Walt on Miller and "shared values"

I can't resist but post this great answer by Stephen Walt to Aaron David Miller's recent Foreign Policy piece on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, on the specific point of "shared values" between Israel and the US:

Third, Miller invokes the familiar mantra of "shared values," but without asking whether the values we share are now diminishing. American values don't include confiscating land from Palestinians, throwing thousands of Palestinians in jail without trial, and carving up the occupied territories with separate roads, a wall, and hundreds of check-points.  America's values are "one person, one vote," but that's not the reality in Greater Israel today and that is certainly not what Bibi Netanyahu has in mind for the future. Miller doesn't think the peace process has any future -- and he may be right -- but he still believes the United States should give Israel several billion dollars each year in economic and military aid and provide it with consistent diplomatic protection, even in the face of events like the Gaza War or the pummeling of Lebanon in 2006. 
As always Max Blumenthal let us know about these values — just listen to these loonies:
On Tuesday, Israel’s defense minister, Ehud Barak, made the rounds at the State Department and the Pentagon, warmly welcomed by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates. At a White House meeting with the national security adviser, Gen. James L. Jones Jr., President Obama dropped by, lingering for 40 minutes.
The message was clear: “The special relationship between Israel and the United States is unbreakable,” Mr. Barak declared.
Across town, on Capitol Hill, the mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, was making his own rounds, unfurling maps that showed development in his city’s Jewish and Arab neighborhoods. His message was also clear: Jerusalem will not stop construction in East Jerusalem, either formally or informally, regardless of whether it hurts American efforts to restart peace negotiations.
“There is no freeze,” Mr. Barkat said. “We’re minding our own business, building the city for the residents.”
I don't buy the idea, pushed around by the Israelis and others, that Netanyahu has agreed to a settlement freeze in East Jerusalem but won't announce it. That may be true in the short-term that construction has ceased, but how long before the local government officials there decide, for electoral or other reasons, to go ahead with a new project and then we'll hear Bibi say he can't intervene in local government affairs or some-such nonsense. He cannot be trusted, and really neither can any other Israel official after 20 years of settlement expansion while agreeing to notional settlement freezes. This is why the public commitment to complete settlement freeze is essential: to immediately stop the creation of facts on the ground.


Links for April 24-29 2010

The leading international relations scholar and Middle East specialist Fred Halliday passed away in Barcelona this week, at 64, due to complications from cancer. Before moving to Barcelona, Halliday had been one of the stars of the London School of Economics' IR department, and as an undergraduate student I would sneak into his Masters' seminars to get a peak of the legend. I remember a masterly, but free-flowing discourse on great power politics in the Middle East.
One of the things I admired about Halliday was his transition from journalist to academic, something that was not easy back in the 1980s and is probably even less so today in this age of narrow academic specialization. Of course, it helps when you speak about eight languages and you've already published fantastic books such as Arabia Without Sultans.
There's a bunch of obituaries out there that will give you more flavor — see Sami Zubeida's or dozens more at OpenDemocracy. One of the controversies around Halliday is that, perhaps because as a Marxist he believed that imperialism would accelerate the development of third-world political systems, he supported the 1990 war against Iraq and, though less publicly, the 2002 invasion too. I particularly liked this memory from Brian Whitaker:
My favourite memory of Fred is a story he used to tell about meeting a Yemeni somewhere out in the wilds who asked which tribe he belonged to. Fred replied that his tribe was the Bani Tanwir (the "Sons of Enlightenment"). 
And now for the links:
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Musical notes

1. Notes from Palestine is a blog and video documentary project following a group of Palestinian musicians teaching music in the West Bank. Through that, it explains a lot of the restrictions imposed by the occupation, from the wall to ever-expanding settlements, as well as the difficult choices the musicians must make to follow their calling. Below is the latest video installment in the series, which is being filmed by Finnish researcher Eero Mäntymaa.

A place to call home from eero mäntymaa on Vimeo.

2. Lately I have been obsessed with this great early/mid seventies track by the virtuoso Egyptian guitarist Omar Khorshid, who played in Abdel Halim Hafez's and Oum Kulthoum's orchestras as well as his own band.

Here's the track, which is a kind of psychedelic funk meets Arabica:

Rakset al-Fadaa

That album cover comes from a recent compilation by the fantastic label Sublime Frequencies (which also put the great Omar Suleiman we mentioned before) which is reviewed here.

3. On a different register, I never listened much to Natalie Merchant, but came across her latest collections of songs based on children's nursery rhymes at the TED podcast. I really like this one:

The Sleepy Giant 

Do watch the TED podcast which had that song and other great performances:

4. Shaaban Abdel Rahim is really getting rather tiresome and unimaginative, but here is his latest track for the return of Hosni Mubarak.

 Welcome Back Mr President


Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

Links for April 23 2010

Rather out of it today...


Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

Links for April 15-22 2010

I've been too busy to cover the brouhaha over the April 6 demo, its aftermath, and an Egyptian MP's call to shoot protesters. But for meta-commentary on anti-protester violence, you could do no better than read Sarah Carr's excellent post (on a different subject altogether, also read this by Sarah).

I would like to add my own two piasters, however, to the debate about whether or not Mohamed ElBaradei should have showed up at the demo or been more supportive of demonstrators. To keep it simple, I think the basic answer is no, and I might wade into insensitivity in saying that demonstrations of this kind have become kind of pointless, since they fail to attract new people. I think ElBaradei and friends are rightly focusing on their petition campaign, and that he shouldn't go to protests unless there are thousands marching behind him. Also, people should stop speculating about ElBaradei's position on this and that. He's not running for president, not yet, he's campaign for electoral reform. If he gets that, a lot more people will be able to run, and the Egyptian public will have the opportunity to find the right candidate — ElBaradei, Gamal Mubarak or someone else.

ElBaradei tweet of the week:

Read regime press on plane :working for both West and Iran anti Islam and also anti civil state responsible for Iraq I pity this regime

 via web

The other thing I haven't talked about is that Hosni Mubarak is almost certainly dying and will not run again for president. Until his recent hospitalization I thought he'd run again, for sure. Now, everything is up in the air. There is a tremendous amount of positioning taking place at the moment in Egyptian politics. I'll post at greater lengths about this later. But things are getting interesting, at last. 

Now for the links.

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Nukes and regional security

A picture of the first ever nuclear explosion, 0.016 seconds after detonation.

I know I've been doing a lot of linking to Foreign Policy's Middle East Channel lately, but it's because they have so much good stuff. One item I'd really like to highlight in this piece on the nuclear question in the Middle East by Ezzedine Shukri-Fischere. It matches my thoughts exactly, and highlights a dimension of the current debate over Iran's potential nuclear program that is rarely touched upon in the American or European debate:

In the Middle East, however, the situation is more troubling and continues to generate serious risks for the world as a whole. Iran seems like the most compelling case at hand, but it is important to remember that Israel's policy of nuclear ambiguity also stands in the way of establishing a regional security regime in the region. In the multilateral security talks that followed the 1991 Madrid Conference, Israel adamantly refused to discuss its nuclear program unless conventional and unconventional threats of its neighbors were addressed first (including those posed by Iran and Saddam's Iraq). Conversely, Arab states insisted on including Israel's nuclear weapons in the discussion before any security arrangement could be agreed. As a result, the talks collapsed and were never revived in the years since. Had the US intervened 15 years ago and led Arab states and Israel towards overcoming their tit-for-tat attitude, a Mideast security regime, with confidence-building measures, safeguards and verification mechanisms, would probably have emerged by now.

Both the US and actors in the region need to start a dialogue on all security concerns in the Middle East that includes the nuclear issues. And they need to start this dialogue now, and urgently.

Such a dialogue would help address a number of challenges at the same time. First, it would lay to rest the complaints about double standards in the nonproliferation community and relieve the US - and Israel - from the untenable claim that Israel's nuclear arsenal should somehow be treated as exceptional (a claim that nobody outside Washington and Tel Aviv gives serious consideration). The double-standard argument has been the most successful weapon against nonproliferation, especially in mobilizing public support for nuclear projects like those of Saddam's Iraq, Ghaddafi's Libya or Iran (and you will hear a lot about it in the coming weeks leading up to the NPT review). Second, such a dialogue would significantly decrease the pressure on Arab governments to start their own nuclear programs and abort what could be the beginning of a nuclear race in the region. Third, this dialogue would pave the way for the establishment of a Middle East security regime, which could be the vehicle for addressing a wide range of security hazards in this troubled and troubling region. Finally, such a dialogue might offer a framework for addressing Iran's problematic nuclear activities, especially if accompanied by a package of stabilizing confidence-building measures.

It's really a shame that al-Shorouk stopped running Ezzedine's columns, especially when they now instead have Fareed Zakariya and Thomas Friedman — who needs more of them?

1 Comment

Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

Peacekeeping Israel/Palestine

I know things don't look that good right now for the two-state solution, but despite the move towards one-state by many of my friends, I (barely) remain in favor of two states, along the 1967 lines, as the last best compromise to resolve the conflict. It is an immense compromise for the Palestinians, and would also demand that the Zionist project imposes limits on itself, something it has largely refused to do (i.e. create permanent borders for Israel.) But the alternative, the one-state solution — which is certainly the more just solution — essentially means another 50 years of war and, considering recent Israeli behavior, a good chance that the Palestinians would simply ethnically cleansed or Bantustanized.

Our friends Andrew Exum (aka Abu Muqawama) and Marc Lynch (aka Abu Aardvark) and some other people have put a report at the Center for a New American Security, that antechamber of the Obama administration, on what peacekeeping a two-state solution might look like, drawing on case studies in East Timor, Kosovo and South Lebanon. It makes it pretty clear (especially UNIFIL's case in South Lebanon, where it has not been able to fulfill either its ceasefire or disarmament mission)

They run through the scenarios in which a peacekeeping force might be needed, only the first one would be desirable (in my opinion):

  1. A full negotiated peace with a unified Palestinian government;
  2. A partial negotiated agreement (i.e. with with the PA/West Bank only);
  3. A unilateral Israeli withdrawal, presumably to the West Bank wall, with the PA surviving and Gaza remaining under Hamas control;
  4. A unilateral withdrawal with the PA collapsing.

There are two issues only lightly touched upon in the report that I would like to see:

  • The inadmissibility of a peacekeeping force around borders that are not accepted by the Palestinians, since they would legitimize those borders (i.e. the unilateral withdrawal scenarios);
  • The need to ensure that peacekeeping is something that occurs on both sides of the borders, not just on the Palestinian side. 

Lynch explores all of this further on his blog. In part because of Exum's expertise on COIN doctrine, you see some emphasis on state-building in his vision of peacekeeping. This is in some sense necessary (since the Israeli occupation has worked to sabotage and subvert that process), but the need to delimitate that is important, especially if there is no counterpart scrutiny on the Israeli side. It is better to have a unified Palestinian state, for instance, than the disaster of the last decade of security sector building in the PA that was designed, in part, to build up a constituency within its ranks that is today widely seen as collaborators. Putting Palestinian political consensus ahead of international security concerns, in the long run, would create a more stable Palestinian state by avoiding the likes of the Dahlan gangs and their use in the 2007 coup against Hamas. Thinking through this, you see another major pitfall of the Quartet's refusal to deal with Hamas.

Anyway, read the report. It's food for thought — and even one-staters might get something from it, whether it's more arguments against the two-state solutions or starting to think about what a peacekeeping solution could look like after a one-state civil war. For a critical view, read Helena Cobban's very negative take. She has issues with the section on UNIFIL (something she knows about much more than I do), the absence of a map of what Israel/Palestine would look like, and that groundwork done by the Geneva Initiative is not featured. On the whole, personally, I'm glad that people are starting to think about peacekeeping in the (admittedly unlikely) event of a two-state solution. I do share her concern that the report is called "security for peace" rather than "land for peace" even if it's a symbolic detail — it's still an important one, because it reinforces the notion that the Palestinians are the ones disturbing Israeli security, whereas the reality is overwhelmingly the other way around. But she is unduly harsh in other respects, notably in saying they don't consider the different modalities (NATO, UN, etc.) of a peacekeeping mission — it's actually talked about, and like she says herself you can't go into too much detail being so far away from a deal.

On a completely unrelated note: Andrew Exum draws attention to the bizarre defense industry adverts one sees in some areas of Washington (esp. around the Pentagon), usually showing the latest in defense systems, fighter jets etc. I've always thought they were weird — I mean, will Pentagon purchasing officers be influenced by that advertising? He is rightly disgusted at Northrop Grumman's latest ad, which shows the devastation of southern Beirut in 2006:

This is sick. I'm canceling my order for a B-2 bomber.

Breaking down US democracy policy in the Middle East

In what is becoming an annual must-read for Middle East policy wonks, POMED has published its detailed report on Financial Appropriations for Middle East Democracy for FY2011. I'll let you read its overall conclusions — quite a marked increase (32%) for MEPI funding notably — which would suggest a real commitment to one form of democracy-promotion, funding NGOs that do work on issues that deal with the wider notion of democracy endorsed by the Obama administration (away from elections, focus on women, minorities, and other aspects.) Specifically on democracy and governance programming it's 10%. It would not be entirely fair to suggest a break from the Bush administration in this regard, but rather a continuity with the post-2007 Bush policies — i.e. the post 2006 Hamas election trauma dealt to a political/electoral focus in democracy-promotion. 
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Shish Kebab


 Ernest Gellner, Culture, Politics and Identity.

L'Odeur du Shishkebab

(By 1960s Quebecois band Les Marcassins du Val)

[Thanks, E.]


Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

Fact-checking Hitchens on Animal Farm

Get it on Amazon.comThis morning I read this piece by Christopher Hitchens on Animal Farm, George Orwell's classic work of political satire. It's always great to read Hitchens on this kind of stuff, because of his Orwell fetishism, and well because he's such a great writer when he writes about what he knows well, as opposed to endorsing late fascist1 dictatorships in the Arab world.

I have two issues with the piece. One is trivial. Hitchens offers this tantalizing morsel, but no interpretation:

There is, however, one very salient omission. There is a Stalin pig and a Trotsky pig, but no Lenin pig. Similarly, in Nineteen Eighty-Four we find only a Big Brother Stalin and an Emmanuel Goldstein Trotsky. Nobody appears to have pointed this out at the time (and if I may say so, nobody but myself has done so since; it took me years to notice what was staring me in the face).

That's fascinating, I had never noticed it. It's hard to believe that Orwell would have spared Lenin. But perhaps it's that Stalin and Trotsky emerged rapidly as the prime engines of the Bolsheviks, each carrying out acts of mass violence (first Trotsky as army commissar during the civil war, then Stalin in his own military decisions during the civil war and later as architect of command center economics and permanent political terror.) Too bad Hitchens doesn't elaborate.

(Update: a commenter points out that there is a Lenin pig, Old Major, who's the one who has the idea for the revolution. He dies at the beginning of the second chapter (just like the real Lenin!) but before the animals take over, so it's not quite chronologically accurate — or perhaps he's meant to represent not Lenin but something between Marx and Lenin.)

The second thing comes at the end of the article, where he hopes that Animal Farm will come to the countries it is currently banned in, such as China, North Korea, Burma or Zimbabwe. He also writes:

In the Islamic world, many countries continue to ban Animal Farm, ostensibly because of its emphasis on pigs. Clearly this can not be the whole reason – if only because the porcine faction is rendered in such an unfavourable light – and under the theocratic despotism of Iran it is forbidden for reasons having to do with its message of "revolution betrayed".

I don't think this has been fact-checked. The Wikipedia entry "List of banned books" says:

In 2002, the novel was banned in the schools of the United Arab Emirates, because it contained text or images that goes against Islamic and Arab values.

There's nothing on other countries. Reading Hitchens' article, you'd think that there are no Arabic editions of Animal Farm. In fact you can get a bilingual Arabic-English edition here (or download a digital version) and, I would assume, the regular Arabic one in bookshops in most countries (hopefully not all editions have as ugly a cover as the one on the right.) You can find an extensive Arabic wikipedia entry here. Amazon.com sells an "Egyptian Animal Farm" in Arabic, by Mohamed Morsey, adapting Orwell to an Egyptian setting.2 If you're a fan of the cartoon version3, you can get Arabic subtitles here.

I'd be willing to bet that Animal Farm is used in schools in various countries, too. If anyone has information on whether it is banned elsewhere, do let us know.


1. "Late fascist": A term I use to describe the political systems most of the Arab republics, in comparison to Franco's Spain or Salazar's Portugal in the late 1970s or similar regimes based on public mobilization where the original ideological edifice of the regime is spent. Will have to elaborate someday, but today it applies to Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, and Syria. Also in some respects Iran. I think it may well have applied to most Eastern bloc countries in the 1980s.

2. It's self-published, you can get more details here.

3. Watch it on YouTube or get it on torrent sites.

Syria's scuds

How exciting to see all the hullabaloo about reports that Syria gave scuds to Hizbullah! And to see somber-faced officials in Washington (although few) and Tel Aviv speak of this as some kind of provocation. Funny that this move, if true (US and Israeli officials don't have a great track record on these things — remember Saddam's WMDs?) would apparently justify a bombing raid on Lebanon.

On the one hand, if I were Lebanese, I would certainly to increase my country's defensive capabilities considering that Israel destroyed half the place in 2006. I would be focusing first on air defenses to take down aircrafts coming into my airspace, but longer-range rockets that can do similar damage to what Israel did to me (and it invaded me three times, occupied me for two and half decades, and regularly violates my sovereignty) would seem a good dissuasive measure.

On the other hand, when does anyone complain about Israel's weapons acquisitions or its ability to annihilate the entire neighborhood?

In other words, I am all for any actor in Lebanon making it more costly for Israel to repeat its 2006 exercise in collective punishment.

Syria, of course, is a nasty little regime and has done tremendous damage to Lebanon. At one time, though, it was seen as a stabilizer in Lebanon and actually committed enough to the status-quo that it would not risk any confrontation with Israel. Perhaps these calculations have changed, but considering the low effectiveness of Scuds (remember the Gulf War and the Israeli panic that didn't amount to much) I don't see how this can be construed as a game-changer. Lebanon and Syria both endorsed the Arab Peace Initiative and back the peace in exchange for the return of land. We are being told by some experts in America and Israel that it's not reasonable for Syria to expect the Golan Heights back. These are the same people who essentially argue it's not reasonable for the Palestinians to expect a viable state. Is everyone in the region supposed to accept a belligerent Israel, protected from any responsibility under international law, that refuses to make clear what its own borders are and regularly engages in attacks on its neighbors' territory?

Here's some commentary:

Links for April 10-15 2010

Did I forget the links again? Do read the first link, very nice local reporting on an issue that's long nagged at me: the barricades surrounding the US Embassy in Cairo's Garden City neighborhood, which is also where I live. The permanent barriers and checkpoints are really getting tiresome and have depressed this part of Central Cairo that should be vibrant. I am relatively unaffected since I don't drive, and can easily cycle (yes I am the one of the crazy khawagas who cycles across Cairo) past the barriers. But it's really rather bad for the neighborhood, increasing traffic density through small streets and blocking off a thoroughfare in Lazoghly St. It's just not very nice for local residents, who of course were never consulted in the process. Not to mention the image of America it gives: it looks like the second biggest embassy in the world, in a key regional ally, is in a Green Zone. And it's not only the Americans, the nearby Brits are to blame too (and perhaps, a little further off, the Canadians and Belgians too.)

Also, there's a new movie about Garden City that I'm dying to see.

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Tweet of the day

@ElBaradei: Meeting in Geneva to award 5 Mill$ to a democractically elected African Pres who left office after 2 terms hope this happens in Arab world

Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

Dar al-Hilal and ElBaradei's shoes

Today I went to Dar al-Hilal, in the Mounira district of central Cairo. It's a rather grand building that houses the publishing houses that puts out, among other things, al-Mussawar magazine. The picture above shows a stained glass window at the end of a long corridor where the fairly drab and depressing offices of the magazine are.

Al-Mussawar was once a great publication in the monarchy and Nasser eras, featuring fantastic photography, cartoons and articles. I have a small collection of old issues of al-Mussawar, some of which I found in Morocco. For instance, the one below dates from a few months before the October 1956 Suez Crisis and talks about war preparedness along the Suez Canal. 

 I can't judge its editorial quality today — I almost never read it. But I did pick up the last issue, part of new wave of attacks on ElBaradei, which had the cover below, with the headline: "ElBaradei Pasha: Enemy of the Workers and Peasants." I spoke to Hamdi Rizk, al-Mussawar's editor about it. Rizk is an old-school populist-nationalist, critical of ElBaradei for essentially being a "khawaga" and a "pacha" with no knowledge of "people on the street." It's a critique I've heard from ordinary people and has much more resonance than the previous attacks focusing on ElBaradei's alleged dual nationality. Rizk pointed to ElBaradei's shoes on the cover, saying they are Clark's, worth more than the monthly salary of an average Egyptian. Of course, I'm sure Mubarak and Gamal wear similarly expensive footwear, not shib-shib they picked up up in Sayyeda. I guess this is the equivalent of the perennial American debate about presidential candidates' expensive haircuts.

Rizk was affable enough — not the terrible monster I'd imagined reading his violent attacks on the Muslim Brothers (his primary field of expertise alongside Sudan) over the years in al-Masri al-Youm, where he pens a column. What struck me is that, as much as he might be accused of engaging in ElBaradei-bashing on behalf of the Mubarak regime, he also represents something real.

Call it the populist false consciousness of a media that engages in relentless nationalist manipulation with occasional bouts of paranoid schizophrenia about the foreign conspiracy against the pure white hearts of the Egyptian people.

Or call it self-interest of the administrative class that has underpinned the regime for decades, the kind that obsesses with salary scales, bonuses, club memberships and safeguarding idea of state control over society and economy in an age of globalization.  

Or perhaps even call it a truly representative sample of a part of public opinion that resents (as Rizk does) Gamal's team of economic reformists as much as it resents ElBaradei — these "khawagized" Egyptians who "think Egypt can be run from laptops" (Rizk's phrase). Maybe Rizk is earnest about his opinions, and thinks he's doing a public good by attacking ElBaradei. He makes no secret of his love for Mubarak and hope he will run again next year. He wants the next president to be like Nasser and Mubarak, to "come from the streets."

Maybe we need to start thinking about this phenomenon as Egypt's equivalent to the Tea Party movement, the manifestation of resentment against sinking purchasing power, culture wars with the elites, and a widening chasm of inequality.

P.S. I forgot to mention that the new issue of al-Mussawar's editorial is by Mr. Egypt himself, Zahi Hawass. He also attacks ElBaradei, with the headline: "I am the most famous person in Egypt" in answer to ElBaradei's similar recent statement to Austrian media. Here's a PDF scan.


Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

WINEP and the lobby

It was delightful to read Stephen Walt's rebuttal to WINEP's Robert Satloff on the issue of "dual loyalty" and where WINEP stands. Let us be clear about this, it may be the case that WINEP produces decent material on, say, counter-terrorism in Algeria or the domestic politics of Oman. But on anything that touches Israel, and issues of interest to Israel like Iran, it is one of several think tanks that serve to produce ideological justifications for policies supported by the likes of AIPAC. That is its main and most important purpose, and to pretend otherwise is beyond hypocritical.
I remember attending a WINEP luncheon in Washington a few years ago. It was the kind of thing targeted at fundraisers and supporters, with Dennis Ross as key speaker. The person sitting to my left was a very nice elderly lady, half of a wealthy couple of Jewish retirees from upstate New York. The person sitting on my right was a young Jewish campus activist for Israel. That seemed to represent the range of people in the crowd, and audience and speakers were trying to outdo each other in Iran-bashing and support for Israel. I don't think you see that at serious think tanks.
As M.J. Rosenberg, formerly of AIPAC and now of J Street, writes in his Talking Points Memo blog:

In my piece yesterday, I pointed out that I was in the room when the plan for WINEP was first drawn up. I was working at AIPAC and it was Steve Rosen who cleverly came up with the idea for an AIPAC controlled think-tank that would put forth the AIPAC line but in a way that would disguise its connections.

There was no question that WINEP was to be AIPAC's cutout. It was funded by AIPAC donors, staffed by AIPAC employees, and located one door away, down the hall, from AIPAC Headquarters (no more. It has its own digs). It would also hire all kinds of people not identified with Israel as a cover and would encourage them to write whatever they liked on matters not related to Israel. "Say what you want on Morocco, kid." But on Israel, never deviate more than a degree or two.

It's always been slightly painful to see Egyptian friends — journalists, analysts etc. — take up a job at WINEP, which actively tries to recruit Arabs for fellowships to deflect its lobbying role. I understand why being given a nice salary and a year in Washington is appealing, but it smarts that WINEP is the organization doing this. I tease more mercilessly my American friends who've worked there (not on directly peace-process related issues), but they've moved on now. WINEP has a lot money to throw around, some good researchers, and can afford to buttress its claim of neutrality by hiring former officials and analysts who do not necessarily share their views on Israel — as long as they don't work on the issue. Presumably the same people won't speak out against the house line while they work there, either. 
In any case, that so many are taking Satloff down on his ridiculous claim of WINEP not being part of the lobby is very satisfying personally. In 2005, when I edited Cairo magazine, we ran article tying WINEP to AIPAC. Satloff sent us an angry letter. It was true that WINEP is not funded by AIPAC in a legal sense, but they share donors. Rosenberg elucidates the motive behind separating AIPAC's research arm, then led by Martin Indyk (another person, alongside Dennis Ross, who has no business running US policy in the Middle East) with this tidbit from a reader:

WINEP was created initially at a time when AIPAC was in financial trouble and having a lot of problems raising money, so it was suggested, probably by Steve Rosen. (I was at the same meeting) that we split the AIPAC research department into two parts, a minor part to service the legislative lobbying, and the major part to become a 501(C)3 that could raise big bucks tax free unlike AIPAC itself which did not enjoy that tax status.

As you wrote, it was originally in AIPAC's building and on the same floor but we started getting a lot of pressure from some of the other Jewish organizations which were worried that AIPAC would cut into their (C)3 fundraising.

As for funding, the Weinbergs were key and even worked out a deal with some big money folks who didn't want to contribute to a political operation like AIPAC but would give to (C)3's. So one could give to the (C)3 and someone else would match it for AIPAC.

This became the ultimate in interlocking directorates.

As Helena Cobban points out, some of us have been saying this for a long time. Kudos to Foreign Policy, TPM and of course the invaluable Mondoweiss for bringing this discussion out in the open. But this discussion should not only involve American Jews, it affects all of us. Talking about the "dual loyalty" problem is necessary — not because, as Satloff argued rather heinously, because people who doubt Ross' neutrality on Israel are engaged in a McCarthyite and anti-Semitic campaign and believe Jews can't be trusted (that accusation is the real canard), but because these people and these organizations have a clear record as lobbying organizations for a foreign government that make them poor choices as policymakers.
Consider also that Dennis Ross disagrees with Obama's stated policy on both Iran and the peace process, and even his friend Aaron Miller thinks he's too biased to be a fair negotiator between Israelis and Palestinians. Is it really too much to ask that he be taken off Middle East policy?
On a related note, I've had some fun making fake AIPAC logos, you can take a look at them here. They're inspired by the commonsensical remarks made by Gen. David Petraeus about the peace process being important to American interests in the region, and how its undermining by the Netanyahu government (and previous Israeli administrations) is hurting those interests.

Sudan's elections

My friend Dan Morrison, spent some time reporting all across Sudan while researching his forthcoming book The Black Nile: One Man's Amazing Journey Through Peace and War on the World's Longest River. He offers this analysis of the elections taking place in Sudan. You can read more of his work at his personal site, www.danmorrison.net.

A Travesty, a Logistical Nightmare, Irrelevant, Democracy

Four ways of looking at Sudan’s  national elections

Sudan’s first multiparty elections in 24 years started yesterday in an atmosphere of anger, hope and confusion. The previous elections, in 1986, followed a people’s uprising that removed a military dictator. How times change. Today another military dictator – Field Marshal Omar Hassan al-Bashir, an indicted war criminal — is Sudan’s leading candidate for president.

Photo by Flickr user Fatma Naib

Befitting Africa’s biggest, and perhaps most complicated, country, there are several ways of looking at Sudan’s elections:

A Freaking Travesty

The fix is in.

Bashir’s National Congress Party, which took power in a 1989 military coup, has made campaigning all but impossible for opposition candidates in Sudan’s northern states. Political rallies have been squelched, activists jailed and Bashir’s party dominates the state-controlled airwaves. The vote in Darfur will be an electoral atrocity, according to the International Crisis Group; victims of the conflict have been ethnically cleansed from the voting rolls, while Arab tribes allied with Bashir have been over-counted. In light of this, all but one of Sudan’s major opposition parties has pulled out of the presidential and parliamentary elections, leaving the field to Bashir and his Islamist cadres (who, back in 1986, could only muster 10 percent of the vote).

But the rigged election isn’t solely the work of Bashir and his regime. The elections are a requirement of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, the landmark treaty that ended the 22-year civil war between the Arab-led north and Sudan’s black south. After a conflict in which more than 2 million southerners died, the rebels of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement won broad autonomy and a chance for the south to formally secede from Sudan after a referendum scheduled for January. Therein lies another part of the fix.

During my travels as a reporter in southern Sudan in 2006 and 2007, I couldn’t find a single southerner who didn’t favor secession. The SPLM is Sudan’s most powerful opposition party, but its leaders in Juba, the southern capital, are more than willing to sacrifice the democratic aspirations of northern Sudanese if that’s what it takes to ensure a smooth breakup of the country next year. (And why not? The top northern opposition leaders – former prime minister Sadig al-Mahdi and Hassan al-Turabi, the former parliament speaker and the evil genius behind the 1989 Islamist coup – each spent their time in government waging pitiless war against the south.)

So the SPLM has essentially made a deal to support the election results as legitimate in exchange for a promise that Bashir won’t try too hard to impede the 2011 southern referendum. This collusion became especially clear last week, when the SPLM’s candidates in the north decided they wouldn’t play a rigged game, and announced a boycott in all but two northern states. Instead of supporting the boycott, the SPLM’s southern-based leadership publicly chided its northern candidates and announced (despite all evidence) that they would in fact participate. They wanted an election that foreigners could endorse, and the SPLM’s northern pull-out hurt the chances of that.

Bashir is looking for these elections to lend him the international legitimacy he has long craved. But with the opposition on strike and reports of fraud already piling up, his  biggest and best hope is a clean chit from the election observers of the Carter Center and the European Union (no one takes the observers from the Arab League and the African Union very seriously). The Carter Center especially has a long and constructive history in Sudan, but it may be torn between its duty to call the election for what surely will be – a travesty – and a desire to smooth the south’s path to self-determination in 2011.

An endorsement from former U.S. president and 2002 Nobel peace laureate Jimmy Carter, no matter how qualified, will rehabilitate an international pariah and accused genocidaire. Bashir, through threats and insults, has all but dared the Carter Center to pull out of Sudan, but it hasn’t taken the bait, demonstrating clearly that the West needs the perception of a fair election just as much as the stick-waving field marshal does.

A Logistical Nightmare

A friend says: “You couldn’t run this election in Canada, much less in Sudan. That’s how complex it is.”

Every two years or so, I walk into one of New York City’s charmingly antiquated voting booths, flick a half-dozen mechanical switches, pull the big lever on the right — and then freak out: “Jesus! Did I just vote for the Socialist Workers Party?”

I wouldn’t stand a chance in Sudan.

In the north, voters are wrestling with separate paper ballots, denoting races for president, the national assembly, governor and state assembly. The state and national assembly votes will include candidates running to represent individual constituencies in a first-past-the-post race, party ballots for proportional representation, and ballots for seats reserved for women. Southerners, who are also voting for a regional president and other posts, have twelve separate ballots.

Many candidates remain confused by the system, unsure if they are running against specific opponents or running on a party list. For voters, the confusion is an order of magnitude greater. Two NGOs in the south recently ran mock elections, asking educated local staffers to fill out ballots as they would on election day. The average time required was 15 minutes. Literate southerners taken off the street for the experiment needed 25 minutes. Illiterate southerners (who make up 86 percent of the population), working with assistance, required an average 40 minutes each to complete their ballots. Indeed, Salva Kiir himself spent ten minutes completing his ballot.  

Hafiz Mohammed, the Sudan director for Justice Africa, has calculated that, with more than 16 million registered voters, 10,230 polling places and 33 hours of voting time stretched over three days, each Sudanese voter will have approximately one minute to cast his or her vote. After complaints of widespread chaos during the first day of voting, Sudan’s election commission on Monday afternoon announced it would extend the polling period by two days, to April 16. 

The bottom line, according to one political consultant in Sudan: “If you have something remotely like what happened in Afghanistan, it will be a great success.”


The most powerful players in Sudan – Bashir and his NCP; the SPLM and its leader Salva Kiir; and the United States – are looking to 2011 and beyond. Their war games predicted an election clusterfuck and they’ve all made peace with it. It’s called realism.

That’s why President Obama’s special envoy to Sudan, retired general Scott Gration, has been so active in promoting what he and every grain of sand in the Nubian desert knows will be an illegitimate election. When Bashir tells a campaign rally, “Even America is becoming an NCP member. No one is against our will,” as he did in Blue Nile state on April 3, he’s talking about Obama’s man.

And he’s talking about us.

The West is willing to avert its eyes from the coming ugliness if it will help to midwife the south’s peaceful secession next year. That seems to be all the juice we have right now – enough to help the south, black and somewhat Christian, get finally free of its historical oppressors.

As for the Muslims in the north and their democratic aspirations, well, maybe next time.

Southerners see the election, however flawed, as a stepping-stone to an independent state. The northern opposition – rightly, bitterly – sees a deck stacked in part by Uncle Sam. One year from now, Bashir will dominate a geographically diminished Sudan while Salva Kiir similarly dominates an independent south. South Sudan will be another nominal African democracy, rich in oil and poor in everything else; the rump northern Sudan will remain an Arab autocracy, one finally open for business with the West.

Photo by Flickr user Fatma Naib.


But and still.

You have to start somewhere and, at least in the south, things are starting. There is a genuine hunger among southerners to vote. They may not know exactly what (or, with the exception of bigwigs like Salva Kiir, who) they’re voting for, but they want to vote.

And in a genuine flicker of democracy, the SPLM leadership has been shaken by the emergence of strong independent candidates for governor in three states. At least one, and possibly even two, of those candidates are likely to defeat SPLM incumbents, providing a real lesson in nonviolent people power.

And that’s not a bad way to look at an election.

Dan Morrison is the author of The Black Nile, coming in August from Viking Penguin. 


Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

Clinton urged to press Egypt on freedoms

But will she listen?A group of former officials, human rights activists and Egypt experts have written to Secretary Clinton urging her to take the strongest stance on democracy in Egypt (or rather, the lack thereof) in the wake of Mubarak's illness and the coming presidential succession. The suggestions are below, and in a sense go further than even the Bush administration has gone. It is also a sober reminder that the Obama administration has basically done nothing on this issue since it came to power.
The key demands are changes to eligibility for elections, including presidential ones, which echo the call of Mohammed ElBaradei and other democracy activists. The call for international observers is also an entirely new step not adopted in 2005. Here are the recommendations:

Thus, for the upcoming legislative elections in June (upper house of parliament) and November 2010 (lower house), we urge you to consider the following:

  • Raising with the Egyptian government—privately but at the highest level—the U.S. hope and expectation that Egypt will hold genuinely competitive elections. Specifically:
    • All candidates, including opposition and independents, should be allowed to register and campaign freely, with access to the media.
    • The government should permit and facilitate monitoring by Egyptian NGOs and international observers.
    • Security forces should keep a distance from polling places and allow voters free access.
  • Allocating adequate assistance funds to support domestic and international monitors directly
  • Stating publicly that the United States government hopes to see free and fair elections that allow genuine and open competition

Looking toward the 2011 presidential election, the United States should also urge the Egyptian government to undertake legal and constitutional reforms to facilitate much broader voter participation and ease requirements for candidates to get on the ballot.  With more than a year to go, there is ample time for such changes. 

Madame Secretary, we urge you to take a leadership role on this issue. We believe a more democratic Egypt is in the interest of both the United States and Egypt, as such reforms would contribute to economic development and a safer region. With those goals in mind, we strongly encourage you to advance this agenda.

My only reservation about this letter is that Elliott Abrams, a man who encouraged the Bush administration to engage in criminal conspiracies against an elected government in Palestine, is a signatory. He is a disgrace to the United States. But it's good that this group has spoken out on this matter when we've seen over a year of dithering on these issues and a series of wrong-headed signals, from hosting Obama's speech to the Muslim world in Cairo to accepting restrictions on NGO funding.

Speaking of which, the excellent Stephen McInerney of POMED has a brief alerting on democracy spending in Egypt, picking up on a scathing USAID audit of democracy and governance spending:

A clear lesson from the USAID audit is that the less the Egyptian government is involved with democracy and governance programming, the greater the opportunity for such programming to succeed. Many supporters of democracy hoped that, in response to this audit, USAID would reverse the sharp cuts in funding for civil society and its decision to fund only registered NGOs.  The new budget request for 2011, however, ignores key conclusions of the audit and continues in the direction of increased funding for programs done in conjunction with the Egyptian government and decreased funding given directly to civil society.  To be fair, other U.S. government institutions (such as the Department of State’s Middle East Partnership Initiative and Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor) provide support for civil society and political competition but their resources are extremely limited as compared with those expended by USAID.

Do read the whole thing.


Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

Off for two days

It's a public holiday in Egypt, so I'm off to the countryside. Happy Sham an-Nasseem.


Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.