Posts Tagged ‘Morocco’

Links for May 10-15 2010

May 15th, 2010 Comments off

I’m in New York for the next few days, and Morocco after that for a week, and expect blogging to be very light. Still, I promise a long post on the renewal of the emergency law this week and wider issues, including US-Egypt relations. I am writing this from a very interesting conference at CUNY on the future of Egypt (Hassan Nafaa is speaking right now), which is an occasion to remind you to follow me on Twitter (see sidebar) for updates and links that are not in the links posts.

Here are the links and I want to highlight the first one:

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Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: Niass & Shahzad

May 8th, 2010 Comments off

I received some snarky message after the Shahzad attempted bombing in Times Square, asking if I were still standing behind the idea of Islam as a religion of peace. It was a stupid comment. Classical Islamic law forbids murder and forbids terrorism, and it forbids aggression. Whether that makes it a religion of peace is a matter for debate; it isn’t my diction. Medieval Islam, like medieval and even modern Christianity (cf. the Portuguese and Spanish Empires’ ‘God, glory and gold’), was used as an imperial ideology, sometimes for conquest states– but that use of it was contrary to the verses of the Qur’an instructing believers not to commit aggression and to agree to peace treaties with others who seek them.

But in any case, no contemporary Muslim-majority country I can think of would launch a war of naked aggression purely on an Islamic basis. In fact, few wars of naked aggression have been initiated by Muslim-majority countries in the past few decades. Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Iran in 1980 was an act of aggression on a self-proclaimed Islamic state by a secular Arab nationalist one, and premised on Arab nationalism, not Islam. Violence in the Levant is usually at least framed as a response to Israeli aggression. The issue of Morocco in the Western Sahara is national and territorial, and both parties are Muslim.

That is, few self-consciously “Islamic” polities have behaved as illegally and wrongly as did George W. Bush when he invaded Iraq on false pretenses and in the absence of an attack by Iraq on the US.

The people who say that “Islam” authorizes aggressive violence are a fringe of cultists and typically non-state actors. Those kind of people, you have in any society. The Hutaree in Michigan are a Christian sect that allegedly makes similar assertions. And you have the Christian fundamentalist Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda.

So the snarky question was a stupid and uninformed question. But it looks even stupider in the light of the revelation that it was a Senegalese Muslim, Alioune Niass, who discovered the smoking SUV in Times Square and urged a friend to call 911. That is, New Yorkers were saved from that bombing by a Muslim. See this MPAC article. (MPAC is a really great group and non-Muslims worried about bigotry against Muslims really should join it (membership link here).

Niass was interviewed by Amy Goodman on Democracy Now!, which noted that he got no recognition for his heroism.

And, the snarky question would look even more stupid in light of the announcement by Gen. David Petraeus, the CENTCOM commander in charge of the Greater Middle East and of the struggle against the Pakistani Taliban that Shahzad acted as a lone wolf, not as part of an organized plot. Shahzad is a Pashtun from an elite family (his father had been the equivalent of a two-star general in the Pakistani air force). He had not been a student activist of the Jamaat-i Islami, the fundamentalist party in Pakistan. If he did plot the bombing, he is as likely to have been motivated by Pashtun nationalism as Islam. Pashtuns are an ethnic group in northwest Pakistan, and often feel disadvantaged by the policies of the Punjabi-dominated central government in Islamabad. Even nationalist Pashtuns like the Awami National Party, which now rules the North-West Frontier Province (Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa) initially objected to Pakistani military attacks on Pashtun Pakistani Taliban because of ethnic solidarity, not religious.

And, everybody in Pakistan is upset by the continued US Predator drone strikes on Pakistani soil by covert operatives and sometimes by Blackwater-Xe contractors. (President Obama unwisely joked about the Predators last Saturday; it is not a joking matter in Pakistan). I have long worried about the unforeseen consequences of the Predator strikes, which are illegal in international law and done as a covert operation and so outside the US democratic framework. None of this in any way excuses the bloody-minded terrorism plot against civilians in Times Square. But to simple-mindedly equate such violence with “Islam,” the religion of 1.5 billion people or nearly a sixth of humankind, and to blame it on the Qur’an, is, well, I’ll say it again: uninformed and stupid.

PS For Pakistani-American anxieties over being tarred with this brush, see this report from Aljazeera English:

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Sex and Some Other City

May 7th, 2010 Comments off

Some of these links are from back in April, but heck, I’m an old married man with a kid who doesn’t keep up with the whole Sex and the City thing (though at least I no longer have to watch Dora the Explorer cartoons), and it took a younger colleague to flag this issue for me. As apparently everyone on earth and several of the inner planets knows, the forthcoming movie Sex and the City 2, opening soon, is at least partly set in Abu Dhabi.

Except that both Abu Dhabi and Dubai declined the honor of allowing filming in their fair cities, since, as certain British and Pakistani couples have learned recently, and despite a general sense of openness, and some locals who know how to get around the rules, there’s no sex in those cities. At least not officially, and especially not on the beaches. So Morocco is playing Abu Dhabi for the movies. What part of Morocco is not specified in the material I’ve seen, and it’s been a long time since I’ve been in Morocco, but I’m guessing there’s a lot of computer graphics backgrounds in use, unless Casablanca has gone all Shanghai on us, or they just figure nobody knows what Abu Dhabi looks like. (Anybody want to bet there are camels in it? Gotta be camels or you’d think it was Palm Springs, right? Our heroines are going to ride camels, right? Isn’t that how you get from the airport to your hotel in Abu Dhabi? It was the last time Wilfred Thesiger was there. Except there was no airport. I’m ranting. Sorry.)

It would be interesting to know why the brains (if that was the bodily organ involved) behind Sex and and the City 2 decided to set the story in Abu Dhabi in the first place. Was it a Maurice Chevalier “Come wees me to ze Casbah” thing? Except for the old fort and a mosque or two, the oldest building in Abu Dhabi dates from the 1980s (oh, sorry, that one was just torn down to build a new one: make it the 1990s: wait, here come the bulldozers) so it’s not exactly Casbah country.

The National, Abu Dhabi’s increasingly lively English daily, has been on the case, with an early take here; an article here on potential tourist boosts, and a piece on films made in locations other than their alleged setting here (familiar to Washingtonians who’ve seen plenty of films and TV shows where the chase passes the Lincoln Memorial and then the Sierra Nevadas show up in the background).

So Morocco, which has played a lot of other Arab countries in films before (as has Israel, for that matter), may drive a tourism boom to Abu Dhabi. But to paraphrase the title a famous British play: no sex, please, we’re Emirati.

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Morocco: Co-opting Everything

May 6th, 2010 Comments off

Maati Monjib is a writer and political activist who paid dearly for his views: he was exiled from Morocco for years under the late King Hassan II. A humble and highly perceptive man, his recent piece for the Arab Reform Bulletin subtly highlights the perils of a regime that seeks to co-opt everything: sooner or later, it will find itself with no credible mainstream political opponents.

This is what is happening to Morocco’s “historic” opposition party, the left-wing USFP, whose leaders have been pried away from a reformist position on a democratic reform of the constitution by the peddling of cabinet positions and other advantages to its leaders. It’s a sad statement on the much-touted transition of the last 15 years, with the USFP forming a “government of alternance” (I can never find the right English word for this) in 1997 only to be thoroughly discredited by the process:

In an April 21 letter published in local newspapers, three of the top leaders of the Socialist Union of Popular Forces (USFP) informed party leader Abdelwahed Radi that they were freezing their membership in the political bureau until the next party congress was held. One of the three was Ali Bouabid, the forty-something son of USFP founder Abderrahim Bouabid, who represents a youthful faction within the party that believes that the policy of unconditionally backing the monarchy has stalled democratic reforms. The three were upset at Radi’s statement, upon his election as speaker of parliament’s lower house, that constitutional reform was in the hands of the king alone. They argued that Radi was renouncing one of the most important decisions of the last USFP party congress, namely to seek “political and constitutional reform to extricate the country from the crisis of its struggling democracy.”

This controversy within the USFP is emblematic of problems inside other political parties as well, which struggle with how to pursue their principles in light of Morocco’s patronage based system and the centripetal force of the monarchy.  Changes inside the USFP—which has participated in every Moroccan government since 1998—over the last decade also are at the heart of the current problems.

As they say, read the whole thing.

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Turkey and the Middle East

May 1st, 2010 Comments off
Hugh Pope debunks the idea that Turkey is turning towards Iran or seeking to lead an “Islamic bloc”:
In truth-as International Crisis Group argues in its new report Turkey and the Middle East: Ambitions and Constraints-Turkey’s rising profile in the Middle East is a complement to and even dependent on its ties to the West. The attempts to grow the regional economy, create interdependence and foster peace have the potential to stabilize an area that has been threatening to it in the past. And Turkey’s main motivation for doing this is not the resurrection of an Ottoman-style caliphate, but the fact that its interests are directly damaged by instability in the Middle East, and secondly its desire to secure and encourage new markets for its rapidly expanding industries.
In other words, Turkey is following the policy of a normal confident state: watching after its interest, stabilizing its neighborhood, and redressing the regional balance. But many other states in the region either act over-confident and constantly project and perceive threats (Israel, Iran), act only for short-term tactical goals (Syria), act with hyper-sensitivity and wounded pride (Egypt, Algeria, Morocco) or are so penetrated as to not be able to project a state policy (Lebanon). To find the quietly confident states, look at their economy and soft power. 
The ICG report is here.

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Anzalone: The Death of a Caliph

April 20th, 2010 Comments off

In a guest opinion piece for Informed Comment, Christopher Anzalone asks if the Reported Killings of the Islamic State of Iraq’s two senior Leaders spell the end of the Self-styled Jihadi State.

Abu ‘Umar al-Baghdadi, the head of the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), and Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, the head of al-Qa ‘ida in the Land of the Two Rivers/Iraq (AQI), were both reportedly killed early in the morning Sunday (April 18) in battle with U.S. and Iraqi security forces 10 kilometers southwest of Tikrit. The killings were confirmed on Monday by General Ray Odierno, the commander of U.S. military forces in Iraq, in a press release , and Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki held up photographs said to be of the two before and after death at a press conferece (warning: graphic ).

Al-Muhajir’s assistant and al-Baghdadi’s son were also reportedly killed, along with a U.S. soldier, and sixteen other suspected militants were arrested. The ISI has, as of this writing, not confirmed or denied the deaths of its two senior leaders. Nonetheless, reports of their deaths, which have traveled fast, call into question the level of impact the demise of al-Baghdadi and al-Muhajir, if true, will have on the ISI, a self-styled jihadi state. Will their deaths effectively mark the end of the jihadi state experiment in Iraq?

The ISI is an umbrella organization for several of the most violent jihaditakfiri insurgent groups operating in the country, the largest of them being AQI. (“Jihadi” because they foreground a supposed duty of the individual to wage holy war, contrary to normative teachings of Islam; and ‘takfiri’ because they excommunicate all those with whom they disagree, making them ‘kafirs.’) The “founding” of the ISI was announced in a video statement released online in October 2006, and it replaced an earlier umbrella, the Mujahideen Shura Council. Al-Baghdadi, who real name the U.S. and Iraqi government say is Hamid Dawud Muhammad Khalil al-Zawi, has been designated the jihadi “commander of the faithful” (amir al-mu’mineen), a title reserved by Sunni Muslims for the caliph, the rightful head of an (ideally) unified Islamic state. The ISI claims that he is a member of the Prophet Muhammad’s tribe, the Quraysh, and his specific clan within the tribe, the Hashemites.

Al-Baghdadi was addressed by senior al-Qa‘ida Central (AQC) leaders as a proto-caliph of the unified Islamic state that the group and its regional allies and affiliates hoped to establish across the Muslim world, from Morocco to Indonesia. AQC’s chief ideologue and deputy commander, Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri, urged other Iraqi jihadi-insurgent groups, such as Ansar al-Islam, to join the ISI under al-Baghdadi’s leadership, to no avail, in order to unify the “forces of monotheism” under a single banner. A series of audio messages from al-Baghdadi have been released over the past several years, the last being two concerning Iraq’s March parliamentary elections. He has never appeared on film. Al-Baghdadi’s condemnation of the elections and call for their rejection was largely ignored, as was a “curfew” announced by the ISI days before the elections were held. I previously argued that this marked the ISI’s continuing decline.

Al-Muhajir, who is also known as Abu Ayyub al-Masri, succeeded Abu Mus‘ab al-Zarqawi as head of AQI when the latter was killed in a U.S. air strike in June 2006. He has rarely appeared on film and has communicated with his followers largely through audio messages released on the Internet. These messages have covered a number of topics, including a series of lectures on the jurisprudence of jihad in its military form and the importance of Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting, for sacrifice and armed struggle against the “enemies of Islam.”

Al-Muhajir was most recently featured in the video Ghazwat al-Asir 1, released on March 29, the first video in presumably a series produced by the ISI to highlight its “Expedition of the Prisoner” bombing campaign in Baghdad. The group has targeted a number of Iraqi government ministries and buildings, along with hotels and the Iranian, Egyptian, and German embassies. The video painted the first series of attacks in the campaign, which targeted the Ministries of Finance and Foreign Affairs, as revenge for the arrest, torture, and murder of Iraqi Sunnis by the Shi‘i-dominated Iraqi central government. The killings of al-Baghdadi and al-Muhajir, the senior leaders of the al-Qa‘ida vein of the Iraqi insurgency, if confirmed, are a significant blow to the jihaditakfiri state project in Iraq.

General Odierno has said, “The death of [al-Baghdadi and al-Muhajir] is potentially the most significant blow to al-Qaeda in Iraq since the beginning of the insurgency.” While their deaths, if confirmed, are a significant achievement, their importance should not yet be overestimated. To put the issue into historical context, it should be remembered that the killing of al-Zarqawi, the founder of AQI and public face of the Iraqi insurgency from 2003 until his death in June 2006, did not end either his organization or the wider insurgency. Indeed, AQI, the MSC and then the ISI continued to enjoy a “golden age” well into 2007. It was not the death of al-Zarqawi that marked the beginning of AQI’s decline. Rather, it was the group’s own mistakes, namely overstepping its bounds by targeting members of Iraq’s Sunni Arab tribes and arrests of ISI leaders and media personnel, such as its “minister of information” Khalid al-Mashhadani in July 2007, combined with the presence of tens of thousands of additional U.S. soldiers due to the “surge” that led to AQI’s severe reversal of fortunes in mid to late 2007 and into 2008.

The long-term importance of al-Baghdadi’s and al-Muhajir’s deaths depends a great deal on the level to which the ISI still remains a viable social movement in Iraq. While it has never enjoyed widespread active support per se in the country, the ISI nonetheless remains a potent force in the insurgency, and indeed it is the country’s most lethal. It carried out some of its most deadly attacks, in terms of casualties, after al-Zarqawi’s death. Since last August, the ISI has carried out a number of highly-coordinated and massive kamikaze vehicle bombings against Iraqi government targets and foreign embassies in Baghdad, making a strategic decision to forgo frequency for potency in its attacks. The latest round of its “Expedition of the Prisoner” bombing campaign struck the Iranian, German, and Egyptian embassies in the Iraqi capital.

On the other hand, the ISI lacks the deep social roots enjoyed by many religious-nationalist groups in the Middle East, such as the Lebanese Twelver Shi‘i movement Hezbollah and HAMAS in Palestine. Both of these groups have also suffered the killings of senior leaders, Hezbollah the assassination of Shaykh ‘Abbas al-Musawi by Israel in 1992 and HAMAS the assassination, also by Israel, of many of its founders between 2002 and 2004 including Shaykh Ahmad Yassin and Dr. ‘Abd al-‘Aziz al-Rantissi. However, unlike the ISI, both Hezbollah and HAMAS had and continue to have extensive roots in their respective societies and command sizeable constituencies among the Lebanese and Palestinian publics. Thus, both groups were equipped with the necessary social resources and support to survive the killings of senior leaders. In the case of Hezbollah, the killing of its leader actually brought on the group’s “golden age” under the guidance of a new, more charismatic leader, al-Sayyid Hasan Nasrallah.

In contrast, the ISI and AQI lack the long historical ties to other social groups within the society in which they operate and they do not enjoy widespread public support. Indeed, AQI and the ISI were founded and have been led since their inception mostly by foreigners who lack strong ties to important social groups in Iraqi society. Although AQI was able to survive the death of its founder, in large part due to the prevailing social conditions of the time, namely a raging civil war between Iraqi Sunni and Shi‘i Arab militias, the killing of both al-Baghdadi and al-Muhajir may speed up the jihadi state’s ongoing decline.

The potential for this result is increased due to the fact that al-Baghdadi was not just the head of the ISI but also viewed by both top jihaditakfiri leaders like al-Zawahiri and the transnational jihaditakfiri movement at large as a proto-caliph. Reports of his and al-Muhajir’s death was first met by blustery disbelief and denial on many of the jihaditakfiri web forums, but this has slowly begun to give way to mournful acceptance by some users, who pray that the two are “granted the highest level of Paradise (Jannat al-Firdaws),” if the reports turn out to be accurate. While it will take some time both to see if the reports of al-Baghdadi’s and al-Muhajir’s deaths are true and, if so, what impact they will have on the ISI, it is clear that the “golden age” of the self-styled jihadi state has passed. Although it is still capable of carrying out deadly attacks, it can no longer operate with impunity as it did and AQI did from 2003-2007. The al-Qa‘ida-style transnational jihaditakfiri state experiment in Iraq has failed.

Christopher Anzalone
Graduate Program
Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures
Indiana University
Bloomington, IN

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Dar al-Hilal and ElBaradei’s shoes

April 14th, 2010 Comments off

Today I went to Dar al-Hilal, in the Mounira district of central Cairo. It’s a rather grand building that houses the publishing houses that puts out, among other things, al-Mussawar magazine. The picture above shows a stained glass window at the end of a long corridor where the fairly drab and depressing offices of the magazine are.

Al-Mussawar was once a great publication in the monarchy and Nasser eras, featuring fantastic photography, cartoons and articles. I have a small collection of old issues of al-Mussawar, some of which I found in Morocco. For instance, the one below dates from a few months before the October 1956 Suez Crisis and talks about war preparedness along the Suez Canal. 

 I can’t judge its editorial quality today — I almost never read it. But I did pick up the last issue, part of new wave of attacks on ElBaradei, which had the cover below, with the headline: “ElBaradei Pasha: Enemy of the Workers and Peasants.” I spoke to Hamdi Rizk, al-Mussawar’s editor about it. Rizk is an old-school populist-nationalist, critical of ElBaradei for essentially being a “khawaga” and a “pacha” with no knowledge of “people on the street.” It’s a critique I’ve heard from ordinary people and has much more resonance than the previous attacks focusing on ElBaradei’s alleged dual nationality. Rizk pointed to ElBaradei’s shoes on the cover, saying they are Clark’s, worth more than the monthly salary of an average Egyptian. Of course, I’m sure Mubarak and Gamal wear similarly expensive footwear, not shib-shib they picked up up in Sayyeda. I guess this is the equivalent of the perennial American debate about presidential candidates’ expensive haircuts.

Rizk was affable enough — not the terrible monster I’d imagined reading his violent attacks on the Muslim Brothers (his primary field of expertise alongside Sudan) over the years in al-Masri al-Youm, where he pens a column. What struck me is that, as much as he might be accused of engaging in ElBaradei-bashing on behalf of the Mubarak regime, he also represents something real.

Call it the populist false consciousness of a media that engages in relentless nationalist manipulation with occasional bouts of paranoid schizophrenia about the foreign conspiracy against the pure white hearts of the Egyptian people.

Or call it self-interest of the administrative class that has underpinned the regime for decades, the kind that obsesses with salary scales, bonuses, club memberships and safeguarding idea of state control over society and economy in an age of globalization.  

Or perhaps even call it a truly representative sample of a part of public opinion that resents (as Rizk does) Gamal’s team of economic reformists as much as it resents ElBaradei — these “khawagized” Egyptians who “think Egypt can be run from laptops” (Rizk’s phrase). Maybe Rizk is earnest about his opinions, and thinks he’s doing a public good by attacking ElBaradei. He makes no secret of his love for Mubarak and hope he will run again next year. He wants the next president to be like Nasser and Mubarak, to “come from the streets.”

Maybe we need to start thinking about this phenomenon as Egypt’s equivalent to the Tea Party movement, the manifestation of resentment against sinking purchasing power, culture wars with the elites, and a widening chasm of inequality.

P.S. I forgot to mention that the new issue of al-Mussawar’s editorial is by Mr. Egypt himself, Zahi Hawass. He also attacks ElBaradei, with the headline: “I am the most famous person in Egypt” in answer to ElBaradei’s similar recent statement to Austrian media. 

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WINEP and the lobby

April 13th, 2010 Comments off
It was delightful to read Stephen Walt’s rebuttal to WINEP’s Robert Satloff on the issue of “dual loyalty” and where WINEP stands. Let us be clear about this, it may be the case that WINEP produces decent material on, say, counter-terrorism in Algeria or the domestic politics of Oman. But on anything that touches Israel, and issues of interest to Israel like Iran, it is one of several think tanks that serve to produce ideological justifications for policies supported by the likes of AIPAC. That is its main and most important purpose, and to pretend otherwise is beyond hypocritical.
I remember attending a WINEP luncheon in Washington a few years ago. It was the kind of thing targeted at fundraisers and supporters, with Dennis Ross as key speaker. The person sitting to my left was a very nice elderly lady, half of a wealthy couple of Jewish retirees from upstate New York. The person sitting on my right was a young Jewish campus activist for Israel. That seemed to represent the range of people in the crowd, and audience and speakers were trying to outdo each other in Iran-bashing and support for Israel. I don’t think you see that at serious think tanks.
As M.J. Rosenberg, formerly of AIPAC and now of J Street, writes in his Talking Points Memo blog:

In my piece yesterday, I pointed out that I was in the room when the plan for WINEP was first drawn up. I was working at AIPAC and it was Steve Rosen who cleverly came up with the idea for an AIPAC controlled think-tank that would put forth the AIPAC line but in a way that would disguise its connections.

There was no question that WINEP was to be AIPAC’s cutout. It was funded by AIPAC donors, staffed by AIPAC employees, and located one door away, down the hall, from AIPAC Headquarters (no more. It has its own digs). It would also hire all kinds of people not identified with Israel as a cover and would encourage them to write whatever they liked on matters not related to Israel. “Say what you want on Morocco, kid.” But on Israel, never deviate more than a degree or two.

It’s always been slightly painful to see Egyptian friends — journalists, analysts etc. — take up a job at WINEP, which actively tries to recruit Arabs for fellowships to deflect its lobbying role. I understand why being given a nice salary and a year in Washington is appealing, but it smarts that WINEP is the organization doing this. I tease more mercilessly my American friends who’ve worked there (not on directly peace-process related issues), but they’ve moved on now. WINEP has a lot money to throw around, some good researchers, and can afford to buttress its claim of neutrality by hiring former officials and analysts who do not necessarily share their views on Israel — as long as they don’t work on the issue. Presumably the same people won’t speak out against the house line while they work there, either. 
In any case, that so many are taking Satloff down on his ridiculous claim of WINEP not being part of the lobby is very satisfying personally. In 2005, when I edited Cairo magazine, we ran article tying WINEP to AIPAC. Satloff sent us an angry letter. It was true that WINEP is not funded by AIPAC in a legal sense, but they share donors. Rosenberg elucidates the motive behind separating AIPAC’s research arm, then led by Martin Indyk (another person, alongside Dennis Ross, who has no business running US policy in the Middle East) with this tidbit from a reader:

WINEP was created initially at a time when AIPAC was in financial trouble and having a lot of problems raising money, so it was suggested, probably by Steve Rosen. (I was at the same meeting) that we split the AIPAC research department into two parts, a minor part to service the legislative lobbying, and the major part to become a 501(C)3 that could raise big bucks tax free unlike AIPAC itself which did not enjoy that tax status.

As you wrote, it was originally in AIPAC’s building and on the same floor but we started getting a lot of pressure from some of the other Jewish organizations which were worried that AIPAC would cut into their (C)3 fundraising.

As for funding, the Weinbergs were key and even worked out a deal with some big money folks who didn’t want to contribute to a political operation like AIPAC but would give to (C)3’s. So one could give to the (C)3 and someone else would match it for AIPAC.

This became the ultimate in interlocking directorates.

As Helena Cobban points out, some of us have been saying this for a long time. Kudos to Foreign Policy, TPM and of course the invaluable Mondoweiss for bringing this discussion out in the open. But this discussion should not only involve American Jews, it affects all of us. Talking about the “dual loyalty” problem is necessary — not because, as Satloff argued rather heinously, because people who doubt Ross’ neutrality on Israel are engaged in a McCarthyite and anti-Semitic campaign and believe Jews can’t be trusted (that accusation is the real canard), but because these people and these organizations have a clear record as lobbying organizations for a foreign government that make them poor choices as policymakers.
Consider also that Dennis Ross disagrees with Obama’s stated policy on both Iran and the peace process, and even his friend Aaron Miller thinks he’s too biased to be a fair negotiator between Israelis and Palestinians. Is it really too much to ask that he be taken off Middle East policy?
On a related note, I’ve had some fun making fake AIPAC logos, you can take a look at them here. They’re inspired by the commonsensical remarks made by Gen. David Petraeus about the peace process being important to American interests in the region, and how its undermining by the Netanyahu government (and previous Israeli administrations) is hurting those interests.

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Lamenting Ignorance of Modern Standard Arabic

April 13th, 2010 Comments off

Here’s a piece from The National from a few days ago, lamenting how poorly many Arabs speak Modern Standard Arabic. It opens with the oft-cited problems Lebanese Prime Minister Sa‘d Hariri had in addressing Parliament.

We’ve had occasion to discuss the diglossia issue several times on this blog, and I refer you to those earlier posts for background and details. I suspect that this article (which is, of course, published in English) somewhat overstates the case. Yes, many Arabs do not have a fluent command of Modern Standard Arabic, for the well-known reason that it is no one’s native tongue. It is a learned tongue, a classicized form of the colloquial Arabics everyone really speaks. The problem may be worse in Francophone countries such as Morocco, Algeria, and Lebanon, where the colonial language enjoys great influence, or in the Gulf, where English is the language of business, and large numbers of expatriate workers speak little Arabic.

But it has long been true that most Arabs other than radio and television presenters, journalists and college professors, really had more need to read MSA than to write it. I’m sure Sa‘d Hariri speaks colloquial Arabic fluently (though probably Saudi rather than Lebanese dialect); King ‘Abdullah II of Jordan had the same problem when he ascended the throne after only a short tenure as Crown Prince; born of an English mother and educated abroad, his military career had presumably not required regular communication in literary Arabic.

But it seems extreme to suggest, as the editorialist does, that Modern Standard Arabic will die out if not emphasized more. The fundamental thing that has bound the various dialects of Arabic together, so that they do not separate as the Romance languages did from their Latin roots, is the Qur’an and the fact that the dialects are not themselves normally written (except for occasional plays or political cartoons). While that has impeded the spread of literacy, it has maintained a certain unity for the Arabic language, intimately tied, as it is, to Islam through the Qur’an.

And this is not a new circumstance. A century ago the colonial languages, English or French, would have prevailed; a bit earlier than that, Ottoman Turkish. But Arabic has not died out.

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In Alexandria

March 31st, 2010 Comments off

For a conference on the latest Arab Human Development Report, which focuses on the environment. Hope to blog about it, but I’m already seeing some interesting papers on global warming and overpopulation.

Some interesting and worrying stats:

– there are 369 million Arabs today; in 2050 there will be 598 million.
– 90% of land in the region is classified as arid or dry sub-humid.
– 15 of the 22 arab states are among the world’s. Most water-stressed countries.
– Temperature increases in the region due to global warming will be of 2C over the next 15-20 years and up to 4C by the end of the century.
– Droughts have already become more frequent, notably in Morocco.
– Mediterranean will rise by 30cm to 1m and will flood parts of Egypt’s north coast.

More later.

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