Egypt, the U.S., and the Question of Aid

Over the past several months I have been noticing a great effort made by the US Embassy in Cairo to engage with citizens through Facebook and Twitter. I give these efforts high praise given the opportunity for two-way communication that these platforms offer. 

Just now I noticed the following exchange:

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postgradlife: The frustration of no longer being a minorty


Yeah, you read that correctly.

I grew up in South Carolina as a Muslim Indian girl.
South Carolina. You know, the state that still flies the confederate flag on State House grounds (it was moved from the top in 2000, yay progress!).

No, I’ve never been a victim of a hate crime or anything like…

The Long Shadow of Dictatorship

Hat tip to the Arabist for sharing this op-ed from Al Jazeera. 

The author raises a number of good points on the durability of Egypt’s dictatorial government system using Mounib, an informal district on the outskirts of Cairo, as a lucid example of the widespread problem. He also points out that despite the increase in political participation, the new parties have sidelined many of the most important issues of governance while the people have yet to see any change. 

Since February, 50 political parties have been registered and numerous political figures have emerged. Dominating public discourse have been voices from the Islamist side of the spectrum, who have insisted on keeping the conversation on issues of identity. The everyday concerns of citizens and inhabitants of Cairo such as transport, housing and waste have been conspicuously absent. When I last visited Mounib, residents were not concerned with national identity, the dichotomy between liberals and Islamists, the threat of a military regime or American interests in the region. They were concerned with the polluted canal, the uncollected waste, the mosquitoes infesting the area and the lack of official response. There is a deliberate gap that has been created between the people and the powerful, and the current transitional government is maintaining that gap.

Deposed Dictators for Democracy

From a Tunisian Facebook page titled the Free Thinker, this video (English subtitles) records what is both a social experiment in post-revolution Tunisia and a brilliant PSA at the same time. Hats off to them for turning the deposed dictator into an advocate for democracy.

Egyptians, who knows a good print shop…?

Young and Jordanian

تحدث هذه المقالة عن موضوعة الشباب وعلاقتهم مع البنات في الأردن بطريق مفيدة جدا وتقدم الفكرة ان يوجد اكبر قوات اجتمعية التي تلعب دور مثير في سلوكهم.

If you’re interested, here’s a great article that discusses the issue of interactions between young men and women here in Jordan. While briefly, the author touches on a number of big-picture societal factors that often go unnoticed in the stereotypical conception of al-shabab (young men).

"One academic colleague suggested that ongoing political problems in the U.S. play into skepticism in the streets of countries where our stated goal is promoting democracy: “The average guy hears about this and says: ‘So this is what we get with democracy? Who wants that?’”"

Blog post from COMOPS suggesting that the current gridlock in Congress is having a negative affect on our public diplomacy. 

  • Taxi Driver:You live here, study here, maybe you'll move here and work one day. But will you forget your country?
  • Me:No, of course not.
  • Taxi Driver:It's the same thing with us.
  • A snippet of a conversation I had with a Jordanian taxi driver of Palestinian descent. I found this particularly interesting because this man was born in Jordan after his parents were forced to come here and has never seen Palestine because of immigration laws. Yet still, there's clearly a very strong tie to Palestine there.
  • It's not completely clear what percentage of Jordan's population have resettled here from Palestine, but estimates seem to range from about one-third to nearly one-half. This is often a very important part of personal identity here. For example, when I asked another taxi driver today where he was from he answered, "I'm Jordanian. Jordanian Jordanian."
  • From the Huff Post: Netanyahu Is Killing the Two-State Solution

    Dr. Carlo Strenger of Tel Aviv University criticizes Netanyahu for his failure to realize the significance of Israel’s soft power crisis and the work Netanyahu has done to prevent a two-state solution.

    Teaching Both Narratives in Israel and Palestine

    Just stumbled across this story about a tour company operating in Israel and Palestine that provides tours that educate people about both the Israeli and Palestinian narratives simultaneously. Although I don’t remember who said it, one quote about this conflict that has always resonated with me is that “each side has constructed enough myth to convince themselves that theirs is the absolute truth.” 

    This is a fascinating initiative to work against that trend. As the article outlines, Mejdi co-owner Aziz Abu Sarah has quite an incredible story of transformation himself. He also seems to be taking a very realistic approach to this gradual process of redefining the conflict. In his words:

    "My goal isn’t to come in to a group of students or soldiers and say here’s my political view, you should think like me. I simply expose them to thoughts they’ve never heard before. Pain is very powerful, very destructive. But it can also be constructive. If you open up and listen to the other side’s suffering you don’t have to agree with their actions, but you can understand where they’re coming from."

    Some interesting questions of course would be how many people from the local population participate in these tours and what kind of support it has among the community. If at all possible I hope to investigate these questions and learn more about the program in person. If I do get that opportunity, I’ll be sure to share my findings with you. 

    New on Arabist: "Israel/Palestine: Washington is the Problem"

    Recommended reading in general, this post from the Arabist highlights a particularly difficult to read exchange between the press and State. 

    "We are looking at the most serious erosion of human rights in Egypt since Mubarak stepped down."

    Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa. Link.

    Still Waiting for Change in Egypt

    Upper:"This is for our security" Lower: "Censorship"Unfortunately, it appears as if Egypt is sliding back into a state obsessed with stability and security rather than upholding citizens’ rights. The most worrisome conspiracy theory at the moment is that the transitional military government — the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) — actually allowed the protesters at the Israeli embassy to advance as far as they did in order to justify a broader crackdown on protests. It’s difficult to say whether or not this is the case. As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, the Egyptian military appearing to side with Israel over the Egyptian people could have also been spun into a PR nightmare for SCAF. 

    In either case, the fact of the matter is that SCAF has repeatedly broken promises to bring change to Egypt. It appears that this is getting worse, not better. Emergency Law is being rolled back into effect, which ironically is sure to trigger more protests that will produce more military trials and generate even greater resentment towards SCAF. 

    One important question though is how widely that resentment is spread throughout society. At the time that I left Egypt in August I generally found a population with one foot firmly planted on the side of citizens’ rights and participatory politics while the other remained on the side of stability and economic security. The former group believes the fruits of their revolution have yet to truly arrive, and the latter views the continued protests as a force driving the country to poverty rather than democracy. 

    My gut feeling tells me that while the voice of the first group is the clearest on accessible mediums such as Facebook and Twitter, and we see them the most often on the news in protest coverage, it is actually the stability camp that has the larger numbers. It’s difficult to say, however, whether or not that will translate to more votes. Still, that hasn’t stopped SCAF from playing on their fears of insecurity in order to justify harsher responses to dissent.

    This leaves me and others looking to the upcoming elections and transition to civilian government as the best hope for change. But even that is surrounded by questions.

    1. When will the elections be held? They’ve already been postponed once from September to November but no exact date has been chosen.
    2. Will the elections be monitored?
    3. What parties will be ready for the elections?
    4. What will the coalition government look like?
    5. How long will emergency law affect the elections?
    6. How will SCAF handle the transition of power?

    I wish I had the answers. 

    NYT: Israel's Diplomatic Rough Patch

    Interesting stuff here, particularly the quotes from Israeli opposition politicians on the second page. 

    On This Day in History…

    It seems as if our whole world changed. Today at lunch we sat there and had a reflection on what happened on September 11th, 2001. The conversation didn’t last very long, quite possibly because it’s difficult to express one’s feelings about such an event in a foreign language. We talked about where we were that day and whether or not we had known any of the victims. I was one of the lucky ones who was able to answer “no” to that question. And yet I couldn’t help but sit there and feel as if there was a great weight placed on my chest. Eating seemed like more of a distraction than something necessitated out of hunger. I didn’t talk much. Mostly, I thought. I couldn’t help but think, over and over again, that ten years ago a small group of people changed my world forever. 

    I’d like to imagine that if those planes had never struck those buildings, those victims would be living happy lives or at least died of natural causes. I’d like to believe the same for the scores of innocent people who have died in Afghanistan and Iraq. I’d like to imagine that there would be less distrust and hatred towards our Muslim brothers and sisters, both in and outside of our borders.

    It’s completely possible that had those attacks never happened, I would be somewhere completely different from where I am today. Perhaps I never would have become interested in our foreign policy in the Middle East. Perhaps my friend Blair would have never decided to join the Marines and given me the idea to study Arabic. 

    A very good friend of mine recently tweeted the following: 

    Life is a unique series of circumstances, a transcript of disasters & successes,& a chronicle of where & how your choices meet happenstance.

    I can’t help but identify with this sentiment today. 

    It’s impossible to know what could have happened, or what would have happened if history were different. But even with the history we have, I feel as if it has affected me and the world around me in ways that I have yet to come to understand in these ten years later. 

    Raining Hebrew in Cairo

    Protesters in Cairo have apparently “breached” the Israeli embassy this Friday evening and started throwing embassy documents out of the windows. This AP story is making its way around the wires, with more details likely to be coming soon.

    Some sources are calling the area of the embassy that protesters have entered an apartment, while others call it a waiting area or lobby. As a logistical note, the Israeli embassy is located in a high-rise tower on the upper floors. Apparently protesters have only gained access to the lowest floor thus far. No idea whether they are currently advancing or whether Egyptian security forces have stepped in to stop them. 

    All of this came after the Egyptians, bearing hammers and other tools, dismantled a concrete barrier wall that had recently been built around the embassy in response to a wave of protests following the killing of five Egyptian police officers along the Egypt-Israel border. The officers allegedly died of gunshot wounds from Israeli army weapons that were intended for a group of militants the Israelis had been chasing. 

    This clearly appears to be a flare from the smoldering resentment and anger that remains from that unresolved incident. Simply building walls around the embassy does not seem to be sufficient in reconciling the demands of the population for either justice in the officers’ deaths or a reorientation of relations between the two countries. Authors far more intelligent than I have written on the strategic importance of Israel and Egypt remaining on friendly terms, particularly to the U.S.’ ME policy, so I won’t dwell on that here. 

    The much more interesting bit of this story is the fact that the Egyptian security forces stood by for hours while all of this was happening. Ring any bells? Think about the last time the Egyptian army didn’t get in the way of the people demanding what they wanted. You could argue ousting Mubarak is different, but it appears that at least in this case the Egyptian military council was unwilling to intervene against the will of its people on an issue where (I’m guessing, based on the general sentiment towards Israel) there was near unanimous agreement. In other words, the will of the people was not beaten down by force as it has been so many times in the past in so many different regimes. 

    This could be the first solid evidence of why nations like the United States have supported stability over true democracy for such a long time. The will of the people is a complete X Factor. So much so that it seems to be likely that if foreign policy is at all a factor in the upcoming elections, we could see support for a robust relationship with Israel become a very caustic political position. With that said, the economy will likely be the most important issue in the election, probably followed by the issue of political reform (which could include foreign policy). 

    Nonetheless, this could be only the beginning of a very uncertain future for these two neighbors.