Unpacking Algeria's hostage crisis

Also read this post in Jihadica by Andrew Lebovich on the deliberate echo of the Algerian civil war in the naming of the group that carried out the hostake-taking:

When longtime Algerian jihadist and recently-removed AQIM commander Mokhtar Belmokhtar announced in December the creation of a new combat unit, al-Mouwakoune Bi-Dima (“Those Who Sign with Blood”), much of the media coverage focused on what Belmokhtar said about the new group’s role. As part of Belmokhtar’s Katibat al-Moulathimin, the new group would, in his words, attack “those planning the war in northern Mali.” Belmokhtar also said that an eventual intervention in Mali would be “a proxy war on behalf of the Occident.” He also explicitly threatened not only France, but also Algeria, calling the country’s political, military, and economic elites “sons of France” and saying “we will respond with force, we will have our say, we will fight you in your homes and we will attack your interests.”

At the time, few noted Belmokhtar’s important historical reference point in choosing this name for his new faction: the name al-Mouwakoune Bi-Dima was originally used by a group of Algerian Armed Islamic Group (GIA) fighters who conducted a series of attacks in Algeria and in France against French targets. Most notable was the Mouwakoune group’s December 1994 hijacking of Air France Flight 8969, an incident that ended when elite French gendarmes stormed the plane on the tarmac in Marseille.

The delisting of the MEK

Years of hard work by the MEK, their lobbyists, parts of the Israel lobby (esp. when it overlaps with the anti-Iran lobby and the neocons) have finally borne fruit. A rather strange, cultish organization that once bombed Iran's parliament is no longer on the US list of designated terrorist organizations. It comes at the time of the most concerted effort to put pressure on the Iranian republican regime since its creation, and with much talk of war as background chatter.

There's an aspect of the delisting of the MEK that may have some merit: the refugee issue, i.e. where resident of Camp Ashraf might end up because they're no longer welcome in Iraq (as they were under Saddam Hussein, and ironically aren't under the Iran-leaning Iraqi government that the US overthrow of Saddam made possible.) But it shouldn't overshadow the many other reasons the MEK — a fundamentalist guerrilla movement, essentially — will now make a handy recipient of US (and other) funding should things continue to heat up with Iran. Or indeed the story of how this was possible: perhaps not so much because geostrategic calculations as intense lobbying and a lot of money.

Selected links: 

  • On US decision to delist MEK | The Back Channel
  • MEK decision: multimillion-dollar campaign led to removal from terror list | World news | guardian.co.uk
  • US takes Iranian MEK group off terror list - FT.com
  • Iranian Group M.E.K. Wins Removal From U.S. Terrorist List - NYTimes.com
  • By Delisting the MEK, the Obama Administration is Taking the Moral and Strategic Bankruptcy of America’s Iran Policy to a New Low « The Race for Iran
  • MEI Editor's Blog: The MEK is Delisted
  •  

    The Bush White House Was Deaf to 9/11 Warnings

    The Bush White House Was Deaf to 9/11 Warnings - NYTimes.com

    As I've always suspected, heard from officials in the know — a must-read by Kurt Eichenwald in NYT on the Bush administration's scandalous negligence of the Bin Laden threat because it was obsessed with Saddam:

    The direct warnings to Mr. Bush about the possibility of a Qaeda attack began in the spring of 2001. By May 1, the Central Intelligence Agency told the White House of a report that “a group presently in the United States” was planning a terrorist operation. Weeks later, on June 22, the daily brief reported that Qaeda strikes could be “imminent,” although intelligence suggested the time frame was flexible.

    But some in the administration considered the warning to be just bluster. An intelligence official and a member of the Bush administration both told me in interviews that the neoconservative leaders who had recently assumed power at the Pentagon were warning the White House that the C.I.A. had been fooled; according to this theory, Bin Laden was merely pretending to be planning an attack to distract the administration from Saddam Hussein, whom the neoconservatives saw as a greater threat. Intelligence officials, these sources said, protested that the idea of Bin Laden, an Islamic fundamentalist, conspiring with Mr. Hussein, an Iraqi secularist, was ridiculous, but the neoconservatives’ suspicions were nevertheless carrying the day.

    In response, the C.I.A. prepared an analysis that all but pleaded with the White House to accept that the danger from Bin Laden was real.

    “The U.S. is not the target of a disinformation campaign by Usama Bin Laden,” the daily brief of June 29 read, using the government’s transliteration of Bin Laden’s first name. Going on for more than a page, the document recited much of the evidence, including an interview that month with a Middle Eastern journalist in which Bin Laden aides warned of a coming attack, as well as competitive pressures that the terrorist leader was feeling, given the number of Islamists being recruited for the separatist Russian region of Chechnya.

    And the C.I.A. repeated the warnings in the briefs that followed. Operatives connected to Bin Laden, one reported on June 29, expected the planned near-term attacks to have “dramatic consequences,” including major casualties. On July 1, the brief stated that the operation had been delayed, but “will occur soon.” Some of the briefs again reminded Mr. Bush that the attack timing was flexible, and that, despite any perceived delay, the planned assault was on track.

    Yet, the White House failed to take significant action. Officials at the Counterterrorism Center of the C.I.A. grew apoplectic. On July 9, at a meeting of the counterterrorism group, one official suggested that the staff put in for a transfer so that somebody else would be responsible when the attack took place, two people who were there told me in interviews. The suggestion was batted down, they said, because there would be no time to train anyone else.

    And then people laugh when you suggest Bush should have been impeached. In fact, it's him and his senior team (Rice, Cheney, Hadley, Rumsfeld etc.) who should be held to account. It's still not too late, 11 years after the attacks.

    On terrorism in Libya

    The car bombs that hit Tripoli on August 19 and following clashes with those believed responsible for them have highlighted the recurrent nature of such attacks in the new Libya — just yesterday, for instance, the car of an Egyptian diplomat in Benghazi was also bombed (no one was hurt). The government has blamed Qadhafi loyalists but it's unclear whether this is the case; there are other possible culprits. Having not followed this closely, I gained some clarity yesterday by reading an email sent by Geoff Porter, a North Africa specialist who frequently visits Libya, on the issue. He kindly agreed to let me post it here.

    The three car bombs in Tripoli on Sunday 19 August merit a quick Libya update.

    Although there were three bombs, the attacks in effect represent a single data point, so it is difficult to extrapolate a trend from them or plot a trajectory for security in Tripoli or elsewhere in Libya. However, when placed in the broader context of security risks throughout the country, something in fact can be gleaned from them – namely that security threats in Libya are evolving away from utilitarian violence to terrorism, violence that is ideological and idealistic. This evolution presents new problems for the General National Congress (GNC) in its efforts to get Libya under control.

    Libyan officials attributed the attacks to a group of men loyal to ousted leader Muammar Qadhafi. After the attacks, security sources reportedly arrested 32 members of the group, which they said is intent upon sowing discord in the country and is determined to discredit the GNC that was sworn in on 8 August.

    The Tripoli bombings were preceded over the last several weeks by a string of assassinations in Benghazi. The assassinations targeted former members of Qadhafi’s intelligence services, all of whom were allegedly on a hit list that includes between 109 and 900 names. It is not known who carried out the attacks. Some speculate that an unspecified Islamist group was responsible. Others think that a local militia with particular grievances against the Qadhafi regime is behind the murders.

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    On the attacks in Sinai

    The attack that took place yesterday on a checkpoint on Egypt's border with Gaza and Israel is a serious escalation of armed activity in the Sinai Peninsula, with a wide range of consequences on the young presidency of Mohammed Morsi, Egypt's relationship with both Israel and the Hamas government in Gaza, as well as the question of who controls Egypt's foreign and national security policy: the president, the intelligence services, the military, the ministry of foreign affairs, or all of the above (up till now, on diplomacy at least, Egypt had a dual foreign policy: one run by the presidency, another by SCAF/Intelligence — it was not going to last without some confrontation.) This post serves as my initial notes on the incident.
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    Yemen: Can AQAP mount an insurgency?

    This post was co-authored by the editor of the recently released report "A False Foundation? AQAP, Tribes, and Ungoverned Spaces in Yemen", Gabriel Koehler-Derrick, and the author of the same report. For reasons of security and to facilitate future research in the region the author's name has been withheld from the report. Gabriel is an associate at West Point's Combating Terrorism Center and an instructor in the Department of Social Sciences.

    On 15 January a member of a United Nations team was kidnapped from an upscale neighborhood in Yemen’s capital.  He was reportedly taken to the eastern governorate of Marib and held for more than a week by heavily-armed tribesmen who demanded the release of their relatives held on suspicion of supporting al-Qa`ida. The day of the abduction, word spread of militants from an alleged al-Qa`ida affiliate, Ansar al-Sharia`a, overrunning a city just 80 miles south of Sana’a.  A week later, footage of an alleged commander of the group, a tribal sheikh and brother in law of Anwar al-`Awlaqi named Tariq al-Dhahab, was posted on YouTube.  The clips seem to show Ansar al-Sharia`a fighters in control of the city’s mosque, enjoying support from some local residents, and for the first time on video, soliciting oaths of allegiance from young men on behalf of al-Qa`ida’s leaders in Yemen and Pakistan. (Click here for videos)

    Both events have been interpreted as the latest evidence of Yemen’s imminent collapse, an outcome especially troubling for the United States. Whereas the Arab Spring has spurred varying degrees of optimism regarding political developments in Tunisia, Egypt, and even Libya, Yemen appears headed in the opposite direction. The prospect of al-Qa`ida inspired militants moving to fill the void left by a faltering central government makes a bad situation that much worse. AQAP is not alone in taking advantage of the chaos. Across the country the Yemeni government is ceding ground to a variety of sub state actors. These include Southern Secessionists in the former PDRY (People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen), Houthi insurgents in the North, and since May of 2011 in Abyan and perhaps Baydah governorates, al-Qa`ida’s local offshoot, al-Qa`ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and Ansar al-Shar`ia. 

    Given the grim picture, bleak predications about Yemen’s future are inevitable. But they represent only part of the story.  The abduction of the UN official or seizure of Rada’a while troubling, are not proof of Yemen’s “failure” – much less victory for AQAP.  While these events might be conclusive evidence of collapse in a country with a history of a strong, centralized government, Yemen has never neatly matched up with Weberian concepts of sovereignty. To make sense of where Yemen is going, events must be evaluated using Yemeni metrics rather than ahistorical assumptions about territorial control taken from the West, or other Arab countries for that matter.

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    Bin Laden finally dead

    A bittersweet moment: he deserved to die, but it took so long  to track him down, despite all of the billions spent in intelligence and high-tech defense gear, that by the time he died it seemed almost irrelevant to the wider problems of the region. Also, to think of all the time and lives wasted, and the unnecessary, criminal ventures like the war on Iraq that were justified in the name of fighting Bin Laden. But I'm a believer in revenge, and symbolically this is important for the US, and for the families of the victims of 9/11. Let's hope this might be used as an occasion to turn the page in US foreign policy. 
    Several things do strike you, though. First, outside of Pakistan and the US this won't be much of a big deal — and it probably wouldn't have been either at any point in the last decade, which goes to show how the alarmism about Bin Laden being some kind of popular figure in the Muslim world was misplaced. Secondly, where's Ayman Zawahri? And thirdly, the amount of Pakistani complicity with Bin Laden really seems beyond the pale. From the NYT:

    The strike could exacerbate deep tensions with Pakistan, which has periodically bristled at American counterterrorism efforts even as Bin Laden evidently found safe refuge on its territory for nearly a decade. Since taking office, Mr. Obama has ordered significantly more drone strikes on suspected terrorist targets in Pakistan, stirring public anger there and prompting the Pakistani government to protest.

    When the end came for Bin Laden, he was found not in the remote tribal areas along the Pakistani-Afghan border where he has long been presumed to be sheltered, but in a massive compound about an hour’s drive north from the Pakistani capital of Islamabad. He was hiding in the medium-sized city of Abbottabad, home to a large Pakistani military base and a military academy of the Pakistani Army.

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    Egypt's amazing DNA scientists

    Forget everything you heard from the Arab Human Development Reports and Ahmed Zuwail about Egypt's scientific research and development lagging behind. The country actually has the most advanced bio-geneticists in the world, being able to retrieve all sorts of information from a DNA sample:

    Security sources: DNA reveals bomber was from Egypt’s Delta region 

    Authorities have announced that a body found at the scene of the Two Saints Church attack is suspected to be that of the suicide bomber.

    According to DNA tests performed on the body, the bomber is suspected to be from Egypt’s Delta region, north of Cairo. Officials say that investigation results show he was a university graduate with no permanent job, who left his family home about one year ago.

    Officials also say that investigations are still undergoing in order to confirm these finding and to track down the suspect’s family members for further interrogations.

    This new information refutes previous statements by the government, which claimed that the bomber was of Afghan origin.

    Wow. Just wow. Egypt has done such a great job at genome sequencing it can determine Delta genes, as opposed to Saidi ones. And it has the amazing ability of determining employment status, university enrollment and all sorts of other info.

    All joking aside, this piece is a prime example of why basic scientific literacy is necessary in journalism. Still, I'd like to know how exactly DNA sampling helped find this suspect — if at all. 

    Now here's enlightening analysis

    Lina Attallah on the Alexandria bombing and Egyptian Copts' re-politicization:

    While Coptic anger should not be misinterpreted as a sign of overall political dissent, the act of taking to the streets frames the tension along clear political parameters. This is particularly interesting given the decades-long state-engineered process of trivialising politics amongst citizens by co-opting religious institutions, such as the Church, by giving it full authority over the religious and social aspects of Egyptian Christians’ lives in exchange for preaching de-politicisation. This has consequently led to the Church playing a large role in Egypt’s Coptic community, encouraging its members to congregate, to become isolated and to direct concerns to religious authorities as opposed to civil leadership, resulting in a decreased interest in politics over time. 

    The anger generated by recent events has the potential to reverse this political apathy amongst Egypt’s Copts and could result positively in renewed civil engagement. The fact that their anger is directed towards the regime, as opposed to their fellow citizens, is healthy and could lead to greater solidarity between fellow Egyptians of all faiths.

    Column: Out of tragedy, opportunity

    My latest column at al-Masri al-Youm, on the opportunities arising of the Alexandria church bombing, is up. An excerpt:

    If there is a silver living to this horrible act, it is that we’ve seen a genuine outpouring of grief and indignation about the bombing, and a real willingness to break with taboos and platitudes from many ordinary Egyptians. There appears to be a growing realization that even if there is often little to be done against terrorists’ determination to carry out acts of murders, there is much to be done to defuse the tension of an environment in which many Copts consider the bombing the latest indignity they must endure.

    Out of this terrible tragedy, therefore, is an opportunity for political and civil society actors. It is no coincidence that many of the Muslims who joined with Copts in the last few days’ protests were doing so not merely in solidarity, but also against a generalized failure of the state to build a positive vision for what it means to be an Egyptian citizen in the twenty-first century.

    Note that a coalition of Egyptian NGOs has called for the state to act now to correct its own contributions to sectarian tensions.

    Terrorism in Europe

    Some illuminating statistics via Juan Cole:

    "A Europol report on terrorist attacks in Europe in 2009 [pdf] says that out of hundreds of terrorist attacks iin Europe in 2009, most were the work of ethnic separatists. About 40 were carried out by members of the extreme left. A handful by the European far right. See also this analysis.

    One terrorist attack was carried out in 2009 in all Europe by persons of Muslim heritage (I do not say ‘by a Muslim’ because terrorism is forbidden in Islamic law).

    That is right. Out of hundreds. Exactly one."

    Incidentally, not to nitpick on this one, but I find it rather risky to say that terrorism is forbidden by Islamic law. Someone will always be able to find a legal justification for terrorism, which also depends on how terrorism is defined. No religion can confidently exclude such legalistic perversions of original intent.

    Hamburg again

    Very thorough reporting on European terrorist plots alert at CNN.com, centered on that Hamburg mosque that the 9/11 hijackers frequented:

    The Imam of the Taiba mosque in Hamburg is Mamoun Darkazanli, a German businessman originally from Syria. The 9/11 Commission identified him as having links to al Qaeda financiers. He was charged in 2003 with membership of al Qaeda by Spanish authorities, but as a German citizen was not extradited. He faces no charges in Germany. Repeated attempts by CNN to reach Darkazanli for a response on the latest plot have been unsuccessful. In the years after 9/11 the Taiba mosque became a magnet for al Qaeda sympathizers across Europe. "They all wanted to come and pray where Mohammed Atta prayed," a German intelligence official told CNN. Hamburg authorities shut down the mosque a few weeks after Sidiqi was arrested. The decision to shut the mosque was difficult, say officials in Hamburg, because the presence in one place of so many militants made it easier to monitor their activities. But they say the mosque had become a recruiting center for jihadists across Europe. Several militants now back in Germany who failed to make it to Pakistan's tribal areas are of continuing concern to German intelligence services, who have kept them under observation. "Their greatest enemy is the United States," a German intelligence official told CNN. A recent report by Hamburg's intelligence services stated that 45 jihadists lived freely and openly in the city, from where they actively supported al Qaeda. High evidence thresholds under the German legal system have made it very difficult for authorities to make arrests, German officials told CNN. In addition to those actively supporting al Qaeda. another 200 Islamists living in the city are described as having "violent tendencies."

     

    Smugglers in the Sahel

    Interesting item from Algeria:

    ALGIERS (Reuters) – Saharan countries trying to contain a growing threat from al Qaeda have agreed to recruit smugglers to help them track down the militants' desert camps, an Algerian government security source said on Thursday.

    Al Qaeda's north African wing is holding seven foreigners, including five French nationals, in the Sahara desert after kidnapping them two weeks ago in an operation that underlined the growing threat the group poses to security in the region.

    The plan to enlist smugglers, who criss-cross the Sahara with contraband cigarettes and drugs, was one of a series of measures agreed at a meeting of regional intelligence officials in the Algerian capital, the source told Reuters.

    But what if the terrorists are the smugglers? There is some partial overlap, after all, and Algeria's infiltration of radical Islamist groups and alliance with Sahel smugglers have long been suspicious. Some noted Algeria experts, such as Jeremy Keenan, have pointed out the murky links with the likes of Africa's biggest cigarette smuggler, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and Algeria's military intelligence. Furthermore, this implies that Algeria's full cooperation with the smugglers on their main activity in exchange for information. We know regime-run trabando had taken over Algeria, but this makes the country officially a mafia-state.

    Links for Jan.06.10 to Jan.07.10

    Video: Egyptian police clash with Gaza aid convoy | guardian.co.uk | Another good video about clashes between Viva Palestina and Egyptian security. ✪ Rebuilding Afghanistan « London Review Blog | Narcotecture = Drug-financed ugly houses in Kabul. ✪ Israeli television confrontation is ‘a metaphor of the moral crisis in which Zionism is found today’ | Fascinating video argument - must watch. ✪ Israel to deploy Gaza rocket interceptor by June - Haaretz | So no more need for blockade, I guess? ✪ Ainsi disait Laroui à propos de la politique. Extraits politiques « min diwan Assyassa ». « Des maux à dire | On new book on M6 era in Morocco. ✪ Security Experts: Administration Overstates Domestic al-Qaeda Threat « The Washington Independent | Sounds familiar. ✪ Pro-ElBaradei campaign seeks collective proxies | Al-Masry Al-Youm | Interesting list of backers for ElBaradei campaign, includes Amr Moussa! ✪ Palestine Vivra! The French Heroes of the Gaza Freedom March | A nice account. ✪ Jerome Slater: On the US and Israel | New blog by academic. ✪ The Settlement Freeze That Isn't | The American Prospect | "The freeze is really a very thin layer of ice atop the river of settlement growth." ✪ BBC News - Egypt police clash with Gaza aid convoy activists | Unbelievable - Viva Palestina convoy sent through Kerem Shalom. ✪ Egypt to import natural gas from Iraq | Al-Masry Al-Youm | I wonder how much it costs compared to the gas sold to Israel. ✪ Saudi Arabia backs Egyptian plan for renewed peace talks - Haaretz | This peace plans sounds dodgy, esp. in its treatment of settlements. ✪ t r u t h o u t | Egypt: Rooftops Empower the Poor | Nice story on clean energy for the poor on Cairo's rooftops. ✪ Support the Cairo Declaration of the Gaza Freedom March Petition |
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    Links for Dec.26.09 to Dec.28.09

    Get Elected; or, al-Baradei Tryin’ (Part 1 of ???) « THE BOURSA EXCHANGE | TBE translates that ElBaradei interview from al-Shorouq. ✪ Could the Mullahs Fall This Time? - The Daily Beast | Interesting ruminations on whether Iran is near a revolution and the importance of Ashura as a symbol of the fight for justice. ✪ Op-Ed Columnist - The Big Zero - NYTimes.com | Economically, the decade produced nothing. ✪ The Angry Arab News Service/وكالة أنباء العربي الغاضب: Saudi Wahhabi Physiognomy: this man should be teaching at KAUST | Funny. ✪ Rasheed el-Enany on modern Arabic lit: not quite a Renaissance | Al-Masry Al-Youm | "I think the status of translated Arabic literature is better than it's ever been." ✪ Two Hamas members killed in Beirut explosion | Unusual... this attack was in a safe, Hizbullah-controlled area. ✪ Activists appeal to Mubarak over entry into Gaza - Yahoo! News |
    Egypt said it would prevent their passage because of the "sensitive situation" in Gaza and warned Monday of legal repercussions for anyone defying the ban. Around 1,300 international delegates from 42 countries have signed up to join the Gaza Freedom March which was due to enter Gaza via Egypt during the last week of December.
    Exclusive excerpt from Joe Sacco’s groundbreaking new book: Footnotes in Gaza | I'm awaiting my copy of this book from this great cartoonist. ✪ Sic Semper Tyrannis : Men on Horseback | Pat Lang on the Afghan policy war inside the Obama administration. ✪ Ardebili's laptop - Laura Rozen - POLITICO.com | Iran holding hikers and others because US holding Iranians? ✪ Anis Sayigh: and Israeli history of letter bombs | Angry Arab has an interesting post on the Israeli use of letter bombs against civilians. ✪ Officials Point to Suspect’s Claim of Qaeda Ties in Yemen - NYTimes.com | Rather suspicious, this Yemen angle at a time when people are trying to confuse the Huthis and al-Qaeda... ✪ The Lives They Lived - Ben Ali - The Chili That Shaped a Family - NYTimes.com | Sausages and chilli, served to Obama by an Indian Muslim Trinidadian. ✪ Mainstreaming the Mad Iran Bombers | Marc Lynch | Lynch on NYT op-ed's call for war. ✪ The Nevada gambler, al-Qaida, the CIA and the mother of all cons | The Guardian | "Playboy magazine has revealed that the CIA fell victim to an elaborate con by a compulsive gambler who claimed to have developed software that discovered al-Jazeera broadcasts were being used to transmit messages to terrorists buried deep in America."
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    Getting over al-Qaeda

    warhol.osama22.jpg
    Marc Lynch makes a good point about the Arab media not giving much coverage to the attempted plane bombing in Amreeka, and its possible al-Qaeda connections: people don't really care.
    In most of the Arab newspapers which I follow on a daily basis, the failed airplane plot didn't even make the front page -- or, at best, got a small and vague story. Gaza dominates the headlines, as it often does. Yemen continues to command considerable attention because of the ongoing clashes between Saudi Arabia and the Houthi movement, something which has been of far more consistent interest to the Arab public than to the American. Iran's protests are covered heavily. Most of the better papers also focus on local political issues. One of the only papers to cover the story prominently is the deeply anti-AQ Saudi paper al-Sharq al-Awsat, which leads with "passengers save America from a terrorist catastrophe." It's the same on the major pan-Arab TV stations. On the al-Jazeera webpage, the story doesn't even appear on the Arab news page, while a bland story about the airplane incident is only the sixth story on the international page (the same place it held in the broadcast news roundup; yesterday it was the third story in the news roundup, with the killing of 6 Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza the lead). It does not crack the top 6 stories on the al-Arabiya website today. The Arab media's indifference to the story speaks to a vitally important trend. Al-Qaeda's attempted acts of terrorism simply no longer carry the kind of persuasive political force with mass Arab or Muslim publics which they may have commanded in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. Even as the microscopically small radicalized and mobilized base continues to plot and even to thrive in its isolated pockets, it has largely lost its ability to break out into mainstream public appeal. I doubt this would have been any different even had the plot been successful -- more attention and coverage, to be sure, but not sympathy or translation into political support. It is just too far gone to resonate with Arab or Muslim publics at this point. The downgrading of al-Qaeda and the "War on Terror" by the Obama administration helps this trend along, even if the dynamics which produced it were largely local and internal to the Arab and Muslim worlds. The failure of the failed plot to capture even a modicum of mainstream Arab public interest speaks volumes to the robustness of this trend... though the frankly disturbing enthusiasm for the story in some quarters in the U.S. suggests that not everybody is happy to see al-Qaeda recede.
    I don't think there ever was much support for al-Qaeda among the Arab public, or any chance that al-Qaeda turning into a leading shaper of public opinion. That was even less likely as the Baader Meinhof gang and Red Brigades becoming leading shapers of European opinion. There may have been some misplaced and insensitive "chickens coming home to roost" reaction to 9/11, but I don't ever believe that a Bin Laden moment would be lasting. This is a crucial point missed by some in the West, partly because of the spin and focus the Arab reaction stories were given after 9/11, which represented shadenfreude as the leading Arab reaction. This in turn led to the moronic "why do they hate us" meme, which survives to this day largely through the efforts of Thomas Friedman and his wish for "an Arab civil war" (a notion that implicitly puts al-Qaeda as a serious contender in the "battle for Arab minds"). In other words, the Arabs have gotten over (never fell for?) the mystification and fetishization of al-Qaeda. Their governments now concentrate on its security element, which ultimately is partly a policing matter, partly about preventing failed states and lawless areas in the region, and in the case of Saudi Arabia about curbing tolerance for jihadism within the regime. When will the Americans follow suit? This is not to underplay the threat of al-Qaeda inspired terrorism (as the recent arrests suggests it is all too real), but rather to take the grand teleological meaning it is ascribed by so many.
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    Links for Dec.08.09 to Dec.09.09

    Les voix de la nation : chanson, arabité et caméléonisme linguistique | Culture et politique arabes | Very interesting post on Arab singers adopting accents and styles of different countries -- has great clip of Abdel Halim Hafez trying out a traditional Kuwaiti song.

    ✩ Comment l’Algérie a exporté sa « sale guerre » au Mali : Algérie-Maroc | How Algeria exported its dirty war to Mali: AQIM conspiracies.

    Fatwa Shopping « London Review Blog | On Nakheel and Islamic finance.

    The women who guard other women in conservative Egypt | On female bodyguards.

    Yemen’s afternoon high - Le Monde diplomatique | On the drug Qat.

    US Congress frets over anti-Americanism on TV in Mideast | The leading inciter of anti-Americanism in the ME is Congress itself, when it keeps voting for wars for Israel.

    Baladna English | New newspaper launched in Syria, but nothing on its site yet.

    EU Action Plan on combating terrorism | Document on EU CT strategy.

    What the US Elite Really Thinks About Israel « P U L S E | Most Council of Foreign Relations members think US favors Israel too much - v. interesting analysis of foreign policy expert poll by Jeffrey Blankfort.

    ‘The Battle for Israel’s Soul’ – Channel 4 on Jewish fundamentalism « P U L S E | British documentary on Jewish fundamentalism.

    BBC News - Dubai crisis sparks job fears for migrant workers | On South Asians in Dubai.

    FT.com / Comment / Opinion - Israel must unpick its ethnic myth | Tony Judt.

    The Interview Ha’aretz Doesn’t Want You To See « P U L S E | Interview Ali Abunimah not published by Haaretz.

    Attention Christmas Shoppers: Top Ten Brands to Boycott | Sabbah Report | Brands to boycott at Christmas.

    FT.com / Middle East / Politics & Society - Egypt’s media warn ElBaradei off politics | On the campaign against ElBaradei.

    ✩ Flourishing Palestinian sex trade exposed in new report - Haaretz | Amira Hass: "Young Palestinian women are being forced to into prostitution in brothels, escort services, and private apartments in Ramallah and Jerusalem..."

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    Links for 10.13.09

    Essay - The Collider, the Particle and a Theory About Fate - NYTimes.com | Speaking of the Large Hadron Collider, this is pretty cool. ✪ BBC NEWS | Europe | 'Al-Qaeda-link' Cern worker held | Terrorist attack of potentially cosmic proportions: "The suspect had been working on the LHC Beauty (LHCb) experiment, which is investigating the slight differences between matter and anti-matter by studying a type of particle called the "beauty quark"." ✪ Kurdistan Halts Oil Exports - NYTimes.com | Over payment dispute with central government. ✪ AFP: Hamas claims member tortured to death in Egypt jail | In other words, a Hamas member is treated like an Egyptian. ✪ Erotic Poet Cavafy’s Trace Fades in Egypt’s Mythic Alexandria - Bloomberg.com | The usual nostalgia for cosmopolitan Alexandria. Do visit the Cavafy museum when in Alex, though. ✪ Loonwatch.com - "The Mooslims, they're heeere!" | A newish website that tracks Islamophobia, with a particular lookout for the kind of people who write for Middle East Forum and other reflexively anti-Muslim, anti-Arab sites. ✪ Middle East: a Belgian solution? | Khaled Diab | Comment is free | guardian.co.uk | This is a funny, surreal headline but Khaled Diab is very misinformed about Belgian politics: the Belgian model is not pragmatic compromise, but rather wasteful deadlock. ✪ Ben Barka: Le dossier secret de la gendarmerie - affaire ben barka - leJDD.fr | Ben Barka's body said to have been incinerated outside of Paris. ✪ Tariq Ali: Ahmed Rashid's War | Nasty attack on Ahmed Rashid by Tariq Ali. Don't know if any of this is true, but Ali alleged Rashid operates on behalf of Hamid Karzai. ✪ Middle East News | Egypt detains 24 Muslim Brotherhood members | More zero-tolerance in Egypt towards people protesting in solidarity with Palestinians. ✪ Algerian Islamists in the Era of Reconciliation « The Moor Next Door | On the Algerian branch of the Muslim Brothers, and their relationship with the regime. ✪ New Statesman - Textbook injustice in Gaza | Gazan children go back to school with few textbooks, and anything else for that matter. ✪ FT.com / UK - Airline flies on natural gas | Qatar experiments with natural gas-derived kerosene, which makes sense for the country with the world's biggest gas fields. ✪ Netanyahu: No war crimes trials for Israelis - Yahoo! News | One day there will be many trials ya Bibi... and until then Israeli officials will be less and less able to travel abroad. ✪ Palestinian Memo says Hopes in Obama 'Evaporated' Asharq Alawsat Newspaper (English) | "JERUSALEM, (AP) – An internal document circulated among members of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' political party says all hopes placed in the Obama administration "have evaporated" because of alleged White House backtracking on key issues to the Palestinians."
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    Links for 09.01.09 to 09.02.09

    The first Islamic search engine? - The Majlis | About imhalal.com which filters haram links out of searches. Seems pretty useless to me but it's fun to keep on searching for dirty words, and if you try you'll see the site does not work very well. ✪ ei: Liberation, not a fictitious Palestinian "state" | Hassan Abunimah on the Fayyad plan and the alleged Obama outlines for peace, which he describes as including "international armed forces in most of the Palestinian "state"; Israeli annexation of large parts of East Jerusalem; that "All Palestinian factions would be dissolved and transformed into political parties"; all large Israeli settlements would remain under permanent Israeli control; the Palestinian state would be largely demilitarized and Israel would retain control of its airspace; intensified Palestinian-Israeli "security coordination"; and the entity would not be permitted to have military alliances with other regional countries." And of course no right of return. ✪ Israel PM vowed not to freeze settlements: minister (AFP) | "AFP - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed not to freeze settlement construction in the West Bank, according to one of his ministers quoted on Wednesday." ✪ Brian Whitaker's blog | Trials of a Jordanian poet | One year for poet who used Quranic references in his love poetry, gets threats from MB, mufti calls him apostate. ✪ LedgerGermane: Rectum? Damn Near Killed 'Em! | Prince Muhammad bin Nayif's would-be killer had explosives stashed in rectum. Ouch. ✪ Quarante années de crimes | Ibn Kakfa on 40 years of the criminal Qadhafi regime, which "disappeared" many dissidents at home and abroad. ✪ Iraq's flawed media law | Brian Whitaker on the draft Iraqi media law, which resembles that of other Arab states.
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