Links for 29 November 2010 + Cablegate links

Here are the latest link, and also my collected Wikileaks tweets (mostly from the evening they were released.) I had a look at the Wikileaks database and there are still over 2700 more Embassy Cairo cables that will be released, including some probably containing info about Mubarak's health etc.) Wikipedia's trickle is unbearable...

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I've only had time to look at a handful of the Wikileaks cables, but while many may just confirm certain widely held theories, they also provide tremendous insight into the day-to-day analysis of Embassy officials and a fascinating record of conversations with world leaders, security chiefs, senior politicians and diplomats across the Middle East. It's a treasure trove for any journalist or analyst to understand US positions and compare them to public positions, but even more of a find for doing the same for Middle Eastern states.

There is so much information flowing around about US policy — and often, a good deal of transparency — that a smart observer with good contacts can get a good idea of what's happening. Not so in the Arab world, and the contents of the conversations Arab leader are having with their patron state are not out in the Arab public domain or easily guessable, as anyone who reads the meaningless press statements of government press agencies will tell you. Cablegate is in important record from the Arab perspective, perhaps more than from the US one.

I'm quite shocked, to a greater extent than the Iraq leaks, about the diplomatic damage this will do. It's still early days, and much of this will be recuperated for the regional media wars. Part of me loves the anarchist side of Wikileaks. But there's obviously more than "information wants to be free" at stake here: Wikileaks is also a project against American power projection around the world, or US imperialism. I suspect this is driven in good part (at least for the person or people who leaked or hacked the cables) by hatred of US policy under the Bush administration. A type of information blowback, if you will. This kind of leak is just not supposed to happen, and will probably have consequences we can barely start to imagine. I think it will also contribute, in the Middle East at least, to the growing perception among the various regimes that the US is an unreliable partner that has trouble restoring its pre-Bush credibility.

It's only normal that American politicians, as well as the Obama administration, have condemned the leaks. But listening to US politicians on the radio says that Wikileaks "is not being patriotic" betrays a complete misunderstanding of what's at stake here, and an assumption that foreigners should be patriotic to the US. They don't: they're not American. The disconnect here is between an American perception of the US as world leader and non-American rejection of this, probably in good part to a loss in moral authority in the last decade.

Wikileaks may be irresponsible, but it's also a manifestation of a shifting world order. We just don't know what it's shifting into yet. 

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Links 27 November 2010

If for some bizarre reason you're interested in following the Egyptian elections, I can recommend following the #EgyElections tag on Twitter or, for English-language coverage, the special election sites of al-Masri al-Youm, the Ahram Portal or Daily News Egypt.

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Links 26 November 2010

  • How Israel stole weapons from PLO in Lebanin in 80s by Israel ended up, via US, to the Contras and Iran.
  • How can this guy be taken seriously: Mustafa al-Fiqi says Mossad behind sectarian riots.
  • An appreciation of Abraham Serfaty by ibn Kafka. Long and thorough. [French]
  • In new tactic, NDP goes after MB candidates in courts by using their membership in banned org. A shift in strategy?
  • Richard Falk, great voice on Israel/Palestine, has a blog.
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    Links for 24-25 November 2010

    Not many links as I've out to Alexandria and elsewhere reporting and otherwise busy writing.

    In Alexandria while waiting for an appointment with NDP candidate Abdel Salem Mahgoub, who is a former governor of the city and a former spymaster (apparently in the 1970s he was the handler for Egyptian double-agents that were feeding disinformation to the Israelis), I shot the following video. This was at a sports center in a lower-income neighborhood where a businessman was giving the center LE1.5m as part of Mahgoub's campaign. Mahgoub's main opponent, incumbent MP Sobhi Saleh of the Muslim Brothers, has been banned from holding any rallies and his supporters arrested and attacked.My footage shows the training facilities where local area martial artists train for their electoral shenanigans.

    Click here to see video.

    Also, here's a Flickr slideshow:

    Links 23 November 2010

    Links 22 November 2010

    The definitive take on Ethan Bronner

    People sometimes say I'm too harsh on Ethan Bronner, the NYT correspondent in Jerusalem whose son is in the IDF. Here's what Bronner wrote today:

    It is worth noting that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has been largely drained of deadly violence in the past few years.

    That statement is only true if you don't include the Gaza war, with its thousand-plus Palestinian casualties. It's only true if you live in the Israeli bubble that says the conflict has died down because there are fewer terrorist attacks, even though occupation and war crimes continue against Palestinians. It's because he lives inside that bubble that he does a disservice to the NYT's readers.

    Via Norman Finkelstein, whom I am happy to see blogging at Mondoweiss

    Links 21 November 2010

    Links 20 November 2010

    Rosen: AIPAC routinely traffics in USG info

    More on the crux of the Steve Rosen vs. AIPAC case: Rosen says passing on US government information was routine at AIPAC. This is rather obvious for anyone who follows how the lobby operates (and its many allies in government positions). Hopefully this case will lead to another, by the government against AIPAC this time.

    SpyTalk - Ex-AIPAC official got at least $670,000 from donors:

    Rosen says his actions were common practice at the organization. He said his next move is to show that AIPAC, Washington’s major pro-Israeli lobbying group by far, regularly traffics in sensitive U.S. government information, especially material related to the Middle East.

    “I will introduce documentary evidence that AIPAC approved of the receipt of classified information,” he said by e-mail. “Most instances of actual receipt are hard to document, because orally received information rarely comes with classified stamps on it nor records alerts that the information is classified.”

    But Rosen said he would produce “statements of AIPAC employees to the FBI, internal documents, deposition statements, public statements and other evidence showing that [the] receipt of classified information by employees other than [himself] ... was condoned … for months prior to being condemned in March 2005 after threats from the prosecutors.

    Links 19 November 2010

  • Four lectures by Persian Gulf expert Gary Sick on US-Iran relations.
  • The story of the Ghad party - but it's unconvincing that what could make a difference for Ayman Nour is Washington.
  • Synagogue prevents J Street from speaking at event.
  • Hitchens says he's "proud" of having advocated for the invasion of Iraq because there's more democracy there.
  • Egypt is being unusually critical in response to US pressure on election monitors - but where will it go next?
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    Voices in the crowd

     Yassin Kobtan & The Skateboarders Still from "MICROPHONE" © Film Clinic - Egypt - 2010

    I just reviewed young Egyptian director Ahmad Abdalla's new film, Microphone, over at the National (I also wrote on the blog about Abadallah's first feature, Heliopolis, last year). The film is an exploration of youth culture and underground music in Alexandria--and more generally, of the difficulties that young people in Egypt have finding a voice--and very enjoyable. It will be playing in the upcoming Cairo and Dubai film festivals. 

    Here's a bit of the review:

    Microphone started out as a documentary about Aya, an 18-year-old female graffiti artist in Alexandria, whose work had come to Abdalla's attention.

    Through Aya, he discovered the city's lively collection of bands, in particular its burgeoning hip-hop scene, and decided to make a documentary about youth culture in Egypt's second city, featuring musicians, filmmakers, artists and skateboarders. Because documentary films are rarely shown in Egyptian theatres, Abdalla gave a fictional framework to his footage of musicians and kids hanging out.

    Thus, the character of Khaled - played by the well-loved actor Khaled Abol-Naga, who is also a producer of the film - returns to Alexandria after a seven-year absence, only to find that the woman he has been longing to see again is about to leave town.

    While he mopes over his bad timing, Abol-Naga comes into contact with the film's young characters, who are busy rehearsing, falling in and out of love, hanging out and trying to land gigs.

    Microphone is best appreciated as a documentary about music and youth culture in contemporary Egypt, bolstered by a slim fictional frame. In fact, Abdalla says, "we kept trying to be true to the first idea: to give artists the microphone to speak their minds." The artists and kids play themselves, and their storylines are often inspired by their own lives.

    (For the rest, see here).

    Links 18 November 2010

    Lobby of Sin

    This AIPAC vs. Steve Rosen story just keeps getting better and better. First there was all the admission that viewing porn is routine in AIPAC's office, one of the most surreal passages of the long deposition now available in PDF [8MB, cache]. It all starts at page 68, but some genius has made the passage into a cartoon with cute cartoon characters and put it on YouTube.

    Unfortunately it's not viewable outside the US, but click on the image below for another version.

    Then there was the admission Steve Rosen, five times married, used AIPAC offices for gay hookups. Well not exactly gay actually:

    The Israel lobby gone wild - Israel -

    The putative purpose of the porn line of questioning was to establish that Rosen had not comported by AIPAC's standards for employees. Less clear is why AIPAC's attorney asked the married Rosen about his sexual encounters with men found on Craigslist. From Page 68:

    Q If you had browsed the web for sexual encounters with gay men while at AIPAC , would that in your opinion be a violation of the computer usage policy at AIPAC?

    A First, a technical correction. I actually sought married men like myself, not gay men, or I don't know what you mean by the word "gay men," but not men who were primarily living the life that's referred to as the gay community and so on.

    We also find out about Rosen's reaction when he found out he would be charged with espionage:

    From: AIPAC On The Brink: And Not One Word In MSM | TPMCafe

    Beyond the smut, the most shocking revelation in the court documents is when Rosen reveals that immediately upon being told by the FBI that he was in serious trouble, and being warned by AIPAC's counsel to come immediately to his office and talk to no one in advance, he immediately ran to meet with the #2 at the Israeli embassy!

    And also about the generosity of major donors to AIPAC and other pro-Israel and/or Jewish organizations decided they would back the man accused of espionage (and who has pretty much admitted to passing on classified information to Israeli diplomats). 

    From: AIPAC Gets Down and Dirty in Pushback vs. Defamation Suit -

    The court documents also shed light on Rosen's attempts to support himself and his family after being fired from AIPAC. The former lobbyist, as the depositions indicate, received cash gifts from several prominent Jewish philanthropists, among them some who are also major donors to AIPAC. The list includes Hollywood mogul Haim Saban, one of AIPAC's key funders, who gave Rosen a total of $100,000; Daniel Abraham, founder of the Center for Middle East Peace, who gave Rosen, his wife and three children gifts of $5,000 to $10,000; and philanthropist Lynn Schusterman, who paid off a college loan for Rosen's daughter. The list includes several other backers, including two described as "bundlers" who raised up to $200,000 for Rosen from other donors.

    But of course the real scandal is how much this reveals about the way AIPAC works. The embarassment from the sexual content of the testimony is not much compared to AIPAC avoiding a full FBI investigation into the way it does business and its established practice of passing on confidential or classified information to spin for Israel. As Grant Smith writes:

    As Rosen and AIPAC tussle in court over the organization’s long history of using classified national defense and economic information for the benefit of their foreign principal, Americans must begin to ask some very serious governance questions. Why won’t the mainstream media cover any aspect of the defamation suit? Shouldn’t this matter have been resolved in a bona fide criminal setting in 2009 rather than being surrendered by prosecutors under the watchful eye of Obama political appointees? Why wasn’t AIPAC itself indicted for espionage? And most important of all, why isn’t AIPAC properly registered as a foreign agent of the government with which it breaks bread (and chocolate) on Fridays?

    Succession in Ra's al-Khaima

    I missed this when it came out at the beginning of the month. Interesting how these mini-states operate, also that tanks were involved...

    The Politics of Succession in Ra's Al-Khaimah - GULF STREAM - Current Intelligence:

    When Saqr died on October 27th, there were several hours of confusion.  Khalid re-entered Ra's al-Khaimah and installed himself in his pre-2003 palace with over a hundred supporters and retainers.  He had earlier been promised by the rulers of Abu Dhabi and Dubai that he could attend his father's funeral and had concluded that he would be peacefully and swiftly installed as ruler, with Saud remaining as crown prince.  By mid-afternoon, however, a brief announcement was made by the Abu Dhabi-controlled Federal Ministry for Presidential Affairs congratulating Saud on becoming the new ruler of Ra's al-Khaimah.  Tanks were deployed on the outskirts of Ra's al-Khaimah and most of Khalid's guards were arrested and remain detained for questioning. Khalid and his son were not permitted to attend the funeral.

    With Khalid stating that he intends to meet with the members of the Supreme Council of Rulers (comprising the rulers of each emirate) in order to discuss the future of Ra's al-Khaimah, it appears that he is unwilling to drop his claim, even though he has now had to leave the emirate.  This unresolved challenge will continue to undermine Saud and may provoke renewed instability in the future.

    Incidentally I really like the publishing model of Current Intelligence.