Egypt's Good, Bad, and Ugly

Interesting argument by Hisham Hellyer in Foreign Policy, on what the outside world might do to nudge Egypt towards a resolution of its crisis:

Bilateral attempts by the United States to engage constructively with the Egyptian authorities do not have much hope of success in the short to medium term, and perhaps even in the long term. A multilateral one, however, may. An effort that involves the United States, as well as countries such as the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and European Union member states, may have a different outcome. The "War on Terror" paradigm the authorities are operating within is ultimately not a source of stabilization for the Egyptian state. The repercussions of it, as they intensify, have knock on effects on the economy and civil rights in Egypt. It will take a special kind of conglomerate of countries to constructively advise Egypt on these issues, without being ignored or dismissed.

Whether there are takers on the GCC side for this approach right now is dubious. But if/when Egypt's situation does not improve, they may change their mind.

The thin line between democracy and autocracy

From David Runciman's essay on the European crisis, Will we be all right in the end?, in the LRB:

If elections are not the answer, then what explains the ability of the world’s leading democracies to survive crises, something which has been demonstrated time and again over the last century? My best guess is that their crucial advantage lies in being more politically flexible than the alternatives. That is, in a crisis democracies can experiment with autocracy but autocracies can’t experiment with democracy, not even in small doses. They daren’t, for fear of losing control. This is the real problem for the Chinese system. At some point, perhaps at some point quite soon, China’s leaders will face a critical situation in which they would be better off if they could find an outlet for popular dissatisfaction with the regime. But they will be extremely nervous of opening that door for fear of what lies behind it. So they will be stuck. Democracies can put democracy on hold and get away with it; if autocrats suspend their autocratic powers, they tend not to get them back.

That’s the good news for democracy. People who have announced that Europe’s current experiments with technocracy are a fundamental betrayal of democratic principles are being premature: it could work. But here’s the bad news: there is no guarantee that it will work. The conditions have to be right. The historical evidence suggests that democracies can be flexible only under certain circumstances. To start with, they must not be too poor. In countries where per capita GDP falls below a certain level (usually estimated at around US $7000), democratic experiments with emergency rule often end in disaster. It’s the temporary autocrats who don’t give power back. Political scientists take these thresholds very seriously. Above the line, democracies appear pretty much invulnerable, but below it, even safe-looking democracies might suddenly collapse into something worse. During the economic contraction of the mid-1970s per capita GDP in New Zealand fell perilously close to the cut-off point (it got down to about $10,000). It is hard to imagine what a military coup in 1970s New Zealand would have looked like. But it’s not impossible to imagine. And it’s certainly not hard to imagine what a military coup in 1970s Greece would have looked like.

Qatar funds social services in France

Earlier today, Sultan Qassemi and I had an interesting conversation based on his tweet about this Qatar-funded project in France:

PARIS — Qatar has set up a 50-million-euro ($67-million) fund for entrepreneurs from France's often-deprived suburbs to set up businesses, the Gulf nation's ambassador to Paris said Friday.

"Qatar is not just words. We must act. The emir (Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani) decided to create a 50-million-euro fund to work with you," said ambassador Mohamed Jahan al-Kuwari.

"The fund can be increased," Kuwari told a group of 10 French elected local officials, all of North African origin.

I really think this is quite remarkable, in the current European context. Qatar, a tiny immensely wealthy country that 50 years ago was mostly a fishing village is now funding social services — or social entrepreneurship if you prefer — in one of the great powers of the last century. And it's specifically helping those people across the Arab world who share language and religious affinities with Qataris, but little else.

This is happening at a time when countries like Qatar, the UAE, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia are probably the chief source of surplus capital in the financial markets, at a time when more established economies are reeling from excessuve sovereign debt, frozen banking markets and the rest. I wonder how much of the merger and acquisitions activity taking place in the West right now is funded by Gulf sovereign wealth funds. Or indeed what proportion of the money is the financial markets come from recycled petrodollars. Those right-wing idiots in the US and elsewhere who complain about the high price of oil simply don't realize that it goes back to a large extent into the Western financial markets. It's basically a direct transfer of money from the gas station to the big investment banks. And now, for those countries whose immigration policy are leaving some behind, there's now social welfare as well as corporate welfare. 

Incroyable mais vrai. 

Europe, still rudderless in the Arab world

The FT has an interesting piece today about the (still distant) possibility that the Schengen system, which allows for free passage throughout 25 of the EU's 27 member-states, might be dismantled. There's been rising concern about immigration in many European states for several years, but it partly has to do with the Arab spring. Specifically, with the drastic increase of Tunisian illegal migrants making to Lampedusa island, just off Tunisia but belong to Italy, in recent months. 

The EU tried to do away with such obstacles in its 1995 Schengen agreement for visa-free travel, which the bloc hails as one of its proudest achievements. Yet populist concerns about immigration, heightened by an economic crisis and the upheaval in north Africa, have given rise to new demands to strengthen internal and external borders across Europe.

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Sarrazin against the Saracens

The Saturday Profile - Thilo Sarrazin - NYTimes.com:

THIS quiet, orderly man, who lives in a quiet, orderly house, in a very quiet tree-lined neighborhood has caused a huge public stir here with his volatile book arguing that Muslim immigrants in Germany are socially, culturally and intellectually inferior to most everyone else.

With the certainty of an accountant adding up rows of numbers, Thilo Sarrazin has delivered his conclusion in a book that has sold over one million copies, forced him to quit his job at the German central bank, may get him kicked out of his political party and for the first time since World War II made it socially acceptable in Germany to single out a particular minority for criticism.

By former Cairo correspondent Michael Slackman, incidentally — so that's what he's up to! He has some some great quietly devastating passages in this piece, such as:

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Terrorism in Europe

Some illuminating statistics via Juan Cole:

"A Europol report on terrorist attacks in Europe in 2009 [pdf] says that out of hundreds of terrorist attacks iin Europe in 2009, most were the work of ethnic separatists. About 40 were carried out by members of the extreme left. A handful by the European far right. See also this analysis.

One terrorist attack was carried out in 2009 in all Europe by persons of Muslim heritage (I do not say ‘by a Muslim’ because terrorism is forbidden in Islamic law).

That is right. Out of hundreds. Exactly one."

Incidentally, not to nitpick on this one, but I find it rather risky to say that terrorism is forbidden by Islamic law. Someone will always be able to find a legal justification for terrorism, which also depends on how terrorism is defined. No religion can confidently exclude such legalistic perversions of original intent.

Hamburg again

Very thorough reporting on European terrorist plots alert at CNN.com, centered on that Hamburg mosque that the 9/11 hijackers frequented:

The Imam of the Taiba mosque in Hamburg is Mamoun Darkazanli, a German businessman originally from Syria. The 9/11 Commission identified him as having links to al Qaeda financiers. He was charged in 2003 with membership of al Qaeda by Spanish authorities, but as a German citizen was not extradited. He faces no charges in Germany. Repeated attempts by CNN to reach Darkazanli for a response on the latest plot have been unsuccessful. In the years after 9/11 the Taiba mosque became a magnet for al Qaeda sympathizers across Europe. "They all wanted to come and pray where Mohammed Atta prayed," a German intelligence official told CNN. Hamburg authorities shut down the mosque a few weeks after Sidiqi was arrested. The decision to shut the mosque was difficult, say officials in Hamburg, because the presence in one place of so many militants made it easier to monitor their activities. But they say the mosque had become a recruiting center for jihadists across Europe. Several militants now back in Germany who failed to make it to Pakistan's tribal areas are of continuing concern to German intelligence services, who have kept them under observation. "Their greatest enemy is the United States," a German intelligence official told CNN. A recent report by Hamburg's intelligence services stated that 45 jihadists lived freely and openly in the city, from where they actively supported al Qaeda. High evidence thresholds under the German legal system have made it very difficult for authorities to make arrests, German officials told CNN. In addition to those actively supporting al Qaeda. another 200 Islamists living in the city are described as having "violent tendencies."

 

Defend Israel, defend the white man

Among the many reasons for staunch Western support for the Zionist project in Palestine — from the Balfour Declaration to today's contortions to defend the indefensible in Gaza and elsewhere — is a pretty basic racism. The Zionists, after all, were mostly Europeans, and even as second-class Europeans, they ranked a notch or two above the natives of Palestine. This has long been an implicit part of the Western posture towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the Middle East in general.

In the last decade or two, this has become more explicit, with rallies to Israel's defense being made for the sake of Western civilization against the Mahommedan hordes and much talk about "Judeo-Christian" values among the conservative pro-Israel community, particularly in America. As in for instance in this latest project by a smattering of European right-wingers called the Friends of Israel Initiative, in which the first point is:

1. Israel is a Western country. With a liberal democratic political system operating under the rule of law, a flourishing market economy producing technological innovation to the benefit of the wider world, and a population as educated and cultured as anywhere in Europe or North America Israel is a normal Western country with a right to be treated as such in the community of nations. 

Normal Western countries don't have religious laws and don't restrict immigration to a single religion. Nor are they occupiers of other people's lands and conduct wars of collective punishment with their immediate neighbors. But they care about this point so much they basically repeat in point four:

4. Israel is on our side. With this in mind, we must be clear in recognizing that Israel’s fight is our fight. Western democracy will not prevail unless we recognize and assume the Judeo-Christian cultural and moral heritage which first gave rise to those institutions and the values which initially inspired them, and strengthen them. The assault on Israel is itself an assault on Judeo-Christian values. Israel stands on the front line, but we are next in line. If Israel’s right to self defense is questioned in the Middle East, our right to self-defense will be questioned when fighting similar terrorist enemies in Afghanistan, and at home. If principles of human rights and universal jurisdiction are to be turned into weapons against Israeli democracy, what makes us so sure they will not one day be used against European and North American democracy? Israel’s future is our fate. 

Being partly of European background, I have to say I don't see much that's Judeo-Christian in European values. Christian, yes, definitely, although today there are as much if not more secular and even anti-religious values. But the idea that the West has always cherished "Judeo-Christian" values is rather odd, considering it persistently practiced anti-Semitism in various forms for hundreds of years. There was no deep-rooted respect for Jews or their values in Europe aside from the Christian interest in the Old Testament — history since the Inquisition makes that pretty clear. This new trope of Western conservatism is a recent invention.

Today's Europe, despite the minaret-banning and some religious revival in the Eastern countries, has at its core values Enlightenment ideals and their postmodern extension in the Frankfurt School and elsewhere. It is an identity in which universal human rights is a core value (even if the reality in Europe is obviously still far from that). Ultimately — and we've seen this trend grow since the end of the Cold War — European values are at odds with a theologically grounded, ethnically-based colonial state. 

And by the way: one of the signatories, David Trimble, was appointed by Israel as one of the two foreigners in the commission to investigate the Freedom Flotilla massacre. Enough said.

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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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 11.30.09 to 12.02.09

Why they hate us (II): How many Muslims has the U.S. killed in the past 30 years? | Stephen M. Walt | 288,000, Walt estimates. ✪ Libya convicts Swiss pair in apparent revenge for arrest of Gaddafi's son | World news | guardian.co.uk | Good timing. ✪ Israel strips more Palestinians of Jerusalem status (Reuters) | "Reuters - Israel stripped Palestinians of Jerusalem residency status last year at a faster rate than at any time in the history of the Jewish state, an Israeli rights group said on Wednesday, citing official Israeli statistics." ✪ Dubai model was the vision of one man | Reuters | Andrew Hammond's writes: "The "Dubai vision," which has suffered a crushing blow from the freewheeling Gulf emirate's sudden debt crisis, is the creation of one man who failed to apply the rules of open governance." ✪ Arab disappointment with Obama | Marc Lynch | Arabs disappointed with mideast policy, not democracy. Americans disappointed with everything. ✪ Spreading Shiism to the Moon Asharq Alawsat Newspaper (English) | This is about Iranian ambitions over the Comoros Islands, but I link because the intro is funny. ✪ Jewish Nationalists and Palestinians Clash in East Jerusalem - NYTimes.com | This headline makes it sounds like the Jews are the natives. Plus it's in East Jerusalem, which is Palestinian under international law. ✪ Obama's Middle East Policies: the Persistence of the Bush Doctrine on Vimeo | A lecture by the Angry Arab, Asa'ad Abu Khalil. ✪ Israel attacks Sweden on Jerusalem plan | I think this Swedish position on Jerusalem, if the EU takes it up, is important. ✪ What to listen for in Obama's speech | What Walt says on Afghanistan. ✪ The New Inquisition | Laila Lalami in The Nation. ✪ Arab journalist throws shoe at Iraqi shoe thrower - Yahoo! News | He missed, too. ✪ Views from the Occident: Hizbullah Announces New Party Platform | Hizbullah peddles its national vision. ✪ ei: "We will have to kill them all": Effie Eitam, thug messiah | Buffalo, NY Jews welcome Elie Eitam, murderer and Eretz Israeler. ✪ Super Emo Friends | Diskursdisko | Comic book humor - should appeal to those emos in Egypt.
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Links for 08.16.09 to 08.17.09

U.S. group invests tax-free millions in East Jerusalem land - Haaretz - Israel News | Prosecute them: "American Friends of Ateret Cohanim, a nonprofit organization that sends millions of shekels worth of donations to Israel every year for clearly political purposes, such as buying Arab properties in East Jerusalem, is registered in the United States as an organization that funds educational institutes in Israel." ✪ Palestinian state is not synonym for terrorist entity - Haaretz - Israel News | "The Jewish army's work in the territories we still call "Judea and Samaria" is done by non-Jews: Arab police, American instructors, European money. How has Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman put it? Paradise." ✪ Al-Ahram Weekly | Region | Hamas faces Gelgelt | On links between the Salafist Jihadist group and "our son of a bitch" Muhammad Dahlan. ✪ Is the Trans-Sahara Gas Pipeline a Viable Project? The Impact of Terrorism Risk - The Jamestown Foundation | To me this is a ridiculous idea but what do I know? ✪ Al-Ahram Weekly | Culture | Tractatus Franco-Arabicus | A Wittgensteinian review of Sonallah Ibrahim's latest.
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Two reviews on "Eurabia"

By now a lot of people have seen Stephen Pollard's review of the neoconservative journalist Bruce Bawer's "Surrender," a book that appears to espouse some of the most alarmist and error-ridden ideas about the role Muslim immigration is playing in Europe (the "Eurabia" genre in polemical literature) and widening the scope to include America as the next place to be taken over by Islamofascism. The NYT thought it fit to include a long excerpt of "Surrender", which begins with these words:
We in the West are living in the midst of a jihad, and most of us don't even realize it — because it's a brand of jihad that's barely a generation old. Islam divides the world into two parts. The part governed by sharia, or Islamic law, is called the Dar al-Islam, or House of Submission. Everything else is the Dar al-Harb, or House of War. It's called the House of War because it, too, according to the Koran, is destined to be governed by sharia, and it will take war — holy war, jihad — to bring it into the House of Submission. Jihad began with Muhammed himself. When he was born, the lands that today make up the Arab world were populated mostly by Christians and Jews; within a century after his death, those areas' inhabitants had been killed, driven away, subjugated to Islam as members of the underclass known as dhimmis, or converted to the Religion of Peace at the point of a sword. The Crusades of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries were not wars of conquest by Europeans but attempts to take back what had once been Christian territory. America's very first foreign conflict after the Revolutionary War was with the Barbary pirates, who, sponsored by the Muslim governments of North Africa — just as terrorist groups today enjoy the sponsorship of countries like Libya, Iran, and Syria — had for generations been preying on European ships and selling their crews and passengers into slavery.
It might be easy to dismiss this as yet another kook who takes his Islamic theology (or Orientalist reading thereof) too seriously, but then the NYT's approving review ended with:
Bawer is unquestionably correct, and that fact is quite simply terrifying.
Well except that, for instance, the stupid argument about the Barbary pirates (used by many others in recent years, include those who should know better like Christopher Hitchens) makes no sense. After all, most states in that period employed the services of pirates (called privateers) and would even distribute licenses for piracy. Slavery, likewise, is hardly an Islamo-Arab monopoly. The idea that the inhabitants of the present Islamic world were "driven away" during the Islamic conquests is largely untrue, and the inhabitants of now Islamic lands were not all Christian or Jewish (some were animist). The idea that Jerusalem is/was Christian territory assumes that Bawer accepts the Roman claim to the city, and extends it to the Roman Catholic Church. One could go on, but without reading the book (I am sorely tempted to get the ebook version to read and review... but don't want to give him money) I will stop at this. That someone has written an alarmist, anti-immigrant, possibly racist book is one thing. It is part of a phenomena that finds a niche in the publishing industry and sells well because of the global "war on terror context). But for the NYT, supposedly THE American highbrow, liberal paper to review it so uncritically is another. To me (along with Thomas Friedman's weekly contributions) it is another sign in the mounting evidence that it is simply not a reliable newspaper when it comes to the Middle East, and this makes me doubt the rest of it. I barely read it as it is, and urge others to do likewise. You can follow American politics at TalkingPointsMemo.com or countless other publications, and look elsewhere for your foreign coverage. Which brings us to the Guardian. I am not uncritical of the Guardian -- I wish it was less lifestyle-oriented, insular and did more long-form journalism of the classic American kind -- but it remains, for people on the center-left at least, an excellent newspaper with a superb website. On the same day as the NYT endorsed "Eurabia," the excellent investigative journalist Jason Burke reported that the frenzy about it was dying down:

The dire predictions of religious and identity-based mayhem reached their peak between 2004 and 2006, when bombs exploded in Madrid and London, a controversial film director was shot and stabbed to death in Amsterdam, and angry demonstrators marched against publication of satirical cartoons about the Prophet Muhammad.

For Bruce Bawer, author of While Europe Slept, the continent's future was to "tamely resign itself to a gradual transition to absolute sharia law". By the end of the century, warned Bernard Lewis, the famous American historian of Islam, "Europe will be Islamic". The Daily Telegraph asked: "Is France on the way to becoming an Islamic state?" The Daily Mail described the riots that shook the nation in the autumn of 2005 as a "Muslim intifada".

Yet a few years on, though a steady drumbeat of apocalyptic forecasts continues, such fears are beginning to look misplaced. The warnings focus on three elements: the terrorist threat posed by radical Muslim European populations; a cultural "invasion" due to a failure of integration; and demographic "swamping" by Muslim communities with high fertility rates.

A new poll by Gallup, one of the most comprehensive to date, shows that the feared mass radicalisation of the EU's 20-odd million Muslims has not taken place. Asked if violent attacks on civilians could be justified, 82% of French Muslims and 91% of German Muslims said no. The number who said violence could be used in a "noble cause" was broadly in line with the general population. Crucially, responses were not determined by religious practice - with no difference between devout worshippers and those for whom "religion [was] not important".

"The numbers have been pretty steady over a number of years," said Gallup's Magali Rheault. "It is important to separate the mainstream views from the actions of the fringe groups, who often receive disproportionate attention. Mainstream Muslims do not appear to exhibit extremist behaviour."

Read the rest of this thoughtful piece on Muslim emigration to Europe -- and forget about the NYT.

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