Pelham: How Morocco Dodged the Arab Spring

At least for now, says Nick Pelham in the NYRblog:

But while Benkirane’s government has for the time being stayed any prospect of a broader upheaval, Morocco is not yet out of the woods. The carping, which Benkirane’s election initially silenced, has returned with renewed vigor as Moroccans ask themselves whether their new constitution was merely cosmetic. Most recently, this view has been confirmed in a battle over who gets to make senior government appointments. Unsurprisingly, the King seems to have won.

“I appoint five hundred of the country’s most senior positions,” Benkirane had insisted to me in March. “The king appoints only thirty-seven.” But those thirty-seven are the most important. King Mohammed remains head of the Council of Ministers, the Supreme Security Council, and the Ulama Council, which runs the mosques. He runs the military, the security forces, and the intelligence. The targets of the February 20 protests—including the interior minister at the time, Ali al-Himma—are firmly ensconced as advisers in the King’s shadow government. Tellingly, when US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton traveled to the kingdom in March she met the King’s foreign affairs adviser ahead of the foreign minister. “The King returns to Morocco, business resumes,” ran the headline in the official newspaper, Le Soir, on June 13, after the King returned from an absence of several weeks in Europe. It was clear who it thought called the shots.

Excellent piece worth reading on the unfinished business from 2011 in Morocco, with vivid reporting from the dark underbelly of the country.

SCAF: Is Ruweiny being kicked upstairs or promoted?

Important news for Egypt Kremlinologists: New Central Military Zone commander appointed:

Celebrations were held Wednesday to mark the handover of leadership of the Central Military Zone to Commander Tawhid Tawfiq Abdel Samie.

The ceremony opened with a speech for outgoing Commander Hassan al-Roweiny, who was appointed assistant defense minister. Roweiny has reached the age of retirement.

Roweiny lauded the continuing support of the leaders of the armed forces, who he said helped the Central Military Zone carry out its mission and training activities after the 25 January revolution.

Roweiny is considered to be one of the most influential members of the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. He told protesters in Tahrir Square in 10 February 2011 that their demands would be met.

The following day, former President Hosni Mubarak stepped down, handing power to the army.

But Roweiny later became a hated figure among revolutionary forces, especially after he accused the April 6 Youth Movement, one of the main youth groups that helped kick-start the uprising against Mubarak, of destabilizing the country. He alleged that its members are trained by foreign agents.

Two questions/consequences arise:

  1. This should mean that SCAF has a new member in General Abdel Samie, but does Ruweiny also stay on in his new capacity?
  2. Is this a promotion for Ruweiny, a way to keep him on despite his having reached the retirement age (and if that is being enforced, what about Tantawy?), or is this a way to demote him? 

Update: Another possibility comes to mind: Ruweiny is being sent to be Deputy Defense Minister for when Tantawy leaves, at which point he will become the new Defense Minister, and that this is an effort to outflank Chief of Staff Sami Enan.

Of liberals, secularists, Islamists and other labels

I want to discuss here the labels assigned to Arab political parties and politicians (if you want to get to that directly skip till the end of the following quotes), but before let me point out what started this post — a fine piece by Nasser Rabbat on Steve Walt's blog, Arab secularism and its discontent:

Is this a new turn for the West? Did the West support the secularists before the revolutions? And has Arab secularism really become irrelevant? My answer to all three questions is an emphatic no.

Many good points he explores each in turn, before concluding:

Arab secularism, however, remains on the street and online. Though outdone in the current rush to power by the Islamists, it still has the ability to reassert itself in the political arena, if not as the ruling party, at least as lawful opposition and guardian of the principles of civic freedoms. The culture of lawful opposition, long absent under the totalitarian regimes, needs to be reinserted into the political discourse. This is as important a function as good governance for the well-being of the nascent Arab democracies. To that end, the efforts of the discontented revolutionary youth and the seasoned secular intellectuals should be united under the umbrella of political parties. The West should help them by recognizing their crucial political role and by treating them as long-term partners not just as recipients of training and aid.

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Shatz on Egypt seen from Alexandria

Adam Shatz, writing in the London Review of Books, after a recent reporting trip during the presidential elections:

In Cairo, the old, narrow politics of self-interest – or self-defence – seemed to be crowding out Tahrir Square’s expansive visions of a democratic future. I wondered whether Alexandria, a port city with a rich history of political independence, would be any different. It had dazzled Cairene intellectuals by voting for a charismatic socialist politician, Hamdeen Sabahi, in the first round of the presidential elections, while the rest of the country went for either Morsi or Shafiq, as if people couldn’t see beyond the old regime and the old opposition. Alexandria, they said in Cairo, was a city that made up its own mind, a city where the revolutionary spirit lived on. Alexandrians basked in the admiration. ‘The sea makes us braver,’ one activist told me. True or not, it certainly makes the place feel more open than Cairo, where you can hardly see the sky. The cafés have charming names that ‘read like a Levantine requiem’, as David Holden wrote of old Alexandrian phonebooks. From the terrace of the fish restaurant where I had lunch, I watched children playing on the beach; a few women were in bikinis, a rare sight in a city where more and more women wear full niqabs, including black gloves. Alexandria, once known as the queen of the Mediterranean, may no longer be the city of ‘unsurpassable sensuality’ described by Cavafy, but it seems more serene than Cairo. Maybe that was an illusion: the only difference between Alexandria and Cairo, someone said, was the weather.

The story has some great vignettes on Alex (an Islamist's reaction to novelist Youssef Ziedan's classist map of the country is priceless, for instance) and I agree with the conclusion, in that things are not sealed at all in Egyptian politics:

This reconfiguration, however, is far from stable, and may be a prelude to yet another shake-up in the Brotherhood's favour, rather than a consolidation of the military's authority. Though Morsi is a cautious man, a party bureaucrat rather than a popular leader, he has begun to adopt a more confrontational posture vis-à-vis the military. Not only has he vowed to challenge the constitutional amendments that limit his power, but he has reconvened parliament in defiance of the Supreme Constitutional Court and the SCAF; at a brief session held on 10 July, lawmakers approved a proposal to refer parliament's dissolution to a higher appeals court. The military and the court are digging their heels in, but Morsi is raising the stakes as an elected president, with considerable popular support – and in the knowledge that the Americans will not allow the SCAF to exercise the ‘Syrian option’ of massacring its opponents. Any attempt by the army to reverse Morsi’s victory, or prevent him from governing, could ignite another uprising. The SCAF may not have the upper hand for long.

I'm Ikhwan!

This video by rappers in Alexandria is actually several months old, but it captures all the suspicion and cynicism surrounding the Brotherhood's rise to power. The song — supposedly from the point of view of an opportunistic new member — makes fun of the organization's hypocrisy, double-talk and greed for power. This sarcasm is more pointed (and probably more damaging to the MB in the long run) than the hysteria issuing from some quarters these days. 

The refrain uses one of my favourite Arabized English verbs: بيتنرفز (biyitnirfiz, from "nervous", meaning to get irritated or angry) and goes: Don't get pissed at me, man, 'cause I became Ikhwan! I've got the power with me now, everyone say after me: I'm I'm I'm Ikhwan! 

And the video — which has all the lyrics in Arabic — would be a great classsrom tool for teaching Egyptian Colloquial. 

For more conventional criticism of the Brotherhood, see these two recent posts posts by blogger Karim Shafei. 

(And thanks to Matt!)

Awesome Google Maps mashup of Egypt's retired army generals and where they've landed

Askar Kazeboon (The Military are Liars), the Egyptian activist group that sprang up to put the lie to the claims of the SCAF and state media after the Maspero and Mohammed Mahmoud St. massacres, have put together this amazing Google Maps-powered database of where retired military officers have landed -- highlighting the common practice of senior officers being given golden parachute that land them softly into positions of influence in the civilian bureaucracy across the country.

It's hard to explain, so just explore it: el3askarmap.kazeboon.com [Ar]. As you zoom into the map, you get more detail as to where they are.

Also on Twitter and Facebook.

Tuareg-Islamist alliance collapses in northern Mali

DSC_1514 Kidal, Mali.

Above, houses from the Kidal region of northern Mali, where as you might tell good governance has not been part of the picture for a while. Paul Mutter sends in the latest on what's happening in the Sahel as international involvement increases.

Le Monde estimates that over 200,000 Malians have fled to neighboring countries in the wake of the ongoing "Tuareg rebellion," while at least 150,000 more have become international displaced persons. It is by now though, a misnomer to call this conflict a "Tuareg rebellion," as the MNLA, the Tuareg organization originally fighting to establish an autonomous homeland in northern Mali, has been driven from the cities it captured from the government. The government was driven from the north months before, and so the initiative is now in hands of the militias proclaiming Islamist goals.

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Libya: What's happening to Al-Mahmoudi?

From POMED: Ex Libya PM Claims Tunisian Authorities Tortured Him

In a report released by Human Rights Watch on Friday, former Libyan Prime Minister Al-Baghdadi al-Mahmoudi, recently extradited back to Libya from Tunisia, claimed that he is being treated well in Libya, but that Tunisian authorities regularly tortured him prior to his extradition. Mahmoudi said guards beat him with “sticks, boots, and a plastic whip,” and alleged that he went on a hunger strike when authorities denied him access to his lawyer. Returning to Libya has been a marked improvement, Mahmoudi said, in contrast to statements by his lawyer last week, who alleged his client suffered broken ribs and a perforated lung at the hands of Libyan authorities. Human Rights Watch, however, could not verify that Mahmoudi was able to speak freely.

Should HRW perhaps confirm this before releasing highly inflamatory information? Or at least give an indication of which story it believes is more likely to be true?

Qatar: Where's the trust?

QATAR National Day

Jenifer Fenton sent in this dispatch from Doha, looking at the results of a recent survey and asking wider questions about the future of migration and expat communities in the Gulf.

Qataris have little trust in Western expatriates, was the headline many in Qatar took away from newly published research.

On a scale from 0 to 10, with 0 representing no trust and 10 complete trust, Qataris gave Western expatriates a 3.6, the lowest trust rating of any group excluding migrant laborers. Qataris trust other nationals (rating of 8); and Arab expatriates to a lesser degree (6.1), according to the report From Fareej To Metropolis.

“What Qataris have expressed is not different from what other people have expressed in other countries... We tend to trust and like people who are like us regardless of who we are,” said Darwish Al Emadi, Director of the Social and Economic Survey Research Institute (SESRI) at Qatar University which published the report. “British trust British people more than they trust non-British.”

However, white-collar respondents displayed high trust in Qataris (7.4). Migrant workers did as well.

Al Emadi’s research also found that "The more you interact with people, the more you trust them."

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State Dept. finally admits inconsistency

Via Mondoweiss: State Dep't says it is 'not consistent' on human rights violations involving Israel and neighbors

This is a classic — the AP's tenacious State Dept correspondent Matt Lee (really, no ones asks the tough questions like he does again and again) gets the State Dept. spokesperson to say that the US is ready to say HRW reports are credible when it comes to Syria but will not call them credible if they're about Israel.

MS. NULAND: Matt, as you have made clear again and again in this room, we are not always consistent.

That's the nut quote but read the whole exchange. 

The current State Dept. motto, on their website at least, is "Diplomacy in action". Maybe they should change that to "Not always consistent".

In Translation: Sheikh Yasser Borhami on Morsi and Shariʿa

In this week's In Translation article — provided by the hive mind at Industry Arabic, which you should immediately hire for all your translation purposes — we hear the views of Sheikh Yasser Borhami, who heads the Da'wa Salafiya movement of Alexandria and is in effect the spiritual head of the Nour Party.

Borhami and Da'wa Salafiya have emerged as the most important voices of the Salafi movement in Egypt, and the most willing to engage in electoral politics. Borhami is one of Egypt's most influential preachers, and his decision to back the Nour Party marked the first major foray by Salafists onto the national political scene. In a recent Brookings paper on the Egyptian Salafi movement, Stephane Lacroix writes:

The Nour Party was founded by an informal religious organization called the “Salafi Da‘wa” (al- Da‘wa al-Salafiyya), whose leadership is based in Alexandria. The origins of the Salafi Da‘wa date back to the late 1970s, when its founders – students at the faculty of medicine at Alexandria University – broke away from the Islamist student groups known as al-Gama‘at al-Islamiyya (“Islamic groups”). Among them was Yasir Burhami, currently the dominant figure in the organization. The Salafi Da‘wa’s stance against violence and refus- al to engage in formal politics made it relatively acceptable to the Mubarak regime. To be sure, the group did at times endure repression; its leaders were kept under close surveillance and were forbidden from traveling outside Alexandria. However, the Salafi Da‘wa often benefited from the covert support of the regime apparatus, which tried to use Salafis to undermine the Muslim Brotherhood’s influence. 

Borhami is not involved in the day to day running of the party, but exerts a dominant influence on its key decisions  — such as backing Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh rather than Mohammed Morsi in the first round of the presidential elections, insisting on a constitution that gives priority to Shariʿa, or refusing electoral alliances with secular parties. The interview that appears below made some noise because of Borhami's insistence on new wording for the future constitution's reference to Shariʿa, which would favor a Salafist interpretation of Shariʿa and its influence on shaping legislation. 

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Is the PA afraid of third intifada?

Amira Hass in Haaretz:

But handing out jobs in the security apparatus to thousands of young people without any educational or professional future, the solution the PA came up with in the 1990s and one to which they are clinging to today, does not really wipe out cumulative sociopolitical resentments, especially in the refugee camps. The economic gaps are now more apparent than ever, even when released prisoners are getting entitlements that are higher than ever.

The authority carried out a wave of arrests in May (which included Mu'ayyed and Zakaria ) and turned yesterday's heroes into today's criminal problem. At the same time it was glorifying the Palestinian prisoners who were on a hunger strike in Israeli prisons. Many of them are not only relatives and friends of those recently arrested by the Palestinian Authority, but like them, they too turned the gun, the symbol of machismo, into both capital and cult.

Thus the leadership of the PA is again sending out mixed messages and broadcasting dishonesty. The brutality of the arrests, no matter what the suspicions, shows that the PA is afraid of the social resentments, and as a preventive measure, is suppressing anyone it thinks may be a potential representative or leader. Or, as Alia Amer, the mother of Ziad and Mu'ayyed, says, "All the talk on TV [against the detainees] is meant to justify the positions of senior authority personnel."

Powers continue jockeying over influence in Syria

The New York Times reports that the CIA has been on the ground in Turkey vetting armed opposition groups in Syria. The anonymous sources cited by the Times say that the US itself is not providing weapons to the rebels, in keeping with its earlier declarations to not directly arm them, but is apparently tracking weapons going into Syria and “advising” allies in the region as to which groups should get what weapons. Reports on alleged Western intelligence gathering operations along Syria’s borders several months ago were denied then, but the Times asserts that the CIA presence has been on the ground “for several weeks” at least.

The promise of weapons sales to the rebels has been advanced as a cost-effective way for the US and its allies to direct the course of the Syrian uprising’s armed resistance to the Assad regime. With arms comes influence - or so Washington, Doha and Riyadh hope - and the armed opposition has been hard-pressed to provision itself.

Even with these promises, armed groups in Syria, who are frequently at odds with one another, have relied and continue to rely on materials produced by Syrian expatriates, captured battlefield detritus or purchased from black marketeers. With the exception of equipment seized from a battlefield or brought over by defecting soldiers, the regime can still bring much greater firepower to bear, which manifests itself in the form of besieging and shelling neighborhoods concealing (or thought to be concealing) insurgents fighting the Syrian Army. As such, some factions of the anti-Assad movement continue to call for direct foreign military intervention, notably from the Turkish Army.

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