MENA Fringe Archives
January 17, 2013
Reflexions on Maghreb, Sahel and the Mail / Sahara Crisis
I would very much like to write something in depth on this local crisis, insofar as I have done business and know fairly well the countries directly involved. However, since I am working on closing an investment, I have to be short.
First, relative to Mali itself, it seems to me important to understand that there are at least three ongoing issues that a naive reading of a map would not clarify:
(i) Mali might rather inexactly be divided into two countries (geographically and culturally, tracking the ecosystem) - the Saharan part and Sahel fringe (Niger river bend), which is the security situation tracks fairly closely.
(a) The map of Mali shows this fairly clearly, the pinched part is the major transition, the huge northern territory above is mostly Sahara - real desert - except for the productive fringe of the Niger river valley. Other than that is oasises. Below the 'pinch' one is in the lower Sahel or the Savanna (i.e. agriculturally productive regions, with higher population densisities). No surprise there are some strong ethnic differences (below the pinch, where the population weight is, rather culturally homogenous, and fairly ethnically / linguistically homogenous (and essentially 100% Muslim, although there is a small Xian minority dating from the 19th century colonial period, oddly best data shows that French colonial rule promoted conversion / solidification as a reaction to the French), particularly in comparison with southern neighbours like Cote d'Ivoire.
(ii) The Sahara is a zone that is largely unfriendly to sustained insurgency, if the watering points are controlled.
(a) the different histories of Afghanistan and this region for the late 19th century / early 20th centuries illustrate. Afghanistan was never ruled. This region was administered by the French.
(b) added to that the Arab supremecist (this is a key point to retain) Salafism does not have roots in the region (and in fact Taureq particularism runs deep - ex the Libyan Tuareg, semi foreigners - Tuareg reaction to Arab driven and generally Arab supremacist Salafist models
- It would be incorrect to say that Salafist / Jihadist thought has no local (Sahel/Mali) roots. It does, historically (c. 17th-19thc), BUT for most of the Malian non-Tuareg zone, it has little mass relevance and zero roots (contra Nigeria, where it is driven by Nigerian issues). In stark contrast to AfPak region where there were indigenous quasi Salafi movements (the Deobandis, etc).
- Maghrebi, particularly Moroccan, Sufi Tariqa (orders), like the Tijani, are influential
(c) the North South ethnic divide (which is stark, and massively population weighted to the South, tracks well to the intervention; however weak the Southern based military is in short term, there is massive popular dislike towards the North.
(iii) Politically, in region France as lead has a good intro, given the role in resolving the Cote d'Ivoire crisis, that played well into Malian needs - economic - as well as politics. It was also a legitimately positive effort, in context.
(iv) the Saharan Maghreb states, of which Algeria, Morocco, Mauritania are more and more nervous about the Libyan blowback (although it must be noted privately or publicly, everyone agrees that Qaddafi going is a long-run good thing, no in-region observer really mourns him).
The Russian Solution
Pity I did not take the time to write up my thoughts on the Algerian approach, I was going to predict a Russian solution but I had thought they'd wait 48-72 hours before doing so.
May 14, 2011
Naiveté in Propaganda: Ben Laden & Impact of Porn Accus
I am continuously befuddled that the US military and counterror people believe these kinds of demarches, Pornography Is Found on Bin Laden’s Computers - NYTimes.com actually carry any credibility with audiences not already pre-disposed to the US view / to disliking Ben Laden.
The discovery of the pornography, first reported by Reuters, may not be surprising in a collection of five computers, 10 hard drives and dozens of thumb drives and CDs whose age and past ownership is not known.No. Just simply no. Porn does not "tarnish" Ben Laden more with anyone who does not already loathe and despise him. First, the credibility of the accusation is .... dubious as to a real factual connection to himself (given no control on provenance, and frankly the Americans could be making this up). There are any number of non-ideological reasons to view this with scepticism.
But the disclosure could fuel accusations of hypocrisy against the founder of Al Qaeda, who was 54 and lived with three wives at the time of his death, and will be welcomed by counterterrorism officials because it could tarnish his legacy and erode the appeal of his brand of religious extremism.
Second, on the ideological side, the people who lean towards sympathy towards Ben Laden are not going to be in any way inclinced to view this as credible - indeed it feels rather smearish - and quite the contrary I rather would suspect it has rather more potential to generate sympathy than the inverse, along the line so "the infidel not only have killed the Sheikh, but now are fabricating personal smears."
A stupid idea and demarche by "counter-terrorism officials" (a discipline I have less and less respect for as time goes on, as it seems to mean 'specialist in advancing own prejudices in military-security jargon').
Rather more effective wold be to focus on his writings and things more clearly connected to him and the idealogy.
May 03, 2011
Other than Ben Laden: Awrah, ownership & Turkish Playboy covergirls, liberation porn
As the All Ben Laden show is boring, I turn my attention to a good old Aqoul topic, Muslim sex: Playboy's Muslim Cover Girl: Is Sila Sahin Good for Women? - The Daily Beast, which is a very silly article positing that a German-Turkish woman's German Playboy cover represents an interesting event for Muslim women.
Actress Sila Sahin has sparked outrage as the first Turkish woman to pose for Playboy—but perhaps her rebellion will inspire other Muslims to define modesty and honor for themselves, says Asra Q. Nomani.
German-Muslim actress Sila Sahin, 25, is causing quite a stir as the first Turkish woman to undress for Playboy, posing in the May issue of the magazine's German edition. "For me, these pictures are an act of liberation from the cultural constraints of my childhood," the star of the German soap opera Good Times, Bad Times told Playboy. "I have tried to please everybody for too long. With these images I want to show young Turkish women that it is OK to live the way they are, that it is not cheap to show skin, that you should pursue your goals instead of bowing down to others."
I'm not a fan of porn as a symbol of empowerment, but as a Muslim woman, hearing divinely sanctioned mandates all my life about what a good Muslim girl looks like, I can understand why Sahin has responded to our community sanctions about honor, shame and modesty by stripping—and why members of her family have ostracized her for it. The battle over the Muslim woman's body is a debate over a simple Islamic concept: awrah (or awra), an Arabic word that refers to the zones of women and men forbidden from the public eye. While it's an equal opportunity word, it's the excuse some Muslim men use to subordinate, silence, segregate and cloak women from Afghanistan to Seattle, Washington.
And in fact, Sahin's decision to pose for the nudie mag may mark an important milestone on Muslim women's path to defining awrah for themselves. Recently, France banned the veil—in part because it perpetuates the notion that a woman's body is forbidden. Sahin's exhibitionism takes this concept to an extreme. Yet similar to how American women responded to the sexually repressive mores of the 1950s with the sexual revolution of the 1960s, only to find a happy medium of sexual freedom in the decades that followed, perhaps acts like Sahin's will prove liberating.
While I have no criticism of the posing, frankly the idea that there is symbolism for Muslim women seems rather bizarre - and given that models like Iman (Somali) have long been present, I find it hard to see an impact... Although to be uncharitable, perhaps for Anglophone South Asian origin authors, black African Muslim models and Maghrebine models (and porn stars) don't really count.
March 21, 2011
Yemen Civil War
Well, this is most unpleasant, Yemen showdown looms as army loyalties divide | World news | The Guardian
Yemen showdown looms as army loyalties divide
Defence minister vows to stand by president after 12 senior military commanders defect from regime
I was just watching this on Al Jazeerah. At first I thought he was announcing a coup.
"According to what I'm feeling, and according to the feelings of my partner commanders and soldiers … I announce our support and our peaceful backing to the youth revolution," Ali Mohsen said via a video statement released before noon.Well, Yemen has fought civil wars before.
Minutes after Ali Mohsen's defection, tanks belonging to the republican guards, an elite force led by the president's son Ahmed Ali, rolled into the streets of Sana'a, setting the stage for a standoff between defectors and loyalists.
March 20, 2011
And Morocco, the quasi exception
As reported by RFI, The '20 Feb' movement is supposed to hold large demos for more change in Morocco today, w/o license.
Pushing ahead despite the Royal announcement of constitutional reforms. Overall, I don't see the Moroccan protest movement having the depth or breadth of support of either Egypt or Tunisia. In talking to people - middle class colleagues and friends - I heard a degree of scepticism with numbers giving credit to the position of the Government (as disseminated informally) that the Movement is being manipulated by " The Ikhouan" and indicating Moroccans should wait to see what the actual proposals on constitutional reform look like (although everyone seems agreed the PM has to go). The manipulation line seems a bit much, although there isn't a doubt that the Moroccan salafist movement makes up a good part of the organized protest party, along the hard left.
I have rather a lot of work, but perhaps I can wander out and look around if I get tired of labouring through the weekend. My room isn't far from the major protest.
In any case, Morocco is lucky that the present king moved on relatively substantial (for the region) reform. Had he not broken in a very public and fairly substantial way with his father's practices, Morocco would have exploded. As it is, the 20 Feb movement has some utility in concentrating the minds of the Palace in Rabat on not listening to the arguments that it's time for a pause. The Royal system, if it undertakes a reasonable degree of democratisation as promised, such as boosting the parties and an elected PM, has a decent chance to come out of 2011 smelling like roses. But decent chance is not fait accompli.
March 09, 2011
Returning to the African connexion
Some notes highlighting the relevance of my earlier obs in re Libyan racism (although not unfounded in re paranoia re mercenaries) & worries.
BBC News - Protests across the Middle East and North Africa
1246: UNHCR says that a team at the Egypt border on Monday interviewed a group of Sudanese who arrived from eastern Libya who said that armed Libyans were going door to door, forcing sub-Saharan Africans to leave. In one instance a 12-year-old Sudanese girl was said to have been raped. They reported that many people had their documents confiscated or destroyed. The agency says it heard similar accounts from a group of Chadians who fled Benghazi, al-Bayda and Brega in the past few days.
February 23, 2011
SubSah Afr Expats in Libya A useful point of reflexion
An item I believe is being potentially neglected in thinking about Gaddafi's reservoir of enforcers / sowers of civil war is the SSAf population in Libya, and the Black Libyans.
BBC News - Libya: Who is propping up Gaddafi?
Col Gaddafi has long fostered close relations with African countries, having turned his back on the Arab world some time ago, and there are an estimated 500,000 African expatriates in Libya out of a total population of six million.To put this in context, we need to think about the history of anti-Black progroms in Libya
The number of those serving as pro-Gaddafi mercenaries is thought to be quite small but their loyalty to his regime is said to be unquestioned and there are reports of extra flights being laid on to bring in more in recent days.
February 15, 2011
Iran: Islamming the Opposition
Recent reports of unrest in Iran contain this ominous news: "Opposition supporters revived a tactic from the unrest, shouting 'Allahu Akbar', or God is Great, from rooftops and balconies into the early hours Monday in a sign of defiance toward Iran's leadership." Oh my gosh! Holy crapoli! Oh, no! Does this mean if these folks win, we might face . . . an Islamist Iran? No democracy for you! (Sorry, couldn't resist.)
February 08, 2011
Is Yemen better suited for politcal reform than Egypt or Tunisia
Ahem.... A serious article. I guess it all depends on what one thinks of political reform.
Is Yemen Better Suited for Reform Than Egypt or Tunisia? - Joshua Foust - International - The Atlantic
January 30, 2011
Rached Ghannouchi Returns to Tunisia (with rant on Anti-Islamist Panic)
Exiled Ennahda party leader Rached Ghannouchi was received by enthusiastic crowd when his plane landed. Given that he is somewhat of an Islamist, apparenlty his presence doesn't count as a step towards True Democracy, in the proposals of Robert Satloff, who wants the US to sponsor a new wave of Arab democratic government which would, apparently, not allow any non-secular or at least Islamist party to participate. In other words, the same thing all over again, a Ben Ali, only with multiple parties. Rant below, on anti-Islamist Panic.
July 29, 2010
Turkey & the old empire (Turkey and MENA)
Slyly referring in the title to some of the crazed political commentary coming out of hard right Israel circles, but I genuinely find this interesting. The Turkish business engagement with MENA has been building since before our AKP fellow, a natural development.
As Turkey Inches Eastward, Syrians Feel the Love - NYTimes.com
GAZIANTEP, Turkey — Well-heeled Syrians had already been coming to this ancient industrial city, drawn here by Louis Vuitton purses and storefront signs in Arabic. But local shop owners say Israel’s deadly raid on a Turkish-led flotilla to Gaza in May has solidified an already blossoming friendship between Syria and Turkey, the new hero of the Muslim world.Emphasis added. Quite so. I recall again a recent conversation with American diplomats that I ran into that were in high dungeon after snubs to some Israeli delegation that they - the Americans - were pimping in the region. Leaving aside the queerness of why the Americans were so very solicitous of an Israeli delegation's meetings (they do seem to forget it is a foreign country, and one never sees quite this solicitousness for other allies), their view that Turkey was 'turning against them' was just boggling. As was their apparently genuine surprise at the reaction to the Gazan flotilla event (as if one of their own citizens had not been killed, well one of the wrong religion and ethnicity it would appear); entire and myopic misread of the Turkish relationship and influences.
“People in Syria love Turkey because the country supports the Arab world, and they are fellow Muslims,” Zakria Shavek, 37, a driver for a Syrian transport company based in Gaziantep, said as he deposited a family of newly arrived shoppers from Aleppo, which competes with Damascus for the title of Syria’s largest city and is about a two-hour drive from here. “Our enemy in the world is Israel, so we also like Turkey because our enemy’s enemy is our friend.”
The monthly pilgrimages of tens of thousands of Syrians to this southeastern Turkish city — which intensified after the two countries removed visa requirements last September — are just the latest manifestation of the growing ties between Turkey and Syria, part of the Turkish government’s efforts to reach out to its neighbors by using economic and cultural links to help it become a regional leader.
Turkey’s shift toward the Muslim world — from the recent clash with Israel to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s description of Iran’s nuclear program as peaceful — has prompted concerns in the United States and Europe that Turkey, an important NATO ally, is turning its back on the West.
But in Turkey, where 70 percent of all exports go to Europe, businesspeople insist that the government’s policy of cultivating friendly ties with all neighbors reflects a canny and very Western capitalist impulse to offset dependence on stagnating European markets while cementing Turkey’s position as a vital economic and political bridge between east and west.
Indeed, most Arab states, including Syria, enthusiastically support Turkey’s bid to join the European Union, viewing Turkey as a vital intermediary to Western markets that might otherwise be off limits. At the political level, Turkey’s influence in the Middle East is also deeply enhanced by its strong Western ties — a fact recognized by Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, who shocked many in the Turkish capital this month by warning that the latest crisis between Israel and Turkey could undermine Ankara’s role as a mediator in the region.I also believe this is largely true.
While it is a bit of journalistic .... shiny new objectism to point to this as entirely new after the Gaza debacle, there is certainly a real development. Shall try to return to further comment on the article, unfortunately on a plane the next two days.
July 22, 2010
Turkey & the Israel to do, American silliness
I dislike commenting on the entire Israel-Palestine fiasco, it's a pointless and endless running sore that won't be solved until the Americans stop reflexively backing every bit of Israeli security-overreach.
But this is very queer. The Americans publicly questioning the Turkish alliance. This is idiocy:
FT.com Turkey: The sentinel swivels
Conversely, the perception in Washington is that Ankara is becoming a volatile and unreliable partner. Some in Congress view the breakdown of relations with Israel as proof of an eastward tilt by an authoritarian Islamist government. US officials, usually careful to keep differences behind closed doors, are expressing doubts. Philip Gordon, assistant secretary of state and one of Turkey’s strongest supporters in the state department, says the country’s commitment to Nato, the EU and the US “needs to be demonstrated”.The Americans - and I have heard this in speaking now and again with American diplomats - are simply daft to put their alliance in question over Israel. Turkey is a rather more useful and important actor, and one with a growing ego (and economy). The quoted statement is the highest form of self-regarding idiocy. Tone deaf, blind to Turkish frustrations with EU (bloody hell, after the Turks get stiff armed, the Americans say THEY have to demonstrate commitment?)
July 12, 2010
Somali Shebab claim Uganda bombing
It's hard to exaggerate the reprehensibility of bombing a simple group of folks watching the World Cup, and then claiming 'Islamic principles.' The Shebab very much need to be taught a lesson, and Moweri is quite right. Attack soldiers, boming
FT.com - Somali Islamists claim Uganda blasts
Militant Islamists from Somalia on Monday claimed responsibility for a series of bomb blasts that killed at least 74 people as they watched the World Cup final in Kampala, Uganda’s capital.
The co-ordinated terrorist attacks on Sunday night were among the worst to have occurred in sub-Saharan Africa. They targeted an Ethiopian restaurant popular with expatriates, and a rugby club packed with football fans watching the final moments of Holland versus Spain.
Hospitals in Kampala were overwhelmed on Monday with the wounded, as Ugandans reacted with shock and fear to the attack on their usually peaceful capital.
“This shows you the criminality and terrorism that I have been talking about,” Yoweri Museveni, Uganda’s president, said at the site of one of the attacks. “If you want to fight, go and look for soldiers, don’t bomb people watching football.”
Ugandan authorities suspected Somali involvement in the killings, but by Monday afternoon, when spokesmen for the al-Qaeda-inspired al-Shabaab militia claimed responsibility, little firm evidence had emerged. ...
“We will carry out attacks against our enemy wherever they are,” Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage, an al-Shabaab spokesman in Mogadishu, told the Associated Press news agency, claiming responsibility for the explosions. “No one will deter us from performing our Islamic duty.”
Ali Mohamud's Islamic duty is to go to hell as a criminal and murderer.
April 06, 2010
Class Demographics Explain Better MENA/Muslim Integration in USA?
The Washington Times, not normally a spurting fountain of Muslim-friendly coverage, praises the relatively successful integration of Muslim immigrants in America when compared to that of Europe. (The newsstory mostly concentrates on inter-faith dialogue, but the broader implication of better relative integration (e.g. “melting pot”) in America comes through loud and clear.) While I do enjoy a nice dose of American exceptionalism, and I do think it may apply here in some ways, let me nevertheless throw out a less nationalistic hypothesis on relative integration levels. I am too lazy and busy to find and crunch the appropriate numbers and surveys to confirm or refute it, but here it is: Could some of the relatively better Muslim/MENA integration in America be simply due to the fact that Muslim immigrants there have tended towards the educated professional and middle class, rather than being a large class of laborers as may be the case in lots of Europe?
March 27, 2010
Ongoing Social Vents: Yemen Child Marriage, Saudi Poetess Scolds Muftis, etc.
Molestation Contestation: Yemen Battles Over Child Marriage Laws.
Muftis Get Rapped: Poetess Socks It to the Jeddah Valley PTA. "I have seen evil in the eyes of fatwas. . . barbaric, angry and blind, wearing death as a robe cinched with a belt".
Non-Mideast Non-Muslims Riot Over Non-Danish Video Images. But, but, but,only Muslims get violent when imagery of their sacred founder gets offensive, right? Others never do that, at least these days, right? Occasionally elsewhere too though, theatrical performances can also unite a few Muslims and Christians (see last paragraph) in shared death-threat issuance. This must be what is meant by the unifying power of art. . . .
December 21, 2009
Al Qaeda fil Maghreb and Sahelian Illusions
Maghreb Politics Review has a smart critique of the American extra-territorial seizure of supposed AQIM plotters (from Ghana) for trial in New York: US Arrests Malians in Terror Drugs “Link”
The comment is spot on relative to the strangely superficial and paranoid American approach to AQIM.
And the complaint is littered with attempts to illicit anti-American sentiments from the marks, who rarely return with anything more damning than a “God Willing” or two. Clearly the US government expects that everyone who hates America is on the same page, plotting across ideological lines, continents, and religions to hurt us. By selling drugs. To Europeans.
The counterpoint of blind nationalism here is blind paranoia, the thought that everyone must be scheming about you behind your back, that all “evil doers” are doing evil as part of a grand conspiracy to bring you down. If you wave several million dollars in front of three people from one of the poorest countries in the world, do you think when you say “You love Al-Qaeda, right?” they’ll launch into a subtle discussion of international terror? Or will they say “Oh yeah, you’re my brother cause we hate America too! And I’ll take that %50 up front in Euros.”
But this is par for the US government anti-terrorism law enforcement. The policing enforcement of US terrorism policy is as hamfisted as the military “war on terror”, except that the policing war is usually motivated by the desire for good domestic press. They tend to create their own terrorist plots, convince criminal idiots to accede to the plans invented by the US, and then arrest the patsies. The example of the recent Bronx terror plot in which the FBI informant took several not very bright young men recently released from jail, created a plot, bought gifts for them until they agreed to help, gave them the supplies, and then arrested them as “dangerous Al Qaeda terrorists.” Of course there are real terrorists out there, but it’s much easier to disrupt plots you invent yourself.
Emphasis added. Quite.
December 06, 2009
Morocco hosts wounded Guinean coup leader
A minor if interesting item, FT.com - Wounded Guinea leader flies to Morocco relative to Morocco and Africa.
Wounded Guinea leader flies to MoroccoWhat is if interest here is a small highlight of Morocco's West African connexions and ambitions, and from the business point of view, where actual current attention flows.
Guinea’s military ruler left the country for medical treatment on Friday after being shot and wounded by a member of his own presidential guard, officials said.
I frequently note, the "guys back east" in the Mashreq (using that to cover everyone from Egypt over) love to count in the Maghreb in their population and GDP pitches for "Arab World" investment, but the economic and cultural reality is that the exchanges are minimal, and little investment flows "West" to the Maghreb. Lack of genuine synergies. The real axis for the Maghreb is North to Europe and South to SS Africa,
especially West Africa where historical and religious ties combine with
a shared colonial heritage and better real economic synergies. (A word of caution then to those reading PPMs back east showing a grand geographic scope of investment...)
I do wonder if Morocco will get close to Camara (who desperately needs to be deposed as he's shown himself to be an ugly loon), or whether they will adopt a more neutral attitude.