Links for 07.31.09

allAfrica.com: Egypt: Bloggers Fly Into Security Trap (Page 1 of 1) | On the recent spate of arrests of bloggers at Cairo Airport. Makes you think, did they get a new computer system or what? Grading places - The National Newspaper | Marc Lynch on AHDR 2009: I don't get what all the debate is about. The Federal Budget and Appropriations for Fiscal Year 2010: Democracy, Governance, and Human Rights in the Middle East | Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED) | Well-researched report on US democracy promotion spending in the Middle East. From the inside - The National Newspaper | Iason Athanasiadis on his ordeal in Iran. EGYPT: Coptic pope likes president's son | Babylon & Beyond | Los Angeles Times | Shenouda yet again says he supports Gamal Mubarak presidency.
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Links for 07.31.09

الإسلاميون - الإخوان وسيناريوهات المستقبل | "The Muslim Brothers and the scenarios of the future" Morocco challenges Mideast Holocaust mind-set - Yahoo! News | King makes speech on Holocaust, also on Jewish community in Morocco. Bédouins oubliés du Nakab, par Joseph Algazy (Le Monde diplomatique) | Anti-Arab discrimination and beatings by Israeli police, and the situation of Israel's Bedouins. 300,000 Israeli settlers in West Bank: report - Yahoo! News | "As of June 30, there were 304,569 settlers living in the Palestinian territory, an increase of 2.3 percent since the start of the year" Counterterrorism Blog: NEFA Foundation: The Muslim Brotherhood Online | MB document on use of internet. UPDATED: Levin lifts hold on State Near East official, bureau makes senior appointments | The Cable | Jeffrey Feltman to finally be confirmed at head of NEA.
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Amazon and the Quran

You might have noticed that automatically generated Amazon book ads on the sidebar of the site. Lately, it's been displaying a Kindle version of the Quran. If you click through, you'll notice that the authors are listed as Muhammad and Gabriel. (The latter is of course a reference to the Archangel Gabriel.) Which seems a bit weird: the author of the Quran, surely, is God. Of course it would then be difficult to say Muhammad was its editor, since it would imply he might have changed God's revelation. But nice to see Amazon recognizes the existence of angels. And note that when you look at various versions of the Bible available on Amazon, it lists the author as either the editor (which yields funny results sometimes, such as King James) or the religious foundation that produced that particular version. Perhaps, for non-Arabic versions at least, Amazon should stick with the name of the translator.
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Two reviews on "Eurabia"

By now a lot of people have seen Stephen Pollard's review of the neoconservative journalist Bruce Bawer's "Surrender," a book that appears to espouse some of the most alarmist and error-ridden ideas about the role Muslim immigration is playing in Europe (the "Eurabia" genre in polemical literature) and widening the scope to include America as the next place to be taken over by Islamofascism. The NYT thought it fit to include a long excerpt of "Surrender", which begins with these words:
We in the West are living in the midst of a jihad, and most of us don't even realize it — because it's a brand of jihad that's barely a generation old. Islam divides the world into two parts. The part governed by sharia, or Islamic law, is called the Dar al-Islam, or House of Submission. Everything else is the Dar al-Harb, or House of War. It's called the House of War because it, too, according to the Koran, is destined to be governed by sharia, and it will take war — holy war, jihad — to bring it into the House of Submission. Jihad began with Muhammed himself. When he was born, the lands that today make up the Arab world were populated mostly by Christians and Jews; within a century after his death, those areas' inhabitants had been killed, driven away, subjugated to Islam as members of the underclass known as dhimmis, or converted to the Religion of Peace at the point of a sword. The Crusades of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries were not wars of conquest by Europeans but attempts to take back what had once been Christian territory. America's very first foreign conflict after the Revolutionary War was with the Barbary pirates, who, sponsored by the Muslim governments of North Africa — just as terrorist groups today enjoy the sponsorship of countries like Libya, Iran, and Syria — had for generations been preying on European ships and selling their crews and passengers into slavery.
It might be easy to dismiss this as yet another kook who takes his Islamic theology (or Orientalist reading thereof) too seriously, but then the NYT's approving review ended with:
Bawer is unquestionably correct, and that fact is quite simply terrifying.
Well except that, for instance, the stupid argument about the Barbary pirates (used by many others in recent years, include those who should know better like Christopher Hitchens) makes no sense. After all, most states in that period employed the services of pirates (called privateers) and would even distribute licenses for piracy. Slavery, likewise, is hardly an Islamo-Arab monopoly. The idea that the inhabitants of the present Islamic world were "driven away" during the Islamic conquests is largely untrue, and the inhabitants of now Islamic lands were not all Christian or Jewish (some were animist). The idea that Jerusalem is/was Christian territory assumes that Bawer accepts the Roman claim to the city, and extends it to the Roman Catholic Church. One could go on, but without reading the book (I am sorely tempted to get the ebook version to read and review... but don't want to give him money) I will stop at this. That someone has written an alarmist, anti-immigrant, possibly racist book is one thing. It is part of a phenomena that finds a niche in the publishing industry and sells well because of the global "war on terror context). But for the NYT, supposedly THE American highbrow, liberal paper to review it so uncritically is another. To me (along with Thomas Friedman's weekly contributions) it is another sign in the mounting evidence that it is simply not a reliable newspaper when it comes to the Middle East, and this makes me doubt the rest of it. I barely read it as it is, and urge others to do likewise. You can follow American politics at TalkingPointsMemo.com or countless other publications, and look elsewhere for your foreign coverage. Which brings us to the Guardian. I am not uncritical of the Guardian -- I wish it was less lifestyle-oriented, insular and did more long-form journalism of the classic American kind -- but it remains, for people on the center-left at least, an excellent newspaper with a superb website. On the same day as the NYT endorsed "Eurabia," the excellent investigative journalist Jason Burke reported that the frenzy about it was dying down:

The dire predictions of religious and identity-based mayhem reached their peak between 2004 and 2006, when bombs exploded in Madrid and London, a controversial film director was shot and stabbed to death in Amsterdam, and angry demonstrators marched against publication of satirical cartoons about the Prophet Muhammad.

For Bruce Bawer, author of While Europe Slept, the continent's future was to "tamely resign itself to a gradual transition to absolute sharia law". By the end of the century, warned Bernard Lewis, the famous American historian of Islam, "Europe will be Islamic". The Daily Telegraph asked: "Is France on the way to becoming an Islamic state?" The Daily Mail described the riots that shook the nation in the autumn of 2005 as a "Muslim intifada".

Yet a few years on, though a steady drumbeat of apocalyptic forecasts continues, such fears are beginning to look misplaced. The warnings focus on three elements: the terrorist threat posed by radical Muslim European populations; a cultural "invasion" due to a failure of integration; and demographic "swamping" by Muslim communities with high fertility rates.

A new poll by Gallup, one of the most comprehensive to date, shows that the feared mass radicalisation of the EU's 20-odd million Muslims has not taken place. Asked if violent attacks on civilians could be justified, 82% of French Muslims and 91% of German Muslims said no. The number who said violence could be used in a "noble cause" was broadly in line with the general population. Crucially, responses were not determined by religious practice - with no difference between devout worshippers and those for whom "religion [was] not important".

"The numbers have been pretty steady over a number of years," said Gallup's Magali Rheault. "It is important to separate the mainstream views from the actions of the fringe groups, who often receive disproportionate attention. Mainstream Muslims do not appear to exhibit extremist behaviour."

Read the rest of this thoughtful piece on Muslim emigration to Europe -- and forget about the NYT.

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Links for 07.25.09 to 07.26.09

تي بي يي للترجمات : We’re Going to Make You An Offer You Can’t Refuse « THE BOURSA EXCHANGE | The Boursa Exchange translates al-Shorouk's article on the "deal" between the MB and the Egyptian regime. France 24 | Ali Ben Bongo denies he is heir apparent | A preview of what's to come in Egypt? [Thanks, JS] Economist Debates: Honest Broker | Economist debate feat. Daniel Levy vs. David Frum + guests: "This house believes that Barack Obama's America is now an honest broker between Israel and the Arabs." Arrests raise concerns over Egypt’s tolerance - The National Newspaper | Forgot to link to this story on the crackdown on Shias in Egypt from last week. Arabic expert off to Equatorial Guinea | Well they still have Dennis Ross around though:
Alberto Fernandez, one of the few high-level US Foreign Service Officers who knows Arabic well enough to speak it on TV is being assigned to Equatorial Guinea.
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Beer in the Snooker Club

For years, I've been told what a great book Waguih Ghali's Beer in the Snooker Club is. But the person who would mentioned it would always have lent or lost their copy; when I'd remember to look, I wouldn't find it at bookstores in Cairo or for order online. So when someone mentioned that the AUC Bookstore had copies, I immediately went and picked one up. And you should as well--this is a book that lives up to its reputation. It's not a perfect work, but it is an incredibly assured and graceful first novel, witty and original, a real pleasure to read. Ghali chronicles the seemingly carefree dissipation of a largely autobiographical alter-ego, a charming young sponger who belongs to the penniless branch of a wealthy family. We are in the early years of the Nasser regime, and things are changing for that family--much as it clings to its privileged ways. The narrator's mother badgers him in French; his friends go to the Gezira club to pick up foreign nannies; he spends his days drinking whiskeys paid for by others and playing snooker with two fat, cheating and hilarious Armenians. One of the many things I liked about the book is how much it trusts the reader to get the jokes and get the context--nothing is over-explained. And in its light way, it touches on all matter of complicated questions--of class, of politics, of nationalism, of the identity crisis of post-colonial elites. It wobbles perfectly on the edge between cynicism and sentiment, and applies humor to the tension between the two.  In its best satirical scenes, Beer in the Snooker Club brings to mind A Confederacy of Dunces (although it does not have the same rollicking brilliance). There is another unfortunate parallel: Ghali killed himself after writing this first excellent book. His friend and editor, Diana Athill, wrote a book about this by all accounts extremely charming and extremely self-destructive writer, entitled After a Funeral. It is being translated into Arabic (Ghali's novel already has been) and there was a long review of both in the last issue of  وجهات نظر (only available online to subscribers), although I found the analysis a bit simplistic and the tone strangely sanctimonious.
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Response to review of A Child in Palestine

We recently featured a review of A Child in Palestine, an overview of the great Palestinian cartoonist Naji al-Ali's work. The book's editor, Abdulhadi W. Ayyad, has responded to the review. Below are Mr Ayyad 's letter and a response by Ethan Heitner, the writer of the review. I read with interest your review of A Child in Palestine, which focused on the cartoons of Naji al-Ali, written by Ethan Heitner. Being the writer of the main body of the text, I feel it falls on me to correct a few misconceptions contained in Mr Heitner's review. To begin with, the book never sought to be a biography of the late Naji al-Ali. The fact that contributors to the Wikipedia website have listed more exhaustive details of the artist's life is impressive, and says a lot about Wikipedia. What we did seek to accomplish was to make the works of Naji al-Ali accessible to a new audience. There we find the reviewer's suggestion that my writing "overdetermined" the messages in what he felt were intentionally ambiguous drawings: I feel that this criticism is somewhat misplaced. The fact is, Al-Ali consistently employed visual imagery to allude to well-known idioms which would be obvious to native Arabic speakers, for whom his cartoons were made. I had to assume that the typical reader of the book would not have been able to appreciate this fully, and wrote the text accordingly. Finally, Mr Heitner suggested that my writing on Al-Ali tended towards the "hagiographic". I can fully concede this point, but I must point out that Naji al-Ali remains for Palestinians of every political hue a truly untainted national hero. While it might not suit the more cynical Western reader, the fact is that patriotism remains an important, vibrant force amongst Palestinians, and this will inevitably reflect itself on how any Palestinian will write about Naji al-Ali, at least for some time to come. To adopt a well-known Arabic aphorism, judge people by what they attempt to do. If the book had been intended for those familiar with the Middle East, or had it been planned as a biography, Mr Heitner could have expected another text. Yours, Abdulhadi W. Ayyad Ethan Heitner responds: Dear Mr. Ayyad, Thank you for taking the time to respond. I appreciate that the book is an introduction for Western readers to the work of Naji al-Ali. As I expressed in my review, I can only hope that a future edition will contain more material (both cartoons and critical text). The importance of Naji al-Ali and his work should not preclude us, and in my opinion compels us, to attempt to look at his work and life critically and rigorously. - Ethan Heitner
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Reviews of books on Egypt: Bradley and Rutherford

Only two books have come out in the last few years describing Egypt in the late Mubarak era: John Bradley's journalistic Inside Egypt and the more academic Egypt After Mubarak by Bruce Rutherford. I have looked through both (Rutherford's book I did not read in detail yet.) Although parts of Bradley's book are vividly written, I did not like it and found much of it over the top or too narrowly focused. I won't enter into a detailed critique here, but want to point out that Jason Brownlee (an Egypt expert at the University of Texas, Austin) has written a scathing review in Middle East Journal accusing Bradley of plagiarism: Brownlee on Bradley Read the whole review here [PDF]. You can also read Robert Vitalis' review of Rutherford here [PDF], also in MEJ. I think the Rutherford book, from what I've read, even if quite dry at times makes a good contribution to the understanding of the judicial system in Egypt and a thought-provoking argument about liberalism and Islamism in contemporary Egyptian politics.
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Breaking The Silence II

Since the report Breaking The Silence [PDF] about Israeli war crimes and use of human shields during the Gaza War is not getting much coverage in the American and international press, I will be reproducing parts of it here. In this second installment, a soldier talks about the briefings received from top IDF brass:
Let's say that the general approach was 'we're going off to war' and i can swear i heard our brigade commander at least once, when sitting with us during maneuvers for a combatants’ talk around the campfire at tze'elim at night – he happened to join us and we asked him what was going on in gaza and what was to be expected, stuff like that, and he went so far as to say this was war and in war as in war, no consideration of civilians was to be taken. You shoot anyone you see. I'm paraphrasing here, not literally quoting, but the gist of the matter was very clear. How did people take this? Look, we're a pretty old company. We're a founding battalion, all of us are 33 years old, and we took this very skeptically, a bit fearful of the army's approach. I know for myself, i don't know what every single guy that night felt about it. I know personally that this pretty much disgusted me. There was a clear feeling, and this was repeated whenever others spoke to us, that no humanitarian consideration played any role in the army at present. The goal was to carry out an operation with the least possible casualties for the army, without its even asking itself what the price would be for the other side. This was the thrust of things that we heard from more than one officer.
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Boycott Etisalat - in the UAE and everywhere else

Till they apologize and guarantee they will never do anything like this again, at least: FT.com / Middle East / Politics & Society - BlackBerry rogue software leaves sour taste:
A bungled attempt by the United Arab Emirates’ largest telecommunications operator to install surveillance software into subscribers’ BlackBerrys has infuriated customers in the rich Gulf state, and raised global concerns over the security of smart phones. Etisalat in late June told its 145,000 BlackBerry customers to ‘upgrade’ the software on their devices by downloading a program or ‘patch’ that Etisalat claimed would improve performance, but users said it only drained the battery of the smart phones, prompting tech-savvy subscribers to investigate further. What they discovered was that the instead of improving performance, the software ‘patch’ – which included a mysterious file labelled ‘Interceptor’ – was actually spyware designed to let Etisalat capture, read and store targeted customers’ e-mails. The claim was later confirmed by Research in Motion, the Canada-based maker of the BlackBerry, which sent out a warning to subscribers in the UAE with instructions on how to remove the rogue software."
For now they are stupidly denying it. And I'd love an initiative to reveal what all Middle Eastern telecoms are doing to help governments eavesdrop (or an easy way to disable that.) MobiNil and Vodafone in Egypt, for instance, provide access to their network servers to state security.
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Jane Harman attacked in primary over Israel connection

From Mondoweiss a fascinating story about Marcy Winograd, a Democrat running against Jane Harman in California's 36th district who is targeting Harman's insane lobby connections. From a Winograd press release:
"Winograd’s opponent in the 36th congressional district was previously investigated by the FBI for allegedly using her influence in Congress to get spying charges dropped against American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) analysts.  Harman voted for resolutions in support of the Israeli siege of Gaza and invasion of Lebanon and was a featured speaker at the recent AIPAC conference.  ‘I’m not clear who Jane Harman represents in Congress – the people of her district or a right-wing faction in a foreign government?’ says Winograd.  ‘When elected to Congress, I will represent the people of this district and the interests of the United States.’
A most excellent development. More!
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Links for 07.23.09 to 07.24.09

Ethar El-Katatney's Published Stories: Online Archive | This writer recently was awarded a prize for Middle Eastern journalism, check out the interesting story about Egyptians doing business on Facebook. Hymen: The Arabs’ Finest Fetish « the long slumber | Continuing on a quite original series about sexuality in the Arab world. Organ Trafficking the Only Solution for Egypt's Poor | AHN | "The World Health Organization considers Egypt to be the Middle Eastern epicenter of organ trafficking, one of the top five 'hot-spots' after China, the Philippines, and India." Activists say Israel gave key site to settlers (AFP) | It continues... "AFP - Israel has handed control over much of a key Palestinian area in annexed east Jerusalem to hardline settler groups in a creeping takeover kept away from public scrutiny, a report by an activist group said on Thursday." Israel cuts 1948 'catastrophe' from Arabic texts - Yahoo! News | Classy. Blast injures 50 at wedding for nephew of Fatah leader - CNN.com | Assassination attempt against Muhammad Dahlan?
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That was then: 23 July 1952

Yesterday was the 57th anniversary of the July Coup that brought the Free Officers' to power. Egypt is no longer a Free Officers' regime (i.e. led by a ideologically-guided vanguard of mid-level officers) and the "revolution" of July 1952 has petered out into institutional military rule combined with some semi-democratic, but dysfunctional, civilian institutions, as well as elements of a classic police state. The occasion is hardly celebrated by most Egyptians, and while the state press makes an effort at pageantry, many in the opposition lament this traumatic event that would have all kind of nefarious long-term consequences (although arguably it started, but failed to follow through, with a genuine social revolution in upward mobility). It also marks, importantly, a rare occurrence in the reassertion of Egyptian rule in a country long-ruled by foreigners or from abroad. The Guardian has republished the article it published the day after the coup:

Army dictates terms in Egypt

Originally published on 24 July 1952 Successful and Bloodless Coup The Egyptian Army yesterday organised a bloodless revolt and last night Aly Maher Pasha, a politician on whom the Army looked with favour, was installed as the "emergency Premier." Last night King Farouk entrusted him with the formation of a new Government. The declared purpose of the coup – which was carried out by troops, tanks, and planes – was to demand a purge in the High Command of the armed forces and in political life. General Naguib, the author of the coup, proclaimed himself Commander-in-Chief and he was confirmed in that post last night by King Farouk. A proclamation by General Naguib late last night said to-day's action has been completely successful and the Army was in control of the situation.
Reasons for Army's Discontent CAIRO, JULY 23 The first military coup in Egypt since the Arabi movement seventy years ago contains many puzzling features, and some people see a connection between the latest developments and the recent sudden exodus of Wafdist leaders for Europe. It is recalled that when a Wafdist youth organisation urged Serag el-Din Pasha to stay he said that he had been advised to leave quickly. It has long been known that the reverse in Palestine has rankled with younger officers, who felt that they had been betrayed by corruption which resulted in supplies of obsolete arms and ammunition. Recent charges of corruption and failure to change the old guard added to their discontent. Certain officers who supported the previous commander-in-chief, General Haider, were arrested during the night and unconfirmed reports say that there were some casualties among those who resisted. The first news of the Army's action was given to the public about breakfast time by the wireless, which broadcast an appeal to officers in the name of General Naguib. This said that "traitors" had been interfering with national affairs and had even dared to meddle with Army matters. The military had, therefore, decided to purify themselves of traitors and weaklings, confident in the support of all members of the armed forces. Tanks and armed guards surrounded the main barracks and government buildings while jet aircraft flew low overhead. There was no opposition and it was soon evident that the movement enjoyed overwhelming support. Later broadcasts amplified Naguib's earlier statement. It was explained that the traitors had conspired against the country and military affairs had been left in the hands of either ignorant, corrupt, or traitorous persons, which had compelled Army intervention.
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Zizek on Iran

I am sometimes skeptical, not to say dismissive, of Slavoj Zizek (although I always enjoy reading some of his criticism), but I liked this passage on Iran:
The events in Iran can also be read as a comment on the platitudes of Obama’s Cairo speech, which focused on the dialogue between religions: no, we don’t need a dialogue between religions (or civilisations), we need a bond of political solidarity between those who struggle for justice in Muslim countries and those who participate in the same struggle elsewhere. Two crucial observations follow. First, Ahmadinejad is not the hero of the Islamist poor, but a corrupt Islamofascist populist, a kind of Iranian Berlusconi whose mixture of clownish posturing and ruthless power politics is causing unease even among the ayatollahs. His demagogic distribution of crumbs to the poor shouldn’t deceive us: he has the backing not only of the organs of police repression and a very Westernised PR apparatus. He is also supported by a powerful new class of Iranians who have become rich thanks to the regime’s corruption – the Revolutionary Guard is not a working-class militia, but a mega-corporation, the most powerful centre of wealth in the country. Second, we have to draw a clear distinction between the two main candidates opposed to Ahmadinejad, Mehdi Karroubi and Mousavi. Karroubi is, effectively, a reformist, a proponent of an Iranian version of identity politics, promising favours to particular groups of every kind. Mousavi is something entirely different: he stands for the resuscitation of the popular dream that sustained the Khomeini revolution. It was a utopian dream, but one can’t deny the genuinely utopian aspect of what was so much more than a hardline Islamist takeover. Now is the time to remember the effervescence that followed the revolution, the explosion of political and social creativity, organisational experiments and debates among students and ordinary people. That this explosion had to be stifled demonstrates that the revolution was an authentic political event, an opening that unleashed altogether new forces of social transformation: a moment in which ‘everything seemed possible.’ What followed was a gradual closing-down of possibilities as the Islamic establishment took political control. To put it in Freudian terms, today’s protest movement is the ‘return of the repressed’ of the Khomeini revolution. What all this means is that there is a genuinely liberatory potential in Islam: we don’t have to go back to the tenth century to find a ‘good’ Islam, we have it right here, in front of us. The future is uncertain – the popular explosion has been contained, and the regime will regain ground. However, it will no longer be seen the same way: it will be just one more corrupt authoritarian government. Ayatollah Khamenei will lose whatever remained of his status as a principled spiritual leader elevated above the fray and appear as what he is – one opportunistic politician among many. But whatever the outcome, it is vital to keep in mind that we have witnessed a great emancipatory event which doesn’t fit within the frame of a struggle between pro-Western liberals and anti-Western fundamentalists. If we don’t see this, if as a consequence of our cynical pragmatism, we have lost the capacity to recognise the promise of emancipation, we in the West will have entered a post-democratic era, ready for our own Ahmadinejads. Italians already know his name: Berlusconi. Others are waiting in line.
Or maybe do I really just hate Berlusconi?
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