- LSE Middle East Centre – The Danger of Analogical Myths: Explaining the Power and Consequences of the Sykes-Picot Delusion
- Turkey’s Thirty-Year Coup - The New Yorker
- Meet the Man Who Should Be the Next Secretary of State | The Nation
Over the top fawning interview of the nonetheless quite sharp Chas Freeman
- Cairobserver — British Museum Announces Modern Egypt Collection
This looks cool.
Christopher Davidson is a British academic and the author of several books on the Gulf (generally quite critical of the petro-monarchies there.) Longtime reader Amjad compiled together an interview Davidson gave on Twitter on the occasion of the release of his new book, Shadow Wars. We are reproducing the interview below – with light editing for punctuation etc. – as it may be interest readers for its out-of-the-mainstream approach to the Arab Spring. It’s not an endorsement of the book, which we have not read, but looks interesting if it sheds light on the policies of Gulf states during the last six years.Read More
Over the past week, the most serious crisis in Egypt-Saudi relations since the June 2013 coup against Mohammed Morsi has taken place. It is likely to be well-short of the divorce many have argued is impending (after all only last month Saudi Arabia deposited $2 billion into the Central Bank of Egypt), but is nonetheless significant enough to have raised tensions in the media on both sides of the Red Sea. In addition to vocal Saudi attacks against Egypt in the media, Saudi Aramco has suddenly suspended delivery of oil products (at low costs), a form of in-kind support that has been going on for over three years.Read More
- Morocco's Liberal Challengers | Foreign Affairs
This fawning Ilan Berman piece on PAM never mentions party's palace connection.
- The prospect of a superpower war in Syria is hardly far-fetched — FT
- Where are the Syrians in Max Blumenthal’s Article? An Open Letter from Syrian Activist Marcell Shehwaro – P U L S E
- How the White Helmets Became International Heroes While Pushing U.S. Military Intervention and Regime Change in Syria
- Obama administration considering strikes on Assad, again - The Washington Post
- Don’t Intervene in Syria - The New York Times
Steve Simon and Jonathan Stevenson
- In Aleppo death follows us. But we still love life | Waad Alkhateab | The Guardian
- The Blot on Obama’s Legacy - The New York Times
- U.S. Election Cycle Offers Kremlin a Window of Opportunity in Syria - The New York Times
There has been much hullabaloo in the last couple of days about Egyptian President Abdelfattah al-Sisi's idea that transactions in Egypt's banking system should be rounded off to the nearest pound, with the "spare change" (i. e. whatever is left in piasters) donated to the government to, you know, pay for stuff.
Sure, the idea seems like a silly back-of-the-enveloppe calculation that an out-of-his-depth ruler has casually come up with because he has no economic vision for his country beyond a general sense that people are not sacrificing enough and that there should be more prestigious mega-projects run by the army. Yes, he could be clutching at straws because, while Egypt was in pretty dire straits when he took over in 2013, he has not improved economic fundamentals nor set the country on a path to reform.
Of course, I'm not an economist, so all these assessment could be wrong and Sisi may actually be doing brilliantly. Who knows. The only thing I'd like is for Sisi to acknowledge where he got his idea from: 1999's cult comedy Office Space, in which disgruntled employees scam their company's credit union by introducing a virus into the computer system to syphon off fractional remainders of pennies from transactions. This shows he has better taste in movies than I thought, but, come on – credit where credit is due.
(By the way, anyone seen the printer at the presidency lately?)
The new issue of Middle East Report is out, and it features some great pieces by old friends, including Mona El-Ghobashy on Egypt's judges and Joshua Stacher on Hebron. And don't miss editor Chris Toensing's editorial on the absurd $38 billion President Obama decided to give Israel – a country whose leaders have tried to serially humiliate him – as a parting gift.
MER and its parent organization MERIP are subscriber-funded. Get a subscription and keep them producing great reporting and analysis on the region.
Now here are the links...
- U.S. Was Warned of Attack on Aid Workers in Syria - The Daily Beast
- Robert Fisk and the Russian war on salafism | al-bab.com
Good piece on the Grozny conference
- The elephant in the room (part 1): The state and sectarian violence | Mada Masr
- ‘Our Anger is Boundless’: Syrian Artists and Intellectuals Condemn Imperialism – P U L S E
- "A destroyed Syria is the symbol of the state of the world today."
- A soliloquy on Syria - The Washington Post
- Fred Hiatt channels Obama the Vulcan
- In Push on Aleppo, Syria and Russia Seem Ready to Further Scorch Its Earth - The New York Times
- Terribly sad piece.
- Libyan renegade general hails support of Egyptian leadership | Middle East Eye
- Is the sky falling on Libya? | European Council on Foreign Relations
Well, on the Libyan agreement anyways.
- Egypt Recovers Over 160 Bodies From Sunken Migrant Boat - NYT
The next big source of refugees/migrants.
- The Assassin’s Veto - Oum Cartoon أم كرتون
On the murder of Nahed Attar.
- High Hitler: how Nazi drug abuse steered the course of history | Books | The Guardian
This is fascinating and might also explain a lot about Arab leaders.
- We are all Stalinists on Syria — FT
Gideon Rachman - "The conclusion is bleak: to sustain liberal politics at home, western politicians may have to tolerate outrages against liberal values overseas."
- Egypt and Iran have the same problem — and the same answer - The Washington Post
Ignatius interviews Sisi.
- Sisi at the UN: Desperation of church and state
- Nazra for Feminist Studies director wins ‘alternative Nobel Prize’
Congrats to Mozn Hassan
- Repair and Prepare: Growth and the Euro after Brexit
Dire warnings from Euro grandees
- Latest Estimate Pegs Cost of Wars at Nearly $5 Trillion
And some wonder why many Americans are against interventionism
- Sunni Islam riven anew by ancient dispute
Forget the headline, this is a good explanation of what went down at that Grozny conference
- Putin’s lesson for Obama in Syria - The Washington Post
Jackson Diehl has a point here.
- Wheat trade hit hard by Egypt quarantine crackdown — FT
Such weird behavior by Cairo.
Among all the many painful things Egypt has gone through in recent years – state violence, terrorism, oppression, a bitter political closing after the opening of 2011 – it may be the economic situation that is most sorely felt by the most people. The Sisi regime's grandiose plans – a new capital city, an expanded Suez Canal – are either in mothballs or have failed to deliver much-needed new revenue so far. The military is taking control of an increasing chunk of the economy, squeezing out the private sector that has driven much of the past 30 years of job and wealth creation (however skewed) and not doing much for the non-military public sector. (It's even creating its own private schools!) The chief victim of these policies, especially the ongoing devaluation of the Egyptian pound, is probably the middle class (because the poor are both less exposed to their impact as many subsistence goods are subsidized and because Sisi done more, even if it's not enough, on poverty alleviation and targeting the poorest in the country through cash handout programs and other measures).
In recent weeks, there has been a spate of writing in the Egyptian press about the struggling middle class – perhaps because it's back to school time, a moment in the year where families feel particularly pinched (especially if you want to avoid sending your kids to public school.) Tareq Hassan's column below is one of the better examples of this trend, which is so politically significant in the medium term to the Sisi regime. Defining the middle class is hard in terms of income (there are multiple layers), and one element of it is more about aspirations and class outlook than pure financials. In Egypt, I would argue there are three middle classes: the private sector middle class (currently losing out), the public sector middle class (stagnating) and the military middle class (accumulating privilege). They are not hermetically sealed from one another, but it does represent a shift, even reversal, of the trends of the Mubarak era.
We are grateful to our pals at Industry Arabic for making this In Translation series possible. Check them out if you need to translate your professional documents from the language of the ض.Read More
- The international school of Egypt’s military
The militarisation of late Mubarak neoliberalism.
- Libya intervention destroyed great power unity in rush to regime change | Middle East Eye
- Thursday, September 8, 20The Virtues of Sham: The Place of Syria in the Muslim Sacral Imagination | SyriaComment
- Obama & Palestine: The Last Chance by Nathan Thrall | NYR Daily
- Is the United States Giving Up on Supporting Democracy Abroad? | Foreign Policy
- Turkish intelligence unveils secret codes used before coup attempt -Hurriyet
- The Armed Forces and business: Economic expansion in the last 12 months | Mada Masr
- Migrants lured by sex into Egypt's backstreet kidney trade, says report | Reuters
- Did al Qaeda exchange former Pakistani army chief’s son for Zawahiri’s daughters?
- Revealing an Unknown Cairo by Claire Messud | The New York Review of Books
Review of Yasmine El Rashidi's novel.
- Distract Deceive Destroy: Putin at War in Syria
Atlantic Council report
- The Decay of the Syrian Regime is Much Worse Than You Think
War on the Rocks has, well, rocked on Syria from many different perspectives recently.
Conservatism – as in a propensity for caution in politics, not necessarily the Islamist or traditionalist kind – is making a comeback of sorts in the Arab world. The devastated post-“Spring” landscape of the region, the conflict and chronic instability many countries face (Syria, Yemen, Libya) and the reassertion of authoritarianism in two countries that went through major upheavals (Egypt, Bahrain) and those that avoided them (Algeria, Morocco, in a different ways most GCC countries) has made many citizens very weary of contesting the powers-that-be with the same enthusiasm they might have in 2011. It is certainly a sentiment I come across often in Morocco, where I live.
Parliamentary elections will take place in Morocco on 7 October, and in anticipation the normally sleepy national political debate is heating up. The party that leads the outgoing government, the Justice and Development Party (PJD by its French acronym), is making much of both its modest record and is promising to take on the regime more forcefully if re-elected. The question of whether or not Morocco has experienced an authoritarian comeback in the last few years – a kind of revenge against the protest movement of 2011, civil society and political parties has taken place; it might be most aptly described by that favourite academic non-sequitur, "semi-authoritarian" – is heatedly discussed. The PJD and some of its allies, having spent (in the eyes of their critics) timidly nibbling on whatever crumbs of power that the regime of King Mohammed VI would allow them, is promoting to assert itself in the name of democracy.Read More
- Majalla Exclusive: A Defector from the Leadership of the Islamic State Provides an Inside View of its Command Structure and Regional Ties
- First Solar Power Car in Gaza Strip - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT
To combat blockade.
- The Armed Forces' men in Sinai
- Corpse of university student surfaces in Zeinhom morgue, amid family claim of death in police custody
- “Assad or We Burn the Country”: Misreading Sectarianism and the Regime in Syria
Emile Hoyakem responds to "Cyrus Malik"
- Washington's Sunni Myth and the Middle East Undone
Second article by pseudonymous author on "Sunni myth" in Iraq/Syria. Too focused on Western narrative on the region in my view, too general on local narratives.
- Washington's Sunni Myth and the Civil Wars in Syria and Iraq
Controversial (and in many points unconvincing) article makes good point about Syria not being a conflict between Sunnis and the regime.
- Essebsi’s Power Grab Imperils Tunisia’s Nascent Democracy | Middle East Institute
Many insights in this critique of Essebsi - albeit by a former advisor to his predecessor and one-time rival.
- Turkey Invasion of Syria Highlights Shifting Alliances - SPIEGEL ONLINE
- Poker menteur au Sahara – Le Desk
Good overview of the state of the Western Sahara conflict
- Egyptian lawyer in solitary confinement for defying el-Sissi
- Apple rushes out iPhone software patch — FT
Security flaw found by UAE activist.
- Turkey in a Tailspin | Middle East Research and Information Project
- Turkey through the Looking Glass « LRB blog
- How Not to Plan for 'The Day After' In Libya - The Atlantic
- Egypt Suspends 8 Female TV Anchors, Saying They Are Overweight - The New York Times
- Netanyahu's New and Dishonest Vision of Peace: Without the Palestinians - Haaretz
Daniel Levy: "Netanyahu has no intention of pursuing genuine de-occupation, Palestinian enfranchisement and peace under any circumstances. In reality he is attempting to prove something quite different – namely that Israel can manage and upgrade its regional relations while at the same time pursuing an ever-more aggressive and egregious set of policies towards the Palestinians."
- Turkey Chooses Erdogan by Christopher de Bellaigue | NYR Daily | The New York Review of Books
Christopher de Bellaigue
- How a Secretive Branch of ISIS Built a Global Network of Killers - The New York Times
- Ethiopian regime under pressure as protests escalate - FT
Might be to Egypt's advantage.
- How Refugees Can Strengthen Economies
Research shows refugees aren't a drain, reports @ursulind in Al Fanar
- A Gloomy Egypt Sees Its International Influence Wither Away - The New York Times
Includes Issandr's thoughts.
- Egypt’s Christians lose patience with Sisi as attacks spike - FT
Last month, the Egyptian pound reached EGP13 to the US dollar for the first time, highlighting the massive stresses on the Egyptian economy and the inevitability of a further devaluation (long expected by the markets) despite the Central Bank of Egypt’s efforts to have controlled re-evaluation of the pound. Also last week, Egypt announced that it was in the final stages of negotiating an agreement for as much as $12 billion in loans (which will of course come with policy conditions) from the IMF. Yesterday, President Abdelfattah al-Sisi warned that austerity measures are coming. All of this points to the continuing fall of the purchasing power of average Egyptians, from the poorest segment of the population (only partly sheltered by price controls on basic goods) to the middle class (perhaps the most dramatically affected).
These developments have appointed once pro-Sisi commentators to lash out. Like many once pro-establishment Egyptians I have met in the last year, it is not so much that they blame Sisi for the alarming economic condition of the country (that after all is a long-term trend) but his lack of vision for the economy and indulgence in wasteful prestige projects and the lack of transparency with what is being done with money raised from the Egyptian public and foreign backers. In the piece below, the Nasserist columnist Abdullah al-Senawi (who in 2013-14 was said to have Sisi’s ears and was a major supporter from the “nationalist left” through his TV show and writings) skewers the Sisi regime for his and more, predicting that such poor economic stewardship may very well spell its downfall.
Thanks to our friends at Industry Arabic for the translation. Do check them out for your Arabic translation needs - we’re very happy with them, and the New York Times recently used them to translate an excellent piece on Saudi Arabia by our friend Ben Hubbard.Read More
- Revolutionary Salafism: The Case of Ahrar Movement
- Youth unemployment in Egypt: A ticking time bomb | Brookings Institution
- ‘Young, old, conservative, liberal’: Turkey in shock over journalists’ arrest | The Guardian
- Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s purge extends from soldiers to a stock analyst - FT
- Make Noise & Beauty on July 28, a Day of Creativity for Ashraf Fayadh – Arabic Literature (in English)
- Bets on Egypt Currency Devaluation Rise
Black market reached EGP13:$1!
- Turkish Academics Pay Harsh Penalties for the Failed Coup
A look at what is happening at universities, by @ursulind
- A reality check on the Middle East from America’s spy chief - The Washington Post
Ignatius channels Clapper.
- The Fantasy of Disengagement - The Cairo Review of Global Affairs
Blistering critique of Obama ME policy by Thanassis Cambanis.
- How Recep Tayyip Erdogan Made Turkey Authoritarian Again - The Atlantic
Last weekend's aborted coup in Turkey, and the crackdown that has followed it, has been the focus of excellent think-pieces in the last week (such as this excellent piece by Aaron Stein). Most are concerned with the domestic implications for Turkey and the ambitions of President Erdogan. In the Arab world, reaction has been divided and mostly concerned with the strategic implications for the region, particularly as it came as Ankara had announced an effort to patch up its relations with neighbors. The most concrete element of this new policy that has been achieved thus far is the discreet settlement reached with Israel over the Mavi Marmara incident, and the potentially most significant element were overtures to Russia and Syria. (Reconciliation with Egypt, also floated prior to the coup, seems unlikely after Egypt so clearly welcomed the putsch.)
In the article below, the commentator Abdel Bari Atwan (whom I find relatively equidistant these days from the main Arab "concerned parties" in the new regional great game) focuses in on the potential of a reversal of Turkish policy on Syria. Atwan wagered that the issue might be addressed in Wednesday's National Security Council meeting in Ankara (it does not appear to have been) but this is one issue worth watching.
As always, our friends at Industry Arabic provided the translation. They're great, please check them out for your business (or other) needs.Read More
Sorry, we've been on holiday.
- Sisi’s New Prisons
A visit to Alaa Abdel Fattah
- A Saudi Morals Enforcer Called for a More Liberal Islam. Then the Death Threats Began
Best piece on KSA I've read in a long while
- Hundreds 'disappeared' by security forces in Egypt, says Amnesty | The Guardian
- Chilcot report: UK oil groups feared losing out on deals — FT
And some still say oil has nothing to do with it...
- Why elections are bad for democracy | David Van Reybrouck | The Guardian
This guy has been a hit in Belgium.
- In Britain, the End of the Establishment - Bloomberg View
Pankaj Mishra on Brexit as "a collective suicide bombing."
- Egyptian authorities ban feminist Mozn Hassan from travelling to Beirut | The Guardian
- A Letter From the Edge of the Abyss
This is beautiful, terrible to read.
- Egypt’s anti-corruption chief was fired. Then his daughter was, too. - The Washington Post
- The Bookseller of Algiers « LRB blog
Ursula was in Algiers for the first time recently, and wrote this
- A Tunisian professor writes about "Mohamed's Last Days"
This was an interesting read
- United Nations Chief Exposes Limits to His Authority by Citing Saudi Threat - NYT
Threat to defund Palestine, Syria, Sudan aid.
- Graft Fighter in Egypt Finds Himself a Defendant in Court - The New York Times
- Eating in public during Ramadan is an attack on Islam, declares Dar al-Ifta | Mada Masr
What a fragile religion.
- The Egyptian Satirist Who Inspired a Revolution - The New Yorker
On Abou Haddara, a late 19th c. magazine
- Morsi death sentence endorsed by Egypt's mufti, website says
- Saudi wealth fund takes $3.5bn Uber stake — FT
- Iran Bars Pilgrims From Traveling to Mecca for Hajj - The New York Times
Interesting details on hacking attacks by Saudis.
- Middle Eastern Writers Find Refuge in the Dystopian Novel - The New York Times
I am quite late in posting the translation below, which was published in May soon after the Vienna ministerial meeting on Libya in which Western powers announced that they were prepared to put in place an exemption to the arms embargo to provide weapons and training to the fledging Government of National Accord led by Prime Minister Faiez Serraj. The piece below is interesting, as an op-ed by a newspaper that while London-based is funded by Qatar. It signals the continuing exasperation in Doha with Egypt’s foreign policy, a precursor to this week’s diplomatic spat follow the sentencing of deposed President Mohammed Morsi on charges of having spied for Qatar. And, some might say, the odd kind-of-proxy war between the Egypt/UAE-backed Haftar forces and those Islamist forces in Libya closer to Qatar (who once again clashed in recent days.)
As always we bring you this translation through our partners at Industry Arabic, a professional translation service that specializes in Arabic documents of all kinds. If you or your company has an Arabic translation need, please check them out and tell them The Arabist sent you.
Cairo Uses Haftar to Prevent Libyan Reconciliation
Editorial, Al-Quds al-Arabi, 19 May 2016
The Libyan crisis has witnessed a new development: The United States and the countries of the European Union have announced that they are prepared to arm the Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA). Meanwhile, the option of direct Western military intervention has receded (despite the presence of American and European special forces on Libyan territory). After the GNA took over most ministry headquarters, it announced the names of its ministers. Then, forces loyal to this government began to clash with “Islamic State” forces—the main point of focus for Western powers—and to retake areas, checkpoints and border posts. The major difficulty that the GNA faces, though, is approval of its legitimacy by the recognized Tobruk-based House of Representatives. Despite a majority of representatives agreeing to this, having signed statements and announcing their explicit desire to recognize the GNA, the House of Representatives continues to refrain from doing so, for reasons that are quite clear.
The matter is related, of course, to the military control that the Commander-in-Chief of the Libyan National Army, Khalifa Haftar, enjoys over the eastern region of Libya, where the House of Representatives is located. From a regional perspective, it is also related to approval by the authorities in Egypt and the United Arab Emirates—the actual sponsors of General Haftar—of the international plan to move from civil war to reconciliation.
In a recent statement made by General Haftar to a Libyan television channel, he said, “It is unheard of for a government to be established during a time of terrorism.” He means by this, of course, the GNA. He further stated that he “has nothing to do with political dialogue” and that what he is interested in is “imposing security and stability and ridding Libya of the Muslim Brotherhood.” Furthermore, he argued that “democracy will come to pass over the generations,” but that he believes in it because he experienced it for 25 years in the West! Haftar’s statements contradict one another and undermine any credibility he has.
Collectively, his statements clearly express his enormous disdain for his supposed partners in Libya in his rejection of political dialogue and his acknowledgement of only one solution, the one that he imposes with his military forces and that eliminates the Muslim Brotherhood. After he establishes security and stability, he sees nothing wrong with promising Libyans (or those that are left) with democracy, which “he alone knows because he lived for 25 years in the West,” but in the generations to come!
In their cartoonishness, these statements made by General Haftar do not diverge from those of another general, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. This is the man in whose footsteps Haftar had hoped—and continues to hope—to follow in moving from military control on the ground and over the government and the House of Representatives to the Libyan presidency. This has eluded him, however, for the simple reason that Libya is not Egypt and because the éradicateur solution did not work. This is what pushed the United Nations and the international community, in the end, to resort to the current compromise scenario.
Support for the Haftar option for Libya has led, in practice, to significant tragedies inflicted on the Libyan state and society. This has strengthened the hardline Salafist movement, as represented by the Islamic State. Furthermore, it has contributed to destabilizing the security of countries both close by and in Europe and to enabling gangs of smugglers to traffic across the Mediterranean those seeking refuge in Europe.
The only reason for this option to remain active on the Libyan scene is that its collapse would reveal the absurdity of the Egyptian model on which it was founded – something that Cairo is trying to postpone as much as possible.
Nobel Literature Prize winner J.M. Coetzee spoke in Ramallah recently as part of the Palestine Festival of Literature, an event I cannot recommend following and (if you are as lucky as I was a few years ago) participating in enough.