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Finally: a Saudi prince who is eloquent and articulate

January 27th, 2015 No comments
Meet Prince `Abdul-`Aziz Bin Fahd.

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Ben-Gurion and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians

January 26th, 2015 No comments
“Some readers may find it hard, as I did, to read Shapira’s brief treatment of the moment in 1948 when the commanders Yigal Allon and Yitzhak Rabin came to Ben-Gurion asking whether to carry out “a large-scale population evacuation.” Rabin reported that Ben-Gurion responded with a wave of the hand, saying “Expel them.” Shapira explains here that while he forbade the evacuation of some areas, like Nazareth, “like most of his ministers, he saw the Arabs’ exodus as a great miracle, one of the most important in that year of miracles, since the presence of a hostile population constituting some 40 percent of the new state’s total populace did not augur well for the future.”

Shapira doesn’t subject this incident to any ethical scrutiny or judgment, reporting it almost matter-of-factly. She does, however, note that given the history of the time — which included moving enormous masses of people across Europe and carrying out huge population transfers as part of the partition that divided Pakistan from India — Ben-Gurion’s decision wasn’t beyond the norm. “The decision not to allow the return of the Arab refugees was accepted as self-evident, and gained broad public support.””

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And now a paid word from Tony Blair

January 26th, 2015 No comments
“Statement by Tony Blair on the death of King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz

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Dempsey Sponsors Essay Competition to Honor Saudi King

January 26th, 2015 No comments
“The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has established a research and essay competition in honor of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah Bin Abdul-Aziz hosted by the National Defense University.” (thanks Laleh)

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Egypt Cancels Revolution Fete to Mourn Saudi King who derailed Revolution

January 26th, 2015 No comments

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment)

In a great irony, the Egyptian government attempted to cancel the commemoration of the January 25 revolution four years ago, on the grounds that the late King Abdallah of Saudi Arabia needed to be mourned. The Saudis played a sinister behind-the-scenes role in undermining budding Egyptian attempts at democracy, and appear to be complicit in the coup against the Muslim Brotherhood government of Muhammad Morsi in 2013 (though to be fair, that government was very widely hated).

As it was, dissidents from the left and from the Muslim religious right did manage to mount rallies to protest the authoritarian turn of the current Egyptian government. The police reacted horribly, deploying live ammunition at the protesters– killing 18 and wounding 52.

National security police and plainclothesmen had a heavy presence throughout the capiteal of Cairo.

About 1,000 leftists marched in memory of secular activist Shaima al-Sabbagh, who was killed at a Talaat Harb Square rally in downtown Cairo on Saturday.

The government of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has just banned protests by fiat in the absence of a parliament. It has also conducted a fierce and largely successful campaign to silence and marginalize the Muslim Brotherhood, which is being blamed for the violence in the Egyptian press. Tens of thousands of Muslim Brothers are in jail, in addition to some liberals and leftists.

Supporters of the revolution rue that two of its leaders, Ahmad Maher of the April 6 Youth Group and Alaa Abdel Fattah, a blogger, are in jail on charges of illegally protesting, while dictator Hosni Mubarak and his sons have been released from prison at least for the moment.

Related video:

Euronews: “Egypt: Protests to mark 2011 uprising anniversary turn deadly”

Related book:

The New Arabs: How the Millennial Generation is Changing the Middle East

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Angelina Jolie in Iraq: Int’l Community Failing Refugees from ISIL Brutality

January 26th, 2015 No comments

Associated Press | —

“Actress and director Angelina Jolie is calling on the international community to do more to aid refugees displaced by fighting in Iraq and Syria. The UN special envoy for refugees visited a camp in Iraq Sunday, saying that despite good intentions, “the international community has failed …”

Angelina Jolie Visits Refugees in Iraq

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Can US can help Mediate Yemen Crisis? US Embassy Cuts Staff…

January 26th, 2015 No comments

CNN | —

“The United States struggles to maintain a sense of diplomacy in Yemen during political chaos.”

CNN: “U.S. embassy cuts staff in Yemen”

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Angelina Jolie

January 26th, 2015 No comments
I just wish that Angelina Jolie would stop pontificating on foreign affairs.  Adoption of multiple foreign children does not make one an expert on foreign affairs.

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Shayma’ As-Sabbagh: a socialist martyr from Egypt

January 26th, 2015 No comments
It is clear: Western media can’t get to concede that there are Arab socialists, communists, and anarchists.  In most Western media, Shayma’ As-Sabbah was identified as a “liberal”. Where did you get that? She belonged to an organization that is titled as Popular Socialist Democratic Alliance. 

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Revolution and Despair

January 25th, 2015 No comments

I have great respect for Asef Bayat’s work and there are insights in this essay published on Mada Masr, but I find it hard reading on a day when people are being chased and killed in Cairo for celebrating the anniversary of the January 25 uprising:

Truth be told, there is a limit as to how much states, even authoritarian ones, can control societies without turning totalitarian, such as the likes of Communist East Germany where the secret police Stasi kept files on one third of the total population. There are ironically more favorable spaces to pursue this strategy, [“active citizenship”] in such settings as Egypt, than under the liberal democratic states like the US, where the apparatuses of surveillance, legal or technical, seem to be much more pervasive and detailed than our repressive but soft states. In our region, there remain vast informal sociascapes, the free zones within which alternative norms counter to state logic may be instituted. Eric Garner, the black American who was apprehended and choked to death by a police officer, was selling cigarettes illegally on the streets of New York City. Millions of Eric Garners work on the streets of Middle Eastern cities informally and illegally without states being able to do much about them.   

Informal life, the relations and institutions that lie at the margin of state control, make up a vast swath of social existence, where some of the most creative (as well as anti-social) endeavors take shape, as shown in the circles of family, kin members, friends, or among those who operate in the localities, communities, and informal worksites. Spaces from among the art world, intellectual circles, book publishing, cultural production, new social media, independent journalism, legal and architecture profession, or social work may produce alternative speech and unorthodox ways of being and doing things. Even the state-regulated institutions such as schools, colleges, municipalities, neighborhood associations, city councils, student clubs, workers’ unions, and professional syndicates often turn, by critical and creative users, into spaces where some of the core social and political values are contested.

Active citizenry of this sort, in the meantime, is bound to subvert the ability of the authoritarian state to govern, because the state usually rules not from above or outside the society, but from within, by weaving its logic — through norms, relations, and institutions — into the social fabric. Challenging those norms, relations, and institutions would by definition diminish the state’s legitimacy and impair its ability to govern. In fact, active citizenry could go even further to possibly impel and even acclimatize the state to behave in line with the values that subaltern citizens may cultivate in society. No wonder the prohibition law in the US looked absurd when by the early 1930s so many citizens were unlawfully consuming alcohol; the law had to change. The absurdity of preventing women from driving should be clear even to the Saudi rulers who cannot help  but see women as capable of doing more or less what men can. An authoritarian state cannot govern with peace and for long a democratic citizenry.

But who says the state has or will govern “with peace”? And disturbed as one may be by surveillance and policing in the United States, isn’t it ridiculous to argue that there is more space to oppose and organize in Egypt?

I appreciate the desire to offer some encouragement to Egyptian citizens who supported January 25, and I agree that it is important to keep thinking of how to be active, even under these terrible circumstances (the site Mada Masr itself is a great example of this). I also agree that we are not just back to the old days — there was a huge rupture, and even if the hopes it raised were defeated, the repressive techniques employed to achieve this (media propaganda; Saudi subsidies; massive repression; a shameful politicization of the judiciary) are destabilizing and seemingly untenable in the long-term. But I take a much darker view of the kind of days we’re in. People used to say that the revolution had brought down the wall of fear and it could never be back up; I think the army and police have done a great reconstruction job. Virtually every institution in Egypt is worse off than it was four years ago; a big segment of society has been complicit — out of fear, ignorance, self-interest — with the falsification of its own history and with granting impunity for state injustice and violence. 

One also cannot assume — as a certain school of academic writing does — that every bit of economic informality is an act of political subversion or active citizenship. Is there any evidence that informal vendors in Cairo are challenging the norms of society (rather than replicating them by, say, harassing women and taking the state’s side against protesters?). Let’s not romanticize the margins and the people who live there. The fact that they are resourceful and determined to scrape together a living or navigate a corrupt, repressive state is not a victory — it’s normal human behavior, and it’s a waste (think what they could accomplish if given better, fairer chances). Keeping big swaths of the population on the margins — invisible and illegal — is an effective strategy of social and political control. The avenues for active citizenship are violently barred. 

I was moved by this reflection by Yasmine El Rifae on memory and violence in Egypt these days:

The gunmen and their bosses have made it clear that unauthorized memory will not be tolerated. Neither will grief. Public language, thought, and opinion is either legal or illegal, patriotism or treason.

What we have been authorized to do is to spend a week mourning the death of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah, whose Wahabi tradition teaches those in grief not to demonstrate it in public. Perhaps the regime would prefer this of us.

We have been authorized to mention the word “martyr” in the context of January 25 as long as we agree that what they died for is what lies in front of us. We can speak of Egypt’s youth in the context of political participation, meaning participation in parliamentary elections. We have not yet been authorized to speak about the dead of June 30 and its bloody summer in any tone other than gratitude.


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