The Istanbul protests and the military

Interesting tidbit from Medium's curation of reports from Istanbul:

Over the course of the past day though, they have been quietly supporting the protesters. They have refused to cooperate with Police requests to use military zones for transportation. At a military hospital in Istanbul they refused to treat police officers, instead handing out gas masks to dissidents. As this exchange between a policeman and soldier attests, relations between the two armed groups are indeed frosty at present. Part of the dialogue translates as:

Policeman: “Next time we should also throw gas bombs here [a military zone].”

Soldier: “If you do it, we will find something to throw to you as well, rest assured.” 

Update:  Paul Mutter alerts me to this pic taken by the NYT's CJ Chivers:

Hugh Pope on the "Istanbul Gas Festival"

Last time I was in Istanbul, a year or two ago, I had a chance to have a lovely fish dinner at Hugh Pope's — he writes about Turkey for the International Crisis Group — at his Istiklal Cadesi apartment. It's a great location to monitor the ongoing protests against Erdogan, and Hugh has a long post up on his blog detailing the events on the day. Here's his take:

So what’s new in all this? Social media, for a start. Many of my Turkish friends are glued to their Facebook accounts, sharing pictures of the worst police outrages – a remarkable one shows a policeman dousing a protestor with a device like an insect spray gun, as the protestor holds up a sign saying “Chemical Tayyip” [Erdogan] — and spoof posters like an ad for the “Istanbul Gas Festival”, “We can’t keep calm, we’re Turkish” and so on. The spontaneous look of the small groups of protestors coalescing and dispersing in the street outside is quite unlike the usual formal protests organized by unions and political parties, and lacks the angry, violent edge to the pop-up parades by radical left-wing groups. Mostly young and middle class, they include people in shirts for all Istanbul’s big rival football clubs, young women in headscarves, groups of white-coated medical volunteers, and a young man with a big bag of lemons, selling them to the crowd as an tear gas antidote.

On the other hand, Turkey had the same banging of pots and pans in anti-government neighbourhoods in the 1990s, which was widespread on the Asian side of Istanbul last night; and in my district of Beyoglu, every year or two a big issue brings angry demonstrators and policemen with gas weaponry that is used to clear people away. While the government is clearly rattled this time round, after four days, perhaps the only obvious long-term political consequence I can predict so far is that all this will be remembered when Prime Minister Erdogan launches his expected quest for the presidency in an election next year.

There is a little over-enthusiasm in some circles about the scope of these anti-Erdogan protests. Erdogan is no Mubarak or Ben Ali, he was legitimately elected after all and can credibly claim to have effectively tackled Turkey's economic problems and countered Turkey's once coup-happy generals. But it's not all rosy, apart from his political longevity, there is a relatively poor human rights record (especially on the media and the Kurdish question), an economic growth story that is not without its cronyism, rising cost of living and economic inequality, and a cult of personality that is foundering on (among other things) a foreign policy humbled by the Syria question. The parallels to draw are not with the Arab uprisings, and not quite with recent European unrest such as Greece. This appears to be a very Turkish wave of discontent, perhaps the bursting of the much-inflated Erdogan bubble that thrived pretty much unchallenged for the last decade.

Hugh concludes with some commentary on the scandalous media handling (by state TV but also elsewhere):

There’s a lot of talk among my Turkish friends of the Gezi Park demonstrations being a “turning point”, and today it feels that way, with growing numbers of demonstrators in the streets, many cities in Turkey protesting in sympathy, and the unscripted nature of proceedings. Normal patterns have been drastically changed in recent days, not just in  traffic but also in many peoples’ lives. Phone calls with friends in the center are often about “my street is all mixed up now, can’t talk for long”. If anyone gets killed, rather than 100 or so already injured, that will sharply escalate the situation. Here’s hoping the government manages to handle the next 24 hours more sensitively than the last. A good first move would be to get some traction by letting state television give a full version of events – currently, people are consuming a diet of wild rumors and partial views on social media, which can only add to the current escalation.

But do read it all.

Iran and Turkey Join Syria Peace Envoy in Truce Call

Iran and Turkey Join Syria Peace Envoy in Truce Call

NYT's Anne Barnard and Rick Gladstone report on UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi's attempt to secure a cease-fire between the government and rebels in Syria:

Both Turkey and Iran publicly endorsed Mr. Brahimi’s effort on Wednesday. Those endorsements were significant because Iran is the most influential regional supporter of Mr. Assad’s, while Turkey supports Mr. Assad’s armed adversaries, is host to more than 100,000 Syrian refugees and has repeatedly called on Mr. Assad to resign.

In the past few weeks Turkey also has banned Syrian aircraft, moved armed forces close to its 550-mile border with Syria and engaged Syrian gunners in sporadic cross-border shelling, raising fears that the conflict in Syria could turn into a regional war.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, who met this week with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey at a regional summit meeting in Baku, Azerbaijan, was quoted by Iran’s state-run news media on Wednesday as saying he supported the Syria truce proposal and “any group that derives power through war and means to continue war has no future.”

Sounds like the Egyptian initiative to engage Iran on Syria is fast becoming a Turkish initiative. 

Update — Also, this from the Turkish paper Zaman:

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Tuesday he had suggested to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad three-way talks including Egypt on the Syria crisis, given the apparent Saudi objection to Iranian involvement in a current quartet.

So who's doing the leading here? Not sure Cairo would have so easily dismissed a Saudi role.

Turkey's nightmare - in Syria

Turkey's nightmare

Today's editorial in the FT:

Turkey is watching its deepest fears become reality on its southern border. As Kurdish forces take control of towns across north-east Syria, Ankara faces the possibility of an autonomous Kurdish area emerging, in loose federation with adjacent Iraqi Kurdistan.

To the Turkish establishment, this is an existential threat: an embryonic Kurdish state is bound to embolden Turkey’s 13m-plus Kurdish population in demands for regional autonomy, and could try to claim chunks of Turkish territory. Worse, a powerful element in a new coalition of Syria’s Kurdish groups is the PYD – an ally of the rebel Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has waged a 27-year struggle against the Turkish state. The PKK is now exploiting the situation, launching massed attacks, not the usual scattered raids, on army posts in Turkey’s south-east.

And there are reports that Assad is evacuating the Kurdish areas of Syria to give militants there a free rein.

Powers continue jockeying over influence in Syria

The New York Times reports that the CIA has been on the ground in Turkey vetting armed opposition groups in Syria. The anonymous sources cited by the Times say that the US itself is not providing weapons to the rebels, in keeping with its earlier declarations to not directly arm them, but is apparently tracking weapons going into Syria and “advising” allies in the region as to which groups should get what weapons. Reports on alleged Western intelligence gathering operations along Syria’s borders several months ago were denied then, but the Times asserts that the CIA presence has been on the ground “for several weeks” at least.

The promise of weapons sales to the rebels has been advanced as a cost-effective way for the US and its allies to direct the course of the Syrian uprising’s armed resistance to the Assad regime. With arms comes influence - or so Washington, Doha and Riyadh hope - and the armed opposition has been hard-pressed to provision itself.

Even with these promises, armed groups in Syria, who are frequently at odds with one another, have relied and continue to rely on materials produced by Syrian expatriates, captured battlefield detritus or purchased from black marketeers. With the exception of equipment seized from a battlefield or brought over by defecting soldiers, the regime can still bring much greater firepower to bear, which manifests itself in the form of besieging and shelling neighborhoods concealing (or thought to be concealing) insurgents fighting the Syrian Army. As such, some factions of the anti-Assad movement continue to call for direct foreign military intervention, notably from the Turkish Army.

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The Economist is wrong on Turkey and Israel

I was slightly taken aback reading one of the leaders in this this week's Economist, on Turkey's foreign policy. The leader takes  Recep Tayyib Erdogan to task for his populist foreign policy. He deserves it, indeed, for his boisterous announcements about giving Syria an ultimatum (which has been allowed to elapse). But the leader pushes for Israeli-Turkish reconciliation for the wrong reason, with the assumption that Turkey is at fault, based on a reasoning that simply does not make sense.
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Why Turkey is still worthy of emulation

There's been some commentary lately about Turkish foreign policy faltering in the face of the Arab spring: Turkey first opposed NATO intervention in Libya, tried to mediate out of the impasse and then recently turned around to say Qadhafi must go. It has acted hesitantly over Syria, where it has considerable interests. Anthony Shadid in the NYT and Steve Cook in Foreign Policy have highlighted the problems the AKP government have faced in dealing with these issues. But I think they go too far in talking about Turkish incompetence in the face of a turbulent Middle East.

This is only the case if you feel that a foreign policy success for Turkey is about getting what it wants all the time. It's quite reasonable for Turkey to believe, with its considerable interests in Libya, that backing the rebels outright was not the best course of action, and that negotiations with the Qadhafi regime were worth a try. When it didn't work, they moved on. Likewise, I'm not convinced when Cook writes:

Instead, the Turks have indulged in cynical posturing. As Assad deploys troops and tanks against peaceful protestors, the Turkish foreign ministry counseled the Syrian leader to “implement [reforms] without further delay” and subsequently expressed satisfaction with Assad’s efforts. To which the only reasonable reply is, “What democratic reforms?” The Turkish position on Syria has not yet placed Ankara at odds with Washington or Brussels. But should the United States or Europe shift on Assad — a distinct possibility — then Turkey would find itself supporting a dictator against the will of its two most important allies, as well as the will of the Syrian people.

The criticism about Assad not implementing reforms is fair, but taken in the context of decades of American and European praise for "reform" in the dictatorial regimes that fell in Egypt and Tunisia (and others that may be about to fall elsewhere), some humility may be needed: let he who is without sin cast the first stone. It reminds me of the Obama administration's ridiculous posturing on Iran supplying Syria with riot control supplies — the irony won't be lost on many Egyptian protestors who found themselves gassed and shot with US-supplied weapons last January.

Turkey may indeed carry cynical moves, and deserves moral condemnation for it. But it doesn't mean its foreign policy is a failure. The real achievement of Turkey's foreign policy is not so much its success in achieving its goals, but its independence: it acts like a sovereign state, not a client state. In the face of a tough and unpredictable regional situation that directly affects its interests, it may have faltered, but it has retained its autonomy. That is what Arabs ruled by Quislings and acquiescent puppets have admired, not necessarily the policies themselves. 

On Turkey and Syria

Following up on my recent Syria post, Helena Cobban has some insightful remarks re: Turkey's role. Before I get to it, from today's FT:

Turkey’s prime minister has urged Syria’s government to act swiftly on its reform promises, seeking to use Ankara’s influence to avert unrest on its southern border.

Reçep Tayyip Erdogan told reporters on Monday that he had spoken twice with Bashar al-Assad, Syria’s president, since protests spread across the country on Friday, and had advised him to take a “positive, reformist approach”.

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Aswani: Does the world want a democratic Egypt?

Alaa al-Aswany in al-Masri al-Youm:

Unfortunately, Egypt’s history is replete with lost opportunities for democratization. We now have another opportunity, which I hope will not be lost. The 25 January revolution forced Hosni Mubarak to step down. Hundreds of Egyptians sacrificed their lives for the sake of freedom. Since its inception, however, the revolution was confronted with a vicious counter-revolution — both inside and outside of Egypt.  

A few days ago, the Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Dar reported that Egyptian authorities are under massive pressure from Arab rulers, especially from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, to ensure that Mubarak is not tried. The report asserted that these Arab states had directly threatened to freeze all relations with Cairo, cut all financial assistance, and withdraw their investments from Egypt. They even went as far as threatening to dismiss the 5 million Egyptians working in those countries, if Mubarak were to be tried.

For its part, Israel always defended Hosni Mubarak, one of its best allies. The Israeli press does not conceal its concerns about meaningful democratic change in Egypt. The US administration has a similar position. Both American and Israeli officials recognize Egypt’s potential and know it will become a powerful regional force in a matter of years, if it becomes a democracy.

He's right — unfortunately, both regional players and the West have little interest in an Egyptian democracy if that means real debate about foreign and economic policy of the kind we've seen in Turkey. Just look how some think-tankers in Washington have sought to encourage US support of the Turkish military on the basis that it is secularist (as opposed to the AKP) even as it was revealed that it attempted to stage a coup.

New Blog: Steven Cook at CFR

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

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

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More Israeli propaganda failures

Max Blumenthal shows that the IDF is quietly redacting its own press releases to remove allegations of links between the IHH members of the flotilla and al-Qaeda:

Not content to believe that night vision goggles signal membership in Al Qaeda, Israel-based freelance reporter Lia Tarachansky and I called the IDF press office to ask for more conclusive evidence. Tarachansky reached the IDF’s Israel desk, interviewing a spokesperson in Hebrew; I spoke with the North America desk, using English. We both received the same reply from Army spokespeople: “We don’t have any evidence. The press release was based on information from the [Israeli] National Security Council.” (The Israeli National Security Council is Netanyahu’s kitchen cabinet of advisors).

Today, the Israeli Army’s press office changed the headline of its press release (see below), basically retracting its claim about the flotilla’s Al Qaeda links.

We debunked the basis of previous al-Qaeda links here.

Turkey, Israel and the US

I have to take issue with my friend Steven Cook of CFR in his take on Turkey's recent behavior over the flotilla raid. Steve, a talented Turkey and Egypt expert, argues that Ankara is departing from its longstanding alliance with the US by "taking sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict": 

It is hard to admit, but after six decades of strategic cooperation, Turkey and the United States are becoming strategic competitors -- especially in the Middle East. This is the logical result of profound shifts in Turkish foreign and domestic politics and changes in the international system.

This reality has been driven home by Turkey's angry response to Israel's interdiction of the Istanbul-organized flotilla of ships that tried Monday to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza. After Israel's attempts to halt the vessels resulted in the deaths of at least nine activists, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu referred to Israel's actions as "murder conducted by a state." The Turkish government also spearheaded efforts at the U.N. Security Council to issue a harsh rebuke of Israel.

Monday's events might prove a wake-up call for the U.S. foreign-policy establishment. Among the small group of Turkey watchers inside the Beltway, nostalgia rules the day. U.S. officialdom yearns to return to a brief moment in history when Washington and Ankara's security interests were aligned, due to the shared threat posed by the Soviet Union. Returning to the halcyon days of the U.S.-Turkish relationship, however, is increasingly untenable.

The aberration here is not Turkey is calling Israel's actions a murder, but the US in refusing to do the same. It is not Turkey that has acted aggressively towards Israel, but vice-versa — diplomatically for a while and now with violence. That Turkey has a regional policy at odds with Israel's is not an attack on the United States, and thinking it is implies a worrying assumption: that US policy should be driven by Israeli interests and desires. Turkey has not broken off diplomatic relations with Israel, or even its military purchases. But as the most democratic state in the Middle East, it has reacted in a manner commensurate with its public opinion and its desire for international respect. The same goes for Turkey's policy with Syria: Turkey's policy is driven by its own interests; whereas US policy is driven by a political desire to lend protection to Israel.
He concludes more timidly:
Given the mythology that surrounds the relationship, the divergence between Washington and Ankara has proved difficult to accept. Once policymakers recognize what is really happening, Washington and Ankara can get on with the job of managing the decline in ties with the least possible damage. Obama's goal should be to develop relations with Turkey along the same lines the United States has with Brazil or Thailand or Malaysia. Those relations are strong in some areas, but fall short of strategic alliances. "Frenemy" might be too harsh a term for such an arrangment, but surely "model partnership" is a vast overstatement. It's time to recognize reality.
Turkey is still a NATO member, houses a key US base and provides logistical support for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. That seems pretty special and more than what Brazil or Malaysia do. The country that needs to review its policy is the US.
Cook's analysis is echoed in Thomas "Toto" Friedman's latest column — always a bad sign. He begins, as he frequently, by talking about his anguish:
As a friend of both Turkey and Israel, it has been agonizing to watch the disastrous clash between Israeli naval commandos and a flotilla of “humanitarian” activists seeking to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza. Personally, I think both Israel and Turkey have gotten out of balance lately, and it is America’s job to help both get back to the center — urgently.
. . .
Therefore, it has been painful to hear the same Prime Minister Erdogan in recent years publicly lash out with ever-greater vehemence at Israel over its treatment of the Palestinians in Gaza. Many see this as Turkey looking to ingratiate itself with the Muslim world after having been rebuffed by the European Union. I have no problem with Turkey or humanitarian groups loudly criticizing Israel. But I have a big problem when people get so agitated by Israel’s actions in Gaza but are unmoved by Syria’s involvement in the murder of the prime minister of Lebanon, by the Iranian regime’s killing of its own citizens demonstrating for the right to have their votes counted, by Muslim suicide bombers murdering nearly 100 Ahmadi Muslims in mosques in Pakistan on Friday and by pro-Hamas gunmen destroying a U.N.-sponsored summer camp in Gaza because it wouldn’t force Islamic fundamentalism down the throats of children.
I don't remember the United States, France, the UK or any other US ally going out of its way to condemn these things. On the other hand, Turkey's citizens have been killed and a ship flying its flag. Surely that's worse than something happening elsewhere for any country? And if Turkey is speaking out about the issue that has fueled regional tension for over 60 years — the Israeli/Palestinian conflict — surely that's not an irrational position.
After spending an inordinate amount of blood, treasure and political capital trying to regulate the Middle East according to a neoconservative idea of Israeli interests, the US has a unique opportunity to let strong regional leaders like Turkey try to manage issues that are of direct importance to them. It should not stand in the way; it should step aside.  
Update: Steve Cook responds:
I see your point about U.S. policy and how a democratic Turkey is taking a principled stand against the Israelis.  That said, two observations:
 
1)      It’s politically impossible for the United States to shift its position on Israel.  We saw that after Obama tried a more robust approach on settlements.  He backed down quickly, but I believe the episode demonstrates the limits of Washington’s actual room for maneuver.  It’s a problem, but the unfortunate reality.
 
2)      The central theme of the piece was the evolution of U.S.-Turkey relations, which you chose not to emphasize in your post.  I wasn’t really making a normative statement, I was making an observation that b/c Turkey is more democratic and b/c of changes in the international system, Washington and Ankara are diverging.  I was trying to wake up my friends in the administration to this reality so they can figure out what to do.
 
Some quibbles:
 
1)      Turkey’s military procurement from Israel is coming to an end; there is very little left in the pipeline once the soon to be completed main battle tank refurbishment program ends.
 
2)      The relationship between Turkey and Israel is collapsing.  It might not end completely, but the days of strategic cooperation are over.  It is politically unsustainable for both sides.
 
3)      Incirlik is important to the United States, but for how long?  The U.S. will be down to 50,000 soldiers in Iraq by August.  Those forces can easily be resupplied through Kuwait, though that isn’t optimal.  IF, a big if, the President is to be believed, the clock is also running on the Afghanistan operation.
 
4)      NATO.  Really?  It’s done.
Fair enough and 1 and 2 — I'm not complaining!

The flotilla murders: not piracy, but war

Craig Murray, the courageous former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan who denounced Western silence over that brutal regime's practices, who brings his diplomatic and legal expertise to shed light on the legal issues surrounding the attack on the flotilla:

A word on the legal position, which is very plain. To attack a foreign flagged vessel in international waters is illegal. It is not piracy, as the Israeli vessels carried a military commission. It is rather an act of illegal warfare.

Because the incident took place on the high seas does not mean however that international law is the only applicable law. The Law of the Sea is quite plain that, when an incident takes place
on a ship on the high seas (outside anybody's territorial waters) the applicable law is that of the flag state of the ship on which the incident occurred. In legal terms, the Turkish ship was Turkish territory.

There are therefore two clear legal possibilities.

Possibility one is that the Israeli commandos were acting on behalf of the government of Israel in killing the activists on the ships. In that case Israel is in a position of war with Turkey, and the act falls under international jurisdiction as a war crime.

Possibility two is that, if the killings were not authorised Israeli military action, they were acts of murder under Turkish jurisdiction. If Israel does not consider itself in a position of war with Turkey, then it must hand over the commandos involved for trial in Turkey under Turkish law.

In brief, if Israel and Turkey are not at war, then it is Turkish law which is applicable to what happened on the ship. It is for Turkey, not Israel, to carry out any inquiry or investigation into events and to initiate any prosecutions. Israel is obliged to hand over indicted personnel for prosecution.

More legal arguments here. I hope the next ships are escorted by the Turkish Navy!

Iran, Brazil, Turkey and the US

Yesterday morning I was at the UN building in New York, with a small group of journalists meeting Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon. One of the issues that came up was Iran — in fact the buzz at the UN generally speaking is that Iran is the main topic of conversation at high-level meetings and the G-summits, no matter what's officially on the agenda. Ki-Moon had just received news that the US had just gotten a tentative agreement over a new package of sanctions on Iran and shared it with us, although he didn't have much to say about it apart some vague statement that the best way of addressing the Iran issue was through dialogue.

Shortly before Hillary Clinton announced the consensus over a new sanctions resolution, which is going to the UN Security Council soon, Brazil and Turkey had successfully inked a deal with Iran. The deal would have Tehran turn over about half of its nuclear fuel stockpile for a period of a year, a similar deal that the US had earlier said it would be amenable to. So the announcement on new sanctions came as a big f-you to not only Iran, but also Brazil and Turkey, as Gary Sick writes:

Only hours before Clinton’s announcement, the foreign minister of Turkey held his own press conference. Obviously unaware of what was about to happen, he described in some detail not only the tortuous negotiation process with Iran, but his perception that he was acting directly on behalf of the United States.
According to Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, he had been in “constant contact” with Clinton herself and with national security adviser James Jones, while his prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, had face-to-face encouragement from President Obama in December and April.
The objective of Turkey and Brazil was to persuade Iran to accept the terms of an agreement the United States had itself promoted only six months ago as a confidence-building measure and the precursor to more substantive talks. There were twelve visits back and forth between the Turk and his Iranian counterpart, some 40 phone conversations, and eighteen grueling hours of personal negotiations leading up to the presentation of the signed agreement on Monday.
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Turkey and the Middle East

Hugh Pope debunks the idea that Turkey is turning towards Iran or seeking to lead an "Islamic bloc":
In truth-as International Crisis Group argues in its new report Turkey and the Middle East: Ambitions and Constraints-Turkey's rising profile in the Middle East is a complement to and even dependent on its ties to the West. The attempts to grow the regional economy, create interdependence and foster peace have the potential to stabilize an area that has been threatening to it in the past. And Turkey's main motivation for doing this is not the resurrection of an Ottoman-style caliphate, but the fact that its interests are directly damaged by instability in the Middle East, and secondly its desire to secure and encourage new markets for its rapidly expanding industries.
In other words, Turkey is following the policy of a normal confident state: watching after its interest, stabilizing its neighborhood, and redressing the regional balance. But many other states in the region either act over-confident and constantly project and perceive threats (Israel, Iran), act only for short-term tactical goals (Syria), act with hyper-sensitivity and wounded pride (Egypt, Algeria, Morocco) or are so penetrated as to not be able to project a state policy (Lebanon). To find the quietly confident states, look at their economy and soft power. 
The ICG report is here.

Links for 11.19.09 to 11.24.09

Middle East Report 253: Beyond Compare by Julie Peteet | On the similarities of the Israeli occupation to Apartheid, its differences, and a call for a new advocacy strategy. ✪ Newsweek Reporter's Ordeal in Iran | Newsweek International | Newsweek.com | Maziar Bahari's story. ✪ The sixth war - The National Newspaper | Greg Johnsen on the Huthi-Saudi-Yemeni war(s), and their socio-political underpinnings. ✪ Daily News Egypt - Shalit Release Imminent, Claim Egyptian And Israeli Press | Heard that before - who will be the spoiler for prisoner exchanges now? ✪ Morocco: Endangered 'Model'? | Human Rights Watch | HRW's Eric Goldstein on Morocco's slide to more and more rights abuses. ✪ MEI - Middle East International | Another new issue. ✪ Saudi Arabia goes to war | Mai Yamani | On Riyadh's attack on Huthis marks the first solo military venture for the Saudi army. ✪ Hey, preacher – leave those kids alone | Ariane Sherine | Comment is free | guardian.co.uk | I'm a rabid atheist and even I think this goes too far. People can choose sooner or later anyway, parents have rights over their kids. But of course religious schools should get no state funding. ✪ Syria's crusade for tourism | Travel | The Guardian | Damascus wants to double the number of tourists that visit it. Quick, get there before the country is ruined... ✪ Homeland Security Today - preparedness and security news - Obama Dilutes Power of Top Intel Officer; Elevates DCI | Interesting piece on failed attempts to restructure US intelligence community, caused by fight between CIA and DNI. ✪ International Journal of Žižek Studies | It would be funny if this was satire, but it's not. ✪ Interview / Reporter Helen Thomas criticizes Obama's Mideast peace efforts - Haaretz | "I don't think they are working very hard for peace." ✪ Will Turkey benefit from Ergenekon? - Le Monde diplomatique | Remnants of Turkey's deep state and Cold War networks. ✪ Le Figaro - La lutte des princes saoudiens pour succéder au roi Abdallah | As Sarkozy visits, creepy old geezer princes fight for kingdom. ✪ Little behind Obama's tough Mideast talk: analysts - Yahoo! News | In foreign as in domestic policy, Obama has no balls.
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Links for 11.09.09 to 11.12.09

Report: Angelina Jolie planning to adopt child from Syria - Haaretz - Israel News | Jolie and Pitt thinking of adopting an Iraqi refugee baby in Syria. They also met with Bashar and his wife, apparently. United Colors of Adoption... this will cause a stir. ✪ Israel & Palestine: Can They Start Over? - The New York Review of Books | Malley & Agha's latest, in which they criticize the two-state solution, criticize alternatives to it (notably one-state), and sketch out the alternative: a hudna, a long-term interim truce while work on fundamental questions is carried out. Not entirely convincing, too vague at times, but there's something interesting there nonetheless. I wish they could be more straightforward. ✪ UN: Gaza needs construction material before winter - Yahoo! News | Even greater humanitarian crisis looming. ✪ Palestinian borders could solve settlements row: Fatah - Yahoo! News | Muhammad Dahlan picks up Daniel Levy's line about deciding on borders. Worrying. ✪ Israeli flights over Lebanon break resolution: UN - Yahoo! News | "UNITED NATIONS (AFP) – All Israeli military flights over Lebanon break a resolution aimed at ending the 2006 hostilities between the two neighbors, a UN envoy said Tuesday." So let's have the UN set up air defenses, then! ✪ Abbas slams Israel on settlements at mass Arafat rally - Yahoo! News | Funny pic of Abbas alongside this story. Well he's shown he can have some balls, at least, and highlight the dismal failure of the Israelis and Americans on the settlement question. ✪ Israel mulls draft refugee law - Yahoo! News | "JERUSALEM (AFP) – A draft law stipulating that any Middle East peace treaty must mention compensation for Jews forced to leave Arab states has passed a preliminary reading in the Israeli parliament, a spokesman said on Wednesday." ✪ Gaza, Gilad Shalit, Hamas, and Israel : The New Yorker | Somewhat flawed piece by Lawrence Wright, but nice descriptions of the misery of Gaza. Too much Gilad Shalit for my taste. ✪ Arab Reform Bulletin - Brotherhood Faces Leadership Challenge | Ibrahim al-Hudaiby about the MB's internal dispute and its need to institutionalize decision-making. ✪ Memo From Riyadh - Influence of Egypt and Saudi Arabia Fades - NYTimes.com | An interesting story on Egypt and Saudi Arabia's dwindling relative power to influence regional affairs. Except I would not put Cairo and Riyadh in the same basket: Egypt is in absolute decline, Saudi in relative decline. Also interesting stuff on differences between the two on how to handle Syria. ✪ 6 Guantanamo detainees resettle in Palau Asharq Alawsat Newspaper (English) | The absurdities of the war on terror: "KOROR, Palau (AP) - Six Chinese Muslims released from Guantanamo Bay but still wanted at home as separatists arrived Sunday on their new tropical island home of Palau after the tiny Pacific nation agreed to a U.S. request to resettle the men." ✪ Géopolitique des médias arabes (1/2) : Rotana, mondialisation et normalisation | Culture et politique arabes | First post in a series of the geopolitics of Arab media. This one largely focuses on Kingdom Holdings and Saudi Prince al-Waleed bin Talal. ✪ الرئيس جمال عبد الناصر، الصفحة الرئيسية | Gamal Abdel Nasser archives at the Alexandria Library. ✪ In Turkey, fertile ground for creationism - washingtonpost.com | On Islamist creationists in Turkey. ✪ Al-Ahram Weekly | Egypt | Obituary Amin Howeidi (1921-2009) Vexed, not villainous | Gamal Nkrumah's obituary of former Egyptian spy chief Amin Howeidy.
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Links for 10.18.09 to 10.20.09

Egypt's Moussa does not rule out presidency run: report| International| Reuters | Moussa throws his hat in the ring, sort of, and does not discount a Gamal Mubarak presidency either. ✪ Report: Israeli cafe boycotts Turkish coffee amid tensions | Because Turkey's cancellation of joint military exercises with Israel... hilarious. ✪ Can Egypt protect its Copts? | Khaled Diab | Comment is free | guardian.co.uk | On growing sectarian tensions, Hassan and Morqos, etc. ✪ Al-Ahram Weekly | Features | Time to give back | "According to economist Abdel-Khaleq Farouk, Egyptian business people spent more than an estimated LE300 million in 2008 on what he described as "publicising their provocative and socially irresponsible lifestyles," with money spent by business people on social programmes not exceeding LE50 million per year." ✪ Arab League says US donations used to finance settlements - Yahoo! News | This should be pursued much more aggressively. ✪ Al-Ahram Weekly | Front Page | Obituary: A beautiful mind Mohamed El-Sayed Said (1950-2009) | Obit of the late Egyptian scholar, leftist and founding Kifaya member. ✪ Khalil Bendib interviews Shlomo Sand « P U L S E | Author of "The Invention of the Jewish People." ✪ Orascom Is Building Hotel Of Doom | In North Korea...
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Links for 09.14.09

Unsettled - Resolve of West Bank Settlers May Have Limits - Series - NYTimes.com | NYT describes Israeli settlers as "the nation's moral core." For once I agree. ✪ Islamists and the Grave Bell | Greg Gause: "So a revival of democracy promotion in Washington requires the underlying assumption that Islamists will not win Middle Eastern election." Well in that case let's put the whole democracy promotion idea to sleep, and instead develop a concept of autocracy obstruction. ✪ Political storm clouds form over Turkey | The Smirking Chimp | Interesting post on deep state anti-Islamist group in Turkey. ✪ الصفحة الرئيسية | Arabic ebooks. ✪ Egyptian chronicles: Welcome To The Egyptian Publishing Hell | Good post on the problems with copyright, literary publishing and censorship in Egypt.
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