Iran Shoots Itself in the Foot

iransyriahizbThis 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.

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If you could kick out Mubarak, I’m sure that you can do a lot more!

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?”

Continue reading “If you could kick out Mubarak, I’m sure that you can do a lot more!”

Hillary receives warm welcome in Egypt

From Reuters:

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.

Time for a Reciprocated Monroe Doctrine: Failed Latin American Policies Applied in the Middle East

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.”

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The Revolution Takes On Zionism

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.

The Sultan’s Shaikhs and Salafis

Update: Syria’s tame mufti Hassoun has said there is no truth to the news which I repeat below, that Buti, Hassoun and other clerics met with the minister of Awqaf and decided to cancel taraweeh prayers. I heard the false report from someone in Syria. Obviously a rumour was circulating.

When I lived in Syria in the 1990s people would speak very respectfully about Shaikh Sa’id Ramadan al-Buti, a Damascus-based cleric and a traditionalist. I could never quite understand why. I attended his mosque once after an American bombing run on sanctions-starved Iraq; on that occasion Buti blamed the deaths in Iraq on ‘a lack of love between the Muslims.’ Perhaps some of the congregation imagined this was a veiled criticism of the Arab leaders. People called al-Buti honest and fearless.

I had a conversation with someone who taught archeology at Damascus University. This academic arranged a debate on human origins, the scientific versus the religious view. The debate went very well until Shaikh Buti arrived, with entourage. The cleric encouraged noisy religious chanting until the debate had been entirely disrupted, at which point he declared ‘this is a victory for belief over unbelief’ and had himself carried away on the shoulders of his admirers. A great victory indeed.

Throughout the Syrian uprising, Buti has told Syria’s Muslims to trust the regime that is murdering them. He has repeatedly condemned peaceful demonstrations for dignity and rights. He has accused the protestors who set out from Friday mosques of not knowing how to pray. I accuse Buti of not knowing how to think, or feel, and of having no moral sense. Yesterday, following the most savage massacres yet perpetrated by the regime, Buti released a ‘fatwa’ cancelling the taraweeh prayers which are held every evening during Ramadan. The truth could not be clearer: this ‘honest, fearless’ cleric is even willing to cancel prayers when he is ordered to by the state. He is to religion what Dunya TV and Syria Comment are to objective reporting; what the shabeeha are to domestic security. Many of Syria’s Christian leaders, meanwhile, have taken the most unChristian step of joining in state propaganda against unarmed Syrian citizens even as these citizens – of all sects – are tortured, maimed and humiliated.

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All Things Considered

I was a guest on BBC Wales’s All Things Considered, a religious programme, talking about Christians in the Arab world in the light of the Arab revolutions. Also talking are the Right Reverend Bill Musk, based in Tunisia, Bishop Angelos, who serves the Coptic community in London, and the Reverend Christopher Gillam, who admires the Syrian regime and overemphasises Syrian Christian opposition to the uprising. Apologies for my voice, which was heavy with cold.

Gillam’s problem may be that he only speaks to ‘official’ Christians. Here‘s an article on Christian opposition to the regime. I like this quote: “The Christian churches have been bought, and have allowed themselves to be bought,” criticizes Otmar Oehring, a human rights expert with the Aachen-based Catholic aid organization Missio. “They’re ignoring the fact that so many people are dying.”

The people want…

Part of Al Jazeera’s The Arab Awakening series.

“The people want the fall of the regime” is the shared slogan of the Arab uprisings. In this episode an array of characters from across the region explain what they want and what they expect for the future.

Bouazizi family’s message to Libya

I had missed this. Menobia Bouazizi, the mother of Mohamed Bouazizi, the 26-year-old martyr whose death triggered the Arab revolt, sent the following message to Libya’s freedom fighters.

The family of Mohamed Bouazizi, the young Tunisian from Sidi Bouzid whose act of self-immolation triggered the Tunisian Uprising, has a message for the families in Libya who have lost their loved ones to the violent repression of the protests.

Bouazizi, a 26-year-old street vendor, set himself on fire on December 17 after police abused and humiliated him. He died of his burns on January 4.

The protest movement that began in Sidi Bouzid swelled to become a nationwide phenomenon, and spread to other countries in North Africa and the Middle East. Most recently, it reached Libya.

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