Qisasukhra

If you follow Arabic literature, you owe it to yourself to follow Qisasukhra, a new blog by a translator who features short pieces from new Arabic novels. 

Here's an excerpt from a translation of a Mohammed Mustajab story:

I donned the dark suit, the tight new shoes and leapt into the street. The hour was early. Plans had been laid with modern precision.

I told my sweetheart, the evening before, that I was terrified of meeting her father. She tweaked my ear, brought her eyes closer, caught her breath for an instant, then laughed.

Her father, she said (like any father) loved his daughter and she (my sweetheart assumed an air of gravity) had cleared all obstacles for this encounter. She (she laughed) had paved the way: all that remained was to charge. She (her fingertips tickled my chin) cared for nothing in this world but me.

Her efforts, I said, were deserving of my fullest admiration. Nevertheless, I was not going to meet her father. I gazed into her eyes and my voice a whisper, underscored my point: It’s not a father I’ll be meeting, it’s a former prime minister…

SCAF's long game

A Brief Note about SCAF

From an interesting new blog, Accidental Occidental:

The question is why SCAF would give the “win,” at least on paper, to Morsi. It is no secret SCAF’s days were numbered if they refused to hand over power. This is their exit strategy. SCAF has appeared to castrate themselves in the press, but without losing any of their real power (drawn not from governing but from being the elephant in the room during the governing process). SCAF has feinted, and it appears to have worked. Attacks in the Sinai, power outages, and water shortages are now dropped cleanly in the Muslim Brotherhood’s lap. Any public anger is no longer directed towards the military-industrial complex, but towards the civilian government.

SCAF is playing the long game. In my opinion, they are doing it very shrewdly and very well. Juntas normally do not sacrifice battles for the war, but SCAF has appeared willing to do just that. In the end, it appears the military will stand free from any legitimate criticism and there will be no substantive change in the military-industrial complex.

I agree with this take and put it in a different way in a Guardian piece yesterday — i.e. that talk of Morsi's triumph overshadows that generals (just different generals) were still kingmakers. It might develop in a positive way (the military will stay out of most civilian business and things will overall improve in Egypt in terms of governance, human rights, etc.) but there is no reason to believe it will automatically do so.

Accidental Occidental, by the way, appears to chiefly concern itself with a critique of leftist discourse on the Middle East, from a leftist perspective. The author writes:

My contention is that “anti-colonialism” became one of the myths used by Fascist governments in the Middle East to oppresses and eradicate opposition. We on the Left went to bed with murders, crooks and thieves in the fight against colonialism and it has only led to a new fascism in the Middle East. We never considered that we would be the fascists. The purpose of this blog is to question exactly that myth.

I deeply sympathize. Timely reading in context of the current kerfuffle over Rami Khouri's accusations of Orientalism against those analysts who worry about Syria.

New Blog: Steven Cook at CFR

Veteran Egypt (and Turkey and Algeria) watcher Steven Cook, an expert on things military and much else, has a new blog at the Council of Foreign Relations website. Steven, who wrote a masterful comparison of the military regimes in those three countries in Ruling But Not Governing, is currently working on a book on Egypt-US relations since the 1950s, which should come out next year.

In his latest post, written from Ankara, he writes about whether Turkey needs the carrot of EU membership to carry out democratic change anymore. It's something I've been thinking about a lot right now, having come to see Turkey as a democracy (despite remaining problems about its treatment of minorities and some laws left over from the military dictatorship era). And in fact, the recent constitutional changes were carried out at a time when the EU connection is getting weaker.

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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. 

The Kingdom of Monopoly

I came across this interesting blog, devoted in part to Saudi Arabia's economics, by Essam al-Zamel [Ar]. In this post he discusses land speculation in Saudi Arabia and its dampening effect on entrepreneurship. The graphic is from his site.

Adam Curtis' wonderful blog

Murtaza, Sanam and Benazir Bhutto

I am a huge fan of the documentary film-maker Adam Curtis, the author of wonderful films about our times such as The Power of Nightmares, The Trap and The Century of the Self. Curtis recently launched a blog, and in his latest missive he tracks down the parallel rise of Benazir Bhutto and post-Soviet Russian reformist Yegor Gaidar. It's a blog post that feels like one of his documentaries, with their eerie juxtaposition of politics and sociology with footage of ephemera, old newsreels and experimental music.

Make sure you watch the videos, especially the ones of Russian musician Sergey Kuryokhin.

Links for Jan.10.10 to Jan.11.10

“Lorsque je commençais mon enquête sur le tourisme au Sahara marocain, je n’imaginais pas être prise à témoin d’échanges sexuels” « Ibn Kafka's obiter dicta – divagations d'un juriste marocain en liberté surveillée | On sexual tourism in Western Sahara. ✪ What the "Eurabia" Authors Get Wrong About Islam in Europe - By Justin Vaïsse | Foreign Policy | Critique of Eurabia theory. ✪ The Trials of Tony Judt - The Chronicle Review - The Chronicle of Higher Education | ✪ U.S. to store $800m in military gear in Israel - Haaretz | To keep in mind in context of Iran. ✪ Israel and Iran: The gathering storm | The Economist | Interesting story with background on Osirak bombing, Israeli prospects against Iran. ✪ Executive | Magazine has new books section. ✪ Strong reaction to warning of coup - The National Newspaper | Iraqis react to UK ambassador's testimony to Chilcot Enquiry that coup to purge Iran influence still possible in Iraq. ✪ the arabophile | New blog. ✪ Joe Sacco: Graphic History | Mother Jones | Interview with the cartoonist and author of "Footnotes from Gaza." ✪ High cost of living means more unmarried in Egypt | Bikya Masr | Stats on why Egyptians are marrying later. ✪ Arab Reform Initiative | Report on constitutional reforms in the Arab world. ✪ The architecture of apartheid | SocialistWorker.org | On the bantustanization of Palestine. ✪ The Venture of Marty Peretz’s bigotry: Arabs, Muslims, Berbers and more « The Moor Next Door | Kal on the New Republic editor's Islamophobia. ✪ The Forgotten Recantation — jihadica | Interesting post on the recantation of Abbud al-Zommor. ✪ 'Bush sold Arab states arms in violation of deal with Israel' - Haaretz - Israel News | Obama, more pro-Israel than Bush: "The Bush administration violated security related agreements with Israel in which the U.S. promised to preserve the IDF's qualitative edge over Arab armies, according to senior officials in the Obama administration and Israel."
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