Sayyid Imam will speak

aka Dr Fadl’s book is finished and  will be exclusively printed in Egypt’s Al-Masri Al-Youm newspaper starting this week. 

According to Al-Masri Al-Youm, he will reveal new secrets about Jihad operations in Pakistan, Europe and Arab countries, but this seems more of an attempt (by the paper) to generate readership interest.  I’m more interested in his theological development: to what extent is he going to move further towards the Islamic center?  When he spoke last, his ideas were pretty rigid.  He was against the use of violence mostly because it would only lead to fowda or fitna, not because it was particularly wrong and at no point did he say that the government isn’t infidel. Its a question of whats the best way to deal with the situation (in his mind).  Has he gone beyond this simplistic cost-benefit analysis equation? 

The Islamic Group (Al-Gama’a AL-Islamiyya) is  substantially further along in their revisions process, and is on the verge of making the jump to the Islamic centralism espoused by Qaradawi and the Brotherhood, although they still have some ways to go.   Read Khali Anani’s excellent article on why they are not quite there yet.   As of last December, when he last spoke, Sayyid Imam was a long way behind the Islamic Group but we will soon find out to what extent he has closed the gap.

Interfaith Conference in New York

Receivng extensive coverage in the Arab press is the recently completed UN-sponsored Interfaith Conferece in New York.  Read about it in English here.

Two things of note:
1) The conference needs to be seen as a Saudi initiative to try and improve its image which has been damaged in recent years, especially by the news that 15 of the 19 9/11 hijackers were Saudi. 

2) Many, if not most, Arab commentators see the conference as pointless and merely political.   Egypt’s Fahmy Huwedi wrote a column expressing his displeasure at the decision of the Sheikh of Al-Azhar and the Mufti of Egypt to travel to the conference which he argues has nothing to do with religious dialogue.   Shimon Peres and Tipni Livnu were not there to represent the Jewish religion but the State of Israel, and their participation alongside Saudi Arabia was a major political coup.  In Huwedi’s view the Sheik and the Mufti should have recognized this and not attended.

The “Voice” of the Arab Street Speaks

Yesterday’s episode of Al-Itjiah Al-Muakis wasn’t as good as I thought it would be.  The  formal debate question “are the Democrats and Republicans two sides of the same coin?”  The actual debate was more centered around the question “will Obama’s be different than his predecessors?”  Amin Amil, an Egyptian scholar, argued no- US interests are fixed.  An Arab based in Europe was more optimistic, arguing that at least Bush is gone so that in itself is a good thing and  Obama will adopt a more unilateral or negotiatig position.  Maybe this is my sense, but  it seemed that Faysal Al-Qasim, the moderator, generally sided with the Egyptian. 

Speaking of Egyptians, the “voice” of the Arab street, Shaben Abdel Rahman, has just issued a songmocking Obama:

A famous Egyptian singer is weighing in on Barack Obama‘s US presidential win with a new song warning Obama fans in Egypt that President George W. Bush’s successor may prove something of a letdown.

Shaban Abdul Rahim, best known for his hit single in Egypt “I hate Israel,” says in his new song: “We hope that Obama won’t be like Bush; that son of a crazy woman,” the English-language Egyptian Mail reported on Tuesday.

But he adds: “Now Bush is gone, and Obama has come. So what? Palestine is still occupied and Iraq is destroyed.”

He goes on to caution, “Neither Bush nor Obama will be your mama.”

Abdul Rahim’s song was penned after Obama’s victory received a mostly warm welcome in Egypt after eight years of Bush’s unpopular presidency.

“Do not expect Obama to be your future hero, or a new Saladin,” Abdul Rahim sings, referring to the 12th century Muslim ruler who fought to expel the Crusaders from Jerusalem.

Abdul Rahim’s best known hit from 2003, in which he sang “I hate Israel, but I love (Egyptian President) Hosni Mubarak because of his big mind,” led fast food chain McDonald’s to cancel an advertisement featuring him.

If these lyrics sound  unsophisticated its because they are- Shaben would be the Arab social equivalent of what is known in the US as “white-trash.”    That being said, he is widely popular with “the masses.”

Everyone should read…..

Mr Egypt’s (an Egyptian scholar)  long  comment on my recent postabout Arab reactions to the US elections.  If some people  think I’m being negative about the results of the US elections, I’m not.  My concern is that Arab reactions to the results are being widely misread in the US.  Its a critical strategic issue to understand the reactions, and I don’t think this is happening so far.  Middle East policy  based on exaggerated  or an  inaccurate sense of  US “soft-power” can be disastrous.

Scheuer on Al-Qaeda in the Levant

The always must-read Mike Scheuer, former head of the Bin Laden unit and author of  Imperial_Hubris is doing a 4 part-series :

 that will assess the initial stages of the penetration of the Levant by al-Qaeda and other Islamist groups. This piece will look at Syria, and will be followed by analyses of the bleed-through from Iraq into Lebanon, Jordan, and Israel. The quartet of articles will seek to assess the validity of the recent claim by the state-run Syrian newspaper Al-Thawara that because of the war in Iraq “the [Levant] region is throbbing with terrorists.”

Here’s parts one and  two.  About a month ago, a friend of MediaShack published a long_piece in The National on the same topic.

Arabs Relying on Britain and Israel for their History?

Robert Fisk  highlights  a serious problem in studying contemporary Middle Eastern politics and history- the lack of access to archives:

LONDON: In Damascus, a massive statue of the late President Hafez Al-Assad sits on a mighty iron chair outside the 22,000 square meters Assad Library, a giant book open in his right hand.

Behind him lie the archives of his dictatorship. But not a single state paper is open to the people of Syria. There are no archives from the foreign ministry or the interior ministry or the defense ministry. There is no 30-year rule — for none is necessary. The rule is forever. There is no Public Record Office in the Arab world, no scholars waiting outside the National Archives.

It is the same in Cairo, in Riyadh, in Beirut and in Tripoli. Dictatorships and caliphates do not give away their secrets. The only country in the Middle East where you can burrow through the files is called Israel — and good for the Israelis.

Fisk is spot-on.  On any controversial or sensitive political or security issue, researchers, Arab or foreign, have almost no chance of getting access to the local records, which is critical.   After all, noone could write a decisive book about the First World War if they had access to only the French archives but not the German, or vice versa.    In Europe, one can get access to the most sensitive documents, at least after 30 years, and we have a pretty decisive understanding of the events of the First and Second World Wars.   Not so in the Middle East.   Take for example,  Arabs_at_War: Military Effectiveness 1948-1991, an overall outstanding book.   The one thing that sticks out, however, is that 99% of the sources used are American or Israeli, which is a serious problem.  That being said,  there aren’t many sources the author could have consulted as they are all closed to the public.

On this topic,  if anyone ever has time to kill in London- go to the National Archives at Kew Gardens.  It is a gold-mine.  In the time it takes to make a few clicks on a compter screen, one can get access to virtually any file of importance  on say the Second World War, British foreign affairs,  or even more contemporary issues such as the IRA.  Its amazing how useful and organized their database is, which is in stark contrast to the situation in France where files are  highly disorganized, and highly (comparaitvely) decentralized, and one has to go through more red-tape just to get access.  In London, one can show up the day off, sign up for a library card within minutes, whereas in France, it takes  much longer to get access.  Although, my lack of research success in France probably had something to do with my mediocre French language skills.

Check in tomorow…..

for a post  on tonight’s episode of the Al-Jazeera political  talk show Al-Itijah Al-Muakis (The Opposite Direction) on the US elections.   Tonight’s first post-elections show has the potential to be a great one. 

Speaking of Obama and the Middle East, Professor Mark Levine  (whose book is on my to-read list) goes beyond the change rhetoric and has an outstanding analysis of the nature of the challenges he will face in the region.  A very good, must-read article.

President Mubarak’s Surprise Visit to Sudan

Egypt’s President made an unannounced visit to Sudan today, the first time since 2003, meeting with President Bashir in Khartoum, and then making the first ever visit by an Egyptian President to Juba in the South.    It’s hard to exaggerate how important Sudan is to Egyptian security:  If Egypt is a house, Sudan is the foundation through which all of the essential electrical circuits (the Nile)  originate from.  Therefore, a lack of  order  in Sudan is a direct security threat to Egypt and for this reason Cairo is opposed to any ICC attempt to arrest President Bashir as this would jeopardize the 2005 Peace Treaty with the South, and may even make things worse in Darfur. 

On another note, the Egyptian government has been criticized by Egyptian columnists for abrogating its duty as a regional power and not being involved in Darfur.   “We’ve gotta act like the regional power we are and stop letting little Qatar get all the glory” goes the arguement (See this  post).    Today’s high-level by a delegation that included the President, the Foreign Minister and Omar Suleiman, head of the Mukhaberet, seems to be a pretty decisive response to that criticism.

Peace Process Outlook: Not so Good

The future of the Peace Process depends upon alot of things but no progress is possible unless the three main players, the US, the Israelis, and the Palestinians, are politically able, at the same time,  to engage in serious negotiations. 

I. The Palestinians and the Arabs:  As divided as ever and reconciliations talks between Hamas and Fatah in Cairo just fell_apart.    Hamas claims that Egypt is not acting as a neutral mediator and their argument is supported by many influential Arab columnists, such as Fahmy Huwedi and Abdel Bari Atwan.  The lead editorial  in today’s Al-Quds Al-Arabilists six factors behind the collapse of the Cairo talks.  The first factor behind the collapse is the alleged presence of a US-Israeli “veto” of any negotiations with Hamas and secondly, they blame the Egyptian government’s failure to act as a neutral mediator between the different factions.  Only after this, does Al-Quds blame the Palestian factions themselves.  Whatever the case, if the Palestinians can’t even negotiate a common front amongst themselves, its wishful thinking they will be ready to seriously negotiate with Israel in the near future. 

II.  The Israelis.  Also not currently in a position to undertake serious negotiations with Livni locked in a tight election campaign against Benjamin Netanyahu.  Livni’s failure to seal the deal and get the support necessary to become PM was a bad omen.  If Netanyahu wins the upcoming election, its unlikely that the Israeli government (or the public) will be in a conciliatory mood.    Supposedly, the Israeli public is wary about Obama and his commitment to standing firm against Iran which may favor the hard-liner Netanyahu is his battle with Livni.  Whatever the case,  if Netanyahu wins, the Peace Process, almost by definition,  loses.

III.  The United States.  Washington is not a babysitter and can’t force people to negotiate if they don’t want to, which seems to be the case right now.  But the big question is what approach will Obama take towards negotiations between Israel and Palestine and this is the central issue that concerns the Arab street and the key to improving US standing in the region.  Everything else (Iraq, Afghanistan) is secondary.  If, in general, we can say that Arabs prefer Obama, it is because they are expecting “change” on this issue.   Let’s not kid ourselves and think that if Obama adapts the same policies towards Israel-Palestine, that US standing is going to improve.   He’s going to have a window to show the Arabs something different, but it won’t be open forever.

What ever happened to that kid?

The Setting:  Algeria,  late ’91.’   The confrontation between Islamists and the state was about to reach its climax.  The Islamic Salvation Front was on the verge of winning the elections (and of being banned before they did that) and its top leaders, including the charismatic preacher Ali Belhadj, had just been thrown into jail.  Tensions were soaring and Algeria was on the brink of its seven year descent into living hell. 

In this background, a giant FIS rally was held at an Algiers football stadium.    Stealing the show was Abdelkahr Belhadj, the 7 year old son of the FIS’s #2, who gave perhaps the best public speaking performance ever by a 7 year old.   Standing confidently in front of 30-40 thousand angry supporters, Abdelkahr electrified the crowd-  Watch the clip here.   At first his identity was unclear and many people were wondering who this kid was.  But once they realized it was the imprisoned Ali Belhadj’s son, the place erupted.  

As a sucker for good pep talks (see  here,   here and most especially here), I’ve always wondered what became of this kid.   After all, how many 7 year olds can say they have given a speech in front of 30,000 people? 

Just yesterday, while reading this outstanding article on Algerian Islamism, I learned of his fate.  Unfortunately, he is now a  member_of_Al-Qaeda,or at least of its Algerian affiliate, GSPC.

What to do about Iran?

Amongst the many challenges facing the new administration is Iran.  What should they do?  Will Ward, who knows Iran very well, begins a series of  posts looking into future policy on Iran.  Check it out.

Maybe it is wishful thinking….

Yesterday, I posted  about Dia Rashwan’s call for Egyptian opposition parties to unite and reach a common position against Inheritance (ie Gamal Mubarak taking over for his dad). 

Its true, as one commenter noted, that the Egyptian opposition is divided and any coordination will be difficult.  But are there differences so deep that they can’t reach a common stance against Tawreeth, something they can all generally agree on?  The giant brawl that occured at the headquarters of the Ghad party a few days ago, suggests that even this might be a  stretch:

CAIRO: Thirty-five Ghad party members were questioned by the public prosecution office Thursday following clashes between rival Ghad factions outside the party’s downtown headquarters.  A fire which began in the headquarters during the clashes resulted in 60 percent of it being destroyed, according to Wael Nawwara, head of the party’s executive committee.

On Thursday morning at roughly 10 am supporters of Moussa Mostafa Moussa, who is contesting leadership of Al Ghad, congregated in Talat Harb Square below the party headquarters where Gamila Ismail, wife of ex-party chairman Ayman Nour and others had convened to hold a general assembly.

An ongoing power struggle within the Ghad party began after Nour’s imprisonment, when he was stripped of the party’s presidency.

Eyewitnesses to Thursday’s events say that the two groups threw bottles and rocks at each other.  A group of men was photographed using lit aerosol cans to try and destroy the door and force their way into the locked building.  Fire broke soon after the clashes began, with both sides blaming each other for causing it.

If the Ghad party is so divided that they can’t even pick a leader without a full-fledged barroom brawl, how can they even begin to talk about negotiations with other parties?  First things first, right?  On the other hand, a cynic might wonder if the  NDP is playing divide and conquer, in fact, that’s exactly what some of the people in the Ghad party are saying.  To this, I’m sure Rashwan would respond by saying this is why it’s critical we reach a united anti-Inheritance front.

Speaking of Next Presidents…..

Who says election cycles are long only in America?  In Egypt, Presidential elections are scheduled for 2011 and people are already planning.   But unlike America, what’s going to happen in Egypt is far more difficult to read.

Here’s what we know:  According to  Michelle  Dunne, if the stipulated constitutional procedures are followed, the most likely future President is Gamal Mubarak.  For example, each party’s Presidential Candidate must have served one year in a position of high party leadership and within the NDP there are only a few who would meet this requirement, which,  at least technically, rules out a candidate from the armed forces. 

However, in recent speeches, articles and interviews, Dia Rashwan, one of Egypt’s top commentators, has put forth several critical points of note:

1) A United Opposition Against Inheritance (Tawreeth);  Rashwan is calling for all opposition parties (defined as anyone not affiliated with NDP) to unite and reach a common anti-Tawreeth position. 

2) Next President Will Come From Army:  Rashwan predicts and supports this.  Contrary to common Western perceptions, Egyptians do not hate their government, but are not  happy with its performance.   In Egypt, the armed forces are prestigious, highly respected and seen as the nation’s caretaker.  In this context, Rashwan is not calling for more military dictatorship, but rather he sees the military as the sole institution that can put Egypt back on a Democratic track.

Points of Note: (from interview in Al-Dostor 11/5, p.4)
– Gamal Mubarak’s chances are weak because in Egypt the military is the chief source of power and Gamal has no connection to the military.  His chief source of power is his father (who will only be around for so long) …  President Mubarak has not given any indication that he wants his son to be President.  Since 2003 we have been talking about a struggle between the New and Old Gaurds within the NDP.  If there was a clear sign that President Mubarak wanted his son to be the next President, these struggles would not have occurred. .. The only clear sign is that he is not the next President but the son of the current President who practices politics. 

– Who supports Gamal within NDP?: 
The biggest businessmen are neutral and not linked to Gamal Mubarak.  He  has the support of a small number of businessmen who are connected to him personally and have benefited financially from this relationship. 

What about point 72 of the Constitution requiring one year of high party service?  Doesn’t this eliminate an armed forces candidate? 
If the armed forces decided to run a candidate they could probably get the necessary 250  signatures from the NDP and MPs (to get around that rule) .  On the possibility of an armed forces candidate coming from within the NDP, Rashwan notes that only two (Safwat Al-Shareef and Zakarias Azmi) have high level military experience… He also rules out possibility that army would support Gamal if he agreed to certain conditions, noting how hard it would be for them to ensure them once he took office.

Commentary
I think Rashwan’s analysis is correct and have heard the same thing from other big name Egyptian commentators.  The big question, therefore,  is “how much power does Gamal Mubarak lose the minute he is not son of the President?”  One major Egyptian intellectual puts it at 95%.  If this correct, he has little chance of becoming President. 

I have argued in previous posts that Gamal Mubarak has the ability to gain enough public support to become the President.  He will have the support of some, such as the Copts, irregardless.  If he is perceived by the people as a serious reformer, he could gain popualr support, or at least, would not face widespread public opposition.   Perhaps this is why Rashwan is making such a push to have the opposition parties take a united stand against Inheritance.

To reveal or not to reveal?

What should we do in Iraq? What should are policy towards Iran be?  Ask any of the top experts these questions in DC over the past two years and in many cases you were likely to get vague and useless answers. 

Helene Cooper of the NY TIMES   looks at the unwillingness of those angling for positions in the Obama administration (and it would have been the same thing for McCain)  to make any public statements on the critical issues.  Each candidate had a team of advisors, but these people weren’t doing this for charity.  They expect their advice and support to be rewarded with positions of influence.  The flip side is that they are unwilling to say anything useful for fear of damaging their chances:

Few people took note, what with the focus on the election campaign, but many of those aspiring to join an Obama foreign policy team showed their hands by turning silent over the summer on just about anything that might get them in trouble in a confirmation hearing.

Take the Russian invasion of Georgia, for example, an action that raised all sorts of complicated questions. But in Congress, at universities and at research institutes, would-be Democratic secretaries of state and national security advisers sought to navigate that potential minefield by following the same cautious script.

They condemned Russia (without proposing specific punishment). They proclaimed heartfelt support for President Mikheil Saakashvili of Georgia, the congressional darling (without any questioning whether he was culpable in inviting the attacks). And they publicly voiced strong backing for Georgia’s entry into NATO, a possibility that most of these same foreign policy experts acknowledge privately is as likely as a warm winter in Moscow.

“At a time when we really needed penetrating, thoughtful foreign policy analysis about what we should be doing towards Russia, all the people who work on this and wanted to be in the next administration were saying nothing but domestic political posturing,” said George Perkovich, vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, who makes clear that he is not seeking a job in the next White House. “They were all protecting themselves and positioning themselves for confirmation hearings.”

The article is correct on everything but the timing.   It started with the beginning of the campaign, not the summer.   In its early stages, I signed up for a course on US National Security  at a certain well-known university, thinking that with the Professor’s background, I would get some serious “insider-analysis.”  Wrong.   The professor spoke only in the broadest of strokes, refusing to say anything useful about contemporary US security issues, which led me to wonder if he was running for office.   Earlier this year I realized he sort of was when I read a NY TIMES article which said he is one of Obama’s top advisors, though he never revealed this during the course, which was a waste of time and money.   

Here’s my question:  Do those who are professing to provide expertise on a region or field have an obligation to reveal if they are affiliated with a certain campaign?  It seems to me that they should.

Abu Dhabi vs Qatar

Over the last decade Qatar has became famous as the host of Al-Jazeera and perhaps the most influential media hub in the Middle East.  Now,  Abu Dhabi is trying to open up a competing media hub as the New York Times reports:

Twenty years ago, Abu Dhabi’s cultural cachet in the West was as a punch line in the cartoon “Garfield.” Today, backed with petrodollars, Abu Dhabi is fast becoming an international cultural hub and attracting American media companies.

On Sunday, a spate of companies announced that they were setting up shop in Abu Dhabi, an island city that is the capital of the United Arab Emirates. The companies are CNN, the book publishers HarperCollins and Random House, the British Broadcasting Corporation, The Financial Times and the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charity arm of the financial news giant Thomson Reuters.

Officials from these companies joined local officials in Abu Dhabi on Sunday to announce they would take space on a new 200,000-square-meter campus, called the Abu Dhabi Media Zone, that the government is building for foreign media companies.

Surprisingly, the article does not mention recently launched  THE_NATIONAL  newspaper which, on a daily basis  puts out quality English language articles of interest to MediaShack readers.  I’d say it’s on its way to becoming the best English language paper in the region.

Time to get down to business (UPDATED)

Congratulations to Barrack Obama for his victory.  But now that the campaign is over, let’s get down to business and start talking about his foreign policy in practice.    I’m expecting to see evidence of this promised change right off the bat.  Simply being elected does not constitute “change,” which entails doing things differently then they were done before.   What would “change” look like in this initial period of his Presidency?

Obama has no experience or expertise in foreign affairs which in itself is not necessarily a bad thing or unusual.  He’s a politician and no President in recent history (except THE_FATHER)  has come to office with either.  What’s important, therefore, is who he chooses as his top advisors. 

Lets start with National Security Advisor.  If we made a list of the top 10  American global security challenges,  probably 9 would be directly or indirectly related to the Middle East.  Therefore, wouldn’t it be logical to pick someone who is a specialist on the region?  Someone who could go to a conference of Middle Eastern scholars and hold their own discussing regional, history, politics, and culture and not purely strategy from a narrow perspective of American interests?   None of the last four NSA’s ( Rice, Hadley,  Berger,  or Lake)   were experts on the Middle East.  Has policy been especially stellar during this period (1993-2008)?   

Change to me here would mean picking someone without an agenda and who gives the President advise on the top security dilemmas based on their genuine experience and expertise in the region.   There is one person who would be a very good choice.   Some of the candidates being considered have zero claim to have regional expertise.   While there’s no requirement that NSA be an expert in anything,  it seems to me intimate knowledge of the Middle East, considering America’s current problems, is critical.  Who will Obama choose?

Some might be saying well lets celebrate first and let it all soak in.  No- there’s no time for that.  The team needs to be put it place very quickly as critical decisions about Afgan-Pakistan policy need to be taken well before Obama formally takes office on January 20th.   From the NY Times:

WASHINGTON — Two weeks ago, senior Bush administration officials gathered in secret with Afghanistan experts from NATO and the United Nations at an exclusive Washington club a few blocks from the White House. The group was there to deliver a grim message: the situation in Afghanistan is getting worse.

 Their audience: advisers from the presidential campaigns of John McCain and Barack Obama.

Over two days, according to participants in the discussions, the experts laid bare Afghanistan’s most pressing issues. They sought to make clear that the next president needed to have a plan for Afghanistan before he took office on Jan. 20. Otherwise, they said, it could be too late.

With American casualties on the rise and Taliban militias gaining new strength, experts on Afghanistan say the next president will need to decide swiftly if he intends to send more troops there, because even after deployment orders are issued, it could take weeks or months for American forces to arrive.

Time is of the essence.  UPDATE: Read Judah’s post  at WPR which adds some additional insights to this post.

……

What would I do if I was NSA?  Sometime in the next couple weeks I will be posting my comprehensive region wide, country by country and issue by issue recomendations to the new President.

More on the Raid

I’m sticking to my theory about the US raid on Syria.  Middle East Times has an article on the latest:

Although the al-Qaida suspect may have been killed, the death of Syrian civilians in the attack is what provoked Damascus’s anger, perhaps more than the fact that the U.S. forces penetrated Syrian territories, according to Arab commentators, who say that this was not the first time U.S. troops entered Syrian territory to chase al-Qaida suspects…….

U.S. administration officials in Washington are leaking that Damascus not only approved the raid in Sukkariyeh, but also cooperated with Syrian intelligence services ahead of the operation.  According to London’s Sunday Times of Nov. 2, the Syrians had “agreed to turn a blind eye to a supposedly quiet ‘snatch and grab’ raid,” but “could not keep the lid on a firefight in which so many people had died.”

 The paper quoted an unidentified Washington source as saying that Syrian intelligence tipped off the Americans about the whereabouts of the purported targeted al-Qaida operative, known as Abu Ghadiyah, and that the U.S. special force unit was supposed to kidnap him and take him to Iraq.

 The British paper’s source said the Americans “regularly communicate with the Syrians through a back channel that runs through Syria’s air force intelligence,” and quoted him as praising Syrian intelligence cooperation immediately after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States as “remarkable.”

The pieces fit the puzzle.

Revised New Emphasis

Here’s a general outline of  what readers can expect  from Rob for the foreseeable future:

Afghanistan/Pakistan 25%:  This might be the #1 challenge the new administration will face.   Readers can expect to hear about trends/ analysis coming out of the Arabic press. 

Islamist Political Movements 25%: top priority being Al-Qaeda, but also the Brotherhood and Salafist movements

 Egypt 25% : 1/3 of the Middle East can’t be ignored

Whatever else is important at the moment  25%:  especially as relates to Lebanon and Syria

The Blind Sheikh Wants to Go Home

Recent media reports (Al-Dostor, 11/3, p.2)  are saying that Omar Abdel_Rahman‘s health is declining.   Rahman is the former Mufti of Egypt’s Islamic Group and is currently serving a life sentence in a US jail for plotting to blow up tourist sites in the NYC area in the early 1990s.  Several Middle Eastern groups are trying (probably in vain) to have Rahman finish his sentence in a Middle Eastern jail.

The Islamic Group just issued a statement accusing Al-Azhar  (the official Islamic institution) of abandoning Rahman.  By contrast, they praised Yusuf Al-Qaradawi and the government of Qatar for trying to convince the US to let Rahman to finish his sentence in a Qatar jail but the Bush administration did not respond to the offer.  Doing so, according to IG would have allowed them to improve America’s image in the eyes of Arabs and Muslims.

Was it possible in 2001? UPDATED

UPDATE: Asharq Al Awsat just posted a translation. 

Amr Khan, a former Pakistani cricket star and current leader of the Pakistani Justice Party has a long interview in today’s Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper.  Khan harshly criticizes US strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan and blames former President Musharef for the country’s current impasse (though he once supported him).  There’s lots of good stuff in the interview which those who know Arabic should read.   One point discussed was whether the Taliban is capable of being split from Al-Qaeda: 

As part of a larger critique of US policy in Afghanistan/ Pakistan, Khan says the following:

If AQ was  actually responsible for 9/11, then it is the only force that has the ability to attack Western capitals (voicing typical skepticism seen in Arab press that AQ actually had tactical ability to carry out 9/11) .  But why then, the attack on the Taliban?  Why didn’t they take their time to distinguish between the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, which was possible?”……..attacking a country that had nothing to do with 9/11 only turned the population against the US…. united the Pashtuns against the US…

The Interviewer then pushed Khan on his point about the plausibility of dividing AQ from the Taliban (in 01)

Q:  Allow me to return to your point about dividing Al-Qaeda from the Taliban.  In theory, its easy to say this but in practice was this really possible? How would you have done it?

A:  First, , all the parties opposed to the Taliban gathered in Peshawar before the war and tried to convince the Americans to not attack the Taliban, saying that the movement was weak internally and its energy was dispensing.  They requested more time to try and change the regime peacefully.

Second, the Shura Council (the Taliban Parliament) had sent messages to the movement requesting Bin Laden leave the country before the war

Three,  what the Taliban said was that they were prepared to turn over Bin Laden or turn him over to a Muslim country, they never rejected this, in fact there were negotiations.  The Americans say that they didn’t have any other options but this is not true. They had several in front of them. 

There was no discussion of current efforts to divide AQ and the Taliban.