Our occasional contributor Paul Mutter has a piece on the Mobily hacking scandal with tons of links and analysis over at Tech President. We rarely get so much detail about Middle Eastern net censorship.
From an FT editorial:
However, the Qataris’ intervention in Syria, while boosting the revolt against Assad, has also created confusion. The Saudis support the handful of secular rebel factions and Salafi groups fighting the Syrian regime. The Qataris, by contrast, are less discriminating over who they support, and work through the Muslim Brotherhood, which is anathema to Riyadh. As a result the Qataris and Saudis last year created separate and competing military alliances, a rivalry that has undermined the rebellion against Assad – and may have led to weapons ending up in the hands of jihadi militants.
Mr Obama’s other red line—the passing of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) into the hands of jihadist terrorists—is, according to intelligence sources, in real and possibly imminent danger of being breached. According to these sources, the past few weeks has seen a flurry of nervous activity that could result in intervention of some kind but which is also giving new urgency to diplomatic efforts to end the conflict.
Ashraf Khalil cheated on us and took part in another podcast over at Farrah Halime's Rebel Economy blog. He joins The National's Bradley Hope to discuss the recovery of assets of the Mubaraks and their cronies, something they've both investigated. Check it out.
This NYT report by Isabel Kershner is titled "Israeli Report Casts New Doubts on Shooting in Gaza", but if it were another country one suspects it might be titled "Government report spins boy's death as trial verdict looms". The Israeli government has made hasbara about the al-Dura shooting one of its signature image campaign, regularly seeding doubt about the version recorded and witnessed by France 2 cameramen which became an iconic image of the occupation of Palestine. It has had little difficulty in recruiting the help of online pro-Israel activists who launched this site (linked to by the NYT without identifying its ideological, propagandistic character — e.g. "Europeans, who repeatedly ran this footage, unwittingly waved the flag Jihad (sic) in front of their Muslim populations.") and mainstream media journalists like James Fallows of The Atlantic who ran a repulsive long piece in 2002 that tackled the al-Dura affair entirely from an Israeli perspective.
The new findings published on Sunday were the work of an Israeli government review committee, which said its task was to re-examine the event “in light of the continued damage it has caused to Israel.” They come after years of debate over the veracity of the France 2 report, which was filmed by a Gaza correspondent, Talal Abu Rahma, and narrated by the station’s Jerusalem bureau chief, Charles Enderlin, who was not at the present at the scene.
The Israeli government review suggested, as other critics have, that the France 2 footage might have been staged. It noted anomalies like the apparent lack of blood in appropriate places at the scene, and said that raw footage from the seconds after the boy’s apparent death seem to show him raising his arm.
“Contrary to the report’s claim that the boy is killed, the committee’s review of the raw footage showed that in the final scenes, which were not broadcast by France 2, the boy is seen to be alive,” the review said. “Based on the available evidence, it appears significantly more likely that Palestinian gunmen were the source of the shots which appear to have impacted in the vicinity” of the boy and his father.
Except there is not much debate about the "veracity" of the report anywhere else, and France 2 and the national union of journalists has stood behind Enderlin. This is not an investigation, this is a government propaganda operation timed ahead of a court verdict that may further damage Israel's image and an ongoing attempt at damage control by attempting to muddy the waters of a case that is iconic of the Israeli occupation of Palestine precisely because children are so often its victims.
www.cuipcairo.org is a new website that acts as a central repository of information on events, initiatives, organizations and more that have to do with Cairo's built environment. Bookmark them, there's an events calendar function that has recently been added and is very handy for tracking what's going on about town. More info available in this PDF.
Thomas Carrothers of Carnegie had a good piece on the over-dissing of Egypt's opposition:
Overly harsh views of the Egyptian opposition—combined with a lack of recognition that many once-weak opposition actors in countries emerging from authoritarian rule have gone on to win elections—fuel the unhelpful idea that the Muslim Brotherhood is the only political force likely to hold power in Egypt for the foreseeable future. And that idea in turn encourages the problematic belief evident in U.S. policy in the past year that no alternative to the Brotherhood is likely to be viable for many years and the resultant tendency to downplay the Brotherhood’s significant political flaws.
The United States and other Western powers should not make it their business to actively support the opposition. But they should at least approach Egypt’s new political landscape with an open mind, informed by experiences from elsewhere.
Listening to U.S. officials and political analysts pillory the Egyptian opposition, it is hard not to wonder what gives American observers so much judgmental self-confidence. The United States has more than two-hundred years of democratic history, the finest institutions of higher education in the world, and one of the highest standards of living, Yet, in last year’s U.S. presidential elections, the country produced a slate of political opposition figures that as a group did not compare favorably to Egypt’s major opposition leaders in intelligence, integrity, or capability.
He makes many good points, but the central one — that the Egyptian opposition is complete mess, but that this is not unusual in these situations and that it's not as hapless as its critics contend — is very much worth bearing in mind. US and EU officials I've heard complain about "whiny liberals" who are "useless" are putting out self-serving arguments that attempt to excuse their support for SCAF and, later, Morsi during the constitutional declaration crisis of November 2012. One American diplomat, I remember, condemned some in the opposition for having supported Ahmed Shafiq's candidacy — perhaps unaware that the government he represented had supported Hosni Mubarak for 30 years. I've been critical of this opposition's often tenuous hold on reality, but they're not the only one with the problem.
Ibrahim Houdaiby writes on the "bureaucratization of Morsi" (I prefer to use "statification" to mean the same thing), the success with which the Egyptian state has imposed its rules on the Muslim Brotherhood rather than the reverse. But he makes an even stronger point in discussing the Brotherhood's response to being in power — creating the impression that it is in fact under siege by an opposition it at once inflates and belittles:
Today, the focus on survival, the tendency to resort to vague formulae, a lack of political savvy, and a willingness to compromise are key factors in Morsi’s positions. Maintaining unity requires no more than the (re)creation of an external threat to divert attention from political and strategic failures and deficits. The group’s new threat is created through the reintroduction of the notion of conspiracy. The organization has attributed its failure to push forward a relevant legislative agenda to deal with questions of economic development and distribution, judicial reform, and security sector reform to the government’s “irresponsiveness,” which it says is meant to embarrass the Brotherhood-led parliament.
The Party’s parliamentarians also blamed SCAF for misusing its de facto presidential legitimacy to counter democracy, claiming that filing a presidential candidate became the only remaining solution to curb the military’s power. After Morsi became president and dismissed senior SCAF leaders and abolished the declaration that gave SCAF legislative authority, he continued to blame the judiciary for his failures though he retained both executive and legislative powers until the new constitution was ratified in December 2012. Even now—with the presidency, a majority in the legislative body, and the ratification of its approved constitution—the Brotherhood blames the opposition and the media for its lack of achievement.
Worth reading, keeping in mind that Houdaiby is a former member of the Brotherhood once close to its leaders (Khairat al-Shater in particular) and comes from a family that has produced two General Guides.
One of the odd outcomes of the Egyptian uprising is the disenchantment, not to say anger, of part of the secular opposition with the West in general and the US in particular. These have, the idea goes, betrayed democratic ideals by encouraging, even boosting, Muslim Brotherhood rule after the fall of Mubarak. The US Ambassador to Egypt, Anne Patterson, is widely believed to have told Washington that the MB are "the only game in town" (as have a number of analysts). Many voice disappointment with the silence of the Washington and Brussels over abuses by SCAF or Morsi, or the muted response to the recent constitutional declaration crisis.
Thomas Carrothers, in a recent Carnegie piece (to be discussed separately later), mentions this malaise between diplomats and policymakers. His former colleague Amr Hamzawy, a political analyst turned revolutionary politician, turns the tables around and accuses the West, in the piece below, of reinforcing the "shadow government" of the Brotherhood at the expense of the formal government controlled by the Morsi administration and the Freedom and Justice Party.
As always, our In Translation series is made possible through the support of Industry Arabic, whose friendly and efficient services we urge you to try out.Read More
What started out as a blurb on the Xinhua news site this week on the smuggling of KFC for US$30 an order into Gaza via Egypt - a tunnel trek that can take between 3 and 7 hours - has gone viral, prompting several other outlets to send correspondents into Gaza to report on the Al Yamama delivery company’s entrepreneurial niche. The tunnels have been used to deliver everything from rockets and rebar to TVs and fiancées - up to 30% of all the strip’s imports come through them, says Reuters - so fast food is not a stretch, even at the prices quoted.
Unfortunately, most social media responses to it have focused on the novelty at the expense of the context, even though the two fullest accounts I have read, from the NYTand Christian Science Monitor, do address the environment of the Israeli blockade and the tunnel economy that the Egyptians have been cracking down on so hard these days to try and interdict Sinai arms smuggling.Read More
Khalil Anani takes on MB academic literature.
Saudi wants to monitor Twitter, Viber, etc.
Ashraf Sewelam of the rentier state in Egypt.
The question of what to do about former elites haunts countries that have undergone a radical political transformation. Retain them in office, and dissidents will complain their revolution has been "betrayed." Purge them, and the inevitable fall-off in state services, even if it is temporary, will feed instability and spread nostalgia for the fallen regime. This dilemma has recently surfaced in Libya, where militias made up of mostly working-class ex-rebels have backed a law to purge from office anyone -- including their wartime middle class allies -- who held even a minor government position under Qaddhafi. Similar laws have been drafted in Tunisia and contemplated in Egypt, and will almost certainly figure in an aftermath to the Syrian conflict.
The United States faced this dilemma in Iraq. May 16 is the ten-year anniversary of the decision it took: Coalition Provisional Authority Order 1, the decree that removed top-ranking members of the Baath party from their positions in Iraqi state institutions, swiftly followed by CPA number 2, which dissolved the military to be rebuilt anew. As Sunnis tended to rise more easily to top posts than Shiites, both decrees affected Sunnis disproportionately. Collectively they are often termed "de-Baathification."
Today, CPA Order 1 is one of the most universally condemned American foreign policy decisions of this generation Even proponents of the war tend to describe it as a terrible mistake. With Iraq's legacy under review, both because of the 10 year anniversary and because of contemplated intervention in Syria, CPA Order 1 has been invoked by both sides in the debate: one side frequently depicting it as an indication of the headstrong mindset by which the Americans helped plunge Iraq into the chaos, the other side seeing it as a mistake that, because it can be avoided in the future, does not necessarily condemn intervention as a doctrine.Read More
Aryn Baker reports for Time in Syria, where things are going Apocalypse Now:
The video starts out like so many of the dozens coming out of the war in Syria every day, with the camera hovering over the body of a dead Syrian soldier. But the next frame makes it clear why this video, smuggled out of the city of Homs and into Lebanon with a rebel fighter, and obtained by TIME in April, is particularly shocking. In the video a man who is believed to be a rebel commander named Khalid al-Hamad, who goes by the nom de guerre Abu Sakkar, bends over the government soldier, knife in hand. He has sliced through the soldier’s fatigues and is working the knife though the pale skin of the soldier’s torso. He has already cut out the man’s heart. The man then cuts another organ free and stands to face the camera, holding an organ in each hand. “I swear we will eat from your hearts and livers, you dogs of Bashar,” he says, referring to supporters of Syrian President Bashar Assad. Off camera, a small crowd can be heard calling out “Allahu Akbar” — God is great. Then the man raises one of the bloodied organs to his lips and starts to tear off a chunk with his teeth.
Liz Sly in WaPo:
BEIRUT — Forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad are beginning to turn the tide of the country’s war, bolstered by a new strategy, the support of Iran and Russia and the assistance of fighters with Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement.
A series of modest, scattered gains by government forces in recent weeks has produced no decisive breakthrough. But the advances have been made in strategically important locations and point to a new level of direction and energy previously unseen in the army’s performance, military analysts, rebels and Syrians close to the government say.
Meanwhile, death toll reaches 80,000.
Bassem Sabry writes, in long piece on NSF travails, that Salafi-NSF made increasingly likely by shared hostility to MB:
Moreover, expanding the common ground with Al-Nour, the largest Salafi party, is a surprisingly possible undertaking at the moment, and the ground is fertile for that matter on nearly everything except the most profound: the amendment of the constitution. The opposition also needs to experiment with new strategies for exercising legitimate political pressure, with the target of bringing Morsi and the Brotherhood as realistically as possible back into a more inclusive democratic process.
Brooking's Tamara Coffman-Wittes and former senior Israeli diplomat Itamar Rabinovich write that for the Egypt-Israel peace treaty to survive it should be renegotiated:
In order to sustain the peace treaty, Egypt and Israel should renegotiate its military annex to allow Egypt to deploy forces in previously restricted zones and re-establish full sovereignty over the Sinai. Such a move would strengthen bilateral relations, generate goodwill in Egypt, and increase Israel’s confidence in the Muslim Brotherhood’s commitment to peace.
During such a renegotiation, the two countries would discuss in detail the most effective approach to tackling their shared challenges related to terrorism and transnational crime, in order to ensure that Egypt’s increased military presence in the Sinai also enhances Israel’s security. Egypt’s newly democratic government would be more strictly accountable for fulfilling the treaty’s terms if it played an active role in establishing them. At the same time, the agreement would boost domestic support for Egypt’s government and enhance its regional standing.
This is the option I've heard many Israelis officials and pundits argue as a possible silver lining to the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt: getting Islamists to directly re-affirm their approval of the treaty in exchange for regaining full sovereignty. Between the lines is that such a negotiation would have to be carried out by elected civilian officials and approved by the president (and perhaps parliament), rather than conducted through the only existing channels of the Egypt-Israel relationship at the moment, the military, intelligence and lower rungs of the ministry of foreign affairs.
I'm not sure the Brothers would bite (although they could certainly be incentivized by "sweeteners" such as more US aid.) They are more likely to push for an arrangement that would gradually impose the regaining of sovereignty in eastern Sinai as a fait accompli, leveraging Western concern about the security situation there. Or, should direct talks be unavoidable, they would be much more likely to take place in the case of a major breakthrough in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that would provide some cover.
Max Blumenthal has this investigative piece on the American Islamic Congress in Electronic Intifada. I was shocked to read about the funding behind AIC that Max uncovers, I had simply no idea, having thought AIC was funded by Muslim Americans or, perhaps, Gulf countries. It turns out the most fanatic wing of the Israel lobby has a big role in it:
According to Internal Revenue Service 990 information filings, the AIC is funded largely by a pool of right-wing donors responsible for bankrolling key players in America’s Islamophobia industry, from Charles Jacobs to Emerson’s Investigative Project on Terrorism and Daniel Pipes’ Middle East Forum. These same donors have pumped millions into major pro-Israel organizations, including groups involved in settlement activity and the Friends of the IDF, which provides assistance to the Israeli army.
Among the AIC’s most reliable supporters is the Donors Capital Fund, which has provided at least $85,000 in funding since 2008. Donors Capital was among the seven foundations identified in the Center for American Progress’s 2011 report Fear Inc. as “the lifeblood of the Islamophobia network in America.” Another foundation singled out in the report, the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, has donated $325,000 to the AIC between 2005 and 2011.
There's a lot more there.
Knowing both Max and Nasser Weddady, I am a bit uneasy with his attack on Nasser, who after all is not a top dog at AIC. And I think the swipe at Stanford's Program on Arab Reform is a little weak, especially compared to what he reveals about AIC. Much of the last part of the piece focuses on the Free Arabs website, which Nasser co-edits. As far as I know it is more of a personal project for Nasser that secured funding from Stanford and elsewhere by co-editor Ahmed Benchemsi. So the AIC-Free Arabs connection, apart of Weddady, remains unclear. I was critical like many others of Free Arabs's "Horrible 4" feature and the quite scandalous article cited in Max's article about Mizrahi Israelis being the freest Arabs. But there is also good content elsewhere there.
There is a real problem in the funding of secular liberal Arab publishing. Often sources are from neo-con, pro-Israel sources that tend to minimize criticism of Israel (in my view is the only logical position to take on Israel as a liberal is critical, otherwise one is buying into the exceptionalism of "liberal Zionism" and thus into the racial/religious supremacism inherent in Zionism, which is hardly liberal.) In Arabic, they are often from conservative Gulf states such as Saudi Arabia, whose princes finance such "liberal" sites as Elaph. This represents almost none of the mainstream, center-left to center-right, liberal/social-democratic thinking in the Arab world. To have institutions like AIC created to supposedly represent "mainstream Muslims" and have them be largely financed by extremists is deeply disturbing.
Update: Free Arabs' Ahmed Benchemsi has a reply to Max Blumenthal.
From Phil Sands' report in The National, on meetings between US intelligence officials and Syrian rebel commanders to urge them to go after Jabha al-Nusra:
The commander - a moderate Sunni and an influential rebel leader from Damascus who said he has met intelligence operatives from Western and Arab states - said the US officials were especially keen to obtain information about the identities of Al Nusra insurgents and the locations of their bases.
Then, by the rebel commander's account, the discussion took an unexpected turn.
The Americans began discussing the possibility of drone strikes on Al Nusra camps inside Syria and tried to enlist the rebels to fight their fellow insurgents.
"The US intelligence officer said, 'We can train 30 of your fighters a month, and we want you to fight Al Nusra'," the rebel commander recalled.
Opposition forces should be uniting against Mr Al Assad's more powerful and better-equipped army, not waging war among themselves, the rebel commander replied. The response from a senior US intelligence officer was blunt.
"I'm not going to lie to you. We'd prefer you fight Al Nusra now, and then fight Assad's army. You should kill these Nusra people. We'll do it if you don't," the rebel leader quoted the officer as saying.
One of the many annoying things about following Egyptian politics these days is the sheer amount of disinformation and ridiculous stories out there. The compounded result of the state of the Egyptian media these days is to create a daze in which nothing appears true, and everything appears suspicious. It's psychological warfare based on information overdose, designed to soften minds and heighten the general sense of hysteria. Nour The Intern, whom I frequently reproach for spending way too much time reading sensational stories, has dug up this implausible gem below from al-Watan newspaper — to be read in the context of allegations that Hamas broke Mohammed Morsi and other senior MBs out of jail during the uprising against Mubarak. This is her summary.
He was transporting 50 tonnes of sugar on Jan 28, when he got a flat tire and had to spend the night by the truck waiting for his aid, who left to fix the tire, to come back. He was right by the Natrun Prison. On Jan 29, around 3:30 am, he saw four microbuses with their number plates partly covered with duct tape. Two of them stopped behind him and two before him. No one came out of them and he started to worry. A while later, 27 other microbuses without number plates showed up.Read More
There has been plenty of commentary on Egypt's recent cabinet shuffle around, as well as profiles of the incoming ministers. Much of the takeaway on this shuffle is that it represents a modest expansion for the Freedom and Justice Party and the Muslim Brotherhood's presence in the cabinet, and a refusal by the Brothers to reach out to the opposition by including some more neutral figures. While this analysis is correct, I think it misses the broader point of this cabinet shuffle.
When word of an impending cabinet shuffle started spreading a few months ago, it was in the context of the fallout of the crisis over the November 22 2012 constitutional decree (aka "Morsi's power grab" for the opposition) and of the IMF's clear messaging that a) the current cabinet's proposed reforms fell far short of IMF requirements for a loan package and b) more political consensus on these reforms would be required. Along with the evolution of the positions/demands of the National Salvation Front (increasingly centered on setting the right stage for upcoming elections by reviewing the electoral law and ensuring that ministries that have the potential of influential elections are not in the hands of partisans) and the political diplomacy of the Nour Party to resolve the crisis, the outline of a solution was proposed that would involve a compromise pathway to new elections, after which an entirely new cabinet would be formed and a full parliament would have full legitimacy to pass legislation. By that point, elections held before Ramadan were a possibility — but this has not been the case for a few weeks.Read More