Taming Arab satellite television

From bendib.com

More moves to implement the 2008 Arab Information Ministers' Charter, which sought pan-Arab regulation for satellite TV programming:

RIYADH (AFP) – A proposal to create a pan-Arab television monitor is a "disturbing" move that could could lead to censorship of broadcasts critical of Arab governments, a media watchdog said on Saturday.
The Saudi-Egyptian proposal to establish a regional office to supervise satellite broadcasters is aimed directly at Qatar-based Al-Jazeera, the Palestinian Hamas group's Al-Aqsa TV and Hezbollah's Al-Manar channel, Paris-based Reporters Without Borders said.
"This proposal is disturbing, to say the least," the group said in a statement.
"The danger is that this super-police could be used to censor all TV stations that criticise the region?s governments. It could eventually be turned into a formidable weapon against freedom of information."
The proposal to create the "Office for Arab Satellite Television" is to be discussed when information ministers from Arab League countries meet in Cairo on January 24.
Reporters Without Borders said the proposal stems in part from a recent move by the US Congress to allow satellite owners to be branded "terrorist entities" if they allow broadcasts by television channels also branded as such.
Beyond a common interest in implementing censorship, this could also by a means to resolve the Arab media war taking place — with peaks and throughs — since the Gaza war. Egypt in particular is interested in calming al-Jazeera's coverage of the Rafah wall, and then of course there's always the Qatari-Saudi rivalries.
See alsoArab Media & Society had a bunch of in-depth articles about the charter, and we covered the ministers' meeting here (search for more).

Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

Sixth of October City in Second Life

OK, this is quite cool: an architect commissioned to create a new project in Sixth of October City outside of Cairo (which is currently mushrooming with competing shopping mall / residential / office projects) created the draft of the project in Second Life. The website for the project is here

Jesus guns

In August of 2005 Trijicon was awarded a $660 million dollar, multi-year contract to provide up to 800,000 of its Advanced Combat Optical Gunsight (ACOG) to the U.S. Marine Corps. According to Trijicon, the ACOG is "designed to function in bright light, low light or no light conditions," and is "ideal for combat due to its high degree of discrimination, even among multiple moving targets." At the end of the scope's model number, you can read "JN8:12", which is a reference to the New Testament book of John, Chapter 8, Verse 12, which reads: "Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life." (King James Version) (ABC News)The above image, from ABC News' The Blottler, may be considered bad enough on its own, but the fault is the manufacturer's, if we take the military's word that it was unaware of the markings. It's rather disappointing to see this from a military spokesman, though:

However, a spokesperson for CentCom, the U.S. military's overall command in Iraq and Afghanistan, said he did not understand why the issue was any different from U.S. money with religious inscriptions on it.

"The perfect parallel that I see," said Maj. John Redfield, spokesperson for CentCom, told ABC News, "is between the statement that's on the back of our dollar bills, which is 'In God We Trust,' and we haven't moved away from that."

Said Redfield, "Unless the equipment that's being used that has these inscriptions proved to be less than effective for soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and military folks using it, I wouldn't see why we would stop using that."

Well, one reason is that, with their overtones of Crusader rhetoric, it might be deemed offensive by these guys:

A U.S. Army sergeant allows an Iraqi police officer to look through the ACOG scope on his M-4 carbine assault rifle at a post in Hayy, Iraq. (defenseimagery.mil)Or that it will make perfect propaganda fodder for al-Qaeda. I can imagine the al-Sabah press release now, "infidel hordes equipped with Crusader weapons, purveyor of cultural decadence from Great Satan reports..."

The UK and New Zealand are asking Trijicon to remove the markings, after all.

Israel floods Gaza

Will the wanton cruelty never end?


The Gaza Valley (Wadi Ghaza) used to host a river with lush banks from Hebron to the Mediterranean. For the past many years it has been transferred into a trickle of sewage after Israeli authorities built a dam and cut the water flow.
Yesterday, the Israelis decided to open the dam, causing the banks of the trickling river to flood the homes of Gaza residents.
The BBC, silencing the perpetrator, turned the incident into an act of nature.
"On Monday seven people were killed in the region when heavy rains caused the worst flash floods seen in a decade."
Human Rights Group Al-Mezan described it differently, "For the second time in less than ten years the Israeli occupation forces have flooded Palestinian homes, fields and possessions of tens of families in the Gaza Strip."
No deaths means the English-speaking media is uninterested.





Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

Links for Jan.21.2010 special Nic Kristof edition

Handcrafted with love:

✪ Iran's Power Play in Iraq | Robert Dreyfus says Iran behind Iraqi decision to cut-off candidates on sectarian lines.
✪ Jordanian charged with defaming Egyptian president | Bikya Masr | Sordid.
✪ Lee Smith, American "extremists" and the Middle East - The Majlis | More of Smith's bizarre ideas.
✪ Israel Policy Forum Announces its Next Chapter with Middle East Progress | Israel Policy Forum
CAP and other foreign policy progressives: be careful when dealing with Israel lobbies, even if "soft", esp. if it doesn't have equivalent Palestinian groups on board.
✪ Norman Finkelstein: American Radical « P U L S E | I just watched this movie, review pending...
✪ When the Resistance Passes It's Expiry Date Asharq Alawsat Newspaper (English) | Abdel Rahman Rashed: the prototypical Wahhabi-backed "Liberal".
✪ Islamic fundamentalism to be topic at Vatican synod | The RomCats blame the internet.
✪ Egypt Bans Citizens from Working as Housemaids in Saudi Arabia Asharq Alawsat Newspaper (English) | What, were they being forced to or is it that the regime finds the profession so dishonorable? Will it provide substitute jobs?
✪ The Great Treasure Delusion Asharq Alawsat Newspaper (English) | Zahi Hawass on antiquities rumors.
The Guantánamo “Suicides”: A Camp Delta sergeant blows the whistle—By Scott Horton (Harper's Magazine) | Important story on three murders and a cover-up at Gitmo.
✪ Turkish man who shot Pope John Paul II in 1981 released from prison after decades in jail | And now thinks he is a messenger of God.
✪ On Martin Luther... | Facebook | The NYT's Nic Kristof calls for "a Palestinian Ghandi" or "Palestinian MLK" on Facebook, gets grilled in comments.
✪ Israel 'collectively punishing' Gaza: Amnesty | Collective punishment against the Palestinian Ghandis.
✪ Israel accused of silencing political protest - AP | How's that for a Palestinian Ghandi, ya Nic Kristof?
✪ Egyptian MP insists Christians' murders were sectarian - The National Newspaper | Coptic MP appointed by Mubarak disputes the president's interpretation of events.
✪ Israel to push ahead with settlement university | More insults added to injury.
✪ London-based Jewish newspaper attacked by hackers | Stupid misuse and abuse of a Palestinian flag.
✪ EGYPT: Parliament member loses legal immunity after gambling incident | Babylon & Beyond | Los Angeles Times | Used fake foreign passport to get into casino.
✪ UN 'deeply concerned' about health system in Gaza (AFP) | More results of the blockade.
✪ BBC World Service Programmes - The Strand, Tuesday 19 January 2010 | Interview with Iranian writer Kader Abdolah in first part of program.
Also, this confirms everything we suspected about Mahmoud Abbas being threatened by Israel over the Goldstone Report:
The request by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to the United Nations Human Rights Council last year to postpone the vote on the Goldstone report followed a particularly tense meeting with the head of the Shin Bet security service, Haaretz has learned. At the October meeting in Ramallah, Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin told Abbas that if he did not ask for a deferral of the vote on the critical report on last year's military operation, Israel would turn the West Bank into a "second Gaza." 

Diskin, who reports directly to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, threatened to revoke the easing of restrictions on movement within the West Bank that had been implemented earlier last year. He also said Israel would withdraw permission for mobile phone company Wataniya to operate in the Palestinian Authority. That would have cost the PA tens of millions of dollars in compensation payments to the company. 
But hey, what about that Palestinian Ghandi that Nic Kristof talked about?

Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

George Joffe on Seif al-Qadhafi's annointment

George Joffe, on Seif al-Qadhafi's comeback in Libya, in the ARB:

On October 6, 2009, Colonel Qadhafi, while attending a commemoration for the Union of Free Officers (the movement that planned and executed the 1969 revolution), called on Libyans to create a formal position for his 37 year old son so that he could properly serve them.  The next day, the Libyan Socialist Popular Leadership, a body that brings together heads of tribes and social institutions, proposed that he should become coordinator of its organizing committee, a position that made Saif al-Islam the second most powerful person in the Libyan hierarchy after his father.  His appointment was confirmed ten days later.

The significance of this appointment cannot be overstated.  It is, in effect, the formal endorsement of Colonel Qadhafi’s second son as his successor through a process of republican dynasticism, thus ending the speculation of recent years over how the succession process in Libya is to be managed.  Yet it is also a mechanism by which Saif al-Islam has been domesticated within the current Libyan political system, despite all his ambitions to reform it profoundly.  It remains to be seen how compromised his reform agenda might be in consequence.  It is also not clear whether Saif al-Islam has built up all the informal alliances within the power structure, the security forces, and the tribes that will be necessary if he is to preserve the freedom of action he will undoubtedly need to counter pressure from regime radicals (and possibly his brothers too) to displace him.

This reminds me of the leaks of letters between Seif's brother Muatassim and the US lobbying and PR firms that I blogged about in early September, and makes me wonder: were they leaked by Seif?


Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

Pipes agrees with Wilders: "Islam is the problem."

Daniel Pipes in praise of Geert Wilders, who in be tried for inciting hatred, in NRO:

Wilders is a charismatic, savvy, principled, and outspoken leader who has rapidly become the most dynamic political force in the Netherlands. While he opines on the full range of topics, Islam and Muslims constitute his signature issue. Overcoming the tendency of Dutch politicians to play it safe, he calls Muhammad a devil and demands that Muslims “tear out half of the Koran if they wish to stay in the Netherlands.” More broadly, he sees Islam itself as the problem, not just a virulent version of it called Islamism.

So how is he not an islamophobe, again?

One the things Pipes lists as a proof of Wilders' moderation is that:

Indicative of this moderation is Wilders’s long-standing affection for Israel that includes two years’ residence in the Jewish state, dozens of visits, and his advocating the transfer of the Dutch embassy to Jerusalem.


Jordanian soldier shoots at crowd in Haiti

Watch CBS News Videos Online

Crowd-control Arab style. Via Angry Arab.


Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

Hugh Miles: Prince Bandar in prison

Bandar: in the brig?A few months ago I saw an Iranian report that claimed that Prince Bandar — known as "Bandar Bush" for his closeness to the Bush family — was under arrest after having tried to plot a coup. I was skeptical, and emailed a Saudi specialist about it, who dismissed it instantly. Bandar hasn't been seen much since he left the US after being replaced as ambassador, and is probably unhappy with King Abdullah's policies and the rise of Prince Nayef as the most likely successor to the throne. This much is known. The idea of a coup sounded pretty far-fetched.

Yesterday Hugh Miles wrote in the LRB blog that Saudi dissidents claim Bandar and four generals may be held in prison:

According to Saudi opposition sources, Bandar is now in Dhaban Prison, in north west Jeddah, a high security jail where terrorist suspects and political opposition figures are held. Bandar is said to be in a special wing where the other prisoners are four senior generals: one from the army, one from the royal guard, one from the national guard and one from internal security. Bandar’s lawyer in the US denies he is in prison and says he has been seen out and about recently, although he wouldn’t divulge when, where or even in which country.

The last official sighting of Bandar in public seems to have been on 10 December 2008, when he met the king in Jeddah. Since then he has missed a string of important events, and no one will say why. In September 2009, when his position as head of the Kingdom’s National Security Council was renewed for another four years, he didn’t appear in public to profess his allegiance to the king, as is customary. No official explanation was forthcoming. The same month, Bandar missed the Dallas Cowboys’ first home game against the New York Giants in their new stadium. Bandar has been a Cowboys fan since he flew as a fighter pilot instructor in Texas in the 1970s. He normally sits next to his friend Jerry Jones, the team’s owner. Then in October Bandar failed to show up as one of the official delegation accompanying King Abdullah on his landmark visit to Damascus, which ended the four-year estrangement between Saudi Arabia and Syria that began with the assassination of the former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri in 2005.

But the most significant event Bandar missed was in December 2009 when his ill father, Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz, returned to the Kingdom after months convalescing in Morocco. As usual, the event was shown live on TV and Prince Sultan received many members of the Saudi royal family. Some senior figures – such as Princes Talal, Muteb and Abdulrahman – weren’t there for known reasons. But Bandar’s absence hasn’t been accounted for.

The lack of any official explanation of Bandar’s whereabouts is especially puzzling since he is supposed to head an important government agency. When he returned from Washington in 2005 after his 22-year stint as ambassador, his appointment as secretary-general of the newly formed National Security Council was meant to signal a return to the family fold and a higher domestic profile. In the months before his disappearance he travelled frequently to Moscow, both to negotiate arms deals and to try to persuade the Kremlin to halt its military co-operation with Iran. There’s been speculation that his activity in Russia could be connected to his disappearance: some blogs claim that Bandar’s supposed abortive coup was exposed by Russian intelligence.

That would be quite huge. Miles speculates that whatever the truth of the matter, Bandar's era of influence is over. This also means one of the major advocates of a strong relationship with the US is now absent, at a time when the next king of Saudi Arabia is likely to be Prince Nayef, who is less sanguine about Amreeka. And so, little by little, US dominion over the Middle East is being eroded.


Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

Michael Posner, Egypt and human rights

"Listen to the hand"

Those of you who monitor US democracy promotion efforts in Egypt — you know who you are — will have noticed that 2009 was eerily quiet in Washington when it came to that issue. Apart from the odd WaPo editorial taking the administration to task (as well as US Ambassador to Egypt Margaret Scobey) for not uttering a word about the Egyptian regime's misdeeds, and analysts such as Carnegie's Michele Dunne and organizations liked POMED fighting the fight to keep the issue alive at all, you never heard anything coming from the State Department or the White House. Until a few days ago, that is.

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Arab literature in the New Yorker

A couple friends have forwarded me this article in the latest New Yorker, about the increasing availability of Arabic literature in translation. This is how it opens:

What do you know about how people live in Cairo or Beirut or Riyadh? What bearing does such information have upon your life? There are, of course, newspapers to keep responsible Americans up to date when trouble looms, and public television or even the History Channel to inform us about the occasional historic battle or archeological discovery or civil war. What else do we need? The ways that people think and work and suffer and fall in love and make enemies and sometimes make revolutions is the stuff of novels, and Arabic novels, while not yet lining the shelves of the local bookstore, have been increasingly available in English translation, offering a marvellous array of answers to questions we did not know we wanted to ask. On such subjects as: the nature of the clientele of the elegantly crumbling pre-Islamist bars in downtown Cairo, straight and gay (“The Yacoubian Building,” by Alaa Al Aswany); what it felt like to live through the massacre in the Shatila refugee camp, in 1982, and how some of the people who still live there have been managing since (“Gate of the Sun,” by Elias Khoury); the optimal tactics that a good Saudi girl should use to avoid being married off, which appear to require that she study either medicine or dentistry (“Girls of Riyadh,” by the twenty-something Rajaa Alsanea, who has herself completed an advanced degree in endodontics).

The article analyzes Mahmoud Saeed's Saddam City, Sinan Antoon's I'jaam, Elias Khoury's Gate of the Sun, Ghassan Kanafani's short stories Men in the Sun and Return to Haifa; Emile Habiby's The Secret Life of Saeed the Pessoptimist, and, briefly, a few others. The discussions of the individual works are interesting; I particularly liked Pierpoint on Kanafani--whose talents ignite her own writing--and on Khoury--whose ambitions and shortcomings she deftly sketches. But as usual trying to discuss the simultaneously broad and sparse category of "Arabic literature in translation" is nearly impossible to do with resorting to some awkward transitions and generalizations.

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A question for Jeffrey Feltman

Not too long ago I wrote about Lee Smith's terrible book, The Strong Horse, which I noted is not just bad but actually hysterically racist in its essentialism. In the comments to the post, reader Lubnani alerted me that the Hudson Institute will be hosting the book's launch tomorrow. Guess who the guests are:

For over half a century, the United States has established itself as the Middle East's dominant "strong horse." Yet, with war raging in Afghanistan and Iraq — and the possibility of conflict with the Islamic Republic of Iran — does America have the resolve and the resources to maintain its status?
Please join Hudson Visiting Fellow Lee Smith to discuss his new book, The Strong Horse: Power, Politics, and the Clash of Arab Civilizations (Doubleday). Jeffrey Feltman, Assistant Secretary of the State Department's Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, and Elliott Abrams, former Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor for Global Democracy Strategy in the Bush administration, will offer commentary. Hudson Institute CEO Kenneth Weinstein will introduce the event. 

Now, I'm not surprised Abrams would endorse such a book by appearing at this event — it fits the bill perfectly. But how about a currently serving head of the State Department's Near Eastern Affairs bureau? Does he share Lee Smith's opinion that:

To be sure, a significant part of the Middle East, including Osama Bin Laden, is expressly at war with the US.


September 11 is the day we woke up to find ourselves in the middle of a clash of Arab civilizations, a war that used American citizens as yet another venue for Arabs to fight each other.


The Arabs hate us not because of what we do or who we are but because of who we are not: Arabs.


[In the Middle East] Bin Ladenism is not drawn from the extremist fringes, but represents the political and social norm.


Anti-Americanism is an Arab constant, the region's lingua franca, from Nasser to Nasrallah it has not changed in over 50 years.

These are all from Smith's book. Now here's the question:

Does Jeffrey Feltman feel these sentiments to be his own, or those of the administration he represents? Does he want his office to be associated with such spurious and incendiary material? 

I do not expect Feltman to only attend events for people or publications that he entirely agrees with. If he attends, I certainly hope he'll at least speak out on the matter. The topic of the conference — US power in the Middle East — is excellent; its title and promotional material most unfortunate.

Site update

If you're seeing this post it means the migration from self-hosted Wordpress installation to Arabist.net's new home at Squarespace has taken place without problems. This move will enable me to concentrate more on posting and less on technical maintenance, and we hope to introduce some new sections focusing on books and reviews soon. There will inevitably be some kinks to work out, so please be patient. 

On another note, at the beginning of 2010 our sub-site Arabawy finally broke off altogether. Hossam, an ardent open-source advocate, wanted to stay with Wordpress. Good luck to him at Arabawy.org, where he'll continue giving some of the best information on the left and labour movements in Egypt, and some of the most abysmal Scandinavian heavy metal videos. I'm glad Hossam — whom I spent over a year trying to convince blogging was worth it — has become such an ardent advocate of social media and web technologies. 


Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

Articles and more

Just a quick note to link to two new articles by yours truly:

✩ A look at Muhammad ElBaradei's entrance in the Egyptian presidential succession crisis, over at the new issue of the Arab Reform Bulletin:

The advent of Mohammed ElBaradei as a potential presidential candidate has introduced an unpredictable new element into Egypt's slow-moving succession crisis. For the first time in recent memory, a prominent member of Egypt's establishment has spoken out against the Mubarak regime. Even if ElBaradei never attacked President Hosni Mubarak personally, his indictment of Egypt's current predicament is all the more devastating because it comes from a man who appears eminently more qualified for the presidency than the heir apparent, Gamal Mubarak.

✩ An expansion of my argument a few days ago against Marshallplanism, in this week's Review supplement of The National:

For reasons that go beyond mere nostalgia for a more noble age of American foreign policy, pundits and politicians alike have issued innumerable calls for “new Marshall Plans”. Since the attacks of September 11, 2001, the ills of the Middle East, real or imagined, have been the central target of what I call Marshallplanism – whose adherents are confident that the American policy that worked for Western Europe can be applied anywhere, and that American determination and dollars, properly applied, can bring economic and then political stability to any place on earth.

Some major technical changes to the site will take place over the next couple of days, and while I there won't be any interruption of service, do be patient. More to come soon...

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

Links for Jan.10.10 to Jan.11.10

“Lorsque je commençais mon enquête sur le tourisme au Sahara marocain, je n’imaginais pas être prise à témoin d’échanges sexuels” « Ibn Kafka's obiter dicta – divagations d'un juriste marocain en liberté surveillée | On sexual tourism in Western Sahara. ✪ What the "Eurabia" Authors Get Wrong About Islam in Europe - By Justin Vaïsse | Foreign Policy | Critique of Eurabia theory. ✪ The Trials of Tony Judt - The Chronicle Review - The Chronicle of Higher Education | ✪ U.S. to store $800m in military gear in Israel - Haaretz | To keep in mind in context of Iran. ✪ Israel and Iran: The gathering storm | The Economist | Interesting story with background on Osirak bombing, Israeli prospects against Iran. ✪ Executive | Magazine has new books section. ✪ Strong reaction to warning of coup - The National Newspaper | Iraqis react to UK ambassador's testimony to Chilcot Enquiry that coup to purge Iran influence still possible in Iraq. ✪ the arabophile | New blog. ✪ Joe Sacco: Graphic History | Mother Jones | Interview with the cartoonist and author of "Footnotes from Gaza." ✪ High cost of living means more unmarried in Egypt | Bikya Masr | Stats on why Egyptians are marrying later. ✪ Arab Reform Initiative | Report on constitutional reforms in the Arab world. ✪ The architecture of apartheid | SocialistWorker.org | On the bantustanization of Palestine. ✪ The Venture of Marty Peretz’s bigotry: Arabs, Muslims, Berbers and more « The Moor Next Door | Kal on the New Republic editor's Islamophobia. ✪ The Forgotten Recantation — jihadica | Interesting post on the recantation of Abbud al-Zommor. ✪ 'Bush sold Arab states arms in violation of deal with Israel' - Haaretz - Israel News | Obama, more pro-Israel than Bush: "The Bush administration violated security related agreements with Israel in which the U.S. promised to preserve the IDF's qualitative edge over Arab armies, according to senior officials in the Obama administration and Israel."
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Poster for the Marshall Plan A few years ago I was contacted by a young researcher by the State Department's Policy and Planning bureau, which is a kind of internal think tank. The researcher had written a book about the Marshall Plan's success in postwar Europe, and was now conducting research into the possibility of implementing a Marshall Plan for the Middle East. When he explained this to me, I had to resist the urge to walk away or yell at him (it helped he was quite smart and well-informed). After 9/11, the idea of a Marshall Plan for the Middle East that would transform it into a zone of peace, stability and tolerance was frequently raised. After all, for politicians and some in the media it's a facile idea that has some resonance, it's based on a genuine success (although some say it's exaggerated), and it makes those advocating it sound like concerned progressive citizens of the world (albeit an American world.) This silly idea makes some rather grand assumptions about American's role in postwar Europe: that the Marshall Plan is alone or mostly responsible for European postwar recovery (rather than, say, the beginning of European integration or the dominance of leftwing governments with a good combination of social and industrial policy in many Allied countries). But it makes even sillier assumptions about the applicability of a similar program in the Arab world. There is no similar ability to exercise economic pressure on many Arab countries, as the US could on many European states that had war debt. Iraq aside, the US does not occupy many Arab countries, even if it has bases around the region. Its ability to project power in the region, while considerable, is nothing like what existed in postwar Europe. Jordan aside, the US does not have considerable control over domestic policy of Arab states, even if it can apply pressure (here compare to Germany, Greece or Italy in the postwar era). There is not even the same comparative level of industrialization in place in the region, as opposed to the degree of advanced industrialization that existed in Germany, France and Britain during and after WW2. Perhaps most importantly, the human resources are simply not there to steer such a region-wide developmental project in a relatively enlightened and democratic way. The US cannot implement a Marshall Plan in the Middle East, or even in a single country, because since 1956 it has implemented the Eisenhower Doctrine there: containment of communism and maintenance of US-allied regimes against Soviet influence. The fall of the Soviet Union has not changed this (perhaps only replaced communism with Islamism), and the Clinton administration only added to the Eisenhower Doctrine an embarrassingly lob-sided approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that reinforced the need for pliable dictators. A Marshall Plan for the region can only be a gravy train for regimes that are structurally incapable of producing progressive social and economic development. This is why it's sad to see the kind of op-ed published in the Washington Post calling for a Marshall Plan for Yemen. Aid might be part of a solution to prevent Yemen from turning into a failed state, but calling it a Marshall Plan introduces completely unrealistic expectations -- not to mention the kind of resistance it might encounter considering how US presence in the region is perceived negatively by so many. There is another reason to skeptic, for American citizens. Proponents of nation-building (and to some extent COIN, which entails some form of nation-building and pacification) always say "it will cost a lot and take time" but leave it at that -- just a caveat emptor. Well, doing things that have no guarantee of working, are expensive and open-ended doesn't exactly sound like a great plan, particularly for spiraling US debt. This automatic resort to a foreign policy success in the 1950s -- I call it Marshallplanism -- shows more than laziness; it's tinged with a (perhaps nostalgic) view of American power than simply does not square up with reality. Also read: ✩ Brian Whitaker, who's written a book on Yemen, has his own thoughts on the issue. ✩ Marc Lynch says a sense of perspective is needed in American thinking on Yemen, and tackles the aid issue by saying:
Development assistance is nice, and I'm generally for this kind of whole-of-government assistance and engagement, but Yemen is one of the most underdeveloped places on earth, with a vast expanse and an inhospitable terrain and extremely limited state penetration. It is also mind-bogglingly corrupt. Development aid sent to the Yemeni government will likely simply be funneled in to the same kinds of projects that are currently well-funded (many of them on the Riviera), or else wasted like water in the ocean.
Bernard Haykal suggests a regional solution involving the GCC, which seems much more reasonable to me. (I'm tempted to go on at length here about how Saudi Arabia is the key problem, but this is not my area of expertise so I'll shut up.) ✩ The Human Province also tackles the issue of aid to Yemen.
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Moufid Shehab and Egypt's Gaza Hysteria

The Egypt-Gaza border, by Flickr user Piersonr Inanities, the blog of journalist Sarah Carr, has a very funny translation/commentary on Egyptian Minister of Parliamentary Affairs (and Gamal's homme a tout faire) Moufid Shebab, who was the public face of the brouhaha over the Gaza convoys. There's the usual -- the "Qatari channel of discord," the "engineering installations on our eastern borders" to refer to the wall, lamenting that Egyptian media is not patriotic enough, etc. My favorite bit, though, was about the Algerian conspiracy to make Egypt look bad:
The media lacked information and the truth as it talked about the French people [THERE WERE ANOTHER 41 NATIONALITIES REPRESENTED IN THE GAZA FREEDOM MARCH BUT I WILL CONVENIENTLY IGNORE THIS] who came to Egypt ostensibly for tourism but who in fact had other motives - going to Gaza [SHOCK HORROR. IS THERE A SPECIFIC VISA FOR ‘GOING TO GAZA’?]. There has been a plan to deceive, and all the media fell for it. Most of these French people were Algerian women carrying French nationality [THIS IS COMPLETE TWADDLE BUT INDULGE ME] who took advantage of the protests for Gaza [TWADDLE DUM TWADDLE DEE]. These Algerian women are carrying the message of the Algerian media from the heart of Cairo [T WORD, AGAIN]. They appealed to human emotion but there was a political aim behind their actions. We all remember what happening in Khartoum and the consequences after the match on November 18 [A LOVELY DISTRACTION FROM HOW CRAP THE GOVERNMENT IS] In this way Algerian women came to Egypt with French passports and in their hearts they have taken a position against Egypt [EL TWADDALO, AGAIN. IF IT WAS TRUE, IT WOULD AGAIN BE A REMINDER THAT EGYPTIANS AND ALGERIANS REALLY DO HAVE MUCH IN COMMON].
Note that this diatribe also contains what's now the standard justification for the wall:
1. Hamas’ coup is the reason for the closure of the crossings, including the Rafah Crossing. 2. Egypt is committed to not opening the border formally because of the absence of a legitimate authority and, in compliance with the 2005 treaty, in order to protect Palestinian unity and avoid giving Israel the pretext to shirk its obligations in the Strip in its capacity as an occupying power. 3. To stop Israeli ambitions and plans to divide Gaza from the rest of Palestine; Gaza – the West Bank – East Jerusalem. 4. The Rafah Crossing is for people and not goods. 5. Egypt is applying pressure for the other crossings into Gaza controlled by Israel to remain open. Egypt has nothing to do with these crossings and they are: Karem Abu Salem, Erez, Kesoufeem [sp.?], Sufa, Karni and Nahal Oz. 6. The flow of aid through the crossing has not halted and Egypt has facilitated in all ways possible the passage of aid caravans in conformity with the rules set by Egypt. 7. Every country in the world protects its sovereignty and ensures the security of its land in cooperation with its neighbours. No state accepts the infringement of its laws, and it punishes those who do infringe them. 8. The attack on Egypt is organised. Israel was not subject to a similar attack by Arab satellite channels and some politicians and opposition figures when it built its racist wall [AT LEAST NOT HERE IN LA LA LAND]. This places all of these people in the same basket with regional powers who have adopted the inflammatory message against Egypt [DOCTOR THE MONSTERS ARE COMING]. These Egyptian measures are aimed at protecting our interests and our citizens against danger. They are necessarily and most definitely against the interests of Israel, which wants to push Gazans into Sinai where they will become refugees like Palestinians dispersed in several Arab countries and then the story will be over forever [AS HAPPENED OF COURSE WHEN THE ‘TENS OF THOUSANDS’ OF GAZANS STORMED THE BORDER IN 2008].
Note that, following the Gaza Freedom March and Viva Palestina, not only has Egypt declared George Galloway persona non grata but it has also banned any future aid convoys for Gaza.
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The labourer

My review of Hamdi Abu Golayyel's newly translated novel just came out in The Review. A Dog with No Tail is his second book, after Thieves in Retirement, and it won the Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature last year, given out by AUC Press (part of the award is to be translated and published by the press).
Abu Golayyel emigrated to Cairo from his Bedouin village in the early 80s, and worked in construction. This experience informs the book and inspired its original Arabic title, as I note:
Yet in the years spent lugging sacks of cement, smashing walls, pouring foundations and sleeping in empty buildings at night – building the residences of others without a home to call his own – Abu Golayyel found both material and metaphor. The novel’s resonant title in Arabic, Al Fa’il, is derived from the verb “to do”. It means “the doer”, “the actor” or, used as an adjective, “the efficacious, efficient”. In a grammatical sense, it means “the subject” – but in common parlance the world simply means “the labourer”. The English title is derived from a quip in the story, and works well enough. But the original Arabic title is particularly fitting for a book about the unstable edifice that is identity and the constant act of construction that is writing.
The novel was translated by our good old friend, and one-time member of the Arabist household, Robin Moger. Mr. Moger did an above-par job, his translation is a pleasure to read, and I expect we'll see more from him soon.
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