The Linguistics of Kifaya

William Safire on the word Kifaya in his On Language column in the NY Times Magazine:
The word means ''enough.'' The Arabic verbal root is kafa, ''to be satisfied.'' In Hans Wehr's Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic, it has the senses of ''sufficient amount'' and ''that which suffices for performing a duty.'' Munther Younes, coordinator of the Arabic program at Cornell, says that verbs derived from the same root are in the Koran, as in the sense of ''it is enough for you to have God as a companion or protector.''
David S. Powers, professor of Islamic history and law at Cornell, says he thinks that the word as used today is in the nature of what linguists call a calque, a borrowing from another language in literal translation (much as English borrowed Ãœbermensch from the German and translated it as superman). ''In politics, in modern culture,'' Powers says, ''we say, 'Enough!' Kifaya is the Arabic equivalent of that. It's a standard word in Arabic now being used in a political context, probably a modern phenomenon. It suggests there may be some creative linguistic development.''
In English, enough grew out of enow to become an adjective synonymous with ''sufficient.'' It can also be used as an adverb to disparage, as in Shakespeare's ''An honest fellow enough . . . but he has not so much brain as ear-wax.'' In politics, when Theodore Roosevelt declined nomination for a third term in 1908, The New York Times reported that he'd ''had enough.'' (Teddy later changed his mind.) And the G.O.P. used the slogan ''Had Enough?'' against Harry Truman in the midterm election of 1946 and elected the first Republican Congress since Hoover.
The most powerful use of the word in oratory was delivered in English by a man from the Middle East. At a signing ceremony on the White House lawn in 1993, after a reluctant handshake with the P.L.O.'s Yasir Arafat, Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin of Israel said: ''We, the soldiers who have returned from battles stained with blood; we who have seen our relatives and friends killed before our eyes . . . we who have fought against you, the Palestinians, we say to you today in a loud and a clear voice: enough of blood and tears. Enough!''
That's the new, emphatic sense that Arabs have given their Arabic kifaya.
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The Brotherhood Protest

Despite my best efforts, I didn't see a single demonstrator yesterday. All the same, what I did see I took as a show of strength for the Muslim Brotherhood. The security measures taken to prevent the demonstration were fairly unprecedented. As has been mentioned here, they closed off Tahrir Square, and all the streets leading to and from the square. The picture posted by Issandr below is of Qasr Al Aini, which is a four lane thoroughfare through downtown Cairo and one of the most heavily travelled streets in the city. Compare the security yesterday with last week's demonstration marking the anniversary of the Iraq war, organized largely by leftists, or with the series of civil-society led anti-Mubarak protests which have become almost regular affairs in recent weeks. It's a striking display of how differently the government regards the threat from the the respective sides. For those interested in the ebb and flow of the Islamists' influence in Egypt, yesterday's demonstration (or attempted demonstration) could be seen as the second recent indicator that the Brotherhood's popularity is not decreasing. It appears they had a fairly decisive victory in the lawyers' syndicate elections earlier this month.
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Bahrain's huge demo

I forgot to mention it yesterday being so busy, but while a really ultimately small protest was quashed heavily in Egypt, there was this huge -- especially considering the size of the country -- protest for constitutional reform in Bahrain on Friday. Chan'ad Bahraini as always has the goods:
In a massive show of force yesterday, Al Wefaq held a huge rally in Sitra demanding constitutional reform, despite orders from the Interior Ministry to cancel it. Thankfully though the government didn't try to shut down the protest with force (as it did a couple weeks back). Instead, the police blocked the Sitra bridge at about 3pm I think (the protest was scheduled to start at 3.30pm), forcing latecomers to walk across. At the site of the protest itself there were no cops in sight anywhere... actually there was no one around except for the protesters and journalists because of the roadblock.
One of protest organizers that I spoke to said that 120,000 was the number they were telling the press, but from my past experience a more accurate number is half or three quarters of the numbers touted by the organizers. Actually the report from Reuters (via AlJazeera) says that the organizers were only claiming 80,000. And some of the journalists I spoke to at the protests were saying it was around 50,000. Pick what you want. In any case though, this was a HUGE one... certainly the largest political protest I have seen in Bahrain I think. Even if we use the conservative estimate of 50,000 it's still big considering that the total population of Bahraini nationals is only about 400,000, and that the police had blocked off the roads.
Juan Cole also had a post looking at the constitutional and sectarian politics involved. Starting a "Bahrain" category with this post... this is a story to keep watching.
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MB arrests, demo

mbdemo300.jpg The demo I wrote about earlier didn't take place exactly as planned, as people who posted comments pointed out. No demonstrators ever got to parliament, because, well, parliament was surrounded for blocks by several thousand troops from Central Security, the riot police. Not only that, but this morning the security services arrested about 50 Muslim Brothers, some of which are fairly high-ranking, and one of which is a member of the Guidance Council. The picture on the right gives only a small inkling of how many troops there were (click on the picture for more details.) Central Cairo was virtually frozen for several hours. Each street for about four or five blocks from parliament had a squadron of troops controlling who could get in. In the end, the MB did hold a smallish demonstration a couple of blocks away, although I did not make it there because the troops would not let people get through, even journalists. Someone who was there said there were about 400 people, which is also what I guessed from the images on Jazeera (they must have been following the demonstrators or gotten there early.) Reuters and Jazeera Online reported "thousands" of demonstrators, but these were elsewhere. What seems to have happened is that they decided to change the location of the protest at the last minute, apparently taking the riot police by surprise (and probably angering the guys in charge of Cairo security.) Kinda daring, actually. The best story on the demos is AP's, which explains there were several demos:
The group planned to demonstrate Sunday afternoon in front of the downtown parliament building. Generally, demonstrations are tolerated though a violation of Egypt's decades-old emergency laws, but riot police always vastly outnumber protesters. This time, Cairo traffic was knotted for hours and thousands of riot police waited outside the National Assembly, but protesters did not show up.
The Brotherhood instead showed up in front of al-Fateh Mosque, about 4 kilometers (2 1/2 miles) in the sprawling capital, shouting "Islam is coming, coming and the Quran will rule" and "No extremism, no terrorism. We want to rule by the book (Quran) ... Islamic law, Islamic law."
Some riot police got into place quickly, with The Associated Press seeing a few hundred standing, facing demonstrators, shields in front of them. At the time, the AP saw up to 3,000 demonstrators urging hundreds more people approaching to "come join us, let's raise our voices together."
Interior Ministry officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, estimated 2,000 protesters had gathered and said two more demonstrations by the Muslim Brotherhood were simultaneously taking place elsewhere in Cairo. Those officials said there were up to 200 protesters in each of Babelouq Sayda Zeinab districts, and that riot police were present at both.
The AP story also seems to have the best info on who was arrested:
Mohammed Osama, speaking from the Muslim Brothers headquarters in Cairo, told The Associated Press that 48 members were arrested. The men, detained from at least five Egyptian provinces, included leading figures in the group, a state security prosecution official said on condition of anonymity.
(Correction: As I was about to post I saw this updated Reuters story, which claims 49 people were arrested in the morning and another 50 arrested during the demo, bringing the total to about 100.) This seems to be one of the biggest crackdown in a while, especially since leading member Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh -- one of the brightest stars of the "middle generation" of the MB -- was arrested. Aboul Fotouh has been one of the organization's member who has been the most critical of the old leadership, particularly over Supreme Guide Muhammad Akef's conciliatory stance towards Mubarak. It's also worth noting that this (correct me if I'm wrong) is the first MB demo since the death of former Supreme Guide Maamoun Hodeibi -- despite the fact that many other political currents have been holding demos for the past year. At this stage, holding the demo and arresting so many MBs looks like an escalation in the relationship between the MB and the regime.
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Hamas-US talks in Beirut

Stephen Grey reports from Beirut:
IN an underground car park in the centre of Beirut, a bald man emerged from his Mercedes, surrounded by a phalanx of armed bodyguards.
As deputy leader of Hamas, the Palestinian militant group, Musa Abu Marzouk is a potential target for assassination by Israel. Yet there to greet him last week was Alistair Crooke, a veteran of nearly 30 years with MI6 and until recently a European Union negotiator with the Palestinians.
As they made their way upstairs, they were joined by several Americans, some of them former members of the CIA and others with links to the US administration. They had gathered in the Lebanese capital for an initiative launched by Crooke: the first talks for more than 10 years between senior Americans and radical groups denounced as terrorists by Washington.
Although still defiant in their anti-American rhetoric, the militants were staking a claim to be part of the so-called “Arab spring” of democratic change that has encompassed elections in Iraq and protests in Lebanon against the presence of Syrian forces.
The Beirut meeting was attended by almost half the leadership of Hamas, which has used suicide bombers in Israel but is taking part in Palestinian parliamentary elections this summer.
The delegation from Hezbollah, which has elected members of the Lebanese parliament but remains a terrorist organisation in the eyes of the United States, included Nawaf Moussawi, the group’s chief political negotiator.
There were also representatives from Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, which is banned in many countries, and from the Jamiat-i-Islami party in Pakistan.
Among the US delegates was Frederic Hof, staff director of a 2001 commission on the Palestinian intifada led by George Mitchell, a former senator. They also included Bobby Muller, a Vietnam veteran and joint winner of the 1997 Nobel peace prize for his campaign against landmines.
Israel was not slow to condemn the meeting, accusing the American delegates of “extreme naivety” in imagining that they could draw groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah on to a peaceful path. “It does no good to appease or negotiate with such terrorists,” a government spokesman said.
Crooke said the Americans were there to listen and not to give advice, and emphasised that they did not represent “anyone but themselves”. The results of the two-day meeting would be passed to the Bush administration, he said.
Not really that much information aside from the meeting taking place, which I suppose is interesting in itself. (Stephen first wrote about this meeting in December.) Alistair Crooke has been a central player to getting the various Palestinian factions to talk to each other, operating out of the EU but apparently also under close supervision from Tony Blair's office. I have heard him credited for getting the Egyptians to push forward with the negotiations, which seemed to have culminated last week with a ceasefire. What I find most interesting about all this is that the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood has been invited. I've thought for a while that one of the riskiest elements of the Gaza withdrawal for Egypt is the prospect of Hamas rising there, because of the organization's historic links with the Muslim Brotherhood. Egypt's role in policing Gaza post-withdrawal, and the potential that it could be in the middle of a civil war between the PA and Hamas, could have repercussions back home. The presence of the Brotherhood at this meeting -- which I hear has been OKayed by the Egyptians -- is intriguing.
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Balls. Big balls.

Guess who wanted to sell nuclear technology to Iran back in the 1970s?
Lacking direct evidence, Bush administration officials argue that Iran's nuclear program must be a cover for bomb-making. Vice President Cheney recently said, "They're already sitting on an awful lot of oil and gas. Nobody can figure why they need nuclear as well to generate energy."
Yet Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and outgoing Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz held key national security posts when the Ford administration made the opposite argument 30 years ago.
Read on.
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Ahmed Zaki, 1949-2005

afishnasser.jpgAhmed Zaki, the veteran Egyptian actor who played roles such as former presidents Nasser and Sadat, passed away today after a long battle with cancer. The Egyptian press had been on death watch for the past few weeks, including some rather tasteless coverage of his agony. Zaki's last film, Maali Al Wazir (His Excellency the Minister), was a damning indictment of the Egyptian political system and its corruption (and corrupting influence.) You can see a full filmography here. He was most recently working on a film called Haleem, a biographical epic on the great Egyptian singer of the 1960s, Abdel Haleem Hafez, which presumably will find another lead actor.
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MB demo at parliament

There will be a Muslim Brotherhood demonstration outside parliament in about an hour (at 1pm.) It should be one of the first one in ages, but the question will be whether the Brothers come out in strength or just send a token representation. There have been a number of demos outside parliament in the past month, mostly by the legal opposition parties, about the amendment of article 76. I think the Brotherhood, like the other parties, want to have presidential candidates get support from ordinary citizens rather than MPs to be able to run. This might be what today's demo is about. The street leading to parliament, Qasr Al Aini, is already packed with Central Security troops and police. The Doctor's Syndicate, where the Brothers have a strong presence, is also surrounded (it's right next to my house.) I'm off there soon, so I'll be posting updates later on.
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Early campaigning

Tipped off by friend and Egyptian journalist Magdy Samaan, who writes for Masr Al Youm, I went to Bab Sharqeya--the Cairo neighborhood that elected Ayman Nour to parliament and where he holds weekly rallies--to see how it is festooned in pro-Mubarak, anti-Nour posters. Member of the NDP and of various local councils (and the other parliamentarian from the area) have put up these banners just recently. They all pledge allegiance to Mubarak and denigrate Nour (usually not by name) with pretty harsh language. Typical slogans say things such as "Before the [constitutional] reform and after the reform, you will remain, Mubarak, our leader and chief," "Yes to Mubarak, the chief, and no to foreign intervention in Egyptian to foreign agents." The foreign agent suggestion (which is repeated in most banners) clearly targets Nour. Some banners are more explicit, calling him "Ibn Madeleine," the "son of Madeleine Albright" (he met her right before goign to jail). One banner read "Ya Ibn Madeleine, tell us whose son you are. " Magdy and I went around and talk to shop owners. Most didn't want to give their name (one old man said "I can't speak of politics because anyone who does goes to prison) and some didn't want to give any opinion on the banners, but most said it was the NDP who had put them up, to damage Nour. As one shop-owner said, "the government does this and no one can ask the government what they are doing." This same shop-owner had had two pictures of Mubarak pasted on both side of the door to his shop. He didn't know who had done it, didn't seem particularly happy about it, but he wasn't going to take them down. Another group we talked to said the posters were put up by NDP supporters and that this was being done because of the elections, because Nour "talked in Parliament," because Nour "talked of freedom." Most of them thought the accusations in the posters were false and that they wouldn't harm his standing in the neighborhood. One thing I noticed is: there is a sort of green area in the middle of the square, surrounded by a metal chain fence and metal pylons at regular intervals. It's a big area and there must be 50 to 100 of these pylons. Posters of Mubarak have been put on every one. And his face has been methodically scratched out on every one also. What's happening in Bab Sharqeya reminds me of the orchestrated pro-Mubarak demonstration that took place in Tahrir last week. It just shows what a large machine the NDP has at its disposal to fight back against real political challenges. It also maybe shows the NDP is genuinely worried about some of these challenges. And it shows what a disconnect there is between the ruling party and the people, and how callously the NDP capitalizes on the average Egyptian citizen's hesitancy to challenge the authorities or get involved in anything political, and creates these political dioramas that have nothing to do with reality. The NDP would love to see Nour lose his seat in Parliament. He came out of his 6-week detention swinging, and they're going to put everthing they've got into ousting him from Bab Sharqeya. The question is whether they'll succeed. The neighborhood people I talked to said that unless Nour is convicted and jailed he will win his parliament seat again. There is no denying that he is popular there (probably more popular since going to jail); people say he cares about poor people and are quite taken by some of his populist moves (like when he brought a loaf of subsidized bread into Parliament, said it was inedible, and challenged others to eat it). Whether the government will succesfully get Bab Sharqeya to abandon Nour is going to be fascinating to watch.
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Popular Islamic parties

Abu Aardvark mentioned in a recent post that a "popular Islamic party" might see the light in Egypt, and noted that he hadn't seen much on it so far. I was hoping to post about this earlier, but things being as busy as they are, I am doing so only now. The basic story, as Al Jazeera reported, is that Khaled Al Zaafarani, a former member of the Muslim Brotherhood, has announced his intention to form a political party, the "Reform, Development and Justice" party. This has created some controversy in Egypt. For the regime, a party even loosely affiliated with Islamists is unacceptable -- which is why they have denied licenses to "moderate Islamist" parties time and time again and have frozen ones that get taken over by Islamists, like the Labor Party. But Zaafarani's party is also controversial for the Muslim Brotherhood. Sharq Al Awsat of 19 March reported that Muhammad Habib, deputy of the Brotherhood's Supreme Guide Muhamad Akef viciously lashed out at Zaafarani and distanced the Brotherhood from the (potential) new party, even accusing him of exploiting his family relationship with an eminent member for the Brotherhood (Ibrahim Zaafarani, a former head of the Alexandria Doctors' Syndicate and a "Class of '95" political prisoner) to "carry out propapaganda for his [party] project." Shark Al Awsat also said that Zaafarani was advised by the security services not go ahead with his intention to make his request to the Political Parties Council. Zaafarani also apparently caused a ruckus at the recent second Alexandria conference on reform, where he distributed leaflets about the new party's platform and had a run-in with security. The precedent for Zaafarani's idea is the Al Wasat (The Middle) party, which emerged in the mid-1990s as former Muslim Brothers got together with a few secular Muslims and Copts to try and form a moderate Islamist-leaning party. They have tried several times (three or four, I think) to apply for a party license and have been denied every time. The last time was in October, around the same time the Al Ghad party was created. (Praktike has blogged about Al Wasat recently, and the post and comments are interesting.) For a more historical look at Al Wasat, I am reproducing an article that appeared in the Cairo Times in 1998, when the party was denied its license for the first time:
The party that never shall be
Even in a moderate form, political Islam is a no-go
The party that many viewed as the last, best hope for Egypt's legal opposition will not come to be. On 9 May, the Political Parties Tribunal of the Administrative Courts rejected the final appeal of the Wasat (Center) Party for legal status, upholding a year-old decision by the Political Parties Committee of the Shura Council to deny the party a license.
The original decision was no surprise: the Shura committee routinely denies party licenses on any number of grounds--in the Wasat's case, they claimed that the party's platform was not sufficiently different from other those of parties to warrant a license of their own. But the tribunal has overruled the committee's decisions before--in 1993, for example, they declared that the Democratic Nasserists were not just another variation on the leftist Tagammu, and granted the group a license, allowing it to become one of the more active and outspoken forces in Egypt's legal opposition.
The Wasat, however, was something else. Its platform pays lip service to political Islam--declared anathema by the current government. And many of its founding members, like lawyers Essam Sultan and Mohammed Salim Al Awwa, engineers' syndicate activist Abul Ella Maadi, and journalist Salah Abdel Maqsoud, were former Muslim Brothers--declared by the president and the interior minister to be nothing more than terrorists in disguise. That the Wasat included prominent leftists and Christians did not seem to make a difference.
The Wasat stretched the definition of political Islam, however. The would-be party considered people rather than scripture as the ultimate source of authority, and interpreted Article 2 of the constitution, which claims that "Islamic Sharia is the main source of legislation," to mean that Islamic tradition should be an inspiration to lawmakers, rather than a source of law in itself. One of Wasat's main ideologists was, in fact, a Protestant Christian, Rafiq Habib, who argues that Egyptians--Muslim and Christian alike--are members of an Islamic society; Egyptian democracy should, therefore, take on an Islamic cast so it is accessible to the majority of the population. Institutions like awqaf (religious endowments) and social forces like qabaliya (kinsmanship) are not anachronisms that need to be thrown away; rather, Habib argues, they are the potential foundations of a healthy, thriving, democratic society that the current regime, in its rush to imitate the West, has either suppressed or allowed to decay.
So why the state's concern? First, there's always the danger of senior Muslim Brothers suddenly flooding into the Wasat and bringing its platform back around to the more reactionary form of political Islam that they espouse. The Brotherhood's leaders have publicly condemned the Wasat's founders as schismatics from the original movement (Brotherhood spokesman Maamoun Al Hodeiby makes unpleasant gurgling noises whenever the Wasat's name is mentioned in interview), but the state can never be sure that the whole fracas isn't a front.
More dangerously, the Wasat, if legal, might attract the loyalties of middle-ranked Brothers in the provinces. These people--who aren't tightly controlled by the Brotherhood leadership in Cairo--command considerable political capital, thanks to their involvement in charitable institutions. The state went to considerable trouble, and incurred considerable international condemnation, in suppressing the Brotherhood through a series of military trials in 1995. The Brotherhood's senior leadership essentially surrendered, abandoning all public activity and sharply curtailing contact with the press. It was this inaction, largely, which persuaded the Wasat founders to break away and form their own party. If they succeeded, and rallied the demoralized provincial Brothers to the banner of political Islam raised anew, the state would have to go and repress them all over again.
What happens to a party deferred? "We will think about different kinds of public roles," says Habib. "Maybe we will choose another kind of institution to work through--cultural work, or a civil society organization, as an alternative [to a political party]. Or maybe we will attempt a party... with a somewhat different platform." The state, apparently, can keep political Islam at bay indefinitely, but it cannot stamp it out.
For an even more in-depth look at Al Wasat, I highly recommend reading our own Josh Stacher's scholarly article -- Post-Islamist rumblings in Egypt: the emergence of the Wasat party -- in Middle East Journal, which appeared in 2002. It's rather hard to find if you don't have access to a university library, so I'm putting in full here. But here's the abstract:
This article examines the emergence of the Wasat party initiative in Egypt. Whether such a group constitutes a political development in Islamic groupings in comparison to the traditional paradigm is the main focus. The Wasat is analyzed within a post-Islamist framework. The influences on the initiative, the reason for its establishment, and its apparent inclusive ideology will help to determine if a post-Islamist project may be emerging. If post-Islamist rumblings are underway in Egypt, we may expect to see eventually the development of an "Islamic democracy."
I am not sure what links there are between Zaafarani and the Wasat. Zaafarani used to have a seat on the executive committee of the Labor party before the split inside it between the Islamists and the more regime-friendly figures in it took place. My feeling is that he is probably a more conservative Islamist than the Wasat type, like Abu Ela Madi. I doubt he'll get far with his party, though.
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qadhafi.jpg... never fails to entertain:
"The Israelis are idiots and the Palestinians as well," Kadhafi said Wednesday in the speech at the closing session of the two-day summit in Algiers which is usually reserved for a reading of the final resolutions.
"The Jews are dying by the dozen because they are in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. If these regions are so important to them, why didn't they occupy them before seizing other Arab land," Kadhafi said.
"The Palestinians, too, are idiots because they lost these territories in 1967. So we must admit that both are idiots," he added.
The leaders, including Abbas who is making his debut at a an Arab summit after he succeeded Yasser Arafat who died in November, broke out into uncontrolled laughter.
The unpredictable Kadhafi rambled on for more than one hour, giving advice on topics as diverse as women's rights in the male-dominated Arab world, Iraq, the Syrian-Lebanese crisis, democracy, terrorism, Uganda and Ghana.
Unpredictable? Stark raving mad more like.
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The AIPAC investigation

Juan Cole links to an update on the AIPAC investigation. He says:
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee spy case is heating up again. The FBI clearly believes that AIPAC is at the center of an important political conspiracy, but may not be able to make the whole case in the legal system.
Whatever the outcome of the case, AIPAC should have to register as a foreign agent. It is shameful that a small and fanatical group of rightwing devotees of colonial settlerism in the West Bank should be virtually controlling the foreign policy of the US Congress toward the Middle East-- especially since colonial settlerism in the West Bank causes so many people in the Middle East to hate the United States for supporting it-- and to lash out at us.
I would add to that that it is shameful that so many Jewish-Americans allow a small a fanatical group of rightwing devotees of colonial settlerism in the West Bank to speak in their name even when they disagree with them. I know there are movements that oppose AIPAC, but more needs to be done by Jews against AIPAC if a silent majority really does feel it is wrong. Non-Jews will just get called anti-Semites if they speak out, so we really need their help on this one.
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Rather embarrassing mistake:
Professor Juan Cole thinks:"An outspoken but generally anti-Shiite Bahrain blog by a Sunni is Mahmood's Den"
So I'm anti-shi'ite, and I'm a Sunni!
Apart from both statement being completely wrong (I'm not just a Shi'ite, but am a Sayyed and an Alawi (both parents are Sayyeds and can trace their lineage as descendants of the Prophet (pbuh)) to boot) but these statements (judgements) struck me as odd and would like to know from the professor (and you if you would) what in this blog suggested that I am anti-Shi'ite and that I am a Sunni?
Or is it not allowed for one to criticise his/her own side in order for that side to get better for fear of being labled with the "other side?"
I would have been better to check the sources first, don't you think?
I generally like Cole and think he's doing a sterling job of covering Iraq, but some recent posts have a bit weird, like this one about Paul Wolfowitz's Tunisian girlfriend, in which he says "I don't think the private lives of people are relevant to their public service" and then proceeds to talk about, er, Wolfie's private life. Perhaps one of the dangers of blogging too much.
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Rice on settlements

The third and final thing that stood our for me in the Rice interview (transcript) was about the expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Here the gap between official discourse and the real policy is widening:
Rice denied reports from Israeli officials -- and some U.S. officials -- that the Bush administration had struck an arrangement with Israel that would allow for some settlement growth in Palestinian areas. Israeli officials had said that the administration would allow for growth within settlements as long as additional housing units did not exceed existing construction lines. The U.S.-backed "road map" plan for peace calls for Israel to freeze settlement growth.
Rice said the "only commitment or assurance" was made last April, when Bush announced that because of "new realities on the ground" -- existing settlements in Palestinian areas -- Israel could expect to retain some settlements as part of a final peace deal. She said that since then the United States has asked Israel for more detail on its settlement activity because "there is so much information, misinformation . . . that the picture was just too confusing."
After the interview, Rice called a reporter twice to expand on her remarks on the administration's settlement policy. The administration has had "discussions about steps toward a settlement freeze," she said in one of the phone calls. "But we've never reached closure on that. It's complicated."
Meanwhile, the New York Times reports:
The ambiguities surrounding American policy were underlined Friday when a diplomatic furor erupted over remarks reportedly made by the American ambassador to Israel, Daniel C. Kurtzer, in an off-the-record session nearly a month ago with new Israeli Foreign Ministry employees.
According to the newspaper Yediot Aharonot, which was leaked a copy of notes taken at the meeting, Mr. Kurtzer said Washington had never reached an understanding with Israel that would let it keep its large settlement blocks in the West Bank. The newspaper also quoted him as saying he expected Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's government to fall before completing its term in November 2006.
Mr. Kurtzer angrily denied the Yediot story on Friday, saying he was misquoted and misunderstood. "What I tried to explain to them is exactly what U.S. policy is," he told Israeli radio and television on Friday. "And U.S. policy is the support that the president has given for the retention by Israel of major Israeli population centers as an outcome of negotiations."
Mr. Sharon's office said it believed that Mr. Kurtzer had been misquoted.
Also see: US firmly backs Israel's right to keep large settlement blocs (AFP) U.S. Reiterates Support for Israel Plan (AP) There is also a gem in the recent transcript of the State Dept press conference:
QUESTION: Do the settlements -- either they do or they don't violate the roadmap that was signed in 2003. It seems like a simple question and you can't give us an answer.
MR. ERELI: It's not.
QUESTION: It's not a simple question?
QUESTION: Why not?
MR. ERELI: Because, as I said yesterday, there are facts and details and, I think, further information that we need in order to give you a considered opinion on the subject.
QUESTION: Well, I know you said that you weren't going to discuss the details of the meeting, but can you tell us if they did get these answers at the meeting with Sharon?
MR. ERELI: I can tell you that the issue was raised, that I think there was a -- the issue was raised. They've talked about it with the Israelis. They're going to talk about it with the Palestinians. They're going to focus, as I said before, on the importance of both sides taking steps that reinforce peacemaking efforts, including in this area, and that I think the focus of what they're trying to do, the focus of what we're all trying to do, is to make sure that the parameters established by the roadmap are respected and that, as I said before, the actions of both sides, or the actions of each side, reinforces the efforts of the other side to make peace. And that's in the context of settlement activity, it's in the context of action to stop terror, it's in the context of cooperation to take advantage of the opportunity presented by Gaza withdrawal. It deals with all these aspects of the roadmap.
QUESTION: Does the U.S. believe that the Israelis are respecting all parameters of the roadmap?
MR. ERELI: I think I've just exhausted what I can tell you on this subject.
The "roadmap" and US policy towards Israel is a sick joke. No wonder administration officials and Rice herself have to constantly correct themselves. The Palestinians will continue their attacks on the settlements after whatever sham agreement is imposed, and they'll be right to.
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Rice on Syria

The second item of note in the WaPo Rice interview (transcript) is on Syria's future, which is being debated in Washington with exiled opposition figures that are giving me a bizarre sense of deja vu. More on this below, but first the Rice quote:
Q: One last question and that is on Syria. I gather President Chirac told President Bush that the French believed that if Syrian troops do withdraw that it would begin the unraveling of the Assad regime in fairly short order. Do you share that assessment and is the United States, I know that senior U.S. officials talked to a Syrian opposition party yesterday, are we taking any steps to try to reach out and look to what the alternatives are?
SECRETARY RICE: What we're trying to do is to assess the situation so that nobody is blindsided, because events are moving so fast and in such unpredictable directions that it is only prudent at this point to know what's going on in the whole-- The possibility for what I often call discontinuous events, meaning that you were expecting them to go along like this and all of a sudden they go off in this direction, in periods of change like this. So we're going to look at all the possibilities and talk to as many people as we possibly can.
Fairly non-committal answer, but read it with this article from the same issue of the WaPo and things begin to look different:
A meeting Thursday, hosted by new State Department "democracy czar" Elizabeth Cheney, brought together senior administration officials from Vice President Cheney's office, the National Security Council and the Pentagon and about a dozen prominent Syrian Americans, including political activists, community leaders, academics and an opposition group, a senior State Department official said.
The opposition group comes from the Syria Reform Party, a small U.S.-based Syrian organization often compared to the Iraqi National Congress led by former exile Ahmed Chalabi. The INC, which led the campaign to oust former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein, had widespread U.S. financial and political support from both the Clinton and Bush administrations, as well as Congress.
U.S. officials, however, yesterday denied that the meeting was intended to coordinate efforts to oust Syrian President Bashar Assad's government.
"That would be a monumental distortion," a senior State Department official said. "But it was a discussion about supporting reform and change in the region and specifically Syria -- and how we can help that and work with people in the region and Syria to support that process."
The U.S. outreach is a direct result of President Bush's discussion last month with French President Jacques Chirac, said U.S and European officials. Advising against any discussion of "regime change," Chirac told Bush that the Damascus government was unlikely to survive the withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanon. The French president predicted that free elections in Lebanon would in turn force change inside Syria, possibly unraveling Assad's government, U.S. sources said.
Since that Feb. 21 meeting, the Bush administration has begun looking at possible political options in Syria, said analysts familiar with the U.S. thinking. "They're taking seriously that a consequence of getting out of Lebanon will be the collapse of the Assad regime, and they're looking around for alternatives," said Flynt Leverett, former senior director for Middle East affairs at the National Security Council under Bush.
Another interesting quote from the Rice interview was an offhand remark about the lack of Arab defense of Syria at the recent meeting of the Arab League:
You know, I did find it interesting that the Arab League essentially did not come up with anything on this issue. That's interesting given the history of the Arab League.
I guess what she means by that is that it was surprising not to see the Arab states rally to Syria's side in a stronger way. All of this suggests to me that forcing regime change is being seriously considered, and that the US and France want to have a hand in choosing a replacement for the Assad regime. In fact, I am starting to think that the primary goal of UNSC resolution 1559 and the current crisis is not "liberating" Lebanon but regime change in Syria, which would remove Iran's biggest ally in the region and cut it off from Hizbullah. All this talk of "things moving fast" and not knowing what might happen sounds pretty disingenuous. Update: Also see the essential Josh Landis on Bush Administration Probes Syria's Future With Assad's Opposition and Can Syria Survive the Lebanon Debacle?. From the latter:
Is George Bush intent on bringing down the house of Asad?
I think it is. Bashar has become the anti-Bush in the Middle East, despite his early intentions to be a reformer. He champions stability; Bush champions revolution. He champions authoritarianism, Bush democracy and elections. Bashar argues Levantine society is too tribal and religiously divided for radical experiments and large doses of freedom; Washington says anything is better than the status quo and the evil of Baathism. “Stuff happens,” but the end result will be a new Middle Eastern consensus, one that will end terrorism. The Greater Middle East is prepared for democracy and will prove liberal, Bush insists. Bashar insists that Bush’s polities will lead to the death of many Arabs, increased terrorism, increased instability, and the loss of more Arab land in Palestine. Bush increasingly sees Bashar as the problem, standing in the way of the fourth wave of democratization. Bashar says Bush is the problem.
There will be no compromise deals or true dialogue between Syria and the US so long as the neo-conservatives hold sway in the White House and Bashar refuses to insist on radical internal reform. Bashar’s miscalculations in Lebanon have done great harm to his position in the Arab world and perhaps, more importantly, at home.
Syria’s Baath leadership is correct to assume that sooner or later president Bush will embrace the notion of regime-change in Damascus. It is not Washington’s official position to date, but all signs suggest preparations are being made to adopt it down the road. New bills put to the house spearhead this change of policy by insisting on the “democratization” of Syria. They will work their way up the policy chain without significant opposition. Who in Washington will now defend Bashar?
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Rice on stability

I just read the very interesting interview (transcript) the Washington Post did with Condoleeza Rice. There are three issues I want to highlight in it, but I'll post each separately. The first is about Egypt. For about a quarter century, the primary objective of the Mubarak regime and its most important claim to both international and domestic legitimacy has been that it has delivered stability. Stability is Mubarak's mantra and his raison d'etre. For a long time, that was one of the main reason Egypt was an important US ally. For a while now there has been a lot of talk about how the neo-con plan for the Middle East changes all that, but it hadn't really been applied towards Cairo. I wonder if that is beginning to change:
Rice, in an interview with Washington Post editors and reporters, said she was guided less by a fear that Islamic extremists would replace authoritarian governments than by a "strong certainty that the Middle East was not going to stay stable anyway." Extremism, she said, is rooted in the "absence of other channels for political activity," and so "when you know that the status quo is no longer defensible, then you have to be willing to move in another direction."
For more details, the transcript has the following:
Q: All right let me ask you then, In these two countries do you hope that women are voting in any form of elections in Saudi Arabia within four years? Do you hope that Assad is out of power within four years? And Egypt, do you see want to see an election in which Mubarak has legitimate kind of competition as we do or as happens in any western country?
SECRETARY RICE: We've been very clear that we think that competitive presidential elections are to be desired. So yes, on competitive presidential elections. They will not look like American competitive presidential elections. I assume that American presidential elections are sui generis to this long history that we have. But that competitiveness is important, an important element of the democratic enterprise, in terms of women I hope they're voting everywhere.
In terms of who's in power and who's not in power, the issue isn't who's in power and who's not in power, it's are these places that are making steps towards reform and I just haven't seen anything in Syria yet that suggests that political reforms, as opposed to economic reforms where there's been some minor steps, is on the agenda in Syria.
Q: Is there any country in the region in which you worry about things progressing too rapidly, or what could happen if the lid came off too fast?
SECRETARY RICE: I really believe that once these things are in motion it is not possible to try and almost thermostat-like dial them up and back. They take on a life of their own.
Because I have a lot of faith in democratic institutions and their moderating effect, I'm probably less concerned that things will go too fast than that they there may be places where the institutional change cannot keep up with the demand for institutional change. Because once you have populations that are demanding change, once you have populations that are looking around – and one of the really remarkable impacts out there has been satellite TV where people watch Afghans vote or they watch Iraqis vote or they watch the Lebanese in the streets or they watch as far away as Ukraine or Georgia, today Kyrgyzstan – and they say "well, why not us?"
Q: So you're not concerned about a rapid rise of Islamic fundamentatalism in many of these countries, particularly Saudi Arabia or even as Iraq that started out?
SECRETARY RICE: Oh sure. Nobody wants to see the rise of greater fundamentalism or greater – let me use extremism. But it is really as opposed to what at this point? It isn't as if the status quo was stable the way that it was. What we really learned on September 11 as you really started to look underneath what was going on there, is that the Middle East is a place that's badly in need of change, that some of these malignancies that are represented by the rise of extremism have their roots in the absence of other channels for political activity or social activity or the desire for change, and when you recognize that – and there are some who recognized it well before we did – but when you recognize that you can say, all right well now I'll try and design the perfect counter to that. Or you can say, the United States is not going to be able to design the perfect counter to that; the only thing the United States can do is to speak out for the values that have been absent, liberty and freedom there, and it will have to take its own course.
And then you have to have some confidence that democratic institutions and people's desire not to live in violence and not to be kind of constantly sending their children off to be suicide bombers, is going to have a moderating effect on the region.
Can we be certain of that? No. But do I think there's a strong certainty that the Middle East was not going to stay stable anyway? Yes. And when you know that the status quo is no longer defensible, then you have to be willing to move in another direction.
I also think there's some argument to be made that America's association with the freedom deficit was a problem for the United States in the region. There are now all kinds of studies of this that people said well, you talk about democracy in Latin America, you talk about democracy in Europe, you talk about democracy in Asia and Africa but you never talk about democracy in the Middle East.
And, of course, they were right because this was the decision that stability trumped everything, and what we were getting was neither stability nor democracy.
So what's the point of all this? Beyond the philosophical premise that such a foreign policy is based on, I am intrigued by how assured Rice is that "the Middle East was not going to stay stable anyway" at least where countries like Egypt, which have been largely stable, are concerned. I also wonder how far the administration will go in this direction, not only in pressuring Mubarak over the forthcoming elections (or pressuring him to step down, which has been rumored as one cause why Mubarak is not going to Washington this year), but making a public case for more reforms in Egypt. Would they accept the reforms Mubarak has announced so far (fairly limited ones on how the president is elected, promises of future constitutional changes, appointing a vice-president) or is the aim something stronger; i.e. removing Mubarak and perhaps encouraging a strong but "reformist" leader (Omar Suleiman?) to carry out a transition to a Turkey-style system where the military remains ultimately in control but less directly involved in government? And how should we interpret the recent statements on the Nour case and the cancellation of Mubarak's trip to Egypt (assuming it was cancelled on the US side, which is far from certain) in this light?
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Madrasas breed terror

After years of learned and not-so-learned comments explaining that the Taliban and Sunni chauvinism in Pakistan - not to mention the 9/11 attacks - were linked to thousands of madrasas that had sprung up in Pakistan, a couple of social scientists at Harvard have put the received wisdom to the test and found that only a small proportion of Pakistani children receive a full-time education in religious schools. They discovered that a far more important trend in education in Pakistan - as in many developing countries - has been the rise of private schools. The findings of the report, "Religious School Enrollment in Pakistan: A look at the Data", are a sobering comment on the covering of Islam that has passed for analysis and even policymaking in the US over the past four years. Mind you, let's not ignore the fact that some people in Pakistan have developed some very violent attitudes not only towards western policies towards Islam, but also towards their Shia countrymen.
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