The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Posts tagged Academia
Sloppy scholarship and the Arab uprisings

Bassam Haddad, in Jadaliyya:

Much of the writing on the Arab uprisings continues to suffer from the new think-tank-ish, self-important, semi-casual, sloppy-analysis syndromes. It is as if having a platform and a mandate are sufficient to produce sound knowledge. For the most part, the proof is in the pudding. Follow platforms and individuals across time and space and this becomes clear: zigzagging and pendulum-swing judgments and analysis, driven more by events and politics than by historical and analytical depth. Worse still, this sloppiness has extended to scholars who frequently opine on social media and electronic publication platforms that seek content quantity over quality in a mutually beneficial exercise. Rigorous analysis that stands the test of time suffers.

Extending beyond quick platforms, the deluge of books on the uprisings is staggering and qualitatively inconsistent across publications, with some coming out within the first year of these protracted events, yet they do not consciously address their own temporal (premature?) shortcomings. Other books are published within months of the emergence of new phenomena (e.g., ISIS) and extrapolate from that particular phenomenon to all cases that experienced an uprising. Finally, as I already shared, a continuing trend of erroneously addressing the uprisings, or the odd title “Arab Spring," as one event lingers, with insufficient attention to the vast variance across cases. For the most part, the best work on the uprisings has not been written yet, and for good reason.

I suspect we will see really good literature about the uprisings before we see really good non-fiction. I don't think anyone has really put their finger on the real story here yet.

The tradecraft of a political analyst

My friend Peter Harling – whose fantastic essays have appeared on this site before before they moved over to his new outfit, Synaps – has put together a wonderful collection of advice for people in our line of work, that is researchers, academics, policy writers, journalists and others who do fieldwork and then write about their findings. He's done so for Synaps, where he is training young researchers from the region, but has decided to make his advice open-source. It's a treasure trove of excellent recommendations derived, among many things, from his many years as director for Iraq, Syria and Lebanon at International Crisis Group. I saw how effective he was at training analysts there (and it's a demanding place to work). There's a lot in there, so here are a few examples.

On note-taking:

IF YOU THINK that you must type notes because you’ve had a few meetings, you’re wrong: we have meetings because we need notes. Our analysis is built not on impressionistic sentiments and recollections, but on a more tangible basis, which is the raw material of our craft: interview transcripts. Without them, you’ll remain vague and shallow.

Sharing with colleagues has value-added of its own. By trading meeting notes back and forth, everyone learns more and faster. You collectively build an institutional memory, which may be tedious to contribute to, but is a precious resource to benefit from. You help your manager keep up with the substance of your work, and therefore do a better job at supporting and mentoring you throughout the process of overcoming obstacles to fieldwork, framing topics, drafting your analysis and editing your output. And, finally, notes you circulate are usually more complete and structured than what you would keep to yourself – making for personal archives that you will find richer and easier to mine.

On interviews:

I think an interview, by nature, is a show that aims both to inform and to entertain. We often use the word “performance,” and that performance can be stronger or weaker at a certain moment. Doing an interview is like the theatre, or giving a concert: sometimes, you feel that your performance is flagging and that you are losing energy, and can only respond by intensifying your own efforts – your concentration surges. On TV or on the radio your audience is not in front of you, but you’re nonetheless in a struggle to retain its attention. You’re in competition with the remote control.

Finding the right melody and rhythm is also about working the vibes between you and your guest. If you really want to get at what’s interesting, you will have to use diplomacy, impatience, a more personal touch, and a mix of soft and tough questions.

You can find the whole collection here.

Islam, politics and academia

Sitting on a curb outside the college where she was recently expelled, Eman is defiant.

"I did it for the sake of God," the 21-year-old Tunisian history student—who asked to be identified only by her first name—said of her insistence on wearing the niqab, the full-face veil. Such a display of piety is banned in the classrooms of the University of Manouba's Faculty of Arts and Letters, and she has been forced to leave. "He will reward me in other ways."

Eman is covered head to toe in flowing brown-and-beige polyester. She wears gloves and shields her light-brown eyes from view with a second, transparent veil. Depending on whom you talk to in Tunisia, her attire, and the militant strain of Islamism it is associated with, represents either the future of the Arab Spring—or the greatest threat to it.

To her supporters, Eman is staking a righteous claim for a greater role for religion on campus. To her opponents, she embodies a threat to the university's liberal values and to academic freedom itself.

Fundamentalists like Eman, says Habib Kaz­daghli, a dean at the university, believe that the primary purpose of the university is "not to deliver knowledge but to serve as a place for spreading religion."

This is from a piece I wrote for The Chronicle of Higher Education (it is behind a pay wall but this link gives temporary access) looking at the fights that have erupted, after the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, over the role of religionon campus. I visited Manouba University in Tunisia, where Dean Habib Kazdaghli has taken a hard line against allowing women in niqab to attend class (and is now facing what he says are trumped up charges of slapping a munaqaba student). I also visited the ancient Islamic university of Al Azhar here in Cairo, to look at how a historical model of Muslim learning has evolved into the 21st century. 

And now for a radical neo-Marxist economics break

☞ bnarchives - The Asymptotes of Power

I have dissected, step by step, the national income accounts of the United States, from the most general categories down to the net profits of the country’s largest corporations. I have shown that, from the viewpoint of the leading corporations, most of the redistributional processes – from the aggregate to the disaggregate – are close to being exhausted. By the end of the twentieth century, the largest U.S. corporations, approximated by the top 0.01%, have reached an unprecedented situation: their net profit share of national income hovers around record highs, and it seems that this share cannot be increased much further under the current political-economic regime.

This asymptotic situation, Bichler and I believe, explains why leading capitalists have been struck by systemic fear. Peering into the future, they realize that the only way to further increase their distributional power is to apply an even greater dose of violence. Yet, given the high level of force already being exerted, and given that the exertion of even greater force may bring about heightened resistance, capitalists are increasingly fearful of the backlash they are about to unleash. The closer they get to the asymptote, the bleaker the future they see.

It is of course true that no one knows exactly where the asymptote lies, at least not before it is reached. But the fact that, over the past decade, capitalists have been pricing down their assets while their profit share of income hovers around record highs suggests that, in their minds, the asymptote is nigh. 

From the Israel-Canadian economist Jonathan Nitzan, whose book (with Shimshon Bichler) The Global Political Economy of Israel is quite interesting, with a radical new ecomomic model that should be applied to elsewhere in the region. Most of it is above my head, but a key concept in their work is differential capital accumulation — i.e. that capitalist actors compete not on absolute terms but in terms of how well they do compared to each other and the average. Fascinating stuff — for radicals and liberal democrat centrists alike, because of how it speaks to the current malaise in advanced capitalist societies, which while in many respects thriving fear that they are losing social gains made in the last century and standing on the edge of a precipice — beyond which are societies with extremely skewed distribution of both economic wealth and political power, like most of those in the Middle East.

Syrian regime fakes supportive Roy interview

This is rather ludicrous. The acclaimed French Middle East specialist, Olivier Roy, famed for his "failure of political Islam" book, has issued a statement disowning an off-camera interview of him on France 2 that was rebroadcast on Syrian television. In the interview, Roy is heard saying "There is no doubt about this, Bashar al-Assad will be the first Arab leader who will win against the West," followed by a long praise of the Syrian president.

Except Roy never conducted any such interview on France 2 (or anywhere else). Syrian TV faked it.

See Roy's statement after the jump (French).

Communiqué d’Olivier Roy

Désinfo: Isolé diplomatiquement, Bashar al Assad s’invente des soutiens imaginaires en Occident

Preuve de sa faiblesse au plan international, le régime syrien forge de toute pièce des interventions occidentales en sa faveur. Le 5 février, la télévision officielle syrienne diffusait (en voix off) une fausse interview du professeur français Olivier Roy, qu’il aurait donné à la télévision française France 2, et qui lui fait dire ‘cela ne fait aucun doute, Bashar al Assad sera le premier leader arabe qui gagnera contre l’Occident’, en se lançant ensuite dans un panégyrique en faveur du leader syrien. L’information a ensuite été relayée par des sites d’informations proches du régime et promu sur youtube par groupes pro-Bashar., puis reprise en français dans le site de propagande InfoSyrie.

Olivier Roy n’a jamais donné d’interview à France 2 sur la Syrie  pense que le régime Bachar al Assad finira par s’effondrer. Le plus tôt sera le mieux.

En arabe :

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X66bi01K3LQ

http://www.syria-times.com/?showpage=3&id=7619

http://www.nadyelfikr.com/showthread.php?tid=4711

En français

http://www.infosyrie.fr/decryptage/intervention-armee-en-syrie-la-france-coupee-en-deux/

Academic tourists?

This opinion piece by AUC sociology professor Mona Abaza raises some interesting and uncomfortable questions about the inequalities between local and foreign academics who study the Middle East -- especially now, as the Arab Spring has made the region the object of increased scholarly interest: 

Without sounding xenophobic, which is a growing concern that personally worries me more than ever, there is much to say about the ongoing international academic division of labour whereby the divide between the so called “theoreticians” of the North and the “informants” who are also “objects of study” in the South continues to grow.

I am indeed speaking of frustrations because “we” as “locals” have been experiencing a situation, time and again, of being reduced to becoming at best “service providers” for visiting scholars, a term I borrowed from my colleague, political scientist Emad Shahin, at worst like the French would put it, as the “indigène de service”, for ironically the right cause of the revolution. To rather cater for the service of our Western expert colleagues who typically make out of no more than a week's stay in Cairo, a few shots and a tour around Tahrir, the ticket to tag themselves with the legitimacy and expertise of first hand knowledge.

I cover higher education in the Middle East and I know there are a lot of academics and students of the Arab world who read the blog, and I'd welcome your reactions. Have you experienced these kinds of frustrations -- or misgivings? In the rush to assert one's professional credentials on the Arab Spring leading to superficial work? Is this just sour grapes or is there a power imbalance between visiting foreign scholars and their local colleagues? How could it be addressed? 

Egypt's new finance minister and the rentier state

Egypt's new finance minister is the respected economist Hazem al-Biblawy. I am not sure why he was appointed (or why his equally respected predecessor, Samir Radwan, left) but it's interesting to note that one of his academic specializations is the rentier state. He even edited a book about the rentier state in the Arab world in the 1980s, with Giacomo Luciani. An excerpt:

Good theoretical grounding to have as Egypt tries to finance its fiscal deficit by leveraging its strategic rent-value in the Gulf and the West — a policy I like to call Mubarakonomics.

Scholarship on Egypt

I have a piece at The Chronicle of Higher Education about how Egypt specialists (mostly in the US) are re-evaluating old assumptions, posing new questions, and flocking to Egypt to research the revolution. Unfortunately there's a subscription wall, but here's the beginning:

Scholars who work on the Middle East have been furiously updating their syllabi and revising their book proposals in the past month and a half. The events in Tunisia, Egypt, and now Libya have upended conventional academic wisdom about the region.

"In some ways it recalls the way Middle East studies was reoriented after the outbreak of the Lebanese civil war, in 1975, and the Iranian revolution, in 1979," says Joel Beinin, a professor of Middle East history at Stanford University. Egypt, as the most populous country in the Middle East, a regional leader, and a U.S. ally, has long been a focus of attention among Middle East specialists. The collapse of the Mubarak regime is leading scholars to re-examine several common assumptions—about the persistence of authoritarianism, the process of democratization, and the appeal of Islamism—and to pose a variety of new questions.

In the article I discuss how studies of the resilience and persistence of authoritarianism have dominated the field for a long time now -- and how suddenly, with the revolution, professors were scrambling, with half their readings seeming irrelevant to what was happening (which is not to say that some parts of Egypt's regime may not turn out to be quite persistent, unfortunately).

Professors mentioned that they expected there to be a new focus on "non-elite" politics, on grassroots and popular movements, and on the everyday. They also discussed ways in which the weight of Islamism within Egyptian society and politics may be re-evaluated (again, it is definitely a significant factor--but the revolution showed that there are other forces out there, and that the pre-eminence of Islamists in the opposition may have been orchestrated by the regime). 

Other topics of obvious interest to Egypt specialists include military-civilian relations; the role of new media; youth culture; transitional political periods; and the extent to which Arab countries are connected to and influenced by one another.

And we can expect a lively debate on whether theories of democratization and democracy promotion got it right (in that programs and civil society organizations supported by the West helped train a new generation of Egyptian activists) or missed the boat (by espousing a gradualist model with the regime as the main agent of "reform," and not even envisaging collective action). 

(P.S. A big thanks to someone who isn't quoted in the story but who greatly helped: friend of the blog, Skidmore professor and Egyptian-politics-geek-emeritus Sumita Pahwa).

Seif Qadhafi's PhD thesis from LSE
A kind reader sent in a copy of the PhD thesis Seif al-Qadhafi, filed in September 2007 at the London School of Economics (whose former chancellor, Tony Giddens, was an advisor to his father). It's called "The Role Of Civil Society In The Democratisation Of Global Governance Institutions: From ‘Soft Power’ to Collective Decision-Making?"
Here's a somewhat relevant if stultifying passage, page 41:
Locke saw people as being able to live together in the state of nature under natural law, irrespective of the policies of the state. This self-sufficiency of society, outside the control of the state, was given weight by the growing power of the economic sphere which was considered part of civil society, not the state. The state is therefore constructed out of, and given legitimacy by, society, which also retains the authority to dissolve the government if it acted unjustly. Other writers continued with this distinction of civil society and government. The state kept its function of maintaining law and order that Hobbes had stressed, but was considered to be separate from society, and the relationship between the two of them was seen to be subject to laws that gained their legitimacy from society, not from the state. For example, Montesquieu saw the state as the governor and society as the governed, with civil law acting as the regulator of the relationship. The importance of law in regulating the way the state and society interacted was obvious to many writers who considered that a government that did not recognise the limitations of law would extend to become an over-reaching tyranny similar to that described by Hobbes in Leviathan.
Update: Ethan sent in this link to BoingBoing, which in turn links to documentation of plagiarism in the thesis. 
SOAS conf. on settler colonialism

I am posting the following as a public service announcement — there will be a conference at my alma mater, SOAS, on Israel/Palestine. If you've been reading this blog for a while you'll know I think it's important to cast the Zionist project as a settler colonial one to counter the narrative, particularly in US media, of a conflict that existed "since time immemorial." Otherwise, the conference is entirely its organizers' work. 

PAST IS PRESENT: SETTLER COLONIALISM MATTERS!

SOAS Palestine Society Conference Organizing Collective

On 5-6 March 2011, the Palestine Society at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London will hold its seventh annual conference, "Past is Present: Settler Colonialism in Palestine." This year's conference aims to understand Zionism as a settler colonial project which has, for more than a century, subjected Palestine and Palestinians to a structural and violent form of destruction, dispossession, land appropriation and erasure in the pursuit of a new Jewish Israeli society. By organizing this conference, we hope to reclaim and revive the settler colonial paradigm and to outline its potential to inform and guide political strategy and mobilization.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is often described as unique and exceptional with little resemblance to other historical or ongoing colonial conflicts. Yet, for Zionism, like other settler colonial projects such as the British colonization of Ireland or European settlement of North America, South Africa or Australia, the imperative is to control the land and its resources -- and to displace the original inhabitants. Indeed, as conference keynote speaker Patrick Wolfe, one of the foremost scholars on settler colonialism and professor at La Trobe University in Victoria, Australia, argues, "the logic of this project, a sustained institutional tendency to eliminate the Indigenous population, informs a range of historical practices that might otherwise appear distinct--invasion is a structure not an event."

Therefore, the classification of the Zionist movement as a settler colonial project, and the Israeli state as its manifestation, is not merely intended as a statement on the historical origins of Israel, nor as a rhetorical or polemical device. Rather, the aim is to highlight Zionism's structural continuities and the ideology which informs Israeli policies and practices in Palestine and toward Palestinians everywhere. Thus, the Nakba -- whether viewed as a spontaneous, violent episode in war, or the implementation of a preconceived master plan -- should be understood as both the precondition for the creation of Israel and the logical outcome of Zionist settlement in Palestine.

Moreover, it is this same logic that sustains the continuation of the Nakba today. As remarked by Benny Morris, “had he [David Ben Gurion] carried out full expulsion--rather than partial--he would have stabilised the State of Israel for generations.”[ii] Yet, plagued by an “instability”--defined by the very existence of the Palestinian nation--Israel continues its daily state practices in its quest to fulfill Zionism’s logic to maximize the amount of land under its control with the minimum number of Palestinians on it. These practices take a painful array of manifestations: aerial and maritime bombardment, massacre and invasion, house demolitions, land theft, identity card confiscation, racist laws and loyalty tests, the wall, the siege on Gaza, cultural appropriation, and the dependence on willing (or unwilling) native collaboration and security arrangements, all with the continued support and backing of imperial power.

Despite these enduring practices however, the settler colonial paradigm has largely fallen into disuse. As a paradigm, it once served as a primary ideological and political framework for all Palestinian political factions and trends, and informed the intellectual work of committed academics and revolutionary scholars, both Palestinians and Jews.

The conference thus asks where and why the settler colonial paradigm was lost, both in scholarship on Palestine and in politics; how do current analyses and theoretical trends that have arisen in its place address present and historical realities? While acknowledging the creativity of these new interpretations, we must nonetheless ask: when exactly did Palestinian natives find themselves in a "post-colonial" condition? When did the ongoing struggle over land become a "post-conflict" situation? When did Israel become a "post-Zionist" society? And when did the fortification of Palestinian ghettos and reservations become "state-building"?

Such an alignment would expand the tools available to Palestinians and their solidarity movement, and reconnect the struggle to its own history of anti-colonial internationalism. At its core, this internationalism asserts that the Palestinian struggle against Zionist settler colonialism can only be won when it is embedded within, and empowered by, the broader Arab movement for emancipation and the indigenous, anti-racist and anti-colonial movement-from Arizona to Auckland.

SOAS Palestine Society invites everyone to join us at what promises to be a significant intervention in Palestine activism and scholarship.

For over 30 years, SOAS Palestine Society has heightened awareness and understanding of the Palestinian people, their rights, culture, and struggle for self-determination, amongst students, faculty, staff, and the broader public. SOAS Palestine society aims to continuously push the frontiers of discourse in an effort to make provocative arguments and to stimulate debate and organizing for justice in Palestine through relevant conferences, and events ranging from the intellectual and political impact of Edward Said's life and work (2004), international law and the Palestine question (2005), the economy of Palestine and its occupation (2006), the one state (2007), 60 Years of Nakba, 60 Years of Resistance (2009), and most recently, the Left in Palestine (2010).

For more information on the SOAS Palestine Society 7th annual conference, Past is Present: Settler Colonialism in Palestine: www.soaspalsoc.org

SOAS Palestine Society Organizing Collective is a group of committed students that has undertaken to organize annual academic conferences on Palestine since 2003.

Egypt and Poli-Sci US academia

Andrew Exum touches on an academic issue here worth mentioning: that the events in Egypt have been poorly predicted by North American academia, perhaps because political science departments largely focus on quantitative analysis. Andrew, as ever (and I blame living in Washington as well as his southern roots for this), is very polite about not bashing the "quants", as he calls them.

Personally, I would be more blunt. Quantitative analysis and the behaviouralist approach of most American PoliSci academics is a big steaming turd of horseshit when applied in the Middle East. Statistics are useful, yes, when you are in a country that has relevant statistics or where polling is allowed. But things like electoral statistics tell you very little about the political reality of dictatorships, because the data sets are inherently flawed, since they're either unavailable, fraudulent, or irrelevant.

I remember reading a year or two ago some bright young thing (who is now on tenure track at Harvard I believe) wrote some turgid paper about electoral participation and vote buying in Egypt. I won't name the person in question, since you have to do this kind of thing for your career, but the paper relied on a mishmash of social statistics (literacy etc.) and grand assumptions about the behavior of electors whose votes are bought, as well as electoral results. This is nonsense, because while the social indicators can be taken at face value, the rest (results, turnout, etc.) is most probably the work of the fertile imagination of an Amn Dowla officer. So focusing on the details of elections that are fraudulent may as well be an endorsement of fraud. 

I'm a bookish fellow and long considered pursuing a PhD, but was turned off by this American approach, which is not only largely useless and dreadfully boring, but actually positively dishonest and misleading. Turn to the more historically-minded British analysts (and those few Americans who eschew QA) for real insight to the Middle East. In the meantime, it's sad to think generations of political scientists are still fed this claptrap.

Academics' letter to President Obama

A number of prominent academics from the field of Middle East Studies and beyond have penned a letter to President Obama about the situation in Egypt. Get it in PDF here  or visit Accuracy.org or EgyptLetter. The text is also below.

An Open Letter to President Barack Obama

January 30, 2010 Dear President Obama:

As political scientists, historians, and researchers in related fields who have studied the Middle East and U.S. foreign policy, we the undersigned believe you have a chance to move beyond rhetoric to support the democratic movement sweeping over Egypt. As citizens, we expect our president to uphold those values.

For thirty years, our government has spent billions of dollars to help build and sustain the system the Egyptian people are now trying to dismantle. Tens if not hundreds of thousands of demonstrators in Egypt and around the world have spoken. We believe their message is bold and clear: Mubarak should resign from office and allow Egyptians to establish a new government free of his and his family’s influence. It is also clear to us that if you seek, as you said Friday “political, social, and economic reforms that meet the aspirations of the Egyptian people,” your administration should publicly acknowledge those reforms will not be advanced by Mubarak or any of his adjutants.

There is another lesson from this crisis, a lesson not for the Egyptian government but for our own. In order for the United States to stand with the Egyptian people it must approach Egypt through a framework of shared values and hopes, not the prism of geostrategy. On Friday you rightly said that “suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away.” For that reason we urge your administration to seize this chance, turn away from the policies that brought us here, and embark on a new course toward peace, democracy and prosperity for the people of the Middle East. And we call on you to undertake a comprehensive review of US foreign policy on the major grievances voiced by the democratic opposition in Egypt and all other societies of the region.

The full list of signatories is in the PDF.

An update on SIPA and Cablegate

Since the post I wrote a few days ago — about Columbia's SIPA warning students looking for government jobs not to publicly link to Wikileaks — got so much attention, it's only fair to give an update. Columbia has come out as pro-Wikileaks, saying it backed freedom of information. I don't think that was ever in doubt, since the email only gave advice to students considering a government career. Still, they have a good position:

 

Now, SIPA Dean John H. Coatsworth has clarified the school’s policy and issued a ringing endorsement of free speech and academic freedom.
“Freedom of information and expression is a core value of our institution,” Coatsworth wrote in an e-mail to the SIPA community Monday morning (full e-mail message below). “Thus, SIPA’s position is that students have a right to discuss and debate any information in the public arena that they deem relevant to their studies or to their roles as global citizens, and to do so without fear of adverse consequences.”
SIPA Professor Gary Sick, the prominent Middle East expert who served on the National Security Council under Presidents Ford, Carter, and Reagan, went even further in repudiating the memo.
“If anyone is a master’s student in international relations and they haven’t heard of WikiLeaks and gone looking for the documents that relate to their area of study, then they don’t deserve to be a graduate student in international relations,” Sick told Wired.com in an interview.
Still, the school says it will pass on any official State Department WikiLeaks guidelines, if and when it gets them.
Over the weekend State Dept. spokesperson P.J. Crowley denied that there is a formal policy warning students against reading, linking or discussing the WikiLeaks cable online. SIPA’s original warning attributed the no-commenting on the released cables to an unnamed State Department alumnus.

Now, SIPA Dean John H. Coatsworth has clarified the school’s policy and issued a ringing endorsement of free speech and academic freedom.
“Freedom of information and expression is a core value of our institution,” Coatsworth wrote in an e-mail to the SIPA community Monday morning (full e-mail message below). “Thus, SIPA’s position is that students have a right to discuss and debate any information in the public arena that they deem relevant to their studies or to their roles as global citizens, and to do so without fear of adverse consequences.”
SIPA Professor Gary Sick, the prominent Middle East expert who served on the National Security Council under Presidents Ford, Carter, and Reagan, went even further in repudiating the memo.
“If anyone is a master’s student in international relations and they haven’t heard of WikiLeaks and gone looking for the documents that relate to their area of study, then they don’t deserve to be a graduate student in international relations,” Sick told Wired.com in an interview.
Still, the school says it will pass on any official State Department WikiLeaks guidelines, if and when it gets them.
Over the weekend State Dept. spokesperson P.J. Crowley denied that there is a formal policy warning students against reading, linking or discussing the WikiLeaks cable online. SIPA’s original warning attributed the no-commenting on the released cables to an unnamed State Department alumnus.

Incidentally, do read Gary Sick's blog for his devastating take on the affair: Am I A Criminal?

 

State Dept. warning prospective recruits to steer clear of Wikileaks

Update: Welcome readers from Slashdot and The Lede, and all the others who are driving traffic to this post! Follow Arabist on Twitter or subscribe to the RSS feed!

I was forwarded this email — it comes from a SIPA student at Columbia. Seems the ambitious young things studying IR and considering a foreign service careers are being warned not to touch Cablegate:

From: "Office of Career Services" <sipa_ocs@columbia.edu>

Date: November 30, 2010 15:26:53 ESTTo: 

Hi students,

We received a call today from a SIPA alumnus who is working at the State Department.  He asked us to pass along the following information to anyone who will be applying for jobs in the federal government, since all would require a background investigation and in some instances a security clearance.

The documents released during the past few months through Wikileaks are still considered classified documents. He recommends that you DO NOT post links to these documents nor make comments on social media sites such as Facebook or through Twitter. Engaging in these activities would call into question your ability to deal with confidential information, which is part of most positions with the federal government.

Regards,
Office of Career Services

I wonder if the same thing is taking place at Georgetown, Harvard, Tufts and other major recruitment centers for government service. 

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Growth is good for dictators

Here's an interesting theory courtesy of The Monkey Cage:

Contractions in economic outputs due to drought increase the likelihood of democratic reform while short-term weather-related jumps in output decrease that likelihood. That is the core finding of a new article in the American Economic Journal: Macroeconomics by Paul Burke and Andrew Leigh (ungated version here, h/t to Kevin Lewis). The effects are substantial. The authors estimate that a one-year recession in an autocratic nation that reduced GDP per capita growth by 6 percentage points increases that country's probability of undergoing significant democratic reform in the next year by 8 percentage points. The authors are careful to point out that these are short-term effects that do not necessarily tell us anything about long-term relationships between income and democracy. That is: shocks in economic outputs may determine the timing of regime change rather than whether a country eventually becomes (and stays) more democratic.

I wonder if you were to track agricultural output and (as much as they can be quantified) democratic openings and closings in the Arab world, you would find such a correlation. Could the current regression seen in Morocco be explained by good crops in the last year, contributing to decent GDP growth? Can you explain the opening of 2004-2006 by a poorly performing economy in 1999-2003 that demanded that a new management team be put in place (in the shape of the Nazif government)? Did Egypt's relatively strong performance (in terms of GDP growth) between 2005 and now make it easier for the regime to pull back from that opening?

Interesting questions all, but I would still look first to specific contingencies: electoral cycles, the policies of external actors, psychology of key regime actors, etc.