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Archive for December, 2011

Color Video of Cairo and Alexandria in the 1960s

December 31st, 2011 Comments off

Via Zeinobia, a nostalgic way to see out the old year: a YouTube video of color footage of Cairo and Alexandria in the 1960s: Happy New Year!


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Qatar Times: "Majority of Syrian support Assad!"

December 31st, 2011 Comments off
“Although the majority of Arabs believe Syria’s President Basher al-Assad should resign in the wake of the regime’s brutal treatment of protesters, fewer Syrians are supportive of an immediate leadership change.
According to the latest opinion poll commissioned by The Doha Debates, Syrians are more supportive of their president with 55% not wanting him to resign. One of the main reasons given by those wanting the president to stay in power was fear for the future of the country.
That level of support is not mirrored elsewhere in the region with 81% of Arabs wanting President Assad to step down.
They believe Syria would be better off if free democratic elections were held under the supervision of a transitional government.
The poll’s finding support the result of November’s Doha Debate in which 91% of the audience called for President Assad to resign.
If President Assad resigns, Syria’s relations with Turkey, Lebanon and the United States are expected to improve while relations with Iran and Israel will worsen, according to the opinion poll findings.
The poll conducted by YouGov Siraj questioned more than 1,000 people in the Arab world between December 14 and 19.”



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Main ‘drivers’ underlying US foreign policy in 2012

December 31st, 2011 Comments off

As in previous years, we set out below some of the main ‘drivers’ which we expect underlie US foreign policy in 2012: 

1.     International crises may come and go in 2012, but domestic and economic issues will dominate the political debate. Barring emergencies, foreign policy will come a distant second. 2.     With all sides perceiving that the outcome of the 2012 elections will be extremely tight, neither the Democrats nor the Republicans will have an incentive to co-operate with the other – even in minor ways. The immediate prospect, therefore, is for the current polarized legislative deadlock to continue. Whether either side achieves a sufficient majority at the elections to reverse this pattern does not appear likely at this stage. 3.     Although many foreign policy experts hold deep reservations about President Obama’s foreign policy, his standing on this subject among the wider electorate – where, crucially, he is perceived to have been pro-actively tough on terrorism – is more robust. During the presidential campaign, he should remain relatively fireproof on foreign policy. This will give him freedom of maneuver to continue the drawdown in Afghanistan. 4.     The presidential campaign will, however, spark pressure on the White House to adopt hardline positions on US ‘leadership’ and assertiveness in particular contexts. This will tend to aggravate tensions with countries like Russia, China and Pakistan with which there are underlying causes of tension. 5.     Economic stringency will collide with foreign policy and defense objectives throughout the year. Proposals for expensive initiatives will receive a frosty reception. One way of responding to this need to maximize impact despite limited resources will be an expanded deployment of the ‘drone’ network as well as an enhanced role for special operations.    6.     The US ‘pivot’ to the Pacific will continue as an important component of strategic thinking. The focus will be on finding a ‘happy medium’ between containing and cooperating with China. The US will encourage joint military exercises and strategic planning between India, Japan, and Australia.    7.     Iran will present a recurrent theme. Rhetoric is likely to be heated and persistent calls for military action will be heard. While there is always room for misunderstanding or an unplanned violent incident, the US will strive to prevent any outbreak of large-scale hostilities. It will continue to dissuade Israel from military action. 8.     The Middle East peace process will remain moribund. The continued vacillations in the ‘Arab Spring’ will present a series of awkward choices for US policy makers. These will be most evident in the cases of Egypt and Syria. The US will, however, be strongly resistant to be drawn into on-the-ground operations. 9.     The US will struggle to develop even-tempered relations with Europe in the face of the continuing economic difficulties there. Political realities will exclude any expansion of IMF resources, but the Federal Reserve will act cooperatively.      



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‘Arab Spring’ is good business to snuff out Palestine!

December 31st, 2011 Comments off

“… He won praise in the Middle East and elsewhere for speaking out early and strongly in support of demonstrators in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen, urging the countries’ leaders to listen to their demands….”



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Clashes across Bahrain as protesters demand reform (AP)

December 31st, 2011 Comments off

Bahraini anti-government protesters perform evening prayers on a traffic junction on a highway where hundreds gathered for a sit-in Friday Dec. 30, 2011, near Abu Saiba, Bahrain. Thousands of Bahrainis are marching near the capital city of Manama to demand the immediate resignation of the government. The mostly Shiite Muslim protesters carried the red and white Bahraini flag as they marched in a northern district of the tiny island kingdom for nearly four miles, six kilometers. (AP Photo/Hasan Jamali)AP – Riot police and protesters are clashing in several Bahraini cities in one of the most widespread days of protest in the Gulf kingdom for months.

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League ‘concern’ at Syria snipers

December 31st, 2011 Comments off

Arab League observers in Syria express concern about government snipers placed on rooftops, reports say.
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Iran denies missile test reports

December 31st, 2011 Comments off

An Iranian military commander denies state media reports that it test-fired long-range missiles in the Gulf, at a time of increased tension over its nuclear programme.
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Egypt’s raids on NGOs

December 31st, 2011 Comments off

Note: this post was written yesterday. I understand the US NGOs have had their property returned after the intervention of the US government.

I’m away from Cairo at the moment, so apart from a few panicked SMSs from friends and the coverage on Twitter I have not really followed yesterday’s raids on six NGOs by the Egyptian police. Links for reported stories on what happened are at the bottom of the post. I want here only to give my own interpretation of what’s happening.

Such a course of action was a possibility, of course, since last September or so when investigations into NGOs that receive foreign funding were initiated by SCAF, Minister of State for International Cooperation Fayza Aboul Naga and the ministry of justice. The fight over NGOs, and the fact that the Egyptian government seemed to be mostly drawing attention to Western-funded NGOs rather than Gulf-funded Islamic charities, is a manufactured crisis created to use as a card against Western, and more specifically US, pressure on the Egyptian government.

After the January uprising, US discourse on Egypt began to stress again the importance of human rights, civil society and democracy but also voice the expectation of a successful transition to democracy. The SCAF, though, has fought to restore an adapted version of the Mubarak system and has proved just as successful as using the idea of foreign influence, with activists themselves asking questions about the revelation like August by incoming US Ambassador to Egypt that some $40-60m of USAID funding has been earmarked for democracy promotion — out of maybe around $300m of civilian aid and $1.3bn in military aid in 2011, and excluding any supplementary budget aid to help Egypt through its current economic crunch.

Many may wonder that the raids on the these prominent US NGOs — IRI, NDI, Freedom House — that work closely with the US government are a risky move for SCAF, which itself depends on a US handout. I would argue that SCAF has no intention of closing down these US-linked NGOs, but rather use the investigation as a card with the Obama administration, which has been obligated by Congress to give assurances of progress in Egypt for Egypt military funding to be allowed. Just before the State Dept. has to give this assurance, these NGOs problems will be more or less resolved.

In the meantime, by accessing their computers and files they will have developed better knowledge of these NGOs’ partners, and how much each get in funding, to reserve for another day. The investigation and the NGOs unlicensed status justifies such an information raid, and what is gathered from the raids can be used at some other juncture.

Meanwhile, the Egyptian NGOs (which received foreign funding) that have been raided may suffer a different fate. I would not be surprised at all if this is then used to either shut down altogether groups like the Egyptian Budgetary and Human Rights Observatory, which is trying to investigate the economics of the military, or put pressure on others by finding accounting errors or put together corruption cases. In other words, they will relax on the foreign NGOs (which usually cannot do the most risky type of advocacy and research) and use the raids to stop or harm the NGOs they don’t like that do more risky work. The Observatory’s work on the military comes to mind, while another group, the Arab Center for the Independence of the Judiciary and Legal Profession, may also be leaned on as the questions it tackles will be quite central in 2012: judicial institutions, the constitution, etc.

Since the US is primarily concerned here, it should not fall into the trap of what is essentially a shakedown. Don’t try and resolve through backchannels to restore the status quo. Move to punish this by establishing linkage between the civilian aid and military aid: for instance, cancel a scheduled Egyptian officer training visit to the US, or delay delivery or purchasing of US military items. Investigate, as the US did in the 1980s, the shipment companies that deliver these items (in the 1980s they were owned by top military brass, it was a kickback mechanism for the army’s black box, Hussein Salem and Abdel Halim Abu Ghazala were involved).

In other words, part of the raid on NGOs is about the US-Egypt relationship at a time when SCAF wants to establish an adapted authoritarian status-quo and the US is most worried, wrongly, about Camp David (wrongly because the US attitude should be, “do what you want on Camp David, but we will do nothing to restrain how the Israelis react” — the generals are not crazy.) If it is serious about all the fine words it said after the fall of Hosni Mubarak, the US needs to stand strong here and show it won’t be toyed with. In doing so, it might be doing a favor to Egypt’s civil society. 

 



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Half a Million Syrians Protesting Today?

December 31st, 2011 Comments off

On this protest Friday, there are estimates that half a million Syrians turned out to protest today. The total population is only 22 million or so; if that number is real, or even approximately real, we need to pay close attention in the coming weeks, I think. I suspect that, like the Mayan calendar, Bashar al-Asad’s calendar runs out in 2012.

As noted here, the Syrian protesters are going back to the first post independence flag, with a green stripe in place of the current red, and three stars instead of two. As in Libya, they’re adopting a pre-UAR, pre-Ba‘ath flag as their symbol.


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Tabsir Redux: Resolving the New Year

December 31st, 2011 Comments off


Wilfrid Scawn Blunt, left; Mark Twain, right

There is a curious annual custom inherited in many of our families, but one I am resolved not to take too seriously this year. I refer to the half-drunk notion of making resolutions for the new year (which I see no sound reason to capitalize, as my German blood is very far removed), as though the arbitrary turning of the calendar is a time to reflect on what went wrong over the last 365 days and pretend that things should go better in the next eighteen and a quarter score days. I have heard the rural urban tale that the pin-up 19th century cowgirl sharpshooter Annie Oakley started the custom of sending out Christmas Cards, but I am not sure which genius came up with penning new year’s resolutions, unless it was Johnny Walker in one of his more sober moments. Most people, and I surely fall into this anomalous category, do not remember the resolutions made a year ago. But then most godfearing redneck Americans could not repeat the 10 Commandments in order to save their souls, unless perhaps they were dead drunk. So my re-solution, since it is the defacto one I have been following for quite a few years, is to resolve to forget any resolution before I even make one. This saves me from having to make up a resolution, which is the same as making as silly a resolution as I can imagine.

I am not the first person to take aim at this impotent cultural pastime which has long since ceased to have any influence on what people really do. Mark Twain said it well over a century and a half ago:

New Year’s Day–Now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual.

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