Five January 25 gains that have (so far) survived the counter-revolution

As quite a few commentators have gloomily noted, an Egyptian counter-revolution appears to be in full swing. The Supreme Council for the Armed Forces has vowed to step up its use of Emergency Law and demonstrating a willingness to crack down on street protesters, strikers, critics of the military, NGOs who receive foreign funding, and anyone else who might trouble their hold over the country. Newspapers are again being censored. The Interior Ministry seems to have successfully resisted real reform, at least for the time being. Supporters of the revolution are trying to count the tangible achievements of the January uprising and coming up short, sober observers are reminding us that those who create a revolution rarely get to determine its outcome, and some Edmund Burkes are surveying the scene and declaring that they knew all along that the naive youth of Facebook could never seriously shape the course of Egypt's future, except as pawns.

I would agree that the vision of Egypt's future articulated by protesters in Tahrir is still far from being realized. However, they have already accomplished far more than many would give them credit for doing. Some examples:

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Muktatafaht: A comics anthology

Don't be fooled by the bad video that sounds, at the beginning, like an advertisement for the Boston area tourism board. This is a cool project to produce an anthology of Middle Eastern comics, and I've contributed to the Kickstarter fundraising project for it. Help if you like comics! [Thanks, Ethan.]

Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

A couple of items on Morocco

Two quick items I wanted to flag on Morocco:

  1. A long interview of Prince Moulay Hicham (aka the "Red Prince") in Le Debat, in which the rogue royal says that he would wants to see the Makhzen disappear so that the monarchy can survive:

    Après la mort de mon oncle, j’ai continué de soutenir publiquement que le makhzen, c’est-à-dire le pouvoir patrimonial au Maroc, devait périr pour que la monarchie vive et serve les Marocains. Je me suis également prononcé contre le califat, autrement dit contre une monarchie sous l’autorité du «Comman- deur des croyants» mêlant prérogatives poli- tiques et religieuses. Tout cela, je le pense et le défends toujours, à la fois en raison de ce que je suis et à cause de ce que j’ai fait de moi.

     It's cited here but while no one's looking here's the full PDF

  2. A Wikileaks-leaked State Dept. cable sheds some light on why Morocco broke relations with Iran in 2009 — because the Saudis asked:
    Morocco broke diplomatic relations with Iran and began a campaign against its domestic Shi'a minority at Saudi Arabian instigation, according to XXXXXXXXXXXX. According to XXXXXXXXXXXX, Tehran had been using Morocco and its Embassy in Rabat for activities in Mali and Senegal. Domestically, XXXXXXXXXXXX emphasized that the anti-Shi'a campaign was aimed at neutralizing possible challenges to monarchist parties by Islamic groups in upcoming municipal elections. In addition, King Mohammed VI was seeking to reassert his position as a religious leader.

    The full cable is here. I have some skepticism about this explanation alone but of course Saudis were part of the picture.

[Thanks, C. and P.]

Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

Academic tourists?

This opinion piece by AUC sociology professor Mona Abaza raises some interesting and uncomfortable questions about the inequalities between local and foreign academics who study the Middle East -- especially now, as the Arab Spring has made the region the object of increased scholarly interest: 

Without sounding xenophobic, which is a growing concern that personally worries me more than ever, there is much to say about the ongoing international academic division of labour whereby the divide between the so called “theoreticians” of the North and the “informants” who are also “objects of study” in the South continues to grow.

I am indeed speaking of frustrations because “we” as “locals” have been experiencing a situation, time and again, of being reduced to becoming at best “service providers” for visiting scholars, a term I borrowed from my colleague, political scientist Emad Shahin, at worst like the French would put it, as the “indigène de service”, for ironically the right cause of the revolution. To rather cater for the service of our Western expert colleagues who typically make out of no more than a week's stay in Cairo, a few shots and a tour around Tahrir, the ticket to tag themselves with the legitimacy and expertise of first hand knowledge.

I cover higher education in the Middle East and I know there are a lot of academics and students of the Arab world who read the blog, and I'd welcome your reactions. Have you experienced these kinds of frustrations -- or misgivings? In the rush to assert one's professional credentials on the Arab Spring leading to superficial work? Is this just sour grapes or is there a power imbalance between visiting foreign scholars and their local colleagues? How could it be addressed? 

The new Egyptian censorship

Looks a lot like the old. From CPJ:

Egypt must stop censoring newspapers

New York, September 27, 2011- The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the censorship of two newspapers in the past four days, the first instances of their kind since the ouster of former president Hosni Mubarak in February. Production of the Saturday edition of the independent weekly Sawt al-Umma was halted, while the daily Rose al-Youssef was prevented from printing a page in today's paper that was to feature a controversial story.

"The military government has revived Mubarak-era repression," said Mohamed Abdel Dayem, CPJ's Middle East and North Africa program coordinator. "These two instances of censorship have been preceded by the closing of a news bureau, the interrogation of journalists, and other instances of press restrictions and intimidation."

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Egyptian women and the revolution

Photo by Rena Effendi

I have a piece in Newsweek magazine about Egyptian women and the revolution. I started working on this in March. Perhaps because I was focusing on the topic, I've been particularly aware of women's absence from the post-Mubarak decision-making process.

The morning of January 28 I was sitting in a room of activists, and quite a few of them were women. There were women in the street that day, and there were a lot of women in Tahrir.  But women have been largely missing, not just from the two most influential organizations of the post-Mubarak era -- the army and the Muslim Brotherhood -- but from opinion columns and the podiums of press conferences, from the courtrooms and of course from all the positions that have yet to open to them, such as being governors or university deans or heads of state institutions. We have one female minister, Fayza Abul Naga, and she is a Mubarak hold-over. (The one area where women are quite influential is the media, with female TV talk show presenters becoming quite well-known public personalities). 

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In Translation: Wael Kandil on the Emergency Law

I’m happy to announce a new regular feature on this site. Every week, we will select an article from the Arabic press, translate it and bring it to you with a short analytical introduction. The idea is to give readers an idea of the debate in the Arabic papers over issues of the day, and provide some wider context. We’ve done some of this in the past, but generally do the translation of more than a few lines ourselves — we’re simply too busy. What we’ll be doing here is bringing you full-length, unabridged articles — so we needed outside help.

Translation for this feature will be provided courtesy of Industry Arabic, a  full-service translation company founded by two longtime Arabist readers, which specializes in English-Arabic-French technical, legal, and engineering translation management services.

For the first item in the series, we’re looking at the debate over the Emergency Law in Egypt. Since the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) began to make increased use of the Emergency Law after September 9 protests (at the Israeli embassy and several ministry of interior facilities). This was controversial in itself, but a legal debate soon emerged: it was generally understood that the Emergency Law would lapse at the end of September, according to the Constitutional Declaration approved in March that states it will last six months. Several scholars have confirmed this interpretation, but the SCAF now counters that since Mubarak and the previous parliament had extended the Emergency Law till May 2012, it would be effective until then.

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Links 18-25 September 2011

Long overdue link-dump — many items, no time to edit.
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Where's my country?

The Salafyo Costa (young, "moderate" Salafists, which seems a bit of a contradiction in terms, since Salafists are religious fundamentalists, aspiring to live as much as possible as the Prophet's companions) have put together a funny and popular online video.

"Where's my store?" tells the story of a "shop" that for many years was expropriated from its rightful owners by "a bad man and his sons." It's in Arabic, but even non-Arabic speakers should be able to appreciate the pretty hilarious opening scenes, in which various individuals representing different Egyptian groups -- Christians, Salafists, liberals, upper-class -- converging on the newly "liberated" store, all with ownership deed in hand. Of course, I couldn't help noticing that no women are shown claiming their stake. 

The Salafyo Costa take their name from a coffee chain (!) and make a point of how comfortable they are with modern consumerism and technology. I find them difficult to categorize, probably sui-generis among the larger Salafist scene, and interesting. Further on (at about minute 8) the movie mocks hysteria over Salafists themselves, with a host on a would-be Salafist cooking show saying he'll teach the audience how to make "potato-liberals" salad.  

On vacation in Torah

Field Marshall Tantawi (the senior army man in charge of the country) testified in Mubarak's trial this morning. We don't know what he said, because the court session are closed and there is a gag order on the press (how can what happened during the revolution be a state secret?).

I was in a cab listening to a state TV reporter excitedly (not) report on the proceedings, when my driver burst out: "They'll never be held to account!" He said his mother lives near Torah prison and from her balcony they can see the Mubarak sons and cronies being held there hang out in the courtyard. He says they have laptops, cell phones, play soccer, have visitors, get food deliveries.. I can't confirm his account of course, but there have been similar stories in the press.

"Pasha on the outside, pasha on the inside," he said. "It's Sharm El Sheikh in Torah." If only the were treated like regular prisoners, he said -- beaten, humiliated, made to go hungry and sleep on the floor -- then they'd confess and tell us where the money they stole is. 

Egypt: worrying about the wrong foreign funding

In July, a mini-crisis of sorts erupted between Egypt and the United States over foreign funding. The spark was probably the congressional testimony of the new US ambassador to Cairo, Anne Patterson, in June, in which she said that the US was earmarking $40m for USAID democracy and governance spending.

By late July, the $40m figure was being cited in the Egyptian media, and sometimes was inflated to $60m, the figure that the US State Dept. had considered spending earlier in the year. Public records showed that most of the money went to the National Democratic Institute (NDI), the International Republican Institute (IRI) and the International Federation for Electoral Systems (IFES) — some of which they no doubt redistributed to local partners. The media began to raise up a storm, while the government demanded clarifications from the US.

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Were the Eilat gunmen Egyptian?

I’m not sure how much play this has gotten in the Egyptian media, but the 21 September of the large-circulation Israeli daily Yediot Ahronoth ran a story saying that the Israeli government’s investigation into the Eilat attack revealed the perpetrators were Egyptians — including a serving police officer. The Egyptians are said to have rejected these findings.

Obviously it’s not conclusive — right now it’s just a leak to a local paper — but this might indicate the arguments the Israelis will be making to the Egyptians (and Americans) in the month ahead. It plays into the poor security situation in Sinai and the fear that it might turn into a jihadist training ground.

There are several things worth bearing in mind in this:

  • Israel originally said they were Palestinians and used this as a pretext to bombard Gaza. They still claim the Palestinian Popular Resistance Committees of Gaza were the people behind this, subcontracting the job to Sinai-based Egyptians. How that works I’m not sure.
  • This boosts the Egyptian argument for greater military presence in Eastern Sinai — or would if they accepted the premise of the report.
  • As the Yediot report notes, this now gives the Israelis ammo to push the Egyptians, who are pushing back with the killing of Egyptian border guards that followed the Eilat attack.
  • More generally, it raises questions about the radical Islamist groups known to be operating in Central Sinai, how they might be countered, and what the Egyptian military is doing about it through its “Operation Eagle” launched in August. Or indeed, even the possibility that the group was not Islamist all — an outlier possibility.

The full text of the report, translated from the original Hebrew by Israel News Today, is below.

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The Moroccan initiative

This is one hell of a story from the AP, uncovering CIA collaboration with the NYPD to do obsessive spying on Muslim communities in New York — and in particular shops owned by Moroccan immigrants. A few excerpts:

NEW YORK (AP) — The New York Police Department put American citizens under surveillance and scrutinized where they ate, prayed and worked, not because of charges of wrongdoing but because of their ethnicity, according to interviews and documents obtained by The Associated Press.

The documents describe in extraordinary detail a secret program intended to catalog life inside Muslim neighborhoods as people immigrated, got jobs, became citizens and started businesses. The documents undercut the NYPD's claim that its officers only follow leads when investigating terrorism.

It started with one group, Moroccans, but the documents show police intended to build intelligence files on other ethnicities.

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Elections in the Gulf 2/2: UAE

Two elections are taking place in the Gulf — in Bahrain and in the United Arab Emirates — on Saturday. The political environments could not be more different, but the results of both elections are not expected to change much. Yesterday, we looked at Bahrain. Today, we focus on the UAE.

In the UAE there is no opposition and the candidates — 468 of them — are running for a body that has no legislative power. So what are people focused on? Turnout.

In the run up to the Federal National Council election the state run news agency WAM carried statements stressing the importance of voters exercising their right at the ballots. UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan called for broad and active participation in the elections. Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum echoed the call a day later.

Even more clearly, Anwar Mohammed Gargash, state minister for FNC, said:

There is no historic cumulative for the electoral process in the UAE to assess a number of voters who will turn up, but the measure of success will be the percentage of participation.

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Elections in the Gulf 1/2: Bahrain

Two elections are taking place in the Gulf — in Bahrain and in the United Arab Emirates — on Saturday. The political environments could not be more different, but the results of both elections are not expected to change much. First, let's look at the dynamics in Bahrain.

In Bahrain the election was called to replace the 18 seats formerly held by the main Shiite opposition group, Al Wefaq, which resigned earlier this year protesting the government’s crackdown. Al Wefaq and five other opposition groups are boycotting the vote. Several candidates have already won unopposed. Al Wefaq said it was powerless against the government and since the group has walked out of parliament, the government has not conceded anything, they say. How could they return under such conditions?

“We were not able to help the people when the crackdown started,” according to Matar Ebrahim Matar, a former Al Wefaq MP, who himself was arrested, held and beaten in detention — an accusation the government denies. “The government doesn’t listen to anybody so even if we are inside (the parliament), the government are ignoring all those who are speaking about violations, people who are fired from their jobs, tortured inside the jail and the patients who cannot reach medical services,” he said. “The denial will not stop the issues.”

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Events and appearances

A scene from Ahmad Abdalla's "Microphone"

This will be a busy week for me: I'll be appearing on a panel at the Online News Association conference in Boston, specifically their Friday keynote on the Arab Spring with NPR's Andy Carvin, the NYT's Jennifer Preston, Nasser Weddady of IAC and Egyptian journalist Rehab al-Bakri, among others. We'll be talking about journalism and social media and covering the uprisings. Check it out.

On Saturday, I'll be on a panel talk at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London entitled Winds of Change in the Arab Territories with Iranian philosopher Hamid Dabashi, Israeli filmmaker and academic Haim Bresheeth, Iraqi literature professor and feminist activist Nadje Al-Ali, and more. The talk is part of the ICA's festival of cinema from Muslim societies which is open to all comers.

On Sunday, also at the ICA, I'll be introducing Microphone, a great film by the young Egyptian director Ahmad Abdalla that was made last year and was supposed to air on... January 25. I love this film and highly recommend it.

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

The Rio Grande, the Jordan and the Hudson

Hoo boy. It's going to be a real a Zionist lovefest in NYC today as the GOP, members of the Israel lobby and Likud convene at 10am on Tuesday, September 20th in the W Hotel in Manhattan. Their rally/press conference will be led by GOP presidential hopeful Rick Perry and KM Danny Danon. From JPost:

"Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry will hold a press conference with American and Israeli-Jewish leaders in New York on Tuesday in which he is expected to address the upcoming deliberations at the United Nations, MK Danny Danon (Likud), said on Saturday night."

"Danon, who will participate at the press conference, said he would ask Perry ahead of the conference to adopt the initiative the MK is advancing to annex Judea and Samaria in response to the unilateral Palestinian moves at the UN."

Danon, already in the U.S. to speak at nationwide Zionist fundraisers and rallies prior to the UN vote, has proposed an "Annexation for Declaration Initiative," which would "establish full sovereignty over the Jewish communities of the West Bank . . . our historic homeland of Judea and Samaria:"

"Under [my] three-state solution, Arab-Israelis residing within Israel would be welcome to join the official new State of Israel. The remaining enclaves of Palestinian towns and villages in Judea and Samaria would become part of either Egypt or Jordan, and the Egyptian and Jordanian borders would extend accordingly to these designated towns."

[Snip]

"Both Jordan and Egypt have expressed strong support and concern for Palestinians living in the West Bank. If they truly care so much, then they should readily agree to a three-state solution and incorporate the Palestinian towns located adjacent to their current borders."

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Dissecting the settlers' agitprop

Israel National News is a favorite news outlet of the Israeli right and the settler movement more generally. It now seems to be busy preparing a propaganda war. 

Israel National News: "First Arab 'September Attack': Convoy Approached Negohot; September attacks have begun: Arabs in 40-50 vehicles drove along Jewish community's fence, taunted and jeered."

Presumably, this will be used as evidence to suggest that the Arabs "started it," like how they "started" the Six Day War. But for a minor incident, it is rather illustrative of the settlement project as a whole:
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