I'm Ikhwan!

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

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

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

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

(And thanks to Matt!)

Why the Muslim Brothers will brook no dissent

The news that the leading Muslim Brother Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh is being expelled from the movement should come as no surprise. It's true that in doing so, the MB is losing a widely respected figure that many see as the more moderate, acceptable face of the Brotherhood. Aboul Fotouh frequently appears on television, and has influence as the head of the Arab Medical Union, a professional syndicate. He is also a leadership figure for the vocal minority of young Muslim Brothers and their sympathizers who want to see the group change with the times. But is he becoming a major thorn in the Brotherhood's side for his desire to run for the presidency.

This is not primarily because the MB feels it is too early to field a presidential candidate, even if that's part of the picture. It is first and foremost about electoral strategy and a long-term plan to increase its political influence.

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Brothers against the ropes

Get your Muslim Brotherhood T-shirt while stocks last!

A conciliatory attitude by the new Guide, Mohamed Badie, has not protected the Muslim Brothers from another string of arrests. That they include people from five provinces and a key electoral planner — Essam al-Erian — and an organizational strongman — First Deputy Guide Mahmoud Ezzat — suggests that it's largely to do with forthcoming elections. This arrest is notable because Ezzat had not been arrested in years, as most top leadership rarely are. It may have also to do with the state noting his ascendancy, and wanting to send disruptions into the group: many have suspected in the past that the regime selects who it arrests in partly in function of the MB's internal politics, to allow an opportunity for rival factions to dominate.1 As for Al-Erian, one of the key planners of the MB's 2005 electoral strategy, it's clear he's long been one of the leaders most intent in contesting elections as widely as possible. 

Can the regime push the MB, by this fall, into a strategic withdrawal from the electoral field? Not a total one, but one that reduces the numbers of seats it has in parliament to around the level they won in 2000 (i.e. 17)? A few NDP and government figures have suggested that they expect the MB to return to the levels of that time, but it's a hard thing to guarantee unless you have very rigged elections. This is tricky this time around not so much because of the Obama administration, which has systematically downplayed the importance elections in its concept of democracy-promotion, but perhaps because Mohamed el-Baradei had focused much attention on the electoral system and may gain domestic and foreign traction over the next few months if he finds support for his project. So the alternative would be to push the MB into a deal whereby they present fewer candidates and restrict themselves.2

At this point the regime appears to be less looking for a deal with the Brothers than a kow-tow from them. The MB has already for all intents and purpose frozen its reform process, put aside its political party program, and reduced the influence of those most attached to the idea of a political party (aside from al-Erian). The next questions will be, will it drop its new policy of contesting all elections and not run for the Shura Council (most likely) and reduce its footprint in the next parliament (inevitable, but the question is how?)   

1. Some Brothers believe this was the idea behind the prison sentence handed to Khayrat al-Shater in 2007.   

2. With the caveat that it can't be about the Muslim Brothers' electoral strategy alone. It is also about the NDP's ability to impose discipline on its members to avoid the pattern of the last few elections where NDP independents ran against the party's official candidates, thus splitting the pro-government vote and giving candidates from the MB a fighting chance. I would venture that, for now, we have no indication that the NDP will be any more disciplined, since government policy has basically moved the intense competition for seats from the public competition into one inside the NDP.

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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Links for 12.04.09 to 12.07.09

ElBaradei on Zakaria's GPS - CNN | Check in at around 30:50 for his take on Egypt's current situation. ✪ Egypt to re-evaluate subsidies for the poor - The National Newspaper | The debate over subsidies reform in Egypt. ✪ Start the Week: 30/11/2009 | Andrew Marr interviews Eugene Rogan, author of "The Arabs". Also interviews on terrorism, etc. ✪ Cyber Jihadis' LOTR obsession | Super funny post on the use of Lord of the Rings in jihadi propaganda ✪ The Associated Press: Veil's spread fans Egypt's fear of hard-line Islam | I don't like this idea of the government backing a "moderate Islam" vs. some hardcore Islam. The government is as Islamist as anyone else. ✪ AFP: Egypt detains 10 senior Muslim Brotherhood members | 227 Brothers behind bars so far. ✪ Egypt to demand the Rosetta Stone from British Museum - Times Online | Fight to get antiquities back continues. ✪ Why U.S. Mideast Policy is (Still) Screwed Up | Stephen M. Walt | "Every appointee to the American government must endure a thorough background check by the American Jewish community." ✪ Arms smuggling heightens fears Iran may be building arsenal | US-backed UAE crackdown on arms smuggling to Iran. Interesting story, who leaked it and why? ✪ Congress.org - News : Rising military suicides | "More U.S. military personnel have taken their own lives so far in 2009 than have been killed in either the Afghanistan or Iraq wars this year." ✪ The Generals' Revolt : Rolling Stone | Are the generals pushing Obama on AfPak because of Petraeus' presidential ambitions? ✪ Egypt’s opposition misled by fixation with Mubarak’s son - The National Newspaper | Amr Hamzawy, ✪ FT.com / UK - Muslim Brotherhood rifts widen | Habib lays out the divide for the FT. ✪ Reset - Dialogues on Civilizations | Life | Interview with Joseph Massad on his ridiculous thesis of the "invention" of homosexuality ion the Arab world by the West and the "Gay International." ✪ Iran whistleblower died from drug-laced salad - Yahoo! News | Nasty.
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Hossam Tammam on the Brothers

hossamtammam.jpg Former Brother Hossam Tammam is one of my favorite analysts of the Muslim Brothers. I think he really captures the tensions in the group elegantly here, without resorting to the misleading moderate vs. conservative dichotomy. It's more about an inward-looking vs. outward looking group, he writes:
At the root of the MB's current crisis is its dwindling ability to maintain cohesion between its various sub-trends. An influential faction of its leadership is increasingly monopolising decisions on matters pertaining to the group's image, ideological orientation and future. The organisation of the MB is difficult to grasp for those unfamiliar with such totalitarian entities. Structurally it is bigger than a political party, but unlike a political party its membership and scope of operations transcend the state. Ideologically, it has more in common with a political front or organisational umbrella for different, in this case, Islamist trends, than it does with a party espousing a specific platform or programme. The umbrella embraces ultraconservative fundamentalists to religious liberals and everything between, all of whom have managed to coexist within a single organisational framework, generally subscribing to the principle of gradual peaceful change. Against such diversity we can nevertheless speak of two divergent trends. One favours open political involvement in student or syndicate circles and other areas of public life. Known as the reformist trend, it has drawn the contours of the MB's image in the sphere of public life. Abdel-Moneim Abul- Fotouh is the most prominent exponent of this trend among the group's senior leaders. The other trend runs the organisational operations of the group, in which capacity they oversee recruitment activities, hierarchical appointments and relations, and the design and implementation of material and programmes for indoctrination. The most important exponent of this conservative trend in the MB leadership is Mahmoud Ezzat. The MB leadership has always managed to keep these two trends together despite their mutual differences. This has been no small task, massaging the strains between people who prefer to work in the public domain and, hence, are naturally inclined towards constructive, open and continual engagement with society, and those whose focus is inward, whose energies are forever directed at building their own world and raising the "vanguard of the faithful" upon whom the hopes and duties of reshaping society and the nation are pinned. The expansion in the activities of the group, combining proselytising, charity and political activities, favoured coexistence to the extent that the public reformist and conservative organisational trends were regarded as complementary. Their combined efforts, it was believed, lent impetus to the group, expanded its grassroots base and improved its image among the government elite. The organisation also seemed pleased to be the Mecca for all, to those inclined towards political involvement, to those dedicated to proselytising, and to those keen on philanthropic and charity work. The leadership was not particularly concerned with unifying these diverse interests towards the pursuit of a single clearly defined vision; it was merely content that they should not clash.
Read it all. And for more MB fun, I just came across this Scribd user that has a collection of articles on the Brothers: ikhwanscope.
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Links for 11.07.09 to 11.09.09

Israeli Asks Abbas Not to Step Down - NYTimes.com | What a weird headline: the Israeli in question is the president of Israel, Shimon Peres (aka Skeletor, Evil Lord of Destruction). Not that knowing this makes the whole thing any less weird, although it is telling to see how much the Israelis like Abbas.

Fatah al-Islam Connected to Israeli Elements- Lebanese Security Source Asharq Alawsat Newspaper (English) | Really: Fatah al-Islam, connected to the Palestinians, the Syrians, the Americans, the Saudis and now the Israelis. I am beginning to wonder whether it even exists.

The Dark Side of the Bright Side -- In These Times | I love Barbara Ehrenreich's books.

The Associated Press: Islamic critics blast Beyonce on eve of Egypt show | Muslim Brothers attack "nudity concert".

23 CIA Officers Convicted in Italy, in Abstentia | For extraordinary rendition of Egyptian man.

Middle East Bloggers: The Street Leads Online - Reports - Committee to Protect Journalists | CPJ report on bloggers in MENA, especially the rising use of emprisonment against them: "Individual bloggers face enormous threats; the medium as a whole faces significant challenges. Increasingly, governments are creating new laws to regulate the Internet and amending old ones to encompass online expression. Already authorities are exploiting the isolated nature of bloggers and the lack of institutional protections for online journalists. As the Iranian regime exhibited this year, governments are willing to take severe measures when they perceive a threat to their power."

Holiday sales could launch e-book readers as mass-market must-haves | If you're interested in ebooks, this is a pretty good piece on the state of the industry. Has anyone tried Kindle downloading in Egypt? Is it restricted?

Japanese contractors owed billions by Dubai firms - The National Newspaper | Dubai is a bad debtor.

Waq al-Waq: The Big Question for Saudi Arabia | Who runs Saudi Arabia's Yemen policy?

Obama's Failure in the Middle East | Stephen M. Walt | KA-POW: "I never thought I'd write the following words, but is it possible that Obama's handling of the I-P peace process might actually end up being worse than George Bush's?"

Berman’s Response to Goldstone on House Gaza War-Crimes Resolution « The Washington Independent | The assholes who run Congress reply to Goldstone.

Report: Mossad hacked Syrian computer to uncover nuke site - Haaretz - Israel News | Basic snooping software found super-classified info? Either this is not true or the Syrians are mega-stupid. But since the allegation is that Syria had a secret nuclear research facility, I'll lean towards the former - this was all bullshit from the beginning.

ATTACKERMAN » Somewhere, Khaled Meshal Is Laughing | Obama messed up doubly with Goldstone as well as backing down on settlements. What's a Palestinian leader (any of them outside Hamas) to do?

Lebanese opposition agrees to govt line-up: Hezbollah

(AFP) | Cabinet crisis over?

Clinton has 'productive meeting' with Egypt on Mideast peace process - washingtonpost.com | Hosni Mubarak loves nothing more than being made to feel important. Clinton's entire trip to Cairo is about this: "Clinton attributed the apparent softening in Egypt's position as a response to her personal diplomacy, conducted over visits to four capitals in the region over the past five days. "I thought it was a very productive meeting," she told reporters traveling with her after the news conference, adding that it "shows the value of consultation and listening and sharing ideas and hearing the other side and putting forward your views and explaining.""

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Links for 10.28.09

FT.com / Middle East - Wait goes on for Dubai’s £10bn bond | "Where is Dubai’s $10bn bond? The question has been making the rounds in Dubai business circles, as bankers and executives wonder when the emirate will bite the bullet and ask the United Arab Emirates central bank – which is bankrolled by Abu Dhabi – for the second tranche of a $20bn bail-out agreed earlier this year." ✪ FT.com / China / Economy & Trade - Qatar targets increased gas exports to China | China hydrocarbons imports from ME increase. ✪ Almasry Alyoum | Standing Up To Garbage | Interesting story about garbage collection problem, reveals govt. spending very little, military stepping in with recycling. ✪ Almasry Alyoum | NDP Promotes Gamal Mubarak On Facebook | Facebook users paid LE1500 to promote Gamal. ✪ Brown: Asking the wrong questions about Palestinian elections | Marc Lynch | Makes some good points about elections in the Arab world in general and the Palestinian ones in particular. ✪ Dar Al Hayat - The “Brotherhoodization” of the Arab World | Argues MB arrests only reinforce ideological core of the group and increases its popularity, allowing them to spread their intolerant populist message rather than engage in genuine politics. ✪ Arab winds of change | Brian Whitaker | Comment is free | guardian.co.uk | Whitaker provides a short take on his new book, which I will be reviewing shortly: the Arab malaise is not just the regimes, but also the people. ✪ The disabled Palestinian standup helping refugees find their funny side | Stage | The Guardian | Very nice story on Palestinian disabled standupcomics: "I am officially the most oppressed person in the world," Maysoon Zayid recently told an audience in California. "I'm a Palestinian Muslim with cerebral palsy." ✪ Israel rations Palestinians to trickle of water | Amnesty International | Amnesty's report on Israel cutting off water to Gaza. ✪ Envisioning an alternative Egypt, post-Mubarak - Haaretz - Israel News | Zvi Barel on Heikal and succession. ✪ bt - Waiting for a Trickle | "The boom, spurred by private and foreign direct investment, has paid off primarily for the country’s richest, according to the new report by the General Authority for Investment (GAFI)." ✪ The Race for Iran | New blog about the geostrategy of Iran, contributors include Flynt and Hillary Everett. ✪ Gaza water supply at 'crisis point' | "Amnesty International says Israeli policies and practices are denying Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza Strip their fair share of the region's scarce water supplies" ✪ Amr Bargisi and Samuel Tadros: Why Are Egypt's Liberals Anti-Semitic? - WSJ.com | WTF is the Egyptian Union of Liberal Youth? This argument is stupid, you take the liberals you have, not those you wish you had. And how do these people get into the WSJ op-ed page? ✪ Brother of Afghan Leader Is Said to Be on C.I.A. Payroll - NYTimes.com | No wonder Matthew Hoh resigned: "KABUL, Afghanistan — Ahmed Wali Karzai, the brother of the Afghan president and a suspected player in the country’s booming illegal opium trade, gets regular payments from the Central Intelligence Agency, and has for much of the past eight years, according to current and former American officials."
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