April 25, 2013 § Leave a Comment
Sarah Eltantawi sums up a disappointing ten months in Egypt. This was published at Fair Observer.
As I write this, a Coptic cathedral in Cairo’s Qalioubiyya has been attacked by masked gunmen during a funeral for victims of an earlier sectarian clash. If you had told me one year ago that I would be writing such a sentence about Egypt, I would probably not have believed you. It is not that there hasn’t been a long and worsening problem with sectarian attacks in Egypt – we only need to remember the horrific attack on the church in Alexandria on New Year’s Eve, 2010-2011, which foreshadowed the revolution to put this serious problem in perspective. But masked gunmen firing automatic rifles during a funeral? These were the problems, for example, of post-invasion Iraq, or a Pakistan which has been bedeviled for years now by a steadily failing state.
The Egyptian Government’s Performance
The unelected public prosecutor’s recent issuance of an arrest warrant for the country’s most famous satirist, Bassem Youssef, known as Egypt’s “Jon Stewart” (of the popular American television show “The Daily Show”) for allegedly insulting Mohammed Morsi and insulting Islam is another recent ominous event, not least because there appeared to be little attempt to distinguish the two offenses. What has happened to bring Egypt to this point, just under ten months after the Muslim Brotherhood took power?
Before commencing a short review of the Muslim Brotherhood’s performance thus far, a word on the analytic frame employed to analyze the government’s performance. In what follows, I will list a number of important issues facing Egypt, and give a short synopsis of the progress that has been made or the lack thereof. There are observers of Egypt who would not find such an exercise useful in the first place. Their contention is that it is unrealistic to expect a transitional government to have accomplished much, especially under worsening economic conditions and in the context of a polarized country with a recalcitrant and unfocused opposition.
This is how I felt for the first six months. And while it remains utterly unrealistic to expect the government to have solved the massive problems facing Egypt, it is certainly fair enough to note what the government has been focusing on, what the government has been neglecting, and certain patterns of their actions.
February 11, 2013 § Leave a Comment
Christopher Lydon of the wonderful Radio Open Source interview joins the great Lebanese novelist Elias Khoury for a stimulating discussion on art, politics and literature.
CAIRO — Elias Khoury is the sort of novelist we rely on to tell us what is going on. Himself of Lebanese and Christian antecedents, he wrote Gate of the Sun (1998), a stylized and much-admired fictional account of the Palestinian naqbah or “catastrophe” from 1948 to the infamous Sabra and Shatillah massacres in Lebanon in 1982. Writing, he remarks, is his means of discovering his ignorance and overcoming it.
February 3, 2013 § 1 Comment
My review of Pankaj Mishra’s From the Ruins of Empire which first appeared in Guernica.
As tsar Alexander III sat down for an evening’s entertainment at the St. Petersburg opera house in late 1887, he little knew that the performance would soon be upstaged by one much more dramatic. Shortly after the curtains rose, a slender, goateed man with azure eyes, dressed in robe and turban, got up from a box nearby and proclaimed loudly: “I intend to say the evening prayer—Allah-u-Akbar!” The audience sat bemused and soldiers waited impatiently as the man proceeded, unperturbed, with his evening prayers. His sole companion, the Russian-born intellectual Abdurreshid Ibrahim, squirmed in fear of his life.
Jamal ud-Din al-Afghani was determined to recruit Russian support in his campaign against the British. Having failed to secure an audience with the tsar, he had decided to use his daring as a calling card. The tsar’s curiosity was finally piqued and Afghani had his hearing.
This could be a scene out of Tolstoy or Lermontov; but so extraordinary a figure was Afghani (1838-97) that inserting him into fiction would have compromised verisimilitude. So, renowned essayist and novelist Pankaj Mishra has opted for the genres of historical essay and intellectual biography to profile the lives of Afghani and other equally remarkable figures in From the Ruins of Empire: The intellectuals who remade Asia.
The book is a refreshing break from lachrymose histories of the East’s victimhood and laments about its past glories. It concerns a group of intellectuals who responded to the threat of western dominance with vigour and imagination. Together they engendered the intellectual currents that have shaped the last century of the region’s history. « Read the rest of this entry »
January 17, 2013 § 6 Comments
This was written for the excellent Lobelog.
In August 2012 Egyptian President Muhammad Morsi attended a meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) in Tehran. His presence at the conference was something of a diplomatic victory for the Iranian leadership, whose relations with Egypt, the pivotal Arab state, had been at the lowest of ebbs since the 1979 revolution.
Egypt’s President Sadat laid on a state funeral for the exiled Iranian shah. A Tehran street was later named after Khalid Islambouli, one of Sadat’s assassins. Like every Arab country except Syria, Egypt backed Iraq against Iran in the First Gulf War. Later, Hosni Mubarak opposed Iranian influence in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Palestine, worked with the US and Saudi Arabia against Iran’s nuclear program, and was one of the Arab dictators (alongside the Abdullahs of Jordan and Saudi Arabia) to warn darkly of a rising “Shi’ite cresent”. Not surprisingly, Iran was so overjoyed by the 2011 revolution in Egypt that it portrayed it as a replay of its own Islamic Revolution.
Iran also rhetorically supported the revolutions in Tunisia and Libya, the uprising in Yemen, and, most fervently, the uprising in Shia-majority Bahrain.
In Syria, however, Iran supported the Assad tyranny against a popular revolution even as Assad escalated repression from gunfire and torture to aerial bombardment and missile strikes. Iran provided Assad with a propaganda smokescreen, injections of money to keep regime militias afloat, arms and ammunition, military training, and tactical advice, particularly on neutralising cyber opponents. Many Syrians believe Iranian officers are also fighting on the ground.
November 25, 2012 § 1 Comment
Adam Shatz has a superb piece in the LRB, the best analysis of the changing regional dynamic I’ve read so far. Two passages in particular stand out:
That Netanyahu stopped short of a ground war, and gave in to key demands at the Cairo talks, is an indication not only of Egypt’s growing stature, but of Israel’s weakened position. Its relations with Turkey, once its closest ally in the region and the pillar of its ‘doctrine of the periphery’ (a strategy based on alliances with non-Arab states) have deteriorated with the rise of Erdogan and the AKP. The Jordanian monarchy, the second Arab government to sign a peace treaty with Israel, is facing increasingly radical protests. And though Israel may welcome the fall of Assad, an ally of Hizbullah and Iran, it is worried that a post-Assad government, dominated by the Syrian branch of the Muslim Brothers, may be no less hostile to the occupying power in the Golan: the occasional rocket fire from inside Syria in recent days has been a reminder for Israel of how quiet that border was under the Assad family. Israeli leaders lamented for years that theirs was the only democracy in the region. What this season of revolts has revealed is that Israel had a very deep investment in Arab authoritarianism. The unravelling of the old Arab order, when Israel could count on the quiet complicity of Arab big men who satisfied their subjects with flamboyant denunciations of Israeli misdeeds but did little to block them, has been painful for Israel, leaving it feeling lonelier than ever.It is this acute sense of vulnerability, even more than Netanyahu’s desire to bolster his martial credentials before the January elections, that led Israel into war.
The Palestinians understand that they are no longer facing Israel on their own: Israel, not Hamas, is the region’s pariah. The Arab world is changing, but Israel is not. Instead, it has retreated further behindJabotinsky’s ‘iron wall’, deepening its hold on the Occupied Territories, thumbing its nose at a region that is at last acquiring a taste of its own power, exploding in spasms of high-tech violence that fail to conceal its lack of a political strategy to end the conflict. Iron Dome may shield Israel from Qassam rockets, but it won’t shield it from the future.
August 22, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Ha-Joon Chang: In Conversation
The renowned Cambridge Economist, author of the classic work Kicking Away the Ladder: Development Strategy in Historical Perspective was interviewed in May by Serene Richards, a freelance journalist and Universty of London LLM candidate in International Economic Law Justice and Development.
Nestled amongst the leafy streets of Cambridge is the University’s Economics faculty. This, unassuming, 1960s building, plays host to one of the world’s leading development economists: Ha-Joon Chang. An international best selling author, Chang is no stranger to controversy, he is known for his critical analysis of economic orthodoxy and draws upon economic history in much of his work. His most recent book 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism gallantly contributes to the ongoing critique surrounding our global economic system. In 2005 the South Korean born economist was awarded the Wassily Leontief prize for Advancing the Frontier of Economic Thought for his book “Kicking Away the Ladder”. I enter his office, quaint and amassed with books. His manner, affable and upbeat, we begin.
You co-wrote a paper entitled “Industrial Policy and the Role of the State in Egypt” which outlined an alternative development policy, comparing Egypt to the East Asian experience, can you tell us a little about your vision at the time?
“We wrote it in 1995/4, it was a time when they [the IMF] were accelerating liberalization and privatization. We felt that in a relatively closed economy like what Egypt was before, liberalizing and opening can bring some benefits because you have more competition and foreign exchanges and so on. But we were worried that this brought, at best, short-term benefits. You really need a long-term strategy to take your country to another level. Back in the early 60s Korea and Egypt had similar levels of income, two of the poorest countries in the world. Today Egypt still is a poor country, with a per capita income of $2000 compared to South Korea’s $20,000. So, what happened during those 50 years that made such a huge a difference is an important question. Of course, there were problems with the earlier economic strategy under Nasser. In my view, it was too closed – but, liberalising everything without any strategy and privatising, without any clear view of what should be done was not a very promising strategy. Unfortunately we have been proven right in that sense because they’ve done a lot of things since the 90s, but where did it end up?”
July 15, 2012 § 3 Comments
Protesters threw tomatoes and shoes at Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s motorcade on Sunday during her first visit to Egypt since the election of Islamist President Mohamed Mursi.
A tomato struck an Egyptian official in the face, and shoes and a water bottle landed near the armored cars carrying Clinton’s delegation in the port city of Alexandria.
A senior state department official said that neither Clinton nor her vehicle, which were around the corner from the incident, were struck by any of the projectiles.
Protesters chanted: “Monica, Monica”, a reference to Former President Bill Clinton’s extra-marital affair. Some chanted: “leave, Clinton”, Egyptian security officials said.
It was not clear who the protesters were or what political affiliations they had. Protesters outside Clinton’s hotel on Saturday night chanted anti-Islamist slogans, accusing the United States of backing the Muslim Brotherhood’s rise to power.
The assault on her motorcade came on a day Clinton spoke at the newly re-opened U.S. consulate in Alexandria, addressing accusations the United States, which had long supported former President Hosni Mubarak, of backing one faction or another in Egypt following his ouster last year.
March 29, 2012 § Leave a Comment
by John Washington
Money doesn’t solve, salve, cure, stabilize, forge peace, make or keep promises. And aid packages, no matter how much they’re needed or with how much philanthropic goodwill they’re sent, will not help anyone by themselves. It matters as much in whose hands the money falls as fast as it flows. The United States State Department should have considered this when deciding to continue to fund and arm the Egyptian military regime.
As pivotal as Egypt has been as an historical ally and an advocate for various degrees of peace in the region, and as necessary as the country may be as a counterweight to the militant authoritarianism of Iran, the United States cannot afford to fund another oppressive regime. Or, rather, it can afford it, but it shouldn’t. And funding is what the Obama administration and Hilary Clinton are doing: sending 1.3 billion dollars of military assistance to the military regime despite clear evidence of human rights abuses.
Since 1979 annual U.S. military aid to Egypt has grown, according to the State Department’s own statistics, to over $1.3 billion dollars a year. A few months ago, because of increasing concern of human rights violations, when we allocated this year’s $1.3 billion package we did so contingently, based on the implementation of “policies to protect freedom of expression, association, and religion, and due process of law.” And yet, as detailed in a letter from Amnesty International urging Clinton not to send more money and arms to Egypt, “Egyptian security forces have killed numerous civilians, and the Egyptian government has demonstrated a systematic failure to rein in security forces and stop the attacks on Egyptian and foreign non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working in Egypt.”
November 22, 2011 § Leave a Comment
Jihan Hafiz reports that dozens killed as Egyptians demand a civilian government.
August 21, 2011 § 3 Comments
A few days ago a well-planned resistance operation killed eight Israelis. Israel has no idea who carried out the operation, except that they were probably Arabs, so it has responded in its usual way – by randomly murdering Arabs. Fifteen have been killed so far in the Gaza ghetto, and six Egyptian soldiers were killed when Zionist forces violated Egypt’s sovereign border. Before the revolution there was no response to this kind of arrogant aggression. This time the Zionist government has been forced to apologise to Egypt. That’s not enough, of course, so the Egyptian people have taken matters into their own hands. In this film, the Zionist flag falls in Cairo. This was last night. The demonstration outside the Zionist embassy continues today. People are firing fireworks at the occupied building.