North Africa Archives
February 25, 2012
A MENA Econ Analysis to come back to
Libyan situ commentary, Americans thinking Berbers were Pro Qadhdhafi...
Reproducing a comment I made on a pretension to an analysis of the Libyan situation (via Sullivan):
The author, who seems to suffer from the typical "small wars" military/security commentator disease of superficial half understanding, advances some fairly questionable observations (although I wouldn't disagree with the thesis that the Libyan experience does not encourage an intervention in Syria - in fact I agree).
A Preliminary Evaluation of the U.S. Intervention in Libya » Gunpowder & Lead
We’re just over a year past the beginning of the uprisings in Libya that ultimately produced (along with, of course, NATO’s intervention) Muammar Qaddafi’s ouster. And there are now increasing calls for some form of military intervention in Syria. As such, this seems like an important time to evaluate the aftermath of NATO’s intervention in Libya, and how it intersects with American interests.
Essentially, there is a dearth of information publicly available about the state of affairs in Libya, but we nonetheless know a number of facts unambiguously:
Unfortunately the facts advanced are not facts.
The TNC has yet to establish its authority within Tripoli. However well-meaning its endeavors may be, they are not being executed or enforced outside a very small geographic area.
The overwhelming majority of the country is ruled by local militias under commanders with no accountability or common code of conduct.
Several towns (including Zintan, Misrata, and Benghazi) are dominated by local warlords who have power equal to, or greater than, the capital. Indeed, the emergence of a western council in the Nafusa Mountains that directly opposes the TNC is a testament to its weakness.
More Zintan and Mistrata, Benghazi is in fact Benghazi is the 'national' government's power base.
Qaddafi loyalists (more tribal than ideological in nature) have successfully retaken Bani Walid, and have not been displaced.
Well, to call the Bani Walid incident an issue of Qadhdhafi "loyalists" is bootstrapping. It is, as noted in parentheses, a tribal issue.
The Libyan Islamic Fighting Group is well established in parts of Tripoli and Derna. Its rise is directly correlated to attacks against Sufi shrines, and the movement of foreign volunteers going to fight in Syria.
There has been a rash of ongoing retaliatory ethnic and tribal fighting against communities perceived to be pro-Qaddafi, most notably Tuaregs, Berbers, and black Africans.
As I note below this just shows a complete lack of knowledge of Libya. Calling the Berbers a community "perceived to be pro-Qaddafi" is pure nonsense.
The influx of weaponry and returning Tuareg mercenaries after Qaddafi’s fall has helped to destabilize a not-inconsiderable part of Mali. Violent incidents occurring in Algeria, Niger, and Tunisia have also been traced back to Libya.
Well, yes. But the cat was out of the bag well before hand, and in evaluating the situation it is dishonest to cite incidents in Tunisia (post-Revolution rather rare) and glossing over the pre-Revolution, Qadhdhafi backed incidents.
The destabilised part of Mali, the vast desert expanse where the Tuareq live is "not -inconsiderable" however it is also virtually unpopulated Sahara. Nor has it been particularly stable pre-Libyan revolution. AQIM and the Tuareq on-and-off again rebellions / banditism are issues that pre-existed the Libyan revolution and hardly can be blamed on it. An outflow of Taureq mercenaries post-Libyan revolution was always going to happen.
The incidents that I am aware of re Algeria are all quite marginal, and trivial relative to Algeria's ongoing and pre-existing security problem.
My comment was:
I am afraid it is very hard to take seriously an analysis that contains the phrase “There has been a rash of ongoing retaliatory ethnic and tribal fighting against communities perceived to be pro-Qaddafi, most notably Tuaregs, Berbers, and black Africans.”
The Berbers (who are the same people as the warlords of the Nafusa Mountains – the appellation itself is one preferred by the Berber speaking community), are most certainly not perceived as pro-Qadhdhafi. Quite the contrary, they are well known as among the most antti-Qadhdhafi communities in Libya. To write the above rather highlights a lack of knowledge about Libya.
The Tuareq (themselves, of course, linguistically Berber, but distant from the settled Berberophone communities) are another matter, having long served as mercenaries for Qadhdhafi – particularly the Taureq from Mali, for reasons particularly their own.
The Black African attacks, however, are nothing new. Populist violence against Black Africans has long been a feature of Libyan society, and was rarely punished with any real severity. Resentment againts The Guide pissing away billions on his African dreams and old racism in Libyan society, not a Libyan revolution, are the reasons.
This is, overall, a silly, superficial analysis.
For the issue of no interests, the primary interest was not having a counter-revolutionary Qadhdhafi – after the inevitable massacres in Benghazi – destabilising Tunisia and Egypt. Already before his own revolution started, in Tunisia there were credible signs of Qadhdhafi funding the Benalistes, issues that not-at-all-coincidentally evaporated once Qadhdhafi had his hands full on home territory.
As for Good Will in the Arab Street for the Americans, no magic wands exist, but in the Maghreb where I operate as an investor and have for a decade, this gets positive comment.
In all, a rather dishonest or stupid evaluation.
I would add to this comment that the underlying point that Libya does not encourage the idea that intervening in Syria. One need not, however, indulge in factual misrepresentations (or just plain ignorance) to make that point.
February 19, 2012
Problematic but re Egypt and over reaction
Judith Miller is a gullible git, but this arty in her new ghetto (newsmax, well deserved) Egypt on the Brink: An Exclusive Look at the Hunted Men Who Brought Growth and Reform does touch on some legit issues (between channeling indirect Mubarek regim apologia) re the liberal reformers. Perhaps not what she meant but it reflects on who liberal (economic) reform was contaminated by cronyism and thus deeply compromised. She does not grapple with that honestly, sadly.
February 08, 2012
Egypt-US relations further downhill: military delegation cancels Washington visit.
As this has interesting regional implications, some thoughts on the FT arty Egypt-US meetings cancelled amid trial row and on the recent Gallup polling on Egypt and US assistance
An Egyptian army delegation visiting Washington abruptly cancelled meetings with senior American lawmakers on Monday as US government officials warned the country’s $1.5bn aid package was in jeopardy.
Senators Carl Levin and John McCain, the Democratic chairman and ranking Republican on the US Senate armed services committee, were among a number of congressional leaders scheduled to meet the Egyptian military representatives in the coming week.
But the delegation was recalled home after 19 US citizens, including Sam LaHood, the son of the US transportation secretary, were referred by the Egyptian authorities for criminal trial on charges of operating civil society groups without permission and receiving unauthorised foreign funding.
I'm actually fairly surprised that Egypt has decided to play hard ball on this. They seem to truly feel that USA won't dare suspend aide, however, I don't know the US administration will be able to hold back the political backlash:
Cairo’s decision to try US citizens has put in doubt $1.5bn of US aid after a warning from Hillary Clinton, secretary of state, at the weekend. “We will have to closely review these matters as it comes [to the] time for us to certify whether or not any of these funds from our government can be made available under these circumstances,” she said.
The Obama administration repeated its warning on Monday. “We have underscored how serious a problem these actions are. We have said clearly that these actions could have consequences for our relationship, including regarding our assistance programs,” said Jay Carney, White House spokesman.
It's worth noting the amounts, Econ aide at USD 250 mln is enormous. Serious American allies don't receive such levels. A questionable one....
Under the budget approved by Congress for this year, Egypt is to receive $1.3bn in military aid and $250m in economic aid. However, allocation of the military aid requires the secretary of state to certify that Egypt is supporting the transition to a civilian government, including holding fair elections and ensuring freedom of speech.
And for the political climate in USA, this looks quite problematic to support:
Opposition to aid for Egypt continues to grow. On Friday, Patrick Leahy, the Democratic senator who chairs the subcommittee on foreign aid, said: “We want to send a clear message to the Egyptian military that the days of blank cheques are over.”
More than 40 members of Congress signed a letter sent to both the Obama administration and the Egyptian military council warning that it would be difficult to maintain aid in “the absence of a quick and satisfactory resolution to this issue”.
On this last observation below, (which I suppose suggests that just before aide is cut the trials will be suspended (but not dismissed) or some similar bit of theatre, the Gallup polling rather suggest that they are playing to a willing audience. Of course, it does raise substantial questions about the US-Egyptian relationship, given a political system that has positively nurtured paranoia re outsiders, including supposed allies.
Rabab al-Mahdi, an Egyptian political analyst, said the ruling generals appeared to be involved in a game of brinkmanship with the US but that it was unlikely they would allow the aid to be cut. She said that for the moment they seemed to be playing to nationalist sentiments in a country deeply suspicious of US intentions in the region. ...“I think what we are seeing is part of a populist campaign on the part of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces in which they take extreme positions against the US and foreign powers. It feeds into the propaganda [they have been spreading] about foreign plots to destroy Egypt.”
The IHT / NYT arty on this subject In Egypt, a History of Distrust of U.S.-Aided Groups - NYTimes.com
A useful reminder that the process was launched under the deposed President, again highlighting the very problematic fundamentals of that regime, happy to accept a nearly USD 2 bln bribe, but at the same time played a double game.
Two groups were targets of an Egyptian investigation into their role in supporting opposition to President Hosni Mubarak before he fell from power last February. “Data was collected about the activities of the American Embassy through the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute,” Mr. Mubarak’s former intelligence chief, Omar Suleiman, said in a deposition....
That being said, I do agree with these observations:
But Paul J. Sullivan, a Middle East expert at Georgetown University who has long studied the Egyptian military, cautioned against interpreting the criminal charges as a result merely of high-level machinations. He said Egyptians of all affiliations are wary of undue influence from the United States, which they view as having propped up the Mubarak regime for many years.
“I understand the purpose of the N.D.I. and I.R.I.,” Dr. Sullivan said of the Democratic and Republican institutes. “But this is a newly freed state and a very brittle and emotional environment. It’s not the best environment for them to work. How would we react if a foreign country came here to teach us how to conduct elections?”
Many Egyptians appear to share the military-led government’s suspicions of American motives. “Eighty percent of the people think this is America’s work,” said Sherif Mohamed, 33, surveying metal fragments, garbage fires and dusty tear gas residue left on his block from five days of battles between protesters and security forces in Cairo.
“America does not like Islam,” he said, echoing a common sentiment here.
In recent days, several members of the newly elected Egyptian Parliament have said they look forward to the results of the investigation, asserting that it was wrong for the United States to violate Egyptian laws barring foreign financing of nonprofits.
Emphasis added. Given USA mainstreet popular paranioa about all things foreign (and the lunatic conspiracy theories that seem to have wide credit in the populist right like NAFTA highway, etc), one can hardly disagree.
However, turning to the Gallup note re Most Egyptians Oppose U.S. Economic Aid beyond the headline that ~70% of Egyptians oppose US assistance to Egypt, economic or political, the non-headline result that there is openness to international assistance via WB or IMF rather suggests a specific problematic relationship that the US would be better served from stepping back from:
LOS ANGELES -- About 7 in 10 Egyptians surveyed by Gallup in December 2011 oppose U.S. economic aid to Egypt, and a similar percentage opposes the U.S. sending direct aid to civil society groups. This rebuke of U.S. financial support may be a challenge for Egypt's newly elected parliament and its future president as the government attempts to bolster the nation's financial stability.
Egyptians are much more willing to receive aid from international institutions, with 50% favoring this type of help. Egypt's military and political leaders initally rejected an offer of support from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) but later changed their minds. Last month, Masood Ahmed, Director for the Middle East and Central Asia Department for the IMF, was in Egypt to discuss a potential $3.2 billion IMF loan to Egypt. Egyptian leaders' ability to attract foreign aid and investment will be important to collecting the capital needed to move the nation's economy forward.Well, Gulf state promises should always be subject to an enormous discount rate. Like 50% plus. Even on their private investment front, they have an El Dorado image, but actual investments in real terms lags badly.
Egytians are nearly as likely to favor aid from Arab governments as they are to oppose help from the U.S. Almost 7 in 10 favor aid from Arab governments.This may in part reflect high-profile announcements by several of the country's Arab neighbors about their involvement in projects to help rebuild Egypt's economy.
However, some Egyptian politicians have begun to voice concerns about collecting on their neighbors' promises. Fayza Abouelnaga, Minister of Planning and International Cooperation in Egypt, recently noted that her country had received only $500 million of the $3.7 billion promised by Saudi Arabia and $500 million of the $1.5 billion pledged by Qatar. Further, she said the United Arab Emirates has paid none of its promised $3 billion. Abouelnaga estimated in December that Egypt's foreign debt reached $34.4 billion, representing 15% of its gross domestic product (GDP).
February 07, 2012
Most Eguptians oppose US Econ Aid
Such is the news, perhaps non American aide is less dimly viewed.Most Egyptians Oppose U.S. Economic Aid
About 7 in 10 Egyptians surveyed by Gallup in December 2011 oppose U.S. economic aid to Egypt, and a similar percentage opposes the U.S. sending direct aid to civil society groups. This rebuke of U.S. financial support may be a challenge for Egypt's newly elected parliament and its future president as the government attempts to bolster the nation's financial stability.Given the history USA has in Egypt, this is not a surprise.
February 06, 2012
End American (and other) Aid to Egypt
Noted this via the Arabist, frankly Steve Cook is spot on: From the Potomac to the Euphrates » Egypt and the United States: It’s Not You, It’s Me
I say we oblige Aboul Naga and wind down the aid program—including military assistance—as soon as practical. It’s hard to run against the “foreign hand” if there is no foreign hand. In addition to undermining Aboul Naga’s claims (and hopefully weakening her) bringing an end to the aid program and shutting down the USAID mission has multiple political benfits. First, Washington will no longer be in the unseemly position of providing taxpayer largesse—however small in the grand scheme of things—to a government that resents the United States and clearly does not share its values. Second, it will provide an opportunity for a much-needed change in military-to-military relations in which the United States merely pays for the services it needs like expedited transit through the Suez Canal. Third, it is consistent with this moment of empowerment and dignity for Egyptians many of whom do not want U.S. assistance either because they believe it actually stands in the way of a democratic transition or accept Aboul Naga’s argument along with those who couldn’t care less about U.S. assistance because it doesn’t touch their lives. Finally, it will free up funds for the United States to help others who actually might want Washington’s help, perhaps the Tunisians, Moroccans, or some sub-Saharan African countries would be grateful for development assistance.This goes for others aide as well (UK, Germany).
Assistance spent on Tunisia, Morocco, the Sahel, would make rather more sense. Egypt, well, would do well to go through a "cure."
February 03, 2012
Egyptian Tourism, not getting better PR
Egypt just is not getting any breaks - nor creating any. Besides the football riots, we have kidnappings and violence in the Sinia and in Sharm El Sheikh and St. Catherine's area.
Gunmen Kidnap 2 Americans, Egyptian In Sinai Peninsula | Fox News
Now this is probably just your old-school Yemani type kidnapping, but along with other events, I can not see Egypt recovering its badly needed tourism revenues.
"Egyptian officials have informed us that two tourists of American citizenship have been kidnapped in Sinai," an embassy spokesperson said. "We are currently working to confirm that. In the meantime we are working with Egyptian authorities to do as much as possible to ensure the tourists' safety."
The tourists were among a group traveling between St. Catherine's Monastery, at the foot of Mount Sinai, and the Red Sea resort of Sharm El Sheikh, NBC News reported.
Bedouin sources told AFP the kidnappers were demanding the release of relatives held in Egyptian jails. South Sinai security chiefs, in coordination with Bedouin elders, were in talks with the kidnappers to secure the release of the hostages.
A military plane was deployed to the area as a search operation started, Egyptian state TV said.
The kidnapping took place just days after Bedouins in north Sinai briefly seized 25 Chinese workers to demand the release of Islamist relatives detained over bombings in the peninsula between 2004 and 2006.
A French tourist was killed during a shooting in Sharm el Sheikh last weekend, raising concerns over security in the popular resort area.
February 02, 2012
Illustrative of Egypt's developing political culture, Death to the Marsha
As horrid as the football match disaster was, this just does not speak well : Calls to Execute Egypt's Military Ruler Echo on Cairo's Streets - NYTimes.com
According to an eyewitness account posted online, one of the team’s star players, Mohammed Abu Trika, joined the fans in chanting for Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, who leads the military council that still rules Egypt, to be put to death. Modifying the popular revolutionary chant, “The People Demand the Fall of the Regime,” the protesters shouted, “The People Demand the Execution of the Marshal.”
But fifty odd years of conspiracy thinking...
Egyptian Fantasies, American NeoCon dreams
I spotted this intriguingly deluded and/or dishonest read of the Egyptian revolution and American policy via, if I recall, Andrew Sullivan. Although I haven't any particular faith in the Egyptian revolution, this eval is simply daft.
Exactly one year ago today, I stood in front of the Lawyers Syndicate in downtown Cairo and watched as a few thousand protesters suddenly streamed into the area from the north, overwhelmed Egypt’s notoriously violent riot police, and pushed onward towards Tahrir Square. That mile-long march, which culminated with the protesters bursting through a human chain of officers and seizing the Square, was the most inspiring thing that I’ve ever witnessed, and it remains so. Long presumed to be politically passive, ordinary Egyptians bravely amassed with one simple demand: That decades of dictatorship had to end. When Hosni Mubarak resigned eighteen tumultuous days later, the Arab Spring had bloomed.
Ahem, that would have been when Ben Ali left... but leaving aside Egypto-centricism,
Or so we wanted to believe. The reality of the past twelve months, however, has undone whatever high hopes one might have held. Egypt is now headed for radical theocratic, rather than liberal democratic, rule. And a befuddled Obama administration has failed to do anything to stop the coming disaster.
This is simply daft.
First, one had to be deluded if last January one thought Egypt was heading towards liberal democratic rule. And to advance the argument, either stupid, deluded or simply dishonest.
Of course currently it is far from the case they're headed towards "radical theocratic" rule - it rather looks more like the same old Neo-Mamlouk rule with a bit of a Brotherhood façade. And the Brotherhood isn't radical theocrats, nor even radical religious. Nour party is, but they're far from allies at this stage.
As for the swipe at the Obama administration... That is in
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.
Sure, if one is inclined to wishful thinking and hasn't the slightest fucking clue as to Egyptian society and political structures after decades of Mubarek dictatorship.
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.
Well, surprising that, denouncing the USA, after USA poured billions and billions into supporting the very regime they were toppling.
As for the idea of liberalism in the revolution... What a peculiar fantasy.
Thus, when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Egypt in March 2011, a group of leading activists refused to meet with her. They also turned out to be intolerant conspiracy theorists: When classically Cairoesque rumors that a “Jewish Masonic” ceremony was to be held at the pyramids on November 11, the April 6th Youth Movement’s Democratic Front declared that this non-existent event should be prohibited. “We are committed to the achievements of the revolution, which emphasized freedom,” they said in a statement. “But freedom is not absolute freedom, and … it is constrained by the regulations and beliefs of the Egyptian people, who do not accept that these celebrations be protected in the wake of the revolution.”
Oh how very surprising.... Egyptian political culture was not magically transformed by people bopping around Tahrir Square. Stunning insight.
Not that the revolutionaries were the horse to bet on anyway.
As opposed to who to bet on?
Their continued reliance on street protests following Mubarak’s ouster angered the wider Egyptian public, which desperately wanted a return to normalcy. In late October—only one day before the registration deadline—they finally formed an electoral coalition, the Revolution Continues Alliance (RCA), to compete in parliamentary elections, but it was too late. The RCA won merely 2.35 percent of the parliamentary seats, and will play a minimal role in shaping Egypt’s political future. Meanwhile, Islamist parties captured nearly 70 percent of the vote by tapping into the Egyptian public’s religious sentiments and using their well-established social services networks to turn out supporters.
Again, very stunning that after decades of Mubarek regime actively working to stunt any and all political activity outside of the Neo Mamlouk system, the youth didn't get it right. Who could have possibly predicted such a thing. Oh just about anyone, that's right.
Well, that's how revolutions work.
The Obama administration, however, had already pegged its hopes on the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which took power after Mubarak’s resignation with Washington’s approval—and reasonably so. After all, the military’s historic relations with Washington and its widespread support among the Egyptian public seemed to make it the ideal partner for shepherding Egypt toward a stable, democratic future.
What other choices were there?
Our dear writer has already highlighted the youth groups of non-Islamist cast were disorganised and inexperienced - and not terribly well-disposed to USA (although he glosses over the reasons). And it's clear his feelings on the Islamists....
So apparently the American administration was to invent some magical partners in Egypt.
But there were early signs that the SCAF was far more concerned about stability than it was interested in democracy. Last spring, as sectarian violence rose considerably, the military hesitated to interfere in domestic strife for fear of inciting a backlash.
Big surprise, SCAF not interested in democracy. I doubt anyone in the American administration, in private, was particularly surprised by this.
Then, when a sluggish transition towards civilian rule catalyzed new Tahrir Square protests in the autumn, the military unleashed an unprecedented crackdown, entirely abdicating whatever democratic credentials it could once lay claim to. Between October and December, the military killed at least 80 demonstrators and wounded hundreds, deploying armored military vehicles, snipers, and weapons-grade teargas again its own people, and manipulating the state-run media to incite civilians to take up arms against protesters. Meanwhile, the SCAF subjected at least 12,000 Egyptians to military trials and, in late December, stormed the offices of seventeen pro-democratic NGOs, many of which are U.S.-funded.
As the SCAF’s repressive rule has undermined its legitimacy both within Egypt and abroad, the Obama administration has looked increasingly to the Muslim Brotherhood as a potential partner. Thus, administration’s policy of “limited contacts” with the Muslim Brotherhood, which it announced in June, expanded to diplomatic meetings with the organization in October, and Deputy Secretary of State William Burns met with the Brotherhood’s political leaders in January. The Brotherhood, the thinking goes, won a 47 percent plurality in the recent parliamentary elections, and Washington’s interests are hardly served by having hostile relations with Egypt’s legitimately elected leaders. This argument, however, is only half right: While Washington should maintain open lines of communication with the Brotherhood, it should have no illusions about the Brotherhood’s willingness to act as a partner on key American interests.Emphasis added.
And why is it expected, after decades of American backed dictatorship, any Egyptian party coming out of the Revolution is particularly "partnering" on key American interests (whatever they are in this author's active imagination). What there is to criticize in the American approach right now escapes as the Brotherhood is clealry a popular power. Our dear author doesn't like them, but elections have consequences.
In this vein, the Brotherhood’s leaders have said repeatedly that the organization intends to put the Camp David Accords to a referendum—a strategy that it apparently believes will enable it to sink Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel while escaping the blame.
Ah Israeli interests.
Of course this rendition of the Brotherhood's position is rather tendentious, as the majority of declarations by the Brotherhood have in fact indicated they're not inclined to
Brotherhood leaders have additionally called for banning bikinis, beach bathing, and alcohol despite the fact that these are essential elements to Egypt’s tourism industry, which comprises roughly ten percent of Egypt’s stagnating economy.
Some have, only to be rebuked.
The organization also supports new legislation that would limit foreign funding of NGOs, thereby undercutting Washington’s ability to aid pro-democratic organizations.
Oh what a surprise, after decades of Americans supporting a dictatorship and engaging in faux democracy promo, why post revolution they're less than keen on Americans funding NGOs... Odd given American sensitivities about anything foreign funded in USA.
(I'll leave aside again the factualness of the claim - here I haven't noted the Brotherhood promoting this in specific, but perhaps I did miss that).
Finally, and perhaps most consequentially, the Brotherhood intends to establish the sharia as the principal source of Egyptian legislation and criminalize criticism of Islamic law, thereby rendering Christians and secularists unequal citizens.
Again, exaggerated and tendentious.
Perhaps the administration is betting that recently reported negotiations between the SCAF and Muslim Brotherhood will yield an agreement that satisfies both parties and, at the very least, promotes domestic tranquility. If so, it would be a telling indicator of where things stand: a year after the ebullience of Tahrir, an alliance between military autocrats and radical theocrats is viewed, sadly, as a best-case scenario.
Islamists are not per se theocrats, although he does love the scare language
But I would say that on the very days of Tahrir, the best case scenario was always this.
Eric Trager is the Ira Weiner Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
July 02, 2011
Washington Post tells Arab Spring to "Just Do It" with the Elections
Anne Applebaum of the Washington Post, basing herself on initial elections in post communist Poland apparently working to move democracy forward despite flaws, says that the lack of fully functional electoral procedures shouldn't delay getting people as a whole into the process of participation. Otherwise the old regimes' allies and like-minded in the state will reassert themselves or start a new despotism afresh.
June 10, 2011
October Date Set for Tunisian Elections
It looks like it's official. Tunisian constitutional assembly ("Constituent Assembly") elections will be held in October, back from the initial July set date. October 23 to be exact.
May 24, 2011
Tunisian election delay, October isn't a coup or
Sunday's demarche to delay the elections, noted here Tunisians split on call to delay free elections - The National is not a bad thing, given what I am seeing on preparation on the ground.
Not just an issue of the Islamist party being the only one with its act together, but it seems clear to me that in real terms, a few more months of organisation time is in fact needed (electoral lists, all kinds of organisational fundamentals). October is not deadly. Rather the push for July, opposition should push for benchmarks that October sticks.
May 15, 2011
Recessions & Stability: Tunisia, Egypt
No surprise that Recession fears for Egypt and Tunisia (FT) are looming, given the ongoing instability.
Mr Abed [of IFI] was optimistic about the prospects of Egypt financing its current account deficit. He said that Gulf countries were likely to provide a package of measures including grants, long-term loans and deposits into the Egyptian central bank with development banks and the International Monetary Fund likely to bridge any remaining gap.However, I have deep scepticism that the Gulf States are going to genuinely come up with much money. Egypt, perhaps, but not Tunisia.
May 10, 2011
Tremors in Tunisia?
Curfews, demonstrations, crackdowns, dismissals of key figures, speculation on a coup, etc. in the birthplace of the Arab Spring, and it's not even summer yet. But maybe it's just the ups and downs of seasonal growth.
April 30, 2011
Moussa "Anti Israeli demagogue"
This rather strikes me as a sad indication of the extreme Israel centric lens through which US commentators, that the focus of this Anti Amr Moussa article is on his Israel stance, Moussa: The Anti-Israel Demagogue Who Will Likely Be Egypt’s Next President | The New Republic rather than on his rudderless demagorery (of which the Israel baiting is least remarkable). Rather more damning as to his political instincts is this re Libya, which actually more or less ran counter to popular feeling:
The Obama administration got a taste of Moussa’s anti-Western populism as it tried to build international support for intervening in Libya. Although the Arab League initially voted to back the no-fly zone on March 12, Moussa lambasted the attacks on Qaddafi’s forces a week later, telling Egypt’s state-run Middle East News Agency, “What we want is the protection of civilians and not the shelling of more civilians.” And though Moussa issued yet another reversal two days later—this time restating the Arab League’s support for action against Qaddafi—his inelegant 360 should be a reminder that he has made his bones bucking the West. So while the fall of Mubarak raises hopes that Egypt will enjoy a post-authoritarian future, the prominence of Moussa threatens to revive Egypt’s anti-Western, Nasser-era past. And, most alarmingly, this is apparently what many Egyptians want.
As for the last item, well after Mubarek's bankrupt slavishness (and double-talk on a popular Egyptian level, not as if the Mubarek regime actually promoted at an educational / advocacy level pro Western orientations, rather the contrary), it is absolutely no surprise that many Egyptians harken back to the Nasser era and the perception of independence. That I think is not in itself problematic. Indeed, rather it could be healthy. Now, if it also means a roll-back of liberalisation, that is not good. However, as one sees with Tunisia, liberalisation done at the service of an oligarchy that corruptly eliminates competition tends to give a bad name to liberalisation.
The real indictment of Amr Moussa is his shiftless opportunism and consistent bad judgment.
April 28, 2011
Explosion in Morocco cafe
Marrakesh cafe blast kills several, cause is alleged to be criminal; clarity not yet there on cause, responsibility, etc.
April 25, 2011
As the Arab Spring Rolls, China Invades Carthage
China's deputy Commerce Minister Fu Ziying visits Tunisia, talking tourism and appliance manufacture investment.
April 20, 2011
Carnegie + W Bank on NA and EU: True, False, Nuanced, Well-known?
Soliciting the experts regardng these summary statements via Carnegie and World Bank, below. Basic fact, nuanced, fundamentally off? I go with #1, but just confirming.
March 22, 2011
Non binaries: A Libyan Fight for Democracy, or a Civil War?
The NY Times poses this burning question: A Libyan Fight for Democracy, or a Civil War? - NYTimes.com Well, it's not an either or, now is it?
A bit unfair perhaps, but I find the answer to their question:
Is the battle for Libya the clash of a brutal dictator against a democratic opposition, or is it fundamentally a tribal civil war?To be "Yes."
Or more shortly, it is clearly not just a tribal civil war, although it could evolve in that direction, but neither is the opposition abstract democrats. They oppose Qadhdhafi (an eminently sensible position regardless of one's politics). After that....
“It is a very important question that is terribly near impossible to answer,” said Paul Sullivan, a political scientist at Georgetown University who has studied Libya. “It could be a very big surprise when Qaddafi leaves and we find out who we are really dealing with.”Well, I shouldn't think it is a surprise as such. One is dealing with a chaotic melange of people who hate Qadhdhafi, which as reflected in even the wider Arab public's response, is "pretty much anyone of any political flavour, excepting only those people directly supported and/or related to him."
Of course saying he only has mercenaries, as I have noted in passing on several occasions, is a wee bit too simple. His support is more fundamentally of a tribal logic.
Returning to the opposition, there are clearly some nasty people there, ex-regime figures who are not particularly wonderful folks, Islamists of a quasi-Takfiri inclination, etc.
I'd hazard the opinion that there are precious few liberal democratic types in Libya, so expecting a Liberal Democratic Revolution is the height of idiocy.
Nevertheless, insofar as Qadhdhafi unleashed hell in response to the demonstrations, and the Eggs of Stability are already broken, one has to move forward with that reality (this in contrast with the Iraq situation, where Bush ibn Bush willfully and with precious little understanding, started breaking eggs - an active choice).
The behavior of the fledgling rebel government in Benghazi so far offers few clues to the rebels’ true nature.Errr, no. It offers lots of clues. First of which, they're not a unitary movement, second of which they don't have a "True Nature" in a unitary sense, and that this chaotic mix can go in a lot of different directions - probably bad directions but certainly bad directions if there is no countervailing influence.
Further to that, I find this sort of writing just strange (although after typing that I stopped to think, well, the Journo needs to convey that the heroic image of the freedom fighter and the credence given by many to the claims out of the Rebellion, needs, ahem, some nauncing):
Like the Qaddafi government, the operation around the rebel council is rife with family ties. And like the chiefs of the Libyan state news media, the rebels feel no loyalty to the truth in shaping their propaganda, claiming nonexistent battlefield victories, asserting they were still fighting in a key city days after it fell to Qaddafi forces, and making vastly inflated claims of his barbaric behavior.Marhaben il Libya, bled al Jamahiriyah.
Let's just say that nothing about Libyan political culture over the past 50 years has built anything like objectivity into public discourse (if I may engage in moderate understatement).
As to the notes on violence, this is in fact a good thing to highlight:
In the neighborhoods of the capital that have staged major peaceful protests against Colonel Qaddafi, many have volunteered — speaking on the condition of anonymity — that their demonstrations were nonviolent mainly because they could not obtain weapons fast enough.Emphasis added.
Even one religious leader associated with Sufism — a traditionally pacifist sect something like the Islamic equivalent of the Quakers — lamented his own tribe’s lack of guns for the fight.
That stands in sharp contrast to Libya’s neighbors, Tunisia and Egypt. In Egypt, in particular, the young leaders of the revolution were so seized with an ethic of nonviolence that in the middle of winning a battle of thrown stones against a loyalist mob, two young protesters said they believed they had lost, simply because they had resorted to violence.
Sufism is not a pacifist sect like the Quakers. It's not even a "sect" - it is an approach to worship, like Charismatics in Christianity.
I have no idea why Westerners can't get it fucking right re Sufism. It appears that pacifist quasi Quaker stuff sold by Indian Swamis in the 1960s can't be removed from English speaking consciousness.
Aside from that, the contrast with Tunisia and Egypt is correct: Egypt and Tunisia are relatively modernized societies, Tunisia more than Egypt, and
Of course expecting Non Violence to be a preferred methodology (this reminds me of Andrew Sullivan's idiocy a few days ago on this subject) in the face of The Guide, who rather obviously has few compunctions about violence, is more than a bit precious.
March 04, 2011
Egypt & Sectarian Violence: The Deep Security State
First, Kudos to Reason for picking this up, since it is otherwise being ignored. The Muslim extremist narrative is a fun and simple one. It gets nastier, however. Knowing Egypt, I give much credence to the accusations that - vaguely similar to apparently well-founded accusations in Algeria that a portion [not all, a portion, 25%? More? Less No one will ever know] of 'religious' violence is linked to manipulation of the security state:
Was the Mubarak Regime Complicit in Egypt's Sectarian Violence? - Hit & Run : Reason Magazine
The last year of the Hosni Mubarak regime was, according to The New York Times, "the bloodiest year in four decades of sectarian tensions in Egypt." Bookended by two attacks on Coptic churches in a country with a sizeable Christian minority, the year of bloodshed reinforced the idea that only a strongman could prevent Islamic fundamentalism from overrunning the Arab world's largest country.Emphasis added.
But shortly before the Egyptian military moved against the Mubarak regime, Al Arabiya television reported allegations that the Egyptian government, not content with fighting actual Islamists, may have invented some of its own enemies. An official government probe is looking into reports that the New Year's Eve church bombing in Alexandria, initially blamed on Al-Qaeda, might actually have been perpetrated by the Egyptian government, with the intention of gaining sympathy and support from the West. The Saudi-backed TV station—founded as a moderate alternative to Al Jazeera, and host to Barack Obama's first formal interview as president in January 2009—also reported that British diplomats believe Egyptian Interior Minister Habib el-Adly had a whole department dedicated to these sorts of operations:
First, on the Italics emphasis: Founded as a moderate alternative!!?!? Reason write lapped up propaganda here. Rather founded out of Saudi annoyance at Jazeera criticism of themselves.
Second, the Interior Ministry accusation I can credit - of course that does not mean that all religious violence, discrimination against Copts and the like is due to Interior. Rather it suggests Interior probably exploited a real problem for its own agenda. I have long viewed, however, such violence and tension in Egypt as a symptom rather than a fundamental. Diminishing space, economic opportunity and a critical sense of desperation and fighitng over crumbs are the fundamental drivers.
March 02, 2011
Corvée noire: Guide's 'Mercenaries'
This is not surprising behaviour from The Guide
BBC News - Protests across the Middle East and North Africa
1627: The BBC's Hausa service has spoken to Niger nationals fleeing Libya. They said there are widespread reports of people from sub-saharan Africa being arrested.BBC News - Protests across the Middle East and North Africa
1632: Disturbingly, the Niger nationals said those people arrested are being made to choose between joining Col Gaddafi's army or being killed.BBC News - Protests across the Middle East and North Africa
1537: People from Niger who have fled Libya tell BBC Hausa that there have been widespread arrests of sub-Saharan Africans. They say they are being forced to either join Col Gaddafi's forces or be killed.
Libya, cautionary notes re Qaddafi 'irrationality'
This note from NY Times is quite good (and sums up similar evals I have been seeing): Even a Weakened Qaddafi May Be Hard to Dislodge - NYTimes.com
Although it is fun to call The Guide a mad man and mock his sanity, it's important not to miss the signs that for all his flamboyance and eccentricity, he is neither stupid nor per se delusional (i.e. à la Hitler moving imaginary units as reported re his behaviour behind closed doors). Talking up things grandiosely in public should not be confused with private, behind doors behaviour:
But Colonel Qaddafi retains significant strength, Mr. Joshi said. He is thought to still control the air force, though some elements have defected. And while there have been clashes in Tripoli, with sniper and small-arms fire in areas of the capital, “it is not a war zone and not a city in rebellion,” he said.Emphasis added.
While the colonel is thought to be delusional, he and his commanders have proved capable so far of using their forces with some care, Mr. Joshi said. “There have been no large massacres, air power is being used in a calculated way and he is launching probing attacks” while “making constant efforts in the suburbs of Tripoli to check small gestures of dissent.”
The struggle in Libya “could go on a long time,” Mr. Joshi said. “Tripoli is not a bunker. And this is not the decision-making of a man totally out of touch with reality.”
I have certainly already given my estimation to the people who pay me very good money for such that planning should be for months of fighting, i.e. no quick reprise of economic (business) activity.
On Transitions, an Asian reflexion
A very interesting note, Lessons for the Mideast from Asia's Revolutions - Council on Foreign Relations that has some interesting points of reflection:
March 01, 2011
Is Egypt's military turning against the revolution
An extremely silly question.
Is Egypt's Military Turning Against the Revolution? - Eric Trager - International - The Atlantic
Is Egypt's Military Turning Against the Revolution?Of course not. They were never with it.
February 27, 2011
Guide Libyan Mercenaries Profile
A very useful and insightful article from The Telegraph, it confirms Qadhdhafi did in fact bring in mercenaries from Chad, although given the story told by a young one, it is reasonable to presume there were bait & switch going on:
African mercenaries in Libya nervously await their fate - Telegraph
African mercenaries in Libya nervously await their fateNevertheless, as the article notes there are elements still out there, the return to stability after The Guide is killed - that seems certain - is a far from certain thing.
Mercenaries captured in Libya are facing an uncertain future, writes Nick Meo in Al-Bayda.
February 26, 2011
Africans & Libya, Mercenaries
An interesting comment to highlight
Live Blog - Libya Feb 26 | Al Jazeera Blogs
AJE correspondent reports that anti-government protesters have attacked black Africans in Libya, taking them for mercenaries.
Seidou Boubaker Jallou and his friend, both from Mali, fled for their lives by night to the Tunisian border. They said the roads out of the West are still in the hands of those loyal to Gaddafi. Jallou says:
The situation is very dangerous - every day there are more than a hundred who die - every day - every day there are shootings - the most dangerous situation is for foreigners like us - and also us black people - Because Gaddafi brought soldiers from Chad from Niger - they are black and they are killing Arabs.
Certainly if you're a Chadian exile from the Libyan-Chad wars days, and you're fighting for The Guide, you probably are going to stick it, since otherwise you're toast (and not welcome at home either).
Tunisia, Protesting Disease
Libya in crisis – live coverage | World news | guardian.co.uk
I'm growing concerned that the Tunisian case can go seriously sideways. I fail to see how bringing down Ghannouchi helps. Now is the time to monitor and to prepare. Changing faces in an interim regime does not solve much. Organising proper parties, political networks. Change forced by demonstration is only a good thing as a very extraordinary measure.
Three people have been killed in clashes between Tunisian security forces and youths rioting in central Tunis, an interior ministry official told Reuters.
The claims of Ben Ali agents provocateurs can't be dismissed out of hand, but is a bit pat.
The official, who declined to be named, said another 12 had been injured in the clashes, which he said occurred after a riot orchestrated by loyalists of ousted President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali. He said about 100 people had been arrested.
"Those who were arrested have admitted they were pushed by former Ben Ali officials," he said. "Others said they were paid to do it."
A Reuters witness had earlier seen Tunisian soldiers fire into the air and use tear gas in an effort to disperse dozens of youths, many carrying sticks, who were breaking shop windows near Tunis's Barcelona Station
More from French sources, which give more detail and suggest perhaps by timing and behaviour that the agent provacteur thesis is not unfounded - but could as well suggest that the slum hooligan profile exploiting the situation:
February 25, 2011
Tunisia, Don't forget Tunisia.
Don't Forget Tunisia
25 Feb 2011 05:19 pm
J. Scott Carpenter says it is "going to need help from the international community - and a lot of it":
If Tunisia doesn't succeed, no other country in the region can. Tunisia's 10 million inhabitants do not suffer the ethnic and sectarian divisions that bedevil many of their neighbors. Tunisians are well educated and largely middle class -- 80 percent own their own homes. Nearly all Tunisians practice the same form of moderate Islam. The populace looks to Europe for its economic and political inspiration. The cry Tunisians made famous around the world during their revolution, "Dégage!" (Get out!), is tellingly in French, not Arabic.
The underlying article is good, but the emphasized parts are annoying. Just because someone speaks French or English well doesn't mean moderation. Tedious condensation that (doubtless the writer, a former State person, was a francophone). Same re "moderate Islam" - I understand why it has to be said in these articles but really it gets tiresome.
Let me suggest an alternative, "the ordinary, non-extremist Islam of most of the Islamic world..." - excepting the seriously retarded places, (AfPak, Gulf).
Egypt: Surprise Surprise, plus ça change...
As the French saying goes, "plus ça change..."
Gaddafi defiant amid Libya turmoil – live | World news | guardian.co.uk
9pm GMT: The Guardian's Jack Shenker reports from Cairo on another massive demonstration there and increased unease at the country's military rulers:Emphasis added.
After a major rally in Tahrir Square to mark the one-month anniversary of the 25 January protests that launched Egypt's revolution, several hundred demonstrators are now camping outside parliament in an effort to force out Ahmed Shafiq, an old member of the Mubarak-era cabinet who has improbably clung on to the post of prime minister in the aftermath of Mubarak's departure.
General public frustration towards the remnants of the Mubarak regime - and the ruling Supreme Military Council's apparent unwillingness to remove them - is beginning to crystallise, and Shafiq is the most visible target.
Earlier this evening there were clashes outside the parliament building between protesters and the army, and stories of activists being tortured at the hands of military police are circulating.
Although many have been suspicious of the armed forces' intentions from the moment Mubarak stepped down, today marks a real escalation in the strength of public sentiment against the way Egypt's "transition period" is being handled by the generals, whom many want to see pushed aside in favour of a civilian cabinet.
"The army is acting with the same unaccountable violence against civilians as the police force did," warned one activist on Twitter.
It is dawning on the protesters / opposition that the departure of Mubarek was more a sleight of hand by the system than an actual change.
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.
An interesting hypothesis re The Guide's popular committees habit actually having some blowback for him in providing institutions for popular revolt - the real kind.
Blog - The Arabist
Reports from liberated east Libyan cities suggest an impressive level of organization on the part of the populace, with most basic urban functions up and running. One wonders if Qaddafi's ideosyncratic jamahiriyan ideology, roping people into participating in rubber-stamp "Basic People's Congresses" to create a facade of direct democracy, has in fact formed the provided the institutional template for a countrywide insurrection against him.Intriguing propo, not sure if it will stand up, but interesting.
February 21, 2011
Libya, the descent
The information out of Libya is chaotic, unreliable and disturbing. What can only be concluded is that the Guide's regime is hanging on by the slimmest threads, but that the Qadhdhafi clan know that, and they know that if they go, they personally will likely die unpleasantly. So their solution: unleash hell.
BBC News - Protests across the Middle East and North Africa
1556: Two Libyan fighter jets have landed unexpectedly in Malta, witnesses say. The Mirage jets were seen landing at Malta's international airport on Monday afternoon. The Maltese foreign ministry said it was trying to establish why the planes had landed.
Dozens reported killed in Tripoli unrest | Top News | Reuters
In signs of disagreement inside Libya's ruling elite, the justice minister resigned in protest at the "excessive use of violence" against protesters.
Libya's ambassador to India told the BBC he was resigning in protest at the violent crackdown
It said security forces were looting banks and other government institutions in Tripoli, and protesters had broken into several police stations and wrecked them.
A Reuters reporter in Tripoli said residents were stocking up on essential goods, apparently in anticipation of new clashes after nightfall. There were long queues at food shops and long lines of cars at fuel stations.
Gaddafi's son Saif al-Islam Gaddafi appeared on national television in an attempt both to threaten and to calm people, saying the army would enforce security at any price to put down one of the bloodiest revolts to convulse the Arab world.
"We will keep fighting until the last man standing, even to the last woman standing," he said on Sunday.
In the eastern city of Benghazi, protesters appeared to be largely in control after forcing troops and police to retreat to a compound. Government buildings were set ablaze and ransacked.
"Youths with weapons are in charge of the city. There are no security forces anywhere," University of Benghazi professor Hanaa Elgallal told Al Jazeera International television.
Salahuddin Abdullah, a self-described protest organiser, said: "In Benghazi there is celebration and euphoria ... The city is no longer under military control. It is completely under demonstrators' control."
There were reports that soldiers who refused to fire on civilians were executed by commanding officers in Benghazi.
Après moi, le deluge.
February 20, 2011
Libya, The Revolt of the East & The Guide takes the Chinese option
The Libyan situation rather smells like civil war, and that between regions.
10.30am Libya:12.01pm Libya:
This news report from Al-Jazeera shows chaotic scenes in Libya's north-eastern city of Benghazi. Anti-government protesters appear to have set fire to a security building and there are pictures of some making off with weapons - including an artillery round
Associated Press is reporting that the death toll is Benghazi may be much higher than the estimate from Human Rights Watch (which they had called "conservative").
A doctor in the Libyan city of Benghazi says his hospital has seen the bodies of at least 200 protesters killed by Moammar Gadhafi's forces over the last few days. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he fears reprisal.
Witnesses told AP that a mixture of special commandos, foreign mercenaries and Gadhafi loyalists went after demonstrators on Saturday with knives, assault rifles and heavy-caliber weapons.
February 17, 2011
The Guide: tear gas? Real permo revolutions use Helo Gunships
This, if confirmed, is going to put a real crimp in the Guide's path to respectability.
Libya protests: Colonel Muammar Gaddafi turns helicopter gunships on own people - Telegraph
Libya protests: Colonel Muammar Gaddafi turns helicopter gunships on own people
Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's regime turned helicopter gunships and snipers on protesters killing up to 19 people yesterday as rare anti-government demonstrations were last night reported to have reached Tripoli, the capital.
Sleazy Self-Promotion and the Lara Logan Incident
Although not directly spotlighting this issue, the apparent "wilding" attack on journalist Lara Logan amidst the Tahrir Square celebrations brings to mind my own thematically related essay from a few years back, which I sleazily and opportunistically link here.
February 15, 2011
Egypt: The Council of Wise Men
A...Council...of...Wise...Men? 3 comments. 1: WTF? 2: Like, WTF? 3: Really, now, what the f--- is up with that? On another note - probably G# or thereabouts -- I seriously do think that this Council of Wise Men (WTF?) is the closest thing to the USA party-line going on around there (not the simplistics of "puppets" but there is an alignment going on). So, no, o ye puppet spotters, to play your game, it's not the military, not the politically deceased Mubarak, but the correct answer is probably that merry band of sagacious male folks. And, by the way, a Council of Wise Men, like WTF?
February 13, 2011
Military Coup? You say that like it's a bad thing
In consideration of points raised by colleagues and commentators here and elsewhere, who note that Generalissimo Mubarak was almost certainly squeezed out as President in Egypt. In essence, that departure does seem to have proceeded from a military coup or some couplike squeezure(?) of sorts. This fact was telegraphed implicitly in Communiques from the Super-Duper Army Honcho Roundtable. Further, since the transition did not involve the prescribed order of succession and power transfers the constitution demands, it appears that an extraconstitutional coup was also effected. That said: I am really having a hard time finding too much of a problem with all that.
February 11, 2011
The Mamlouk Coup: Mubarek Out, Long Live...
Wee wrinkle, the Gov is now the Military.
Mubarek seems to me to be out because every time he opened his bloody mouth, it made things worse. The military evidently decided the was taking the ship down..
As noted here
But the army takeover looks very much like a military coup, our correspondent adds.
The constitution has been breached, he says, because officially it should be the speaker of parliament who takes over, not the army leadership.
Celebrations are normal, but I wouldn't do so myself quite as yet.
Walk Like a Tunisian
Looks like Mubarak blinked. NOW's the time to ask: what next? Have away.
The Supreme Council & Communique No. X:
Interesting observations from Brian Whitaker:
Mubarak teases Egypt as his regime fragments | Brian Whitaker | Comment is free | guardian.co.uk
There is also the mysterious business of the ominously titled "Communique Number One" from the supreme council of the armed forces saying that the military has begun taking "necessary measures to protect the nation" and "support the legitimate demands of the people".
What exactly does that mean, and how does it relate to Mubarak's non-resignation speech? Indeed, why did Mubarak need to make a speech at all if he is not resigning?
According to reports, the supreme council has met only three times in its history: in 1967 and 1973 (when the country was at war) – and on Thursday. Thursday's meeting was held without its chairman, Mubarak, and apparently the meeting was adjourned without formally concluding. A second communique has failed to clarify the army's position.
I remain convinced that the Mamlouks are simply manoeuvring.
February 10, 2011
Egyptian Regime: Not Anyone's Puppet
One idea that is slowly fading from all sides in the Egypt drama -- for the most part -- is the simplistic notion or assertion that the Egyptian regime has been some sort of puppet for the USA. It is quite true that the US has great leverage – money, “good offices”, and weaponry supplies do talk – but the Mubarak government and its actions have their own genesis, as does the revolt. The regime will fall or endure as what it is: an Egyptian phenomenon. As to the bilateral relationship with the USA, America has been Egypt's client in the business sense of the term, not the other way around.
February 08, 2011
Egypt Sells Most of Treasury Debt Offered as Yields Climb to Two-Year High
Well that worked, but...:
Egypt Sells Most of Treasury Debt Offered as Yields Climb to Two-Year High - Bloomberg
Egypt raised most of the 15 billion Egyptian pounds ($2.5 billion) it sought at a debt auction as local banks stepped in to provide financing in the wake of protests aimed at ending President Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule.Emphasis added
The government sold a total 13 billion pounds of bills, paying yields of 10.97 percent on 91-day notes, the highest rate in two years and up 147 basis points, or 1.47 percentage point, from the previous sale on Jan. 27. The yield is down from 14 percent in the aftermath of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc.’s collapse in September 2008.
“We were expecting yields to be higher but government banks especially National Bank of Egypt helped stabilize the market,” Khalil El Bawab, the head of fixed-income at Cairo- based EFG-Hermes Asset Management, said in a telephone interview. National Bank of Egypt Chairman Tarek Amer said that the bank will continue to buy government t-bills
One part of the Gov stepped in to buy the other part's issuance.
Of course that is less liquidity for the private sector, but since Egyptian public banks do tied lending....
Egypt: the Mamlouk Market
An analysis from Daily Dish that 'gets the game' of what I have been calling on Giraffe, The Waiting Game:
The "Manufactured Safety" Of Egypt's Army - The Daily Dish | By Andrew Sullivan
The basic facts: 1) The military profits handsomely from the current power structure. 2) Mubarak's unpopularity threatens to bring down the govenment and therefore put the military's spoils in jeopardy. 3) The military can't make Mubarak leave yet - otherwise power would transfer out of the military's hands. 4) The military can't crack down on the protesters because that would cause an internal rift - some members of the army would likely refuse to fire - which would risk mutiny. 5) For Egypt's veep, Omar Suleiman, to assume power he needs to either change the constitution or wait until the next election and rig the vote in his favor.Quite.
The private hostility and the public neutrality of the army makes sense if the military elite's main goal is to maintain its access to the treasury. The army is not neutral - it's tactical.
Tunisia Appeal for Aid
A smart appeal, although I suspect the US, instead of investing in the country where it has the greatest liklihood of effect (and where it chose the side of Angels), will continue to pour billions down the Egyptian rat hole.
FT.com / Middle East & North Africa - Tunisia appeals for aid to protect democracy
Tunisia’s interim prime minister, Mohammed Ghannouchi, has appealed for international funding to “protect the Tunisian experiment”, insisting that the cost “would be really very modest compared with what is at stake”.
He told The Financial Times in an interview there was no guarantee that the transition to democracy after the toppling of Zein al-Abidine Ben Ali as president last month would go smoothly. The popular uprising inspired protest campaigns across the Arab world, most notably in Egypt.
“There are forces that would like to take it back to square one,” he said. “All the people who have things they can reproach themselves for, who profited from the old system, are going to do all they can to hinder this democratic process.”
Tunisia, the profile of faux econ liberalism
Now, the arty below I strongly suggest taking Gulfies complains about bureaucracy with a large grain of salt. Maghreb bureaucracies do follow the finest French traditions of inflexibility, but on the flip side my experience with Gulfies is that they expect all rules etc to be open to personal negotiation (e.g. adding on floors at a whim on approved building plans, etc.). There is a happy medium that neither side has achieved. In many respects I prefer the Maghreb side as at least there are genuine institutions, rather than generalised personal fiat.
FT.com / Middle East & North Africa - Tunisia left with an investment mirage
Tunisia was always heralded, by itself and others, as a magnet for Gulf investment. But just as the political unrest of the past month has given the lie to its political stability, another mirage is the country’s image as a prime investment destination, Gulf investors say.
They complain of a combination of grinding bureaucracy, corrupt demands and interference from the family of the former president Zein al-Abidine Ben Ali. The impact of the global financial crisis added a further burden to many landmark foreign investments.
“Gulf businessmen found out that corruption in Tunisia wasn’t the corruption they were used to,” says one Tunisian banker. “You pay to get in, but you don’t get a service in return.”
Statistics suggest that the UAE is the largest investor in Tunisia, with more than $30bn of foreign direct investment.
Yet Gulf businesses may have promised grandiose plans but in reality have only mobilised a much smaller amount of capital. While Tunis Sports City is the most advanced UAE project in the country, Bukhatir is still only believed to have invested a tiny fraction of the $5bn cost.
“Bukhatir has been deeply committed to the development and remains focused towards Tunisia’s long-term growth prospects,” the company said in a statement.
Gulf investors say most deals, even those that went through government agencies and ministries, eventually ended up with some sort of financial demands from the broader family of Ben Ali, from bribes to finalise the transfer of land to fully fledged joint ventures.
The item re The Family is important. By all accounts I have from professional partners in Tunisia, the Trabelsis (mostly but not only) got quite rapacious in the past decade and it only escalated in the past 5 years as a sense of impunity grew. Raises questions I may add, parenthetically, about Transparency Int'l indices.
The other item here is the Vapour Ware effect of Gulfie investments, particularly Dubai / UAE investors who have not given up on their 'minimal direct capital, maximum effort to flip on speculation' - the speculation and flipping strategy being why they're so keen on the big announcements effect. A leveraged strategy they're still trying even now. That's in contrast with the Kuwaitis who tend to eschew that, and actually put in the hard capital and get something done before crowing about it.
February 07, 2011
Neither Free Market nor Lbieral, Egypt
An Item I must return to as it is my speciality
Resentment Finds a Target In Ahmed Ezz - NYTimes.com
On paper, the changes transformed an almost entirely state-controlled economic system to a predominantly free-market one. In practice, though, a form of crony capitalism emerged, according to Egyptian and foreign experts. State-controlled banks acted as kingmakers, extending loans to families who supported the government but denying credit to viable businesspeople who lacked the right political pedigree.
This is in effect part of the problem of that kind of regime. The usual Left academic critique is that " IMF diktat" (a phrase that one can only use if one has actually no experience with IMF and their limp-wristed ways with such regimes) forces 'neo-liberal' economics down the throats of countries like Egypt. Quite the contrary, Egypt came to these reforms on the bankruptcy of their state-driven model, with all the crony-ism and gross and massive inefficiencies that State models everywhere have shown. They adopted part of the IMF & WB advice re privatisation for greater efficiency, but only part. They did not adopt free market reforms as such. Unfortunately, privatisations were merely transfers from nominal state ownership with monopoly control to regime-cronies with monopoly control (as well as Military related control). More efficient than the state, yes, but not overall better for the population. Pseudo free market without a reasonably free press to critique regime and cronies, and without a reasonably free financial system (the Egyptian system remains massively state dominated, which as this note correctly indicates, doesn't mean more ' social' direction, it means more ability for rent extraction), you get this Frankenstein system.
Of course people hate this system, it combines the worst features of both systems.
February 04, 2011
Best Quote So Far -- From Egypt's new PM
[Egyptian Prime Minister] Ahmed Shafiq, . . . appealed to his compatriots, especially Egypt's youth, to show patience . . . "It has great meaning not to hurt each other*, [or] hurt our reputation," he said. "Do they want what happened in Tunisia to happen here?"
Meanwhile, my proposed ten day rule of street revolutions faces the big test.
February 03, 2011
Did Iraq Inspire Egyptians And Tunisians?
A very short answer, only in the delusional imaginations of certain Americans.
The Daily Dish | By Andrew Sullivan
Did Iraq Inspire Egyptians And Tunisians?
08 Feb 2011 05:19 pm
by Conor Friedersdorf
Above Mickey Kaus surmises yes, and Bob Wright forcefully insists no. On this one, I agree with Bob, and I've never understood why seeing the United States military invade a country and establish a democracy would inspire revolutions elsewhere. It was never ignorance of democracy's existence that was stopping other Arab populations from rising up – and it isn't as if "get invaded by America" was a viable strategy or a desired thing elsewhere.
The Mubarek Gamble: The Counter-Rev.
Mubarak's speech to the nation on Tuesday night was widely misinterpreted. The president was, by turns, angry, defiant and unrepentant. He offered no apologies, proposed no new initiatives, gave no promise that his son Gamal would not succeed him, and instead lectured Egyptians on the importance of order and stability (which he alone could assure).
February 02, 2011
Game over, Egyptian democracy lost
A useful article. I suspect accurate.
Game Over: The Chance For Democracy In Egypt Is Lost | The Middle East Channel
Game over: The chance for democracy in Egypt is lost
Posted By Robert Springborg Wednesday, February 2, 2011 - 4:23 PM Share
While much of American media has termed the events unfolding in Egypt today as "clashes between pro-government and opposition groups," this is not in fact what's happening on the street. The so-called "pro-government" forces are actually Mubarak's cleverly orchestrated goon squads dressed up as pro-Mubarak demonstrators to attack the protesters in Midan Tahrir, with the Army appearing to be a neutral force. The opposition, largely cognizant of the dirty game being played against it, nevertheless has had little choice but to call for protection against the regime's thugs by the regime itself, i.e., the military. And so Mubarak begins to show us just how clever and experienced he truly is. The game is, thus, more or less over.
Mubarek Regime Strategy
An item worth reading to understand regime strategy
Double Edged Influence
Abu Muqawwama has an obs re US Military influence & Egyptian officer corp
The Shame of Tuesday: Cairo & The Grave
I entitled my thread at Giraffe Boards The Mubarek Denouement: Egypt dances past the grave thinking I was being wryly amusing.
That turns out not to have been the case. As I started reflecting in that thread, I have been suspecting for several days now - based not only on following the news but things I have heard from friends in region who ... well have a reason to know such information that Mubarek had sworn not do as Ben Ali.
Today's events, after some hope on Tuesday that something could move, showed that Mubarek & Co. believe that they can bluster their way through this, and that their analysis of Ben Ali - he was cowardly, his nerve cracked - is driving them to drive Egypt towards the abyss.
Repeating from the Thread's last post.
|• 2252: Roger Hardy, a Middle East analyst at the Woodrow Wilson Center, tells the BBC: "It does look to me now that the government's rather Machiavellian strategy was to lull the protesters into a false sense of security in Tahrir Square, where there was a carnival atmosphere. And now their very rude message is: 'That's all over. Now go home. And by the way, if you don't, we won't start negotiations.' The role of the army is becoming less and less ambiguous. It is moving away from the protesters and closer to the regime. The next few days are crucial. This could get uglier before we get anything like a resolution. This may sound a little stark, but I feel that Tahrir Square could become and Arab Tiananmen Square."|
Returning to my sceptical analysis of weeks back, I do feel I was right in that the Mubarek system has deeper roots than Ben Ali, and there are more people with more to lose if he goes. That opens the door to the Chinese option, although that US$1bn might slightly counteract.
A comment in the same vein by Richard Spencer of the Telegraph:
| An avoidable and shameful disaster is taking place in Cairo tonight. Whether by accident or design – the latter seems more likely – President Hosni Mubarak has created a caged arena full of hate for a final confrontation. |
As I write, the anti-regime protesters have been presented with an ultimatum to leave Tahrir Square but no opportunity to do so, given that they are surrounded by club-wielding hoodlums at all exits.
They have responded as idealists and revolutionaries have through the centuries, by building barricades. But as those who occupied Tiananmen Square for freedom or democracy in 1989 discovered, to claim ownership is to invite response.
That comparison might be hysteria generated by the time I have spent in China. The army have said they will not use force on the people, after all. But armies have said that before and in any case a colleague who was detained briefly yesterday was told in no uncertain terms by an officer that “what was said yesterday does not necessarily hold for tomorrow”. ...
The army meanwhile does nothing. The police are nowhere, as they have been, in spite of promises, since Friday, for reasons that are unfathomable.
... Can even Hosni Mubarak have been so incompetent as to have created the scene before us by accident, vacillating when he should have been determined and showing obstinacy when compromise was called for? .... has he lured the protesters into a trap for one last display of his authority?
What I fear here is that Mubarek et al are generating a situation where neither they nor the moderate protesters come out whole, and that in fact he is preparing the ground for an extreme end of the Ikhouan.
This in contrast with Ben Ali, as my wife said, we are just now appreciating what he spared Tunisia.
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.
January 29, 2011
Error 404 -- Far East of Suez
Concern about fallout from Egypt's public uprising spreads far.
July 10, 2010
Egypt & The Arab Socialists: Failures in Liberalisation
An interesting article from FT on the ongoing failure of liberalization in Egypt (despite the cheer-leading press on this over the years, Egypt benefiting from the Pyramid Halo Effect) A general observation is how much the hard-core Arab socialist countries ended up resembling each other in terms of their dysfunctionalities. Egypt, Algeria, Syria - all three show really impressive similarities in terms of economic dysfunction despite a fair degree of diversity between themselves otherwise.
FT.com Unrest adds to Egypt’s labour travails (emphasis added in bold)
Almost unheard of a few years ago, labour protests are now so frequent in Egypt that barely a week goes by without a sit-in or strike by workers calling for higher wages or better conditions. .... Earlier this year, successive waves of workers camped out for weeks at a time on a narrow strip of pavement in front of parliament to call attention to their grievances. The protesters have included public and private-sector employees. Egyptians protesting in support of political demands can usually expect a harsh response from the security services. More tolerance, however, has been shown towards workers and in most cases the government has made concessions. The reason, analysts argue, is that the authorities fear that suppressing agitation in favour of specific economic demands could give rise to wider political unrest. There is also a recognition that high inflation has severely eroded the purchasing power of low salaries. ....
“There is no country in the world which does not set a minimum wage,” says Kamal Abbas, a labour activist who runs the independent Centre for Trade Union and Workers Services. “This has to reflect a basic basket of goods, and it should be open to renegotiation [when prices rise].” [Lounsbury: Absolute rubbish, but the usual posturing that one hears from labour activists] He and others say Egypt has no functioning mechanism for agreeing wages. Trade unions are under the control of the government, undermining their ability to reflect the interests of their members. [Lounsbury: Well, yes,really the worst of both worlds although I hardly care much for the radical leftism of the labour groups in MENA]
High unemployment, officially at 9.4 per cent but unofficially much higher, means workers are often prepared to accept low salaries and illegal or unsafe working practices. ... Relative costs are a concern. Employers in Egypt complain that the productivity of local workers is low, their work ethic poor, and they are ever-ready to abandon their jobs for slightly higher wage offers. [Lounsbury: I can't get behind the criticism of always being ready to switch to better pay, never understood that as a critique] “There is a mismatch between the capabilities of the unemployed and the qualifications wanted by companies,” says Ahmed Abdel Wahab, the head of the Engineering Industries Export Council. “Ironically we have unemployment, but it is not because there are no jobs.”
The problem is at its most acute in the textile industry, a labour-intensive sector that employs some 30 per cent of the manufacturing workforce. “The global crisis has offered us here in Egypt opportunities, but we are unable to benefit because we cannot grow fast enough because we have a people problem,” says Magdy Tolba, a garments manufacturer and exporter who employs 4,000 workers. Mr Tolba always needs an extra 700 to 800 workers “in all departments”. He blames the problem on the poor quality of state-funded vocational education and the emergence of generations of graduates who shun industry in favour of easy jobs in the civil service, where the day ends at 2pm. [Lounsbury: "Emergence?]
The average salary in his factory, he says, is $133 a month and could reach $180 with overtime. “If salaries go any higher we would be unable to compete,” he says. “Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Vietnam have lower labour costs.” Mr Tolba says he has had to import workers from Bangladesh in order to meet his export commitments. They cost him up to 25 per cent more than Egyptian workers, but their productivity, he says, is 40 per cent higher.
The government is aware of the need to improve vocational training and there are several schemes under way to address the issue, some funded by foreign donors. But experts say a more comprehensive strategy is needed. Mr Radwan, the former ILO economist, says that a “formula which worked from Brazil to Singapore” is the establishment of a training fund in which the private sector contributes 1 per cent of its labour costs. “The fund would be run by government, labour and business, but the private sector would have the upper hand,” he says.
Poor competitiveness due to poor labour culture and general productivity are real handicaps for the MENA region as they are not super low cost relative to direct labour cost. The sheer and utter cretinism of the state supported training programs is hard to capture. The Private Sector type run training fund is a good idea, if implemented correctly. One rather suspects given Egyptian Pharaonism that will never be the case.
April 04, 2010
Eardrumsticks: Cairo Restaurant Run By Deaf
I remember going to this place to get a dose of hi-fat content, in Dokki, Cairo, Egypt. For a while afterwards I thought I'd imagined it as there never seemed to have been the inevitable self-serving promotion or press release notice by KFC of its chain having an outlet run entirely by the
deaf hearing-impaired nonhearing hearing disabled hearing-handicapped differently-abled hearers audially-challenged deaf. (There's a whole tug of PC war over the term and apparently most of the deaf prefer to be called "deaf". Or so I, um, hear.) Anyway, some nice news (not counting fat content issues) regarding a region often just focused upon for bad news.
March 23, 2010
Explaining the Day to Day Mechanism of Popular Anti-Coptic Bigotry in Egypt
Blogger Nadia Elawady relates the ordinary day to day practices of shunning and mythologizing that nurture anti-Coptic prejudice among Egypt's Muslims. " I remember befriending Mariam . . . Quickly my [fellow] Muslim friends explained I could not befriend her. She’s Christian, I was told. So what, I asked. In Egypt, it’s not all right, was the answer. By the end of that same year I had heard my Muslim friends say it was yucky to drink out of a cup a Copt had drank from; they explained that the way to identify a Copt was by their odd smell and their oily hair. . . " One can infer from her post that such things are increasing and are pervasive among the more educated classes.
March 20, 2010
New Mummy for Egyptian Museum, our secret correspondent learns
Zahi Hawass, Secretary General of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, has announced a new mummy to placed in Cairo's Egyptian Museum shortly. Hawass insisted that only 20 cameras, youtube, and two geostationary satellites attend the announcement, per his own messages on Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, Larry King Live, Fox News, BBC, GoogleEgo, and CNN Universe, and his own website, famed for having the largest font of a personal name on the world wide web.
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 07, 2009
Egypt's "Reform" experiment... El Baradie & the Mubarek Clan
A sour bit of news to consider re Egypt, but I have to say I am amused by one item re the state press savaging poor El Baradie:
FT.com Egypt’s media warn ElBaradei off politics
... the former Egyptian diplomat has now become the target of ferocious attacks in the state press after his name was put forward as a potentially credible candidate for the next presidential poll in 2011.
Worse, Mr ElBaradei first appeared to respond positively to the suggestion. He issued a statement last week saying he would run for president if the constitution was changed to allow all Egyptians to compete and if the election was conducted by a truly independent commission, supervised by international monitors.
Osama Saraya, the editor-in-chief of Al Ahram, the main government newspaper, accused Mr ElBaradei of “bearing a grudge towards his country”, and said he represented foreign interests “opposed to the Egyptian reform experiment”
Egyptian reform experiment.... That's pretty funny.
November 23, 2009
The Color of Monkey: Egyptians Draw A Bead On Haifa
Guardian (UK) angel Nesrine Malik tells of lyrics by an Egyptian writer, sung by sultry songstress Haifa Wehbe, that refer to a child pining for his "Nubian monkey". The term, supposedly referring to a toy, is apparently tied in with long-standing negative color-race attitudes among lighter-skinned Egyptians and other Arabs towards the swath of swarthy Nubians in Egypt's south, and blacks in general. Nubia's bias guardians have requested some sort of legal sanction against the song. The issue brings to rare local public airing the color biases of much of Middle Eastern society, or in Ms Malik's words, the "endemic culture of racial stereotyping in the region ". It apparently also extends to a standard of beauty that elevates a "light-skinned, catty-eyed and slim-nosed" Lebanese look, though the description of the Haifa Wehbe song as "a mindless children's tune sung by an equally vacant performer" does suggest that the term "catty" is not restricted solely to the field of ocular esthetics. (PS -- Just love those commenters below the article at the Guardian. Sheesh.)
September 18, 2009
Cairo: Faded Glory.... Quixotic quests for restoration
FT's profile on Cairo, and reviving it's downtown, at FT.com Investors seek to revive faded glory of Cairo (and as well the video commentary here
FT.com / Video & Audio / Audio slideshows - Resurrecting the Paris of the Orient (ahem, I believe that was Beirut, but...)) is interesting for a reflexion on the damage bad governance has done to Arab economies and civic areas. When I lived in Cairo I tried doing downtown as I adore art deco, but the hell of the constant din made it unlivable. Refurbishing buildings is not enough, mastering the insanity that is Cairo traffic, reducing traffic pressure is an absolute must. Of course, like Algeria, Cairo is a living testament to what the incoherence of "Arab Socialism" can do to an economy and its socio-economic fabric.
But as to the renovation plans, frankly I think it is tilting at windmills unless the orderliness is restored, and that seems impossible given the incompetence of the Egyptian regime. Sheer bad governance (and yes, the Egyptian regime is good at keeping itself in power, but that is not good governance) and general economic incompetence (although recent reforms, since 2001 or so are slowly starting to convince me that there is an exit from the Arab Socialism thinking, at least Egypt shows now more signs of clearer thinking and planning than the cretins running Algeria).
BTW, I did not know the American Uni had shut its downtown campus. Pity that. Such things are historical anchors.
(An aside, In Lounsbury some recent economics related rants re Algeria: on speaking Truth to Le Pouvoir; and on conducting jihad against rational economic policyl.
FT after the break:
September 03, 2009
Algeria: No Poor People
A delicious item to note as I work on a follow up on my Algeria Autarky post (and related incoherent economic policy), from Maghreb Politics Review
the fine declaration that there are “No poor people in Algeria” as our friend Alle notes
Here’s a whopper: Algeria’s Religious Affairs Minister Bouabdellah Ghoulamallah has claimed on state radio that “there are no poor people in Algeria”. Referring to how some 1,5 m Algerians vacation in Tunisia every year, and hundreds of thousands of others go to Hajj or Omra in Saudi Arabi, he said that the talk of poverty is just a “media invention”. Needless to say, this will be news to the legions of unemployed and desperately poor Algerians who struggle to make ends meet, and it is an excellent example of the “hogra”, high-handed neglect and spite from the authorities, which the Algerians resent so much.Mind you, this is not a one off delusion. I have had on more than one occasion in the past decade had to listen to Algerian officials ranting on to similar effect, as in their thinking while there are some small things to iron out relative to their fine petro-socialism, the common Algeria has obviously benefited. Except for those haraga wreckers but they deserve it, scum that they are.
For the record, Algeria last year ranked 104th on the UNDP’s Human Development Index, below the Arab average, and just slightly above the Occupied Palestinian Territories — this, after several years of a record-breaking oil bonanza.
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The Guide & The Advancing Libyan Relations
Having successfully pissed off the US and a decent portion of Western opinion, Al Jazeera English - Africa - Angered Rabat delegates quit Libya our fine leader of the Great Libyan Random Republic decided the Maghrebine donkey cart needed a wee bit of a jolt:
A Moroccan delegation has left Libya in protest over the invitation of members of a Western Sahara separtist movement to the 40th anniversary of the Libyan revolution, Moroccan officials have said.
The delegation, led by prime minister Abbas El Fassi, left the festivities on Wednesday after realising the president of the Polisario Front (SADR) and his delegation, which seek independence for the Western Sahara, were present, the Moroccan official news agency MAP said.
A contingent of the Moroccan Royal Armed Forces (FAR), which was supposed to take part in a military parade during the festivities, also cancelled its participation and left the place.
"The government of HM the king expresses its strong protest against this surprising attitude, while all assurances were given previously," an official statement by the Moroccan government said.
This, I confess, is moderately amusing. Frankly I think the Moroccans are being babies, but at least they're reasonably consistent in their policies and decisions. In contrast to the Libyans, where I can say from experience, one never quite knows exactly what a Libyan partner will actually do. Show for meeting? Maybe. Be prepared to follow an agreed contract? Well, so long as the Guide has not changed his mind, or if the camels weren't too grumpy. There is something deliciously random about Libya. Predictable in its unpredictability, perhaps. I am certain that in fact the Palace in Rabat did get assurances, but come on, They were Libyan assurances! Everyone knows what Libyan assurances are worth. Pissing off in a tiff... no panache in that.
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Berber Teaching Morocco and Gullible Journos
I really hate these kinds of articles, the wide eyed journo lapping up tripe: BBC NEWS | Africa | Trail-blazing for Morocco's Berber speakers
First, saying "Berbers" faced wide-spread discrimination as such is absurd.
Although Berbers were Morocco's first inhabitants and account for some 60% of Morocco's population, they faced widespread discrimination and it is only now that the language is required to be taught in public schoolDiscrimination in the sense the languages don't have much vehicular utility, but the way this reads, one would think Morocco had some bar to Berbers as an ethnicity.
Now this is the sad part
Their academic qualifications may not help them much on the jobs market, but the availability of a further degree in a subject that was once virtually outlawed in their North African country underscores Berber success in gaining official acceptance of the language.Acceptance, bollocks. Yet more unemployable graduates with useless degrees, instead of spending money on useful studies is a bloody shame.
August 31, 2009
Egypt - Religious Flexability
New York Times has an interesting article, built around an interview with Gamal al-Banna, brother of the famous Hassan al-Banna... on "diversity" in views being published relative to religious thinking: Hints of Pluralism Begin to Appear in Egyptian Religious Debates .
I am not entirely convinced of the thesis, that with alternative media, a more liberal, flexible face is getting published or read more than in the past. Perhaps, but Gamal al Banna's thinking, as thumbnailed in the arty, strikes me as relatively typical of the sort of thing that the prosperous, confident middle class and elite say in private. Not in public, but in private. Or among intellectuals of whatever social class.
Now, one thing that is most important is the lack of official cover:
It is difficult to say exactly why this is happening. Some of those who have begun to speak up say they are acting in spite of — and not with the encouragement of — the Egyptian government. Political analysts said that the government still tried to compete with the Muslim Brotherhood, a banned but tolerated Islamic movement, to present itself as the guardian of conservative Muslim values.My observation is it's better to not have official encouragement. In general in the MENA region, to have official encouragement in religious areas is almost automatically to going to discredit you. What one does need is simply official forebearance (i.e. not hauling you off to court as an apostate).
Nevertheless, while I have some doubts as to the real current penetration of more liberal approaches to religious thinking (I might call it lifting the dead hand of salafism and returning to real thinking), it is without doubt a real opportunity to have fairly free press and alternatives outlets at least airing ideas.
“Salman Rushdie was less of a disaster than Sayyid al-Qimni,” said Mr. Badri in a television appearance on O TV, an independent Egyptian satellite channel. “Salman Rushdie, everyone attacked him because he destroyed Islam overtly. But Sayyid al-Qimni is attacking Islam and destroying it tactfully, tastefully and politely.”
But this time Mr. Qimni did not go into hiding. He appeared on the television show, sitting beside Sheik Badri.
Whether the promoters of the ideas will have the street cred to successfully moved forward, well....
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August 24, 2009
Maghreb, MENA: What standards' for progress & development
Following on an interesting discussion in comments in reaction to this 'Aqoul post: Some old controversies: Morocco & Models, and Bloggy overreaction and preciousness I thought I would bring forward some of the questions posed for further discussion.
The essentials rest on how to assess progress in the Maghreb (and MENA of late).
As noted in the discussion (copied at end of post, below the jump), reform has certainly slacked of late in Morocco, but against what benchmark should we judge this?
Some other questions, items for consideration:
- Quality of Governance
- Tension between Technocratic Reform led by business leaders, and capture of government reform by oligarchs (who happen as well to be good technocrats)
- Economic Reforms & Untouched Oligopolies
- The State of Educational Reform
- Pushing out / deepening progress to reach the Great Inland areas
- Affordability of life in the transition
- Next steps in consolidating growth
Xref: Moroccan Rapper in NYT...oddly
Just a side ref: Lounsbury: Moroccan Rappers make NY Times.... oddly More at Lounsbury.
August 22, 2009
Chinese & Algerians Bis - from Lounsbury comments - Ethnocentrism, Hatreds & Colour
The Moor Next Door (Kal) made an interesting comment in Lounsbury: Algeria & Chinese in Algeria: the riot & fallout with respect to the Chinese & Algerian incident, and also touched on, in passing the
Interestingly, while I'm pretty sure (almost certain) that most Algerians (in Algiers at least) rather hate the black migrants in their midst, the same problem doesn't seem to exist with the Vietnamese in the country. I've never heard anybody complain about them in the way people rail about the Chinese.First, I second the observation in its entirety, second some thoughts.
On the Chinese, versus say other Asians, one would suspect several factors, prime among them is that the PRC Chinese coming to Africa haven't much of a clue as to the "non PRC" world and behave in Africa / North Africa rather boorishly as a general matter. Without existing and acculturated or savvy communities to guide them, the Big Country egoism comes out. The Vietnamese of course have a rather longer history, and I think generally the Vietnamese Francophone diaspora (even under Socialist auspices) was / is more worldly (or perhaps merely had existing Vietnamese networks from the colonial era to plug into, including the Tirailleur networks from the 1950s).
Leaving aside PRC / Mainlander boorishness, I find the contrast with the sub-Saharan migrants - let's say black migrants that aren't Arabophone interesting. Certainly there is the job-taking angle - and as Aqoul has discussed previously, an unpleasant well of latent colour racism in the Maghreb. Hard to know which is a bigger driver for SSA migrants. For the Chinese, this is without doubt shallower and more economic. I have not had much exposure to Algerian comments on SSA migrants, other than gaining the impression that Algeria may have rather more colour prejudice than Morocco (or a more obvious expression). I also wonder if the Senegalese and to a lesser extent the Malians get a better pass than others. That certainly seems to be the case in Morocco.
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August 19, 2009
Algeria Woos Tourism Investment.... I can only await the successes.
I do so love the Algeria government, it's magnificent incoherence. After bizarrely and abruptly banning consumer credit, now we come out with a tax advantage for investment in tourism (what tourism - I exclude overseas returnees from Tourism proper, they don't generally use much in the way of proper tourism facilities: Algeria woos investors to unlock tourism potential
Where to start on the fabulous, magnificent fuzzy thinking?
Algeria announced on Monday it was slashing taxes on tourism projects to persuade investors that the country, emerging from years of violence, could become a hot new holiday destination.
Indeed. Hot new holiday destination. Sunny & Bomby Algeria. Experience the thrills of Old American West Ambushes on your convoy. Possible extended side visits to the Sahara for brief 'kidnapping' interludes with jocular desert tribes....
August 17, 2009
XRef: Egypt as Multilingual Outsourcing Destination
A quick cross reference for thos interested in MENA Business specifics: Lounsbury: Egypt as Multilinual Outsourcing Destination, Well I'll be bugered As I note, the FT.com arty Egypt invests in outsourcing industry raised me eyebrows. Wonders of capitalist development, even socialist basket-case education systems can be leveraged now and again: a pool of otherwise unemployable university graduates with useless degrees, but reasonable language skills to draw on if one is willing to train them up
Some old controversies: Morocco & Models, and Bloggy overreaction and preciousness
Rooting around I ran across this arty Morocco makes peace with its past. - By Anne Applebaum - Slate Magazine via Global Voices Online » Morocco: An Alternative to Iran? and the Poor Alternatives - Morocco Board News Service. Intrigued I thought I'd take a look at the arty from July on Morocco. Oddly, I found it not bad, not anywhere as much as implied by the fulminating against it.
Welcome to the kingdom of Morocco, a place that, in light of the last two weeks' events in Iran, merits a few minutes of reflection. Unlike Turkey, Morocco is not a secular state: The king claims direct descent from the prophet Mohammed. Nor does Morocco aspire to be European [NB Lounsbury: not any longer, although Hassan II had an amusing demarche to tweak the Fr. in this respect] Though French is still the language of business and higher education, the country is linguistically and culturally part of the Arabic-speaking world. But unlike most of its Arab neighbors, the country has over the last decade undergone a slow but profound transformation from traditional monarchy to constitutional monarchy, acquiring along the way real political parties, a relatively free press, new political leaders—the mayor of Marrakesh is a 33-year-old woman—and a set of family laws that strives to be compatible both with sharia and international conventions on human rights.Emphasis added: Constitutional Monarchy? Mmmmmm. Maybe. [edited to correct some systems errors]
The result is not what anyone would call a liberal democratic paradise. One human rights activist painted for me a byzantine portrait of electoral corruption involving "mediators" who "organize" votes on behalf of candidates. Others point out that if the demonstrators I saw at the parliament had been Islamic radicals or Western Saharan guerrilla leaders, rather than trade unionists, the police might not have been quite so blasé. Though women have legal rights, cultural restraints remain. A tiny fraction of the population reads newspapers, even fewer have Internet access, and somewhere between 40 percent and 50 percent of the country is illiterate in any case. As a result, election turnout is very low. Political posters feature symbols, not words.
August 15, 2009
Algeria & Chinese in Algeria: the riot & fallout (summ from Lounsbury)
A cross post to note : Readers may be interested in a Lounsbury blog note on the Algeria & the Chinese incident (see here for original Aqoul note) and a longer commentary on The Moor Next Door.
I'd note my as well, regarding the incident and Moor Kal's eval: he is quite right that this comes in the context of a country on a low boil.
This is to say nothing of the numerous fits of car and tire burning that go on quite often elsewhere in Algeria. This is part of the setting of Bouteflika’s Algeria, and it is the failure of the socio-economic order he has setup, that addresses only macro-level economic and social problems, but fails to address the basic tensions in Algerian society in an effective way.While agreeing with the failure of the socio-economic order, actually, I would say that Boutefliqa's Algeria doesn't address in any coherent way macro-economic problems. Quite the contrary, in fact the incoherent mish-mash of foot-dragging liberalisation (which reeks of 'we're only doing because our hands are forced') and then backtracking to failed 1970s era quasi autarkic import substitution regimes seems to be merely muddling forward by a group of elderly fools who can't admit that their revolution failed.
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August 13, 2009
Algeria: little steps to autarky?
Now that the Algerian govenrment has taken such very clever moves as banning consumer credit and rendering imports stunningly difficult by imposing highly unfavourable credit / financing terms on importers (except some privledged exceptions) perhaps this little deal will work: Abu Dhabi fund plans Algeria auto plants
August 12, 2009
Morocco & The Poll, encore
I noted with mixed feelings that Global Voices picked up my somewhat intemperate remarks (habitual as that may be) on the Morocco poll. Being somewhat allergic to too high a profile: Global Voices Online » Morocco: Bloggers React to the Banning of Magazines
In some ways the idiocy of the ban in fact was at least logical and almost... brave. On the part of the No Comment on the King partisans. I mean, banning a largely favourable poll at least has the flavour of consistency and principle. After all, it is a useful one insofar as relative to liberal critiques of the King, the Palace can easily point to the poll and say, Ha, but for me things would actually be less liberal as popular opinion is distinctly unliberal - which is of course absolutely true and for anyone in the region not a suprise. That abstracts away from the question of whether Authoritarian Liberalism [ironic eh? - of course liberal only in certain areas] is a good or bad thing.
Before turning to Minister Naciri's habitually cretinous public comments to Jeune Afrique and the at least reasonable call for a "dialogue" about press, a side word. Branding the anti-banning movement as "Je suis un 9%" (I'm a 9 percenter) was profoundly stupid on the part of the critics. Really, profoundly stupid. Just as cretinous as the Government's ham-handed reaction to the poll (and its clumsy, tone deaf public comments).
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August 09, 2009
Best Algerian Headline Ever: Blackberries: Are Tools for Espoinnage? (Midi, 9 Aug 09)
Sadly the article underlying actually has nothing much to say about this burning question.
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August 05, 2009
Algiers, Chinese, Algerians riot
I confess to being somewhat startled to read this news brief of a riot between Algerians and Chinese in a working class district Shanaoua, however it is not in the end surprising given the underlying resentment around the mass import of Chinese labour for the government's various infrastructure programmes. The report indicates as many as 50 Chinese got into "bloody" fight with Algerians.
Al Arab Online العرب اونلاين
قالت صحف جزائرية إن مواجهات وصفتها بـ"الدامية" وقعت الإثنين بين أكثر من 50 صينيا مقيمين بحي "الشناوة" "تعبير دارج يعني الصينيين" بباب الزوار بالعاصمة الجزائرية والسكان قاطني الحي بسبب مناوشة وقعت بين تاجر جزائري وآخر صيني، وأسفرت عن بعض الجرحى وخسائر في الممتلكات.More shortly.
Well, BBC now has this: http://www.bbc.co.uk/arabic/middleeast/2009/08/090805_mr_algeria_china_tc2.shtml and FT too! http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/a74efac2-8177-11de-92e7-00144feabdc0.html
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August 03, 2009
Morocco: The Cretin Wing of the Makhzen strikes back (idiotic censorship
I just noticed old friend Ibn Kafka's note on the Moroccan Government seizing Tel Quel (a local weekly that is addicted to shock journalism) Le sondage interdit au Maroc - The Poll Banned In Morocco.
In grosso modo, it appears that the Cretin Wing of the Makhzen decided to seize Tel Quel (I have never thought much of Tel Quel, it never manages to go beyond its addiction to shock journalism, and frankly I don't think much of the reporting in areas where I feel well placed to judge - hardly though a reason to seize and destroy the edition).
Ben Kafka notes
Larbi, le bloggeur qui bloggue plus vite que son ombre, a publié une dépêche AFP révélant quelques résultats plus détaillées du sondage que l’Etat marocain refuse de voir publier dans la presse marocaine (sachant bien évidemment que n’importe quel crétin et sa belle-mère pourront le lire sur le web)/ Larbi, the blogger who blogs quicker than his shadow published the AFP article revealing some of the more detailed results of the poll, that the Moroccan state refused to see published in the Moroccan press (understanding evidently that any cretin and his mother in law can read it on the Web.See also Le Monde.
I'll put this in English later as well as some more comments, but this is truly moronic. The poll is in fact rather positive for the Monarchy, and banning its publication really reeks of the worst idiocy possible. However, it does reflect the old-school Makhzen mentality that remains deeply entrenched in the government. While the King (M6) has his faults, gross and obvious stupidity has never seemed to be one of them. (Subtler forms, perhaps arguable, although I remain favourable disposed to-wards him, I mean look at his confrères...) However, the bootlicker Naciri went for broke. So yes, all the world should know that the Makhzen bootlickers could not stand the idea of the Moroccan population knowing that an international poll found "only" 91% approval relative to M6's first decade. More on the poll later as well.
Old stupidities die hard.
[Ahem, two typos correct 15 Aug 09, accidentally wrote Ben Kakka... sorry mate, entirely an accident)
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August 02, 2009
Algeria: Expropriations & Import Substitution, Just Because it worked so well in the 1970s
A cross post to a longer note in Lounsbury: Prompted by the advert next to the article cited (which was is an advert for the sale of a small import-export operation), a small reflexion on Algerian economic politics and policy, insofar as Algeria - no doubt thanks to The Lead Comb-Over, is bizarrely unearthing the import substitution and nationalisation measures of the 1970s as its lead economic policy reaction to ongoing problems.
The "Why" of course is mixed. Absolute incomprehension of market economics and operations is certainly a major factor, as is the regime's paranoia in general another, and specific national paranoia regarding foreigners after the French experience - which remains terribly damaging, in particular for the generations over ~45 years old.
This article, from the Francophone Africa focused business weekly, Les Afriques (Eng. Trans: Algeria: Changing the Rules of the Foreign Investment Game - The question on everyone’s lips this summer illustrates. The article cites (and my own connections would suggest the article is right in part, a reaction to "non approved" operations, such as Orascom selling its cement stake to Lafarge (as part of a global deal, not Algeria specific actually). Now, in most places in the world this would be a matter of a bored shrug.
The Algerian government, however, freaked (why?...), and phrases such as this that the journalist used are very much from the Algerian officialdom's own public and private view of markets: "the Algerian president seems to have realised that the rules of globalised capitalism left the door ajar for an international group to sneak in and, without the State’s consent, claim a share in the national market and economy. ... The Algerian president discovered only too late the predatory characteristics of foreign investment and gave economists and entrepreneurs the last laugh when they warned that it was illusory to expect to boost the economy using direct foreign investment (DFI) [sic]." That is very much the language and thinking of a paranoid, quasi Soviet regime, lacking in confidence. The remainder of the article is pure Algerian regime thinking, including the focus on foreigners bleeding the country dry (with billions in public FX reserves, even the state can't find a way to intelligently invest capital given opportunities, of course dividends are being repatriated...).
It is worth noting the argument of "Algerian entrepreneurs" is the argument of the old Rentier Regime owners - hardly people meriting the term entrepreneur in any real sense of the term. These are firm owners from the first round of "Algerianisation" and then the subsequent emergence of a private sector that was (with some exceptions of course) nothing more than an appendage to a dysfunctional state sector.
Returning to the concrete, notable recent policy decisions in this area are Presidential Decrees from December 08 which have moved to implementation by year end 09:
(i) forcing all foreign firms involved in import operations to retroactively cede 30% of assets to an Algerian partner (on what basis the percentage is valued, what happens in case of capital raising, and how to reconcile this retro-active measure with the Investment Law and Algeria's engagements with respect to FDI remains charmingly unclear - indeed brushed aside by the Algerian government which continues to show a rather impoverished understanding of economics and private markets),
(ii) Obliging all future foreign investment (ahem for the time being, future, it is not unimaginable for it to become retroactive like the exporters measure) to be 51% Algerian in capital ownership.
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Charmingly Al Qaeda fil Maghreb [AQIM] goes Green
An amusing arty from an online Algeria news source indicates that AQIM announced it has executed to firebugs caught setting fires in the Amrouna forest. Nice to see the Green (Western style) aspect of this:
Al-Qaïda au Maghreb islamique (AQMI) affirme avoir exécuté deux « pyromanes » à Aïn Defla
Al-Qaïda au Maghreb islamique (AQMI), dans un communiqué daté du 25 juillet ... affirme avoir exécuté deux personnes présentées comme des pyromanes pris en flagrant délit d'incendie dans la forêt de Amrouna, à Aïn Defla. Le groupe terroriste ne précise pas l'identité des deux victimes mais il accuse clairement les forces de sécurité d'être à l'origine des derniers incendies de forêts dans le nord du pays.
As usual, accusations that the two executed were somehow tied to Algerian security forces are involved. Oddly, in Algeria, this is not an accusation to brush aside lightly, insofar as the AQIM brothers like camping a great deal (ahem, well hiding out in the forests), and it is in no way beyond the Algeria Pouvoir (or local agents) to engage in some brush burning.... Although equally as likely, to saps got zapped for being in AQIM's camping area.
July 31, 2009
Poor Mauritania, the sad man of the Maghreb (your coup leader elected, world leaders... shrug)
It has to hurt Bidane sensibilities that even in Maghreb circles, I think more serious attention is being given to Gabon and its succession than to Mauritania (Yes, yes for the Maghrebine readership, a slight exaggeration, but I submit only slight): Coup Leader Aziz Set to Win Mauritania’s Presidency in Election - Bloomberg.com
Former coup leader Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz is set to win Mauritania’s presidential election with 90 percent of votes counted, according to his spokesman.
The only possible point of interest for the world in general is perhaps the Al Qaeda fil Maghreb security angle, but there is re Israel some small fulminating (largely by people who have nothing particularly better to do) about Ould Abdel Aziz's non-friendly orientation vis-a-vis Israel and the probable end of the fairly brief Maure flirtation with Israel (Embassy, etc.). I would suspect even for Israel this will actually (except among professional hand wringers) be met with a bemused shrug (and probable relief from the poor bastards posted to Nouakchott).
July 30, 2009
And in honour of Morocco's throne day, ten year retrospectives
Ten years, M6 in power as leading Maghrebi jetski king (okay, only Maghrebi Jetski-ing king), as well as not too terrible economic reformer. In fact, I have quite the soft spot for him and the country, relative to King Dad. Well, and The Neighbour. And I have to give him a nod over Ben Ali if for no other reason than he gets to wear the super Makhzani costume, which is in fact much cooler than Italian suits, however well tailored.
So besides the mega pardons that are always up on Throne Day, and doubtless major this time round for the Big Ten, what can we say. As I am lazy, let's just link.
AFP: Morocco's king pledges more reforms after first decade (eh fairly boring)
Les dix ans de règne de Mohamed VI fêtés par un Maroc en chantier - VIE POLITIQUE POLITIQUE ECONOMIQUE POLITIQUE SOCIALE (better, but French.... but that's always the case on the Maghreb)
Okay, my quick word then in honour of M6's tenth anniversary. Taking realistic expectations as the benchmark, and having a fairly sour view of "democratisation" potential without a solid middle class, M6 has been a solid B student in terms of boring but useful economic reforms and infrastructure development, in a region where the average ruler grade is in the C- to D range. Hopefully economic growth will continue there, and the Big Skier will not fall into a second decade doldrums.
April 21, 2009
Maghreb, Mirages of Ungovernable Somalia on the Atlantic bis
Insofar as this gets out of the usual Middle Eastern centred blithering on, perhaps a return to the issue of Ungovernable Spaces is worth another post.
FT - Algerian militants strike from eyries
The group seems to have since decided to restrict itself to military and security targets, although civilians often end up as collateral damage. Experts believe the change in tactics could mean the group has been weakened or that it has decided to try to spare civilians to avoid alienating the population.Emphasis added.
“The suicide bombings tarnished them in the eyes of the people,” says Hmida Layachi, a newspaper editor and expert on Algeria’s Islamist groups. “They were losing the image that they were only fighting the rulers so they started avoiding operations in Algiers and other big cities.”
He believes there are 800 to 1,200 militants in the mountains of central and eastern Algeria in comparison with an estimated 40,000 armed insurgents during the 1990s.
AQIM also has groups in the Sahara desert in the south of the country. These have been roaming the borders with neighbouring countries, recruiting and training militants from Mauretania, Mali, Niger and Nigeria. The groups in the desert are small,but perform a crucial function by ensuring that a smuggled weapons and explosives reach their colleagues in the north.
A US military official says: “Right now if it weren’t for the logistic supply from southern Algeria and northern Mali, the group would be on its last leg.
This may or may not be true (I would be inclined to think it has some degree of truth in that the vast spaces of the Sahara are indeed hard to control and generally not actually worth controlling), but it certainly is a perception with no small degree of policy driving value.
Insofar as the Somali pirating has reminded EU & North American policy makers how very, very annoying ungoverned places can be, and how much paranoid fear of Al Qaeda drives foreign policy, I would hazard the opinion this sort of activity will have outsized impact on EU & NA engagement with the Maghreb and the Sahel.
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April 20, 2009
Algeria: Mr. Comb Over & The Mee Too Container Terminal - Basic Reforms, Rents & Opportunities.
I should be less unkind, but frankly the awful hell that is required of one on every bloody business trip to Algiers (and having just returned from one), makes me disinclined.
Nevertheless, Algeria's copycat (okay not entirely copy cat) development of its port, following what appears to be a successful Moroccan operation at Tangamed has positive potential. FT's arty on DPW "vow[ing] to remodel Algiers port might even be a ray of hope in the otherwise bleak Algerian business landscape.
Might, of course being a powerfully operative word, as I have developed a highly jaundiced view over the years of promises of reform in Algeria. Some key details. [Ahem fixed the title]
April 17, 2009
Maghreb & Foreign Policy - Somalia on the Atlantic Angle
In particular, an entire line of argument about Western Sahara and the Maghreb lined up on the analogy of Somalia. Whatever the analytical value of that, it certainly should have some political carry.
April 14, 2009
MENA Futures, investing in good infrastructure (Morocco)
From the FT, two articles touching on probably the single most important item for turning around the Maghreb. Investment in good, solid infrastructure run by private firms. FT.com / Global Economy - Spanish port faces threat from Tangier
Mr Kjeldsen is using the threat to challenge the complacency in Algeciras that stems from more than 20 years with a monopoly of handling containers in the Gibraltar Strait. APM Terminals, its trade unions and the public sector port authority that owns the port land must work together to improve efficiency, he says. “Otherwise it’s going to be very difficult to be competitive with Morocco.”
APM Terminals declines to discuss how much it pays workers on either side of the strait, but average wages in Morocco are about $4,000 (€3,018, £2,688) a year. Those in Spain are about $14,500.
And the companion arty: FT.com Tangier hopes rest on customs ‘freezone’
It is a long way in every sense from the green hillside location of Tangier’s container terminals to the patch of desert that has become Dubai’s huge Jebel Ali port. But the developers of the Tangier-Med port complex have taken much of their inspiration from the Gulf facility.
Their hopes of emulating the success of Jebel Ali, which last year was the world’s sixth-busiest container port, rest on an area behind the terminals set aside for manufacturing and distribution developments.
Getting things right is boring (and not as much fun as declaring that foreign investors are parasites robbing the nation as the new Pasha for Life, Sidi Comb Over likes to do....), but it is the way to go.
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April 11, 2009
Super Popular Comb Over wins in Algeria
Well the head Comb Over got his face reddening with 90% of a claimed 70% turnout. One has a hard time disagreeing with one of the losers
"worthy of the banana republics
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April 07, 2009
Just giving the Algerian people another shot at expressing their gratitude to Mr Comb Over
A fine arty in Middle East Report Online Introducing Algeria’s President-for-Life by Ahmed Aghrout and Yahia H. Zoubir - focused on the upcoming... "elections."
I personally like Bouteflika's declaration "I propose nothing new, but I promise a strong and peaceful Algeria (Jeune Afrique 5-11 avril) for its charming bluntness and honesty.... well except maybe the strong and peaceful part. But certainly nothing new!
The economy remains dependent on hydrocarbon revenues -- exports outside this sector represent a paltry 2 percent of the total. The official rate of unemployment is close to 15 percent, which explains why candidate Bouteflika has promised the creation of 3 million jobs within five years if he is reelected. He claims to have brought unemployment down from more than 30 percent in 1999 to 12 percent in 2008, but no one outside the regime considers this figure credible, and true unemployment is certainly much more widespread than the state says. Domestic and foreign investment faces tall hurdles, while the banking sector remains quasi-archaic. Most of the infrastructure projects of which Bouteflika boasts have been plagued by delays as well as waste.
Tall hurdles indeed, for FDI. You'd have to be bloody retarded to invest in Algeria now given Comb Over thinks Presidential decrees forbidding foreigners from owning more than 49% of firms and blocking previously agreed on dividend repatriation. And those charming speeches about foreigners robbing Algeria... Mmmm, indeed its the foreigners robbing.
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March 29, 2009
Is Tunis the New Dubai on the Mediterranean?
However, not so far away, the Tunisian economy is telling a different story. Both the end of 2008 and the beginning of 2009 have bought good news for Tunisia's business climate; all the sectors that have previously been synonymous with investment in Dubai are now being referenced to this small North African country: tourism, manufacturing, services, etc.
The answer is no. Horrible, lazy and dumb journo "Is X the next Y"....
Now, leaving aside the idiotic comparison with Dubai - profoundly idiotic on many levels - there is a bit of a story in the beneifical competition on the World Bank ranking for ease of Doing Business. This has proven a great tool, insofar as the ranking motivates the egos of the Ben Alis.
What I find most queer about the article as it sees as 'good' the worst comparative points - that is real estate hype - with Dubai. When one sees that kind of hype, one knows its utter tripe.
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February 12, 2009
A Maghreb Focused Blog, in English
September 07, 2008
Interesting: US Sec State visits Maghreb,
Odd, the current and ongoing visit by Ms Rice to the MAghreb seems to ex-Libya, been greeted with something of a shrug.
September 02, 2008
MENA Economic Futures, & Nitrogen
In honour of Ramadan and food (well not really Ramadan, but I just ate), an interesting FT arty to ponder: Middle East & North Africa - Economy: The food sector’s other growing need which discusses the importance of fertilizers in the global food production matrix and dealing with the relative shortfall of food production growth (or rather food reaching market growth), and ... MENA.
(a rather different angle than this)
There is, though, an additional dependence, as HSBC pointed out in a recent note. Many Middle Eastern countries, short of food and water, are large-scale exporters of a material that could enable those poor countries to grow crops to feed everyone – fertilisers.
And here companies in the region find themselves in a sweet spot. Those with access to gas – an essential input for nitrogen-based fertilisers – are likely to do particularly well because they have negotiated long-term and generous supply contracts, the bank says.
An interesting item for pondering, although phosphates, I have been reading have some relative shortfalls in new discoveries, similar to petrol.
September 01, 2008
Let us praise Libyan craftiness and all the lessons learned from Italy
I confess no small degree of admiration for the Desert Hookah Smoker, my early childhood guide, Si Mouamar Gaddafi. this little bit is an act of piracy worthy of .... Rome I think
It's delicious, extorting equity:
In a tent outside Benghazi on Saturday, Silvio Berlusconi, Italy's centre-right prime minister, returned a headless statue of Venus carted away by Italians decades ago and signed a friendship pact with Muammer Gaddafi, the Libyan leader.
The agreement, in which Italy pledges to pay $5bn (€3.4bn, £2.75bn) over 25 years in reparations through various projects - including a highway across Libya from Egypt to Tunisia - follows a decade of difficult negotiations under a succession of Italian governments.
Of course any pledge over 25 years by an Italian government should be discounted to present value using a discount rate appropriate to Italian finances, perhaps Medieval ones. Still, a win win - B Boy and the Guide get to bask in the PR of Large Numbers, and the Guide gets to pocket a decent amount of current exchange.
Almost as intriguing is is The Guide's "Extol[ing] virtues of capitalist reforms" as the FT arty puts it.
Well not quite:
August 24, 2008
MENA Development and Investment: How 'bout just makin' stuff?
Moving back MENA-ward, I add a rant inspired by long-time discussions here and elsewhere regarding investment in Middle East and North African (MENA) countries. My amateur self keeps reading about Gulf or other money chasing things like real estate or hub port facilities, or digging out more of that Texas tea. Now, I hope I don't use too technical economic terms here, but here goes the rant: shouldn't the bulk of this fund dough, including money from superrich nations, be going towards activities where, you know, MENA regular folks will, like, MAKE NEW STUFF and then SELL THAT NEWLY-MADE STUFF TO OTHER PEOPLE for, um, HARD MONEY. That may sound a bit hi-falutin grad-school airy-fairy idealistic, development economics-y, but it needs to be said.
August 20, 2008
Sunny & Bomby Algeria,: Al Qaeda's Club Med tourist destination
Algeria sadly seems to be taking a turn for the worse, with Iraq style car bombs targeting - Iraq style once again - police stations and recruiting stations and doing so in a series. (Perhaps Emaar may wish to revise its plans for its Tourism City at Cite Colonel Abbas to something focused perhaps on AQIM personal development centres?
This follows earlier this month more Iraq style suicide car bombings; sadly the Americans seem to have actually been able to export some of Iraq's political culture.... just not the part they thought (although certainly the part I've expected). (Also from NY Times: this not useless overview on Al Qaeda fil Maghreb al Islami
August 07, 2008
Nouakchott in the Dark: Mauretania Coup
Semi-Aqoulite alle on his blog provides background and details on Mauretania going coup coup. In comments by alle elsewhere on this site, he notes that "there goes the Arab world's most interesting experiment in democracy-by-coup."
July 13, 2008
Ya Rayah...Ch7al nedmou lebad l-ghafline qblek: Southern Med & Socio Economics
With proper reference to Taha's Ya Rayah* which seems more than appropriate given the subject matter, and prompted by The Economist’s recent profile on investment in the Mediterranean as well as a series of articles on the Maghreb and southern Med region (let me call this MedSud from now on, as MEDA sounds idiotic), including a previously noted Lounsbury article from NY Times piece on Algerian Youth, an interesting FT series on labour markets, education and youth in MENA (and in particular on entrepreneurship, or rather not being a lazy bureaucrat), in addition to the rather cretinous article from Abu Dhabi on Maghreb investment that Hogan already cited.
Update: also in similar vein see Comments on Khaleej Times whinging on Islamic Finance
Update II - 15 Jul: quick clarification on my remarks and in particular my MedSud usage. While the underlying article and research by ANIMA covers a wider range - the MEDA zone as they define it including Israel and Turkey, my remarks do not. I personally consider both too different to look at analytically in grouping with the Maghreb or the Arab Machreq. Obviously discussable, but the remarks below should be understood as excluding entirely Turkey and Israel.
July 12, 2008
France, Islam & Integration
As brought up in the open thread, a strange court case coming out Fransa: France rejects Muslim woman over radical practice of Islam, worthy of a moment of reflexion.
The headliner is
France has denied citizenship to a Moroccan woman who wears a burqa on the grounds that her "radical" practice of Islam is incompatible with basic French values such as equality of the sexes.although deeper in the article one may be able to pull out something more fundamental (or perhaps better put, reasonable, than her choice of clothing as the basis of the citizenship denial, notably lack of integration and mastery of French society.
Of no great surprise, the woman did not wear the Saudi style ninja costume in her native Morocco; apparently imposed by her husband in France. Without having further information, one would suspect a family arranged marriage of a country girl to a cousin or contact in France who's gone reactionary in France.
July 08, 2008
Maghreb-ward, Ho! Gulf investment heads into the sunset
Rudely poaching on turf far better handled by other contributors, I call attention to this article in The National of Abu Dhabi(?) which relates risk/reward considerations of Gulf investment in North Africa, particularly in real estate. Do the observations jibe with reality? Too little fear, too little greed, or too much. Or just right. A good intro for the beginner or just a superficial story? Excerpts below the fold.
June 08, 2008
Rebuilding Lake Tritonis
... City development is a natural process, and oftentimes the problem is not to get it going but to remove obstacles to it.
In many ways we would simply waste less time and money on what doesn't work:
• Cities and countries wouldn't bother trying to attract transplanted factories (the focus of most current international development). At best this would be seen as a stopgap measure, one step short of charity.
This quote sums up the spirit of an important part of Jacob's article. It made me think of all those efforts to develop the Sahara and the Arabian Desert. One particular instance that came to mind is an idea put on the table by the Tunisian government in the 1980s to create an interior sea using the chotts. The idea was never implemented for petty political reasons, so petty politics might have positive side benefits it seems. It was actually born in the head of a French military scientist in 1864’s Algeria.
June 02, 2008
French Court Screws Up Non Virgin Muslim
A case currently making some noise in France is about a court annuling a marriage between a recent Muslim convert and his Muslim born wife, on the basis that she lied about not having had a previous boyfriend.
Most politicians, and many in the media make it sound like it was annuled because the girl was not a virgin and the decision was based on religious considerations (why, Islam of course):
The Conservative UMP party - which is calling on the Justice Minister to overturn the ruling - said the decision was totally unacceptable and was incompatible with France's secular principles.
This is obviously yet another opportunity to capitalize on the Muslim minority's poor image (part of which is self-inflicted like in this case).
May 25, 2008
Why Jihadis Heart Mauritania (Bled l-Moops)
As longtime fan of `Aqoul, I feel it's about time I gave some back. Eerie has kindly accepted a guest post, so, here goes: an expanded version of a recent post from my own North Africa blog. Hope you enjoy.
Side introduction: While I personally don't share Alle's politics on Western Sahara (largely due to my analysis that another little shitty Mauretania is hardly a good thing), he is a smart observer of the area. Enjoy. -- Collounsbury.
PS: the Moops titling is mine, couldn't resist
Time for an update on Mauritania -- my special, dysfunctional little darling among the Maghreb countries -- and on why I think this complex but fascinating desert backwater may yet become of interest to Messrs. bin Ladin and Bush alike.
First the basics: Mauritania, squeezed in between Senegal, Mali, Algeria and Western (or: Moroccan) Sahara, is at the western extreme of the Arab world, and little known even to most of its neighbours. The population is small (under 3,5m.), the area huge (over 1m. km2) , and as the square-cut borders suggest, it is an entirely colonial creation. Back in the days, France needed to fill the space between Senegal, rowdy Touareg tribes, and Spanish Sahara with something, and in 1960 that something proclaimed itself the Islamic Republic of Mauritania. Straddling the Sahel, it joins two very different worlds: rocky desert flats suitable only for nomadism dominate the northern two thirds, while the Senegal valley to the south has lush farmlands. Ethnic groups and living-styles are spread accordingly, and as could be expected, north/south relations have been acrimonious.
December 29, 2007
Happy Holidays, Your Flats Flattened, Off Plan Of Course
While the headline news for "the Broader Middle East" if one accepts including Pakistan in that is certain to attract much learned and unlearned comment (1), some fundamentals of real estate market development, or lack thereof, attract my attention. Flats flattened, off plan, if I may indulge in grim humour as the death toll from a Christmas Eve apartment collapse continues to rise nearly a week after. This hearkens back to a "classic" as eerie signs it: Cairo's Collapsing Buildings. Again, a story of a collapsing block of flats, and doubtless gross underlying corruption.
However, gross corruption is not all, as without any question the heritage of Egyptian State Socialism is as much behind the sad, indeed grossly depressing tale of Egyptian economic and social development since Nasser. Under such circumstances, where secularism was historically effectively synoymous with the ded hand of the vampire state, it is no surprise American efforts at backing faux democracy trickled away into the sand in the face of the Muslim Brotherhood.
December 24, 2007
Holiday Fuzziness, Algeria, Al Qaeda and Iraq
As fuzzily cheery such news as interfaith warm and fuzzy declarations (which have their utility although as I consider them rather normal in my experience, I find them boring), of rather more interest perhaps is an uncharacteristically interesting commentary from NYT via the FT on one of the Algerian suicide bombers from last months bloody nonsense in Algiers which is interesting reading paired with FT's Quent Peel's commentary on the "socialist timewarp" that is Algeria, and the Kremlinesque opacity of its political sphere.
December 02, 2007
Prediction: Teddy Bear Thing Started As Spite
This sentence is in one story: "The row erupted after a secretary at the school complained to the Sudanese authorities about the naming of the bear." I cannot find it but somewhere I came across a reference to the Teddy Bear Teacher as having apologized to a faculty member who was offended. Prediction: this will turn out to have started as a spite attack by someone in the school staff who, for whatever reason, did not personally like that teacher and found an issue to attack her on that would get the dopey and the offenderati riled up. Could be wrong here, but the spidey senses are starting to tingle as this kind of information trickles in.
November 29, 2007
Flogging a Dead Teddy Bear
I was hoping this would go away and that I therefore would not have to withdraw my head from the sand and confront the farce that is the Mohammed teddy bear story. Almost no aspect of this saga can be taken seriously in that I actually marvel at how newsreaders can keep a straight face when using the words ‘teddy bear’ and ‘flogging’ in the same breath. That said however, it is indeed gravely serious. I have no doubt the teacher in question will not be subjected to the full barbaric punishment (only because Sudan’s version of Sharia law is so cosmetic and floggings, amputations and stonings rarely, if ever take place) but what is worrying is how far the Sudanese local authorities are willing to go to flex some muscle.
November 10, 2007
MENA Reform: Dead Hand of the State & Great Cairo
Returning to issues financial and economic, and in homage to our classic Cairo building post from 2005, I draw attention to a fine, if short, article in The Financial Times on the nefast influence of the dead hand of the Egyptian state, and the politics of pious posturing on the living standards and housing quality in Cairo, the Great Dump.
A few key items to highlight, as they are general lessons for the region, and indeed for emerging markets, largely around the failure of socialist and unrealistic, indeed wooley headed "progressive Left" interventionism.
November 03, 2007
Strategery, Indeed: Lewis and Huntington
I have to borrow from the discussion on the previous thread the quotation below. It's from a book review of at-best mixed value but by someone with the knowledge to make the statement. Tell me its assertion is false. Please, God, please......
October 24, 2007
MENA Reform: Reform is Dead, Long Live Reform
In part provoked by stunningly irritating conference call with idiots (aka known as 'funders") and in part by getting this piece of silliness emailed to me by some of the same participants, the recent naming of a government in Morocco (for which you can see some useful French commentary chez Ibn Kafka, whose 2nd home at Aqoul sadly awaits the intervention of a mystery writer coming out with a stunning review of some Somali chick...) is a moment to reflect on reform, via this flawed although not entirely useless article in FT (if one closes one's eyes to the idiocy of quoting the USFP). I will add that yes it is clear that England is clearly stringing together his series of quotables, poor bastid is a bit at sea.
First, in preface, let me say that I have long held the opinion that political reform can not really take place except when driven by economic change. At the same time, my dear Ben Ali in Tunisia shows that economic progress without political reform in our MENA region, well can go down a blind alley to be polite.
October 04, 2007
USS Liberty sort-of followup: Chicago Tribune
The Chicago Tribune does a service by giving the USS Liberty-attack veterans a full say. As I discussed many weeks back, the case deserves full fresh investigation. At the time, I shared my own developing conviction that it was more likely than not a case of culpable mistaken identity rather than a willful attack on an American ship (at least when it was ordered). The article erodes that conviction somewhat -- I'll downgrade mistaken identity from "buy" to "hold" -- but essentially the attack-with-foreknowledge argument often goes back to the same flaw: the belief that merely by defeating the "innocent mistake" claims by Israel and Fans, the only other conclusion is Israeli foreknowledge of the ship's American-ness before the attack began.
October 02, 2007
Victory of Image and Capital: Emirates & Hollywood
Quite frankly while not entirely surprising, the Time Warner - Abu Dhabi Entertainment Hub (or city in Dubai parlance) does not strike me as a match made in heaven.
On one hand the Emirates are sucking in a certain kind of talent, but I have a hard time believing that the cost issues in the Emirates plus the lack of a vibrant real culture, a salon and artists culture as it were, can make this anything but "a 6,000 acre theme park" rather than a space "to produce Arabic-language film, TV and video games" (well maybe video games, although I still imagine doing video game Arabization is likely cheaper to do in say Cairo or even better Amman, although maybe one puts HQ in Abu Dhabi for money raising purposes).
But that the idea is being floated speaks to the problems of getting investment off the ground and also, ahem, doing business in much of the region.
September 11, 2007
The Moroccan elections - a victory for makhzeno-khobzism...
As most readers will know by now, Morocco's by far largest party is that of the abstentionists, who, with 63% of registered voters, won a landslide victory. Of the remaining 37% who bothered to vote, a sizeable amount voted blank - around 25% in Meknès and Fez, for example. Of those who cast a valid ballot, it would appear that the supposedly nationalist Istiqlal party won less than a fifth of the votes, slightly ahead of the mdoerate islamist PJD. Of course, besides being a blow to the governmental aspirations of the PJD, which seemed reasonable prior to the elections, this outcome means that the King will have even more of a free rein than previously - plus ça change, moins ça change...
For Morocco's democratisation process, this is a serious setback - and it is arguably a false victory on the longer term for the "executive monarchy" (1) favored by the King and his advisers...
September 10, 2007
Morocco: Quick Reflexions on Not Quite A Spanish Democracy
A quick reflexion on the Moroccan elections that are without any doubt a disaster for the "emerging Spanish style democracy" image pimped for (and sometimes by) Morocco, which 'Aqoul via our good amigo Ibn Kafka (who I hope we will welcome at 'Aqoul in a not distant future, at least no more distant than rumours of postings on Infidel) has done I think yoeman service in 'covering' as it were. Before my own thoughts, as a running dog of capitalism, Anglo Saxon foreigner blah blah, a quick and useful summary of our election backgrounders.
- Sept 8: Morocco's elections: Money, personalisation of politics and public disaffection
- Sept 7: Rock-bottom turnout in Morocco's general elections (NB: yours truly retracts initial reaction as wrong, wrong wrong)
- Sept 7: When even MEMRI has doubts... (slightly unfair I would say, but Ibn Kafka had a point)
- Sept 6: A candidate above all suspicion (Palace man as "independent" candidate... the grotesquely structured domestic media commentary via the sats post-election does remind one that Morocco, however much it has advanced, has not but a smidgen of critical journalism in re anything Palace)
- Sept 5: After Leb tarts and March 14, Moroccan babes and the PJD
- Aug 29: Preview of the Moroccan elections, Part III
- Aug 22: Preview of the Moroccan elections, Part II
- Aug 19: Preview of the Moroccan elections, Part I
September 08, 2007
Morocco's elections: Money, personalisation of politics and public disaffection
The fragmentation of the Moroccan political scene, which has been ongoing since a quarter of a century, isn't only manifest in the number of parties participating in electoral politics - 33 in 2007. The personalisation of party politics, the largely interchangeable nature of party affiliation and the widespread use of money - not only vis-à-vis the voters, but also in the internal nominating process within parties - all these elements weaken the political and ideological significance of Moroccan elections. The régime is thus caught in a paradox: while the feebleness of the partisan scene, which it has encouraged, is of course fully intentional, too weak a partisan and parliamentarian scene will only serve to discredit the régime's democratic discourse, vital if it is to continue to gain the political , diplomatic and economic support it so sorely needs from its Western sponsors (the Arab sponsors of the régime, being mainly Saudi Arabia and the UAE, couldn't bother less, of course).
September 07, 2007
Bin-Laden Versus Bin-Laden, same day
Osama bin-Laden on Sept. 7 2007* -- "19 young men were able, by the grace of [God], the Most High, to change the direction of [America's] compass."
Osama bin-Laden on, um, Sept 7, 2007 -- "burning living beings is forbidden by our religion, even if they be small like the ant, so what of men?"
In addition to terrorist, criminal, fanatic, and other filth-and-foul words, we can now add "what a fatuous dick".
Rock-bottom turnout in Morocco's general elections
According to official estimates just in, just about 41% of Morocco's 15 million registered voters bothered to vote (and you should know that only 79% of potential voters did register) in the general elections to the Moroccan Chamber of Representatives.
When even MEMRI has doubts...
...then you're in trouble, if you are Morocco's pro-US monarch, with good if quasi-clandestine and somewhat uneasy relations with Israel. For those who've been held incommunicado the last five or six years, MEMRI is an Israel-based think-tank, led by former Israeli military intelligence officer Yigal Carmon. It is not renowned for its subtlety or detached, fair and factual analysis of the Middle East or Islamic issues.
September 06, 2007
A candidate above all suspicion
When former deputy interior minister Fouad Ali El Himma (FAEH) resigned on August 7 in order to be a candidate in the dirt-poor rural constituency of Rhamna, where he was born, Moroccan politicos and commentators couldn't really make out whether this was a demotion after a supposed incident involving an inebriated FAEH is said to have made a scene at a Moroccan border-crossing awith the Spanish enclave of Sebta (Ceuta). The shape that his campaign has now taken tends to dispel any lingering doubts.
September 05, 2007
After Leb tarts and March 14, Moroccan babes and the PJD
Many Western bloggers were struck by the beauty of some of the female supporters - Leb tarts to cut it short - of the Lebanese March 14 movement. In a moment of human weakness a few of them admitted to letting their newly found sensitivity to gender issues determine their support for the Hariri/Ja'ja/Jumblatt block, in view of the perceived lack of competitive edge from the Hezbollah camp.
August 29, 2007
Preview of the Moroccan elections, part III
It is a very fitting symbol that former interior minister Driss Basri died today Monday of cirrhosis (he was a heavy drinker, as many sécuritaires tend to be nowadays), a few days into the official electoral campaign for the Moroccan House of Representatives (1). Deputy minister of the interior from to 1974 to 1977, he was Morocco's all-powerful minister of the interior from 1977 to a few months after the death of the late king, Hassan II, in 1999. If the few elections held before his time - general elections of 1963 and 1970, local elections of 1960 - were too few and perhaps too early to establish Morocco's democratic credentials (that of 1963 was clean while that of 1970 was a sham), the ones held thereafter were managed in a way that allowed him to run the whole gamut of his manipulative, divisive, corruptive and deeply undemocratic electoral techniques.
August 27, 2007
Economic Development, Risk Taking & Culture (or excessive attention to culture)
Taking cue from from my own Lounsbury comment, a slightly modified and updated set of thoughts on this IHT article: Egypt searches for a balance that rewards risk-takers while valuing the past, although as I said on The Lounsbury, to be fair it is an AP article.
While it has aspects of breathless gullibility, it's not without a discussion of evolving business culture...or aspirations of evolving business culture. But in advance of my comments, a few thoughts.
August 22, 2007
Preview of the Moroccan elections, Part II
In my previous post on the subject, I underlined the considerable constitutional preeminence afforded to the King of Morocco. But as if this wasn't enough, the judicial and institutional practice has gone even further in entrenching the absolute character of the Moroccan monarchy.
August 19, 2007
Preview of the Moroccan elections, Part I
Few people outside Morocco - and indeed inside Morocco as well - will have noticed that the elections to the House of Representatives (majliss annouab - chambre des représentants) is due in a few weeks time. They could be excused: as Ahmed Benchemsi, publisher of the independent weeklies Nichane and Tel Quel, wrote in an editorial which has led to his prosecution for crime of lèse-majesté, everyone in Morocco knows that the important decisions on the fate of the country have not been, are not, and will not be, for the elected representatives of the people to make.
July 31, 2007
Weapons for Everyone
As you might already have read, the United States has announced a massive arms package covering Israel, Egypt, and the Gulf countries. Guardian columnist Brian Whitaker, a Middle East expert, believes the deal is a bad idea, as it will inflame Sunni-Shia tensions throughout the region. While I have a great deal of respect for Mr. Whitaker, I must respectfully disagree with him and say I consider the deal a good idea overall.
July 25, 2007
Islamist Election & Moving MENA Forward: Stability and Investment
Some time back a good friend of mine in the Maghrebine banking community asked me my thoughts on what would happen if The Parti la Justice et le Développement (Justice & Development Party), the moderate Islamist party in Morocco won the upcoming elections - as they would clearly do in any free election, from an investment flow point of view. Or more succinctly - would people like me take money out of the market, re-balance to Tunisia, etc.
My answer was "depends" - although Moroccan politics is not something I follow terribly closely, PJD actually in the economic sphere has always struck me as being fairly economically liberal (given the francophone and Arab world benchmarks that is) - and I opined that us Anglo Saxon investors would actually like to see a government with better roots and thus probably better ability to move economic liberalisation forward. I was worried, though, that this answer might be too me. I submit, then, the results of the Turkish elections and London's reactioin as partial indication my gut read is on target.
(See also Abu Aardvark's thoughts on Arab world reaction to the elections and in particular re the pseudo-secularist "Moderates")
July 23, 2007
MENA Business, Liquidity, Speculation, Fatwas and Egyptian Belly Dancing
Being bored on the TGV, some time to catch up on comments. In this instance on various MENA economy items that caught my eye in the past month.
So, some quick reactions to the massive amount of liquidity flowing about the region now, and globally, and fatwas on IPOs. Sorry no actual Egyptian dancing as such, but the investment equivalent with Ministry of Finance blithering on.
(edited formatting 23/7/07 18h00 GMT+2)
July 12, 2007
Tunisia & Women's Rights: Real Developments?
I turn this issue over to a better-informed readership. A Globalist article argues that Tunisia provides a real regional model for a legislative and public policy system that would protect the rights and hopes of women in home and professional life, and do so consistent with religious sentiment and scholarship. "What really sets Tunisia apart from other Arab countries and most majority-Muslim states," Andrea Barron writes, "are its policies on marriage, divorce, child support, abortion, honor crimes and domestic violence. After all, what does it matter if a woman can attend university, own her own business and run for political office if she cannot choose her own husband and be free from violence perpetrated by her own family members?" So, are the benefits in Tunisian women's legal rights genuinely real; if so, have they been a cause or the effect of social changes? And where does the, ahem, not quite freedom-loving/democratic nature of the Ben Ali government fit in to all this, if at all?
June 18, 2007
Ayaan Anti-Hirsute Ali: Son of Deuteronomy of Gath
Monty Python's Life of Brian meets real life as this woman gets to speak in public as if she knows what she is talking about. Saracen-slayer Ayaan Hirsi Ali was speaking at the National Press Club and I accidentally heard it on the radio. At first I didn't know who it was until a stream of simple-minded inanities about Islam versus the West narrowed it down fast. No transcript available, only memory, but I had to belly-laugh and nearly spew as she explained Islam's rigidly came from the fact that it takes its Scriptures as literal and divinely authored unlike, um, Christianity. In the Christian Scriptures, she explained, the books are not fixed as being written by God, but are said to be written "by people . . . like Paul . . . and Deuteronomy." (That's exactly what I heard, folks.) What an expert guide for us on religion and progress! O, why did I have to be a Monty Python fan?
June 12, 2007
Desperately Seeking Sudan: Key War on Terror Ally
This Baltimore Sun story is not too much of a surprise for those who connect the dots and are somewhat informed. "Sudan has secretly worked with the CIA to spy on the insurgency in Iraq . . . . The relationship underscores the complex realities of the post-Sept. 11 world, in which the United States has relied heavily on intelligence and military cooperation from countries, including Sudan and Uzbekistan, that are considered pariah states for their records on human rights. "
Now does anyone know of any Hariri connection?
May 07, 2007
Sarkozy: The Mediterranean Union
Sarkozy’s proposal of a Mediterranean Union have been discussed a lot by French media, but with little substance. The fact is, there aren’t many details in the proposal anyway. From his party’s website:
Je favoriserai le développement des pays pauvres, en cessant d’aider les gouvernements corrompus, en mettant en place une Union méditerranéenne avec les pays du Sud
I will favor the development of poor countries, by stopping aid to corrupt governments, by creating a Mediterranean Union with southern countries
Since most countries of the South happen to be Arab and corrupt regimes, I wonder how his pro-colonial, pro-Israeli, “anti-corrupt” attitude is going to help him cooperate in building any kind of union with them.
April 28, 2007
France reflections: elections, Beurs, MENA, economy
As per The Lounsbury's suggestion, and following Ibn Kafka's extensive coverage of French elections, here are my two cents about them, Beurs, France and the MENA region and related economic bits.
Sunday's [May 6th] second round will most probably bring Sarkozy to French presidency. I have to say I'm very mixed up about this election. This round's vote is a matter of either gambling on Sarkozy, and risking what happened with Arab Americans, who happen to have voted George Bush in 2000, or choosing an economically destructive but marginally more risk averse community-wise choice with Segolene.
April 24, 2007
What's the proper going rate, bribery and work in Morocco
Via our aggregator (which perhaps is only slightly less well-known than our book reviews section, I stumbled across this review of reaction to the Casa bombings and vaguely related commentary. An item that I particularly noted was the reaction to a US story on film production of some nonsense I haven't seen, in particular with respect to the ... ahem facilitation payments paid. (Although I am now vaguely curious to see the film in question - I am sure somewhere in es-Seef there must be a pirated DVD source.) What I found in particular irritating was the tut-tutting about various issues like pay scales and delayed work.
April 14, 2007
Maghreb Madness: Reflexions on the Return of Al Qaeda
Shamefully late, as I began working on this (as some of the articles will indicate) in February. Pity I got busy, as it would have been useful to be ahead of the curve. But better late than never. (NDLR: this was written before the bombings in Casablanca 14 April, and has been updated and modified) Today and earlier in the week were grim days.
First, some general reflexions.
The developments in the Maghreb, Morocco and Algeria, are of course personally disturbing as my brief is North Africa, but beyond this personal business obsession this is a sign of reconstituted risk, and that the simmering frustration of the slums has not gone away. As our friend Ibn Kafka wrote on his blog several days ago with respect to Casablanca earlier this week, this is not merely electoral propaganda to check the Islamist parties. As he says, "The spectre of 16 May 2003 has returned among us." His post is well worth reading, and I will return to a key point later.
[nb: fixed link issue on WP article below]
Casablanca Breakfasts & Bombs
At the request of eerie, and following on my AM observation, a quick reflexion on the fact my fine hotel breakfast this AM was disturbed by a bomb. Well, two bombs really.
9:00 am GMT, two deluded fools blew themselves to bits thankfully only killing themselves and injuring some poor lady near the American cultural center.
[updated story: Guardian story
Saturday's two bombers detonated their explosives in the middle of a boulevard that runs behind the American Language Center, killing themselves and wounding a woman, the official said, adding that the three suspects were arrested in the neighborhood, which is dotted with high-rises, hotels and diplomatic missions, including the U.S. consulate.[end update]
After the arrests, another explosives belt was found beside an upscale hotel in the same neighborhood struck by the bombings, the Interior Ministry official said on condition of anonymity, citing ministry policy.
April 12, 2007
Algeria / al Qaeda in the Maghreb: Bombing & Open Discussion
April 05, 2007
Well, Golly: Egyptian Finance Comes to Town
Youssef Boutros Ghali, Egypt's Minister of Finance, will be giving his take -- perhaps a bad choice of words -- on the economy of Nile-dom right here in Potomac River City, aka Washington D.C., on Thursday, April 12 (reserve at the CATO Institute by 11 April). Full details are below the break, and here, the most important of which is "Cato Forums and luncheons are free of charge." D.C area Aqoulites are required to go, if they are below 32 and in any kind of University. Meanwhile, informed comments from all on the subject, including from our own regional finance hyperinformed but Masrophobic resident Id, are welcome.
March 19, 2007
Encore Rock the Casbah: Casablanca Terror & Mohammed al Faiz - A Proposal on Aid
I should start by admitting that that when our Permanent Anon inquired about Mohammed Faiz, I had a somewhat (or even rather) dismissive reaction. A dismissive reaction that was utterly wrong and misplaced. Faiz for those who don't know, is the supervisor and by family, owner, of an internet cafe in a poor neighbourhood in the Moroccan city of Casablanca who stopped an attempted bombing there.
My original reaction was, effectively, yeah, he did a good deed and possibly for his own interest (e.g. frightened he might get in trouble), so what?
On reflexion and on review of international and domestic press that effectively highlight the recidivist takfiri suicide bomber Raydi, I have changed my mind. And indeed apologize for my superficial reaction.
March 14, 2007
Rock the Casbah bis: Casablanca Bombings
Unfortunately I still lack time to delve into the Casablanca bombing this past weekend, and must soon to airport make, however a quick round-up of some materials I think are decent:
- Reuters - WP round up of the local Moroccan press indicating planning was perhaps more extensive than the initial event suggested. I'd note that I caught on the local Sat TV the Moroccan TV's images of the truck taking away the bombs. One rather big ass dump truck.
- WaPo backgrounder on the bombers whose profile rather resembles that of the 2003 bombers.
My observation, which is a prelude to my long-overdue and incomplete post on Maghreb spillover and drivers for the problem is the Poli Sci 'wisdom' re poverty and economic frustration not being drivers for Islamist neo-Salafi terror is bollocks. Some portion of course is purely ideological and would exist without any economic-situ driven radicalisation, but it is clear to me up close that a significant and important portion is driven by economic factors, and socio-economic frustration. That some radicals, espeically leaders come from more wealthy backgrounds says nothing about causation, any more than the presence of wealthy Left radicals in the 19th and early 20th centuries disproved a general observation of radicalisation being driven by economic issues in that period, in Europe, etc.
March 12, 2007
Charming bombs in Casablanca: Rock the Casbah as it were...
Hot off the presses (well, not so hot): man goes boom in internet cafe.
It appears I can look forward to increased frisking and other tediousness at the airport when I get in.
This prompts me to complete work on a note re Maghreb and US FP idiocy spill over that is making our lives gratuitously more dangerous.
February 17, 2007
Arab unity, saved by the dinar
In the latest of Qaddafi's changes of mood, it has been decided to impose a visa to Maghrebi citizens visiting Libya among others. This is not the first violation of the agreements that guarantee freedom of movement in the Maghreb. But while violating agreements in MENA is a common sport that might have little impact in practice - most of them haven't been worth the paper they're written on since their inception - this one in particular could have seriously hurt the interests of both Tunisia and Libya itself.
January 19, 2007
Language rivalries in the Maghreb
The persistence of French as a vehicle for knowledge and trade in the region decades after its independence was unexpected. French was supposed to be a transitional phenomenon for the newly independent Maghreb. So far though, it has prevailed against both native and foreign languages that might have pushed it away.
January 05, 2007
Saddam Execution & Recent Events: A Moroccan Perspective
The casual reader of Tel Quel, a trendy francophone Moroccan weekly, or, to a lesser extent, of Le Journal hebdomadaire, might be forgiven for thinking that the average Moroccan is more interested in the depenalisation of cannabis, the right to convert to Southern Baptism or whether algebra will be taught in Tamazight than in events in the Middle East. One Tel Quel journalist wrote "Je n’aime pas le Hezbollah" ("I don't like Hezbollah"), thus showing how disconnected this magazine is from the broad strands of Moroccan public opinion - fiercely pro-Palestinian, pro-Hezbollah and anti-US.
December 27, 2006
Mubarak presses for democratic change
The actual online headline from FT, as written by some chickie stringer. And an FT editor, no doubt in a rush, approved.
Amusing in and of itself. However, it does convey useful information on the Pharaoh's great push for Pharaonic democracy, which seems to be similar to People's Democracy as practiced by Khrushchev. Or maybe Brezhnev. Also a fine reflexion point for the gullible fools who were touting a "Mideast Spring" and Great Victory for Bush ibn Bush last year because of Maronite tarts painting flags on their Mediterranean bosoms.
Meanwhile onto the Arab News stringer that accidentally got herself published in FT.
December 22, 2006
The Last Umayyad
On December 24th 1568, Don Fernando de Válor was crowned King of Cordoba and Granada. A little-known event in the history of European Islam, the revolt of the Moriscos - or the Alpujarra War - was one of the darkest episodes in a series of events leading to the destruction and disappearance of native Muslims from Western Europe up to the 20th century.
The revolt was set amongst a rare confluence of motives and interests: those of the Inquisition and part of the Castilian nobility eager to take over the Moriscos' lands, and those of a Spanish crown fearing the presence of a potential fifth column while fighting the Ottoman Empire for dominance in the Mediterranean.
October 24, 2006
Sudan's North, East, South, West; Whose Peace Treaty is the Best?
Another day, another peace treaty. Eastern Sudanese factions signed a peace deal with the Sudanese government earlier this week ending the convoluted, if less bloody and less publicised, uprising in the east of the country. Since the Naivasha treaty, which ended the long-running war between the North and the South, there have been two more treaties, one with rebel factions in Darfur and the latest with Eastern rebels. But have any of these treaties any promise? Sudanese President Omar el-Bashir declared, very much reminscent of a mother who had given her children too much candy, "This is the LAST peace treaty!" and, after a short pause, "to be negotiated outside the country."
Judging from the inherent weakness of the agreements themselves, and the Sudanese government's unfolding willingness (I will stop short of 'eagerness') to accomodate the immediate demands of rebels, it is not unreasonable to expect more uprisings, and/or more importantly, the disintegration of the current peace treaties as well.
October 02, 2006
The reality of Islam and the Republic
I almost missed this fairly important note in the Financial Times on European Islam and the wild-eyed whinging that seems to be becoming the rage in certain circles in North America regarding the Muslim minority in Europe: The reality of Islam and the Republic.
First, the author of the opinion piece, FT’s European Editor, has an excellent summary of the mythology, playing off of a recent publication, Integrating Islam: Political And Religious Challenges in Contemporary France.
September 27, 2006
Solidarity, Reg: Maghreb, Outsourcing and Reaction
One of the issues that the United States has gotten right in MENA is its sometime concentration (when the gross fabulists that are political leadership of the Bush Administration are not dreaming up imaginary and magical transformations of a New Middle East, in time to render themselves ridculous and fools, e.g. Lebanon) on economic liberalisation as means to grow the region and provide new opportunity. It would do better to focus more on seeing real liberalisation see the day, and let its completely magical thinking about democratisation fall by the wayside.
The political support for such liberalisation contrasts favourably with the absurd double talk Europe engages in with respect to economic policy, above all France (which of course is no worse and in many ways better informed than the self-decieving fabulism the Americans are engaging in on the political 'democratisation' front). The Financial Times has an important article, although one not likely to be noticed by many, on the clash between Axa unions in France and the company over its plans to outsource to the Maghreb.
September 26, 2006
Indigènes: Underlining fallacious framing
I thought I might return to a film that I have mentioned in the past since it is now out in the cinemas, at least in Europe, Indigènes, which tells a story that, as a French historian puts it in his discussion of the film, has been "obscured" in French and generally in Western recounting of WWII (and Maghrebine of their own history, at least following the anti-colonial reaction). I confess my personal interest arises from a family connexion with the tale, insofar as one of my grandfathers was a naval officer transported these fellows across the Med...
That is, the participation - indeed the dominant role of Muslim African (be they Maghrebine or sub-Saharan) soldiers in the "French" army liberating France - an item that I have mentioned in the past in connexion with the idiocy of ignoramuses such as Irshad Manji tying the Islamic world to the Nazis. It is also an item of interest in reflecting on the fallaciousness of simple minded Clash of Civilisation whanking on.
August 17, 2006
MENA Trade, Business Culture & Americans
While I confess this note is in part motivated by my desire to have an excuse to share this cartoon from the Moroccan business daily, l'Economiste from yesterday's - 16 Aug edition. This was emailed to me yesterday, and is worthy of a good laugh, I thought it also worthwhile to undertake some reflexions on both the subject matter and some generalisations about practical issues.
[Crossposted from The Lounsbury]
"Macaque" Ado: North African Linguists Needed
Here in the USA, George Allen Jr., candidate for governor of the Commonwealth (that's "State" if one is less pedantic) of Virginia, is in hot water for referring to a dark-skinned Indian-descended opposition activist as a "macaca". Allen's people sort of claim it was improvised gibberish, but now it is recalled that macaque is a kind of monkey, and furthermore, that Allen is a good French speaker and Allen's mom was a Tunisian-raised Francophone of European heritage. Tell us, o Aqoul sages of North African and francophonic wisdom, is there a "there" there, to that accusation? Has French-style bigotry really made Allen deaf to what he himself is saying, proving indeed that Le Pen is mightier than Le Sourd?
August 06, 2006
Sarkozy, Lebanon & French Arabs
[Editor's Note: Our occasional contributor Shaheen sent us this interesting note on Euro-Arab developments re Lebanon and French policy]
French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy's recent remarks about Lebanon (for those who don't understand French, he's basically siding with Israel) infuriated quite a few French Arabs (once more). Yet, the ascending interior minister and probable next president is the story of a big failure from French Arabs' part, first and foremost.
July 11, 2006
French Immigration Policy: Proactive vs. Endured
Editor's Intro: While the subject matter of our commentator, Shaheen, may seem far afield from our Middle East-North Africa concerns, in fact the problems of French immigration laws, French labour laws and the like are really 'domestic' to North Africa. French models are slavishly copied by the North African states, and the environment in France especially has large echoes back in the Maghreb where hundreds of thousands of French residents return like lemmings every year. Both directly then, and indirectly, this has a large social, political and legal echo in the Maghreb, and especially in connexion with the lack of economic opportunity and cancerous growth of ghettos - in France, in Europe and yes, in the Maghreb itself. Certainly this editor deeply believes that 'social exclusion' tied to ethnicity is a key driver of extremism. Eerie, our benevolent Editor in Chief and myself are grateful to Shaheen for taking the time to comment with an insider's view of the situ. - The Lounsbury
June 27, 2006
Denouncing the 'Islamofascists': Ambivalence & Rhetoric
As any regular reader knows, I rather despise the idiotic term "Islamofascist" as both technically inaccurate (at least for Sunni Islamists) and aesthetically displeasing. A bad, clumsy and frankly dim attempt to dredge up the misty memories of WWII and the 'good fight' against the Nazis. I'd have preferred if its pimps (notably Sullivan, who is often dim in this area) had chosen say a Commie reference, which given Arab Socialist influences on Islamist thinking in areas like economics, would at least have had some relevance to reality.
However, I noted that the controversial Moroccan French language weekly, Tel Quel has in its recent edition adopted the same sort of discourse as illustrated in its cover "The New Fascists".
June 14, 2006
It would be very easy to watch the match between Saudi Arabia and Tunisia, the only two Arab teams in the World Cup, and to essentialize based on it. To begin with, no one in the Saudi squad plays for a foreign club - the players do rather well for themselves in their domestic league, which has low standards. The European teams have always been streets ahead of the Arab ones, and even the Sub-Saharan African teams have come impressively far, while the Arabs have lagged behind. Indeed, one would be surprised if the analogy didn't extend to loads of people secretly (or not-so-secretly) hoping the Americans would fail miserably.
June 02, 2006
'Strategic Victimhood' in Darfur: Opportunities Lost and Lessons Learned
'Strategic victimhood', not a term one often hears in relation to Darfur, any remotely realistic and undramatic approach to the issue has been met with accusations of cynicism and apathy towards a 'genocidal' campaign rivalled only by Rwanda and Burundi. Thankfully, some voices of reason have recently managed to dodge the simplistic black or white perspective and treat the issue as something other than a good vs. evil classic morality tale.
May 30, 2006
Media Savior Secularism: Ruthless Business Empires & Making Liberalism in the Arab World
It is not often I have the occasion to combine three of my negative obsessions: secularist posing, corruption and Egypt into one comment. But uniqely an FT article from 21 May by Roula Khalaf and William Wallis allows me to do just that, covering Orascom, the Egyptian telecoms & everything else giant's plans to launch a Sat TV news channel.
Orascom, whose...non-virginal business practices in region (including some fine accusations of bribery in the context of Iraqi and North African cell tenders) do not immediately lead me to think of its owner as a secular savior - rather as part of the business as usual sorts.
May 23, 2006
Morocco The Model! (Or Our Superficial Stereotypes Are Poorly Informed)
I stumbled across a funny (to me) "model" arty in the ideo-rag (I am not a fan of ideological papers) The Weekly Standard after stumbling across this attempt at writing on Islam, Elsewhere in Islam, itself deserving in comment (acerbic but fair comment, as I think the arty needs a whack in the side of the head on some factual and interpretive issues, but it's at least an honest effort): The Moroccan Model: A beacon of hope in the Islamic world.
I am sure regular readers are aware I am a fan of the Maghreb generally and Morocco in particular (although I have a warm spot in my heart for Tunisia as well, and why not Libya and Algeria as well?), so perhaps I should receive a fannish article on Morocco warmly. There is certainly something to be said for noticing that the Islamic or even the Arab or even the Mediterranean Arab world consists of countries besides Egypt and Saudi Arabia. And some of the article I agree with or perhaps better, some of the article did not lead me to think of running the author over with a car to spare the world further ill-informed bad writing.
May 16, 2006
Maghrebine Media II
Now that we have had our little side trip on Somali-Dutch immigration politics (fulfilling all desire on my part to touch on the same, although at Reason.com one can pursue one’s desire to comment on the irrational reactions) , I thought I might return to something rather more profound, that being media in the Maghreb and the recent Moroccan steps to liberalisation.
May 15, 2006
Maghrebine Media Makeovers: Morocco Issues Radio & TV Licenses - Liberalising or Potemkin Media
Following up on some prior exchanges with Issandr Bey of The Arabist, I thought I might take a moment to give a summary of the results of an item we touched on, liberalisation of the Moroccan broadcast market. Let me also try to do some value added original commentary as well, if only for the novelty value – I have terribly neglected such in my long-whinging on about tumours and the like.
The Conseil supérieur de la communication audiovisuelle (CSCA) issued the first approvals for private broadcast licenses (excepting some limited prior efforts), one television via satellite by the Médi 1 group, Médi1 Sat, and 11 radio projects.
May 04, 2006
Morocco, Journos and Media bis, a reply
This is a bit tardy, but Issandr Bey of the Arabist had a comment on my somewhat ill-tempered take on the Moroccan journal, Le Journal Hebdo libel case judgment as well as more generally on the media there and some related developments.
As a distraction from working on a market proposal which I haven’t got the proper information on regardless, I thought I might expand on my comment on The Arabist reply.
April 27, 2006
I thought that since the discussion has gotten longish, that a link to my comment on a recent quality Emily Wax Op Ed on Dar Fur and the muddled thinking on the same is in order.
April 26, 2006
Sinai: the Bombing Fad, Egypt and the decline of good solid craftmanship
Well, it appears as if a whole fad for the youngsters has broken out in the Egyptian Sinai, bombing the neighbors.
While I am sure it is all good clean fun the Egyptian state wil take a dim view of what it claims is the Sinai Bedouine's new hobby.
April 24, 2006
Takfiri Encore: Dahab, Egypt Resort Bombed
Sadly it appears that the murderous Takfiri / al-Qaeda scum have struck again, in Dahab, the quasi hippy-ish Egyptian resort on the Red Sea coast of the Sinai.
Initial Reuters reporting suggests bombing of the Dahab market area. Dahab is heavily frequented by Egyptians, although foreigners also have a presence there.
Al Jazeera has an initial report of 12 dead and 90 injured.
[Updated: FT has via William Wallace and Heba Saleh Bombs in Egypt point to desert terrorists an interesting article on the Daheb bombings]
April 23, 2006
Morocco & Media bis: Activist Pimping & Sober Reality (Updated)
Our dear friend, Bou Ardvrk once again (as a media specialist would) has another comment on the Moroccan media that has managed to annoy me somewhat, although it raises an important problem
The annoyance stems from his using as center piece some ill-written exagerated activist squeeling from "Open Democracy" - which appears to be some naive bit of internet activist pseudo-journalism site for those who believe in democracy. I suppose I also believe in democracy, although I do not particularly believe in internet activism or democracy activists.
However, the underlying issue, the Moroccan government's apparent new tactic in using court cases to slap down media that have gotten "out of line" and the highly peculiar circumstances of the case in question, Le Journal Hebdomidaire, a weekly of relatively recent vintage with quite a lot of spunk - although also with somewhat questionable journalistic standards. But then one could write that about any media organ in Morocco come to think of it.
April 16, 2006
Egypt: Fear and Anger for Copts in Alexandria
The Arabist links to a remarkable first-hand account by an Alexandrian blogger, Jar al Qamar of a knife attack on an Alexandria church, and what happened after. As tempers rise, the National Democratic Party rides to the rescue:
April 11, 2006
Morocco: Pimping Pleasure or Stalling Out? (Economist)
The present Economist contains an intriguing article covering part of my brief, and a somewhat neglected corner of the MENA world, Morocco. Morocco attracts rather little attention in the "Anglo Saxon" world, despite having racked up some interesting political and economic wins in the past year, so perhaps a quick commentary then on the article, and the state of things in this rather strategically located country.
February 25, 2006
Customary Marriage and Paternity Testing Laws in Egypt
A recent landmark case regarding paternity testing in Egypt has brought the issue of customary marriage and the backwardness of Egyptian paternity legislation into the spotlight.
The reason the case caught the attention of so many is that it involved the young son of a famous Egyptian acting couple. Sumia al-Ulfi and Farouq el-Fishawi are now estranged but their son Ahmed upon reaching his early twenties was propelled into the limelight due to his parentage and good looks. The twist that made the case even more explosive is the fact that Ahmed, just as his acting career was taking off, rejected his Westernised background and career and instead embraced the principles of Islam, becoming the poster boy for the Amr Khaled (popular noveau trendy preacher) generation and the campaign to call Muslim youth back to their roots.
February 19, 2006
On Morocco, Investment & Islamist Promotion
Without further comment In Morocco, a Gray Area for Growth, by Hoagland, a not bad op-ed (if superficial factually) that at least poses challenges to some of the more simple minded phobia with respect to Islamism.
February 15, 2006
Maghreb & Rumsfeld (Updated)
Following up on my earlier post on Rumsfeld and his commenton the Maghreb, a somewhat clearer article from FT on the trip:
A bit of commentary on the idiocies (required in large part, but still idiocies):
Bungled Mideast Policy or Wrongheaded Criticism
I am not the biggest fan of the US Administration and its Middle East policy, that is certain. Indeed, I rather consider them a bunch of congenital and serial incompetent bunglers whose policies may be described with Talleyrand's "Worse than a crime, a blunder."
One might expect, then, I might be in agreement with the opinions voiced by the Democratic party opposition in this article from Reuters:
US bungles Middle East policy, lawmakers tell Rice
By Sue Pleming
Well, I am not. Sadly the criticism, rather than being well-founded, is largely based on the same kind of simple-minded magical thinking and wishful-thinking-as-analysis that has led the Bush Administration astray so very badly so many times. Criticism about Hamas rather than Fatah winning the elections in Palestine, for example. As if the US has a magic wand to wave to make the 'good guys' of the moment win (or forgetting that using such wands that do exist to achieve 'victory' for one's favoured side can be rather Pyrrhic, ending up with damaged goods).
February 12, 2006
Dim, Dim, Dim: Maghreb not an al Qaeda kinda place because...
Leaving aside the main thrust of the arty in question from The Financial Times (that being the US planning or considering to sell arms to the nasty little clique of generals in Algeria), the American Specialist in Idiotic Statements & Failed Occupations, had this to say about the Maghreb and al Qaeda:
Before arriving in Tunisia on Saturday, Mr Rumsfeld said he did not believe the Maghreb was a likely place for al-Qaeda to take root because extremism was not tolerated by the governments of Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria.
Bloody idiot. What a complete bloody idiot. Why has this completely deluded fucking incompetent egocentric bumbler not been axed? Or in the alternative, how long can the American policy establishment continue its deluded focus on States alone?
Morocco: Democracy, Facile Journo Idiocy on Moderation and Islamism
As a general matter, English language materials on the Maghreb almost never fail to annoy me. Here The Washington Post manages to do so: Feud With King Tests Freedoms In Morocco.
Having long had ... how to put it? Contact? Yes, contact with the group in question (long story, goes back a long ways), Adl wal Ihsane and been familiar with the Yassines, I have rather mixed feelings about the conflict described in the article. On one hand, being generally in favour of bringing Islamist groups into politics, I am generally in favour of engagement with Adl wa Ihsane. On the other hand, this particular dispute and the disingenous spin the Yassines are using rather annoys - well more the gullible lapping up of the same in certain anglophone quarters rather annoys.
February 06, 2006
Cartoon Outrage: Salafist Entrepreneurial Behaviour, Manufacturing Incidents & the Problem of Moderation [Updated]
There seems hardly any reason to provide links to this ever-escalating cycle of utter contemptible idiocy, so let me make this more or less purely opinion and my own personal analysis. I would be remiss, however, if I did not pimp our very own summary page on the Danish – Mohammed Cartoon Controversy.
I also would like to point to a fine round up of online commentary as well as highlight our dear Raf Bey’s contribution: “Why do the Syrians burn embassies but the Iranians don't?” In addition, to return a citational favour well-deserved, I point to Clive Davis’ blog commentary, and in particularly this most recent summary of rational commentary on the riots. One has to agree with his observation that the commentary he cites is “more helpful than one of Christopher Hitchens' thunderbolts on "the case for mocking religion".” Juvenile exercise of expression, but then we should be used to Hitchens being a cretin with regards to the MENA region.
The Lounsbury Discussion on the Issue
[Update: reading Wikipedia I found an online link - no longer working - to the/an Arabic dossier on the cartoons written by the Denmark group of Imams. Having given it a speed read, it appeared to me that while the dossier was written post-facto to their official meetings, its Arabic text did clearly indicate the incendiary 'extra cartoons' were not published, but were ones received by certain unidentified protest leaders, post their public protests in Denmark. That makes the provence of the cartoons less doubtful to me. The dossier was not inherently unreasonable in tone, although certainly disputable, and clearly reflected an agenda, one which I continue to think reflects the Salafist extremist fringe]
[Update II: A very interesting note thanks to Clive's comment, Danish paper rejected Jesus cartoons; they were apparently offensive and unfunny. Ahem. Well. In other notes re the same article, someone desperately needs to give Muslim activists a lesson in marketing: the European Committee for Prophet Honouring just sounds... silly.]
February 02, 2006
Polio no longer endemic in Egypt
Says The World Health Organization. For the first time in a recorded history going back many thousand years, says some guy from the Egyptian health ministry. Huzzah, says I.
(Is there a point to this, other than it just being nice to report some good news occasionally? Maybe just that public health is one of those things that even the most godawful corrupt useless governments can get right.)
January 29, 2006
France, Islam & Discrimination: Further to the idiocy of the "European Intifada"
Further to my ongoing comments of the situation in France, the riots that some ill-informed, bigotted or just plain stupid commentators blew up into a "Muslim intifada" in Europe, an interesting article on current French efforts on addressing rampant discrimination in France.
(A side set of reading by the way from 2003, note the prescient commentary, intifada my ass, I note there is a clear connexion with MENA directly, besides the issue of Muslim minorities in Europe and the potential echoes within the Islamic word, the parallels in terms of illiberal economies with severe labour rigidities leading to high unemployment and difficulties in findings jobs)
A few comments, then.
January 25, 2006
The Strange Case of Berber Language Instruction
Apparently Morocco is finally introducing instruction in Berber, the language spoken by the majority of the population, into the public school system. (For that matter, can you think of any other country where the absolute population majority doesn't have its language taught in schools? Not a discrete geographic region, or even an autonomous region, but a whole country? I can’t.)
Maghreb & Islamic Liberalism: Superficialities & Hope for a Liberalising State, Islamic Feminism, etc
Returning to commentary, although forewarning this is post chemo and may lack a certain clarity:
Via Daniel Drezner's post on That's some interesting Islam in Morocco, I found this article from Der Spiegel on Morocco - one of my favourite countries in the MENA region - discussing Mohammed VI's efforts to modernise the socio-political culture:
Compare, by the way, to this article from almost six years ago:
An interesting, but rather flawed article I would say.
January 12, 2006
Democracy, red in tooth and claw
This is an excerpt of something I wrote elsewhere, a retrospective on the Egyptian elections.
"Democracy," said President Anwar Sadat after the suppression of the bread riots of 1977, "has fangs and claws."
In all, only 145 of the NDP's 432 candidates won their elections. But it would be wrong to see this as the mark of a party in crisis. Safwat al-Sherif and Kamal al-Shazli, the NDP's veteran fixers, were soon they were boasting that a further 166 ”independents” had been absorbed into the ranks of the party – just as they had in elections past – giving the NDP its crucial two-thirds majority.
While most have focused, understandably, on the vicious mêlées that marked so much of the voting, the elections provided a brief, illuminating glimpse into the complex dynamics at the heart of the Egyptian political system. The NDP's losses; the Ikhwan's successes; the jostling, hustling bargaining as “independents” were reabsorbed into the NDP: gone were any illusions of party discipline, of manifesto pledges or coherent policies. What remained was a tangled, shifting spider's web of influence, of wasta. Across the country, local luminaries called in favours, leant on allies, bullied enemies and paid hard cash to mobilise whatever support they could.
January 04, 2006
On Morocco, Some Professional Observations for Liberals Against AKA Some Other Stupid Name
I noted in visiting the main pratike blog Liberals AKA something other ridiculous name a post on Morocco. Given my long connexion with the Maghreb and specifically Morocco, and ongoing professional ties, I thought some comments are in order, to educate.
December 27, 2005
Dar Fur spillovers: Tchad and a State of War
Thanks to The Skeptic الشكاك (I rather like the blog name by the way, الشكاك, a new development in Dar Fur, one that might have been expected but regardless is interesting for potential implications.
Added: synthesis: My apologies, my initial posting I see is... ahem, somewhat hard to follow. I blame it on the various narcotics and the like for this bloody disease eating my lung. The executive summary is (i) the leader of Tchad declared his country to be in a state of belligerence with the Sudan, (ii) at the same time French General Henri Bentegeat visited French forces in the immediate area issuing a statement « La France condamne toute tentative de prise du pouvoir par les armes » (France condemnes any attenpt to take power by force of arms).
Taken in context, the French are clearly sending a shot across the bows of elements in the Tchad-Soudan border area that might get frisky.
It appears Idriss Idriss Deby, President of Tchad has 'declared' war on Sudan after a fashion. To quote:
In a statement, the government calls on Chadians to mobilise themselves against Sudanese aggression.
Relations between the two states have deteriorated since Chad accused Sudan of being behind Sunday's attack on Adre, which left about 100 people dead.
The strong language in the statement will alarm observers who have already warned that tensions along the Chad-Sudan border are nearing breaking point.
December 22, 2005
Egyptian Journalist Mona Eltahawy Questioned on Election Column
We've been teasing below but no jokes or banter this entry; this is serious.
Egyptian journalist Mona Eltahawy's just-issued International Herald Tribune op-ed has been published. It argues that "our recent parliamentary elections with their paltry 25 percent turnout would have been roundly condemned by international observers had they been allowed to come and see how the state hijacked democracy." She has been regularly reporting on the elections and the accompanying problems.
This has caused disturbing repercussions. A source reliably familiar with the post-publication situation confirms that expressing this opinion has resulted in Ms. Eltahawy being officially summoned to the Egyptian State Security for a brief meeting in which a message was conveyed that she was in trouble and being monitored. Persons, especially outside Egypt, interested in the situation may consider noting their concerns to the following organizations.
December 08, 2005
More on Egypt's Election Dilemma
Mona Eltahawy strikes again with another look at the recent rounds of Egyptian elections and finds not enough to like in either the government or the main opposition. In the latter case, she finds their stand on women's rights frightening even, and especially, when it is advanced by women.
"We must not be silenced out of misplaced sympathy just because . . . the government went out of its way to arrest and harass Brotherhood voters . . . . We condemn the violence and the vote rigging but we must not be guilt tripped into silently accepting the Muslim Brotherhood's positions."
December 02, 2005
Egypt’s Elections: Progress or Regress? Masri Misery?
Quizzical readers! It costs no quid to equip oneself by quitting over to this exquisite enquirer for quick disquisitions on the quinellas of Egypt’s requisitioned elections of quislings and inquisitors .
More substance, and less art and alliteration: seems the recent elections left a lot to be desired in the "genuine democracy" category. See Mona Eltahawy's latest in al-Sharq al-Awsat for the latest on Masri misery.
November 20, 2005
Items to Amuse: Morocco accounces an al-Qaeda network broken
Well, via the national media I am led to understand that Morocco has broken a terror network tonight (or very recently).
Perhaps this explains the wierdness with the 50th anniversary celebrations with last minute announcements and changed venues, and all that.
I have to suspect things might have been a bit tight.
November 15, 2005
Morocco-Sahara issue before US Congress
Sorry to bog down the site with too much contemporary politics and dreaded American stuff, but the Maghreb-oriented readers in the USA may wish to note the following event in Washington D.C.
Thursday, November 17, 2005 1:30 p.m.
Oversight Hearing: Getting to "Yes": Resolving the 30 - Year Conflict over the Status of the Sahara
November 11, 2005
Last item on France, Muslims & the Maghreb
Sadly I have little time to devout to what is clearly an important topic at present, which is indeed the riots in France, their meaning and the storm of ill-informed English language commentary on the same. Unfortunately such trivial issues as valuing illiquid assets pledged as capital contributions, fund structures and other fine things require my time.
France and the Riots - The (Partial) Myth of the 'Arab' 'intefada'
I briefly, in lieu of more extended commentary, draw attention to this article from the conservative Le Figaro regarding the makeup, per the police, of rioters at present: Davantage de Noirs chez les émeutiers:
Au-delà des rivalités entre ces différentes vagues d'immigration qui se rejettent la responsabilité de la dégradation de leurs quartiers, policiers et travailleurs sociaux ont maintes fois signalé, sans jamais pouvoir la chiffrer, l'augmentation de la délinquance des jeunes issus de l'immigration africaine.Au cours des dernières nuits d'émeutes, «il y avait plus de Noirs que de Maghrébins», confirment les policiers de la Seine-Saint-Denis.
For those who do not read French, the quote indicates that leaving aside rivalries between different waves of immigration, each of which reject responsibility for the degradation of their neighborhoods, police and social workers have frequenly noted that, without being able to give figures, the augmentation of deliquency among youth from the African immigrant community. In recent nights of rioting, 'There were more Blacks than Maghrebines' confirmed police from Seine-Saint-Denis.
I have noted consistently the mirage and delusional quality of the bigotted assertions in the Anglo blog world about the Arab-Muslim character of the riots (assertions that continue even now), when anyone with a decent familiarity with the 'immigrant' (albeit native born 'immigrants' but this being France, native born darkies are, well 'immigrants.') districts knows the
October 24, 2005
On regional economies and competitive advantages: McKinsey & A Comment on the Maghreb (plus a perso reference)
McKinsey has published a short note in its Quarterly based off of its recent (and still secret) report to the Moroccan government on what it should do to stop being such a medoicre performer, entitled:
Morocco's Off-Shoring Advantage
More comments later, link is to the abstract, full content requires membership.
As an aside, I may be looking to hire a translator, see the Lounsbury blog for details.
October 17, 2005
On Subsidies and Incompetence: How Social Solidarity Rings Hollow
In checking today's edition of the Moroccan business daily "L'Economiste" (most famous in my circles for having a bit back published an article on banking that included the inadvertent (or so one would hope) text: "My love I want to lick you everywhere.") online I was quite amused by the front pager on the inconveniences of the totally batty and absurd petrol products subsidies program.
The underlying article conveys the detials, which are essentially because the grossly incompetent (from a current planning perspective) Finance Ministry has refused to acknowledge the reality of USD 50/barrel prices and has planned its subsidies program (which was de-indexed from the market a few years back in a fit of stupidity) against (as I recall) 20 odd dollars/barrel, the government is 5 billion Moroccan dirhams in the hole to the local distributors and refiners. That's roughly 470 million USD at current prices.
A non-trivial sum.
The point here is the idiocy of the subsidies to begin with, which are boosting consumption at a time of accelerating prices, while doing nothing to help the country address conservation issues. At the very least they should be bloody indexed.
This entirely leaves aside the fact that despite the prattle about social solidarity, the untargetted subsidy actually is gives more to industrial users at the expense of taxpayers than to the poor. A targetted subsidy to say a certain size of butagaz (the weiner nat gas bottles the poor use to cook and do just about anything) might be rational.
However, this is precisely the sort of irrational economic policy that if the country is forced to lift it, the drooling morons in the anti-globo left will squeel on about oil companies and Big Business, etc. etc.
October 13, 2005
Radio Sawa - Morocco: The Legal Status Scandal (small addition)
Some news earlier this week reminded me of a small tiff that arose in the past few months between the Moroccan "Higher Broadcasting Authority" (known by its French acronym, HACA) and Radio Sawa and the US government by extension. Something for Aardvarks in general I should suppose.
The issue revolves (or revolved if the reports are right) around the status of HACA as the independent media regulator (this is relatively recent but nevertheless the case for a while now), and the requirement that broadcasters obtain regular licenses from HACA by August 2005.
As the sharp reader might have divined, Sawa did not.
In effect, the United States took the position that Sawa needed no license as it is in fact a governmental agency covered by a bilateral accord authorising the Voice of America.
October 12, 2005
Migration, Economics & MENA-African pileups
While I may be banging away at an issue of little general interest, I was encouraged to find something of relevance to the rising issue of Euro-African migration and the Maghreb in the last issue of the Economist.
Be my guest
The economic case for temporary migration is compelling; the historical record less so
Oct 6th 2005
(Yes subscription, don't like it? Fuck off then and read some free twaddle.)
For those puzzled, my reference is to the recent problem emerging in the Maghreb and especially Morocco with its land border with the Spanish enclaves Ceuta and Mellila, which I mentioned in my typically light weight Illegal Immigration - Borders & Madness and The Maghreb-African Immigration Problem
October 11, 2005
Ramadan TV & Terror
Of interest to the media, terror and culture people here, a fine little story on a Ramadan soap that I have been following (or rather, am forced to follow unless I hole myself up in my office) on MBC: Syria launches terror-themed soap for Ramadan.
I caught this referenced online somewhere, but had actually been watching the series without knowing where it was going, although the last episode (10 September on MBC) gave the game away with the somewhat dime Khaliji character getting brainwashed by a ultra-Salafi takfiri type activist. That and the chica who is the implied wheel-chair bound narrator pulling or slipping back her hidjab to show nasty scarring.
October 09, 2005
The Maghreb-African Immigration Problem
It appears the issue which I first started noting roughly two weeks ago (see esp. Illegal Immigration - Borders & Madness: Mass Attempts at the Spanish-Moroccan border) has hit the big time with live European and al-Jazeerah coverage of explusions today, Sunday and round-ups of what is said to be thousands of 'illegal' migrants.
It appears, per al-Jazeerah reporting, that Algeria has closed its borders amidst reports that Moroccan authorities have been dumping expelled non-citizens from Mellila and Ceuta across the border.
October 06, 2005
For Dar Fur Day (Updated) [realised it's actually Darfur Fast (sic)]
In honor of this ridiculous, pretentious and foolish event scheduled for 6 October (a day of fasting during Ramadan, how... navel gazing North American whinging activist), I would like to draw your attention to this old post of mine on the issue of Dar Fur: Darfur - On Racism, On Ignorance, On Laziness and just plain stupidity (and Arab responses) as well as this from 'Aqoul, Critiquing the Arab World.
As an added bonus and in part prompted by my annoyance with the annoying little whinging idiot of an ill-informed stereotypical student 'activist' git, I thought I would provide a new link to a Dutch analysis of the Dar Fur issue entitled: Darfur: The logic behind the conflict, from the Dutch journal RISQ: Review of International Social Questions.
Rather makes the same points I have in regards to the miss framing of this (and I would add the nasty substition of anti-black sub-African prejudice for equally unenlightened anti-"Arab" prejudice).
Our friend The Father of Aardvarks has an interesting little piece drawing attention to a new report on Arab radio from the Arab Advisors Group; a very solid media advisory group founded a few years back (I should disclose that I know one of the founders, and have done business with him).
Our fine Father of Aardvarks, or Bou Aradvraak as I like to call him, largely concetrates on the public policy angle, which is important, but I find the business angle as interesting.
October 04, 2005
Ramadan Competition (updated)
Once again we have the peculiar situation of Ramadan beginning on different days in the region
Middle East Muslims begin Ramadan. Although not noted, Morocco and Tunisia, like Oman are going to start a day later.
Whether true or not, there is widespread perception (among Maghrebines) that these decisions (in the case of Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria) are political - to show "indepedence."
A queer dynamic.
[An Update & Clarification]
Per a comment made, I believe I should expand and clarify for certain sub-literates who were or are unable to parse this and thus came to the rather queer understanding this comment was motivated by a lack of understanding of how Ramadan works:
October 03, 2005
Morocco: Rulership & Development (Edited - Updated)
Daniel Drezner noted an interesting if somewhat weak article in The New York Times on Morocco in the context of asking how MENA states can transition to real rule of law
I call the article weak as it failed to properly differentiate the Moroccan royal context from the rest of the region - a context I would call relatively unique given the fairly deep historical depth of the monarchy, its combined historical political (pre and post colonial) and religious (Alaouites are shurfa) legitimacy in most circles and the recent role of M6 (Mohammed the Sixth's popular nickname in Morocco) in liberalisation.
This is a far cry away from the made up Kings of Jordan, the President-Kings of the rest of the region.
Of course that does not make the Royals of Morocco invulnerable nor infallible. However, their roots of political power and legitimacy run far deeper than most MENA governments.
[Edit to note an addition re a comment on Drezner's blog: see end of entry]
September 30, 2005
Illegal Immigration - Borders & Madness: Mass Attempts at the Spanish-Moroccan border
Recently The Father of Aardvarks made a comment on some recent apparent censorship in Morocco with regards to press comments about illegal immigrants in Morocco attempting to reach Europe. Or as the Father of Aardvarks put it:
Here's a story of an Arab government clamping down on the media with an unusual twist. Al-Jazeera reports that the Moroccan government confiscated the press run of a local newspaper because it ran a "racist" and "inflammatory" article about African immigrants "invading northern Morocco."
While I understand the Father of Aardvarks is a media critic by interest and trade, my first thought was to the underlying crisis (the second being it would be nice to know which paper; there are some in Morocco I am familiar with which I have no problem suspecting of racist and inflammatory yellow journalism).
This past week saw rather dramatic events underlining precisely the level of bubbling tension on all sides that might well justifiably provoke action by the government: a series of mass assualts by "thousands" of African would be immigrants to Europe on the frontier fences of the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Mellila.
The crisis effectively is a rather large accumulation of sub-Saharan Africans building up in the Moroccan north - in the region called the Rif - along the border areas with the Spanish enclaves. This has been fairly little mentioned in the local press, although one does see time and and again in some areas clots of what are clearly sub-Saharan migrants begging and travelling north. Something most people do not trouble themselves about as Moroccans try to emmigrate in much the same way.
However, in the last few years, Morocco has been under intense pressure from the EU to "do more" with regards to stopping the flow of illegal immigrants to Spain and onwards and has taken stepped up measures to block transits via the Mediterranean and the enclaves.
September 26, 2005
Gulf & the MENA Region Finance, Booms & Inefficiencies
Our friend and sometime contributor Waterboy draws attention to something obvious to all involved, and yet an item that remains out of control: overliquidity in the Gulf region and the consquent mad asset price boom in the Gulf. His observation is spot on, that there is
there's too much cash chasing too few investment opportunities in the region; too little oversight, regulation or transparency; too much exuberance - bear in mind, as Japanese bank Nomura pointed out, that Saudi Telecom's market capitalisation of US$74bn is worth more than BT (US$35bn), AT&T
(US$15bn), SK Telecom (US$15bn), and Telekom SA (US$9bn) combined - and far too many unsophisticated investors who think that having the names of a couple of ruling family members in the IPO prospectus is a valid alternative to a business plan - or, for that matter, an existing business.
No doubt about this at all. Some conversations I had over the past week painfully illustrated that. This aside, a key point of disequilibrium is the degree to which despite the asset valuations in the Gulf being absolutely looney to the point of surreal, the money is not flowing within the region to a reasonable degree.
(cross posted from Lounsbury - 'Aqoul)
September 12, 2005
Underdevelopment as Dilettantisme: Why MENA Does Not Attract Capital, Reason No. 5
While sadly behind on my ability to comment substantively, I thought a bit of a comment on dilettanstisme would be worth a quick intervention (and it being all I have time for, it's what one gets).
The comment is provoked by a series of convos over the past few days in regards to a certain MENA country (which for various sensitivity reasons shall remain unnamed) and its hosting of a MENA region investment conference. Let's say that our certain MENA country is not exactly a star performer in the realm of attracted FDI, per capita or in gross. Of course neither is the region.
There are multitudes of reasons for this. The one to be discussed today, dilettantisme.
September 05, 2005
Willing. Unwilling. The Pretension of Interest in Democracy & The Middle East
From our dear friend Pratike, who made the error of going to Egypt and Cairo specifically to learn Arabic and thus condemn himself to speaking with a bufoonish accent for the rest of his day, a note on the 'elections' and the pretension that the US Administration is interested in democracy in the MENA region:
His quote from a Washington Post op ed:
Perhaps there is concern that too much pressure on Mubarak might produce a victory by the Muslim Brotherhood, the most popular Egyptian opposition party that has been outlawed by the government. That's a risk, of course, but if the Bush administration isn't willing to let Islamists, even radical Islamists, win votes in a fair election, then Bush officials should stop talking so much about democracy and go back to supporting the old dictatorships. It was precisely that kind of logic -- that friendly dictators are preferable to potentially radical alternatives -- that helped produce so much radicalism during the Cold War and, more recently, a healthy movement of Middle East terrorists.
Well, welcome to reality children. What news.
August 16, 2005
Pimping Equity or Pissing it Away?: Private Equity & US Gov Efforts, some quick notes
A somewhat quick note building off of a comment by the esteemed Nadezhda in regards to my rapid note on a new US Gov private equity fund (also with more rough perso comments at Lounsbury ) backed by the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, a US parastatal investment insurance and financing house whose main line of business is political risk insurance on US direct investments in risky locales.
I have been intending - and still intend to - write some commentary on this specific issue of private equity (or in general equity finance) in the MENA region, but I thought some quick notes on this OPIC backed private equity fund for the MENA region are in order, and in response to some notes by Nadezhda - whose name I have learned to spell now.
August 11, 2005
Market Madness or Brilliance? US Gov Private Equity for MENA Announced
At the risk of descending into flackery or something approaching it, I thought a brief comment here might be fun.
Certainly this plays into my personal interests.
[Updated with correction below]
[Update with a question: Is there a debate to be had here regarding using such tools for acheiving a policy goal?]
August 03, 2005
Fresh News: Coup in Mauretania (The Question: Will Anyone Notice?)
I leave it to the wiser among us to give the True Meaning. And, yes, that headline is the Financial Times' own misspelling.
Armed forces seize power in Mauritiana
Mauritania’s armed forces have set up a military council to rule the country and end the ”totalitarian” regime of President Maaouya Ould Sid’Ahmed Taya, a statement broadcast on state media said on Wednesday.
August 02, 2005
Tsar Mubarek & Reforms for the Neo Mamlouks
An article that merits close reading and attention; in fact I believe it is deeply indicative of the real challenges in Egypt, and in some ways the wider Arab world in regards to transition costs - if in general with moderately less severity.
In Egypt's Countryside, Farmers' Anger Seen As 'Silent Time Bomb'
Recent Revolt Over Rents and Evictions Draws Support of Mubarak Opponents
By Daniel Williams
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, July 17, 2005; A16
I would cite this as something highly indicative of the real position of the Mubarek government as well as the liberal urban classes, what I might call the "kefaya" chattering classes in one of my less charitable moods (although one supposes one can validly ask if I have charitable moods). I mean by that, the generaly comfortable proper liberal opposition who rather uncomfortabley ressemble a similar opposition in the fading years of the tsarist empire in old Russia.
August 01, 2005
Sex and Citizenship: Morocco, Jordan, Foreigners Boinking and Children's citizenship
Our industrious friend Abu Aardvark(s) (known affectionately in our Maghrebine parlance now, in honour of the second Aardvark as Bou Aradvrak) had some interesting comments on Morocco's newly announced move, via the Moroccan King's Throne speech this weekend, to change Moroccan law to grant citizenship to the children of foreigners and Moroccan women. This will end, when eventually enacted, decades of paterfamilias centered citizenship policy.
Bou Aradvrak indicated he hoped this would have a positive effect on the Jordanian dynamic where similar liberalisation has been stalled:
Progress for Arab Women & Children as his blog arty is entitled.
July 26, 2005
Creating Opportunities - Liberalisation & MENA, The Micro Level
A small piece of news that I shall try to expand on, but after some little work on a Fund proposition. In the meantime, for comment and reflection.
The Moroccan business press reported an item that I would think most readers would pass over in boredom, but I find highly relevant to understanding why unemployment is so high throughout the MENA region and why liberalisation - domestic liberalisation even more so than to the global market, is so important for giving real opportunities to the populations here. And by doing so, providing alternatives to the ever more attractive nihilism of Salafist Takfiri ideology.
July 22, 2005
Sharm el-Sheikh has hosted many international summits and peace conferences. Last year, I had planned a trip to the Sinai (Dahab) but cancelled it in favour of Hurghada because of a bombing near the Egypt-Israel border.
Mubarak may see this as an opportunity to lock down Egypt even more, police presence was enormous when I visited last December, just a few months after the Taba bombings.
July 07, 2005
Father of Aardvaarks on London
I am about to piss off to the club to do my usual things, which include supporting the Great Cuban Revolution for Impoverishing the Countryside by consuming its products and writing either semi coherent rants, engaging in semi coherent rants with other club members, networking, and finally, incongrously whipping out the laptop in fits of inspiration (or desperation, very hard to tell the difference really).
In that vien, I wanted to share something serious, the quick comment by the Father of Aardvark(s) on London and its meaning:
July 04, 2005
Economic Growth, Media Modernisation and Competition in MENA
Given my abiding concern for seeing economic growth occur in this fine region – that is the MENA region – I thought I might return to some thoughts I have had following on prior comments on the business environment and the like.
First, a brief comment (or perhaps a rambling and extended comment) on mentalities, provoked by a conversation with one of the women who render my life complex (if interestingly corrupt and immoral) in regards to a local television effort to create a “star system” to promote local talent.
Rather like the Lebanese “Star Academy” it is an interesting way to bring up new talent and provide a public exposition of popular trends. As an added advantage, the local chicas who compete are quite hot with a distinct tendency to wear the latest inappropriate Leb Slut fashions, which is very hard to argue against.
July 03, 2005
Cairo's Collapsing Buildings
While being driven past the outskirts of Cairo, I noticed a large number of unfinished buildings inhabited by Egyptian families. My tour guide, having already explained the nightmare of Egypt’s population explosion, told me that these unfinished buildings were actually a form of tax evasion. Apparently land taxes were lower on properties with unfinished buildings, which explained why so many of them had steel rebars and bits of cement hanging off the topmost floors. Keeping a building perpetually unfinished was a useful way to avoid taxes in a country where government spending did not generally lead to improved living standards.
Now anyone familiar with Herodotus knows not to believe everything an Egyptian tour guide says, but it seemed plausible under the circumstances. It did not, however, explain why Egyptians would build such ramshackle homes, structures so unstable that they frequently caved in and killed the families living within them. Some expat journals, noting the frequency of these collapses, lamented the fatalism of Egyptians and their apathy in the face of such tragedy. In terms of incentives, this type of behaviour makes no sense, unless there are serious barriers standing in the way of improvement.