Hezbollah all talk?

Without a doubt Hamas and their fans throughout the region are  a little disappointed with Hezbollah, a fellow member of the Resistance.  Remember back in 2006 – the Party of God picks a fight with Israel, and what does Hamas do?  They open up a Southern front, kidnapping the IDF oldier Galad Shalit, theoretically relieving pressure on Hezbollah up North.   I don’t have any specific quotes but I am sure Hamas is wondering where’s the payback?  “There is none” taunts Tariq Al-Homayed, editor of fiercely anti-Hamas and HB Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper in this  article: 

Hamas rushed to Hezbollah’s rescue in 2006 [Israel-Hezbollah summer war] following the abduction of two Israeli soldiers at the hands of Hezbollah, and even opened up another battlefront by abducting Gilad Shalit themselves, so why has Nasrallah not come to Hamas’s rescue today, especially considering that Khalid Meshal said that Hamas was awaiting action, not words, from Hezbollah?

Hezbollah is not likely to provide anything more than words or supports- it’s not in their interest to do more than that.  Still, Hassan Nasrallah’s 28 December speech did give some pretty strong moral support to their comrades in Gaza and came   close to calling for the people of Egypt to rise up against their regime, highly inflammatory rhetoric.  Read Egyptian Chronicles comments on the speech.

Kill My TV Also

I want to second Abu Muqawama’s Kill_Your_TV post.   American tv coverage of the events in Gaza is beyond bad – its horrible.  CNN.  NBC.  All of them are garbage.   Who gives a crap about Rod Bagloyavic?   Who cares whether Sarah Palin is now a grandmother.  Maybe that’s news if there was nothing whatsoever going on.  But how about this little crisis called Gaza?   Isn’t  it a national security issue when the American people are getting such poor quality information about events that are critical  to US  security in the Middle East.   Don’t they  have a need to know  about them? 

If I was US National Security Adviser or Secretary of State,  here’s what I would do to critically improve US National Security:  The first thing I would do is have the US government fully subsidize a new network station,  next to CBS, NBC and ABC, that broadcasts only quality news and documentaries on world affairs and current events.    Nothing but serious programs on all of the important issues that people need to know about.   American Idol, Britney Spears and Paris Hilton would never, ever get a mention on this new TV station.   Anyone who uttered their names  would immediately be fired. 

People need to know what’s going on.  Dumb voters elect dumb politicians.  And dumb politicians make dumb policies.  So  what’s $50-100 million to run a 4th network featuring only serious world news?

Al-Jazeera Interview with Khalid Mashal

Anyone who can should watch this recent Al-Jazeera interviewwith  Hamas leader Khalid Mashal.  As an Islamist he speaks perfectly vowed Arabic so its relatively easy  to understand.

Thoughts on Israel vs Hamas (the military dimension)

A couple points worth noting:

1)  Whats going on is  bad and sad.   But let’s be clear- Hamas wanted a fight with Israel and this is consistent with their fundamental approach to dealing with their enemy.  It is not through negotiations.   Long before the ceasefire expired, Hamas leaders were clearly saying they opposed any renewal, and wanted to go the Resistance path, not the path of negotiations (which would benefit Fatah).  However, they probably didn’t expect this extent, which leads me to my next point……..

2) Back in July, when Israel turned over Samir Quntar for the bodies of two dead IDF soldiers, the overwhelming consensus in the Arabic press, based more on sentiment and not deep strategic or military  analysis, was that this was a huge unprecedented victory for the Resistance.   I thought this was an inaccurate assessment based on a major misreading of the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah and cautioned ” be_careful_what_you_wish_for.   Israel did not perform well in 06 but that shouldn’t be taken as a statement of how they will fight in every future battle.  As if they won’t make every effort to learn from their mistakes.   Hamas in my view has a widely inaccurate grasp of military power relations between Israel and the Resistance. 

3).  Israel has alot of intelligence advantages in Gaza that they didn’t have in Lebanon.   Hezbollah had 6 years to  basically operate freely in South Lebanon and prepare for War.  Because Lebanon is a sovereign country, it was harder for Israel to attack at will (unlike Gaza) and they had little intel presence in Lebanon.  Israel formally evacuated Gaza in 2006, but they still regularly intervene on raids and because of its geographical proximity to Israel proper they know it better and have easy access.    Given that they went into Lebanon in 06 with bad intel, and a poor understanding of Hezbollah position, we have to assume that every possible effort has been made since then to correct that mistake.  Its probably safe to assume that they know where the Hamas positions are. 

4)  Based on what’s happening so far, I’m wondering if Hamas feels they were maybe a bit too confident.  Why aren’t they fighting back?   In 06 Hezbollah was able to launch rockets into Israel for weeks despite the presence of attacking IDF soldiers all over S. Lebanon.  Why isn’t Hamas doing the same thing?  Hamas credibility is on the line here.  If your movement is explicitly called The Islamic Resistance Movement and you don’t resist, what kind of message does that send?  Its still early in the fighting, but if Hamas goes several days without being able to launch any attacks, than I think its probably an indication that Israel has pulled off a major victory.

Saturday Profile

The New York Times has a profile of Bruce Riedel, a 30 year veteran of the CIA, who is now a top Obama adviser on SouthEast Asia:

BRUCE RIEDEL was a 28-year-old Middle East analyst at the Central Intelligence Agency on Oct. 6, 1981, the day a band of gunmen assassinated President Anwar el-Sadat of Egypt during a military parade in Cairo.

Within hours of the attack, Mr. Riedel was summoned to the agency’s seventh floor to brief William J. Casey, the irascible C.I.A. director. Over the next several months, he began compiling a dossier about the attack — what he calls the “birth of the globaljihad” — and about the emergence of a cerebral Egyptian physician named Ayman al-Zawahri.

I couldn’t help but notice how the Angry Arab has another baseless attack on Reidel on his blog:

You should read this tributeto Zionist Middle East expert, Bruce Riedel. You read it and get the misconception that this guy really knows what he is talking about. Let me help you here. In the mid-1990s, when he was the Middle East expert at Clinton’s National Security Council, he gave an interview to DanielPipes’ journal, Middle East Quarterly, in which he argued that there is no evidence that the Arab public is displeased with the US-imposed sanctions on Iraq.

Again, Assad Abu Khalil (the Angry Arab) repeats the same stupid  statement over and over.  As if one  15 year old statement , which has nothing to do with Israel-Palestine, qualifies someone as a “Zionist Middle East expert.”   He has repeated the same accusation at least 4 or 5 times on his blog before but  I can say with 100%  personal certainty that Reidel is a Middle East expert.    Anything that Assad Abu Khalil  says about US government should be taken with a grain of salt because he doesn’t know what he is talking about.

Worth Checking Out…..

 For those who don’t read The National on a daily basis, I highly recommend adding it to your Favorites because there is no other English language outlet that consistently puts out quality stuff on the Middle East.   This week’s Review has contributions from Nir Rosen and Andrew Exum:

1) In  Louder_Than_Bombs:

Israel and Hizbollah beat the drums of war – but can tough talk itself keep the peace? Andrew Exum considers the paradox of deterrence

2) And in Riding_Shotgun:

American combat forces may be leaving Iraq by the end of 2011 – but the army of guns for hire isn’t going anywhere. Nir Rosen spends a month inside the world of Baghdad’s private security companies.

AbuTrika Stays Put

Mohamed Abu Trika, the star of Egypt Ahly Football club has decided to turn down offers to play in Europe and stay in Egypt:

CAIRO: In the wake of a board meeting on Monday, the Reds officially reaffirmed that they are not ready to sell or loan 30-year-old Mohamed Abou-Trika at any price.

The Ahly playmaker is unlikely to leave the African champions, despite “offers from English and Arab clubs,” the club  said, especially that the player himself was loath to leave.

“The football committee and the board have come to a decision that Ahly are not ready to sell Abou-Trika,” a statement on Ahly’s official site read.

“We insist on keeping our star despite huge offers from Arab and English clubs.

“The board was eager to meet with the player, appreciating his vital role at the club and his contribution to several trophies in recent years.

Its hard to underestimate how popular Abou-Trika is in Egypt.  He is probably one of the 2-3 most loved and respected Egyptians, especially at the Shabi (working class/ popular) level (I’d put him in the same class as Gamal Abdel Nasser, Tito, Adel Imam and Yusuf Al-Qaradawi).  The most obvious reason for his popularity is his skills in football; he is the best player in a football crazy nation.  But its much more than that.  Abou-Trika comes from a humble socio-economic background, and unlike other Egyptian footballers, carries himself with unusual modesty.  Also, and very importantly, he is seen as religously devout.  For all of these reasons, it is very difficult to find an Egyptian, even a supporter of a rival club, who doesn’t speak of Abou Trika with the utmost respect. 

As for his decision to pass up the chance to play at a higher level for more money in Europe, I think its a good career move.  First, he is 30, which is approaching the end of the road for a soccer player.  Second, its probably not worth putting his reputation on the line at this stage in his career.  The talent level in the Premiere League is much higher, and theres always a chance that such a move wouldn’t work out.  It would be rather humbling if his stint in Europe was spent on the bench. 

I see this as a Jordanesque retire on top type move (the 93 and 98 retirements not the 02 version).

British in Iraq: Screwup or Success?

There has been some  talk lately about how mediocre the British performance in Iraq has been, particularly from a Counter-Insurgency perspective and some would go as far as to brand their mission a failure.  There’s an interesting discussion in the comments of this Abu Muqawama post where one of the readers gives what I think is an accurate evaluation of the British mission:

I have to say though I think the UK forces did achieve their strategic goal for Basra: don’t get killed thereby providing bad press, provide political support for the Americans by existing and keep Basra as a bauble to show the world Britain is 2nd in the Coalition/still influential. Sadly that goal was rather incompatible with security or COIN in general.

Maybe from a tactical COIN perspective the Brits haven’t distinguished themselves in Iraq, but that’s not why the politicians sent them there in the first place.   As this commenter said, the British government achieved their strategic goals.  Doing COIN well isn’t necessarily one of them.

More on Fadl vs Zawahiri

Hussam Tamem, one of the top commentators on Islamist movements (he’s the editor of Islam Online) just wrote an  op-ed on Sayyid Imam’s  Revisions.  His conclusion: it is not signifigant nor influential.  He says some deep stuff however I’ll just highlight the last paragraph:

ويجوز القول إن الجيل القادم من حملة السلاح المحتملين لن يتأثر كثيراً بهذه المراجعات على أهميتها، وسيبقى متشككاً فيها رافضاً لها، وخاصة أنها جرت في سياق يعزز لديه احتمال الإكراه أو التنازل. وسيظل أبناء هذا الجيل أقرب إلى الدكتور فضل (الاسم الحركي لمنظر تنظيم الجهاد ورفيق أيمن الظواهري قبل الاعتقال) منه إلى سيد إمام عبد العزيز (بعدما عاد إلى اسمه الحقيقي وقاد المراجعات)، وسيحتفظ هؤلاء بكتاب “العمدة في إعداد العدة” دستوراً للعمل الجهادي، في طبعته أو طبعاته القديمة قبل زمن المراجعات

 We can say that the coming or new generation of militants will not be influenced by the Revisions.  It will remain sceptical and reject them, especially because they were completed in a context which suggests they were a result of coercion (ie Jail).  The members of this generation will stay ideologically closer to”Dr Fadl” (the movement name of the leader of Tanzim Al-Jihad and the companion of Zawahiri) than to Sayyid Imam (the name he used to lead the Revisions).  They will remain committed to  Al-Umda (original violence endorsing book), the Constitution of Jihadist work.

Catering to Carter

Granted I’m a little late, but I’ve finally gotten around to writing about something that was in the news last week and which I thought was important and interesting. Jimmy Carter, whose Carter Center enjoys considerable respect for its professionalism in election monitoring, visited Lebanon for four days last week. His main purpose was to meet with various party representatives as groundwork for election monitors to be sent in spring 2009 to observe the parliamentary elections.

Carter’s offer to send monitors was made of his own volition. This has incited some criticism in the blogging world about Carter’s offer being unsolicited, and of Carter himself being a useless and powerless actor in the Middle East drama. I don’t really agree with this. Elections in Lebanon, and in most if not all countries in the world, regularly suffer from sporadic irregularities to outright fraud (and I’m not just talking about places like Zimbabwe…hanging chads anyone?). Why should third parties observing elections be bad? If they’re not there, irregularities might take place. If they are there, their mere presence might dissuade some of these practices from taking place. How can it hurt the Lebanese state from coming out of the elections with a “clean” report card from the Carter Center? It could be a useful tool to encourage anything from more aid to foreign investment.

Carter went around meeting a lot of people. In fact, he had stated that he wanted to meet as many as possible. Michel Aoun, the main Christian politician from the opposition March 8 camp, accepted the invite. His ally Hezbollah however, refused. The reason for this was weak, to put it mildly. Hezbollah has a policy of not meeting with present or past US presidents, or to be more accurately “anyone from a US administration which supports Zionist terrorism”. What’s funny about this, of course, is that Carter published a book in which he labels the Israeli policies in the Occupied Palestinian Territories as being equivalent to apartheid, and has met with the top Hamas official Khaled Meshaal in Damascus a while ago. If Hamas is meeting with Carter, then surely Hezbollah could have shown more flexibility. Regardless, the party still came out saying that they do not oppose election monitors, so long as the monitoring is approved by the Cabinet.

Who’s really happy about the MIG-s anyway?

Surprisingly, not many people.

First off, and as expected, the Americans are scurrying trying to figure out how to react to news that Russia is “donating” these 10 MiG 29 jets to Lebanon’s army. As an aside, in a telling sign of just how significant this gift from the Kremlin has become as a piece of news, check out the NY Times, the BBC, as well the Times and LA Times articles referenced by Rob in his post on this subject yesterday. The reason for the extent of the coverage is likely because it has come as such a surprise. Washington certainly wasn’t expecting it. And of course, this move goes directly against their policy objectives of supplying the Lebanese army with just enough weapons to stand up to Hezbollah, but not enough to counter or balance Israel’s fire power.

If the US is annoyed by this, then so too, is Israel. Although I am quite intrigued by the use of the word “concerned” in the NY Times article when describing Israel’s opinion on the Russian deal, I wonder whether anyone can actually pretend in all seriousness that Israel is scared about 10 MiG-s. Nevertheless, they certainly aren’t cheering, and they’re far from being indifferent.

So, the usual suspects aside, who else is unhappy about this Russian gift? Funnily enough, Hezbollah as well seems to have voiced some form or other of annoyance. Although Hezbollah’s newspaper, Al Manar, hasn’t directly criticized this development, NOW Lebanon claims that the Party of God is engaging in a PR campaign against the Russian donation. Now the interesting thing about this article from NOW Lebanon is that it is based on an article from the Al-Liwaa newspaper, rendering NL perhaps guilty of a little bit of journalistic laziness. No sources are cited, no names given. But the NL article is quite directly contradicted byAl Manar, which suggests the complete opposite of what NL accuses Hezbollah of doing:

“Nevertheless, some “voices” hinted that the mentioned deal might be rejected by the Lebanese cabinet. In this context, Lebanese pro-March 14 daily Al-Liwaa quoted a Western diplomatic source as saying that he doubts the possibility that the deal would reach “happy endings.” The source said that the cabinet of Fouad Saniora would reject the deal “in full, even if it took the form of a Russian donation, for political reasons per [sic] excellence.” The paper explained that, based on a major international resolution, Lebanon wouldn’t be the sole country that would be using sophisticated Russian weapons in the region. “

Who’s right and who’s wrong on this? Either NL is publishing incorrect information by not bothering to double check its sources, or Hezbollah is engaging in a crafty bit of manoeuvring by blaming the March 14 camp of trying to scuttle the Russian donation. Unfortunately for me, I couldn’t access Al-Liwaa’s website today no matter what I tried, which might temptingly lead me to speculate on the existence of a convenient conspiracy theory according to which NL or Al Manar might have hacked into Al-Liwaa’s website so that no one can uncover the truth about this.

Conspiracy theory aside however, this is very illustrative of the fact that the Russian donation is not causing unanimous rejoicing, even in Lebanon. Hezbollah might be just a little miffed that the army is finally getting bigger and better toys than it has in its own arsenal, as this might drive it out of business.

What about the Lebanese government? My personal theory is that the government isn’t too keen on this deal either. Yes it’s a gift, yes it’s free, yes it’s coming with a warranty. But the reality is that despite Defense Minister Elias el Murr’s statement that securing this deal while he was in Moscow made it “the most important visit” he had made since his appointment as minister of defense, the government isn’t nearly as gleeful as he is. For one, Lebanon has never owned fighter jets of the power and sophistication of MiG 29’s, and does not have properly trained Air Force pilots to operate them. As well, the warranty period on the planes is limited, which means that once it has expired, the government will have to foot the bill for their maintenance and repair. And not least of all, it means the government might have to face the US and have to deal with US pressure about accepting or possibly refusing this gift. But most importantly, these 10 jets should be seen as something of a glossy “aesthetic” gift, with no real military use. It’s not like the army will use them to bomb Hezbollah, and it’s definitely not stupid enough to try to use them against Israel. Indeed, that last option would be like the mouse poking a sleeping lion. So all these factors considered, it must be quite a conundrum for the government to figure out how to deal with this without a) appearing like a US puppet if it refuses the gift; b) loosing US support if it accepts it; or c) engaging in frivolous spending by diverting funds from the national budget to maintain expensive hardware instead of investing it in badly needed social infrastructure.

We’re not done here though. Someone else must be displeased about this. Syria has apparently been asking Russia for the latest MiG 29’s for a while, and its demand has still not been heeded. In any event, any strengthening of the Lebanese military translates into a zero-sum game with Syria, because it so directly undermines the latter’s foreign policy objectives towards Lebanon. It is slightly easier to impose your will on someone weak with no MiG’s than someone weak with 10 MiG’s.

So who’s left really to rejoice over this deal? Who else but the Russians of course. They got to flex their arm in the region. They exerted influence in a country where the US has struggled hard to find footing. They got rid of 10 airplanes too old to be used by their air force and that were probably sitting around gathering dust in a hangar somewhere in Siberia. And they managed to stun the Americans into silence. For now.

 

The decline of the Egyptian Bar Scene

An interesting article  in the International Herald Tribune writes about the decline of the Cairo bar scene:

Armed with a bottle of Egyptian brandy and a bowl of steaming chickpeas, Hatem Fouad keeps watch each night over a historic slice of Cairo that is in danger of dying: the bars that once flourished amid the sweeping boulevards and graceful roundabouts of the city’s European-style city center.

The former police officer is part of a cadre of older Egyptian men who frequent drinking holes and belly dancing cabarets chronicled by the Nobel Prize-winning author Naguib Mahfouz in the 1940s and popular with Cairo’s artists and intellectuals until the late 1970s.

Many of these establishments have fallen into disrepair and disrepute as Egyptians grow more observant of Islam, with its prohibition on alcohol, and the country’s elite migrates away from the traffic-choked streets of the now crumbling central city.

“They were part of an Egypt that doesn’t exist anymore,” said Alaa al-Aswany, who immortalized the remnants of the Cairo bar scene in his best-selling 2002 novel “The Yacoubian Building.” He was talking about the heyday of the bar and nightclub era – when anyone from King Farouk, Egypt’s last monarch, to the British playwright-composer Noel Coward, might show up in a Cairo club.

There  has been a movement, led by non-Egyptians,  to rejuvenate the Cairo downtown bar-scene over the last couple years (mentioned in the story).  However, I’m ambivalent about whether this is something that should be encouraged.  The overwhelming majority of Egyptians are opposed to bars and alcohol consumption, and, contrary to what Alaa Aswanty implies or outright says,  this is not a matter of Islamic fundamentalism.   So I don’t see anything particularly intolerant or backwards about discouraging the presence of bars, especially in working class downtown neighborhoods. 

See this Egyptian Chronicles post for an Egyptian perspective.   I agree with Zeinab.  Alaa Aswany likes to look back nostalgically at the good old days (ie before Nasser) as if this  period represented the heyday of progress and tolerance.  I suspect  that, statistically, the amount of Egyptians who drank alcohol before the Revolution (and similarly the % that rejected it) and those who do now is very similar- very, very small.   Both pre-Rev and post-Rev the overwhelming majority of Egyptians did not drink alcoholwhich they consider prohibited according to the basic rules of Islam.    The difference is that  before 1952 , Egypt was dominated by foreign, non-local rule and customs which made it more socially acceptable for the small number of Muslims who drank, to do it openly.  Once the foreigners were kicked out,  its only natural that Egypt return to its native culture, which for 90% of the population, is clearly inconsistent with a bar culture.

….

Aswany says resistance to bars in downtown Cairo is a sign of Islamic fundamentalism.  I disagree and think its the other way around.  The presence of bars, something clearly inconsistent with Islamic values,  is what causes Islamic fundamentalism.  Fundamentalism is a return to what are pure Islamic values.  From 700 through the 1800s, there were no bars whatsoever in Egypt.  Only with foreign (non-Muslim) colonialism did they appear.   The imposition of something so clearly un-Islamic, is what causes the society’s desire to return to what is clearly Islamic.   So I do not necessarily  believe it is a sign of backwardness and negative fundamentalism for Egyptian society to have emptied Cairo out of its bar scene.

….

Why is the  narrative (especially the framing in the fundamentalist context) always   defined by AlaaAswany .  Why is he the official spokesperson for Egyptian cultural mores?  Sure he is very accessible so maybe its easier as a reporter to get ahold of him. but his politicaland social views are not shared by large percentages of Egyptians.   I am certain that intellectuals such as Rafiq Habib, Fahmy Huwedi, Hussuam Tamem, all more established and influential inside Egypt,  would also have different takes on this story.  They certainly wouldn’t see cutting back on bars as some kind of regressive return to fundamentalism.

Russia Arming the Lebanese? UPDATED

Blackstar has posted several times on US attempts to arm the Lebanese army.   The gist is that the  US is willing to arm the Lebanese, but not  give them the heavy stuff they really want.  But what about the Russians?   According to this story from the Times of London

Russia gave Lebanon ten MiG fighter jets yesterday in a deal to boost defence cooperation.

The MiG29 Fulcrum fighters would be provided free to Lebanon under an agreement on military-technical assistance, the head of Russia’s defence cooperation service said. Mikhail Dmitryev said that the jets would come from Russia’s existing stock.

He said that Moscow was also in talks to supply Beirut with heavy armour, adding that supplies of such weaponry were “now possible after the situation in this nation has stabilised”.

He said: “We view the Lebanese army as the main guarantor of this nation’s stability, therefore the armed forces of this country must be strengthened.” The deal followed a meeting in Moscow between Anatoly Serdyukov, the Defence Minister, and Elias Murrhis, his Lebanese counterpart. Mr Serdyukov said that Russia had received a detailed list of armaments sought by Lebanon.

I’m no expert in military technology but this seems significant.  And there have been numerous stories in the Arabic press calling for the Russians to play an increased role in the Middle East to counter-balance the US.  If the Lebanese Army can’t get what they want from the US, why shouldn’t they go to the Russians?  So this is also a golden opportunity for Russia to get back in the game.

UPDATE:  Borzou at the LA TIMES writers in_greater_depth on the same topic.

All roads lead through ….Tehran?

The Arabist has an interesting analysis  of  President Obama’s foreign policy, or at least what we know of it to date.   He flags an article which brings up some potentially very important signs of the future of USFP:

Jerusalem has received various reports in recent weeks indicating that American foreign policy in the Middle East and in Southeast Asia after president-elect Barack Obama takes office will operate on the basis of special envoys who will report directly to Obama and his designated secretary of state, Hillary Clinton.

Obama and Clinton’s transition teams are maintaining secrecy and minimal ties with Israeli diplomats. Obama and Clinton also directed their people not to take part in the policy debates of the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center forum, attended by Israeli politicians and officials, which took place earlier this month in Washington, D.C.

However, senior government sources in Jerusalem said that the information they have received indicates that the new administration is planning a hierarchy of about five special envoys to various regions, overseen by a kind of “super coordinator,” who would answer directly to the president and the secretary of state.

The sources said that the new policy is part of Obama’s and Clinton’s understanding that all the conflicts in the Middle East and Southeast Asia are to some extent connected to the Iranian nuclear program and withdrawal from Iraq. Therefore, it is important to operate in a number of parallel but coordinated channels to attain achievements on all fronts.

Interesting.

Article of Note

Al-Hayat has translated into English an investigate piece on “The Role of the European West In Producing Mujahadeen and Sending Them to Lebanon.”  Here is part one with part two coming soon.  I haven’t read it at all but post it for those who are interested in this topic.

Iran vs Egypt

Yesterday, the lead op-ed in  Al-Quds Al-Arabi’s   savaged Egyptian foreign policy, in particular the recent comments of Foreign Minister Ahmed Abu Al-Ghait. 

This is a big theme that (American)  people need to be aware of:  Egypt’s role as a regional power has seriously declined.  Why is this?  The vast majority of the analysts in the Arabic press blame it on its blind support of the US.  Ie its too close to the US.   This is something to keep in mind when we talk about repairing US-Arab or US-Islamic relations:   Most in the region, especially Egypt, are calling for their governments to distance themselves from the US, not necessarily to develop closer relations. 

Here’s my paraphrased summary: 

Recently, the Egyptian government has escalated its campaign against Iran.   Just yesterday, FH Abu Ghait accused the Iranians of trying to control the Middle East by trying to exploit the Palestinian cause.  According to the FM, the Iranians talk about the Palestine cause but do nothing of note to actually help it.    

Abu Ghait’s anger illustrates two points:
1) The rise of Iranian power which coincides with the decline of Egyptian
2) Iranian support for the Palestinian resistance vs Egypt’s new role as an extension of US foreign policy

…..
“Iran controls the Middle East because Egypt withdrew from it…  Under previous Egyptian governments, Egypt invested millions of dollars and sacrified its best and brightest (ie people that died in Arab-Israeli wars)  in support of the Palestinian cause and in order to strengthen its regional position.   But the current government has wasted all of these investments in its blind pursuit of US policy and a fraudulent peace which benefits the Egyptians first and foremost. 

Iran is not to blame for this situation.  Its the Arab governments, with Egypt in particular who work hand in with the Israelis and US.  And the FM is wrong when he says that Iran presents only empty propaganda to the Israelis.  The great 2006 victory vs Israeli aggression wouldn’t have been possible without the aid of Iranian rockets. 

When Egypt returns to its role as protector of Arab interestes, and distances itself from blind support of US and Israeli policy, and actually helps its Arab brothers defend against Israeli agression, then Iran will no longer control the Middle East. 

Commentary
For some context, Al-Quds Al-Arabi is virulently anti-US foreign policy, so one is unlikely to find this kind of harshness in Asharq Al-Awsat or even Al-Hayat (all three being London based regional papers) .  However, the sentiment expressed here in widely felt in Egypt.  Fahmy Huwedi,   Egypt’s most respected commentator, repeats this theme constantly in his 6 or 7 weekly columns in Cairo’s Al-Dostor newspaper.  I would add that the Egyptian street would strongly agreed with this analysis from Al-Quds.

Hamas-Jordan Rapprochement

Clearly, Jordan is moving closer to the Hamas camp, at least when it comes to Peace Process negotiations.  A few weeks back, I posted  on Abu Rumman’s article about rumors that Jordan was going to replace Egypt, seen as biased against Hamas, as the intermediary between the Arabs and Israel.  Such a step would be pretty dramatic, and is not likely to happen, though Hamas (and many on “the Arab street)  would not mind.

What does seem to be  happening is a Hamas-Jordan rapprochement, reported recently by Al-Hayat.   The government of Jordan, wary of Fatah leader Mahmoud Abass’s commitment to the refugee issue, is moving closer to Hamas.  The story notes how when Abass goes to Lebanon he makes statements about the refugee problem being a priority in the negotiations, but he doesn’t say the same things about Jordan, causing the Jordanian government to question his commitment.  Hamas makes no doubt about their commitment to the refugee problem.  

Such a new approach is not without risks:  The story notes how Fatah has only one goal- create a Palestinian state. Hamas, on the other hand, has deep ideological affinities with the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood, a rival to the government, so such a rapprochement will be tricky.

An Amazing Film

If anyone happens to be flying Airfrance in the coming future be sure to check out this amazing film:  Le_premiere_jour_du_reste_ta_vie.   Its the story of a French family, following 5 key events over a 12 year period, and reminds me alot of the Cairo_Trilogy.  Read about it in English here and here.  If anyone knows where I can buy the DVD (with subtitles of course) I would be very happy.

Egypt does North Korea

According to this AP  story Egypt’s Orascom Telecom has been awarded exclusive rights to develop North Korea’s mobile phone network: 

Under the terms of the deal reached in January, Orascom will invest $400 million in network infrastructure over the first three years to develop the advanced cellular phone network in the country where private cell phone ownership is banned.

Orascom said it was the first foreign telecommunications company to be awarded a commercial telecommunications license in the country and would have exclusive rights to operate it for four years.

Shrouk Diab, a telecom industry analyst with Middle East investment bank Beltone Financial, said the company was in a position to tap into a market with no real mobile phone saturation.

This is a major coup for Orascom.    North Korea might have  no cell-phone use right now, but neither did Iraq in 2003 or Egypt around 1998 and its hard to find someone in either country who doesn’t have a mobile.  Given that they have four years without competition, this seems quite an oppurtunity. 

…….

On another note, the NY Times has a recent  piece  on the Egyptian government’s attempt to try and prevent I-Phone from being sold in the country:  

Still, that was the condition put on the introduction of Apple’s iPhone3G in Egypt. The government demanded that Apple disable the phone’s global-positioning system, arguing that GPS is a military prerogative.

The company apparently complied, most likely taking a cue from the telecom companies that sell the phone there, said Ahmed Gabr, who runs a blog in Egypt, gadgetsarabia.com, and wrote about the iPhone’s release there. “The point is that using a GPS unit you can get accurate coordinates of any place and thus military bases and so on could be easily tagged,” he wrote in an e-mail message.

However, I question the extent to which this is an actual issue in Egypt:

Andrew Bossone, an American in Cairo who writes about technology, said that despite its expense, the iPhone in Egypt was “really popular — everyone knows the iPhone.” In addition to editing a technology magazine, he teaches at the American University in Cairo. “One of my students who comes from a wealthy family has the iPhone and one of my designers, who is not rich, bought it on credit,” he said.

Mr. Bossone says he thinks the government will relent on issues like GPS because it will side with business even at the expense of security concerns.

 Sure, rich businessmen and ex-pats might be affected, but for the vast majority of the population, there is not the slightest economic chance of being able to afford an I-Phone.   The vast majority of people don’t even know what an I-Phone is.

Jihadists Againt Dr Fadl

According to Cairo’s Al-Badeel newspaper, 200 members of Sayyid Imam’s (and Zawahiri’s)  Egyptian Jihad group are  signing_a_Petition rejecting the Revisions of Sayyid Imam.  The 200 are calling for Sayyid Imam to face them in a debate, covered by the media, free of any intervention by the Security forces. 

This brings up some interesting points:  Supposedly, about 90% of the imprisoned members of the Jihad group supported the Revisions and have been freed from jail.    Those who didn’t, ie this group of 200,  are isolated and almost certainly live in worse conditions.  Its very smart if your the jail staff: why let the “spoilers” have access to those who believe in the Revisions.  This explains their call for Sayyid Imam (who now gets super special treatment) to appear before them and debate them.   That’s certainly one debate I would pay to watch.   

Another interesting point:  Ayman Zawahiri’s brother Muhumaed refused to join Al-Qaeda in 1998 (see the Looming Tower) , a source of great embarrassment for Ayman.   What’s important here is that he actually had a chance to join Al-Qaeda,  unlike most of the members of Jihad who have been in jail since the early 1990s, and said no.  Like Dr Fadl (Sayyid Imam), after 9/11 he was extradited to Egypt, but despite his choice not to join AQ, he is amongst the 200 Rejectionists of The  Revisions.