Julia Gillard's awesome speech

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gilliard in a speech yesterday taking on the leader of the opposition in parliament after he raises naughty text messages sent by one of her cabinet's ministers. Really great, brutal speech.

This is the same woman next to which Mohammed Morsi readusted his, erm, package a couple of weeks ago — sparking a wave of jokes in Egypt.

Maybe that incident riled her up? 

Via Andrew Sullivan.

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Issandr El Amrani

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

In Syria, a rebellion calls for revolutionary measures

In Syria, a rebellion calls for revolutionary measures

Anecdote from Syria about a revolutionary marriage of convenience, in the LA Times:

Her marriage, Hanadi said, is simply one of convenience.

In August, she wed the commander of the militia she had joined, the 30-member Thul Nurain, based in the Tadamon neighborhood.

“It was to prevent people from talking — ‘Why is she sitting among all those men?’ ” she said.

“Tadamon is a conservative place and it’s a big deal to have an unmarried girl among a group of men,” said Abu Majid, 34, who worked as a deliveryman before he took up arms.

He asked her father’s permission and was turned down, but a local sheik agreed to marry them anyway.

They publicized the marriage within the neighborhood and among rebel groups in order to stop the wagging tongues. For weeks, she didn’t tell her family.

Abu Majid’s first wife still doesn’t know.

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Issandr El Amrani

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

Ignatius: the US should back FSA against other militants in Syria

Face to Face with a Revolution

David Ignatius visits Syria, talks to FSA commanders and writes:

On that long drive into the heart of Assad's Syria, the only thing that made the fighters nervous was when they heard the sound of a helicopter overhead. Assad rules the skies, and it's probably only American missiles that could change that deadly balance.

If the U.S. wants the rebels to coordinate better on the ground, it should lead the way by coordinating outside help. The shower of cash and weapons coming from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and other Arab nations is helping extremist fighters and undercutting any orderly chain of command through the Free Syrian Army.

It will probably eventually come to this: everyone backing the rebels against Assad at first, and then backing individual factions against each other when they fight for control of post-Assad Syria.

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Issandr El Amrani

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

The Salafist who loved Mina Daniel

✚ The Salafist who loved Mina Daniel

Wonderful piece by Yasmine Fathi in al-Ahram English profiling Mina Daniel, the revered Christian activist killed on October 9, 2011 during the Maspero massacre. It begins by talking about Tarek al-Tayeb, a Salafist who met Mina Daniel in Tahrir Square during the anti-Mubarak uprising and instantly became his close friend:

Despite the closeness of the two, El-Tayeb still struggled to overcome his discomfort at having a Christian friend.

"I never told him how I felt about Christians," says El-Tayeb. "He would sometimes tell me that he loved me and I would respond by saying that I hate him. It was just hard for me to get rid of these fanatical ideas all at once. It took time."

Since becoming a Salafist, El-Tayeb made sure he was civil to his Christian neighbors and colleagues, however, being friends with a Christian was simply out of the question. Danial was different.

"I just could not hate him. For the first time in my life, I found that I could not hate a Christian. I could not put this barrier of religion between me and him," El-Tayeb explains, "The emotions I felt towards him destroyed all of these shackles. I didn’t understand it then and I still don’t understand it now. What is it about Danial that made him have this impact on people?"

The revolution, or whatever you want to call it, was a remarkable transmogrifying moment for many people. We tend to forget it.

The CIA Burglar Who Went Rogue

The CIA Burglar Who Went Rogue

This Smithsonian magazine article by David Wise, on how the CIA steals secret codes, starts like this — what more do you want?

The six CIA officers were sweating. It was almost noon on a June day in the Middle Eastern capital, already in the 90s outside and even hotter inside the black sedan where the five men and one woman sat jammed in together. Sat and waited.

They had flown in two days earlier for this mission: to break into the embassy of a South Asian country, steal that country’s secret codes and get out without leaving a trace. During months of planning, they had been assured by the local CIA station that the building would be empty at this hour except for one person—a member of the embassy’s diplomatic staff working secretly for the agency.

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Issandr El Amrani

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

Zizek on Romney and Big Bird

Slavoj Žižek: Romney, Big Bird, and the prospect of avian apocalypse

Irresistible Zizek:

The bourgeois media and the Democratic party machine were confounded by Mitt Romney’s invocation of Big Bird during the first US presidential debate, a sentiment that soon gave way to cynical amusement and playground mockery. But Romney had inadvertently revealed a deep truth about the Capitalist canon’s troubled relationship with oversized birds. Birds at once represent freedom, a visual cliché widely used by Liberal parties around the world depicting a bird in flight, never in repose, and the possibility of being devoured by the feathered creatures that have learned to negotiate gravity far better than un-mechanised humans could ever do. Romney’s Big Bird metaphor deserves more analysis than it was given by the mainstream media arm of the post-wage capitalist complex.

It gets more improbable:

Coincidentally, a few days after Romney made his declaration of war against Big Bird, Israeli jets intercepted and shot down an unidentified flying object. Unidentified Flying object. ‘Unidentified’ is of course a reference to Donald Rumsfeld’s ‘unknown unknowns’, the possibility that there is a man with knife hiding behind the shower curtain, but also other possibilities that we haven’t even conceived of. But more interesting is the reference to a flying object. Object is a distraction, it denies our flying friend agency to pretend it’s a machine, in fact it is a flying subject, no other than our winged nemesis, which Romney had just declared war against. Accidental? Given Israel’s desperation to reinvent its cold-war role as a regional spearhead of US hegemony, that is highly unlikely.

Coincidentally, a few days after Romney made his declaration of war against Big Bird, Israeli jets intercepted and shot down an unidentified flying object. Unidentified Flying object. ‘Unidentified’ is of course a reference to Donald Rumsfeld’s ‘unknown unknowns’, the possibility that there is a man with knife hiding behind the shower curtain, but also other possibilities that we haven’t even conceived of. But more interesting is the reference to a flying object. Object is a distraction, it denies our flying friend agency to pretend it’s a machine, in fact it is a flying subject, no other than our winged nemesis, which Romney had just declared war against. Accidental? Given Israel’s desperation to reinvent its cold-war role as a regional spearhead of US hegemony, that is highly unlikely.

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Issandr El Amrani

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

A year ago: The Maspero massacre

A year ago today, the Egyptian army violently repressed a protest led by Coptic Christian activists across from Maspero, the building where Egyptian state TVand radio are headquartered in Central Cairo. Panicking soldiers crushed protestors with their APCs and fired live ammunition, and state television incited against Christians. Later that evening, mobs of Muslims attacked Christians and Muslims who had taken part in the protest. Twenty-seven protestors died during the clashes, as well as an unknown number of soldiers.

The Egyptian military in charge at that time promised an investigation but also alleged that "hidden forces" were responsibile for the clashes to discredit the military. The investigation has not yielded any results thus far. There is a march at Maspero today to commemorate the massacre. 

Below is our coverage at the time:

 

 

Issandr El Amrani

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

Egypt's filthy canals

This always astounds me when I'm in the countryside — the simply horrendous condition of the canals in a country where government long meant, essentially, the maintenance and upkeeping of irrigation canals. I don't think there's a better illustration of the extent to which Egypt has been badly run for decades.
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Issandr El Amrani

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

In contempt

Human rights organizations and the media in Egypt have reported on a worrying recent spike in "contempt of religion" cases. Most of them involve Coptic Christians, whether it is 25-year-old Albert Saber, who allegedly linked to the Islamophobic porn B movie The Innocence of Muslims on Facebook, or school teacher Bishoy Kamel, who has been sentenced to six years in prison for posting cartoons considered defamatory to Islam and Prophet Mohammed on Facebook and for insulting President Mohamed Morsi and his family. 

Now, according to this report by the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression, the charge is being used to settle domestic disputes: after a mother and daughter in Sharqiya got ito a fight about the daughter's unorthodox "ideas and views," the girl accused her mothering of threatening to kill her, and the mother accused the daughter and a male friend, who showed up at the police station to check up on her, of insulting Islam.  

At least the case against an 8-month-pregnant Coptic school teacher in Upper Egypt has been dismissed, after the student who accused her of insulting the Prophet turned out not to have been in class that day. 

Of course insulting religion -- or the president -- has always been a crime in Egypt. Laws that forbid it have been used before to persecute prominent secular intellectuals and artists. What may be new and disturbing about the recent cases is the indiscriminate and arbitrary targeting of regular, anonymous citizens (in the context of who-knows-what very local relations and tensions). 

It's great that President Morsi said in his speech yesterday that: "Any assault on Copts is an assault on me." But the recent cases are an assault on all Egyptians' freedom of expression.

Morsi has also called for an international law against insulting religion. Islamists have long amalgamated Western wars in the Middle East with the idea that Islam needs to be protected from offense domestically, in Muslim-majority countries. And who better to act as its protectors than they? Yet Islamists have a hard time admitting that they have, for political advantage, contributed to an atmosphere of intolerance and belligerance or that there is a double standard in the way Islam, versus all other religions, is protected from contempt.

Libyan democracy hijacked

 Libyan democracy hijacked - Le Monde diplomatique - English edition:

Patrick Haimzadeh in Monde Diplomatique, on the post-election politics of Libya:

Many commentators pronounced Jibril the man of the moment. Confident of their skill in political science and the analysis of election results, they failed to grasp the complexity and fragmentation of the political landscape. A few weeks later, their predictions were confounded when the new General National Congress appointed as its president Mohammed Magarief, whose National Front party (self-professed moderate Islamist) had only won three seats at the election. On 12 September, the congress chose Mustafa Abu Shagur as prime minister over Jibril, by two votes.

Supported principally by the Islamists, Abu Shagur had been deputy prime minister in the previous ‘transitional’ government. The choice of Shagur demonstrates the difficulty in applying conventional party political models to Libya, where local or even tribal allegiances and rivalries often take precedence over the divide between ‘Islamists’ and ‘liberals’ that is the frame of reference normally used in the West.

Warned about those labels back in July.

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Issandr El Amrani

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

Egypt's new constitution

Egypt's constituent assembly is working away at the country's new constitution, which they hope to finish and put to a referendum by the end of the year. 

Some articles of concern so far are article 8, on religious right and freedoms, which states that "freedom of belief is safeguarded" without specifying that the state is responsible for doing the safeguarding and gives the three heavenly religions (therefore limiting recognized religions to Islam, Christianity and Judaism) the right to practice but only "according to the law and without violating the general order"; and article 36, on women's rights, which states that "the state will take all legislative and amdministrative measure to entench the principle of women's equality with men in the political, cultural, economic and social fields as long as it does not violate the rulings of Islamic Sharia [...]."

The much-discussed article 2  for now remains the same (I believe) as it was in the 1971 constitution, invoking "the principles of Sharia" as "the main source" of law.

Another area of concern is an article that would make the ancient religious institution of Al Azhar the official "reference" for determining whether legislation is in accordance with Sharia. This idea keeps being taken up then taken back then taken up again by Islamist parties, seemingly based on their sense of their capacity to eventually control Al Azhar.  

The assembly actually has a pretty good website, where you can look up draft artices (and give them thumbs up or down) and read the minutes of the 12 general assemblies held so far. But sessions haven't been televised (which would have reached a much wider audience), the negotiations over various articles remain an opaque affair and generally there has not been an effort to engage Egyptian society in a real debate over the constitution.

A number of liberal and secular figures — already great underrepresented in the assembly — have boycotted. They are likely to be unhappy with the final result, but it is doubtful that they have the leverage necessary to challenge it -- with the army now largely out of the equation and with President Morsi holding the power to dissolve and reconstitute a new assembly of his own choosing (Morsi recently said he cannot interfere in the constitutional assembly's negotiations, which — given the sword of Damocles he holds over the entire process —is patently disingenuous). 

So far as I can tell, there is little indication of the powers of the presidency being dramatically diminished. The upper house of parliament — the Shura Council — which has been largely considered an irrelevant, influence-peddling body, is apparently to stay. And the question of what kind of electoral system Egypt will adopt (individual candidates, party lists, or some combination of the two) remains under discussion. 

Citing U.S. Fears, Arab Allies Limit Aid to Syrian Rebels

✚ Citing U.S. Fears, Arab Allies Limit Aid to Syrian Rebels

Robert Worth, writing in Riyadh for the NYT, sees growing sign of Saudi buyers' remorse on their backing for jihadists in Syria — US reluctance is an excuse:

Many Saudi and Qatari officials now fear that the fighting in Syria is awakening deep sectarian animosities and, barring such intervention, could turn into an uncontrollable popular jihad with consequences far more threatening to Arab governments than the Afghan war of the 1980s.

“If the killing continues, the youth will not listen to wise voices,” said Salman al-Awda, one of this country’s most prominent clerics, in an interview at his office here. “They will find someone who will encourage them, and they will go.”

Already, there are signs of an uptick in the number of young men crossing illegally into Syria from Saudi Arabia and other Muslim countries, and of private fund-raising efforts across the gulf to help the rebels acquire heavier weapons. The fighting has also spilled into Turkey, which shelled Syria for four days last week after a Syrian shell killed five Turkish civilians.

Saudi Arabia has long had an antagonistic relationship with the government of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria, and sees itself as the protector of Syria’s Sunni majority in a country governed by Mr. Assad’s Alawite minority. But the prospect of an increasingly sectarian civil war in Syria is deeply troubling to many here, where the Afghan jihad spawned a generation of battle-tested zealots who returned home and waged a bloody insurgency that was brought under control only recently.

“The government really doesn’t want to repeat the experience we had with the guys who went to Afghanistan and Iraq,” said Mshari al-Zaydi, a Saudi columnist and an expert on jihadi movements. “The damage from Al Qaeda was worse in Saudi Arabia than it was in the U.S.A.”

The fight in Syria is now terrible, but imagine what the fight will be like when the various countries backing the rebels start backing individual factions...

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Issandr El Amrani

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

Osama Bin Laden And The Saudi Muslim Brotherhood

✚ Osama Bin Laden And The Saudi Muslim Brotherhood

Enlightening piece by Stephane Lacroix in FP on the Saudi Brotherhood(s):

From the days of Hassan al-Banna, the Saudi monarchy made it clear that it wouldn't allow the Brotherhood to establish a section in the kingdom. Yet from the late 1960s onward, different groups of Saudis influenced by Egyptian and Syrian Brotherhood exiles started creating local semi-clandestine organizations claiming an affiliation to the MB. A sign that this was the result of a bottom-up dynamic, not a top-down creation, is that four such distinct organizations saw the light at about the same time: one in the western province, called the Brotherhood of the Hejaz (ikhwan al-Hijaz); and three in the central region -- two named after their alleged founder, the Brotherhood of al-Sulayfih (ikhwan al-Sulayfih) and the Brotherhood of al-Funaysan (ikhwan al-Funaysan), and one called the Brotherhood of Zubayr (ikhwan al-Zubayr) because it was established by Saudis whose families had lived in Zubayr, in Southern Iraq. Although the four groups attempted to coordinate their activities and saw themselves as part of one broader entity, they never managed to formally merge.

These groups of Saudi Brothers maintained links to the MB in Egypt and elsewhere, but, because of the sensitivity of the topic, those links remained loose and were never formalized. For instance, Saudi Brothers sometimes attended meetings of the Brotherhood's international organization in the 1980s, but officially they did so in their individual capacity, not as representatives of their organization. Also, Saudi Brothers generally did not pledge allegiance to the supreme guide in Cairo, as members of the Brotherhood are usually required, because, as Saudi citizens, they were already bound by an oath to the Saudi King. In terms of ideology, Saudi Brothers were also quite different from their counterparts elsewhere: although they did read Hassan al-Banna, Sa‘id Hawwa, and Sayyid Qutb, they were also heavily influenced by Salafi authors whom they quoted on issues of creed and on certain issues of fiqh.

If and when Syria is run by the MB, and if and when the MB strengthen their position in Jordan, the al-Sauds will have to start really worrying about their local MB.

Weekend long reads

This is an experimental new feature — every weekend, links to some long articles and essays worth reading. Some of these articles may be behind subscription walls.

1. Sinai: The Buffer Erodes 

Nic Pelham writes for Chatham House on the deterioration of security in Sinai:

For over 30 years, the Sinai peninsula has served as a near-empty territory cushioning the geopolitical aspirations of Egypt, Israel and the Palestinians. With the changes brought about in Egypt by President Hosni Mubarak’s fall from power in 2011, that buffer is in doubt. The state security apparatus that underpinned the Egyptian regime collapsed, creating a vacuum that the territory’s sparse Bedouin population quickly filled with coping mechanisms of its own. Captivated by the prospect of acquiring power, local irregulars reacted fiercely to the regime’s efforts to regain control over its periphery, culminating in the August 2012 operation that targeted an Egyptian base, killing 16 soldiers, and perforated Israel’s border defences at the intersection of its border with Egypt and Gaza. Security officials, police stations, government buildings and Cairo-based institutions have all come under attack. In the eyes of its neighbours, Egypt is losing its grip over Sinai, transforming the peninsula into a theatre for the region’s competing new forces.

2. The Politics of Security Sector Reform in Egypt 

Dan Brumberg and Hesham Sallam, in a report for USIP:

The most pressing priorities for SSR in Egypt entail disengaging military institutions from political and economic activities that are not relevant to their mission of national defense and subjecting these institutions to meaningful oversight by elected civilian bodies, and transforming the police establishment from a coercive apparatus into an accountable, politi- cally neutral organization that upholds the rule of law and protects human rights. These challenges may seem conceptually distinct, but they are interrelated in a broader politi- cal context, in which the military establishment and other entrenched bureaucracies are attempting to limit the scope of institutional reform. Military interest in attenuating civilian control in a post-Mubarak Egypt seems to have deepened its reliance on the coercive capac- ity of the ministry of interior, which has taken the lead in suppressing popular mobilization. Civilian security forces, sometimes in coordination with the military, repeatedly used deadly force in confrontations with protesters calling for ending SCAF’s rule. The intertwining of institutional interests between the military and the police impedes SSR.

On a related note, see this NYT piece by Kareem Fahim on the issue of police reform, and this report by the One World Foundation on the same topic.

 3. The Revenge of the East? 

David Shulman asks some tough questions on Pankaj Mishra's much-praised book From The Ruins of Empire [Amazon US, UK], on Rabindranath Tragore, Jamal al-Din al-Afghani and Ling Qichao the intellectual roots of "Eastern revival":

Are these men, then, among the major “intellectuals who remade Asia”? One thing is clear: all three are fully modern figures, their consciousness shaped primarily by the terms of the modernist crisis and debate. But can we even speak of a broad “Asian” response to the West and the newfangled technologies and concomitant power equations that the West brought to the East—“printing presses, steamships, railways and machine guns,” as Mishra lists them? Living in Jerusalem and traveling often to India, I find it hard to think of Asia as a cultural unit with any integrity. There is, however, one experience that was indeed shared by the Islamic world, India, China, and Japan in the nineteenth century—that of predatory intrusion and sustained economic violation by the Western powers. The forms this intrusion took varied from place to place, but its traumatic effects were common to all the great Asian states and cultures.

4. Indecision as Strategy 

Adam Shatz reviews Israeli historian Avi Raz's The Bride and the Dowry [Amazon US, UK], a book about post-1967 Israeli strategy in the Israel-Arab conflict which uses new material to argue that "Israel's postwar diplomacy was deliberately ineffective because its leaders preferred land over peace with its neighbors":

The story of Israeli policy in the late 1960s has been told before, by Tom Segev and Gershom Gorenberg among others. But no one has provided as thorough – or as damning – an account as Avi Raz, a former reporter for Ma’ariv who has read every pertinent document in every available archive, in Hebrew, Arabic and English. The Bride and the Dowry is a work of meticulous scholarship, but it is also an angry book, burning with the sort of righteous (and sometimes repetitious) indignation to which native sons are particularly susceptible. It covers only the first 21 months after the 1967 war, but it tells us everything we need to know about Israeli policy during this ‘critical and formative phase’ of the occupation. It also sheds considerable light on Israeli diplomacy today: its resistance to a deal that would allow for genuine Palestinian sovereignty; its belief that the Americans will always come to Israel’s defence, however much they privately object to land grabs; and its use of protracted negotiations as a means of buying time. Raz’s book is about the conquest of time as much as it is about the conquest of territory: the fruitless peace processing of the last two decades is only the latest chapter of his story.

5. Why India’s Newspaper Industry Is Thriving

Ken Auletta writes a fascinating essay on the state of Indian publishing and its advertising-driven editorial practices, with many lessons applicable to developing countries:

While profits have been declining at newspapers in the West, India is one of the few places on earth where newspapers still thrive; in fact, circulation and advertising are rising. In part, this is because many Indian newspapers, following an approach pioneered by the Jain brothers, have been dismantling the wall between the newsroom and the sales department. At the Times of India, for example, celebrities and advertisers pay the paper to have its reporters write advertorials about their brands in its supplementary sections; the newspaper enters into private-treaty agreements with some advertisers, accepting equity in the advertisers’ firms as partial payment. These innovations have boosted the paper’s profits, and are slowly permeating the Indian newspaper industry.

The Iranian rial and the price of Saudi chicken

Any connection here? 

The Iranian Regime Is In Trouble - World Report

The devaluation of Iran's currency, the rial, by as much as 40 percent in the last few days has made it very difficult for the average Iranian to afford everyday food stuffs. It is no surprise that protests have broken out in Tehran's central bazaar and its surrounding streets. The bazaar is a critical pillar of support for the Iranian regime. The loss of confidence among Iran's merchant and business classes could shake the foundations of the Islamic Republic.

Chicken price rises lead Saudis to tweet - FT.com

Saudi Arabians are forgoing one of their favourite foods as a Twitter campaign against high poultry prices spreads.

The “Let it Rot” campaign urges Saudis to refrain from eating chicken to punish traders who they say have raised prices by about 40 per cent in the past two weeks.

Saudi Arabia is a leading supplier of chicken, a staple in the country, to neighbouring countries and an export ban imposed this week in an effort to defuse the anger is likely to trigger regional shortages.

One would think not if Saudi chicken are domestically produced. Still, there's much schadenfreude about the troubles of the Iranian economy (which appear not to target regime officials, as "smart sanction" advocates argued, but ordinary people in the hope that this will put pressure on the government — something that led to a disaster in Iraq) and much less about Saudi Arabia's.  

Here's an argument that the rial's devaluation is not as serious as might appear, because the government itself is the main foreign currency earner. The conclusion:

Does all this mean that Iran’s economy is on the verge of collapse, as Israel’s Finance Minster reportedly said?  The answer is no, because most of the economy is shielded from this exchange rate, though not from the ill effects of the sanctions, which will continue to bite for a while. Would it cause sufficient economic pain that would push the Iranian government to make concessions in its nuclear standoff with the West?  The answer is not likely.  The multiple exchange rate system, as inefficient as it is, will protect the people below the median income, to whom the Ahmadinejad government is most responsive.

Update: Paul Mutter has a round-up of the issue of the Iranian rial at PBS' TehranBureau

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Issandr El Amrani

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

Egyptian jihadi not involved in US ambassador's death, says Zawahiri

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Issandr El Amrani

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

Blowback from Egypt's released jihadist militants?

This is an important story by Siobhan Gorman and Matt Bradley in the Wall Street Journal:

The revolutions that swept the Middle East and North Africa also emptied prisons of militants, a problem now emerging as a potential new terrorist threat.

Fighters linked to one freed militant, Muhammad Jamal Abu Ahmad, took part in the Sept. 11 attack on U.S. diplomatic outposts in Libya that killed four Americans, U.S. officials believe based on initial reports. Intelligence reports suggest that some of the attackers trained at camps he established in the Libyan Desert, a former U.S. official said.

Western officials say Mr. Ahmad has petitioned the chief of al Qaeda, to whom he has long ties, for permission to launch an al Qaeda affiliate and has secured financing from al Qaeda's Yemeni wing.

U.S. spy agencies have been tracking Mr. Ahmad's activities for several months. The Benghazi attacks gave a major boost to his prominence in their eyes.

Mr. Ahmad, although believed to be one of the most potent of the new militant operatives emerging from the chaos of the Arab Spring, isn't the only one, according to Western officials. They say others are also trying to exploit weaknesses in newly established governments and develop a capacity for strikes that could go well beyond recent violent protests in Libya, Egypt and elsewhere.

Since the fall of Mubarak, in Egypt alone dozens of former Islamist militants have been released, both by the SCAF and later by President Mohammed Morsi.

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Ros-Lehtinen rejects Obama’s plan to send $450 million to Egypt -- in Spanish

Ros-Lehtinen rejects Obama’s plan to send $450 million to Egypt -- in Spanish

From Josh Rogin, at The Cable:

Outgoing House Foreign Affairs Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) issued a Spanish-language press release Tuesday to announce her opposition to the Obama administration's plan to send $450 million to the new Egyptian government.

"The Obama Administration's policy on Egypt has been a failure. From its lack of support for moderate political voices to its confused response to the downfall of Mubarak and the attack on our embassy in Cairo, the Administration lacks a clear strategy towards Egypt. Now the Obama Administration wants to simply throw money at an Egyptian government that the President cannot even clearly state is an ally of the United States," she said.

"Money will not solve this situation. The Egyptian government has not gained the trust of the U.S. and the Administration's response is to cut an unprecedented $450 million check directly to the Muslim Brotherhood-led government in Egypt is problematic. The Administration's proposed cash transfers and other multi-million  dollar requests for Egypt are also on hold by me and other pertinent Chairmen."

Two things:

a) You can tell this is pointless election-time gesturing because Ros-Lehtinen is a windbag and so far only two Republicans have spoken out on this, and never — never — mention the military aid, just the civilian part;

b) You can start worrying when she complains in English. 

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Issandr El Amrani

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