Another attack in Cairo

The Washington Post today reported this:

Cairo – An American has been slightly hurt after being knifed in the legendary Cairo bazaar of Khan al-Khalili, just days after a French teenager was killed there by a bomb, a security official said on Saturday.

The victim, a teacher at the American School in Egypt’s Mediterranean port of Alexandria who was visiting the capital with his wife, suffered slight cuts to the face in the Friday incident.

Police arrested the alleged attacker they identified as 46-year-old Egyptian labourer Abdel Rahman Mohammed and were interrogating him, the state-news MENA news agency reported.

The suspect was said to have acted out of “hatred for foreigners because of the Israeli offensive in Gaza” that ended on January 18 after 22 days, leaving more than 1 300 Palestinians dead.

 The Post said it was a 21 year old who is  “mentally ill” according to the authorities.

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The Akon Disaster — UPDATED

A couple weeks back I wondered why Iron Maiden wouldn’t come to  Cairo .   Probably for the same reason that the Akon Concert in Cairo was a disaster.   Unless a Western-style concert culture exists, acts like this are hard to make work in places like Egypt.  From Sandmonkey:

So, here I am, preparing for my trip back to Cairo, when people start sending me messages and e-mails about The Akon concert in the Cairo Opera. Now, I didn’t know he was singing in Cairo to begin with, let alone fathom the concept of whose bright idea was it that this man should be allowed to sing in the Egyptian Opera..but whatever. My people are silly, and they do irrational shit like allow Akon into the Opera House. Anyway..

The news is however that the concert was a very rare breed of disaster, which makes my heart just sing a little bit. The man was slated to show up at 9 M, but showed up at 1 am instead; The people who paid 1000 LE per VIP ticket ended up being sent to the Hospital because the VIP Lounge collapsed before the show even begun; He shows up finally all drunk, sings for half an hour, and then attempts to do some crowd surfing(very bad idea), and then he starts calling for help in his mic because the crowd apparently kidnaps him and take him all the way to the parking lot and then put him on a car, which he ends up destroying and then ends the concert… Yeah… Sounds like a great time.

UPDATE: Inanities has a hilarious, must-read  account of the concert, including pictures of the madness.  Somebody get whoever Inanities is a job at the New York Times…..

On Iraq Withdrawal: How fast is too fast?

So  it looks like US troops will be out of Iraq by_2010:

Mr. Obama agreed to give commanders 19 months to withdraw all combat brigades, 3 months longer than he promised on the campaign trail, to guard against any resurgence of violence. The bulk of the forces will remain in place until nearly next year to allow commanders to keep as many forces as possible through parliamentary elections in December.

After August 2010, the Obama plan will leave behind 35,000 to 50,000 of the 142,000 American troops now in Iraq to advise and train Iraqi security forces, conduct discrete counterterrorism missions and protect American civilian and military personnel working in the country, including State Department reconstruction teams.

But is it as simple as this?  Does the US actually control the destiny of Iraq to the extent that it can just set a date for withdrawal and then leave?    Michael Hanna of the Century Foundation warns that new realities are complicating things:

But much of the discussion is being conducted from a Washington-centric perspective that ignores how radically the U.S.-Iraq Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), signed by President Bush late last year, has altered the landscape for U.S. military forces operating in Iraq.

As part of the SOFA, the United States is required to withdraw its military forces from Iraqi cities by June 30, 2009, and from the country entirely by the end of 2011. Though some critics think this timeline is too fast, there is a good chance that the U.S. may be forced to withdraw even sooner: In order to coax reticent parliamentarians into approving the agreement, the Maliki government has agreed to hold a national referendum in July of this year to ratify the SOFA. If the SOFA fails to pass, the United States would have just one year to withdraw all its military forces from Iraq.

Beyond forcing an expedited withdrawal, a failed referendum would likely cause even U.S. allies among Iraqi politicians to ratchet up the level of nationalist demagoguery against the U.S. military presence to position themselves for their parliamentary campaigns. In such a heated atmosphere, insurgents could also prove more likely to step up their activity against withdrawing U.S. troops, radicalizing the environment for parliamentary elections and further complicating the redeployment of U.S. troops. Whether or not a future U.S.-Iraqi military relationship is advisable beyond the terms of the SOFA, such a scenario would likely preclude the Iraqi government from seeking support for it. Opponents of the United States would also frame a withdrawal under these circumstances as a repudiation of the United States and a defeat for U.S. policy in the region.

In this context, significant drawdowns in upcoming months will become a litmus testfor the credibility and seriousness of the Obama administration in respecting public commitments to withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq. While the exact timeline for withdrawing U.S. forces is less important, if no significant redeployments occur prior to the national referendum, Iraqi public opinion could very well conclude that Washington is determined to maintain a significant military presence in Iraq regardless of the public pronouncements and treaty obligations to the contrary.

Better that the U.S. begin withdrawal now, on its own terms–and in the process, enhance the chances that the SOFA will not be rejected by the Iraqi people. At the same time, President Obama would project an unmistakable message to the Arab world that the United States is serious in recalibrating the nature of its engagement with the region.

In some quarters, it is widely assumed that Iraqis’ rhetorical opposition to the U.S. military presence belies a begrudging acceptance of U.S. troops as the price of preserving recent security gains. However, gambling on Iraqi support for a continuing foreign military presence would seem to be a risky policy-planning approach that could create the conditions for a hasty withdrawal on highly unfavorable terms.

Undoubtedly, U.S. forces continue to play a vital role in providing combat and logistical support to Iraqi forces. Their presence might also serve as a buffer against the outbreak of widespread ethno-sectarian warfare and provide a point of leverage–albeit of diminishing value–in prodding Iraqi political forces to come to terms with the fundamental questions on governance, territory, and resources that still divide the country. But even if advocates of a rapid redeployment of U.S. forces overestimate the capabilities of Iraqi forces to secure the country with diminished U.S. assistance, the continued presence of U.S. forces in any capacity is now wholly dependent on Iraqi approval of the SOFA. Iraqi public opinion now matters, whether we like it or not, and behaving as if the question of troop redeployments is a question to be answered solely in Washington will further strain U.S. relations with Iraq and the Arab world.

I couldn’t agree more about the perils of Washington-centricism but I’m worried about US withdrawal from Iraq  from the other direction. — too fast rather than too slow.  Yes, there is a relative sense of security in the year 2009 and a strong case can be made that the US presence is playing a role in preventing political reconciliation.  But what about all the really bad things that could still go wrong in Iraq?    What happens if we withdraw by 2010 as promised but the day after all hell breaks out and the country descends into serious sectarian warfare?  That’s clearly not in the interests of the US or any of its allies in the region.  But here’s the problem:  Once American troops leave Iraq, they’re not going back.   It will be very difficult diplomatically and especially on the domestic political level to reinsert 50-60 thousand combat troops back into Iraq to restore security but if all hell breaks lose in Iraq, there’s no doubt that the US will be called on to do just that….

So I think the “Stupidest Man” is spot-on.  Most people agree that launching the war in Iraq was extremely stupid to begin with, but that’s irrelevant now.  We, the United States, do own the country, or at least have certain obligations to it:

My worry is that we have come to see Iraq as somehow separate from the rest of the world, as if the country existed in its own war-damaged vacuum. The result is that while we have paid much attention to the internal dynamics of Iraqi politics and the ebb and flow of the security situation, we have all but ignored outside forces that can quickly become catalysts for upheaval. One such force is the global recession, which has sent oil prices plummeting and has left Iraq reeling from financial shock. This is probably the biggest threat the country now faces, and it’s quite possible that the hard-won security gains will unravel not because of renewed sectarian violence but because of, well, lack of money. Yet this possibility, obvious as it may sound, is nowhere to be seen in Lynch’s list of contingencies. What is even more troubling is that because of our tunnel vision, none of us saw it coming. What else is there that we’re not seeing?

So, yes — I do think the prudent thing for Obama to do is to go slow. After six years of disaster, the United States owes it to Iraq not to pull the plug in haste. It may not matter that vast areas of the country, such as Nineweh and Diyala, “remain kinetic”, as an Iraq-savvy commenter put it in FP; but it matters a great deal if the whole country goes up in flames while America watches. If you thought the invasion was bad for the U.S. image and ultimately demoralising for Americans, just think what that would do.

And all COIN types in Washington should read the Stupidest Man’s blog  for a daily dose of the security issues of Afghanistan/ Pakistan/Iraq  from a non-American, perspective.

Why no more 9/11s: Part Two

In part two of his series on why the US hasn’t been attacked since 9/11,  Timothy Noah puts forth the Near_Enemy theory:

I place the Near-Enemy Theory one stop further on the worry spectrum from the Terrorists-Are-Dumb Theory because even if al-Qaida is right now preoccupied with opportunities in its backyard, that doesn’t necessarily keep it from devoting some resources to attacking the United States.

Basically he’s saying that Al-Qaeda has not attacked the US since 9/11 because it is more preoccupied with abundant opportunities  in its backyard. 

This is true.  But here’s how I would interpret this:  Al-Qaeda was overwhelmingly condemned for the attacks of 9/11 and there isn’t a single Islamic scholar of note who says those attacks were legitimate.   Who are the people in Al-Qaeda?  They are very religious Muslims, the kind who take note when they face such strong internal condemnation from literally every Islamist on the planet, especially when they are trying to portray themselves as the defenders of Islam.

So they focus on things that are seen as more legitimate, like  fighting against US occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan.  There are Muslim scholars who say “don’t go because you’ll only make things worse for Muslims everywhere.”  But you will never here a Muslim scholar say its illegitimate Islamically to go and fight the American, non-Muslim occupation of Islamic countries.  

Thus, the US presence in Afghanistan and Iraq is a major reason for the lack of attacks on the US homeland since 9/11.

Blog Endorsement

Most organizations — unis, think tanks  or media — claim that they cover “the Middle East and North Africa” but it’s all a big lie.  Its not even accurate to say they cover the Middle East.  In practice, they cover Cairo, Beirut, and Iraq, and ignore the other 90% of the region.  When’s the last time you read an article in the Times or Post from Libya?  Or from Algeria that doesn’t involve stuff getting blown up?  

By contrast, sometimes I get the sense that everybody and their brother in Cairo has been the subject of a feature piece.  Seriously.  If you can do a good job cleaning  S*** in Cairo people will write about it.  Like me.  I almost succeeded in convincing an editor to let me write an article on the guy in charge of sewage disposal in Egypt.  Readers are probably wondering why this is important. Try this:  Imagine life in Cairo if all the nasty stuff didn’t go where its supposed to.  That’s something to keep in mind for those who criticize the Egyptian government.  20 million people taking S**** every day and it all goes to the right spot.  That’s no small logistical and engineering feat and I shudder to think what would happen it they got that one wrong… life in Egypt would really stink.

Anyway, back to my original point.  I’ve got good news for people who want more coverage of North Africa.  Help is on the way.   Two esteemed MediaShack readers and North Africa gurus,  Kal and   Alle,  have started up a group blog called   Maghreb_Politics_Review.   All those looking for more analysis of the Maghreb, or, perhaps more accurately, any, should read this blog.  These guys clearly know what they’re talking about.

New Poll on Muslim Views on Al-Qaeda

World Public Opinion has just put out an in-depth survey  of Muslim opinions  (Egypt, Palestine, Jordan, Pakistan, and Turkey).   Basically, they reflect what  American policy makers, especially Public Diplomacy, should recognize: that Al-Qaeda’s cause (Perceived  by Arabs as resisting US hegemony in the Muslim world) is seen by huge percentages of Muslims as legitimate defensive jihad, as long as its aimed at US military forces in Arab countries. 

Here’s the most relevant questions that people need to focus on.  From page 15:  

“Q43-S79. Thinking about the following kinds of attacks on Americans, please tell me if you approve of them, disapprove of them, or have mixed feelings about them?

Attacks on US military troops in Afghanistan
Egypt 2008:  75% Strongly approve, 8 % somewhat approve, and less than 10% disapprove in any form.

On US military troops based in the Persian Gulf States:
Egypt 2008:  70% strongly approve.  A total of 12% have mixed feelings or any form of disaproval. 

On US military troops based in Iraq:
Egypt 2008:  75% strongly approve.  Only 10% with mixed feelings or any form of disaproval.

On US Civilians in the US:
Egypt 2008: 8% approve in any form.  78% strongly disaprove. 

The pattern is pretty clear and I would bet that the 10% who disaprove of attacks on US troops generally are Coptic Christians. 

The results very closely reflect the contents of the following conversation.   Go to  32:29 and see the transcript here. Its from a May 2008 episode of Al-Jazeera’s  The Opposite Direction.  Here’s a very  basic translation:  Wanting to gauge his position on violence,  an Egyptian Coptic activist asks a Saudi Salafi whether Bin Laden is a terrorist or a [a legitimate] ‘fighter’ or ‘struggler’.  After several minutes of wavering, the Saudi finally says “when Bin Laden kills civilians he’s a terrorist but when he raises his hand against the US forces in Afghanistan he’s a fighter.”  

مجدي خليل(متابعا): يعني يضرب مين؟ خلي بالك، يضرب الشعب المسلم اللي زيه، مش حيضرب أميركا ما بيضربوش أميركا خلاص اتمنع، أنا قلت في برنامج تلفزيوني بعد حرب حزب الله وإسرائيل قلت دي آخر حاجة لن يطلق حزب الله طلقة واحدة إلا في إطار حرب إيرانية أميركية ويكونوا بقى حيوجهوا كل الشغب إلى الداخل خلاص، وحصل، قلتها دي أثناء الحرب، قلت انتهى، وحدث ذلك. هم دلوقت امتنعت فكرة تصدير الإرهاب للخارج بقيت محدودة جدا لأن الدول الغربية عملت سياج وقالت ما فيش تصدير للإرهابيين وحذرت الدول العربية. كانوا بيصدروا الإرهاب على الخارج، النظام العسكري يضغط ويصدّر، ينفس في أميركا وإسرائيل ويقول لهم تروحوا. دلوقت خلاص انتهى الموضوع. دلوقت، أنا ببساطة شديدة علشان بس نوضح أخي العزيز أنا أسألك بعض الأسئلة أنت شفت برنامج الأخوان المسلمين الأخير اللي بيقولوا لك إنهم لو طلعوا قالوا لهم طلعوا طلعوا.. اسألك ثلاث أسئلة بسيطة جدا وترد لي عليها وتشوفها من وجهة نظري أرجو أنك ترد، هل بن لادن والظواهري الزرقاوي وخالد الإسلامبولي ومحمد عطا والناس دي كلها إرهابيين ولا مناضلين؟ السؤال الثاني، أرجوك تجاوب على السؤال ده، هل الكذب جائز إذا كان في خدمة الدين؟ السؤال الثالث وتجاوب على الثلاث أسئلة دول، هل سيد قطب وابن تيمية وأبو العلى المودودي دعاة إرهاب أم دعاة حق وإصلاح؟ جاوب لي على الثلاث أسئلة دول بس بسرعة وندخل في النقاش بعدها.

فيصل القاسم

: طيب تفضل يا دكتور.

محسن العواجي: بسم الله، هل ابن لادن والظواهري إرهابيين؟ أسيادك حينما ربوا بلادهم..

مجدي خليل(مقاطعا): عيب، عيب، أرفض هذا الكلام أنا ممكن أهينك.

محسن العواجي:  لا مو عيب، اسمع، ابن لادن هذا الذي أولا جنده الأميركان لقتال الروس حينما كانوا الروس الكفرة الفجرة والذي دعمه هي أميركا وحلفاؤها حينما كان الجهاد واجبا هناك ولما أجت أميركا صار الجهاد من الحرام من السبع الموبقات وبالتالي فإذاً ابن لادن الأول المجاهد حسب فتوى وزير الخارجية جورج فوتس السابق مجاهد أنا أنقل حتى يقولها باللغة العربي مجاهدين إذا ابن لادن الأول حسب الفتوى الأميركية مجاهد، ابن لادن الأخير حسب الفتوى الأميركية إرهابي، أنا أقول عن ابن لادن والظواهري وفيصل القاسم ومحسن العواجي وأي إنسان إذا كان يدافع عن بيته الذي جاءه المحتل ودخله وقتل نفسا وهدم بيتا وأحرق أرضا وزرعا فهو مجاهد صنديد رجل مفخرة للإنسانية قاطبة..

مجدي خليل(مقاطعا): والخمسة عشرة سعوديا؟..

محسن العواجي(متابعا): أما إذا أي واحد ممن ذكرت اعتدى على نفس معصومة وعلى معاهد نبينا صلى الله عليه وسلم يقول من قتل معاهدا يعني..

مجدي خليل(مقاطعا): أنا مش معاهد أنا مواطن..

محسن العواجي(مقاطعا): لحظة أنا أتكلم.. من قتل معاهدا لم يذق رائحة الجنة. على كل حال أي اعتداء على نفس معصومة فهو إرهابي..

فيصل القاسم(مقاطعا)

: السؤال الثاني..

مجدي خليل(مقاطعا): ما جاوبش على السؤال، هو حاليا إرهابي ولا مناضل؟ الظواهري إرهابي ولا مناضل؟ السعوديون اللي دمروا الأبراج راحوا فين؟

محسن العواجي: لحظة إذا وجه رصاصته ابن لادن وهو هناك مع طالبان وغيرها للمحتل الموجود إذا وجهها إلي وإليك وإلى أميركي أيضا صحفي أو وجهها إلى أميركان الشعب الأميركي هناك فهو إرهابي..

مجدي خليل(مقاطعا): يعني هو إرهابي ومناضل في نفس الوقت؟

محسن العواجي: افهمها زي ما أنت عايز، هذه واحدة، صحيح أنت الآن لك سيئات ولك حسنات كل إنسان له سيئات وحسنات

Dr Fadl Mania? UPDATED

Can someone please explain the sudden interest in Dr Fadl  (aka Sayyid Imam)?  In just the last 4 days, The_Telegraph, Haaretz, and Middle_East_Times have all published news articles on Fadl’s latest book, which came out — in November.   Am I missing something here?   The only coverage I’ve seen on Fadl (anywhere) during the last few months was  at ForeignPolicy.com by  Marc_Lynch who, like almost every Arab commentator,  does not consider Fadl all that important. 

Some things to consider regarding Sayyim Imam’s importance:

1)  The Tanzim Al-Jihad group which both Zawahiri and Fadl headed at different points can be thought of as an extremely violent offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood.  It was never Salafi.  Its questionable whether Zawahiri  can be described as Salafi today but there’s no doubt about Fadl.  Al-Qaeda’s thinkers are mostly pure Salafis, so when Fadl, a non-Salafi, starts publishing books criticizing them, they laugh at him.  Think of it this way — how much would the Head of the Protestant Church of England care about criticisms from the Catholic Bishop of Chicago?   

2)  Fadl was never part of Al-Qaeda.  All three of the above articles say he was but this is simply wrong.  Al-Qaeda was founded in February 1998.  Fadl quit the Jihad group around 1994 and hasn’t been a part of any group since that point.  So his criticisms are not as an insider but as someone who was never part of the movement in the first place.

UPDATE:  A reader alerts us to the likely cause of this recent burst of Fadl mania:  MEMRI’s summaryof  Dr. Fadl’s book which was released yesterday.