Revolution and Despair

I have great respect for Asef Bayat's work and there are insights in this essay published on Mada Masr, but I find it hard reading on a day when people are being chased and killed in Cairo for celebrating the anniversary of the January 25 uprising:

Truth be told, there is a limit as to how much states, even authoritarian ones, can control societies without turning totalitarian, such as the likes of Communist East Germany where the secret police Stasi kept files on one third of the total population. There are ironically more favorable spaces to pursue this strategy, ["active citizenship"] in such settings as Egypt, than under the liberal democratic states like the US, where the apparatuses of surveillance, legal or technical, seem to be much more pervasive and detailed than our repressive but soft states. In our region, there remain vast informal sociascapes, the free zones within which alternative norms counter to state logic may be instituted. Eric Garner, the black American who was apprehended and choked to death by a police officer, was selling cigarettes illegally on the streets of New York City. Millions of Eric Garners work on the streets of Middle Eastern cities informally and illegally without states being able to do much about them.   
Informal life, the relations and institutions that lie at the margin of state control, make up a vast swath of social existence, where some of the most creative (as well as anti-social) endeavors take shape, as shown in the circles of family, kin members, friends, or among those who operate in the localities, communities, and informal worksites. Spaces from among the art world, intellectual circles, book publishing, cultural production, new social media, independent journalism, legal and architecture profession, or social work may produce alternative speech and unorthodox ways of being and doing things. Even the state-regulated institutions such as schools, colleges, municipalities, neighborhood associations, city councils, student clubs, workers’ unions, and professional syndicates often turn, by critical and creative users, into spaces where some of the core social and political values are contested.
Active citizenry of this sort, in the meantime, is bound to subvert the ability of the authoritarian state to govern, because the state usually rules not from above or outside the society, but from within, by weaving its logic — through norms, relations, and institutions — into the social fabric. Challenging those norms, relations, and institutions would by definition diminish the state’s legitimacy and impair its ability to govern. In fact, active citizenry could go even further to possibly impel and even acclimatize the state to behave in line with the values that subaltern citizens may cultivate in society. No wonder the prohibition law in the US looked absurd when by the early 1930s so many citizens were unlawfully consuming alcohol; the law had to change. The absurdity of preventing women from driving should be clear even to the Saudi rulers who cannot help  but see women as capable of doing more or less what men can. An authoritarian state cannot govern with peace and for long a democratic citizenry.

But who says the state has or will govern "with peace"? And disturbed as one may be by surveillance and policing in the United States, isn't it ridiculous to argue that there is more space to oppose and organize in Egypt?

I appreciate the desire to offer some encouragement to Egyptian citizens who supported January 25, and I agree that it is important to keep thinking of how to be active, even under these terrible circumstances (the site Mada Masr itself is a great example of this). I also agree that we are not just back to the old days -- there was a huge rupture, and even if the hopes it raised were defeated, the repressive techniques employed to achieve this (media propaganda; Saudi subsidies; massive repression; a shameful politicization of the judiciary) are destabilizing and seemingly untenable in the long-term. But I take a much darker view of the kind of days we're in. People used to say that the revolution had brought down the wall of fear and it could never be back up; I think the army and police have done a great reconstruction job. Virtually every institution in Egypt is worse off than it was four years ago; a big segment of society has been complicit -- out of fear, ignorance, self-interest -- with the falsification of its own history and with granting impunity for state injustice and violence. 

One also cannot assume -- as a certain school of academic writing does -- that every bit of economic informality is an act of political subversion or active citizenship. Is there any evidence that informal vendors in Cairo are challenging the norms of society (rather than replicating them by, say, harassing women and taking the state's side against protesters?). Let's not romanticize the margins and the people who live there. The fact that they are resourceful and determined to scrape together a living or navigate a corrupt, repressive state is not a victory -- it's normal human behavior, and it's a waste (think what they could accomplish if given better, fairer chances). Keeping big swaths of the population on the margins -- invisible and illegal -- is an effective strategy of social and political control. The avenues for active citizenship are violently barred. 

I was moved by this reflection by Yasmine El Rifae on memory and violence in Egypt these days:

The gunmen and their bosses have made it clear that unauthorized memory will not be tolerated. Neither will grief. Public language, thought, and opinion is either legal or illegal, patriotism or treason.
What we have been authorized to do is to spend a week mourning the death of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah, whose Wahabi tradition teaches those in grief not to demonstrate it in public. Perhaps the regime would prefer this of us.
We have been authorized to mention the word “martyr” in the context of January 25 as long as we agree that what they died for is what lies in front of us. We can speak of Egypt’s youth in the context of political participation, meaning participation in parliamentary elections. We have not yet been authorized to speak about the dead of June 30 and its bloody summer in any tone other than gratitude.

King Abdullah's mourners

It's been quite something to watch governments across the middle east -- and beyond -- pay tribute to Saudi Arabia's late King Abdullah. Egypt cancelled the January 25 anniversary celebrations (the symbolism here is heavy as lead) and the UK flew flags at half-mast. Most Arab countries declared several days (or even weeks) of national mourning -- something they generally don't do when dozens of their own citizens are killed in tragic accidents or terrorist attacks. I guess Saudi military acquisitions (for the West) and investments and subsidies (for Arab neighbors) are worth that much. 

Western media has largely parroted the claim that the king was -- in the Saudi context -- some sort of moderate and reformer. This is really a stretch. While Abdullah did not seem to be as repressive and hidebound as other members of the royal family, he never put that family's power-sharing deal with the kingdom's fundamentalist religious clergy in question.

The idea that the house of Saud is being held hostage by religious extremists...they empower and fund those extremists, whether we're talking about the kingdom's own religious establishment or jihadist groups abroad. Yes there are tensions with the clergy sometimes -- tensions within an established alliance.

Not to mention Saudi Arabia's foreign policy, on which the late king presumably had some input: the kingdom has bankrolled and led a regional counter-revolution, going to great lengths to roll back the Arab uprisings, and to bury both mass social movements and political Islam. 

Michel Houellebecq’s Francophobia

In the latest issue of the New Yorker, Adam Gopnik writes about Michel Houellebecq's latest, in which he imagines France electing a Muslim president and its intellectual classes cravenly converting to Islam and adopting Sharia. This gives an idea of the current French zeitgeist.

I haven't read this book, but I've read most of Houellebecq's previous works. I don't agree with Gopnik that he is not a provocateur. And I find Gopnik's definition of satire bizarre. He writes that "Houellebecq is, simply, a satirist. He likes to take what's happening now and imagine what would happen if it kept on happening." But that assumes that "what's happening right" now is the ascendancy of French Muslims to power. On the contrary, French citizens of Arab origin remain a small minority, economically marginalized, targeted by rising right-wing parties, and not at all homogenous -- hence the problem of discussing France's "Muslim community" (many of them are not practicing Muslims) or using the even more condescending category of Frenchmen and women "issus de l'immigration" ("offsprings of immigrants") -- for how many generations must French citizens with Arab names be categorized this way? I would argue that satire is a way of revealing a truth -- about an argument, a point of view, the world we live in -- through its gross exaggeration. 

Houellebecq is an interesting writer; he can be funny and thought-provoking. But he's not a satirist. He's a reactionary -- his seeming cynicism is masked, depressed romanticism. What Gopnik gets right is how much the hysterical discourse on identity in France is based on personal nostalgia, the inability of a certain class of French intellectuals to accept that France is a different country now. Here he is on Eric Zemmour (another writer whose fixed preoccupation with the cultural, sexual, political threat posed by Muslim men is just ridiculous). 

"In the back of Zemmour’s mind, it seems, is an oddly singular and specific place to long for—the Gaullist France of the booming sixties, when Zemmour was a kid. Society held together, authority was firm and essentially benevolent, each man had a role, each woman could choose to stay home if she wanted, and Catherine Deneuve was in every other movie. This is a nostalgia that Houellebecq, who was also a kid then, shares."

I'll never forget reading a column by another French writer in which he lamented the sight of halal butchers and Arab internet cafes in Paris, as if it were the end of the world. It was the end of his world, I guess, since he had too little imagination to make room in it for historical and social change, for anyone different. Or to reflect for one moment on how much more drastically the French colonial presence once altered and alienated the reality of other peoples. 

Links 14 January 2015

First link dump of the year, some dating from December 2014 – all Charlie-free, see recent posts and link roundups for that.

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Reactions to the attack on Charlie Hebdo

  • Buzzfeed rounds up cartoons of solidarity from around the world. 
  • "Although Muslims may not agree about the idea of freedom of expression, even non-Muslims who espouse it say it comes with responsibilities. In an increasingly unstable and insecure world, the potential consequences of insulting the Messenger Muhammad are known to Muslims and non-Muslims alike." This is from a piece by a radical London-based cleric published on the USA Today site entitled Why Did France Allow the Tabloid to Provoke Muslims? To which I would ask: Why the Hell Do You Think You Have The Right to Go Through Life Unprovoked?
  • Of course the overwhelming majority of Muslim clerics and thinkers condemn the attack. 
  • Juan Cole argues that this is a sophisticated operation aimed at alienating French Muslims and increasing recruitment. "Al-Qaeda wants to mentally colonize French Muslims, but faces a wall of disinterest. But if it can get non-Muslim French to be beastly to ethnic Muslims on the grounds that they are Muslims, it can start creating a common political identity around grievance against discrimination [...]Al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia, then led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, deployed this sort of polarization strategy successfully in Iraq, constantly attacking Shiites and their holy symbols, and provoking the ethnic cleansing of a million Sunnis from Baghdad. The polarization proceeded, with the help of various incarnations of Daesh (Arabic for ISIL or ISIS, which descends from al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia). And in the end, the brutal and genocidal strategy worked, such that Daesh was able to encompass all of Sunni Arab Iraq, which had suffered so many Shiite reprisals that they sought the umbrella of the very group that had deliberately and systematically provoked the Shiites."

  • Moroccan novelist Tahar Ben Jalloun makes a similar point, arguing that the attacks express "a fierce and radical intention to prevent Muslims from observing their faith in a secular land, while respecting the laws of the Republic, [an intention] to isolate them and make them France's enemies." 
  • "The murders today in Paris are not a result of France’s failure to assimilate two generations of Muslim immigrants from its former colonies. They’re not about French military action against the Islamic State in the Middle East, or the American invasion of Iraq before that. They’re not part of some general wave of nihilistic violence in the economically depressed, socially atomized, morally hollow West—the Paris version of Newtown or Oslo. Least of all should they be “understood” as reactions to disrespect for religion on the part of irresponsible cartoonists. They are only the latest blows delivered by an ideology that has sought to achieve power through terror for decades." George Packer in the New Yorker. But how can we disassociate that ideology from history and politics, from Western interventions , conflicts and dictatorships in the Middle East, or from the current debate in Europe over the integration of its Muslim minorities? How can we explain its spread and virulence without any context? 
  • From Jacobin magazine: "Now, I think there's a critical difference between solidarity with the journalist who were attacked, refusing to concede anything to the idea that journalists are somehow 'legitimate targets,' and solidarity with what is frankly a racist publication."  Thanks for not conceding that we journalists are "legitimate targets." Does that really need to be said? 
  • Scott Long questions the "I Am Charlie" online meme in a nuanced and thought-provoking way. "I am offended when those already oppressed in a society are deliberately insulted. I don’t want to participate. This crime in Paris does not suspend my political or ethical judgment, or persuade me that scatologically smearing a marginal minority’s identity and beliefs is a reasonable thing to do. Yet this means rejecting the only authorized reaction to the atrocity. Oddly, this peer pressure seems to gear up exclusively where Islam’s involved. When a racist bombed a chapter of a US civil rights organization this week, the media didn’t insist I give to the NAACP in solidarity. When a rabid Islamophobic rightist killed 77 Norwegians in 2011, most of them at a political party’s youth camp, I didn’t notice many #IAmNorway hashtags, or impassioned calls to join the Norwegian Labor Party. But Islam is there for us, it unites us against Islam. Only cowards or traitors turn down membership in the Charlie club [...] This insistence on contagious responsibility, collective guilt, is the flip side of#JeSuisCharlie. It’s #VousÊtesISIS; #VousÊtesAlQaeda. Our solidarity, our ability to melt into a warm mindless oneness and feel we’re doing something, is contingent on your involuntary solidarity, your losing who you claim to be in a menacing mass. We can’t stand together here unless we imagine you together over there in enmity. " Long also discusses the myth that satire is a weapon always directed by the weak against the strong, and reminds of the anti-Semitism of the father of French satire, Voltaire. 
  • Here is a counter-vailing argument regarding Charlie Hebdo's offensiveness. "....the kind of blasphemy that Charlie Hebdo engaged in had deadly consequences, as everyone knew it could … and that kind of blasphemy is precisely the kind that needs to be defended, because it’s the kind that clearly serves a free society’s greater good. If a large enough group of someones is willing to kill you for saying something, then it’s something that almost certainly needs to be said, because otherwise the violent have veto power over liberal civilization, and when that scenario obtains it isn’t really a liberal civilization any more. Again, liberalism doesn’t depend on everyone offending everyone else all the time, and it’s okay to prefer a society where offense for its own sake is limited rather than pervasive. But when offenses are policed by murder, that’s when we need more of them, not less, because the murderers cannot be allowed for a single moment to think that their strategy can succeed." 

 In other words, a violent threat to censor a particular form of speech can only be countered by exercising that very speech. When some Muslims threaten to kill those who depict the Prophet, liberals must depict him on principle. This is a sharp argument, although one problem is that it requires us to evaluate the intentions of satirists and provocateurs.  In a piece we linked to recently, Adam Shatz showed how Islamophobia in Europe (and before that, anti-Semitism) has long covered itself in the mantle of a defense of free speech and liberal values. And how much does context -- Muslims in France are a minority from once colonized territories who continue to face discrimination -- matter in evaluating whether Charlie Hebdo was standing up to a totalitarian threat or picking on a marginalized minority? Could they have been doing both? 

I didn't read Charlie Hebdo, so while its covers were tasteless, I don't know if its editorial line was racist. Many, including some  former contributors, have argued so. But that does not matter. I defend the right of its staff to do their work in safety. I have no problem whatsoever expressing solidarity with a racist publication -- I'm not expressing solidarity with their views, but with their right to not pay with their lives for the expression of those views. I also defend everyone's right to call them out on those views, then and now.  I am so tired of these false and furious debates on the middle east, Islam, terrorism, in which everything is obscenely simplified (for or against terrorism? Islam? racism? satire?) and people cannot acknowledge more than one principle, one position, one idea, at a time. 

On "idiots"

Someone wrote in to express their anger that I called the terrorists who attacked Charlie Hebdo "idiots":

"Murderous idiots????... Idiots???... This is the best you can do? Knowing that you have a much sharper pen when it comes to others who commit similar atrocities why don't you take a moment to read Christopher Hitchens on religious fanaticism and stop hiding behind your Arabist veneer?"

I have read some Christopher Hitchens, but his best writing is not, in my opinion, on religious fanaticism. Let me just say this: calling the terrorists "idiots" was not intended to make light of their terrible act. But the men who did this are deeply stupid; and I say this as someone convinced (partly from recent personal experience) that stupidity can be one of the most devastating and poisonous forces unleashed in a society. I also say this to put these guys in their place. They are not evil geniuses; they are not holy warriors; they are not terrifying avengers. They are nasty little murderers who make a mockery of the religion they purport to defend and who outdo Islamophobes' worst stereotypes. They are hateful, harmful idiots. 

"It's hard to be loved by idiots.."

The Egyptian deposed dictator email scam

A friend received this in his email inbox yesterday. It seems the Nigerian 419 email scam has evolved. Love the reply-to address:

From: "mubarak"
Date: January 8, 2015 at 7:27:34 PM GMT+1
Subject: HEI


I am Mr Hosni Mubarak   former leader of Egyptian   am  currently  released from  prison charges of complicity resulting from political turmoil during the 2011  the government has seized everything i have here and prevent us from traveling out of Egypt because  the released is conditional.

As a result of this, I need somebody outside Egypt to represent my interest to manage our reserved funds value (25,000,000.00 [U.SD] in long-term business venture especially in public and private business (including real estate investment,

I am willing to negotiate with you how much I will offer you to handle this for me after your acceptance. And all needed to proceed the legality and movement of the (25,000,000.00 [U.SD] shall or will be duly obtained in due course.

Yours Faithfully,
Mr Hosni Mubarak

At least 12 dead in terrorist attack on French satirical magazine

Murderous idiots have killed at least 12 members of the staff of Charlie Hebdo, a French satirical magazine famous for its offensive humor. The publication had particularly angered some Muslims with its disrespectful depictions of Prophet Mohamed. The masked gunmen who shot the magazine's staff as well as two policemen this morning in central Paris reportedly yelled that they were "avenging" the Prophet. The attackers we able to flee. This is awful -- part of the awfulness that seems to be growing all around us these days. The attack suggests the French police is pretty hapless (there have been attacks and threats towards the magazine before) and will very likely exacerbate fear and hostility towards Europe's Muslim minorities. 

Egypt in TV: Of revolution and conspiracy

It is finally over. The debate over whether or not the January 25 revolution was indeed a revolution or a Zionist/Iranian/US/Turkish/Serbian conspiracy has finally ended. Kinda.

The limbo over the final classification of the 2011 uprising had raised an awkward question for propagandists, which is if you both truly trust President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and think people who call Jan 25 a revolution are traitors – doesn't that by extension make Sisi a traitor for calling it that and writing as much in the constitution or worse someone who is fooled by them? Or do you, lowly latenight television host, know something the former head of military intelligence and current president does not know? It also raised the awkward question of why Sisi, who claims to think it is a revolution, never made the effort to correct his supporters.

In addition to raising awkward questions, the revolupiracy (or was it a conspolution?) sparked fights.

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Arab world rejects Ridley Scott's Exodus as inaccurate, Zionist, blasphemous

At least three Arab countries have banned Ridley Scott's movie Exodus, featuring Christian Bale as Moses. Egyptian censor Abdel Sattar Fathy explained that: "the movie contains misleading information, including that the Jews helped build the pyramids and are God's chosen people.". The Egyptian Minister of Culture has described the film as  "Zionist," and a statement from the Ministry said that censors found "intentional gross historical fallacies that offend Egypt and its pharaonic ancient history in yet another attempt to Judaize Egyptian civilization, which confirms the international Zionist fingerprints all over the film." There are truly quite a few historical inaccuracies in the film, but not more than in your average Hollywood movie. 

Scott's choice to give the Biblical miracle of parting of the Red Sea a pseudo-scientific explanation, ascribing it to an earthquake and undercutting its divine nature, was not appreciated.

The United Arab Emirates also banned the film. In Morocco, it was reportedly Minister of Communication Mustapha El Khalfi, a member of the governing Islamist Justice and Development Party, who pushed to have the film banned (after the Al Jazeera satellite channel raised the issue) even though it had been approved by the Centre Cinematographic Marocain.. But in fact it's unclear where the decision originated. The main objection in Morocco was not to the Jewish people getting credit for the pyramids but rather to a scene in which God may be personified as a small child who speaks to Moses. Depicting God is forbidden in Islam (and even depicting his prophets is frowned upon). Much of Exodus was actually filmed in Morocco, which is used as a backdrop for many films set in the Middle East, and which is trying to expand its cinematographic industry (and had just spent millions of dollars to hold the International Marrakesh Film Festival). 

Scott had previously come in for some criticism for his all-white cast of lead actors (subalterns are of color, as far as I understand), and responded by saying that he couldn't get the financial backing to make a block-buster film like this if he cast "Mohamed so-and-so." Rupert Murdoch, who owns the film's distributor, was surprised to find out that all Egyptians weren't white.

Qatar and Egypt still at odds despite GCC reconciliation

David Kirkpatrick reports in the NYT:

CAIRO — Shaking hands and kissing foreheads, the monarchs of the Persian Gulf came together this month to declare that they had resolved an 18-month feud in order to unite against their twin enemies, Iran and the Islamic State.

But the split is still festering, most visibly here in the place where it broke out over the military ouster of Egypt’s Islamist president. “Nothing has changed — nothing, nothing,” said a senior Egyptian official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss confidential diplomacy.

. . . 

But government officials on both sides of the gulf split now acknowledge privately that Qatar scarcely budged. Instead, Saudi Arabia and the Emirates suspended their anti-Brotherhood campaign against Qatar because of the more urgent threats they saw gathering around them.

A senior Qatari official, also speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the joint communiqué supporting Mr. Sisi’s road map was merely a “press release” that carried little significance.

“We will always support the population of Egypt,” the official said. Al Jazeera was “editorially independent,” he said, adding that the other states “should not create political issues just because a channel is broadcasting what is happening.”

Although Qatar asked some Brotherhood members to leave Doha because of their political activities, only 10 or fewer have done so, according to Brotherhood leaders and Qatari officials. “We have not asked them to leave in any way, and we have not bothered them in any way,” the official said.

So what's really happened here, then, is that the the part of the al-Saud family that was very critical of Qatar because of Egypt got overruled by the part that's more concerned about Iran and Daesh, Qatar agreed to reduce the media infighting in the Gulf and perhaps participate to some extent in Saudi Arabia's calls for greater economic and military unity, and Abu Dhabi had to accept it because Riyadh said so. But I doubt they'll even be able to keep the media wars at bay for that long, so maybe it's more simply that the Saudis are finally learning to prioritize and not pick fights with everyone at the same time.

Cairo's moral panic

On December 7, the police raided one of Cairo’s few working hammams, a run-down bathhouse in the center of the city where gay men sometimes cruised. They marched over twenty nearly naked, cowering patrons out into the street. A female reporter, Mona El Iraqi, and her investigative team instigated and filmed the raid for a program called “El Mustaghabi” (”The Hidden”). She defended her actions by saying she was trying to raise awareness on World HIV Day. The men have been subjected to anal examinations, which supposedly can determine if they are gay. They have been charged with prostitution and debauchery. 

This is just the latest, most shocking instance of what has now become the biggest crackdown in years on gay and transgender people. 

The authorities have also shut down some noisy street-side cafes in Downtown. A month after one venue was closed an official described it as an “atheists’ café,” whose customers also allegedly worshipped Satan.  Presumably said this was said to aggrandize the raid and to justify it. It also sustains a politically useful narrative about the kids hanging out Downtown — those same “revolutionary” ones — being troublemakers and worse. Some of the local media was happy to expand on the theme. A special report by El Watan about “The Street of Apostates’” in Cairo was sub-titled: “Violence and Drugs and Politics and Atheism.” Meanwhile, inviting (presumably terribly naive) atheists on TV only to yell at them, threaten them, kick them off the platform, call their mothers, or diagnose them as psychologically imbalanced remains prime entertainment. Men of religion recently got in on the act, announcing their concern over Egypt’s alleged 886 atheists (a mysteriously precise number that elicited a certain amount of skepticism and hilarity).

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In Cairo and Doha recently

Mint condition bus passes, spawning decades, owned by one obsessive-compulsive Egyptian citizen, and now by my friend and collector Amgad Naguib. 

Mint condition bus passes, spawning decades, owned by one obsessive-compulsive Egyptian citizen, and now by my friend and collector Amgad Naguib. 

In Amgad's antiquarian's shop in Downtown Cairo

In Amgad's antiquarian's shop in Downtown Cairo

One of my interviews in Doha. The first female president of Qatar University, Dr. Sheikha El Misnad

One of my interviews in Doha. The first female president of Qatar University, Dr. Sheikha El Misnad

For National Day in Qatar: special paint job and a portrait of Sheikh Tamim on the window.

For National Day in Qatar: special paint job and a portrait of Sheikh Tamim on the window.

A lonely fight defending Egypt's jailed dissidents

Great profile of Egyptian lawyer Ragia Omran by the AP's Hama Hendawi:

Defending arrested activists is Omran's way of keeping the revolution alive.

"We are not going to accept that the police state will continue to run the country unchallenged. There have to be people who object to this, and we are going to be those people - I and the others who are with me," she said one afternoon after a court hearing for 25 young men on trial for breaking a draconian law effectively banning protests which was adopted a year ago.

"I cannot give up. My friends and family want me to leave the country. I cannot," she told The Associated Press in one of several recent interviews.

. . .

The 41-year-old Omran earns her living as a corporate lawyer. Defending activists is her volunteer work. That can mean punishing hours. One recent day, she attended the signing of a nearly $700 million loan deal that her firm helped work out. In the days that followed, she was in court representing jailed activists, tromping into police stations to find clients, and visiting prisons, trying to bring food and other supplies to detainees.

She often keeps clothes in her car so she can make quick changes out of her corporate business suit and heels. Her mobile gets a constant stream of texts and calls. Sometimes she herself cooks food to take to inmates - things that can go a few days without spoiling.

Standing only 5 feet tall (1.53 meters), she charges with determined steps into prisons, police stations and courtrooms, where she meets constant resistance from authorities.

"In the first two years after the revolution, police and the Interior Ministry were careful with us because they didn't want bad publicity," she said. "Now they don't care... This regime does not care about its image, the law or regulations."

Watching Cheney: He’s Got Nothing

Andrew Sullivan on Dick Cheney's defense of torture:

To put it more bluntly, Cheney’s response is unhinged. It is suffused with indiscriminate rage which is indifferent to such standards as whether the prisoner is innocent or guilty, or even if he should be in a prison at all. He is acting out a revenge fantasy, no doubt fueled in part by the understanding that 3,000 Americans lost their lives because he failed to prevent it – when the facts were lying there in the existing surveillance and intelligence system and somehow never got put together.

What we have here is a staggering thing: the second highest official in a democracy, proud and unrepentant of war crimes targeted at hundreds of prisoners, equating every single one of the prisoners – including those who were victims of mistaken identity, including American citizens reading satirical websites, including countless who had nothing to do with any attacks on the US at all – with the nineteen plotters of one terror attack. We have a man who, upon being presented with a meticulous set of documents and facts, brags of not reading them and who continues to say things that are definitively disproved in the report by CIA documents themselves.

This is a man who not only broke the law and the basic norms of Western civilization, but who celebrates that. If this man is not brought to justice, the whole idea of justice in this country is a joke.

Springborg: The resurgence of Arab militaries

Like the previous post also at Monkey Cage, Robert Springborg makes an interesting argument about the Arab uprisings have empowered militaries:

The Arab upheavals and reactions to them have resulted in a profound militarization of the Arab world. In the republics, this has taken the form of remilitarizing Egypt, further entrenching the power of Algeria’s military and possibly preparing the Tunisian military for an unaccustomed role in the future. In the other republics, regime supporting militaries have been pitted against militias emerging from protest movements, with both sides attracting external support. In the monarchies, ruling families have bolstered their militaries by increasing their capabilities and by roping them together in collective commands. They have done so primarily to confront and put down further upheavals, wherever in the Arab world they might occur, but probably also as part of intensifying intrafamily power struggles. Behind this militarization is the U.S. presence in various forms, including as primary supplier and trainer, operator of autonomous bases and orchestrator of counter terrorist campaigns.

This, he argues, may be particularly significant for the Arab oil-rich monarchies that are significantly beefing up the abilities of their armed forces, which Springborg says is a "double-edged sword". 

Heydemann: Arab autocrats are not going back to the future

Steve Heydemann, writing for WaPo's Monkey Cage, argues that "premature deindustrialization" and large-scale structural unemployment naturally leads to the inability of post-Arab Spring authoritarian regimes to generate a new social contract.

To the extent that MENA political economies are defined by premature deindustrialization, the pathways out of poor capitalism will be very hard to find. The likely outcome is a massive semi-permanent class of underemployed and unemployed whom the state will view as a persistent threat to stability, necessitating repressive-exclusionary modes of governance.

Even if MENA countries can escape the trap of premature deindustrialization the alternatives to authoritarianism face strong headwinds. Democratization has been discredited by its association with the presidency of Mohamed Morsi in Egypt, as well as the Libyan and Yemeni experiences. It has been further undermined by public disillusionment with Western liberalism, and by the declining leverage of Western democracies over regional actors who no longer depend on the West for foreign investment and foreign assistance. Nor can the transnational ideologies that legitimated (and tested) Arab regimes, including various versions of politicized Islam, serve that purpose any longer.

In contrast, market-oriented models of authoritarian governance are seen as viable alternatives. Reflecting regional trends toward sectarian polarization, regime elites in Syria, Egypt, Bahrain and Libya have sought to reframe mechanisms for containing and channeling mass politics – much of which continues to revolve around demands for economic inclusion, voice, and distributive justice – around combinations of exclusionary, xenophobic, ethno-sectarian, and tribal conceptions of state-society relations and citizenship, policed by newly reinvigorated post-uprising internal security agencies.

Thus, even while emergent models of authoritarian governance in the Arab world exhibit a wide range of continuities, they are moving beyond the authoritarian bargains and the authoritarian compromises of earlier eras, toward repressive-exclusionary systems of rule organized in response to the threat of mass politics under conditions of poor capitalism. These emergent models will generate stresses that will test their capacity and their resilience. In their current incarnation, however, the trajectories of authoritarian governance in the Arab world seem to offer little basis for optimism among those who have long hoped that prosperity and democracy would find a firm foothold in the Middle East.