Links for 08.22.09 to 08.30.09

Eric Hobsbawm's On Empire: when Hobsbawm writes, Angry Arab reads carefully | I just read this book and completely agree with Angry Arab's praise. ✪ Global BDS Movement | Website of the Boycott - Divestment - Sanctions movement. ✪ How settlements in the West Bank are creating a new reality, brick by brick | World news | The Guardian | Good story on the settlements by Rory McCarthy. ✪ Boycott Israel -- latimes.com | An Israeli's call. ✪ Privatization by other means: How the Public Transport sector was “murdered” at 3arabawy | How five years ago, eager to justify the privatization of public sector transport, the government stopped making spare parts available for Cairo's buses. Outrageous and worthy of more digging. ✪ Important Film | A cartoon for children against sexual harassment. ✪ Israeli watchdog sees no settlement freeze | "The construction of settlements in the occupied West Bank is continuing 'as usual', a group reported, despite the Israeli government's announcement that it has stopped initiating new housing projects." ✪ Ramadan under siege « In Gaza | On the pauperization of Gaza: there is food, because of the tunnels, but only for the few who can afford it. ✪ Mehdi Karoubi, un mollah atypique et réformateur, devenu le porte-parole de la contestation en Iran - Asie-Pacifique - Le Monde.fr | On the other reformist candidate in Iran. ✪ مدونة محمد بن عبد الكريم الخطابي | A new blog dedicated to the Moroccan anti-colonial hero Abdel Krim.
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Links for 08.21.09 to 08.22.09

Survey of Business Environment for Small and Medium- Sized Enterprises in Egypt | Survey of Egyptians SMEs, focuses on corruption perception. ✪ Who Should Rule Egypt? | Baheyya lays out an argument between three possible types of rule in Egypt -- hereditary succession, military rule, and parliamentary rule -- and makes the point that Hosni Mubarak has unwittingly opened up the debate over how Egypt should be ruled. ✪ Libya and Muammar Qaddafi, 40 years on: How to squander a nation's potential | The Economist | Poor Libya. ✪ Nile Delta: 'We are going underwater. The sea will conquer our lands' | Environment | The Guardian | Jack Shenker has a great story on rising salinity levels and the impact of global warming in the Nile Delta. ✪ Hilo Hero: H.P. Lovecraft | Happy Birthday H.P. Lovecraft. I highly recommend the essay on him by the French reactionary writer (and one of my favorites, to be honest - I don't care about his views on Islam) Michel Houellebecq.
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Don't call us lazy

This makes sense:
Long working hours in the Middle East and Asia – shortest in France People work an average of 1,902 hours per year in the surveyed cities but they work much longer in Asian and Middle Eastern cities, averaging 2,119 and 2,063 hours per year respectively. Overall, the most hours are worked in Cairo (2,373 hours per year), followed by Seoul (2,312 hours). People in Lyon and Paris, by contrast, spend the least amount of time at work according to the global comparison: 1,582 and 1,594 hours per year respectively.
It's not surprising: you see people in Cairo work several jobs all the time, while the self-employed work extremely long hours. This is not the same thing as working efficiently, of course, and Cairo does not have the reputation for being a place where you can get things done quickly. People partly work longer hours because it takes more to get things done. But you can't deny that this is an unbalanced economy which forces people to work for ridiculously low salaries (particularly but not only in the public sector), privileges the upper middle class (which enjoys most of the benefits of low-cost living), provides little labor protection (indeed the police collaborates with factory owners to disband strikes) and where, on top of it, the state provides few quality services, meaning people must earn more to provide basic security for their families (i.e. health, etc.) The result: long hours, low quality of life. If only we could all be French.
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Those stupid Danish cartoons continue to inspire stupid reactions

The Literary Saloon says all there is to say about the fact that Yale University Press is putting out a serious scholarly book about the Danish cartoons--without including reproductions of the cartoons. The whole story of the cartoons strikes me, not quite as a tragi-comedy, but let's say as a depressi-farce. Everyone comes out so poorly on all sides. Who's worse? The ant-Muslims bigots who get a kick out of the cartoons; the Muslims who prove every negative stereotype true by the way they react; or the liberals at Yale University Press who turn cultural sensitivity into ridiculous condescension and hysteria--assuming that if they publish the pictures, they'll have "blood on their hands"?  Hard to say.
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The art of development

Last week I attended a cultural festival in the small northern town of Asilah.   A mural on the walls of Asilah's medina and a "A vendre" ("For Sale") sign on the right. A mural on the walls of Asilah's medina and a "A vendre" ("For Sale") sign on the right.   Morocco has dozens of cultural festivals, most of them dedicated to music. These are often fantastic--I had an unforgettable time at the Gnawa festival in Essaouira three years ago. But as I note in an article that just came out in the National, many of the festivals are sponsored by powerful politicians and seem to be motivated by issue of personal prestige. The idea that a cultural festival is enough to put a town "on the map"--and attract tourism and investment--has become a common-place, but the results aren't always there to back it up.
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Links for 08.20.09

En Egypte, l'hébreu, in cha' Allah! | Very interesting feature on Hebrew call center in Cairo, doing Microsoft Windows activation for Israelis and the reactions its customers get ("You khare khegyptian and you speak khebrew?") [French] ✪ Mohammad Dahlan (MohammadDahlan) on Twitter | Another funny fake: "As'ad abukhalil LYING AGAIN. I stay n Cairo not bcuz I scared of my people but because I have medical condition & must eat KFC 4 every meal" ✪ Abdelmonem Said - Road to Mideast Progress Runs Through Cairo - washingtonpost.com | Said, presenting the Egyptian govt view. Or one of its views. ✪ » The Egypt we have Middle East Strategy at Harvard | Steve Cook and others think Hosni pwnd Barack: "a meeting that is notable for its general lack of newsworthiness." ✪ US complains to Israel on Palestinian-American entry rules - Yahoo! News | Discrimination against Pal-Americans "unnaceptable."
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Links for 08.19.09 to 08.20.09

Saad Eddin Ibrahim: President Obama Maintains Status Quo with Egypt - WSJ.com | Saad Eddin Ibrahim on Obama. ✪ Quiet slicing of the West Bank makes abstract prayers for peace obscene | Slavoj Zizek | Comment is free | The Guardian | A good piece on Israel/Palestine by Zizek unfortunately ends weakly by talking about terrorism. As if the crimes of terrorists were comparable to the erasing of Palestine over 60 years. ✪ Hosni In The House Hosni In The House | Project on Middle East Democracy | Good collection of links on Mubarak's trip to Washington and the Egyptian predicament. ✪ FT.com / Comment / Analysis - Confusion over Cairo | Good long piece on Egypt on a range of issues. ✪ FT.com / Comment / Editorial - Mubarak’s return to Washington | What I like about the FT is that, unlike most, it's not afraid to call a spade a spade: "The national security regime, with its backbone in the army and its nervous system in the intelligence services, is incapable of adapting politically. Sincere attempts by successive governments to liberalise keep on hitting this wall of vested interests, reinforced by layers of businessmen operating under state patronage. Respectable economic growth has opened up huge wealth disparities, with food rioters and conspicuous consumers sitting cheek by scowling jowl in Egypt’s teeming cities. Behind it all lies the debris of ideological bankruptcy." ✪ Arabic explained (for Arabic speakers) - The National Newspaper | On mo3jam.com, the Arabic vernacular translator. ✪ Democracy In Egypt: Necessary Ingredient in a U.S.-Egyptian Partnership - Brookings Institution | Michele Dunne and Tamara Coffman-Wittes urge the Obama administration to make democracy an important issue in the Egypt-US relationship. Note that Coffman-Wittes was recently mentioned as a possible DAS for Middle Eastern democracy. ✪ Obama huddles with Egypt's Mubarak | The briefing Obama and Mubarak gave at the White House. Mubarak says reform issues were discussed and that he still had two years to implement his 2005 reformist program, and that on the peace process move should be straight to final status. Obama praises Mubarak in several respects, welcomes Israel's pseudo-freeze of settlements, says Arabs must now give something. Otherwise nothing interesting.
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On Egyptian lobbying in the US

From the same collection of ProPublica articles on foreign lobbying in the US as the post on Morocco, here is a spotlight on Egypt's efforts:
Egypt, historically one of the largest recipients of U.S. foreign aid, mounted a large lobbying effort, employing PLM Group — a joint venture of two well-connected K Street firms, the Podesta Group, headed by Democratic lobbyist Tony Podesta, and the Livingston Group, founded by former Republican Rep. Robert Livingston of Louisiana — to preserve that funding between October 2007 and October 2008. The stakes are not small: Egypt has received more than $50 billion from the United States since 1975. The United States agreed to large foreign aid payments to Egypt and Israel in 1978 following the historic peace agreement negotiated by Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin. As the Arab nation’s economy has eroded, excess American aid has allowed it to put off much-needed changes rather than spur them, critics say. Lobbyists for Egypt had at least 279 contacts on military issues, the bulk of which occurred when PLM Group accompanied delegations of Egyptian military officers to meet members of Congress, administration officials and representatives from defense contractors — including BAE Systems, General Dynamics, General Electric, Raytheon and Lockheed Martin. All five have done business with the Egyptian government, selling tanks, fighter jets, howitzers and radar arrays to its military. At the time of the meeting with the contractors, Podesta Group counted BAE Systems, General Dynamics and Lockheed Martin among its clients, while the Livingston Group represented Raytheon.
Incidentally, Egypt is ranked at #6 globally in terms of the number of contacts with Congress. The info used for this reporting is made available by ForeignLobbying.org, through which you can look at individual countries' records. Here's the page for Egypt, which shows three Egyptian lobbying clients: the government, the government-backed textile exporters' association Alcotex, and -- this is a surprise -- the steel magnate and Gamal Mubarak acolyte Ahmed Ezz. If you look at the page for Ahmed Ezz is says that Ezz paid the communication firm Qorvis for its work promoting the National Democratic Party conference in 2007. Which confirms what is widely said about Ezz: he finances the NDP out of his personal pocket; why else would the party not pay its PR firm itself? Here you have the cronyism of Egyptian politics in black-and-white.
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Links for 08.18.09 to 08.19.09

THE CIA, SIBERIA AND THE $5M BAR BILL - New York Post | Funny story about a weird CIA operation to buy Russian choppers for use in Afghanistan, corruption, etc. ✪ Some of Obama's Actions Linked to Anti-Semitism - Special Report w/ Bret Baier - FOXNews.com | Israeli minister says Obama is anti-Semite. Does the word "anti-Semite" mean anything anymore? ✪ EGYPT: Union Eyes the Silver Bullet - IPS ipsnews.net | A nice detailed story on the property tax collectors by Cam McGrath, interviewing our own Hossam. ✪ Egypt's Next Strongman | Foreign Policy | My piece on Omar Suleiman. ✪ Mubarak on the Potomac | The Cable | Laura Rozen wonders whether the timing of the Mubarak visit, during a dead time in DC, isn't convenient to both sides who don't want a public airing out of democracy and governance issues -- for the Egyptians it lowers the profile, for Obama it avoids scrutiny on rights.
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On Moroccan lobbying in the US

Morocco is one of the biggest spenders in US lobbying over the Western Sahara:
The Western Sahara is an inhospitable patch of desert about the size of Colorado on Africa’s Atlantic coast, with a population of about 400,000, a GDP of only $900 million, and an economy based on nomadic herding, fishing and phosphorous mining. It is also one of the last colonies in the world — Morocco annexed it a few years after Spain granted it independence in 1975 — and the subject of 34 U.N. Security Council resolutions on the territory since 1999. In late 2007 and 2008, the desert region was a top priority for Morocco’s hired lobbyists. At issue was Western Sahara’s autonomy, but the story also shows how, in a foreign lobbying arms race, the side with the biggest arsenal can come out on top. The government of Morocco sought the support of Congress in this lengthy territorial dispute. The region has long demanded independence. An indigenous insurgent group, the Polisario Front, waged a guerrilla war against the Moroccan military until the United Nations brokered a cease-fire in 1991. Part of the terms of that deal included holding a referendum to determine the territory’s final status, but no vote has been held. In 2007, Morocco issued a proposal to grant Western Sahara autonomy within sovereign Morocco. The U.S. initially welcomed the proposal, and direct talks began between Morocco and the Polisario with the involvement of Algeria, which supports self-determination for the Sahrawi tribes from the area. Toby Moffett, a lobbyist for Morocco who served as a Democratic congressman from Connecticut in the 1970s and ’80s, wrote an op-ed for the April 8, 2007, edition of The Los Angeles Times,explaininghow he presented Morocco’s position to an unnamed member of Congress: “Morocco has a good story to tell,” he wrote. “It believes that the long-standing dispute with Algeria and the rebel Polisario group over the Western Sahara must be resolved. “We tell the congresswoman and her staff that the region is becoming a possible Al Qaeda training area,” he wrote. “Algeria and the Polisario recently hired lobbyists, too, so we’ll have our hands full.” Indeed, records show the Algerian government’s lobbyists had 36 contacts with members of Congress and staff promoting self-determination for the people of Western Sahara. The Algerians paid a modest $416,000 in lobbying fees. By comparison, lobbyists for the government of Morocco had 305 contacts with members of Congress and their staff. Morocco paid $3.4 million in lobbying expenses — putting it among the top foreign government spenders for FARA filings in the period. The intense campaign won converts. A bipartisan group of some 173 House members signed on to a statement supporting Morocco’s offer of autonomy for the region without formal independence. President Bush also expressed support for Morocco’s plan in summer of 2008. And this April, 229 representatives sent a letter to President Obama urging him to back Morocco. Until Obama reversed Bush’s stance last month, Morocco’s investment worked.
The article also briefly mentions Egypt lobbying, which I'll post about separately. Also see this article which has the countries that are top spenders in US lobbying. From the Arab world, the list includes (I list the ranking from the global list): #1 United Arab Emirates (nearly half of which is Dubai alone) #5 Iraq #6 Morocco #7 Saudi Arabia
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Links for 08.17.09 to 08.18.09

Back to Business as usual | Hozz in DC, triumphant. ✪ Michele Dunne - Standing Up to Mubarak | Dunne has been one of the strongest voices among DC think-tankers shining a spotlight on the degradation of Egyptian politics and the problem posed by succession for US interests. Here she calls on Obama to voice strong concern about the succession process. I'll write more about this. ✪ Huckabee defies Obama | To think I once thought Huckabee was funny. But apparently he backs settlements and thinks Palestinians should go and get a country "elsewhere." Not amusing at all, Mr Failed Chat-Show Host. ✪ Middle East Diary | Rush transcript of Mubarak on Charlie Rose | Hannah has the goods. The man is obsessed with stability - he says it 14 times. ✪ Egypt labor strikes point to desperate conditions -- latimes.com | I wonder what this company's profit margin is: "They were told to be patient; salaries would rise and conditions improve. The men breathe phosphates, ammonia and other toxins six days a week. One died in a machine accident. Five were informed by doctors that exposure to chemicals has left them sterile."
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On Omar Suleiman

Picture 1.png I have a piece on Omar Suleiman up at Foreign Policy, in which I examine the case for Egypt's chief of intelligence succeeding Hosni Mubarak. I thought the focus in most reporting tended to stress Gamal, and wanted to balance things out by imagining how a Suleiman takeover might look like. Although the headline (not mine) may seem like it's an endorsement, the idea is more to reflect on the current "Gamal vs. Omar" debate and how bloody depressing it all is. I conclude:
Lost in this Egyptian Kremlinology is the fact that neither Gamal Mubarak nor Omar Suleiman presents a clear departure from the present state of affairs. Neither offers the new social contract that so many of Egypt's 80 million citizens are demanding in strikes and protests. The prevalence of the Gamal vs. Omar debate, more than anything, highlights the low expectations ordinary Egyptians have for a democratic succession to Hosni Mubarak's 28-year reign. Those low expectations come with their own quiet tyranny, too.
Feedback welcomed!
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Links for 08.16.09 to 08.17.09

U.S. group invests tax-free millions in East Jerusalem land - Haaretz - Israel News | Prosecute them: "American Friends of Ateret Cohanim, a nonprofit organization that sends millions of shekels worth of donations to Israel every year for clearly political purposes, such as buying Arab properties in East Jerusalem, is registered in the United States as an organization that funds educational institutes in Israel." ✪ Palestinian state is not synonym for terrorist entity - Haaretz - Israel News | "The Jewish army's work in the territories we still call "Judea and Samaria" is done by non-Jews: Arab police, American instructors, European money. How has Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman put it? Paradise." ✪ Al-Ahram Weekly | Region | Hamas faces Gelgelt | On links between the Salafist Jihadist group and "our son of a bitch" Muhammad Dahlan. ✪ Is the Trans-Sahara Gas Pipeline a Viable Project? The Impact of Terrorism Risk - The Jamestown Foundation | To me this is a ridiculous idea but what do I know? ✪ Al-Ahram Weekly | Culture | Tractatus Franco-Arabicus | A Wittgensteinian review of Sonallah Ibrahim's latest.
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Al Haq's report on Cast Lead

Do read al-Haq's report on the destruction wrought by Israel's "Operation Cast Lead" in Gaza this winter, which contains tons of detailed data on the people and infrastructure destroyed by the IDF, such as this one: palestiniankilledincastleadalhaq.png They conclude (bolded mine):
On the basis of the data presented in this report, an analysis of the choice of targeted areas, methods of attack and the number of civilians killed and injured clearly indicates a reckless disregard for civilian life synonymous with intent. Further, it is clear that 'Operation Cast Lead' was not just an assault against the Palestinian population, but also against the Gaza Strip’s infrastructure and the livelihoods of its people, with factories, farms and other economic resources systematically targeted. Prima facie evidence exists of the commission of war crimes amounting to grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions, most notably wilful killing of civilians, including women and children; extensive destruction of property, both residential and commercial, public and private; and wilfully causing great suffering and serious injury to body or health. This is in addition to the fact that the resort to the use of force by Israel was unlawful in the first place. The denial of access to foreign journalists during the siege and Israel’s refusal to cooperate with various international investigation mechanisms that have been established are testament to a desire to suppress the truth and full information regarding the scale of the destruction wrought by this unprecedented attack. The figures contained in this report are intended to contribute to a growing database of documentary evidence on 'Operation Cast Lead'. More than six months after the end of operation, the Gaza Strip remains under siege. The continued border closures by Israel and the prevention of crucial supplies from entering Gaza, ensure that the humanitarian situation remains dire.
Incidentally, considering how detailed and important this report is, they should not have released it in mid-August, when few people are paying attention, but waited till September.
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Links for 08.15.09 to 08.16.09

'Operation Cast Lead': A Statistical Analysis | "Al-Haq is pleased to present its report: ‘Operation Cast Lead: A Statistical Analysis‘,  prepared in conjunction with the Al Mezan Centre for Human Rights. The report is a culmination of a thorough investigation of the offensive by field workers on the ground. It presents a selection of the data collected of the extent of the killing and the destruction perpetrated by Israeli forces during the attack." ✪ Dan Halutz (danhalutz) on Twitter | How terrifying to receive an email that says, "Dan Halutz is following you on Twitter." But it's not the actual former chief of staff of the IDF who was behind the Dahiya Doctrine. It's actually someone who sees him as what he is: a war criminal. ✪ Egyptians wonder how long aging leader can go on - The Boston Globe | Hosni just keeps on truckin' ✪ How to Cover a Paranoid Regime from Your Laptop - Kelly Golnoush Niknejad | Foreign Policy | The story of tehranbureau.com ✪ Middle East among world's top 10 confectionery markets | More important news brought to you by CENTCOM. WTF? ✪ Somali Pirates vs. Egyptian Fisherman: guess who wins? | Go Egyptian fishermen! ✪ Moroccans debate young people's taste for ready-made Ramadan dishes | This really important story was brought to you by the US taxpayer - this site (which is not altogether bad, but dodgy at times when covering terrorism) is financed by the US military.
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What's with the hullabaloo on Malley-Agha?

A few days ago, many bloggers with an interest in Israel/Palestine noticed the op-ed by Robert Malley and Hussein Agha. Helena Cobban thought it was banal and Stephen Walt was frustrated with its ambiguity. The American Jewish Committee said it was all the Palestinians' fault anyway in a letter to the NYT. The American branch of Peace Now said the Malley-Agha argument that fundamental roots of the conflict must be tackled head on is besides the point, since the two-state solution is about finding a compromise. Uber-Zionist Jeffrey Goldberg derided what he thought was a rejection of the two-state solution (which in any case he only pretends to believe in, at least in a serious sense). But most of all they complained that the headline was inappropriate; their argument is not so much that the "two state solution doesn't solve anything," but that it does not solve everything. Malley called the headline unfortunate and clarified that, no, he hadn't suddenly become a one-stater, and no, he is not saying Israel is not or should not be a "Jewish state" (whatever that means - Malley states that, obviously, Israel will be considered a state for the Jews no matter whether it defines itself as a Jewish state, which arguably it already does in terms of its Basic Law and the preferential treatment accorded to Jews through aliya.) I wonder in all this uproar whether people are losing sight that the Malley-Agha duo are not activists or academics, but policy advisors. The most important bit of their piece comes at the end:
For years, virtually all attention has been focused on the question of a future Palestinian state, its borders and powers. As Israelis make plain by talking about the imperative of a Jewish state, and as Palestinians highlight when they evoke the refugees’ rights, the heart of the matter is not necessarily how to define a state of Palestine. It is, as in a sense it always has been, how to define the state of Israel.
This is, in my view, an extremely polite way of saying that for a solution to be found Israel has to decide what its borders are (it has not thus far, keeping the option of Eretz Israel.) Secondly, Malley-Agha are extremely practical analysts of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, they do not believe (like many senior Palestinians in Fatah) that the right of return is a possibility, but recognize that a symbolic concession towards recognizing it is necessary. What has never been clear from the Israel side is whether it is ready to abandon the potentiality of Eretz Israel and settle for a limited state, roughly around the 1967 lines, that would provide a reasonable framework to deal with the "demographic timebomb" that frighten so many Israelis. I am not sure that many Israelis are willing to give up on this potentiality (some because of ethno-religious chauvinism, others to provide "strategic depth"), and the international community has never pushed seriously on this. The tiresome argument over settlement expansion being played out by the Obama administration is a waste of time. The too timid message behind Malley-Agha, I suspect, is that Israel must start defining itself more clearly rather than trying to limit the sovereignty of a Palestinian state. And that the US (hullo, this is an op-ed in the NYT not Haaretz!) has to get serious about getting it to do that. This may be an interpretation based on what I'd like too, but whatever the intent of the op-ed, most important is its audience: US policymakers, not the Israel-Palestine activist/think-tanker/academic crowd. Anyway, I leave you with what I think is the best (and funniest) op-ed on Israel/Palestine I've read in a while, written by Ezzedine Choukri, who worked on the Oslo process for the UN in the 1990s. Choukri makes a different point to the Quartet: stop wasting time on confidence-building measures, and move full speed ahead towards imposing a solution:
There is no point in repeating the arguments and counterarguments on each side of this debate; the parties have done so ad nauseum. Instead, try looking at this matter as if we were arranging a marriage between two hostile families; many of whom -- including the prospective bride and groom -- doubt the intentions of the other and question the possibility of finding agreement on the marriage's terms. The mediators, who see in the marriage a possible end to the hostility between the two families that would bring peace to the village, are trying to convince bride, groom and the members of the two families of the merits of such a deal. In the midst of their zeal, and to allay the multiple concerns of the groom (who has commitment issues as well as problems with his boisterous family members), the mediators encourage the bride to have sex with her prospective groom before the marriage is concluded. "Sex would entice him to proceed; it will reassure him that the money he will put in the marriage will be well rewarded," they say. Mostly liberal in their thinking and ways of life, the mediators see no problem in the proposition (neither does the prospective groom, for all too different reasons). After all, millions of couples in America and Europe engage in premarital sex as a way of experiencing each other and determining whether it would be a good idea to proceed further. There is no disrespect, foul play or wrongdoing involved. They argue. The proposition sounds logical to the bride (and quite convenient for the groom). Yet the bride's family is really conservative. Even if she finds it tempting, the bride knows well that she cannot face her family with such a proposition. "It will be suicide," she says. However, not wanting to undermine the prospects of her own marriage, the bride is willing to engage in premarital intimate encounters -- but short of intercourse. And in return for these intimacies she requires the groom to make demonstrable progress towards signing the marriage contract. Thrilled by this "window of opportunity", the mediators spend weeks negotiating the nature of these intimacies; how much skin is involved, whether it would be made public or kept secret, how far they will go, how frequently they will meet, etc. At the same time, they negotiate the nature of demonstrable steps that would satisfy the bride in return; the nature of commitments the groom has to make, whether these would be reversible, phased, synchronised with the intimacies, etc. (Verification and arbitration remain contentious and unresolved issues). Instead of working on finalising the terms of the marriage contract, the mediators waste everyone's time on fine-tuning the terms of these confidence-building measures. Naturally, neither the groom nor the bride derives any pleasure from their halfway intimacies, and they are busy quarrelling over each other's compliance with the terms of the deal. The families get no closer to marriage; nobody has negotiated the terms of that agreement -- and its difficult issues didn't become any easier on their own. In the meantime, the bride's family gets angrier as they feel they were taken for a ride (again) and eventually lock the bride at home. And those who always opposed the marriage on both sides feel vindicated in their prejudice: "this marriage will never take place," they say; "if they can't even agree on these tiny matters, how are they going to face common life with all its challenges?" Senator Mitchell and friends: would you please drop the useless confidence-building track that depleted precious political resources of so many mediators before you and focus on the real issue? Get the marriage contract signed, after which you can have all the sex you want.
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Links for 08.14.09

Egypt: the blinkers of expertise | open Democracy News Analysis | A very interesting critique of dominant themes in the coverage of Egypt by journalists and political analysts. ✪ Iran: A Yeltsin Moment is Needed | Oh savor the irony of newspapers owned by Saudi princes calling for reform and democracy in Iran. Besides, Yeltsin was a disaster (politically, economically and in terms of Russian human development) who led directly to Putin. ✪ Hilo Hero: René Goscinny | Nothing to do with the Middle East, but this is a great blog. ✪ Fustat: Gamal Mubarak song | Mohsen al-Sayed's song - I am going to have to get the lyrics. ✪ Gary Wasserman - The AIPAC Case and Anti-Semitism - washingtonpost.com | Ludicrously poor argumentation in this piece: that there was no conviction in the Rosen-Weissman case does not mean there was no wrongdoing, and this is in such bad faith: "Of course the case hasn't been all bad for conspirators. The same year AIPAC fired its lobbyists, it used the troubles to raise a record $45 million. And having opponents exaggerate a lobby's power ends up enhancing that power." So now he's concerned that AIPAC used the incident to raise money? ✪ EGYPT: Gamal Mubarak turns to the Web | Babylon & Beyond | Los Angeles Times | On Gamal's web call-in, Sharek: "All questions were filtered by NDP officials." Need I say more?
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Links for 08.13.09 to 08.14.09

✪ tabsir.net » Hashish in the Muslim World | Interesting post quoting medieval scholar's research into the spread of hashish in the Arab world in the 12th and 13th century, and some examination of Ibn Taymiyya's verdict that smoking hash is a worse sin than drinking wine, which is an unusual interpretation today (indeed many will say that smoking hash is not forbidden at all, although that is a rather convenient interpretation!) ✪ The Case of Reda Helal and the Alienation of the Journalist Asharq Alawsat Newspaper (English) | Wow: "Asharq Al-Awsat recently published a report on Reda Helal, quoting some of his family members who learnt, via private means, that Reda was still alive and being held at an Alexandrian prison. However, no official comment has been made on this new piece of information." But most of the article is about the predicament of Arab journalists; I like this: "The journalist has two options; to have the skill of writing without really saying anything in particular, or to have the courage to reveal his true thoughts and positions regardless of the harm this might inflict upon him or, in some cases, the benefit he might gain; in other words, to accept responsibility for his words and ideologies. But very few are willing to do this." ✪ Asharq Al-Awsat Investigates: Tackling Yemen's Qat Epidemic Asharq Alawsat Newspaper (English) | Interesting and quite thorough article on the drug Qat, which a large number of Yemenis chew on a daily basis. ✪ Palestinians get their own Google domain | Today the internet, tomorrow the land! ✪ Bernard Lewis was my guide… (Then I went to the Middle East) | Must-read letter by a student who was a neocon until... he went to the Middle East. ✪ Faith and desire in Albert Square | Khaled Diab |Comment is free | About gay Muslims on Eastenders - the British soap opera.
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Double drama

A piece I wrote about the Malas brothers--charming Syrian twin actor/playwrights--has just finally run in The National. I saw the brothers do an impromptu performance of their play "Melodrama" in Cairo in June and then discovered they had originally performed it (40 times!) in their tiny bedroom in Damascus, and become an underground sensation. Here's an excerpt: 
When the Malas twins were 16, they saw a play together and “decided we must become actors”, Mohammed says over coffee the next day (he could just as well be Ahmed; the twins often wear matching outfits and have a habit of finishing each other’s sentences). But their application to the highly competitive Syrian High Institute of Theatrical Arts was rejected three times. “They told us: ‘You’re not talented, you won’t be actors.’”  Syria has a long and illustrious theatrical tradition and a burgeoning movie and TV industry that has resulted in some very popular and well-produced TV serials of late. The brothers auditioned for TV and film parts but never got any major roles (“For TV, you need connections,” Ahmed says), and ended up working full-time at the children’s theatre in Damascus.  The twins channelled their frustrated ambitions into Melodrama, a play that is as self-referential as you can get: actors portraying actors who spend the play talking about acting. There is no plot, just a whirlwind of allusions to high art and pop culture.
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