Funny because it's true

From the Onion:

Government Official Who Makes Perfectly Valid, Well-Reasoned Point Against Israel Forced To Resign

MAY 20, 2011 | ISSUE 47•20

WASHINGTON—State Department diplomat Nelson Milstrand, who appeared on CNN last week and offered an informed, thoughtful analysis implying that Israel could perhaps exercise more restraint toward Palestinian moderates in disputed territories, was asked to resign Tuesday. “The United States deeply regrets any harm Mr. Milstrand’s careful, even-tempered, and factually accurate remarks may have caused our democratic partner in the Middle East,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in an unequivocal condemnation of the veteran foreign-service officer’s perfectly reasonable statements. “U.S. policy toward Israel continues to be one of unconditional support and fawning sycophancy.” Milstrand, 63, will reportedly appear at an AIPAC conference to offer a full apology as soon as his trial concludes and his divorce is finalized.

What Obama did say

Below is prepared speech Obama just delivered. I think the most politically significant thing is in the first paragraph: "I count on Hillary every day, and I believe that she will go down as of the finest Secretaries of State in our nation’s history."

As with previous speeches, it's well written and was well delivered. There is a certain consistency with the Cairo speech, as Obama highlights. There is an endorsement of the idea of freedom and democratization (not that any US president has ever delivered a speech in praise of dictatorship — it's an easy score.) There was an admission of US interests in the region that would have otherwise made this speech simply too hypocritical (it's going to be attacked for that anyway). I'm just not sure why those interests should include concern for one state's security (Israel's) and not others. Nor why self-determination in the pursuit of liberty is something that doesn't apply for Palestinians. But here we tread old ground.

Read More

What Obama will not say

My new column in al-Masri al-Youm, on Obama's forthcoming speech, is here. I make the safe bet that Obama's speech won't blow anyone's socks off. An excerpt:

To be sure, Obama's speech will include an homage to the Tunisians and Egyptians and Libyans and Syrians and others who rose up or are still rising up against their dictators. It will include a pious call for a return to negotiations in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. It will promise American support for democracy in the region. But I doubt it will include a frank apology for having been part of the problem of the Arab world's enduring autocracy.

It will not acknowledge that America's Middle Eastern empire, with its ensuing focus on stability (with the occasional dash of creative destruction), is one important reason for regional dysfunction. The US cannot and should not be expected to intervene in every one of the region's uprisings, but Obama will not pledge to at least do no evil. He will not announce plans for the withdrawal of the US Navy Fifth Fleet from Bahrain, whose al-Khalifa dynasty now make for an embarrassing ally. Instead, he will probably choose to concentrate on Syria, a more convenient example of bloody repression. He will not recognize that America's closest Arab ally in the region, Saudi Arabia, now seeks to put out the flame of revolution he will no doubt praise.

Obama will certainly not acknowledge that, in the absence of any viable peace process, the best course would be to at least respect international law and the legitimacy of the principle of national self-determination. But that would mean backing the Palestinian Authority's efforts at the United Nations to gain recognition of its right to sovereignty. It might also mean beginning to ask what, if the two-state solution is unattainable, the alternative might be.

An interview with the MB's Mohamed Morsy

Mohamed MorsyFollowing a symposium in London organized by the Egyptian Community in the United Kingdom, a diaspora association of Egyptian Muslims in Britain, Arabist reader Dalia Malek had the chance to follow up with Muslim Brotherhood Guidance Council member and president of Justice and Freedom Party Mohamed Morsy and ask further questions about his lecture. She sent in this transcript of the interview and her notes on Morsy's lecture. 

As Egypt heads toward  parliamentary elections in September, the Muslim Brotherhood is spreading the word about its new party’s ideology. Justice and Freeom portray itself as working within an Islamic framework that is open to Egypt’s religious diversity, emphasizing its compatibility with religious minorities, women’s rights, and human rights.

The Muslim Brotherhood’s legislative body has delegated Mohamed Morsy to be the President of its Freedom and Justice Party, whose ambiguous distinction from the Muslim Brotherhood has been debated. Morsy is also the media spokesman and member of the Guidance Bureau.

In the lecture, Morsy repeated the Brotherhood’s claim that the party does not seek to promote a presidential candidate for the upcoming election and that it aims to gain no more than 50% of seats in Parliament.

Surprisingly, and in contrast with the recent claim that the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists have unified, Morsy stated that the party and the Salafists are distinct, noting the Salafists’ lack of political experience, and that he disagrees with the majority of their views. He referenced a Salafist leaflet that used the word “infidels” four times, depicting use of this language in a negative light.

Dalia Malek (DM): You mentioned in the lecture that an Islamic state that applies Islam properly does not currently exist. But we have seen other countries that purport to have Islamic governments implement un-Islamic ideologies and have poor human rights records. In addition to the diversity of religions in Egypt, even Muslims in Egypt cannot agree. Why do you think that this will work in Egypt?

Mohamed Morsy (MM): I was saying that in general, there is no such religious state based on a theocratic concept. There is no state in the world now that applies the meaning of “theocratic state.” What we have now is the civic state. Whether it does or does not have the flavor of religion is something else.

We cannot in reality call Muslim countries “Islamic states.” As you said, we see violations of the constitutions of those countries. But an Islamic state is by definition a modern state. It’s a civic state. You have three completely independent authorities: the parliament, the judges, and the government. Islam confirms these authorities to be independent. Also, the people are the source of power. This is also by definition Islamic.

When people have accepted the notion of Islam as a framework, violations within it will be minimized. It cannot be imposed on the people and it cannot be done from the top. It has to be initiated, created, and agreed upon by the people.  

Read More

Links 14-17 May 2011

I have yet again left the links list to grow much too long before posting. More travel this week.

Read More

Yasmine Rashidi's "The Battle for Egypt"

My friend Yasmine Rashidi has chronicled Egypt's revolution for the New York Review of Books. Her writings are now being published in a collected form as a ebook, which you can get from Amazon for Kindle or in various other formats.

Yasmine writes "The book is dedicated to the memory of those who have died in this battle for Egypt, and what proceeds I get from its sales will go to one of the youth-based movements that is working to help build a better, freer, country."

Get your copy now!

Why the Palestine Papers were leaked

Ziyad Clot, who leaked the Palestine Papers, on why he did it:

My own experience with the "peace process" started in Ramallah in January 2008 after I was recruited as an adviser for the Negotiation Support Unit (NSU) of the PLO, specifically in charge of the Palestinian refugee file. That was a few weeks after a goal had been set at the Annapolis conference: the creation of the Palestinian State by the end of 2008. Only 11 months into my job, in November of that same year, I resigned. By December 2008, instead of the establishment of a State in Palestine, I witnessed on TV the killing of more than 1,400 Palestinians in Gaza by the Israeli army.

My strong motives for leaving my position with the NSU and my assessment of the "peace process" were clearly detailed to Palestinian negotiators in my resignation letter dated of 9th November 2008.

The "peace negotiations" were a deceptive farce, whereby biased terms were unilaterally imposed by Israel and systematically endorsed by the US and EU capitals. Far from enabling a negotiated fair end of the conflict, the pursuit of the Oslo process has deepened Israeli segregationist policies and justified the tightening of the security control imposed on the Palestinian population as well as its geographical fragmentation.

Read More

Some thoughts on GCC enlargement

There's been a lot of ink spilled — and some pretty funny jokes — about the surprise announcement that Jordan and Morocco might join the GCC. I'll let someone else provide the Gulf logic for this move (see below) and follow that with some links to pieces looking at things from various angles. But first I want to talk about this generally and then from the specifically Moroccan perspective.

The GCC announcement appears to me first and foremost an economic and political stabilization package for two countries that are traditional security subcontractors to the GCC states as well as frequent recipients of their largesse — and which have similar political systems but are much more fragile because they are not insulated by wads of oil money. The Iran aspect has been trumpeted, but Morocco and Jordan were already on that bandwagon anyway, so I think it's secondary.

Read More

Europe, still rudderless in the Arab world

The FT has an interesting piece today about the (still distant) possibility that the Schengen system, which allows for free passage throughout 25 of the EU's 27 member-states, might be dismantled. There's been rising concern about immigration in many European states for several years, but it partly has to do with the Arab spring. Specifically, with the drastic increase of Tunisian illegal migrants making to Lampedusa island, just off Tunisia but belong to Italy, in recent months. 

The EU tried to do away with such obstacles in its 1995 Schengen agreement for visa-free travel, which the bloc hails as one of its proudest achievements. Yet populist concerns about immigration, heightened by an economic crisis and the upheaval in north Africa, have given rise to new demands to strengthen internal and external borders across Europe.

Read More

Cairobserver: cool new blog

Photo from Cairobserver

Cairobserver focuses on the modern architectural heritage of Cairo. Check it out for a discussion of why the current renovation of the Cairo train station is a disaster. I also completely agree with the suggestion that the NDP building's burnt outer shell be saved and incorporated into future plans for the building, as a striking reminder of the revolution (and the people's anger).  

POMED on Syria

In Tunisia and Egypt, the role of the military was crucial in determining the fate of uprisings. In Syria, as well, the military is the only institution that has the capability to lead a democratic transition. The sight of tanks rolling into Deraa might lead one to assume that the army is entrenched within

the regime. Indeed, the military’s 4th division is led by Bashar al-Assad’s brother Maher, an especially despised figure amongst the public. However, there have been increasing reports of rank-and-file soldiers refusing to shoot on protesters and ultimately defecting from the 5th division. Moreover, the Syrian people respect the army and distinguish between the brutality of the security forces, which perpetrated the 1982 Hama massacre, and the army, which is seen as securing the nation’s unity.

As such, it is important to closely monitor the behavior of the army as developments unfold. In particular, current Minister of Defense General Ali Habib and Chief of Staff General Dawud Rajha could play a positive role in the days to come. As members of the Alawite and Christian communities— both minority groups that fear the repercussions of majority rule if Assad were to fall—their potential defections could inspire these communities to abandon the regime. Moreover, the two leaders are viewed as military men with no links to the security apparatus. This relative neutrality could enable them to negotiate a transition of power.

It also calls on Obama to make a statement asking Assad to step down immediately, and working with Turkey to push for a transition. Where I disagree is on the the idea of the imposition of a trade embargo: we've seen where that leads in Iraq. 

Osama bin who?

Max Rodenbeck:

News cameras may zoom lustily into Middle Eastern crowds that vow vengeance. Pundits can cleverly parse the praise for a fallen warrior voiced by the usual Islamist hotheads. Cooler analysts will fret over the uses of assassination as a tool of policy, or over the finer points of Muslim doctrine regarding burial at sea. Yet for the most part the demise of the world’s most wanted man has been met, across the Arab and Muslim worlds, with a very untelegenic shrug of indifference.

It is not just that the denouement to this long-drawn-out western—with the UScavalry scouring Islamic badlands for fully a decade before dispatching the outlaw—lacked the visual immediacy that the Middle East’s drama-saturated audiences have come to expect. Nor is it simply that the Arab public’s preoccupations are very localized right now, what with revolutions—few of which seem connected to radical Islam—bursting out across the region.

Long before the choppers dropped into Abbottabad, Osama bin Laden himself had faded from relevance. His messages to the world had grown fewer and increasingly divorced from the concerns of ordinary Muslims. The last audiotape attributed to him, released in November, singled out France for attack because of its strictures on the veil. Earlier last year he had blamed the West for global warming. blasted Pakistan’s efforts at relief following deadly floods, and railed against cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad—five years after the images first provoked Muslim protest. Few bothered to listen to such predictable bluster. Bin Laden’s words failed to rate highly even in the jihadists’ own patch of cyberspace, which tends to he dominated by techie talk on weapons and tactics. or equally arcane exegesis of musty Islamic texts.

Read the rest at Bin Laden’s Death: Why the Arab World Shrugs by Max Rodenbeck | NYRBlog | The New York Review of Books