Unpacking Algeria's hostage crisis

Also read this post in Jihadica by Andrew Lebovich on the deliberate echo of the Algerian civil war in the naming of the group that carried out the hostake-taking:

When longtime Algerian jihadist and recently-removed AQIM commander Mokhtar Belmokhtar announced in December the creation of a new combat unit, al-Mouwakoune Bi-Dima (“Those Who Sign with Blood”), much of the media coverage focused on what Belmokhtar said about the new group’s role. As part of Belmokhtar’s Katibat al-Moulathimin, the new group would, in his words, attack “those planning the war in northern Mali.” Belmokhtar also said that an eventual intervention in Mali would be “a proxy war on behalf of the Occident.” He also explicitly threatened not only France, but also Algeria, calling the country’s political, military, and economic elites “sons of France” and saying “we will respond with force, we will have our say, we will fight you in your homes and we will attack your interests.”

At the time, few noted Belmokhtar’s important historical reference point in choosing this name for his new faction: the name al-Mouwakoune Bi-Dima was originally used by a group of Algerian Armed Islamic Group (GIA) fighters who conducted a series of attacks in Algeria and in France against French targets. Most notable was the Mouwakoune group’s December 1994 hijacking of Air France Flight 8969, an incident that ended when elite French gendarmes stormed the plane on the tarmac in Marseille.

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.

The origins of Rai

The video above shows Algerian pop legend Cheb Khaled's first song, at the tender age of 14 in 1974. It comes via Ted Swedenburg, who has an epic history of Rai — the Maghrebi style of music born in Algeria in the 1970s — and discovered that Cheb Khaled's song came several years earlier than what he had hitherto believed to be the inventors of the rai sound, Messaoud Bellamou and Boutaiba Sghir. The whole essay is fascinating, lavishly illustrated with album covers and music — a must-read for anyone interested in Maghrebi or Arabic music.

(h/t Abu Aardvark.)

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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.

Dispatch: Algeria's "nif"

Since there was a lot of interest in Abu Ray's recent piece on Algeria, I have asked friend-of-the-blog Geoff Porter if I could reproduce an email he sent me just before the parliamentary elections there. Geoff's take is quite unique, and while I'm not sure what to make of it (having not been to Algeria) I thought it was worth sharing. Let us know what you think of it.

Parliamentary elections on 10 May have provided commentators with another occasion to discuss why Algeria did not have an “Arab Spring” like so many other countries in the Arabic-speaking world and to prognosticate about why Algerian voter participation rates are likely to be so low. Not one to pass up an opportunity to share my own views, below is my take on what is at play in Algeria.

One well-worn explanation for Algeria’s lack of an Arab Spring is because the horrific bloodshed that followed Algeria’s first foray into multi-party politics in the 1990s left Algerians cagey and afraid. They watched jealously over the course of 2011 as their neighbors stood up to and toppled authoritarian regimes, but were too cowed by memory to do the same. And now presented with legislative elections and the opportunity to voice their political views post-Arab Spring, Algerians have become too apathetic to go to the polls to try to bring about political change. Voter participation is will be low, the argument goes, because Algerians think that they are impotent in the face of the deep state’s power.

A portrait of a defeated and timid population emerges from this interpretation. But anyone who has spent time in Algeria would quickly attest to Algerians’ pride and defiance. So how to explain the difference between the two profiles? One explanation is that the arguments about why Algeria did not have an Arab Spring and why Algerians are unlikely to vote are wrong.

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Dispatch: The Algerian exception?

Election posters in Algiers (credit: Abu Ray)

Our friend Abu Ray, a journalist covering North Africa, sent in this dispatch from Algeria where he was to cover the recent parliamentary elections, in which the ruling FLN won against expectations that Islamist parties would do well, as they have done in neighboring Tunisia and Morocco. The Islamists and many others have decried widespread fraud and the turnout was very low.

For some of us journalists, the Arab Spring meant discovering French colonial architecture, or at least that of Tunis. I mean no one went toTunisia before the revolution: it was a journalistic dead zone. And then came the uprising, the confused aftermath and then the October elections, and each time, we would wander around the tree-lined Bourguiba avenue, with its never-ending outdoor cafés and beautiful peeling old buildings and think, wow, now THIS is a capital city.

Up until this point, if what you’ve seen of Arab capitals is the slow motion urban train wreck of Cairo, the bland concrete and glass of the Gulf and the soul destroying beige ugliness of Baghdad, Tunis was amazing.

Until I saw Algiers. The white city on the sea has just block after block of achingly beautifully filigreed white buildings with delicate blue balconies arrayed around a perfect semicircular bay, climbing up a steep mountain like an amphitheater.

There are drawbacks. Everything built from the 1950s on is hideous and unlike Alexandria’s lovely bay, the Algiers port is, well, smack dab in the center of the bay, so once you got close to the water, you are dealing with warehouses, train tracks, highways and chainlink fences guarding customs buildings.

But climb the hill and and there you were in winding streets connected by steep staircases, working your way through old neighborhoods. So Algiers was a rare enough site to visit, but this time around, the government wanted to invite the world for their elections, their “spring.”

It was time to throw a party, show off the city and tell the world how Spring-like Algeria was feeling. It was the regularly scheduled parliamentary elections, elections the country has been holding regularly every five years like a train schedule, and with about as much literary merit. But since everyone was looking around the region saying, “where’s your spring Algeria?,” the aging regime of old revolutionaries felt they had to put on a show. So the observers were invited in, the journalists suddenly got visas, and a fairly closed place was suddenly thrown open — much to the joy of those who love old colonial cities.

As it turns out, asking Algeria experts why there was no “Arab Spring” in Algeria, could possibly be the equivalent of asking the inane post 9/11 query of “why do they hate us?” They do get tired of that. One answer is that Algeria had its spring in 1988 when angry riots over a failed system broke out around the country necessitating a massive army crackdown that killed 500 people — roughly proportional to the numbers that died in Tunisia and Egypt’s 2011 revolutions.

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RIP Ahmed Ben Bella

Algeria's first president after a brutal war of national liberation passed away yesterday. That was an ugly war, full of rapes and murders, with France returning the FNL's strikes tenfold. From the NYT's obituary, a passage about his time in Cairo, in the 1950s the international refuge of national liberation leaders:

In 1949, Mr. Ben Bella helped rob a post office in Oran, Algeria. Tracked down, he was sentenced to a long stint in the Blida prison. In 1952, with the aid of a file hidden in a loaf of bread, he broke out and went to Cairo, where he became one of the liberation movement’s nine top leaders.Related

On Nov. 1, 1954, as the French celebrated All Saints’ Day, the rebels struck, beginning a war of massacre and mutilation, summary executions and rape. Terrorists exploded bombs in busy nightclubs and shot down passers-by on crowded streets. French officers who had fought the Nazis had Algerian prisoners tortured and shot.

Mr. Ben Bella spent most of the war outside Algeria, organizing clandestine arms shipments and coordinating political strategy. His life was in the shadows, but the French knew who he was.

In 1956, he refused to accept a package delivered to his Cairo hotel by a taxi driver. The bomb exploded as the taxi drove away, killing the driver. Later that year, in Tripoli, Libya, Mr. Ben Bella was waiting at his hotel when a French gunman entered his darkened room, fired and wounded him. The assailant, fleeing, was killed by guards at the Libyan border.

Ben Bella was no democrat, but in some respects his socialist policies were more those of the coup plotters who succeeded him, led by by Houari Boumedienne. I'm surprised that the obits do not mention that a major aide to Boumedienne at the time, and plotter against Ben Bella, was Algeria's current president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika. Bouteflika, himself rumored to be ill, has decreed an eight-day mourning period. One after another, the liberation-era figures of Algerian politics are dying — the question is whether their successors will ensure that the same claustrophobic political system will survive.

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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.

Algeria's protests #fev12

Algeria's protests seem to me — admittedly from a distance — too un-spontaneous to be successful. The very idea of holding weekly protests suggests a successful detournement of the enthusiasm for a protest and that it is being controlled into a manageable form, for the benefit of the political forces behind it and, perhaps, as yet another pawn in the long game of chess between rival factions in the regime. The real danger is more likely to come from one of the spontaneous and violent uprisings we've seen in poorer neighborhoods in the last few years. I also think this regime would have no qualms with carrying out a brutal suppression — people know this, and hence the "wall of fear" has not been broken as it was in Egypt and Tunisia.

The invaluable Moor Next Door writes:

At the same time, while many Algerians are fed up with the political and economic situation in their country, there is a significant continent fearful of sudden political transitions and mass movements recalling the country’s bitter civil war which followed snap “democratization” after a youth uprising in 1988. This creates skepticism and hesitation among key elites and in the population at large (though among older people more than youths). The CNCD may benefit from the student protest movement, turning out tens (and more) of students for protests and sit-ins at the Presidential Palace and the Ministry of Higher Education; nurses are strike and demonstrating; farmers (see below) are threatening sit-ins at the Ministry of Agriculture (see below)¹; unemployed residents are reported to be doing the same at town halls in various parts of the country. Many of these protests are narrowly focused and can be addressed on their own terms by changing ministers or issuing or repealing decrees or the like; unless they are brought into a wider opposition narrative that links the demands of dissatisfied engineering students or farmers looking for better irrigation policy to the inadequacies and structural injustices of the regime itself, combining sectorial demands for change into something much greater.

 Check his previous updates too.

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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.

Maghreb riots and violence

The Moor Next Door's Kal (who is part Algerian) wrote a long post on the recent riots in Algeria. I think the following passage on violence particularly interesting, because it deals, on top of an Algerian particularity, with a key aspect of political change in the Arab world — namely, in the absence of strong incentives and willingness for change from the regimes, is there an alternative to violence? In the face of completely locked political-security systems, have such riots — generally discouraged by even opposition political leaders as well as outsiders — became the only vector for change, even though it is often undirected, aimless violence? 

On these riots, protests, demonstrations or  intifada in Algeria — whatever one wants to call them — the government has been relatively quiet except to announce its confidence that it will lower consumer prices or deploy more security forces to manage them. The President and Prime Minister have been silent. A grave statement from President Abdelaziz Bouteflika or Prime Minister Ouyahia would show weakness by condescending to the level of jobless boys and legitimizing their conduct. It could also escalate tensions as was the case following Tunisian President Zine el-Abdine Ben Ali’s speech last week. Those high officials that have commented have done so in puzzling ways. The Minister of Youth and Sports, for example, was quoted as urging youths to stop rioting by arguing “violence has never had results, not in Algeria or anywhere else, and our youth know that”. Algerians that have grown up with stories of a million martyrs who brought the country independence through armed struggle have been taught through their whole lives quite the opposite. In a country with great streets, squares, airports and whole towns are named after men like Larbi Ben M’hidi, Che Guevara, Mourad Didouche and Mustapha Ben Boulaid — not to mention an entire Ministry of Moudjahidine — such a comment sounds remarkably detached (don’t even start on the national anthem). And even more directly, the young men in the street know full well the government has kept power with many of the same faces in power for so long through quite violent means. The Algerian national anthem declares: “had we not spoken up none would have listened” (لم يكن يصغى لنا لما نطقنا) (similarly, Jay-Z says “a closed mouth don’t get fed.”) The Minister’s statement reflects the long obvious gap between the old and the young.

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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.

Smugglers in the Sahel

Interesting item from Algeria:

ALGIERS (Reuters) – Saharan countries trying to contain a growing threat from al Qaeda have agreed to recruit smugglers to help them track down the militants' desert camps, an Algerian government security source said on Thursday.

Al Qaeda's north African wing is holding seven foreigners, including five French nationals, in the Sahara desert after kidnapping them two weeks ago in an operation that underlined the growing threat the group poses to security in the region.

The plan to enlist smugglers, who criss-cross the Sahara with contraband cigarettes and drugs, was one of a series of measures agreed at a meeting of regional intelligence officials in the Algerian capital, the source told Reuters.

But what if the terrorists are the smugglers? There is some partial overlap, after all, and Algeria's infiltration of radical Islamist groups and alliance with Sahel smugglers have long been suspicious. Some noted Algeria experts, such as Jeremy Keenan, have pointed out the murky links with the likes of Africa's biggest cigarette smuggler, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and Algeria's military intelligence. Furthermore, this implies that Algeria's full cooperation with the smugglers on their main activity in exchange for information. We know regime-run trabando had taken over Algeria, but this makes the country officially a mafia-state.

Mossad in Algeria

Here's an odd story:

Algerian authorities have arrested an Israeli Mossad agent carrying a fake Spanish passport in the city of Hassi Messaoud near an Egyptian office providing service for oil companies, Algerian Ennahar El Djadid newspaper reported on Tuesday.

According to the Algerian sources, the Mossad agent entered Algeria under the fake identity of a 35-year old Spanish man named Alberto Vagilo, and spent over ten days in the country prior to his arrest.

The report came a week after an Israeli citizen who went missing for several days in Algeria, who was also carrying a Spanish passport, raised suspicions that he might have been kidnapped by al-Qaida.

The man notified the Foreign Ministry that he contacted his family and that he was safe.

The Algerian paper also reported that the Mossad man received entry visas through a European embassy before traveling to the country via Barcelona.

According to the Algerian sources, deputy director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), John Pistole visited Algeria last Thursday to negotiate on behalf of the Israeli citizen, as there are no diplomatic relations between Israel and Algeria.

Ennahar El Djadid went on to report that the man has a good command of Arabic, is well acquainted with the city, and even participated in the Muslim prayers in the Bilal Ibn Rabah mosque.

There are reports elsewhere that up to six Israelis have been arrested in Algeria, and that the affair is causing an inter-regime raucus. It's all extremely strange — what would an Israeli operative be doing in Algeria, why would he be in oil-producing areas, what's the role of the Egyptian firm involved, and how come this is all happening as Algeria's state-owned oil company, Sonatrach, gets a new CEO after months of corruption investigations and apparent attempts at political destabilization? And how does it fit in the looming succession crisis over Bouteflika's success, for now, in creating a relatively strong presidency? And what does it have to do with the War on Terror in the Sahel?

Algerian War Chic

Nom de Guerre is a New York based fashion designer. For their Spring/Summer 2010 collection, they've decided to draw inspiration from the look of belligerents in Algeria's war of independence, both on the Algerian side and the French OAS militia that tried to squash the independence movement. The result: epaulets, khaki shirts, camouflage pants, and more. It's like extras from Battle of Algiers.

Here's how they pitch it:

Via  Rue89 and @selim

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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.

FP's Middle East Channel launched

Foreign Policy has just launched The Middle East Channel, a one-stop shop for its articles on the Middle East as well as original blog posts. It will be edited by Marc Lynch, Daniel Levy and Amjad Atallah. Marc writes:

Foreign Policy's Middle East Channel is something different: a vibrant and decidedly non-partisan new site where real expertise and experience take priority over shouting, where the daily debate is informed by dispassionate analysis and original reporting all too often lacking from the stale and talking-point-laden commentary that sadly dominates most coverage of the region today. Its contributors range from academics to former policymakers, from journalists on the ground to established analysts -- with an emphasis on introducing voices from Middle East itself. Most importantly, the Middle East Channel comes to you doctrine-free, open to political viewpoints of all kinds -- but demanding honesty, civility, and genuine expertise.

Our scope is broad: Israel and its neighbors, Iran's nuclear program and domestic politics, Iraq, Islamist movements, the Gulf, Turkey, and North Africa, and the struggle for reform and democracy. The Middle East Channel will highlight links between issues and areas of this diverse region of 400 million -- as well as provide a unique perspective on America's challenges there. We'll have regular interviews with Middle East and Washington players, sharp commentary on the news of the day, and original analysis of new ideas and trends in the region.

I hope it will grow into a more centrist-liberal version of Harvard's very right-leaning MESH.

There's already a few interesting pieces up, including Marc on the Iraqi elections, the great Joost Hiltermann on Kirkuk. I have issues with Bernard Avishai's piece on the Palestinian economy — he's been peddling the idea that this is a priority, and while it's important it's not more important than ending the occupation. He does have some interesting insights into the Israel/Palestine economy in case a two-state solution happens:

Each side will be a culturally distinct city-state, building upwards, integrated with the other in a business ecosystem extending to Jordan, and sharing everything from water to currency, tourists to bandwidth. Over 80 percent of Palestine's trade is with Israel. What won't seem trivial is the capacity of Palestine's economy--currently one-fortieth of Israel's--to create employment. The mean age of Palestinians in the territories is about 19 years old. If we assume normal rates of growth, and the return of only half of the refugees to a Palestinian state, Palestine would soon become an Arabic-speaking metropolis of perhaps 6 million to 7 million people, radiating east from Jerusalem, and facing off against the Hebrew-speaking metropolis, anchored by Tel Aviv. Olive groves, picturesque as they are, will seem beside the point. So will military notions like strategic depth.

Each side will be a culturally distinct city-state, building upwards, integrated with the other in a business ecosystem extending to Jordan, and sharing everything from water to currency, tourists to bandwidth. Over 80 percent of Palestine's trade is with Israel. What won't seem trivial is the capacity of Palestine's economy--currently one-fortieth of Israel's--to create employment. The mean age of Palestinians in the territories is about 19 years old. If we assume normal rates of growth, and the return of only half of the refugees to a Palestinian state, Palestine would soon become an Arabic-speaking metropolis of perhaps 6 million to 7 million people, radiating east from Jerusalem, and facing off against the Hebrew-speaking metropolis, anchored by Tel Aviv. Olive groves, picturesque as they are, will seem beside the point. So will military notions like strategic depth.

And there's more analysis of problems with the Palestinian economy — poor banking system, the mobility problems the occupation has created, and a call for Netanyahu to do more to lift the Israeli-imposed restrictions on the Palestinian economy. Anyway, read it for yourself.

My own contribution was just posted — it's a reflection on Algeria's recent regime intrigues:

Why was Algeria's chief of police killed? The assassination of Ali Tounsi is sending political shockwaves through Algeria. Tounsi had been having a public tiff with the minister of interior, Yazid Zerhouni.  The killer, Chouaib Oultache - a close friend and colleague of Tounsi's, and former Air Force colonel who headed the police airborne unit - is reported to have been alone with Tounsi.   Eyewitnesses to the murder have disappeared. Oultache is said to have shot himself, or been shot by others, or to have fallen down stairs as he made his escape. He was hospitalized at a military facility and is recovering from his wounds, or he fell into a coma, or he may have woken up and confessed, or he may be dead. His immediate family has disappeared, and his house is now encircled by police whose main job is dissuading journalists from asking too many questions.

Was the murder purely a personal affair, or is Oultache being set up as part of a shadow war carried out through corruption investigations - not only against Oultache, but also the national oil company Sonatrach and the ministry of public works? Do these investigations mean much whenthey steer clear of the really high-level stuff, such as the long-term oil and gas deals with Spain, France or the United States? Or are they simply warning shots to Bouteflika after he threatened to re-open investigations into the assassination of high-ranking security officials in the 1990s as a way to go after the last remaining generals in positions of influence? Some see it as a harbinger of more trouble to come, particularly as they came as rumors that Bouteflika - who is said to have stomach cancer - is dying. You can take your pick of what actually happened.

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.

Algerian links

No, not those kind of Algerian links...

OK, one more of these link dumps, this time on Algeria, which I've been following lately as signs of inner regime tensions amounted to the death of Ali Tounsi, the head of police since 1995, last week. 

The Economist has the basic story: Trouble in Algeria: The president and the police | The Economist

Kal of The Moor Next Door had coverage earlier: On the death of Ali Tounsi and has more here: Algeria’s Succession: schemes & power plays. Also, don't miss his analysis of the Bouteflika cult of personality, here: The Face of the People: As the Regime Describes Itself.

Through Kal I discovered the excellent English-language Algerian blog Algerian Review, which had this piece of analysis: What to Make of Ali Tounsi’s Death?

Read through this carefully (or wait for a more detailed post perhaps next week), I know I'll be watching closely for signals of more tensions between the generals and the Bouteflika clan over the next week. 

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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.

Links for Jan.05.10

akhbare-rooz (iranian political Bulletin) | List of organizations considered "subversive" by Iranian ministry of inteligence [in Farsi]. ✪ The Daily Star - The Gaza scorecard, one year later | Rami Khouri. ✪ Israel approves east Jerusalem building project | Yet another new settlement. ✪ Library of Congress on Islam in Early America « Anonymous Arabist وين الناس | Fascinating. ✪ Tweet freedom | On Twitter activism in Egypt, unfortunately confuses arabawy.org for arabist.net. ✪ Cairo's US Embassy is Worse by Far | Mamoun Fandy: "The embassy has become an embodiment of the meaning of disgracefulness in Cairo, in terms of people's behavior, rudeness, and impoliteness." ✪ gary's choices - The Decade's First Revolution? | Gary Sick on Iran. ✪ لا لحجب الإنترنت بالجزائر - Non à la censure de l'Internet en Algérie - No to Internet Censorship in Algeria Petition | Petition. ✪ Egyptian minister slams Al-Jazeera for 'instigating civil war' - Ynetnews | Over Gaza wall. ✪ Video: Gaza war: One year on, Palestinians struggle to rebuild life from the rubble | guardian.co.uk | ✪ CIA Bomber a Jihadi Blogger? — jihadica | Interesting background on Abu Dujana, as the bomber was allegedly known. ✪ Dear Metallica | Letter asking the metal band not to perform in Israel. ✪ Free Barghouti Now - Haaretz | OK. ✪ The Daily Nuisance | News From The Frontier | New online site from Israel/Palestine ✪ Three days in Iran - The Big Picture - Boston.com | Great pics of Iranian protests.
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Links for Dec.21.09 to Dec.23.09

Middle East Online | The End of Brotherly Love? | Tarek Kahlaoui on the Egyptian MB. * The Israel Lobby and the Prospects for Middle East Peace « P U L S E | Lectures by Stephen Walt. * Israeli Organ Trafficking and Theft: From Moldova to Palestine | Investigation by Washigton Report. * Doctor admits Israeli pathologists harvested organs without consent | World news | The Guardian | Unbelievable. * Israel gives response to Hamas prisoner swap offer | "Israel relayed its response to the proposed swap and handed over a list of Palestinians it wants exile." * Jimmy Carter to U.S. Jews: Forgive me for stigmatizing Israel - Haaretz - Israel News | WTF? * The Fascination of Israel – Forward.com | Review of three books on Israel. * «Il y a 40.000 Chinois en Algérie» | 40,000 Chinese in Algeria, 2000 Algerians in China. * Meedan | Moroccan and Jordanian forces join Saudi offensive against Houthis. | Handle with care, chief source appears to be Spanish press. * In Shift, Oren Calls J Street ‘A Unique Problem’ – Forward.com | Israel ambassador ramps up the attack on new lobby. * IRIN Middle East | EGYPT-ISRAEL: Perilous journey to the promised land | Middle East | Egypt Israel | Migration Refugees/IDPs | Feature | On sub-Saharan migration to Israel via Egypt. * Palestinians shoot at Egypt | Response to the collapsing of tunnels that have claimed many Palestinian lives? * Egypt's ailing cotton industry needs shake-up | Reuters | Industry risks a "slow death." * Middle East Report Online: Broken Taboos in Post-Election Iran by Ziba Mir-Hosseini | On the Green Movement and gender issues. * Egypt rebukes Hamas over 'foot-dragging' in Palestinian reconciliation - Israel News, Ynetnews | Omar Suleiman:
Suleiman said Egypt had promised Hamas it would address the terror group's reservations vis-à-vis the reconciliation deal "after they sign and begin to implement it." He said Hamas' concerns "lacked substance," adding that the agreement would not be revised. "If it will (be changed), I'll resign," said Suleiman.
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AA Gill on Algeria

499692028_ce9db6ea67.jpg
A suburb of Algiers by Flickr user Swiatoslaw Wojtkowiak In this otherwise amusing if impressionistic piece from poor Algeria, always a favorite contender in the shortlist of most badly run Arab country, the Scottish columnist, restaurant critic, baboon hunter and Welsh-hater AA Gill has an odd passage claiming that think-tankers think Algeria is some bright, promising spot on the south Mediterranean shore:
It’s hard to credit that there are global security wonks and think-tank nerds who hold up Algeria as a model of a workable, acceptable, doable Arab republic, a possible poster boy for Iraq, now that the horrors of its civil war have dulled the edge of Islamic fundamentalism. There may even be somewhere in this place to interest the Middle East peace process. Seen from 20 storeys up and 10,000 miles away, in the air-conditioned and neon-lit offices, on a pie chart on a screen, Algeria’s mixture of a socialist, military, secular state with a Muslim population — a westernish Arab country that wears Nike and drinks beer and wants to sell stuff and buy things — looks like a good bet, a possible way forward. But down here on the street, without the benefit of the graph, the figures, the briefings and overviews, it seems astonishingly mad. The idea that Algeria could be anyone’s role model raises only a humourless snigger.
As a former think-tanker working precisely on this part of our benighted region, I ask Gill: pray tell, where are these Algeria experts who laud it as some kind of model? Enquiring minds want to know. There are some other passages that will no doubt irk the notoriously short-tempered Algerians, such as this romantic idea of the French occupation:
The French didn’t just use Algeria for what they could get out of it; they did something far more damaging, far darker. The French fell in love, like an old man besotted by a young girl in a hot climate. The French imagined that with the power of their culture, their charm, their romance and a specially formed army of criminals they named the Foreign Legion, they could woo Algeria to become an exotic member of the family. It wasn’t simply a chattel, it was adopted and made part of France. Algerians voted in French elections, had deputies in Paris. More whites moved to Algeria than to any other African country. There were over a million French pieds noirs. They farmed a large percentage of the motherland’s fresh produce. They took the Bedouins as mistresses and occasionally wives. When the time came for the divorce, it was cruel and desperate. Fanned by great self-righteous self-pity, Algeria broke France’s heart and the French behaved like cuckolds. There was no sense of giving the nation back. This was the servants stealing the silver — a national humiliation, an act of betrayal.
Hmmm, by Bedouins does he mean les autochtones? Plenty of more faults there (the obligatory mention of the Corsairs and the US marines, the notion that French history starts with the French, etc.) Another passage inflates Algeria's importance in the current clash of civilisations. If only -- Algeria is peripheral to the Arabs, peripheral to the world despite its importance as an energy supplier.
Algeria is the eye of a perfect storm of intolerance, the tsunami of postcolonial trauma coupled with the most nihilistic of 1960s -isms, Third World socialism, as well as authoritarian, reactive military juntas and Wahhabi sharia, all competing in a swamp of mass unemployment. It has a resentfully youthful population — almost a third are under 15. They hang out on corners, huddle and plot, race past on secret missions, mooch in gangs in the kasbah looking like greyhounds waiting for the white rabbit of no good to spin past. The boys are malevolently handsome, often strikingly beautiful, and they are the only people on earth who can make shopping-mall sports kit look chic and elegant. The names of the European football clubs on their backs mock the cul-de-sacs of their lives. On every spot of dusty land they kick balls, do press-ups, hang out with pit bulls on chains, tug at their own balls, smoke, have mock fights and wait for something to turn up.
I have to admit I do like Gill as a stylist, and that he does capture something of the Algerian pathos (albeit by no means a complete picture of it). Ultimately though this kind of writing may tell you more about the author and the snooty, insular country he hails from.
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Links for Dec.13.09 to Dec.16.09

â�© Egypt puts archives on Web to boost Arabic content | But what's the address? â�© Muslims in Europe: A Report on 11 EU Cities | Open Society Institute | Tons of interesting questions raised by this ground-breaking poll. â�© Abkhazia Is Recognized by Even Smaller Nauru - NYTimes.com | Sharqeya next? â�© Pro-Israel Lobby Group’s Iran Petition Features Lots of Questionable Names « The Washington Independent | Such as "Porn Sex Video" and Comfylovely". â�© LedgerGermane: Karzai Says Afghan Army Will Need Help Until 2024 | Yikes. â�© Future of US-Egypt Relations: A View from the Next Generation | Notes on another POMED event. â�© POMED Event: U.S. Military Assistance: Obstacle or Opportunity for Reform? | Steven Cook, Emile Hokayem, etc. some discussion of Egypt-US military relations. â�© Mideastwire.com | Zaitout: reports about Algeria-US agreement over temporary military bases | Handle with care. â�© British court issued Gaza arrest warrant for former Israeli minister Tzipi Livni | The Guardian | More of this please. â�© Nights to remember - The National Newspaper | Arabian Nights conference in NYU Abu Dhabi. â�© Obama's Big Sellout : Rolling Stone | Must-read Matt Taibbi story on Obama's bailout of Wall Street. â�© Al-Masry Al-Youm | Police raid home of prominent blogger | Wael Abbas sentenced to six months of prison in absentia for stealing his neighbors' internet??!?! â�© We will not bow to this Moroccan king | Paul Laverty and Ken Loach | Comment is free | The Guardian | Strongly worded op-ed for Aminatou Haidar. â�© David Ignatius - Jordan's ex-spy chief wasn't too good to be true | On former GID chief Saad Kheir - a dubious tribute. â�© Orientalism in Reverse | Brian Whitaker critiques Joseph Massad's "Gsy International" theory.
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Links for Dec.08.09 to Dec.09.09

Les voix de la nation : chanson, arabité et caméléonisme linguistique | Culture et politique arabes | Very interesting post on Arab singers adopting accents and styles of different countries -- has great clip of Abdel Halim Hafez trying out a traditional Kuwaiti song.

✩ Comment l’Algérie a exporté sa « sale guerre » au Mali : Algérie-Maroc | How Algeria exported its dirty war to Mali: AQIM conspiracies.

Fatwa Shopping « London Review Blog | On Nakheel and Islamic finance.

The women who guard other women in conservative Egypt | On female bodyguards.

Yemen’s afternoon high - Le Monde diplomatique | On the drug Qat.

US Congress frets over anti-Americanism on TV in Mideast | The leading inciter of anti-Americanism in the ME is Congress itself, when it keeps voting for wars for Israel.

Baladna English | New newspaper launched in Syria, but nothing on its site yet.

EU Action Plan on combating terrorism | Document on EU CT strategy.

What the US Elite Really Thinks About Israel « P U L S E | Most Council of Foreign Relations members think US favors Israel too much - v. interesting analysis of foreign policy expert poll by Jeffrey Blankfort.

‘The Battle for Israel’s Soul’ – Channel 4 on Jewish fundamentalism « P U L S E | British documentary on Jewish fundamentalism.

BBC News - Dubai crisis sparks job fears for migrant workers | On South Asians in Dubai.

FT.com / Comment / Opinion - Israel must unpick its ethnic myth | Tony Judt.

The Interview Ha’aretz Doesn’t Want You To See « P U L S E | Interview Ali Abunimah not published by Haaretz.

Attention Christmas Shoppers: Top Ten Brands to Boycott | Sabbah Report | Brands to boycott at Christmas.

FT.com / Middle East / Politics & Society - Egypt’s media warn ElBaradei off politics | On the campaign against ElBaradei.

✩ Flourishing Palestinian sex trade exposed in new report - Haaretz | Amira Hass: "Young Palestinian women are being forced to into prostitution in brothels, escort services, and private apartments in Ramallah and Jerusalem..."

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Soccer nationalism

Egyptian crowds near the Algerian Embassy (Elijah Zarwan) Egyptian crowds near the Algerian Embassy (Elijah Zarwan) On Thursday night, out in Downtown Cairo for a drink, I was startled to see a well-known alley blocked by riot police at both ends. It turned out they were there to protect the Air Algeria offices from Egyptian soccer fans. Later that night, protesters outside the Algerian Embassy in Zamalek clashed with police. The soccer-inspired nastiness on both sides continues, surprisingly long. So after all the ridiculous posturing and dispiriting violence of the last week, it's a pleasure to read this editorial by Al Shurouq newspaper editor Hany Shukrallah. Shukrallah wonders:
"Don't you think there's something exaggerated in this discourse about dreams, hopes, historical moments and historical victories; in the scenes of tears, hugs, hurrahs, marches of millions [...] Isn't there something shameful in comparing a soccer game, however important it may be in the soccer world, to the construction of the pyramids and the High Dam and the miracle of the 1973 crossing [of the Suez Canal]? Don't you think, dear reader [...] that there's a sort of cheapening of our history, of its true heroes and accomplishments and sacrifices [...], in which more than 11 Egyptians participated?"
After deploring the complicity of the media in inciting hatred of the other team and country ("Overnight, Algeria has transformed into Egypt's number one enemy, and the Algerian people have turned into the prime target of Egyptians' hatred and contempt"), Shukrallah argues that it's the deterioration of social and political life in the Arab world that has led people to "search for easy contests, areas in which to let loose our stored up anger and frustration and feelings of humiliation, as long as this costs us no effort, and exposes us to no punishment [...]." He concludes: "The wonder of soccer nationalism is that it doesn't require citizens--just 'supporters.'" Egyptian supporter fighting police near Algerian Embassy (Elijah Zarwan) Egyptian supporter fighting police near Algerian Embassy (Elijah Zarwan)
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Links for 11.12.09 to 11.15.09

Violence Flares Ahead of Algeria-Egypt Soccer Match - The Lede Blog - NYTimes.com | The NYT's blog The Lede has a nice post about the Algeria-Egypt, game, so I don't have to do it as I don't even like football. ✪ Daily News Egypt - Egypt Among States Attempting To Weaken Un Anti-Corruption Convention Enforcement Mechanism | Egypt and others against review mechanism for corruption convention. ✪ The Young Brotherhood in Search of a New Path | Khalil al-Anani. ✪ The Brotherhood vs. Al-Qaeda: A Moment Of Truth? | Jean-Pierre Filiu. ✪ The Saturday Profile - An Arms Dealer Returns, Now Selling an Image - Biography - NYTimes.com | Profile of arms dealer Adnan al-Khashoggi, who apparently has fallen on hard times. Still, I'd like to know why he met with Richard Perle in 2002. ✪ Blogging Imam Who Knew Fort Hood Gunman and 9/11 Hijacker Goes Silent - The Lede Blog - NYTimes.com | Can't believe this guy has not been arrested prior to leaving the US. ✪ 'Going Muslim' - Forbes.com | NYU professor "goes desi" after Texas massacre. Is this just Indian (I assume the professor is originally Indian or Sri Lankan) prejudice against Muslims? I wonder if the next time an Asian shoots people at a college we'll say, "going oriental"... Shame on you, Forbes. ✪ Palestine: Salvaging Fatah | ICG's new report on Palestine. [PDF]
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Links for 10.24.09 to 10.25.09

Power play - The National Newspaper | M. Bazzi on Saudi-Syrian relations. Weirdly makes no mention of Lebanon. ✪ Bikya Masr (BikyaMasr) on Twitter | Report: Ayman Nour attacked by security and NDP thugs in Hurghada. ✪ Algérie-Maroc | Blog on Algerian-Moroccan relations. ✪ Un propagandiste intéressé du régime tunisien - Les blogs du Diplo | Alain Gresh takes down Antoine Sfeir over his apologia for the Ben Ali regime in Tunisia. ✪ “The State is an ostrich”: Algerian riots in the shadow of Power « The Moor Next Door | On the recent turmoil, and more generally the absence of a well-managed state in Algeria. ✪ Arms Smugglers Into Gaza Face a New Foe: Egypt – Forward.com | To Egypt's eternal shame! ✪ «الإخوان المسلمون» ينتصبون ضدّ بيونسي | جريدة الأخبار | The Muslim Brothers take on Beyoncé. ✪ Daily News Egypt -No Egyptian Films At The Cairo International Film Festival, Says Ciff President | er.... what? ✪ Reporters Sans Frontières | Tunisia: Election campaign impossible for opposition media ✪ Daily News Egypt - ‘Spinsters’ By Choice: Egypt’s Single Ladies Speak Out | About the Facebook group "Spinsters for Change". ✪ Michael Gerson - Michael Gerson on Egypt's Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa - washingtonpost.com | Rather lame column about the Mufti of Egypt makes no mention of his civil servant status. ✪ The Empire Lovers Strike Back « P U L S E | Fantastic text by Gore Vidal from the 1980s, about the Podhoretzes and the Israel lobby in the US. ✪ Israeli Exceptionalism: The Destabilizing Logic of Zionism « P U L S E | Excerpt from new book by M. Shahuid Alam.
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