Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Gamal al-Banna (1920-2013), R.I.P.

A fine man died in Cairo on December 30, 2013.  Dr. Gamal, as so many people knew him, was the younger brother of Hassan al-Banna, founder of the Muslim Brotherhood.  Long estranged from the Ikhwan, he was very much his own man, and he offered a voice of reason and moderation, as well as courage.  He was also a generous host, and I remember hours spent chatting with him in his home-cum-library.  Despite his advanced age, he could easily hold his own with intellectuals half his age, and he was admired and respected by many, many young people.
He deserves a longer reflection, which I will provide here in the days to come.
A 2009 profile appeared in the al-Ahram Weekly.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Veteran scholar of Bahrain reflects on the present situation

Emile Nakheh, whose seminal Bahrain is well known to Gulf scholars, reflects in an interview with the Bahrain Mirror (Arabic or English) on developments in Bahrain, including the U.S. and Saudi connections.  

A key point:

"The US so far has not used its considerable leverage with Al Khalifa to force a dialogue with the opposition. As many analysts had anticipated, the Saudi military intervention has failed to quash the uprising despite the virulent attitude toward the Shia community. On the contrary, it has energized the opposition despite continued regime repression, has empowered the anti-Shia hardliners within the Al Khalifa family, and has indirectly marginalized the King and his son the Crown Prince."

Thursday, January 17, 2013

No surprise here: WINEP head worries that Hagel appointment undermines the war option versus Iran

Robert Satloff, the head of WINEP, the influential Washington AIPAC-inspired thinktank, worries that by naming Senator Chuck Hagel to be Secretary of Defense President Obama reduces the credibility of the war option against Iran. Let's be candid, attacking Iran means starting a war, not simply "surgically" attacking discrete nuclear sites. Satloff, apparently sanguine about starting a war with Iran, seems not to consider that putting a man in the Pentagon who has advocated talking to Iran might make successful negotiations more feasible.  Satloff wants Obama to demonstrate more toughness vis-a-vis Iran to compensate for the Hagel nomination to demonstrate he hasn't gone wobbly.
Wouldn't it be refreshing if WINEP officials occasionally were not predictable?

Foreign Policy Professionals and Scholars in Support of Chuck Hagel

The Boston University Institute for Iraqi Studies has named Dr. Reidar Visser its newest Non-Resident Senior Fellow

Watch the website in the coming days for a posting. Reidar Visser is highly regarded for his analyses of Iraqi politics for his deep knowledge of southern Iraq.  
Dr. Visser has written extensively on the subject of federalism and regionalism in southern Iraq and Iraqi nationalism among the Shiites. His works include the monograph Basra, the Failed Gulf State: Separatism and Nationalism in Southern Iraq (Transaction Publishers, 2006), An Iraq of Its Regions: Cornerstones of a Federal Democracy? (Edited with Gareth Stansfield, Columbia University Press, 2007), and A Responsible End? The United States and the Iraqi Transition, 2005–2010(Just World Books, 2010).  Visser studied history and comparative politics at the University of Bergen and received a Ph.D. in Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Oxford. He joined the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs, where he is a Senior Research Fellow, in 1996.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Several items on the continuing outrages of the Bahraini government have appeared over the past few months that deserve your attention

A hard-hitting OPED by Nick Kristof.

Amnesty International's 2012 report on Bahrain, as well as a stream of reports on prison abuses, and the capricious and punitive use of the legal system to quash dissent, punish medical professionals for providing medical services to injured protesters, and silence human rights reporting and free speech in general.

The Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED) issued a useful report in November 2012 offering a one year assessment of the extent to which the Bahraini government has successfully addressed the findings of the Bahrain Indepedent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), which issued its damning report in November 2011.  The BICI was led my Mahmoud Cherif Bassiouni, the highly respected law profesor.   If you have been following developments in Bahrain, you will probably guess the findings, namely that the Bahraini monarchy has only fully implemented three of the 26 BICI's recommendations.  As the POMED report notes, several of the key recommendations have not been implemented at all, including accountability for officials responsible for torture and human rights abuses.

Human Rights Watch offers its own one year appraisal of the implementation of the BICI recommendations, and reaches findings that are comparable to the POMED report.  As Joe Stork, then Deputy Middle East Director for HRW, noted:
“Bahrain deservedly got a lot of credit for appointing an independent body to assess the government’s violations, but a year later, authorities have still not carried out the key recommendations. In fact, in many ways Bahrain’s human rights situation has only deteriorated since the king accepted the commission’s findings and recommendations.”

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Several of the groups opposing Senator Hagel are charitable organizations entitled to solicit tax-deductible donations under the U.S. tax code.

One of the groups that has been quite active lobbying behind-the-scenes against Senator Chuck Hagel's confirmation as Secretary of Defense is the well-heeled American Jewish Committee (AJC).  In 2010 and 2011, the AJC reported donations and grants of about $40 million annually. Only one donor is listed in the published AJC documentation, but we may assume that many donors to the AJC benefited from tax deductions when filing U.S. tax returns.  

It is striking that the AJC reported less than half a million dollars in lobbying expenses in 2011, yet given the high salaries paid to AJC employees the reported lobbying expenses seem quite low.  For instance, the President of the AJC is David Harris, who earns an annual salary of $500,000.  Harris has been particularly active in organizing opposition to Hagel's appointment.  He was also quite exercised by a NYTimes OPED that chastised groups like the AJC for submitting to the pressure tactics of far-right pro-Israel "zealots" (see M.J. Rosenberg illuminating commentary).  

For the record, it is timely to review the rules of the game for 501(c)(3) charitable organizations, such as the AJC.  Internal Revenue Service rules state the limits on lobbying activities by charitable organizations (which are entitled to accept tax-deductible donations). 

"In general, no organization may qualify for section 501(c)(3) status if a substantial part of its activities is attempting to influence legislation (commonly known as lobbying).  A 501(c)(3) organization may engage in some lobbying, but too much lobbying activity risks loss of tax-exempt status.
"Legislation includes action by Congress, any state legislature, any local council, or similar governing body, with respect to acts, bills, resolutions, or similar items (such as legislative confirmation of appointive office [emphasis added]), or by the public in referendum, ballot initiative, constitutional amendment, or similar procedure.  It does not include actions by executive, judicial, or administrative bodies.
"An organization will be regarded as attempting to influence legislation if it contacts, or urges the public to contact, members or employees of a legislative body for the purpose of proposing, supporting, or opposing legislation, or if the organization advocates the adoption or rejection of legislation."

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Radio Open Source: get to know it.

From Political Anthropology Clips:
Christopher Lydon is a gifted and creative interviewer, and in late 2012 he devoted himself to connecting with intellectuals, artists and novelists in Tunisia and Egypt.  His streaming interviews are fascinating, especially for putting the listener in touch with the tempo of debates, and the profound concerns of thoughtful people in two Arab countries that have been at the very center of the Arab awakening that began in 2011 and continues now and into the future.  I strongly commend his Radio Open Source to you.  For instance, here is the touching interview with a writer and translator (Hebrew to Arabic, and after you listen to that give some moments to one of Egypt's most famous contemporary authors, Alaa al-Aswany.

Saturday, January 05, 2013

What goes around, comes around.

Anyone who has spent time in Chicago knows the saying, which means that there is always pay back time.  Alan Berger, the astute Boston Globe emeritus editorial page guru, argues in a commentary that Obama should spend some time in Israel prior to this month's election.  Bibi Netanyahu, betting ill-advisedly on a Romney victory, mucked around in U.S. electoral politics.  Now is the time, Berger argues, for returning the favor and in the process changing the formula for a new political coalition in Israel.  Berger realistically assumes that Netanyahu, who is not facing an opponent likely to garner anywhere close to comparable votes, would be faced with a somewhat different cast of potential coalition partners if Obama were to intervene thought a pre-election visit to Israel during which the U.S. President would talk up the two-state solution.  My guess is the Obama intervention would be too late to have much political impact, but it would be satisfying to watch the self-serving Netanyahu squirm.

Obama would not have to say anything very original. He could offer an American endorsement for the sage counsel of Israel’s President Shimon Peres, who told a conclave of Israeli ambassadors the other day that “there is no alternative’’ to a two-state solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is a genuine peace partner. Obama would be acting in accord with US and Israeli interests if he told Israeli voters to heed the Peres criticism of Israeli rightists who act as if they could overcome reality by denying it. “If someone rejects the idea of a two-state solution, he should say what he has in its place,’’ Peres told the Israeli diplomats. “Even if you do not have another option . . . reality will bring the alternative. I tell you categorically that the idea of a bi-national state endangers the Jewish, Zionist, and democratic nature of Israel.’’

Friday, January 04, 2013

The ever thoughtful Henry Siegman: "the two-state solution is dead."

From the National Interest:
"By abandoning the Palestinian Authority, ending the ugly Fatah-Hamas rivalry and mounting a struggle for full citizenship rights in the Greater Israel they now live in, Palestinians will challenge not only Israel's public but also the United States and the international community to finally stand up to the most reactionary government in Israel's history. If that struggle does not bring back the two-state option, nothing will. In that case, the struggle that Palestinians will have initiated for citizenship and equal rights in Greater Israel could not have been more timely."
In 2010, the Boston Study Group on Middle East Peace released Israel and Palestine--Two States for Two Peoples: If not now, when? in 2010.  In the intervening three years, not only has no progress been made toward that end, but the prospects for achieving a two-state solution have all but evaporated.  Moreover, there is no credible evidence to suggest that the U.S. administration intends to accord serious attention to achieving a two-state outcome.  The dire and realistic assessment offered in Siegman's essay is therefore keenly relevant.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Chuck Hagel: “I’m a United States senator. I’m not an Israeli senator.”

The Pentagon has enjoyed solid leadership from two successive Secretaries of Defense, Bob Gates and Leon Panetta.  With Panetta stepping down a key appointment for President Obama will be to choose Panetta's successor.  The challenge of leading America's gargantuan Defense Department is immense and the person who is chosen needs analytical talents, leadership skills, deep knowledge of security and foreign policy and a penchant for soliciting and listening to competing perspectives.  Donald Rumsfeld had the smarts but he reacted to dissent as though it was a traitorous act.  Gates exemplifies all the traits that I listed.  Panetta had a tough act to follow, but he seems to have measured up, more or less.  Does Chuck Hagel have what it takes to lead Defense? Perhaps he does, but if the Israel lobby has its way he will never get a fair hearing.  (See David Ignatius in the Washington Post.)

Once again, the pro-Israel lobby is trying to wag the dog.  Rabid opposition to Chuck Hagel has come, among others, from the predictable Abraham Foxman who is quoted in Jennifer Rubin's column in Wapo:

“Chuck Hagel would not be the first, second, or third choice for the American Jewish community’s friends of Israel.  His record relating to Israel and the U.S.-Israel relationship is, at best, disturbing, and at worst, very troubling.   The sentiments he’s expressed about the Jewish lobby border on anti-Semitism in the genre of professors John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt and former president Jimmy Carter.”
Notice how quickly any questioning of an Israel-first bias is presumed to "border on anti-Semitism"?  As Bernard Avishai notes in a thoughtful commentary these attacks have a McCarthyite scent.