Protests as seen by the FJP's newspaper

In an attempt to report public opinion towards all the protests that took place in the past eight months since Morsi came to power, the Freedom and Justice Party's newspaper, al-Horreya wa al-Adala, published this news article on 15 March in its Youth and Sports section.

Despite the fact that people are clearly divided about everything from Morsi to the weather, MB’s report shows a uncharacteristically unified image of society. From the Ettihidiya clashes and Tahrir sit-ins to Port Said protests and the Ultras’ attacks; the Egyptian people who had one collective view on the matter: Protesters are thugs.

The article, which is merely a collection of tweets and FB status updates by ungoogleable individual(s), begins with this headline: What do you want to be? A thug.

The sub-headline then goes:“It's a great job, gets you fame and money..."And if you get caught, you're an activist!"

Sohila Mahmoud on Facebook: "I don't see any reason to block the roads, why is everyone silent about these continued acts of thuggery against the average Egyptian citizen, who wakes up to make a living, only to go back home empty-handed?"

According to the article, “activists,” on Facebook have unanimously confirmed that these protests Mahmoud is referring to are "crimes" which can only be committed by "thugs."

"This is a crime against society. Thugs who throw rocks at the police, or Molotov cocktails, carry guns or knives should be immediately shot, so that we'd get rid of the National Damnation Front's thugs and the toppled president's as well," hopes Mohamed Abdullah in his FB status.

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Why Aaron David Miller is lame, cliché and offensive

Yesterday, I posted a snide tweet suggesting that Aaron David Miller’s latest FP column Tribes With Flags was “lame, cliché and offensive.” I was asked for further explanation, and here I oblige, although I will keep it short since Karl’s ReMarks has already written a good critique.

The lame

The whole concept, really, that Arab states are on the verge of collapse, and that the powerful Arab state is an illusion. Miller posits:

In the wake of the Arab Spring, we’re witnessing the beginning of the end of another Arab illusion – the functional and coherent Arab state.

Forget democracies. What’s at stake here is basic coherence and governance.

… In much of the Middle East, the situation looks far worse today than a year ago. The question facing these troubled countries right now is not whether they can become democracies or resolve fundamental identity questions. It is much more basic: Can they produce a minimum of competent governance and order, so that they can begin to deal with the galactic political and economic challenges they face?

This entire passage shows little appreciation of Middle Eastern history on the remarkable growth in the strength and coherence of the state in every Arab country, including places like the Gulf where most states can genuinely be described as “tribes with flags” since ruling families are tribally rooted and the wider political system based on a historic balance of power between tribes. Yet even in a relatively recent state like the UAE, whose premise is entirely tribal since it is an alliance of tribes, the state is effective and strong. Same in Saudi Arabia where the domination of a single tribe, the al-Sauds, has nonetheless create a strong state whose role in central in both administration and creating a strong identity beyond tribalism. Even Qadhafi’s dysfunctional state in Libya has created a new reality of a strong Libyan identity (despite some resurgent regionalism) that is now serving as a base for the reconstruction of a central state, although perhaps one that will adopt a federal model (in comparison, under the monarchy Libya has several official capitals). It’s nonsense to confuse the dysfunctions of Arab states with the absence of a state. In Egypt, where the role of the state is being challenged and the authorities have proved unable to govern effectively in the last two years, the demand is also an improved state, not a rejection of the state.

Miller’s chief sin here is falling into the stupid trap of being “disappointed” that the Arab uprisings haven’t matched the “spring” label many gave it. Everywhere I go these days someone with a smirk on their face, often Israelis, make some remark about an Arab “winter”. Sure, the situation in Syria is ugly, and Egypt and Tunisia are going through some rough patches. But it’s more complicated than a seasonal label, and it’s not about how good or bad you (i.e. observer from outside the region) you feel about it.

The cliché

The resort to Tahseen Beshir’s quip that, aside Egypt, Arab states are “tribes with flags” — intended as a put-down of the Gulf states, Egypt’s chief Arab rivals in the late 1970s when Beshir said this — is tiresome. It belongs with other clichés of Middle Eastern politics, like Abba Eban’s “The Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity,” because a) its bias is clear and b) it obscures more than it explains.

And then there’s the lazy writing that characterizes much of the piece, with gems like this:

President Mohamed Morsy’s first allegiance isn’t to the notion of an inclusive nation, but to the Muslim Brotherhood’s conception of Islamist governance. And let’s be clear, membership in the Brotherhood isn’t like joining a health club: It requires years to gain entry, and it’s a way of life that demands a comprehensive worldview. Like the Eagles’ Hotel California, you can check out but you can never leave.

The offensive

There’s much to be miffed about, but this paragraph in particular struck me:

The state of Palestine is split between Hamas and Fatah, creating a kind of Noah’s Ark with two of everything – security services, constitutions, prime ministers, and visions of where and what Palestine is. And Iraq, far from being the coherent whole the Americans dreamed of is a mishmash of Shia authoritarianism, Sunni grievances, and Kurdish autonomy.

Considering that Aaron David Miller as an important figure in the Clinton administration’s Middle East team and presumably has read a book or two about the region, it can’t be ignorance that’s the problem here — it’s arrogance. To speak of the lack of a state in Palestine without mentioning Israel’s occupation, or the sad state of Iraq without mentioning the sanctions (up to 1.5m dead) and the invasion of Iraq and its inept administration (based on a sectarian division of the country far from the “coherent whole” he thinks was dreamt up by US policymakers) by the US military (some 850,000 dead according to more recent estimates) is outrageous, even if of course local actors had their role to play in that too.

The piece does not have deserve much more analysis than that, and marks — among the often excellent coverage of its Middle East Channel — a tendency for Foreign Policy magazine to commission and publish third-rate articles by “names” in US and slap a provocative headline on them. One wonders whether it’s link-bait of the kind we saw last year’s with the Playboy-like cover that illustrated Mona El-Tahawy button-pushing article.

Jazeera loses audience share in Egypt, Tunisia

The recently relaunched independent Moroccan website Lakome has an interesting piece [Fr, original Ar here] up today based on an internal al-Jazeera report on what channels are watched around the Arab world. Some of their findings:

 

  • Al Jazeera is still the most watched Arab television channel across the region, with overall growing market share ahead of pan-Arab competitors such as al-Arabiya and (way ahead of) Sky News Arabia.
  • ONTV (a liberal channel owned by billionaire Naguib Sawiris — Update: recently sold by Naguib Sawiris to a Tunisian businessman — that hosts some of the best-regarded talk shows in Egypt, notably Yosri Fouda's Akher Kalam) has taken over al-Jazeera in popularity in Egypt.
  • In Tunisia, Jazeera's audience size went from 950,000 in January 2012 to 200,000 in December 2012, perhaps reflecting the growing anti-Qatar sentiment in the country because of the ruling Ennahda Party's close connections to the emirate. Local channels such as Hannibal are preferred by local TV watchers.
  • Al-Jazeera's bias in its Syria coverage is believed to be one of the reasons for the drop on popularity of the channel

 

What strikes me in this is not so much that al-Jazeera is growing unpopular because of its pro-Islamist slant (which varies across its various channels) but that locally produced and targeted content is getting more attention. This is entirely normal, and reflects the growth in country-specific satellite channels in recent years that can offer more targeted content to viewers and more targeted audiences to advertisers. 

Insulting the president

More 'insulting president' lawsuits under Morsi than Mubarak - Politics - Egypt - Ahram Online

I have a hard time believing this but Gamal Eid is a serious guy:

There were four times as many 'insulting the president' lawsuits during President Mohamed Morsi's first 200 days in office than during the entire 30-year reign of former president Hosni Mubarak. This is the claim made by Gamal Eid, human rights lawyer and executive director of the Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI).

Moreover, the number of such lawsuits during the Morsi era is more than during the entire period dating back to 1909 when the law was introduced (originally for 'insulting the king'), Eid said via Twitter.

They will have a full report on it tomorrow with the list of names.

On "Homeland"

Nuance, Depth and the Relative Islamophobia of Homeland « Christian Christensen

I watched the newish TV show Homeland a few months ago, and stopped after a few episode. It wasn't because I found it lacking in its depiction of Islam (caricatural approaches are so rife that I'm pretty oblivious to that) as much as that I did not think it was that entertaining. But here's a take on the show and its treatment of Islamic fundamentalism and that perennial classic of American popular entertainment and political paranoia, the enemy who looks like one of us (for this I prefer the "Invasion of the Bodysnatchers" movies):

When critics hail Homeland, they would do well to ask themselves how they would react to a program where a Muslim captive at Guantanamo Bay succumbs to Stockholm Syndrome, converts to Christianity, returns to Kabul/Tehran/Riyadh, rises through the political ranks to a position of authority, and, with the help of a radical Christian CNN journalist, plots a campaign of terror in his home country at the behest of a Christian extremist. I think I can guess some of the words used to describe such a program, but “nuanced” and “grounded” would not be among them.

Bassem Youssef gets the NMA treatment

This morning I wrote about the Bassem Youssef case — I have a couple of updates about it. One is so funny it deserved its own post — the above NMA.tv rendition of the case. I particularly love the conspiracy theorizing bit.

Also, from Moftasa, a worthwhile post on President Morsi's foreign policy advisor's move to distance the presidency from the lawsuits being filed left and right to defend Morsi — in some cases by third parties, but also by officials themselves. And that this may only be coming because the State Dept. is raising the Bassem Youssef issue.

"It's time for Bassem Youssef"

I was at a very nice Zamalek dinner party on Friday evening (thanks HS!). As the sumptuous meal (which included what I am reliably told are the best warrraq 3einab in town) reached its end, the guests began to agitate. It was 11pm. "It's time for Bassem Youssef!" exclaimed one of them.

Everyone got up from the dinner table and made their way to the coach to watch Egypt's answer to Jon Stewart launch the 2013 season for his "The Show Show", whose late 2012 performances have already gotten him into trouble with the authorities — he is being sued for showing insufficient respect to President Morsi in his, er, satire. To this pretty anti-Morsi crowd, Bassem Youssef has become an icon — as the NYT picked up upon in a recent piece. Youssef has already done some great satire on the Muslim Brotherhood's apparently meaningless Nahda program and occasionally stops the jokes to say some quite serious things, such as telling Salafi sheikhs that they are not religious figures in the eyes of many outside of their followers. (Indeed, most of them are clowns, albeit dangerous clowns.)

Abu Jamajem has some translated segments for those who don't speak Arabic, but follow this YouTube account for someone going through the trouble of subtitling every episode. If there's one place to get the pulse of the liberal view in Egypt, Bassem Youssef's show is it. I wonder how long it will be, though, when like Jon Stewart he starts taking occasional aim at his own side — after all political satire only keeps its edge when it accords equal ridicule to all who deserve it. Although of course one must note that even in the US there is no conservative Daily Show — only a fake conservative spinoff in the Colbert Report. The Salafis, like the Tea Party, are simply too naturally ridiculous to be intentionally funny.

On freedom of the press in Egypt

What future for free speech in the new Egypt? - Index on Censorship

Ashraf Khalil writes: 

Aside from the occasional journalist prosecution, there’s a disturbing new trend emerging in the past few months: direct intimidation of and violence against journalists in Egypt. Hazem Abu Ismail — a charismatic ultraconservative Salafist preacher has repeatedly rallied his slightly fanatical followers (known locally as the Hazemoon) against journalists who criticise him. They recently held a noisy several day-long sit-in outside Media Production City — where many of the most popular satellite talk shows are broadcast — openly intimidating the hosts and station employees as they came to work. Even more disturbingly, Abu Ismail’s followers were alleged to have recently attacked the offices of a heavily anti-Islamist opposition newspaper with petrol bombs, though the preacher took to Facebook to deny any involvement.

It’s not just the Islamists who are targeting journalists they dislike. Egypt’s secularist protestors are guilty of the same crime. The anti-Islamist forces absolutely despise the Al-Jazeera satellite news channel, regarding it as completely biased towards the Brotherhood. That antipathy came to a head in late November during a string of violent protests in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. The anti-Islamist protestors firebombed a street-level studio of Al Jazeera Live Egypt — an offshoot Al Jazeera channel devoted to 24/7 Egypt news.

Another thing to note, just in the past week, is that the presidency has been very rapid to launch lawsuits against journalists it deems have insulted President Morsi. 

Morsi's effrontery, according to Bloomberg

Egypt’s Mursi Poses Dilemma as U.S. Assesses Power Grab - Businessweek

Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi poses a quandary for the Obama administration as it struggles to respond to the democratically elected Islamist leader’s power grab -- which he made without any advance notice to Washington.

The effrontery of making a dictatorial power-grab without consulting with Washington first! How dare he?

The FSA's new media-military offensive in northern Syria

Enduring America, a useful sources for media summations on Syria and (highly-debated) FSA claims of successes suggests that FSA forces are indeed increasingly gaining ground against Assad:

For several weeks there has been a growing number of rumors, low-quality Youtube videos, and eyewitness reports that suggested that not only was the FSA winning in Deir Ez Zor, Lattakia, and Aleppo, but it was on the brink of major victories in all three provinces. Similarly, there is a growing body of inconclusive evidence that the FSA is surging in Daraa province, and was increasingly effective in and around Damascus. While individual reports of this nature may or may not each be true, the trend lines were beginning to look clear.

The spread of the rebellion throughout the country means that even the vaunted internal security forces have to weigh whether moving one force to Point A will weaken Point B fatally, is surely impacting developments on the ground – desertion and heavy casualties continue to mount for the state’s forces. And Syria’s unwillingness to pursue the fight all the way to the Turkish or Iraqi borders for fear of igniting a wider conflagration must give breathing room not just to refugees, but to arms smugglers and militiamen:

For more than a week … that body of evidence has been harder and harder to dismiss as noise and rumor. With well documented victories yesterday, the FSA has encouraged us to post headlines that we have been sitting on for a long time.

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In defense of Egypt's Gaza spin

This interesting NYT report by David Kirkpatrick tries to spin the story here as Egypt defending Hamas while brokering. 

CAIRO — While holding itself out as an honest broker for truce talks between Israel and Hamas over the Gaza conflict, Egypt’s new government sought on Monday to plunge into the battle over international public opinion on behalf of the Palestinian cause — an arena where the Israelis, more experienced in the world of the free press and democratic politics, have historically dominated.

In Egypt’s most concerted effort to win more global public support for the Palestinians, advisers to Egypt’s President Mohamed Morsi, a former leader of the Muslim Brotherhood who has been an outspoken supporter of Hamas, invited foreign correspondents in Cairo to a background briefing at which a senior Egyptian official sought to blame Israel for the conflict while at the same time maintaining Egypt’s role as an intermediary pressing both sides for peace. “We are against any bloodshed,” the official said repeatedly, arguing that Egypt sought stability and individual freedom for all in the region.

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The president, the prosecutor, and the press

Over the weekend in Egypt, as if the fighting that took place in Tahrir Square between supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood (or impostors) and their detractors was not enough, a major institutional type of Mortal Kombat also took place between, on the one side, President Mohammed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, and on the other, Prosecutor-General Abdel Meguid Mahmoud and the judicial establishment. On the latter’s side — out of convenience as much as principle, as Mahmoud is not a popular figure — were secular political parties who seized on this to denounce what they saw as the Brother-President’s all-out attack on the rule of law.

If you haven’t been following this story, here’s the lowdown.

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Weekend long reads

This is an experimental new feature — every weekend, links to some long articles and essays worth reading. Some of these articles may be behind subscription walls.

1. Sinai: The Buffer Erodes 

Nic Pelham writes for Chatham House on the deterioration of security in Sinai:

For over 30 years, the Sinai peninsula has served as a near-empty territory cushioning the geopolitical aspirations of Egypt, Israel and the Palestinians. With the changes brought about in Egypt by President Hosni Mubarak’s fall from power in 2011, that buffer is in doubt. The state security apparatus that underpinned the Egyptian regime collapsed, creating a vacuum that the territory’s sparse Bedouin population quickly filled with coping mechanisms of its own. Captivated by the prospect of acquiring power, local irregulars reacted fiercely to the regime’s efforts to regain control over its periphery, culminating in the August 2012 operation that targeted an Egyptian base, killing 16 soldiers, and perforated Israel’s border defences at the intersection of its border with Egypt and Gaza. Security officials, police stations, government buildings and Cairo-based institutions have all come under attack. In the eyes of its neighbours, Egypt is losing its grip over Sinai, transforming the peninsula into a theatre for the region’s competing new forces.

2. The Politics of Security Sector Reform in Egypt 

Dan Brumberg and Hesham Sallam, in a report for USIP:

The most pressing priorities for SSR in Egypt entail disengaging military institutions from political and economic activities that are not relevant to their mission of national defense and subjecting these institutions to meaningful oversight by elected civilian bodies, and transforming the police establishment from a coercive apparatus into an accountable, politi- cally neutral organization that upholds the rule of law and protects human rights. These challenges may seem conceptually distinct, but they are interrelated in a broader politi- cal context, in which the military establishment and other entrenched bureaucracies are attempting to limit the scope of institutional reform. Military interest in attenuating civilian control in a post-Mubarak Egypt seems to have deepened its reliance on the coercive capac- ity of the ministry of interior, which has taken the lead in suppressing popular mobilization. Civilian security forces, sometimes in coordination with the military, repeatedly used deadly force in confrontations with protesters calling for ending SCAF’s rule. The intertwining of institutional interests between the military and the police impedes SSR.

On a related note, see this NYT piece by Kareem Fahim on the issue of police reform, and this report by the One World Foundation on the same topic.

 3. The Revenge of the East? 

David Shulman asks some tough questions on Pankaj Mishra's much-praised book From The Ruins of Empire [Amazon US, UK], on Rabindranath Tragore, Jamal al-Din al-Afghani and Ling Qichao the intellectual roots of "Eastern revival":

Are these men, then, among the major “intellectuals who remade Asia”? One thing is clear: all three are fully modern figures, their consciousness shaped primarily by the terms of the modernist crisis and debate. But can we even speak of a broad “Asian” response to the West and the newfangled technologies and concomitant power equations that the West brought to the East—“printing presses, steamships, railways and machine guns,” as Mishra lists them? Living in Jerusalem and traveling often to India, I find it hard to think of Asia as a cultural unit with any integrity. There is, however, one experience that was indeed shared by the Islamic world, India, China, and Japan in the nineteenth century—that of predatory intrusion and sustained economic violation by the Western powers. The forms this intrusion took varied from place to place, but its traumatic effects were common to all the great Asian states and cultures.

4. Indecision as Strategy 

Adam Shatz reviews Israeli historian Avi Raz's The Bride and the Dowry [Amazon US, UK], a book about post-1967 Israeli strategy in the Israel-Arab conflict which uses new material to argue that "Israel's postwar diplomacy was deliberately ineffective because its leaders preferred land over peace with its neighbors":

The story of Israeli policy in the late 1960s has been told before, by Tom Segev and Gershom Gorenberg among others. But no one has provided as thorough – or as damning – an account as Avi Raz, a former reporter for Ma’ariv who has read every pertinent document in every available archive, in Hebrew, Arabic and English. The Bride and the Dowry is a work of meticulous scholarship, but it is also an angry book, burning with the sort of righteous (and sometimes repetitious) indignation to which native sons are particularly susceptible. It covers only the first 21 months after the 1967 war, but it tells us everything we need to know about Israeli policy during this ‘critical and formative phase’ of the occupation. It also sheds considerable light on Israeli diplomacy today: its resistance to a deal that would allow for genuine Palestinian sovereignty; its belief that the Americans will always come to Israel’s defence, however much they privately object to land grabs; and its use of protracted negotiations as a means of buying time. Raz’s book is about the conquest of time as much as it is about the conquest of territory: the fruitless peace processing of the last two decades is only the latest chapter of his story.

5. Why India’s Newspaper Industry Is Thriving

Ken Auletta writes a fascinating essay on the state of Indian publishing and its advertising-driven editorial practices, with many lessons applicable to developing countries:

While profits have been declining at newspapers in the West, India is one of the few places on earth where newspapers still thrive; in fact, circulation and advertising are rising. In part, this is because many Indian newspapers, following an approach pioneered by the Jain brothers, have been dismantling the wall between the newsroom and the sales department. At the Times of India, for example, celebrities and advertisers pay the paper to have its reporters write advertorials about their brands in its supplementary sections; the newspaper enters into private-treaty agreements with some advertisers, accepting equity in the advertisers’ firms as partial payment. These innovations have boosted the paper’s profits, and are slowly permeating the Indian newspaper industry.

Al-Jazeera's political independence questioned amid Qatar intervention

Al-Jazeera's political independence questioned amid Qatar intervention | Media | guardian.co.uk

AJE forced to redo report on UN to highlight Qatari emir:

Despite protests from staff that the emir's comments – a repetition of previous calls for Arab intervention in Syria – were not the most important aspect of the UN debate, the two-minute video was re-edited and Obama's speech was relegated to the end of the package.

There are hints at staff dissatisfaction within the film, available for viewing on al-Jazeera's website and YouTube, which notes that the emir "represents one of the smallest countries in the Arab world … but Qatar has been one of the loudest voices condemning Syria".

The episode left a bitter taste among staff amid complaints that this was the most heavy-handed editorial intervention at the global broadcaster, which has long described itself as operating independent of its Qatari ownership.

An al-Jazeera spokesman said the emir's speech was "a significant development" that day and the broadcaster "consequently gave it prominence".

Perhaps it should be given consequent prominence when the Emir of Qatar unveils the army he intends to use in Syria.

US media angrily marvels at the lack of Muslim gratitude

US media angrily marvels at the lack of Muslim gratitude

Gleen Greenwald in the Guardian:

Given the history of the US in Egypt, both long-term and very recent, it takes an extraordinary degree of self-delusion and propaganda to depict Egyptian anger toward the US as "ironic" on the ground that it was the US who freed them and "allowed" them the right to protest. But that is precisely the theme being propagated by most US media outlets.

He cites examples, too. 

Another depressing aspect of this affair: seeing the same kind of articles pop up about "Muslim rage" as after 9/11. I don't know about all the countries where the protests took place, but in may Arab countries a small number of protestors took part. The idea of a spontaneous surge of anger does a big disservice to understanding what happened, especially when the initial events (Egypt/Libya) are likely to have been planned by small fringe groups and then widened as they were relayed by the Salafi international where local allies of that current stirred up more protests. That's the interesting story, even if does not excuse the very real dysfunction that causes many to go apoplectic (without attending protests) about this stupid trailer of a movie that might not even exist and the security lapses that occurred — not surprising in Libya, perhaps, but perplexing in Egypt and Tunisia.

Update: Bassam Haddad comments rather nicely on this: "Was the Arab Spring Really Worth It?": The Fascinating Arrogance of Power.

That line in between the quotation marks was on CNN. What morons.

Tunisian journalist run over by ex-cop media boss

Kamel Labidi writes:

Dear Friend,

The war on independent journalists in Tunisia suddenly intensified on Thursday when Journalist Khalil Hannachi of the daily Assabah  became the victim of a "murder attempt" perpetrated by the CEO of Dar Assabah media group Lotfi Touati, said journalists and two media unions.

Hannachi stood in front of Lotfi Touati's car earlier today, in an attempt to argue with the controversial and former police officer, whose appointment in August as CEO of the country's oldest media group spurred an unprecedented wave of protests among journalists and civil society advocates. But Touati started his car and moved ahead at full speed throwing Hannachi hundreds of meters away and inflicting on him severe injuries currently treated at Charles Nicole Hospital in Tunis, said the same sources.

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Inside Al Ahram

My old friend and fellow journalist Sabah Hamamou -- who I and colleague Ashraf Khalil have both interviewed in articles about the Egyptian media -- has penned an autobiographical expose about her two decades as a reporter at state flagship newspaper Al Ahram (Sabah started there as an intern when she was still a teenager).

Hamamou's self-published يوميات صحفية في الاهرام ("Memoirs of an Al Ahram journalist"), now availabe in Cairo bookstores, is a fascinating and dispiriting window into the dysfunction of the once venerable newspaper. In a confidential, colloquial sytle, Hamamou explains everything from the logistical difficulties of working in newsrooms where 20 journalists share one phone to the way Al Ahram has gradually become bloated with the relatives and friends of senior employees, making a majority of the staff complicit in a parasitical, self-interested culture. The book gives a glimpse into the overwhelming challenge of carrying out institutional reform in Egypt today -- and not just in the state media. 

You can follow Hamamo on Twitter at: @hamamou and on Facebook.

Embedded in Syria

We've had at least a decade of debate about the merits of embedding with military forces while covering conflicts — certainly  a major debate during the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, or perhaps since the 1990 Gulf War. The practice certainly has its drawbacks, but also offers an opportunity to do reporting from the front lines and on the combatant forces. In Syria, it offers the opportunity to get a clearer picture of who the insurgents are. These are all fine pieces and photos that would have been impossible otherwise, although I wish I could trust Fisk's reporting — who here has the merit of embedding with the Syrian army, which no doubt has attracted much misplaced criticism — after so many past disappointments.