Crisis Group: Egypt Victorious?

The first Crisis Group report on Egypt's revolution is out. An excerpt from the executive summary:

This was a popular revolt. But its denouement was a military coup, and the duality that marked Hosni Mubarak’s undoing persists to this day. The tug of war between a hierarchical, stability-obsessed institution keen to protect its interests and the spontaneous and largely unorganised popular movement will play out on a number of fronts – among them: who will govern during the interim period and with what competencies; who controls the constitution-writing exercise and how comprehensive will it be; who decides on the rules for the next elections and when they will be held; and how much will the political environment change and open up before then?

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,

Omar Mukhtar, icon of the Libyan uprising

Omar Mukhtar

This is a first contribution by Arabist reader J Hammond.

On social media associated with the Libyan uprising of 2011, two images have become ubiquitous. One is the pre-Qaddafi flag of the Libyan monarchy. The other is the image of Omar Mukhtar, a guerrilla leader killed by the Italians in 1931. For Libyans, Omar Mukhtar has become what Mohamed Bouazizi symbolized for the Tunisians or Mohammed Khaled Said for Egyptians.  

Such a powerful symbol is Omar Mukhtar that 79 years after his execution both the protestors and the Qadddafi regime have battled for his legacy. Qhaddafi mentioned Omar Mukhtar during his rambling hour and half speech on February 21st. Qhaddafi’s  first speech as chief September 16th, 1969 as the first date to give his presidential address to mark the 38th anniversary of his death. Qhaddafi also financed a major Hollywood film about Omar Mukhtar titled “The Lion of the Desert” and starring Anthony Quinn. The film was released in 1981 and portrays Omar Mukhtar as an honorable fighter and hero. The film was banned the following year in Italy and not shown on Italian television until Omar Ghaddafi’s official state visit in 2009.  A 2009 Vanity Fair article points out that Qaddafi pinned an image of Omar Mukhtar to his uniform when meeting Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi.

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Libya state of play 2011-02-24

Map from Iyad al-Baghdadi showing today's state of play here. Also check our own Steve Negus's constantly updated Google Maps mash-up.

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,

Qaddaffi paying a fortune for soldiers of fortune

A recent piece in The Guardian reports that Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi has ferreted away billions in oil revenues. Some of which the writer argues has ended up in the hands of the mercenaries now fighting for Qaddaffi's survival in Libya. While on Twitter, Martin Chulov a correspondent also with The Guardian is reporting that an Air Force officer in eastern Libya has reported that 4,000 mercenaries have arrived into the country since February 14th. Additionally Qaddafi’s tribal allies in the south maybe bringing in additional mercenaries from Chad, The Bangkok Post quoted an unnamed analyst who said Qaddafi’s tribal allies in the south have been bringing in mercenaries as well. Additionally, the Facebook group “Dear Mr. President,” organized by anti-government activists alleges that Bangladeshi and Koreans are serving as mercenaries. 
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Germany trained Libyan forces, provided jamming equipment

Looks like the Germans provided the jamming equipment used by the Qadhafi regime in recent days, as well as special forces training. Not a nice way for the German military to regain importance.
No sooner was the embargo lifted, than German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder landed in Tripoli with an entourage of 25 businessmen. In passing he praised what he called the 'political change' in Libya. But his main reason for visiting was the promotion of German business. Openly so, and with the support of much of the German political spectrum, from his own center-left SPD, through the pro-business FPD to the conservative CDU. So he shook hands, made introductions, closed deals. He was photographed in an elaborate tent, and at an oil well, looking equally out-of place in both locations.
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A different take on foreign intervention in Libya

Following up on Steve's excellent post considering pros and cons of foreign military intervention in Libya, I want to add my two cents. For me, Iraq had made me a die-hard opponent of foreign military intervention of any kind. I like neither the muscular interventionism of the neo-conservatives nor the very similar humanitarian interventionism of liberals. I have a little more respect for the Responsibility to Protect concept currently adopted by the UN, which has surprisingly not been invoked in the Libyan case and at least sets out some communal rules about intervention. Moreover, I am specifically againt US intervention: the US is overstretched as it is, and it does not need the inherit the mess in Libya.
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If the tide turns: some pros and cons of military intervention in Libya

In the last few days there have been a number of calls for international intervention to try to stem the atrocities that the Qaddafi regime is carrying out against Libyan civilians, including military measures such as the imposition of a no-fly zone. (Sanctions and other steps have also been proposed, but I doubt that they would have much impact on a regime fighting for its life).

We might be past the point where the declaration of a no-fly zone would make a major difference -- the Libyan air force (that part which has not defected) does not appear to be terribly effective and airlifted mercenary forces in the east seem to be contained. The city of Tripoli and several other towns on the west coast do appear to be at the mercy of loyalist mercenaries and militias, and are suffering terribly, but there is probably little that could be done militarily, short of a massive and prohibitively problematic amphibious invasion, to rescue them. Rebels in Benghazi are reportedly beginning to mobilize to move west, so it's quite likely that Libyans will be able to complete the overthrow of Qaddafi without outside help.

However, dictators have come back from the brink before: Saddam in 1991, for example, although his hold on the country was probably never as tenuous as Qaddafi's is right now. If there is any chance Qaddafi were to stage a major turnaround, and bring major rebel-held cities like Benghazi or Misrata under siege, then the United States and other powers capable of intervention in Libya should consider what might be done to prevent a terrible humanitarian disaster.

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Western Libyan towns fall to protesters

This is a rather simple map which tries to get a sense of the ebb and flow of uprisings and regime counterattacks. I will to add more and update regularly.

Most of the big developments in the last few hours have taken place in the west: in Sabratha, a fairly small town west of Tripoli, where the regime has reportedly brought up heavy armor to regain control, and in Misrata, to the east of Tripoli, which AP and others report has fallen completely to the protesters. Misrata is 185km from Tripoli, and is the third-largest city in the country. If it fell because local army units went over to the rebels, and thus it can defend itself, then this would be quite promising. However, if Qaddafi still has enough mobile loyalist forces to move to Misrata, and the Sabratha reports suggest that he might, then this could be a another humanitarian disaster along the lines of what now appears to be happening in Tripoli.

Libya's oil infrastructure

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,

Lejan fi kul makan

Reports from liberated east Libyan cities suggest an impressive level of organization on the part of the populace, with most basic urban functions up and running. One wonders if Qaddafi's ideosyncratic jamahiriyan ideology, roping people into participating in rubber-stamp "Basic People's Congresses" to create a facade of direct democracy, has in fact formed the provided the institutional template for a countrywide insurrection against him.

A soft bigotry of lowered expectations

I have this commentary in today's Guardian (page 30) — it discusses Libya and Morocco for the most part, but the principle applies elsewhere: that both outsiders and many Arabs have set too low an expectation of the desire for democracy in the region. Here I'm not excusing real anti-democratic movements and sentiments that exist in the region (as they do even in democracies) or accuse an uncaring West, the point is more to respond to something that has been troubling me ever since the beginning of the Tunisian uprising. This is the idea that a people can be "mature" for democracy — which suggests that they can also be immature and unready for it. This idea or some variant of it, such as fear of Islamists, has been too dominant for the last few decades. Anyway, here it goes (and needless to say — as some commenters on the Guardian website suggested — I am not making a comparison by Libya and Morocco, they are incomparable. I am showing the two extremes of the contemporary Arab world, and that desire for change in both of them is legitimate.)

There is a phrase coined in 2004 by Michael Gerson, a speechwriter for George W Bush best-known for having come up with "axis of evil", that I've always liked. In a speech about education, he bemoaned "the soft bigotry of lowered expectations" that he believed existed against disadvantaged children.

For several decades, there has been a soft bigotry of lowered expectations in the west and among Arab elites about the Arab world. The prevalent thinking about this region of over 300 million souls is that it offered no fertile ground for democracy, either because democracy risked bringing political forces hostile to western interests or because democracy is not a value that has much currency in the region. Many regimes understood this, and played a double game of decrying their societies' "immaturity" while encouraging anti-democratic tendencies such as populism and, at times, a reactionary social conservatism. After the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, no one will buy this any more – and nor should they about two more north African countries: Libya and Morocco.

Here's the rest.

Burns in Cairo

This afternoon the US embassy held a short briefing and Q&A session by US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, William Burns, who is in Cairo for a three-day visit. Present were a small group of Egyptian print and online journalists and yours truly, representing this website, as well as Embassy officials include Ambassador Margaret Scobey, who did not speak. It's the only press availability Burns will be having, Embassy officials said.

Let me first say, for what it's worth, that I've met Burns before and I've always found him extremely affable — just one of these personalities that does not appear arrogant or abrasive, which isn't always the case in the world of high-level diplomacy. It certainly helps pass a positive message of US policy. We didn't get to ask a lot of questions, and the meeting was centered on Egypt. Naturally, Libya came up, and Burns answered a journalist's question about the impression given that the US does not care about what's happening there. Burns basically said that's not the case, pointed to Secretary Clinton's remarks yesterday, and simply noted that the matter was now in the hands of the Security Council.

The rest of the meeting was about Egypt. He noted that this was "a moment of extraordinary promise and extraordinary challenge for Egypt and Egyptians" and noted the "courage and tremendous peaceful determination of the Egyptian people." He said the "road ahead will not be easy and we know this is just the beginnning of a complicated democratic transition and know also it's a transition that can only be navigated by Egyptians themselves." He noted Obama emphasized that "Egypt's transition needs to be open and inclusive" and yield "real political change." The US is committed to the long-term partnership with Egypt, "particularly at this moment of profound change throughout the Arab world." Another strong statement was "I don't think the partnership between our two countries and our two peoples has ever been as important as it is today" — a statement indicative of support for Egypt and a continuing bilateral alliance, but also perhaps of concern?

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Seif Qadhafi's PhD thesis from LSE

A kind reader sent in a copy of the PhD thesis Seif al-Qadhafi, filed in September 2007 at the London School of Economics (whose former chancellor, Tony Giddens, was an advisor to his father). It's called "The Role Of Civil Society In The Democratisation Of Global Governance Institutions: From ‘Soft Power’ to Collective Decision-Making?"
Here's a somewhat relevant if stultifying passage, page 41:
Locke saw people as being able to live together in the state of nature under natural law, irrespective of the policies of the state. This self-sufficiency of society, outside the control of the state, was given weight by the growing power of the economic sphere which was considered part of civil society, not the state. The state is therefore constructed out of, and given legitimacy by, society, which also retains the authority to dissolve the government if it acted unjustly. Other writers continued with this distinction of civil society and government. The state kept its function of maintaining law and order that Hobbes had stressed, but was considered to be separate from society, and the relationship between the two of them was seen to be subject to laws that gained their legitimacy from society, not from the state. For example, Montesquieu saw the state as the governor and society as the governed, with civil law acting as the regulator of the relationship. The importance of law in regulating the way the state and society interacted was obvious to many writers who considered that a government that did not recognise the limitations of law would extend to become an over-reaching tyranny similar to that described by Hobbes in Leviathan.
Update: Ethan sent in this link to BoingBoing, which in turn links to documentation of plagiarism in the thesis. 

Qaddafi's bloody counterattack

An excellent crowd-sourced map on Google on the uprising in Libya has been created by one Arasmus, here. It's useful in trying to sort out all the various reports, to get a sense of the ebb and flow of control. Here's what seems to be happening: the eastern cities are protester-controlled, but Tripoli has at least temporarily been bludgeoned into submission and is saturated with pro-regime forces, other western and central towns are reportedly under attack by military units, and now Qaddafi is contemplating how to regain control of the east before his authority completely unravels. The regime seems to have a shortage of reliable forces, as the army is reportedly divided along tribal lines. (My very uneducated reading of a list of Qaddafa and allied officers in Mansour O. El-Kikhia's Libya's Qaddafi, pub 1997, suggests that they were then concentrated in about six or seven of the army's 45 armor and infantry battalions, although it might not be a comprehensive list).

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Links 21 February 2011

Terrible news and images from Libya today. On this first item, by the time I put this up Berlusconi spoke out, and the Czech reaction is said to be a mistranslation. In the US Clinton put out a strong statement, but still no word from Obama.
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Seham's Libya links #feb17

The indefatiguable Seham has compiled a long list of links pertaining to Libya.

Gaddafi vows not to flee Libya- sources

Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat- Libyan sources told Asharq al-Awsat that the Libyan leader, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, will not flee the country if the situation escalates, and that he intends to die on Libyan soil.=24232

Full Text of Saif Gadaffi's TV Address

Highlights of Gaddafi son's speech

Al-Islam blamed the unrest in Libya on tribal factions and drunken or drugged Islamists acting on their own agendas.

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Humphrey Davies on FiveBooks

My friend Humphrey Davies, a translator of Arabic literature (and, a while back, the translator and editor of a learned medieval treatise on flatulence in Tanta), was recently featured on one of my favorite books sites, Five Books. Cheeky Humphrey recommended some books that he translated himself, such as Alaa al-Aswany's Yacoubian Building, but that's OK since it is after the best-selling Arabic lit book worldwide in decades if not ever. I agree with his choice of Life is More Beautiful Than Paradise and Taxi too. 

I should be giving my own list of Egypt books soon to FiveBooks, so stay tuned.

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,