What the XXXX?

There sure are a lot of XXXs in this redacted Wikileaks cable, citing an Egyptian parliamentarian's speculation that Minister of Defense Hussein Tantawi and Director of Intelligence Omar Suleiman might thwart Gamal Mubarak from succeeding his father, back from 2007:

--------------------------------------- 
XXXXXXXXXXXX
--------------------------------------- 
 
¶6. (C) XXXXXXXXXXXX noted that hisXXXXXXXXXXXX (per ref B, a 
XXXXXXXXXXXX), is XXXXXXXXXXXX at the XXXXXXXXXXXX, due to what XXXXXXXXXXXX termed the continuing XXXXXXXXXXXX.  According to XXXXXXXXXXXX, MinDef Tantawi called him XXXXXXXXXXXX to ensure that XXXXXXXXXXXX was satisfied as to how XXXXXXXXXXXX was being XXXXXXXXXXXX.  XXXXXXXXXXXX said he engaged XXXXXXXXXXXX with XXXXXXXXXXXX, asking him to help get XXXXXXXXXXXX, as he has already XXXXXXXXXXXX and 
"XXXXXXXXXXXX"  XXXXXXXXXXXX allegedly checked with XXXXXXXXXXXX, 
then replied that XXXXXXXXXXXX cannot be XXXXXXXXXXXX before he XXXXXXXXXXXX, as, "we are under terrible foreign pressure to XXXXXXXXXXXX, so cannot XXXXXXXXXXXX, as they will 
then criticize us for not XXXXXXXXXXXX too."  XXXXXXXXXXXX subsequent suggestion to XXXXXXXXXXXX both XXXXXXXXXXXX and XXXXXXXXXXXX went unheeded.  However, XXXXXXXXXXXX allegedly told XXXXXXXXXXXX that he had instructed XXXXXXXXXXXX to not 
undertake any procedures to divest XXXXXXXXXXXX of his XXXXXXXXXXXX; XXXXXXXXXXXX
therefore believes XXXXXXXXXXXX will be able to re-assume XXXXXXXXXXXX 
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Le Monde releases cables on US-Egypt relations, Egyptian military, and Gamal

Le Monde — and as far as I can tell, only Le Monde — has published two articles on the Egyptian military based on Wikileaks cable that have not yet been released, even on the French newspaper's site.

WikiLeaks : l'armée égyptienne est "en déclin" mais reste "puissante" - LeMonde.fr

WikiLeaks : l'armée égyptienne ne veut pas que le fils succède au père - LeMonde.fr

Here is a short summary of key points raised in the cables for those who don't read French, plus some context not in the articles: 

  • US sees Egyptian military as "in decline" and a difficult ally. "The generals long were our best allies but the situation has changed," a cable from August 2007 notes. This is shortly before the US Congress decides to withhold $100 million in military aid. Nonetheless they remain guarantors of regime stability.
  • US sees Egyptian military as unwilling to adopt strategic reforms, instead concentrating on acquisition of hardware. US would like to see the Egyptian military more engaged in regional counter-terrorism operations, but it is refusing to do so.
  • Defense Minister Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi is seen as the chief obstacle to US ideas for strategic reform, but is trusted by Mubarak. "Since his nomination, the extent of tactical and operational preparedness has been degraded. But Mubarak has confidence in him and he could still remain in place for years." 
  • Army is major economic player with interests in water, olive oil, cement, construction, hotels and gas stations, as well as a major land owner in the Nile Delta in on the Red Sea coast. (Sept. 2008)
  • Obama Deputy Defense Sec Colin Khal met with three retired generals with high-level positions in the Egyptian Ministry of Defense — Mohamed Al-Assar, Ahmed Moataz and Fouad Arafa — on 31 January 2010. They told him that US military aid to Egypt was part of the Camp David accords and therefore not up for negotiation, and that the accords had been breached by allowing the ratio between military aid to Israel and military aid to Egypt to go from the agreed 3:2 to 5:2. US military aid is considered "untouchable". (This is probably still reaction to the 2007-2008 attempts to cut military aid by Congress, which were blocked by Condoleeza Rice.)
  • In May 2007, then US Ambassador in Egypt Francis Ricciardone calls Egypt a "dictatorship" (Le Monde says he is the only one who dares do so) and says that the NDP is ready to run a campaign that would install Gamal Mubarak as president.
  • Ricciardone says that Omar Suleiman had hopes "until a few years ago" of being nominated vice-president. He also adds that Suleiman "hates the idea of Gamal being president."
  • Ricciardone writes that, in the case of Mubarak's death before he can install Gamal, a military coup is possible.
  • Gamal promised US the end of the Emergency Law in 2006 (it is still ongoing.) It's also casually mentioned that Egyptian security services employ 1.4 million people.
  • Gamal told US that opening presidential elections to a wider range of candidates (presumably by making independent candidacies easier) would be "a recipe for chaos."

Note that I am re-translating from the French, and that I have not seen the complete cables — let me know if you have seen them online elsewhere.

Update: The relevant cables are now out on Wikileaks' site.

 

Succession in Tunisia

Mohammed Sakhr al-MeteriThis young man could be the successor to President Ben Ali, the dictator of Tunisia. As always in these cases, apart from being unbelievably corrupt it's not clear what his assets are for the job. From a US Embassy Tunis cable on Wikileaks:

Personally, El-Matri presented himself as self-confident, but low-key. This was in marked contrast to his reputation as a flamboyant and aggressive business mogul. His reputation derives in part from the fact that he drives an Austin Martin and a Hummer among other cars, and rumors that he owns a pet tiger. With the Ambassador, he was equally comfortable talking about political issues and personal issues. He indicated his awareness of his relative youth vis-a-vis his position in the RCD and his business success, but did not seem uncomfortable with that reality. He also discussed his wife Nesrine's commitment to using only organic products from the food they eat to the paint and varnish in their new mansion.

A spoilt brat, then. Tip of the hat to Brian Whitaker, who found another cable on Libyan sibling rivalry and succession, which he discussed here.

Succession in Ra's al-Khaima

I missed this when it came out at the beginning of the month. Interesting how these mini-states operate, also that tanks were involved...

The Politics of Succession in Ra's Al-Khaimah - GULF STREAM - Current Intelligence:

When Saqr died on October 27th, there were several hours of confusion.  Khalid re-entered Ra's al-Khaimah and installed himself in his pre-2003 palace with over a hundred supporters and retainers.  He had earlier been promised by the rulers of Abu Dhabi and Dubai that he could attend his father's funeral and had concluded that he would be peacefully and swiftly installed as ruler, with Saud remaining as crown prince.  By mid-afternoon, however, a brief announcement was made by the Abu Dhabi-controlled Federal Ministry for Presidential Affairs congratulating Saud on becoming the new ruler of Ra's al-Khaimah.  Tanks were deployed on the outskirts of Ra's al-Khaimah and most of Khalid's guards were arrested and remain detained for questioning. Khalid and his son were not permitted to attend the funeral.

With Khalid stating that he intends to meet with the members of the Supreme Council of Rulers (comprising the rulers of each emirate) in order to discuss the future of Ra's al-Khaimah, it appears that he is unwilling to drop his claim, even though he has now had to leave the emirate.  This unresolved challenge will continue to undermine Saud and may provoke renewed instability in the future.

Incidentally I really like the publishing model of Current Intelligence.

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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.

On yesterday's Egypt protests

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think it was back in May that there were two demonstrations in the center of Cairo a few days apart. One, mostly led by trade union activists, took place peacefully without many clashes with riot police. The other — I think held on May 4, Mubarak's birthday — was led by political activists and members of parliament. They were treated much more roughly, because their message was not a general one about wages or government policies, but about who ruled Egypt.

I kept thinking of that after catching to the news of the last few days (I was and still am away from Cairo, so am relying entirely on press reports) and, particularly, the recent anti-Mubarak protest that gathered some 600 activists yesterday in Cairo, and more in Alexandria and other cities. Amidst all the different small protests that have taken place, these seem different. First of all, because it seems that it's been a while since 600 people participated in a specifically anti-Mubarak protest. Secondly, because the way the police handled the demo seems unusually heavy-handed: 

The demonstration was scheduled to take place in front of Abdeen Palace, the former residence of Egypt’s King Farouk, in downtown Cairo, but hundreds of riot police surrounded the area from Mohamed Farid Square to Abdeen Square, closing off all the main routes leading to the palace and preventing many protestors from reaching the location.

The underground metro exits were also blocked by riot police, described by activist Ahmed Samir as “an Egyptian army.”

Many protestors were beaten and detained for hours by riot police to prevent them from reaching the location of the demonstration and several reporters were also prevented from going through.

“The police started surrounding the area at 3:30 pm. The violations and detentions started at 5 pm. Kefaya headquarters, which is near Abdeen Square, was completely surrounded by riot police and a number of activists were detained near Bab El-Louq on their way to the demonstrations,” general coordinator of the Kefaya Movement for Change Abdel Halim Qandil told Daily News Egypt.

. . .

According to Ramy Raoof, a volunteer with the Front for the Defense of Egypt's Protestors, 14 were arrested in Cairo, 29 in Alexandria and 10 in Port Said. Protestors from Cairo and Port Said were all released before 2 am Wednesday morning. Although Raoof said he expected that all activists were released he couldn’t confirm the same happened to those arrested in Alexandria.

Qandil had earlier estimated that 30 activists were arrested on Tuesday.

Some were later released on the desert road between Cairo and Ain Sokhna, others in Al Moqattam and on the Cairo-Ismailia road.

I would venture that these protests are taking a slightly different significance for both participants and the security services in the current political context. For activists, they are the first major protests since the launch of the poster campaign for Gamal Mubarak last month, and may represent a revival of the trend of frequent large protests that we saw in 2005 in the run-up to the presidential elections. In this charged political atmosphere, it makes sense that activists will redouble their efforts and that more people might be drawn into participating in these protests: there is something more tangible to protest against today, since a Gamal Mubarak campaign now exists in public.

For the police, this might indicate new instructions to send a strong message to participants that such protests (not long ago largely tolerated and kept under control) will be handled more firmly from now on. The dumping of people on the desert highway is quite unnecessarily petty, for instance, and the rough handling of MPs unusual (although it also happened last May.)

This brings to mind something that I've been thinking about for a while: what if, in the run-up to the succession many expect to happen in the next year, Egypt sees a considerable tightening of political space? After all, in recent years, even as elections were rigged the regime could always claim to have considerably more political space than many other Arab countries. It tolerated a lot of protests, direct public criticism of the president, and many other things unthinkable in, say, Tunisia or Libya or Syria. What if it tightens the noose now? What if the recent troubles the Orbit satellite channel is said to be having, the purchase of al-Destour by the Wafd's al-Sayed al-Badawy, its editor Ibrahim Eissa's rumored booting from his talk show on Naguib Sawiris' ON TV, and many other measures point to the limited space that exists in Egypt being reduced further?

It's worth keeping this in mind, because we're not in 2005: Egypt's domestic politics are not a major part of US foreign policy, the world is not watching.

[Michael Dunn has some thoughts on the recent protests 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.

Of succession and lobbying

[Ed. note: This post contained numerous typos and has been edited to correct them.]

This piece by David Roberts of The Gulf Blog about a looming succession crisis in the emirate of Ras al-Khaima is one of the most interesting pieces on a part of the Arab world I don't know well I've read in a while. Like my previous post on Tunisia hiring lobbyists in DC and other posts on lobbying efforts by Arab government I've done before, it illustrates the extent to which these governments (each their own variation of grotesque) have completely internalized the need to appeal to and cajole US politicians, the American public and Washington, DC power brokers for their own internal strength.

It starts off with a classic succession battle in one of the emirates you rarely hear about (at least outside the UAE) between Sheikh Saud, the Crown Prince and son of the Sheikh Saqr al-Qisimi, the emirate's dying leader, and his half-brother Sheikh Khalid (formerly the Crown Prince and now in exile):

What is different in this case is the 21st century manner in which Khalid has gone about resuming his place in line to the throne. Much like the Emirates’ economy is described as a ‘rentier’ in nature with their income (or rent) largely derived from oil and gas with an exceedingly heavy reliance of foreign workers, this appears to be a rentier coup. Specifically, Khalid hired Californian Strategies, an American public relations firm to devise a plan to return him to power. Some members of the PR staff even reportedly get a $250,000 bonus if they succeed.

Cognisant of exactly what will grab the attention of America and the world at large, the PR agency — paid some $3.7 million to date according to The Guardian — began to formulate an image of Khalid as a Western-orientated, modern, pragmatic, facebook and twitter-friendly leader. They even arranged meetings and photo opportunities with, for example, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Saud, in stark contrast, was depicted as either fostering or at least harbouring terrorist elements including Al Qaeda. The decision of the America’s Cup yachting team not to stop off in RAK due to alleged terrorist concerns was one strand of this ploy. Moreover, RAK’s close links to Iran and their Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) were highlighted. RAK was portrayed as an offshore sanctions-busting Mecca for Iran; a ‘rogue state’ within the UAE.

The PR agency collated these charges into a report (with similar visual similarities to official US Congressional Research Service reports) which opens with the line “Closest to Iran and furthest from UAE central authority is the Emirate of Ras Al Khaimah, which lies some 60 miles from the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas and enjoys excellent deep-water ports.” From the very beginning, therefore, insinuation and nefarious implications abound.

This blog has over the years made much of the disinformation and simply bad information that is bandied about in the US media about this part of the world. Some of it, and I'm beginning to think more than I previously thought, may be attributable to paid disinformation agents, propaganda, and PR firms who are able to take advantage of a media environment with fewer and fewer experienced foreign correspondents and budgets for oversea travel.

But coming back to my pain point, it's quite sobering to see that, in these succession crises, the pretenders to the throne see it as an essential part of their strategy to spend money on lobbying the Americans. Remember how Muatassim al-Qadhafi launched a major lobbying and PR initiative when his brother Seif was estranged last year. 

Which brings me to introducing a new website, which I believed in the most polished Egyptian government site out there: www.modernegypt.info. The contact section says it's been put up by the press and information office of the Egyptian embassy in Washington. Which is headed by Karim Haggag, the press attaché at the embassy. And what did Haggag do before that?

He was Gamal Mubarak's personal secretary.

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.

God Only Knows


No doubt powered by a serious cocktail of amphetamines, Hosni Mubarak undertook his first trip abroad this week since he was hospitalized in Germany — a sign that he is gradually returning to business as usual, or at least that he wants to be seen as doing so. His regimen these days seems to be a meeting a day, and one major speech in two or three months. During his trip abroad — a summit with Italy's Silvio Berlusconi, with whom he is said to be plotting to corner the hair dye futures market (a hot commodity from the Mediterranean region to the Gulf to South Asia) —Boss Hozz came out with the following pearl:

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said Wednesday that only God could know who would succeed him following his 29-year-old rule, the official MENA news agency reported.
Dogging a question on his possible successor by an Italian reporter, Mubarak spontaneously said that “only God could know that.”

It reminds me of something a friend of mine who's often sought for commentary on succession used to frequently say about Egypt's post-Mubarak future and the deliberately cultivated ambiguity about it: "not even God himself knows what Mubarak is thinking about succession." This might be an apt time to reflect a to why Mubarak has never designated a successor or appointed a vice-president who would be seen as such. As I see it, there are three main reasons:

  1. In the early Mubarak period, there was a clear alternative from within the regime in Field Marshall Abu Ghazala, who was ousted from his position as minister of defense in 1989 and remained under house arrest (more or less) for the rest of his life. By not appointing a vice-president, Mubarak refrained from formalizing that alternative. After he consolidated power, Mubarak never saw a need to anoint anyone else with the vice-presidency, since even personalities not thought to be presidentiable (such as himself and Anwar al-Sadat) obtained legitimacy from the position. Cultivating a strategic ambiguity about succession has kept attention where Mubarak likes it best: on himself as kingmaker and ultimate decider.
  2. A second related reason has to do with threats from outside Egypt rather than inside it. Had there been a vice-president, it would become tempting for a certain major power (you know who you are!) looking to influence Egypt's domestic and foreign policy to meddle in regime politicking. Just look at Pakistan's history. It would have also been tempting for peer powers in the region — Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iraq, Israel — to also have another point of contact within the Egyptian regime that could present a credible alternative.
  3. A final and more speculative question that has to be asked, considering Gamal Mubarak's rise in influence over the past decade, is whether Mubarak pere has been plotting to install his son for years. It's probably more organic than that — Gamal's rise stems from his father's reluctance to share room at the top of the pyramid; a son is a natural trusted proxy (although not always, as deposed sultans of Oman and Qatar know). But one of the more interesting questions in today's Egypt is how Hosni Mubarak feels about tawreeth: is he fully on board, reluctantly so, or even very ambivalent about in a "King Lear" elderly paranoid way? 

 While you think about that, listen to this track (dedicated to Mystic Mubarak):

And then go on to read Adam Shatz masterful portrait of late Mubarak Egypt at the London Review of Books, Mubarak's Last Breath:

Under Mubarak, Egypt, the ‘mother of the earth’ (umm idduniya), has seen its influence plummet. Nowhere is the decline of the Sunni Arab world so acutely felt as in Cairo ‘the Victorious’, a mega-city much of which has turned into an enormous slum. The air is so thick with fumes you can hardly breathe, the atmosphere as constricted as the country’s political life.

Frustration, shame, humiliation: it does not take much for Egyptians to call up these feelings. It’s still often said that ‘what happens in Egypt affects the entire Arab world,’ but nothing much has happened there in years. Egypt has fallen behind Saudi Arabia – not to mention non-Arab countries like Turkey and Iran – in regional leadership. Even tiny Qatar has a more independent foreign policy. Egypt is by far the largest Arab country, with 80 million inhabitants, yet it’s seen by most Arabs – and by the Egyptians themselves – as a client state of the United States and Israel, who depend on Mubarak to ensure regional ‘stability’ in the struggle with the ‘resistance front’ led by Iran.

Read the whole thing.

What does ElBaradei want?

After spending most of yesterday at Cairo Airport covering Mohamed ElBaradei's return to Egypt, it's worth taking a step back from the infectious enthusiasm of his supporters and listening more carefully to what they say — and what people close to ElBaradei believe he intends to do.

A member of the ElBaradei family sporting this great home-made T-shirt.But before I do that, I think it's fair to note that yesterday's welcoming committee was a success. There were over 1,000 people at the airport, the story got covered everywhere, and it has legs. It energized his campaign, even if many were disappointed that ElBaradei did not speak at the airport. I think he probably should have, but the conditions there were not good: supporters and journalists were crushing each other, there was no platform, and too many people to be controlled easily. One important reason for the success of the welcome was its timing. I think it might be no coincidence that ElBaradei decided to return to Egypt on the day that Egypt faced its Universal Periodic Review at the UN Human Rights Council and the day that Barack Obama met with Egyptian democracy activists Gamal Eid and Bahai Eddin Hassan. There was a lot of international attention on the question of democracy and human rights in Egypt that day. The regime's propaganda may have scared off some (newspapers had reported on-the-spot fines of LE1,000 — $182 — and massive security presence, both of which were untrue) but plenty turned out and a repressive approach was simply not possible.

Back to the ElBaradei campaign's potential. The sense that I get is that most of his prominent supporters are focusing on the potential for ElBaradei to be a symbol, a loudspeaker for the Egyptian opposition's near-universal agreement on what needs to be changed in the country: an end to emergency laws and the police state, constitutional reform to make politics competitive, and an end to the Mubarak family's role in politics. It's not much more complicated than that, and the question of whether ElBaradei will, or even can, run for president really seems secondary to them. The same can be said for ElBaradei himself from the interviews he's given so far: he systematically downplays the prospect of his candidacy in favor of talking about systemic problems, going just short of criticizing Mubarak directly.

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Links for Jan.06.10 to Jan.07.10

Video: Egyptian police clash with Gaza aid convoy | guardian.co.uk | Another good video about clashes between Viva Palestina and Egyptian security. ✪ Rebuilding Afghanistan « London Review Blog | Narcotecture = Drug-financed ugly houses in Kabul. ✪ Israeli television confrontation is ‘a metaphor of the moral crisis in which Zionism is found today’ | Fascinating video argument - must watch. ✪ Israel to deploy Gaza rocket interceptor by June - Haaretz | So no more need for blockade, I guess? ✪ Ainsi disait Laroui à propos de la politique. Extraits politiques « min diwan Assyassa ». « Des maux à dire | On new book on M6 era in Morocco. ✪ Security Experts: Administration Overstates Domestic al-Qaeda Threat « The Washington Independent | Sounds familiar. ✪ Pro-ElBaradei campaign seeks collective proxies | Al-Masry Al-Youm | Interesting list of backers for ElBaradei campaign, includes Amr Moussa! ✪ Palestine Vivra! The French Heroes of the Gaza Freedom March | A nice account. ✪ Jerome Slater: On the US and Israel | New blog by academic. ✪ The Settlement Freeze That Isn't | The American Prospect | "The freeze is really a very thin layer of ice atop the river of settlement growth." ✪ BBC News - Egypt police clash with Gaza aid convoy activists | Unbelievable - Viva Palestina convoy sent through Kerem Shalom. ✪ Egypt to import natural gas from Iraq | Al-Masry Al-Youm | I wonder how much it costs compared to the gas sold to Israel. ✪ Saudi Arabia backs Egyptian plan for renewed peace talks - Haaretz | This peace plans sounds dodgy, esp. in its treatment of settlements. ✪ t r u t h o u t | Egypt: Rooftops Empower the Poor | Nice story on clean energy for the poor on Cairo's rooftops. ✪ Support the Cairo Declaration of the Gaza Freedom March Petition |
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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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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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ElBaradei Drops A Bomb

This may peter out in smoke, but Muhammad ElBaradei's candidacy has the potential to turn into the first moment in which Egypt has had a plausible face for its opposition for a long time. It will shift the focus on the Mubarak regime, its fraudulent elections and its lack of legitimacy -- both at home and abroad. I am not surprised that opposition figures like Ayman Nour and the Muslim Brothers' Muhammad Habib seem negative in the story below; ElBaradei has much more gravitas and "presidentiability" than either. Things have just gotten a lot more interesting.
Opposition hopeful for an ElBaradei presidential run Nadia abou el-Magd, Foreign Correspondent Last Updated: December 06. 2009 12:23AM UAE / December 5. 2009 8:23PM GMT CAIRO // Mohamed ElBaradei, former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), said he would consider running for the Egyptian presidency in 2011, in statements published Friday, raising hopes among the country’s opposition. Mr ElBaradei, 67, who recently quit his position after 12 years as head of the IAEA, was expected to return to Egypt yesterday. “I have been listening tentatively, and deeply appreciate the calls for my candidacy for president,” said Mr ElBaradei in a statement issued late Thursday, which has dominated the headlines of Egyptian opposition and independent dailies while being harshly criticised by the state-owned newspapers “ElBaradei’s storm,” read the headline of the Al Dostor opposition daily yesterday. “Hundreds of volunteers move from the internet to the street in support of ElBaradei”, read the headline of the independent daily Al Shorouk. Mr ElBaradei emphasised that he did not seek this “senior post” for personal gain and he would decide to run “if the majority of Egyptians, with all their affiliations, agreed that this would be in the interest of the country ... in this critical stage in Egypt’s history”. But he said he wants “guarantees of fairness” in 2011 election. Mr ElBaradei set several conditions for running in the coming elections, which he said must be “under the full supervision of the judiciary... and in the presence of international observers from the United Nations... to ensure transparency”, which are sensitive issues for the regime. He also called for a new constitution and “the erasing of all constitutional and legal obstacles that are limiting the right of the majority of Egyptians to run “otherwise those elections will lack the needed legitimacy and will contradict the essence of democracy which is the right of the people to choose who to represent them, and it will end in a Greek tragedy,” said Mr ElBaradei. Pro-government newspapers have criticised Mr ElBaradei as out of touch with the political reality of Egypt, and lacking real political experience. “Imported president for Egypt,” read the headline of state-owned Al Ahram el-Messaei on Friday, along with a large front page cartoon portraying Mr ElBaradei as a foreigner. Mr ElBaradei retired last week from his post after spending three terms in office, beginning in 1997. He joined the UN in 1980, after serving in the Egyptian foreign service. He was born and graduated from law school in Egypt, then obtained a doctorate in international law at New York University School of Law in 1974. Mr ElBaradei’s name was floated by some opposition forces and political parties here a few months ago as the issue of who will replace President Hosni Mubarak, 81, who has been in power since 1981, has resurfaced amid worries that his youngest son, Gamal, 45, might inherit power. The ruling National Democratic Party’s annual conference last month did not respond to peoples’ questions and concerns about whether President Mubarak will run again in the upcoming elections or whether his son will succeed him. “’Never say ‘never’,” Mr ElBaradei told CNN on November 5 when asked about the possibility. “But there are clearly conditions. I will only consider it if there is a free and fair election, and that is a question mark still in Egypt.’ Analysts say that Egyptians are yearning for a substantive move away from the current regime and are uninspired by the weak political opposition parties. “Egypt needs a popular leader, whose competence is not questionable, and who is free from any aura of corruption, and likely to receive the support of diverse, and conflicting, political forces and social groups. To many observers, Mr ElBaradei, the 2005 Noble Prize laureate, meets all these criterions,” said Nael Shama, a political researcher and columnist with Egypt Daily News. However, Mr ElBaradei, and many other possible candidates, do not meet the rigid conditions spelled out in Article 76 of the constitution, which many believe was amended in 2007 to facilitate Gamal Mubarak’s takeover of power and to exclude potential rivals. It stipulates that only members of the upper levels of political parties who have been in their post for more than a year, and where their parties have existed for more than five years, can compete for the presidential post. Independents have to receive the approval of 250 members of parliament and local councils, which are all controlled by the ruling NDP. Amendments to Article 88 of the constitution in 2007 removed judicial supervision of elections in favour of supervision by “an independent electoral commission” that would include some judges. Mr ElBaradei’s presidential bid has found support among members of the liberal Wafd party and other smaller parties as well as the pro-democracy, anti-inheritance of power, Kifaya movement. Ayman Nour, leader of al-Ghad party, had invited Mr ElBaradei to join his party to ensure he is able to run in elections. Mr Nour, 45, finished distant second to Mr Mubarak, when he ran against him in the first presidential elections four years ago. However, Mr Nour said that Mr ElBaradei’s statement seems more like he wants to apologize for not running in the coming elections by setting conditions. “You run in elections and try to change the rules of the game,” Mr Nour told The National. Egypt’s Islamist politicans were critical of Mr ElBaradei’s announcement. “Dr Mohammed ElBaradei’s statement is like a bunch of roses thrown into a garbage pin,” said Mohammed Habib, deputy leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s strongest opposition group, despite being technically banned. Mr Habib said that he does not doubt Mr ElBaradei’s sincere intentions, but advised him “to keep himself away from the dirty political arena”, adding that Mr ElBaradei’s conditions do not even address the minimum of political reforms demanded by the opposition over the past 25 years. Other Islamists, like lawyer Mokhtar Nouh, said he would never vote for Mr ElBaradei because of his former job at IAEA. “All those international agencies, despite being affiliated with the UN, serve the interests of the West, America and Israel,” he wrote in a recent column in the opposition daily Al Dostor. “None of those organisations moved to support an Arab or Islamic issue,” he added.
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Links for 10.29.09 to 10.31.09

Daily News Egypt - In Focus: The Brotherhood Crisis | Khalil al-Anani's take on the Brothers' troubles. ✪ Frontlines: Who will be the next leader of Egypt? | Front Lines - the week that was | Jerusalem Post | Funny how much traction Amr Moussa's comments have made in Israel, where they remember vividly his criticism of Israel. ✪ Is this the man to follow Mubarak as Egypt's next president? | World news | guardian.co.uk | On Amr Moussa. ✪ Powerful Islamic movement sees leadership struggle | On MB's woes. ✪ War and Peace | New blog from Rob of Arabic Media Shack, focusing on war, history and strategy. ✪ Lesson Unlearned | Foreign Policy | Nir Rosen says the 1983 attacks on Us Marines in Beirut was the fault of senior Reagan officials who intervened in Lebanon's civil war on the side of Christian militias. ✪ A Witness In Palestine | Anna Baltzer, Jewish-American pro-peace activist. ✪ A search engine with a mind on settlements | Antony Loewenstein | I'm switching to Bing, and I hate Microsoft: "Jewish Billionaire, Sergey Brin, one of the founders of Google, donated $1 million to the so-called Hebrew national Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) which heavily encourages Jews around the world to immigrate to Israel and the United States. The organization is one of the biggest supporters of illegal Jewish settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories." ✪ In Afghan Village, French Outreach Yields an Ambush - WSJ.com | On French Foreign legion in Afghanistan: "Some Legionnaires, like a pensive Italian art history graduate, had enlisted for adventure. Others, like a thin Estonian, signed up to escape potentially lethal problems at home. The Legion wipes out minor criminal records and provides new identities and a French passport in exchange for a five-year contract. "Believe me, I feel safer here in Afghanistan," the Estonian said." ✪ Alaa Al-Aswany: When women are sinners in the eyes of extremists - Commentators, Opinion - The Independent | On Somalia and extremism, among other things. ✪ BBC NEWS | Technology | Egypt seeks ethical mobile users | Code says "don't annoy people by having loud conversations", "choose non-annoying ringtone", etc. Akhiran! Wonder if it says, "Don't sit at qahwa trying different ringtones for an hour" or "Answer phone quickly or put it on silent rather than stare at it for 10 rings". ✪ Squaring the circle and erasing the margins | Good commentary on the recent J Street conference. ✪ YouTube - ‫لقاء اليوم - ريتشارد غولدستون‬‎ | Khaled Daoud interviews Richard Goldstone on al-Jazeera. ✪ Lebanon: Israel arranged Katyusha fire to keep tensions high - Haaretz - Israel News | Suleiman was praised by West before, will he be listened to now: "Lebanese President Michel Suleiman on Thursday suggested that Israel had arranged for collaborators in his country to fire Katyusha rockets at the Galilee earlier this week, in a bid to keep tensions high in the area." ✪ 'Israel's Self-Described Greatest Concern' - Jeffrey Goldberg | More poisonous Jeffrey Goldberg: anti-Zionist Jews are not real jews, they're anti-Zionists with Jewish parents; the Leveretts are apologists for Tehran. No sense of irony here about Golberg's sycophancy towards Bibi Netanyahu here. ✪ West Bank land belongs to Jews, says Israeli army judge | These people are insane: ""But over the past quarter of a century, the Israeli army lawyer and then military judge at the forefront of arguably the most significant battle in the occupied West Bank – the confiscation of Palestinian land for the construction of Jewish settlements – has come to see himself as in service of a higher duty. In an unusually frank interview, which offers insights into the melding of religion, politics and law that underpins land seizures in the occupied territories, Agassi has laid out his belief that Israel has a biblical claim to territory beyond its borders and that he, even as an immigrant, has a right to live on it when those born there do not. `When we [Israelis] say that this is a political conflict, then we lose the battle,` he told the Guardian, adding that it should be remembered that the ancient land of Israel is `given to us by the Bible, not by some United Nations`. ✪ Tens of Thousands of Palestinian Children at Risk of Forced Displacement in OPT | "Whilst most attention has focused on home demolitions and community evictions, new research by the children`s charity Save The Children has revealed intolerable living conditions are driving families to abandon their land and homes, even though most will be worse off once they do so."
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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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Links for 10.26.09 to 10.27.09

LRB · Nicolas Pelham: Diary | Nic Pelham's diary about Gaza. ✪ Almasry Alyoum | NDP Talks Youth | Second in a series on youth and the NDP in Egypt: “We have to use the Internet, especially with so many people trying to turn our achievements into failures and to tarnish the reputation of public symbols. We have to be present online to correct those misconceptions.” Now who could they be talking about? ✪ Almasry Alyoum| Gamal Mubarak: Nepotism "Unknown To Private Sector" | In this story, Gamal says nepotism "is part of Egyptian culture." You don't say. ✪ Chomsky Receives Highest Pentagon Honor | Chomsky book "Interventions" banned in Gitmo. ✪ YouTube - Slackistan Trailer | This is a good and funny idea - you could do it in the Arab world, too. ✪ Inanities: The Gamal Show | About Gamal's Sharek event: "The Gamal Show is Gamal Mubarak’s attempt to convince us that he’s Barack Obama." ✪ Bakchich: Interroger des… interrogatoires | Accounts of police interrogations of non-fasters in Morocco, interrogates them about Abou Bakr Jamai (prominent editor forced into exile), and more. Thoroughly depressing. ✪ Arab Media & Society | The end of the beginning: The failure of April 6th and the future of electronic activism in Egypt | About online activism, its failure so far, and how to move beyond cynicism. ✪ Almasry Alyoum | Gamal Mubarak And The Power Of Web 2.0 | First in a series of articles about the NDP's efforts to attract young Egyptians to politics. This one focuses on Gamal Mubarak's "Sharek" (Participate) online Q&A event. ✪ J Street's Ben-Ami On Zionism and Military Aid to Israel - Jeffrey Goldberg | A very revealing interview of J Street's Jeremy Ben-Ami which conirms my doubts about the whole project. ✪ Morocco press freedom on the decline, RSF study shows (Magharebia.com) | A marked increase in fines, imprisonement and intimidation of the press. ✪ Dar Al Hayat - A Presidential Battle without Candidates | Muhammad Salah on the Egyptian presidency.
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Links for 09.11.09 to 09.12.09

ANALYSIS / Clock is ticking for Iran as Israel appears ready for strike - Haaretz - Israel News | Amos Harel sees an Israeli strike in late 2009 / early 2010, with the goal being setting back the Iranian nuclear program. ✪ Middle East Report Online: Dismantling the Matrix of Control by Jeff Halper | "Until the majority of Palestinians, and not merely political leaders, declare that the conflict is over, the conflict is not over. Until most Palestinians believe it is time to normalize relations with Israel, there will be no normalization. Israel cannot “win” -- though it believes it can, which is why it presses ahead to complete the matrix and foreclose the possibility of a viable Palestinian state. The failure of yet another peace initiative will only galvanize international efforts to achieve justice for the Palestinians. Only this time the demand is likely to be for a single binational state, the only alternative that fits the single-state, binational reality that Israel itself has forged in its futile attempt to impose an apartheid regime. " ✪ Chakchouka tunisienne / Bakchich : informations, enquêtes et mauvais esprit blogs | Cool French language blog from Bakchich.com on Tunisia. Note recent post had Ben-Ali's brother-in-law bill people for attending their wedding. ✪ Who is Travis Randall: the lies from Egypt « Bikya Masr | Bikya Misr on Fahmy Howeidy's fabrications about Travis Randall. ✪ MIT Press Journals - World Policy Journal | "Egypt’s Looming Succession Struggle" by Michael Hanna. [PDF]
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Links for 08.21.09 to 08.22.09

Survey of Business Environment for Small and Medium- Sized Enterprises in Egypt | Survey of Egyptians SMEs, focuses on corruption perception. ✪ Who Should Rule Egypt? | Baheyya lays out an argument between three possible types of rule in Egypt -- hereditary succession, military rule, and parliamentary rule -- and makes the point that Hosni Mubarak has unwittingly opened up the debate over how Egypt should be ruled. ✪ Libya and Muammar Qaddafi, 40 years on: How to squander a nation's potential | The Economist | Poor Libya. ✪ Nile Delta: 'We are going underwater. The sea will conquer our lands' | Environment | The Guardian | Jack Shenker has a great story on rising salinity levels and the impact of global warming in the Nile Delta. ✪ Hilo Hero: H.P. Lovecraft | Happy Birthday H.P. Lovecraft. I highly recommend the essay on him by the French reactionary writer (and one of my favorites, to be honest - I don't care about his views on Islam) Michel Houellebecq.
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Links for 08.18.09 to 08.19.09

THE CIA, SIBERIA AND THE $5M BAR BILL - New York Post | Funny story about a weird CIA operation to buy Russian choppers for use in Afghanistan, corruption, etc. ✪ Some of Obama's Actions Linked to Anti-Semitism - Special Report w/ Bret Baier - FOXNews.com | Israeli minister says Obama is anti-Semite. Does the word "anti-Semite" mean anything anymore? ✪ EGYPT: Union Eyes the Silver Bullet - IPS ipsnews.net | A nice detailed story on the property tax collectors by Cam McGrath, interviewing our own Hossam. ✪ Egypt's Next Strongman | Foreign Policy | My piece on Omar Suleiman. ✪ Mubarak on the Potomac | The Cable | Laura Rozen wonders whether the timing of the Mubarak visit, during a dead time in DC, isn't convenient to both sides who don't want a public airing out of democracy and governance issues -- for the Egyptians it lowers the profile, for Obama it avoids scrutiny on rights.
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Links for 08.17.09 to 08.18.09

Back to Business as usual | Hozz in DC, triumphant. ✪ Michele Dunne - Standing Up to Mubarak | Dunne has been one of the strongest voices among DC think-tankers shining a spotlight on the degradation of Egyptian politics and the problem posed by succession for US interests. Here she calls on Obama to voice strong concern about the succession process. I'll write more about this. ✪ Huckabee defies Obama | To think I once thought Huckabee was funny. But apparently he backs settlements and thinks Palestinians should go and get a country "elsewhere." Not amusing at all, Mr Failed Chat-Show Host. ✪ Middle East Diary | Rush transcript of Mubarak on Charlie Rose | Hannah has the goods. The man is obsessed with stability - he says it 14 times. ✪ Egypt labor strikes point to desperate conditions -- latimes.com | I wonder what this company's profit margin is: "They were told to be patient; salaries would rise and conditions improve. The men breathe phosphates, ammonia and other toxins six days a week. One died in a machine accident. Five were informed by doctors that exposure to chemicals has left them sterile."
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On Omar Suleiman

Picture 1.png I have a piece on Omar Suleiman up at Foreign Policy, in which I examine the case for Egypt's chief of intelligence succeeding Hosni Mubarak. I thought the focus in most reporting tended to stress Gamal, and wanted to balance things out by imagining how a Suleiman takeover might look like. Although the headline (not mine) may seem like it's an endorsement, the idea is more to reflect on the current "Gamal vs. Omar" debate and how bloody depressing it all is. I conclude:
Lost in this Egyptian Kremlinology is the fact that neither Gamal Mubarak nor Omar Suleiman presents a clear departure from the present state of affairs. Neither offers the new social contract that so many of Egypt's 80 million citizens are demanding in strikes and protests. The prevalence of the Gamal vs. Omar debate, more than anything, highlights the low expectations ordinary Egyptians have for a democratic succession to Hosni Mubarak's 28-year reign. Those low expectations come with their own quiet tyranny, too.
Feedback welcomed!
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