Summary: Amidst all the blather by non-experts and propagandists (using this to advance their foreign policy preferences), there are some reliable sources of information. Here are a few recommendations.
I remain skeptical that large changes will result from this over a period of months or even years. For example, consider the small short-term results from the revolutions of 1848. But change will come, now or later, to the Middle East’s low legitimacy and inefficient regimes. Here are some sources of information about these events.
- Recommended websites with accurate or insightful reporting and analysis
- Articles of interest
- Excerpts from two articles of special interest
- Other posts in this series and posts about Islam
(1) Recommended websites with accurate or insightful reporting and analysis
In addition to the news media, these websites provide useful information:
(2) Articles of special interest
- Recommended: “Mubarak’s Last Breath“, London Review of Books, 27 May 2010 — Prescient reporting by Adam Shatz from Egypt about the causes of the protests.
- “The Arab Street: Tracking a Political Metaphor“, Terry Regier and Muhammad Ali Khalidi, Middle East Journal, Winter 2009 — Origin of this commonly used metaphor.
- “Just Whose Side Are Arab Armies On, Anyway?“, Ellen Knickmeyer, Foreign Policy website, 28 January 2011 — “Tunisia’s military saved the people’s revolution. But in other Arab countries on the brink — such as Egypt and Yemen — the armed forces are far less likely to do the same.” Knickmeyer is a former AP bureau chief in Africa and former Washington Post Middle East bureau chief.
- “Egypt’s Class Conflict“, Juan Cole (Prof History, U Michigan; background here), Informed Comment, 30 January 2011
- “The triviality of US Mideast policy“, Robert Grenier, op-ed on Aljazeera, 31 January 2011 — Grenier is a retired, 27-year veteran of the CIA’s Clandestine Service. He was Director of the CIA’s Counter-Terrorism Center from 2004 to 2006. “US Mideast policy has been irrelevant and fails to accommodate the current movement that is sweeping across the region.”
- “Why Egypt 2011 is not Iran 1979“, Juan Cole (Prof History, U Michigan; background here), Informed Comment, 2 February 2011
- “Gimme Shelter“, Scott Horton, Foreign Policy, 2 February 2011 — “Why is Hosni Mubarak clinging to power? Maybe because the life of an exiled dictator isn’t what it used to be.”
- Recommended: “Cairo and the Impossibility of Intelligent Foreign Policy“, Fred Reed (America’s only living guru), 7 February 2010
- Broader context of the reporting: “The Egyptian mirror“, Glenn Greenwald, Salon, 7 February 2011 — How we see the world. “One of the most revealing journalistic genres is the effort by establishment media outlets to explain to their American audiences why Those Other Countries — usually in the Middle East — are so bad and awful and plagued by severe political and societal corruption “
- About the wider context of these events: “Pox Americana – Driving Through the Gates of Hell and Other American Pastimes in the Greater Middle East“, Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch, 7 February 2011
(3) Two Excerpts
(a) “Pharaoh’s End“, roundtable at the Foreign Policy website, 28 January 2011
There are a few things that are clear for the present. First, we need to remind ourselves constantly that while this is a critical moment, it is primarily an Egyptian moment with primarily Egyptian players. We therefore should simply ignore those voices who insist on understanding events only in terms of U.S. domestic politics. The Obama administration has sensibly refrained from taking credit for events; its supporters should do the same even if we do have an outcome that we deem positive. And if Obama’s critics react (as some have begun to do) by bouncing between blaming him for allowing Islamists to glimpse power and timidity in the face of an autocrat, we should tune them out.
Nor is this a time to succumb to Ikwanophobia. Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood is a player in events, but not the primary one. If it emerges as a more savvy and influential political player, that is a positive development for Egypt — so long as it is one player among many others. Egypt’s rulers missed an opportunity to build a healthier political system that incorporated more actors earlier in this decade, deciding to shore up cronyism and autocracy rather than pluralism and democracy.
— “Speak Softly, But Sweet Talk Them Out of Using a Big Stick”, Nathan J. Brown (Professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington U)
Those who propose the United States somehow adopt an approach of “noninterference” should remember that silence will be interpreted as complicity by Egyptians. America, after all, far from a bystander, is the Egyptian regime’s primary benefactor. The billions it has given Egypt in economic and military aid means that the United States, more than any other country, enjoys significant leverage with Egypt. Now is the time to use it.
— “How Obama Got Egypt Wrong”, Shadi Hamid (Brookings Institute)
History suggests that Shadi Hamid assertion about US influence is incorrect. The US exerted strong pressure on Ngô Đình Diệm to reform, unsuccessfully (his assassination in 1963 was plan B, also unsuccessful). We have put pressure on Israel many times over the years (most recently to stop stealing land from the Palestinans), usually unsuccessfully. Michael Cohen discusses our ungratful allies at Democracy Arsenal.
U.S. support for Middle East dictators has spawned deep anti-American sentiments in the Arab world, and chaotic Iraq and Afghanistan hardly present an attractive model. The best thing the United States can do now is to back off and let the peoples of the region chart their own course. Shoring up repressive rulers and denying citizens their legitimate democratic rights out of fear of change or an Islamist takeover will no longer work, if it ever did. The popular uprisings across the Arab world go beyond ideology and religion. They are about freedom, social justice and democracy. That’s what America is supposed to stand for. Why should the Middle East be any different?
— “Obama Still Doesn’t Know What To Do About Arab Autocrats”, Emad Shahin, (assoc prof religion at U of Notre Dame)
(b) “The Original Targets“, review by James Meek of The Looming Tower: Al-Qaida’s Road to 9/11 by Lawrence Wright, London Review of Books, 8 February 2007 — I strongly recommend reading this in full.
The story does more than illuminate the sheer vileness of the conflict that has been underway for decades between the death-loving hardcore of Islamic revolutionaries and the allies of European and American governments in the Islamic world. It underlines the centrality of Egypt to the origins and perpetuation of the conflict. One of the darker choruses of this excellent work of journalism is the success that three of those allied governments, the Saudi Arabian, Pakistani and Egyptian, have had in diverting the fundamentalist warriors away from their original prime target – them – and towards the West. It’s been a remarkable feat; not only have the rulers of those three countries deflected Islamic revolutionaries by simultaneously repressing them, making concessions to them, and rechannelling their anger abroad, but they have gained additional support from the very Western countries which are now experiencing the consequences of that anger.
Wright argues convincingly that, although bin Laden would subsequently claim America had always been his enemy, he was ready at one stage to turn his ire on the venality, concupiscence and hypocrisy of the ruling royal family of his native Saudi Arabia. Why did the Saudi authorities give him such latitude in the late 1980s to criticise their ally, the United States? Because it was preferable to his attacking them. The Pashtun areas of southern Afghanistan and northern Pakistan would not have become the breeding grounds of narrow-minded Islamic radicals they were, and are, without the passive and active support of branches of the Pakistani government. Why has there been such support? Partly because those Pakistani officials wanted to keep Iran and Russia out of Afghanistan, partly because some of them are fundamentalist Muslims themselves, but also because it deflects the tip of the jihadi spear away from Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi towards Kabul, New York and London.
The long and brutal struggle between Islamic revolutionaries and governments in Egypt, going back to the founding of the Muslim Brotherhood by Hasan al-Banna in 1928 and on …
Long before these events, the US intelligence establishment (together with the British) deafened itself to revolutionary Islam’s loud message that it intended to change the world. Two prevailing narratives – of the West v. Soviet Communism, and of Israel v. the Arab world – overwhelmed understanding of another emerging one, in which most of Europe and most of America, together with the Soviet bloc and the secular intelligentsia of developing countries, were on the same side.
Although this is not what it explicitly sets out to do, Wright’s book supports the conclusion that the direct struggle between revolutionary, counter-Enlightenment Islam and the post-Enlightenment world began some time before the Cold War ended – specifically, in 1979. That was the year of Iran’s revolution, in which, significantly, Islamic revolutionaries overcame not only the pro-American Shah but also their leftist counterparts; the Soviet Union sent troops to Afghanistan to protect its leftist regime against Islamic rebels; and the Grand Mosque in Mecca, the holiest site in Islam, was seized by a band of Islamic fundamentalists. It took Saudi forces more than two weeks to overcome the four to five hundred insurgents involved, who had demanded that Saudi Arabia isolate itself culturally and politically from the West, remove the royal family, expel all Westerners and stop selling oil to the US.
Before the battle ended, women among the insurgents shot the faces off their dead male comrades to stop them being recognised. It was the first fortnight of the new Islamic year, the year 1400, the dawn of Islam’s 15th century. The rest of the world was still operating according to a different calendar.
(4) For more information
Other posts in theis series
Other posts about Islam:
- America’s Most Dangerous Enemy, 1 March 2006
- Are islamic extremists like the anarchists?, 14 December 2009
- Hatred and fear of Islam – of Moslems – is understandable. But are there hidden forces at work?, 3 August 2010
- Should we fear that religion whose believers have killed so many people?, 4 August 2010
See posts about al Qaeda here.