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Ed Webb

Our Oligarch - 0 views

  • Abramovich is perhaps the most visible of the “oligarchs” surrounding Putin, who are widely perceived as extensions of the Russian president and keepers of a vast fortune that is effectively under the Kremlin’s control. Much of this wealth was extracted from Russia’s enormous energy and mineral resources, and is now stashed in secret bank accounts in the Mediterranean and the Caribbean, in empty mansions and condos from London to Manhattan to Miami, and in yachts and private jets on the French Riviera.
  • as much as 60% of Russia’s GDP is offshore
  • Abramovich—who, like many of the most prominent Russian oligarchs, is Jewish—has for years been a prolific donor to Jewish philanthropies. He has given half a billion dollars to Jewish charities over the past two decades, sending money linked to Putin’s kleptocratic regime circulating through Jewish institutions worldwide
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  • The reserved, gray-bearded Abramovich is notoriously litigious toward critics who seek to detail his close ties to Putin. Last year, he successfully sued the British journalist Catherine Belton, who claimed in her 2020 book Putin’s People that the Russian president dictated Abramovich’s major purchases, including his decision to buy Chelsea. He also extracted an apology from a British newspaper for calling him a “bag carrier” for the Russian president.
  • Among other things, he has profoundly influenced Jewish life on three continents, developing deep financial ties with major communal institutions. He is partly responsible for the preeminent role played by Chabad in the religious life of post-Soviet Russia, for the growth of major Jewish museums from Russia to Israel, for a raft of anti-antisemitism programming involving leading American and British Jewish organizations, and for the expansion of Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem
  • the Jewish world is forced to reckon with its long embrace of Abramovich, and with the moral costs of accepting his money
  • Certain Soviet Jews of Abramovich’s generation found themselves at the forefront of an emerging market economy. Concentrated in white collar professions but systematically excluded from desirable posts and from the top ranks of the Communist Party, they were unusually prepared—and, perhaps, motivated—to find legal and semi-legal points of entry into the tightly-regulated commerce between the Soviet Union and the West. This helps explain why, as the historian Yuri Slezkine writes in The Jewish Century, six of the seven top oligarchs of 1990s Russia (Petr Aven, Boris Berezovsky, Mikhail Fridman, Vladimir Gusinsky, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, and Alexander Smolensky) were ethnic Jews.
  • Boris Yeltsin soon initiated the firesale privatization of state-controlled industries at the urging of Washington and the IMF—a reckless transition from a command economy to a capitalist one that drove millions of Russians into poverty
  • the Yeltsin administration implemented its infamous loans-for-shares program, selling off key state industries in rigged auctions to Russia’s new business elite for a fraction of their real value in order to stabilize the state’s finances in the short term. Berezovsky and Abramovich gained ownership stakes in Sibneft, one of the world’s largest energy companies, and became instant billionaires.
  • In 1996, the handful of leading oligarchs pooled their financial resources—and directed their media companies’ coverage—to reelect the deeply unpopular Yeltsin over his Communist challenger, Gennady Zyuganov, whose platform of re-nationalizing industries terrified both the Russian and Western business classes
  • Fearing that it was unsustainable for a small group of mostly Jewish billionaires to prop up an ailing, visibly alcoholic president—especially after the ruble collapsed in 1998, dragging down a generation’s living standards and initiating a hunt for scapegoats—Berezovsky spearheaded an effort the following year to replace Yeltsin with a young, healthy, disciplined, and then-obscure former KGB officer named Vladimir Putin. It was a decision he would come to regret.
  • wealth so easily acquired could just as easily be taken away. In 2001, Putin hounded Berezovsky and Gusinsky—whose TV networks had criticized the president’s mishandling of a naval disaster—with criminal indictments for tax fraud, forcing them to sell their media and energy holdings at a fraction of their true cost. As a result, Abramovich, who had never challenged Putin, acquired control of Sibneft, while Berezovsky fled to the United Kingdom and Gusinsky departed for Spain and then Israel. Abramovich again came out ahead in 2003, when the oligarch Khodorkovsky was sent to a Siberian prison on tax charges after criticizing Putin for corruption, leaving his assets in the energy sector to be redistributed among those on good terms with the president.
  • “I don’t think there is a percent of independence in Abramovich,” said Roman Borisovich, a Luxembourg-based Russian banker turned anti-corruption activist who once encountered Abramovich through Berezovsky in the 1990s. “For Abramovich to stay alive, he had to turn against his master [Berezovsky], which is what he did, and he has served Putin handsomely ever since.”
  • Whereas in the Yeltsin era, the term identified a system dominated by truly independent tycoons, “Putin’s top priority when he came to power was to break that system, replacing it with a system of concentrated power in which men who are inaccurately referred to as oligarchs now have only as much access to wealth as Putin allows them to have,”
  • Even as he built up his credibility with Putin, he joined many of his fellow oligarchs in stashing his billions in Western financial institutions, which proved eager to assist. “Elites in the post-Soviet space are constantly looking to move their assets and wealth into rule-of-law jurisdictions, which generally means Western countries like the US or UK,”
  • In 2008, Berezovsky sued his former protege over his confiscated Sibneft shares; then, in 2012, seven months after a judge rejected all of his claims, Berezovsky died in his London home in an apparent suicide. Some former associates believe he might have been murdered
  • In 2017, BuzzFeed reported that US spy agencies suspect Russian involvement in as many as 14 mysterious deaths in Britain over the previous decade, including Berezovsky’s. In the wake of the 2018 poisoning of the defected double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter, British intelligence services became increasingly wary of wealthy expats with close ties to the Kremlin. Diplomatic strain stymied Abramovich’s effort to acquire a Tier 1 British visa, which would have enabled him to stay in the country for 40 months.
  • “No one forced the British or American real estate industries to toss their doors open to as much illicit wealth as they could find, or the state of Delaware to craft the world’s greatest anonymous shell company services,” said Michel. “Western policymakers crafted all of the policies that these oligarchs are now taking advantage of.”
  • Abramovich also safeguarded a significant part of his fortune in the US, especially during his third marriage to the Russian American socialite and fashion designer Dasha Zhukova. Even after their 2018 divorce, Abramovich began the process of converting three adjacent townhouses on Manhattan’s Upper East Side into what will eventually become the largest home in the city, an “urban castle” valued at $180 million—making him one of the many wealthy Russians sheltering assets in New York’s booming and conveniently opaque real estate sector. (The mansion is intended for Zhukova and their two young children; Abramovich also has five children from his second marriage based primarily in the UK.) He also owns at least two homes in Aspen, Colorado, a gathering place of the global elite.
  • the oligarchs are now credibly threatened with exile from the West. Countries like France and Germany have already begun confiscating yachts owned by select Russian officials. And although the UK is still struggling to come up with a legal basis for following suit, leading politicians like Labour Leader Keir Starmer are urging direct sanctions against Abramovich. “Abramovich’s reputation has finally collapsed, along with the other supposedly apolitical oligarchs,” Michel said four days after Russia invaded Ukraine. “There’s no recovery from this. This is a titanic shift in terms of how these oligarchs can operate.”
  • Israel has been more hesitant to hold him to account.
  • In 2018, Abramovich acquired Israeli citizenship through the law of return, immediately becoming the second-wealthiest Israeli, behind Miriam Adelson. As a new Israeli citizen, he joined several dozen Russian Jewish oligarchs who have sought citizenship or residency in the Jewish state—a group that includes Fridman, Gusinsky, and the late Berezovsky. Since 2015, Abramovich has owned and sometimes lived in the 19th-century Varsano hotel in Tel Aviv’s trendy Neve Tzedek neighborhood, and in 2020 he purchased a mansion in Herzliya for $65 million—the most expensive real estate deal in the country’s history
  • As an Israeli passport holder, Abramovich is eligible to visit the UK for six months at a time and is exempt from paying taxes in Israel on his overseas income for the first decade of his residency
  • Given his increasingly precarious geopolitical position, Jewishness has become Abramovich’s identity of last resort—and Jewish philanthropic giving has provided him with an air of legitimacy not only in Israel but throughout the Jewish world. Abramovich and his fellow oligarchs “need to spend some money to launder their reputations,” said Borisovich, the anti-corruption activist. “They cannot be seen as Putin’s agents of influence; they need to be seen as independent businessmen. So if they can exploit Jewish philanthropy or give money to Oxford or the Tate Gallery, that’s the cost of doing business.”
  • A 2017 article in Politico, which identified Abramovich and Leviev as “Chabad’s biggest patrons worldwide,” also referred to Lazar as “Putin’s rabbi.” Lazar has often run interference for the Russian president—for instance, by defending his initial crackdown on oligarchs like Gusinsky as not motivated by antisemitism, or by praising Russia as safe for Jews under his governance. (The researcher noted that Putin has also cultivated prominent loyalists in other Russian religious communities, including the Orthodox Church and Islam.)
  • Abramovich also significantly funded the construction of the $50 million Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center in Moscow, which opened in 2012 (and to which Putin pledged to donate a month of his presidential salary). In a 2016 article in The Forward, the scholar Olga Gershenson suggested that the museum’s narrative bordered on propaganda, framing Jews as “a model Russian minority” and “glorifying and mourning . . . without raising more controversial and relevant questions that would require the viewer to come to terms with a nation’s difficult past.”
  • “It concentrates on the Soviet victory over the Nazis, and then it ends by saying that Jews in Putin’s Russia are all good and content.”
  • “Say No to Antisemitism” has brought together Chelsea players and management with many top Jewish groups; the currents heads of the ADL, the WJC, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, and the Holocaust Educational Trust, among others, are all listed on its steering committee. The campaign is at least in part intended to address the antisemitism of some Chelsea fans, who have been known to shout “Yid!” and hiss in imitation of gas chambers when taunting fans of the rival club Tottenham, which has a historically Jewish fan base that proudly refers to itself as “the Yid Army.” Last November, Israeli President Isaac Herzog described the campaign as “a shining example of how sports can be a force for good and tolerance.”
  • Abramovich is also one of the primary benefactors of a Holocaust museum that opened in Porto last May. As of last year, Abramovich is a newly minted citizen of Portugal (and by extension, the European Union), which offers such recognition to anyone who can prove Sephardic ancestry dating back before the Portuguese expulsion of Jews in 1496.
  • Berel Rosenberg, a representative of the museum, denied that Abramovich had given the Porto Jewish community any money besides a €250 fee for Sephardic certification; regarding reports to the contrary, he alleged that “lies were published by antisemites and corrupt journalists.” However, Porto’s Jewish community does acknowledge that Abramovich has donated money to projects honoring the legacy of Portuguese Sephardic Jews in Hamburg, and he has been identified as an honorary member of Chabad Portugal and B’nai B’rith International Portugal due to his philanthropic activities in the country.
  • Abramovich has made a $30 million donation for a nanotechnology research center at Tel Aviv University; funded a football-focused “leadership training program” for Arab and Jewish children; and supported KKL-JNF’s tree-planting campaign in the southern Negev, which is dedicated to Lithuanian victims of the Holocaust—and which has drawn opposition from local Bedouin communities who view it as a land grab.
  • he has kept his support for Israeli settlements well-hidden
  • Abramovich has used front companies registered in the British Virgin Islands to donate more than $100 million to a right-wing Israeli organization called the Ir David Foundation, commonly known as Elad, which has worked since the 1980s to move Jewish settlers into occupied East Jerusalem. Elad also controls an archeological park and major tourist site called City of David, which it has leveraged in its efforts to “Judaize” the area, including by seizing Palestinian homes in the surrounding neighborhood of Silwan and digging under some to make them uninhabitable.
  • Even before he announced he would be setting up a charity to help victims in Ukraine, members of Abramovich’s family were quick to distance themselves from the war: A contemporary art museum in Moscow co-founded by Abramovich and Zhukova has announced that it will halt all new exhibitions in protest of the war. Abramovich’s 27-year-old daughter Sofia, who lives in London, posted a message on her popular Instagram account that read, “The biggest and most successful lie of the Kremlin’s propaganda is that most Russians stand with Putin.”
  • Just two days before Putin launched his invasion of Ukraine, it was reported that Abramovich is donating tens of millions of dollars to Yad Vashem, the global Holocaust remembrance center in Jerusalem
  • Yad Vashem chairman Dani Dayan joined the heads of multiple Israeli charitable organizations in urging the US not to sanction Abramovich. The letter was also signed by Chief Rabbi of Israel David Lau and representatives of Sheba Medical Center, Tel Aviv University, and Elad
  • Oleg Deripaska and Mikhail Fridman, were already calling for peace negotiations just three days after the invasion. (Fridman and Deripaska are also major Jewish philanthropists, as are other Russian oligarchs including Petr Aven, Yuri Milner, and Viktor Vekselberg. All of them now face global scrutiny.)
  • “In order for settlers to take over Palestinian homes, they need a lot of money,” said Hagit Ofran, co-director of the Settlement Watch project at the Israeli organization Peace Now, “both to take advantage of poor Palestinians for the actual purchases, and then for the long and expensive legal struggle that follows, and that can bankrupt Palestinian families. The money is crucial.” Of Abramovich’s support for Elad, she added, “That’s a lot from one source; I assume that if you give such a big donation, you know what it is for.”
  • Abramovich and others have spent more than two decades loyally serving and profiting off Putin’s corrupt and violent regime—one that has been accused of murdering and jailing journalists and political dissidents and of committing war crimes from Chechnya to Syria. And for much of that time, Jewish institutions worldwide have been more than happy to take money from Abramovich and his peers
  • longstanding philanthropic ties may affect the Jewish communal world’s willingness to hold Russia accountable for its violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty
  • “I think the view of much of Jewish philanthropic leadership, right and left, conservative and liberal, has been the bottom line: If the purposes for which the philanthropy is given are positive, humane, holy, and seen to strengthen both the Jewish community and the whole of society, then to sit and analyze whether the donor was exploitive or not, and whether this was kosher or not, would be hugely diverting, amazingly complicated, and divisive.”
  • Rabbi Jill Jacobs, executive director of T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, acknowledged the difficulty of making ethical calls about donors, but argued that the attempt is still necessary. “In philanthropy, nearly all money is tainted, either because it was acquired by exploiting workers, by harming the environment, by selling harmful products, or by taking advantage of systems that benefit the wealthy to the detriment of others. That said, we can’t throw up our hands and say that we can either take no money or all money; there have to be red lines,” she said.
  • Berman, the scholar of Jewish philanthropy, agrees. “It is tempting to say all money is fungible, so where it came from does not or cannot matter,” she said. “But no matter how much we might want to launder the money, wash it clean of its past and its connections to systems of power, the very act of doing so is an erasure, an act of historical revisionism. Even worse, it can actually participate in bolstering harmful systems of power, often by deterring institutions reliant on that money from holding a person or system to account.”
Ed Webb

How Lebanon is setting the standard for a new social contract in the Middle East - 0 views

  • What sets the protest apart is its cross-sectarian nature. Lebanon is turning away from the past and toward a new social contract. There is much risk and uncertainty — but there is also excitement — revealed by brave protesters who have put country above sect, and who have made the region, and the world, take notice.
  • Lebanon has a population of nearly 6.8 million, with an estimated 42% under 24 years of age. The official unemployment rate of about 6% is not high, by regional standards, but with almost no economic growth (a projected 0.2% rate in 2019, following just 0.3% last year), the good jobs are fewer and fewer for young graduates. Lebanon’s deficit and debt are approaching 155% of the gross domestic product, among the worst ratios in the world.
  • orruption and side deals inhibit the government from delivering even reliable trash collection — in contrast to the protesters, who have made a point of keeping the streets clean after the demonstrations
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  • Lebanon did its time with its own bloody 15-year sectarian regional war, and still was able to recover and re-establish its cosmopolitan flair. There is a lot to build on. The failures and dashed expectations of the uprisings in Egypt and Syria, which quickly fell prey to regional and ideological agendas and violence, and Lebanon’s own tragic past, could make it an incubator for a new approach to governance that would allow Lebanon to realize its potential, rather than fall victim to the rhetoric and false promise of what was once known as the Arab Spring
  • The catch for Lebanon, as it has been for Egypt, is that most International Monetary Fund-based recommendations to address bloated and corrupt public ministries require downsizing and reductions in subsidies — such as electricity and gasoline — and an expanded tax base — the very things that trigger the protests of those already on the economic margins.
  • the short-term urgency of meeting the demands of the street need to be combined with a long-term plan for structural reform. This could be accomplished via a new government, quickly formed, or by getting the buy-in of those demanding change by adding new faces and technocrats to those vital ministries that manage economy and infrastructure and are widely associated with corruption and inefficiency
Ed Webb

As Discontent Grows in Syria, Assad Struggles to Retain Support of Alawites - 0 views

  • Though the choreographed optics are intended to placate the community, pictures of Assad meeting with the distressed and offering shallow assurances are unlikely to offset the sight of cataclysmic flames devouring their homes. In a video shared on Twitter, an Alawite man films a fire surrounding his home. He sarcastically thanks the state for enabling its spread “because it’s irrelevant if we live or die.” In another video, a group of Alawites is seen criticizing government officials for their indifference, including a minister, whom they claim arrived for a photo op then subsequently drove off to avoid answering questions. The demographic’s small size and geographic concentration guarantees that word of such transgressions spreads quickly. The author’s Alawite sources on the coast echo these frustrations and claim they are widespread. They angrily questioned why neither the state nor its Iranian and Russian allies had assisted, especially given the proximity of the latter’s airbase at Khmeimim to the coastal mountains. 
  • On Oct. 9, state media’s Alikhbaria broadcast a video depicting a handful of Syrian soldiers struggling to put out small fires. Owing to severe water shortages, the troops were forced to use tree branches in lieu of hoses or buckets of water. The video was later shared on Twitter, where it elicited a mixture of mockery and condemnation from opponents of the regime. However, Alawite overrepresentation in the military means that these visuals denote a sense of loss and despair to the community.
  • The armed forces make up a key pillar of Alawite identity and have for nearly a century constituted their main institutional vehicle for attaining upward social mobility and prestige. The community’s loss of more than one third of their men of military age fighting for the regime against an overwhelmingly Sunni armed opposition has further entrenched this interdependence
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  • Conversations within the community center on the divide between the elites and the impoverished Alawites who are commonly linked to the discourse of sacrifice. Economic implosion and the decimation of the Syrian pound have effectively thrust a formerly comfortable middle class into poverty. Whereas Alawites are disproportionately represented in the public sector, the average state salary – a meager 50,000 SYP ($21) per month – means that the vast majority live well below the poverty line, as the average family, according to a Syrian newspaper, requires 700,000 SYP ($304) per month in order to live comfortably. 
  • In October alone, the price of gasoline increased twice, while the cost of diesel – used for residential heat and cooking, in addition to operating bakeries and fueling Syria’s cheapest mode of transportation, microbuses – more than doubled. Basic necessities have become virtually unaffordable.
  • Many of the communities impacted by the fires are subsistence farmers that depend on the profits accrued from harvesting crops such as olives, citrus, and tobacco. They commonly require a mixture of short- and long-term loans from the state’s Agricultural Cooperative Bank. Yet systemic corruption, mismanagement, and a collapsed economy have depleted state coffers, making it unlikely that the regime will compensate those whose homes and livelihoods have been destroyed.
  • in an interview with pro-regime radio station Sham FM, a resident of Alawite al-Fakhoura asserts the funds are being distributed by local officials in a nepotistic fashion. This example illustrates that, in the improbable case that Assad secures the necessary finances, his regime cannot prevent its clientelist networks from capturing them
  • diffusion of power since 2011 has led to unprecedented corruption amid the rise of relatively autonomous war profiteers, from militias to businessmen
  • In August 2015, the president’s cousin, Suleiman al-Assad, shot and killed a decorated Syrian Air Force colonel in Latakia City in a bout of road rage. According to the colonel’s brother, Suleiman had disparaged the Syrian military before killing the officer. Protests calling for Suleiman’s execution ensued in the Alawite neighborhood of Al-Zira’a. The debasing of the army – viewed as the only buffer between Alawites and a vengeful, sectarian opposition – by a privileged member of the ruling class struck a political nerve.
  • Outside of individual members hailing from a class of intellectuals, artists, and political dissidents, few Alawites actively joined the uprising in 2011. Those who did generally partook in cross-confessional protests that stressed national unity.
  • The spread of parasitic pro-regime militias operating with impunity and their disregard for breadlines, gas queues, and ration restrictions, in addition to their harassment of people desperately awaiting their turn, has contributed to an atmosphere in which fights break out. In Latakia and Hama, these fights have reportedly resulted in a few deaths.
  • time-tested tactic of externalizing blame and deflecting responsibility is currently being sustained by several exogenous factors. These include the presence of Turkish and American troops on Syrian soil and their support for rival armed actors, the sporadic persistence of Israeli strikes, and the implementation of U.S. sanctions through the Caesar Act, which collectively breathe life into the regime’s otherwise exhausted rhetoric
  • People considering organizing widespread civil disobedience are deterred by the specter of pre-emptive detention by the dreaded mukhabarat. The regime’s periodic security reshuffling further blurs the ability to identify potentially dangerous agents within their own community, magnifying the perceived threat posed by the omnipresence of informants.
  • the regime’s inability to check its repressive impulses could lead to a situation in which Alawites related to members of the officer corps are arrested and tortured – or worse, disappeared – for public critiques of the government, causing backlash from its own coercive forces
  • the deterioration of living standards could ultimately lead to a breaking point. 
  • Any organized dissent would require the support of its rank-and-file soldiers, most of whom share similar, if not identical, grievances with the wider community, and could thus be sympathetic. This could potentially cause a schism within the Alawite community as familial allegiances are weighed against loyalty to the Assad dynasty and its regime, particularly if ordered to repress protests in Alawite areas.
  • The only conceivable scenario in which Assad’s departure can occur at the hands of the Alawites while salvaging the state and avoiding further regional instability would be through a palace coup led by disgruntled officers and backed by Russia. However, the likelihood that Russia could simply replace or abandon Assad, its growing frustrations notwithstanding, is low, not least due to lack of an alternative.
  • Iranian entrenchment, both within the formal institutions of the regime and the state’s security landscape more broadly, continues to exploit Assad’s tenuous authority in order to obstruct Russian attempts to monopolize patronage.
  • Iran is a force for regime continuity. By creating a parallel network of control that bypasses the state, Iran has thus far been able to reproduce its influence, particularly through its ongoing relations with a patchwork of non-state militias, while resisting Russian efforts at vertically integrating these actors into the formal structures of a centralized Syrian state
  • the regime played the leading role in engineering facts on the ground critical to corroborating the false binary at the heart of its survival: Either accept the stability and security of the state – however perilous – or test the genocidal dispositions of the “jihadist” opposition.
  • This idea – that the president is innocent despite being surrounded by villains – is not uncommon among the Alawites.
  • Apart from the Turkish-backed factions in the north, the threat of Sunni reprisals occupies less of an immediate concern to most Alawites than their ability to secure food, shelter, and transportation amid a shattered economy and unstable currency
Ed Webb

The Islamic Monthly - Religion and the Arab Spring: Between opposition, equivocation and liberation - The (R)Evolution of the East - 0 views

  • 18 tumultuous days of nonstop media coverage
  • Reflecting on Bouazizi's death on his popular TV show, al-Shari'a wa-l-Hayat, Qaradawi affirmed that suicide was generally a major sin (kabira), but blamed the Tunisian state for Bouazizi's sin and prayed that God would absolve him of any blame for that sin. Qaradawi's sympathy for Bouazizi's otherwise sinful act was a reflection of Qaradawi's more general approach to the problem of religion and politics: that justice is a central demand of the Shari'a and that interpretations of the Shari'a that strengthen oppressors and tyrants cannot be deemed to be legitimate parts of the Shari'a.
  • Qaradawi's reputation for moral courage in the face of Arab dictators, however, suffered a significant blow as a result of his refusal to condemn the actions of the Bahraini and Saudi governments in violently suppressing the peaceful protests in Manama's Pearl Square. His attempts to distinguish the Bahraini protests on the ground that they were sectarian in character rather than national hardly seemed at the time plausible; in light of subsequent events, they are even less so.
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  • Gomaa's fatwas were consistent with historical Sunni views that regard revolution with scepticism, if not outright terror, at the prospect of public disorder. The mufti's stance of neutrality, meanwhile, alienated significant segments of the Egyptian population who expected him to take a much stronger stance against the unlawful conduct of the regime and its security forces
  • The various responses by religious leaders to the events of the Arab Spring suggest three distinct issues facing the role of religion and politics (particularly, the possibility of a more democratic politics) in the Arab World. First, the lack of institutional independence from strong regimes continues to undermine scholars' legitimacy. It is hard to believe, for example, that Qaradawi's stance regarding Bahrain was not influenced by the Gulf Cooperation Council's anti-Iran policies. This failure to be consistent, meanwhile, undermines his status as a moral voice in these times of uncertainty. Second, among traditional scholars, there remains a profound failure to understand the nature of the modern state and how it differs from the personal rule that characterized pre-modern states. Third, traditionalist scholars continue to view politics as something exogenous to the religious life, as if it were something that can safely be ignored without doing any damage to one's life as a Muslim.
  • the desire by virtually all political parties to use the religious establishment to further their political programs contradicts the desire to have an independent religious establishment that could be faithful to its own mission
  • To the extent that traditional scholars still cling to a conception of political rule that identifies legitimacy in the personal attributes of the ruler, they anachronistically promote the idea that good politics is the function of the virtuous ruler, rather than the modern notion that virtuous rule is the product of the right institutions.
  • the Arab Spring rejected the notion that one can live a virtuous private life untouched by an unjust and corrupt political sphere
  • If one accepts the proposition that the character of a regime profoundly affects everything produced within its domain, then it is no surprise that the authoritarianism of the last 50 years in the Arab World produced sterile and decadent religious as well as secular thought
Ed Webb

Talking with the Brotherhood | Transitions - 0 views

  • We have to find a way to convince the Egyptian people that they have been indulged in subsidies against their own interest and for the benefit of the rich. This is difficult, as many people don't fully understand the negative effects the subsidies have on the economy.
  • Over the past five or ten years, the public sector experienced a highly corrupt change in ownership. Businesses have been demolished, destroyed, sold at a loss to Mubarak's gangs. When you steal from the poor who are already poor, the effect is disastrous. As an economist, I think that the whole international financial system is a farce at the moment. I predict that the next international revolution will be against the banking institutions. This has already begun with the Occupy Wall Street movement, and the attacks on the private houses of bank managers is a new phenomenon which should not be ignored. You can't have justice in a human society without economic justice.
  • After the revolution, one of the most important outcomes was that political Islam became more than just a singular view. Before, al-Nour refused to engage in politics. Now they are developing their own policies. There is greater political participation and more plurality.
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  • Political Islam is broad enough to hold more than one opinion. At the same time, "extreme" is not in our vocabulary. Islam is generally a middle way. You can't be a Muslim and be extreme. Fanaticism is not a virtue.
  • women are not as mentally alert as men -- they cannot be, because they give birth to children, look after them, suffer monthly periods, and so on. All this takes the concentration of ten men. Their mental status is not constant and they can't have the same duties as a man.
Ed Webb

The real story of Bahrain's divided society | Tahiyya Lulu | Comment is free | guardian.co.uk - 0 views

  • the facts of the matter speak for themselves. Corruption, crony capitalism and a lack of transparency add up to uneven development and a vast disparity in wealth. By and large, Bahrain's Shia are losing out in the country's economic boom.What this reflects, to a large extent, is the success of the Bahraini regime's strategy to deal with challenges to its legitimacy by promoting and reinforcing identity politics within a system of privileges where certain groups and individuals are favoured over others. In a word: discrimination.
  • Continuing a discriminatory tradition set by imperial Britain during Bahrain's time as a British protectorate (when police were recruited from British-colonised India), the regime today relies on defence from imported mercenaries, while Bahraini Shia are denied the right to serve in their own armed forces.
  • Bahrain's sectarian divide therefore stems from economic disparity and the denial of civil rights.
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  • A better way to understand the current uprising is as a movement for civil rights and liberties. The demands are for transition from a system of privileges for a few at the expense of the many towards a system of greater rights for all. That is presumably why the Shia-dominated "cannot-haves" of the anti-government, pro-reform crowds appear to have crossed the sectarian rift and drawn in Bahrainis from a range of political platforms including liberals, secularists and human rights activists.
  • it is not the demands of the pro-reform protesters at Pearl Roundabout but the Bahrain government's rule by repression and discrimination that is pushing this country towards a "sectarian abyss".
Ed Webb

Exporting Jihad - The New Yorker - 0 views

  • A friend of Mohamed’s, an unemployed telecommunications engineer named Nabil Selliti, left Douar Hicher to fight in Syria. Oussama Romdhani, who edits the Arab Weekly in Tunis, told me that in the Arab world the most likely radicals are people in technical or scientific fields who lack the kind of humanities education that fosters critical thought. Before Selliti left, Mohamed asked him why he was going off to fight. Selliti replied, “I can’t build anything in this country. But the Islamic State gives us the chance to create, to build bombs, to use technology.” In July, 2013, Selliti blew himself up in a suicide bombing in Iraq.
  • Tourism, one of Tunisia’s major industries, dropped by nearly fifty per cent after June 26th last year, when, on a beach near the resort town of Sousse, a twenty-three-year-old student and break-dancing enthusiast pulled an automatic weapon out of his umbrella and began shooting foreigners; he spared Tunisian workers, who tried to stop him. The terrorist, who had trained at an Islamic State camp in Libya, killed thirty-eight people, thirty of them British tourists, before being shot dead by police.
  • he condemned the Sousse massacre and a terrorist attack in March, 2015, at Tunisia’s national museum, the Bardo, where three gunmen killed two dozen people. The victims were innocents, he said. Kamal still entertained a fantasy of joining a reformed police force. His knowledge of Islam was crude, and his allegiance to isis seemed confused and provisional—an expression of rage, not of ideology. But in Douar Hicher anger was often enough to send young people off to fight
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  • “The youth are lost,” Kamal told me. “There’s no justice.” Douar Hicher, he said, “is the key to Tunisia.” He continued, “If you want to stop terrorism, then bring good schools, bring transportation—because the roads are terrible—and bring jobs for young people, so that Douar Hicher becomes like the parts of Tunisia where you Westerners come to have fun.”
  • revolution opened up a space that Salafis rushed to fill. There were a lot more of them than anyone had realized—eventually, tens of thousands. In February, 2011, Tunisia’s interim government declared an amnesty and freed thousands of prisoners, including many jihadis. Among them was Abu Iyadh al-Tunisi, the co-founder of the Tunisian Combat Group. Within two months, he had started Ansar al-Sharia.
  • “The radical narrative tells you that whatever you’ve learned about Islam is wrong, you have to discard it—we have the new stuff. The old, traditional, moderate Islam doesn’t offer you the adventure of the isis narrative. It doesn’t offer you the temptation to enjoy, maybe, your inner savagery. isis offers a false heaven for sick minds.”
  • Democracy didn’t turn Tunisian youths into jihadis, but it gave them the freedom to act on their unhappiness. By raising and then frustrating expectations, the revolution created conditions for radicalization to thrive. New liberties clashed with the old habits of a police state—young Tunisians were suddenly permitted to join civic and political groups, but the cops harassed them for expressing dissent. Educated Tunisians are twice as likely to be unemployed as uneducated ones, because the economy creates so few professional jobs. A third of recent college graduates can’t find work. Frustration led young people to take to the streets in 2011; a similar desperate impulse is now driving other young people toward jihad.
  • the factors that drive young men and women to adopt Salafi jihadism are diverse and hard to parse: militants reach an overwhelmingly reductive idea by complex and twisted paths. A son of Riyadh grows up hearing Salafi preaching in a state-sanctioned mosque and goes to Syria with the financial aid of a Saudi businessman. A young Sunni in Falluja joins his neighbors in fighting American occupation and “Persian”—Shiite—domination. A Muslim teen-ager in a Paris banlieue finds an antidote to her sense of exclusion and spiritual emptiness in a jihadi online community. Part of the success of isis consists in its ability to attract a wide array of people and make them all look, sound, and think alike.
  • Souli wasn’t sure what should be done with returned jihadis, but, like nearly everyone I met, he spoke of the need for a program of rehabilitation for those who come back. No such program exists
  • In its eagerness to modernize, the Ben Ali regime encouraged widespread access to satellite television and the Internet. The sermons of Islamist firebrands from the Gulf, such as the Egyptian-born cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi, entered the homes of Tunisians who felt smothered by official secularism. Oussama Romdhani, who was a senior official under Ben Ali—he was referred to as the “propaganda minister”—told me, “Radicals were able to use these tools of communication to recruit and disseminate the narrative, and they did it quite efficiently.”
  • Around 2000, the Tunisian Combat Group, an Al Qaeda affiliate, emerged in Afghanistan, dedicating itself to the overthrow of the Tunisian government. One of its founders, Tarek Maaroufi, provided false passports to two Tunisians who, allegedly on instructions from Osama bin Laden, travelled to northern Afghanistan posing as television journalists and assassinated Ahmed Shah Massoud, the Afghan mujahideen commander, on September 9, 2001. The Combat Group’s other leader, known as Abu Iyadh al-Tunisi, was an Al Qaeda commander; when the Americans overthrew the Taliban, in late 2001, he escaped from Tora Bora with bin Laden, only to be arrested in Turkey, in 2003, and extradited to Tunisia. (Sentenced to forty-three years in prison, he seized the chance to radicalize his fellow-prisoners.)
  • Why can’t the police do their job and stop the terrorists but let the smugglers go with a bribe?
  • “Maybe it’s the Tunisian nature—we like risk,” a former jihadi told me. A million Tunisians live and work in Europe. “A lot of drug dealers are Tunisian; many smugglers of goods between Turkey and Greece are Tunisian; a lot of human traffickers in Belgrade are Tunisian. Online hackers—be careful of the Tunisians, there’s a whole network of them.”
  • Walid was vague about his reasons for returning to Tunisia. He mentioned a traumatic incident in which he had seen scores of comrades mowed down by regime soldiers outside Aleppo. He also pointed to the creation of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, in April, 2013, which soon engaged in bitter infighting with the Nusra Front. Walid spoke of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the caliph of the Islamic State, with the personal hatred that Trotskyists once expressed for Stalin. He accused isis of destroying the Syrian resistance and helping the Assad regime. He believed that isis was created by Western powers to undermine Al Qaeda and other true jihadi groups.
  • these aged men from the two Tunisias—Essebsi a haughty remnant of the Francophile élite, Ghannouchi the son of a devout farmer from the provinces—began a series of largely secret conversations, and set Tunisia on a new path. In January, 2014, Ennahdha voluntarily handed over the government to a regime of technocrats. Ghannouchi had put his party’s long-term interests ahead of immediate power. A peaceful compromise like this had never happened in the region. Both old men had to talk their followers back from the brink of confrontation, and some Ennahdha activists regarded Ghannouchi’s strategy as a betrayal.
  • To many Tunisians, Nidaa Tounes feels like the return of the old regime: some of the same politicians, the same business cronies, the same police practices. The Interior Ministry is a hideous seven-story concrete structure that squats in the middle of downtown Tunis, its roof bristling with antennas and satellite dishes, coils of barbed wire barring access from the street. The ministry employs eighty thousand people. There is much talk of reforming Tunisia’s security sector, with the help of Western money and training. (The U.S., seeing a glimmer of hope in a dark region, recently doubled its aid to Tunisia.) But the old habits of a police state persist—during my time in Tunis, I was watched at my hotel, and my interpreter was interrogated on the street.
  • The inhabitants of Kasserine, however neglected by the state, were passionate advocates for their own rights. They had played a central role in the overthrow of the dictatorship, staging some of the earliest protests after Bouazizi’s self-immolation. In every coffee shop, I was told, half the conversations were about politics. Although Kasserine is a recruiting area for jihadis, Tunisia’s wealthy areas are so remote that the town felt less alienated than Douar Hicher and Ben Gardane.
  • “You feel no interest from the post-revolutionary governments in us here. People feel that the coastal areas, with twenty per cent of the people, are still getting eighty per cent of the wealth. That brings a lot of psychological pressure, to feel that you’re left alone, that there’s no horizon, no hope.”
  • The old methods of surveillance are returning. In the center of Kasserine, I met an imam named Mahfoud Ben Deraa behind the counter of the hardware store he owns. He had just come back from afternoon prayers, but he was dressed like a man who sold paint. “I might get kicked out of the mosque, because last Friday’s sermon was something the government might not like,” the imam told me. He had preached that, since the government had closed mosques after terror attacks, “why, after an alcoholic killed two people, didn’t they close all the bars?” To some, this sounded like a call for Sharia, and after informers reported him to the police the governor’s office sent him a warning: “In the course of monitoring the religious activities and the religious institutions of the region, I hereby inform you that several violations have been reported.” The imam was ordered to open the mosque only during hours of prayer and to change the locks on the main doors to prevent unsupervised use. The warning seemed like overreach on the part of the state—the twitching of an old impulse from the Ben Ali years.
  • “I never thought I would repeat the same demands as five years ago. The old regime has robbed our dreams.”
  • According to the Tunisian Interior Ministry, a hundred thousand Tunisians—one per cent of the population—were arrested in the first half of 2015. Jihadi groups intend their atrocities to provoke an overreaction, and very few governments can resist falling into the trap.
  • New democracies in Latin America and Eastern Europe and Asia have had to struggle with fragile institutions, corruption, and social inequity. Tunisia has all this, plus terrorism and a failed state next door.
  • Ahmed told himself, “If I pray and ask for divine intervention, maybe things will get better.” Praying did not lead him to the moderate democratic Islam of Ennahdha. His thoughts turned more and more extreme, and he became a Salafi. He quit smoking marijuana and grew his beard long and adopted the ankle-length robe called a qamis. He un-friended all his female friends on Facebook, stopped listening to music, and thought about jihad. On Internet forums, he met jihadis who had been in Iraq and gave him suggestions for reading. Ahmed downloaded a book with instructions for making bombs. In the period of lax security under Ennahdha, he fell in with a radical mosque in Tunis. He was corresponding with so many friends who’d gone to Syria that Facebook deactivated his account. Some of them became leaders in the Islamic State, and they wrote of making thirty-five thousand dollars a year and having a gorgeous European wife or two. Ahmed couldn’t get a girlfriend or buy a pack of cigarettes.
  • “Dude, don’t go!” Walid said when they met on the street. “It’s just a trap for young people to die.” To Walid, Ahmed was exactly the type of young person isis exploited—naïve, lost, looking for the shortest path to Heaven. Al Qaeda had comparatively higher standards: some of its recruits had to fill out lengthy application forms in which they were asked to name their favorite Islamic scholars. Walid could answer such questions, but they would stump Ahmed and most other Tunisian jihadis.
  • “We need to reform our country and learn how to make it civilized,” he said. “In Tunisia, when you finish your pack of cigarettes, you’ll throw it on the ground. What we need is an intellectual revolution, a revolution of minds, and that will take not one, not two, but three generations.”
Ed Webb

How Western Urban Planning Fueled War in the Middle East | The American Conservative - 0 views

  • Care for one’s place is the first move towards accepting the others who reside there. The thoughts “this is our home,” and “we belong here” are peacemaking thoughts. If the “we” is underpinned only by religious faith, and faith defined so as to exclude its historical rivals, then we have a problem. If, however, a resident of Homs can identify himself by the place that he shares with his fellow residents, rather than the faith that distinguishes him, then we are already on the path away from civil war.
    • Ed Webb
       
      This can only be true if the civil war is fundamentally about religious identity-it is far from clear that this is the case.
  • decisions are made by officials, and officials belong to the great system of Mafia-like corruption that is the true cause of the Syrian conflict, and which has encouraged the Syrian political elite in recent times to look to Russia as its natural ally
  • Capitalism’s “creative destruction” is the anti-conservative claim that nothing that exists could not be improved easily in a short time by fast, profitable and “efficient” total replacement.
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  • in the 1990s there were many popular Syrian TV drama series about how people lived and interacted with each other in the neighborhoods of the old cities in Syria during the late 19th and early 20th century. They depicted the days when the Levant society as it existed in its centuries-old Ottoman era make-up, just prior to the transition into colonial and post-colonial modernity and showed how rich and poor lived together in the same neighborhood, it showed the old houses, the shops & the markets.
  • Roger Scruton is romanticizing. He therefore completely misunderstands the expressive functional reality of ordinary homes and security by focusing on public architecture, which everywhere expresses elite ideals instead of common ones. Take Florence and the Italian Republics. Frequent wars and not infrequently with Muslim empires meant homes had to be defensible and closed off from streets. Only later, briefly, and elsewhere later like in Britain and the US were isolated farm villages open to welcome trade, or US farm homes isolated away from the necessity of group protections because genuine threats had become to rare to proactively defend against them. Similarly, the divide in the Muslim world is between open plans in port cities secured through trade by larger powers that could ensure protection, versus homes way from ports, deliberately closed off against strangers so as to be defensible against frequent invaders. Most of the Islamic world remains like unstable and insecure early Florence. And homes throughout MENA reflect their isolation and insecurity through closed plans, just as much as Spanish ones from Moorish times do, even in the New World.
Ed Webb

Turkey: Is Erdogan's "Magic Spell" Beginning to Pale? - 0 views

  • Research conducted in March by 50 teachers from the Imam Hatip schools revealed that students are moving away from Islam
  • Another cause of upset on the part of many religious Muslims is the content of the Diyanet-prepared Friday sermons, which frequently advocates violent jihad
  • great disappointment in the Erdogan government's version of Islam, especially when accompanied by corrupt politics and a deteriorating justice system
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  • Turkish Islamists are no longer politically uniform -- especially women and young people, whose waning support for the AKP was apparent during the April 2017 presidential referendum. To attract both sectors, Erdogan promised to lower the age at which a person can run for parliament and to grant lavish subsidies to housewives. These vows, however, appear to be insufficient to keep the people under his "spell."
  • Erdogan has long promised his supporters that he would cultivate a "pious generation", and invested heavily in religious Imam Hatip schools. His younger son, Bilal, even referred to the students attending these schools as "Erdogan's generation." Yet, it turns out that the children enrolled in these institutions have been failing miserably on all standard academic tests. Research conducted in March by 50 teachers from the Imam Hatip schools revealed that students are moving away from Islam in favor of a more general deism. The report generated a heated debate. While some secular groups doubt its findings, many feel vindicated by them.
  • Children from AKP-loyal families, as well as intellectuals and activists, are apparently questioning the touted morals of their elders. In a recent op-ed, hijabi-feminist Berrin Sonmez attacked what she called the "hypocritical piety" of Erdogan and the AKP elites. Sonmez and others have been criticizing Erdogan for his one-man rule, claiming that it runs counter to Islamic values and culture
  • As of 2017, there were 90,000 mosques in Turkey, led by government-employed imams. These mosques have experienced a notable decrease in attendance, particularly among young and middle-aged men. Some of those who continue to frequent the mosques are doing so less for religious reasons than for networking and job-seeking. In addition, more and more mosques have begun requesting hefty contributions from their congregants, while imams are coaxed by the state to collect donations after each sermon. One young imam who publicly complained about this practice -- he said that mosques "no longer serve people, but rather serve as a source of income for certain people" -- was promptly removed from his position.
  • Religious orders not associated with the Diyanet are beginning to attract more practitioners. While Diyanet and government officials make headlines for their lavish spending and luxurious lifestyles, outside religious orders are presenting a more righteous way of life
  • As Diyanet mosques function as pseudo-AKP headquarters across Turkey and abroad, the alternative religious orders pose a significant threat to Erdogan's standing and power
Ed Webb

Bringing the Economy Back Into Tunisian Politics - Carnegie Endowment for International Peace - 0 views

  • Observers have often summarized the situation in Tunisia, and the Arab world in general, as a conflict between Islamists and secularists. While the framework of an Islamist–secularist divide is not completely inaccurate, it frequently ignores more nuanced analysis and perpetuates the orientalist premise that Middle East politics should be explained by historical religious norms. In Tunisia, political Islam was marginal until the fall of dictatorship in January 2011.
  • The main demands of the sporadic protest movements before 2011 were not ideological, but called for more political liberties or an improved socioeconomic situation, as in the 2008 Gafsa uprising
  • a growing sense among disenchanted voters, youth in particular, that their standards of living would not improve no matter which party they voted for.
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  • As a structured political party with large parliamentary representation but little influence inside state institutions, Ennahda in particular has aimed to change the status quo, as its new elite within the Tunisian interior remains largely excluded from the established economic circles in the coastal cities.
  • seek the political backing of the IMF and G7 countries, who are demanding that Tunisia speed up ongoing structural reforms to the economy. However, these measures are very unpopular, reawakening old grievances and notably sparking widespread anti-austerity protests in January 2018
  • The discourse of the union’s leadership—which calls for nationalization of major sectors and includes elements of pan-Arabism and anti-imperialist nationalism—is finding appeal among a population disenchanted with the leading parties’ ability to improve their economic situation. The union has also found natural partners in the Popular Front, a political coalition of leftists and pan-Arabists, and in remnants of the old regime, whose hybrid ideology incorporates nationalism, socialism, and pan-Arabism
  • as UGTT leaders accuse Chahed and Ennahda of being manipulated by the IMF and foreign countries, the camp in power is going on the defensive. They have alternately called for negotiations, stalemate, and compromise with the UGTT, ultimately capitulating to the UGTT’s primary demand on February 7 to increase wages in order to avert the planned February 20 strike
  • The more Tunisia’s foreign partners demand substantial structural reforms, the more the current coalition will confront popular anger that puts these reforms on hold, lest the coalition provoke a larger upheaval that could topple it. This will in turn make it harder for the government to abide by Tunisia’s commitments to its international donors, at a time when it needs their support to keep a grip on power
Ed Webb

Calls in Egypt for censored social media after arrests of TikTok star, belly dancer - Reuters - 0 views

  • Egyptian lawmakers have called for stricter surveillance of women on video sharing apps after the arrests of a popular social media influencer and a well-known belly dancer on charges of debauchery and inciting immorality.
  • Instagram and TikTok influencer Haneen Hossam, 20, is under 15 days detention for a post encouraging women to broadcast videos in exchange for money, while dancer Sama el-Masry faces 15 days detention for posting “indecent” photos and videos.
  • “Because of a lack of surveillance some people are exploiting these apps in a manner that violates public morals and Egypt’s customs and traditions,”
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  • In 2018 Egypt adopted a cyber crime law that grants the government full authority to censor the internet and exercise communication surveillance. A media regulation law also allows authorities to block individual social media accounts.
  • Several women in Egypt have previously been accused of “inciting debauchery” by challenging the country’s conservative social norms, including actress Rania Youssef after critics took against her choice of dress for the Cairo Film Festival in 2018.
  • Hossam denied any wrongdoing but Cairo University - where she is studying archaeology - said it would enforce maximum penalties against her which could include expulsion.
  • Egyptian women’s rights campaigner Ghadeer Ahmed blamed the arrests on rising social pressures on women and “corrupt laws”. “[These laws] condemn people for their behaviour that may not conform to imagined social standards for how to be a ‘good citizen’ and a respectful woman,” she wrote in a Tweet.
Ed Webb

Turkey's Thirty-Year Coup | The New Yorker - 0 views

  • Within the country, the military saw Gülenists as a considerable threat. Gareth Jenkins, a fellow at the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute in Istanbul, said that, during the nineteen-nineties, the armed forces expelled hundreds of officers on suspicion of harboring links to Gülen. In a cable released by WikiLeaks, an American diplomat wrote that secular officers devised a test: they invited fellow-soldiers and their wives to pool parties, reasoning that women who declined to appear in public wearing swimsuits must be restricted by their religion. According to the diplomat, the Gülenist wives became aware of the tactic and came up with a countermeasure: they started wearing bikinis more revealing than their hosts’. When military inspectors began searching officers’ homes, the Gülenists stocked their refrigerators with decoy bottles of alcohol and planted empties in the trash.
  • Hanefi Avcı, the police chief for Eskişehir Province, told me that he saw Gülenist police, prosecutors, and judges fabricate evidence in political investigations. But when he alerted his superiors he was ignored. “I talked to ministers and I wrote memos and didn’t get any replies,” he said.In 2009, Avcı secretly began writing a book detailing the Gülenists’ activities in the police and judiciary. He described a movement of protean adaptability, whose methods resembled those of terrorist groups and criminal organizations; they framed opponents by planting evidence or blackmailed them with information gleaned from wiretaps. “What made the Gülen movement different is that it was inside the state,” he said, noting that infiltrators in his department had sabotaged the careers of at least ten colleagues. The book, called “Simons Living on the Golden Horn” (the title is an abstruse metaphor for not seeing what is in plain sight), became a best-seller. It seemed especially authoritative because Avcı, a conservative Islamist, had two children in Gülenist schools.
  • The judiciary, emboldened by Ergenekon and Sledgehammer, pursued the investigations ever closer to Erdoğan. In the early months of 2012, police issued a subpoena to Hakan Fidan—the chief of national intelligence and a confidant of the Prime Minister—and arrested Ilker Başbuğ, the country’s highest military officer. “They felt that they could arrest anyone,” Gareth Jenkins said. Erdoğan responded in a way that seemed calculated to hobble the Gülenists: he started closing down their schools—a crucial source of income—and working to restrain the police.
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  • On December 17, 2013, police arrested Zarrab and eighty-eight others, including forty-three government officials. Although they did not arrest any of Erdoğan’s ministers, they detained the sons of three of them, claiming that they were conduits for bribes. Erdoğan’s son Bilal also came under suspicion, after a wiretap captured what was alleged to be a conversation between him and his father. Erdoğan has insisted that the tape was doctored, but it circulated widely on social media, and Turks claimed to recognize his voice.Tayyip Erdoğan: Eighteen people’s homes are being searched right now with this big corruption operation. . . . So I’m saying, whatever you have at home, take it out. O.K.?Bilal: Dad, what could I even have at home? There’s your money in the safe.Tayyip: Yes, that’s what I’m saying.A little while later, the two apparently spoke again.Tayyip: Did you get rid of all of it, or . . . ?Bilal: No, not all of it, Dad. So, there’s something like thirty million euros left that we haven’t been able to liquidate.
  • Western officials told me that they regarded the investigation as a Gülenist attempt to topple Erdoğan’s government—but that the evidence seemed credible.
  • On Christmas Day, 2015, Turkish intelligence breached an encrypted messaging app called ByLock—an apparently homemade network with two hundred thousand users. According to Turkish officials, it was set up not long after Erdoğan began purging suspected Gülenists from the government. When the network was discovered, the server, in Lithuania, quickly closed down, and its users switched to Eagle, another encrypted messaging app. “They went underground,” a Turkish government aide told me.The intelligence officials say that they were able to decrypt the exchanges, and one told me, “Every conversation was about the Gülen community.” By checking the ByLock users’ names against government records, they found that at least forty thousand were civil employees, mostly from the judiciary and the police department. In May, two months before the coup, the government began suspending them.In July, the intelligence department notified the military that it had also identified six hundred officers of the Turkish Army, many of them highly ranked, among the ByLock users. Military officials began planning to expel them at a meeting of senior generals that was scheduled for early the next month. “We think the coup happened in July because they needed to move before they were expelled,” Ibrahim Kalın, the Erdoğan aide, told me.
  • it seems that the plotters staked their operation on capturing or killing Erdoğan and persuading General Akar to join them. “If those things had happened, the coup would have succeeded,” Kalın said. But none of the most senior generals of the Turkish armed forces could be persuaded to join, which may have left the plotters without a military leader. By 4 A.M., the coup plotters were running for their lives.
  • For Erdoğan, though, retribution has always come more easily than apologies. The state of emergency that he declared after the coup gave him dictatorial powers, which he used to carry out a far-reaching crackdown that began with Gülenists but has grown to encompass almost anyone who might pose a threat to his expanded authority.
  • Public criticism of Erdoğan has been almost entirely squelched, either by the outpouring of national support that followed the coup or by the fear of being imprisoned. Erdoğan has closed more than a hundred and thirty media outlets and detained at least forty-three journalists, and the purge is still under way.
Ed Webb

Forged in Waco's fires: The FBI and religion scholars reflect on their 25-year relationship | Religion News Service - 0 views

  • This month, nearly 25 years after the debacle now simply referred to as “Waco,” FBI officials and scholars from the American Academy of Religion gathered at Harvard Divinity School to reflect on how the crisis in Texas led to a new relationship between them – and on the challenges ahead.
  • law enforcement moved to end the standoff by force but had “no qualified knowledge of how highly religious people would respond to the storming of (their) building,” said retired Harvard law professor Philip Heymann. As deputy attorney general at the time, he authored a report in the aftermath of Waco that emphasized the need for seeking out religious expertise in dealing with confrontations.
  • “We don’t have an excuse not to ask for advice,” said David T. Resch, who was part of the FBI team at Waco and is now special agent in charge of the FBI National Academy. With the AAR, the FBI has “a mechanism to reach out of our comfort zone” in recognizing where offenders’ and victims’ actions are shaped by religious beliefs that “as a Methodist, I may not know.”
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  • “Loud bells are ringing,” said Resch, citing terrorism, hate crimes, police misuse of power, public corruption, organized crime and more. “The time from flash to bang and the trajectory toward violence has been sharply condensed. We need to move more quickly and choose the least bad answers.”
  • well-grounded suspicion of the FBI still threads through its history with religious groups and religious social justice activists
  • Weitzman looked back decades, when Quakers, Black Muslims and Catholic anti-war activists were seen as suspicious and FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover positioned the agency as upholding Judeo-Christian values in opposition to “godless communism.” Hoover’s effort to degrade the reputation of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and to undermine the civil rights movement is still very much top-of-mind for many African-Americans
Ed Webb

'All of them means all of them': Who are Lebanon's political elite? | Middle East Eye - 0 views

  • From Tripoli to Tyre, and Beirut to Baalbek, Lebanese have been chanting the same slogan: “All of them means all of them.” Since its independence, Lebanon has been ruled by a clique of politicians and political families who have used sectarianism, corruption and clientelism to cling to power and amass incredible wealth. Now protesters are calling for them all to be removed, from Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah to Prime Minister Saad Hariri, with nervous responses from the leaders themselves. Middle East Eye takes a quick look at some of the more prominent figures and parties in the protesters’ sights.
  • The Hariri family was once the darling of Saudi Arabia, but apparently no longer
  • Aoun is one of Lebanon’s many leaders who played an active and violent part in the country’s 1975-90 civil war. As head of the army in the war’s latter years, Aoun fought bitter conflicts with the occupying Syrian military and the Lebanese Forces paramilitary headed by his rival, Samir Geagea. In 1989, Aoun found himself besieged in the presidential palace in Baabda, where he now resides as president, and fled Syrian troops to the French embassy, which granted him exile.
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  • The Amal Movement was founded in 1974 by Lebanese-Iranian cleric Musa Sadr to represent Lebanon’s Shia, who had long been marginalised as one of the country’s poorest sections of society. Though originally notable for its efforts to pull Shia Lebanese out of poverty, during the civil war it became one of the country’s most effective militias and controlled large parts of the south.
  • Amal is a close ally of fellow Shia party Hezbollah, and their politicians have run on the same list in elections. However, they occasionally diverge in opinion.
  • Birthed from the resistance movement that followed Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon, Hezbollah has since become the most powerful political and military force in Lebanon. Iran-backed and Syria-allied, the movement was the only militia to keep its arms at the end of the civil war, as it waged a deadly guerilla war against the Israeli occupation of south Lebanon.
  • Though Israel was forced out in 2000, Hezbollah’s military capabilities have only increased, and its war against Israel in 2006 and ongoing involvement in the Syrian conflict have divided opinion among the Lebanese. The movement and its allies did well at the ballot box in 2018 and Hezbollah now has two ministers in the cabinet.
  • Hassan Nasrallah lives in hiding due to the constant fear of Israeli assassination.
  • Known as “al-Hakim” (the doctor), Geagea is a medically trained warlord-turned-politician. During the 1975-90 civil war, Geagea was one of the most notorious militia leaders, heading the Christian Lebanese Forces. He was a close ally of Bashir Gemayel, who was assassinated days before being sworn into the presidency in 1982 with Israeli support
  • he was convicted of involvement in a number of assassinations and attempted murders in widely condemned trials. Geagea was kept in a solitary windowless cell for 11 years until his pardon in 2005 following the Syrian pullout
  • The Lebanese Forces, which is an offshoot of the right-wing Kataeb party, is the second-largest Christian party after the FPM. Its three ministers resigned early in the protest movement, and the party has now attempted to join the demonstrators and help block roads, though many protesters have rejected its overtures.
  • Feudal lord and socialist, advocate of de-sectarianising Lebanese politics but also a fierce defender of his Druze sect, Jumblatt is a difficult man to pin down. Often described as Lebanon’s kingmaker, his allegiances have swung several times, a trick that may have helped keep him alive.
  • The Kataeb party has fallen a long way since its civil war heyday. Also known as the Phalangists, the party used to be the dominant Christian party, and was inspired by its founder Pierre Gemayel’s trips to the 1936 Berlin Olympics and Franco’s fascist party in Spain. The Gemayel family has suffered a series of assassinations, most notably president elect Bashir Gemayel in 1982. Bashir’s brother Amin then went on to claim the presidency, and Amin’s son Sami is now heading the party. In recent years however the Kataeb party has struggled to attract votes from its offshoot the Lebanese Forces and the FPM
Ed Webb

Protests in Lebanon and Iraq Show That Iran Is Losing the Middle East Through Bad Governance - 0 views

  • For the Shiite communities in Iraq and Lebanon, Tehran and its proxies have failed to translate military and political victories into a socioeconomic vision; simply put, Iran’s resistance narrative did not put food on the table.
  • Today, Iran seems to be winning the long game. Its proxy in Lebanon prevailed in last year’s parliamentary elections. In Syria, Iran managed to save its ally, President Bashar al-Assad. In the past several years, Iran has also gained a lot more power in Baghdad through its proxies, including the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), the Shiite militias created to fight the Islamic State.
  • Hezbollah’s costly involvement in the Syrian war and pressure from U.S. sanctions on Iran have forced the party to cut salaries and services, widening the gap between the rich and the poor within its own community. Meanwhile, the party also drafted mostly Shiites from poor neighborhoods to go fight in Syria, while its officials benefited from the war riches, causing much resentment.
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  • all these victories failed to translate into public well-being. Iran might have benefited, but Shiites in Lebanon got more isolated than ever. That is why it is so meaningful that the Shiite community, by joining the protests, is now attempting to claim its Lebanese identity rather than the religious one that has, so far, failed it
  • tens of thousands of Iraqis in Baghdad and other Shiite-majority parts of southern Iraq came out in protest over the failures of the Iraqi political class to provide basic services and reduce unemployment and corruption. The crackdown was swift and aggressive, resulting in the deaths of more than 100 protesters. Reuters published a story more than a week into the protests confirming that Iran-backed militias had deployed snipers on Baghdad rooftops to deliberately kill protesters
  • Some Sunnis and Kurds in Iraq have expressed support for the Shiite protesters but have hesitated to get involved in order to avoid having the protesters labeled as members of the Islamic State, an excuse that Iran has used in both Iraq and Syria to attack uprisings.
  • Hezbollah will try not repeat the Iraqi PMF’s mistake of responding with violence. That’s why its military units have been training a number of non-Hezbollah members to join what it calls the Lebanese Resistance Brigades. The role of these brigades is precisely to deal with domestic challenges and allow Hezbollah to deny responsibility. Already, in an attempt to create a counter-revolution, hundreds of young men carrying the flags of Amal and Hezbollah attacked the protesters in a number of cities. So far, the Lebanese Army has stopped them from getting too close to the protests, but they have managed to physically hurt and terrorize people outside Beirut, mainly in Shiite towns and cities
  • Shiism does not belong to Iran
Ed Webb

Lebanon and Iraq Want to Overthrow Sectarianism - 0 views

  • In Iraq, the protesters mostly consisted of angry young working-class men, and they were quickly confronted with violence. In Lebanon, meanwhile, the protests have been marked by that country’s unmistakable sense of style and festive spirit, and the initiators have mostly been from the upper social classes. In downtown Beirut this past weekend, the sea of protesters included a woman in white-rimmed retro sunglasses with her dog named Pucci and a young man waving a Lebanese flag while lying in an inflatable kiddie pool. Yet despite the stark contrast between the protests, the rebels in both countries are in fact very similar. They are confronting many of the same political problems and are making essentially the same demand. They want the downfall of their countries’ existing self-serving elites, and big changes to the sectarian constitutional systems that enabled them
  • if austerity measures were a trigger, the protesters now have much bigger complaints on their minds
  • Iraqi protesters share the Lebanese view of their ruling elite as corrupt and inefficient (although they have also learned their government is quicker to resort to violence to restore order)
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  • Politicians give whatever work there is to their henchmen, not to us
  • Many of the politicians in Lebanon and Iraq are the direct material beneficiaries of sectarian systems instituted after conflicts in both countries.
  • Wealth and national resources were carved up along sectarian lines, with no party having an interest in upsetting the status quo.
  • After the 2003 U.S. invasion, Iraq borrowed from Lebanon to build its own muhasasa taifa, or balanced sectarianism. Power is likewise shared between the ruling elite of Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds. As a result, while elections can shift the balance of power, they do little to change the faces of those who wield it, from whichever sect or faction
  • such division of power has reduced sectarian conflict but failed at making government efficient or transparent
  • one side of the protests is that they are against any political parties that are religious or ideologically charged
  • At least two generations of Iraqis have been scarred by sectarianism, beginning with Saddam Hussein’s killings of Shiites in Iraq, the subsequent revenge by the Shiite militias on Sunnis, and then the formation of the Islamic State. They are not just exhausted from the chaos unleashed by sectarian rivalries, but also disdainful of them. The most recent Iraqi protests were held mainly in Shiite cities and against a Shiite-dominated government.
  • In Lebanon, meanwhile, the protests comprise different sects, ages, sexes, and ideologies. However, perhaps most notable were the protests by Shiites in the south of the country against the Amal Movement, historically the dominant Shiite political party. The streets of Tyre resonated with curses aimed at Nabih Berri—Amal’s leader, the Shiite speaker of the parliament, and a Hezbollah ally.
  • In both countries, Shiite militias backed by Iran have come to play a dominant role in government in recent years: Hezbollah in Lebanon, and groups that belong to the Popular Mobilization Forces, the irregular army raised to fight the Islamic State, in Iraq
  • many Lebanese feel that Hezbollah can no longer claim the moral ground it once claimed for itself as a political outsider, now that it’s clearly a part of the faulty system
  • In last year’s elections, a new movement of independent, nonsectarian “civil society” candidates stepped up, and though only one succeeded in winning a seat, amid claims they are too disparate and divided to succeed, they are still determined to try again
  • For now, however, the very act of protest offers a sense of possibility. “It’s very beautiful,” said Azab, “when you feel that you managed to defeat all your fears and say what you want out loud.”
Ed Webb

Should Lebanon's Christians Join Protests? Viral Sermons A...... | News & Reporting | Christianity Today - 0 views

  • As the rocks rained down near the tent of Ras Beirut Baptist Church’s effort to discuss the question, suddenly the faith of the Christians gathered there was put to the test. For the past month, Lebanese evangelicals have debated Scripture, sharing sermons online. One viral effort urges believers to stay away from widespread demonstrations in submission to authority. Another licenses participation in the popular push for justice.
  • Evangelicals, traditionally apolitical, have taken different approaches. Some have rushed to join the demonstrations. They decry that a quarter of the population of the tiny Mediterranean coastal country live in poverty, while the economy teeters on collapse. Others—largely sympathetic—have watched warily. They are offended by vulgar insults directed at politicians, troubled by ongoing roadblocks that paralyze society, and fearful for the return of civil war after three decades of relative peace.
  • “There is an overall consensus—nationally and internationally—that those in authority have not served their people in the last 40 years,” Kashouh told CT. “The only question is the appropriate methods to fight corruption.”
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  • Christians in the Middle East need stable political systems, Skaff said, not the rule of a leaderless majority. The elite, the educated, and the qualified should govern, with rights and freedoms enshrined in law, not popular favor
  • RBBC was one of a dozen tents hosting discussions, and a crowd formed around it shouting “revolution” to answer the motorcyclists’ sectarian chant of “Shiite!” Middle fingers were raised on both sides, as protesters gathered metal tent legs in anticipated self-defense.
Ed Webb

The Perils of the Past | The Point Magazine - 0 views

  • hough the Centre des Archives Nationales possesses the administrative prerogative to house and archive all state documents, it lacks the power to enforce its interests. It’s not just cultural institutions that are jousting over Lebanon’s archival legacy, however. The country is riddled with small bookshops run by collectors, each of which has a basement or closet where the owner hides a personal stash of archival documents, collected over decades, to be sold on the private market. Bookshops in small alleys of Ashrafiyeh and Basta dominate this trade, where everything is priced by the dollar. At a time when the national currency has lost 95 percent of its pre-crisis value, private markets have become a lucrative source of profit.
  • According to Shehab, future sectarian violence could be avoided if socioeconomic parity could be established between sects and regions. Development planning in Lebanon—directed both by outsider experts and Shehab himself—began as a response to the deep divisions in Lebanese society and politics laid bare by the civil war. To this day, political power and resources continue to be allocated along confessional lines.
  • During the 1960s, the state intervened on behalf of many: establishing a social security system modeled after America’s own Social Security Act of 1935, building hundreds of miles of roads connecting rural villages with the country’s main highway system, and rehabilitating thousands of acres of farmland while also undertaking massive affordable public housing projects. Many Lebanese people, from various confessions, still characterize the Sixties as the country’s golden period.
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  • this was not a uniquely Lebanese story, but one that rippled out across the postcolonial world. The head of the French think tank that Shehab hired to draw up Lebanese development plans was a Dominican priest and former naval officer named Louis-Joseph Lebret, who had earned his developmentalist pedigree designing similar schemes in Senegal and Brazil. The United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) sent a statistician to help reorganize the Lebanese Ministry of Agriculture’s statistics department in 1959, who not long after left for a similar mission in Peru. The FAO then chose Lebanon as their Near East headquarters, where agricultural experts from around the region would gather for training. For a brief period in the mid-twentieth century, Beirut had become a crucible and testing ground of global development.
  • I became politically active during the early days of the Arab Spring, radicalized by fellow—predominantly leftist—anti-sectarian activists and organizers. These people, many of whom I call my colleagues today, strongly believed that the system of political sectarianism in Lebanon could be dismantled if we could only somehow reach the levers of power and enforce some form of social democracy—a vision of political life where state resources and services would be allocated equitably across the country, regardless of any confessional affiliation
  • the rationale of many vocal opponents of sectarianism eerily mimics the basic idea that took hold within Shehab’s administration—that fixing the country’s problems was a matter of having the right competent people manning rehabilitated state institutions.
  • for the year I’ve spent back home, I’ve been witnessing things cease to exist, fully aware that the worst is still to come. I find myself mourning something that isn’t quite dead yet, but that was never actually alive either.
  • The reality is that we—the anti-sectarian, broadly progressive political activists—have been consistently losing battles for more than a decade. In 2013 and 2014 we failed to prevent parliament from unconstitutionally extending its mandate. In 2015, when Beirut sank in trash, our protests shook the government’s resolve but ultimately stopped short of achieving any concrete long-term solutions. The Syrian revolution next door, which many of us saw as our own, escalated into a bloody civil conflict where Lebanese, Iranian and Russian forces killed thousands of Syrians to help keep Bashar al-Assad in power. The defeat of the Arab Spring nearby reverberated negatively in Beirut as spaces of protest, contention and civil liberties shrank, particularly as political elites and the Lebanese police state went after journalists and activists. In 2018, despite a somewhat more organized presence, opposition groups failed to break through in the parliamentary elections. And finally, our own uprising, which erupted in October of 2019, hastily hailed by many as the “end of the civil war,” was crushed only a few months later under the weight of state repression and sectarian militia violence. These disappointments were then followed by a global pandemic that crippled any form of organizing, the Beirut port explosion of August 2020 and an economic collapse that wiped out most people’s savings.
  • Many of the state’s institutions and agencies remain barely staffed today, which has driven governmental function—already crippled by negligence and rampant corruption—to a halt.
  • Everyday urban life has turned into a struggle to provide for basic needs. Informal strategies have proliferated to meet those needs, and all across the country regional markets for goods and services—not just gas but also food, medicine and other essentials—have sprouted and disseminated through word of mouth, social media websites, texting services and local gatekeepers. In the vacuum left by a state no longer capable of guaranteeing security for its citizens or regulating the distribution of necessities, a space has opened up for reconfiguring social and political ties, particularly among city-dwellers, away from the established sectarian status quo
  • I was living in a place and a moment where everything seemed ad hoc, where a travesty lurked at every corner and the existing social contract was lit aflame. A country? More like a set of elements somehow still stitched together, decaying into oblivion.
  • A network of decentralized activist groups and NGOs provided food, medicine and care for the victims of the blast. These were the same people who provided mutual aid during the pandemic and economic collapse and formed the nucleus for various legal and advocacy cooperatives that challenged the state’s austerity measures and defended protesters in court. A nascent, decentralized movement of self-governance quietly emerged from the cracks of the decaying sectarian state. Yet even this failed to mature into an ambitious political project. When it came to national politics, many activists retreated into the Shehabist default position of expecting the state to serve as guarantor of national unity, the only viable safeguard against sectarian disintegration. 
  • On May 15, 2022, Lebanon held its most recent round of parliamentary elections. Just 49 percent of eligible voters cast a ballot, according to the Ministry of Interior. Buoyed by diaspora voters seeking to punish Lebanon’s rulers, low voter turnout and a political class reviled for causing the worst economic crisis since the country’s founding, thirteen anti-sectarian candidates won, unseating established sectarian politicians and household names. Though their success was a bright spot in a dark time, it remains to be seen what this heterogeneous opposition bloc can achieve in a deadlocked parliament.
  • Any oppositional political incursion in Lebanon will have to be resoundingly inclusive, democratic and respectful of the agency of everyone involved, not solely because this is the most morally correct approach but, more importantly, because this might be the only way for us to start imagining a political movement robust enough to challenge sectarianism.
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