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September 2, 2015 / 18 Elul, 5775
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Arab World’

Café el-Fishawy, Cairo

Tuesday, August 20th, 2013

Some 240 years ago, a man named al-Fishawy began serving coffee to his friends in an alley of Cairo’s Khan al-Khalili district each evening after prayers. The al-Fishawy’s gatherings grew larger and stretched longer, and the rest is history.

Qahwat al-Fishawi (Fishawy’s Café) is the most renowned café in the Arab world and a monument to the traditional Egyptian way of relaxing with friends—and the occasional stranger— over coffee, tea and tobacco.

We pray for the residents of Cairo to be able to emerge from their current strife and to return to their sweet and harmless (except for the tobacco thing) way.


Egypt: This Is Big

Sunday, August 18th, 2013

One way to gauge the import of the conflict erupting in Egypt is by looking at the character of media coverage in America.  Both sides of the political spectrum have been slow to advance narratives of blame.  What’s going on in Egypt doesn’t fit into any pat, off-the-shelf narratives.

There has been a curious absence of “themage” on the left: no unified narrative about this all being the fault of Bush-era failures of good fellowship, or of the plight of the Palestinians, or (my personal favorite) of warmongering arms dealers, oil mavens, or ([insert ROTFLOL here]) international banks.

Meanwhile, blame-fixing criticisms of President Obama are getting little traction on the right.  (I even saw Sean Hannity shouted down by other conservatives the other day, when he was advancing an Obama’s-to-blame theory.)  I have the sense that most on the right see – accurately – that what’s going on is bigger than either Obama’s shortcomings or America’s predicament under his leadership.  While the Arab Spring might well have never happened if the United States had had a different president in January 2011, it is more than overstating the case to say that it happened because of Obama.

It happened because of deep rifts and discontents in the Arab world.  Its progress since the initial trigger event has been shaped to some degree by the defensively triangulating inaction (mainly) of Obama’s America.  But there’s real there there, in terms of political divisions and conflict in the nations of the Middle East.

This is a genuine fight, not a series of mass protests out of which nothing will really change.  If we understand anything, it must be that.  The Western media have been reflexively – if perfunctorily – reporting the bloodshed in Egypt as a “military crack-down” on protesters.  But the truth is that, where military action is concerned, it is a strategy to get out ahead of civil war.  The Muslim Brotherhood has indicated that it intends to make a fight of this.  Its “protest camps” are not a stupid, time-on-their-hands Occupy Cairo escapade; they are bases from which to keep an armed fight going.

The Muslim Brotherhood does not care what happens to the people of Egypt: whether their streets become safe for daily life and commerce again.  It is willing to keep chaos and misery going for as long as necessary to topple the military’s interim government.  That is its present purpose.  The Muslim Brotherhood strategy is to make it impossible for the military to restore enough order and public confidence to move ahead with new democratic arrangements.  The strategy is pure Bolshevism, and we’ve seen it before, dozens of times over the last several centuries.

Reports from Friday’s fighting indicate that plenty of Egyptians are aware of this.  Citizens around the capital set up checkpoints to prevent the movement of Muslim Brotherhood formations:

Armed civilians manned impromptu checkpoints throughout the capital, banning Brotherhood marches from approaching and frisking anyone wanting to pass through. At one, residents barred ambulances and cars carrying wounded from Cairo’s main battleground, Ramses Square, from reaching a hospital.

And much of the fighting was between pro-Morsi supporters and other civilians:

Friday’s violence introduced a combustible new mix, with residents and police in civilian clothing battling those participating in the Brotherhood-led marches.

Few police in uniform were seen as neighborhood watchdogs and pro-Morsi protesters fired at one another for hours on a bridge that crosses over Cairo’s Zamalek district, an upscale island neighborhood where many foreigners and ambassadors reside.

In keeping with the astonishing mass scale of the national revulsion against Morsi’s rule in June and July, the current fight is developing as a popular one.  The anti-Morsi citizens have no intention of waiting around to see their government fall back into the hands of the Muslim Brotherhood.  They are taking to the streets themselves.

This will have to be remembered in the coming days, when poorly armed civilians inevitably begin dropping out of the fight.  The civil population does care, and care enough to fight with sticks, stones, and fists, if necessary, even though It will take the military to put down the Muslim Brotherhood decisively – if, indeed, the outcome ends up being defined in that manner.

It may not be.  A key organizing factor in the June and July civil protests against Morsi was the “Tamarod” movement, a pastiche of anti-Morsi forces with little to unify them other than their objection to Morsi’s rule.  Some throwing in with Tamarod are Salafists themselves (including a former leader of Egyptian Islamic Jihad); others bring some element of liberalization or secularism.  They made common cause with the military during the coup in July, but they are hardly a moderate, liberal, pro-Western force; in the days since, they have called for expulsion of the U.S. ambassador, and for Egypt to withdraw from the 1979 treaty with Israel.

Tamarod movements are busting out all over the Arab world (e.g., in Tunisia, Morocco, and Bahrain), portending many more months of instability and a long fight for the futures of these and other nations.  A movement with this much internal division to it will begin to splinter in Egypt: some of its members will want to take the lead in forging a new ruling consensus – specifically, in preempting the people to do so – and my bet for this is on the Salafists.

So there are more than two factions in the overall fight; this won’t come down to just the military and the Muslim Brotherhood.  Whoever plays the spoiler role could put together some kind of modus vivendi linking the opposing factions.  A little bit of gesturing toward civil protections for the people; a little bit of door left open to shari’a.  It wouldn’t last long, if history is any kind of guide.  But Western observers are likely to put stock in it (and even be hoodwinked by it).

Today’s fight may not go the full fifteen rounds, but if it doesn’t, it will have to be fought again down the road.  Because there is no coexistence for soft despotism – or democracy-lite – and Islamism; there is no coexistence for anything else and Islamism.  And Islamism won’t stop fighting until it is put down decisively.

It is not actually unusual for the governments and media of the West to misread developments like these (or at least to have the “deer in the headlights” look on their faces as they witness them).  The last time there was comparative unity and accuracy of understanding about a Bolshevik moment was – well, the actual Bolshevik moment, in late 1917 and the few years following it, when Western governments sought briefly to support the White anti-Bolshevists.  Whatever the merits of that policy, the understanding on which it was based was perfectly accurate.  Bolshevism was an uncontainable threat.

Within a very few years after that, Western governments, and many in our media, had become invested in misreading or ignoring manifestations from the sanguinary arena of collectivist statism.  We were quite tolerant of Mussolini and Hitler until they declared war on Stalin, and to this day, tendentious narratives of popular support are adduced in our academies to explain the advance of Marxist totalitarianism across the map of the globe through the late 1970s.  There were major movements in the free world to define away the threat of communism incident not only to Stalin’s excesses but to Maoism in China, the conflicts in Korea and Vietnam, the encroachments of Marxism on Latin America and Africa, and the standoff between East and West in Europe.

Throughout the 20th century, the bloody adventures of collectivism forced Westerners, and Americans in particular, to inspect and crystallize our view of who and what we were.  Through the “progressive,” statist movements in our own nations, we ended up being transformed away from the character we had once sought to honor and cultivate.  Yet for a time, in the late 1970s (with the election of Margaret Thatcher in the UK) and 1980s, we achieved a meaningful consensus that our liberal values had not been extinguished yet.  Acting on that consensus turned out to be enough, in that time and place, to overwhelm the failed ideology of Marxist socialism, in its totalitarian-state manifestation.

State-Islamism is doomed to inflict self-destruction and despair on its victims.  But what will we in the still-not-Islamist West do while it is organizing itself and launching its career?  We can’t go out and try to run everyone else’s county for him, after all.  And that said, we need not actively support the infliction of despotic Islamism on foreign populations.

How will we define ourselves during this process?  Will it be Islamism that has the momentum, with us defining ourselves as what we are not, in relation to it?  Or will we retake the public dialogue with our own propositions and language about liberty and limited government?  Our success in that endeavor was intermittent and incomplete, to say the least, during the Cold War.  Will we learn from that era and do better today?

Will we retain the capacity – always under attack, always fighting for its life – to define a totalitarian ideology truthfully, and let that truth be a guide to our policies?  These are questions to which we simply don’t know the answer.  There were days during the Cold War when even the most optimistic political observers would have answered them for us in the negative.

One thing we can be sure of, however – a thing we may see more clearly, I think, because we have the president we have today, and not a president who will act in a more traditional manner, according to the conventions of American statecraft.  The developments in Egypt have importance for the entire world.  They are about an ideological, Bolshevik-style assault on conventional, non-radicalized government.  That is the dynamic in play.  And, as much as they are about Egypt, the Egyptian people, and the fact that they do not want ideological “shari’a” rule, they are also, in an existential way, about us.  They are about who we are, and who we intend to be.  None of us will be the same when this is all over.

Al Jazeera: US ‘Increasingly Irrelevant’ to the Arabs

Sunday, March 24th, 2013

“U.S. policy in the Arab world has long been widely unpopular, to put it mildly,” on Sunday Sarah Mousa wrote in Al Jazeera. Although President Obama’s 2009 speech in Cairo were met with great enthusiasm, she continues, “the Arab uprisings transformed many peoples’ views on the role played by the US in their region. While Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did offer verbal support to most of the protest movements, hypocritical selective support, initial American hesitation in backing the uprisings and past policies bolstering dictatorships were not forgotten.”

Mousa, a graduate from Princeton University and a 2010-2011 Fulbright Scholar in Egypt, states: “More crucially, it became clear to many that the outcome of the uprisings was up to them, and not to U.S. policymakers. In the case of Egypt, U.S. statements only called for Hosni Mubarak to step down when it became entirely clear that it was inevitable. While the gesture may have been appreciated by parts of the Egyptian opposition, it was not viewed as a significant turning point.”

Obama’s visit to Israel and the PA were received coolly by Palestinians, writes Mousa. “Young activists referred to the speeches as ‘insipid’ and ‘sycophant.’ The part of Obama’s Jerusalem speech that many Palestinians paid most attention to was an interruption by Palestinian audience member Rabeea Eid: ‘Did you really come here for peace or to give Israel more weapons to kill and destroy the Palestinian people? Did you happen to see the apartheid wall on your way here? There are Palestinians sitting in this hall. This state should be for all of its citizens, not a Jewish state only.'”

We’ve all seen the clip where, as the noisy Eid was being dragged out of the hall, Obama referred to the interruption as a good display of “lively debate.”

Recordings of the incident quickly spread throughout the Palestinian Internet. Obama’s failure to effectively address Palestinian rage on the student’s points, just as Eid was being dragged away and handcuffed, made him a mockery in Palestinian eyes, argues Mousa.

“The U.S. is increasingly irrelevant to movements throughout the region,” she concludes. “In his March visit to Cairo, Secretary of State John Kerry extended invitations to meet with members of opposition parties. Many turned him down. Distour party member Gamila Ismail explained her rejection of the invitation in a scathing letter to Kerry, in which she criticized self-interested U.S. policy that has supported repressive regimes in Egypt for decades.”

Ismail also wrote Kerry: “This is a revolution that will teach the world, as Obama, your president, has said. And we want to teach the world and be a model for it. And we will become different than what you see. Your embassy reports see that we do not deserve anything except this [limited] amount of democracy. And that this [limited] amount is ‘enough’.”

Interestingly, as America is achieving a steady decline in reliance on Middle Eastern oil, American foreign policy no longer views the region with the urgency it did only a decade ago – and the Arab intelligence gets it.

How I wish Benjamin Netanyahu would get it, too.

A Cup of Soda in Hell

Wednesday, March 13th, 2013

The great theme of every overrated writer in the past twenty years has been the interconnectedness of things. Butterflies flap their wings in China and famine kicks off in Africa. A man gets on a plane in Sydney and another man jumps off a balcony in Paris.

You can get your interconnectedness fix from Thomas Friedman’s New York Times column as he marvels at the flattening of the world or any one of an endless number of fictional tomes in which strangers from around the world collide and influence each other’s lives.

The interconnectedness of things is not just the theme of the next TED talk you’ll watch or the next Wired article you’ll read. It’s the theme of policy as well. Pull one string and everything changes. Policy is no longer about making things happen by doing them, it’s about finding the precursor to them and doing that and when that doesn’t work, finding the precursor to that.

The growth of government means that everything is interconnected and instead of trying to cut the cost of health care by trimming back the bureaucracy, you ban sodas to fight obesity in the hopes of eventually cutting the cost of health care. It’s the sort of thing that sounds smart when it’s made into the theme of a book that discusses how connected everything else is to everything.

It’s stupid in real life, but who pays attention to real anyway?

Public policy is wired into the next great insight into interconnectedness and the one after that. Doing things to do them is stupid. It’s the sort of thing that Bush, poor dumb ape man, would do. The smart set, the Obama set, do the things that they don’t want to do to do the things that they want to do. It’s the sort of thing that sounds stupid if you try to explain it to a cab driver, but sounds like absolute genius when explained to an audience consisting of dot com people and people who wish they were dot com people.

And sometimes it even works. Most of the time though it makes things confusing and miserable.

The opening premise of interconnectedness theory is that trying to do what you want to do is futile. You don’t make a hurricane by turning on a fan and aiming it as a cloud, you do it by getting on a plane to China and then irritating a butterfly so that it flaps its wings. And then the hurricane comes or it doesn’t.  But while you’re there you’ll probably meet a monk or a street urchin who will go you a deeper insight into life or steal your wallet which will inspire you to write the next bestselling book about how everything in life is really connected to everything else.

Wars? Naturally we don’t do them. Only dumb brute apes think that you win a war by killing the enemy. That’s a positively medieval point of view. Even Bush knew better than that. No, you win a war by dealing with the root causes of the war. You find all the links to all the events, you win over the natives with candy bars and briefcases full of infrastructure money and then it all converges together and the war is over. Or it’s not. But either way you write a book about it.

Interconnectedness is the search for causes. It’s never a mismanagement problem, because that’s not a revelation.

Tell Mayor Bloomberg that health care costs are high because it takes four administrators to a doctor to get a patient through the system and he’ll look bored. That’s obvious. Tell him that recreating every new government building so that visitors are forced to use the stairs and those cold black marbles in his head will come awake.

Tell Obama that we’re losing the war because we’re not killing the enemy and he’ll hand you a pen and excuse himself, but tell him that the war is being lost because we need to get more Muslims into space and he’ll hand you a czarship.

We are becoming a subtle and stupid society, obsessed with nuance and a mystical search for the hidden social engines of life. And while that may seem advanced when you’re reading through the latest New York Times bestseller that explains how fishermen in Southeast Asia are influenced by sales of cotton candy in Michigan and the price of coffee in Brazil, it’s actually quite debilitating.

The Arab Street is Still Angry

Tuesday, March 5th, 2013

Much like Festivus, American diplomacy in the Middle East usually begins with an airing of grievances. These are not the American grievances over decades of terrorism and acts of violent hatred. These are the grievances that are supposedly infuriating the Arab Street. The list begins with Israel, continues on to the “Arab Dictators” supported by America and concludes with warnings to respect Mohammed by not making any cartoons or movies about him.

During his first term, Obama kept his distance from Israel, locked up a Christian who made a movie about Mohammed and withdrew his support from the Arab Dictators. The street should have been happy, but now it’s angrier than ever. And much of that anger is directed at America.

Mohamed El Baradei, once the administration’s choice to take over Egypt, has refused to meet with Secretary of State John Kerry. Joining him in this boycott is much of Egypt’s liberal opposition.

When Mubarak was in power, the “Arab Street” of Islamists and Egyptian leftists was angry at America for supporting him. Now the “Arab Street” of Egyptian leftists, Mubarak supporters and some Anti-Brotherhood Islamists is angry at America for supporting the Muslim Brotherhood.

The American foreign policy error was to assume that the political grievances of the Arab Street could be appeased with democracy. They can’t be. The various factions are not truly interested in open elections. What they want is for America to elevate their faction and only their faction to power. When that doesn’t happen, they denounce the government as an American puppet and warn of the great and terrible anger of the Arab Street if America doesn’t make them its puppet instead.

Democracy is no solution, because none of the factions really wanted democracy for its own sake. They wanted it only as a tool to help them win. Now that the tool has failed most of them, they don’t care for it anymore. And the Islamists who benefited from democracy have no enduring commitment to it. Like all the other factions, they see it as a tool. A means, not an end.

While the West views democracy as an end, the East sees it as only a means. The West believes in a system of populist power rotation. The East however is caught between a variety of totalitarian ideologies, including Islamists and local flavors of the left, who have no interest in power rotation except as a temporary strategy for total victory.

There is no actual solution to the Arab Street that will please all sides and keep their hatred of America down to a dull roar. Whichever side the United States of America backs will leave the others full of fury. If the United States doesn’t back a side but maintains good relations with the government, it will still be accused of backing that government.

The only way to disprove that accusation is for the winning side to demonstrate its hostility to the United States. Accordingly even governments that are in theory friendly to the United States must demonstrate their unfriendliness as a defense against accusations that they are puppets of the infidels. And as a result, no matter whom the United States supports, all the factions, including those we support, will continue to engage in ritual displays of hostility against us.

Trying to appease the fictional construct of an Arab Street that has clear and simple demands is a hopeless scenario. It’s a Catch 22 mess where every move is ultimately a losing move, no matter how promising it initially appears to be.

There is no Arab Street. The real Arab Street is the overcrowded cities full of angry men with no jobs and lots of bigotry. Their hostility to the United States has nothing to do with the sordid politics that experts insist on bringing up to prove that the Muslim world hates us with good reason. Even if this history did not exist, the United States would be just as hated. The best evidence of that is that most of the accusations that enjoy popularity on the Arab Street are entirely imaginary.

Demagogues can lead the street from bread riots to toppling governments, but what they cannot do is fix the underlying problems, let alone change the bigotry of people who blame all their problems on the foreigners, rather than on themselves. Each faction promises that the anger will subside and stability will return when it comes to power, but the anger will never go away because it’s too convenient to blame America for everything. As long as America is around, no one in the Muslim world ever has to take responsibility for anything.

PA Finance Minister Quits in Frustration

Sunday, March 3rd, 2013

Palestinian Authority Finance Minister Nabil Qassis announced on Sunday he is quitting his post as the bloated budget grows and labor unions and politicians refuse austerity measures.

His resignation marks the continuing decline of the Palestinian Authority economy, which has been a de facto welfare state for years and whose economy has been so weak that the World Bank said last year it would be difficult for the PA to maintain itself as a country if it becomes independent.

The Arab world has filed to live up to pledges of billons of dollars in aid, and the European Union  is hard-pressed to continue to bail it out in the wake of struggling economies back home.

Israel last week said it would resume transferring to the Palestinian Authority tax revenues collected in order to prevent a rise in tensions on the Arab street.

The World bank noted last year that the budget deficit, lack of commitment from Arab donors,  “few positive prospects in the broader political environment and t eh slit between Hamas and the rival Fatah faction headed by PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas all combine to raise questions about the viability of a PA state.

The ‘Whipped Cream’ Arabs of Israel

Sunday, March 3rd, 2013

The Arab citizens of Israel constitute twenty percent of Israeli society – a population that has equal rights, but does not share the Zionist dream. But just as there are differences of opinion among Jewish Israelis, Arab-Israeli attitudes towards the Jewish sector, the state of Israel and its institutions not only differ, but often are even polar opposites.

And just there is no cohesive “Jewish sector,” there is also no such thing in Israel as one cohesive “Arab sector” (though I will use the terms for sake of simplicity). Instead, there are several Middle Eastern populations, some of which are not Arab, and they differ from each other in religion, culture, ethnic origin and historical background.

Ethnic Division

Within the Arab sector of Israel there are a number of ethnic groups who differ from each other in language, history and culture: Arabs, Africans, Armenians, Circassians and Bosnians. These groups usually do not mingle with each other, and live in separate villages or in separate neighborhoods where a particular family predominates. For example, the Circassians in Israel are the descendants of people who came from the Caucasus to serve as officers in the Ottoman army. They live in two villages in the Galilee, Kfar Kama and Reyhaniya, and despite their being Muslim, the young people do not usually marry Arabs.

The Africans are mainly from Sudan. Some of them live as a large group in Jisr al-Zarqa and some live in family groups within Bedouin settlements in the south. They are called “Abid” from the Arabic word for “slaves.” The Bosnians live in family groups in Arab villages, for example, the Bushnak family in Kfar Manda.

The Armenians came mainly to escape the persecution that they suffered in Turkey in the days of the First World War, which culminated in the Armenian genocide of 1915.

Cultural Divisions

The Arab sector can generally be divided into three main cultural groups: urban, rural and Bedouin. Each one has its own cultural characteristics: lifestyle, status of a given clan, education, occupation, level of income, number of children and matters connected to women, for example polygamy (multiple wives), age of marriage, matchmaking or dating customs and dress. The residents of cities – and to a great extent the villagers – see the Bedouins as primitive, while the Bedouins see themselves as the only genuine Arabs, and in their opinion, the villagers and city folk are phony Arabs, who have lost their Arab character.

The Arabic language expresses this matter well: the meaning of the word “Arabi” is “Bedouin,” and some of the Bedouin tribes are called “Arab,” for example “Arab al-Heib” and “Arab al-Shibli” in the North.

The Bedouins of the Negev classify themselves according to the color of their skin into “hamar” (red) and “sud” (black), and Bedouins would never marry their daughters to a man who is darker than she is, because he does not want his grandchildren to be dark-skinned. Racist? Perhaps. Another division that exists in the Negev is between tribes that have a Bedouin origin, and tribes whose livelihood is agriculture (Fellahin), who have low status. A large tribe has a higher standing than a small tribe.

Religions and Sects

The Arab sector in Israel also breaks down by religion, into Muslims, Christians, Druze and ‘Alawites. The Christians are subdivided into several Sects: Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant, and among the Muslims, there is a distinct sect of Sufis, which has a significant presence in Baqa al-Gharbiya. There is also an interesting Salafi movement in Israel, which we will relate to later. The Islamist movement is organized along the lines of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The religion of the Druze is different from Islam, and Muslims consider the Druze to be heretics. Because of this, the Druze keep their religion secret, even from each other and therefore most are “juhal” (ignorant – of religious matters) and only a small number of the elder men are “aukal” (knowledgeable in matters of religion). In the modern age, however, there have been a number of books published about the Druze religion.

The Alawites in Israel live in Kfar Ghajar, in the foothills of the Hermon and some live over the border in Lebanon. They are also considered heretics in Islam, and their religion is a blend of Shi’ite Islam, Eastern Christianity and ancient religions that existed in the Middle East thousands of years ago. Their principle concentration is in the mountains of al-Ansariya in northwest Syria, although some are in Lebanon and some migrated southward and settled in Ghajar. The meaning of the word Ghajar in Arabic is “Gypsy”, meaning foreign nomads with a different religion. In Syria the Alawites – led by the Assad family – have ruled since 1966. That Alawites are considered heretics is the reason for the Muslim objection to Alawite rule in Syria since according to Islam, not only do they not have the right to rule, being a minority, but there is significant doubt as to whether they even have the right to live, being idol worshipers.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/analysis/dr-mordechai-kedar/the-whipped-cream-arabs-of-israel/2013/03/03/

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