Gaza Strip / West Bank
Sudan / South Sudan
United Arab Emirates
Well done, fellas!
PAKISTAN TODAY - What happened on 2 May, 2011, shall forever be etched in the history of this great country. And now the Abbottabad Commission Report has further sealed that glory in its 336-page tribute that underscored and extolled an astounding achievement of this proud nation, the government, the intelligence agencies and the forces. To successfully shield a man the entire world was vying to hunt down, for almost a decade, ranks up there with Napoleon’s trouncing of the Third Coalition, Hannibal’s march across the Alps and Alexander’s defeat of Persia as one of the greatest military campaigns of all time. . . .
Completely missing the size of Bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, its unusual shape, the barbed wires, the dearth of cars and people in and around it, for nearly six years is no small accomplishment. Pakistan’s achievement, thus, has been nothing short of miraculous. . . .
Reading such invigorating literature only helps one acknowledge the amount of effort the government, the forces and the intelligence agencies are putting in to ensure Pakistan’s global prominence. So well done, fellas! Well done for resoundingly reminding everyone of the safe haven that our country is for Islamist militants. Well done for making this country a laughing stock, for the comic pleasure of the rest of the world. Well done for such a pathetically childish attempt at a double game at the expense of the miniscule remnants of integrity that this country had. And well done for reinstating Pakistani patriotism in all its pointlessness and hollowness. I’m sure if you cut our skins right now, we’d all bleed green – although that might be owing to the level of sickness in our blood. Well done, fellas!
Raw Sewage and Anger Flood Gaza’s Streets as Electricity Runs Low
NYT - GAZA CITY — Raw sewage has flooded streets in a southern Gaza City neighborhood in recent days, threatening a health disaster, after a shortage of electricity and cheap diesel fuel from Egypt led the Hamas government to shut down Gaza’s lone power plant, causing a pump station to flood.
Three more sewage stations in Gaza City and 10 others elsewhere in the Gaza Strip are close to overflowing, sanitation officials here said, and 3.5 million cubic feet of raw sewage is seeping into the Mediterranean Sea daily. The sanitation department may soon no longer be able to pump drinking water to Gaza homes.
“Any day that passes without a solution has disastrous effects,” Farid Ashour, director of sanitation at the Gaza Coastal Municipalities Water Utility, said Tuesday in an interview. “We haven’t faced a situation as dangerous as this time.”
The sewage crisis is the most acute of an array of problems since the Islamist Hamas movement that governs Gaza shut down the power plant on Nov. 1. Four months earlier Egypt’s new military-backed government closed the smuggling tunnels that were used to transport around one million liters (about 260,000 gallons) of diesel here each day.
Hamas has refused to import Israeli diesel because of taxes imposed by the Palestinian Authority.
Having gotten used to years of scheduled blackouts, generally eight hours without electricity two of every three days, Gaza’s 1.7 million residents are now facing daily power failures of 12 or even 18 hours.
Businesses have cut back production, hospitals are rationing electricity to keep dialysis and cardiac support systems running, students are doing Internet research in the middle of the night and battery sales are brisk. Everywhere, the drone of generators mixes with the odor of kerosene lamps.
A look at Iran nuclear sites from mine to reactor
AP - A brief outline of Iran's mining, enrichment and reactor sites.
Kazakhstan’s Bet on Rail
NYT - With oil finally having started to flow in September from the vast Kashagan field in the shallow Kazakh waters of the Caspian Sea, this big but sparsely populated Central Asian nation is considering how to spend its coming wealth. An early beneficiary is the country’s sprawling railroad network, a large, state-owned business empire. It is investing heavily with cash from the country’s oil-financed sovereign wealth fund and is now considering initial public offerings for one or more of its business units.
The rail business, Kazakhstan Temir Zholy, better known by its initials as K.T.Z., reached a deal this summer to build a $100 million freight and logistics center on the coast of China at Lianyungang port, roughly halfway between Beijing and Shanghai. The goal is to bring goods in and out of Central Asia through a combination of rail and sea freight, and help the region diversify its exports beyond an overwhelming dependence on Russia that has lasted for more than two decades after the demise of the Soviet Union.
“We can see the change of the market toward more shipments to China,” said Kanat K. Alpysbayev, the chief operating officer of K.T.Z., in an interview here.
Active and Improvising, Kerry Is Taking on Tough Problems
NYT - WASHINGTON — John Kerry has made no secret of his ambitions as secretary of state. On a visit to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem last March, he watched as two bearded patriarchs pleaded with President Obama to bring peace to the Holy Land. Clasping their hands, Mr. Kerry said, “I’m going to work as hard as I can to get it done.”
Eight months later, Mr. Kerry’s effort to broker peace between Israel and the Palestinians is still an uphill struggle. But he may be poised to begin delivering another major goal Mr. Obama has long sought: an agreement with Iran to curb its nuclear program.
If the United States and its five negotiating partners come within striking distance of an interim agreement with Iran, Mr. Kerry is likely to fly to Geneva at the end of the week to try to seal the deal. It would be a rare win for a White House that has been reeling from the botched rollout of the health care law, a stalled legislative agenda and doubts about Mr. Obama’s credibility.
There is no credible US military option, and 9 other pointers from Jerusalem
TOI - History would suggest that Israel is entirely capable of defying the international community to act militarily if it regards itself to be facing an existential threat. It has defied the international community in the past, notably in 1948, 1956 and 1967. The Sinai 1956 circumstances make for interesting consideration: Israel believed it had some six months in which to act before the Egyptian army would have absorbed Soviet weaponry for which Israel felt it had no answer. And it acted.
Israeli-US tensions over Iran have now emphatically reached the level of a major crisis, involving a fundamental clash of interests.
If Israel’s leaders find themselves faced with the following equation: on the one hand, the imperative to protect eight million Israelis and the existence of the state and, on the other, the danger of enraging the international community, the choice would actually be quite straightforward.
The Second Sucker’s Game
TOI - The difference between France and the US on the Iranian nuclear program speaks volumes as to the naivete of the Obama administration. France is a staunch defender of strict non-proliferation. They are skeptical when it comes to the Islamic Republic. They will only accept a good deal as defined by a breakout capacity of at least a year. With very strict intrusive oversight, the French have positioned the P5+1 to a tough bargaining position. Paris places equal emphasis on centrifuge numbers and quality, stockpiling of enriched materials and irreversibility, potential for plutonium production, and the future of underground sites. The Americans, on the other hand, have bought into the myth that the new Iranian president represents some kind of shift toward moderation. Unlike France, Obama’s position is weighted more toward the political and not the technical or scientific. This dramatic American shift has caused a rupture in relations between Washington and its traditional allies in the Arab world. Israel, too, feels the grave stress of the Obama misperception.
Washington’s new policy in the Middle East is to bet heavily on President Rouhani. The hope is that Iranian “moderation” will deliver not only a nuclear deal but also a solution to the Syrian regional war. But such a policy can only be described as “jeux de dupes” (a sucker’s game). First, there are virtually no Iran analysts who believe that Rouhani has the authority for such a Syrian deal. Second, even if the Iranian president was allowed to link the two issues, the price the P5+1 would have to pay would be far too high. In other words, either the “moderation” is a complete myth (a high probability) or it is merely another card in the large deck of Iranian subterfuge to achieve a much shorter breakout capacity (more like two months or less).
Secret Recordings Reveal Mubarak’s Frank Views on a Range of Subjects
NYT - Hosni Mubarak looked like a stalwart American -ally but worried for years that Washington was trying to oust him as president of Egypt, he confided to a doctor recently in surreptitiously recorded conversations that came to light here last week.
“How did the revolution start?” Mr. Mubarak mused about his ouster, in early 2011. “The Americans worked on it since 2005, and I had a feeling then.”
The conversations were recorded over a period of months this year and were authenticated over the weekend when the doctor, an ear, nose and throat specialist, was summoned to testify about them. They offer a rare, unadulterated taste of the former president’s attitudes about a host of subjects — Washington, Israel, his Arab neighbors, Jews, the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s new military leaders and most of all himself.
'Stop the blood': Years of war drain once-passionate Syrians aiming to topple Assad
NBC - In 2011, Syrian activists were inspired and believed they were capable of ousting President Bashar Assad. Now, after living through two and half years of violent war, many are exhausted and discouraged.
“Stop the war. Stop the blood. The Syrian people are tired now,” said Khaled Khalifa, author of the acclaimed Syrian novel “In Praise of Hatred.” He is now fed up with the revolution he once longed for.
“You can play revolution for some time,” Khalifa said recently. “But not for a long time.”
If the revolutionaries are exhausted, so is the government.
Khalifa pointed to Assad’s struggle to regain control of the eastern suburbs of Damascus known as the Ghoutha. “In Ghoutha, nine months of bombing and he [Assad] cannot go one centimeter. The regime is very tired.”
A Financial Lifesaver Thrown by Creditors Weighs Cyprus Down
NYT - Soon after Cyprus was thrown what was supposed to be an economic lifeline in March, Polis Pilakoutas, a 25-year-old Cypriot plumber, had his workweek cut to three days from five. His salary shrank by the same margin.“My boss was very straight,” Mr. Pilakoutas said. “He explained that he was having a cash problem.”
By April, the problem had become a crisis as the Cypriot economy went into a nose dive. The plumbing company failed. Mr. Pilakoutas lost his job along with all the other employees, as they became the latest casualties of harsh economic medicine that, across wide swathes of Europe, has often left the patient feeling only sicker.
Unemployment in Cyprus, according to figures released this month by Eurostat, the European Union’s statistical agency, was 16.3 percent in May, up 16.4 percent from before the March bailout deal between Cyprus and a group of three international lenders. It has gone up further since, economists say, though official numbers are not yet out. The rate for people under 25 is more than 30 percent.
Instead of fixing Cyprus’s problems, a tough rescue package for the Mediterranean nation has helped turn what began as a banking fiasco into a deep slump across an economy that, according to forecasts by the International Monetary Fund, will shrink by 9 percent this year and 4 percent next year.
Palestinian militants show off tandem RPG-7 warheads
JANE'S 360 - The Izz-al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, appears to have developed a way of turning standard high-explosive anti-tank (HEAT) RPG-7 rounds into tandem warheads that are capable of defeating explosive-reactive armour (ERA).
During a parade through Gaza on 14 September, numerous brigades fighters were seen carrying RPG-7 rocket-propelled grenade launchers, several of which were fitted with the new type of tandem round.
Israel eyes Syria warily from border buffer zone in Golan Heights
NBC - From a closed military zone a few yards inside Israel's border with Syria, the sound of shelling and plumes of smoke are clear -- evidence of the nearby civil war.
Soldiers from a special reconnaissance unit of the Israeli Defense Force look through binoculars from one of their observation points. Syrian government soldiers manning their own lookout post look right back. One gets up from his chair, goes inside and reappears with a rifle slung over his shoulder.
The town across the border is Quneitra, controlled by President Bashar Assad's regime -- for the moment. Villages farther east are in the hands of rebels, and Israelis have observed their columns of weapons and supplies.
Suddenly there is a volley of fire. "Get down guys," the soldiers say. Some dive for cover in a concrete trench.
A sergeant explains that bombs and bullets from the Syrian war regularly land inside Israeli territory. The shooting may have been warning shots, or maybe just some stray bullets from a gunfight on the outskirts of Quneitra.
U.S. Says Dozens of Americans Have Sought to Join Rebels in Syria
NYT - WASHINGTON — Dozens of Americans have traveled or tried to travel to Syria to fight with the rebels against the government of President Bashar al-Assad since 2011, American intelligence officials said Wednesday.
The Americans are a small subset of the mostly radicalized young Muslims with Western passports who are entering Syria from Europe, North America and Australia, a group that numbers roughly 600, according to the officials and classified estimates from Western spy agencies. That represents a fraction of the roughly 6,000 to 11,000 foreign fighters over all who have poured into Syria by way of the Middle East and North Africa.
The Americans’ numbers are small — intelligence officials would not be more precise than saying “dozens” were involved — and they have so far not distinguished themselves on the battlefield. But they are part of what officials said was a growing presence of foreigners who are fighting Mr. Assad’s government.
“It’s a very steady increase, and I expect that to continue as long as the fighting there continues,” a senior American intelligence official said.
Afghan Migrants in Iran Face Painful Contradictions but Keep Coming
NYT - KABUL, Afghanistan — They have few rights, can be arrested on sight and deprived of a trial, and are often deported four, five or more times — and no sooner are they across the border than they head back.
Sometimes they are victims of vigilante justice; routinely, as unauthorized immigrants, they are denied work.
But for all those problems, up to three million Afghan migrants still seem to be finding a generally better life in Iran, with greater job and educational opportunities and more rights for women.
This often contradictory situation is addressed in a new report released by Human Rights Watch on Wednesday. The study found that Afghans in Iran are routinely deprived of their rights as refugees and subjected to arbitrary abuse.
Yet they keep coming, in numbers that have made Iran a leading destination for Afghans leaving their country: 800,000 Afghans are registered as refugees in Iran, and two million others are illegal migrants. Pakistan has 1.5 million registered Afghan refugees, and 500,000 to a million Afghans there illegally.
Afghans are still the world’s most numerous refugees. The official number of Afghan refugees, 2.6 million, is more than double that of the next largest refugee groups, Somalis and Syrians — and when estimates of illegal migrants are included in the count, the lead grows.
A Brutal Feud Emerges in Uzbekistan’s Fractured First Family
NYT - MOSCOW — Truth be told, Gulnara Karimova, the eldest daughter of the strongman leader of Uzbekistan, never did seem particularly well qualified to succeed her father at the head of their impoverished and troubled Central Asian nation.A gregarious socialite, she had aclothing line and recorded pop songs under a stage name, Googoosha, while Uzbekistan’s cotton-based economy languished and the government forced students into the fields once a year to bring in the harvest for almost no pay.
But Ms. Karimova’s standing has taken a big hit lately amid an escalating family power struggle after her father, President Islam Karimov, apparently allowed reports to circulate on the normally firewalled Internet that he had beaten her in a fit of rage.
“Karimov first slapped her on the face and then really started to beat Gulnara,” claimed the account, attributed to a security service insider and published late last month on the website of the opposition People’s Movement of Uzbekistan.
Over the two decades of his rule, Mr. Karimov has expelled nearly all foreign journalists and aid workers, so reporting on the country tends to be fragmentary and based on uncertain sources of information. But drawing on a mix of Twitter messages, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, scattered Western news reports, and Uznews and other opposition websites, it seems clear that a vicious and potentially destabilizing feud has broken out inside the ruling family.
Even as the family conflict has played out like a Hollywood scandal, its implications are serious for millions of people and for the United States military’s exit plans from Afghanistan, which shares a border with Uzbekistan.
Uzbekistan is Central Asia’s most populous country, but institutions are weak and the possibilities for violence are many. As with most authoritarian states nearing a transition in leadership, the succession bears with it the risks of bloodshed, betrayal within the elite and even civil unrest.
Money Traders Fret Over Possible U.S.-Iran Pact
NYT - For most of the past decade, particularly since Western financial sanctions began to bite hard two years ago, the dollar has been king around Tehran’s currency bazaar. With government oil revenues plunging and inflation surging, the Iranian national currency, the rial, plunged — to 40,000 to the dollar at its lowest point, from 10,000 to the dollar. For most people, the question was never whether to exchange rials for dollars but how soon.
But these days, the tenor of the bazaar has changed. With the prospect of an interim deal on Iran’s nuclear program — and the loosening of the sanctions, which might help revive Iran’s moribund economy — the fortunes of the long-suffering Iranian currency are looking up. Some people have even begun to think it may even make sense now to dump dollars.
Many traders speak wistfully of the heady times during the presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Back then, with the president denying the Holocaust and talking about wiping out Israel, the rial suffered heavy losses. As sanctions fell into place, it sank even further. “Those were fantastic days,” recalled one trader, who said he would flip dollars within 10 minutes, making profits from armies of worried middle-class Iranians trying to protect their savings.
Not everybody was so pessimistic. The money-trading business had made Behzad rich, he said. Wearing an Italian designer coat and polished leather boots, he stuck out from most of the other money traders, most of whom had arrived on the cheap Chinese motorcycles parked all around the square.
“You think I’m bluffing? Look at this,” he said, holding up his iPhone 5 to show a photo of himself dressed only in shorts, sitting on a glass table filled with towering stacks of dollars.
“For me the sanctions have really worked,” Behzad said. “I only change from a million and more. What you are seeing here is just the tip of the iceberg.”Behzad, the young money trader, said he did not believe in conspiracies; actually, he did not believe in anything other than the power of the almighty dollar. “Nothing will ever be solved, the leaders of the Islamic Republic will be talking to U.S. presidents decades from now, and money will always need to be changed,” he said.
He explained how he and others used to buy their dollars in Iran from average citizens and carry them in suitcases to Dubai and Turkey, to buy gold. “Because of differences in the rates, each run makes me around $20,000,” he said. “I love the sanctions. I hope they are never lifted.”
Afghanistan’s Big Tent Politics: TIME Explains the Loya Jirga
TIME - Thousands of tribal elders from across Afghanistan will gather in Kabul on Thursday for a Loya Jirga, which is Pashto for grand council. In a giant tent, they will hold a town hall-style meeting where they will try and find consensus on one of the most crucial decisions at hand–whether to support keeping American troops in the country for the next several years.
In reality, as is the case this year, the Loya Jirga is most often convened when a leader has to make an unpopular decision for which he doesn’t want to take sole responsibility. In 1915, a Loya Jirga was held to ratify the decision to keep Afghanistan neutral during World War I. Most Afghans wanted to attack the British, and the Germans and Turks sent envoys to try to convince Afghanistan to ally with the Central Powers. But Habibullah Khan, the Emir at the time, wanted to keep the country neutral, so he called a Loya Jirga to ratify that decision. Essentially, it’s a way for the leader to say he’s consulted with his people, but with one crucial twist: “Who controls the invite list? It’s the leader,” Barfield says. “If a Jirga goes against you, it’s a bad change in the political wind.”
The Loya Jirga process is different from most political gatherings. Delegates listen and argue, but when someone disagrees, generally he walks out. If enough people walk out, Barfield explains, the Jirga is illegitimate, but no one wants to be the only person to leave. During the constitutional Loya Jirga, proposed sections of the constitution were read aloud, and when someone was unhappy with a proposal, he left. When that was an important person, someone would run after him, they would discuss the issue outside and cut a deal. In the end, the single vote was by acclimation. “There are no losers, that’s the essence of the Loya Jirga,” Barfield says. “It’s a consensus thing. It’s not a question of two-thirds majority; it will vote unanimously, because the dissenters will refuse to attend and refuse to vote.”
Karzai’s delaying tactics won’t help Afghanistan
GULF NEWS - In another classic exhibition of lack of effective administrative capabilities, Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai has called for a Loya Jirga to deliberate on critical decisions pertaining to the country’s national security. In fact, the five-day jirga is being seen by many as a sort of delaying tactic by Karzai to sign off on a pact that will, among other issues, determine whether the US government has legal authority over their troops should they enter Afghan homes while tracking down terrorists.
Why else would Karzai call for a five-day sit down among tribals and noted village elders from across the length and breadth of a war-torn country to debate and consult each other on issues that could have been addressed by the parliament? The Loya Jirga is only a body that offers advice. It is up to the parliament to approve any security pact with the US and the parliament has the powers to override the jirga’s decision. The bottomline is Karzai will make the final call, but he is now given to theatrics claiming that he will not sign without the jirga’s approval.
How Is Hamid Karzai Still Standing?
NYT - When Karzai was elected president in 2004, he was hailed as a unique figure: a pro-Western Pashtun who fought the Soviets but stood against the Taliban, and so was acceptable to the country’s various sectarian groups and also to the West. But even as Karzai was building his new government, the Taliban were reorganizing. By the end of 2004, the United States captured images of Pakistani Army trucks rescuing Taliban fighters at the border; just three years later the Taliban had a permanent presence in more than half of the country, even collecting taxes and enforcing Shariah in Pashtun areas. Karzai blamed the Taliban resurgence on what he saw as the clumsy NATO handling of the war and the repeated U.S. failure to eradicate Taliban bases in Pakistan.
The United States, meanwhile, believed that Karzai was playing his own game — railing against the West to please his diverse constituents even as he relied on Western fears that Afghanistan would collapse into civil war for continued investment in defense and infrastructure. In 2009, Karl Eikenberry, the general appointed by Obama as his first ambassador to Afghanistan, was writing cables, later published by WikiLeaks, that revealed Washington’s growing frustration with its ally: “His inability to grasp the most rudimentary principles of state-building and his deep-seated insecurity as a leader combine to make any admission of fault unlikely, in turn confounding our best efforts to find in Karzai a responsible partner.”
Though corruption in Karzai’s government is rampant — Afghanistan is now tied with North Korea and Somalia as the most corrupt country on earth — Karzai has developed a theory that it is the fault of the United States: “There is corruption, no doubt,” Karzai told me. “Our own petty corruption in the delivery of services was there before, is here today and will continue for some time. The big corruption was designed by the Americans. The contracts were used by the U.S. government to buy influence in Afghanistan. It was designed to corrupt the Afghan political leadership so as to be usable by them.”
Others would maintain, however, that much of the corruption in Afghanistan can be laid directly at Karzai’s feet. The heroin industry boomed afresh under men like Sher Muhammad Akhundzada, Karzai’s chosen governor of Helmand and the country’s most infamous trafficker. Then there was the 2009 election, which was notoriously flawed: as many as 1,500 “ghost polling stations” were set up in remote areas beyond the supervision of electoral monitors.
But it is Karzai’s brothers who are widely regarded as the biggest stain on his legacy. Mahmood, in particular, has been accused of a litany of scams, ranging from using his proximity to the president to secure a lucrative Toyota dealership to contributing to the collapse of the Kabul Bank. Almost all of the bank’s loans were given to 19 individuals and companies, a number of them, including Mahmood, closely affiliated with the president and his associates. The ensuing government bailout cost $825 million. Mahmood was never charged with any crimes and claims to have repaid all the money he owes — a figure he put at $5.3 million.
Israel, Gulf in ‘strange alliance’ against Iran
TOI - “The adage about ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’ is playing out over Iran,” said Theodore Karasik, a security and political affairs analyst at the Dubai-based Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis. “This situation opens up some interesting possibilities as it all shakes out.”
There seems little chance of major diplomatic breakthroughs between Israel and the Gulf’s array of ruling monarchs and sheiks. But their shared worries over Iran’s influence and ambitions already has brought back-channel contacts and “intimate relationships” on defense and other strategic interests through forums such as the UN, said Dan Gillerman, a former Israeli ambassador to the world body.
A Two-Doctor Family’s Prosperity and Routine Are Shaken by War
NYT - Before the Syrian economic crisis, Bashar and his wife, both doctors, lived with their three children in a three-bedroom apartment with a spacious living room.
Bashar, 35, supplemented a modest salary from a government hospital with shifts at three private hospitals and a private clinic, where his wife also worked. They earned the equivalent of about $25,000 a year, making them wealthy by Syrian standards. Now, with parts of the city inaccessible and wealthy patients fleeing, his jobs have dwindled to one, and his wife is unemployed. When the collapse of the Syrian pound is factored in, he makes about $1,090 per year.
His family’s story is one of many that show how war, displacement and a currency crash have upended a professional class that was proportionally one of the Arab world’s largest.
To mention that he and his family ate meat or fish every day sounds strange, because they never thought twice about it. Now, they rarely eat meat and have had no fish for two months.
“I used to buy everything for my children and wife, the best food, meat, fruits, sweets and clothes,” said Bashar, who did not want his last name published for fear of reprisal. “Now I am always asking the grocer what is the price today for this thing or that, because maybe the price increased in the last 24 hours.”
In Syria, code language defies surveillance
BOSTON GLOBE - To communicate while living under an authoritarian regime requires a special sort of linguistic creativity. As a new paper by Nassima Neggaz in the journal Language, Discourse & Society reports, one solution that Syrians have found is to speak in codes.
Like dissidents, rebels, and spies in many times and places, Syrians use codes of their own invention to mask the political so that it sounds unthreateningly personal. In China, too, where government keeps a close watch on antigovernment speech, codes are common, most notably online. The creative ways that speakers of Arabic and Chinese have found to say the unsayable are a testament to how flexibly we are able to use language to express our thoughts, no matter how carefully it’s restricted.
In her July 2013 paper, Neggaz, a doctoral student in Islamic studies at Georgetown University, shows how Syrians have developed and used codes over the past four decades to speak about taboo subjects. These codes are shared within small, close-knit groups of trusted people—relatives, close friends—and used even behind closed doors, out of fear of neighborhood informers. These codes are passed from generation to generation, writes Neggaz.
“When I lived in Syria myself, in 2005,” Neggaz told me, “I was warned never to talk about the following topics: the government, the Assad family, the mukhabarat (Syrian intelligence), sexuality, religion, and sectarianism. These were taboos never to be brought up in any conversation, even with a close friend.”
Neggaz interviewed approximately 20 members of several close groups of relatives and university friends in Homs, Hama, and Damascus about the codes they used between 1980 and 2011. She found that members of one group, to speak of someone who was hiding from the regime, would say that the person was “sick,” mardan. Members of another group would say that he was “studying” (‘am yadruss) or that he was “taking exams” (‘andu fhussat). To describe someone who was being detained or who was in jail, it was common to say that this person was “at his aunt’s house” (huwa fi bayt khaltu). To suggest that a person was an informer, some speakers would say khattu heluw: “His handwriting is beautiful.”
In the years following the Arab Spring, Neggaz writes, Syrians have been using code to talk about the increasingly common acts of resistance. Expressions such as “it is raining” (‘am tmatir) or “we are having a party” (‘andna hafla) might be used to indicate that a demonstration is going on. Gunfire from Syrian forces is described as “heavy rain.” If a person is “coming out of the hospital,” he or she is emerging from hiding. “Coordination” (tansiqiyya) is the blanket term for revolutionary groups.
How Al-Shabaab picks its targets
CNN - Members of Al-Shabaab use Twitter frequently to communicate their messages to the world. The group has recruited around 40 young American men and also dozens from Europe and has shown that it is comfortable with Internet technology, despite the fact that Somalia is one of the poorest and most anarchic countries on the planet.
More than 10% of the Kenyan population is Muslim. So it is interesting that Shabaab took the precaution of evacuating Muslims from the Nairobi mall they were attacking, suggesting a greater sophistication in the tactics of this attack than the group has shown hitherto in Somalia, where they have killed large numbers of civilians indiscriminately in a country that is almost entirely Muslim.
Before he was killed by U.S. Navy SEALs two years ago, even Osama bin Laden had scolded members of Al-Shabaab, telling them to try to avoid killing Muslim civilians.
In a letter that was recovered in the house in Pakistan where bin Laden was killed, al-Qaeda's leader warned Shabaab members that they were killing too many civilians in battles in and around the key Bakara market in the Somali capital, Mogadishu.
10 things to know about Somali militants al-Shabab
AP - Al-Shabab is an extremist Islamic terrorist force that grew out of the anarchy that crippled Somalia after warlords ousted a longtime dictator in 1991. Its name means "The Youth" in Arabic, and it was a splinter youth wing of a weak Islamic Courts Union government created in 2006 to establish a fundamentalist Islamic state in the East African nation. Al-Shabab is estimated to have several thousand fighters, including a few hundred foreign fighters. Some of the insurgents' foreign fighters are from the Middle East with experience in the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. Others are young, raw recruits from Somali communities in the United States and Europe. U.S. officials have expressed fears that militants fleeing Afghanistan and Pakistan could seek refuge in Somalia.
The centre holds, but only just
ECONOMIST - At the end of the colonial era Somalia was arguably in ethnic terms the most homogeneous country in sub-Saharan Africa. The nearest to it was probably Botswana, which is four-fifths Tswana—and turned out to be peaceful and prosperous, suggesting to some that countries populated and run by a single big tribe have a better chance of stability than those with a hotch-potch of smaller ones.
Somalia, however, became a byword for conflict, poverty and ungovernability. Yet its ethnic homogeneity is misleading. Despite also sharing a single language and religion, it is divided into more than 500 clans and sub-clans, who are notoriously fractious and competitive. This, as well as their largely nomadic way of life, has made many Somalis fiercely loth to accept the edicts of a central government.
In Somali capital, today's boom is real estate
AP - Mohamed Nor's phone rings constantly, kept busy by the property hunters who want to own a piece of Mogadishu. Other clients sit on a chaise longue inside his airy office in the battle-scarred Somali capital, waiting patiently for the real estate agent's attention.
"Yes, we have any sort of property," Nor tells one caller. "Come to me today so I can show you some."
This seaside city's real estate market has seen an upsurge in demand over the last two years, thanks in large part to security gains made following the ouster of the al-Qaida-linked insurgents of al-Shabab. Although Mogadishu and other parts of Somalia are still a long way from firm stability and suffer the occasional militant attack, property brokers such as Nor now answer the many calls of ordinary Somalis who want to invest their money at home.
The real estate boom started with the arrival of aid agencies that assisted thousands of famine-hit Somalis in 2011. Those foreign aid workers who briefly moved into Mogadishu paid higher rents. More and more houses are now available for sale or rent, in part because landlords appear eager to tap into the influx of new arrivals from the diaspora.
China Gains New Friends in Its Quest for Energy
NYT - ATYRAU, Kazakhstan — On the northern reaches of the Caspian Sea, not far from this old Soviet town known for its oil and sturgeon, lies a vast new oil find, the biggest outside the Middle East. China was rebuffed when it asked for a stake 10 years ago.
But when the pumps finally started this month, the China National Petroleum Corporation had won a share in the project, known as Kashagan, and President Xi Jinping was in the region recently to celebrate, another indication that China’s influence has eclipsed even Russia’s across the former Soviet republics of Central Asia.
America’s Oil Boom Won’t Make It Energy-Independent From Middle East Madness
TIME - . . . The U.S. is in the midst of a boom in domestic oil production, thanks largely to new unconventional reserves in North Dakota and Texas, even as oil demand has fallen thanks to improving energy efficiency (and a still sluggish economy). The U.S. now imports 36% of the oil it uses, down from 60% in 2006. With U.S. oil production projected to increase by 28% between 2011 and 2014, according to the Energy Information Administration, and tougher CAFE fuel standards forcing more-efficient cars and trucks, oil imports will likely keep dropping in the years to come.
BACK IN TIME -
What Are the Iranians Dreaming About?
MICHEL FOUCAULT - 1978 - "What do you want?" It is with this single question in mind that I walked the streets of Tehran and Qom in the days immediately following the disturbances. I was careful not to ask professional politicians this question. I chose instead to hold sometimes-lengthy conversations with religious leaders, students, intellectuals interested in the problems of Islam, and also with former guerilla fighters who had abandoned the armed struggle in 1976 and had decided to work in a totally different fashion, inside the traditional society.
"What do you want?" During my entire stay in Iran, I did not hear even once the word "revolution," but four out of five times, someone would answer, "An Islamic government." This was not a surprise. Ayatollah Khomeini had already given this as his pithy response to journalists and the response remained at that point. . . .One thing must be clear. By "Islamic government," nobody in Iran means a political regime in which the clerics would have a role of supervision or control. To me, the phrase "Islamic government" seemed to point to two orders of things.
"A utopia," some told me without any pejorative implication. "An ideal," most of them said to me. At any rate, it is something very old and also very far into the future, a notion of coming back to what Islam was at the time of the Prophet, but also of advancing toward a luminous and distant point where it would be possible to renew fidelity rather than maintain obedience. In pursuit of this ideal, the distrust of legalism seemed to me to be essential, along with a faith in the creativity of Islam. . . .
I do not feel comfortable speaking of Islamic government as an "idea" or even as an "ideal." Rather, it impressed me as a form of "political will." It impressed me in its effort to politicize structures that are inseparably social and religious in response to current problems. It also impressed me in its attempt to open a spiritual dimension in politics. . . .
With respect to this "political will," however, there are also two questions that concern me even more deeply.
One bears on Iran and its peculiar destiny. At the dawn of history, Persia invented the state and conferred its models on Islam. Its administrators staffed the caliphate. But from this same Islam, it derived a religion that gave to its people infinite resources to resist state power. In this will for an "Islamic government," should one see a reconciliation, a contradiction, or the threshold of something new?
The other question concerns this little corner of the earth whose land, both above and below the surface, has strategic importance at a global level. For the people who inhabit this land, what is the point of searching, even at the cost of their own lives, for this thing whose possibility we have forgotten since the Renaissance and the great crisis of Christianity, a political spirituality. I can already hear the French laughing, but I know that they are wrong.
The Treason of the Clerics
Book Review: Foucault and the Iranian Revolution
THE NATION - 2005 - In one of his earliest reports, he [French philosopher Michel Foucault] dissected the standard Western take on the crisis in Iran: that the Shah, though not the most fragrant of statesmen, embodied the forces of "modernization" and "secularization," and therefore had the future on his side, while the oppositionists were a rabble of backward peasants and religious fanatics who had yet to adjust to the reality of the modern world. Foucault's informants in Iran saw things very differently: As far as they were concerned, their struggle was against corruption rather than modernization. The "honest people" of the West might turn a blind eye to the "speculation, corrupt practices, embezzlement, and swindling that constitute the veritable daily bread of our trade, our industry, and our finances," but for the protesters that was no longer possible. Corruption in Iran was manifestly the "dynasty's way of exercising power and a fundamental mechanism of the economy"; but it was a parasite that was beginning to destroy its host. The modernization that had once seemed unstoppable was being derailed by corruption: "As a political project and as a principle of social transformation," Foucault wrote, modernization "is a thing of the past in Iran."
In early October, Foucault was describing groups of unarmed demonstrators who were stopping government troops in their tracks with shouts of "Islam, Islam!" and "Come with us to save the Quran!"--a living refutation, as he observed, of the Marxist adage that "religion is the opium of the people." He was at first surprised to find left-wing students clamoring for "Islamic government." But then he realized that the Shiite clergy was nothing like a Catholic hierarchy. It had no popes or cardinals nor any centralized system of authority, and if the mullahs were galvanizing a popular revolt against corruption, it was not because they were in command but because they were giving ordinary Iranians exactly what they needed: "a way of being together, a way of speaking and listening, a means of understanding each other and sharing each other's desires."
The protesters who were calling for Islamic government explained themselves to Foucault by speaking about an "ideal" or "utopia" fashioned from Islamic values as they understood them: the dignity of labor, respect for minorities, equality before the law and government accountable to the people. . . .
Two weeks later he was back in Iran. He was struck by the way the resistance was gaining ground not through military strength but through the power of information. Protests were sustained by a diffuse system of communication that the state could neither monitor nor control: Messages from unidentified sources were transmitted by telephones and sermons and above all by "the tool par excellence of counter-information": the audiocassette recorder. "If the shah is about to fall," he said, "it will be due above all to the cassette tape."
Everyone he spoke to expected Khomeini to come back soon, but Foucault was assured that "there will not be a Khomeini party; there will not be a Khomeini government." What the protesters wanted was not even a revolution as Westerners understood it: "Everybody is quite aware that they want something completely different," something whose consequences would come as a surprise to the political cognoscenti. The only certainty was that the new revolt of Islam was "irreducible" and unpredictable--"the form of revolt that is the most modern and the most insane."
Foucault's experiment in political journalism earned him rebukes in the French press from the very beginning. Maxime Rodinson, a venerable Marxist scholar of Islam, informed him wearily that an Islamic government was bound to usher in some kind of "archaic fascism." And an exiled Iranian feminist claimed that Foucault's interest in "political spirituality" was blinding him, like many other Westerners, to the inherent injustice of Islam, especially toward women. For the time being, Foucault refused to respond, but events seemed to be vindicating his critics. The Shah fled Iran in the early weeks of 1979, Ayatollah Khomeini returned in triumph and at the end of March an Islamic republic was ratified in a popular referendum: a classic case, it would seem, of a resurgence of reactionary authoritarian populism. Many of the possibilities that Foucault had canvassed were coming to nothing, and in April he published an open letter to the new Iranian Prime Minister, Mehdi Bazargan, expressing dismay at the abridgment of rights under the incoming "government of mullahs." . . .
The whole of Foucault's Iranian journalism--a total of fifteen articles and interviews--was republished in France in 1994 as part of a four-volume anthology of his occasional writings. Ever since then, French critics have made the most of his "error" over Islamism, and some of them sought to implicate him in the attacks on Washington and New York in 2001. In the English-speaking world, however, the Iranian writings have hitherto been ignored; but the anomaly is now being put right with some authority by Janet Afary and Kevin B. Anderson. In Foucault and the Iranian Revolution, they tell the full story of Foucault's sudden induction into the journalist's trade and his contacts with exiles in Paris and rebels in Iran, concluding with an appendix of 100 pages comprising translations of Foucault's articles, together with some of the reactions they provoked, copiously annotated and explained. (The translations are sound, though I have amended some of them here.) One could hardly have asked for more.
The Philosopher and the Ayatollah
Book Review: Foucault and the Iranian Revolution
BOSTON GLOBE - 2005 - (scroll down for the full article in English) - "IT IS PERHAPS the first great insurrection against global systems, the form of revolt that is the most modern and most insane." With these words, the French philosopher Michel Foucault hailed the rising tide that would sweep Iran’s modernizing despot, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi Shah, out of power in January 1979 and install in his place one of the world’s most illiberal regimes, the Shi’ite government headed by Ayatollah Seyyed Ruhollah Khomeini.
Foucault wasn’t just pontificating from an armchair in Paris. In the fall of 1978, as the shah’s government tottered, he made two trips to Iran as a "mere novice" reporter, as he put it, to watch events unfold. "We have to be there at the birth of ideas," he explained in an interview with an Iranian journalist, "the bursting outward of their force; not in books expressing them, but in events manifesting this force, in struggle carried on around ideas, for or against them."
While many liberals and leftists supported the populist uprising that pitted unarmed masses against one of the world’s best-armed regimes, none welcomed the announcement of the growing power of radical Islam with the portentous lyricism that Foucault brought to his brief, and never repeated, foray into journalism.
"As an Islamic movement it can set the entire region afire, overturn the most unstable regimes, and disturb the most solid," Foucault wrote enthusiastically. "Islam — which is not simply a religion, but an entire way of life, an adherence to a history and a civilization — has a good chance to become a gigantic powder keg, at the level of hundreds of millions of men."
Foucault penned seven dispatches for the front page of the leading Italian newspaper Corriere della Serra as well as subsequent articles in French. But until the publication this month of Kevin Anderson and Janet Afary’s "Foucault and the Iranian Revolution" (University of Chicago), which includes the first full translation of Foucault’s Iranian writings, few of the English-speaking scholars who have otherwise pored over everything Foucault wrote and said have dealt with the episode at length.
Foucault’s Iranian adventure was a "tragic and farcical error" that fits into a long tradition of ill-informed French intellectuals spouting off about distant revolutions, says James Miller, whose 1993 biography "The Passion of Michel Foucault" contains one of the few previous English-language accounts of the episode. Indeed, Foucault’s search for an alternative that was absolutely other to liberal democracy seems peculiarly reckless in light of political Islam’s subsequent career, and makes for odd reading now as observers search for traditions in Islam that are compatible with liberal democracy. But at a time when religion is resurgent in politics and Western liberals are divided between interventionists and anti-imperialists, Foucault’s peculiar blend of blindness and insight about the Islamists remains instructive.
Saddam 'confessed over coffee and cigars'
GUARDIAN - 2007 - America has used some highly questionable methods to glean information from suspects during the war on terror, but with its most famous detainee it deployed coffee, Middle Eastern sweets and cosy chats.
According to an FBI agent who spent five hours a day questioning Saddam Hussein for seven months, the softly, softly approach paid handsome dividends, as the jailed dictator opened his heart, confessing to slaughtering 180,000 Kurds and plotting to build a nuclear weapon.
There was no sign of waterboarding, deafening music or blinding light, and when it was time for Special Agent George Piro to depart, Saddam burst into tears of sadness.
The two men then enjoyed Cuban cigars together on the patio behind his cell at Baghdad airport.
London mayor fuming over cigar case inquiry
LA TIMES - 2008 - Johnson, a former journalist who took office last month after defeating former Mayor Ken Livingstone in a bruising election battle, never made a secret of his possession of the cigar case -- he wrote a newspaper column in 2003 after deciding to "trouser" the item at the ravaged villa.
"You never saw such a mess. Naked wires sprouted from every wall where the light fittings had been ripped out. The very bidets had been smashed by the mob, in search of heaven knows what. . . . Everything of value or interest had been looted, or almost everything," wrote Johnson, who then spotted the leather cigar case, "capable of holding three Winston Churchills," in the front hall.
"Some journalists had rooted around in Baghdad and found sensational documents, appearing to incriminate Western politicians. It fell to your columnist to find a vital relic of our times, the object that nestled in the Iraqi foreign minister's breast pocket, and which was in some sense even closer to his heart than Saddam Hussein himself," he wrote.
Johnson envisioned that the cigar case, tucked into Aziz's pocket, had "silently attended the innermost meetings of the Baath Revolutionary Council," was perhaps even in the room when Hussein had "given away the secret location of his weapons of mass destruction."
The future mayor then mused on Aziz himself, whose villa also gave up the shredded works of Dostoyevsky and Flaubert, pages of Russian sheet music, a video of Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in "The Sandpiper."
Aziz's function, he concluded, "was to provide a veneer of international sophistication to a disgusting regime."
"He was a vain and conniving adjutant to terror, and I have temporarily taken his cigar case for safekeeping," Johnson wrote. "Had I left it, the thing would of course have fallen into the hands of someone even more hostile to Tarik Aziz than me."
Iraq War 10 Years Later: Where Are They Now? Tariq Aziz
NBC - 2013 - According to a December 2004 report by NBC’s Lisa Myers, Aziz was at first more cooperative than most of Hussein’s henchmen, ready to talk most particularly about corruption in the United Nations’ oil-for-food program. According to Myers, U.S. officials say Aziz implicated France and others, claiming payoffs were made with the understanding that recipients would support Iraq on key matters before the U.N.
Such cooperation, however, did not save him, along with other captured members of the Saddam regime, from being scheduled for trial for alleged crimes against humanity.
It was to be a long wait, punctuated with many complaints about his health and treatment.
Eventually, in April 2008, Aziz went on trial, accused in the deaths of 42 merchants executed for sanctions-profiteering in 1992. He also faced charges in the 1999 death of Ayatollah Mohammed Sadeq Sadr, a leading voice of opposition to President Saddam Hussein (and the father of anti-U.S. cleric Muqtada al-Sadr).
At first things looked good for Aziz, when he was acquitted on March 1, 2009, of the charges related to Ayatollah al-Sadr’s death. However, on March 11 he was found guilty and sentenced to 15 years in prison his role in the deaths of the merchants.
On October 2010, Aziz was sentenced to death by an Iraqi panel for crimes against humanity. However, Iraq’s president Jalal Talabini has refused to sign the execution order, according to a 2010 article in London’s Daily Telegraph newspaper. "I sympathise with Tariq Aziz because he is an Iraqi Christian. Moreover he is an old man who is over 70," Talabini said.
According to a January 2013 Agence France-Presse article, Aziz is suffering from depression in addition to diabetes, heart disease,and ulcers.
His lawyer, Badie Aref, quoted Aziz as saying, "I would prefer to be executed rather than stay in this condition.
Chevron squeezed for oil sales / Company poised to pay millions over alleged kickbacks to Saddam Hussein
SF GATE - 2007 - Chevron Corp. is near an agreement to pay a $25 million -to-$30 million fine over alleged kickbacks in the company's purchases of Iraqi crude oil under Saddam Hussein, according to a published report Tuesday.
The New York Times reported that Chevron is negotiating a settlement with federal prosecutors investigating a scandal-ridden United Nations program that allowed Iraq to use oil exports to buy food despite international sanctions.
As part of the settlement, San Ramon's Chevron, the second-largest U.S. oil company, is preparing to state that it should have known its purchases included kickbacks to Hussein's government, the paper reported.
Chevron Chief Executive Officer David O'Reilly, speaking in Chicago, declined to comment on the report, according to Bloomberg.
Company spokesman Kent Robertson said he could not confirm the report but said, "Chevron has cooperated with all inquiries into the oil-for-food program."
In Her Mind's Eye
THE NATION - 2006 - Hannah Arendt's The Origins of Totalitarianism would be on anyone's list of books that changed the world. But it is a classic that is deeply marked by the period in which it was written--a period, as Arendt put it, of "both reckless optimism and reckless despair." She started work on it in 1945, when Hitler had just been defeated, and finished in 1951, when the new state of Israel was beginning to flex its military muscles in the Middle East, communist revolutionaries had taken power in China, and Berlin had been blockaded under the shadow of the atom bomb.
"Never has our future been more unpredictable," Arendt wrote; "never have we depended so much on political forces that cannot be trusted to follow the rules of common sense and self-interest." We had no hope of recovering our old-time faith in progress, but there was not much chance of returning to "the old world order" either. The best traditions of Western culture had been vandalized and laid waste by Fascism and Nazism, and we found ourselves defenseless at the prospect of World War III.
Socialism and Marxism might once have offered shelter for political optimists, but not anymore: They had by then been absorbed into Stalinist Communism, which, far from being the antithesis of Nazism, turned out to be its horrible twin--an undeclared totalitarianism of the left, exactly mimicking the self-proclaimed totalitarianisms of the right.
Arendt was not the first to describe Marxism as a form of totalitarianism, and several of her conclusions had been anticipated by Karl Popper in The Open Society and Its Enemies in 1945--though she seems never to have acknowledged his work, or he hers. But no one before her had presented a sustained historical argument for regarding German Nazism and Soviet Communism as "essentially identical systems." As she saw it, the essence of totalitarianism was not dictatorship or one-party rule but a kind of ideological alchemy that transmuted a few fanciful notions of historical fate into ruthless imperatives of government. To Arendt, totalitarian ideology was manifestly ludicrous: If the future is really being shaped by an iron historical destiny, it should not require assistance from an iron political will. But ludicrousness is no obstacle to influence, and totalitarian fantasies had been the inspiration of several megalomaniacal regimes--notably in Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union--that tried to override the inherent unpredictability of human affairs and to treat people as superfluous to grand historical projects. "The totalitarian belief that everything is possible," Arendt said, "proved only that everything can be destroyed."The mood of The Origins of Totalitarianism was sober but never despondent. Totalitarianism as Arendt portrayed it was the upshot of an extraordinary concurrence of historical circumstances rather than an expression of some deep-rooted hideousness in human nature. By an unlucky accident, the collapse of rigid class structures in Europe had coincided with the decay of well-defined nation-states and the dissolution of old-style imperialisms, leaving traditional networks of solidarity in ruins. Totalitarianism had then filled the political vacuum with a new form of nationalism--a "tribal" nationalism that appealed to the self-pity of the mob while offering an attractive platform to intellectuals with delusions of omniscient grandeur. Even the persecution of the Jews was incidental rather than inevitable. Anti-Semitism had a long and repellent history, but before the rise of totalitarianism it had been little more than a hobby for boorish buffoons. When prosperous Jews lost their former function as state financiers, however, they became easy targets for inchoate mob rage, and anti-Semitism was transformed into a concerted policy of mass murder. Totalitarianism, in short, was a kind of accident, and it "became this century's curse only because it so terrifyingly took care of its problems." With the defeat of Nazism, however, the problems facing the world had changed; and if there were continuing grounds for fear, there were also fresh reasons for hope.
Many readers were shocked by The Origins of Totalitarianism--not so much by its relentless account of murderous cruelties as by its occasional flashes of good cheer. At a time of deepening disillusionment about the public world, when many of Arendt's contemporaries were turning toward the pleasures of cookery, religion, scholarship, children, art or psychoanalysis, Arendt insisted that however badly things were going, politics could always save us. She drew inspiration from the Nuremberg trials and their concept of "crimes against humanity," and from the foundation of the United Nations she looked forward with extraordinary confidence to some sort of global political renaissance.