Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
July 31, 2013

The Lobby Called McCain

Senator John McCain on July 8 2013:
“[I]t is difficult for me to conclude that what happened was anything other than a coup in which the military played a decisive role,” McCain said in a statement posted to his Senate website on Monday.

“Current U.S. law is very clear about the implications for our foreign assistance in the aftermath of a military coup against an elected government, and the law offers no ability to waive its provisions,” McCain said. “I do not want to suspend our critical assistance to Egypt, but I believe that is the right thing to do at this time.”

Senator John McCain on July 31 2013:
Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky's amendment to next year's transportation bill would have halted the $1.5 billion in mainly military assistance the U.S. provides Egypt each year.
The vote laid bare a stark division among Republicans, pitting libertarians like Paul against hawks such as Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham, who plan to visit Egypt next week at President Barack Obama's request to press for new elections. They were joined by Sens. Bob Corker and Jim Inhofe, the top Republicans on the Senate's foreign relations and armed services committees, in speaking out against the amendment.

"It's important that we send a message to Egypt that we're not abandoning them," McCain said. Right now, Egypt is "descending into chaos. It's going to be a threat to the United States."

Finally the lobby called McCain and let him know how to vote.

Posted by b on July 31, 2013 at 02:36 PM | Permalink | Comments (18)

Open Thread 2013-16

While I am busy ... Your news & views ...

Posted by b on July 31, 2013 at 02:07 PM | Permalink | Comments (63)

July 30, 2013

Syria: Erdogan's Kurdish Problem

Building on the recent progress the Syrian army will have cleared Homs city of insurgents in a week or two. The next step then should be consolidation in Homs governate and a build up for a fight to kick the insurgents out of Aleppo.

The various insurgency groups are continuing their competition for the booty they have yet to make. The Muslim Brotherhood faction of the insurgency, the so called free Syrian Army, continues its decline while the Salafi/Wahabi groups and the Al-Qaeda types (only a gradual distinction) of Jabhat al-Nusra and Islamic State of Iraq and Syria are on the rise:

Today, opposition military forces can be divided into three categories: groups loyal to the SMC, most of whom maintain the FSA brand name; Salafists, whose ranks are dominated by Syrians; and jihadists, who increasingly recruit from across the Islamic world and many of whom have at least sympathy for Al Qaeda.
As such, Salafist groups, notably Harakat Ahrar Al Sham Al Islamiyya, now represent the most strategically powerful players in the conflict and serious rivals to the moderate SMC leadership.
The Syrian Military Council under General Idriss is begging for weapons from "western" states. But as it is losing cloud on the ground it is seeking alliances that will make any weapon delivery less likely:
General Salim Idriss, commander of the FSA, the name under which moderate rebel units fight, appealed to leaders of independent Islamist brigades - which are currently not part of the alliance he leads - to join its ranks, according to a leading figure from one of the armed Islamist factions involved in the talks.
Thursday's apparent overture by Gen Idriss appears to have offered to share advanced US-supplied weapons with conservative Salafist factions - on condition they act in concert with the FSA and guarantee not to pass munitions on to the even more radical Jabhat Al Nusra, said another opposition activist who was aware of the meeting.
It is doubtful that the Obama administration will give serious weapons to the FSA if the FSA is aligning with the Salafists who regularly cooperate with the Al-Qaeda groups:
Buried in this Washington Post article on the recent fighting between a PKK faction on one side, and al Qaeda's affiliates in Syria -- the Al Nusrah Front and the Islamic State of Iraq -- on the other, is confirmation that other groups are allied with al Qaeda in the fighting in northern Syria.
One of those groups, the Ahfad al Rasoul Brigade, is funded by the Qatari government.
The US government is fooling itself if it believes it can reliably vet Syrian rebel groups to ensure that arms supplied by the US do not fall into al Qaeda's hands.
The Kurdish PKK aligned group which has taken to fight the Syrian insurgents has intensified its call to arms:
"The Committees for the Protection of the Kurdish People called on all those fit to carry weapons to join their ranks, to protect areas under their control from attacks by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant fighters, Al Nusra Front and other battalions," the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Prominent Syrian Kurdish politician Issa Hisso was assassinated early yesterday outside his home near the Turkish border when a bomb planted in his car exploded.

The fighting of the Syrian Kurds against the Islamists is a big problem for Turkish prime minister Erdogan. Turkey does not want an autonomous Kurd enclave in Syria but it has little ability to prevent it. It could of course send its own army but then the internal peace process with Kurds in Turkey would immediately break apart and the PKK attacks on the Turkish state would start anew. Likewise - Turkish support for the Islamists fighting the Kurds in Syria will be seen by their blood brothers in Turkey as an attack on themselves.

To find a way out Turkey has opened talks with the Syrian Kurds:

Turkish intelligence officers met in Istanbul last week with Saleh Muslim, head of Syria's Democratic Union Party (PYD), a Kurdish group whose militias have been fighting for control of parts of Syria's north near the Turkish border.

The meeting followed Muslim's declaration that Kurdish groups would set up an independent council to run Kurdish areas of Syria until the war ends. Ankara fears that kind of autonomy could rekindle separatist sentiment among its own, much larger Kurdish population as it seeks to end a 30-year-old insurgency.

These talks were held before Syrian Kurdish politician Issa Hisso was killed by Islamists which will only intensify the fighting.

Now Turkey will have to decide. Will it continue the peace process with the Kurds or will it continue support for the Islamist in Syria by allowing their supplies and fighters to cross the Turkish-Syrian border. It can not achieve both. Any attempt for an alliance with the Kurds while at the same time supporting "non-radical" Syrian insurgents is likely to fail. Those "non-radicals" are clearly in decline and more and more aligned with the radicals and the secular Kurds will never condone the Islamist presence on their grounds.

Preferring peace with Kurds also has its danger. Stopping the logistics for the al-Nusra type Jihadist could bring their wrath onto Turkish grounds. But a Kurdish buffer zone at the border could probably prevent that.

Turkey's problem are also complicated by the increasing burden of Syrian refugees. After for two years practically calling for Syrians to flee to Turkey new refugees now get rejected and the Turkish army now fights them as "smugglers" to prevent them from crossing the border.

So what is it Mister Erdogan? Peace with the Kurds or continued support for the Islamists? Ending the Turkish support for the insurgency in Syria would of course solve most of Syria's problem. One hopes that those who support Syria have a clear picture of how to achieve that.

Posted by b on July 30, 2013 at 03:20 PM | Permalink | Comments (57)

July 28, 2013

NSA - Access It All

Some very damaging additional stuff about the NSA domestic spying will come up this week. A preview was given today on Face The Nation and on Meet The Press. The emphasis is now not on "collect it all" but the much more interesting question of how to "access it all". How does the NSA get the information out of the raw data.


"The is literally collecting every phone record of every American every day...that is a violation of Americans' privacy"

Senator Udall says that all "phone records" are collected. But that is only half the beef. The NSA is collecting much more.

"Phone records" are the metadata of a call: Date/time of call, call length, originating number, location of originating number, destination number, destination location. If the implicated phones are mobiles additional information about the phone type and serial as well as location changes during the call may be included.

This metadata is useful to find connections between people, to reconstruct where they have been when and to find out about certain habits of the people involved.

But the content of the calls may be much more interesting.

As reckless and untruthful as the people at the head of the NSA have been proven to be there is absolutely no reason to believe that they do not also record the content of every call (and email and web access etc) of everything they could possibly get.

One internal document quotes the head of the NSA, Lieutenant General Keith Alexander, on a visit to Menwith Hill in June 2008, asking: "Why can't we collect all the signals all the time? Sounds like a good summer project for Menwith."
Today 99% of call and internet traffic is transported through optical fiber cables. The NSA has access to every major fiber cable hub in the United States and in parts of Europe. It additionally taps into various undersea and land cables by clandestine means. It uses optical splitters that leave the original line working as before but copy the raw datastream onto an NSA line and feed it to some NSA datacenter where all will be recorded. As General Alexander planned five years ago the NSA it is by now really recording nearly all communication data.

But how can one use this data? How can one even access it? This is where the metadata comes in. Any name can be easily connected to a phone number and vice versa. Any IP address can be easily connected to a name. An IP address, a phone number, an email address, a name can then be used to automatically search through the recorded raw data streams to find and display the content data hidden in it. As Glenn Greenwald explained today on Meet The Press:

“The NSA has trillions of telephone calls and email in their databases. What these programs are are very simple screens, like the ones that supermarket clerks or shipping and receiving clerks use, where all an analyst has to do is enter an email address or an IP address, and it does two things: it searches that database and lets them listen to the calls or read the emails of everything that the NSA has stored, or look at the browsing histories or Google search terms that you’ve entered; and it also alerts them to any further activity that people connected to that email address or connected to that IP address do in the future. And it’s all done with no need to go to a court, with no need to even get supervisor approval on the part of the analyst.”
Access to these search programs is not restricted to NSA personal. The NSA spends 70% of its budget on contractors. They do have, like Edward Snowden had, access to the search capability and thereby access to the meta- and content data.

Thinking further there is no reason to believe that these capabilities is restricted to certain facilities or just small circle of people. It is already known that U.S. and NATO soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan had and have access to these systems and abused them. Does the State Department have access? Has the White House? Do political operatives have access? The very likely answers are "yes", "yes" and "yes".

The NSA claims that it can not search its own emails. I actually believe that to be somewhat true. The NSA task is to spy on others not on itself. Its internal email search capabilities may well be underdeveloped compared with its capabilities to search through the emails of others.

Likewise I doubt that its internal security is as developed as its external security. Trusted people with security clearance will have relative free access to its system (just ask Snowden) while any access from the outside will be heavily guarded.

So how much internal logging and controlling does the NSA have? Will every fishing through the accumulated data by trusted personal be recorded, logged and reviewed? I very much doubt this. Abuse then is likely to be widespread. Look up your nasty neighbor? Look up your former girlfriend? A political enemy? The urge to so will be great and the chance of getting rebuked over it will be small. Herein lies the mother of all scandals still to be unearthed.

Posted by b on July 28, 2013 at 12:45 PM | Permalink | Comments (47)

July 27, 2013

Open Thread 2013-15

News & views ...

Posted by b on July 27, 2013 at 02:02 PM | Permalink | Comments (117)

July 26, 2013

Snowden Case Reveals Obama's Personal Arrogance

What does it say about a country when it has to assure another country that it will not torture a fugitive should he be returned?

U.S. Says Snowden Wouldn't Face Death Penalty - Holder Also Rules Out Torture in Bid to Reassure Russia

U.S. authorities say National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden wouldn't face the death penalty—and also promise he wouldn't be tortured—in a new letter hoping to persuade Russia not to grant him asylum or refugee status.
The Obama administration is handling the Snowden case the most stupid way it could. Wasn't there once some bureau for public diplomacy and strategic communication in the State Department?

The administration should have shut up as soon as Snowden went public. Instead it is creating a hero in the eyes of many U.S. people and in the eyes of everyone in the rest of the world. Trying to justify its spying on the whole world, threatening other states over Snowden's asylum and pushing "allies" to bring down foreign presidential planes will endear the U.S. to no one.

Besides that - who will believe anything Holder promises? Wasn't it the U.S. which redefined torture into "enhanced interrogation"? Is that the plan for Snowden? Wasn't it the Obama administration and Holden who refused to prosecute anyone but the victims over torture? Isn't the Obama administration accused by the UN special rapporteur on torture of cruel, inhuman and degrading treating of a prisoner in a case similar to Snowden's?

By writing that Holden letter the U.S. has publicly humiliated itself. It is a total embarrassment.

Putin has made it clear from the very beginning that any extradition of Snowden is not going to happen. Fullstop. Russian officials have repeated that again and even today:

Asked by a reporter whether the government's position had changed, Dmitry Peskov told Russian news agencies that "Russia has never extradited anyone and never will."
Is that so difficult to understand? Why then is the U.S. even trying?

It seems that this an Obama personality issue. He personally asked Putin to extradite Snowden even after Putin had publicly (thereby leaving zero chance to later change that decision) said he would not. Now Obama is miffed. How can HE get rebuked by country like Russia?

Two weeks ago, Obama phoned Putin and asked him to send Snowden back to the U.S., but Putin refused, according to one official who was briefed on the call. Following that perceived rebuke, the Obama team doubled down on its new policy to show the Russian government the cold shoulder.

“The Snowden affair is definitely affecting U.S.-Russia relations, no question. When you make it clear that something is very important to the U.S. and we are asking for cooperation and that request is rejected, that rejection is going to have an impact on the broader relationship,” said Samuel Charap, senior fellow for Russia and Eurasia at the International Institute for Strategic Studies. “There’s only so many times you can thumb your nose at a U.S. president and not expect consequences. When the president himself has gotten involved personally and been rebuffed, the rule book kind of goes out the window.”

Ahh - the rule book is out of the window. Screw public diplomacy. Just don't care how the world sees the U.S.. It is all about Obama miffed that Putin is "thumbing his nose" at him. Who is this President of the Russian Federation that dares to do so to King Obama of the United States?

Obama's open personal arrogance will cost the U.S. dearly. 

Posted by b on July 26, 2013 at 01:36 PM | Permalink | Comments (53)

July 25, 2013

NSA Fails To Sync

The NSA's decision to have a four-eyes rule for system administration was predicted to create a lot of hassle. We already appear to see some of the fall out. There are now obvious difficulties in the process of synchronizing the talking points of various administration robots.

July 22 - Official: Snowden did not get 'crown jewels'

U.S. intelligence now believes Edward Snowden did not gain access to the "crown jewels" of National Security Agency programs that secretly intercept and monitor conversations around the world, CNN has learned.
The ongoing damage assessment indicates he did not gain access to what is called ECI or "extremely compartmentalized information," according to a U.S. official familiar with the review.
July 24 - Snowden Damage Still Being Assessed; ‘Deepest Of Deep Secrets’ At Risk, Says STRATCOM’s Kehler
[Gen. Bob Kehler, commander of US Strategic Command,] referred to the type of information Snowden released as ”the deepest of the deep secrets.”

While Gen. Kehler was his usual careful self, a former senior allied intelligence official recently described Snowden’s actions to me as “catastrophic.”

I sincerely doubt that the NSA knows what Snowden has or does not have. It will have to assume that he accessed everything within is reach. A serious system administrator has ways and means to extend the official reach she is supposed to have. Rules that are supposed to prevent access can be circumvented or temporarily turned off. System logs that may register such action can be manipulated which then would make the access undetectable. These are ways and means the NSA is using itself against the people, organizations and countries it is spying on. The NSA's toolkit is designed to beat the best available protection which necessarily includes the ones the NSA itself is using. If one develops weapons for cyber wars one can be quite certain to n also become a victim of these.

Posted by b on July 25, 2013 at 12:30 PM | Permalink | Comments (53)

July 24, 2013

Egypt: Preparing The Repression

The situation in Egypt keeps escalating. After the military coup against former president Morsi the Muslim Brotherhood decided to not accept it and to regain power. They took to the streets to demonstrate and are holding sit-ins. There was violence against their demonstrations as well as violence coming from them. But the situation seemed somewhat stable as the coup government established itself without much trouble and the protests in Cairo seemed to dwindle.

The ruling military though has a different view. For them the situation in the Sinai is a crucial issue. There militant Jihadists, some of them foreigners and equipped with weapons smuggled in from Libya, have attacked army position and camps and seem to develop capabilities that could soon allow them to launch attacks into the Nile delta. Under former president Morsi those Jihadist were relatively safe. Morsi pardoned many of them and freed them from Egypt's jails. The army was not allowed to go after them. This was one of the main motives for the coup.

Three days ago five people, including four army personal, were killed in a coordinated Jihadist attacks in the Sinai. Yesterday 19 army personal were injured in another attack. Today one soldier died in yet another attack. The army has deployed two additional battalions to the area but the Sinai is a wide and whoever wants to hide there will find ways to do so.

The Brotherhood has somewhat endorsed these attacks and suggested that it can control them:

Mohamed el-Beltagy, one of the hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood leaders placed on the wanted list after the ouster of Morsi, took refuge among tens of thousands of Morsi supporters in Cairo. In a televised interview, he stated, "Attacks in Sinai would stop the second President Mohammed Morsi is reinstated."
For the military the Muslim Brotherhood protests in Cairo and the threat from the Sinai belong together. It is looking for ways to harshly clamp down on both.

The military chief General Al-Sisi has now called for large demonstrations to support a crack down:

"I urge the people to take to the streets this coming Friday to prove their will and give me, the army and police, a mandate to confront possible violence and terrorism."
The military promised to protect the protests. The Muslim Brotherhood swallowed the bait:
The Muslim Brotherhood and other supporters of Mr Morsi say they will go ahead with their own rallies on Friday, despite General Sisi's statement.

Senior Brotherhood figure Mohamed el-Beltagy said Gen Sisi was "calling for a civil war... to protect this military coup".

The Tamarod movement which coordinated the protest in June will take part in the protests Al-Sisi called for. The Salafi Nour Party, again playing smarter than the Brotherhood, called on all Egyptians not to protest on Friday.

The military, its associated commercial enterprises and the Tamarod wing have proven to be able to bring large numbers into the streets. So is the Muslim Brotherhood. It is likely that the two protests on Friday will meet and clashes are then sure to ensue. The military seems to planning for such clashes to then use them as an excuse to shut down the Brotherhood sit-ins and to delegitimize the organization.

The U.S. has now publicly delayed the delivery of four F-16 fighters to the Egyptian military. But that seems to be just for show. It did not call the coup a coup and still does not do so and that is endorsement enough for General Al-Sisi to proceed as he likes.

But can a violent crack down on the Brotherhood and the Jihadists really suppress them? They do have a somewhat justified grievances and have the means to go for a long violent insurgency. A violent insurgency is not what Egypt needs. But how can it now be avoided?

Posted by b on July 24, 2013 at 01:02 PM | Permalink | Comments (55)

July 23, 2013

Musa al-Gharbi On Al-Qaeda's Renaissance

For lack of time just a link to a good writeup of the greater picture in the Middle East. Recommended reading (h/t Sophia): Musa al-Gharbi: Al-Qaeda's renaissance
However, so long as the protests remained peaceful, al-Qaeda was, in a sense, sidelined. Ironically, the Western interventions/escalations in Libya and Syria gave them an “in” and subsequently al-Qaeda has played a decisive and growing role in those theaters.

Contrary to Western assumptions (fueled by media disinformation), the Libyans did not rise up in great numbers to overthrow Gaddhafi, and there were few military and government defections. Accordingly, the colonel continued to advance on Benghazi despite the NATO-imposed no-fly zone. Foreign fighters from AQIM rushed in to compensate for the lack of indigenous resistance—but even then the local population refused to provide the rebels with provisions or support, forcing NATO allies to overstep their mandate in UNSCR 1973 (just as they did in UNSCR 1441), likely in violation of international law.
Al-Qaeda was quick to endorse the Syrian "uprising;" they began by bombing targets in Damascus and quickly stepped up their involvement from there. The late Abu Yaya al-Libi called for a “violent jihad” in Syria without compromise or “illusions of peacefulness” until President al-Asad is overthrown. The al-Qaeda affiliated al-Nusra Front was primarily responsible for the rebel gains in Aleppo, which marked a turning point in the rebellion—they have since become the most effective and influential fighting force in the Syrian theater.
In Libya and Syria, the U.S. and its allies essentially ceded the narrative to al-Qaeda, agreeing that there can be no talk of democratic reforms while "dictators" remain in power. This message is further underscored by the recent military coup in Egypt, and subsequent persecution of the Muslim Brotherhood; to many Sunni Islamists, these developments serve as definitive proof that oppressive regimes cannot be purged through a peaceful political process as they (and their international supporters) have no respect for the popular will, and they are too corrupt to be reformed.

Posted by b on July 23, 2013 at 02:14 PM | Permalink | Comments (33)

July 22, 2013

The I-P Negotiation Scam

May 19, 2011 - Obama Sees ’67 Borders as Starting Point for Peace Deal
Mr. Obama declared that the prevailing borders before the 1967 Arab-Israeli war — adjusted to some degree to account for Israeli settlements in the West Bank — should be the basis of a deal. While the 1967 borders have long been viewed as the foundation for a peace agreement, Mr. Obama’s formula of land swaps to compensate for disputed territory created a new benchmark for a diplomatic solution.
July 20, 2013 - Palestinian officials say Kerry gave guarantees that 1967 borders are basis for new talks
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas agreed to resume peace talks with Israel only after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry gave him a letter guaranteeing that the basis of the negotiations will be Israel’s pre-1967 borders, two senior Palestinian officials said Saturday.

A Western official, however, later denied that the ‘67 lines would be the basis of negotiations.

So Obama, for once, actually did what he said? The "Western official" in the above is likely an Israeli. The article later refers to an "U.S. official" distinguishing it from the "Western official" source. The Israeli may be lying. But what did Kerry guarantee or not?

July 22, 2013 - Analysis: How Netanyahu averted coalition crisis

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu succeeded in preventing his governing coalition from unraveling over the weekend following the announcement of forthcoming negotiations with the Palestinian Authority.

Netanyahu kept Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett satisfied by receiving a commitment from the Americans that they would not say the talks would be based on pre-1967 borders.

It seems to me that Kerry (and Obama) are giving each side diverging promises. That shows that they are not serious about finding any solution. The scam of negotiations between the two already very unequal sides continues with the U.S. putting its weight as always on the already too strong side of the Israelis. Meanwhile the colonizing of Palestine continues.

Posted by b on July 22, 2013 at 02:20 PM | Permalink | Comments (88)

July 21, 2013

Anna Barnard And The Dwarfs Of Damascus

Anne Barnard writes for the NYT. Here recent piece, Enlisting Damascus Residents to Answer Assad’s Call, is datelined "Damascus". As usual in the NYT Barnard's piece emphasizes sectarianism again and again. But how believable is this sectarian tale?

One may estimate how credible Barnard's writing is from this vignette:

At the entrance to a Shiite Muslim quarter, Mr. Lotof inspected a new checkpoint guarded by a baby-faced 18-year-old clutching a rifle nearly his height.
The usual AK-47 has an overall length of 87cm (34.3 in). The slightly larger U.S. M-16 has an overall length of 99.0 cm (39.0 in). Even rather large snipper rifles do not exceed 125cm (49.2in). But they are mostly useless for a checkpoint guard.

Are we therefor to believe that the Syrian government has dwarfs guarding the streets of Damascus? And that everything in the war on Syria is about sectarianism?

Posted by b on July 21, 2013 at 07:03 AM | Permalink | Comments (47)

July 19, 2013

"Collecting The Haystack" And Almightiness

The NSA will now push new internal rules to protect data it illegally collects from being accessed by its own staff. Those rules will include an additional layer of encryption, four-eyes rule for system administration and more compartmentalized access. That is fine because it will kill the NSA's productivity and effectiveness.

The NSA's says it needs all teh data it collects to find "terrorists". If one believes that the NSA genuinely wants to find terrorists one should be worried that it has chosen the wrong method for the false problem:

General Alexander spoke in defense of the N.S.A.'s surveillance programs, including its collection of a vast database of information about all phone calls made and received in the United States. “You need a haystack to find a needle,” he said
The assertion that one needs a haystack to find a needle is incredibly stupid. It assumes that there is a needle (or "terrorist"). Something neither given nor provable. Even if there were a needle how will making the haystack bigger it easier to find it? And why is the needle the danger that must be found? Edwald Snowden set the NSA's haystack on fire. Alexander now has his house burning because of the much too large haystack he accumulated.

That General Alexander comes up with such implausible assertions makes one wonder about the real motives behind the obsession with data collection. My hunch is that the only real reason behind it is "because we can".

People under total observation change their behavior and change in their characters. But total observation also changes the behavior and character of the observer. It creates fantasies of unlimited power, of almightiness and leads to total arrogance.

I believe that Alexander and the politicians' defending him show the symptoms of this disease. They assume that they are unbeatable and can act without any consequences. It is up to us to teach them that they are wrong.


Posted by b on July 19, 2013 at 12:15 PM | Permalink | Comments (133)

July 18, 2013


Today a judge in Russia found Alexey Navalny, together with two others, guilty of defrauding a state company. It was alleged that the boss of a state forestry company colluded with some broker to sell state owned wood for lower-than market prices to the broker who then sold it at market prices to other companies. Navalny was the one who brought the broker and the company boss together, arranged the business and allegedly got illegal profits from it.

I have no idea if Navalny is guilty or not. Neither have, judging from their "Navalny Über Alles" pieces, so called journalists who write in the "western" media. They claim, without presenting any evidence, that Navalny was only accused and judged guilty because he had become a nuisance to the Russian Federation state and its president Putin.

Navalny gained some notoriety when he, in 2011 and 2012, arranged for some rather small demonstrations in Moscow. "Western" media often call him a blogger who is muckracking about alleged bribes and improprieties in various state institutions. They claim that he is a popular opponent of Putin.

But Navalny is not popular, at least not in Russia. Out of those 47% of Russians who have at all heard of him twice as many have a negative view on him than a positive opinion one. Since that Pew poll his popularity has shrunk further.

Navalny certainly has some dark sides. He was expelled from the liberal Yabloko opposition party for colluding with the Russian neo-Nazi movement. Navalny is a arch nationalist who wants "Russia for the Russians" excluding all other ethnic groups. Only last week he publicly endorsed a race riot against Russians of Chechen heritage.

As said above I have no idea if Navalny is guilty or not. A Russian court found him guilty and that is about all we known about the case. But I do have an idea what Navalny is not. He is not a serious politician with some laudable program who a majority of Russians would vote into any office. He is rather a racist, rightwing authoritarian who, for the best interests of the Russians and the "west", should be kept as far from any public office as possible.

Posted by b on July 18, 2013 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (74)

July 17, 2013

Various Issues

As I am currently very busy with not blogging just various links:

China and Russia finally getting smart over Iran. No more UN sanctions:

Two small but interesting developments in Syria. Palestinians and Kurds against the Jihadis:

On Egypt. There was an alternative though the IMF issue may have been the deal breaker:

The U.S. seems not to understand how this incredible bullying over Snowden is seen in the rest of the world. That bullying is doing more damage than whatever Snowden released:

The NSA is taking and checking data up to 3 hops away from any suspect. On the Internet you are only 4.71 hops away from anyone else.


Posted by b on July 17, 2013 at 01:13 PM | Permalink | Comments (76)

July 15, 2013

Syria: The "West's" Muddled Policy

We know that the CIA is long involved in distributing weapons and intelligence to the Syrian insurgents. The CIA organized weapons from Croatia and Libya and distributed those. The bills for those weapons were payed by Saudi Arabia and Qatar. New weapons are still arriving. There are also U.S. military special operation detachments in Jordan and Turkey training some of the insurgents. As this involvement is already well known and has been reported on by several outlets it is a bit weird that the Obama administration is now somewhat agonizing about "officially" delivering weapons to the insurgents:
A month ago Obama administration officials promised to deliver arms and ammunition to the Syrian rebels in the hope of reversing the tide of a war that had turned against an embattled opposition.

But interviews with American, Western and Middle Eastern officials show that the administration’s plans are far more limited than it has indicated in public and private.

There is a lot of whining in that piece about "legal restrains" and question of who the weapons should go to. The legal restrains, which the Wall Street Journal explores in detail, are not the real issue. As usual international law means nothing to the U.S. and Obama simply ignores it. The real reason the weapons are a no go is that some grown ups are holding them up in fear of putting them into the wrong hands:
The plan — made possible after Mr. Obama signed a secret “finding” that circumvents international laws prohibiting lethal support to groups trying to overthrow a sitting government — continues to face bipartisan skepticism in Congress.
“One of the biggest impediments has been the cohesion and the organization of the opposition relative to the Assad forces,” Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island, a senior Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, said in an interview.

The Free Syrian Army is nothing but a marketing front for a whole bunch of disunited criminal and jihadi groups. Weapons flowing to it would certainly end up in hands of those the "west" would not like to be armed too much or to win the war. The administration has no real plans for Syria. It has no strategy and no idea who it wants to come out winning the war. But as long as the country gets destroyed it seems to be fine with the war proceeding endlessly.

While Washington is still hand wringing over the issue London has decided and prime minister Cameron will not, for political resistance in his own party, give any weapons to the insurgents:
Mr Cameron has been told by Tory whips that there is little prospect of winning a vote on arming rebels in the Commons.
A source close to Downing Street last night confirmed that Mr Cameron is not planning to arm Syrian rebels.

British forces will instead draw up plans to help train and advise moderate elements of the opposition forces fighting the regime.

Good luck finding those "moderate elements". They are an illusion.

But at least the Brits have lost two other illusion. The first is that the U.S. knows what it is doing, the second one is that the Syrian government will lose the fight:

John Kerry, the US Secretary of State is attempting to push rebels and the regime to the negotiating table.

However, British government sources have expressed frustration that they have little idea what he is seeking.
Ministers believe it could take 18 months before President Assad is forced to the negotiating table, although it could take significantly longer after the advance of the Syrian government forces.

The "west" has somewhat recognized that its policies on Syria were deeply wrong. But it seems difficult to publicly acknowledging that and to openly change course. We therefore get a muddled policy with a lot of agonizing and, like in other cases, no real strategy behind it. From Syria's perspective this muddled "western" policy is not as bad as others could be.

Posted by b on July 15, 2013 at 01:25 PM | Permalink | Comments (106)

"Collect It All" Is Illegal, Stupid And Dangerous

The Washington Post has a somewhat schizophrenic piece on General Alexander, the head of the National Security Agency and of the military Cyber Command. The piece starts with lauding Alexander for a few paragraphs but then goes into some rather unflattering details of what the man has been doing. The general's approach is to "collect it all" and it started not in the United States but in Iraq where the U.S. military was totally unable to control the insurgency and tried in vane to get ahead of the game with total spying:
[T]he NSA director, Gen. Keith B. Alexander, wanted more than mere snippets. He wanted everything: Every Iraqi text message, phone call and e-mail that could be vacuumed up by the agency’s powerful computers.

“Rather than look for a single needle in the haystack, his approach was, ‘Let’s collect the whole haystack,’ ” said one former senior U.S. intelligence official who tracked the plan’s implementation. “Collect it all, tag it, store it. . . . And whatever it is you want, you go searching for it.”

What is good for unsuccessfully fighting an insurgency in Iraq, as earlier in other places, must also be good for controlling U.S. citizens and the rest of the world. Thus the "collect it all" scheme was extended to the United States as well as the globe:
[A]s he did in Iraq, Alexander has pushed hard for everything he can get: tools, resources and the legal authority to collect and store vast quantities of raw information on American and foreign communications.
“He is absolutely obsessed and completely driven to take it all, whenever possible,” said Thomas Drake, a former NSA official and whistleblower. The continuation of Alexander’s policies, Drake said, would result in the “complete evisceration of our civil liberties.”
[E]ven his defenders say Alexander’s aggressiveness has sometimes taken him to the outer edge of his legal authority.
Glenn Greenwald correctly points out that the phrase "outer edge of his legal authority" is Washington code for "clearly illegal".

But the "collect it all" philosophy is not only illegal. It is stupid and dangerous.

"Collect it all" makes the haystack bigger than it needs to be. It collects data that is certain to never be "relevant" in any criminal case. The bigger haystack makes it more difficult to find the needles. The program eats up huge resources which would likely be more effective if they would be spend elsewhere. All the money spend on it creates a lobby that will make it difficult to shift such resources.

It is also a huge danger to personal freedom. How long will it take until all that personal data will be searched during each and every job application? First for those who want to work for the NSA itself, then for all government jobs, then for the "important" industries and then for all positions. Some nerdy or angry tweet you made years ago may then exclude you from any well paying future position. How long until automatic "triggers" will be attached to the algorithms that sift through all the data? What consequences will it have if some "trigger" switches, for whatever reason, from your data? Will it immediately put you on some disposition matrix?

The NSA's "collect it all" attitude is not only illegal, a vast waste of public resources and dangerous to personal and political freedom. It is an invitation to abuse.

What general will withstand the urge to use this information if it could help him avoid a budget cut? What administration will NOT use the power this information gives to its political gains? What can be abused will be abused. And we all will be, one way or another, casualties of this.

Posted by b on July 15, 2013 at 09:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (32)

July 13, 2013

Syria: The "Moderate" Insurgents

It is well known that the Syrian insurgents have received, with U.S. help, many new weapons from various Arab states:
Salim Idriss, head of FSA’s military command, said that the new weapons have allowed the rebel army to “destroy more than 90 armored vehicles for Syrian regime.”
But even those new weapons are not enough for them. They, and their Arab and "western" supporters, are still pressing for more weapons. Obama seems to be willing to give more weapons:
President Barack Obama told Saudi Arabia’s king on Friday that he is committed to providing U.S. support to Syrian rebels who have been waiting for shipments of light arms that have been stalled in Washington.
Congress has so far blocked any official U.S. supplies. To change the opinion of some Congress leaders the war on Syria must now be redefined. From the left of the stage now appears the "moderate rebel". Instead of asking for weapons to fight the "bloody dictator" the "moderate rebel" will now request weapons to fight the "dangerous terrorists" with whom they have partnered all along.

We therefor now read about Pakistani Taliban setting up shop in Syria and can see some insurgents raise a monster size white "Taliban flag" at the Turkish-Syrian border. Suddenly there are many, many, many reports about strife between the "moderate" insurgents and the "terrorists":

Kamal Hamami, the Free Syrian Army commander killed on Thursday in the coastal province of Latakia, had just met with others in the group about getting weapons.
Last week, members of the Islamic State were accused of beheading two Free Syrian Army fighters and leaving their severed heads beside a garbage can in a square in Dana, a rebel-held town in Idlib Province near the Turkish border. The attack came after clashes broke out at a demonstration against the Islamic State, leaving 13 people dead.

Recently, a fighter from the area, Abu al-Haytham, claimed that the rebel dispute began when a foreign fighter with the Islamic State raped a local boy — “the last straw,” he said — and Free Syrian Army commanders complained.

At least some of these stories are false. But they will be used for a new push to arm the "moderate" insurgents.

But there are reasons to doubt that small local clashes over loot between some factions are really showing a principal split between the various insurgency groups:

Despite growing frictions, moderate factions and jihadist groups do still coordinate on the ground, said Charles Lister, an analyst at IHS Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Center. He said that is unlikely to change, although the FSA may use the assassination for political gain.

“Moderate forces could use this as a way to prove to the West that they are willing to break relations with jihadis in order to get more Western assistance,” he said. “The reality is very different for the commanders on the ground.”

These groups have been working together from the very beginning of the insurgency. While the Syrian locals may have been a bit more moderate in the beginning they were still religious radicals who named all their battalions after historic Sunni warriors. Their differences with the foreign jihadis fighting in Syria is smaller than with the general Syrian population. That infamous guy who was filmed eating the raw lung of a dead Syrian soldier? A "moderate" local Free Syrian Army guy. Is he now supposed to get more weapons because he also clashes with some other jihadis about his share of the loot?

To suggest that there are "good" and "moderate" insurgents is falling for a trivial ploy. If there are at all ideological differences between the various groups they are only gradual. Besides - any weapon given to any insurgent will be matched by the government and only cost more blood and lives.

Posted by b on July 13, 2013 at 10:43 AM | Permalink | Comments (82)

July 12, 2013

As Predicted - Snowden Stays In Russia

The NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden just announced that he requested temporary asylum in Russia. He said that this is the only way he can have guaranteed safety. Some other upright countries also offered asylum - Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua, and Ecuador - but there is currently no safe way for Snowden to reach them. ACLU points out that the U.S. with its threats towards those countries willing to grant asylum to Snowden is thereby destroying a guaranteed human right.

Snowden's asylum in Russia is exactly what I predicted two weeks ago:

As for Snowden. He is also fucked. There is no way out for him. The U.S. intelligence community will try to get him now and forever. If only to set an example. Even if he manages to get to Ecuador the country is too small and too weak to be able to protect him. The only good chance he has is to ask the Russians for asylum and for a new personality. They will ask him to spill the beans and to tell them everything he knows. He should agree to such a deal. The NSA already has to assume that the Russians know and have whatever Snowden knows and has. The additional security damage Snowden could create for the U.S. is thereby rather minimal. Snowden can wait and work in the Moscow airport transit area until most of what needs publishing from his cache is published. He can then "vanish" and write the book that needs to be written. How one lone libertarian sysadmin found a conscience, screwed the U.S. intelligence community and regained some internet freedom for the world.
Snowden may take a while to recognize that the "temporary" asylum will have to be indefinite one. The change of personality and the spilling of the beans the Russians will ask in return may have to wait for a while.

The Russian president Putin had asked that Snowden stop publishing the NSA secrets if he wants to stay in Russia. Most secrets of public interest are likely already in the hand of trustworthy journalists who will publish what they deem to be publishable. Anything additional that Snowden says or publishes only helps the NSA with its damage assessment. That is not in Russia's interest.

I want to thank Edward Snowden, wish him a good time in Russia and success in writing his book.

Posted by b on July 12, 2013 at 09:45 AM | Permalink | Comments (92)

July 11, 2013

Open Thread 2013-14

(while i am busy)

News & views ...

Posted by b on July 11, 2013 at 12:54 PM | Permalink | Comments (85)

July 09, 2013

Egypt: Today's Developments

Some developments in Egypt:

Over night the Supreme Command of the Armed Forces put out a new constitutional declaration and the path to a rewritten constitution and new elections. A first analysis shows that it is along the line of the not well written old constitution but with some changes that the Salafis had demanded. It is not good on rights and vague on essentials. The winner here are the judges, the military and the Salafis. There were some rather candid comments about this process and the "liberal" organizers of the protests that brought the coup called it "dictatorial".

There is a list of some 16 senior Muslim Brotherhood leaders that the army had put under house arrest or arrested.

The New Yorker found a witness who saw yesterday's shooting in Cairo in which some 50 people lost their life. It seems that indeed the army was attacked by some unknown men on motorcycles who did not belong to the Muslim Brother demonstrators who were holding a sit in. The army then shot back and likely in error hit lots of demonstrators. There are surely several parties who might have had a motive to instigate this clash.

A former finance minister was named for the premier minister position and former IAEA official ElBaradei was named as vice president for foreign affairs.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE promised $8 billion, partly as gift, partly as loan, for the Egyptian state and economy. The lasted offer from Qatar before the coup against Morsi was $5 billion. Egypt should reject all such offers.

Twenty-two AlJazeerah staff have resigned over the channels partisan pro-Muslim Brotherhood reporting on Egypt.

Posted by b on July 9, 2013 at 12:55 PM | Permalink | Comments (109)

Syria: The "Syrian File"

During the last years Qatars played an oversized role on several foreign policy issues especially with regard to Syria. The Saudis and other Persian Gulf countries were generally concerned about that but especially about Qatar's promotion of the Muslim Brotherhood. Most GCC countries see the political Islam of the Brotherhood as a danger to their autocratic systems.

Some strings were pulled and the emir of Qatar was persuaded to hand power over to his son Tamim. The fall of the Muslim Brotherhood presidency in Egypt is one consequence of this. Qatar also had to hand over the "Syrian file" to the Saudis. The dysfunctional Syrian National Council, which had been led by Syrian Muslim Brotherhood members, named a new "leader" who is polygamous tribal sheik from east Syria with roots in Saudi Arabia but no connection to the MB. The SNC's "prime minister", a U.S. citizen and also a Brotherhood member, had to step down.

While lots of new anti-tank and some anti-air weapons arrived in Syria during the last month they have shown no decisive value. After three weeks of battle the Syrian army will now soon have kicked out the last insurgents from Homs city. Unfortunately the situation in Aleppo has become worse. The insurgents seem to have had some successes there and there are rumors, though no confirmed news yet, that some government friendly parts of Aleppo are under siege with no food supplies coming through. But in total the momentum is with the government side which explains this laughable request:

In Istanbul, the newly elected head of the opposition Syrian National Coalition told Reuters that the rebels' military position was weak and proposed a truce for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which begins on Tuesday, to stop fighting in Homs.
The SNC has absolute no control over the insurgents and especially not over the foreign Jihadists which have grown in numbers to 5,000 men or more.

These Jihadist are taking over (vid) by force more and more towns in northern Syria that had earlier been under control of Syrian insurgents. In an interview in that video one of the Jidhadist commanders says that he buys his weapons, including the latest anti-tank and anti-air stuff, from the Free Syrian Army.

This is one reason why the Obama administration has not yet directly delivered the promised weapons and may never deliver them. Another one is resistance in Congress where several committees are unconvinced of Obama's weaponizing strategy.

In one of the first interviews with the Syrian president Bashar Al Assad during the crisis he was asked when it would end. He said something like "when a certain the sheik stops paying" and he seemed to have meant Qatar. With its new emir the foreign policy of Qatar has changed. Its support for the Muslim Brotherhood has stopped and foreign nationals with Syrian roots are no longer welcome in Qatar.

The door is now open for private talks between Syria and Saudi Arabia which is now responsible for the "Syrian file" and the insurgents. There might be a negotiable solution there and after that the only problematic actors left will be Turkey's Erdogan and his sidekick Dovatoglu. They have already been cut to size due to the Gezi Park protests and the loss of their friends in Egypt. There will be ways and means to convince them to shut down their border for insurgents and weapon deliveries. Shortly after that the insurgency will die down.

Posted by b on July 9, 2013 at 12:11 PM | Permalink | Comments (55)

July 08, 2013

Egypt: Escalating To What?

Over night the Muslim Brotherhood continued a sit-in in front of the Republican Guard Headquarter in Cairo. It is assumed that former president Morsi is held there.

At about 4:00am local time today a shoot out occurred there in which at least 50 people were killed and over 300 were wounded.

According to the Muslim Brotherhood the sit-in was attacked by soldiers during dawn prayers. According to the army two officers died when some "armed terrorists" attacked the soldiers which then responded to the fire.

In a video, allegedly of the incident, tear gas clouds can be seen and gun shoots are heard. At that time it is still pitch dark. According to one eyewitness account tear gas volleys by the military were responded to with bird shoots by the MB protesters.

A standoff continues around the Rafba'a mosque where the MB had held rallies. Some MB followers have retreated in the mosque while the police and military is attempting to clear the side. Gunshots can be heard in the area.

A Muslim Brotherhood statement claimed a "massacre" had taken place and said "even the Jews don't do this". It called for an intifada or "uprising" against the military.

Meanwhile the political situation is unresolved. Names put forward for a prime minister by the Tahrir protesters, now allied with the military and the Salafists, were rejected by the later. The main Salafist party has for now withdrawn from any further negotiations.

It is hard to see how the situation can be resolved. The power of the military is unchecked, a political compromise is further away than ever and the economic problems are getting worse. The Russian president Putin warned that Egypt is approaching a civil war. He may well be right with that assessment.

In the current situation any party can easily stoke the fire with very little effort. A few shots into this direction, a few shots into that direction and the war is on.

Posted by b on July 8, 2013 at 04:53 AM | Permalink | Comments (138)

July 07, 2013

U.S. Invents New Foreign Policy "Principle" That Contradicts Law

prin·ci·ple noun \ˈprin(t)-s(ə-)pəl, -sə-bəl\:
a : a comprehensive and fundamental law, doctrine, or assumption
b (1) : a rule or code of conduct
(2) : habitual devotion to right principles <a man of principle>
Leslie H. Gelb and Dimitri K. Simes, foreign policy honchos in Washington, ask in an NYT op-ed if there is A New Anti-American Axis?

They seem to believe that any cooperation between Russia and China is somewhat anti-American. There is nothing special to that. U.S. foreign policy folks are permanently constructing new boogeymen. But there is this rather weird passage in their writing:

Both Moscow and Beijing oppose the principle of international action to interfere in a country’s sovereign affairs, much less overthrow a government, as happened in Libya in 2011. After all, that principle could always backfire on them.

Since when is there a principle of interference in other countries business? There is none. The principle in international law is NOT to interfere in any sovereign state's local business.

According to international law scholar Richard Falk the principle of non-intervention is even obligatory for any state since it was incorporated into the Declaration of Principles of International Law Concerning Friendly Relations and Co-operation Among States adopted by the UN General Assembly resolution 2625 in 1970. The resolution notes:

The duty not to intervene in matters within the domestic jurisdiction of any State,..
Gelb and Simes are inventing a principle that says the opposite of the real internationally codified one. One that has been part of international law since the Westphalian Peace Treaty signed in 1648.

It seems like every time the U.S. can not get its ways through the application of international law it just tries to invents a new one even when that totally contradicts the exiting ones. Who do these U.S. foreign policy people want to impress with uttering such nonsense? Claiming such fraudulent principles will only encourage Russia, China and other international actors to counter them by ever deeper cooperation.

Posted by b on July 7, 2013 at 07:22 AM | Permalink | Comments (48)

July 06, 2013

On ElBaradei And Other Thoughts On Egypt

Reading through the comments we all seem to agree that there was a military coup in Egypt and that it was, seen from a pure democratic standpoint, illegitimate in that it did not follow the law.

Now I for one have always been willing to consider illegitimate means when confronting authorities, especially right-wing neoliberal ones like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Be that through unsanctioned demonstrations, some clashes with police forces or whatever. There are projects that deserve such resistance and in some case such resistance has been successful. Legitimacy is thereby not the core question to me. Discussing legitimacy will also change nothing on the ground. The coup is done. Get over with it.

What we can do though is analyze the situation and how it came about. We can learn from it. Morsi came to power through elections with a rather small margin over the candidate of the old regime. It was obvious and foreseeable that he would be hindered in government by the old establishment. He should have recognized that from the get-go and should have acted accordingly. Unless large scale brutal force is used change in a complex society will only come in small steps.

At the beginning Morsi made peace with the army. The army in Egypt is a somewhat parallel society that has, at the higher officer ranks, lots of privileges and makes a lot of money. It is involved in all kinds of civilian businesses. That is a fact of life in Egypt and is, unless there is a real revolution, unlikely to change in the near future. Morsi considered this and when the army insisted on having its privileges written into the new constitution he agreed.

But Morsi did not really try to win the bureaucracy to his side. He did increase its wages (which is economically not sustainable) but that bribe was not enough. Over 80 years the state had been the enemy of the Brotherhood. Now the Brotherhood was supposed to lead it. There was distrust and paranoia on both sides and the first steps should have been to remove that distrust and to cooperate. Unfortunately that did not happen. Instead of elevating people from the establishment that could have helped him Morsi (or the MB) insisted on putting rather incompetent MB followers into leading bureaucratic positions.

The "renaissance" Morsi had promised for his first 100 days never got off the ground. There was no viable economic program visible and little execution. Egypt needed money and Morsi went around all possible donors and tried to get as much as possible. While doing this he sold out important foreign policy positions and did this in a rather amateurish way. That was the point that in the end pushed the army to intervene:

[R]elations between Mursi and his new generals deteriorated within months of his inauguration. Even Mursi's apparent success in brokering a ceasefire between Israel and the Hamas Islamist movement that runs the Gaza Strip irked the military.

"Mursi's intervention in the Gaza war made Egypt guarantee that Hamas would not carry out attacks on Israel. Which threatens Egyptian national security, because what if Hamas did? It could prompt Israel to retaliate against us," the security source said.

Mursi also talked loosely about possible Egyptian participation in a jihad (holy war) to overthrow Syria's President Bashar al-Assad, and raised the prospect of military action over a Nile River dam in Ethiopia. As a result, distrust of him grew in Egypt's high command, which saw him as recklessly risking their involvement in conflicts without properly consulting and respecting the generals.

"It reached a point where we began to be worried about putting important national security reports in front of someone we perceived as a threat to national security," the security source said.

The generals do have a point here. When the head of state runs around selling commitments that require military means there needs to be at least some consultation. Calling for Jihad in Syria to get money from Qatar while the Egyptian army fights such Jihdaists in the Sinai was really, really stupid.

Now some say that the army would have been incapable of taking down Morsi without foreign help. The army has run the Egyptian state for the last 60 years, Nasser, Sadat and Mubarak were all officers. In a certain sense the Egyptian army is the state. It has smart and capable officers. It has intelligence services. It has financial means. It has over the years learned how to play the amateurs leading the State Department. Many people in Eygpt were also fed up with Morsi. At least some of the public support for the coup was certainly genuine and not just paid for claqueures. Whoever thinks that the Egyptian military needed U.S. help to plan and execute this coup should explain how it was able to run the country for 60 years in the first place.

My impression is that Washington was very split over the question of a coup. It wasn't really happy with Morsi even while Morsi was not avers to U.S. policy. But it also did not want to ruin its long time neoconned/Wilsonian project of "spreading democracy". It was told of the coup plans but tried to avoid its execution. In the end, I believe, the Egyptian generals simply had enough and created the facts on the ground. Washington now has to adopt to them. The cacophony of opinions about the coup, pro and contra, coming out of Washington these days supports this view.

Today Mohammed ElBaradei was sworn in as prime minister of Egypt. In his time at the IAEA ElBaradei has shown that he is no pushover. But is he capable of being prime minister? ElBaradei has no real constituency in Egypt but that is, I believe, an advantage as he will not have to cater to any special group. Unlike Morsi he knows how to play hard core international politics and that may be valuable in getting out of the economic mess the country is in.

The problems Egypt has are manifold and huge: poverty, unemployment, lack of water, lack of arable land, lack of investment and a very uneven wealth distribution. ElBaradei will try to tackle them all. It is unlikely that he will solve any of them but he may be able to take the first steps towards a better future. It will be a job where he will get no love but a lot of criticism and hate. In a year or two, should he survive that long, he will be burned (out) and will be replaced. I admire that he is putting himself knowingly into this impossible position.

Posted by b on July 6, 2013 at 02:31 PM | Permalink | Comments (116)

July 05, 2013

Egypt: Today's Developments

A big thanks to all the commentators in the recent Egypt threads. The discussion is lively and that is as it should be. Please hold off with ad hominems.

To continue, some points from today's after-the-coup news from Egypt.

There were attacks on army installations in the Sinai and some soldiers died there. This is pretty much off the radar in the news but will play a big role in the thinking and planing of the Egyptian military. Sinai is pretty wild in terms of Jihadi activities, there are lost of weapons there and is also of economic concern.

The Supreme Guide of the Brotherhood Badie was not, as was reported yesterday, incarcerated. Two other high MB leaders were released by the police. Former president Morsi is seemingly still in army custody.

The MB staged rallies all over Egypt today. There is little news of what is happening in the periphery even though that may, in the end, be more important than what is happening in Cairo. In Alexandria MB followers clashed with other demonstrators and also with the army. In upper Egypt an MB crowd tried to storm an orthodox church but was pushed off by army soldiers. In Cairo a demonstration was held at an army place where, allegedly, Morsi is held. The army told the protesters to stand off. Most of them did and MB guides tried to hold them back. But some tried to get to the concertina wire and were shot at. One to three where, reportedly, killed.

A quite big demonstration took place at the Rabaa mosque where the MB had a big stage and where many of the MB higher ups, including the supreme guide, held fierce speeches. From the TV pictures I saw I estimate the crowd there at 100-150,000 max. While the speakers called for peaceful protests they also added quite a bit of toxic sectarian poison. Not only against Copts but also against Al-Azhar, the Islamic high university, and against some Salafist groups. The general idea: The MB are the victims and everyone else is the enemy. The crowd got fired up. No one tried to calm it down.

In the evening groups of MB followers approached the bridges at Maspero towards Tahrir Square which led to a hefty clashes with anti-MB protesters who hold on to Tahrir. Neither the police nor the military intervened at this time. This is likely to get more ugly throughout the night.

The army seems, in general, to hold back and stay defensive. But throughout the day it made a lot of "show of force" noise by sending helicopters and jets into the sky over Cairo. Wasn't there some petroleum shortage? The army's message is: "We will let you protest but be reminded that it is us who have the heavy weapons."

My general impression is that the army is not seeking a fight and allows the MB followers to let off their steam. There is no sign of any harsh suppression so far but that may change anytime.

The silence of the "west" towards this military coup may well be the end of the neoconned "democracy promotion" campaigns we have seen over the last two decades. The hypocrisy is now so obviously stinking that any future mentioning of "democratic principles" in the Middle East by some sanctimonious "westerner" will be rightfully laughed off. The fall of the MB in Cairo has already a dampening effect on the "western" backed Syrian opposition.

Posted by b on July 5, 2013 at 03:29 PM | Permalink | Comments (122)

July 04, 2013

Eygpt: The Coup - First Aftermath

Was it a coup or not? The definition matters because U.S. payments to the Egyptian military are only allowed when it does not overthrow the legal government. No payment, no safety for Israel. It therefore can not be allowed to have been a coup. 

The governments of at least three countries called it a coup - Turkey, Canada and Tunisia. Other "western" countries and Arab countries called it something else. Of the international organizations only the African Union talked about "consequences".

If this military coup is not even called such it must have been successful. Who ever arrange this one had a good plan and executed well. Not taking power itself but using civilian public unrest to hand power to another group of civilians will keep the military largely out of the political fray.

The coup came on the background of a coup-like change in leadership in Qatar, seemingly forced by Saudi Arabia and the United States. Qatar had been backing the Muslim Brotherhood in several countries but is now backing away from it. Today the Qatari government said that it has "always been supportive of the will of the Egyptian people" and it "praises the [Egyptian] army role in defending Egypt's national security". This change of heart in Qatar will have serious consequences for other regional political actors. Hamas leader Khaled Mashal clearly placed his bet on the wrong horse.

The only foreign folks still supporting Morsi are sitting in the Turkish government:

“Whatever the reason is, it is unacceptable that a democratically elected government was overthrown by illegitimate means, even more, with a military coup. A national consensus politics is possible only with the participation and support of democratic institutions, actors, opposition and civil society,” Davutoğlu told reporters in Istanbul.
The Egyptian military arrested Morsi and warrants were issued for the Brotherhood’s supreme guide Mohamed Badie and his deputy Khairat Shater, the organization’s chief strategist and financier. There are also arrest warrants against some 30 other MB leaders. The MB media were closed.

This is a (temporary) decapitation strike against the Muslim Brotherhood as a party. That does not mean that the Brotherhood will not be back or that its supporters will have no political voice. If it stays largely peaceful it will be allowed back though probably under a different name. In Turkey Erdogan's AKP only grew through several iterations of such after-coup renames and comebacks. It would be helpful to let the Brotherhood know that it is welcome if it plays by the rules. Some of its elders could then call for calm.

Some "western" media are depicting the conflict as Islamists versus Secularists. But that is the wrong view. The Egyptian electorate is largely pro-Islam and pro-Sharia. The question is about "how much" and about "inclusive" versus "exclusive". That is where Morsi failed. His call for war against Syria in extreme sectarian terms was the straw that broke the camels back. But there were many more reason why, in the eyes of many Egyptians, Morsi failed and had to go.

The coup was supported by Al-Azhar, Islams highest institute of learning, and by the Salafi parties which came in second in the last Egyptian election. With such support it is very likely that a decent majority of Egyptians will consent to what happened.

There are now reports about some clashes between some Morsi supporters and the Egyptian military near Cairo University. I do expect these to calm down within a day or two. There may be some further incidents, especially in the Sinai where Jihadis have been in attacking the army on several occasions. These are the guys to watch out for.

Those now in power should hold back on any unreasonable prosecution and be generous to those who feel disappointed. Shutting the Brotherhood down for a few days may help to avoid immediate big clashes. Suppressing it for long guarantees them to happen.

Posted by b on July 4, 2013 at 11:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (174)

July 03, 2013

Egypt: The 2013 Military Coup


Egypt's news agency: Sheikh of Al Azhar, head of Coptic church and opposition leader Elbaradei to announce the political roadmap soon.

Original post:

Though not yet officially confirmed some kind of military coup is taken place in Egypt right now.

The military has taken over the state television studios but has yet to issue any statement. Allegedly a travel ban was issued against the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood and president Morsi is said to have been moved to the Ministry of Defense. While the opposition to Morsi is somewhat partying in the very well filled Tahrir Square pro-MB demonstrators are protesting around the University and some other places. The military has deployed infantry carriers and soldiers in riot control outfit throughout Cairo and other cities.

Throughout the day negotiations were held between the various parties. At a point the military had invited all parties to a talk and all but the Brotherhood's FDJ came. There was no news release about the meeting nor is there yet any release about the coup.

The ministry of the interior, which controls the police, had announced that it would cooperate with the army. Several ministers and governors have resigned. It seems that the Islamist are now up against everyone else.

The military had earlier announced that it does not want to stay in power but wants to reset the process towards a democratic, civilian ruled state with a new constitution, a new parliament and new presidential elections.

It is not only the economic situation and the seemingly fumbling of Morsi's government that brought many, many people into the streets to move against him, the cultural element may be just as big. A significant part of Egyptians do not want to live in a country that is under the strict Islamic rule the Muslim Brotherhood strives to implement.

This is where both sides part: Does winning the election give the Muslim Brotherhood a right to change the society into what they want or is winning the election a much smaller mandate to rule but within the confines of a common non-majoritarian society?

The Muslim Brotherhood view: Because they won the majority (of the minority that voted) they are allowed to rule and implement the state and society as they see fit. The current coup, based on significant public support, is to them an assault on a right they had gained by being elected. I recommend to read the above link to understand their thinking. Here just this one ominous excerpt that seems to announce violence:

You have heard much during the past 30 months about ikhwan excluding all others. I will not try to convince you otherwise today. Perhaps there will come a day when honest academics have the courage to examine the record.

Today only one thing matters. In this day and age no military coup can succeed in the face of sizeable popular force without considerable bloodshed. Who among you is ready to shoulder that blame?

Here is Issandr al-Amrani on the different understandings of "democracy" in Egypt:

The dilemma facing Egypt is that it's a limited, electoral democracy whereas many want it to be a republic. The difference being that in a republic the individual has guarantees in the context of a socio-political compact, whereas in a democracy the minority has little if any voice. Egypt is formally a republic, and has been since 1956, over several iterations of a compact [...]. It might have turned into a more democratic republic after 2011 except the new social compact was left to elections. Because elections are not very accurate indicators of national sentiment (because of variety in electoral systems, the importance of electoral strategy, etc.) and the voting public has still mostly few lasting allegiances in post-revolution Egypt, this was always a bad idea. A lot of people have changed their mind.

However Egypt comes out of this crisis, hopefully a republican pact — hopefully based around a bill of rights — will form a more stable base for its political system.

The big question now is if the Muslim Brotherhood will adjust to the new situation and accept that it will have to give the voters another try. Or will it not accept, forgo the democratic path and turn to violence and terror to achive its aims.

Life for many Egyptians is already bad enough without additional violence, terror campaigns or civil war. Let us hope that Morsi and his friends understand that and can hold back their followers urge to gain full powers. Those al-Qaeda banners in pro-Morsi demonstrations (video) do not point to a better future. If he wants to rule Morsi should get rid of them.

Posted by b on July 3, 2013 at 01:51 PM | Permalink | Comments (128)

The Empire Against The World

With its unprecedented and totally overarching spying the U.S. has thoroughly pissed off its allies in Europe:
In the pages the German tabloid Bild, President Barack Obama on Tuesday had been renamed OHRbama (Ohr is the German word for ear). He was pictured leaning over to listen to German Chancellor Angela Merkel with a grossly oversized ear.
Bild is the most pro-transatlantic paper one can think of here and it is extremely influential. Such anti-U.S. writing by Bild is unprecedented. Maybe the people in the U.S. do not understand the mood behind this as there was only little written about in U.S. media over the size of the spying:
According to the reports, first detailed by the German news magazine Der Spiegel, the U.S. National Security Agency is monitoring 500 million German communications each month and has classified Germany as a target on a level with China and Saudi Arabia. The United States also allegedly is bugging European Union offices, monitoring EU communications, and scooping up the emails and phone calls of EU nations’ citizens.
Why, do Germans and others ask, does the U.S. need to collect 6 billion(!) German communications each year? What is going on here? Even the Stasi would have settled for 600,000.

I believe there will be major serious consequences over this in the relations between Germany, other European countries and the United States.

But having pissed off major European partners is not enough for Obama. This is unprecedented:

The plane carrying Bolivian President Evo Morales was rerouted to Austria after various European countries refused to let it cross their airspace because of suspicions that NSA leaker Edward Snowden was on board, Bolivian officials said Tuesday.
A furious Bolivian Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca said France and Portugal would have to explain why they canceled authorization for the plane, claiming that the decision had put the president's life at risk.
In a midnight press conference, Bolivian Vice President Alvaro Garcia said that not only France and Portugal, but also Italy and Spain were denying the plane permission to fly through their airspace.

He described Morales as being "kidnapped by imperialism" in Europe.

The countries who denied overflight certainly did so because they were pressured by Washington. All of South America's countries will blame the U.S. before they will blame those why denied their airspace.

This absurd behavior, and the willingness of some European leaders to support it, will cost the U.S. not only the proposed trade treaty with Europe but will also reflect on the puppets chance to get reelected. The people in France will see this as an affront and an insult to their sovereignty - bye, bye Hollande.

Being anti-U.S. was so far somewhat derided in European countries. It will now become chic and a major new political trend.

The sole purpose of going after Snowden is vengeance. Determent does not work with whistle-blowers. Snowden came forward not despite but also because of what is happening to Bradley Manning.

The secrets Snowden carried are out of his hand anyway. Insulting the world carries a high price. Why then is U.S. willing to risk the bit of goodwill that is left towards it over so little potential gain?

Posted by b on July 3, 2013 at 03:22 AM | Permalink | Comments (86)

July 02, 2013

Open Thread 2013-13

News & views ...

Posted by b on July 2, 2013 at 01:10 PM | Permalink | Comments (82)

July 01, 2013

What Is Next For Egypt?

Yesterday's very large Tamarrod protests against the Muslim Brotherhood and president Morsi in Egypt were mostly peaceful. But following those protests an attack on the Muslim Brotherhood's party building led to casualties on both sides:
Members of the group inside the headquarters started firing live ammunition, according to Mada Masr's reporter, who also noticed a variety of arms held by protesters including guns. All lights were shut off in the surrounding streets.

The building was stormed, looted and burned just like the building of former president Mubarak's NDP party had been destroyed in the 2011 revolution. Six or eight people were killed. A reporter said of the looting: "I thought they would carry away everything but the kitchen sink. Then I saw one carrying a kitchen sink." A video from inside of the building confims that.

The loot included this seemingly genuine list of large bribes paid by the government of Qatar to the leading heads of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The police was not seen while the building was attack but came back to "guard" it after the looting was finished. The Muslim Brotherhood is now considering to create "self defense units", something that other say it already has build up, though secretly so far.

The big clash that was expected yesterday did not happen. The numbers of anti-Morsi demonstrators were  too large for the other side to attack. But as smaller protests and the demand for Morsi to stand down will continue further strife seems inevitable. Issandr El Amrani looks at the possible alternative outcomes:

  • The army will wait it out to the last minute (possibly disastrously so as early intervention might be better in cases of large-scale violence) and may be internally divided about how to proceed (hence the hesitation).
  • Should Morsi be toppled, it will create an enormous problem with the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists for years to come. They will feel cheated of legitimately gained power and Egyptian politics will only grow more divisive and violent. 
  • Whatever alliance came together behind the Tamarrod protests will fall apart the day after its successful, because its components are as incompatible as the alliance that toppled Hosni Mubarak.
  • The leadership around the NSF (ElBaradei, Moussa, Sabahi etc.) has followed rather than led Tamarrod and will not be able to provide effective leadership in the coming days. Only the army can. 
  • If Morsi remains and the protests are repressed or simply die out, the country will nonetheless remain as difficult to govern considering Morsi's lack of engagement with the opposition.
The United States and its elephant-in-a-china-shop ambassador Anne Patterson have so far be standing behind Morsi. Anti-Americanism was therefore a large theme in yesterday's protests. One wonders how that is compatible with the protesters calls for the U.S. backed army to take over.

That is indeed what I now find likely to happen. Rumors say that the army has already informed the U.S. that Morsi will be gone by the end of the week. Then a new cycle of writing a constitution and elections will begin. This time in an even more loaded atmosphere and under worse economic conditions.

Posted by b on July 1, 2013 at 09:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (245)