The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Posts tagged democracy
Books in the mail

I just received a copy of No Exit, Yoav Di-Capua's new book on Sartre and Arab intellectuals (it is essentially an intellectual history of the post-colonial Arab world) and its cover is very, very cool. I very much enjoyed Di-Capua's last book, Gatekeepers of the Arab Past, a great historiography and was happy to meet him in Austin (where he teaches at the University of Texas) on the sidelines of South By Southwest a few years ago. It'll be some more rigorous reading than I'm doing now (I've been devouring Cixin Liu's The Three-Body Problem sci-fi series, see great reviews here and here) but looking forward to it.

Also recently received are two books on Morocco (and Jordan) – it's relatively rare that you get serious and in-depth English-language scholarship on Morocco, so good to see that – and a collected volume edited by Alfred Stepan including many A-listers and friends (Rached Ghannouchi, Carrie Wickham, Nathan Brown, Monica Marks, Radwan Masmoudi, etc.) that looks at the Egypt vs. Tunisia question post-Arab Spring. With chapter titles like "The roots of Egypt's constitutional catastrophe", it's pure Arabist geek-bait.

Democracy in Egypt: Always A Reason to Wait

The Atlantic Council translates a recent column by Amr Hamzawy -- one of the very few true liberals in Egypt --  in Shurouq newspaper:

From the mid-1900s until now, many different issues have been used to complete the argument that democracy must be postponed because “nothing is more important than such and such issue.” The issues that have completed this argument have included: national independence, development and preparing the people to practice democracy, socialism, the liberation of Palestine, confronting Zionism and imperialism, the battle to liberate the territory of the nation, economic well-being, stability, the preservation of the national state, and the war against terrorism. 
...
In turn, these tactics are used to propagate a third illusion that contributes to the current siege on the concept of democracy in Egypt: the illusion of “national necessity.” Through this illusion, authoritarianism can effectively ensure its continued grip on power.  Prior to and following the summer of 2013, my writings consistently warned of the authoritarian trend behind the claims that the military intervention in politics on July 3 was an “act of necessity” and that the former Minister of Defense, Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, was participating in the presidential elections as the “candidate of necessity,” later to become the “president of necessity” following the announcement of the election results. These claims of “necessity” are truly authoritarian, as they – in the best of cases – justify departing from democracy, based on the pretext that there was no alternative to an intervention by the military establishment in politics, even when the alternative of holding early presidential elections certainly was possible. In the worst of cases, such claims of “necessity” effectively strip citizens of the right to freely choose their leaders through elections by legitimizing the presidential candidate backed by the system of rule (or its lists and candidates in the upcoming parliamentary elections) as a matter of “national necessity.”
That never-ending path to democracy
protests.jpg

Yesterday, as a who's-who of Egyptian activists and human rights workers was harassed and detained for peacefully protesting, I thought back to US Secretary of State John Kerry's remarks when he visited Egypt earlier this. Kerry glibly subscribed to the version of events of a government that -- on the official state information service web site no less -- compares Morsi to Hitler and claims Egypt has "saved the world from terrorism," and spoke of progress and challenges and Egypt's oh-so-promising roadmap. I couldn't help annotating part of his joint statement with Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy:

Nothing will help bring the people of Egypt together more or provide more economic stability or provide more confidence in the future than an Egypt that is participating in a democratically elected government that is brought about through inclusive, free, and fair elections [There is a very strong chance the Muslim Brotherhood will be excluded from the upcoming elections and from political life generally. April 6, one of the country’s most respected grassroots youth groups, has been denied permission to monitor the elections]. And we will support the interim government and the Egyptian people in that end.

Minister Fahmy and I agreed on the need to ensure that Egyptians are afforded due process with fair and transparent trials, civilians tried in a civilian court [The constitutional assembly has approved an article in the new Egyptian constitution that allows military trials for civilians]. And we discussed the need for all violence to end. All acts of terror in Egypt must come to an end – all acts – for Egyptians to be able to exercise restraint and the need for accountability for those acts of violence.

I mentioned to the Minister that, obviously, part of the roadmap and part of the process of strengthening Egypt’s linkages to the rest of the world will be measured in the way in which the people of Egypt are sustained in their ability to have the right to assemble, the right to express themselves [a new law aggressively restricting the right to protest was issued Monday]. But even as they do that, we also agreed no one should be allowed to practice violence with impunity [Does that include police violence for which no one has been held accountable yet?].

Kerry avoided mentioning Rabaa, Morsi (whose trial was about to start) or indeed the Muslim Brotherhood at all. A few days later he apparently said they “stole” the revolution, a remark that was greeted with satisfaction by the interim government here and with indignation by the Brotherhood. 

The problem with saying the Brotherhood stole the revolution is that it’s a gross simplification (for one thing it doesn’t give credit to all the other dedicated thieves who have been at work the last three years) that completely contradicts US officials’ previous statements. 

June 24, 2012 White House Statement:

The United States congratulates Dr. Mohamed Morsi on his victory in Egypt’s Presidential election, and we congratulate the Egyptian people for this milestone in their transition to democracy.

We look forward to working together with President-elect Morsi and the government he forms, on the basis of mutual respect, to advance the many shared interests between Egypt and the United States.  We believe that it is important for President-elect Morsi to take steps at this historic time to advance national unity by reaching out to all parties and constituencies in consultations about the formation of a new government. We believe in the importance of the new Egyptian government upholding universal values, and respecting the rights of all Egyptian citizens – including women and religious minorities such as Coptic Christians.  Millions of Egyptians voted in the election, and President-elect Morsi and the new Egyptian government have both the legitimacy and responsibility of representing a diverse and courageous citizenry.

Ambassador Anne Patterson, April 28, 2013

As Secretary Kerry said last week to our Congress, the Egyptian military deserves a lot of credit for turning over the government to civilians and returning to its core mission of protecting the country.  And, there is no going back, either to military rule -- which the highly professional Egyptian military rejects -- or to an authoritarian ruler who interferes in the daily life of Egyptians and curtails their freedoms.  Let me be clear: a military intervention is not the answer, as some would claim.  Neither the Egyptian military nor the Egyptian people will accept it as an outcome.

Ambassador Anne Patterson, June 8, 2013

This is the government that you and your fellow citizens elected.  Even if you voted for others, I don’t think the elected nature of this government is seriously in doubt.  Throughout Egypt’s post-revolution series of elections, the United States took the position that we would work with whoever won elections that met international standards, and this is what we have done. 

During his recent visit, Kerry also stepped away from concerns he and president Obama's had voiced just a few months before: 

President Obama, July 3 2013

Nevertheless, we are deeply concerned by the decision of the Egyptian Armed Forces to remove President Morsy and suspend the Egyptian constitution. I now call on the Egyptian military to move quickly and responsibly to return full authority back to a democratically elected civilian government as soon as possible through an inclusive and transparent process, and to avoid any arbitrary arrests of President Morsy and his supporters. 

John Kerry, July 6

The only solution to the current impasse is for all parties to work together peacefully to address the many legitimate concerns and needs of the people and to ensure Egypt has a government that is responsive to the aspirations of the millions of Egyptians who have taken to the streets to demand a better future. Lasting stability in Egypt will only be achieved through a transparent and inclusive democratic process with participation from all sides and all political parties. This process must also ensure that the rights of all Egyptian men and women are protected, including the right to peaceful assembly, due process, and free and fair trials in civilian courts.

The fact that democracy promotion is part of the US’ diplomatic rhetoric but actually low on the list of US priorities in Egypt -- and indeed anywhere -- is so blindingly obvious I’m embarrassed to restate the fact. The disingenuousness of our foreign policy is one of the reasons behind anti-US sentiment, although fomenting anti-Americanism is also a recurring, effective populist move here. 

US officials have largely let pass the abuses of Mubarak, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, the Morsi government, and the current army-backed government, in a rush to be on good working terms. The new Egyptian government has repeatedly ignored US criticism or exhortations, knowing we are not willing to damage our strategic relationship over niceties like human rights abuses. We are caught again and again mouthing principle and practicing expediency. 

There are two common misperceptions in Egypt vis-a-vis the United States. One is an overestimation of its power: because the US is powerful, it is assumed to be all-powerful. The other delusion is that the US cares enough about Egypt to actively take sides in its political struggles -- whereas all it cares about is that those struggles are resolved and a winner it can deal with emerges expeditiously. 

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, March 2009:

Secretary Clinton: I really consider President and Mrs. Mubarak to be friends of my family. So I hope to see him often here in Egypt and in the United States.

Question: How do you view the presidency in Egypt, the future of the presidency in Egypt?

Clinton: That’s for the people of Egypt to decide. That is a very important issue that really is up to Egyptians.

Which meant then, as it does now: We’re going to wait and see if anyone can wrestle power from him. In which case we’ll get on board -- err, we’ll candidly discuss the challenges ahead on the path to democracy -- with that guy.

The thin line between democracy and autocracy

From David Runciman's essay on the European crisis, Will we be all right in the end?, in the LRB:

If elections are not the answer, then what explains the ability of the world’s leading democracies to survive crises, something which has been demonstrated time and again over the last century? My best guess is that their crucial advantage lies in being more politically flexible than the alternatives. That is, in a crisis democracies can experiment with autocracy but autocracies can’t experiment with democracy, not even in small doses. They daren’t, for fear of losing control. This is the real problem for the Chinese system. At some point, perhaps at some point quite soon, China’s leaders will face a critical situation in which they would be better off if they could find an outlet for popular dissatisfaction with the regime. But they will be extremely nervous of opening that door for fear of what lies behind it. So they will be stuck. Democracies can put democracy on hold and get away with it; if autocrats suspend their autocratic powers, they tend not to get them back.

That’s the good news for democracy. People who have announced that Europe’s current experiments with technocracy are a fundamental betrayal of democratic principles are being premature: it could work. But here’s the bad news: there is no guarantee that it will work. The conditions have to be right. The historical evidence suggests that democracies can be flexible only under certain circumstances. To start with, they must not be too poor. In countries where per capita GDP falls below a certain level (usually estimated at around US $7000), democratic experiments with emergency rule often end in disaster. It’s the temporary autocrats who don’t give power back. Political scientists take these thresholds very seriously. Above the line, democracies appear pretty much invulnerable, but below it, even safe-looking democracies might suddenly collapse into something worse. During the economic contraction of the mid-1970s per capita GDP in New Zealand fell perilously close to the cut-off point (it got down to about $10,000). It is hard to imagine what a military coup in 1970s New Zealand would have looked like. But it’s not impossible to imagine. And it’s certainly not hard to imagine what a military coup in 1970s Greece would have looked like.

The pessimists' view on Egypt

My academic friends Josh Stacher and Jason Brownlee, both noted students of contemporary Egypt and its authoritarianism, have a new piece in Comparative Democratization, a journal of the American Political Science Association. It's available as a PDF here. They set out the case that Egypt's prospects for a democratic transition are poor because there has not really been a split in the country's elite. (It's a lot more complicated than that, but it's difficult to pull out a representative passage as it's an academic piece — so best to read it all.)

I am much more optimistic than they are — and I suspect they might have been a bit more optimistic too had they had written their paper a month or so later (it looks like it was filed in April). They described the referendum as an endorsement of the SCAF but that narrative is now being reconsidered and debated, notably on the question of the SCAF's disingenuous use of the referendum as an endorsement of its transition plan (rather than, strictly speaking, nine amendments to the constitution). The fight regarding security officials and leading party members is also continuing, receiving an important boost as far as the NDP is concerned after April 8. Everything about the current moment is in flux, and while one should not have unrealistic expectations, there is a real desire for an improvement.

To say, as they do, that the current interim regime is just as authoritarian eludes the fact that this is a necessarily extraordinary transitional moment in Egyptian politics. I just don't see how it can be compared to the Mubarak era, even if it's still far from democratic. Still, it's a piece well worth reading.

Let's buy democracy

A high-powered delegation of U.S. officials visited Cairo last month to find ways to support the revolution. They, along with diplomatic and development officials, have been working quietly, meeting with residents, activists and the leadership, and asking how best to spend the $150 million that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has said would soon be available to help shore up the economy and provide technical assistance in the move toward democracy.

By the time the U.S. delegation departed, no Egyptian pro-democracy organizations had asked for assistance.

No doubt in due time they'll find the usual opportunistic organizations that only exist because aid has been earmarked to suck at their teat. But I find nothing more sordid than the idea of "political party development" — if a political movement is not organized enough to launch a party, of which there have been plenty in Egypt's history, then it does not deserve to be a party. Let it fail, others will succeed. If any aid has to be accepted, I'd much rather see it go to a NGO dedicated to collecting, assessing and conserving State Security documents (and linking them with US ones through Freedom of Information requests.)

In the meantime aid money is much better spent on restoring the world's support in the economies of Egypt and Tunisia — guaranteeing loans, working on improving risk ratings, etc.

The Casablanca Call for Democracy and Human Rights

We, the signatories to this call, as politicians, intellectuals and civil society advocates, believe that the achievement of democracy and the embodiment of human rights in the Arab world is an absolute necessity and requires a broader engagement of all citizens and political and social forces. We observe, with great concern, the dramatic and alarming backsliding of political reforms in the Arab world, due to several structural obstacles since the beginning of the new century. We hereby appeal to all parties concerned with the future of democracy - governments, civil society institutions, political organizations, trade unions, and the media - in the belief that the achievement of real and effective reforms is the responsibility of all parties.

We affirm that confronting the various obstacles that continue to prevent the achievement of a peaceful transfer of power requires the following:

1- An immediate undertaking of profound and effective political reforms that respect the rule of law and institutional integrity based on the principle of separation of powers. This must be done in accordance with the principle of peoples' sovereignty, respect for human rights and freedoms, and by confirming the ballot box as the only legitimate method of achieving a peaceful transfer of power, and ensuring the transparency of the electoral process, accepting its results, and enhancing the efforts of independent monitors in accordance with international standards;

2- Protection of an independent judiciary as a top priority for democratic change, as a prerequisite for the protection of human rights and freedoms, and as the guarantor for the supremacy of the rule of law and state institutions;

3- The immediate release of all political prisoners - numbering in the thousands in various Arab prisons - and putting an end to political trials of any kind, torture of political opponents, and the practice of kidnapping;

4- Enabling and encouraging political parties and trade unions to engage in their right to organize freely, use all available media outlets, take advantage of public funding, and be free of any interference of the state apparatus in their affairs;

5- Acknowledgment of the right of civil society organizations to perform their advocacy roles freely and effectively, having their independence and privacy duly respected, their internal affairs not disrupted, and their sources of financial support kept open and active. We call upon all Arab governments to engage with civil society organizations in real a partnerships to achieve sustainable human development and to empower women and youth to take part in the development process;

6- Guarantee of freedom of expression, free access of the media and journalists to information and news sources. The respect for the independence of journalists' syndicates and allowing them to disseminate information and opinion without censorship, and undue administrative, or judicial pressures, and the abolishment of the imprisonment penalty in cases against journalists;

7- Development of mechanisms to ensure the neutrality of state institutions and their placement in the direct service of their constituents regardless of political allegiances, and without interference in the affairs of political parties and civil society organizations;

8- Mobilization of all forces and efforts to comply with good governance, political integrity and transparency, and combating corruption as an unethical social, political, and economic phenomenon that has turned administrative corruption into a system for administering corruption. We believe this undermines development efforts, drains national resources, and threatens social peace;

9- Summoning of the private sector to play its role in the contribution to political reforms, the preservation of freedoms and to strive for social justice, affirming the strong link between development and democracy, and ensuring transparency and free and fair competition;

10- Supporting efforts to achieve national reconciliation and unity and avoid the dangers that threaten unity, and feed the sectarian, religious, ethnic, and political conflicts that destabilize Arab states and societies;

11- Appealing to democratic forces in the entire world to put pressure on their own governments to refrain from supporting non-democratic regimes in the Arab world, and from adopting double standards in their relations with Arab regimes;

12- Reaffirmation of the interconnectedness of political reform with the renewal of religious thought, which requires support for, and expansion of, the practice of ijtihad in a climate of complete freedom of thought, under democratic systems of government. Furthermore, we support the dialogue that began several years ago between Islamists and secularists at the local and regional levels and emphasize the importance of continuing such endeavors in order to provide solid ground for the protection of democracy and human rights from any political or ideological setbacks.

Foreign Aid for Scoundrels

Foreign Aid for Scoundrels by William Easterly | The New York Review of Books:

The international aid system has a dirty secret. Despite much rhetoric to the contrary, the nations and organizations that donate and distribute aid do not care much about democracy and they still actively support dictators. The conventional narrative is that donors supported dictators only during the cold war and ever since have promoted democracy. This is wrong.

. . .

In any case, dictators have received a remarkably constant share—around a third—of international aid expenditures since 1972. The proportion of aid received by democracies has remained stuck at about one fifth (the rest are in a purgatory called “Partly Free” by Freedom House). As for US foreign aid, despite all the brave pronouncements such as the ones I’ve quoted, more than half the aid budget still went to dictators during the most recent five years for which figures are available (2004–2008).

And there are still modern-day counterparts to Mobutu and Bokassa. Paul Biya, the dictator of Cameroon, is marking his twenty-eighth year in power in 2010 by receiving the latest in a never-ending series of loans from the International Monetary Fund with imaginative labels like “Poverty Reduction Growth Facilities.” Biya, whose government also enjoys ample oil revenues, has received a total of $35 billion in foreign aid during his reign. There’s been neither poverty reduction nor growth in his country: the average Cameroonian is poorer today than when Biya took power in 1982.

In February 2008, Biya’s security forces killed one hundred people during a demonstration against food price increases and also against a constitutional amendment that will extend his rule to 2018. Many of the victims were “apparently shot in the head at point-blank range.” The IMF justification for the newest loan in June 2009 noted laconically that these “social tensions” have not recurred and “the political situation is stable.”

NSC killing time, talking about Egypt

Laura Rozen of Politico has gotten us the details of the recent Working Group on Egypt meeting with the National Security Council (including grandees Dan Shapiro, Dennis Ross and Samantha Power) which gives us some ruminations about what new take on democracy promotion the Obama administration might take. Considering it has been consistently ignored when making public (or private) statements I fear this will take the kind of initiative that would be completely unnatural to Washington. I also love Rozen's last paragraph, which suspects that dealing with the Egypt question was merely a form relaxation for a White House that definitely asks a lot of its allies, but never gets anything. In this way Israel and Egypt are similar.

It may also be a sign as well that Ross and Shapiro basically had both time and reason to devote to the issue because the Israeli-Palestinian peace process is currently on hold, and the Obama administration is “looking for a positive agenda in the region to talk about," a participant posited. The Obama administration is also concerned, he suggested, that its previous diplomatic efforts to press Cairo in private conversations and in written statements to repeal its Emergency Law and to accept international elections monitors have been rejected or ignored.

I am rather concerned, though, to see that not was Working Group member Elliott Abrams attending, but also another prominent Israel lobbyist, Rob Satloff of WINEP. I figure these guys will support US pressure on Egypt as a means of getting even more pro-Israel positions from Cairo, which will turn to the Lobby to defend itself if it really gets into trouble with Obama. This is after all what happened when Ariel Sharon was PM.

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.

Clinton urged to press Egypt on freedoms
But will she listen?A group of former officials, human rights activists and Egypt experts have written to Secretary Clinton urging her to take the strongest stance on democracy in Egypt (or rather, the lack thereof) in the wake of Mubarak's illness and the coming presidential succession. The suggestions are below, and in a sense go further than even the Bush administration has gone. It is also a sober reminder that the Obama administration has basically done nothing on this issue since it came to power.
The key demands are changes to eligibility for elections, including presidential ones, which echo the call of Mohammed ElBaradei and other democracy activists. The call for international observers is also an entirely new step not adopted in 2005. Here are the recommendations:

Thus, for the upcoming legislative elections in June (upper house of parliament) and November 2010 (lower house), we urge you to consider the following:

  • Raising with the Egyptian government—privately but at the highest level—the U.S. hope and expectation that Egypt will hold genuinely competitive elections. Specifically:
    • All candidates, including opposition and independents, should be allowed to register and campaign freely, with access to the media.
    • The government should permit and facilitate monitoring by Egyptian NGOs and international observers.
    • Security forces should keep a distance from polling places and allow voters free access.
  • Allocating adequate assistance funds to support domestic and international monitors directly
  • Stating publicly that the United States government hopes to see free and fair elections that allow genuine and open competition

Looking toward the 2011 presidential election, the United States should also urge the Egyptian government to undertake legal and constitutional reforms to facilitate much broader voter participation and ease requirements for candidates to get on the ballot.  With more than a year to go, there is ample time for such changes. 

Madame Secretary, we urge you to take a leadership role on this issue. We believe a more democratic Egypt is in the interest of both the United States and Egypt, as such reforms would contribute to economic development and a safer region. With those goals in mind, we strongly encourage you to advance this agenda.

My only reservation about this letter is that Elliott Abrams, a man who encouraged the Bush administration to engage in criminal conspiracies against an elected government in Palestine, is a signatory. He is a disgrace to the United States. But it's good that this group has spoken out on this matter when we've seen over a year of dithering on these issues and a series of wrong-headed signals, from hosting Obama's speech to the Muslim world in Cairo to accepting restrictions on NGO funding.

Speaking of which, the excellent Stephen McInerney of POMED has a brief alerting on democracy spending in Egypt, picking up on a scathing USAID audit of democracy and governance spending:

A clear lesson from the USAID audit is that the less the Egyptian government is involved with democracy and governance programming, the greater the opportunity for such programming to succeed. Many supporters of democracy hoped that, in response to this audit, USAID would reverse the sharp cuts in funding for civil society and its decision to fund only registered NGOs.  The new budget request for 2011, however, ignores key conclusions of the audit and continues in the direction of increased funding for programs done in conjunction with the Egyptian government and decreased funding given directly to civil society.  To be fair, other U.S. government institutions (such as the Department of State’s Middle East Partnership Initiative and Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor) provide support for civil society and political competition but their resources are extremely limited as compared with those expended by USAID.

Do read the whole thing.

Rami Khouri on Rodham-Clinton

Rami Khouri — whom I consider one the most thoughtful and analytically incisive Arab commentators around — gives Hillary Clinton a well-deserved putdown. Here's his very articulate take:

Two Clinton statements during her Gulf trip this week were particularly revealing of why Washington continues to fail in its missions in our region. The first was her expression of concern that Iran is turning into a military dictatorship: “We see that the government of Iran, the supreme leader, the president, the Parliament, is being supplanted, and that Iran is moving toward a military dictatorship,” Clinton said.

Half a century of American foreign policy flatly contradicts this sentiment (which is why Clinton heard soft chuckles and a few muffled guffaws as she spoke). The US has adored military dictatorships in the Arab world, and has long supported states dominated by the shadowy world of intelligence services. This became even more obvious after the attacks of September 11, 2001, when Washington intensified cooperation with Arab intelligence services in the fight against Al-Qaeda and other terror groups. 

Washington’s closest allies in the Middle East are military and police states where men with guns rule, and where citizens are confined to shopping, buying cellular telephones, and watching soap operas on satellite television. Countries like Egypt, Jordan, Tunisia, Libya, as well as the entire Gulf region and other states are devoted first and foremost to maintaining domestic order and regime incumbency through efficient, multiple security agencies, for which they earn American friendship and cooperation. When citizens in these and other countries agitate for more democratic and human rights, the US is peculiarly inactive and quiet. 

If Iran is indeed becoming a military dictatorship, this probably qualifies it for American hugs and aid rather than sanctions and threats. Clinton badly needs some more credible talking points than opposing military dictatorships. (Extra credit question for hard-core foreign policy analysts: Why is it that when Turkey slipped out of military rule into civilian democratic governance, it became more critical of the US and Israel?) 

The second intriguing statement during Clinton’s Gulf visit was about Iran’s neighbors having three options for dealing with the “threat” from Iran: “They can just give in to the threat; or they can seek their own capabilities, including nuclear; or they ally themselves with a country like the United States that is willing to help defend them. I think the third is by far the preferable option.”

This sounds reasonable, but it is not an accurate description of the actual options that the Arab Gulf states have. It is mostly a description of how American and Israeli strategic concerns and slightly hysterical biases are projected onto the Gulf states’ worldviews. These states in fact have a fourth option, which is to negotiate seriously a modus vivendi with Iran that removes the “threat” from their perceptions of Iran by affirming the core rights and strategic needs of both sides, thus removing mutual threat perceptions. 

Middle Easterners don't need more regional Cold Wars and US backing of dictators, we need a reasonable American disengagement from force-projection in the region and a regional security system that is not imposed by an outside player. Americans need it too, considering how much of their budget they blow on Middle Eastern adventurism, aid for regimes that don't deserve it, subsidies for the defense industry — and of course the ill-will the last two decades' policies have generated.

Links for Jan.10.10 to Jan.11.10
“Lorsque je commençais mon enquête sur le tourisme au Sahara marocain, je n’imaginais pas être prise à témoin d’échanges sexuels” « Ibn Kafka's obiter dicta – divagations d'un juriste marocain en liberté surveillée | On sexual tourism in Western Sahara.
What the "Eurabia" Authors Get Wrong About Islam in Europe - By Justin Vaïsse | Foreign Policy | Critique of Eurabia theory.
The Trials of Tony Judt - The Chronicle Review - The Chronicle of Higher Education |
U.S. to store $800m in military gear in Israel - Haaretz | To keep in mind in context of Iran.
Israel and Iran: The gathering storm | The Economist | Interesting story with background on Osirak bombing, Israeli prospects against Iran.
Executive | Magazine has new books section.
Strong reaction to warning of coup - The National Newspaper | Iraqis react to UK ambassador's testimony to Chilcot Enquiry that coup to purge Iran influence still possible in Iraq.
the arabophile | New blog.
Joe Sacco: Graphic History | Mother Jones | Interview with the cartoonist and author of "Footnotes from Gaza."
High cost of living means more unmarried in Egypt | Bikya Masr | Stats on why Egyptians are marrying later.
Arab Reform Initiative | Report on constitutional reforms in the Arab world.
The architecture of apartheid | SocialistWorker.org | On the bantustanization of Palestine.
The Venture of Marty Peretz’s bigotry: Arabs, Muslims, Berbers and more « The Moor Next Door | Kal on the New Republic editor's Islamophobia.
The Forgotten Recantation — jihadica | Interesting post on the recantation of Abbud al-Zommor.
'Bush sold Arab states arms in violation of deal with Israel' - Haaretz - Israel News | Obama, more pro-Israel than Bush: "The Bush administration violated security related agreements with Israel in which the U.S. promised to preserve the IDF's qualitative edge over Arab armies, according to senior officials in the Obama administration and Israel."

Links for 10.14.09 to 10.18.09
Is Obama giving up on democracy in Iran? | Because Haaretz really, really cares.
'Delegitimization of Israel must be delegitimized' | Great pic on this FLC post.
Al Jazeera English - Focus - Leadership 'let down' Palestinians | As`ad AbuKhalil.
ANALYSIS / U.S. using Goldstone report to punish Netanyahu - Haaretz - Israel News | Ridiculous argument.
Egypt: 29 years between a president and his heir | Bikya Masr | Ayman Nour on Mubarak's Egypt.
Nationalism in the Gulf State | A LSE paper on GCC nationalism by Neil Partrick.
In Morocco, editor imprisoned, court shutters paper - Committee to Protect Journalists | al-Michaal newspaper closed over articles on king's health. Also rumors of closing down of Le Journal, TBC.
ei: EI exclusive video: Protesters shout down Ehud Olmert in Chicago | "The demonstration was mobilized last week after organizers learned of the lecture, paid for by a grant provided by Jordan's King Abdullah II."
FT.com / UK - Storm over Egypt's Israeli links | On the Hala Mustafa / normalization debate.
Citing Work Of Right-Wing Intern Spy, GOP Accuses Muslim Group Of Infiltrating Hill With Intern 'Spies' | TPMMuckraker | "Four House Republicans are charging that the Council on American Islamic Relations is infiltrating Capitol Hill with undercover interns, and they're basing the charge on a WND-published book that itself is based on the work of a man who posed as a Muslim to infiltrate CAIR as ... an intern!"
Confessions of an AIPAC Veteran | Helena Cobban profiles Israel operative Tom Dine.
Brian Whitaker's blog | The son also rises | Seif Qadhafi gets put in charge of, well, almost everything.
First Egyptian School Closes For Swine Flu - Daily News | Mere de Dieu girls' school -- a stone's throw from Arabist HQ -- closed.
U.S. Iran plan is a bunker-busting bomb - thestar.com | That's not very nice.
Links for 08.09.09 to 08.13.09
Moises Naim -- A New Recipe for Autocrats Around The World - washingtonpost.com | Some good stuff there, but he goes to easy on Mossad and the CIA - they would not be scapegoats if it wasn't sometimes true!
The Groping Elephant in the Room: Sexual Harassment in the Arab World « the long slumber | More from The Long Slumber on sexual harassment in the Arab word - recommended, thought-provoking reading.
شارك - حوار مفتوح لشباب مصر مع جمال مبارك | Tell me this man is not running for president...
Fiji Water: Spin the Bottle | Mother Jones | Nothing to do with the Middle East, but outrageous.
BBC NEWS | Middle East | Frustrated dreams of young Egyptians | Living in the City of the Dead: "I dream of leaving this place. One day we will buy a new home and pretend we have lived there all our lives."
Get Good at Arabic « MediaShack | Good tips on picking up the lingo - this method really works although it means you must be disciplined and dedicated (and have no other job, ideally). Even if it might seem a tiny bit exploitative.
'Just World News' with Helena Cobban: Agha, Malley, and some other ideas | Helena Cobban's critique of the Malley/Agha op-ed, saying it's quite banal. Well yes and no: it's banal because experts and many Israelis and Palestinians have known it for a long time (that it's about 1948), but it's still important to reiterate the point because politicians (in Israel/Palestine, among the two diasporas and among foreigners) still pretend otherwise.
Op-Ed Contributors - The Two-State Solution Doesn’t Solve Anything - NYTimes.com | Malley and Agha say it's all about 1948: "For years, virtually all attention has been focused on the question of a future Palestinian state, its borders and powers. As Israelis make plain by talking about the imperative of a Jewish state, and as Palestinians highlight when they evoke the refugees’ rights, the heart of the matter is not necessarily how to define a state of Palestine. It is, as in a sense it always has been, how to define the state of Israel."
Les ministres israéliens divisés sur la libération de Marwan Barghouti - Proche-Orient - Le Monde.fr | Israelis pols split about whether or not to free Marwan Barghouti.
Dar Al Hayat - Ayoon Wa Azan (Why Are Men Allowed to Wear Dresses?) | Jihad al-Khazen suggests (jokingly?) that Gulf Arabs buy up the Observer, which is shutting down (alas, although perhaps they shouldn't have spent so much money on stupid lifestyle supplements and Nigella Lawson pageantry.)
Will the leader of Lebanon's Druze really form an alliance with Hezbollah? - By Lee Smith - Slate Magazine | Weird Slate story in whcih Walid Jumblatt is celebrated as hero, disowns his old friends, and they react: "His former American friends are not amused. "I don't believe for a minute that he's sorry he met with the dreaded neocons, and I'm sorry he feels somehow compelled to say that," said Elliott Abrams, the Bush administration's deputy national security adviser for global democracy strategy. "I just hope he keeps sending all of us that nice wine from the Bekaa.""
Three soldiers, Al-Qaeda leader killed in Yemeni clashes - AL SHORFA | Note that this site is funded by US Central Command. I don't know much about Yemen, but isn't it rather odd to refer to the insurgents in Yemen to al-Qaeda (as opposed to people motivated by local grievances, as a recent International Crisis Group report argued)?
Le Figaro - International : Mauritanie : attentat suicidedevant l'ambassade de France | Suicide bombing outside French embassy in Mauritania.