The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Posts tagged teaparty
Maybe the Salafis are the Tea Party after all

Good piece in the NYT (headline in reference to this post):

But when a few hundred men gathered last week in a narrow, trash-strewn lot between the low cinderblock buildings of this village near Cairo, what they heard from the sheiks, known as Salafis, was a blistering populist attack on the condescension of the liberal Egyptian elite that resonated against other Islamists as well.

“They think that it is them, and only them, who represent and speak for us,” Sheik Shaaban Darwish said through scratchy speakers. “They didn’t come to our streets, didn’t live in our villages, didn’t walk in our hamlets, didn’t wear our clothes, didn’t eat our bread, didn’t drink our polluted water, didn’t live in the sewage we live in and didn’t experience the life of misery and hardship of the people.”

“Brothers,” he continued, “we, the Salafis, the founders of Al Nour Party, were part of the silent majority.”

Except the senior Nour Party official I met a few months ago, who very kindly drove me to Alexandria's train station, has a rather swanky BMW. And I bet Sheikh Mohammed Hassan or Sheikh Yasser Borhami don't live among the poor either. 

The interesting thing about the Salafis is that they are more inclusive in some respects than Muslim Brothers, who have an in-group mentality, are difficult to join (and its members are mostly middle class or elite). At Egyptian universities, Salafi groups often formed among marginal people who feel ill at ease with the more urbane, middle class student population (this was particularly the case at Cairo University). The Egyptian uprising of 2011 has unleashed the rage of a highly stratified society where economic privilege is compounded by the lack of rule of law (just look at how the police talk to people who appear upper class — and connected — compared to those who look poor). 

The sad thing is I have yet to see a response from the Egyptian elite that even begins to address this problem — among the liberals or Brothers at least. 

Michele Bachmann: Obama caused the Arab Spring

That's right: a Republican is giving Obama more credit than even his own party will for influencing the "Arab Spring." MSNBC broke the story, capturing footage of Michele Bachmann, GOP presidential hopeful saying that:

"Just like Jimmy Carter in the late 1970s [who] didn’t have the back of the Shah of Iran, we saw the Shah fall and the rise of the Ayatollah. And we saw the rise and the beginnings of radical jihad which have changed this world and changed this nation."

“So too, under Barack Obama, we saw him put a lot of daylight between our relationship with our ally Israel. And when he called on Israel to retreat to its indefensible 1967 borders, don’t think that message wasn’t lost on Israel’s 26 hostile neighbors."

“You want to know why we have an Arab Spring? Barack Obama has laid the table for an Arab Spring by demonstrating weakness from the United States of America."

There are just so many things worth commenting on in this speech, like the strawman of Obama calling Israel "to retreat to its 1967 indefensible borders," and the total historical amnesia surrounding the Iranian Revolution (Khomeini was a dictator, but then, what was the Shah? Oh yes, a dictator, just like the Arab ones Bachmann now bemoans the loss of.). These statements aren't anything we have not heard from Israeli or American officials and pundits before, though. Or the fact that Obama's casus belli "1967 borders" speech postdated the start of popular uprisings in the Arab world.

My favorite parts in this tirade against Obama are the parts where she is sorta-kinda right.

American imperial overreach has indeed helped revolutionaries in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt, but it is not Obama's creation.Decades of support for military dictatorships and monarchies that began in the 1940s are now coming back to bite the U.S. in the ass. And the greatest geopolitical upsets in the region over the past decade —Israel's withdrawal from Gaza and Hama's victory thereafter, Syria's withdrawal from Lebanon, the U.S.-led regime change in Iraq, Operation Cast Lead — all occurred on George W. Bush's watch.

In Tunisia and Egypt, the U.S. resigned itself to the overthrow of Presidents Ben Ali and Mubarak when it became clear that those countries' security apparatuses — whose equipment and paychecks have long depended on U.S. largesse — were positioning themselves to take charge of the countries, not unlike how the Soviets lost big time when their supposedly indomitable Warsaw Pact colleagues made a similar choice in 1989. Without a USSR or Saddam to jockey against, the U.S. and its ruling elite allies in the Arab world have become increasingly hard-pressed to hold together their special relationships. 

One form of "Arab Spring" assistance Obama can credibly claim to have rendered is the decision to launch NATO strikes in support for Libya's NTC (which Bachmann opposed).   

Bachmann's most glaring omission in discussing Obama's role in Arab Spring is quite partisan, and really unfair to Obama: she overlooks his sterling record over the past year in joining hands with the Saudis to assist the Bahraini and Yemeni authorities clamp down on dissent in the name of containing both Iran and al Qaeda. Give the man some credit, Michele: he's no "dhimmi" (as Islamophobes sometimes call him) when it comes to the Persian Gulf. He, or rather, our riot gear and munitions, are standing up for our interests there.

My other favorite part is how she says that Obama "put a lot of daylight between our relationship with our ally Israel." Tsk tsk, look how his attempt to give Netanyahu a tongue-lashing over the settlements emboldened those perfidious Arabs. Fortunately, Israel's friends in the U.S. have put the president back on the straight and narrow

"Daylight," i.e., Obama actually attempting public criticism of Israeli policies that have led to increased settlement construction? Or the unremarkable speech he gave a few months ago largely echoing previous administrations' positions on a two-state solution? Criticism that prompted such a furious response from Netanyahu and Congressional Republicans that even former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates lost his temper and called Israel "an ungrateful ally." 

"Daylight" is indeed the last thing any American alliance in the Middle East can withstand. Bachmann has hit the nail on the head, though it was probably unintentional (especially when her foreign policy aide, neocon Frank Gaffney, is such a committeddemocratizer).

I have to admit, her refusal to even pay lip service to the whole "America wants democracy in the Middle East" meme is refreshingly honest. She sees democratization in the region quite accurately — as a threat to U.S. hegemony. And regarding the Shah, she also correctly surmises that if the U.S. gives even an inch over its client states undemocratic behavior, the people of those states will seize a mile from us and our cronies



The Rio Grande, the Jordan and the Hudson

Hoo boy. It's going to be a real a Zionist lovefest in NYC today as the GOP, members of the Israel lobby and Likud convene at 10am on Tuesday, September 20th in the W Hotel in Manhattan. Their rally/press conference will be led by GOP presidential hopeful Rick Perry and KM Danny Danon. From JPost:

"Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry will hold a press conference with American and Israeli-Jewish leaders in New York on Tuesday in which he is expected to address the upcoming deliberations at the United Nations, MK Danny Danon (Likud), said on Saturday night."

"Danon, who will participate at the press conference, said he would ask Perry ahead of the conference to adopt the initiative the MK is advancing to annex Judea and Samaria in response to the unilateral Palestinian moves at the UN."

Danon, already in the U.S. to speak at nationwide Zionist fundraisers and rallies prior to the UN vote, has proposed an "Annexation for Declaration Initiative," which would "establish full sovereignty over the Jewish communities of the West Bank . . . our historic homeland of Judea and Samaria:"

"Under [my] three-state solution, Arab-Israelis residing within Israel would be welcome to join the official new State of Israel. The remaining enclaves of Palestinian towns and villages in Judea and Samaria would become part of either Egypt or Jordan, and the Egyptian and Jordanian borders would extend accordingly to these designated towns."


"Both Jordan and Egypt have expressed strong support and concern for Palestinians living in the West Bank. If they truly care so much, then they should readily agree to a three-state solution and incorporate the Palestinian towns located adjacent to their current borders."

The Israeli annexations would include the settlements "as a start," and expand to encompass the "empty land" of Area C, a designation for almost 60% of total West Bank territory (less than 10% of the total Palestinian population resides in Area C). The land, susceptible to drought, is at least partly underpopulated by Palestinians because under the Oslo Accords, Area Chas seen:

Demolition of livelihood structures - including commercial structures, educational facilities, wells, water cisterns, water storage tanks, farmland and animal pens - by Israeli authorities in the West Bank and East Jerusalem increased by about 85 percent in 2010 and so far in 2011 . . .


In Area C, Israel retains military authority and full control over the building and planning sphere, while responsibility for the provision of services falls to the PA.

About 70 percent of Area C is classified as a firing zone, settlement areas, or nature reserves, and is inaccessible to Palestinians.

Danon argues all this is right and proper because the land constitutes what was "Judea and Samaria": there's no Palestine, never was and certainly won't be on the Jews' God-given property. So while it is right for South Sudan to pursue statehood, in Danon's opinion ("just like Israel, its people live with a sense of resolve and confidence that their existence is a God-given right", "the creation of this new nation deserves the attention and admiration of the entire international community"), it is not right, not God-given and certainly not admirable for the Palestinians to attempt to do so now or ever, as it will just lead to the establishment of a terrorist state because that's the only state the Palestinians have demonstrated that they want.

"Not to trivialize the Sudanese situation," some might say, "but isn't it a bit disingenuous of Danon to deny meaningful self-determination to the Palestinians while proclaiming his love for South Sudan? He didn't suggest that South Sudan's population should give up because their lands have never constituted a distinct country. Frankly, his plan evokes the spirit of the partititions and population transfers of Poles, Slavs and Eastern European Jews over the past 300 years."

And to these ner' do wells, I simply say: that's showing the Texas spirit, Danny! 

With the spate of "honorary Texan" citizenships Perry has been granting lately, I hope he has saved one for you, because you've earned it!

After all, the U.S. annexed the Republic of Texas fair and square up to the Rio Grande, so why can't Israel realize it's own Manifest Destiny on the Jordan? The land use policies were drawn up by God, after all! And as Perry has noted in the past, Masada is the Alamo and Gaza is Mexico.

In fact, it was exactly the same situation for Texans in the 1830s and 40s as it is for 21st century Israeli settlers, according to Perry: "historian T.R. Fehrenbach once observed that my home state of Texas and Israel share the experience of civilized men and women thrown into new and harsh conditions, beset by enemies," Perry wrote last week. 

Exactly the same - except for the part where Texans actually participated in a referendum over their annexation by the U.S. The non-Israeli residents of Judea and Samaria will presumably not have that luxury, though they will certainly be welcome to vote with their feet on whether they remain in Greater Israel or not.

Yet, as Max Blumenthal has pointed out, Perry's remarks are in fact, too clever by half. According to Blumenthal, what Fehrenbach actually said in his work Lone Star: A History of Texas and the Texans was this:

"The Texan’s attitudes, his inherent chauvinism and the seeds of his belligerence, sprouted from his conscious effort to take and hold his land. It was the reaction of essentially civilized men and women thrown into new and harsh conditions, beset by enemies they despised. The closest 20th-century counterpart is the State of Israel, born in blood in another primordial land."

With that in mind, Danon is even more deserving than Glenn Beck is of an honorary Texan citizenship. Hell, make him an honorary Texas Ranger. Make everyone in Likud (among other parties) an honorary Texas Ranger. They could then do some whistlestop campaigning in the West Bank wearing official badges. 

Yisrael Beitenu's Avigdor Lieberman would probably look good in a bolo tie, and I think spurs would not look out of place on Im Tirtzu jackboots. But I shudder to think what Perry would wear to such a West Bank rally . . . especially as a U.S. president.

The exact location of the event has not been publicly disclosed, though Politico says that from an invite their reporters have seen, the venue is going to be a hotel in the Union Square neighborhood of Manhattan. Perry will also be hosting a fundraisertargeted at Jewish donors in Manhattan this week (which may or may not be part of the venue with Danon on 9/20).

Paging Kal of TMND on the Tea Party

Kal of the Moor Next Door — one of the best blogs on the Maghreb and one of the best English-language Aran world blogs tout court — cites my recent National piece on the Tea Party approvingly, but takes an issue with oen thing:

Issandr is incorrect to describe “all” of the Republican hopefuls as “akin to religious fundamentalists”. There is at least one, Jon Huntsman, who does not fit the mold of the fried Twinkie crowd this year. Huntsman, the Obama administration’s former Ambassador to China, is a middle of the road Mormon from Utah (where he was governor). By virtually any measure he has many fewer remarks about Islam or Muslims than his opponents and none of those one can find reflect the cruel recycled anti-Semitic tropes where “Hebrew” or “Jew” is replaced with “Islamist” or “[crypto-] Muslim” heard on the House floor and at Tea Party rallies. His family appears to fit the stereotype of the western Mormon familybig, happy and wholesome. He has virtually all of the substantive foreign policy experience in the Republican primary field. While wiry, he is convincingly presidential in appearance and speaks responsibly and deliberately. If he were a garment, he would be a size medium.

I did not mean to say that all were religious fundamentalists — in fact I only see Bachmann and possibly Perry as such. It was an editing error — I meant to say that some were fundamentalists, not all, but I messed it up as ?I rewrote before filing. It's an important distinction, because like Kal I have been curious about the candidacy of John Huntsman, the outlier in this crowd. A former ambassador to China, he seems to be the strongest candidare on foreign policy (in terms of expertise rather than "toughness", nowadays the favored Republican barometer) and is certainly the most moderate on many if not all issues. And he has good hair, a capital requirement for the American presidency since Ronald Reagan at least. Superficially speaking, the way I feel about Huntsman is that if he weren't a member of an increasingly radical right-wing party, I would consider voting for him (note that I don't know much about his record in Utah, so that could change quickly). Imagine what swing voters might feel compared to a Bachmann or Perry.

I post about this here because The Moor Next Door no longer seems to have comments did not have comments enabled on that post.