Tuaregs, climate and guns in the Sahel

Strife in the Sahel: A perfect desert storm | The Economist:

"Low precipitation may seem normal near the Sahara. In fact, much of the Sahel normally gets enough rain to allow modest farming. But a rise in water temperatures in the nearby Gulf of Guinea has shifted the flow of rain clouds southwards, meteorologists say. Livestock have died in droves. Long-term overgrazing and fast population growth have made the problem worse.

Oxfam, an aid agency, warns of a humanitarian disaster, with more than 1m children facing severe malnutrition. Villagers in Chad already dig up ant hills to gather grain the ants have stored. But the worst-affected place is now Niger, a landlocked country of 15m people which, even in normal times, accounts for a sixth of global child deaths from malnutrition. Save the Children, another aid agency, says that the situation in Niger has worsened since September, when a lack of rain led to crop failures of up to 80%.

Misery has made the Sahel’s thousands of unemployed an easy target for recruiters from extremist groups. Their main base lies across Niger’s badly patrolled border with Algeria, where the Sahel becomes outright desert. A two-decade-old Islamist insurgency there has adopted the mantle of global jihad and renamed itself al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. Having failed to dislodge the military regime along Algeria’s densely populated Mediterranean coast, these extremists are increasingly focused on the sandy hinterland.

In January they kidnapped a provincial governor near Niger’s border with Libya. They also hold at least 18 Europeans hostage. Several of these are in the custody of a new splinter group that announced itself in December. The Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa is led by black Africans, rather than the Arabs who typically dominate jihadi circles. To set themselves apart they strive to be even more radical. Modern weapons flow to them from Libya. After the collapse of its government last summer, some former rebels have been selling off the contents of looted armouries."

Great rare piece on the complex range of factors that are making the Sahel more explosive than ever. If course the spread of weapons from Libya was something many warned about before the civil war there. But impact of climate change may be more serious in the long run.

More on Egypt's "Military Inc."

Great piece with more detail on the nature of the Egyptian military-industrial complex and its internationalization than I've seen anywhere: Egypt's Generals and Transnational Capital, by Josh Stacher and Shana Marshall. An excerpt but do read the whole thing for the details:

Much of the speculation over the Egyptian military’s role in the economy has been misleading. The generals’ antipathy for Gamal Mubarak led many to assume they also disdained all neoliberal projects. The guessing similarly obscured the fact that, in an era of transnational capital, the army’s footprint is found in many places outside the formally state-owned holding companies. The military has broadened its portfolio by launching joint ventures and executing share purchases in private operations, exploiting its monopoly over lucrative sectors and granting exclusive access to foreign companies in order to burnish its pro-business bona fides. While the SCAF’s lust for direct political power is in doubt, the centrality of military-run industries to Egypt’s economic future is not. The generals have had nearly 12 months in which to anchor their enterprises so firmly as to make them immovable.

From the moment of Mubarak’s resignation, it was apparent that the SCAF was no disinterested arbiter of the political transition. The furor over the obscene wealth of Mubarak’s private-sector cronies presented the military with a golden opportunity to eliminate rivals. The SCAF proceeded to shape the electoral field to advantage those politicians who would not infringe upon the military’s economic prerogatives. Chief among its tactics was a showy, but highly selective anti-corruption campaign. By jailing big businessmen like Ahmad ‘Izz, an intimate of Gamal’s, and unpopular officials like the former housing minister, Ibrahim Sulayman, the SCAF channeled the public’s demand for justice. Not surprisingly, civilian businessmen with strong links to military companies were passed over by prosecutors—another signal to politicians to accept the military’s role in the economy or be shut out altogether.

Looking through walls

 

 

This mural was painted a few days ago on the wall blocking Sheikh Rihan Street, at the corner of the American University in Cairo. There are still at least half a dozen cinder-block barriers cutting off streets in Downtown Cairo -- most notably the major artery of Kasr Al Aini Street. Many of the walls block the way to the Ministry of Interior (after clashes between demonstrators trying to reach the ministry and police). Others just block the way to Tahrir Square, create enormous traffic jams, and seem part of the ruling generals' general passive-aggressive strategy of making life in Egypt as uncomfortable as possible right now ("how do you like that whole revolution thing now?"). No one knows, but at this point it looks likely that the streets will remain closed until after the presidential elections. They are a spectacularly apt metaphor for the short-sighted heavy-handedness and senseless obstruction that has characterized the military leadership's handling of the transition.

And this artwork is a sweet reminder that the current barriers won't last forever. 

Did Qadhafi finance Sarkozy's election campaign?

Bad investment

Back in the early days of Libya war, the reasons for France's rapid intervention were the subject of much discussion. One of the rumors that was floating was that Nicolas Sarkozy, France's president, was eager to cover up the Qaddafi regime's close ties with his own party and business networks including the financing of Sarkozy's presidential campaign in 2007.

The rumor has now come back with a vengeance and possibly, proof. The quality (anti-Sarkozy) website mediapart.fr has published an incendiary document suggesting that the campaign was financed through Saif Islam al-Qadhafi to the tune of €50 million. The document, which was leaked by government sources and had previously been part of the evidence in a case involving the relationship between Sarkozy's party and the arms dealer Ziad Takieddin, suggests an elaborate setup negotiated between the Qadhafis and Sarkozy's advisors. The money was laundered through a Panama-based shell company and the Swiss bank accounts of the sister of a prominent right-wing politician also close to Sarkozy, according to mediapart. Takieddin was also known to be a troubleshooter and fixer for the French Interior Ministry in seeking contracts for French companies that provide security services, including for Saudi Arabia.

In March 2011, just a few days before French jets struck Libyan army vehicles moving towards Benghazi, Saif al Islam gave an interview in which he demanded that France return the money used in the presidential campaign, threatening that he had details of bank accounts that could incriminate Sarkozy. This was ignored at the time, and dismissed as an attempt to embarrass the French. What is beyond dispute, though, is that the Sarkozy administration had close an fruitful ties with the Qaddafi regime, both formally and through back channels.

Although this remains to be confirmed, it appears consistent with widespread rumors going back to at least the 1970s of illicit financing of right-wing little parties and candidates by Arab and African dictators. Jacques Chirac for instance was commonly said to have received campaign baksheesh from Lebanon's Rafiq Hariri and Morocco's Hassan II. This latest affair is part of a growing scandal dossier involving Sarkozy party and his entourage — one that could become a major reason he loses his reelection bid in May.

The Economist on Netanyahu

Israel, Iran and America: Auschwitz complex | The Economist

The American-Israeli relationship now resembles the sort of crazy co-dependency one sometimes finds in doomed marriages, where the more stubborn and unstable partner drags the other into increasingly delusional and dangerous projects whose disastrous results seem only to legitimate their paranoid outlook. If Mr Netanyahu manages to convince America to back an attack on Iran, it is to be hoped that the catastrophic consequences will not be used to justify the attack that led to them.

Mr Netanyahu thinks the Zionist mission was to give the Jewish people control over their destiny. No people has control over its destiny when it is at war with its neighbours. But in any case, that is only one way of thinking of the Zionist mission. Another mission frequently cited by early Zionists was to help Jews grow out of the "Ghetto mentality". Mr Netanyahu's gift to Mr Obama shows he's still in it.

One of the advantages of my injury is that it did not allow me much time on a computer to follow the AIPAC festival of allegiance (strangely reminiscent of allegiance ceremonies in Arab monarchies) in Washington. But this piece nails Netanyahu's responsibility for so much, it's worth reading in full.

Now that the American NGO workers are safe, let's review aid to Egypt

A few minutes ago the plane carrying NGO workers out of Egypt took off, ending the diplomatic spat between Washington and Cairo. Concerns naturally remain about the other nationals, most notably the Egyptians involved who risk the most. And as predicted outrage over what appears to be a clear case of executive pressure being put on the judges is mounting, including from NGOs that have been targeted themselves and have denounced the case as a political fabrication from the beginning. For instance this press release from the Arab Center for the Independence of the Judiciary and Legal Profession:

The ACIJLP raises many concerns regarding the decision of judges' step-down in view of the reasons that have been announced by the judges which have been represented in "Feeling of Embarrassment", as well as the time of such decision which came before the judges' consideration in the complaint submitted by 8 foreigners regarding the decision to prevent them from traveling, a matter which make the ACIJLP believes that there is an inappropriate interventions which may be practiced against the Department of the Cairo Criminal Court with respect to this case.

Whether such interventions, about which ACIJLP is concerned, are practiced by members who belong to the judicial authority like the Head of the Court of Appeal in Cairo, or by executive bodies which led the judged to step down, this is considered the first event of its kind. It is considered an intervention in and breach of the independence of judges and the judicial authority in Egypt. The Egyptian judiciary has long been suffering from the practices which violate its independence like exploiting it in political disputes; starting from tracing opponents and political activists, imposing guard on syndicates, and at last banning civil NGOs work.

In support of the independence of the Egyptian judiciary, the ACIJLP calls upon the president of the Supreme Judicial Council to open an independent and urgent investigation to uncover the circumstances of the decision of the judges' step-down and to detect any pressure has been practiced whether by the government or those engaged in such pressure and to use fair trial, if necessary.

If I were an Egyptian politician, I'd be calling for the heads of a lot of the officials involved to roll.

But let us sidestep this issue and discuss the future of the aid relationship. Why should the US continue to provide aid for a country that accuses it of trying to split it up and, specifically, to a military establishment that is neither democratic nor that particularly friendly? There may be strategic reasons, but the core reason is one of political corruption — not in Egypt, but in the US. Shana Marshall makes this point well in Why the U.S. won’t cut military aid to Egypt:

The recent crackdown on foreign-funded non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Egypt has sparked a new round of diplomatic hand wringing over Washington's long-standing military aid program. Despite tepid threats from the White House and Congress, the United States is unlikely to end official military assistance -- not because of concerns over Egypt's peace treaty with Israel or Washington's desire to maintain influence over Cairo -- but because the aid benefits a small and influential coterie of elites in both capitals. In the United States, the aid program provides a large and predictable source of demand for weapons exporters, while in Cairo, collaborative military production with U.S. firms help subsidize the army's commercial economic ventures.

Although domestic interest groups are rarely invoked in the debate over military aid to Egypt, the $1.3 billion in annual assistance represents a significant subsidy to U.S. weapons manufacturers. For instance, the General Dynamics manufacturing facility in Lima, Ohio where the M1A1 Abrams tank is built will not have more work orders from the U.S. Army until 2017 when the current M1 tank fleet is up for refurbishing. Egypt's latest $1.3 billion order of 125 M1A1s (Cairo's 11th order since the late 1980s) will keep those production lines open until 2014 building knock down kits that are then shipped and assembled in Egypt. Although shipping fully assembled tanks to Egypt would employ more U.S. workers, without the contract the Lima plant (in a crucial electoral swing state) would shutter its doors and General Dynamics's bottom line would take a serious hit. Looming reductions in the U.S. defense budget have made General Dynamics and other defense producers even more concerned with keeping such funding channels open.

That's why Washington does not want aid cut: it's, among other things, a subsidy for the US defense industry. No doubt there's also senior Pentagon and DoD officials who want to back it in the hope of landing plush jobs at Raytheon and elsewhere when they retire (in this respect the US is not unlike Egypt) and Congresspeople like pleasing donors and creating jobs for constituents.

Yet the aid to Egypt is worth reviewing, both sides, now more than ever before — and that conversation should start with the new president of Egypt, who hopefully will not be a front for the Egyptian military.