Please check out this new blog by occasional contributor and long-time friend of this site, Nathan Field.
The following is a guest post from Nathan Field, an entrepreneur and commentator on Middle Eastern politics. While Western governments weigh which military actions to take against ISIS, Field looks at the long-term economic reforms that could introduce greater employment, development and therefore stability to Arab countries, and weaken the appeal of extremist ideologies.
The ultimate outcome of the military struggle against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria is certain. ISIS will land some blows but has too many enemies. Eventually, it will lose a war of attrition. The territory it controls in those countries will be reclaimed.
The bigger, long-term challenge is the spread of Islamic State’s ideology in the broader Middle East, as opposed to the presence of the group in Syria and Iraq. This ideology of extreme utopian populism is caused at a most fundamental level by the socioeconomic stratification of Middle Eastern societies, a problem that is aggravated by the weakness of Arab economies in the global marketplace.
This has created a division between roughly the top 20% of societies, which is in a position to thrive and obtain status, and the vast majority that can mostly only hope to achieve the same. While such gaps have always existed, they are now being amplified by the explosion of the internet, social media and smartphones. For a growing number of young men, Islamic State’s utopianism offers a sense of purpose, meaning and masculinity that they don’t believe they can obtain by playing according to the conventional rules of society.
Economic reform, therefore, will be the key to undermining the group’s broader ideological appeal throughout the Muslim world-- with one major caveat. To succeed, it must not be a mere intensification of the neoliberal reforms that have transformed Arab economies since the 1980s. Those efforts generated unprecedented macro-economic growth, but failed to distribute the gains to different segments of society in a socially optimal way. Socioeconomic stratification increased, and that has directly contributed to the ongoing surge of radicalism.Read More
Economist, former government minister and rare voice of reason Ziad Bahaa Eddin presents a list of sensible suggestions for what Egypt should do, undo, and not do to right its sinking economic ship. Pity that they will almost certainly fall on deaf ears. This installment of our In Translation series is brought to you as always by the professional translation team at Industry Arabic.
El Shorouk newspaper, October 20 1015
One cannot describe the current economic situation as only a minor bump, one that we can deal with using the same tools and methods the state has grown accustomed to using over the past years, and which exacerbated the crisis in the first place. I am not referring here to the disturbances in the exchange market that recently grabbed the media’s attention: they are a symptom of an underlying sickness, the expression of deeper problems in the management of the economy. The principle of these problems are weak levels of investment, exports and employment and the rise in both internal and external public debt. The most important of these problems, though, is the government’s lack of clarity in its economic policy and the direction it intends to pursue. For citizens, the steady price increases, especially in food, the continuing decline in public services and the scarcity of employment opportunities are the real indicators of the Egyptian economy’s performance. For them, these issues are more important than figures for growth, reserves and the public debt.
We can, of course, blame the slowdown in world trade, global conspiracies, or the regional situation. None of these, though, are sufficient to explain the rapid worsening of the economic situation over the past few months. We can also demand that minister after minister step down or cabinet after cabinet be replaced every time there seems to be a slowdown or a failure or every time the media calls for an immediate change. However, the gravity of the current situation requires us to stop and reassess our position and to build a minimum of consensus around certain important priorities instead of searching for a scapegoat or trying to satisfy the media’s thirst for a new victim. Here is what I propose:Read More
- Egyptian Facebook User Sentenced to Three Years in Prison for Photoshopping Mickey Mouse Ears on Sisi
- Egyptian writer Gamal al-Ghitani dies aged 70
- Dinner with Elias Khoury
Nice account by @arablit. I have fond memories of after-class drinks with Khoury.
- Teaching Islam in the Age of ISIS
- Whatever happened to Middle Eastern studies?
Interesting -- they are now "Islamic" studies
- Pictures Showing Where Young Syrian Refugees Sleep
Not Suitable For Your Heart
- Egypt's women-only taxi service promises protection from male drivers
But some say it's just more gender segregation
- A coup busted? | Mada Masr
Hossam Bahgat on an alleged coup against Sisi.
Shereef Azer writes: I’ll Show You “Tinkering with the Constitution”!
Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi recently dismissed the country's constitution as founded on unrealistic "good intentions" (this same constitution was celebrated, when it was approved in January 2014, as basically the best in the world). In the latest installment of our In Translation series, brought to you as always by the translation professionals of Industry Arabic, Shereef Azer imagines what might have led the president -- now that a parliament that will share some of the powers he has monopolized for the last two years is finally on the horizon -- to change his evaluation.
Long ago, we were told that “constitution” is a Persian word that means “father of the law.” Yet it appears as though its current meaning in the corridors of the Egyptian government is “to hell with the law.” The regime’s approach is obvious, as it manipulates the law and the legislative process as it pleases, in the absence of a working parliament. Even so, to now hint at amending the constitution is both extremely provocative and unacceptable.
In his speech at the opening ceremony of University Youth Week, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi stated that “the constitution granted broad powers to parliament, and with good intentions, but the country cannot run on good intentions alone.” Of course, these words represent a great insult to the Committee of Fifty that drafted the constitution. They presume that this committee had no idea what it was doing and that its members merely wrote, with good intentions, what was in their hearts. This is not something that a proper president of the republic should be saying.
The problem is that when you get to thinking about this statement, you necessarily arrive at the conclusion that the president fears something in this constitution and that he wishes he could change it in order to serve some goal. It becomes clear that the president wants to run the country according to his whims and without anything standing in his way. Well then, let’s see what in the constitution might be angering our president and getting his knickers in a twist.
First off, it’s clear that the president has gotten into a jam with all this parliament nonsense – even though he had tried to avoid it for quite some time – and he has finally been forced to take a look at the constitution and its meaning. If there’s going to be a parliament one way or another, he figured, then at least he should see what it’s all about. He opened the constitution and (Oh God, please let it be good!)…there right in front of his face was an absolute disaster. This upcoming parliament has the power to remove the president. Now, I’m not claiming to be a mind-reader, but I’m certain that the president reacted to this particular article of the constitution with a certain four-letter word. Surely, certain thoughts began to cross his mind, but thank goodness he said “good intentions” instead – otherwise, he would already have had the Committee of Fifty arrested and tried on charges of planning to overthrow the government.Read More
Below is the second installment of a two-part piece (see part one for a longer introduction) by the prominent Saudi commentator and academic Khaled al-Dakheel -- an epic rant about how badly off the Arab world is and how incapable it is of facing its own shortcomings. Upon reflection, one trigger for this jeremiad might have been the recent focus on conspiracy theories, notably in Egypt where a military official recently spoke on television of fifth-generation warfare plots to cause earthquakes and alter weather, which an increasing number of commentators are slamming.
Brought to you as always by the great professional translation team at Industry Arabic.Read More
In a long two-part article, the prominent Saudi commentator and academic Khaled al-Dakheel has written an epic rant about how badly off the Arab world is and how incapable it is of facing its own shortcomings. I'm not sure what triggered the timing, but it is probably related to the collective hand-wringing about the state of the region, and the Syrian calamity in particular, that the picture of Aylan al-Kurdi and thousands of other refugees from Syria has triggered. Much like some segments of the Western press about the West's response, there has been much questioning as to whether enough is being done for Syria by Arabs. (Of course, there has also been much opportunistic blame-shifting by the various sides of the Syrian war.)
Al-Dakheel's jeremiad, an increasingly common type of article by Arab intellectuals in these dark ages (although one could trace the style, at least, to Sadik al-Azm's Self-Criticism After the Defeat), is about something more general, though. It appears as an exasperated antidote to the widespread strain of fuzzy, conspiratorial, delusional and self-aggrandizing rhetoric that dominates so much of public discourse in the region. It has little interest in focusing on the colonial and neo-imperial roots of the Middle East's troubles, seeing them as a way to deflect responsibility for Arab countries' and societies' faults and choices. Yet in its flattering (and somewhat provocative) assessment of Western superiority, it still remains trapped in the us-versus-them logic that it decries as so poisonous. This is part I of his article published in al-Hayat, part II will be published on Wednesday.
Brought to you, as always, by the excellent professional translation team of Industry Arabic.Read More
- Amnesty decries treatment of injured detainee Esraa al-Taweel
- Maroc : « La progression des islamistes est un sérieux problème pour la monarchie »
It might be a bigger problem if they had no legitimate parties left to co-opt
- Une « révolution des ordures » au Liban ?
Analysis of "You Stink" movement (in French)
- The Egyptian star pupil who scored zero in all her exams
More bald-faced corruption
- Two Years, Eight Months and Twenty‑Eight Nights
Ursula Leguin (!) reviews Salman Rushdie's latest.
- 'Arabs Without God' translated
Brian Whitaker's book on atheism available in Arabic.
- Four Seasons rolls out the red carpet for King Salman
Who will rid us of these turbulent Sauds?
- Why I tweeted the photo of the dead Syrian toddler
From Liz Sly, who's been reporting on Syria for years
In the latest installment of our In Translation series – brought to you as always by the crack translation team of Industry Arabic – we look at commentary from within Lebanon on the “You Stink” movement. These protests, sparked by the failure of municipal garbage collection services, have taken on an unexpected amplitude, targeting corruption and the political impasse (the country has no president and its parliament’s mandate expired in 2013) created by its sectarian politics. The article below, from An-Nahar newspaper, discusses the attempts by the Lebanese factions to use the protests to resolve the impasse over the presidency to their advantage.
“All of Them Means All of Them”: A Third, Civilian Way for Rights and to End the Gridlock?
Rosana Bou Moncef, An-Nahar, 31 September 2015
The countries now closely observing the situation in Lebanon would like to see the political authorities take up the popular demands that have brought thousands of people out into the streets. People are hurling charges of corruption against officials, although some of the officials are trying to exempt themselves from these charges and shift the blame to others, while they continue to huddle around the Cabinet table or around sectarian leaders complaining of insult and neglect. Most of the countries watching would not like to see the current order seriously disturbed, although they would like to see the Lebanese people form a peaceful civil force or a third force that could compel officials to take the interests of the people into account, or grant them more attention than they do to their own. This is based on the idea that the Lebanese people and Lebanese youth in particular have a dynamism that obliges them to confront the political class and claim their rights, rather than emigrate and leave officials to run their fiefdoms and tend their personal interests.Read More
Post-summer break link dump.
- The ‘magic words:’ How a simple phrase enmeshed the U.S. in Syria’s crisis | McClatchy DC
One of Obama's big mistakes.
- So…Yalla, Bye | Foreign Office Blogs
Funny send-off by departing UK ambassador
- Syria: The Threat of Indifference by Hugh Eakin and Alisa Roth | NYR Daily | The New York Review of Books
- ISIS Enshrines a Theology of Rape - The New York Times
- In Egypt, Disaffected Youth Increasingly Drawn To Extremism
- Sexual harassment in Saudi Arabia is widespread
- The Launch Of The "New Suez Canal" Was Really, Really Weird
Buzzfeed gets snarky
Last month, Huffington Post launched its Arabic edition in London to great fanfare. Like other spin-offs of the American website, HuffPo Arabi is a joint venture, not under the direct editorial control of the original. It is not the first Arab world edition to launch – HuffPo Maghreb has French-language Tunisian, Algerian and Moroccan sites – but it is the first Arabic edition one. It has generated some controversy already (update: meant to link to this critical Buzzfeed piece), in part because the site is far from the liberal leanings of the HuffPo mothership, but also because of its pro-Islamist leanings. One of the key people behind HuffPo Arabi is Wadah Khanfar, a former director-general of al-Jazeera known for his support of the Muslim Brotherhood trend. The site has predictably taken the kind of positions generally associated with the Qatari-funded media (i. e. anti-Assad, anti-Sisi, pro-Erdogan, etc.)
Among one of its early coups is to secure an interview with the imprisoned leader of the April 6 movement, Ahmed Maher, sentenced to prison last year for violating the draconian protest law approved by interim Egyptian President Adly Mansour and enforced with gusto under President Abdelfattah al-Sisi. The interview does show some criticism of the Brotherhood, even if most of the vitriol is reserved for Sisi, and paints an alarming picture of the radicalization taking place in Egypt's over-flowing prisons.
We bring you this translation through our friends over at Industry Arabic – we heartily recommend them for any Arabic translation job big or small. Check out their website to get a quote for your needs.Read More
- A terrible blow, but Tunisia will not buckle
- Tunisia attack: multiple deaths at Sousse beach resort
- Scott Ritter · ‘We ain’t found shit’ · LRB 2 July 2015
On why Iran shouldn’t accept ‘no notice’ inspections of its nuclear sites
- Patrick Cockburn · Why join Islamic State? · LRB 2 July 2015
On Kurdish advances on Tal Abyad, IS and Turkey
- Political TV talk shows a victim of Egypt’s crackdown on dissent — FT
- Stop Scaremongering About ISIL in Libya | Al Jazeera America
- Why We Need al-Qaeda by Ahmed Rashid | NYRblog
- A Partnership with China to Avoid World War by George Soros | The New York Review of Books
- The west opens up to Egypt’s President Sisi - FT
This gets the politics right and the economics wrong - Egypt has not "graduated from handouts" and not that many foreign companies are keen to invest.
- How leaked Saudi documents might really matter
By Marc Lynch
- Germany frees al-Jazeera reporter Ahmed Mansour
Instead of extraditing him to Egypt as it had hoped
- Leaks allege assassination plot hatched by Egypt and Sudan | Middle East Eye
- How security forces keep critics quiet in 'progressive' UAE
- How security forces keep critics quiet in 'progressive' UAE
One tactic: kidnappings
- The Moral Conflict of Living and Working in Qatar
Interesting discussion of the personal pros and the ethical cons
- Water In Crisis - Spotlight Middle East
Apparently desalination is not the answer
- The Rhetoric of Egyptian Reaction
A new post by Baheyya
- Smuggling books across the border: PalFest 2015
Leila Abdelrazaq puts the experience into drawings
- 'One Thousand and One Nights won’t be any less impressive than Hollywood movies': Nicole Saba
Ahram Online on what may be the Ramadan serial of the year
- Why Obama’s Plan to Send Advisers to Iraq Will Fail - The New York Times
Compare to what Iran's "advisers" do in Iraq...
- Clans du pouvoir : les masques sont tombés
Algerian Kremlinology - the comments are out there.
- U.S. Embracing a New Approach on Battling ISIS in Iraq - NYT
- Israeli exonerates itself over killing of Gaza boys on beach
- A Room Of Their Own: Makeshift Schools Help Syrian Students
- Egyptian Muslim Brothers launch “fierce” attack on Tunisia’s Ennadha, Ghannouchi
- The Guardian view on the flogging of Raif Badawi: Saudi Arabia is in the dock | The Guardian
- Egypt says terror attack foiled at temple in tourist city of Luxor | The Guardian
- Five takeaways from the Turkish election
- One Egyptian novelist takes another to task for accepting $60,000 Qatari literary prize
- Mysterious Disappearances of Egyptian Youth Continues
Egypt more and more resembles Pinochet's Chile
- On being transgender in Egypt
- How Teaching in English Divides the Arab World - Ursula on a growing trend at universities in the middle east