Palestinian source: Wide gaps remain as summit nears

Palestinian source: Wide gaps remain as summit nears - Haaretz:
A Palestinian source has told Haaretz that there is still too much of a gulf between the positions of Israel and the Palestinians, who are currently working on a joint document ahead of a peace conference set for next Tuesday in Annapolis, Maryland. The sources says that in the draft, a copy of which has been obtained by Haaretz, the PLO's opening stance in the Palestinian proposals is weak, and gives up on issues that were once presented as a counterweight to Israeli demands, such as combating terror. (Click here to view a copy of the document.)
Do download that document, it's interesting to see how much has been left out, and I particularly like the final line, reproduced below. Gaza-Haaretz Also note at the beginning, there's gap in the line about who will support the document besides the US. With the Arab mini-summit going on right now, we're about to see if the main Arab states will go into this even though no significant agreement has been reached. If Saudi Arabia says no, there will be a lot of pressure on Mubarak not to go. And the Israelis and Palestinians are bickering over whether to call the whole thing a "document" or "statement"!!!
Read More

Pakistan - Egypt parallels

Since the beginning of Pakistan's constitutional crisis, I've been thinking of potential parallels with Egypt. These remain fairly superficial, since after all the general political and strategic situation is quite different, and arguable opposition politics are more vibrant in Pakistan than they are in Egypt. Still, there are some similarities, notably the central role the issues of judicial independence and constitutional reform are playing, as well as the relationship between the military and executive power, the use of emergency laws, and of course the proposition that "better the devil you know" policies are best for stability. The WaPo op-ed below makes another argument drawing on the Egypt-Pakistan comparison, and while I don't agree with some of it it offers food for thought. Michael Gerson - Where We Went Wrong In Pakistan -
The current debate on Pakistan is a contest of historical analogies. Is Musharraf more like Ferdinand Marcos, the Filipino dictator deposed in favor of a democracy? Or is he the shah of Iran, whose fall resulted in a radical, anti-American regime? It is Musharraf's own view that is most instructive. According to one report, he mentions a third ruler as his model -- Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Mubarak has survived by presenting America with a choice: his own oppressive, military rule or the triumph of the Islamists -- the pharaoh or the fanatics. And he has done his best to guarantee that these are the only choices by destroying moderate, democratic opposition and forcing most dissent into the radical mosque. Musharraf seems to be on the same path. While talking about fighting radicalism, his real energy has been devoted to imprisoning and harassing his democratic opponents. As in Egypt, this approach has elevated the Islamists. Polling by the nonprofit group Terror Free Tomorrow shows broad Pakistani support for democracy, coupled with considerable sympathy for radical groups that oppose the military regime. In the long run, propping up favorable dictators to fight terrorism causes a backlash. Fortunately, there are options in Pakistan beyond the pharaoh or the fanatics -- responsible senior leaders of the army and well-known democratic leaders. Additional pressure on Musharraf is not likely to result in an Islamist revolution. So it would make sense to cut aid to Pakistan if Musharraf does not back off from emergency rule -- not humanitarian aid, or even counterterrorism aid, but military aid not directly tied to the fight against terrorists. This would give the army a stake in Pakistan's return to democracy. The Pakistani crisis is important for its own sake, but it is also a warning. Eventually, we will see street protests and crackdowns in Egypt -- perhaps when Mubarak passes from the scene. And the same question will arise: Have we done enough to encourage political alternatives to Islamist groups? On the current course, the answer will be "no."
I think the same kind of thinking is coming to the fore in Washington regarding military aid. Egyptian opposition activists I know off are divided on this issue, though. Many (probably most among the left and Islamists) are not interested in engaging the US one way or the other, either believing that it is deeply committed to maintaining a friendly regime in Cairo at all costs or that the US' imperialist policies in the region mean no one should deal with them. Some, like Saad Eddin Ibrahim, advocate exactly the kind of carrot-and-sticks approach Gerson is talking about and would like to see US act on its claim to want democracy in Egypt, including by cutting aid. Yet a third type does not want pressure on the military to be associated with the cause of reformists, and is advocating against cutting military aid because they believe that getting the military on board for reform is essential and is more likely by working with them rather than against them. And then of course there are the reform-the-system-from-within types who mostly look at carrots and basically say the US should be patient and wait for the post-Mubarak era for the implementation of gradual reform. Which one you believe in, at the end of the day, depends on whether you think a radical break with the current regime is possible (or desirable) or whether gradualism is best. The problem with the first is that it's unpredictable; the problem with the second is that we've been down that road before and it had yielded negative results. The US, as a major player in Egypt's domestic politics at the strategic level, will almost certainly opt for gradualism. If it is serious about democratization (and right now it looks like it's not), it's going to have to devise a new formula for muscular gradualism, because the old formula plainly did not work. The job of those democracy activists who are willing to engage the US is to provide some leadership and ideas about how they can do that, and start convincing the Egyptian political elite that it might be in its best interests to follow suit. In Pakistan, they have pragmatic opposition political leaders that can provide these alternatives, however flawed. Egypt for now doesn't.
Read More

DENIED: Egypt Bloggers Plan Parallel Torture Film Festival

Egypt: Bloggers Plan Parallel Film Festival on Police Torture:
Egyptian bloggers have announced that, while the Cairo film festival is taking place from 27 November to 7 December, they will hold a parallel festival in which a "Golden Whip" will be awarded to the best video showing "controversial acts of torture allegedly committed by the security authorities." Two policemen received three-month jail sentences on 5 November for mistreating a detainee. A video of the incident, filmed with a mobile phone, caused an outcry among human rights activists and enabled identification of the two police officers.
Also, Hossam points out that YouTube has pulled down the Egyptian police torture page. Update: Blogger Wael Abbas, who released some of the first torture videos, is denying that any such festival is taking place - see comments.
Read More links for November 21st

Automatically posted links for November 21st:

Read More

Cairo: The Graphic Novel

Our friend and former Cairo mag contributor G. Willow Wilson has released her graphic novel, Cairo, and NPR interviewed her about it. Here's the blurb from the book:
Journalist G. Willow Wilson brings an extraordinary fable to Vertigo in October with CAIRO, an original graphic novel illustrated by Turkish artist M.K. Perker, himself a contributor to The New York Times and The New Yorker. Set in bustling modern-day Cairo, this magical-realism thriller interweaves the lives of a drug runner, a down-on-his-luck journalist, an American expatriate, a young activist, an Israeli soldier, and a genie as they navigate the city's streets and spiritual underworld to find a stolen hooka sought by a wrathful gangster-magician.
She talks a little bit about being a journalist in Cairo, notably for the opposition press. Cairo1 420
Read More links for November 19th

Automatically posted links for November 19th:
Read More

U.S. hopes to arm Pakistani tribes against Al Qaeda

U.S. hopes to arm Pakistani tribes against Al Qaeda:
WASHINGTON: A new and classified American military proposal outlines an intensified effort to enlist tribal leaders in the frontier areas of Pakistan in the fight against Al Qaeda and the Taliban, as part of a broader effort to bolster Pakistani forces against an expanding militancy, American military officials said. If adopted, the proposal would join elements of a shift in strategy that would also be likely to expand the presence of American military trainers in Pakistan, directly finance a separate tribal paramilitary force that until now has proved largely ineffective and pay militias that agreed to fight Al Qaeda and foreign extremists, officials said. The United States now has only about 50 troops in Pakistan, a Pentagon spokesman said, a force that could grow by dozens under the new approach. The proposal is modeled in part on a similar effort by American forces in Anbar Province in Iraq that has been hailed as a great success in fighting foreign insurgents there. But it raises the question of whether such partnerships can be forged without a significant American military presence in Pakistan. And it is unclear whether enough support can be found among the tribes.
Can't really comment about this stuff with any expertise whatsoever, but I would worry about long-term consequences of empowering local tribal chiefs. They've proved again and again to be fair-weather friends. But perhaps rewarding those that collaborate with what these areas have always needed -- infrastructure and investment -- and waving around a very big stick would work.
Read More

MER: Youth issue

The new issue of Middle East Report is out, with a focus on youth. It features an excellent piece by Marc Lynch on young Muslim Brothers, which is available online, as is a reflection on how Arab youths are perceived as a sociological / political unit (one for instance sometimes presumed to always be a force for reform) by Ted Swedenburg. There's a lot more there if you get the magazine, so subscribe!
Read More

Yamli Search: Aywa Keda!

Yamli Search is very intriguing new search engine that transliterates Arabic written in the Latin alphabet into Arabic proper, and then runs that query through Google. It's really quite neat -- for instance if you type "ikhwan al muslimeen" it will search for "اخوان المسلمين". You have to try it out to see what I mean. The idea behind Yamli is that Arabic speakers often have to work without Arabic keyboards and are more used to English keyboards anyway. This is what they say in their press release:
The Arab world has one of the highest internet usage growth rates. Yet, access to and development of Arabic content has been difficult, mainly because of the complexity of typing Arabic. Although Arabic keyboards are available, the vast majority of Arabic-speaking Internet users are accustomed to an English keyboard. Users often resort to spelling Arabic words out phonetically using English characters, a process known as transliteration. Yamli allows users to convert these English characters into Arabic words. Co-founder Habib Haddad explains: “I would often experience frustration trying to find Arabic news on the web. Like millions of users, I could easily express my Arabic words using English letters, but I had difficulty typing them in Arabic. The need for a technology that efficiently converted those phonetic spellings into meaningful Arabic words seemed natural to me. It would have to be so seamless that users would be able to write Arabic text and forget they were using English characters. This is how Yamli was born.” Yamli’s patent-pending solution converts the user’s input into Arabic as he or she types. To maximize usability, Yamli accepts a variety of phonetic spellings and generates a list of suggested matches. Over time, Yamli will recognize popular patterns of spelling and word selection, increasing its accuracy.
I suspect that another reason is that with so many young elite Arabs educated in private, Western curricula school, many kids on the net don't actually master written Arabic that well. On the other hand, they do master the SMS Arabic where "3" is ع and "7" is ح. Some people will think this further erodes the quality of written Arabic, but hats off for innovation. And there's also a standalone editor that will do the same "translation" for you. It's a short step from that to translating transliterated Arabic into other languages altogether. [Thanks Iason]
Read More

What the hell is it with the shoes?

Divisions in Muslim Brotherhood:
THE lowly shoe is considered a degrading weapon in Egypt. To be beaten with a shoe adds insult to injury. So when Mohamed Mahdi Akef, the Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, the banned Islamist group whose members have frequent encounters with the police, threatened critics with his shoes last year, it was seen as a classic example of an intemperate leader's inability to control his language.
I have an idea: from now on I shall refer to any journalist obsessed with Arab shoes as Abu Gazma. (And by the way the bizarrely stunted story is crap.)
Read More

Links for 11/15/07 + al-Jazeera

I went up the tubes that make up the internets and found these:

Letter from Iraq: Inside the Surge - The New Yorker - The new US strategy in Iraq Hidden Costs' Double Price Of Two Wars, Democrats Say - WaPo - Bush lied about that too Good news from Gaza - Haaretz - Hamas getting more like regular army An African crisis worse than Darfur - Al Jazeera - Good reporting on Somalia, but they don't back their headline The Threat Of Islamic Fascism - Newsweek - Akbar Ganji has an intelligent piece on fascism in the Muslim world For Young Libyans, Old-Style Marriage Is a Dream Too Far - WaPo - Frustrated youth Libya changes tourist entry rules - BBC - Yet another example of Libya's arbitrariness Cairo farmers fight army for land - AFP - Interesting piece on little talked about military-business nexus Behind closed doors - Comment is Free - Muslim Brother reproaches Western double standards on rights Dissent Magazine - In Defense of Academic Boycotts - Part of a Israel debate, follow links for other side Ajami's Voice - The New York Sun - Neocon paper calls for Fouad Ajami to lead US Public Diplomacy Tomb raiders - Guardian Unlimited Arts - King Tut exhibit gets demolished in this review The New Face of Al Jazeera - The Nation - Al Jazeera getting more Islamist

If you read the last piece on al-Jazeera, it comes up with some interesting testimony of how al-Jazeera has changed its tone to become more "Islamist" (that can mean a lot of things, but let's let that pass for now). Anyone who regularly watches has noticed this, and their coverage of Iraq can be a little disturbing at times. I also hate how they always respectfully refer to religious imbeciles advocating the most moronic and dangerous types of ideas, notably using using honorific titles such as Sheikh. However, part of this article is about how al-Jazeera has failed to achieve that much in terms of democratizing the region. From the conclusion:
After years of a near-monopoly in the televised Arab media, Al Jazeera has inspired countless imitators throughout the Arab world. The only competitor that has come close is Al Arabiya. Jazeera still holds a majority market share, a remarkable accomplishment after more than ten years. And Jazeera has forced the Arab governments to at least consider the possible media consequences of their actions, something that would have been unthinkable before the network's 1996 launch. Jazeera's pandering to the so-called Arab street feeds off and into the anger of a part of Arab society that is spoiling for a fight--people who are angry about what they consider Western decadence and the oppression of Muslims. It may also offer solace or diversion to the many who are poor and politically powerless, and who feel that their government does not address their concerns in any way. What Jazeera misses is the middle-class Arab population that isn't angry, that has given up on politics and doesn't have time to call in to these programs. They try to ignore their governments, which have so little to offer. And when such people turn on the television, says Nidal Mansour, they expect entertainment. For those who regularly watch Al Jazeera, the constant parade of blood and guts may even have an inuring effect. "Al Jazeera turned death into yet another boring soap opera," says Mansour. In a region so controlled for so long, Al Jazeera created a mainstream, Arab-centered narrative for the Israel-Palestine conflict and others in the region. But for all its achievements, the grip of repressive Arab regimes seems to be as tight as ever. Ten years of breaking taboos, promoting reform, exposing corruption and rigged elections has meant those governments have to work a little harder to cover up their abuses. But power is still very much centralized. Jazeera has a tangible impact on public opinion, but that public has--so far--failed to mobilize and seriously challenge the dictatorships. "Arab governments saw this kind of [free] media change nothing," says Faisal Yassiri, Al Jazeera's former Baghdad bureau chief. "It's just coffeehouse talk."
A lot of problems here. That al-Jazeera still holds a majority share of the market is not surprising, it is the incumbent channel everyone must challenge and has excellent and wide coverage of Arab issues. Only al-Arabiya comes close in breadth. On the question of "pandering to the Arab street," I find that concept rather useless. If anything al-Jazeera is trying to shape public opinion on certain issues, and does so with a populist touch. But this article suggests that it is giving people what they want. I am not sure that any public anywhere knows what it wants from a TV station. Even if it has provocative programming, describing the channel as all blood and guts is ridiculous. There's plenty of variety on al-Jazeera. And finally, who ever said al-Jazeera's mission is to bring down dictatorships in the Arab world? ?The author of the article is addressing a certain discourse, prominent in the West, that al-Jazeera is somehow the great white hope of the Arab world. Not it's not: it's just a TV station, and one owned by an absolute monarch. But overall it's a pretty good TV station -- just don't expect its job to be overthrowing dictators. That's just silly. Also read this post at Abu Muqawama on Al Jazeera English and why it should be more widely available. By the way I love their YouTube page.
Read More

Conversion Issues

A few days ago, Human Rights Watch and the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights published a report entitled “Prohibited Identities� about the discrimination of the Egyptian governments against those who either wish to identify as something other than the three “revealed� religions (Islam, Christianity, and Judaism) or those who wish to change their religion from Islam to something else. Although freedom of worship is clearly enshrined in Egyptian law, and conversion is nowhere forbidden, Bahai’s who have tried to register their religion, or Christians who converted to Islam and then decided they wanted to convert back to their original religion, have been flatly denied the right to do so by government officials (they’ve also been threatened and bribed). Some of these people have chosen to live without a national identity number and card, rather than file false information about their religious beliefs—but the lack of this national identity number means they are often barred form education, work, social services, etc. There are hundreds of cases in the Egyptian courts right now in which these people are trying to obtain the right to write whatever they want in their own records.  

I’ve been covering this issue for some time. You can see part of the results in a piece I filed recently for The World. Since that piece aired, there have been several new developments. Yesterday the case of Mohammed Hegazy—the first Muslim-born Egyptian citizen to go to court to try to officially change his religion to Christianity—was allowed to proceed. The next court session will be in January. Also, on November 17th a verdict will be handed down in the case of 12 former Christians sueing for the right to convert back officially to their religion. This case is expected to have wide repercussions on all similar cases (and the petitioners are optimistic about their chances of winning).

  I recommend reading the excellent HRW/EIPR report, but I just wanted to add a few remarks. One is that the discrimination against would-be converts and Bahai’s (and those who would just like to leave the religion line blank or saying “other�) may in part simply stem from the biases of Muslim government employees—but it is so widely and adamantly enforced that I can’t but assume it’s an actual policy, formulated and promulgated along internal channels, although I can’t quite understand to what ends. 

The other thing I’d like to get off my chest is my disappointment with Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa’s back-pedaling on this issue. In the summer, the Mufti had staked out a sensible position: conversion from Islam is a sin that will be punished in the afterlife, but not a crime that should be punished by the state. Apparently such subtlety is out the window these days. I saw the mufti on “Al Beit Beitak� recently, and he's back to saying that conversion from Islam cannot be countenanced (it also seemed to me that he was misrepresting Egyptian law and furiously spinning the meaning of personal freedom). Poor guy, he’s been issuing so many embarrassing fatwas lately he’s had to cry his way out of the mess. Unfortunately it doesn't look like there will be any helpful religious leadership on the conversion issue, which threatens to get ever more “sensitive.�
Read More

Police accused of ordering rape of teens

2 Egyptian police officers under investigation for allegedly ordering 2 teens raped:
Two police officers are under investigation after two teenagers alleged that the officers ordered other prisoners to rape them at a police station, prosecution officials said Wednesday. A lieutenant and first lieutenant at the Kafr el-Sheik station allegedly ordered older prisoners to rape the teenage boys, ages 16 and 17, after the two were arrested for drug possession last week and ordered detained for four days, the officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media about the case.
Does it ever stop? The number of cases of torture and worse in Egyptian police stations that have come to light in recent months is staggering. In most countries, this kind of thing would have caused the resignation of the interior minister by now. But General Habib al-Adly, eager and willing defender of the Mubarak dynasty, continues to hold his post. Yet he has overseen the deterioration of police work for years, turned a blind eye to the lack of discipline, corruption and brutality that have made the average Egyptian terrified of dealing with the police (even if, for instance, they want to report a crime). It seems to me this is the same pattern of neglect and lack of pro-active leadership that has characterized Egypt under Mubarak: a country adrift.
Read More

Karim Soliman tortured in prison

Remember Karim Soliman, the blogger who has sentenced to four years in prison for insulting Islam and President Mubarak? He is now being tortured because he uncovered corruption among prison officials:
Karim reported his torture to his lawyers in the Arabic Network and Hisham Mubarak Center. The torture was perpetrated by another prisoner and a prison guard on the order of Midhat Samir, one of the prison's investigation officers. This assault resulted from Karim uncovering an act of corruption in the prison. He was prevented from officially reporting the incident and denied the right to document his injuries in a medical report. The Arabic Network for Human Rights information and Hisham Mubarak Centre for Law mentioned in their communiqué to the Prosecutor-General that the assault on Karim involved the following details: - He was beaten in ward number 22, where he was imprisoned at the time of the assault. The beating was launched by another prisoner and a prison guard in the presence and under the supervision of officer Midhat Samir. Samir also gave the green light for the assault, which resulted in a broken "upper right canine tooth" along with a number of bruises and abrasions to various parts of the body. - He was transferred to a disciplinary cell, where he was handcuffed and had his feet put in shackles. He was beaten again, causing more injuries. - Another inmate was brought to the scene, where they stripped him out of his clothes and beat him severely in front of prisoner Kareem Soliman as they also threatened to inflict upon him the same punishment, if he didn't mind his own business.
The associations representing Karim have now filed a lawsuit for him to be transfered to a different prison. Update: Also, a man has been reported to die of his torture wounds in Cairo. His family found him in a coma outside a police station, his body covered in cigarette burns.
Read More

Links for 11/11/07

For a lazy Sunday:
Christopher Hitchens, hammer of Islamism, rationalist supernova, has just had a “back, sack and crack wax”. Here he is in December's Vanity Fair, pudgy hands clasped in unlikely prayer pose, while a cadre of beauticians yank swatches of what seems to be shag-pile from the nethermost Pelt of the Hitch. Antiwar types might relish his agonised depilation diary — “like being tortured for information that you do not possess, with intervals for a (incidentally very costly) sandpaper handjob” — and wonder if it might afford him some deeper insight into activities inside Guantanamo. Yet, strangely, in submitting to this ritual for a feature on self-improvement to celebrate his recently acquired US citizenship (he also traded fag-stained British hat-pegs for twinkly Hollywood gnashers) Hitchens has stepped into a rare place where Islam and Western consumerism concurs. For both agree that body hair, in its lush, natural form, is gross and repellent, a problem that must be eradicated at all costs.
Read More

Carnegie: The political economy of reform in Egypt

From a recent report by the Carnegie Endowment:
As a result of reform efforts, and over the past three years, Egypt has managed to stabilize the economy, increase foreign currency reserves, and achieve steady growth. Reform programs have introduced effective amendments in the social contract between the state, market, and society. Yet little if any progress has been made in the fight against corruption and in creating an enabling and competitive business environment. The current institutional environment poses critical questions about the capability of the Egyptian economy to sustain growth; to create decent jobs for the unemployed, the underemployed, and new entrants into the labor market; and to alleviate massive poverty. These failures to address socioeconomic problems and curb the side effects of economic reform are proving key impediments to accelerating the reform process in Egypt. The reform process in Egypt suffers from the lack of a consensus on the meaning and ramifications of reform among key national stakeholders. Debate with the state over economic reform is more or less limited to major private- sector actors, who are often close to the regime or part of it. This debate centers on the costs and benefits to these actors. The majority of the private sector, represented by small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and members of civil society, especially workers and grassroots organizations, is excluded from the debate with the state over Egypt’s economic reform strategy.
The report provides an history of economic reform in Egypt since the 1970s and gives a cursory look at the practices of cronyism in the business world. While it won't give watchers of Egypt's economy any major new insights, it is worth highlighting in that foreign coverage of economic reforms in Egypt have largely been superficial and reflexively positive -- due, I think, to the real if limited achievements of the Nazif cabinet coming as such a relief for those in the business and analyst community. But then again, although this report ignores some of the bureaucratic improvements made in recent years for investors, I don't think any serious person could deny that Egypt's number one problem, an opaque and corrupt general business environment, has not been really seriously addressed. So what's the solution?
On the one hand, Egypt lacks the institutional capacity to design and implement comprehensive reform programs. On the other hand, current institutions have neither been able to adapt to changes resulting from reform programs nor mitigate the negative spillover from reform policies. Therefore, if Egypt is to meet its current economic challenges and engage in comprehensive reform, special attention should be paid to developing a set of formal and informal institutions that can define the rights and obligations for all actors in the economy and regulate the process of reform.
Read the report for the details, but special kudos for highlighting the need to give representation to civil society elements, notably workers, in hammering out a new social contract. For too long the only people at the negotiating table have been the government, the business community (both protectionist and market-oriented) and international financial institutions. To put it another way, the solution towards forming a consensual economic reform policy is creating the vehicles for genuine consultation. That sounds an awful lot like democracy.
Read More

Fatwa used to protect police?

A rather convenient fatwa:
CAIRO, Nov 8 (Reuters) - Egypt's highest authority on Islamic law said on Thursday that drivers cannot be blamed for killing people who stand in front of their vehicles, just days after a police van ran over a woman who tried to stop it. Dar al-Iftaa, the government agency which issues around 1,000 fatwas a day, denies its rulings are influenced by politics but opponents said the statement could have been issued to defuse criticism of the government linked to Sunday's death. Human rights groups say that in northeast Cairo on Sunday a police minibus ran over Reda Shehata when the driver tried to dislodge her from the front of the vehicle. She was clinging to the minibus to plead for the release of her sister-in-law, who had just been detained, they said. Police officials said the woman threw herself in front of the vehicle. "Murder resulting from the intention of the murdered to commit suicide (by) standing in front of cars so that the driver cannot avoid him is not manslaughter," Dar al-Iftaa said in a statement sent to Reuters. The statement appeared to be a summary of a fatwa issued in response to a question posed in June and posted on the organisation's Web site, but it was not clear why the organisation had chosen only to publicise it now. Two officials at the office of the Grand Mufti could not say whether the statement was linked to Sunday's incident, which drew criticism of the Interior Ministry from rights groups.
Read More

Links for 11/9/07, and a little on Saudis

Regarding the last article on Saudi Arabia, Hamid makes the argument that the US should put democracy-promotion at the forefront of its policy because lack of democracy creates terrorism and extremist ideology, and calls for conditionality on the US arms deal with Saudi Arabia. It seems to me that this is a fundamental misunderstanding of both Saudi Arabia and the US. The Saudi regime is an active exporter of terrorism and extremist ideology, and this has nothing to do with lack of democracy. It is a long-standing, deliberate policy backed at the highest levels of the royal family. This is a country that has funded and provided manpower to paramilitary movements in Afghanistan, Chechnya, Bosnia and many other places. It has also exported and financed the most intolerant strands of Islamic theology throughout the Muslim world. At one point the US backed this, or was tolerant of it at least. But it is very much the same phenomenon that is taking place today, only this time against US interests. With regards to conditionality, the Saudis could very well buy the weapons themselves, and the deal is a boon to the US arms industry. The important thing about the deal is not the money or weapons being delivered but the underlying strategic alliance that provides security for the Saudi royal family. But this regime will continue to promote extremist ideologies at home and abroad, and genuine democratic reforms in Saudi Arabia (a goal desirable in itself but that is certainly not linked to greater stability) would be better served by weakening, not strengthening, the al-Sauds -- not that this is going to happen, for obvious oil and corporate power reasons.
Read More