Paging Steve Cook on Egypt's generals

I missed this post on the raids on US NGOs in Egypt earlier this month, on Steve Cook's revamped blog:

So what is going on here?  It is hard to tell exactly what strategy the military is pursuing.  It has long been the case that Egypt has demanded American aid on its terms alone. The military sees its aid not as a function of the generosity of the American taxpayer, but as its own money.  The officers argue—not in so many words—that the aid is a payoff for the peace treaty with Israel.  They also claim that the assistance cements a strategic relationship from which Washington benefits on manifold levels. Yet there is nothing in the Camp David Accords or the Egypt-Israel peace treaty that enjoins Washington to fund the Egyptian armed forces. And while the officers may be on firmer (not firm) ground to argue that Washington benefits from strategic ties with Egypt those benefits have diminished in the decades since these relations were established.

As a result, it seems remarkably shortsighted for the SCAF to provoke the ire of the Obama administration and the Congress whom the officers lobby furiously to ensure their annual aid package.  Then again, maybe it isn’t.  Perhaps the military’s strategy is as simple as snuffing out the demands for democratic change through brute force and the officers have calculated that putting an end to a democratic transition before it even began is worth whatever price they will have to pay in Washington.  Either way, in terms of U.S.-Egypt relations, going after the NGOs represents yet another step in the long goodbye between the two countries.

Some thoughts on this: 

  • The officers may be relying on having allies in the US, notably at CENTCOM and DoD, as well as the usual Congressional lobbyists who will defend them. Congress may huff and puff, but is the US foreign policy establisment really willing to engage with brinksmanship with Egypt over substantial issues? Or does it just want a face-saving out for continuing to engage with what increasingly seems to be a sham democratization process? 
  • The Israel lobby may also back the above, as long as it gets what it wants from Cairo.
  • On the question of military aid to Egypt, it is also a subsidy to the defense industry. It will have strong defenders in Congress and elsewhere.
  • The real question may be, will DC simply return to the old relationship that they had under Mubarak if Egypt continues on the downward slope it has gone on human rights? Thus far the US has been pretty quiet, with the transition as an excuse. What happens in a year if we see more of the same? Want to bet that they'll just go back to normal?
  • If the above is to be avoided, then it has to be CONDITIONALITY CONDITIONALITY CONDITIONALITY. And not just for the military aid – for everything. And why not move to that right now?

On another issue Cook recently raised – the possibility of granting SCAF members immunity – I agree that it can be a good idea, as distasteful as it might first seem.

If Egypt’s officers were guaranteed immunity, allowed to keep whatever ill-gotten gains they have, and  assured that civilianization of the political system is not tantamount to destroying the armed forces—a mistake the Turks seem to be making—the chances are better that the military will yield to civilian politicians and a more democratic order.  If the experience of Latin America can be any kind of guide, these guarantees and the traces of the previous authoritarian system that go with them will fade away as democratic practices and processes become institutionalized.

It is hardly perfect, but “democracy with guarantees” provides a potential way for improving the conditions for the emergence of a democratic Egypt.  The immunity issue is no doubt sensitive and upsetting to many Egyptians and I certainly sympathize, but there is a larger project at stake.  It would be unfortunate for the perfect—in this case prosecuting the officers responsible for the deaths of demonstrators—to be the enemy of the good.

But the other side of the bargain has to be that all SCAF members leave active service and go into retirement and that the next president gets to appoint the next heads of the various branches of the armed forces. Tantawi will probably go but in July the next defense minister should not be Sami Enan, who is complicit in all the crimes carried out since February 11 and over whom many questions hang (notably about his relationship with Gamal Mubarak over the last decade). This is the key thing to fight over: civilian control of the armed forces. That might be worth immunity.

Egypt's passive-aggressive begging

Does this give you confidence about handing over money to the government of Egypt?

Egypt to ask US for clear position on economic assistance - al-Masri al-Youm

Egypt will ask the US government to clarify its stance on support for the Egyptian economy, Minister of Industry and Foreign Trade Mahmoud Issa has said, adding that the US is aware of how much it has benefited from its strategic partnership with Egypt.

Issa, who will visit the US on Sunday, said the decision making process in the US tends to take time since it depends on data analysis, but the current situation in Egypt requires swifter action.

Of course, decision-making in Egypt does not depend on data analysis — in fact it is totally independent of facts, reality, or indeed accountability. 

The background of this is accusations that the US is leaning on Gulf states not to give Egypt money (presumably until some conditions, or at least a more coherent approach to the international financial institutions, are met). I certainly hope US decision-makers wait until Issa — and actually, the entire Ganzouri government and SCAF — is no longer in power. Why throw good money after 30 years of bad? And where do they get off thinking that they are owed this money?

Give it all to Tunisia, I say.

Further thoughts on ElBaradei

I have an op-ed on Mohammed ElBaradei's decision not to contest the presidency in Egypt up at The National. I look aat how this fits with ElBaradei's trajectory since his return to Egypt in 2010. An excerpt:

When Mohammed ElBaradei returned to Egypt after the end of his tenure at the International Atomic Energy Agency, he had a simple mission: tell truth to power. Despite a campaign to draft him to run against President Hosni Mubarak, he refused to participate in any election under the undemocratic conditions that prevailed. On Saturday, he chose to take the same path, citing the lack of a democratic framework in military-run Egypt.

In a statement to the press and a YouTube video put up by his campaign, he explained that as much as he has held high hopes for the revolution that overthrew Mr Mubarak, he cannot participate in elections held under the military-run transition process. "To achieve complete freedom, we must work outside the formal channels," Mr ElBaradei said, looking sad but nonetheless determined.

Mr ElBaradei's statement will be interpreted by his detractors as an ungraceful acknowledgement that his presidential campaign is going nowhere, and that an Egypt that overwhelmingly voted for Islamists is unlikely to elect a mild-mannered social democrat. Some might even accuse him of bad faith, using the excuse of the military's excesses and a haphazard transition to cover up for the poor political prospects of Egyptian liberals like himself.

Even so, the moment is reminiscent of how, in 2010, he had shattered a taboo. Back then, he was almost alone among Egypt's establishment grandees to dare criticise Mr Mubarak. By preferring to launch a national campaign for change rather than compete against the deposed president in a rigged system, he refused to legitimise the regime and was one of several factors that contributed to the country being ripe for an uprising. And back then, of course, that worked - even if Mr ElBaradei had never advocated such an uprising.

There is now talk of ElBaradei launching a political party or some kind of movement (or perhaps just doing more with his existing National Coalition for Change). There are certainly a lot of people who feel that while his critique of the transition may be valid, he has not been clear on what the alternative is.

Qatar’s Impromptu Alcohol Ban

The Pearl

Jenifer Fenton reports from Qatar.

There is no flambé at Les Deux Magots, a high-end French restaurant on The Pearl, a mixed development man-made island in Qatar, which hopes to “redefine an entire nation” according to its sales pitch.

The sale of alcohol (and use even for cooking) has been banned on The Pearl (where I live) since mid-December, but a month later businesses have still not received formal notification of the reason for the prohibition or when and if it would end, according to interviews with more than a dozen people affected at various establishments. Rumors about the reason for the ban after so many years of tolerance for alcohol sale and consumption in five-star hotels and facilities have spread, ranging from the Qatari leadership’s desire to project a more religious image (Qatar’s attempt to stress its Wahhabi heritage while differentiating it from Saudi Arabia has been the topic of State Dept. cables past) to concerns about upcoming elections and a financial dispute between the government and resort developers.

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ElBaradei not to run for president

Mohamed ElBaradei has just declared that he will not run for the presidency. From Reuters:

CAIRO Jan 14 (Reuters) - Mohamed ElBaradei pulled out of the race for the Egyptian presidency on Saturday, saying "the previous regime" was still running the country which has been without a head of state since Hosni Mubarak was deposed last year.

"My conscience does not permit me to run for the presidency or any other official position unless it is within a democratic framework," the former head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog said in a statement.

There have been several reasons cited, besides the whole "democratic framework" business. Aside from the manner in which SCAF has run things, ElBaradei is also said to oppose SCAF's desire to rapidly draft a new constitution before the presidential elections are held — a step criticized for being against the agreed transition order. The question now is whether the opinions of anyone but SCAF and the Muslim Brothers matter.

ElBaradei has been a lackluster political presence for the last six months, with many of his erstwhile supporters believing his political career was over, largely because of his own lack of energy. Most believed he stood little chance in an election.

Nonetheless, ElBaradei's announcement may have an impact on mainstream views of the Egyptian revolution thus far. His charge that the Mubarak regime is still in place should fan the flames of those who want a second revolution on January 25, and counters the Muslim Brothers' narrative that one must go on with the transition through parliament until a handover of power to a new president. It also encourages the narrative of a dastardly MB-military alliance against a genuine democratic transformation of the country (further evidence of that would be MB assurances of immunity to the SCAF generals — not necessarily a bad compromise, but in this context quite damaging to the MB).

The big question may be what's next: if he's not running for the presidency, is ElBaradei willing to take the lead in the movement against the current transition, including further protests against the SCAF? That's not clear just yet, and somehow I doubt that a man who has shown aversion to street protests will take that route.

Update: Here is ElBaradei's statement, published by al-Tahrir newspaper today [Ar]. And here's an English translation.

Update 2: Here's ElBaradei's video statement.

Better distribution can defeat censorship

There is a good piece by Muhammad Khawly on film censorship up at al-Akhbar:

Cairo – “Early in the game, the Muslim Brotherhood has shown their true colors,” wrote art and cinema supporters on social networking sites in Egypt.

This statement and others like it were made in response to the authorities’ decision to withdraw the movie Wahed Sahih (A whole one) from Egyptian theaters.

“The Egyptian Board of Censors has said they intend to reevaluate the movie in order to delete some scenes and remove language that “deviates from public morality,” according to Sayed Khattab, the head of the board.

Khattab said that he plans to “form a committee to watch the movie a second time, a week after its release...because I received angry feedback on the expressions uttered by actress Basma [Hassan] in the movie.”

Of course the fact that Islamists are on the rise makes many worried about moral censorship. But that is only part of the picture. First of all, under Mubarak, censorship was widespread and often religiously-motivated. At least there will be (once military censorship is removed from the media) much less political censorship, hopefully, in the future of Egypt. That moral censorship — against irreverent treatment of religious matters, sexuality or foul language — will remain is actually largely more of the same, even if you had occasional waves of relative tolerance (often followed by a hardline to outflank conservatives) on this issue.  

To me, censorship is only a small part of the problem, and one that has a relatively obvious solution: better distribution. Lack of good distribution channels seems to me a bigger problem than censorship. It's virtually impossible to buy many movies — new or old — in Egypt because they do not exist on DVD and there are few online sources of digital media (particularly legal ones that could remunerate the film's creators). Movies are screened in theaters and then can often disappear forever. 

Digital distribution in particular could be one way to circumvent censorship, by creating a censored version and an "uncut" one available online (and thus circumventing national-level censorship). Even if it will then be accessible to a sub-section of the population initially, at least it will be out there. I cannot count the number of times I was frustrated by wanting to obtain (and pay for) a copy of a film I missed in the theaters. At least, it would be a good insurance policy against the ongoing battle with state censors.

Israel is bad for the US, part 2342345

Mark Perry in Foreign Policy:

Buried deep in the archives of America's intelligence services are a series of memos, written during the last years of President George W. Bush's administration, that describe how Israeli Mossad officers recruited operatives belonging to the terrorist group Jundallah by passing themselves off as American agents. According to two U.S. intelligence officials, the Israelis, flush with American dollars and toting U.S. passports, posed as CIA officers in recruiting Jundallah operatives -- what is commonly referred to as a "false flag" operation.

The memos, as described by the sources, one of whom has read them and another who is intimately familiar with the case, investigated and debunked reports from 2007 and 2008 accusing the CIA, at the direction of the White House, of covertly supporting Jundallah -- a Pakistan-based Sunni extremist organization. Jundallah, according to the U.S. government and published reports, is responsible for assassinating Iranian government officials and killing Iranian women and children.

. . .

"The report sparked White House concerns that Israel's program was putting Americans at risk," the intelligence officer told me. "There's no question that the U.S. has cooperated with Israel in intelligence-gathering operations against the Iranians, but this was different. No matter what anyone thinks, we're not in the business of assassinating Iranian officials or killing Iranian civilians."

Wonder if that's still true. Juan Cole has more commentary reminding us that is part of a bigger pattern:

Israeli right wing governments have often been perfidious “allies.” Their political agent in the United States, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), has assiduously spied on America, garnering military, technological and trade secrets. The spying is so normal that when AIPAC fired the longtime head of its Mideast bureau, Steven Rosen, was caught passing classified Pentagon documents to the Israeli embassy, he sued AIPAC on the grounds that he was only acting as AIPAC operatives routinely did, given the long history of domestic espionage conducted by that organization.

Likewise, the assassination by Mossad operatives in Dubai of alleged Hamas figure Mahmoud al-Mabhouh involved massive identity theft by Israeli agents of names, passports and other information of nationals from countries considered friendly to Israel such as Australia and the UK. 1) Identity theft is wrong. 2) Stealing another person’s identity to commit murder is wrong, both because murder is a crime and because the consequences of the murder would then fall on an innocent. 3) Israel was clearly attempting to deflect a) international blame and b) any Hamas retaliation onto the innocent citizens of countries that supported Israel. That’s about as sleazy as you can get.

Overdoing Islamist panic

John Bradley, a British journalist who has written books about Egypt and Saudi Arabia, has a new book out. And it's all about how the Arab uprisings were the most horrible thing ever to happen, how the Islamists have taken over everything, and everyone is stupid for hoping that some form of democracy might finally come to the Arab world.

Bradley's book on Egypt captured well the sense that things were coming to an end, and being subtitled "The land of the pharaohs on the brink of a revolution," he can claim uncanny prescience. But in fact, the book did not really predict anything specific other than the exhaustion of the legitimacy of the Mubarak regime, and had other problems. One of them was a very hostile treatment of Islamists — not that they don't deserve a cautious approach, but it was very much over the top — I remember for instance an odd passage in which Bradley gets pissed off with the then Deputy General Guide of the Muslim Brothers, Muhammad Habib, for speaking polished fusha rather than aamiya.

Since the Arab Spring — which Bradley has taken to calling the Salafi Spring — he has been resoundly negative and pessimistic, and often alarmist about the electoral victories of Islamist parties in Tunisia and Egypt. I downloaded the first chapter of his new book, After the Arab Spring: How Islamist have hijacked the Middle East revolts and found him resolutely negative about Tunisia (Tunisia for Pete's sake!), only citing Tunisians who worry about the victory of Ennahda (in my experience a minority) and taking incidents that were likely political manipulations like the whole Persepolis affair of last summer as signs of an impending totalitarian imposition of Sharia law. He almost sounds nostalgic about the supposed liberalism of Ben Ali! 

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In Translation: Samer Soliman on revolution and reform

For the last few weeks, a favorite topic of conversation around many Cairene tables - particularly those of activists and the politically involved - is how to commemorate the upcoming anniversary of the 25 January uprising. For some, it should be a celebration of the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak. At the other end of the spectrum, more radical activists are calling for a "second revolution" and a repeat of the events of late January 2011, when, in the revolutionary narrative, "the people defeated the police state." The emerging dominant political players in Egypt - most notably the Muslim Brotherhood - have approached this issue carefully. They do not want another wave of protests only two days after the parliament that they control opens. They want to give some space to lingering grievances, but also control the situation in case radicals push for things to go another way.

I picked the following article because it reminded me of a conversation I recently had (at an excellent Iranian table - thanks P.) with two leading Egyptian human rights workers who worried that many of their friends had taken up revolutionary theory, were tempted by using violence against the state, and unwilling to see that they were a minority. In the article below, Samer Soliman, who teaches at AUC and is a well-known liberal writer, takes those types of revolutionaries to task.

As always, translation is provided by the awesome Industry Arabic, purveyors of fine translation services and more. 

 

A critical stance in support of my colleagues in the Revolution

By Samer Soliman, al-Shurouk, 9 January 2012

The revolution’s one-year anniversary represents a chance for reassessment and self-criticism by all those who participated in it. From this standpoint, the criticism that I direct at the positions and ideas of some of my revolutionary colleagues is the criticism of a comrade and has no trace of superiority. Its aim is to improve the performance of reform and revolutionary currents and get past unnecessary divisions in order to achieve our shared goal: establishing a state based on freedom, social justice and human dignity. I have four criticisms for some of my colleagues.

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Carter, SCAF and the Egyptian elections

I attended the press conference organized by the Carter Center this morning, featuring Jimmy Carter. The full press release is below, but the basic takeaway word to describer the Center's estimate of the conduct of the first post-Mubarak elections is "acceptable".

President Carter used the word several times, and if you drill down in the details of their report you can tell they have major reservations about the conduct of the elections, particularly the vote-counting (some of this has already been taken on board by the Egyptian authorities, for instance the idea of counting votes inside of polling stations rather than in "chaotic" (the Carter Center's word) polling stations. My impression, talking on background with several people there, is that there were some serious problems with the elections, most of which were due to disorganization rather than malice, and that in any case since most of the Egyptian political class is accepting the results, there is no reason to make a bigger deal of it. Perhaps the biggest note of disappointment comes with the very few seats won by women and the fact that there was minimal effort to secure a better chance for female candidates.

The other amusing thing is that much of the press conference was not about the elections, but rather the post-elections battle between parliament (i.e. the Muslim Brothers, mostly) and the military, and to a lesser extent Camp David. Carter stressed that all of the party leaders he spoke to were in favor of maintaining the treaty, and again chose to stress that the Camp David agreement had two parts: one on Egyptian-Israeli peace, which has been implemented, and another that he described as "a guarantee of Palestinian rights," which he had already said recently both Israel and Egypt had fallen short on (I posted on that yesterday). 

On the relationship between the military and civilians, Carter said that he was given the impression (noted in an interview with the NYT two days ago), in his meeting with SCAF, that they intended to retain some power after the transfer of power to a new president. Here's David Kirkpatrick's Times story from Wednesday:

 

CAIRO — Former President Jimmy Carter said Wednesday that after meeting with Egypt’s military rulers he doubted they would fully submit to the authority of the civilian democracy they had promised to install.

“ ‘Full civilian control’ is a little excessive, I think,” Mr. Carter said, after describing a meeting he had Tuesday with Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, leader of the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, or SCAF. “I don’t think the SCAF is going to turn over full responsibility to the civilian government. There are going to be some privileges of the military that would probably be protected.”

Mr. Carter’s assessments of Egypt’s political transition are significant in part because his role in the Camp David accords made him a revered figure here, with singular access at all levels of the Egyptian government and society. He was here Wednesday with a team from his human rights organization, the Carter Center, to help monitor the end of the last day of the final round of the first parliamentary elections since the ouster last February of President Hosni Mubarak.

 

However, SCAF issued a statement denying that it intends to retain some power after the transfer of power to civilians, as it has in the past. Carter gracefully accepted their correction, did not appear convinced, and seemed eager to discuss this "misunderstanding."

More coverage of this here: WaPo | AFP | Ahram | Jazeera | Reuters

The full press release from the Carter Center is after the jump, and contains detailed recommendations.

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Carter on Camp David

Some interesting highlights from Abigail Hauslohner's TIME interview with Jimmy Carter, who is in Cairo at the moment:

Right, the ones who voted. Would you see that any differently if this newly elected government opts to abandon Camp David?
There is no chance of that in the world, in my opinion.

Why?
Because the peace treaty that I helped negotiate between Israel and Egypt is so precious and so beneficial to Egypt [that] to renounce it and to take a chance on going back to war with Israel — as they did four times in the 25 years before I became president — is almost inconceivable. And even the Muslim Brotherhood has made public statements in the past that they support the continuation of the treaty. There is one element of the Camp David accords that has been abandoned in the past, even in Egypt, and that is the protection of the Palestinian rights. This was a major part of the agreement that I worked out with [Israeli Prime Minister Menachem] Begin and [Egyptian President Anwar] Sadat 30-something years ago... peace between Israel and Egypt and protection of Palestinian rights. And even the Egyptian leaders in the past few years have not honored their commitment to protect Palestinian rights. And I think that will be one change made by the future civilian government.

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The only democracy in the region, cont.

To me it's always been self-evident that Israel is not a democracy (both because its discrimination against non-Jews within its internationally recognized borders and its military occupation and rule over the Palestinian Occupied Territories) but many Israelis are themselves shocked at the formalization of discrimination against Israeli citizens who are not Jewish. Here's how Jerry Haber aka "The Magnes Zionist" puts it (last link below):

Yesterday, the State of Israel became the first western state whose High Court ruled that some citizens have fewer fundamental rights than other citizens based on their ethnicity. Actually, it had done so before, but yesterday it rejected  the most sustained challenge to the “Citizenship Law,” which bars the non-Israeli spouses of Israeli Palestinians from becoming citizens. So while an Israeli Jew from Brooklyn has the right of marrying anybody she likes, and having her spouse naturalized, a native Palestinian Israeli citizen cannot marry  a distant relative who lives in a town five minutes from her house – unless that relative was a Palestinian collaborator, working for the Israelis, and then, only by special approval of the Minister of Interior.

Some reading on the matter:

[Thanks, PM]

Culture and activism

I have a new piece up at the Middle East Research and Information Project about cultural production and cultural activism in Egypt. There is so much different kinds of cultural activity going on these days that it's hard to categorize, and there are many more artists and projects I could have referenced.  I've tried to make some general observations:

It is not easy to combine aesthetic and political ambitions in order to creatively address the revolutionary moment. For one thing, many artists and writers have continued to be active in the protest movement itself -- they have little detachment from the events of the last year, and their energies are depleted by their participation in protests, organizing meetings and advocacy campaigns. In their political work, they can face significant personal risk, like their fellow citizen-activists. In late December, at a press conference convened to deny army responsibility for the horrific violence visited by soldiers upon protesters near the cabinet, a blustering member of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces suddenly denounced Muhammad Hashim -- head of the independent and widely esteemed publishing house Merit -- as one of several conspirators being investigated for instigating attacks upon the army. (His crime, it appears, consisted of supplying protesters with blankets and helmets.)

For another, it is too early for artists or anyone else to map the contours of the current juncture with any clarity. In late January 2011, there was a rupture in the reality Egyptians had known for so long. Many artists and novelists, returning home elated if exhausted from weeks of protesting, simply scrapped whatever work they were doing. Since then, the rapid pace of events -- or, many would say, of reversals -- has rendered it nearly impossible to fix a vantage point from which to consider developments. The Egyptian revolution is not yet a subject of art; it is an ongoing experience.

And I only just saw the trailer for this cool-looking documentary, "The Noise of Cairo," -- on artists and their relationship to the revolution. 

The Noise of Cairo (Trailer) from scenesfrom on Vimeo.

Event: Cairo Divided

Our own Ursula Lindsey will be joining our friend Jack Shenker (of the Guardian) and others at the Contemporary Image Collective in Cairo to discuss Jack and Philip Jason (sorry!) Larkin's text and photo publication on urban planning in the Egyptian capital, Cairo Divided. See below for details.

January 18 2012, 7 pm

Hosted by Megawra and CIC

Jack Shenker presents 'Cairo Divided' together with Wafaa Nadim, Ahmed Zaazaa, Ursula Lindsey and Mohamed El-Shaheed

Amid an uncertain tide of political change, the controversial ‘satellite cities’ project is dramatically transforming peripheries into new urban centres and consigning old focal points to a life on the margins. Against the backdrop of national revolution, photographer Jason Larkin and writer Jack Shenker collaborated for two years to produce ‘Cairo Divided’, a free hard-copy publication exploring the capital’s rapidly-mutating urban landscape.

Please visit the project's website for more details.

Column: A memo on national security

My latest column for al-Masri al-Youm is out. To commemorate Thomas Friedman's visit to Cairo this week, I've decided to write a Friedmanesque "memo from..." in which I imagine myself as a senior official in the Egyptian ministry of interior welcoming the new minister, Mohamed Ibrahim. The version up on AMAY is not formatted properly, so I am reproducing it below.

To: Mohamed Ibrahim, incoming minister of interior

From: A senior ministry official

Your Excellency,

I believe I speak for the entire ministry in extending you a warm welcome in your new position at the head of our august ministry. Your precedessor was a respectable man, a little too respectable perhaps, and perhaps not altogether attuned to the bitterness that has taken over our ministry since the regretted events of late January 2011. But, nevermind, he will now go to a well-deserved retirement and make room for the right person for this new era, which all of us at the top floors at Lazoughly1 agree is your own esteemed self.

With your leadership, Sir, we will complete the restauration of this ministry to its former glories, burnishing once again its glorious image so unfairly tarnished by its enemies. It is to inform you of the state of mind of those of us at the ministry who have gone through these difficult times that I am writing to you.

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