Thursday, February 24, 2011

Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Bahrain et al and 1848?

Arab World IImage via Wikipedia
I’m fully settled in Qatar and can watch the unfolding events in the Arab world, if not in the front row, at least in the home of Al Jazeera – which, by the way, leaves US, British and other Western news organizations in the dust. If Al Jazeera was broadcast in the US, there would be fewer stupid people in fly-over country. But I digress.

In the past few days I have read one article after another comparing the revolutions sweeping the Arab world to 1848 Europe. Can we please stop this academic exercise for inflating egos and propounding grand theories for the next thesis or magazine article? There is no comparison, and the attempts to do so are pathetically trying to fit current events into a model based on past history. Aside from being a dubious exercise best left to tenure seeking history and political science professors with nothing to do except selectively seek examples from the past to fit their pet theories, models in general, and historical ones in particular, do not work. They tell us nothing. Like most models, they are based on past events, which require tossing out every exception as an outlier because that would explode the model. Think bell curve. PURE, TOTAL, RUBBISH.

First – the revolutions of the late winter and spring of 1848 occurred solely in Europe – and the western part at that. In Western Europe, the famous barricades were only seriously guarded in France. What would become Germany twenty five years later had some revolutionaries. In March 1848, Hungarians revolted from the Hapsburgs – but so would you under their circumstances. The Netherlands experienced an upheaval and Belgium was created. In none of these countries was there a unifying theme. The economy in German territory was in shambles. People were starving elsewhere. Marx grew up.

The middle class in France did not like the political situation and used, as usual, the poor as cannon fodder. The latter were interested in economic reform and food. By 1849, the middle class and poor in France got neither political reform (wow – universal suffrage for…wait for it….men) nor economic change. Germans took a step toward unification – which would only be solidified twenty-five years later by Bismarck and tested on the unfortunate French. Nothing much else changed. Italy began a long road to unification. The Hungarians were crushed with the help of Imperial Russia (which had no intention of allowing a revolution against monarchies anywhere in Europe having experienced the ultimate result of the same sort of thing in 1789). The Hapsburg Empire continued to stumble along unchanged until 1918. The Ottoman’s were untouched – well, ok the Greeks were pushing back. Russia was largely a bemused bystander. England was untouched as were Spain and Portugal.

After 1848 virtually nothing changed. The poor stayed poor and disenfranchised. Women stayed subservient to the extent that American Tea-baggers can only dream about. Monarchy was triumphant.

So – what does 1848 have in common with the current wave? Not bloody much. Keep your models on the shelf and enter the real world where dismissed improbable events puncture beautiful, coloured academic model balloons.

In the Arab world, the events in Tunisia that surprised everyone were triggered by economic hardship. It has spread to other economically troubled countries. There are two underlying themes – poverty due to lack of employment and political oppression of one degree or another. The atmosphere and events are unique and are not 1848 – but may reflect some of the same results.

First, so far the military has brought security and stability to Tunisia after President _______ left. The military, so far, has brought security and stability to Egypt.

Moammar Gadhafi, umbrella in one hand and his little green bible in the other, has lost his mind if one is to judge by his rambling speeches and insane actions. One son, Saif – the intelligent one – is quickly following down the same path and both, apparently indifferent to killing, are shooting everyone in sight, with mercenaries no less. But, the result will be the same in Libya. The military, who have largely defected to the revolutionaries, will take ultimate control, bringing security and stability.

Bahrain is different – a minority Sunni royalty ruling a Shiite majority. Just like Jordan. The economy at the bottom is what matters and in both it basically sucks. The ruling elite may give up something, but perhaps stay in power. Nothing like the upheavals in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya or Bahrain has affected other Arab states. Word is still out on Morocco and Algeria. One shudders to think what Assad in Syria would do.

But, unlike 1848 - 1849 Western Europe, even in those countries without the people on the streets will need to change; indeed are doing so now. And many changes will be permanent – except perhaps for one. Other than Libya – and that remains to be seen – Egypt and Tunisia have resulted only in a transfer of power. The regimes that were there before are there now. Economic reforms may be coming, and some political reforms – neither of which was really achieved as a result of 1848 – but there seems to have been an attitudinal awakening in the Arab world. You can see it on the streets. Dynasty may be a thing of the past, whether royal or family (something that 1848 never changed) but western concepts of democracy are a long way down the yellow-brick road.

So, kindly stow the pleasant little academic models. They explain nothing and predict less.

Oh. One more thing. The fact that Iran is condemning the killing of demonstrators in Libya would be funny if it was not so pathetic. One can only hope that the clerical regime in Tehran is worried about its own skin.
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Thursday, February 17, 2011

Very Light Posting - Moving to Doha

I am in the process of packing, moving from Lesotho to civilized Doha so I will be very, very light on posts for the next week. Don't let anything important happen while I'm indisposed.

The Iranian Fleet is Coming! Run!

Without going into details, what is the hysteria over the two Iranian ships – described by the hyperventilating Iranian state media as a fleet - that passed through the Suez Canal into the Med on their way to Syria? The ever so subtle Liebermann of Israel is just about foaming at the mouth and given Israeli proclivities under this government to attack anything that moves in the Med if it is associated with governments it does not like, are we about to see an attack?

Let’s understand something. A floating garbage scow of an out-of-date frigate (1971) – the pathetic flagship of the Iranian Fleet – would have trouble threatening to do anything to anyone before it was summarily swatted into the waves by, say, a reasonably armed Greek fishing trawler.

The concern is, of course, the fleet supply ship – big enough to carry lots and lots of weapons. But really, just because of the presence of the two ships oil prices jumped when their route hit the presses? Why? They represent no threat whatsoever to anyone in the Med. The US alone has enough fire power on one destroyer in the 5th Fleet to turn the piece of junk Flag Ship of Iran into very small slivers of rapidly sinking steel should her captain be under the delusion that he was a credible threat and tried to do anything stupid.

Watch the supply ship. Forget the pride of the Iranian Navy.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Egypt - Through a glass, and darkly...

The demonstrations that began almost three weeks ago in Egypt have succeeded in ousting the Mubarak regime, suspension of the constitution and dissolution of parliament. The military is running the show. Now what?

Like predicting the revolution itself, post-Mubarak Egypt is difficult to assess. Unlike some on BBC and other pundits, I can’t agree that Egypt has entered a new democratic world. There is still no democracy in Egypt and likely will not be for months. The army is in control and must deal with strikes, a cratered economy and a dozen different political factions. One piece of advice – and it will pour in: take it all with an enormous chunk of salt.

I’m reminded of a scene in a very old Robert Redford movie – The Candidate – where a complete unknown, pressured to run for the US Senate simply to fill a slot, pulls off the upset of the century and, sitting on the bed in the hotel room, asks his campaign manager “what do we do now?”

The problems in Egypt are legion and lest anyone think in their euphoria that the democracy will reign supreme in six months, don’t hold your breath. It will be rough.

At the same time, what about all the foreign aid, principally from the US, that pours into the country on an annual basis – a huge part of which is funneled to the military? Some of that aid needs to be re-programmed to support an orderly development of civil society and some aid needs to be invested in programs that produce visible, sustainable results on the ground. Not reports. The biggest failure of aid interventions is the desire to line shelves with self-aggrandizing reports that are repetitive, obvious and good dust collectors. Get people on the ground who do. Forget the academic crap – it is almost 100% useless and justifiably viewed with bemusement by recipients of that type of donor aid.

Good luck to Egypt. The tough part is just beginning.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Just Beginning - Egypt

SHARM EL SHEIKH/EGYPT, 18MAY08 - Muhammad Hosn...Image via Wikipedia
Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman :

In the name of God the merciful, the compassionate, citizens, during these very difficult circumstances Egypt is going through, President Hosni Mubarak has decided to step down from the office of president of the republic and has charged the high council of the armed forces to administer the affairs of the country. May God help everybody.

Defense Minister Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi has effected a coup.  The Mubarak regime is dead. 

Make no mistake.  The military is in charge.  Everything, good and bad, will now be their responsibility.

Oh. Obama and the US handled this with the right touch. Period.  The clerics in Iran, like all religious fanatics, are fools and sooner or later, the same will happen to them.

Good luck, Egypt.
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Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Your weekly dose of funny but stupid...

Via the Christian Broadcasting Network - The take on Egypt and US foreign policy from Half-term Governor of Alaska, Wannabe President and Stand-up Comic Sarah Palin:

It’s a difficult situation. This is that 3am White House phone call and it seems for many of us trying to get that information from our leader in the White House, it, it seems that that call went right to, um, the answering machine. And, uh, nobody yet has, uh, explained to the American public what they know, and surely they know more than the rest of us know, who it is who will be taking the place of Mubarak. And, um, no, not not real enthused about what it is that is being done on a national level from DC in regards to understanding all the situation there in Egypt and, um, in, in these areas that are so volatile right now, because obviously it’s not just Egypt but the other countries too where we are seeing uprisings. Uh, we know that now more than ever, we need strength and sound mind there in the White House. We need to know what it is that America stands for, so we know who it is that America will stand with. And, um, we do not have all that information yet.


Thanks to Daily Kos for watching so I don't have to...

Friday, February 4, 2011

Egypt...Egypt...Egypt...the weather

I refuse to post any more on Egypt until something happens. It is already pretty damn dull watching the same cameras focus on the same square with the same people, give or take a few thousand, while listening to the reporters say the same thing until they are forced to make predictions laced with caveats rather than saying, simply, “I don’t have the faintest idea what is going to happen next because the variables are legion”.

Furthermore, the constant moaning about the Brothers taking instant control over a state and turning it into an Iranian fundamentalist outpost with the support of the Egyptian people in general, is just so much, well, crap. If they were to take control they would been in the less than enviable position of dealing with the same economic, social and political problems that the Mubarak government ignored or repressed. Somehow, I don’t think they are not aware of this unpleasant fact – that if they get control and have no plan and do not succeed in making lives better in a very short time – which is impossible -the probability of facing a similar revolution is hardly out of the question. This, by the way, has not been lost on the clerics in Tehran.

Finally, the US neo-cons are beating the caliphate drum. They won’t stop because 1) it suits their political agenda and 2) that agenda depends on the stupidity of the general population in the US. Let’s try and keep something in mind – there is no monolithic Muslim movement. There are geo-political agendas which trump religion. Syria wants Lebanon for itself, not for an Iranian allied Hezbollah. Saudi Arabia would love to see Iran disintegrate – or at least their brand of clerical rule vanish. Turkey plays the peacemaker and “no problem foreign policy” (badly, so far) while not particularly interested in seeing Iran take over Iraq. The Palestinians don’t give a damn about what is happening in Egypt because they are not in any position to do anything similar – yet. Egypt is not a pawn of anyone. The Brothers are Egyptian first.

So, until there is a change in Cairo, I think I talk about the weather.

Friday Head Note or Why You Can Insult a Politician and Can't be Sued

I'm glad someone sent this to me, because I was always concerned that some paranoid right wing politian "jerk", "idiot" or "horses ass", might sue me - especially those with another profession - for exactly this reason...
Where vitriolic replies to remarks attributed to plaintiff were directed to plaintiff as potential political foe and not as an accountant, words "horse's ass," "jerk," "idiot" and "paranoid" used in such context were not libelous per se.

Blouin v. Anton, 431 A.2d 489 (Vt. 1981)

So take that right wing politicians!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Controlling the Message - US and Egypt

I hate concentrating on one subject, but Egypt is really, really important. Over at Information Dissemination, they noted that the Enterprise battle group has reportedly sailed from Portugal into the Med. It does not take too much imagination where the group is heading. But ID asks some very key questions about communications and developing perceptions about the possible role the US may play in the overthrow of Mubarak.

As ID has pointed out, Suez is a key strategic asset whose closure would adversely affect international trade and economies. Reports (unconfirmed via Stratfor) that the Gaza border is open to Egypt provides a legitimate cause for concern should Hamas decide to escalate the war (and that is what it is) with Israel by disrupting Suez traffic. So sending the Enterprise – with its US Marine contingent – to Suez is a necessary tactical move. However, I completely agree with ID that instead of or in addition to any CNN reporter on the flight deck put a reporter from Al Jazeera. Control the message, because if the Egyptian air force – using US fighters - decides Mubarak is worth a fight, then things will get very ugly, very fast. Al Jazeera will report the movement of the battle group anyway and the reaction of the Egyptian people will be that it is sailing to support Mubarak. Very. Big. Mistake.

The political situation post Mubarak is difficult to gauge. The neo-cons are worried about the Muslim Brotherhood becoming the dominant political force in Egypt and turning it into an Islamic state. They forget three important points – MB does not espouse the same ideology as the regime in Iran and has no leading clerics or leaders; it is not the only opposition political party; and, it will remain a powerful political force no matter what. They are a player who must be considered in any future government. It would make sense for the MB to form a coalition with several parties, secular and non-secular, in order to bring some stability but they are unlikely to be reading my advice.

From a foreign policy perspective, the probability that Egypt would lurch into the Iran mode is very remote – but not impossible. Particularly if the US and the West is viewed as having propped him up. Politicians and pundits routinely dismiss the improbable based on past experience (such as the un-forcasted revolution in Tunisia and the current upheaval in Egypt) – much to their subsequent embarrassment (which unfortunately is soon forgotten). However, it is not clear that the MB has the political strength to pull off what would amount to a coup as this would require army and air force support, which they won't get.

Mubarak has been an ally of the West in the region and he has continued the foreign policies of his predecessor, Anwar Sadat, for 30 years, which has been a good thing. Those policies are likely to change in the near future – and the US and Western Europe need to control their messages to Egypt right now so that the extent of the foreign policy changes is minimal. Sending a carrier battle group to Suez may be militarily prudent – but sending it with the wrong message could make matters worse.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Egypt Moves to the End Game - Despite Dick Morris

This is the possibly the stupidest piece of garbage written yet about Egypt and the revolution going on to unseat Mubarak.  To quote the government mouthpiece in Jerusalem - the Jerusalem Post - merely compounds the clear lack of understanding of what is happening in the Arab world and the bankruptcy of slavishly molding US foreign policy to whatever the regime in Israel wants. As for the "who lost China" analogy - it was stupid then and it is stupid now. Oh - Morris, the army has spoken and if you believe it is an arm of Iran, then you have lost some of your last brain cells.

Morris has been so wrong about so many things so often that, like Sarah, it is unbelievable that 1) he is still considered as a source for advice and 2) people pay him for that advice. But of course, I forgot that he is one of the Very Serious People.