"Don't you think there's something exaggerated in this discourse about dreams, hopes, historical moments and historical victories; in the scenes of tears, hugs, hurrahs, marches of millions [...] Isn't there something shameful in comparing a soccer game, however important it may be in the soccer world, to the construction of the pyramids and the High Dam and the miracle of the 1973 crossing [of the Suez Canal]? Don't you think, dear reader [...] that there's a sort of cheapening of our history, of its true heroes and accomplishments and sacrifices [...], in which more than 11 Egyptians participated?"After deploring the complicity of the media in inciting hatred of the other team and country ("Overnight, Algeria has transformed into Egypt's number one enemy, and the Algerian people have turned into the prime target of Egyptians' hatred and contempt"), Shukrallah argues that it's the deterioration of social and political life in the Arab world that has led people to "search for easy contests, areas in which to let loose our stored up anger and frustration and feelings of humiliation, as long as this costs us no effort, and exposes us to no punishment [...]." He concludes: "The wonder of soccer nationalism is that it doesn't require citizens--just 'supporters.'"
Shaykh Majid bin Muhammad bin Rashid of the House of Maktum (son of Shaykh Mo) has received a MA degree from the Dubai Police Academy for his thesis on "The Genius of Crisis Management in the Vision of Shaykh Muhammad Bin Rashid of the House of Maktum." Do you now see why I am an Angry Arab?
Dubai: A pressure campaign targeted at Gulf states was launched in Occupied Jerusalem on Monday by a coalition of 170 Palestinian organisations urging Arab states to boycott companies complicit in Israel's expansion in the holy city. In a rare public pressure campaign, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement in Palestine, a grouping of Palestinian civil society organisations, has turned its focus on the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which is preparing to build a multi-billion dollar railway to link its six members. The BDS campaign has called on the GCC and its member states to shun French transport giants Alstom and Veolia, both of which are involved in the construction of the Jerusalem Light Rail (JLR), an Israeli project that is expected to link the eastern and western parts of Occupied Jerusalem as well as Jewish colonies on the West Bank. Critics say the JLR will hinder Palestinian aspirations to have occupied East Jerusalem as a capital of a future Palestinian state. Unaware The BDS campaign has proven successful in Europe, where companies have excluded the two transport companies from tenders and divested from them, leading to a loss of $7 billion (Dh25.69 billion) to $8 billion in opportunity cost, according to campaigners. "Despite these important achievements in the West, no Arab state, especially in the Gulf, has to date excluded Alstom or Veolia from bidding for their public contracts," read a press release issued by the movement yesterday. The two companies are now facing a lawsuit in France filed by Palestine Liberation Organisation and French advocacy group Association France-Palestine Solidarité for their activities in Occupied Jerusalem.Now instead of the silly anti-normalization campaign in Egypt, kept alive by dinosaurs over non-issues, let's see a national movement against selling gas to Israel and joining the BDS strategy.
The Complete Review takes a look at Alaa Al Aswany's Friendly Fire (just out in English) and finds that:
Al Aswany's writing is generally tighter and more consistent in these smaller, more concentrated efforts -- perhaps because he doesn't have to force bridges between episodes and takes the freedom to only write what needs be written. Yet the much greater scale and reach of his novels, and his free-wheeling mix of stories in them is a great part of their appeal, and while the stories collected in Friendly Fire are well done, the sum of them does not have nearly the power of, especially, a novel such as The Yacoubian Building.
(I've actually heard from a good many people now that they prefer these short stories to The Yacoubian Building, and definitely to the generally panned Chicago).
A lovely poem by Mahmoud Darwish. And an excellent piece at The Review on the relationship between Darwish's early, politically engagé poems, and his later, more inward-looking work. Robyn Creswell (who wrote a fine piece for Harper's on Darwish a while back) notes that:
It is difficult for the English reader to appreciate, for example, the extent to which Darwish’s late poetry is a complex mode of self-criticism. Darwish was always his own severest judge. He never allowed any one style, however successful, to harden into a method. His final lyrics are very distinct from the plainspoken, confrontational poetry that made him a celebrity while he was still in his early twenties. They are also distinct from the poetry he wrote in Beirut during the Civil War, or during the first Intifada, or the long foundering and bitter aftermath of the Oslo Accords. Indeed, Darwish’s late poetry is in an important sense a reaction against his earlier work, an attempt to escape the prisons of his former personae.
As the piece mentions, much of Darwish's work is available in English now.
The new Arab Reform Bulletin is out:
- Iraq: Tribulations of the Electoral Law Sam Parker (Arabic version)
- Egypt: Brotherhood Faces Leadership Challenges Ibrahim el Houdaiby (Arabic original)
- Egypt: The Political Edge of Labor Protests Saif Nasrawi (Arabic original)
- Palestine: Where is Hamas in the West Bank? Omran Risheq (Arabic original)
- Middle East: Post-Jihadism and the Inevitability of Democratization Omar Ashour (Arabic original)
- Morocco: Obstacles to a New Press Code Aziz Douai (Arabic version)
Hudaiby's article on the MB is a welcome reflection on the current crisis of the Muslim Brothers, and Nasrawi provides an overview of Egypt's labor unrest and efforts to set up independent trade unions. Haven't read the rest yet, but the issue of the Moroccan press code is quite important after two years of clashes between journalists and the regime -- so looking forward to that!
POMED writes in its invaluable Monday briefing, so that I don't have to:
Thomas Carothers has released an important new report, "Revitalizing Democracy Assistance: The Challenge of USAID" that explores needed reforms in foreign democracy assistance. The report recommends three key reforms: decreasing bureaucratization, bolstering local ownership of projects, and strengthening the institutional emphasis of democracy promotion within USAID. The report concludes "a successful revitalization of USAID's democracy and governance work would be a telling signal that the Obama administration is forging significant institutional changes that will help the United States meet the serious challenges that democracy's uncertain global fortunes now pose."
Also last week, the USAID Office of the Inspector General released a fascinating new report, "Audit of USAID/Egypt's Democracy and Governance Activities." The report is quite critical of the effectiveness of USAID's democracy and governance programs in Egypt, and concludes that, "A major contributing factor to the limited achievements for some of these programs resulted from a lack of support from the Government of Egypt. According to a mission official, the Government of Egypt has resisted USAID/Egypt's democracy and governance program and has suspended the activities of many U.S. NGOs because Egyptian officials thought these organizations were too aggressive."
Carothers is perhaps the greatest American expert on democracy promotion, and I read the USAID Inspector General's report, which is scathing. So much money has been wasted on democracy promotion in Egypt, partly because of the Egyptian government's obstructionism, but also because so many programs were ill-conceived.
Now we just have to wait for a head of USAID to actually be appointed -- and for US democracy-promotion policy not to run so much at odd with its foreign policy, especially in the Middle East.
The ethos of the former MEI remain the same and a number of the key correspondents from the past are also regular contributors to the relaunched magazine (Haim Baram, George Hawatmeh, Michael Jansen, Jim Muir, Peretz Kidron, Nicole Pope, Graham Usher, Ian Williams, to name just a few). The new Editor of MEI is Gerald Butt, a former BBC Middle East Correspondent and editor of Middle East Economic Survey. His Deputy is Najm Jarrah who was closely involved in the production of the previous MEI. They are advised by a group of distinguished Consultant Editors: Rashid Khalidi, Jim Muir, Zaki Nusseibeh and Patrick Seale.I will be contributing to MEI about Egypt and elsewhere, and have no less than three pieces in the new issue: news analysis articles on Gamal Mubarak and the Brothers' crisis, and a review of Brian Whitaker sure-to-be-controversial new book, What's Really Wrong With The Middle East. You can read them all in the free PDF issue they are giving away for the relaunch. The review of Whitaker's book was tough to write, and not only because his publisher (who had promised to send me the book) only gave me a PDF version. I read it on my ebook reader, which I find surprisingly usable to read but less friendly for taking notes. But I was also apprehensive that Brian, an acquaintance and a journalist whose work I respect, had bitten off more than he could chew. The provocative thesis of his book is that there is too much focus on how bad the Arab regimes are not enough of Arab societies' problems: patriarchy, intolerance, mysoginy etc. I very much like the argument and think it needs to be made. I feared that Whitaker would immediately be attacked because he is not Arab, or that he could revert to culturally essentialist arguments like those in Bernard Lewis' work. He has already been attacked for this by the admittedly easily irritated Angry Arab (Whitaker responded here). I do not think that Whitaker fell into that trap (although I wish he did not approvingly quote such a flawed work as Mark Allen's Arabs) and his book deals with some tremendously difficult and sensitive issues. It's great that someone with a reputation for fair and sympathetic coverage of the region has broken these taboos. Whitaker's book also includes some great interviews with activists in the region who offer some really innovative ways to get out of the current predicament, which I agree is about more than the regimes, even if their role should not be underestimated. I did not agree with everything in it (who ever does when reading a book?), and think some parts could have been better. I also think Whitaker underestimates the amount of self-criticism in the region (I have in mind, for instance, Fouad Zakariya's critique of Islamist and other conservatisms in the 1980s). But this is a thought-provoking book, warts and all, on a subject that deserves wider attention.
At the root of the MB's current crisis is its dwindling ability to maintain cohesion between its various sub-trends. An influential faction of its leadership is increasingly monopolising decisions on matters pertaining to the group's image, ideological orientation and future. The organisation of the MB is difficult to grasp for those unfamiliar with such totalitarian entities. Structurally it is bigger than a political party, but unlike a political party its membership and scope of operations transcend the state. Ideologically, it has more in common with a political front or organisational umbrella for different, in this case, Islamist trends, than it does with a party espousing a specific platform or programme. The umbrella embraces ultraconservative fundamentalists to religious liberals and everything between, all of whom have managed to coexist within a single organisational framework, generally subscribing to the principle of gradual peaceful change. Against such diversity we can nevertheless speak of two divergent trends. One favours open political involvement in student or syndicate circles and other areas of public life. Known as the reformist trend, it has drawn the contours of the MB's image in the sphere of public life. Abdel-Moneim Abul- Fotouh is the most prominent exponent of this trend among the group's senior leaders. The other trend runs the organisational operations of the group, in which capacity they oversee recruitment activities, hierarchical appointments and relations, and the design and implementation of material and programmes for indoctrination. The most important exponent of this conservative trend in the MB leadership is Mahmoud Ezzat. The MB leadership has always managed to keep these two trends together despite their mutual differences. This has been no small task, massaging the strains between people who prefer to work in the public domain and, hence, are naturally inclined towards constructive, open and continual engagement with society, and those whose focus is inward, whose energies are forever directed at building their own world and raising the "vanguard of the faithful" upon whom the hopes and duties of reshaping society and the nation are pinned. The expansion in the activities of the group, combining proselytising, charity and political activities, favoured coexistence to the extent that the public reformist and conservative organisational trends were regarded as complementary. Their combined efforts, it was believed, lent impetus to the group, expanded its grassroots base and improved its image among the government elite. The organisation also seemed pleased to be the Mecca for all, to those inclined towards political involvement, to those dedicated to proselytising, and to those keen on philanthropic and charity work. The leadership was not particularly concerned with unifying these diverse interests towards the pursuit of a single clearly defined vision; it was merely content that they should not clash.Read it all. And for more MB fun, I just came across this Scribd user that has a collection of articles on the Brothers: ikhwanscope.
If the status quo is this tolerable for the parties, then I say, let them enjoy it. I just don’t want to subsidize it or anesthetize it anymore. We need to fix America. If and when they get serious, they’ll find us. And when they do, we should put a detailed U.S. plan for a two-state solution, with borders, on the table. Let’s fight about something big.I don't see how this can be interpreted as a call to cut off aid to Israel. It's at best a call to cut off aid that supports the Middle East Peace Process, which is largely aid to the Palestinian Authority. But I wouldn't even read that much into it. I am pretty sure Friedman will never, ever threaten the Israel-US relationship. It's a bad habit to pay attention to bad writers when they write something we like. In this column many may sympathize with MEPP fatigue; but his analysis is flawed. Friedman is sick of intransigeant Israelis but also of Palestinians (i.e. the PA) for not wanting negotiations before a settlement freeze. This is a ridiculous assessment, much like the recent about-face about Israel's "unprecedented concessions" by Hillary Clinton is ridiculous. Obama offered set the standard to restart MEPP talks by talking about a settlement freeze -- a complete settlement freeze, not a partial one. The PA said, OK, that works for us. It is now the US that is changing that bar, not the PA. But the Obama administration now appears to be blaming the PA and the Arabs for not accepting its own about-face, i.e. for sticking to the rules of the game Obama had set at the beginning of this round of pre-negotiations. A much better analysis of US policy is provided by Daniel Levy, a dovish former Israeli official and advisor to Ehud Barak (to be frank, the kind of person I am generally skeptical of.) In this condemnation of Obama's amateurism, he explains the missed opportunity for dealing with Israeli intransigence and gets a nice dig in at Hosni Mubarak:
The Obama team's call for a comprehensive settlement freeze was consistent with past U.S. policy (notably Bush's Roadmap of 2003), although it was perhaps treated with more seriousness coming from the new 'hope and change' President. The Israel Prime Minister's answer came in June, and it was a rejectionist one: no full freeze, and no limitations whatsoever on settlements in East Jerusalem. That is when the malaise set in. The administration had three possible options in responding: 1) Stick to its guns and calibrate a set of escalating consequences in response to possible ongoing Israeli recalcitrance. 2) Make a smart pivot by declaring, for instance, that if Israel could not for its own reasons freeze settlements, then this would make all the more urgent the need to quickly define and agree a border for an Israel-Palestine two-state solution. And the U.S. could reasonably have adopted a formula regarding that border (such as based on the 1967 lines, minor mutual modifications to accommodate settlements close to the Green Line in a one-to-one land swap). The U.S. could have explained to its Israeli friends that absent a defined border, the settlement freeze would have to be comprehensive, but in the discussion on borders, there could be more flexibility given the one-to-one land swaps. 3) Dig themselves into a hole. Insisting on a freeze, heightening expectations, without a plan for achieving that end, and by then acceding to talks with the Israeli government over koshering aspects of settlements expansion. It is certainly legitimate for the administration to have not chosen option one, and to have decided that this was the wrong issue and/or wrong timing to escalate with the Netanyahu government. My own preference would have been for option two, and indeed, the administration could reasonably be perceived to have laid the ground deftly for such a pivot. Unfortunately, they went for option three, and it all came crashing down around their feet this week. The Secretary's last minute stop in Cairo to round off the trip said it all. The Mubarak regime tried to help salvage some American pride, lining up behind the Secretary's efforts. Except that it is precisely the Mubarak government whose credibility is so severely questioned in the region, it is the largest Arab recipient of American financial assistance, and is obsessed with leadership succession--in short, getting a smile out of the Egyptian leader doesn't even register on the congratulatory charts.Is consistency really too much to ask? If the settlement freeze really is an impasse, I would favor for some form of negative consequence for Israel. But perhaps that is politically impossible for domestic US reasons. So the second option, shifting the emphasis to what Israel considers its permanent borders -- something it has always avoided defining -- would be a better start.