FP's Middle East Channel launched

Foreign Policy has just launched The Middle East Channel, a one-stop shop for its articles on the Middle East as well as original blog posts. It will be edited by Marc Lynch, Daniel Levy and Amjad Atallah. Marc writes:

Foreign Policy's Middle East Channel is something different: a vibrant and decidedly non-partisan new site where real expertise and experience take priority over shouting, where the daily debate is informed by dispassionate analysis and original reporting all too often lacking from the stale and talking-point-laden commentary that sadly dominates most coverage of the region today. Its contributors range from academics to former policymakers, from journalists on the ground to established analysts -- with an emphasis on introducing voices from Middle East itself. Most importantly, the Middle East Channel comes to you doctrine-free, open to political viewpoints of all kinds -- but demanding honesty, civility, and genuine expertise.

Our scope is broad: Israel and its neighbors, Iran's nuclear program and domestic politics, Iraq, Islamist movements, the Gulf, Turkey, and North Africa, and the struggle for reform and democracy. The Middle East Channel will highlight links between issues and areas of this diverse region of 400 million -- as well as provide a unique perspective on America's challenges there. We'll have regular interviews with Middle East and Washington players, sharp commentary on the news of the day, and original analysis of new ideas and trends in the region.

I hope it will grow into a more centrist-liberal version of Harvard's very right-leaning MESH.

There's already a few interesting pieces up, including Marc on the Iraqi elections, the great Joost Hiltermann on Kirkuk. I have issues with Bernard Avishai's piece on the Palestinian economy — he's been peddling the idea that this is a priority, and while it's important it's not more important than ending the occupation. He does have some interesting insights into the Israel/Palestine economy in case a two-state solution happens:

Each side will be a culturally distinct city-state, building upwards, integrated with the other in a business ecosystem extending to Jordan, and sharing everything from water to currency, tourists to bandwidth. Over 80 percent of Palestine's trade is with Israel. What won't seem trivial is the capacity of Palestine's economy--currently one-fortieth of Israel's--to create employment. The mean age of Palestinians in the territories is about 19 years old. If we assume normal rates of growth, and the return of only half of the refugees to a Palestinian state, Palestine would soon become an Arabic-speaking metropolis of perhaps 6 million to 7 million people, radiating east from Jerusalem, and facing off against the Hebrew-speaking metropolis, anchored by Tel Aviv. Olive groves, picturesque as they are, will seem beside the point. So will military notions like strategic depth.

Each side will be a culturally distinct city-state, building upwards, integrated with the other in a business ecosystem extending to Jordan, and sharing everything from water to currency, tourists to bandwidth. Over 80 percent of Palestine's trade is with Israel. What won't seem trivial is the capacity of Palestine's economy--currently one-fortieth of Israel's--to create employment. The mean age of Palestinians in the territories is about 19 years old. If we assume normal rates of growth, and the return of only half of the refugees to a Palestinian state, Palestine would soon become an Arabic-speaking metropolis of perhaps 6 million to 7 million people, radiating east from Jerusalem, and facing off against the Hebrew-speaking metropolis, anchored by Tel Aviv. Olive groves, picturesque as they are, will seem beside the point. So will military notions like strategic depth.

And there's more analysis of problems with the Palestinian economy — poor banking system, the mobility problems the occupation has created, and a call for Netanyahu to do more to lift the Israeli-imposed restrictions on the Palestinian economy. Anyway, read it for yourself.

My own contribution was just posted — it's a reflection on Algeria's recent regime intrigues:

Why was Algeria's chief of police killed? The assassination of Ali Tounsi is sending political shockwaves through Algeria. Tounsi had been having a public tiff with the minister of interior, Yazid Zerhouni.  The killer, Chouaib Oultache - a close friend and colleague of Tounsi's, and former Air Force colonel who headed the police airborne unit - is reported to have been alone with Tounsi.   Eyewitnesses to the murder have disappeared. Oultache is said to have shot himself, or been shot by others, or to have fallen down stairs as he made his escape. He was hospitalized at a military facility and is recovering from his wounds, or he fell into a coma, or he may have woken up and confessed, or he may be dead. His immediate family has disappeared, and his house is now encircled by police whose main job is dissuading journalists from asking too many questions.

Was the murder purely a personal affair, or is Oultache being set up as part of a shadow war carried out through corruption investigations - not only against Oultache, but also the national oil company Sonatrach and the ministry of public works? Do these investigations mean much whenthey steer clear of the really high-level stuff, such as the long-term oil and gas deals with Spain, France or the United States? Or are they simply warning shots to Bouteflika after he threatened to re-open investigations into the assassination of high-ranking security officials in the 1990s as a way to go after the last remaining generals in positions of influence? Some see it as a harbinger of more trouble to come, particularly as they came as rumors that Bouteflika - who is said to have stomach cancer - is dying. You can take your pick of what actually happened.

Read the rest here. 

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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.