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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Soccer Dad's Middle East Media Sampler

Here's Soccer Dad's Middle East Media Sampler for Wednesday, January 25.
1) Really?

The New York Times has a short item, Lebanon: Former General Sentenced in Spying Case. The former general, Fayez Karam was convicted of giving information to Israel. I've been skeptical of these announced arrests of spies in Lebanon. Two years is an awfully light sentence for an espionage conviction.

2) Fouad Ajami on the Assads

Fouad Ajamai has an essay The Lost Bequest of Hafez Aassad, that concludes with observations about his son, Bashar. (h/t Martin Kramer )
Hafez Assad was visited by personal tragedy in 1994: the death in a car accident of his oldest son, Bassel. He had been grooming him for succession. He never recovered from the grief. In the years left to him, he settled on his son Bashar, the eye doctor, as his successor. He bent the Constitution and the leadership to his will. He died in 2000, and his hapless son, 34 years of age, was anointed as his successor. Syrians hoped for the best, thought that perhaps this gangly youth, with a stint in London behind him, would grant them the freedoms his father had denied them. There was a Damascus Spring in the offing, it was said. The new ruler permitted the importation of Western cigarettes; jazz clubs and art galleries made their appearance. Bashar offered his people an olive branch: he married well, a London-born upper-bourgeois young woman from a Sunni family of Homs, Asma al-Akhras. The young couple presented themselves well. But the Damascus Spring was snuffed out. The civic forums were shut down, dissidents were rounded up and dispatched to prisons. The young inheritor was his father’s son.
A year ago, when the political hurricane known as the Arab Spring hit the region, Bashar al-Assad proclaimed his country’s immunity to the troubles. He was young, the rulers challenged by their people were old, he was anti-American and anti-Israeli, hence the immunity of his regime. He was at one with his people, he said. Then a group of boys in mid-March, in the forlorn southern town of Daraa, went out and scribbled anti-regime graffiti on the walls. They were picked up and tortured. It was as though the custodians of this dictatorship knew that their order hung by a thread. The system rested on fear, and that barrier was crossed. He put his medical training to use. He described the protesters as germs. Four decades of a drab tyranny had not robbed the Syrians of their humor. The Syrian germs require a new doctor, one banner proclaimed. Bashar had squandered his father’s bequest.
The other day, it was reported that Syrian troops killed a general. (h/t Daily Alert)
An intelligence general in Syria called Adel Mustafa was killed by his own men who refused to obey his order to shoot protesting civilians in the Bab Qebli suburb in Hama.
There have been reports of troops being arrested or killed for refusing to fire on civilians. How widespread these incidents are is unclear.

3) Egypt's economic (and political) crisis

The New York Times reports Economic Potholes Add Dangers on Egypt’s New Political Path. One effect is:
"Nobody is getting married after the revolution,” said Amr el-Khodary, 37, who was forced to close his shop that rents cars for wedding parades.
Ibrahim Mohamed, a 26-year-old cab driver with a college degree, is a case in point. A steep decline in fares, he said, has prevented him from saving up the roughly $7,000 for an apartment, furniture, a small wedding and the customary gift of jewelry that he says he needs to marry.
“If it weren’t for the revolution,” he said, “I would have been able to get married.”
Spengler writes about the very bleak larger picture (h/t Israel Matzav):
Egypt faces a disaster of biblical proportions, and the world will do nothing about it. Officially, Egypt's foreign exchange reserves fell by half during 2011, including a $2.4 billion decline during December - from $36 billion to $18 billion, or about four months of imports.
But the situation almost certainly is worse than that. More than $4 billion left the country during December, estimates Royal Bank of Scotland economist Raza Agha, noting that the December drop in reserves was cushioned by a $1 billion loan from the Egyptian army and a $1 billion sale of dollar-denominated treasury bills.
The rush out of the Egyptian pound is so rapid that Egyptian investors refuse to hold debt in their own national currency, even at a 16% yield. After Islamist parties won more three-quarters of the seats in recent parliamentary elections - 47% for the Muslim Brotherhood and 25% for the even more extreme al-Nour Party - the business elite that prospered under military rule is counting the days before exile.
Eric Trager writes in Happy Birthday to Egypt’s Doomed Revolution:
IT IS TEMPTING to believe that things might have turned out differently had Washington worked harder to bolster the young revolutionaries who seemingly exemplified America’s own liberal values when they took to the streets last January. These brave activists, after all, had won America’s hearts to the tune of an 82-percent approval rating at the height of the revolt, and their photogenic faces carried the promise of a more democratic, friendly Egypt.
But the activists were never who we hoped they were. Far from being liberal, their ranks were largely comprised of Nasserists, revolutionary socialists, and Muslim Brotherhood youths—an alliance of convenience for opposing Mubarak and, later, for denouncing the U.S.
4) A reconsidered Diehl

Yesterday, I wrote a critical assessment of Jackson Diehl's Turkey’s government is the new normal in the Middle East. Barry Rubin argues that Diehl's column, though imperfect, was important:
At least one can have a serious dialogue with Diehl, who is actually thinking about the complexities of the issues involved. I simply cannot think of a single other mass media journalist — not one- — who either thinks or writes as he does. That’s pretty devastating.
Moreover, since the columns and airtime of the mass media are basically closed for contrasting views, how can one possibly reach the same audience, especially since part of the mass media’s propaganda mission is to caricature the critics by highlighting the dumbest statements and painting dissent as Islamophobia?
Equally, though, Diehl’s challenge to the critics of the mainstream thinking on the Middle East is also very serious. Unless Republican presidential candidates, conservative thinkers, and those holding alternative views can develop an accurate and sophisticated analysis, they are not going to win this debate or develop a better strategy.

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