When I offer holiday greetings, I intend to include the whole range of winter holidays celebrated in the Middle East. Hanukkah is already past for this year but more are rapidly approaching: Christmas of course, all three of them (Western, Eastern, Armenian) and, purely by a coincidence of calendar this year, Mawlid al-Nabi as well. So tonight I'd offer Yalda greetings to Iranian and other readers from the Persian influenced world.

Yalda (Aramaic/Syriac for "birth") is the ancient Persian celebration of the winter solstice, which falls today. It originally marked the celebration of the Birth of Mithra, marking the rebirth of the sun at the solstice. I've blogged about Yalda before, and herewith offer greetings yet again.)

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Fairuz: "Silent Night" in Arabic

Just over a week to the first of the Christmases (Western, Eastern, Armenian) Middle Easterners get to celebrate, time for the annual clip of Fairuz singing Silent Night  in Arabic:

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Four Years Since the "Blue Bra Woman" Brutality

Last month I noted the fourth anniversary of the "Battle" of Mohamed Mahmoud Street in Cairo in November 2011, a street I once lived on. But if there was any "Battle" between protesters and SCAF in the last months of 2011 that was truly iconic it was the battle of Qasr al-‘Aini Street on November 16-17, 2011. The main reason is the photo above, the notorious "blue bra woman" photo.

As the video below makes clear the woman, and I'm not certain she has ever been conclusively identified, was wearing a hijab and a black abaya. After beating her with sticks,
the soldiers (Military Police) strip back her conservative religious garb to expose her torso except for what became her iconic blue bra.

The still above shows a soldier's boot only inches from her chest. It's bad enough. The video below, for which I feel obliged to issue a "you're going to want to kill these [insert favorite expletive here]-ing bastards" warning, clearly shows him kicking her directly and forcibly twice, striking both exposed breasts. She appears to be unconscious, but one soldier at least reaches down to cover her exposure before leaving.

The fact she was in religious garb exacerbated the outrage, though there is no justification for stripping and stomping any woman. Or man, for that matter.

There was immediate outrage, but global outage has a short shelf life. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton denounced the "systematic degradation of women." Mona ElTahawy, herself sexually abused and her arms broken at Mohamed Mahnoud, argued for calling the victim "Tahrir woman," but "blue bra woman" stuck. Even the usually demure and cautious Egyptian blogger who calls herself Zeinobia used a rare obscenity for this obscenity (NSFW): We are Fucked!

It was a huge issue at the time but it was Arab Spring (well, it was December, but you know what I mean).

This went the rounds:
For a while, "blue bra woman" was both a feminist and a sexual abuse icon. Four years later she appears forgotten. So do the "virginity tests" of 2011 when the Army decided intact hymens were a matter of national security and fingers were the means of checking.These were human and sexual atrocities (including explicit rape and other violations) that should not be forgotten, but were flushed down the memory hole.

If you are prepared to see sexual brutality, here is a video.What sort of so-called "man" strips a conservatively dressed religious woman after rendering her unconscious with sticks, and then deliberately stomps on each of her breasts? (Obscene responses in the comments will not be censored, and let me know if others are remembering this atrocity. And if anyone knows what became of her, if she even survived.)


Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Republican National Security Debate

I don't blog about American politics because it's not my brief and I'll offend half my American readers, except when it relates to the Middle East and the Islamic world, but tonight's CNN Republican debate related to little else, except for some attacks on Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un. So I'll venture a few comments. Even though, being on blood pressure medication, I shouldn't even have watched.
  1. The reality of the Middle East and the perceived reality seem rather different. At a time when Kurdish forces in Rojava and northern Iraq are pushing towards Raqqa and Mosul and the Iraqi Army and its allies are taking Ramadi and the Syrian regime is also advancing, most candidates said ISIS is gaining ground. It isn't.
  2. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (who must have mentioned that he was a Former Federal Prosecutor half a dozen or more times but who is otherwise one of the less alarming candidates) said, "When I stand across from King Hussein of Jordan, I say to him, 'You have a friend again, sir, who will stand with you to fight this fight,' he'll change his mind." I wonder where he plans to stand across from King Hussein, who died in 1999, 16 years ago?
  3. For all Republican Presidential candidates, "BarackObamaandHillaryClinton" now appears to be a single word. And they seem to have created all the ills of the Middle East. A previous President, brother of one of the folks on the stage, was barely mentioned, except in a question.
  4. We shouldn't have supported Saddam Hussein (we did?), Qadhafi (we did?) or Mubarak (well yeah, we did that) but we shouldn't have overthrown them either (did we?).
  5. It's a sad day when the party of Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt has descended to the point where the only candidate who had a realistic picture of events was Rand Paul. 
  6. The question of exactly which Muslims should be barred from the US seems to have replaced the question of whether any should.
I've been, in one job or another, explaining the Islamic world to the US and vice versa for more than 40 years. There were rough moments for US Muslims during the Iranian hostage crisis in 1979 and of course after 9/11, but I'm not sure Islamophobia has run as high or as openly as right now. Several mosques have been firebombed. Women in hijab (even some women wearing a scarf because it's winter) are being insulted or physically attacked. One example among far too many is here, where an American-born, only half-Iranian notes:
"Today. On a crowded bus. On Michigan Avenue. On my way home from a great job in a city in a diverse country that I was born in. A man screamed at me. Called me a sand ni**er. Told me I was the problem. That I need to get the fuck out of his country," Drury wrote. "I may have been wearing my scarf higher on my head than usual because it was cold out. I may have show looked suspicious [sic] listening to Spotify. I am half Iranian, so maybe it was my skin or my eyes."
This is on a public bus on Chicago's main avenue, in America's third largest city. Everybody on the Republican stage tonight treats Ronald Reagan as a saint, but I don't think St. Reagan, who called America a "shining city on a hill," wanted Americans subjected to such abuse. (The cultural anthropologists among you may note that the word that is asterisked in the Facebook post [sand ni**er] might have appeared without censorship half a century ago while "get the fuck out of my country" would not have.)

Is this who we are becoming? We must always remember that none of us are immune. The land of Goethe and Heine, Beethoven and Bach produced a Hitler; the land of Dante and Petrarch, Verdi and Rossini produced Mussolini; the land of Pushkin, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Tchaikovsky, etc. gave rise to Lenin and Stalin.

Let's not go there.

Monday, December 14, 2015

No Further Comment Needed, I Hope

I hope I don't need to contextualize this:

Friday, December 11, 2015

The Senussi Campaign: First Blood at Wadi Senab and Umm al-Rakham, December 11-13, 1915

This weekend marks the centenary of the first serious action between the British/Indian/ANZAC Western Frontier Force in the campaign against the Senussi (Sanusi) in Egypt's Western Desert. See my previous posts dealing with the background to the conflict and with the composition of the Western Frontier Force.,

As we saw, the hastily assembled mix of forces thrown together to oppose the Turkish-armed Senussi forces which had invaded Egypt from Libya had assembled at Mersa Matruh in November 1915, the British abandoning posts farther west at Sollum and Sidi Barrani. The WFF was commanded by Major-General Alexander Wallace and consisted of hastily thrown together infantry and cavalry units from a variety of British, Indian Army, Australian and New Zealand. By December 11 General Wallace felt that the force was sufficiently in place to move out from Matruh and find the Senussi.

A century ago today, Wallace sent out a column under Lt.Col. J.L.R. Gordon of the 15th Sikhs to find Senussi troops believed to be operating around Duwwar Hussein, 16 miles west of Matruh. Gordon took his infantry (the 15th Sikhs minus two companies),west along the telegraph line on the coast, while the cavalry, the 2nd Composite Yeomanry Regiment, along with a section of guns and armored cars, took the Khedivial Motor Road to the southwest.

The Yeomanry or Yeoman Cavalry were the mounted version of British Territorial units, intended for home defense but deployed o Egypt since the Regular Cavalry were needed elsewhere. The Composite Brigade consisted of elements of some 20 different units, and these were neither regulars nor used to working together. among Armstrong's other cavalry was a Composite Regiment of Australian Light Horse, which will also play a role in the coming battle. Though the Light Horse were to become one of the most famous cavalry units in the war, this was again a mix, including elements of the 9th Light Horse Regiment who had not been shipped to Gallipoli, mostly convalescents, horseholders, and the like.
The Yeomanry were sent to patrol in the direction of Samaket al-Medwa along the Khedivial Motor Road. They left at 7:00 AM on December 11. Their scouts were not sufficiently far ahead of the main force to spot danger and the cavalrymen rode into an ambush from several hundred Senussi around Wadi Senab.

The Senussi, armed and trained by the Turks, poured heavy fire on the yeomanry, and a British attempt to turn the enemy's right with help from the armored cars failed.

Gordon, from the track along the telegraph line, could hear the firing but decided he was too far away to help and assumed the cavalry would be relieved from Mersa Matruh.
This finally happened in the afternoon, when Squadron A of the Composite Light Horse, which had only just arrived in Matruh, arrived on the scene. This finally turned the tide and the Senussis withdrew.

The British suffered 16 dead and 17 wounded from the firefight. Of an estimated Senussi force of around 300, the British found 80 dead and took seven prisoners. Among the British dead was Lt Col. Cecil Snow, an intelligence officer.

The cavalry then turned north toward the coast to rejoin Gordon, who had gone into camp at Umm al-Rakham.

After a day of combat both the cavalrymen and their mounts needed rest, so Gordon remained at Umm al-Rakham on the 12th. During the day he was reinforced by elements of the 6th Royal Scots (also a Territorial Regiment) and a supply train. On the 13th occurred the battle of Umm al-Rakham, thwo actions are often subsumed under the name of Wadi Senab,

At 8:30 in the morning Gordon resumed his march toward Duwwar Hussein. He intended to proceed west to Wadi Hasheifiat, and then turn south to Duwwar Hussein. As he approached the Wadi, with the cavalry ahead, the 15th Sikhs in the lead and the Royal Scots on the left, they came under fire from the plateau o the south. It soon became clear that they were under attack from a formidable force of 1,000 to 1,500 enemy, in uniform and advancing in disciplined formations; these were muhafiziyya troops, Senussi "Regulars," armed with field artillery and machine-guns,  trained by Turkish and German officers.

The fighting intensified and the Royal Scots  broke and retreated. The only Regular (Indian) Army troops, the 15th Sikhs, held their ground. When ordered to fall back, the Commander, Captain C.F.W. Hughes, said that would require abandoning the wounded and declined to do so.

Meanwhile Gordon had sought reinforcements from Mersa Matruh and later in the day was reinforced by B and C Squadrons of the Australian Light Horse Composite Regiment and by additional field artillery. In addition, the guns of HMS Clematis off  the coast came into play.

The reinforcements and artillery allowed the British to hold the field. British losses were nine dead and 56 wounded in the December 13 action. But though the British held the field, they could not reach their objective at Duwwar ussein and did not defeat the Senussi. On December 14, the force returned to Mersa Matruh.

They would fight their next battle on Christmas Day.

Yossi Sarid, 1940-2015

The veteran Israeli politician, commentator, and peace activist and former head of the Meretz Party Yossi Sarid died suddenly of a heart attack a week ago today, at the age of 75. Here are two appreciations:
He was often a too lonely but a consistent voice. RIP. May his memory be a blessing. ז״ל

Naguib Mahfouz's Birthday Marked

Though Nobel Laureate novelist Naguib Mahfouz died nine years ago, every December 11 is still celebrated as his birthday in Egypt. Marcia Lynx Qualey at Arabic Literature (in English) notes it with "Another year in the Afterlife of Naguib Mahfouz," complete with plenty of Mahfouz-related links.

On Mahfouz' 100th birthday in 2011 I ran an interview with Raymond Stock, one of his translators now working on a biography: "For Naguib Mahfouz' 100th, an Interview with his Biographer," which is still worthwhile. Stock discovered a record showing he was actually born December 10, but he always  celebrated on December 11, and Egypt continues to mark that as the official date.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Juan Cole on the Ramadi Campaign

Juan Cole asks a useful question: "If Defeating ISIL/Daesh is so important, why isn’t Ramadi Campaign all we’re talking about?"

He notes:
The end of Daesh militarily can be envisioned. But unless the Iraqi government becomes more inclusive and politics successfully with Iraqi Sunnis (and spends some of its billions in oil income to rebuild their cities), then radicalization will remain a threat.
Meanwhile, critics of President Obama’s plan, set out 18 months ago– which involved training of Iraqi troops and rebuilding the Iraqi army. and the offer of close air support to them– may have to eat some crow. That is, they may have to if US cable news bothers to notice that out there in the real world, Daesh is facing another major setback, after its losses of Tikrit, the refinery town of Beiji, and the Kurdish area of Sinjar.
I suspect part of it is thatmost US journalists are based in Erbil and find it easier to report Kurdish advance, and some of it may be that the Iraqi Army''s Shi‘ite militia allies and IRGC advisers don't fit the preferred narrative. (No one is paying much attention to the Asad regime's successes in Homs, either, though not against ISIS.) But it's a valid point.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Judeo-Arabic Dialects in Morocco and Algeria

I'm a little late with this link from November but it tracks well with our own ongoing discussion of Arabic colloquials versus fusha: Lameen Souag over at Jabal al-Lughat writes about "Religion and dialect geography in Morocco and Algeria," about the differences between so-called Judeo-Arabics in those two countries and the adjacent Muslim Arabics. There's more on Morocco than on Lameen's native Algeria but it should interest anyone with an interest in dialect generally and darja/darija in particular. A useful look in fact at how community (religious in this case) may affect dialect more than geography or class.

This Might Be a Sign You've Finally Gone Too Far

The Independent: "Benjamin Netanyahu 'rejects' Donald Trump's comments on Muslims and says Israel 'respects all citizens' rights."

Surprise: New Egyptian Parliament Dominated by Pro-Sisi Forces

I haven't written much about the final results of Egypt's Parliamentary elections because, frankly, Egyptians didn't pay much attention either, as evidenced by the low turnout, which even the official media noted.

While there are still a few challenged results and the President will appoint additional members, Egypt's new unicameral House of Representatives (replacing the bicameral People's Assembly and Shura Council), on the one hand, is not a monolithic body dominated by a single party as in past eras, but rather a mix of many parties and independents representing a range across he ideological spectrum. The catch is the vast majority support President al-Sisi's policies, and the other catch is that the body may have less power than the dissolved Islamist Parliament elected in 2011.

The seats allocated to Party Lists 120, were all taken by the "For the love of Egypt" coalition, a lierl.secularist coalition of a number of parties. The remaining seats, allocated by individual constituency competition, also saw the members of the coalition do well, with the Free Egyptians Party, founded by Naguib Sawiris, the venerable liberal Wafd, and the new and little-known Future of the Homeland Party leading the secular parties. The only Islamist Party running, al-Nour, alsoately well but nothing like 2011 when it was the largest bloc in Parliament.

Now most of the liberal secular parties are negotiating to form a pro-Sisi bloc. There are some differences. The most pro-Sisi elements want, as Sisi himself has suggested, to amend the 2014 Constitution to restore some of the reductions made to Presidential power from the Sadat-Mubarak era.

Monday, December 7, 2015

The Senussi (Sanusi) Campaign Begins, Part II: The British Reaction

In Part I of this post on the Senussi (Sanusi) campaign in the Western Desert in World War I, we saw how Ottoman officers infiltrated into Libya to encourage the Senussi Order, which already was resisting Italian occupation in Libya, to attack the British position in Libya as well. Part I ended with the Senussi raids on Sollum and Sidi Barrani and the movement of regular Senussi forces into Egypt.

Senussi (Cyrenaican) Flag
As a historical note, the Senussi used a black flag with a white crescent and star, a flag later identified with Cyrenaica, and eventually incorporated as the middle panel of the Libyan flag from independence to Qadhafi, and again since 2011.

Total Senussi forces were around 5,000 men, regulars and tribal militias, with some Ottoman and German officers.

As I noted last time, Britain had paid little attention to the Western Desert since the Italians in Libya were now allied; in theory the Egyptian Army was to protect the frontier (though the British worried the Egyptian Army might not be reliable since Egypt was nominally neutral in the war). The British were mainly determined to defend the Suez Canal, and the Nile Valley to protect the Canal.

Senussi troops
So when the Senussi attack began, the British had few defenses in place. General John Maxwell, the Commander of British Forces in Egypt, determined that Sollum could not readily be defended; it was 450 km from Alexandria and the rail line to the west was completed only as far as Dabaa 121 km east of Mersa Matruh. Sidi Barrani was also considered too exposed. So the British decided to draw up their defenses at Mersa Matruh.

On November 20, the British created the Western Frontier Force, a quickly improvised mix of British and colonial troops. It was commanded by Major-General Alexander Wallace of the 11th Indian Division. He commanded a mix of British, Indian, Australian and New Zealand forces.His infantry was a Composite Infantry Brigade commanded by Brigadier-General the Earl of Lucan and consisting of the 1/6th Royal Scots, 2/7 and 2/8th Middlesex, 15th Sikhs and auxiliaries, a detachment of the Egyptian Army Military Works Department, and the Divisional Train of the 1st Australian Division. Of these only the 15th Sikhs were a regular unit of the Indian Army.

The cavalry, commanded by Brigadier-General J.D.T. Tyndale-Briscoe, was even more diverse: a Composite Mounted Brigade consisting of three Composite Regiments representing some 20 different Yeomanry Regiments; a Composite Regiment of Australian Light Horse; and the Nottinghamshire Battery of Royal Horse Artillery.

These initial scratch forces were reinforced by December 3 by a Battery of the Honourable Artillery Company, two Royal Marines Guns two aircraft from the Royal Flying Corps and six armored cars.

Other forces were deployed to guard other points. As early as November 29, the 1/1st North Midland Mounted Brigade and the Berkshire Battery Royal Horse Artillery moved into the Fayyum to protect it. Meanwhile the protection of the coastal railroad between Alexandria and the then-railhead at Dabaa, as wall as the Moghara oasis, was assigned to the 2nd New Zealand Rifle Brigade, a company of thr15th Sikhs, some of the Bikanir Camel Corps, an Egyptian Army Machine Gun Section and an armored train garrisoned by 1/10th Gurkha Rifles., 1915..

This hastily assembled force knew there were Senussi forces massing southwest of Mersa Matruh. Once the garrisons between Sollum and Matruh had been withdrawn to Matruh, the stage was set for the first action, beginning December 11, 1915. I'll tell that tale December 11.

Hanukkah Wishes

Let me begin the week by wishing my Jewish readers best wishes for Hanukkah, which began last night.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

"Does Obama have a Plan to Defeat Hummus?"

I avoid commenting on US politics which, this year in particular, appears to be an exercise in who can get the Middle East most wrong. But, low-hanging fruit though it may be, Dr. Ben Carson's conflation of Hamas with hummus is too wonderful to ignore: "Ben Carson confuses terrorist group Hamas with Middle Eastern food in speech to Republican Jews."

Also see here.

So I guess if we eradicate chickpeas . . .

Oh, and Donald Trump's speech to the Republican Jewish group, with its talk about what good businessmen and deal-makers they were struck many listeners as invoking anti-Semitic stereotypes.

November/December 1915: The Senussi (Sanusi) Campaign Begins, Part I

As we proceed through our periodic marking of the centennial of WWI, it's time to introduce another generally neglected theater of the Great War in the Middle East: the Senussi (Sanusi) or Western Desert campaign, which lasted from November 1915 until 1917.

The primary mission of the British Empire Forces in Egypt (many of them ANZACs) was the defense of the Suez Canal  against any renewed  Turkish offensive. Protecting Egypt's other borders was, at least nominally, the role of the Egyptian Army. But when the war began Egypt faced few threats except from the east, since it ruled Sudan with the British and the rest of North Africa was controlled by British Ally France or initially neutral Italy.

It was not until May of 1915 that Italy entered the war on the Allied side. Bear in mind that until 1911  Libya had been Ottoman territory until seized by Italy. When Italy entered the War, the Ottomans saw an opportunity to renew their interests in Libya, and perhaps threaten Egypt from the west.

The instrument was to be the Sanusi order, which most European powers at the time Spelled Senussi. The Sanusiyya was a tribally based Sufi order with followers in much of the Saharan interior, which had been active in resisting French expansion in Algeria and the Italian in Libya. The Senussi had generally not bothered the British in Egypt, but they had followers in Egypt's western oases.

Sayyid Ahmad al-Sharif al-Sanusi
The head of the Order in 1915 was Sayyid Ahmad al-Sharif al-Sanusi, commonly called 'The Grand Senussi" by Westerners.

As early as February 1915, prior to Italy's entering the war, the Ottomans approached Sayyid Ahmad to sound him out. Two officers, Captain Nuri (later known as Nuri Killigil), a half brother of War Minister Enver Pasha, and Major Ja‘far al-‘Askari, an Arab officer from Baghdad who would later join the Arab Revolt and play a prominent role in postwar Iraq.

They were secretly landed in Libya from a Greek ship carrying gold and met surreptitiously with Sayyid Ahmad. They eventually persuaded him to declare jihad against both he Italians and the British, and hoped he would attack Egypt while the Sultan of Darfur would rise against the British in Sudan.

In August of 1915, British submarines seeking shelter on the Libyan coast came under fire, and in November the crews of two torpedoed ships, HMS Tara and HM Transport Moorina landed on the Libyan coast and were taken prisoner by the Senussi. The British protested but did not immediately confront them.

The Egyptian-Libyan border had not been formally delineated at the time of the Italo-Turkish War in 1911, though it was generally considered that Sollum was in Egypt. The borders in the interior were undemarcated, and the Senussi had may adherents in the Siwa Oasis, which would become a base of operations.

Some 5000 Senussi fighters with Turkish and German arms were concentrated at Siwa.

On November 6, 1915 two Egyptian coast guard ships were attacked in Sollum harbor by the German submarine U-35, and one was sunk. On November 17 and 18, Senoussi raids struck at Sollum and at Sidi Barrani to the east, and by November 21 the Senussi regular forces had crossed into Egypt.

In Part II, we'll look at the British response.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Back Soon

I've been simultaneously fighting a bug and on deadline so far this week. Normal blogging pace should resume soon.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Turkish Court Wants Experts to Determine if Comparing Erdoğan to Gollum is an Insult

I'm not making this up. From Today's Zaman:
Because no decision was reached in the fourth hearing of a case in which Aydın-based physician Dr. Bilgin Çiftçi was accused of insulting President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan after sharing a meme comparing Erdoğan's facial expressions to the Gollum character in the “The Lord of the Rings” movies, a court has demanded an expert examination to investigate Gollum's character to decide whether a comparison with him is an insult.
 I wonder what they'll decide?

Monday, November 30, 2015

Fatema Mernissi, 1940-2015

Fatema Mernissi, renowned sociologist, memoirist, and feminist icon, author of Beyond the Veil and dozrns of of other books dealing with the role of women in Islam, has died at the age of 75 in Rabat

The Moroccan scholar, educated at te Sorbonne and Brandeis, spent most of her career teaching at Mohammed V University in Morocco. Her body of work is likely to remain a mainstay of reading lists on the role of women in Islam for years to come.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thanksgiving Break

Today is the Thanksgiving  holiday in the US and the beginning of a four-day weekend. I probably won't be blogging until Monday.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

November 22-23, 1915: The Battle of Ctesiphon, Part II

As noted in Part I of this post, the Turkish position at Ctesiphon was a strong one. General Townshend arrived before the Turkish position late on November 21,  planning to attack at dawn on the 22nd.

We discussed the numbers and units involved in Part I. Nureddin had the 35th division deployed on the west (right) bank of the Tigris, the 38th division on the east bank in an L-shape, with the inexperienced 45th division refusing the flank in the short leg of he L. The 51st division was the reserve, with Arab units in support.

Both sides had poor intelligence. The Turks overestimated the size of Townshend's force, and he British underestimated Nureddin's numbers.

Townshend divided his 6th (Poona) Division into three infantry columns plus a "Flying Column" of cavalry and some infantry with transports.. He labeled the infantry columns A, B, and C, each consisting of several battalions with artillery and sapper support.

Column C was intended to attack the Turkish forces west of the river, B and the Flying Column were to carry out a turning movement against the Ottoman left flank, and A was intended to attack the center. The river flotilla was intended to support the attack.

General Nixon, the overall Mesopotamia Commander, was presen with the Army but left the tactical command to Townshend.

But he British found ground conditions on the west bank unsuitable so all the columns attacked east of te river, with C along the riverbank. The flotilla, meanwhile, came under artillery fire from the Turkish guns and also discovered the Tigris was heavily mined, so the boats provided little support.

In the attack, C and A encountered strong resistance but Colmn B, on the right, successfully carried the forward Turkish trench line. Nureddin fell back to his second defense line and committed his reserves and brought the 35th division from the west bank. The Flying Column encountered resistance from  Turkish and Arab cavalry and failed to turn the Turkish flank.

By the end of November 22, the British held the first line of Ottoman trenches but both sides.had suffered heavy casualties. On November 23, the Turks counterattacked. Casualties continued to mount with the British unable to make a decisive breakthrough.

British-Indian forces lost over 4600 dead and wounded; the Turks over 6000; in both cases nearly a third of their strength. Townshend who had complained of insufficient strengt all along realized he could ot hope to take Baghdad and decided to withdraw to Kut a decision that would prove fateful. Ironically, Nureddin also planned to fall back due to his losses but changed his mind when he realized the British were withdrawing.

The battle was essentially a draw, but it ended the first British attempt to take Baghdad.
Official History, Campaign in Mesopotamia, Volume II

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Russian-Turkish Clash: A Map

I'll refrain from editorial comment until we know more about the circumstances of the Turkish downing of a Russian Su-24, since Turkey says it was in Turkish airspace and Russia says it was inside Syria. But Turkey says it was near Yayladağı in the Hatay, and here's the border region around Yayladağı:
Tactical Pilotage Chart Sheet ONC G-4D
That is one tricky border.

UPDATE: If this story is true, some Su-24s are relying on commercially purchased GPS receivers. If that's true, and given that border, would you trust a store-bought GPS. It was probably saying "recalculating . . ."

Also the Turkish complaint to the UNSC says the intruders spent 17 seconds in Turkish airspace. 17 seconds? Whatever happened to signaling "follow me" and escorting the intruder out of your airspace?

The #1in5Muslims Internet Meme: Once Again, the Best Response to Ignorance is Ridicule

Amid all the deeply depressing news: a ray of humor;

The Sun, Rupert Murdoch's British tabloid that until fairly recently was best known for its "Page 3 Girls," bare-breasted models who must have been a major support of Britain's silicon industry based on their improbably ample attributes, is not generally known for its news quality, which at times makes The Daily Mail look reliable. (Page 3 girls have apparently put tops on after years of feminist protest.) In the present Islamophobic hysteria gripping all US Republican candidates and some Europeans, it featured this front page splash:
While still managing to keep its audience by getting female breasts on the front page (though covered with a bikini), it also sensationalized and apparently misstated a poll result.

Longtime readers may recall that back in 2012, Newsweek ran a cover story on "Muslim Rage" that provoked a hilarious response on Twitter as I duly reported then.

Well the hashtag #1in5Muslims is replicating that with posters posting made-up "factoids" thst are often funny. (Warning: there are hostile posts under the hashtag, too.) A selection:

Nor were the Page 3 Girls forgotten:

And finally at least for now:
That's Murdoch of course. I  think he should go back to Page 3 Girls. Bare boobs may be sexist but don't provoke hate crimes and racism.

Monday, November 23, 2015

November 22-23, 1915: The Battle of Ctesiphon, Part I

We last left the Mesopotamian Campaign a century ago in October, with the British decision to advance to Baghdad, which I dealt with at length in six posts: Part I. Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI.

As we saw, there were major differences  in perception between London, India, and the generals on the ground, and differences between the Regional Commander General Nixon and the commander of the advance, General Townshend. All are introduced in some detail in the earlier series.

Townshend made his way slowly as he advanced from Kut al-‘Amara to Baghdad. He had reached ‘Aziziyya in October.

Some 40 miles up he Tigris from Kut, and some 20 miles southeast of Baghdad, the Turkish forces under Nur al-Din Pasha (later known as Sakallı Nurettin Paşa) were solidly entrenched on both sides of the Tigris at the old Parhian and Sasanian capital of Ctesiphon (Arabic Al-Mada'in), where a loop in the Tigris makes for a good defensive position.

The British had fought against Nureddin  several times during the advance up the Tigris and had a low of his military skills. What they did not appreciate was that Nureddin reported to the Governor of Baghdad Khalil Pasha (known postwar as Halil Kut) and, as of mid-October the the new Commander of the Ottoman Sixth Army, the aging Prussian Field Marshal Baron von der Goltz though he had yet to take the field.

Furthermore when the decision to advance was made in mid-October The War Committee estimated that for at least the next few months Nixon would face no more than 9,000 Turkish infantry. In fact, at Ctesiphon Nureddin had four divisions, under strength but still numbering 18,000 men to Townshend's reinforced single division with about 11,000. But the Turks had been entrenched for weeks behind two lines of trenches, and south of that a 20-foot-high ancient wall. They also had 52 artillery pieces situated to cover the river.

Nureddin's four divisions were the 35th, based in Mosul before the war and amix of Arab, Kurdish, and other ethnicities; the 38th, based in Basra and mostly Arab; the newly formed 45th, raised around Pozanti near Adana;  and the 51st, a veteran regiment that had served in the Caucasus and at Gallipoli.

Townshend's force consisted of the 6th (Poona) Division with supporting troops, consisting of four infantry brigades and one of cavalry,and two river gunboats, HM Gunboat Firefly and an older gunboat, the Comet. Firefly was the first of a new class of riverboats known to history as the Tigris Flotilla but called at the time "Small China Gunboats" to conceal their intended use in Mesopotamia. With them were two small river launches, Shaitan and Sumana. The stern-wheeler riverboats Shushan and Messoudieh were towing boats with 4.7 inch naval guns. The problem was that this small flotilla and its guns were on the river, and the powerful Ottoman artillery controlled the river.
Official History, Campaign in Mesopotamia, Volume II
If you're thinking that's a pretty formidable position, a superior force with superior artillery barring the river and he route to Baghdad, you're right.

Part II will discuss the battle itself, The most visible landmark of the battlefield was the Great Arch of Ctesiphon,in the nearby town of Salman Pak, remnant of a Sasanian Palace. In Part II, we'll discuss the battle itself.
Official History, Campaign in Mesopotamia, Volume II

Egypt Votes in Second Phase

Today was the second day of the second phase of Egypt's parliamentary elections with voting in the 14 governorates that did not vote last month, including Cairo. Early indications are that turnout is still low though perhaps somewhat higher than in the first round, which saw a 26% turnout.

Runoffs where needed will occur in early December.

President Sisi voted in Heliopolis:

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Let's Not Give ISIS What it Wants

I've been quiet about the debate over ISIS since Paris. I was going to do a links dump of some of the saner essays out there, but Donald Trump's suggestion today that he might consider a special ID for American Muslims sent me over the edge. (Yes, and Jews could wear yellow Stars of David. Oh, wait, that's been done.)

The US has an unfortunate record of waves of xenophobic nativism, odd for a country that once prided itself as a haven for refugees (Give me,your tired, your poor your weak, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free...) But more than in most cases, this is precisely the reaction the Islamic State hopes to provoke. It considers Muslims living in the West as a danger, and seeks to provoke anti-Islamic sentiment in the West to increase the number of potentially alienated young recruits.

Remember ISIS' preoccupation with Dabiq, an apocalyptic end-times battle mentioned in a hadith attributed to the Prophet. They actually want to provoke Armageddon. Let's not help them along.

Demagoguing the refugee crisis for political gain is not just sleazy; it's dangerous. Creating suspicions about your neighbors can lead to the worst kinds of fear, fear of an enemy that may barely exist. The internment of Japanese-Americans in World War II (most of them citizens) has actually been cited by some of the worst sort of politicians as a model.

What is the purpose of terror? By definition, it's to terrorize, to incite fear. Within days of the carnage in Paris all it took was a warning to evacuate the stadium in Hannover. Of course one should take precautions, but if all it takes is a phone call to evacuate a stadium, why should ISIS spend money making bombs. They've created terror with little effort.

An ISIS video that shows a man with an explosive device interspersed with stock footage of New York is getting a lot of attention, but it could have been made anywhere and the NYC scenes spliced in. Of course New York should ramp up security, and it can never forget 9/11, but it shouldn't cower in fear. A better response might be Rick's dialogue with the Nazis in Casablanca:
Major Strasser: Are you one of those people who cannot imagine the Germans in their beloved Paris?
Rick: It's not particularly my beloved Paris.
Heinz: Can you imagine us in London?
Rick: When you get there, ask me!
Captain Renault: Hmmh! Diplomatist!
Major Strasser: How about New York?
Rick: Well there are certain sections of New York, Major, that I wouldn't advise you to try to invade.
Don't give them what they want.The best way to combat them on the ground  is something that can be debated, but action should not be undertaken without clearly defined objectives and the realistic means to achieve them. That's basic Clausewitz.

Four Years Since the "Battle" of Mohamed Mahmoud

Daily News Egypt marks the fourth anniversary of the "Battle of Mohamed Mahmoud" in November of 2011, one of the more violent confrontations between young revolutionaries and the military in Cairo in the months after the fall of Mubarak. As I noted at the time, it had special resonance for me since, decades earlier, I had lived at the corner of Mohamed Mahmoud and Yusuf al-Gindi Streets, right at the center of the "battle."

Mohamed Mahmoud became one of the symbols of that era (along with "blue-bra woman" and other outrages) and later became the site of the Revolution's most famous graffiti walls along the American University in Cairo's Downtown Campus.

Mohamed Mahmoud Street runs from Tahrir Square, the Revolutionaries' iconic headquarters, past the Interior Ministry. The several days of fighting were sparked by the demonstrators' attempts to march on the Interior Ministry, headquarters of State Security. Several died in he attempt and others were beaten or blinded when hit by tear gas canisters. The beating of well-known commentator Mona El Tahawy drew considerable attention.

Though the street became famous, for the Battle and the graffiti, I don't seem to have ever explained how it got its name. Mohamed Mahmoud Pasha (1878-1941)(link is in Arabic), an early Wafdist who had been imprisoned by the British along with Saad Zaghloul during the 1919 Revolution, but later split with the Wafd and joined he Liberal Constitutional Party. He served stints as Prime Minister in 1928-29 and again in 1937-1939.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Mary Ann Tetrault

Word is circulating that Mary Ann Tetrault has passed away. A renowned scholar who wrote widely on the Gulf States and women in the Middle East, she was Distinguished Professor Emerita at Trinity University. Though I knew her primarily rough correspondence, it is a loss to the field.

Monday, November 16, 2015

November 1915: Britain Decides to Evacuate Gallipoli

Lord Kitchener visits the trenches at Gallipoli, November 1915
Late last month in our continuing discussion of events a century ago, we noted the replacement of General Sir Ian Hamilton as overall commander of the Dardanelles expedition with General Sir Charles Monro, a Western Front general.

Following the failure of the Suvla  landings and the August offensive to alter the status quo on he Gallipoli Peninsula, and with Turkish defenses strengthened under new commander Mustafa Kemal, much of the British Government was eager to disengage from Gallipoli, feeling the troops would be better used in the West or the Salonika Front in the Balkans. At the end of October the Dardanelles Committee of the Cabinet was disbanded, and with it went the most pro-Gallipoli voice, Winston Churchill's. He had lost the Admiralty earlier in the year when the coalition government was formed, but had remained on the Dardanelles Committee. The War Committee that replaced it did not include him, and Churchill would quit the government to rejoin the Army.

The Gallipoli adventure still had an advocate: Lord Kitchener at the War Office. The hero of Khartoum and veteran of India and Egypt still favored an Eastern Strategy, but despite his popularity with the troops and the public, Kitchener had few fans in the Asquith Government, nd dispatched Monro to assess the situation in his new command, and also resolved to visit the battlefield himself.

Gen. Sir Charles Monro
In March of 1916, months after the last troops had been evacuated, Monro issued a sort of final report on his mission, and he remembered his instructions as follows:
To the Secretary of State for War, War Office, London, S.W.
Headquarters, 1st Army, France, 6th March, 1916.

MY LORD,- I have the honour to submit herewith a brief account of the operations in the Eastern Mediterranean from the 28th October, 1915, on which date I assumed command of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force, until the 9th January, 1916, when in compliance with your directions, I handed over charge at Cairo to Lieut.-General Sir Archibald Murray, K.C.B., C.V.O., D.S.O.
On the 20th October in London, I received your Lordship's instructions to proceed as soon as possible to the near East and take over the command of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force, My duty on arrival was in broad outline: -
(a) To report on the military situation on the Gallipoli Peninsula.
(b) To express an opinion whether on purely military grounds the Peninsula should be evacuated, or another attempt made to carry it.
(c) The number of troops that would be required, (1) to carry the Peninsula, (2) to keep the Straits open, and (3) to take Constantinople. Two days after my arrival at Imbros, where the headquarters of the M.E.F. was established, I proceeded to the Peninsula to investigate the military situation.
Monro arrived at Imbros on October 28 and reached Gallipoli on October 30. Monro was already dubious about the prospects and saw nothing to change his mind:
The impressions I gathered are summarised very shortly as follows: - The positions occupied by our troops presented a military situation unique in history. The mere fringe of the coast line had been secured. The beaches and piers upon which they depended for all requirements in personnel and material were exposed to registered and observed Artillery fire. Our entrenchments were dominated almost throughout by the Turks. The possible Artillery positions were insufficient and defective. The Force, in short, held a line possessing every possible military defect. The position was without depth, the communications were insecure and dependent on the weather. No means existed for the concealment and deployment of fresh troops destined for the offensive-whilst the Turks enjoyed full powers of observation, abundant Artillery positions, and they had been given the time to supplement the natural advantages which the position presented by all the devices at the disposal of the Field Engineer.
Another material factor came prominently before me. The troops on the Peninsula had suffered much from various causes.
(a) It was not in the first place possible to withdraw them from the shell-swept area as is done when necessary in France, for every corner on the Peninsula is exposed to hostile fire.
(b) They were much enervated from the diseases which are endemic in that part of Europe in the summer.
(c) In consequence of the losses which they had suffered in earlier battles, there was a very grave dearth of officers competent to take command of men.
(d) In order to maintain the numbers needed to hold the front, the Territorial Divisions had been augmented by the attachment of Yeomanry and Mounted Brigades. Makeshifts of this nature very obviously did not tend to create efficiency.
Other arguments, irrefutable in their conclusions, convinced me that a complete evacuation was the only wise course to pursue.
(a) It was obvious that the Turks could hold us in front with a small force and prosecute their designs on Baghdad or Egypt, or both.
(b) An advance from the positions we held could not be regarded as a reasonable military operation to expect.
(c) Even had we been able to make an advance in the Peninsula, our position would not have been ameliorated to any marked degree, and an advance on Constantinople was quite out of the question.
(d) Since we could not hope to achieve any purpose by remaining on the Peninsula, the appalling cost to the nation involved in consequence of embarking on an Overseas Expedition with no base available for the rapid transit of stores, supplies and personnel, made it urgent that we should divert the troops locked up on the Peninsula to a more useful theatre. Since therefore I could see no military advantage in our continued occupation of positions on the Peninsula, I telegraphed to your Lordship that in my opinion the evacuation of the Peninsula should be taken in hand.
The Asquith Cabinet was mostly eager for disengagement but decided to send Kitchener himself to investigate. Meanwhile Kitchener on November 4 dismissed Monro as Commander of the whole Mediterranean Expedition and named him to command the Salonika Expedition, with General William Birdwood, whom we've met before, taking over at Gallipoli.  Kitchener left England on November 5, but en route changed his mind about removing Monro before his visit, and canceled it, reaching Mudros November 10. As Monro recalled:
Subsequently I proceeded to Egypt to confer with Colonel Sir H. McMahon, the High Commissioner, and Lieut.-General Sir J. Maxwell, Commanding the Forces in Egypt, over the situation which might be created in Egypt and the Arab world by the evacuation of the Peninsula. Whilst in Egypt I was ordered by a telegram the War Office to take command of the troops at Salonika. The purport of this telegram was subsequently cancelled by your Lordship on your arrival at Mudros, and I was then ordered to assume Command of the Forces in the Mediterranean, east of Malta, and exclusive of Egypt.
Kitchener & Birdwood at Mudros, Nov.  10
Monro proceeded to Mudros, along with McMahon and Maxwell from Egypt,  and met with Kitchener aboard the troopship Aragon, which housed the Headquarters Staff of the campaign, at Mudros. Monro and the Army generals favored withdrawal, while Kitchener and the Navy favored operating through the winter.

Kitchener wanted to see the Front himself, and on November 12, 13, and 14 he visited the landing sites at Cape Helles,/Sudal-Bahr (Nov. 12), Anzac (Nov. 13), and Suvla (Nov. 14). He was well received by the troops.

The question of whether a winter campaign was possible was soon given new evidence from winter itself. On November 17 a gale mashed piers at Cape Helles and Anzac Cove.

The designation of Monro as Commander in the Mediterranean eat of Malta and excluding Egypt was clarified as follows, again quoting Monro:
Consequent on these instructions,
I received approval that the two Forces in the Mediterranean should be designated as follows: -
(a) The original Mediterranean Expeditionary Force, which comprised the Forces operating on the Gallipoli Peninsula and those employed at Mudros and Imbros as the "Dardanelles Army," under Lieut.-General Sir W. Birdwood, K.C.B., etc., with headquarters at Imbros.
(b) The troops destined for Salonika as the "Salonika Army," under Lieut.-General Sir B. Mahon, K.C.B., with headquarters at Salonika. The Staff of the original M.E.F. was left in part to form the Dardanelles Army, and the remainder were taken to make a General Headquarter Staff for the increased responsibilities now assumed. Other officers doing duty in this theatre with the necessary qualifications were selected, and, with no difficulty or demands on home resources, a thoroughly efficient and adequate Staff was created. Mudros was selected as being the most suitable site for the establishment of headquarters, as affording an opportunity, in addition to other advantages, of daily consultation with the Inspector General, Line of Communications. The working of the services of the Line of Communications presented difficulties of an unique character, mainly owing to (a) the absence of pier and wharfage accommodation at Mudros and the necessity of transferring all Ordnance and Engineer Stores from one ship to another; (b) the submarine danger; (c) the delay caused by rough weather. Close association with General Altham was therefore most imperative, and by this means many important changes were made which conduced to greater efficiency and more prompt response to the demands of fighting units.
In the meantime Winston Churchill, the unapologetic architect of the campaign,  resigned his remaining governmen position as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster in order to join the Army on the Western Front. He made a last defense of Gallipoli on the floor of Parliament.

On November 22, Kitchener himself recommended withdrawal from Gallipoli.

Kitchener, after his visit to Gallipoli, visited the Salonika Front and Italy, and returned to England November 30.

If there were any lingering doubts, on November 27 a fierce Mediterranean storm hit Gallipoli from the southwest, driving small boats ashore, flooding the trenches, and crumbling fortifications. Then the wind shifted to the north and a fierce blizzard devastated the battlefield for days. Turkish and Allied troops were immobilized, hundreds died and thousands took ill. Snow at Anzac Cove:
On December 8, 1915, General Monro ordered Admiral Birdwood and the Navy to withdraw the troops from Gallipoli.

There were some 93,000 men, 200 guns, thousands of horses and mules and other equipment to withdraw from under the guns and in sight of Turkish forces only a few hundred yards away in every case.

The one great Allied success at Gallipoli would be the successful withdrawal, over several weeks, without a disaster on the beaches. But that's a story for another day.

James A. Bill Has Passed Away

UPDATE: Apparently reports of his passing were premature but he is close to death. My apologies for a premature posting.

 James A. Bill, the Wendy and Emery Reves Professor of International Studies Emeritus for the Department of Government at William and Mary and one of the most respected scholars on Iran and US-Iranian relations, has passed away after a lengthy illness. The author of numerous books on Iran and on Middle East politics, Professor Bill was a giant in the field.

Remember Paris, But Also Beirut, Ankara, Baghdad, Sinai...

Amid the mourning over the Paris attacks, I think it is particularly important to remember that the overwhelming majority of victims of the Islamic State have been in the Middle East. The 40+ dead in Beirut the day before the Paris attacks were innocent civilians as well. Sunnis and Shi‘a, Kurds and Assyrians and Yazidis, have died in the thousands, without everyone changing their Facebook profile pictures to the colors of the Lebanese or Syrian or Iraqi flag. Mourn for Paris to be sure,  but also for all victims.

Friday, November 13, 2015

MEI Annual Conference Today

I'll be spending all day Friday at the MEI Annual Conference, so no blogposts likely.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Burj al-Barajineh Bombings

Today's bombings in Beirut's Burj al-Burajineh neighborhood,which killed at least 41 and wounded 200 or more, is the worst bombing attack in terms of its human toll since the Lebanese Civil War.And the Islamic State is reportedly claiming credit. This appears to be the worst blowback yet in Beirut from Syria's civil war and an ill omen for Lebanon.

Several headlines I've seen in Western media refer to the attacks as being in a "Hizbullah stronghold." I think that's an unfortunate choice of words, as it suggests Hizbullah was the target. One bomb went off near a a Shi‘ite mosque and the other at a bakery: civilians were the target, in one of the most densely populated areas of the city. The civilians may have been targeted because they are Shi‘ites, but referring to it as a "Hizbullah stronghold" distracts from the reality that the victims are civilians, not Hizbullah fighters.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Steven Cook on Egypt

If you haven't seen Steven Cook's piece on Egypt a couple of days ago, it's a fairly grim assessment. Take a look. (Note that since it appeared, Hossam Bahgat has been released.)

For Veteran's Day/Armistice Day/Remembrance Day

While today in the US Veteran's Day honors all military veterans, the date originally marked the moment, at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, the guns fell silent 97 years ago today. My parents' generation still called November 11 "Armistice Day," even after they had witnessed an even greater war than the Great War.

It is a cliche to say that World War I created the modern Middle East, but it is also true. Westerners often forget just how bloody the war was in the Middle East, not just for Armenians and Assyrians but for Turks as well. As we have been going through the 100th anniversaries of the war in our region, I've tried to call attention to some of the forgotten fronts in that war. This will continue. Although the Ottoman Empire signed an Armistice in October at Mudros, it is worth using this day to remember all who fought on both sides in that war, not forgetting the ANZACs and Indians fighting for the British Empire (or the Moroccan and Algerian spahis and goumiers who fought for France).

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Denial Is Still a River in Egypt: Media Sees Western Conspiracy on Metrojet

It's a nervous time for Egypt in the wake of the crash of the Metrojet flight in Sinai: an already much-reduced level of tourism is in danger just as the winter months arrive (when Sharm al-Sheikh and Hurghada cater to sun-starved northern Europeans; but Britain and Russia have canceled flights. President Sisi's big tip to London was overshadowed by the attempts to evacuate British tourists from Egypt. The stock market dropped on Monday, and there was sharp international criticism over the arrest of journalist/activist Hossam Bahgat by the military prosecution. (He has since been released, but may still face charges.)

I'm sorry to say that when things are going badly, the Egyptian media, especially the more sensational newspapers (state-run and private) and the often irresponsible TV talk-show hosts, start looking for conspiracies. Israel, the US, the Muslim Brotherhood, Iran, and he Freemasons are the usual suspects, often in improbable combinations (Iran and the US together; Israel and the Muslim Brotherhood).

While most of the rest of the world is convinced the plane was brought down by a bomb, and even the Egyptian investigators do not rule that out, the media is seeing an international conspiracy to subvert Egypt. Al-Watan on Sunday had a banner headline, "Egypt Defies Terrorism of the West." (Link is to the story in Arabic.) I would note that the most draconian step so far was Russia's decision to cancel all flights to Egypt, and Russia is usually not considered "the West," but never mind.

Associated Press
The Associated Press has done a story on this, showing the headlines (right) of the aforementioned Al-Watan as well as Sunday's Al-Gomhuriya, a state-owned paper but the most sensational of the state-owned papers: "The People Defy the Conspiracy."

There remains a possibility it was not a bomb. But the media, including the state media (perhaps with government sanction) is reacting in a prickly, defensive way that could make things worse if indeed it was a bomb. (Conversely, the US and Britain could look very bad if it wasn't.)

Monday, November 9, 2015

Yitzhak Navon, 1921-2015, Fifth President of Israel

Yitzhak Navon died November 7 at the age of 94. He served as Israel's fifth President, holding that ceremonial position from 1978 to 1983, but had a long career as well in diplomacy and politics. A descendant of Jews from Spain, Turkey, and Morocco, he was the first Sephardi (Mizrahi) to occupy the Presidency. Fluent in multiple languages, he worked in Haganah intelligence before independence and then entered he Foreign Service. In 1951 he became Political Secretary and then Chief of Staff to Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, continuing in the same capacity under Moshe Sharett. After holding a post in the Education Ministry, he entered the Knesset representing Ben-Gurion's Rafi faction, He chaired the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

After his five-year term as President, he returned to politics, declining an offer to run for the Labor Party leadership, but serving as Minister of Education and in other capacities. He was a dovish figure within the party.