Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammed Badie appears in court in Egypt for the first time since his arrest in August.
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Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammed Badie appears in court in Egypt for the first time since his arrest in August.
Let me begin by noting that the bar of the old Windsor Hotel in Cairo, often called “the barrel bar” because the chairs (some at least) are made from barrel staves, an old British-era bar that survives pretty much intact, is by far the greatest bar in Cairo or in all of Egypt.
Not everyone will agree with this seemingly dogmatic, sweeping, but in fact quite factual, statement.
But they will quite simply be wrong.
Deceived perhaps by flashy modern bars, the slanders of Islamist critics, or simple ignorance, they should learn from this post.
(If you still disagree, start your own bloody blog and post your own misguided opinions.)
I will not exaggerate by saying, for example, that it is the greatest bar on the African continent, or the greatest bar since the unification of Egypt in 3100 BC, because I have no way of proving that, obviously.
But I’m pretty sure it’s both, nonetheless.
Now, the video. Then a bit more. Via Zeinobia’s indispensable blog,and produced by these folks, is this brief but wondrous profile of the man who has been barman at the barrelbar for more than three decades. In colloquial Egyptian Arabic, but with English subtitles:
The Windsor has been a favorite of mine for some 40 years. It stands on a side street not far from where the old Shepheard’s stood until Black Saturday of 1952; I understand in British days, when the senior officers stayed at Shepheard’s, the lesser officer ranks stayed here. I’ve stayed at the hotel, which can’t threaten the five-stars, and eaten at the restaurant but forgotten it, but the bar is unforgettable.
More perhaps another time. Michael Palin of Monty Python fame did one of his world travelogues from the place, and it’s one of the last surviving colonial-era bars in the caaptial. Do they still offer the day’s newsoaoers in library sticks, like a British club. I hate colonialism, but damn, the Brits did goog officers; bars wherever they went.
The Windsor hotel website is here. A few pictures:
Seventy opposition activists, including nine former MPs, are acquitted of storming the parliament building in the Gulf state of Kuwait two years ago.
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Representatives of Israel, Jordan and the Palestinians will on Monday sign a "historic" agreement to link the Red Sea with the shrinking Dead Sea, an Israeli minister said. Energy and Regional Development Minister Silvan Shalom told army radio that under the agreement to be signed at the World Bank in Washington, water will be drawn from the Gulf of Aqaba at the northern end of the Red Sea. Some will be desalinated and distributed to Israel, Jordan and the Palestinians, while the rest will be transferred in four pipes to the parched Dead Sea, which would otherwise dry out by 2050.
It all started because Souad Nawfal wanted to wear pants. Every day the 40-year-old schoolteacher turned antiregime activist would go stand in front of the headquarters of the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS) in the rebel-controlled city of Raqqa to protest the al-Qaeda affiliates’ harsh tactics in her hometown. “A girl all by herself facing the Islamic State,” she sniffs in a recent video posted on Vimeo. Hundreds of activists have watched in desperation as the revolution they launched to overthrow the repressive regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad threatens to deliver their country into the hands of equally oppressive Islamist radicals determined to turn Syria into an Islamic caliphate.
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Uri Avnery discusses the issue of young Jewish Israelis leaving Israel for other countries, including Germany. Israel’s out-emigration rate was similar to other industrial countries a decade ago, but it is possible that it has increased because of the rise in rents and property values and the increased divide between poor and rich. Many young Israelis find it less expensive to live in places like Berlin, where they also often are better paid than they would be at home.
I wrote about this issue a couple of years ago:
“ [pdf] There are about 7.8 million Israelis, including 5.8 million Jewish-Israelis and 1.6 million Palestinian-Israelis (there are also three hundred thousand persons who are simply not Jewish. Within this group, there are some whose mothers were not Jewish and so are not counted officially as Jews, even though they might consider themselves Jewish and hold Israeli citizenship. Others have no claim on Jewishness at all. Neither group is being allowed to convert in any numbers by the Chief Rabbi).
Over time, the proportion of Palestinian-Israelis in the population will rise, and the number of Jews who do not strongly identify with Israel will likely do so, as well. Ian Lustick has argued that [pdf] in recent years the number of Jews who departed Israel probably equaled or exceeded the number who came in, so immigration as a method of retaining a Jewish majority is no longer viable.
Lustick [pdf] also quotes Israeli officials who estimate that up to a million Israelis live outside that country, some 600,000 in North America. Both Israel’s present and its future would look a lot different if Israel could entice these expatriates back. That was the point of the ads. Obviously, if Israeli-Americans intermarry with and assimilate into the Jewish-American community, they are unlikely to return to Israel in any numbers; indeed, if their children adopt Jewish-American ways and intermarry at high rates with non-Jews, a large proportion of their descendants wouldn’t even be eligible for full citizenship as Jews in Israel.
There are no further big Jewish communities that are likely to emigrate to Israel. Few American Jews want to live there. Some 50 percent of American Jews marry out into other communities, something that cannot even be done inside Israel. My suspicion is that more Israelis emigrate to Europe nowadays than European Jews emigrate to Israel. The Israeli Jews of European ancestry (Ashkenazim) and most of those originally from the Middle East (Mizrahim) have increasingly small families. An estimated 70-80 percent of Israeli Jews have other passports, just in case they need to jump ship, and a quarter of all Israeli academics live abroad.
The two populations in Israel with the youngest median age and the greatest likelihood of increase in numbers in the future are the Palestinian-Israelis and the Haredis or ultra-Orthodox Jews. These two groups will, through the 21st century, eclipse the Ashkenazi or European Jews, as well as the non-Haredi Eastern Jews. By 2030, 55% of Israeli school children will likely be either Palestinian-Israeli or Haredi, and they will be 47% of 15-19 year-olds, as well. (See this paper [pdf] by Richard P. Cincotta and Eric Kaufmann.) That is, by 2050 or 2060, if current growth rates continue and no dramatic changes take place in their political status, Palestinian-Israelis and Haredis will comprise a majority of voters outside the elderly.
Note that I am speaking of Israel proper, leaving aside the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza, which Israel is likely also to inherit, since it won’t give them a state of their own. But leave that issue aside for the moment.
The problem for Israeli nationalists is that neither Palestinian-Israelis nor Haredim are typically Zionists. The Ultra-Orthodox often reject the legitimacy of the state of Israel because they believe only the Messiah can establish a Jewish state and rule Jerusalem, and it is hubris for secular Zionists to make the attempt.
Palestinian-Israelis will probably be 30% of the Israeli population by 2030. Although they would not get along with Haredim on most issues, both communities avoid service in the Israeli army (with the exception among Palestinians of the Druze). Neither will be dutiful taxpayers. An Israel made up of a joint majority of Palestinian-Israelis and Haredis will be militarily and financially weak.”
I hope you all like the new design. Of course, the changes are a work in progress but 2014 is an important year for Informed Comment. We will be adding some editorial staff and expanding our coverage to include the most important news organisations in the Middle East to provide a comprehensive political and news overview. We will also be including more original opinion from other regional experts. We have already started to develop a maps collection and will be adding a primary documents collection soon as well, to provide visitors with single stop access to high quality curated sources for research on the Middle East.
Thanks to all those who have contributed in the past to make it possible for Informed Comment to continue and improve. This year those who contribute to Informed Comment will become members with a Golden Lion beside their own name in the comments as recognition for your role in making this site possible. You will also be included in a monthly private newsletter only for contributors with some additional big picture behind-the-scenes analysis which will be newsletter only.
Those of you who donated last year supported several important trips to the region so as to have first-hand, on-the-ground impressions that would help me interpret the news. I’d like to tell you about those trips.
Philosophy and Mission of Informed Comment
Years ago I decided that I did not want to put Informed Comment behind a firewall and charge a subscription fee for it. That just isn’t who I am. In my own view, there has been a long crisis between the United States (and perhaps much of the West) and the Muslim world that I felt a duty to attempt to interpret and analyze for both publics, not just for well-heeled elites. More recently issues have arisen such a climate change and the energy and water crises, which have a great deal to do with the Middle East and South Asia, my areas of expertise. This is a democratic blog, for the people and in dialogue with the people, for the common weal.
Travel and Field Reporting in 2013
Although I have some research funds from my university, there are categories of expense it does not cover, and my ability to go spontaneously to the region when there are important developments is enhanced by your subscriptions (academic fellowships have to be plotted out at least a year in advance, which is too inflexible for my style of academic journalism). Also, I do some pro bono speaking and traveling for, e.g. peace groups, and you support those expenses, too. Your support gives me the determination and courage to go on.
Visits to the region this year included a trip last year this time to Istanbul for its annual World Forum. I was able to hear movers and shakers such as Turkey’s PM Tayyib Erdogan, Libya’s former interim PM Mahmoud Jibril, and democracy and labor activist Ahmad Maher (who is now, sadly, in prison in Cairo). In February I was in Kuwait for a conference, and was very interested in the obviously powerful and active labor movement, and in the 600,000-strong Indian guest worker community. That same month I visited Abu Dhabi and Dubai in the UAE, where I saw the internet activist Sultan al-Qassemi and visited Abu Dhabi’s no-carbon planned city, Masdar.
I went to Tunisia in the spring for a conference where I was able to hear from the current power elite - the prime minister, cabinet officials, opposition party members and the leader of the center-right religious party, al-Nahda or Renaissance. The conference was sponsored by the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy (CSID) to whom I am grateful. I was also able to stay on and meet with secular youth activists. My visit then helped me understand the outbreak of protests and the political crisis that arose in summer of 2013 and are still roiling Tunisia.
In early May, I was able to visit Baghdad (I put up a photo gallery of my visit to the Iraqi National Muslim, kindly arranged by the Ministry of Culture.
My colleague MarK LeVine was important in setting up that visit and in arranging for a meeting with youth at the Independent Film Institute, with the History Department at the University of Baghdad and at the National Archives.
In early June I was in Egypt, getting a sense of the mood there in the run-up to the overthrow of then President Muhammad Morsi. I was able to make contact with a number of activists, at the Egyptian Institute for Personal Freedoms, Human Rights Watch, and elsewhere and to interview the important blogger Amr Ezzat. Everywhere I went people gave me that petition to sign, asking that Morsi submit himself to a recall election. At that time no one was talking about military intervention, and most people in my circles would have been against it.
In August, I took my first trip to Indonesia, where I was looking at Hindu-Muslim relations as part of an investigation into the legal and social status of non-Muslims in contemporary Muslim-majority states. This was just spadework, but it certainly was informative and introduced me to a part of the world I hadn’t known much about aside from reading a few books.
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Plans for 2014
For 2014, we will continue to develop the new IC of which you see the first version now to make sure it is the best possible resource on the contemporary Middle East.
I have several projects at Informed Comment for which I’d like to those who can to support. These plans continue to serve the larger goal of promoting understanding between the West and our neighbors in the Middle East. I will also continue to follow energy issues and climate change as these unfold, with their implications on the US, Europe, and the global South.
When events call for first hand reporting, I will continue travel for research and journalism to places where important developments are unfolding affecting US foreign policy, including of course the Middle East.
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All those who donate $100 or more will receive a blue and gold Informed Comment Polo shirt. Some kind readers give more than once a year, but if you want the Polo shirt, consider making a single larger donation. All those who donate will become part of an Informed Comment supporters club who will receive my private monthly newsletter with some big picture political analysis and a Golden Lion beside their name.
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Your donation helps me keep Informed Comment independent and prolific. Together we keep independent media alive. I would like to thank all my readers and contributors again for your support in 2013 and look forward to an even more productive 2014 together. Thank you for supporting our independent thinking and dialogue!
Cenk Uygur at Young Turks makes the point that the National Security Agency and other US intelligence (services who are ending up with massive amounts of electronic surveillance information on Americans –whether that is what they were mainly going for or not) keep saying we should trust them with the information. They maintain that they aren’t looking at the information on US citizens on US soil and that strict procedures are in place to forestall abuses. But they admit a few abuses– NSA ex-boyfriends stalking ex-girlfriends and similar minor personal matters.
But there is no reason for us to simply trust the US government with personal information that they should not by the Constitution be having in the first place. The history of government illegally invading privacy and playing dirty tricks on citizens is long and fetid. J. Edgar Hoover menaced senators with his secret files. The the Joint Chiefs of Staff actually proposed to Jack Kennedy in 1962 that they conduct a false flag campaign of terrorism in the US and blame it on Castro, to justify an invasion of Cuba. That is, the highest military commanders of the US armed forces were terrorists willing to hurt innocent citizens for their purposes. You had COINTELPRO in the 1960s and 1970s, when the FBI attempted to smear and disrupt anti-war groups by infiltrating them. Richard M. Nixon attempted to use the CIA politically, and it kept 10,000 files on US citizen activists on US soil at that time. All this would come as no surprise to the Founding Fathers, who knew that government officials are often corrupt and tyrannical and can’t be trusted. That was why they attempted to bind those officials with a constitution, bill of rights, independent courts, and oversight from the legislature.
Their attempts have failed. In late 2001 there was a coup, and a secret shadow government was established at that point that has no checks or balances, and which is completely ruthless. It exploited elementary flaws in the architecture of the internet to spy on the whole world not excluding Americans on American soil (the internet sends US emails, phone calls, etc. all around the globe bouncing off servers, and you can’t scoop up all the fiber optic traffic going to the UK across the Atlantic without scooping up Americans’ information). It doesn’t tell the relevant House and Senate committees or the judiciary what it is really up to, or even, I suspect, the president.
An indication of how these things are actually done surfaced when Glenn Carle, a retired CIA officer, and some others inside the agency, told the New York Times’s James Risen in 2011 that the Bush White House asked the CIA to “get” me (Juan Cole) wanted to find personal information on me with which to discredit me. Carle’s and others’ courageous pushback (he said “hell, no, that’s illegal and might destroy the Agency!”) helped stop this criminal conspiracy of the Neocons in its tracks. But others at the Agency were perfectly willing to go along, and if Carle hadn’t been there, who knows what would have happened? And if the White House could try to use the CIA against an obscure Midwest college professor with a blog, imagine what they were doing to other more important people.
More came out on Democracy Now! that summer.
By the way, Barack Obama’s DOJ is prosecuting the courageous James Risen for his national security journalism, which is despicable. After all, what the White House ordered the CIA to do to me was presumably classified, so he revealed classified information. It is all classified, Mr. President, the wrongdoing along with the things gotten right. You can’t have journalism if you prosecute all leaks.
I should say that I’ve met many US intelligence analysts who were highly professional and did a hard job in which they sometimes risked their lives. Many have performed great services to the US in rolling up core al-Qaeda. I was proud to consult in Washington with a range of USG officials from many agencies about how to do that in the zeroes. But what we’re now learning about the extent of NSA snooping (not to mention earlier revelations about black sites, torture and the whole horror show in Jane Meyers’ The Dark Side) underscores that things have gotten out of control and major reform is absolutely necessary. Intelligence shouldn’t be a danger to the values of the republic it purports to serve.