El Gusto: Algerian chaabi masters regroup

Damon Albarn (of Britpop bands Blur and Gorillaz fame) is producing a kind of Buena Vista Social Club album, instead of Cuban masters you have Algerian chaabi masters: Once more, with El Gusto.
Luc Cherki is a big man. Carrying his guitar, he approaches the microphone with the swagger of Johnny Cash and sings a folk ballad about the dispossessed worthy of the Man in Black that elicits whoops of recognition from his audience. But this is Marseilles, not San Quentin, and Cherki is French. His song, Je suis un pied-noir, tells of having to leave Algeria for France 45 years ago, thus becoming an emigré in his own country. Accompanying him are the El Gusto Orchestra, veterans of Algerian music’s postwar golden age, when the sound of chaabi united the streets. When the war of independence (1954-62) tore apart the French colony it ripped the heart out of the musical community. For many of those onstage in Marseilles El Gusto is the first time they have seen each other in 45 years. Now the old friends’ schedules includes a film, a tour by the orchestra, which reaches the Barbican in London on October 10 as part of its annual Ramadan Nights season, and an album, produced by Damon Albarn and released on his label, Honest Jons. “I didn’t know chaabi before I became involved,” Albarn admits. “But after I got the call asking me to contribute to this project I made sure I was well-versed before I got here. Then all I needed to do was to put microphones in the right places and try to capture the rawness of the music. I just told them they were the maestros and let them get on with it.”
Concerts in London and Paris for those lucky enough to make it, and the album of the recording will come out on October 15. Also see this story in Le Monde.
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Saudi to create oil protection security service

From Le Figaro, an article on how Saudi Arabia is creating a new security service specifically dedicated to protecting petroleum installations. Beyond threat perceptions about attacks on these centers, there is also the factor that this will create yet another service, exclusively under the control of Minister of Interior Prince Nayef and his son -- with a rumored budget of $5 billion and staff of 35,000.
L'Arabie crée une force de protection des sites pétroliers: POUR EMPÊCHER un attentat terroriste contre ses installations pétrolières, Riyad vient de décider la création d'une force de sécurité spécialisée, d'environ 35 000 hommes. Jusqu'à présent, la protection des 80 champs pétroliers et gaziers, ainsi que des 11 000 kilomètres d'oléoducs du premier exportateur d'or noir au monde était répartie entre une multitude de services (sécurité publique, forces spéciales, Garde nationale, etc.), soit au total 15 000 hommes. « Compte tenu de la persistance des menaces terroristes ou des tensions avec l'Iran, les Saoudiens se sont rendu compte que la solution du détachement des personnels et des matériels n'était pas satisfaisante », explique un diplomate occidental à Riyad. Annoncée récemment par le ministre de l'Intérieur, le prince Nayef, à la Shoura (une assemblée dont les membres sont désignés par le régime), cette décision n'a pas encore été rendue publique. La protection des sites pétroliers représente un important enjeu de pouvoir entre les différents clans de la direction saoudienne. La Garde nationale, toujours commandée par le roi Abdallah, gardera certaines prérogatives. Mais le dossier et ses investissements induits - on parle de 5 milliards de dollars - seront gérés directement par Nayef et son fils, les principaux responsables de la lutte antiterroriste dans un royaume durement frappé par al-Qaida depuis 2003.
This will mean more investment into arms purchases and other security technology, much to Western suppliers' delight.
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Eissa no longer to be tried in Emergency Court

Following up on this post from a few days ago, the office of the General Prosecutor has decided not to try al-Destour editor Ibrahim Eissa in a State Security Emergency Court:
CAIRO, Egypt: Egypt's prosecutor general reversed a decision to send an outspoken tabloid newspaper editor who questioned President Hosni Mubarak's health to the country's emergency court of no appeal, a judiciary official said Friday. Al-Dustour editor Ibrahim Eissa will instead face a regular criminal court where appeals are possible on Oct. 1, said the judicial official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press. He did not elaborate on the reasons why the prosecutor general reversed the decision.
One can only come to the conclusion that pursuing the trial in an Emergency court would be unnecessarily hurtful to what remains of Egypt's image. The decision must have come from up high.
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Egypt's independent press to strike on October 7

Egypt press plans day without papers in rights protest:
CAIRO (AFP) - Egyptian independent and opposition newspapers will not publish on October 7 in protest at a government clampdown that has seen several journalists sentenced to prison terms in recent weeks. Editors from 15 newspapers agreed to the protest "against the fierce campaign against the free press in Egypt" at a meeting late on Wednesday, according to a statement received by AFP on Thursday.
See recent entries in the media category for background.
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Moroccan Unrest Over Bread Price

Moroccan Unrest Over Bread Price:
CASABLANCA, Morocco — Violent protests over the cost of bread prompted the Moroccan government to annul a 30 percent price hike linked to soaring global grain costs. Protesters clashed with police, cars were torched and buildings damaged in the demonstrations Sunday in Sefrou, 120 miles east of the capital Rabat. Some 300 people suffered injuries, Moroccan newspapers reported Tuesday. The state news agency said more than 30 people were arrested. The government held an emergency meeting Monday, and Interior Minister Chakib Benmoussa ordered the price hike canceled, the Interior Ministry said. Amid rising world prices for wheat, the government authorized a bread price rise of 30 percent on Sept. 10, soon before the start of Ramadan. Moroccan consumption of breads and pastries rises sharply during the Muslim holy month, as families hold large feasts after sundown to break the all-day fast.
In the past, bread riots were violently repressed in Morocco and the continuation of this trend could point to a return to the social instability of the 1980s and earlier. Morocco is relatively unique among Arab countries in being extremely exposed to rises in fuel and other prices, with the resulting pressure on the state budgets and on social peace. As in Egypt, which remains much, much more subsidized than Morocco is, there has been a grassroots movement growing over the past two years against the cost of life. Drawn largely from the ranks of the left (notably ATTAC Maroc) and associated with the Moroccan Association for Human Rights (AMDH from its French acronym), in a sense it has been more active on this crucial issue than Islamist parties such as the PJD or movements like Adl wal Ihsan. Last May, five protesters from the AMDH were given a ridiculous three-year sentence for chanting slogans hostile to the monarchy, one of the many signs that Morocco has not entirely stopped the bad old practices of the Hassan II regime. A situation like the current one, with genuine economic pressures on a technocratic government keen to balance its budget and on a population finding it ever harder to make ends meet (just as the small upper middle class is encouraged to consume ever more -- there are advertisements for bank loans to buy plasma screen TVs all over the place in the big cities -- could develop into a very serious issue for the new government of Abbas al-Fassi. No doubt Morocco will be appealing to major grain producers to provide some relief.
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Al Qaeda in the Maghreb recruits among teenagers

Le Monde.fr : En Algérie, des adolescents sont les proies des recruteurs d'Al-Qaida:
Treize adolescents algériens ont été condamnés le 23 septembre à trois ans de prison avec sursis pour avoir entretenu des contacts avec Al-Qaida au Maghreb islamique, l'ex-Groupe salafiste pour la prédication et le combat (GSPC). Un suivi psychologique a été ordonné, et leurs parents se sont engagés à les surveiller de près. Arrêtés en juin à Thénia, dans la préfecture de Boumerdès, région où le groupe islamiste armé est très actif, trois d'entre eux avaient été placés sous mandat de dépôt alors que les dix autres, des collégiens âgés entre 14 et 16 ans, avaient été laissés en liberté provisoire. Selon la police, ces jeunes avaient commencé à recevoir, dans les maquis environnants, des entraînements au maniement des armes et au transport de bombes. Certains avaient été gratifiés de noms de guerre. Des disques compacts avec des cours d'entraînement au combat avaient été découverts à leur domicile.
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Report Says Hussein Was Open To Exile Before 2003 Invasion

Report Says Hussein Was Open To Exile Before 2003 Invasion:
"The Egyptians are talking to Saddam Hussein," Bush said. "He seems to have indicated he would be open to exile if they would let him take one billion dollars and all the information he wants on weapons of mass destruction."
I can think of several others I'd happily make the same deal with. But what is this bit on WMD information if there were no WMD?
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al-Hodaiby answers Tahawy

Muslim Brother Ibrahim al-Houdaiby has responded to Mona al-Tahawy's critical column in the Forward on the group. In this pieces he distances himself from Supreme Guide Mahdi Akef's remark that she appeared "naked" because she was unveiled -- not the first time I hear Ibrahim condemn al-Houdaiby in favor of the person many see as the MB's real strongman, Khairat al-Shater. He also makes the argument that while the MB has not been successful at convincing the world (more importantly, I wold add many Egyptians) of its commitment to democracy, it is serious about establishing a dialogue with other political currents. The Muslim Brotherhood Will Stand Up for All Egyptians:
Reading Mona Eltahawy’s September 21 opinion article, I felt more than ever that all Egyptians — regardless of their ideological orientation, gender or age — have a lot in common (“I Will Stand Up for the Muslim Brotherhood”). Eltahawy and I differ on much, yet we share a common objective and we struggle for the same cause of bringing real democracy, justice and freedom to Egypt. Eltahawy is critical of the Muslim Brotherhood’s political orientation and stances on a number of issues, yet she stands with us in solidarity against the Egyptian government’s crackdowns. It is important that Egyptians of different political views defend each others’ political rights, as Eltahawy has done — and as several Muslim Brotherhood members, myself included, have previously done on behalf of opposition leaders Ayman Nour and Talaat El Sadaat and bloggers Kareem Amer and Sandmonkey. Nor is that the only point on which we agree. In her opinion article, Eltahawy criticizes the Muslim Brotherhood’s leader, Mohammed Mahdi Akef, for calling her “naked” because she was wearing a short-sleeved T-shirt and pants. I could not agree more with her. Not wearing the hijab, or headscarf, makes a woman unveiled, not naked. I realize how offensive it is to call someone “naked” for not wearing a headscarf, and I find Akef’s comment unjustifiable. [...] I agree with Eltahawy when she writes that the Muslim Brotherhood is “the last man standing in Egypt.” I sincerely believe this puts an additional responsibility on the group, as it must shoulder the burden of helping others to stand. As declared several times by leaders including Deputy Chairman Khayrat El Shatir (who is currently being tried by a military tribunal), the Muslim Brotherhood realizes that no single party or group will be able to solve Egypt’s economic, political and social problems. It is for this specific reason that Muslim Brotherhood members need to hear constructive criticism and advice from their political rivals, so we can all help each other move forward in pushing for genuine reform in Egypt.
Frankly, I find that neither Tahawy nor al-Hudaiby make a particular convincing case, and I find it odd that they are having this argument in America's premier Yiddish community magazine.
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Eissa to be tried in State Security Emergency Court

I cannot believe that Ibrahim Eissa, fresh from a conviction earlier this month, will now face trial in a State Security Emergency Court:
CAIRO, Egypt (AP) - An outspoken Egyptian editor whose newspaper questioned the president's health has been referred to a court notorious for handing down swift convictions of spies and Islamists, in a move condemned by rights activists Wednesday. The referral of al-Dustour editor Ibrahim Eissa to State Security Emergency Court, whose verdict cannot be appealed, is the latest event in an unprecedented crackdown on the press that has seen the convictions against five newspaper editors and two journalists in the last few weeks. "This is scary," said Nasser Amin, Eissa's lawyer and a legal rights activist said. "It's one of the most dangerous courts for civil liberties in Egypt after the military tribunal." Two weeks ago, Eissa was brought in for seven hours of questioning by a state security prosecutor on charges of disturbing the peace and harming national economic interests because of articles that ran in his newspaper repeating rumors that the president was seriously ill. He was referred to trial for Oct. 1, but it wasn't clear until late on Tuesday in which court he would be tried. If convicted, Eissa would face sentences ranging from 24 hours to three years in prison, as well as a fine, said Amin. Only the president has the power to overturn the court's sentence.
Once again -- State Security Emergency Courts (which in years of reporting I've never seen hand down an acquittal) offer no possibility of appeal, only a presidential pardon. Update: It now seems that prominent commentator and Kifaya signatory Muhammad Sayyed Said, who recently launched the newspaper al-Badil (The Alternative), is being sued by a lawyer (presumably from the NDP, like the others who have filed suits lately) over the presidential health rumors issue.
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An update on the Marcel Khalife affair

Richard Silverstein got through to the Kroc Theater run by the Salvation Army that had refused to host a Marcel Khalife concert. The explanation he got from them was that they could not rent the venue to the Palestinian organization al-Awda, which aims for the right of return of all Palestinian refugees. It's good that Richard got this independently checked, although I strongly disagree with him that the Salvation Army's decision is understandable. I very much doubt it would have made the same decision if the organization trying to book the venue was the Zionist Association of America, Hillel, or one of the countless groups that supports Israel. I would guess that the Salvation Army's decision very much has to do with the well-known intimidation campaigns against pro-Palestinian organizations and individuals by Zionist groups, and that it chose to avoid the controversy and problems that would probably come with hosting an al-Awda event. The recent cancellations of appearances of public intellectuals like Tony Judt or Stephen Walt comes to mind.
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Saudi Religious Police Attacked by Girls

Saudi Religious Police Attacked by Girls:
Dammam, Asharq Al-Awsat - Members of Khobar's Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice were the victims of an attack by two Saudi females, Asharq Al-Awsat can reveal. According to the head of the commission in Khobar, two girls pepper sprayed members of the commission after they had tried to offer them advice. Head of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice in the Eastern province Dr. Mohamed bin Marshood al-Marshood, told Asharq Al Awsat that two of the Commission's employees were verbally insulted and attacked by two inappropriately-dressed females, in the old market in Prince Bandar street, an area usually crowded with shoppers during the month of Ramadan. According to Dr. Al-Marshood, the two commission members approached the girls in order to "politely" advise and guide them regarding their inappropriate clothing. Consequently, the two girls started verbally abusing the commission members, which then lead to one of the girls pepper-spraying them in the face as the other girl filmed the incident on her mobile phone, while continuing to hurl insults at them. The Eastern Province's head of the commission also revealed that with the help of the police his two employees were able to control the situation. The two females were then escorted to the police station where they apologized for the attack, were cautioned and then released.
Fantastic.
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On the importance of leadership, warts and all

Two posts I put up recently featuring opposition figures -- Iran's Akbar Ganji and Syria's Maamoun al-Homsi -- generated an interesting response: attacks on these activists as being cowardly, formerly close to the regime, or having some other negative side. It could be that these criticisms are fair -- I really don't know that much about Ganji, although his credentials seem impeccable, and even less about al-Homsi (but am fully aware the journalist who interviewed him, an acquaintance, is a Lebanese with clear political biases who works for the pro-Hariri newspaper al-Mustaqal, although he is mostly a cultural journalist and a poet). The tendency to nitpick at the credentials of opposition figures -- which is fair enough considering there are plenty of self-serving opportunists out there and the world is still reeling from Ahmed Chalabi's manipulations -- is something that increasingly bothers me about political discourse in this region. I was guilty of it myself in 2005 regarding Ayman Nour, a politician whose career I was familiar with long before he became the poster boy for the "Cairo Spring." I'd always recognized that Nour was a talented populist but saw him as ultimately second-rate and unlikely to appeal to Egypt's elite. Looking back, I regret not giving him more credit and that especially the Arabic media (not just the state-controlled part) did not give him more of a chance. He may have been far from perfect, but he had the courage of his convictions (or maybe ambitions, but does it matter?) and I look back and believe he achieved something quite unique: he campaigned against a practically all-powerful president and tried to challenge him as an equal. In essence, he called the bluff of Mubarak's pretense to open up the political scene and presidential race, and put all his effort in it. The 7% score he got in the elections, while perhaps apparently small, was actually quite an achievement. I think the regime knows this, hence the five-year sentence and horrible treatment he is receiving in prison. The Middle East will not be able to have credible alternatives to the existing regimes unless we start putting some faith -- some suspension of disbelief -- in the leaders who try to emerge against them. If we go along with the press attacks on these figures, the campaigns of disinformation, and wait for a knight on a shining armor -- well, we might be waiting for a long time.
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Rosen on Iraq's refugees

Boston Review - No Going Back:
The American occupation has been more disastrous than the Mongols’ sack of Baghdad in the 13th century. Iraq’s human capital has fled, its intellectuals and professionals, the educated, the moneyed classes, the political elite. They will not return. And the government is nonexistent at best. After finally succumbing to Iraqi pressure, the Americans submitted to elections but deliberately emasculated the central government and the office of the prime minister. Now Prime Minister Nuri al Maliki is the scapegoat for American failure in Iraq, and there are calls to remove him or overthrow him. But talk of a coup to replace Maliki fails to understand that he is irrelevant. Gone are the days when Baghdad was the only major city in Iraq, and whoever controlled Baghdad controlled the country. The continued focus on the theater in the Green Zone ignores the reality that events there have never determined what happens outside of it. Iraq is a collection of city states such as Baghdad, Mosul, Basra, Ramadi, Erbil, and others, each controlled by various warlords with their own militias. And the villages are entirely unprotected. Maliki will be the last prime minister of Iraq. When he is run out there will be no new elections, since they can’t be run safely and fairly anymore, and the pretense of an Iraqi state will be over.
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A few more details on the Souha Arafat affair

From Tunisian magazine L'Audace:
Souha Arafat n’a cessé de se plaindre ces derniers mois d’avoir été trompée par Leïla en opérant divers placements à la Bourse de Tunis qui se sont avérés infructueux. De son côté, Leïla reprochait à sa partenaire en affaires de lui avoir mal conseillé certains placements à l’étranger. Leur idylle avait pourtant bien commencé par l’acquisition de 20% dans Tunisiana (téléphonie mobile), filiale d’Orascom qui est la propriété d’un copte égyptien. Pour cela, elles ont dû compter sur le coup de pouce de Mme Jihane Sadate, veuve du Raïs égyptien qui avait su convaincre l’homme d’affaires et intercéder en leur faveur. Après l’union avortée entre Belhassen, frère de Leïla et chef de gang des Trabelsi, et Souha Arafat, rien n’allait plus entre Leïla et sa protégée. C’est que l’épouse du chef de l’Etat tunisien est d’une cupidité légendaire et fort connue pour ses talents dans l’escroquerie. En effet, en décidant de la fermeture d’un lyçée français ayant pignon sur rue, le lyçée privé Louis Pasteur, appartenant au couple Bouebdelli, il était question pour les deux femmes “d’affaires” d’investir quelques 8 millions d’euros pour l’ouverture d’un autre lyçée privé dont elles seraient les propriétaires (d’ailleurs les travaux sont avancés, nous a-t-on précisé). Souha Arafat s’acquitta de sa part, environ 2,5 millions d’euros. Quant à Leïla, elle se défila à l’heure du versement arguant du fait que les démarches administratives accomplies combleraient ses 50% de parts dans le projet. Ce fut la goutte qui a fait déborder le vase.
More on this pathetic story after the jump.
Rappelons à ce sujet une information publiée par “L’Audace” il y a quelques années et qui démontre s’il en est encore besoin les agissements de Leïla Ben Ali qui se retourne telle une vipère sur tous ceux qui l’approchent en affaires. Ben Ali avait nommé en Mauritanie en tant qu’ambassadeur Abderrahmane Haj Ali qui était alors chargé de la Sécurité présidentielle. La femme de ce dernier rendit une visite d’adieux à Carthage. Et Leïla de lui proposer de lui confier “les économies” du couple pour les faire fructifier à travers divers placements. Mme Haj Ali lui remit 300 000DT (180 000 euros environ). Une année plus tard, au retour du couple de Mauritanie pour les vacances, Leïla passa une savonnade à Mme Haj Ali qui eut “l’audace” de s’enquérir de son patrimoine. Voilà pour l’anecdote... Par conséquent, la conduite de Leïla Trabelsi en affaires dépasse parfois les agissements des mafias les plus réputées pour lesquelles, souvent, le principe du respect de la parole donnée est acquis. La rupture entre Leïla et Souha est une affaire qui n’a pas fini de dévoiler ses secrets. Pour l’heure, on sait dores et déjà que le colonel Gueddafi, auquel Souha Arafat a rendu visite pour se plaindre de son ancienne partenaire, s’en est emparé. Et, crime de lèse-majesté, la même Souha a refusé de recevoir Mohamed Ali Ganzoui, ambassadeur à La Valette, que Ben Ali a dépêché auprès d’elle, chez son frère, ambassadeur de Palestine à Malte où elle séjourne actuellement avec sa fille...
Réunion houleuse à l’Assemblée nationale, en Tunisie Ce qu’il faut ajouter ici c’est que le cheikh Mektoum, qui a donné son accord pour l’investissement de 14 milliards de dollars dans la construction de cette nouvelle nouvelle ville du Lac, a été tout simplement trahi par la mafia tunisienne au pouvoir. Souha Arafat a commencé par prendre les premiers contacts avec les Autorités émiraties; Cheikh Mohamed Maktoum qui n’en est pas à sa première œuvre (et qu’il en soit remercié) a donné son accord pour le projet du Lac. Il se trouve qu’après cet investissant, c’est l’Etat tunisien qui devait tirer quelques profits dans la mesure où il va électrifier la zone, introduire le gaz, brefviabiliser. Il n’en fut rien. Les 80 hectares ont été bradés pour 1 DT le mètre carré(0,60 euro); que la commission revenant à l’Etat a été perçue par Sakhr Materi à hauteur de 250 millions de dollars. En somme, c’est l’Etat tunisien qui brade les terrains, qui facilite la construction avec des fonds émiratis. Mais c’est le même Etat qui se désiste au profit du gendre de Ben Ali et de Leïla... C’est vraiment fou. Cette affaire n’a même pas laissé les députésdu RCD (parti au pouvoir) indifférents puisque une réunion houleuse à l’Assemblée a eu lieu il y a une quinzaine de jours pour protester contre de tels agissements de l’Etat au profit de Sakhr Materi. De plus Souha Arafat, qui a la première intercédé auprès des Autorités émiraties s”est retrouvée sur la touche. Aucune reconnaissance; aucune commission; mais une déchéance de sa nationalité... Et ce n’est pas fini... L’affaire est à suivre avec le maximum d’intérêt car l’on parle déjà de monter de toutes pièces contre la veuve palestinienne une affaire d’espionnage au profit de la Libye. D’ores et déjà, par voie de presse, on a appris que sa villa de Gammarth lui a été confisquée. (Source : « L’AUDACE », (Mensuel tunisien publié à Paris), N° 151 - Septembre 2007)
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Packer: Ajami is Shia supremacist

From George Packer's blog in The New Yorker, an odd theory about why Professor Fouad Ajami is so upbeat about Iraq:
It would be wrong to see in Ajami’s version of Iraq the same delusional thinking as in George W. Bush’s. The difference between them is the difference between a strategy and a fantasy. The President’s speech to the nation last Thursday, following the testimony of General Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker, was perhaps the worst of his Presidency, misleading or outright false from beginning to end. But, as always with Bush, one felt that he believed every word of it: Iraq is a brave little country lighting the way to freedom in the Middle East, and freedom-loving people everywhere should rally to its side. With Ajami, something else is at work. Of Lebanese Shiite origin, he has a deep knowledge of Middle Eastern politics (see his very good book “The Dream Palace of the Arabs”). According to Bob Woodward’s “State of Denial,” before the war Ajami was part of a group recruited on behalf of Paul Wolfowitz that provided an intellectual framework for the overthrow of Saddam. The group’s memo, which influenced the top figures in the Administration, declared that a transformation of the stagnant and malign Middle East should begin with war in Iraq—by now a familiar neoconservative idea but in 2001 quite audacious, even radical. Ajami repeated the argument in an article in Foreign Affairs just before the invasion, and nothing that has happened since has undermined his confidence in it. From the heights of his historical vision, a few hundred thousand corpses and a few million refugees barely register. This isn’t a case of the normal heartlessness of abstract thought. The Journal piece, along with his recent work in The New Republic, make it clear that Ajami has taken sides in Iraq, and that his pleasure comes from his sense that his side is winning. His prewar writings and advice might have led the President to believe that the transformation of the Middle East would be a democratic one—and perhaps, a generation or two from now, it will be. But Ajami is already declaring victory, because it turns out that he has a different idea altogether: Shiite Arab power.
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