Have all of Egypt's lobbyists gone?

The news that several of the Egyptian government's main lobbyists in Washington have ended their contracts should come as a wake-up call to the Egyptian military, its foreign ministry and Minister of Asking Khawagas for Fluss Fayza Aboul Naga. These were powerhouse lobbyists:

The lobbying firms include the Livingston Group, run by former Representative Robert L. Livingston, Republican of Louisiana; the Moffett Group, run by former Representative Toby Moffett, Democrat of Connecticut; and the Podesta Group, owned by Tony Podesta, one of the most powerful lobbyists in Washington. Mr. Podesta has close ties to the Obama administration.

The firms were widely criticized for distributing talking points defending the Egyptian government’s raid. They shared a lobbying contract worth more $1.1 million a year to represent Egypt’s interests in Washington, according to documents filed with the Department of Justice.

Until recently these lobbyists were backing the Egyptian government line that these NGOs were operating illegally. I wonder what it takes for a lobbyist to drop these kinds of contracts; after all it's not like we're talking major human rights violations here (like the killing of protestors in the last few months). I guess it must have been that the lobbyists were exasperated that the Egyptians took action against their advice that alienated powerful congressmen. I've met American lobbyists for Egypt before and they're all livid that the Egyptian generals treat the Foreign Military Assistance package as "our money" – you can imagine how well that goes down with the representative or senator who is appropriating that funding.

This leaves the power of Egyptian lobbying in the US quite frail, particularly since a major lobbying and PR contract that had been controlled by Ahmed Ezz (and was mostly used to advocate for Gamal Mubarak as a business-minded reformist) has now been repurposed to makeover Ezz as some persecuted entrepreneur who does not deserve to be in prison. In short, I'm not sure who is left lobbying for the Egyptian government or the military, which perhaps explains why a military delegation has been sent to Washington to sort out the mess caused by the whole NGO fiasco.

On the US-Egypt NGO debacle

First US, German and Egyptian NGOs were raided in late December, and now US personnel that has been unable to work in Cairo because their equipment has been confiscated are barred from leaving the country, prompting outrage in the US. Congress is now putting emphasis again on the need for conditionality on US aid to the military, and the likes of Senator Patrick Leahy now say “But we no longer have a blank check for the Egyptian military.” A high-level delegation is now coming from Washington to defuse tensions.

There is a lot at stake in this first major spat between the US and Egypt since Mubarak is overthrown, and it’s gotten a lot more complicated than when it was just about Egyptian reticence to allow uncontrolled foreign funding and getting a bargaining chip over the military aid issue. Whether it is the real cause of the travel ban, there is a judicial process in the works, a real issue of sovereignty for Egypt. And there is what is interpreted an attempt by SCAF to cast activists as foreign-funded, distract from Gulf financing which may be overlooked (very few of the NGOs under investigation are Gulf-funded ones, despite widespread knowledge of millions being channeled to Islamic charities). NDI and IRI’s quasi-governmental aspect (they receive much of their funding through the National Endowment for Democracy and the US government) is one aspect of the problem, but so is the general legal limbo they have operated under for several years (it is true they are unregistered, but that’s because they were not allowed to so yet tolerated), as well as their more aggressive funding posture since the revolution and a certain amount of tone-deafness to Egyptian officials’ concerns about sovereignty.

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Freeze on US Arms Deal with Bahrain Ending

This first paragraph of this post was updated on 2012-Jan-31 to add new information.

A US$53 million arms sale, put on hold in November pending an investigation by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry into Bahraini security forces’ human rights violations, is being pushed forward by the Obama Administration in defiance of Congressional opposition and criticism from human rights observers. In the meantime, a new arms sale is going through, which the US State Department claims has nothing to do with the original one. The Cable reports that the new deal was going to be done “without any formal notification to the public,” and that the State Department told Congress that it has “gone above and beyond what is legally or customarily required” to address critics’ human rights complaints.

At the same time, the Kingdom of Bahrain is denying entry to observers from the US-based Physicians for Human Rights and Human Rights First organizations, which have been sharply critical of how security forces and the judiciary have behaved towards demonstrators.

I think the logic behind the Obama Administration's approach works (in theory) as follows: a trickle of aid coming at the same time the government is reportedly taking investigators' reports into consideration will compel the royal family to do more to democratize the country in exchange for more aid.

If the royal family changes its mind about those observers, I'll start entertaining more optimistic thoughts about the efficacy of this "behind the scenes diplomacy." Why? Because if they were being let it, it would demonstrate that the US is actually accomplishing a conditional aid policy that is pushing the government to fully implement the recommendations in the Commission's report. I often turn to the concept of "uncivil society" to discuss entrenched interests in countries experiencing democratic protests, and it's clear that the US is going to have to offer tastier carrots, and brandish much heavier sticks, if it is truly committed to democratization in Bahrain (and Egypt).

Granted, if these observers' entry became permissible (and it's not an impossibility), it could just as easily be read as a decision by the government to chaperone these people around to mute further criticism - something their PR firms back in the US have already been working very hard at (the Kingdom of Bahrain has retained the US lobbying group Qorvis for US$40,000 a month since 2010, with a particular emphasis on English-language media management).

Nothing signals "our priorities" like using a legal backdoor to funnel arms to a key Arab ally in the face of human rights criticism, and this holds true along the coastlines of both American littorals, the Mediterranean and the Gulf. How we will respond to growing pressure on NGOs in Egypt will address the dichotomies facing Egyptians willing to work with Western NGO. The resumption of arms sales to Bahrain, alongside the lockout of these groups, offers a much more concrete lesson of what Bahrainis can expect in the coming months.

At least when Moscow decides to send a message about a Mideast naval base, it sends that message clearly.  

Jon Alterman responds on the "SQL"

Jon Alterman, an prominent Egypt expert who is the director of the Middle East program at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, felt I treated him unfairly in a recent post when I took a piece he had written in the NYT as an example of the "Status-Quo Lobby" or SQL. For clarification, what I meant by SQL is not Egypt-specific, but the perpetuation of a strategic situation in the region in place since the end of the Cold War at least, and I remained convinced that the notion the SQL is a useful one, separate from that of the Israel lobby.

I appreciate that Jon took the time to write in and am glad to be corrected in my initial interpretation of his NYT article. Here is his letter.


You write that I am part of the “status quo lobby” in Washington on Egypt affairs. I’m not sure from whence the perception comes that such a lobby exists, or why you would think I am a member of it.

There is, of course, a group of lobbyists the Egyptian military pays to push its arguments in Washington. I don’t know anyone not on their payroll who accepts their arguments.

As far as I can tell, there are two principal lobbies in Washington on Egypt: the group that wants this political transition to fail, and those who want it to succeed. On the failure side are those who fear that a more democratic Egypt is a more dangerous Egypt. They see salvation in what they believe to be secular-oriented generals who trust Israelis, distrust Islamists, and have a healthy disdain for the appeals of the Egyptian street. As far as I understand it, they hope that the newly elected government in Egypt will utterly fail to address the country’s problems, discredit itself, and arouse such popular discontent that a coalition of army officers and liberals will be swept into power to right Egypt’s course.

On the success side – the one on which I put myself – are those who see promise in democratic change and in broadening Egyptians’ political participation. The hope is that more robust politics will make for a more resilient Egypt that is more responsive to its citizens.

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The Arab Spring, US foreign policy, the Status-Quo Lobby and the Dream Palace of the Zionists

I'd like to touch upon America and Egypt, because I've seen a lot of hand-wringing in American newspapers about the future of that relationship and a sense of misplaced buyers' remorse about the Egyptian revolution – misplaced because the US had little to do with the revolution, and because it is wrong-headed thinking about an unstoppable, irreversible event.

Generally speaking, the American foreign policy establishment is stuck on Egypt. It is having a hard time imagining a different Middle East. Its path of least resistance is banking on their financial and political relationship with the generals now in charge and maintaining the ability to project power in the region that it has had since 1945 to some extent and since 1990 in particular. If it continues on this path, which is unfortunately likely, because of the dearth of imagination in a foreign policy elite that has grown lazy in its imperial thinking, and because of the dire state of American politics, it will fail. 

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Pic of the day: The Ambassador and the Guide

From today's cover (top fold) of al-Tahrir newspaper, a pic of US Ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson shaking hands with General Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood Muhammad Badie, at his offices. This is the first time a US official has met, at least in an official capacity, a General Guide of the Muslim Brothers. More on the meeting in this Ikhwanweb article. The US message seems to have been centered on concern about the Egyptian economy and the need for a quick infusion of IMF cash. The US Embassy did not issue a press release on the visit, despite its custom of doing so on other occasions – it appears the MB is more interested in publicizing this than the US. In the past few weeks, Badie has met with John Kerry, William Burns and Jimmy Carter. The US had previously avoided meeting with any senior Muslim Brothers unless they were elected MPs.

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.

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.


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.

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.

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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.

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.

Iraq's oil

Occasional contributor Paul Mutter has a piece up at FPIF looking at the situation of oil major in Iraq, where the US still trails behind China in presence and can't get the kind of legislation for oil. Does that prove that the US was not after oil in Iraq, among other grand geostrategic objectives? No, it just shows there's hardly a silver lining for Americans after all the blood and treasure that was sunk into that adventure.

Dahr Jamail's report on energy majors in Iraq reminds us of one of the other, other, other reasons for the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the one nearest and dearest to neoconservatives' political action committees: oil.

Ostensibly, "oil" was part of the discussion on Saddam Hussein because of U.S. sanctions, the threat that Saddam would use oil money to bankroll terrorist organizations, and the idea that new oil revenues would help jumpstart the post-Saddam Iraqi economy.

Those were the reasons paraded around in public. Then there were the ones being discussed -- well before Condi and Dick made the Sunday morning talk show rounds -- in the arcane, interconnected world of multinational corporations, federal departments and think tanks:

Like it or not, Iraqi reserves represent a major asset that can quickly add capacity to world oil markets and inject a more competitive tenor to oil trade. However, such a policy will be quite costly as this trade-off will encourage Saddam Hussein to boast of his "victory" against the United States, fuel his ambitions, and potentially strengthen his regime.

The U.S. invasion rather nicely took care of that dilemma, and, of course, the U.S. government and U.S. oil majors moved to secure pieces of the pie before other countries could come in. Alongside other Western governments and oil majors, Washington is pushing for an Iraq Oil Law that would allow privatization and Production Sharing Agreements (PSAs), which, Jamail reports, are only used in 12% of the world's oil market. Why only 12%? Because more nationalistic individuals don't like signing off on them: in Russia, for instance, Vladimir Putin made rescinding PSAs Boris Yeltsin's government had signed with U.S. and UK firms a top priority. The law has stalled in the Iraqi Parliament. 

Read the rest here.

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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.

Kuwaitis Denied Justice in Guantanamo Bay

Jenifer Fenton reports from Kuwait. This month marks the third year that President Barack Obama's campaign promise to "close Guantanamo" (modified soon after his inauguration to close the detention facility by January 2010) will have gone unfulfilled. A chronology of the Obama administration's postponment of the closure can be found at the LA Times.

The worst of the worst, they were called. Twelve Kuwaitis were “captured” in Afghanistan and Pakistan and sent to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba in the months following the attacks of September 11, 2001. Unproven accusations of associations with the Taliban and Al Qaeda robbed them of years of their lives. The 12 said they left Kuwait to do charity work or to teach Islam or to live more Islamic lives. Many were sold to the Americans for bounty and all said they were tortured by US forces.

Eventually 10 would be freed.

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Egypt's raids on NGOs

Note: this post was written yesterday. I understand the US NGOs have had their property returned after the intervention of the US government.

I'm away from Cairo at the moment, so apart from a few panicked SMSs from friends and the coverage on Twitter I have not really followed yesterday's raids on six NGOs by the Egyptian police. Links for reported stories on what happened are at the bottom of the post. I want here only to give my own interpretation of what's happening.

Such a course of action was a possibility, of course, since last September or so when investigations into NGOs that receive foreign funding were initiated by SCAF, Minister of State for International Cooperation Fayza Aboul Naga and the ministry of justice. The fight over NGOs, and the fact that the Egyptian government seemed to be mostly drawing attention to Western-funded NGOs rather than Gulf-funded Islamic charities, is a manufactured crisis created to use as a card against Western, and more specifically US, pressure on the Egyptian government.

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Egypt, Pakistan, the US and the "right side of history"

Congress is going ahead with plans to make aid to Egypt, including military aid, contingent on Egypt’s relations with Israel and a successful transition:

Reflecting concerns about uncertainty within the Egyptian government, the bill would restrict $1.3 billion in security assistance to Cairo and $250 million in economic assistance until the secretary of state certifies to Congress that Egypt is abiding by a 1979 peace treaty with Israel, military rulers are supporting the transition to civilian government with free and fair elections and “implementing policies to protect freedom of expression, association and religion and due process of law.” 

These and other restrictions — notably on the Palestinan Authority and Pakistan — carry “national security wavers” — meaning the Secretary of State can easily lift them. ( Read more: Congress moves to restrict aid to Egypt, Pakistan )

Meanwhile Mamoun Fendi says Egypt could be come worse than Pakistan and underlines Tantawi’s experience in that country during the abominable reign of Zia al-Haq:

The past experience of three major players on the Egyptian political scene ― the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), the US Embassy and Islamists ― suggests that Egypt may soon come to resemble Pakistan.

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Lynch & Cook: US Policy on Egypt Needs a Big Shift

U.S. Policy on Egypt Needs a Big Shift - NYTimes.com:

The Obama administration’s response should begin with a clear, public presidential statement specifying what transferring power to a civilian government means. This would not involve micromanaging Egyptian politics in a manner that risks a nationalist backlash in Egypt, but Washington should put the Egyptian military, which receives $1.3 billion annually from the United States, on notice that the officer’s efforts to carve out a post-transition political role for themselves is unacceptable.

In addition, Washington should now throw its weight behind early presidential elections, a demand shared by virtually all Egyptian political forces and recently agreed to under S.C.A.F. pressure. It should also insist on a rapid response to the long-standing demand to end the military trials for civilians and the application of emergency law, which makes those trials and other means of repression possible. It should speak out against recent moves to censor the media and to incite citizens against protesters and foreign journalists. And, crucially, the administration should demand real accountability for those responsible for violence against civilians.

In other words, Obama administration needs to have stronger response to events of Tahrir and be clearer on its policy. I wonder how that's going to be welcomed in the US though on the day Islamists appear to have won a majority in the parliamentary elections. As I see it, these are the elements that go into shaping US policy towards Egypt, and only the first may have the same priorities in mind:

  1. Obama himself, the White House and the NSC who think about the president's vision and legacy, as well as the way these play in American domestic politics;
  2. The State Department, which is probably mostly focused on bilateral mechanics and regional diplomacy;
  3. The Pentagon and Central Command in particular, who care about maintaining the strategic status-quo;
  4. Congress, which will be motivated by the Israel lobby, the defense lobby, the Christian lobby, and a few members longstanding interest in Egypt.


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.

Mitt Romney's oddly familiar foreign policy

Asa’ad AbuKhalil (aka Angry Arab) had a good piece on the fact that Walid Phares is advising Mitt Romney:

Phares’ first career began early in the Lebanese civil war of the 1975-1990 when he allied himself with the right-wing militias, armed and financed by Israel. In his official curriculum vitae, Phares describes himself as a writer and lawyer in Lebanon at this time but he was more and less than that. He assumed a political position in the hierarchy of the militias and founded a small Christian party in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

After General Michel Auon assumed the presidency of Lebanon in 1988, Phares joined the right-wing coalition known as the Lebanese Front, which consisted of various sectarian groupings and militia. The Front backed Gen. Auon in his struggles against the Syrian regime of Hafez al-Assad and the Muslims of Lebanon. Phares’s role was not small, according to Beirut newspaper accounts.. He served as vice chair of another front’s political leadership committee, headed by  a man named Etienne Saqr, whose Guardians of Cedar militia voiced the slogan “Kill a Palestinian and you shall enter Heaven.” (Saqr later moved to Israel, and then Cyprus.) The Front was also backed by Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, a bitter foe of the Syrians. It seems unlikely that Romney knew much about this chapter in Phares’ career when he tapped him as an advisor.

In all fairness, whatever the nutty Phares is doing for Romney, it seems like some pretty familiar people are also getting a word in. Mitt Romney gave his first foreign policy speech, on October 7 in North Carolina. It sounds eerily familiar to neo-conservative tropes. What’s the first item on his agenda, for example?

Today, I want you to join me in looking forward. Forward beyond that next Recognition Day, beyond Ring Weekend to four years from today, October 7th, 2015.

What kind of world will we be facing?

Will Iran be a fully activated nuclear weapons state, threatening its neighbors, dominating the world’s oil supply with a stranglehold on the Strait of Hormuz? In the hands of the ayatollahs, a nuclear Iran is nothing less than an existential threat to Israel. Iran’s suicidal fanatics could blackmail the world.

By 2015, will Israel be even more isolated by a hostile international community? Will those who seek Israel’s destruction feel emboldened by American ambivalence? Will Israel have been forced to fight yet another war to protect its citizens and its right to exist?

So first the telling sign of putting Israel as the number one issue, but soon you’ll recognize that the neo-cons are back with their old Project for the New American Century:

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The U.S.-Saudi “Special Relationship” and the Arab Spring

The following long piece was contributed by Arabist reader Paul Mutter.

Recently, the Saudi and Bahraini monarchies announced the engagement of a Saudi princess to a Bahraini prince. A substantial bridal party has preceded her, though: 4,000 Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) troops, mostly from Saudi Arabia, have arrived in Bahrain since March 14th, 2011. Some 1,600 Saudi soldiers will remain in the country indefinitely to safeguard the regime there from further “disturbances,” i.e., pro-democracy protests.

Bahrain’s government will be seeking accommodations for these soldiers in the form of new, permanent GCC bases. This process will be helped along by the billions of dollars in aid that Bahrain is set to receive from the GCC.

The GCC presence has freed up the hard-pressed Bahraini security forces to take more “proactive” actions such as these. The U.S. has called on all parties to exercise restraint – though this has fallen on deaf ears with respect to Bahraini security forces.

Some dowry. 

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Daniel Levy: US "irresponsibly indulgent" toward Israel

A great passage in this interview of Israeli-British former diplomat Daniel Levy, in America as Obstacle | Souciant:

We need to acknowledge that American domestic politics will not allow the US to lead on this issue in a way that is conducive to advancing a breakthrough. Most people would look at this as being patently obvious, this administration included. US leaders are sufficiently boxed in politically and lack maneuverability to carry the peace process forward. If that is the case, for anyone caring about Israel’s future and the Palestinians, it is worth considering what would get us out of the impasse, whether it is the UN or Quartet playing a more active role.

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Is Obama a realist?

"On the one hand, but on the other..."An interesting take on Obama's foreign policy at Duck of Minerva:

Obama is a realist in style but not in substance. His realism is evident in how he approaches decisions, not in the decisions that he makes. This type of realist has what psychologists call “cognitive complexity” – they weigh the pros and cons of a multitude of different considerations before settling on the proper course. This was evident in the recent speech on Libya that has been proclaimed the new Obama doctrine. America will consider both humanitarianism and strategic considerations when it judges whether to use force, just like Wilson did. It will consider whether there are allies to shoulder the burden and how the international community feels, but will act unilaterally if there is a compelling interest. It is cognitive complexity that drives Obama’s favorite rhetorical “tic”, that of the ‘false choice.’ It is not one or another; it is both, when it comes to race relations, abortion, or diplomatically engaging Tehran. Others have called it being an “intellectual.”

If you've been reading this blog, you know I'm not the biggest Obama fan. But one thing I very much like about him is that he seems to ponder consequences seriously. His shift of the burden onto the EU in Libya is a great example of a correct policy carried out even though it goes against the American instinct, as developed in the last 30 years. His decision to implement in NFZ in Libya but reluctance to turn it into something else (let's hope that last) is another example of caution and willingness to implement limited goals.

It should be said, as Obama launches his 2012 campaign, that he should be held to account. There's no great sense of progress in Iraq (the US is still there?!?) and Afghanistan. One of the first thing he promised when he became president was to close Guantanamo, and he hasn't. He made grand statements on Israel/Palestine but then backtracked or was unwilling to push further. So perhaps he's learned to be more cautious. On these issues, he inherited a criminal presidency's problems — and his biggest failure was not holding his predecessoraccountable for his crimes. But if, come election day, US troops are in Libya and progress hasn't been made on the other issues, I don't think I would vote for him. 

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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.

Obama and R2P

Via POMED, the conservative Heritage Foundation raises the alarm that Obama may be committing the US to the Responsability to Protect doctrine after the Libya intervention:

Therefore it would appear that the Obama Administration has adopted both the basic philosophy and the operational characteristics of R2P. This should come as no surprise when the key decision makers regarding Libya included Samantha Power, who authored a Pulitzer Prize-winning book on genocide, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who promised during her presidential campaign to “operationalize” the R2P doctrine and “adopt a policy that recognizes the prevention of mass atrocities as an important national security interest of the United States, not just a humanitarian goal” and “develop a government-wide strategy to support this policy, including a strategy for working with other leading democracies, the United Nations, and regional organizations.”[5]

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Ursurprising surprises

Thanassis Cambanis has an essay in the Boston Globe called How wrong we were, in which he outlines five surprises stemming from the Arab revolutions. The surprising thing is that he's really wrong in picking those five surprises. Let's go through the ones he chose (update: I am told these subheadings were the editor's choice, not the author's — it makes a difference since the text is more nuanced):

Surprise #1: Military aid might be the best way to promote democracy.

Err... it didn't really work that well for the last 30 years in Egypt, did it? This idea rests on the conceit that the Egyptian army did not fire on protestors because of US pressure. I doubt this is the case; firing on the protestors would have been a grave escalation of matters putting the population against the army, risking civil war and insurbordination by younger officers. Continued military aid to the Egyptian military now only serves US interests, these are quite distinct from democracy or its promotion. And despite some $35bn in aid delivered since 1975, the US continues to have little understanding of the Egyptian military and military-civilian relations.

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