Egypt: How much has really changed?

GlobalPost has an eye-opening article regarding the state of post-revolution Egypt:

Has Egypt’s Revolution Become a Military Coup?

Military trials of Egyptian civilians persist and the military leadership has expanded and extended the 30-year-old, widely criticized Emergency Law once used by Mubarak to justify his authoritarian tactics.

Was it not one of the revolution’s central demands (as with the other Arab revolutions) that the Emergency Law be brought to an end? Perhaps the Obama Administration should attempt to salvage the remaining bits of its reputation in the Mideast (post-U.N. speech) by putting pressure on the Egyptian military to bring an end to this law.

The military said the sweeping powers granted in the law were necessary to prevent the type of chaos that erupted on Sept. 9, when a mob of hundreds of Egyptians stormed the Israeli embassy in Cairo.

Ah, but of course. The usual suspects.

Future prospects look dim:

No one knows exactly how much of Egypt’s economy is controlled by the army, but most estimates place it in the “billions” of dollars range. The problem, said some analysts, is that the military likely wants to prevent the complete transition to civilian leadership to ensure its hold on these assets.

“The military will never allow a civilian president to have oversight of their budget,” Stacher said. “And the Mubarak-style tactics to control dissent on the streets is one way for the military to consolidate its rule.”

I recall hearing the chant, “The Army and the People are one”, during the Revolution. Yeah…

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Greatest Threat to America

What would you think if someone suggested normalizing relations with Cuba would be unwise because of an Iran-Cuba-Hezbollah Axis, where by the Cuban Missile Crisis would be repeated, only this time with Iranian arms placed there by a Lebanese “terrorist” organization? Well, you’d probably think they were more than a little off their rocker.

I give you… Michelle Bachmann:

I have to say, if her allegations were true, such a situation would definitely add an interesting twist to world diplomacy.

Beirut

Well, I’m finally getting around to producing some writing on my first weeks living in Lebanon. I think I’ve finally been here long enough to begin to rationalize and crystalize some thoughts, perceptions, and observations about this place. There’s definitely still a part of me that isn’t entirely geographically-oriented to the fact that I’m actually, physically residing in Beirut, Lebanon. I think its jus the whole time/distance thing… that I could be in Europe in a couple of hours, and in Damascus or Cairo in even less time. It’s funny though, I came here in the hope that I’d be able to find some answers to some of the questions I had been coming across in my studies at university, and from personal interest in general. But now, I’m even more confused about the Middle East than I was before. But I’m defiitely not disenchanted or disaffected, which is a good thing, I suppose. When people ask me how Lebanon is, the first thing that always jumps to mind is the desire to simply state that this place is freaking nuts and crazy and insane. And I don’t meant that in a negative way at all, more in the sense that things operate in a completely different way here, in comparison to the Western world. The pulse of Lebanon and the Arab world beats at a different pace. I think I like vibrating on the Beiruti frequency. There’s a certain, definite thrill to this place, that manifests itself well outside and beyond the confines of the original political drama and theatrics I came here to witness. It’s exhilarating to be able to stand up through the sun roof of an Infiniti FX35 while careening down the highway at 90+ mph blasting music and feeling the rush of air so fast I can barely open my eyes. Or being able to drink in the back seat of a the car. Or narrowly avoiding running into other cars on the highway. This is sort of what I’m hinting at when I describe this place as insane and crazy. Or take my living situation for example… I sort of indirectly assumed that I’d be getting a dorm room with a view facing campus and thus the Mediterranean Sea… Allah is in my room everyday, 5 times a day…. like a giant scatter plot… muslims on paper

A Revelation

So I’ve been thinking lately a lot about what I want to do with my life. I suppose that’s because I do a lot of sitting. And a lot of thinking. Actually, about 9 hours of it per day to be precise. Sitting in front of a computer monitor, occasionally working on excel spreadsheets. Gazing bleary-eyed over endless lists of number, and profits, and figures… that I really don’t give a damn for.

I’ve realized this weekend that I’ve been indirectly trying to answer the question of what I want to do next with my life for the past few months now. It’s strange… I always thought I was somehow above that question. I’ve known I’d wanted to be a Foreign Service Officer for the State Department since my Junior year of Highschool.

Part of me still does.

As an American I still no doubt feel a duty-bound obligation to uphold the Republic of my Founding Fathers’ creation. And though government and civil service are among the most distinguishing and faithful ways of doing so, there are no doubt other ways. Was not the Fourth Estate created and enshrined in our Constitution as a check on government power? The Fourth Estate, regardless of its current circumstance and condition, has always been a central part of the American project. And it has played no small part in the history of this country.

When I think back to the courses I took in the three years I spent at the University of Colorado, a few stand apart from the rest in terms of the number of classes I actually attended and the level of energy I invested and devoted. Off the top of my head, the best were an upper-division writing course I took with a focus on Colonialism & Imperialism, from which I produced a massive paper chronicling the history of the European imperial role in the creation of Lebanon. The second, was a course on Global Media as part of a certificate course constructed by my department of International Affairs and CU’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication – the International Media Certificate. As a part of this I took a course on Global Media where I began to research the Middle East, and Lebanon again, from the stand point of the media institutions and their evolution in the region. The third course I took that was probably the most interesting of the entire three years I spent at CU, was a course on War and Disaster Reporting. My professor was an Asian-American foreign correspondent, and though his name now eludes me, I remember how fascinating his stories used to be – of reporting from conflict zones around the world. It was a cool class as well – a mix of journalism students and international affairs kids. I miss college.

Anyway, it got me thinking that perhaps this was really where my real interest lay, in the enjoyment of hearing stories and doing the best I could to retell them to friends and family, upon my return home from Lebanon.

There are not many people I know who have had the chance to travel to the Lebanese border with Israel unwittingly participating in a campus organized trip that was a front for none other than, you guessed it, Hezbollah. I mean, it was absolutely fantastic. And I’ve never written of it on here because I feared that the State Department might decline my candidacy for the Foreign Service upon learning that I had not only visited the border with Lebanon’s one and only Islamic Resistance, but also witnessed a military parade arranged by them, complete with armed convoys with weapons and battle hymns.

Like I said though, it was probably one of the highlights of the time I spent there. Same goes for visiting the areas of the country being de-mined, from the 2006 war with Israel, by the Lebanese Army, or more specifically, the Lebanese Mine Action Center, comprised of the Armed Services as well as the U.N. in addition to other NGOs.

Or my visit to the Palestinian Refugee camp at Shatilla, where I spent the day volunteering to tutor at one of the few madrassas for children in the camp. I’ve mentioned this experience before, but basically I spent most of the time learning more Arabic from a sweet girl named Asra than I could teach her English.

But it was amazing. And I don’t have any clue why I left to come home to the States, other than to finish that one pesky science credit left in order to graduate. But otherwise, to put it bluntly, I have no fucking clue.

I simply don’t feel as alive here as I did over there. It’s taken me nearly half a year to realize that. I belong there, and I know it innately. I really don’t care what I end up doing as long as I’m there. I’m sure I’ll be able to figure things out.

I’ve been thinking about the number of people I met there. My frequent chats with the Lebanese grandparent generation. The stories I’d hear about how the demographic makeup of Beirut’s neighborhoods used to look before the Civil War. About the trees from which Gemayzeh street borrows its name. The only trees now in Gemayzeh are those ringed with alcohol bottles and twinkling lights. But I always wondered when I walked down it, whether I was drunk at night, or hungover during the day – what did those trees look like? What fruit did they bear? What was it like waking up in Beirut before 1975 and watching the rays of sunlight glance down through those trees?

I still wonder.

Remains of the Day

From the International Society for Human Rights…

 

The image of Ahmadinejad was around back in 2009 for the protests over the Presidential elections in Iran – always been a favorite – he looks like a scared kitty.

Courtesy Gizmodo – This is What Dictators Are Really Scared About

Here’s a ridiculously awesome video of a solar flare…
Gizmodo: You Have Never Seen The Sun so Close

Another expose of the brutality of Arab regimes…
The Daily Beast: Horrific Libyan Prison Exposed

Money quote…

As the two are talking, a handful of other former prisoners gather around and compare notes, some rolling up sleeves or pant legs to show scars and lumps from the torture they endured. There is a round of morbid laughter when many of them realize they were routinely given the “Hyundai” treatment. Barghati then flashes the other prisoners a quick smile to show off two rows of false teeth, a permanent reminder of his time at the facility. During one interrogation session, Barghati’s hands were cuffed from behind and he was blindfolded. A guard then grabbed the back of the blindfold and rammed his mouth into the edge of a table, knocking out all his front teeth. The guards called that move the “Ray-Ban,” for the brand of sunglasses. “Allah brought us comfort then and Allah is with us now,” Barghati says, raising his voice. “This country will be free.”

Not to make light of such atrocities and gross abuses of human rights, but I recall a scene from The Mummy where they recall how Imhotep was subjected to the “Hyndai” for consorting with the Pharoah’s mistress – basically he was buried alive in a coffin full of scarab beetles. Neither treatment seems particularly appealing.

I’ve been spending some time reading through The Arabist – a new blog I’ve discovered that follows events in the region, so I’ll have some links from there shortly. I may also start writing on here in Arabic, if I can find the time.

From the Middle East

I decided to separate out my coverage of events in the Middle East from the usual stuff I find on the internet and repost here in Amateur Diplomat. After all, the primary focus of this blog is supposed to be on America’s foreign affairs, and not random items of amusement, however interesting they may be. I actually haven’t been doing my job very well (ironically, I’m actually writing this at my professional job) but, what I mean, is that analysis of foreign affairs is not just the reposting of articles others have written, however brilliant or insightful they may be. I should really be providing some sort of coherent critique here.

First off, there’s been a lot of discussion in the national media regarding the Obama Administration’s response to the situations in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, and now Libya. President Obama didn’t even mention Egypt in his State of the Union and three days after Mubarak was taken out of power. Obviously, the issue inside of the administration right now is attempting to reconcile the interests of the United States, especially when it comes to maintaining regional relationships regarding resources and defense, with our principles, which dictate that we support human rights, democracy, liberty, and the rule of law. Regardless of how this balancing act has played out recently, it occurred to me recently, that I honestly don’t think the Obama Administration, nor perhaps any institution that has a hand in U.S. foreign policy making, had contingency plans in place to answer the fundamental questions of “what do we do if…. regimes are toppled by popular unrest – and the Middle East is swept by a wave of democratic uprisings”. I think our foreign policy establishment was entirely unprepared to answer that question. It’s pretty clear that was the case given the sporadic and inconsistent response by the American government to each of the revolutions in the Middle East. It’s somewhat startling as well. Think about how much time and effort the Bush Administration devoted to its “Freedom Agenda” – two wars and billions of dollars later and where did we stand? Worse off than where we began. The Obama Administration began its tenure in office by initiating a 6-month review of the Afghan War. I mean, was there really no preparation done to answer the question of what the U.S. should do if revolution started of its own accord in the Middle East? It’s slightly mind-boggling, and makes me wonder if there was some sort of mis-guided perception that’s dominated the American perspective of world affairs that essentially causes us to view outside events through the prism of American/Western action – basically – that major events such as these don’t take place without some sort of catalyst on our part.

I don’t know.

Anyway, here is some of the latest and most interest coverage of events in the Middle East…
In Cradle of Libya’s Uprising, the Rebels Learn to Govern Themselves

On Thursday, the fruits of that effort were beginning to take a rough shape. A judge, still wearing his robes, wandered through traffic, ordering drivers to put on their seat belts. At another intersection, three young men helped an elderly police officer direct a traffic jam.

In Benghazi’s new order, the court building overlooking the Mediterranean has become both a seat of rebel power and the town hall.

U.S. Trying to Pick Winners in New Middle East

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was unable to reach the foreign minister, Moussa Koussa, Mr. Crowley said, citing a technical glitch.

That’s also my cat’s name.

The administration has urged Saudi Arabia not to impede King Hamad’s attempt to undertake reforms in Bahrain, an island connected to Saudi Arabia by a causeway and dependent on the Saudis for political and economic support.

I also wonder if that does not include military support as well. It’s not just the military support Saudi Arabia receives from the United States, in terms of weapons and other defensive equipment, but also the reliance of Bahrain’s ruling family on an internal security service composed primarily of foreigners. I recently heard a suggestion that perhaps Saudi was sending some of its notorious religious police into Bahrain, over the bridge connecting the two countries.

An incredible video from CNN’s only correspondent in Libya, Ben Wedeman…
Gawker: The Incredible First News Footage from Liberated Benghazi, Libya
Look at all those people hallucinating on Nescafe.

WSJ: Our Bargain With The New Gadhafi

Gadhafi’s vicious regime has left Libya far worse than he found it on the day of his coup in 1969. King Idriss was at least a unifying figure for a country that had not long been unified and had been independent only since 1951. Gadhafi has established no national institutions, not even allowing a fake parliament of the Mubarak or Ben Ali variety that could perhaps be turned into something real.

Nor is there an army such as in Egypt, with the prestige and unity to intervene, restore calm and (we all hope) set the country on a better path. Gadhafi, who took power in a military coup, was too clever to allow a well-organized army that might do the same to him. Many units are organized along tribal lines, which has kept Gadhafi safe but may be his undoing now. If the tribes are central to defeating him, the next government will have to balance them carefully, using Libya’s oil wealth to buy support and time to address its many crises.

Like Idi Amin and Emperor Bokassa, Gadhafi will soon join the pantheon of grotesque dictators who leave their countries in ruins. Given the last years—when quiet disapproval replaced forceful denunciation as U.S. policy—we can only hope that Libyans remember the decades when we were Gadhafi’s worst enemy.

Roger Cohen’s latest Op-Ed in the Times…
NYT: From Oklahoma to Tobruk

I could only think of the long journey traveled by the United States from its “original sin” of slavery, through the civil war and Jim Crow, on through the long civil rights campaign and the King assassination, to the once unthinkable thing: the election of an African American to the nation’s highest office.

It takes a long time — centuries — to establish that all men really are created equal; and that “certain unalienable rights” belong to all citizens rather than to all citizens except those of a certain color.

The Arab world has embarked on a very long road to enfranchisement. It will be tempestuous but the direction taken is irreversible.


 

Found

Salon.com has an insightful article on Obama’s Justice Department’s decision to no longer stand by the Constitutionality of certain statutes of the Defense of Marriage Act…
Obama Sets Marriage Trap… for Republicans

Money Quotes:

In the end, the opponents of same sex marriage were reduced to a perfectly circular argument that would not survive a freshman philosophy class, much less law school. They asserted that the meaning of marriage was a union between opposite sexes, then concluded that allowing any other union would destroy the meaning of marriage as they had just defined it. They were forced to employ such twisted logic because there is no empirical evidence to support the exclusion of gays from marriage; the prohibition is the last vestige of the religious belief that homosexuality is sinful, a rare application of the language of the Old Testament to otherwise victimless behavior in a secular society. (One of the hardest things about talking to God is finding an expert to give a proper deposition.)

From the Middle East:

Gawker covers Muammar Gaddafi’s many fashion statements throughout the years…
Muammar Gaddafi’s Most Memorable Fashion Moments

I think this one is my favorite…

For anyone interested in the comparison between the revolutions of 1848 in Europe and those happening today in the Middle East here’s some essential background… from Wikipedia
Revolutions of 1848

An interesting twist from Yahoo India on the case of a CIA Agent? being tried in Pakistan…
“CIA Spy” Davis was giving nuclear bomb material to Al-Qaeda, says report

Money Quotes:

Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) is warning that the situation on the sub-continent has turned “grave” as it appears that open warfare is about to break out between Pakistan and the United States, The European Union Times reports.

The most ominous point in this SVR report is “Pakistan’s ISI stating that top-secret CIA documents found in Davis’s possession point to his, and/or TF373, providing to al Qaeda terrorists “nuclear fissile material” and “biological agents”, which they claim are to be used against the United States itself in order to ignite an all-out war in order to re-establish the West’s hegemony over a Global economy that is warned is just months away from collapse,” the paper added.

I have yet to read this article… but Robert Fisk has written his first dispatch from Libya, probably just as extraordinarily insightful as most of his work is… will probably break down with comments at a later point.

The Independent: Robert Fisk with the first dispatch from Tripoli – a city in the shadow of death

 

The Cool Stuff…

Mark Zuckerberg now stars as the hero of a comic…
The Mark Zuckerberg Comic Has Arrived

*A side note – “Gurl, that boy is one hot mess, and not just because of his billions in cash”

I wish I could play violin as good as this Toyota robot…

And finally, this is probably the coolest video I’ve seen all day… I’m definitely going to grow a beard like that when a) I begin writing a dissertation or b) am deployed to a remote village with the Peace Corps. He’s pretty hot to boot – I have a thing for guys with beards and nice lips… mmm… yeah I could marry him in a heartbeat