Jon Stewart on Libya

As always, good points clearly made. Why not let the French do this intervention since they're so gung-ho?

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,

Recognize fascism when you see it

A reminder that the media is not only odious in the Middle East from TPM's Josh Marshall:
As you know, we have cable news running in our news room permanently, flipping back and forth between the three biggies. And the percentage flow of obvious falsehoods, outright lies and what frequently verges on or passes for hate speech is just awe-inspiring. In an awful sort of way, but still awe-inspiring. I know it. You know it. But when I actually listen, pay attention to the stuff they're saying, wow. It's amazing that this exists as one of the big sources of news in this country. Just now we were listening to Megyn Kelly interview Mike Gallagher. Okay, I got it off my chest.

Whenever I go to Amreeka, I'm mesmerized by the cable news channels — Fox News most of all, but also CNN US and the rest. At times it's reminiscent of the broadcasts in Starship Troopers.


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,

State paper slanders ElBaradei

Regular readers of the blog know I am mildly obsessed with Egyptian state media at the moment--largely because I'm convinced it has a pivotal role to play in whether a real democratic transition takes place here or not. 

I've written about the role state media played in distorting the revolution and about the calls for change at state newspaper conglomerate Al Ahram after Mubarak's resignation. When I visited the State Radio and TV building last week I also found a lively protest there--behind the barbed wire and lines of soldiers protecting this very strategic asset, employees had plastered the building in signs and were calling for the resignation of senior officials.

Anas Al Fikki, the Minister of Information and head of state TV and radio lost his job when the Ministry itself was abolished (although this development isn't as promising at it sounds--the new head of state TV and radio has been given ministerial powers). 

But incredibly, almost none of the heads of state media have been fired. And that's why things are not really changing, as the indefatigable Zeinobia proves, pointing to articles in Al Masaa' newspaper and the state-owned flagship Al Ahram which claim that the attack on Mohamed ElBaradei during the referendum happened (according to anonymous eye-witnesses) because "he tried to bribe voters to vote no" and to cut in line. 

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Beyond yes or no

My Time op-ed on Egypt's referendum is up:

Ahmed is 19 years old, fresh-faced; he sports jeans and a gray "New York" T-shirt and wears his hair gelled back. Like most of his fellow Egyptians, he is young, relatively poor and lives in a dense urban area — specifically Helwan, a sprawling industrial suburb of Cairo dominated by the chimney stacks of nearby cement factories that leave the air thick and gritty. His thumb is stained a bright magenta, a sign that he has just voted — for the first time in his life. And like most Egyptians, he approved the amendments to the constitution that were put to a popular referendum on Saturday. For him, that yes vote was an endorsement of the revolution he participated in, occupying Tahrir Square last month until the only President he has known in his lifetime was forced to decamp.

Read the rest here: Egypt's Referendum: What the Nation's Historic Vote Means - 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,

Libya Dispatch: Rebel Twinkies fuel the struggle

An alternative use for ammo

Napoleon famously said an army marches on its stomach, and in the case of Libya's rebel forces, that would be tuna sandwiches, fava beans and a lot of junk food.

As Western air strikes are restarting once thoroughly defeated rebel advance, the once weirdly successful aspect of their rag tag forces should be gearing up again -- their food supply lines.

Like everything else about the uprising in eastern Libya seeking to challenge Moammar Gadhafi's four decade hammerlock on power, the fighters' food supply was an ad hoc affair of entreprising individuals and local charities with official sanction that somehow seemed to work -- even when nothing else really did.

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Aborted revolution in Yemen? / Middle East & North Africa - Feared general regarded as kingmaker:

There are no obvious candidates for the next president and a transition of power is likely to favour the heavyweights who have made the pre-emptive strike against him. One way or another, Hamid al-Ahmar, Mr Zindani and Gen Ahmar will wield considerable influence over whatever happens next.
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Mapping Egypt's referendum

As I've said before, Egyptians voted yes or no for different reasons (a flaw in the design of the referendum), but even so I thought it'd be interesting to draw up a US-style red vs. blue map showing the trends across Egypt's 29 governorates. The most red governorates are those with the highest percentage of "yes" votes, the more blueish ones (actually purple, since the lowest "yes" vote was around 60% in Cairo governorate) have more "no" votes.

What does this tell us? Basically, that governorates with a large urban population (Cairo, Alexandria, Giza, Assiut) had a higher proportions of "no" votes, as did those sparsely populated governorates that have a large proportion of tourism workers (Red Sea, South Sinai, Luxor). Areas where tribes count more tended to have a high "yes" vote (Wadi Gedid, Marsa Matruh, North Sinai). I've done more number-crunching extrapolating from census figures to guestimate participation by governorate, but I'll put that information up later this week. 

One caveat: the allegations of fraud and Copts being barred from voting in Qena governorate really need to be investigated to know whether the result for that governorate can be taken as representative.

The results are in

18 million voted, 14 million (77%) said "yes" and 4 million said "no."

It's a mandate for the military to some extent, but the minority is substantial enough to make it clear consensus is not overwhelming — even if there were different reasons for voting yes or no.

One nice aspect of this is that the commission overseeing the referendum is taking critical questions from the press, explaining where there was fraud, assuring that perpetrators will be punished (2-5 years in prison). That's pretty unprecedented, previously the government just ignored allegations of fraud.

My analysis what is problematic with the referendum still stands, and we'll have to wait to see if the case for massive fraud can convincingly be made. Overall, though, I suspect that this referendum, is in its conduct, was generally a step forward for Egypt.

Two important question on Egypt's referendum

Update: The results are in, 77% yes — more here.

While we wait for the results to be announced, it's worth taking stock of two aspects of yesterday's referendum — quite aside from the massive participation that is worth celebrating. But I'd like to explore some aspects of the referendum that I perhaps overlooked in my previous long post (I am sick and jet-lagged, so perhaps that omission can be forgiven) after some discussions I had today and looking through the comments on past posts.

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A dispatch from SXSW

I spent most of this week in Austin, Texas, where I was invited to participate in a panel on Wikileaks organized by The Guardian at the South By SouthWest Interactive festival. I had  a great time there — it's a geeky festival I had long wanted to go to, with also great film and music festivals — although I'm still suffering from the brutal 20-hour trip. 
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25 million voted in Egypt yesterday

It's been announced that 25 million Egyptians, or over 60% of eligible voters, participated in yesterday's referendum on constitutional amendments. That's an astounding figure — only 6 million were said to have voted in the parliamentary elections last November. It also means the announcement of the final results could take longer than expected, although a press conference is expected any minute now. Whatever the outcome, that figure is a very positive sign of the public's confidence that a better Egypt is being forged.

Follow early results on al-Ahram's liveblog: Early results of Egypt referendum updated as they come in (so far, it looks like a good lead for the yeses)

Also, Moftasa makes an important point here: Data from referendum will draw a new map of Egypt |

Update: It turns out 18 million voted. Still very respectable, with 14 million "yes" and 4 million "no."

5 questions few are asking about Libya

Not to rain on anyone's parade, but while I'm glad that the multinational intervention is giving cover to Libyan insurgents, I'm rather shocked at the desultory coverage of what might come out of the military intervention. A tragedy has been taking place in Libya, whose people deserve help, but that doesn't mean not thinking through consequences. Here's a shot at it:

1. UNSC Resolution 1973 isn't really about getting a ceasefire, is it?

Not really. Even if Qadhafi were to produce a real ceasefire, which is unlikely, the rebels would not observe it: they would keep trying to topple the regime. This resolution, under the guise of obtaining a ceasefire, seeks to carry out regime change. It would get even more complicated as the Libyan government headed by Qadhafi remains legitimate under international law, and thus can be argued to have law enforcement duties to implement against armed insurgents. This resolution is not just about preventing a massacre of civilians, it's about taking sides. The Qadhafi regime is over as far as the international community is concerned, and mission creep will ensure that things will swiftly move from imposing a no-fly zone to more direct efforts, including ground missions. This might be good for the insurgents, might split them, and might not be so good for the countries leading the intervention. Time will tell.

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Links 19 March 2011

  • Libya unrest: Nato military strength in the Mediterranean | World news |

    Useful map.

  • Unbelievable racism, hate-talk, from PM Sharon’s son

    Sharon's son says Palestinians are wild beasts.

  • Confronting Gadhafi Is Not Enough -

    The balls that Tony Blair has, talking about morals in foreign policy. He makes his priorities clear: "Some of those wanting change want it precisely because they regard the existing regimes as not merely too oppressive but too pro-Western, and their solutions are a long way from what would provide modern and peaceful societies."

  • M. le Ministre, de quoi je me mêle?! -

    A Moroccan reacts to French defense of the Moroccan monarchy.

  • Obama's multilateral march to war: strategic choice or rushed improvisation? - By Colum Lynch | Turtle Bay

    Does it matter?

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    Although I watched some of his dispatches, I did not have the close relationship with Mohammed Nabbous that someone like Andy Carvin, the NPR strategist who has been tweeting the heck out of the Libyan uprising, had. The audio segment below shows his wife telling his followers that he's died. It's heartbreaking, but illustrative of the amazing role individuals like Mo are playing in trying to create a better future for their country. This generation of young Arabs, from Morocco to Bahrain, is a transformative force on the regional scene. This is only the beginning, but I'm hopeful that millions of Mo will each play their small part in transforming this region into a better place.

    Watch live streaming video from libya17feb at

    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,

    Some thoughts on Egypt's referendum

    In Maadi, a 6 April youth activists greets the voters with sweets.

    I went out for a few hours this morning and toured various areas south of Cairo — Maadi, Helwan and villages beyond it — to see how things were taking place at polling stations. Whether in urban areas or in rural ones, I have to say I've never seen an Egyptian election as cleanly run and where a mood of enthusiastic civism dominated. Whether people voted yes or no, there was a calm dialogue, confidence and pride in being able to vote freely for the first time. This alone is a major achievement considering that only three or four months ago, Egypt held one of the most fraudulent election in its history. Even if there are reports of irregularities elsewhere, Egyptians can take pride in their newfound civism and take the debate over how to vote in the referendum as evidence of a healthy national debate.

    Were I Egyptian, I'm not sure how I would vote. Most of my friends are voting no, and there are good reasons to do so. The constitutional committee was appointed hastily and its composition was problematic, some of the revised amendments — notably on nationality requirements — stink of chauvinism, and the army has been clumsy in advocating for a yes vote and intimidating the no campaign. Yet, at the same time, I can understand the yes vote: a desire to move quickly so that the army returns to the barracks, political stability is more quickly restored and that the mandate for transition is clear (this is basically what the referendum is really about — granting a mandate to the army's transition blueprint).  Although I think an entirely constitution would be desirable, the no campaign has not explained who would write it or who would elect them. Moreover, the current idea for the transition is for the next president and parliament to be in charge of writing a new constitution, which seems like a more democratic process: an elected parliament will be more representative, after all, than an appointed committee to draft a constitution. I'm not sure I buy the argument that moving too fast benefits the NDP and Muslim Brotherhood, either — this seems undemocratic, an election is an election.

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    The Egyptian revolution Orientalist essay contest

    I think someone really needs to take up this challenge by Chris at

    Introducing the Egyptian Revolution Orientalist Essay Contest!  In 500 words or less, channel your favorite Orientalist scholar and explain why the Egyptian revolution is utterly unremarkable and destined to fail. Extra points for condescending and paternalistic language!

    But then again it appears Lee Smith is in town, so he's bound to win the lovely picture Chris has put up as a prize. After all in recent weeks he's given us:

    Protests in Egypt | The Weekly Standard

    The Mubarak regime is not as brittle as that of Tunisia’s erstwhile president-for-life, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, and right now seems to be in little danger of falling.

    . . .

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    Nir Rosen on Yemen and the US

    A bold claim by Nir Rosen in this piece on Yemen's uprising:
    The small al Qaeda franchise in Yemen is known as Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). The American industry of terrorism experts has dubbed AQAP the greatest terrorist threat facing the United States and has wrung its hands over AQAP’s threat to the Yemeni regime. This is despite the fact that AQAP’s international success amount to a failed underwear bomb and a package bomb that failed to detonate. In fact the regime does little to pursue AQAP because it does not perceive it as a threat. Rather than being too weak to fight AQAP, the regime has focused its various security forces attention on fighting domestic political opposition, killing or wounding hundreds of demonstrators. Likewise the demonstrators have not been concerned about al Qaeda except as a pretext for the regime’s security forces to target innocent people or receive international support. Al Qaeda is a marginal phenomenon in Yemen (as in the rest of the Middle East). While it is the primary concern of the United States government and hence the United States media, it is far from the real problems facing Yemen which the demonstrators express in a near blackout of international media attention. 
    I'm ommitting a lot of great narrative that you should read for yourself — firsthand observations of how the protests unfolded. Rosen concludes:
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    The "noes" ask the army for room

    Below is the English version of a letter circulating, drafted by a coalition of groups advocating a "no" vote in tomorrow's constitutional referendum. Earlier this week the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces threatened that any protests on referendum day would be dealt with under anti-looting legislation, which carries the possibility of the death penalty.

    To: The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces:

    On the occasion of the upcoming referendum on the constitutional amendments scheduled for Saturday March 19, 2011, we would like to address your efforts to push the wheel of democracy forward and your role in protecting Egyptian citizens and safeguarding the freedom of expression in this critical phase of Egyptian history.

    We the undersigned do not agree to the proposed constitutional amendments. Based on this position and our keenness that the referendum be conducted democratically in an environment that permits opposing opinions, we shall be working during this period leading up to the day of the referendum, to encourage Egyptian citizens to participate in the referendum. We shall be campaigning and advocating our position, which is the refusal of the constitutional amendments.

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