Various tidbits

I’ve been traveling for 10 days or so now — after a week in Tunis, I am now in Istanbul — and I therefore missed some of the big regional stories. Some readers wrote asking me to weigh on various issues, which I will do quickly below.

Qadhafi’s death

Frankly, I did not want to comment on this one. I thought the videos circulating of Qadhafi, notably the one in which he is sodomized by his captors with a stick, were extremely distasteful. I totally understand that he was killed (he deserved nothing else) and had I been Libyan I would have done the same. But the manner in which this was done was tasteless, and does lead one to worry about the well-armed, adrenaline pumped youth who now rule the streets of much of Libya. It does not really inspire confidence for rule of law in Libya. And for me, the big event was the fall of Tripoli, since only small areas were still under the control of the old regime.

We’ll see how it turns out in Libya — which, it seems obvious, will be torn between the centralizing effect of getting most of the country’s income from oil exports and the strong regionalisms that dominate in the country. This has been a permanent fixture of Libya politics since the state’s creation. I hope they are able to find a stable political model to integrate the reality of strong locally-based politics with the need for central planning for the country’s development, and that the rivalties between the people of Nafusa, Tripoli, Misrata and Benghazi (among others) can find a peaceful conduit.

Prince Sultan and Saudi succession

I don’t follow Saudi Arabia much, except that one has to to some extent to understand Saudi foreign policy and its regional impact. But I think this picture of the leading Saudi royals is telling: two are in a wheelchair, one cannot feed himself, and another is so fat he can barely move. They’re all super-old yet all their hair is jet-black. Yet, they are masters of the universe, among the most powerful men in the region and perhaps the planet. But they should really think about skipping a generation (not that I wish their regime well, of course.)

Egypt’s syndicates

There’s been much talk lately about how well or not well the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood is doing in various syndicate elections. I haven’t followed all of these, but it seems they are over-selling how well they did in the Doctors’ Syndicate (where they won nationally but only have a slim majority in governorate-level syndicates). They lost big in Alexandria, which is a surprise as this is a stronghold for them. What’s interesting is that the MB tried to portray this as a big victory, which their enemies protested was an ploy ahead of the parliamentary elections. I think they did well, but not that well (no need to exaggerate the other way either). If you read French, Alain Gresh’s post on the matter is good.

The guy they supported (but who is not a member) just won the Journalists’ Syndicate election, but just barely (and the number of spoilt votes in the election is enough to to make the difference). The MB did poorly in the Cairo student elections earlier this year. I think the lesson is the MB, for all its organizational force, is not a hegemonic force among professionals and probably not nationally either. Which is good, not just because I’m not very fond of the MB, but also because Egypt needs pluralism more than anything right now. But I also think there is a tendency in the academic literature on Egypt to oversell the importance of syndicate elections to national politics. By definition, professional syndicates are a middle class battleground that is of little concern to over 60% of the population, after all.

The past two weeks have also seen major protests by police officers, as well as huge battle between the Lawyers’ Syndicate and the Judges’ Club over a judicial decree allowing judges to detain lawyers who disturb court proceedings. (I side with the lawyers because I’m not fond of judges, although in most countries a judge can declare anyone in contempt of court. But that being said I have not looked into it in detail.)

I see this as much pent-up frustration and unresolved differences sorting themselves out after the immobilism of the Mubarak era. It will be messy, and it’s necessary. Part of the difficulty of course is that few are 100% clean of working with the regime (including the MB) and that change is seen as disruptive and dangerous by many.