Syriaâ€”well, Damascusâ€”doesnâ€™t feel like a place ready to come apart at the seams just yet. The mess of swish new cafes and expensive clothing stores, the shiny new cars and a general air of confidence belie the rumors of fraying domestic security and an unhappy economy. Maybe the feeling is deceptive. The flash is largely restricted to Abu Roumani and Shalaan and is mostly fueled, they say, by an influx of unclean money from Lebanon and Iraq. It was raining yesterday when I went out to Jaramana, where many of the million or so Iraqi refugees have ended up. Taxies splashing through the pothole-lakes and vegetable dealers huddled unhappily on the sidewalk. A few big 4X4 taxies with Iraqi plates, piled high with plastic wrapped bags. Nobody had heard of Hajji Husseinâ€™s, which was apparently Zarqaouiâ€™s favorite kebab stop in Falluja until the Americans flattened it and itâ€™s proprietor relocated to somewhere in Damascus. Not that I spent a hell of a lot of time asking after it. Between the rain and the serious looking men in cheap leather jackets and white socks, my sense of adventure was damped. So back to the very civil pleasures of Bab Touma and Abu George. Iâ€™ve posted a few pics on my flickr site.
The root cause of the recent unpleasantness was what we in the economics racket call in technical terms an effort to extract blood from the corpus of a turnip.And then he went on to describe how the government has "painted itself into an uncomfortable corner" with "this subsidy lashup." Worth noting that Sadat's government got itself out of the corner not by easing off subsidies while doing something about the repressive and corrupt mode of economic "management" that they enabled, but by a cheap sleight of hand: keeping the price of bread the same while reducing the size of the loaves (oh yeah, and bashing a lot of heads). So the working class today finds itself in the same position as 1977: dependent for their daily bread on a regime that acts like a violent dead-beat dad, at once stifling the ability of those without the capital to buy up state assets at knock-down prices to support themselves, and unable to provide an alternative. Mattox's conclusion also says much about the nature of US-Egyptian state-level relations, though perhaps unintentionally. After bemoaning the billions of dollars that the subsidies are costing the Egyptian government, referring to cutting out the subsidies as "bringing sanity" and hiding under his well-polished desk for several days, Maddox reports that "the natives are quiet again." What a relief.
Cairo: In the days before Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met with officials in Egypt, the news media here were filled with stories detailing charges of corruption, cronyism, torture and political repression.And Slackman then fills out his lead: police torture on video, contaminated blood being distributed, journalists getting arrested. He gives Ibrahim Eissa space for a quote on regime duplicity and political tensions, lets Hafez Abou Saada say the usual, and runs through a short list of the kind of reforms instituted since 2005 (back when Condi was making those huffy puffy noises that sounded to some like criticism of beating protestors and fixing elections):
Since then, Egypt's government has piled up a long list of repressive actions, including ordering the police to block people from voting in parliamentary elections; delaying local elections by two years; imprisoning an opposition leader, Ayman Nour, on charges widely seen as politically motivated; battling with judges who have demanded oversight of elections; and imprisoning Talaat el-Sadat, a member of Parliament and the nephew of President Anwar el-Sadat, for a year in a military jail after he criticized the armed forces on television.And he twists it closed nicely at the end, juxtaposing the experience of some Wafd members who tried to do something about sewage in their village (you guessed it, friendly visits from security) and Condi's latest public message to Egyptians:
"I especially want to thank President Mubarak for receiving me and for spending so much time with me to talk about the issues of common interest here in the Middle East," Ms. Rice said. "Obviously the relationship with Egypt is an important strategic relationship â€” one that we value greatly."Thanks for clearing that up Condi. The depressing part, however, is the point that Slackman raises in the middle of his article. Shalit's still walled up in little cell under Gaza somewhere and Fatah and Hamas are going at it like a bunch of well-armed soccer hooligans. So what does Washington have to gain these days in exchange for its complicity in the very public human rights violations of the Mubarak regime? Are they anticipating an imminent need to outsource the questioning of Gitmo releasees to the Lazoughly Interrogation Company? Ultimately, Condi's stance looks at best like knee-jerk retrenchment in the face of the utter failure, and at worst like somebody taking comfort in the arms of like-minded friends. Politics doesn't always make strange bedfellows, it seems.