The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Links 19 November - 21 December 2016
LinksThe Editors
New book: Daesh is not the point

Friend of the blog Peter Harling, who recently founded synaps.network, has just published Daesh is not the point: Counter-intuiting the Middle East. This is a collection of essays, including three (co-written with Sarah Birke and Alex Simon) that first appeared on this site over 2014 and 2015. It also features additional content, including a "postword" written by yours truly. If you liked those essays, and I know many of you did (they were hugely popular when first published), then please buy this book. Peter writes:

This books fights the Islamic State by not obsessing about it. As the Middle East continues to pass through a phase of historic upheaval and uncertainty, media coverage, political discourse and even policymaking remain largely fixated on the creature known as Daesh. Given the complexity of the forces driving change in the region, this Daesh-centricism is as reductionist as it is dangerous. This ebook aspires to step back from this mentality and present a measured, sensitive analysis of the long-term trends at work in the region. We have collected three previously published essays that acknowledge and explore Daesh for what it is: one constituent part in the region’s complex, fast-evolving ecosystem. Tying these essays together with new, unpublished analysis, we aim to lay the groundwork for a deeper understanding of the region’s convulsions.

The original essays have been removed from this site, but buy access to the ebook and you get the updated versions and support the Synaps project. Get it here.

In Translation: Trump and the Arabs

There has been a wide range of reactions to the election of Donald Trump as US president in the Arab world, ranging from horror to accommodation to cheers. Much of the Egyptian media – indeed, the Egyptian regime – sees in Trump hope that of a leader who will develop closer ties to Abdefattah al-SIsi, ending the funk in Egypt-US relations and declare the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist group on a par with the Islamic State and al-Qaeda. In the Gulf, commentators close to the Saudi regime show cautious pragmatism, cheered by the anti-Iranian stance (even if they might not be so happy about the Iran nuclear deal being scrapped, since at least it contained Tehran’s nuclear ambition). Many right-wing Israelis are overjoyed by the prospect of a US president who not only promises to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, but is overly anti-Palestinian and whose chief advisor hails from an “alt-right” movement many of whose members are pro-Israel and whose ideologues describe as “White Zionism”. And of course, many, many others fear (another?) war-mongering US president with openly Islamophobic views and, more generally, yet another element of uncertainty at a moment of regional turmoil.

But there is an argument to be made that, while Trump’s impact on the US may very well be dire, it will not mark such a significant shift for the region. First, Trump’s foreign policy ideas are basically non-existent. He will draw in advisors with radical and biased views, to be sure, but this happened before under George W. Bush and other administrations haven’t exactly been impartial mediators on many issues (see Israel-Palestine). Trump backing Assad or staying away from conflicts such as Yemen and Libya or seeking to extract a kind of tribute from the oil producing state of the Gulf can be seen as a more forthright departure from existing policy, not a radical departure. Indeed the thing to fear the most is geopolitical uncertainty, amateurism and military adventurism. But again, nothing entirely new. Only the idea of the “Muslim ban” offers something that pretty much draws universal condemnation in the region. The likes of veteran commentators AbdelBari Atwan, whose post-election commentary is reproduced below, are making these points. They likely underestimate the new and innovative forms of damage a Trump presidency could wreck.

This In Translation feature is only possible through the support of our friends at Industry Arabic – please check them out for your company’s Arabic translation needs.


Trump stunned many with his surprise victory… how did he achieve this ‘miracle’? What will his policies be towards in the Arab world? How will his friendship with Putin impact Syria, Iraq, Libya, the Gulf and Iran?

AbdelBari Atwan, Rai al-Youm, 9 November 2016

Defeating the American political establishment as embodied by its representative, Hillary Clinton, and defeating the mighty media empires, Donald Trump has won. He has also demonstrated that opinion polling lacks credibility and is fatally flawed, and proven wrong countless political analysts, experts and think tanks who predicted that he would be quickly and decisively defeated.

The leaders of the Republican Party and its elite in Congress and the House of Representatives washed their hands of him, describing him as ignorant and lacking political experience, but he faced them down, parrying their blows with blows of his own. Demonstrating a deep reading of popular sentiment and engineering a message that effectively reached out to the electorate, he proved that he better understands the American people and its demands than the party.

Americans, as this election has demonstrated, are tired of their schizophrenic governing elite, which fails to understand their concerns, problems and ambitions. This is why they put their trust in this “rebel” against the political establishment and gave him their votes.

We in no way disagree with the many who condemn this man, or with the numerous criticisms of his personality and behavior, but at the end of the day, judgment resides in the hands of the people and at the ballot boxes. It is hard to imagine how a millionaire who travels by private plane and luxury yacht could present himself as the representative and defender of the rights and demands of the poor and marginalized. However, the frustrated of America believed him and entrusted him with their votes, perhaps because he is candid and spontaneous, unlike the ruling establishment’s professionals and politicians.


Facing vicious and personal attacks in the media about his character, family life and financial honesty, he kept the course through the media’s minefields to defeat his 16 rivals for the Republican party nomination before prevailing over the greater challenger, Clinton, to arrive in the White House wearing his bright red tie.

He is racist, right-wing, and belittles and harasses women. He despises Islam and Muslims and wants to shut them out along with the poor of Mexico and Latin America. But why is this surprising? Are we not talking about America, the country that assails us with tanks, missiles and agents, that kills millions of us, that plants the seeds of sectarian war, changes regimes and spreads murderous chaos? And is Mrs. Clinton really full of love for Muslims? Did she not threaten to intervene militarily in Syria, enthusiastically back the invasion and occupation of Iraq, urge the murder of an Arab leader (Qadhafi) and fail to show any basic human respect towards him once he died?

There may have been differences between candidates in the presidential elections when it comes to many matters of domestic and foreign policy, but they were united in their contempt for Arabs and therefore Islam. The only difference was the manner in which they expressed it.

Today, when Trump went to the heart of the White House, it dawned on us that we would have to work with this loathsome person as president. More than other presidents who provoked the ruling establishment, it is clear that he will have to change his behavior and stances or else face the risk of assassination. His threat to repeal or amend many of the provisions of the Iranian nuclear agreement may indeed be shelved since the agreement concerns the five major powers plus Germany, not just Iran and America, and since cancelling the deal would result in Iran resuming its enrichment of uranium and acquiring nuclear weapons, possibly leading to war to prevent that from happening.

We disagree with the many who bought into the stereotype sold by the powerful media and political establishment, which described him as an unpredictable madman unqualified to lead any state. If that were the case, he would not have received a majority[^1] of the votes of approximately 300 million US citizens in free and fair elections.

Trump’s admiration for Russian President Vladmir Putin is not a shortcoming or a mistake. We think differently and believe the cup is half-full. This obvious admiration for Putin may lead to more cooperation between the two major powers on pressing issues, particularly the wars of the Middle East. Is it necessary for the presidents of two major powers with a tense relationship and ongoing cold and hot wars to themselves be antagonistic towards one another? Have we forgotten that war between them is conducted on our land and that the victims are our people and children?

Trump threatens to move the US embassy to occupied Jerusalem. We have started to clamor about this disastrous idea — and it would really be a disaster — but what can we do? Do we have the power to prevent it, given the painful condition of the Islamic world at present? Did we prevent the occupation of Jerusalem or its Judaization? Is there anyone championing the members of the resistance in the occupied territories who are losing their lives, so as to protect Palestine’s Arab and Islamic identity?

Another point that many people are stuck on is Trump’s threat to ban Muslims from entering America. This behavior is racist, detestable and fascist. However, we should ask, have Arab countries, and especially Gulf countries, opened their borders to Syrian refugees or Iraqi refugees before them? They are the countries that bear the greatest responsibility, having spent billions of dollars trying to topple the Syrian government and supported the invasion, embargo and regime change in Iraq.

Why should our response not be to prevent Americans from entering the 50 Islamic countries around the world? Why should Muslims go to America at all? There are many other alternatives, and we don’t think that Muslims will die of grief if they can’t go to America as visitors and immigrants. They should turn their attention to corrupt Arab leaders who waste their resources, steal the fruits of their labor and place the proceeds in American banks, and instead work towards good governance, social justice and political and economic reform.


We do not support President Trump, nor do we support any American president, because we absolutely believe that most of our troubles have been caused by America and the Arab leaders allied to it. However, we wanted to provide a different analysis of the political earthquake caused by this American election, and how to deal with it. We also wanted to say that we, as Arabs and Muslims, who have only rarely experienced this thing called an election, must rely first and foremost on ourselves.

America is changing. Trump in the White House represents the beginning of this change. It is only logical to conclude that we too must change, learn from our disastrous mistakes, and stop being subordinate to our American backers who want to impose the jizya[^2] on us and plunder the remainder of our resources.

[^1]: Atwan writes before the final tally showing that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote.

[^2]: A tax historically levied on non-Muslim subjects in Muslim states; in this case Atwan uses it to in the more general sense of tribute.

Links 10-18 November 2016
LinksThe Editors
Links 1-9 November 2016
LinksThe Editors
The Democratic Party establishment is finished after Trump

Before Trump was elected, everyone was saying the Republican Party will need overhaul after the election. The Republicans - even the ones who were anti-Trump - are now rushing to feed at the trough. As Jim Newell writes for Slate, it's the Democratic Party that needs a radical overhaul. 

The party establishment made a grievous mistake rallying around Hillary Clinton. It wasn’t just a lack of recent political seasoning. She was a bad candidate, with no message beyond heckling the opposite sideline. She was a total misfit for both the politics of 2016 and the energy of the Democratic Party as currently constituted. She could not escape her baggage, and she must own that failure herself.
Theoretically smart people in the Democratic Party should have known that. And yet they worked giddily to clear the field for her. Every power-hungry young Democrat fresh out of law school, every rising lawmaker, every old friend of the Clintons wanted a piece of the action. This was their ride up the power chain. The whole edifice was hollow, built atop the same unearned sense of inevitability that surrounded Clinton in 2008, and it collapsed, just as it collapsed in 2008, only a little later in the calendar. The voters of the party got taken for a ride by the people who controlled it, the ones who promised they had everything figured out and sneeringly dismissed anyone who suggested otherwise. They promised that Hillary Clinton had a lock on the Electoral College. These people didn’t know what they were talking about, and too many of us in the media thought they did.
We should blame all those people around the Clintons more than the Clintons themselves, and the Clintons themselves deserve a ridiculous amount of blame. Hillary Clinton was just an ambitious person who wanted to be president. There are a lot of people like that. But she was enabled. The Democratic establishment is a club unwelcoming to outsiders, because outsiders don’t first look out for the club. The Clintons will be gone now. For the sake of the country, let them take the hangers-on with them.

Off with their heads – it's time to declare open season against the Clintonistas.

Links 18-30 October 2016
LinksThe Editors
Links 7-17 October 2016
LinksThe Editors1 Comment
Christopher Davidson's "Shadow Wars"

Christopher Davidson is a British academic and the author of several books on the Gulf (generally quite critical of the petro-monarchies there.) Longtime reader Amjad compiled together an interview Davidson gave on Twitter on the occasion of the release of his new book, Shadow Wars. We are reproducing the interview below – with light editing for punctuation etc. – as it may be interest readers for its out-of-the-mainstream approach to the Arab Spring. It’s not an endorsement of the book, which we have not read, but looks interesting if it sheds light on the policies of Gulf states during the last six years.

In the long view, to what degree are Western governments responsible for the ongoing conflict in Syria?

The Western powers have repeatedly sought to interfere in Syria for a number of decades - the latest conflict is born out of using 'Arab Spring' as diplomatic coverage for the overthrow of an antagonistic regime to the interests of the West's allies While UK had plans pre-2011 to use Syrian Muslim Brotherhood & 'armed men', in 2011 strategy shifted to West's allies funding proxies.The latter (Saudi, Qatar, etc) expected a Western airstrike intervention (as with Libya), and, frustrated, had to push US's 'red lines'.

Did the West have a part to play in the failure of the Arab Spring?

The nationwide revolutions in Tunisia & Egypt saw discomforting overthrow of dictators who had opened up their economies to Western investment & had played the game of the 'War on Terror'. Their overthrow wrong-footed the US govt. But very rapidly a series of counter-revolutions began (or rather 'reactions') as the West's key regional allies began to sponsor (1st) Islamist parties that could continue to prevent formation of inclusive, democratic (& secular) societies, & could uphold capitalist structures and (2nd) hard-man 'deep state' military dictatorships, when Islamist parties proved unable to keep people off the streets. The 'Plan B' was then to re-direct the 'Arab Spring' to states antagonistic to West (Libya, Syria, etc) & willfully foster revolutions. Saudi, UAE, Qatar, etc., all played key roles at govt level in destabilizing these long targeted Arab states, under Arab Spring banner. As 'revolutions' in Libya/Syria failed to garner full national support, a mix of direct interventions (Libya)& indirect (Syria) was needed.

Why don't we hear much about Yemen?

Yemen is commonly perceived as a problem for the US/UK, as their key ally Saudi is haplessly bombing civilians. But in many ways the conflict helps keep the two main regional powers (Saudi & Iran) in a useful stalemate behind their proxies. The US can now trade freely with both sides (since the Iran deal), & can keep Saudi arms spending high, even at a time of low oil prices. Saudi is no longer the world's oil swing producer thus has lost its centrality in US foreign policy. The Yemen fiasco/tragedy puts Saudi in a very difficult position, as it still relies on US protection (as evidenced today), and has nowhere else to really turn to. A good comparison would be the costly Iran-Iraq stalemate of the 80s: the US's Arab allies supported Saddam, while the US found a secret means of supplying Iran with what it needed (Iran Contra) so as to keep it 'in the game' & prevent neither side from winning.

Do you think the Russians think we are as bad &corrupt as we think they are? Are we just as bad as each other?

In Syria, Russia has responded to a formal govt request for assistance. It is constrained in being able to bomb ISIS As the US-led coalition effectively operates no-fly zone over most of ISIS's territory. Russia/Syrian/Iran aircraft cannot fly there The US even has an airbase in far north-east of Syria, barely miles from easy ISIS targets. But turning to the bigger question Russia is rightly anticipating that any further intervention (e.g. ground troops) could lead to a repeat of an Afghanistan situation where in the 80s it intervened to help the People's Democratic Party against an Islamist extremist uprising backed by the US/UK in cooperation with Saudi/Pakistan, which eventually led to Soviet forces getting their own taste of a Vietnam (the US's objective) Today in Syria (& Iraq) we see many of the same characteristics of the 80s jihad in Afghanistan, with heavy accompanying propaganda.

What did you hope to achieve when you set out writing this book?

By drawing on recently declassified documents, leaked correspondences, interviews, and court subpoenaed files, the aim was to tackle an entire 'regime of knowledge' that largely depicts the Western postcolonial involvement in Arab world as being benign.

Moving beyond the obvious examples of the 2003 Iraq invasion, it aims to show how an elaborate network of proxies & clients have helped ensure access to cheap resources & cheap labour for foreign companies and (e.g. in 2011) have been co-opted to remove threats More broadly, it used comparative historical analysis to demonstrate that fingerprints of earlier counter-revolutions from 20thC can be found all over the Arab Spring counter-revolutions. Including the UK-US actions in Russia (post revolution), Malaya, Kenya Guatemala, Iran (1952), Syria, Iraq (1950s-60s), Cuba, Chile, Nicaragua (great example), Afghan jihad, jihadists in Balkans, etc.... And in terms of aims for the book: if one wants the MidEast to recover, one must identify the real root causes of its afflictions

And if one wants the essentially peace-promoting Islamic faith to be saved, one must identify how it is being co-opted by external powers (with local, reactionary allies) to generate extremist cults capable of stifling (and fighting) progressive/nationalist forces.

In Translation: The abusive Egypt-Saudi relationship

Over the past week, the most serious crisis in Egypt-Saudi relations since the June 2013 coup against Mohammed Morsi has taken place. It is likely to be well-short of the divorce many have argued is impending (after all only last month Saudi Arabia deposited $2 billion into the Central Bank of Egypt), but is nonetheless significant enough to have raised tensions in the media on both sides of the Red Sea. In addition to vocal Saudi attacks against Egypt in the media, Saudi Aramco has suddenly suspended delivery of oil products (at low costs), a form of in-kind support that has been going on for over three years.

The immediate cause appears to have been Egypt’s UN Security Council vote in favor of a resolution on Syria proposed by Russia. However, Riyadh has been souring towards Cairo for several months, between frustration with the Sisi regime’s lack of support in Yemen, its outright opposition to an anti-Assad position in Syria (Egypt being concerned with the potential rise of Islamists there and generally aligned on Russia’s position), and the occasional incident such as the anti-Wahhabi line Cairo has espoused, most recently in at a conference of Muslim scholars in Groszny, Chechnya (note the Russia thread in these elements.) More generally, there have been grumblings that Saudi Arabia, itself under financial stress due to low oil prices, isn’t exactly impressed with how Sisi has decided to spend aid estimated at over $40 billion in the last three years.

There has been much discussion of all this in Egyptian and Saudi media, but the attention our Egyptian friend Amira Howeidy was piqued a few days ago when she noticed an anti-Saudi piece in El Watan, a daily newspaper known for its proximity to the Sisi regime and security services in particular. We have translated this piece below, as an example of the media wars between Egypt and Saudi Arabia. It would be a war that one would think Cairo can ill afford at a time of tremendous economic stress (supply shortages of basic goods, runaway inflation, restrictions on bank transactions, the collapsing value of Egyptian pound on the black market - think Argentina in 2001-2002), and indeed Prime Minister Sherif Ismail has rushed over to Riyadh to clear the air and President Abdelfattah al-Sisi has reiterated his deep commitment to the security of the GCC (the loose codeword for “we got your back in the case of a coup, against Iran or if the Americans betray you”). And he denies the oil thing has nothing to do with the UN vote. But the Egyptian media (at the higher end, even) mostly hovers between a defense of Egypt’s autonomy, veiled threats about having an Iran option, and assurances that Egypt-Saudi relations are unassaible even as it indulges some good old fashioned Saudi-bashing.

How long can this all last? I tend to see less of a turning point and more of a tiresome, ongoing negotiations. The relationship is based on a kind of asymmetric passive-aggressive perpetual renegotiation. What Egypt is saying, in effect, is: “I am an unreliable, disrespectful client that openly takes you for granted and jibes against you at every possible turn, but I know you will eventually come back to me because you are more afraid of my weakness and nuisance capacity than of my potential strength. So when is that next check coming?” Egypt has gotten away with it in its relationship with the United States for at least the last 15 years, after all, so why not Saudi Arabia?

Our thanks go to Industry Arabic for making this feature possible.


Saudi Arabia paying the price for harboring terrorism and violent armed groups

Abdel Wahhab Issa, El Watan "السعودية تدفع ثمن احتضانها للإرهاب وجماعات العنف المسلح"), 12 October 2016

The era of the late King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, witnessed a fierce war against terrorist organizations and groups, during which the kingdom staved off the influence of al-Qaeda, Islamic State and the Muslim Brotherhood in the Arab region and the Gulf. This came after Saudi Arabia had spent decades undertaking sponsoring these groups, especially during the war in Afghanistan. Before his death, the efforts of King Abdullah culminated in the publication of a list of banned terrorist groups, on which the Brotherhood and al-Qaeda came first. However, when King Salman bin Abdulaziz took over the reins of power in Saudi Arabia, terrorist groups were able to obtain financial and military support directly from the kingdom. It reverted to harboring these extremist organizations, granting them material and military support, especially in Syria and Yemen, and abolished the list of terrorist organizations. By contrast, when King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz assumed power in Saudi Arabia, he began with an all-out war against terrorism, especially following the outbreak of the Arab Spring revolutions, during which tensions were heightened in the existing relationship between Saudi Arabia and the Brotherhood. This came as a result of the Kingdom's discovery, according to the opinion of political researcher Yousri al-Azabawi, of the Brotherhood's role in the fragmentation and division of the Arab states. As such, the kingdom began to co-operate cautiously with the organization while closely monitoring the situation. Following the June 30 Revolution, the discord between the Brotherhood and Saudi Arabia reached a breaking point after King Abdullah gave his blessing to the popular revolution that overthrew the group. In fact, this lead to Saudi Arabia banning the Brotherhood and regarding it as a terrorist organization. King Abdullah did not stop at combating the influence of the organization, but rather he also began to support the military maneuvers launched by the international coalition against ISIS. This led to the organization carrying out several terrorist attacks in Saudi Arabian territory in retaliation against King Abdullah and his war against terrorism. King Salman took power as the successor to King Abdullah with a view to bringing about total change, with Saudi Arabia turning away from the war on terror strategy in favor of supporting al-Qaeda and the Brotherhood in Syria and Yemen. In Syria, King Salman has given military and material support to the al-Nusra Front, the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda, under the pretext of overthrowing Bashar al-Assad. A report in the newspaper The Independent, citing Turkish officials, stated that Saudi Arabia is sending funds and weapons to the al-Nusra Front and that Turkey is facilitating the group's entry into Syria. It was also indicated that there was an agreement concluded early last March between the two countries, after a meeting in Riyadh attended by the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and King Salman bin Abdulaziz. The first proposal was that the two countries should work to "fill the vacuum of failed Western intervention in Syria,” especially after the failure of Western nations to enforce a no-fly zone over Syria. It was also proposed that the two countries extend support for the armed opposition there – in reference to the al-Nusra Front – in what is the first such agreement between Saudi Arabia and Turkey following strong discord between them during the days of the late king. The Brotherhood's relationship with Saudi Arabia has improved considerably under King Salman inasmuch as, according to Brotherhood sources in Saudi Arabia, they have undertaken to mediate a reconciliation between the two parties. Furthermore, Saudi Arabia has hosted the leader of the Brotherhood in Tunisia, Rached Ghannouchi, president of the Ennahdha Party, more than once. With its funds, Riyadh has become a fertile breeding ground for all leaders of terrorist groups, receiving them in the royal palaces, whether it is the Brotherhood preacher Yusuf al-Qaradawi, or [Hamas leader] Khaled Meshaal, among others. As for Yemen, Saudi Arabia has supported the Brotherhood there against the Shia Houthi group, with the kingdom having led a Gulf alliance in launching a military operation named “Decisive Storm.” Co-operation between the Brotherhood and Saudi Arabia was also clearly evident in Yemen, after everyone in al-Qaradawi’s International Union of Muslim Scholars, the Association of Muslim Scholars in Iraq, the Syrian and Jordanian Brotherhood and Ahrar al-Sham declared their support for Operation Decisive Storm. Saudi Arabia is now paying the price for harboring terrorist organizations both in the past and currently, at the hands of King Salman, especially al-Qaeda, who are responsible for the events of September 11. This follows the passing of legislation in the United States Congress this past September, which allows families of victims of the September 11 attacks to sue the Saudi Arabian government for damages. This had previously been obstructed by the White House, after the US President Barack Obama used a presidential veto to block the bill. However, the United States Congress overrode his veto.

Links 28 September - 6 October 2016
LinksThe Editors
The Syrian Trauma

Sit yourself down to read, without distraction, this essay by our friend Peter Harling. It drives through, with unforgiving force, through the apathy that many of us who watch Syria from afar (and indeed those of us for whom Syria is a professional interest). There is a "Syria" out there that is synonymous with evil, misery, apocalypse and the collapse of a regional, or even global order. There is a "Syria"that is a "problem from hell" or an argument about i teventionism. And then there is Syria, the country, the complicated people, which is what Peter is reminding us to listen to:

Syrians don’t need more people lecturing them on what their future should be. There are plenty of them, none with any claim to knowing what is best until they do some demonstrable good on the ground. A mere ceasefire may be a start in principle. But it also has been, repeatedly, an alibi, for the US and the UN to pretend to have achieved something, and for others—such as Russia and the regime—to regroup and push their advantage militarily. Whenever gaining time is the only outcome, Syrians lose collectively.

Our massive moral failure has been a source of public embarrassment and personal unease for many officials involved in the conflict’s management. Gradually they have been gravitating toward a solution to their own psychological tension: “stopping the violence” to appease themselves, even at the expense of diminishing any prospect of closure for Syrians. Such self-centeredness has become, in itself, an obstacle to any progress: all the policy talk about “what can we do” will remain empty until its meaning becomes “what can we do for millions of Syrians” and not “what can we do to rid ourselves of the problem.”

Our moral stupor is not inconsequential, although many people would be tempted to say so, on the basis of some cynical view about archaic struggles between sects and tribes, the intrinsic ugliness of war, a lack of “national interests” in Syria, or foreign policy understood as the natural realm of unprincipled goals. A parallel with a molested child bluntly illustrates the callous logic that seems to apply to Syria: should a victim, raped by its relatives, stay silent? Is it more convenient than shame? Is it more cost-effective than years of an arduous process toward uncertain recovery? Why even take the trouble? How can such questions have obvious answers when applied to one person, yet meet only confusion when they concern millions?

AsidesThe EditorsSyria
Dissidence and Deference Among Egyptian Judges

For Egypt judiciary nerds (you know who you are), this article by Mona El Ghobashy for Middle East Report is just such a great read that weaves so many threads together, I have to link to it again. Money quote:

It is tempting to dismiss pro-government judges as lackeys of military rulers, automatons who move only at the behest of the de facto center of power. The reality is far more troubling. Many judges are active, self-willed architects of an expanded regime of legal exception and legal repression.

. . .

There have always been judges who see their role as applying, not checking, punitive laws. The zeal with which these judges and prosecutors are expanding the infrastructure of legal repression and resuscitating Mubarak’s paradigm of permanent emergency suggests that political dissidence is not their only target. A broader pacification of the population seems to be the goal, to punish the rampant disobedience and disrespect for authority that ruling elites remember as the revolution. Commenting on an avalanche of summary expulsions of students from universities, an administrative court judge said, “The reasons behind the expulsions [nowadays] weren’t there during Mubarak’s time. There wasn’t a revolution during Mubarak’s time.”

Sisi plagiarized his "spare change" idea

There has been much hullabaloo in the last couple of days about Egyptian President Abdelfattah al-Sisi's idea that transactions in Egypt's banking system should be rounded off to the nearest pound, with the "spare change" (i. e. whatever is left in piasters) donated to the government to, you know, pay for stuff.

Sure, the idea seems like a silly back-of-the-enveloppe calculation that an out-of-his-depth ruler has casually come up with because he has no economic vision for his country beyond a general sense that people are not sacrificing enough and that there should be more prestigious mega-projects run by the army. Yes, he could be clutching at straws because, while Egypt was in pretty dire straits when he took over in 2013, he has not improved economic fundamentals nor set the country on a path to reform

Of course, I'm not an economist, so all these assessment could be wrong and Sisi may actually be doing brilliantly. Who knows. The only thing I'd like is for Sisi to acknowledge where he got his idea from: 1999's cult comedy Office Space, in which disgruntled employees scam their company's credit union by introducing a virus into the computer system to syphon off fractional remainders of pennies from transactions. This shows he has better taste in movies than I thought, but, come on – credit where credit is due.

(By the way, anyone seen the printer at the presidency lately?)

Links 18-27 September 2016

The new issue of Middle East Report is out, and it features some great pieces by old friends, including Mona El-Ghobashy on Egypt's judges and Joshua Stacher on Hebron. And don't miss editor Chris Toensing's editorial on the absurd $38 billion President Obama decided to give Israel – a country whose leaders have tried to serially humiliate him – as a parting gift.

MER and its parent organization MERIP are subscriber-funded. Get a subscription and keep them producing great reporting and analysis on the region. 

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LinksThe Editors