✚ Tragedy in Libya

Tragedy in Libya

A good first take by Blake Hounshell of FP:

What makes the deaths all the more tragic is that they will inevitably become politicized. On Tuesday, conservative websites were highly critical of a statement by the U.S. Embassy in Cairo that came ahead of a protest where demonstrators breached the embassy's walls in a moment reminiscent of 1979 in Iran. Liz Cheney and the Republican-controlled House Foreign Affairs Committee joined in, accusing the administration of issuing an "apology" for a bizarre and mysterious film attacking the Prophet Mohammed that served as a pretext for the protests. And the Romney campaign issued its own statement. Wednesday will likely bring more finger-pointing.

For me, the embassy assaults are a sobering reminder not only of the deep anger and dysfunction that plagues the broader Middle East, but of the enormous difficulty the United States has in dealing with this party of the world. The level of distrust and fury toward America is not the sort of thing you heal with a speech or two. And to make matters worse, there will always be groups that exploit things that have no connection whatsoever to U.S. government policy, like this anti-Islamic film.

There will always be such groups, but the dysfunction that these groups rely on is really deeply, deeply, sad and obviously dangerous. Not to mention dangerous. In Libya it was compounded by the fact that these groups have access to all sorts of weapons. Moral of the story: such groups should be very, very closely monitored, and the duty of host countries to provide effective riot control and protection to foreign missions taken very seriously. I understand that Libya is still in a chaotic situation, it is obvious the government there has scant security control. Egypt has a lot fewer excuses — things could have always easily ended up worse.

✚ The Triumph and Tragedy of Greater Israel

The Triumph and Tragedy of Greater Israel

Henry Siegman in the National Interest:

The two-state solution did not die a natural death. It was strangulated as Jewish settlements in the West Bank were expanded and deepened by successive Israeli governments in order to prevent the emergence of a viable Palestinian state. The settlement project has achieved its intended irreversibility, not only because of its breadth and depth but also because of the political clout of the settlers and their supporters within Israel who have both ideological and economic stakes in the settlements’ permanence.

Someone needs to start a running tally of the number of times articles arguing the two state solution is dead, or dying appears. It's starting to remind me of this:


The Future of Egypt’s Electoral Law

The Future of Egypt’s Electoral Law

Daniel Tavana writing for Sada:

The architects of Egypt’s transition and those responsible for drafting the constitution have given little thought to the future of the country’s electoral law—critical component of sustainable democracy. Seemingly bigger issues have come to dominate the attention of decision makers in recent months: curbing institutional interests, checking the power of the military, and holding a broader debate on the role of religion in politics. Debate over these issues has come at the expense of discussing inclusive laws regulating elections and the legitimate transfer of political power. 

My has been that the new electoral law is the single most important thing that will determine the extent to which Egypt's future is pluralistic and how well smaller parties will do. 

The Bush White House Was Deaf to 9/11 Warnings

The Bush White House Was Deaf to 9/11 Warnings - NYTimes.com

As I've always suspected, heard from officials in the know — a must-read by Kurt Eichenwald in NYT on the Bush administration's scandalous negligence of the Bin Laden threat because it was obsessed with Saddam:

The direct warnings to Mr. Bush about the possibility of a Qaeda attack began in the spring of 2001. By May 1, the Central Intelligence Agency told the White House of a report that “a group presently in the United States” was planning a terrorist operation. Weeks later, on June 22, the daily brief reported that Qaeda strikes could be “imminent,” although intelligence suggested the time frame was flexible.

But some in the administration considered the warning to be just bluster. An intelligence official and a member of the Bush administration both told me in interviews that the neoconservative leaders who had recently assumed power at the Pentagon were warning the White House that the C.I.A. had been fooled; according to this theory, Bin Laden was merely pretending to be planning an attack to distract the administration from Saddam Hussein, whom the neoconservatives saw as a greater threat. Intelligence officials, these sources said, protested that the idea of Bin Laden, an Islamic fundamentalist, conspiring with Mr. Hussein, an Iraqi secularist, was ridiculous, but the neoconservatives’ suspicions were nevertheless carrying the day.

In response, the C.I.A. prepared an analysis that all but pleaded with the White House to accept that the danger from Bin Laden was real.

“The U.S. is not the target of a disinformation campaign by Usama Bin Laden,” the daily brief of June 29 read, using the government’s transliteration of Bin Laden’s first name. Going on for more than a page, the document recited much of the evidence, including an interview that month with a Middle Eastern journalist in which Bin Laden aides warned of a coming attack, as well as competitive pressures that the terrorist leader was feeling, given the number of Islamists being recruited for the separatist Russian region of Chechnya.

And the C.I.A. repeated the warnings in the briefs that followed. Operatives connected to Bin Laden, one reported on June 29, expected the planned near-term attacks to have “dramatic consequences,” including major casualties. On July 1, the brief stated that the operation had been delayed, but “will occur soon.” Some of the briefs again reminded Mr. Bush that the attack timing was flexible, and that, despite any perceived delay, the planned assault was on track.

Yet, the White House failed to take significant action. Officials at the Counterterrorism Center of the C.I.A. grew apoplectic. On July 9, at a meeting of the counterterrorism group, one official suggested that the staff put in for a transfer so that somebody else would be responsible when the attack took place, two people who were there told me in interviews. The suggestion was batted down, they said, because there would be no time to train anyone else.

And then people laugh when you suggest Bush should have been impeached. In fact, it's him and his senior team (Rice, Cheney, Hadley, Rumsfeld etc.) who should be held to account. It's still not too late, 11 years after the attacks.

Makovsky, Israel's strike on Syria, and the New Yorker

How Israel Secretly Bombed a Suspected Syrian Nuclear Facility

Odd that the New Yorker decides to publish this story based on many unnamed intelligence sources and written by David Makovsky of the Washington Institute (a think tank that evolved out of AIPAC's research arm and is known as perhaps the most effective pro-Israel advocacy group on US Middle East policy). The piece is of course completely tuned to a pro-Israeli narrative (Ehud Olmert was elected on a "platform of peace", etc.), frequently engages in cheerleading for Israeli operations (the bombing itself, assassinations), devotes much of its conclusion to discussing Iran's nuclear program based on the lessons from Syria (with the basic take being, if only we could do the same as Syria but it might be more difficult there) and advocating the position that Israel and Iran have the same interests there and that Israel might very well go it alone. Indeed, one senses that the argument either to stand by the Israelis if they do, or continue the current sanctions/containment policy on Iran that is beginning to do a lot of damage to its economy (i.e. on ordinary people). Finally, it is mostly unfactcheckable — whereas the New Yorker prides itself on its thorough fact-checking — and nowhere are Makovsky's affiliation with the Washington Institute or his record as an advocate for Israel are mentioned in the piece, or at least in the Kindle version which I read on on the above-linked excerpt on the New Yorker's website. 

Odd indeed.

Update: Phil Weiss follows up this line of questioning and adds context. And also Ali Gharib in Daily Beast.

A Nathan Brown tryptych

Three long new pieces by Brown at Carnegie, on the state of the transition, of the constitution, and of the legislative agenda (despite the absence of a parliament...)

Egypt’s Ambiguous Transition

President Morsi now stands in firm control, with almost limitless legal authority on paper. And that is a very mixed triumph for democracy. For over half a century, the dominating political structure has been the presidency. That office was vacant from February 2011 until June 2012. Now the question is whether a domineering presidency is reemerging.

Egypt Tries to Reconstitute Itself

What of the content of the document? A rushed effort to write a consensus charter has led the assembly to fall back on the 1971 constitution as a starting point, tweaking it to make improvements and reflect the changed political realities. While textual changes may be limited, the new document may still operate in significantly different ways, some of them impossible to predict.

Egypt’s Potential Legislative Agenda

While these laws push in the direction of greater independence for NGOs and the judiciary, rumored proposals concerning al-Azhar, Egypt’s main Islamic center of learning, and the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC), move in the opposite direction.  Some proposals quietly discussed indicate that those institutions may see the autonomy they quietly gained in the period of military rule reversed.

Palestinians take to the street

✚ Palestinians take to streets in call for Fayyad to step down

In +972, Aziz Abu Sarah writes about the rising protests against Fayyad and the PA:

Prime Minister Fayyad found himself at the center of the anger and frustration of the Palestinians. In the first few years following his appointment, Fayyad received rave reviews by locals and internationals alike for his work in reviving the Palestinian economy and tackling corruption. However, he is now facing a financial crisis, considered the worst since the Palestinian Authority’s inception, due to a dip in donor funding and rising costs of living.

Despite an expected 5 percent growth in the Palestinian economy this year, this growth is a deceptive figure. The Palestinian economy is captive to the Israeli occupation and is regulated and handcuffed by the Paris Protocol, an agreement that preceded the Oslo Accords. In a recent post, Haggai Matar explained new modifications to the Paris Protocol, which reaffirm Israel’s control over the Palestinian economy. Haggai explains how in a time when Palestinians are shifting towards popular resistance, an economic agreement with Israel contributes to the irrelevance of their  government. While Palestinian activists have been calling on the Palestinian Authority to annul the Paris Protocol, Fayyad has defended the agreement, claiming the present problems are not related.

There have notably been violent clashes in Hebron over cost of living.

E-Militias of the Muslim Brotherhood

E-Militias of the Muslim Brotherhood: How to Upload Ideology on Facebook

This is a fascinating piece on the Egyptian Muslim Brothers social media propaganda strategy by Linda Herrera and Mark Lotfy for Jaddaliya:

The Brotherhood’s presence on social media is slippery, hard to pin down with precision since much of its activity is camouflaged. It appears that the MB operates on five tiers. First, there is its official presence, as represented with the page of their political party, the Freedom and Justice Party. Second are the pages that initially appeared to be independent, but turned out to be orchestrated platforms with complete loyalty to the Brotherhood.  RNN (shabakat rasd), a news network that is approaching two million “likes,” fits this category. When RNN was first launched on 25 January, 2011 at the start of the Egyptian revolution, its Administrators were anonymous and the page appeared to be an independent entity, though a highly professional and well oiled one. Its masks have since come off and the page is known as a Brotherhood page in all but name. RNN has grown into a regional platform with branches in Libya, Syria, Morocco, Turkey, and Palestine. The third tier are pages with sympathies to the MB whose Admins post or do things in support of the Brotherhood line. Fourth are concealed pages, ones that on the surface do not appear to have anything to do with politics or the MB, but in a critical moment, like prior to the presidential runoff elections, expose themselves as pro-Brotherhood pages. Finally, the fifth tier are the E-militia foot soldiers who—using both real and fake profiles—scout out pages and Facebook discussions to interject points to influence opinion towards the Brotherhood position.

Very important to remember that one of the MB's key beliefs is in the importance of indoctrination, especially of youth. One shudders to think of their plans for the ministries of education or state television. 

What is to be done: The Website as an Organizer

What is to be done: The Website as an Organizer

Even if like me you're a bourgeois reactionary, you should read Hossam el-Hamalawy's fascinating post on the relaunch of the Egyptian Revolutionary Socialists website. He digs through the latest data on mobile and internet penetration in Egypt to develop an online strategy for a group whose focus (in terms of reporting) is highlighting the plight of the working poor. Some really smart political media  strategy there.

Egypt's Military Industrial complex

Profile: The Arab Organization for Industrialization

A nice overview of the core of Egypt's military-industrial complex by Omar Halawa in Egypt Independent:

It has its own bylaws and a supreme committee headed by the president, who is joined by the AOI chief executive, and the members of the board who are the factory heads and legal advisers.

According to official data released by officials in March, the AOI makes an annual net profit that ranges between LE470 million to LE475 million from a yearly total sales volume of LE3.4 billion.

Officials from the AOI say the profits are not pocketed by the state, but are reinvested in the company.

Michael Collins Dunn has more remarks on the AOI here.

The article largely covers the lack of accountability of the AOI. I think it's also worth thinking about its future mission in post-Mubarak Egypt. Soon enough, political forces will articulate (perhaps with the younger generation of officers now in charge) the need for a different military doctrine, and different procurement methods. Consider that in the 1980s Egypt abandoned its ballistic missile system (and, allegedly, a covert nuclear weapons program very much in its infancy), and in the 1990s was said to have allowed its chemical weapons program to lapse. Will these things be reconsidered in the future? I think when it comes to developing certain technologies where Egypt has lagged — it's almost a certain thing.

Ghannouchi vs Fisk

Head of Islamist Ennahdha Party to File Suit Against “The Independent”

Sana Ajmi in Tunisialive:

Rached Ghannouchi, leader of Tunisia’s moderate Islamist Ennahdha party, stated yesterday that he intends to sue the British newspaper The Independent for publishing false information about his party.

In his article entitled, “We believe that the USA is the major player against Syria and the rest are its instruments,” Robert Fisk quoted Walid Muallem, foreign minister to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, as saying that the Emir of Qatar, Hamad ben Khalifa Al Thani, issued orders to pay Ennahdha $150 million to help Ghannouchi’s party in the elections.

Ghannouchi denied the news during a press conference held yesterday and announced that he plans to sue The Independent for publishing inaccurate information.

“Robert Fisk is a respectable man, but in his article he published false news. These are serious accusations, and we are going to sue the newspaper for publishing that,” said the Ennahdha leader.

One thing Ghannouchi learned in his long years of London exile, apparently, is that the UK is a good place to get litigious. Even if, as in this case, it was not Fisk saying he received money from Qatar (something many Tunisians seem to believe) but Muallem saying it. Can you really sue a paper because an official quoted gave an maliciously inaccurate statement? 

Is the World Too Easy on Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood Leaders?

Is the World Too Easy on Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood Leaders?

Steve Cook writes in The Atlantic:

. . . primarily Western analysts and a good chunk of the American foreign policy establishment have come to believe that the Brothers can be a genuine force for progressive political change. This conclusion is based on an alleged evolution of the Brotherhood that is reflected in its discourse about reform and democratic change. Observers also point to the Brothers' past performance as parliamentarians when they sought to hold corrupt governments under Mubarak accountable. If neither of these arguments is convincing, it may not matter so the theory goes because circumstances will force the Brothers to become democrats despite themselves. Left without the means of coercion, the only resource the Brothers have is their popularity and as a result, they will go back to the ballot box again and again in order to outmaneuver their political opponents. Eventually the principles and practice of democracy will become institutionalized.

As I have written before, much of this is based on hunches, wishful thinking, or historical analogies that are interesting but are hardly predictive of the Brotherhood's political trajectory. Still, if the reception that the Freedom and Justice Party received in Washington last March is any indication, these arguments hold sway and insulate Morsi and the Brotherhood from the widespread denunciation they deserve when they pursue non-democratic policies.

I can think of a few analysts who advocated the position Cook describes, of looking at the MB as "moderates" (whatever that means) who should be embraced, but I think he actually misdiagnoses the main issue. It's not that many in power in the US, or influential analysts, are prepared to think of the MB as a "genuine force for progressive political change" — something it obviously is not in many respects.

It's that these people look at the MB as credibly in charge and capable of running Egypt. They don't care whether it is progressive, just like they did not mind much Mubarak not being progressive. And this is what the MB is selling itself as, combining easy assurances of being democratic (an untested proposition) with the more important selling point of being ready to do business and able to deliver on issues of agreement. The phenomenon that Steve is describing — of the MB being given a pass, notably by the Obama administration — is therefore more the result of a need for a dependable interlocutor in the US (which the MB is more than other political forces in Egypt, because it has the ability to enforce a position among its ranks) and the need to keep Egypt open for business on a few select issues: military cooperation, Israel. The problem Cook describes, in other words, is actually mostly that people are willing to make excuses for the MB or engage in wishful thinking because the democracy and human rights bit is simply not that important to them compared to more strategic issues.

I agree with his conclusion, though:

It is too early to draw any firm conclusions about the Brothers in Egypt, but it certainly seems that their first inclination is to advance their agenda by any means necessary while expressing fealty to the revolutionary promise of Tahrir Square. It has become a cliché, but what the Brothers do is more important than what they say. After all, doesn't anyone remember "New Thinking and Priorities"? The NDP was also adept at the language of political change and reform, but hardly anyone believed it. Of course, the FJP is not the old ruling party, but in order to ensure that it does not become some variant of the NDP, liberal-minded Egyptians and foreigners (yes, foreigners) need to speak up loudly when the Brothers do illiberal things.



If you follow Arabic literature, you owe it to yourself to follow Qisasukhra, a new blog by a translator who features short pieces from new Arabic novels. 

Here's an excerpt from a translation of a Mohammed Mustajab story:

I donned the dark suit, the tight new shoes and leapt into the street. The hour was early. Plans had been laid with modern precision.

I told my sweetheart, the evening before, that I was terrified of meeting her father. She tweaked my ear, brought her eyes closer, caught her breath for an instant, then laughed.

Her father, she said (like any father) loved his daughter and she (my sweetheart assumed an air of gravity) had cleared all obstacles for this encounter. She (she laughed) had paved the way: all that remained was to charge. She (her fingertips tickled my chin) cared for nothing in this world but me.

Her efforts, I said, were deserving of my fullest admiration. Nevertheless, I was not going to meet her father. I gazed into her eyes and my voice a whisper, underscored my point: It’s not a father I’ll be meeting, it’s a former prime minister…

Sinai moves to centre-stage

Sinai moves to centre-stage 

Geoffrey Aronson makes a good point in this NOREF report:

There is no architecture in place for trilateral (U.S.–Egypt–Israel) or bilateral (U.S.–Egypt, U.S.–Israel, Israel–Egypt) consultations to modify the institutions created to consolidate the Egyptian–Israeli peace treaty or even to exchange views. Changes made under pressure of events have served to undermine rather than fortify strategic stability. More broadly, mechanisms created to consolidate the old order need to be reimagined in order to understand and address the dramatically different contemporary political and security environment.

Those who keep calling for a renegotiation of the treaty — notably the MB — need to decide how  exactly it will be renegotiated, especially as they don't like talking to Israelis.

New governors in Egypt

Here's the lowdown from Beltone's newsletter:

President Mohamed Morsi appointed 10 new governors, four of whom are affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, three retired military generals, and five academics, Al-Masry Al-Youm reported.  Presidential spokesperson Yasser Ali says the decisions were based on merit, not party affiliations. Saad Al-Husseiny, 59, was appointed as governor of Kafr al-Sheikh in the Delta, a traditional stronghold for the Brotherhood, but which gave fewer votes to Morsi than expected in the presidential polls. Husseiny was the secretary of the now-dissolved People’s Assembly Budget and Planning Committee and a parliamentary spokesperson for the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party. Monufiya, the hometown of the two last presidents and a stronghold of the former regime, was given to 67-year-old Mohamed Bashir, a member of the Brotherhood Guidance Bureau. Osama Kamal, undersecretary for the Syndicate of Engineers, who won the election by running on the Brotherhood ticket, was appointed governor of Cairo. Meanwhile, the new appointments preserved the traditional practice of giving border governorates’ posts to army generals. The contentious North Sinai Governorate, which borders the Gaza Strip and Israel and home to a thriving Islamic militancy, was given to Abdel Fattah Harhour, an army general. Morsi dismissed his predecessor last month after armed assailants attacked a military checkpoint and killed 16 security officers. The Red Sea Governorate, which borders Saudi Arabia and Jordan, is now headed by General Mohamed Kamel, while Suez, home to the critical Suez Canal, is now headed by General Samir Ajlan.

What strikes me as interesting here — other than press musings about a Brotherhood takeover of governor posts were perhaps predictably overblown — is that the appointment of MB figures seems to be in part about the upcoming parliamentary elections. Kafr al-Sheikh (where the previous governor was a leftist who resigned in protest at the Morsi presidency) and Munufiya are two electoral battlegrounds in which the MB did not fare as well as it might have expected in the last parliamentary elections (and the presidential ones). And that so far there is continuity in the civilian-military split with regards to border governorates — but since these changes only affect a third of all of Egypt's governorate, there is still no clear signal that there are less military appointments. The big thing that seems missing, in fact, are police generals.

In Translation: Eissa on the success of Egypt's revolution

We are back with translations from the awesome Industry Arabic, purveyors extraordinaire of linguistic services. It's been a while, and I wanted to capture the reaction to Morsi's rise in the last month from a major voice in the Egyptian media, Ibrahim Eissa, long one of the most strident critic of the Mubarak regime and a figure of the revolution.

The piece below seems to me somewhat extreme, but it is not necessarily from an anti-Islamist perspective — although certainly an anti-MB perspective. Eissa occupies a limbo between nationalist, socialist and Islamist in the Egyptian commentariat and has emerged as one of strongest non-felool voices in the media. I think it speaks of the disappointment of many of the revolutionaries, if not necessarily of a majority of Egyptians.

The Success of Our Failed Revolution

Ibrahim Eissa, al-Tahrir, August 28 2012.

The moment of truth has arrived.

We must be courageous and recognize that the January 25 revolution has failed up to now.

I don't want to injure anyone or break the cocoon of illusion inhabited by many of those who marched in the protests of January 25 and the Day of Rage, or who rejoiced and praised the day Mubarak stepped down, and those addicted to applying the label "revolutionaries" to themselves on Facebook pages and Twitter accounts or in café squabbles. Those people can remain in their cocoon, since that is the best place for those with special – revolutionary – needs to reside.

Let's have the honesty of a surgeon who tells a patient that he has a tumor that will kill him within three months, and say that the success of the revolution does not consist in the number of participants, the justice of the cause, or how many sacrifices and victims it leaves. Rather, its success depends on seeing its aims realized.

Read More

U.S. Prepares Economic Aid to Bolster Democracy in Egypt

U.S. Prepares Economic Aid to Bolster Democracy in Egypt

Important piece in the NYT by Steven Lee Myers, about the US going ahead with $1bn debt forgiveness (out of $3bn, mostly low-interest Food for Peace loans):

Mr. Morsi and his Islamic movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, have since made it clear that the struggling economy is their most urgent priority, brushing aside reservations about American and international assistance and outright opposition to it from other Islamic factions.

American officials say they have been surprised by how open Mr. Morsi and his advisers have been to economic changes, with a sharp focus on creating jobs.

“They sound like Republicans half the time,” one administration official said, referring to leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood, which was long banned from office under the former president, Hosni Mubarak, a close American ally.

Hoping to capitalize on what they see as a ripening investment climate, the State Department and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce will take executives from nearly 50 American companies, like Caterpillar and Xerox, to Cairo beginning Saturday as part of one of the largest trade delegations ever. The officials and executives will urge the government to make changes in taxation, bankruptcy and labor laws to improve the investment climate.

“It’s important for the U.S. to give Egypt a reason to look to the West, as well as the East,” said Lionel Johnson, the chamber’s vice president for the Middle East and North Africa.

The Brotherhood has spoken a language on the economy that Americans like to hear for a while now: entrepreneurship, liberalization, public-private partnerships etc. In reality I suspect we will continue to see some protectionism in the Egyptian tradition (on pharma, some agricultural produce, price controls for steel, cement etc.) that is perfectly understandable. But what's interesting here is how things are being framed as a need to "balance" the East — the GCC countries of course with their easily spent cash, but also China. Makes Morsi's trip there and supposed $4-6bn in contracts look smart. 

Just make it look good!

Just make it look good!

Sandmonkey writes:

On beautiful Monday mornings like this one, as I wake up in my bed, happy, well rested, thinking  about what I will do today, a single simple thought comes into my mind, filling me with sense of impending doom and horror that grips me and ruins my day: We are going to have elections. Again. Very soon. 

Kill me now.  

I know how he feels — and professionally I cover elections! Read the rest for a critique of the secular parties' lack of a real product to sell in the upcoming elections. I have no time to expand now, but my thought for a while is that they need to be aggressive — not just in electioneering, but in the vision thing. People respect those who stand for something, and many secularists are so scared of Islamists they hesitate to wear their secularism on their sleeves. I say: go on the offensive, be clear about what you stand for (and that it's not anti-religion), and attack relentlessly your political enemies on their weaknesses, notably their religious hypocrisy. Elections are ultimately about resources: how much money and how many people you have to recruit to your side. But also having a big idea helps — not with the wider electorate perhaps, but to energize your base. This is why Islamists perform well: they have an energized base. In Egypt, secularists seem to have only a demoralized base.