Coming to the neighborhood: Grad missiles

Le Monde had an article a couple of days ago about a phenomenon I haven't read about elsewhere. It quotes the governor of Kerbala talking about a recent attack on the Iraqi city in which, "for the first time," Grad missiles were used. Grad missiles, the article explains, are the successor to the Katiousha rocket that is used across the region, notably by Hizbullah and Palestinian factions against Israel but also in Iraq by the various insurgent groups. The Grad, which is also Russian-made has a range of 25km and is a more recent development -- not hard since the Katiousha is originally a WW2 design. But like the Katiousha it is easy to use and cheap. Last December, the Israeli army became aware that Fatah had acquired its own Grad missiles. I wonder how long it will be before this type of missile will become more generalized across the region, and how it will change the tactical situation on the ground. In Iraq it is already being used to put a safe distance between attackers and their targets, especially as regional Iraqi police and troops do not have the air support to be able to chase or monitor large areas. The other question, of course, is where are they coming from? I'd love to read a good book on the regional arms industry, if anyone can recommend one.
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It's just a play

From a Nation piece on the Rachel Corrie play affair:
The book is the play My Name Is Rachel Corrie. Composed from the journal entries and e-mails of the 23-year-old from Washington State who was crushed to death in Gaza three years ago under a bulldozer operated by the Israeli army, the play had two successful runs in London last year and then became a cause celebre after a progressive New York theater company decided to postpone its American premiere indefinitely out of concern for the sensitivities of (unnamed) Jewish groups unsettled by Hamas's victory in the Palestinian elections. When the English producers denounced the decision by the New York Theatre Workshop as "censorship" and withdrew the show, even the mainstream media could not ignore the implications. Why is it that the eloquent words of an American radical could not be heard in this country--not, that is, without what the Workshop had called "contextualizing," framing the play with political discussions, maybe even mounting a companion piece that would somehow "mollify" the Jewish community?
Why indeed?
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Aardvark update

Abu Aardvark has an interesting post on an attempt to pass a law in Jordan that would forbid disrespecting the state. It started as a response to Syrian mockery of the really rather ridiculous "Jordan First" campaign launched by the Hobbit-King Abdullah. Usually when countries adopt a me-first policy, it means that they're about to mess someone else up. Who will it be? And let's not forget that Abu Aardvark's alter ego Marc Lynch has a piece in the National Interest on Al Qaeda's Media Strategies. His trademark interests crop up:
Al-Jazeera is hardly a paragon of Islamist advocacy: Many of its leading news presenters and talk-show hosts are beautiful, unveiled women, and many of its popular figures are determinedly iconoclastic. Its leading Islamist figure, Yusuf al-Qaradawi, is a fierce critic of Bin Laden's form of Islamist extremism (and is regularly castigated in jihadi circles as a dangerous, misguided American dupe). Nor can Al-Jazeera's narrative be reduced to a simple anti-Americanism. It shows the carnage in Iraq, but it also shows democratic elections and gives ample voice to those who condemn Al-Qaeda's Mesopotamian strategy. In its fervent, sustained criticism of the Arab status quo and its advocacy of democratic reforms, Al-Jazeera can sometimes sound surprisingly like an American neoconservative organ.
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Oman's political poet

The Guardian profiles the Omani poet Abdullah Al Ryami:
Al Ryami first came to the attention of the authorities in July 2004, after an appearance on the Iranian television station Al-Alam where he cast doubt on the Omani government's willingness to implement democratic reforms. He was immediately put on a media blacklist, with his journalism, poetry and plays all removed from Omani radio, television and newspapers, and appearances as a commentator forbidden. He continued to speak out, criticising the Omani government in the daily paper Gulf News over the detention and trial of 31 people on charges of plotting a coup, the excessive force used by police against a peaceful demonstration in support of the 31 detainees and the government's prosecution of the former parliamentarian and journalist, Taiba Al Mawali. His arrest came two days before the court sentenced Al Mawali to 18 months in jail.
Another reform-minded Arab you won't hear about much because he doesn't talk in stereotypes and gross generalizations. Via Moorishgirl.
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More humiliation, please

The real problem with the Arab world is a humiliation deficit. So says Nick Denton, publisher of Wonkette, Gizmodo and other hipster blogs:
The US needs to destroy Saddam Hussein's regime because he's a bad man, sure, because he may conceivably be connected with Al-Qaeda, because he's developing weapons of mass destruction, because a friendly Iraq would alter the balance of power in the Middle East, sure, because of all of that. But the US needs to destroy Saddam Hussein's regime mainly because the West needs to humiliate the Arab world, and dispel the Islamic millennial fantasy.
Via Praktike, who very succinctly answered:
The Arab World needed another humiliation like it needed a hole in its collective head. The general reaction to such humiliation here (or anywhere, really) is not, contrary to fantasies of folks like Nick Denton, to embark on a mass regional modernization and democratization movement. Rather, it is to do things like elect Hamas, cheer for the Iraqi insurgency, and so forth.
OK, so this dates from 2002, but it grabbed my attention.
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Shock, horror: pro-Israel lobby mega-powerful

Haven't read it fully yet, but this long LRB essay on the pro-Israel lobby in the US is worth taking a look at. Here's how it starts:
For the past several decades, and especially since the Six-Day War in 1967, the centerpiece of US Middle Eastern policy has been its relationship with Israel. The combination of unwavering support for Israel and the related effort to spread ‘democracy’ throughout the region has inflamed Arab and Islamic opinion and jeopardised not only US security but that of much of the rest of the world. This situation has no equal in American political history. Why has the US been willing to set aside its own security and that of many of its allies in order to advance the interests of another state? One might assume that the bond between the two countries was based on shared strategic interests or compelling moral imperatives, but neither explanation can account for the remarkable level of material and diplomatic support that the US provides.
There's an even longer version here.
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The Arab press

Two good stories on the Arab press came out recently: this IRIN one looks at the regional situation, whereas this one looks at the situation in Egypt specifically. It quotes one analyst as saying the estimated debt of state papers amounts to $1.4 billion. Incidentally, when I was in Morocco I read that the Arab Union of Journalist was going to set up a press freedom watchdog in Rabat. It's being done with the help of the Ministry of Communications there, and the head of the AJU is former Al Ahram supremo is Ibrahim Nafie, so I'm not sure how credible it'll be. Still, I suppose it's a start.
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An Arab Spinoza

Haaretz has a great profile/interview with Al Afif Al Akhdar, a noted Tunisian liberal intellectual living in France. This is the type of people that should be getting more attention -- and proof that it's not Wafa Sultan vs. all other Arabs out there. Here's a link to a Google search of his name that yields tons of articles, and I like the way this one in particular starts:
In order to gain a critical understanding of the persistence of Islamic archaism and all its paraphernalia, one must approach it through the logic of its own history, as well as that of the Arabo-Muslim bourgeoisie of the 19th and 20th centuries, which is radically different from the process of European history and from the residual folkloric Christianity of the present-day West. Let me explain: some orientalists, such as the American Richard Michel, see in the activist Islamic movements a potential for reforming Islam. In other words, a way of rationalising it, thus bringing it closer to western liberalism. Such writers have clearly succumbed to the comic temptation of analogy and to the lazy facility of repetition. For, if one sets up a parallel between the contemporary Islamic Brotherhoods and the European Reformation, one is just making a mockery of concrete history.
If I hear the words "Muslim Luther" one more time... Update: I would have to read more to comment on it, but the Angry Arab says this:
This is a sad story; the story of an Arab intellectual who now is willing to join the chorus of Arab/Muslim intellectuals who are willing "to dance with a rope" for the pleasure of Western audiences (I borrow that line from a letter that Jubran wrote expressing his fears of his celebrity in US). I am not ashamed to admit that this person, Al-`Afif Al-Akhdar, had tremendous influence on my thinking, and helped steer me away from Leninism. I never met him, but knew his friends and disciples back when he was the prophet of Anti-Leninist Marxism. His principled attacks on orthodox communism in the Arab world, and on trendy Arab intellectuals, were eye-opening for me in my college years. Now, he has joined the ranks of vulgar Arab liberals--and with that journey he is less interesting and less original, and admits to be living off a subsidy from pro-House of Saud, pro-Moroccan royal family, `Uthman Al-`Umayr (former editor-in-chief of Ash-Sharq Al-Awsat). I used to read his articles and books several times over to absorb his insights. He was never a systematic writer or intellectual, but I enjoyed him nevertheless. As much as I admired him back then, as much as I disrespect his ideological journey, and his internalization of vulgar Orientalist cliches. Sometimes he sounds more like Fallaci, than like the early Al-Akhdar. Of course, Israeli and Zionist publications and propagandists have now discovered him. Ask them, how come they did not discover him when he was anti-Zionist, back when he was in the DFLP. How convenient.
That is one angry Arab.
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New ARB is out

The March issue of the Arab Reform Bulletin is out. I have an article in it about the future of liberals in Egypt. Here's the full table of contents:
Algeria: Debate on Constitutional Reform Robert P. Parks Bahrain: A Year of Decision Toby Jones Broader Middle East Initiative: Arab Governments Strike Back Bahey Eldin Hassan Egypt: What Future for Liberals? Issandr El Amrani North Africa: Islamist Prisoner Releases and Reconciliation Bassam Bounenni
I think Bahei Eldin Hassan's article is really interesting, especially as Egypt in particular made a great effort to sabotage the BMEI in Manama a few months ago, and besides I like him. An original draft of my article included some discussion of what Western governments could do to help liberals, but it had to be removed for length. My basic point was that countries like Egypt don't have the necessary liberal opposition base to be able to sustain Eastern Europe-style rainbow revolutions, partly because the civil society and NGO base has not been built. Considerable Western funding and capacity-building went into creating the institutions that sustained the rainbow revolutions of Georgia and Ukraine. There was an interesting article on the difficulties faced in creating the same dynamic in Belarus in the NYT magazine in late February, some of the problems described there would apply in much of the Arab world. (I'm not necessarily advocating these efforts, I'm just saying that replicating them in the region is more difficult.) I should also add that when I wrote that several of the most outspoken MPs lost their seat, I should mention that one remains: Hamdeen Sabahi, an independent former Nasserist who has been blocked from forming his own party, Karama (Dignity). What strikes me is that Sabahi faced a tough fight against voting irregularities in his district; it was the presence of a foreign diplomat on voting day that, according to some, eased some of the pressure off him. The 2000-2005 People's Assembly was, at times, the site of some heated battles and speeches from Sabahi and the other MPs I name (Nour, Abdel Nour and Farghali). One has to speculate that they were specifically targeted because they had made all that noise.
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Chahine interview

Via Fustat, there is a nice interview of Youssef Chahine on Qantara. I thought this exchange was interesting:
Do you believe that the United States or France would help "Kifaya" like they supported the opposition movement in Lebanon? Chahine: No. The U.S. is helping Mr. Mubarak. They put him there. He is one of their stooges. He always blackmails them: "It's either me or the Islamists." They prefer him. As far as culture is concerned, you used to be much closer to the Americans. Chahine: I used to be crazy about them. I studied in Pasadena. Has your attitude changed? Chahine: There's a rupture because I am sick of what they are doing. Not only in Iraq, even with me. In my last film, I wanted little bits of American musicals of the 40ies. I wanted some with Frank Sinatra. They said "Ok, we want two million dollars". I said: "If I am doing this I am honouring the American cinema." They didn't give a shit, they just wanted the money. Is this rupture only political or does it also have a cultural side? Chahine: I still like the American culture. They are very inventive, they always do new things. But the basic philosophy of a very, very savage capitalism makes them very violent. The films prove to what extent they have become violent.
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The middle-aged Irshad Manji

I second these people who are already tired of the fabricated media sensation that is Wafa Sultan. Moorishgirl highlights her endorsement (in a bizarre picture pose) of The Arab Mind, a notorious book about why Arabs are inherently backwards, while Aqoul has a great step-by-step guide on becoming a Muslim Reformist. Enough of this crap already. Update: Angry Arab joins in and berates Faysal Al Qassem for all this.
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How ethnic cleansing works

In Palestine, like this:
The previous head of the Civil Administration, Brigadier General Ilan Paz, issued orders more than a year ago to shelve the list, but due to a policy of closing off the Jordan River bridges to Palestinians a short time after the intifada began, Israel also banned entry to Palestinians with land in the Jordan Valley. Using the absentee property to establish settlements and handing them over to Israeli farmers contravenes the law in effect in the territories. The law states that absentee property cannot be allotted for civil use and must be handed over for safekeeping to the Civil Administration official responsible for government property, a representative of the custodian general. The Histadrut Hazionit, which serves as the government's settlement body, generally carries out the handover. Legal advisers for the Judea and Samaria region have noted the illegality of the handover and suggested promising financial support in cases of lawsuits filed by the Palestinian landowners. In an opinion written in October 2003, the attorney general said that if the matter reached the courts before it was resolved elsewhere, a chain reaction could be expected to take place that would "place the entire land area of the relevant communities at risk." The settlement authorities apparently did not report to the house and land buyers, or to the mortgage banks that issued them loans, that they were involved in what was essentially land theft, as per Mazuz's definition. According to the most recent state comptroller's report and military sources, the Jordan Valley land that has been handed over for the illegal construction of settlements and army bases amounts to thousands of dunams. Allocation for security purposes requires a specific injunction; but in several instances, the Israel Defense Forces has taken control of property without the necessary authorization.
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The ophthalmologist vs. the dentist

Ammar Qurabi, a dentist who serves as the spokesman of a Syrian rights group, was arrested in Damascus after he returned from a trip to the US:
Qurabi, who represents the Arab Organization for Human Rights in Syria, had left Syria in January, associates said. He spent more than a month in the United States, attending a conference on Syria, meeting with other Syrian activists and giving a talk here sponsored by the Hudson Institute. Late last week, he flew to Paris to attend another conference on Syria organized by the Aspen Institute, then headed back to Damascus. He was taken into custody at the Damascus airport and was moved to an interrogation facility known as the Palestine Branch and run by Syrian military intelligence, according to relatives. They said Qurabi was able to make a brief phone call to a friend after arriving at the facility. "No one knows the reason" he was detained, said Bahia Mardeeny, Qurabi's wife, a journalist who did not return to Syria with her husband and is now in Washington. She noted that other Syrians who attended the same conferences as her husband had returned to Syria without incident.
If you're puzzled by the title, Syrian President Bashar Al Assad trained as an ophthalmologist in London in the 1990s.
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Documents: Future of Iraq Project, Iraqi insurgency

A kind soul at the Memory Hole put up the entirety of the State Department's $5 million Future of Iraq Project (you know, the one nobody bothered to read) as PDF files. All 1200 pages. Here's the background:
Starting in October 2001, about a year and a half before the US and its allies invaded Iraq, the State Department spearheaded an effort called the Future of Iraq Project. Dozens of Iraqi exiles and international experts were brought together to figure out how to create a new Iraq should Saddam Hussein somehow be taken out of power. Within the project, seventeen working groups covered such areas as the justice system, local government, agriculture, media, education, and oil. The various working groups began meeting in July 2002 and continued through March/April 2003. Twelve of the groups released reports. The project cost $5 million. The project's observations and recommendations were almost wholly ignored by the administration during its pre-war planning for the occupation. Soon after the invasion, though, CD-ROMs of the reports were sent to the staff of the Coalition Provisional Authority. Among other things, the working groups foresaw the widespread looting in the aftermath of invasion and warned against quickly disbanding the Iraqi Army. The project's reports have never been made available to the public. In October 2003, "Congressional officials" allowed two New York Times reporters to view the reports, but they were not allowed to take them. Upon reading this, I immediately filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the reports, which was granted in February 2006. Eight of the reports were released in their entirety, while the rest were redacted to some degree.
I suspect it will become essential reading for the next generation of occupations. Also interesting is the Project for Defense Alternatives' compilation of documents that look at the Iraqi insurgency from sources such as ICG, Anthony Cordesman, WINEP and others. I've taken a look at the ICG and Cordesman documents, both of which are very interesting.
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