The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

BBC: Israel warns of Gaza 'holocaust'
Classy guys these Israelis:

Israeli leaders are warning of an imminent conflagration in Gaza after Palestinian militants aimed rockets at the southern city of Ashkelon.

The deputy defence minister said the stepped-up rocket fire would trigger what he called a "bigger holocaust" in the Hamas-controlled coastal strip.

Israeli air strikes have killed about 30 Palestinians, including six children in the past two days.

. . .

"The more [rocket] fire intensifies and the rockets reach a longer range, they (the Palestinians) will bring upon themselves a bigger holocaust because we will use all our might to defend ourselves," Matan Vilnai told Israeli army radio.

Correspondents say the "holocaust" is a term rarely used in Israel outside discussions of the Nazi genocide during World War II.

[From BBC NEWS | Middle East | Israel warns of Gaza 'holocaust']
The Myth of the Surge

From Nir Rosen's The Myth of the Surge in Rolling Stone, on the co-optation of former insurgents that had caused a decline in violence over the past year in Iraq :

But loyalty that can be purchased is by its very nature fickle. Only months ago, members of the Awakening were planting IEDs and ambushing U.S. soldiers. They were snipers and assassins, singing songs in honor of Fallujah and fighting what they viewed as a war of national liberation against the foreign occupiers. These are men the Americans described as terrorists, Saddam loyalists, dead-enders, evildoers, Baathists, insurgents. There is little doubt what will happen when the massive influx of American money stops: Unless the new Iraqi state continues to operate as a vast bribing machine, the insurgent Sunnis who have joined the new militias will likely revert to fighting the ruling Shiites, who still refuse to share power.

"We are essentially supporting a quasi-feudal devolution of authority to armed enclaves, which exist at the expense of central government authority," says Chas Freeman, who served as ambassador to Saudi Arabia under the first President Bush. "Those we are arming and training are arming and training themselves not to facilitate our objectives but to pursue their own objectives vis-a-vis other Iraqis. It means that the sectarian and ethnic conflicts that are now suppressed are likely to burst out with even greater ferocity in the future."

Maj. Pat Garrett, who works with the 2-2 Stryker Cavalry Regiment, is already having trouble figuring out what to do with all the new militiamen in his district. There are too few openings in the Iraqi security forces to absorb them all, even if the Shiite-dominated government agreed to integrate them. Garrett is placing his hopes on vocational-training centers that offer instruction in auto repair, carpentry, blacksmithing and English. "At the end of the day, they want a legitimate living," Garrett says. "That's why they're joining the ISVs."

But men who have taken up arms to defend themselves against both the Shiites and the Americans won't be easily persuaded to abandon their weapons in return for a socket wrench. After meeting recently in Baghdad, U.S. officials concluded in an internal report, "Most young Concerned Local Citizens would probably not agree to transition from armed defenders of their communities to the local garbage men or rubble cleanup crew working under the gaze of U.S. soldiers and their own families." The new militias have given members of the Awakening their first official foothold in occupied Iraq. They are not likely to surrender that position without a fight. The Shiite government is doing little to find jobs for them, because it doesn't want them back, and violence in Iraq is already starting to escalate. By funding the ISVs and rearming the Sunnis who were stripped of their weapons at the start of the occupation, America has created a vast, uncoordinated security establishment. If the Shiite government of Iraq does not allow Sunnis in the new militias to join the country's security forces, warns one leader of the Awakening, "It will be worse than before."

An interesting piece with a lot of surprisingly negative commentary by US forces and officials -- read it all.

Bziz on the Arab Information Ministers' decree

Ahmed Senoussi, the Moroccan comedian better known as Bziz, appeared on al-Jazeera's "bila hudud" talk show yesterday to talk about the Arab information minister's recent decree introducing a "code of ethics" for Arab satellite stations. The result is hilarious -- just wait through the first eight minutes or so as the host sets up the gag.

[Thanks, Abdurahman]

Links February 20th to February 21st

Links for February 20th through February 21st:

Free Fouad


14 jours après l’arrestation de Fouad Mourtada, plusieurs sites de blogs marocains, réputés par leur grande influence au Maroc, sont en grève aujourd’hui, Mardi 19 février 2008, en solidarité avec Fouad et sa famille.

Links February 17th to February 19th

Links for February 17th through February 19th:

Striking for a livable minimum wage in Mahalla

Hossam has updates on the latest blue collar workers' strike in Mahalla al-Kubra, the heart of Egypt's textile industry, where some 10,000 have taken to the street to demand a new national minimum wage:

Only one day before the convening of the National Council for Wages (the govt entity in charge of setting the minimum wage, and which has not convened since the mid 80s!!!) 10,000 textile workers from Ghazl el-Mahalla took to the streets around 4pm demanding raising the national minimum (monthly) wage to LE1200.

Follow his post for analysis and the latest news. For context, most workers currently make only a few hundred pounds.

Marriage, religion and idleness

As part of a new series on youth and religion, the New York Times ran an article today on young people in Egypt. The article, by Michael Slackman, basically argues that economic and social frustration and the inability to get married at a young age has driven many to become more pious:

The despair extends to rural Egypt, always a traditional, religious environment, but one that ambitious young people long to escape. In the village of Shamandeel, not far from Zagazig, it took Walid Faragallah six years after graduating with a degree in psychology to find a job in a factory, and his pay was less than $50 a month. That is an average period of waiting — and average pay — for new entries in the job market. Mr. Faragallah kept that job for a year, and recently found another factory job for $108 a month, two hours from his home.

“It brings us closer to God, in a sense,� Mr. Faragallah said, speaking of the despair he felt during the years he searched for work. “But sometimes, I can see how it does not make you closer to God, but pushes you toward terrorism. Practically, it killed my ambition. I can’t think of a future.�

So far so much usual socio-economic analysis of the religiosity of Arab youth. But it's interesting that when they provided an Arabic translation of the article and solicited young Egyptians' points of view on it, this is the reply they got:

After discussing the article with three of four different groups of students, I found that the answers were surprisingly uniform: yes, the government holds them back. Yes, it’s too costly to find an apartment, furnish it, get married and live a happy life in it. But they all asked pretty much asked: “What does this have to do with the religion mentioned in your story?�

“You say our religiosity comes from economical and social pressure,� Muhammad Salah, a 21-year-old engineering student told me. “This is not true. Of course, we are under heavy pressure, but this has nothing to do with religion, and everything to do with the government.�

This was the point of contention — they enjoyed the article because it was critical of the government and raised issues they could relate to. But they did not see the connection between government failure and lack of opportunity with their emboldened faith. Being religious, they say, is about leading a good life. For them, it’s a gesture of free will, an individual choice disconnected from larger issues. Determinism plays no part in it.

The thing that struck most about the article, and which I recognized from everyday life in Egypt, is not so much the pervasiveness of religion but the central role idleness plays in young people's lives -- fear of boredom, empty hour to fill, the feeling that it can lead to trouble. From the end of the article:

There is a mosque a few steps from the front door of their house. But an Islamic tradition holds that the farther you walk to the mosque the more credit earned with God. So every Friday, Mr. Sayyid walks past the mosque by his home, and past a few more mosques, before he reaches the Sayeda Zeinab mosque.

“By being religious, God prevents you from doing wrong things,� Mr. Sayyid said, revealing his central fear and motivation, that time and boredom will lead him to sin. “This whole atmosphere we live in is wrong, wrong.�

If unemployed, prospect-less youth are indeed turning to the mosque, it might be less because of despair-induced spirituality than lack of anything better to do: as Franz Kafka said, idleness is the beginning of all vice and the crown of all virtues.

(And incidentally, there is an Egyptian proverb that says "the idle hand is impure" ( الإيد البطّالة نجسة), as well as passages and many interpretations of the Quran that warn against idleness as leading to sin-- one Saudi proverb claims "the devil tempts idle men, but idle men tempt the devil. And perhaps most beautiful of all, an old Middle Eastern proverb that may predate Arabic that claims that "The dust of labor is better than the saffron of idleness.")

Blair blackmailed by Bandar over BAE

Prince Bandar: with friends like these...

Saudi Arabia's rulers threatened to make it easier for terrorists to attack London unless corruption investigations into their arms deals were halted, according to court documents revealed yesterday.

Previously secret files describe how investigators were told they faced "another 7/7" and the loss of "British lives on British streets" if they pressed on with their inquiries and the Saudis carried out their threat to cut off intelligence.

Prince Bandar, the head of the Saudi national security council, and son of the crown prince, was alleged in court to be the man behind the threats to hold back information about suicide bombers and terrorists. He faces accusations that he himself took more than £1bn in secret payments from the arms company BAE.

He was accused in yesterday's high court hearings of flying to London in December 2006 and uttering threats which made the prime minister, Tony Blair, force an end to the Serious Fraud Office investigation into bribery allegations involving Bandar and his family.

The threats halted the fraud inquiry, but triggered an international outcry, with allegations that Britain had broken international anti-bribery treaties.

Lord Justice Moses, hearing the civil case with Mr Justice Sullivan, said the government appeared to have "rolled over" after the threats. He said one possible view was that it was "just as if a gun had been held to the head" of the government.

Can we invade Saudi Arabia now? Please?
Free Fouad Mourtada

The arrest and brutal treatment of Fouad Mourtada, the young man who create a fake Facebook profile of Morocco's Prince Moulay Rachid, is a sad testimony to the fact that things have not changed as much as the regime would like you to believe in Morocco. Here is the statement his supporters have put out:

Official statement of the Committee of Support for Fouad Mourtada, after a first visit at Oukacha jail.

One week after his disappearance and imprisonment by the Moroccan police force Tuesday February 05, it was finally possible for the family of Fouad to visit him this Tuesday February 12 afternoon at Oukacha jail in Casablanca, Morocco.

Fouad, distraught after one week of detention, stated the following facts:

"I was arrested on the morning of Tuesday by two individuals who embarked me on a vehicle then blindfolded my eyes with a black band. After about fifteen minutes, they changed vehicle, then took me along to some building to undergo an interrogation there. There I was persecuted, beaten up, slapped, spat on and insulted. I was also slammed for hours with a tool on the head and the legs. This calvary lasted such a long time that I lost consciousness several times and also lost the notion of time. I was completely surprised to learn, when I was taken again to another location, that it was Wednesday ".

Concerning the Facebook account, incriminated Fouad indicated:

"I actually created this account on January 15, 2008. It remained on line a few days before somebody closed it. There are so many profiles of celebrities on Facebook. I never thought that by creating a profile of his highness prince Moulay Rachid I am harming him in any way. I, as a matter of fact, did not send any message from that account to anyone. It was just a joke, a gag. I regret my gesture and beg my forgiveness from my whole family for the harm that I have caused them. I am not an evil doer; my ambition in the life was simply to have a stable job and a normal life ".

Fouad Mourtada awaits the starting of his trial, Friday February 15. He could be facing 5 years of prison, to have done what thousands of people throughout the world do everyday: create a profile of a celebrity or a star on Facebook.

For analysis on Morocco's monarchy-controlled "democratization process" see this analysis from the Middle East Institute, which concludes:

Morocco’s road towards greater democratization remains a project in the making. On the one hand, the climate of greater freedom of speech and accountability on the part of officials is unmistakable, as is the sobering recognition of the enormity of the task ahead. On the other hand, the lingering notion that any reform, constitutional or otherwise, derives from and depends upon the good will of the monarch is a hin- drance to any profound changes to the current system. As he nears his first decade on the throne, Muhammad VI faces the challenge of stirring his nation towards a better future while maintaining the stability and relative tranquility that have made Morocco the envy of other Middle Eastern and North African countries.

A good first step would be that the king ensures that identity theft, if Mourtada's prank can be described as such, be handled professionally by ordinary police rather than secret service thugs whose beatings are reminiscent of the torture and disappearances of the late King Hassan II's reign. Even though Mourtada may get off without a jail sentence due to the bad publicity this brings the monarchy, that is not enough: an apology and the disciplining of those responsible for his treatment should ensue.

al-Jazeera condemns satellite TV "ethical charter"

Kudos to Jazeera for condemning the recently announced "ethical charter" for Arab satellite stations:

Al Jazeera calls Charter issued by the Arab League’s Minister’s of Information a risk to the freedom of expression in the Arab world

DOHA, Qatar, February 15, 2008: Al Jazeera considers the adoption of the charter “Principles for Regulating Satellite TV in the Arab World� issued by the Arab League’s Minister’s of Information a risk to the freedom of expression in the Arab world. Some of the language contained within the Charter is ambiguous and could be interpreted to actively hinder independent reporting from the region.

Wadah Khanfar, Director General of the Al Jazeera Network stated that, “Any code of ethics or governance for journalistic practices should emerge, and be governed, from within the profession and not be imposed externally by political institutions. Where codes of ethics are violated and contraventions of journalistic practice occur, for defamation of character or otherwise, there should be independent legal processes to resolve these issues. The region has seen the recent emergence of many media institutions and every attempt should be made not to hamper, but to facilitate, an environment to encourage their independence and freedom.�

Links February 13th to February 15th

Links for February 13th through February 15th:

AJE: Copts
al-Jazeera English ran some rare incisive coverage of Coptic issues in Egypt a few days ago, good questions from the interviewer (notably on the census and church-building) with interesting interventions by Michael Mounir, the prominent US-based Coptic activist. Also discussion of church-issues etc.

That was part 2, you can find part 1 here.
Bidoun Winter 2008: Souffles and Maghrebi counter-culture

The Winter 2008 issue of Bidoun, the Middle Eastern arts and culture magazine, has been out for a few weeks now. For some weird reason I can never access it directly from Egypt, it only works through a proxy like or, but it's worth the trouble to check out the striking cover (below) and some of the articles they put online, such as the essay on Moroccan counter-culture in the 1960s/1970s by Issandr El Amrani. Get the print issue (in Cairo from the Townhouse gallery, elsewhere at good magazine stores) to read about Ismail Yassin and much more.


(No, I don't think that building really exists.)