Farouk's loss

For those of you who have been following Farouk Hosni's run for UNESCO, here's something I wrote for Foreign Policy right after his loss was announced. (Foreign Policy had a terrible piece earlier this month on the issue, and this was partly a response). I didn't mention it in the article, but it's worth noting with what lightning-speed the Minister has moved to squash any expectations that he might resign from his position (as he had reportedly promised).
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Links for 09.22.09 to 09.24.09

U.S. to block Goldstone Gaza referral to ICC - Laura Rozen | Great move for credibility on other war crimes! ✪ Iranians Favor Diplomatic Relations With US But Have Little Trust in Obama - World Public Opinion | Iranian poll. ✪ Free Mohammad Othman | Solidarity campaign for Palestinian activist Muhammad Othman, arrested September 22 while crossing the Allenby bridge. ✪ AFP: Egypt press: UNESCO loss shows 'clash of civilisations' | Nationalist backlash in reaction to Farouk Hosni's loss. ✪ The Lucrative Business of Israel-Bashing - Jeffrey Goldberg | Savor the irony of this headline from a professional Palestine-basher sitting on his lucrative perch in American journalism. The content of this post if pure invective, what Goldberg now is professional nastiness (as in his recent attacks on Stephen Walt.) ✪ The Associated Press: Fraud allegations at UNESCO race | Rumors that Egyptian delegates offered $50k bribes going around.
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Was killing all the pigs as stupid as it seemed?

cairopigs.png Picture from Ryan Luikens on Flickr This summer, the government killed all the pigs and we all made fun of it. Now the streets are awash with garbage in part (but not only) because the pigs are no longer eating it, and we still don't know what the longer-term impact on the zabaleen community is going to be. Michael Slackmann made this point beautifully in a recent article, with the wonderfully laconic headline Belatedly, Egypt Spots Flaws in Wiping Out Pigs. Best part:
When the government killed all the pigs in Egypt this spring — in what public health experts said was a misguided attempt to combat swine flu — it was warned the city would be overwhelmed with trash. The pigs used to eat tons of organic waste. Now the pigs are gone and the rotting food piles up on the streets of middle-class neighborhoods like Heliopolis and in the poor streets of communities like Imbaba. Ramadan Hediya, 35, who makes deliveries for a supermarket, lives in Madinat el Salam, a low-income community on the outskirts of Cairo. “The whole area is trash,” Mr. Hediya said. “All the pathways are full of trash. When you open up your window to breathe, you find garbage heaps on the ground.” What started out as an impulsive response to the swine flu threat has turned into a social, environmental and political problem for the Arab world’s most populous nation. It has exposed the failings of a government where the power is concentrated at the top, where decisions are often carried out with little consideration for their consequences and where follow-up is often nonexistent, according to social commentators and government officials.
In the meantime, the government is now declaring a war on education (well perhaps it won that one a while back) and has postponed primary and secondary school until early October, leaving millions of parents with kids on their hands, and millions of kids who don't know what to do with themselves. For many of them it may seriously impact the all-important end-of-year exam (esp. for students taking the thannawiya amma), and again it's not clear whether there is a compelling reason to stop school. Although both of these decisions seem ridiculous to me and many others, I'm not an epidemiologist. As political decisions, I analyze them as part stemming from the politician's universal need to be seem to be doing something, even when nothing can be done, and in part from this regime's top-down, no questions asked, decision-making patterns. But New Scientist asked a qualified person to look into the matter and things are more ambiguous:
When swine flu started spreading globally last spring, the Egyptian government decided to slaughter all the Copts' pigs, tens of thousands of them. This made little epidemiological sense: the pandemic virus originated in pigs, but by then it was already a disease you get from people, not pigs. Just an excuse for someone to curry electoral favour by Copt-bashing, some concluded. Verdict: killing pigs bad. But then, maybe getting pigs out of Egypt wasn't such a bad idea. If the H1N1 swine flu virus hybridises with the H5N1 bird flu virus, it could spawn one that spreads like swine flu and kills like bird flu - not a nice thought. Egypt has plenty of H5N1 in birds and a steady trickle of cases in people, including several at the time of the pig slaughter: in total 27 Egyptians have died of it. There has already been a false alarm about swine and bird flu co-infection in Egyptians. The two may also co-infect pigs and hybridise there. There is H5N1 bird flu in Chinese and Indonesian pigs, and lots in Egyptian chickens, so it seems unlikely that the Copts' scavenging, urban swine would be free of it. H5N1 has shown little inclination to hybridise with human flu in pigs so far, but the pandemic swine flu virus, which seems right at home in pigs, may be less picky. Verdict: killing pigs good. Or maybe not. The Copts' pigs were the main system for getting rid of food waste in Egypt's crowded, chaotic cities. Now it is piling up and rotting. And with Egypt keeping schools closed until October to delay the pandemic, there are even more kids than usual playing in the stuff. Pandemic or no pandemic, this cannot be a good thing disease-wise. Verdict: who can tell by this point?
That conclusion would reinforce my initial impression: might as well done more scaled-back, sensible measures (like handing out mouth masks to kids or trash workers) than these massive steps with many unforeseen consequences.
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Links for 09.21.09 to 09.22.09

Ethnic Ashkenazim Against Zionist Israel: In Re: The persistence of the Massad question | The campaign against Joseph Massad starts anew. ✪ Why Algeria’s Jihadist defectors don’t matter « Maghreb Politics Review | On Maghteb jihadists' recantations, focusing on Algeria. ✪ Sirgo’s Labyrinth | New English-language Egypt-based blog. ✪ The Next Minister Of Culture Will Be… | Potential candidates to succeed Farouq Hosni as Egyptian Minister of Culture: enter Gamal Mubarak's electoral strategist, Muhammad Kamal. ✪ The NDP synagogue | On a Jewish temple in Heliopolis being used as ruling party office. ✪ feeling more hate in Jerusalem | More insane views on Obama from Israelis.
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Avishai: Fatah Dictatorship + Israeli Occupation = Doubleplusgood

Bernard Avishai looks on the bright side of things when discussing Salam Fayad and Benyamin Netanyahu's "economic peace" concept:
Fatah held its first general convention in almost twenty years in Bethlehem on August 4, and a young guard more determined to cooperate with Hamas is now challenging President Abbas’s sorry diplomatic record. Behind the scenes, however, it is Ramallah’s business elites who are positioning themselves. Fayyad is not the only seasoned manager now taking a role in the PA: the new economics minister is Dr. Bassem Khoury, the former CEO of generic drugmaker Pharmacare; Dr. Mohammad Mustafa, another former World Bank official, now runs the Palestine Investment Fund (PIF), Palestine’s $850 million sovereign wealth fund, put together with painstaking transparency from monies Yasir Arafat once controlled with virtually no oversight. Even outside the PA, the influence of senior telecom executives such as Paltel’s Sabih Al-Masri and Abdul Malik al-Jaber, or private-equity magnates such as Sayed Khoury, is gossiped about, counted on. One sees the makings of a quiet revolution. Sam Bahour, an Ohio-born management consultant who was instrumental in setting up Palestine’s first telecommunications company and who, subsequently, pushed through construction of Ramallah’s first shopping center and supermarket during the darkest days of the Al-Aqsa Intifada, does not approve of Fayyad’s American-trained police force’s peremptory jailing of Hamas cadres and their curtailment of civil liberties. But he does appreciate the law-and-order government Fayyad has established in West Bank cities, which the Israeli army tends to avoid. This is a kind of dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, Bahour admits, but the alternative is an Islamist command-state, like the one in Gaza, which offers no real hope and thrives on the uncertainties and brutalities of the occupation. We are sitting in a café, nicely appointed in Art Deco style, which, Bahour tells me proudly, is the first of a chain, a kind of aspiring Palestinian Starbucks. But everywhere on the walls outside are pictures of young people, “martyrs.” “Pictures of the Israeli army’s innocent victims merge into pictures of suicide bombers and real armed fighters, looking sincere and ready for sacrifice,” Bahour says. “This kind of thing works on our young people. When Israel attacked Gaza, my kids were on Facebook every night showing solidarity. We are surrounded by morbid memorials on every corner. We have got to create another reality fast.” Bahour means a Palestinian state that Palestinian entrepreneurs themselves create in the womb of, and in spite of, the occupation, much as Zionism created a state within the British Mandate occupation. He is on the board of Birzeit University. He is also part of a business delegation that’s been petitioning the Israeli Defense Forces to open the crossings to Gaza, so that West Bank enterprises can get in. (“Put a real Palestinian store next to a Hamas-controlled tunnel, and the store will win every time.”) One green shoot of “another reality,” Bahour notes, is the surprisingly robust Palestine Securities Exchange, whose companies’ market capitalization exceeds $2.3 billion.
Helena Cobban has ruminations on the more important aspects of the question, i.e., just what kind of puppet is Salam Fayyad?
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Disappearing Iraq

A great piece on the changing media coverage of Iraq, comparing the "golden age" of media access to the military during the Bush administration to the current ambiguous nature of the conflict: Disappearing Iraq
On January 1, 2009, the end date of the U.N. resolution that was the legal basis for the presence of U.S. troops, Iraq assumed full sovereignty, and American soldiers became heavily armed guests. Next came the June 30 deadline for U.S. combat troops to withdraw from populated areas. These shifts seemed to leave military public-affairs officers, and many commanders, at something of a loss to explain the role of the thousands of troops still in the country. With the main military effort shifting to Afghanistan, the military finds itself in the disconcerting position of still being heavily involved in Iraq but unwilling to acknowledge it. Mostly they’ve retreated into non-communicativeness, and worse. Reporters who visited an Iraqi camp near Baghdad after January 1 were asked by the military not to photograph the U.S. soldiers supporting the Iraqis, to avoid giving the “wrong impression.” Does this matter? Yes. This is more than journalists’ angst at a declining story or a residual sense of entitlement fostered by what now seems a golden age of military-media relations. At a minimum, most of us who have covered this war for the past six years want to make sure its painful lessons aren’t lost, and that we don’t forget the ongoing cost. Forgetfulness is a danger. According to the Pew Research Center, by March 2008, only a little over a quarter of Americans knew that more than four thousand U.S. servicemen and women had been killed in Iraq, let alone more than thirty thousand injured. (As of mid-August, the total number of Americans killed was 4,318.) This latest phase has coincided with both the financial crisis and turmoil in the media industry. Time magazine was the latest bureau to shut its physical bureau here, in June. The TV networks maintain skeleton staffs—often with no correspondents. Still dangerous, Iraq has become a way station for new reporters on their first foreign assignments. For the most part they expect very little from the military, and that’s generally what they get. This lack of access means that journalists—and by extension, Americans in general—are much less able to determine what’s happening there beneath the surface. And in Iraq, almost everything important happens beneath the surface.
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Ramadan hysteria

Picture from Flickr.

As Ramadan comes to an end, it appears these summer months of fasting present more difficulties than those years when the holy months comes at cooler times (at least if you live in the northern hemisphere.) So it looks like the years ahead will be tough, as Ramadan slides into the hot months of August, then July, then June. I think there's something slightly dysfunctional in the way Ramadan is practiced these days, as a kind of hyper-consumerist, frenetic month of stress, rather than the month of introspection it was surely meant to be. For many in this region (whether they fast or not) we are left with a 30-day Christmas frenzy.

Which is why perhaps it's not surprising, in countries where poor people have to go to work doing manual labor, that some simply choose not to fast. Yes, public display of non-fasting is not approved, although we all know that many eat or drink on the sly. In 99% Muslim Morocco this has long been officially against the law (but certainly not enforced among the elite), whereas in Egypt, another country frequently labeled as "tolerant" in its practice of Islam (as opposed to what - Saudi Arabia?!?), not fasting is relatively normal, at least for the large Christian minority. Strange then that it's in these two countries that scandals over the arrests of non-fasters have emerged.

Jillian York at Global Voices has a good round-up of the Moroccan debacle, as has Morocco Board. But here is an account sent to me from one of the participants in the protests against the penalization of public eating during Ramadan:

Testimony of Moroccan Non-Faster in Hideout Drastic Government Crackdown

We are Moroccan citizens who started MALI, an informal Internet-based group whose French acronym means “Alternative Movement for Individual Freedoms”. Launched a few weeks ago, the Facebook group brought together about 600 members from various Moroccan towns, countries, professions, and religious beliefs. MALI is a forum which discusses possible courses of action for the protection of basic individual liberties in our country. MALI defends the freedoms of religion, conscience, expression, movement, and lifestyle.
Our first action was scheduled during the current month of Ramadan, as an effort to defend the right of non-fasting Moroccans to legally exist. We planned a daytime picnic in symbolic protest of Article 222 of the Moroccan Penal Code which demands a penalty of one to six months in prison and a fine on "any person who, understood to belong to the Muslim religion, publicly breaks the fast during Ramadan." The fast requires total abstinence from all food and drink from dawn to sunset during the lunar month of Ramadan.
Our action was based on Article 6 in Chapter 1 of the Moroccan Constitution, which guarantees religious freedom for all citizens, and on Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, of which Morocco is a member, which guarantees religious freedoms including the rights to change one's beliefs and to manifest them individually or as part of a community, publicly or privately, in teaching, observance, and/or worship.
We picked the Benslimane forest near Mohammedia for our action because it lies far outside the city, and in order to avoid any accusations of public provocation. The forest is also conveniently located midway between the cities Casablanca and Rabat, which facilitated train travel to the event by MALI members from both cities. We arranged to meet at the Mohammedia train station and to walk together to the forest. Members arrived by in discreet groups of 2 and 3. At our arrival, we were met with a huge deployment of security forces at the train station. We were followed as soon as we got off the train, individually searched, and ordered to leave. One of the policemen also verbally directed religious insults at us in the process. The police prevented us from gathering and we were forced to immediately board the train back to Casablanca, in the escort of plainclothes officers. A member of the MALI group who tried to join us was arrested, verbally abused, face-slapped, and taken away before he was released later from a local police station. Back in Casablanca, a journalist who had traveled with us was taken into police van, verbally insulted, and released 15 minutes later. This same journalist, Mr. Aziz El Yaakoubi, was arrested again this afternoon (GMT. Sept 15). At about the same time, the police also arrived at my house, but I was not in there.
A news dispatch from the Morocco's official news agency (MAP) posted yesterday announced charges against us for our “heinous” act, and I was the only participant mentioned by name. This morning, my name along, with various versions of the event, also appeared in all major Moroccan dailies. Some of the news statements openly incited hatred, and I have received death threats in my e-mail as well as via Facebook. In order to avoid tracking and arrest, I am not reachable by cell phone at the moment.

[name redacted]

In fact, there have been reports of dozens of police officers coming to brake up the "protest," the country's political leadership has been mobilized around the issue (Boubakr Jamai has a good editorial about that), and a meeting of ulema gathered to express its indignation. As Morocco's most famous blogger,Larbi, points out, this amounts to collective hysteria: eight people prevented from doing anything are suddenly a moral threat to the nation of tremendous magnitude.

According to the Ministère des Habous et des Affaires Islamiques, the Moroccan penal code says:

Article 222 - A person, known for belonging to the Muslim religion, which breaks fast in a public place during Ramadan, without a reason commonly accepted in this religion, is to be punished by imprisonment for one to six months and of a fine of 12-120DH.

This might just be a silly story, but it speaks poorly of overall regime outlook, and not just because these people were needless harassed and prosecuted. The palace reacted to protect its flank, gathering party leaders around it and pressuring them into issuing condemnation of the fasters. The same regime that boasts endlessly of its moderateness to foreigners is giving credence to Islamist hysteria over this eight-man threat to Moroccan values. It's a reminder of Morocco's surface reforms that ties in nicely with a recent Guardian piece by the Arab Reform Bulletin's Intissar Fakir on "Make-believe reforms in Morocco" in which she argues:

Morocco excels at deflecting western criticism, insisting that liberal reforms would empower violent Islamic radicals who threaten the state. The claim takes in even those who should know better. "Under pressure from Islamic radicalism," Stephen Erlanger and Souad Mekhennet wrote recently in the New York Times, "King Mohammed VI has slowed the pace of change." The latest cover of the Washington Diplomat sports a profile of Aziz Mekouar, Morocco's ambassador to the US, heralding the monarchy's successes in squaring tradition with modernity.

She continues later:

Ironically, the radicalism that plagues Morocco is a product of the palace itself. Throughout the 1980s and 90s, Mohammed's father, Hassan II, embarked on an initiative to Islamise Morocco. Seeking both to solidify his image as Commander of the Faithful and to weaken the secular left-leaning opposition forces that had gained support in the 60s and 70s, Hassan led a relentless effort to remake education and popular culture, infusing school curriculums with radical Salafi teachings.
The monarchy sought to divert attention from the sad reality of daily life by associating all secular thinking with colonialism and western domination – a powerful charge for a country that lived under French rule for nearly five decades – engaging the population in a search for lost identity. More imagined than real, the new identity focused on the religious character of the state: a Sunni, Salafi Morocco.
These efforts have succeeded, and all too well. As is the case in Saudi Arabia, the monarchy now faces an Islamist threat it is increasingly unable or unwilling to contain. The precise extent of the threat has never been clear, but Islamism is undeniably on the rise. While Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has inflicted less damage in Morocco than it has in Algeria and Mauritania, it remains a palpable threat.

Much of the bit about palace instrumentalization of religion is true, I do however disagree with the last bit about Islamism being a palpable threat: if you can't say 'the precise extent" or even define the threat, you should not speak about threats. AQIM is not a "threat" to Morocco (as in it won't bring the country down), and if other Islamists are meant here (such as the PJD) I don't quite see the argument of this being a serious threat.

The idea of a Sunni, Salafi Morocco being encouraged in the 1970s by Hassan II (or rather tolerated through his promotion of certain Istiqlal figures, traditionalists mostly, and tolerance for others who shared his goal of fighting the left is true, but is it still relevant?

I would argue that the single most important thing about Muhammad VI's reign has been his "reform of the religious field," in which he has re-asserted the "Sunni, Malekite character of Moroccan Islam" while carrying out major efforts to train imams and create a conservative but not radical consensus among the ulema. Not everyone is on board of course, and there are plenty of Salafists who disagree (and they are targered by this message) as well as the like of al-Adl wal Ihsan, whose Sufi radicalism is based on opposition to the "Commander of the Faithful." While Muhammad VI has carried this reform as the most effective symbolic method to strengthen's the monarchy's claim to power, it has put him in the position of having to act more explicitly as a religious leader. His attack on the non-fasters, on the hyper-secularist magazines Nichane and Tel Quel a few years ago, as well as on Shias more recently are explained by this renewed claim to moral leadership being made through religious conservatism. As opposed, say, to moral authority granted by being a genuine reformer.

On to Egypt, where moral authority by the regime hit rock bottom a long time ago and the big worry is how bigoted the police has become. Here I think the issue is more one of general moral decay (I don't mean this in religious terms) and utter confusion about the directions the country is taking. In this regard, Sara al-Deeb of AP has a good piece about Egypt's own Ramadan troubles:

The Associated Press: Ramadan brings out Egypt's split personality

Two furious debates have been raging through the season in the Arab world's most populous nation. On one hand, rumors that police arrested Egyptians violating the daily Ramadan fast raised dire warnings from secularists that a Taliban-like rule by Islamic law is taking over.
On the other, Ramadan TV talk shows on state-sponsored television featuring racily dressed female hosts discussing intimate sex secrets with celebrities have sparked outrage from conservatives, denouncing what they call the decadence that is sweeping the nation.
So is Egypt being taken over by sinners or saints? Egyptians have always been a boisterous combination — priding themselves on their piety, while determined to have a good time.
Ramadan, the final day of which is Saturday in most of the Islamic world, shows the contradictions. Egyptians widely adhere to the dawn-to-dusk fast, in which the faithful abstain from food, drink, smoking and sex from dawn until dusk. After sunset, while some pray into the night, many Egyptians party with large meals and a heavy dose of TV entertainment produced specially for the month.
But the confusion comes from the government as well. It has often promoted strict Islamic principles in an attempt to co-opt conservatives and undercut extremists whom the state has been battling for decades. But it also increasingly dominated by businessmen who this year are more heavily than ever promoting Western-style secular culture.
There is no explicit law in Egypt to punish those not abiding by the fast, nor are there religious police to enforce Islamic rules as in Saudi Arabia. Many restaurants still serve during the day, and coffee shops can be seen with their doors cracked open, patrons hidden inside sipping tea or smoking water pipes.
But independent newspapers reported this month that police arrested more than 150 people for openly violating the fast.
Most of the reports have been unconfirmed. But Ahmed, a 27-year old fruit vendor, told The Associated Press he and 15 other people were arrested in a market in the southern town of Aswan on Sept. 5, for smoking in public.
"I was slapped, kicked around," Ahmed said, refusing to give his last name fearing further police harassment. "They asked me why I am not fasting ... They insulted me and used foul language."
Ahmed said he was kept in the police station for nearly six hours, then let go. "Now I am fasting, I swear," he said.
Police officials refused to confirm if Ahmed and others were arrested for not fasting, saying only they were rounded up for investigation.

Original reports spoke of 155 people being arrested in Aswan,so it could be that this was a localized policy, much like arrests of Shias in Hurghada were not state policy but the result of over-zealous, bigoted police officers.

More shockingly, the Interior Ministry appears to have endorsed the arrests of non-fasters and adopted it as standing policy, as Bikya Misr and al-Shorouk have reported. Without, apparently, any more legal ground then they feel it's a disturbance to public order. I don't think this is a question of the state competing with Islamists to be the most pious (indeed, one could make the argument that the Quranic injunction "there is no compulsion in Islam" is a libertarian credo. The problem, in Egypt at least, is more that moral authority has dwindled to such an extent that police officers of all ranks feel that they can enact their personal bigotry unto others. Who knows what the back story of the arrests in Aswan is, but it tells us one thing: the law does not matter; it's what the pasha says that does.


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Links for 09.17.09 to 09.19.09

A few day's worth...

Orientalism’s Wake: The Ongoing Politics of a Polemic | Very nice collection of essays on Edward Said's "Orientalism" from a variety of supporters, critics, academics including Daniel Varisco, Robert Irwin, Roger Owen, etc.
The Sources of Islamic Revolutionary Conduct | I have not read in detail this small book by a US Air Force analyst, but scanning through it I see rather odd choices. For instance there are long chapters comparing Christianity and modern secularism to the Islamist outlook, except that it's never quite clear whether the latter means the outlook of engaged Islamist activists or ordinary Muslims. There is also copious quoting from Sayyid Qutb's "Milestones" as if it was representative of all Islamic thinking. Someone should give this a detailed look (and I'd be happy to post the result.) [PDF]
Al-Ahram Weekly | Egypt | A clean break | On Cairo's garbage collection crisis.
Irving Kristol, Godfather of Conservatism, Dies - Obituary (Obit) - NYTimes.com | Leaving behind a disastrous intellectual, social, economic and political legacy: alleged liberalism on social issues that shirks from real change, supply-side economics, and of course an imperial war doctrine.
Are Morocco And Algeria Gearing Up For Arms Race? « A Moroccan About the world around him
Big mouth - The National Newspaper | Bernard Heykal on how the strength of al-Qaeda is impossible. Which makes sense, at least if you try to do it from the Bin Laden tapes as all the silly pseudo-analysis of last week showed.
Ikhwanweb :: The Muslim Brotherhood Official English Website | Very much like the new look of the Muslim Brothers' English website, which I hadn't checked in a while. They have a very useful "today's news" feature that can also be used for archives by date.
Al-Ahram Weekly | Economy | Depleting Egypt's reserves | A good article with details on the Egypt-Israel gas deal and why it may be a bad idea in terms of resource management, never mind political and financial sense.
Al-Qaradawi's Fatwa Asharq Alawsat Newspaper (English) | The alleged liberal paid by intolerant Islamists in Riyadh attacks the alleged moderate Islamist paid by Doha:

A news item reported in the Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper revealed that Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi had issued a fatwa prohibiting Iraqis from acquiring US citizenship on the grounds that this is the nationality of an occupier nation. However this fatwa has nothing to do with the reality on the ground, and contains more political absurdity then it does religious guidance. Sheikh al-Qaradawi himself is an Egyptian who possesses Qatari nationality, which was given to him after he opposed the peace agreement between Egypt and Israel. However when an Israeli office was opened in Doha, al-Qaradawi did not renounce his Qatari nationality.

Freed Iraqi shoe thrower tells of torture in jail | World news | guardian.co.uk

| "His brother Uday told Reuters: "Thanks be to God that Muntazer has seen the light of day. I wish Bush could see our happiness. When President Bush looks back and turns the pages of his life, he will see the shoes of Muntazer al-Zaidi on every page.""
BAE to axe 1,100 jobs and close site | Business | guardian.co.uk | So Tony Blair quashed the Yamama inquiry to save jobs (or so he says) but BAe still carries out layoffs?
Seinfeld, Sacha Baron Cohen and Natalie Portman slam Toronto Film Festival protest - Haaretz - Israel News| Some stars come to Israel's side in the tiff over TIFF.
GDC | Economist Conferences| Economist infographic shows public debt around the world.
FT.com / Middle East / Politics & Society - Investors seek to revive faded glory of Cairo | On investment in Downtown Cairo properties and plans for gentrification. Look out for another article on this soon.
No concrete proof that Iran has or has had nuclear programme – UN atomic watchdog | Just a reminder that the press reports have spinned things wrongly - this comes straight from the UN: "17 September 2009 – Refuting a recent media report, the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) today reiterated that the body has no concrete proof that Iran has or has ever had a nuclear weapons programme."
Egypt Islamic Authority Says Women Can Wear Trousers - International News | News of the World | Middle East News | Europe News - FOXNews.com | The world is going to hell -- what next, capris?
BBC NEWS | Middle East | 'Many killed' in Yemen air raid | Serious turn in Yemen's trouble -- bombing a refugee camp!?


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The Goldstone report and the peace process

The Goldstone report is out (get it here). There is obviously a lot of detail in here, but this otherwise rather limp-wristed story in The Economist stays on the fence but zeroes in on the meat of the report:

The incendiary premise of his report, to be delivered to the UN’s 47-country Human Rights Council in Geneva this month, is that Israel is guilty of one of the worst crimes: deliberately and systematically attacking civilians and making them suffer as a war aim. The Israelis knew they would get pasted, as the council is a serial Israel-bashing outfit that often lets more egregious human-rights abusers around the world off the hook. But the report was even more critical than they had feared.

It's worth noting that Goldstone and his colleagues had been expected to be more lenient because he is Jewish, at least some pro-Israel people had hoped. You see some rather strange things as a result in the press. This Forward piece examines Goldstone's Jewishness and Zionism, with no sense of irony at whether these factors should have been an issue in his appointment:

JOHANNESBURG — Ask Richard Goldstone what possessed him, a Jew and self-described supporter of Israel, to accept the job of chief United Nations investigator of alleged war crimes committed in Gaza last winter, and the legendary South African judge invokes his past.

Of course Goldstone's own daughter has an interesting spin on his impact:

Had Richard Goldstone not served as the head of the UN inquiry into the Gaza war, the accusations against Israel would have been harsher, Goldstone's daughter, Nicole, said in an interview conducted in Hebrew with Army Radio on Wednesday.

"My father took on this job because he thought he is doing the best thing for peace, for everyone, and also for Israel," Nicole Goldstone told Army Radio.

There's an interesting tidbit of international legal history in this Haaretz piece, Goldstone: Holocaust shaped view on war crimes, on the doctrine of international courts dealing with war crimes:

Israel, he added, was one of the first countries to support the formation of permanent court of law for crimes against humanity - a proposal that came up following the successful performance of the special tribunals on Bosnia.

However, that changed, he said, after Egypt insisted at the Rome conference that the mandate of this permanent court include occupied territories. This prompted Israel to join the six other countries that voted against the formation of the International Court of Justice, including the United States, China and Libya.

Back to the reaction to the report. Of course Netanyahu came out all guns blazing:

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday blasted a United Nations probe into Israel's winter offensive against Hamas as nothing but a "kangaroo court," after the investigators accused Israel of committing war crimes in a report.

"The Goldstone report is a kangaroo court against Israel, whose consequences harm the struggle of democratic countries against terror," said Netanyahu during closed meetings, in his first response to the report, which was released on Tuesday.

And the US followed suit:

Susan Rice, the US ambassador to the United Nations, said Washington has had 'serious concerns' about the mandate given to the four-member Goldstone mission by the Geneva-based council. The US officially took its seat in the 46-member body in early September.
'We have long expressed our very serious concerns about the mandate given by the Human Rights Council prior to our joining it,' Rice said in her first reaction to the findings by Goldstone on Tuesday.
'We view the mandate as ... one-sided and basically unbalanced,' she said. She also objected to Goldstone's recommendations, including one for the 15-nation Security Council to investigate and refer the war crimes to the International Criminal Court at The Hague.

A further clarification of the US position from AP:

The State Department said the conclusions of a U.N. commission headed by South African justice Richard Goldstone were unfair to Israel and did not fully address the role of the militant Palestinian group Hamas in the conflict. And it said the U.S. objected to a recommendation that alleged crimes be referred to the International Criminal Court.
"Although the report addresses all sides of the conflict, its overwhelming focus is on the actions of Israel," spokesman Ian Kelly told reporters.

A non-sensical position, of course, considering that the vast majority of the damage was made by Israel, not Hamas.

The Goldstone report stresses that the blockade of Gaza amounts to "collective punishment" and is carried out as part of "a systematic policy of progressive isolation and deprivation of the Gaza Strip," as IPS reports. And meanwhile, as The Guardian reports, the Egyptian-Israeli (and US and EU-backed) blockade of Gaza continues to wreak havoc. A different, leaked UN report on the situation Gaza has harsh words:

The UN report, obtained by the Guardian, reveals the delays facing the delivery of even the most basic aid. On average, it takes 85 days to get shelter kits into Gaza, 68 days to deliver health and paediatric hygiene kits, and 39 days for household items such as bedding and kitchen utensils.
Among the many items delayed are notebooks and textbooks for children returning to school. As many as 120 truckloads of stationery were "stranded" in the West Bank and Israel due to "ongoing delays in approval".
There were "continued difficulties" in importing English textbooks for grades four to nine – affecting 130,000 children – and material used to print textbooks for several subjects in grades one to nine.
Government schools were reported to lack paper and chalk, while the UN Relief and Works Agency, which supports Palestinian refugees and runs many schools in Gaza, was still waiting to import 4,000 desks and 5,000 chairs.
The UN says the current situation "contravenes" a UN security council resolution passed during the war in January, which called for "unimpeded provision and distribution" of humanitarian aid for Gaza.
"The result is a gradual process of de-development across all sectors, devastating livelihoods, increasing unemployment and resulting in increased aid dependency amongst the population," says the report from the UN Office of the Humanitarian Co-ordinator.
According to UN statistics, around 70% of Gazans live on less than a dollar a day, 75% rely on food aid and 60% have no daily access to water. As many as 20,000 Palestinians are still displaced after the war, most living with relatives or renting apartments.
Among the most urgent needs is glass to repair shattered windows before the winter rains. Glass, along with other construction materials, is one of the many items banned by Israel from entering the strip. The UN also wanted to deliver agricultural products to reach farmers in time for their main planting season over the next few months. Industrial fuel was required for the power plant, along with bank notes for aid projects and salaries.

The Guardian has made the full report available here.

Juan Cole had a good roundup, arguing that while the report will have an impact despite Israel and the US's refusal to deal with its conclusions:

Amnesty International has endorsed and defended the conclusions of the report, and Human Rights Watch has also been a supporter of Justice Goldstone. Even the British House of Lords debate on this issue last May displayed a determination that there be no double standard and that Israel be held accountable for any crimes it committed-- likewise Hamas.

Israel's continued inhumane blockade of the people of Gaza and its drive to further colonize the Palestinian West Bank, as well as its tendency to launch wars at the drop of a hat, are increasingly making it an international pariah and impelling a boycott movement, especially in Europe but also Canada. The recent World Council of Churches resolution in favor of some boycotts is also a bellwether. (Nor can such boycotts be avoided by Jewish nationalists' attacks on the academic freedom of boycott proponents such as Neve Gordon; or by Stern Gang character assassination tactics deployed against US academics who protest the policies of the Israeli rightwing.)

Israel is deeply dependent on trade and technological sharing with Europe, and the Goldstone report will give a fillip to the boycott movement. It will also cast a long shadow on future Israeli wars on its neighbors and how they are perceived, as Aluf Benn argues in Haaretz.

I agree that this report should be leveraged in the growing Boycott-Divestment-Sanctions effort. The Lebanon and Gaza wars have deeply affected Israel's image in Europe and even the US, the question is how to maintain, build upon and amplify this increasingly widespread disgust at Israel into impact on politicians. The EU - admittedly not a very democratic institution, in the sense that its joint foreign policy is made with even less accountability or oversight than the policy of member states - still has to react strongly, for instance by halting any further rapprochement in EU-Israel relations. This report, alongside with the refusal of the Netanyuahu government to end settlement expansion, never mind dismantle settlements (which are all illegal pending final status negotiations) paints an ever-more convincing picture of Israel as the key obstruction to peace. The question is whether the Obama administration, as well as EU countries, are able to make a radical break with the past practices that have worked so poorly.

George Mitchell's peregrinations to Tel Aviv have become acts of routine self-humiliation, with a deal always expected close (although only on expansion), and the Israelis yet again saying no. The Obama administration has not indefinitely postponed the September push for peace talked about this summer. This can only last for so long; Obama will either have to up the ante or this peace process, like others, will sink into stagnation. Confrontation between Obama and Netanyahu is necessary if this is to be taken seriously. The Israeli journalist Akiva Eldar had it right in a recent piece:

This approach only causes a loss of Arab trust in the willingness of Israeli governments to do justice by the Palestinians; it mortally undermines their trust in the willingness of the Americans to use their power and influence in order to carry out U.S. interests in the region. If Obama is worried about fighting with the gatekeeper, and so lets Netanyahu rule the vineyard, we will all eat grapes of wrath.

For ideas at what small even small steps might be, take a look at Shana Marshall's recent proposal.


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Marshall: Make Use of Offsets Against Israel

Shana Marshall (of Bint Beltway fame) has a good piece advocating leveraging offset requirements in US weapons sales to Israel in the Middle East peace process:
Like most industrialized nations, U.S. defense manufacturers routinely grant offsets to purchasing governments, usually in the form of agreements to co-produce specific weapons or invest in commercial enterprises. It has long been U.S. practice not to allow offsets on products and services purchased with U.S. military assistance funds — except when it comes to Egypt and Israel. The billions of dollars in additional defense assistance that Israel has secured through this legislative loophole may prove to be a significant source of leverage in the Middle East peace process. For example, Israel is hoping to pen a deal for $20 billion worth of U.S.-built F-35s that could include offsets of nearly $10 billion — that's in accordance with Israeli policy requiring offsets of 48% of the overall contract value. These offsets would accrue mostly to the Israeli defense department, possibly via agreements that Lockheed Martin would purchase Israeli-built computer components for the assembled planes. Israeli press reports suggest the offset provisions are holding up the deal, signaling Israel's continued pursuit of offsets even in its most strategic procurement decisions. These funds represent a significant tool the Obama administration should use to press Israel on the settlement issue. There is precedent for trying security assistance to Israeli settlement policy. In the 1990s Congress frequently reduced multi-billion dollar loan guarantee programs by the amount the Israeli government spent on settlements in the occupied territories. This logic applies to offsets as well, since they may indirectly finance projects that support settlements by providing Israel with financial flexibility to commit additional resources to build more settlements or by funneling the profits from offsets into acquiring controversial crowd-control devices and other materials that many countries (including the United States) refuse to export to Israel.
She has more in there about the Egyptian link too, and how reform in the US defense sales process could provide leverage not only against Tel Aviv, but also Cairo.
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Israel's Lebanese Spy Ring

To my knowledge there's been little coverage of the recent Lebanese spy scandal in the English-language press (although the Arabic press has talked about it plenty), but Le Figaro has a long piece on the arrests, labeling them as one of the most important reverses in the (long) history of Israeli espionage:
Dans cette guerre de l'ombre, les services de renseignements israéliens ont subi, cette année au Liban, l'un des plus importants revers de leur histoire. Comme il se doit, ils n'ont pas commenté le démantèlement de leur plus grand réseau d'espionnage dans un pays arabe. Les chiffres sont pourtant sans précédents. Plus de soixante-dix Libanais ont été inculpés d'espionnage au profit d'Israël ces derniers mois. Une quarantaine de suspects ont été placés en détention. Une trentaine d'autres agents supposés sont toujours recherchés par les autorités libanaises. Certains ont réussi à fuir, prenant l'avion vers une destination inconnue, ou ont franchi la frontière entre les deux pays, toujours techniquement en guerre depuis 1949. D'autres ont cessé leurs activités. À la différence des maîtres espions des romans, les membres de ces réseaux appartiennent à l'univers moins glamour du renseignement de terrain. Celui des petites mains, des cellules anonymes chargées de glaner des informations fragmentaires, de préparer des dossiers d'objectif ou de suivre les mouvements quotidiens de l'adversaire. Parmi ces agents, certains dormants depuis des années, toutes les communautés libanaises sont représentées : chrétiens, sunnites, chiites, originaires du Sud-Liban, de la Bekaa ou de Beyrouth. «Certains travaillaient pour Israël depuis des années, parfois depuis les années 1980», explique le général Achraf Rifi, directeur général des Forces de sécurité intérieures libanaises, qui ont effectué une bonne partie des arrestations. «Ils ont été recrutés, ajoute-t-il, pour des motifs variés : financiers, idéologiques ou psychologiques. On a même des cas de chantage, sexuels ou autres. Mais le principal facteur de ce recrutement a été la longue occupation israélienne du Sud-Liban, qui a mis en contact des Libanais avec les Israéliens, et qui a, d'une certaine façon, rendu acceptable les relations avec eux». «Une chose est sûre, c'est un beau coup de filet, commente une source diplomatique occidentale à Beyrouth. Il est possible que, depuis leur semi-échec pendant la guerre de 2006, où ils s'étaient appuyés sur leurs renseignements aériens et technologiques, les Israéliens aient un peu trop demandé à leurs réseaux, leur faisant prendre plus de risques pour reconstituer leurs listes de cibles. Mais ces arrestations sont surtout le fruit d'un travail sans précédent des forces de sécurité libanaises.»
My translation:
In this shadow war, the Israeli intelligence services have gone through, this year in Lebanon, one of the most important setbacks in their history. As expected, they have not commented on the dismantling of their largest espionage network in an Arab country. The numbers are however unprecedented. Over 70 Lebanese have been accused of espionage for Israel in recent months. About 40 suspects are currently held. Another 30 are currently being sought by Lebanese authorities. Some have managed to flee, or crossed the border between the two countries, which have been technically at war since 1949. Others have ceased their activities. As opposed to spymasters in novels, the members of these networks belong to the less glamorous universe of ground-level intelligence gathering. That of small hands, of anonymous cells tasked with gathering fragments of intelligence, of preparing objective dossiers or follow the movements of the enemy. Among these agents, some of which have been asleep for years, all Lebanese communities are represented: Christians, Sunnis, Shias, South Lebanese, from the Bekaa or Beirut. "Some have worked for Israel for years, sometimes since the 1980s," explains General Ashraf Rifi, director of the Internal Security Forces, which carried out most of the arrests. "They've been recruited through various motives: financial, ideological, or psychological. Or even a few cases of blackmail, sexual or otherwise. But the most important factor for recruitment was the long Israeli occupation of South Lebanon, which put Lebanese in touch with Israelis, and which, in a way, made relationships with them acceptable." "One thing is certain, it's a major catch," commented a Western diplomat in Beirut. "It is possible that, since its semi-failure during the 2006 war, when they heavily relied on technological and aerial intelligence, the Israelis asked for too much of their networks, making them take risks to draft their target lists. But these arrests have also been the result of unprecedented work by the Lebanese security forces."
I'm not sure what this means in terms of internal politics -- the ISF are supposed to be pro-March 14, but it certainly gives some more national security kudos to the government, an area where Hizbullah and its allies have had the upper hand since the liberation of the South. The article has a lot more detail on the arrests, for instance on the arrest of Lebanese Army Colonel Mansour Diab, who had been a leading figure in the 2007 Nahr al-Bared attacks. He was allegedly recruited in the US during a training seminar (which begs all sorts of questions.) Le Figaro also highlights the use of phone-listening equipment and software capable of processing thousands of calls as being instrumental in catching the spies. Ironically, the equipment had been provided to the ISF by Western intelligence agencies in the aftermath of the assassination of Rafiq Hariri, and that was originally probably targeted at monitoring Hizbullah. The officer running this program, Captain Wissam Eid, died in a car bombing in early 2008. Hizbullah is said to have been behind the attack, but the listening system has since been turned to other uses, leading to the dismantling of the Israeli networks.
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Amreeka

A film about the Arab-American immigrant experience is getting some attention, but unfortunately it seems from reviewsthat "Amreeka" (about a Palestinian single mom who moves from the West Bank to Illinois) isn't a very nuanced portrayal. I've been disappointed so far by the work I've seen focusing on the lives of Arab Americans--whether it's stand-up comedy like the Axis of Evil Tour (which pulled way too many punches) or the film "TowelHead" (which was voyeuristic and pointless). It's surprising because the subjects seems like such rich terrain right now, for both drama and comedy.
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Arabic lit, recently translated and reviewed

Several interesting reviews of recently translated Arabic fiction: In The National, Kaelen Wilson-Goldie reviews the latest by Lebanese novelist Hanan al-Shaykh, a book about her own mother's dramatic life. Wilson Goldie writes that al-Shaykh's works "walk a fine line between what could be considered prototypical chick lit and enduring literary fiction." Also at The National, John O'Connel reviews Bahaa Taher's "Sunset Oasis," now out in translation (from the consistently good Humphrey Davies) and getting a lot of attention. I liked Taher's "Aunt Safiyya and the Monastery" but I hesitated to read "Sunset Oasis"--even after it won the first International Prize for Arabic Fiction (often referred to as the Arabic Booker)--because of bad memories from his novel "Love In Exile", which drove me crazy with its clichés and self-indulgence, and which also featured a relationship between a Western woman and an Arab man. And the Complete Review looks at a recent translation of the novel The Hedgehog by the Syrian writer Zakaria Tamer.
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Links for 09.14.09

Unsettled - Resolve of West Bank Settlers May Have Limits - Series - NYTimes.com | NYT describes Israeli settlers as "the nation's moral core." For once I agree. ✪ Islamists and the Grave Bell | Greg Gause: "So a revival of democracy promotion in Washington requires the underlying assumption that Islamists will not win Middle Eastern election." Well in that case let's put the whole democracy promotion idea to sleep, and instead develop a concept of autocracy obstruction. ✪ Political storm clouds form over Turkey | The Smirking Chimp | Interesting post on deep state anti-Islamist group in Turkey. ✪ الصفحة الرئيسية | Arabic ebooks. ✪ Egyptian chronicles: Welcome To The Egyptian Publishing Hell | Good post on the problems with copyright, literary publishing and censorship in Egypt.
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Links for 09.14.09

Why I Love Al Jazeera - The Atlantic (October 2009) | Robert Kaplan. Incidentally, while some of what he says about al-J (here he means the English channel) is interesting, he does not seem to be conscious that The Atlantic is one of the most biased publications among the mainstream pseudo-highbrow mags in the US. ✪ Osama bin Laden: in it for the long haul | World news | guardian.co.uk | Ian Black on the new Bin Laden audio tape. ✪ Middle East Report 252 contents: Pakistan Under Pressure | New issue of Middle East Report, Getting By in the Global Downturn," with selected articles available online. ✪ A la Mostra, le déroutant voyage d'Ahmed Maher - LeMonde.fr | Success for Egyptian director Ahmed Maher at Venice Film Festival. ✪ The five ages of al-Qaida | World news | guardian.co.uk | Infographic.
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Links for 09.13.09

Unwanted Guests | The Brave New World of Gamal's ruling party: "Have you noticed that this Ramadan many of the talk shows guests in Egyptian channels are from NDP ministers, businessmen, journalists and men who did not use to appear on TV ??" ✪ Israel Timeline: The Long Way Home | NYT's timeline of Jewish-US-Israel-Oslo history. Makes no reference to pre-48 Palestinian politics, Arab revolt, etc. ✪ Other Inscriptions: Sexual Difference and History Writing between Futures Past and Present | A review of Joseph Massad's "Desiring Arabs" finds that "It is perhaps in the argument about the Gay International that the book is both made and unmade." ✪ Daily News Egypt - Azhar Scholars Say No To Using Quranic Verses As Logos | Move in part targets Muslim Brothers. ✪ Navigating Egypt's bureaucracy with a child in tow - AP | Paul Schemm on the Mugamma.
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Links for 09.12.09 to 09.13.09

صحيفة عكاظ - موسوعة الأفلام.. تكرار أسماء واقتباسات صريحة | On a new Encyclopedia of Arab Cinema, categorizing 4350 films. [h/t: Lina] ✪ The Arabic Student | Blog on learning Arabic, with vocab lessons and more. ✪ US in raptures over Arab film - The National Newspaper | Regarding the new film on the Arab-American experience, "Amreeka". ✪ YouTube - Al Jazeera: Debate between a liberal and an islamist in Egypt. | MEMRI video of a debate by the Egyptian secularist intellectual Sayyid Qemani on Jazeera, debating Islamists and the host. ✪ Muslims Widely Seen As Facing Discrimination - Pew Research Center | "Eight years after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, Americans see Muslims as facing more discrimination inside the U.S. than other major religious groups. Nearly six-in-ten adults (58%) say that Muslims are subject to a lot of discrimination, far more than say the same about Jews, evangelical Christians, atheists or Mormons. In fact, of all the groups asked about, only gays and lesbians are seen as facing more discrimination than Muslims, with nearly two-thirds (64%) of the public saying there is a lot of discrimination against homosexuals."
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