Archive for the ‘Arab’ Category

Dear USA,

Oh, you have an Office for Middle East Transitions now?

How ’bout this: Leave us the fuck alone. We dont want your counterrevolutionary, imperial, siphoning-off-riches-for-Western-financial-institutions, creating-markets-for-the-MilitaryIndustrialAgriOilComplex meddling in our affairs. We dont want your aid or your debt. We dont want your teargas or your tanks. We dont want your fertilizers or your GMOs. We’ll take twitter, facebook and google though; they’re kind of neat and dont come with debt attached.

How about instead of poking your noses in our business, you figure out why you have the worst health and education levels in the developed world? Or why you have expanding income disparity and growing third-world poverty? Or why your corporations dont pay taxes while shipping your jobs abroad? Or, for that matter, why after you bailed them out with trillions of your tax dollars, the executives are raking in billions while you’re freaking out about what source of debt you’re going to default on first? Credit Card? Mortgage? Car Loan?  Or the whole national shebang? Or why institutionalized human rights abuses keep being uncovered under the watch of the troops that have been fighting a stupid war for a decade? Or why you can’t muster the willpower to transition to renewable energy and instead are building the KXL pipeline that will actually ship oil from Canada, over your land and then off to the rest of the world, with nary a drop for you? Or why you’ve gradually given up so many of the liberties and values that made you the shining light of freedom and progress that the entire world looked up to? How about you work on all that?

By the time you’re done, we’ll probably have figured our own business out. In fact, I’m pretty sure you wont have gotten anywhere by the time we’re done. I mean, even the messianic Obama couldnt do anything to get you out of your corporate-beholden, two-parties-that-are-actually-the-same, stuck-in-the-babyboomers’-sixties-culture-wars hole. Maybe when we’re done here, we’ll set up an Office for Transition in the USA. Maybe. But we know pretty well by now how much trouble it is and it causes to meddle in others’ business. So maybe we can just meet for coffee and hang out. Or, there’s always Skype (we’ll take that too, it’s also neat).


a purportedly-backwards-towel-headed-ignorant-atriskofIslamofascism-ay-rab-no-longer-in-need-of-benevolence

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I couldnt let this one by with just a delicious bookmark. Rami El Khouri comments on Arab (regime and popular) perceptions of and reactions to the events unfolding in Iran. I think he hits a crucial point whith this article in highlighting that they’ve trapped themselves in a lose-lose situation regardless of the outcomes in Iran. I’ve reproduced the vast majority of it here:

All of them, without exception, react to events in Iran with fascination, confusion, and concern, reflecting self-inflicted political incoherence and mediocrity that are hallmarks of the modern Arab world. Broadly speaking, the Arab world has maneuvered itself into a lose-lose situation vis-à-vis developments in Iran, despite different views of the Islamic Republic.

The uncomfortable common denominator is that for both the people and the ruling power elites of the Arab world, whatever happens in Iran will largely be perceived negatively by the majority in our region. This is a sad commentary on the condition of Arab political culture, which remains autocratic and rigid at the top, and passive and frustrated at the grassroots.

Most Arab regimes do not like Iran or even fear it, because of its capacity to inspire revolutionary Islamism or at least mildly insurrectionary movements within Arab countries. A few Arab leaders even speak of Iran’s predatory or hegemonic ambitions in the Gulf region, Lebanon, Iraq and other lands. Only isolated pockets of power in the Arab world like or support the Iranian regime, including Syria, Hizbullah, Hamas and some other Islamist or nationalist forces. Yet even the few isolated exceptions like Hamas and Hizbullah that have effectively carved out small domains of their own sovereignty are in an uncomfortable zone regarding events in Iran.

Arab public opinion, for its part, views Iran with much more nuance. Many Arabs cheered the Iranian revolution that overthrew the Shah 30 years ago, and continue to enjoy Iran’s defiance of the United States, Israel, UN sanctions and conservative Arab leaderships. Others in the Arab world see the Iranian Islamic revolution as a nasty export commodity that only spells trouble for Arab societies. Places like Lebanon and Palestine, especially, are offered the unattractive option of perpetual warfare with Israel, which entails the regular destruction of swaths of their society.

The irony today is that the Iranian regime and its policies are viewed very differently throughout the Arab world; but removing or reconfiguring the Islamic regime through street demonstrations or even through democratic elections seems problematic for virtually everyone in Arab society.

Most Arab governments dislike the current Iranian regime, so you would think they would be pleased to see it toppled, or tempered by its own people. Yet, if such change were to occur through street demonstrations choreographed via a web of digital communications, whispered messages, and rooftop religious chants in the middle of the night, Arab leaders of autocratic regimes would be unhappy — because they would sense their own vulnerability to similar mass political challenges. The fact is not lost on anyone that the Iranian regime effectively withstood and defied American-Israeli-European-UN pressure, threats and sanctions for years, but found itself much more vulnerable to the spontaneous rebellion of many of its own citizens who felt degraded by the falsification of election results by the government.

(An intriguing side note: Events inside Iran picked up steam at the same time as the Iranian presidential elections coincided with the Obama administration’s change of policy — as Washington backed off the threats and aggressiveness of the Bush years — and offered to engage with Iran on the basis of mutual respect. Would a more detached US policy towards Arab autocrats similarly open space for Arab domestic effervescence and indigenous calls for more liberal, honest politics?)

Arab regimes and leaders have worked themselves into a lose-lose situation whereby they would be unhappy if the Iranian regime stayed in power, and unhappy if it were removed through popular challenge. The same awkwardness defines the perspectives of Arab citizens. Most Arabs do not want to live in an Iranian-style political system that blends theocracy with autocracy; but many were pleased to see the pro-American Shah overthrown by Quran-carrying demonstrators. They would also be unhappy to see the Iranian regime overthrown because they enjoy its defiance of the United States, Israel and the UN in particular, along with its development of a nuclear capability.

At the same time, ordinary Arabs would feel jealous were the demonstrators in Iran able to topple their regime for the second time in 30 years — because this would highlight the chronic passivity and powerlessness of Arab citizens who must suffer permanent subjugation in their own long-running autocratic systems without being able to do anything about it. Whether Iranian street demonstrations challenged the Shah or the Islamists who toppled him, Arabs watch all this on television with a forlorn envy.

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Yamli: Search in Arabic

Yamli is absolutely brilliant. I’ve spent the last half hour at a loss for how to express my happiness with it. It’s a website that let’s you enter transliterated Arabic which it converts into arabic script. For me, that’s enough. But it also lets you search in google and provides an editor for longer pieces.

Thanks to the Arabist for the pointer.

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Hossam has a long, impassioned (as always) post in light of the recent 3-year prison sentence against the Boulaq officers who tortured and sodomized a microbus driver. The case became a0″ public” issue when bloggers broke the story and published a video of the abuse.

I’m currently in the middle of reading a Saban (Brookings) paper, “Upgrading Authoritarianism in the Arab World“. It’s an interesting look at regional regime trends to maintain their grip over the last couple of decades as they grapple internal and external social, political and economic changes.

As Hossam points out:

Our “War on Torture” is by no means over. These three-year prison sentences may be the “harshest” verdict produced by Videogate-related trial, but make no mistake, Islam and Reda, the two sadist animals, will receive a five-star treatment in jail like other police officers and influential figures receive when they get locked up. And that’s if they serve the whole sentence. The regime cronies for sure will also use the trial to claim they are “serious” in their commitment to “human rights.”  [emphasis added]

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Enigmatic Egypt

I think my title has a better ring than the one for this Rami Khouri article about the odd mix of progress on the economic level despite re-entrenched political authoritarianism.

Efforts to paint this country in a single shade of color are common, but not very useful. Egypt is neither structurally diabolic, nor genetically enlightened. I keep coming back to Egypt for visits and make it a point to speak to both critics and members of the ruling establishment, along with independent analysts and citizens, because Egypt continues to be so potentially important for the future of the entire Arab region. It is a barometer that measures the Arab political condition, but also a rudder that defines the direction in which other countries move.

At the regional level Egypt has been politically immobilized for the past quarter century, following its peace treaty with Israel and close reliance on the United States, but it has not been made irrelevant. Politically and economically, the domestic scene has been stirring again in recent years, and the imminent transition to a new president in the coming years might signal an opportunity for change. The problem is that this confounding land continues to send mixed signals on how it wants to change.


I do not know the political implications of, or the answer to, why a police- and army-dominated modern Arab security state can achieve brisk economic reforms, high growth rates and massive job expansion, in a manner that other Arab countries can only envy, without attempting any serious political reform. But I suspect that this is the right question to ask, as we continue to grapple with the enigma of an entire region of nearly 300 million Arabs who have not been able to achieve or sustain a single breakthrough to credible democracy.

Yes,  it is a good question to ask. However, my feeling is that the assessment of the (lack of) need for political reform is a little hasty. I think the wave of labor and, most recently, public service strikes and protests is an indication that there is undoubtedly a need. Perhaps it’s more a matter of how long this dichotomy can persist and what will come of it.

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The October ARB offers another article, i feel deserves some attention. Eric Goldstein writes about non-state actors’ violations of human rights and how HR organizations in the Arab world need to be dealt with. The main issue seems to be with Hizbullah and Hamas. Specifically, the firing of rockets onto civilians in Israel.

While i would generally agree that human rights principles should be applied across the board, regardless of statehood, or lack thereof, this seems like just another example of HRW falling prey to bias [look here for more]. Maybe it’s just easier to bash the non-Israelis.

Sure, “the credibility of human rights organizations hinges on their confronting armed movements as well as governments.” But are you really going to take similar issue with low-tech rockets as with cluster bombs? Maybe HRW should lobby the international community to better-equip Hizbullah for their next confrontation with Israel. Give them smart bombs, I say.

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HR Info has issued a report [look here; press release], that i havent really read, on the use of human rights in online arabic media. The claim to use qualitative and quantitative analysis of 8 outlets over the year 2006. The report is supposed to also include a section on the links between HR organizations and the media. Seems like it’s worth a look if you have the time.

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