Here Is Something You Can’t Understand


Cypress Hill:

Targeted Bombing Spares Civilians and Parked Cars

From the New American:

The man who just singlehandedly committed the United States to war against Libya, President Barack Obama, told the Boston Globe in 2007:

The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.

Time for Some Action

The contest of wills between the United States of America and the sovereign nation of Libya go back to a time before Libya was a sovereign nation.  Of course, prior to 1951, it had been hundreds of years since Libya was sovereign.  Before the various Back when Libya was a colony of the Italians in the 1930’s and 1940’s, Americans had a cozy relationship with these new Romans in North Africa.

When the new Romans were deposed by the new Arabs in North Africa, the United States established a cozy relationship with the al-Senussi family.  The cozy relationship included a military base which served various purposes from training to facilitating regional operations.  The cozy relationship also included an economic side when Esso (aka Exxon) found oil in the deserts of Western Libya.

The monarch leading Libya in the 1950’s and 1960’s did not believe in “spreading the wealth.”  Like his European benefactors and protectors, he concentrated the wealth in the hands of the few and sowed the seeds of discontent at home.  The monarch eventually became ill and sought medical attention in Greece.  While he was away in 1969, the man who has come to be known as the world’s bloodiest, meanest, cruelest, evilest-est dictator since Donald Rumsfeld’s drinking buddy Saddam Hussein, led a bloodless coup replacing the monarch.

Donald Rumsfeld and Saddam Hussein

According to another former senior State Department official, Saddam, while only in his early 20s, became a part of a U.S. plot to get rid of Qasim. According to this source, Saddam was installed in an apartment in Baghdad on al-Rashid Street directly opposite Qasim’s office in Iraq’s Ministry of Defense, to observe Qasim’s movements.

Adel Darwish, Middle East expert and author of “Unholy Babylon,” said the move was done “with full knowledge of the CIA,” and that Saddam’s CIA handler was an Iraqi dentist working for CIA and Egyptian intelligence. U.S. officials separately confirmed Darwish’s account.

Darwish said that Saddam’s paymaster was Capt. Abdel Maquid Farid, the assistant military attaché at the Egyptian Embassy who paid for the apartment from his own personal account. Three former senior U.S. officials have confirmed that this is accurate.

The assassination was set for Oct. 7, 1959, but it was completely botched. Accounts differ. One former CIA official said that the 22-year-old Saddam lost his nerve and began firing too soon, killing Qasim’s driver and only wounding Qasim in the shoulder and arm. Darwish told UPI that one of the assassins had bullets that did not fit his gun and that another had a hand grenade that got stuck in the lining of his coat.

Just a Fraction of Friction

Colonel Muammar Gaddafi did two things that made him an enemy of the West — and neither of those things involved violence or murder.  First, he demanded that the United States surrender the military base it held.  He didn’t demand an immediate surrender.  A negotiated time table was set, and unlike Guantanamo Bay, the United States ceded this sovereign territory to the nation to whom it rightfully belonged.  (They would come back later to bomb the base, but that’s another story.)  Second, he nationalized businesses industries in which Western firms sought to extract enormous profits at the expense of the indigenous population.  Oil was nationalized in 1973.  And, he threatened to do so again in 2009.

For these actions, the United States and the UK commissioned a small group of soldiers under the leadership of a 6’6″ Scottish soldier to assassinate Muammar Gaddafi.  Stirling’s legacy, apart from the unsuccessful assassination attempt, was creating small tactical groups that conducted covert, quick and decisive raids on targets (personnel, installations, military units, etc.) that resulted in devastating impacts.   Stirling’s attempt on Gaddafi was more than a decade before the bombing of the Berlin disco.  It was almost two decades before the bombing of Flight 103 in Lockerbie, Scotland – the ancestral home of David Stirling, the man who plotted to kill the colonel in 1970.

Colonel Archibald David Stirling - Master Mercenary

As oil revenues accrued to Libya, much of that revenue was funneled into national development projects and the establishment of a stronger military apparatus.  With the US giving $% billion per year to Israel and a comparable sum to the authoritarian regime of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, Libya sought to ensure the stability and security of its interests within its borders.

In the mid-1980s, Miles Copeland, a veteran CIA operative, told UPI the CIA had enjoyed “close ties” with Qasim’s ruling Baath Party, just as it had close connections with the intelligence service of Egyptian leader Gamel Abd Nassar. In a recent public statement, Roger Morris, a former National Security Council staffer in the 1970s, confirmed this claim, saying that the CIA had chosen the authoritarian and anti-communist Baath Party “as its instrument.”

Moreover, Libya sought the assistance of the former Soviet Union in achieving these aims.  Gaddafi is no Communist.  Never has been.  The Soviets had technology that met the needs of the Libyans; and the United States government (working at the behest of firms like Exxon and others) sought only to subvert the regime and restore the appropriations relationship over Libyan resources which obtained since 1911.

Libya, like the United States, UK, and Israel, engaged in proxy fights in Europe and elsewhere intended to influence the land crisis in Palestine.  Western and Israeli forces typically relied on mercenary forces trained in covert operations.  Libyan and pro-Palestinian supporters typically relied on urban and infrastructure attacks in Western cities.  Neither “side” was able to significantly impact the resolution of the land question in Palestine.  It remains as intractable as ever, however, Gaddafi’s engagement on the question permitted him to be branded by Western media as an enemy.

Conquerors with Long Memories and Short Sticks

In order to grant some moral cover to the unified actions of the United States, the UK and France, some external non-European support was required.  The African Union was of no use.  That group voted against approving a no-fly zone over Libya.  Only the so-called Arab League (or more properly, the League of Arab States) endorsed such an action.  It is somewhat paradoxical that this entity, of whom its four largest member states are all in Africa (Egypt, Sudan, Algeria, Morocco) would vote against other independent African nations and with the West.  The 22-member League is a curious collection of states that have only once selected a non-Egyptian to serve as Secretary General.  The Egyptians, of course, have had a long-standing relationship with the West, particularly the US and the UK.

(More to follow)

Lebensraum: A Tale of Two Gulfs

“I didn’t have to blast him, but I did anyway!

Ha! Ha!  Punk had to pay.

So I just killed a man.”

– Cypress Hill, “How I Could Just Kill a Man” (1991)

In 1973, before the Libyan leader had been labeled as a sponsor of international terrorism, he sought to extend the international recognition of the territorial waters to the 300-mile expanse of the  Gulf of Sidra.  Libya’s claim did not meet the established international standard of the time and was rejected by the US.  It is worth noting, however, given the US’ use of international power, if the situations and contexts were reversed, the US would have disregarded this provision as well.  The unique boundaries of Western European states (not to mention their proximity) and the historical maturation of the United States suggest the international accord around territorial limits is indeed subjective.

In 1981, Ronald Reagan put the Sixth Fleet on maneuvers in the Gulf of Sidra to close the question of territorial access within the Gulf of Sidra.  The question was closed, at least until 1989, when Libyan fighter jets were downed over the Gulf (with no reported loss of life).  The waters remained open for international shipping and the Colonel’s “line of death” became nothing more than an artifact of history.

From the Wikipedia entry on territorial waters:

From the eighteenth century until the mid twentieth century, the territorial waters of the British Empire, the United States, France and many other nations were three nautical miles (5.6 km) wide. Originally, this was the length of a cannon shot, hence the portion of an ocean that a sovereign state could defend from shore. However, Iceland claimed two nautical miles (3.7 km), Norway and Sweden claimed four nautical miles (7.4 km), and Spain claimed 6 nautical miles (11 km; 6.9 mi) during this period. During incidents such as nuclear weapons testing and fisheries disputes some nations arbitrarily extended their maritime claims to as much as fifty or even two hundred nautical miles. Since the late 20th century the “12 mile limit” has become almost universally accepted. The United Kingdom extended its territorial waters from three to twelve nautical miles (22 km) in 1987.

In 1999, under President Bill Clinton, the United States claimed an additional 12 mile contiguous zone.  Vice-President Al Gore issued the following statement, excerpted here:

Under international law, a nation can claim a territorial sea up to 12 nautical miles from its coast, and a contiguous zone extending an additional 12 miles. Within the contiguous zone, a nation can act to prevent violations of its environmental, customs, fiscal, or immigration laws, or to apprehend vessels suspected of violating them.

Within the extended contiguous zone, the Coast Guard may now board and search a foreign vessel suspected of smuggling drugs, carrying illegal immigrants, polluting the ocean, or tampering with sunken ships or other underwater artifacts, without first obtaining permission from the country where the vessel is registered. Previously, such action could be taken only within 12 miles of the coast.

“With this new enforcement tool, we can better protect America’s working families against drug trafficking, illegal immigration, and threats to our ocean environment,” the Vice President said. “We are putting would-be smugglers and polluters on notice that we will do everything in our power to protect our waters and our shores.”

Clinton sought to protect American interests in and around the Gulf of Mexico.  Libra, presently, claims no contiguous zones extending beyond its territorial waters.

Berlin Smoke Screen

On 5 April 1986, a woman delivered an explosive device to a night club in Berlin.  The bomb killed three US soldiers.  Immediately, the US charged the Libyan government with the bombing.  Ten days later, the US bombed the Libyan cities of Tripoli and Benghazi.  The two-year old adopted daughter of Colonel Gaddafi was killed during this American attack.  Back in Berlin, an arrest from far from imminent.  Swift and certain retribution came in 10 days.  Justice would wait for 10 years; no one was arrested until 1996.  Among those arrested were two Libyan nationals, a Palestinian man, and a Lebanese man and his German wife.  The United States did not seek sanctions from Germany or extract concessions from Germany based on the complicity of their nationals.

In an odd twist, only the German woman, Verena Chanaa, was convicted of murder.  You’ll have to pardon the BBC for making it look as if the Arabs did it. And, perhaps you could even forgive the US secret service and the German secret service for failing to support the investigation…after all, soldiers are expendable and their deaths were not in vain.  The judge did not see it that way:

The judge said prosecutors had failed to prove that the attack was planned on the personal orders of Colonel Gaddafi, partly because of the lack of co-operation from Western secret services.

But he said the bombing had been planned by members of the Libyan secret service and workers at the Libyan embassy in East Berlin.

The judge criticised the “limited willingness” of German and US secret services to provide evidence.

It was one of the “disappointments” of the trial, he said.

The United States government has been accused by its own citizens of orchestrating the demolition of the World Trade Center facility and attacking the Pentagon.  These allegations will persist until such time as there is full disclosure.  So it is in Berlin.  The American corporate media closed the case, as did much of the public.  However, the court record remains, as do these questions.

  • Why were the governments of the United States and Germany uncooperative?
  • Why were neither of these governments, with all of their police and investigative resources, unable to return a verdict of murder against four Arabs?
  • Why did the national and international media hide the photograph of Verena Chanaa?  Why is she not the face of international terrorism?
  • What was the role of the US’ Central Intelligence Agency in the bombing?
  • What was the role of Mossad, the Israeli espionage agency?
  • Were the Libyans on the payroll of the CIA?
  • Was their charge to obtain evidence of authorization from Colonel Gaddafi?
  • Were they authorized by the CIA to proceed with the hopes of obtaining corroboration after the fact?

Answers to these fundamental questions should be a prerequisite for a war declaration or a unilateral attack by a hawkish president with a nice jump shot.  What are the facts on the ground and what is the evidence.  When the United States bombed Benghazi and Tripoli in 1986, killing the Colonel’s daughter, they had yet to build a compelling case for their naked aggression.  They did, however, establish a pretext.

Lockerbie Illusion

From The Scotsman in 2005:

A FORMER Scottish police chief has given lawyers a signed statement claiming that key evidence in the Lockerbie bombing trial was fabricated.
The retired officer – of assistant chief constable rank or higher – has testified that the CIA planted the tiny fragment of circuit board crucial in convicting a Libyan for the 1989 mass murder of 270 people.

The officer, who was a member of the Association of Chief Police Officers Scotland, is supporting earlier claims by a former CIA agent that his bosses “wrote the script” to incriminate Libya…

Last night, George Esson, who was Chief Constable of Dumfries and Galloway when Megrahi was indicted for mass murder, confirmed he was aware of the development.

But Esson, who retired in 1994, questioned the officer’s motives. He said: “Any police officer who believed they had knowledge of any element of fabrication in any criminal case would have a duty to act on that. Failure to do so would call into question their integrity, and I can’t help but question their motive for raising the matter now.”

Other important questions remain unanswered, such as how the officer learned of the alleged conspiracy and whether he was directly involved in the inquiry. But sources close to Megrahi’s legal team believe they may have finally discovered the evidence that could demolish the case against him.

An insider told Scotland on Sunday that the retired officer approached them after Megrahi’s appeal – before a bench of five Scottish judges – was dismissed in 2002.

The insider said: “He said he believed he had crucial information. A meeting was set up and he gave a statement that supported the long-standing rumours that the key piece of evidence, a fragment of circuit board from a timing device that implicated Libya, had been planted by US agents…

The vital evidence that linked the bombing of Pan Am 103 to Megrahi was a tiny fragment of circuit board which investigators found in a wooded area many miles from Lockerbie months after the atrocity.

The fragment was later identified by the FBI’s Thomas Thurman as being part of a sophisticated timer device used to detonate explosives, and manufactured by the Swiss firm Mebo, which supplied it only to Libya and the East German Stasi.

At one time, Megrahi, a Libyan intelligence agent, was such a regular visitor to Mebo that he had his own office in the firm’s headquarters.

The fragment of circuit board therefore enabled Libya – and Megrahi – to be placed at the heart of the investigation. However, Thurman was later unmasked as a fraud who had given false evidence in American murder trials, and it emerged that he had little in the way of scientific qualifications.

Then, in 2003, a retired CIA officer gave a statement to Megrahi’s lawyers in which he alleged evidence had been planted.

Friends, Enemies, and Money

Time, Newsweek and the New York Times may have railed against the Colonel, but not everyone was mad at him.  Halliburton engaged the Libyan government in 1984 on a construction contract to build aquifers delivering water from the Libyan desert to the coast.  The contract was valued at $25 billion and was fulfilled through a foreign subsidiary due to sanctions imposed by the US government on Libya.

Keeping Score

If you’re keeping score, it’s US 5, Libya 2.  The actions of the United States and its paid operatives include Stirling’s assassination attempt in 1970; the 1986 disco bombing in Berlin by a non-Arab German woman; the explosion of the flight over Scotland and the planting of evidence by an agent of the FBI; and, the “retaliatory” bombing in 1986 in Libya, which killed 15 people including the adopted two-year daughter of Colonel Gaddafi.  In addition to these actions, the United States twice

Libya’s actions, as recorded by Western

Libya initiated, prior to the demise of the former Soviet Union, a program to obtain nuclear energy and weapons.  twice initiated conflicts in the Gulf of Sidra (1981 and 1989),








Britain in Egypt: Last Out, First In (Again)

From the New York Times:

CAIRO — The military and civilian leadership controlling Egypt in the wake of a popular revolution took several high-profile steps on Monday to reassure Egyptians that it shared their fervor for change and to signal to foreign leaders that the move to full civilian rule would be rapid.

The prime minister of Britain, David Cameron, held talks here with the leaders, becoming the highest-ranking foreign leader to visit Egypt since the long-time president, Hosni Mubarak, was ousted after 18 days of widespread protests.

At the same time, the country’s top prosecutor, Abdel Meguid Mahmoud, said he would request that the Foreign Ministry ask governments to freeze any assets of Mr. Mubarak, his family and a handful of top associates. The A.P., citing unnamed security officials, said that Mr. Mubarak’s local assets had been frozen as soon as his government fell.

The prosecutor’s announcement came after the Swiss government, acting on its own, froze tens of millions of dollars belonging to Mr. Mubarak, his family or top associates last week. The fact that the caretaker Egyptian government had not requested the move prompted opposition members to express fears that it was shielding Mr. Mubarak, a former Air Force chief, and his relatives.

The New York Times left out the fact that Cameron’s visit was unannounced.

British PM David Cameron and Egyptian Leader Muhammad Tantawi

From Bloomberg News:

U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron urged Egypt’s military rulers to bring opposition leaders into the government and end a state of emergency to demonstrate their desire to move toward democracy after the ousting of President Hosni Mubarak.

“We want them to complete this transition,” Cameron told reporters in Cairo after talks with the military and opposition figures. “It’s quite right, as a friend of Egypt, to ask lots of questions about how, when and where. That’s what I did. If Egypt can make this transition, it will have a huge positive and useful impact elsewhere.”

The premier arrived in Cairo this afternoon on an unannounced visit amid escalating tension in the Middle East, with security forces attacking anti-government protesters in Egypt’s neighbor, Libya, and Iran planning to send warships through Egypt’s Suez Canal. Oil rose to a two-year high and gold climbed above $1,400 an ounce.

The British commitment to empire is unwavering.  Whether the rule is direct or by proxy (the United States), the British willingness to inject themselves into ostensibly sovereign situations is unmatched.  An unannounced visit to Egypt at this time says as loudly as 1,000 gunships that the British and the West will be watching closely.


The Middle

If Tunisia is in the Middle East, so is Italy.  If Egypt is in the Middle East, so is Greece.

Political Map of North Africa and the Mediterranean

From Wikipedia:

The term “Middle East” may have originated in the 1850s in the British India Office.[3] However, it became more widely known when American naval strategist Alfred Thayer Mahan used the term in 1902[4] to ‘designate the area between Arabia and India’.[5][6] During this time the British and Russian Empires were vying for influence in Central Asia, a rivalry which would become known as The Great Game. Mahan realized not only the strategic importance of the region, but also of its center, the Persian Gulf.[7][8] He labeled the area surrounding the Persian Gulf as the Middle East, and said that after the Suez Canal, it was the most important passage for Britain to control in order to keep the Russians from advancing towards British India.[9] Mahan first used the term in his article “The Persian Gulf and International Relations,” published in September 1902 in the National Review, a British journal.

The Middle East, if I may adopt a term which I have not seen, will some day need its Malta, as well as its Gibraltar; it does not follow that either will be in the Persian Gulf. Naval force has the quality of mobility which carries with it the privilege of temporary absences; but it needs to find on every scene of operation established bases of refit, of supply, and in case of disaster, of security. The British Navy should have the facility to concentrate in force if occasion arise, about Aden, India, and the Persian Gulf.[10]

Mahan’s article was reprinted in The Times and followed in October by a 20 article series entitled “The Middle Eastern Question,” written by Sir Ignatius Valentine Chirol. During this series, Sir Ignatius expanded the definition of Middle East to include “those regions of Asia which extend to the borders of India or command the approaches to India.”[11] After the series ended in 1903, The Times removed quotation marks from subsequent uses of the term.[12]

Until World War II, it was customary to refer to areas centered around Turkey and the eastern shore of the Mediterranean as the “Near East“, while the “Far East” centered on China,[13] and the Middle East then meant the area from Mesopotamia to Burma, namely the area between the Near East and the Far East.[citation needed] In the late 1930s, the British established the Middle East Command, which was based in Cairo, for its military forces in the region. After that time, the term “Middle East” gained broader usage in Europe and the United States, with the Middle East Institute founded in Washington, D.C. in 1946, among other usage.[14]

Perhaps, the true reason why Egypt, in particular, is considered as part of the Middle East (even to the exclusion of Libya, Algeria, and Tunisia) is due to two factors: colonization by the British (See map below), and the formation of a settler nation state for the international Jewish community in Palestine.  Coordinated administration of British possessions, protectorates and administrations, in this region, are “neatly” subsumed within the term “Middle East.”  The cultural, political, and historical realities on the ground take a back seat, then, to the colonial imperative.

From the New York Times:

Africa Page of the NY Times

While most Westerners continue to define Africa and Africans as a monolith, the facts on the ground are far more complicated.  The Sahara has proven to be less of a barrier for people than previously imagined.  The tenacity of Islam on both sides of the desert has proven to be a source of consternation for many.  Consider the position of the West (and Israel) vis-a-vis the Sudan.  How much of this “concern” is related to Islam, rather than oil and pipelines is a matter of conjecture.

Arabs have lived in Africa for centuries.  In the main, Arabs arrived on the continent at a time of challenge and transition.  Their arrival, tied to the colonizing mandate of Islam, created devastating effects in the East and Northern parts of the continent.  For some, the role of colonizer and conqueror has become a bit uncomfortable as they struggle with removing the boot of Western hegemony from their neck, or worse — the boot of fellow Arabs subsidized by the West.

Today, Arabs seeking democratic reforms in North Africa find themselves, once again, in the middle.  They are subject to the hostilities, exclusions, and deprivations of a powerful Northern enemy in Europe.  They are geographically and culturally alienated, if not religiously, from the Africans to the South.  And more to the point, they have been caught in the cross hairs of authoritarian regimes propped up by Western aid or by Western guns or both.

The reform history of North Africa in 2011 is not completely written.  There is a great deal of work in front of peoples in many countries, and there is no way to predict which countries and which people will be most energized in seeking to replicate what has happened in Tunisia and Egypt.  What is certain, however, is that the squeeze from both sides will continue.

Eyes Off Egypt

On Friday, February 11, 2011, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak resigned from office and left the capitol city of Cairo.

Even before he had finished speaking, protesters began hugging and cheering, shouting “Egypt is free!” and “You’re an Egyptian, lift your head.”

“He’s finally off our throats,” said one protester, Muhammad Insheemy. “Soon, we will bring someone good.”

The departure of the 82-year-old Mr. Mubarak, at least initially to his coastal resort home in Sharm el-Sheik, was a pivotal turn in a nearly three-week revolt that has upended one of the Arab’s world’s most enduring dictatorships. The popular protests — peaceful and resilient despite numerous efforts by Mr. Mubarak’s legendary security apparatus to suppress them — ultimately deposed an ally of the United States who has been instrumental in implementing American policy in the region for decades.

His departure came after a 24-hour period that mixed celebration and anger, as Egypt and the outside world at first anticipated Mr. Mubarak’s imminent resignation on Thursday afternoon, then recoiled in outrage when he continued to cling to power in a combative televised address Thursday night.

From the New York Times:

“President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt resigned his post and turned over all power to the military on Friday, ending his nearly 30 years of autocratic rule and bowing to a historic popular uprising that has transformed politics in Egypt and around the Arab world.

The streets of Cairo exploded in shouts of “God is Great” moments after Mr. Mubarak’s vice president and longtime intelligence chief, Omar Suleiman, announced during evening prayers that Mr. Mubarak had passed all authority to a council of military leaders.

“Taking into consideration the difficult circumstances the country is going through, President Mohammed Hosni Mubarak has decided to leave the post of president of the republic and has tasked the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to manage the state’s affairs,” Mr. Suleiman, grave and ashen, said in a brief televised statement.

From the Huffington Post:

Several hundred thousand protesters massed in Cairo’s central Tahrir Square exploded into joy, waving Egyptian flags, and car horns and celebratory shots in the air were heard around the city of 18 million in joy after Vice President Omar Suleiman made the announcement on national TV just after nightfall.

Mubarak had sought to cling to power, handing some of his authorities to Suleiman while keeping his title. But an explosion of protests Friday rejecting the move appeared to have pushed the military into forcing him out completely. Hundreds of thousands marched throughout the day in cities across the country as soliders stood by, besieging his palace in Cairo and Alexandria and the state TV building.

“In these grave circumstances that the country is passing through, President Hosni Mubarak has decided to leave his position as president of the republic,” a grim-looking Suleiman said. “He has mandated the Armed Forces Supreme Council to run the state. God is our protector and succor.”

Not everyone’s eyes are on Tahrir Square right now.  Some people are watching the Central Bank and the economy.  Some people need to know when “normalcy” will return; when they can begin to hedge new bets; and, perhaps most importantly, what new systems of knowledge and information acquisition need to be in place before another 18 Day Revolution catches the world by surprise.

The truly arduous work is just beginning in Egypt.  Saboteurs of all stripes and colors will seek to seize upon this opportunity to turn sister against sister and brother against brother.  This is the time to determine how history remembers this revolutionary moment.  As this interpersonal struggle ensues, will the world turn away?

Tahrir Square -- Cairo, Egypt

Eyes on Egypt

In Islam, Democracy and the State in North Africa (1997), editor John Entelis characterized Western scholarship and media analysis as framing politics in North Africa in six relatively distinct phases.  The preface provides a cogent theoretical and historical framework for understanding the recent events in North Africa.  The phases began with liberation struggles by people in Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco.

“The second phase was an era of optimism and hope on the part of both scholars and statesmen, who envisioned a sustained period of “modernization” involving expanded social opportunity, sustained economic growth, and cultural diffusion or “Westernization.”  Although this phase of “political order in changing societies” was blatantly authoritarian, the overall benefits were deemed sufficiently important to justify such “benign” political control on the part of “charismatic” leaders such as Morocco’s King Hassan II, Tunisia’s Habib Bourguiba, and Algeria’s Ahmed Ben Bella.”

The other phases described here reflect the ebb and flow of authoritarianism and democratic leanings over the past 50 years.  For Entelis, the sixth phase was described thusly:

“The last and most recent phase in the evolution of North African politics has been characterized by the reemergence of political authoritarianism not unlike that of the second and third phases — an army-dominated mukhabarat state.  In each instance, liberalization has been curtailed and democracy derailed as military-backed regimes in Rabat, Algiers, and Tunis have used all possible means to maintain their stranglehold on society while faithfully following the advice of foreign patrons in liberalizing their economies.

Entelis continues:

“The distinguishing characteristic of this most recent phase of Maghrebi politics is the way in which authoritarian regimes have been kept alive “by the unwillingness of external donors to sever the aid tie, usually for strategic  as well as humanitarian reasons.”  Nowhere have “predatory personalist rulers” been as adept in resisting reform and clinging to office as those currently in power in North Africa, usually “through continued access to external aid, repression, and careful maintenance of select patronage relations.”

Tunisia has apparently entered a seventh phase.  Egypt is at the door of entering this seventh phase, but President Hosni Mubarak is following in the footsteps of so many predecessors.  Tonite, he conceded power, but not his office.  When the chapters are written on the seventh phase, Western social networks will be featured prominently.  History suggests that the response of Western donors will be pivotal in ultimately deciding the question.

Hosni Mubarak: On the Edge


The European Union and Arab Democracy

From The Financial Times:

“Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,” wrote the poet William Wordsworth of the French Revolution. Of course, he had the events of 1789 in mind – the storming of the Bastille, the abolition of the absolute monarchy, the demolition of feudal institutions, the declaration of the rights of man – rather than what followed: the Terror of 1793-94 and a Europe laid waste by Napoleon’s wars of imperial conquest. Still, if Wordsworth were writing today, he would surely celebrate the political awakening of the oppressed peoples of the Arab world with as much enthusiasm as he did that of the French nation more than 200 years ago.

Such, too, should be the starting point of Europe’s response to the tumult that began in December in Tunisia and is spreading through Egypt to Jordan, Yemen and beyond. The resounding cry for freedom puts paid once and for all to the specious argument that Arab societies, unlike all others, do not yearn to throw off the chains of bondage. Moreover, the absence of religious fanaticism at the heart of the uprisings undermines the claim that to dismantle repressive Arab regimes is merely to hand power to murderous extremists.

For sure, the French Revolution, not to mention the 1917 Russian Revolution, are a reminder that the intoxicating aromas of political and civic liberty can all too quickly be replaced by the acrid stench of the guillotine, gunfire and reaction dressed up as revolutionary idealism. The road to freedom often involves unpleasant detours: excessive nationalism, economic distress, border conflicts, even civil war. But Europe must not lose sight of the reward that lies at the end of this road – a far more trusting and constructive relationship with north African and Middle Eastern neighbours whose governments at long last treat their peoples with dignity.

One model in this respect is Turkey, a thriving democracy which, as the process of political and economic modernisation has gained pace, has emerged with a government of a mildly Islamic hue that remains a valuable regional partner. One can debate whether the insistence of certain European Union governments on denying Turkey full EU membership is folly or hard-headed realism. But it is by no means impossible that Arab countries with an entrepreneurial middle class, such as Egypt and Tunisia, will – with European help – evolve in the direction of Turkish-style political pluralism and economic progress.


Social Network Espionage

If Reuters is asking, you know the answer.  Espionage, by its very nature, knows no bounds.  Social networks are already under scrutiny by employers, jilted lovers, stalkers, and others.  Why wouldn’t spy agencies be right there, too?

Take note that the article mentions states with a history of “extrajudicial killings and other human rights abuses.”  As it is at home, so it is abroad.  Amerikkkan History 101.

Should spies spend more time on Twitter?

Obama Carries Dirty Water to Cairo

From the New York Times:


“I consider Mr. Obama’s speech a morphine injection to numb the minds of Muslim and Arab people,” said Mr. Abdullah, the Syrian electrical engineer, “so that they don’t mind so much the injustices carried out by the United States in the region, as long as Mr. Obama respects Islamic culture and heritage.”

I’m sleepy already.


Now that we’ve established that the critical issues are: 1) violent extremism 2) unbreakable bonds with Israel  3) nuclear weapons 4) democracy 5) religious freedom 6) women’s rights; it must be plainly said that today’s speech had some limits.  It wasn’t “real talk to real people,” it was an introduction to an international community — but to be clear, everyone who shows up for the next conversation must know that the first conversation requires some clean up. 

The speech sounded wonderful. 

It sounded genuine.  It also sounded unlike anything ever said by a Western (let alone American) head of state.  It was delivered in clear, crisp, clean cultural tones that appealed to the ear of the listener.  Well-chosen words reflected a commitment to reframe a new relationship, but (and this is a big one) there are some positions that are so deeply entrenched that even a commitment to speak truth from the outset can be waylaid by a superior agenda.

“That is the responsibility we have to one another as human beings. This is a difficult responsibility to embrace, for human history has often been a record of nations and tribes, and, yes, religions subjugating one another in pursuit of their own interests.Yet in this new age, such attitudes are self-defeating. Given our interdependence, any world order that elevates one nation or group of people over another will inevitably fail. So whatever we think of the past, we must not be prisoners to it. Our problems must be dealt with through partnership, our progress must be shared.

Now, that does not mean we should ignore sources of tension. Indeed, it suggests the opposite. We must face these tensions squarely. And so, in that spirit, let me speak as clearly and as plainly as I can about some specific issues that I believe we must finally confront together.”

All rational adults know that violent extremism simply cannot be Barack Obama’s first REAL talking point.  Frankly, its patently absurd for a grown ass man who controls the world’s largest military to even raise this issue.  That would be like Bill Gates agreeing to gift computers to every elementary school in New York City on the condition that every child surrender their Apple t-shirts. 

Obama needs a new introduction.  It’s not that the acts of violence engaged in by these persons are “cool” or “acceptable.”  Far from it.  It’s that in the specific case of Al-Qaeda and Osama bin-Laden, these acts are a response to the United States military establishing a presence in Saudi Arabia.  That was never discussed.  Presumably after a nice visit to Riyadh (perhaps a red phone conversation to the hills of Afghanistan or the South of France or wherever Osama is getting dialysis), Obama knows all about the reasons why talking point Number 1 is a Red Herring.  He also knows that for the game to be the game, talking point #1 must remain talking point #1.

The Pentagon operates an untold number of bases, directly and indirectly.  They own or lease millions of acres of land, hire millions of people and have conducted operations all over the planet.  Soldiers and American contractors have committed crimes, skirted local jurisdictions, killed, raped, maimed and otherwise trod on the sovereingty of many nations with impunity. 

This is a brand of sanctioned and subsidized violent extremism.  It is exported to the ends of the earth: Nicaragua, Panama, Ecuador, Colombia, Iran, Iraq, Indonesia and so many points along the way.  This brand of violence is advanced and it is ongoing.  It has not ceased or abated in any demonstrable way. 

If it had, that should have been talking point number 1.  The world has been witness to American violence for decades.  You cannot begin a conversation with someone you respect by acting as if you have no history.  You cannot authentically and honestly claim that history by claiming the gun in your hand while seeking to take the slingshot in theirs.

For all the things that President’s Obama’s speech was, it was not a commitment to pull back from a military presence and aggression in areas where it can be sustained.  It was an acknowledgment that the US is willing to “retreat” from certain locations, but we should know by now that this is a function of being overextended. 

It occurred to me, while listening to the speech, what tremendous difficulty the Native Americans must have had in negotiating treaties with the United States of America.  Even as far back as the 1880’s, it must have been nearly impossible to truly grasp the perfidious American predilection for shades of truth.  One side of the forked tongue opposes torture.  The other side defends it and avoids prosecution for war crimes.  One side of the forked tongue defends the rights of oppressed peoples.  The other side professes an unbreakable bond with three settler-colonial apartheid regimes on three continents (Israel, South Africa, Australia).  At some point, the Indians must have simply said, “Who the hell are you?” 

In fact, the answer was probably, “I am no one in particular.  I am elected for a short time to serve a people who know not what I do in their name.  I will soon be gone and be replaced by another with an unknown name and an unknown game.  Know this, if nothing else.  Whatever it is on which we agree today, know that it will be torn asunder tomorrow.  Do not trust in what I say because my words come with an expiration date.  My truths work best if believed by November 20, 2012.  In the end, I am a proxy for the genuine article.  If you must know me for me, look at my guns and my money.”

Dirty water is deadly on both sides of the Atlantic.

Revisiting Alexander and Aristotle

The Maxambit Blog raised some compelling questions about Afrocentricity and definitions this week. In the course of the conversation, the host shared an article by retired Professor Mary Lefkowitz about her motivation for entering the national debate concerning this emerging course of study. It seems that she was drawn in by the accusation one of the leading Africentric scholars made concerning the role of Alexander in the establishment of Alexandria – and the role of his tutor Aristotle in codifying the body of knowledge which has come to be associated with him. The basic charge from the late Yosef A.A. ben-Jochanan was that Aristotle and many of his students from the Lyceum ventured to Egypt and laid claim to the works in existing libraries. Those works were seized, edited, renamed and included in what would become the Royal Library at Alexandria under the rule of Ptolemy I. Ben-Jochanan further charged that Egyptian teachers like Manetho were forced to teach Greek students by the invading army and this effectively formalized a transition of knowledge that would continue until at least the closing of Egyptian temples under Emperor Theodosian.

Lefkowitz and many of her peers (European Classical scholars) were up in arms about this charge. For them, this charge represented the pinnacle of delusional ravings by men in desperate search of an imagined history. Possibly. I started rummaging around some old classical texts on the history of philosophy and warfare which I keep around – mostly for decoration. It turns out that there may be more to this than meets the eye. While I can’t say I’ve come across ironclad proof, I have come across some things that merit questioning.

The Discovery Channel, just last year, reported for the first time (and after 12 years of research) that Alexandria was not, in fact, a new city. Now, specialists in the field may have known this – but the average person who hears that “Alexander the Great founded a city” does not believe the speaker is discussing something already in existence. Moreover, that listener could not possibly believe that the city was more than 2,500 years old by the time Alexander arrived. Yet, this is what scientists are suggesting by using an innovative technique which measures the density of lead accumulations as a proxy for civilizations and urban activity. It seems Alexandria, originally known as Ra-Kedet, was thriving around 2600 BC. This year, a Smithsonian archaeological team uncovered evidence of settlements dating back at least seven centuries before the founding of Alexandria. It’s still early, but the work could redefine much of what Classicists and Egyptologists think they know about what they know.

I found this illuminating because there is so much about history that we learn all the time. Often it is best to keep an open mind. For me, the significance of this news (long after Professor Lefkowitz’ debate) is that if the Greeks would assert they founded a city which was built on the foundation of another, is it not possible that these same people would assert they founded a library (or at least its contents) even though those contents were already established. It seems that with all that has been written about Aristotle, few people have much at all to say about his life. In fact, he wasn’t even much of a writer until after the invasion of Egypt by Alexander. It seems his students followed him around as he gave his lectures. I imagine some of them were busy taking copious notes. It was his students, though, who founded and guided the new library in the new city of Alexandria. And, it was his students who compiled and edited the works that are presently attributed solely to him.

It is not known whether or not Aristotle made the trip to Egypt with Alexander or arrived shortly thereafter or not at all. The strongest arguments stem from the absence of records indicating he traveled to Egypt. It is safe to assume he did not go. It may also be safe to assume that he had intention of claiming the legacy which is now his own. An authority no less than Bertrand Russell writes that Aristotle’s work is clearly segmented – beginning with lectures that bear only a faint resemblence to his later, more exhaustive work. It should make one wonder – but I can understand why no one has for so long.

We learned of these stories as children – long before we understood the world of politics, war and intrigue. It is possible that Aristotle is merely the beneficiary of ambitions by his students to exhalt his name and standing. Dr. ben alleged that Manetho was compelled to provide a history of Egypt in Greek for the new rulers – and to provide instruction to Greek students. There are precious few surviving details about Manetho – and even his works have been handed down to us in a random, disorganized and barely discernible fashion. Scholars don’t actually have much of his original work.

I’ll have to dig more to get some answers on this – but from where I’m sitting, I don’t believe the case is closed here. It is possible that:

  • The Egyptian city of Ra-Kedet, in existence for no less than 2000 years prior to Alexander’s arrival, held libraries and texts which were incorporated into Ptolemy’s larger library.
  • Students of Aristotle, in their zeal to advance the cause of their teacher and their school, seized upon those texts, incorporated them into a library and affixed credit to the Greek translations of those texts to the leading Greek scholar of the time.
  • Given the limited biographical information on Aristotle, he could have engaged in a wide range of activities in support of his students. Demetrius of Phaleron is considered to be the organizer of the library. While Demetrius’ work continued after Aristotle’s death, the Lyceum probably influenced the Mouseion.

There are connections here. There is no smoking gun – and there is no cause for dismissive rejections of possibility. I wonder how that conversation between the two professors might have transpired if the knowledge of Ra-Kedet had been available to both of them.