Raging Ripples

Raging Ripples

ripplesAmbassador Carson’s warning yesterday appears to be true today. There are unsettling ripples all over Africa, all carrying the frequency of Trump mayhem.

Wednesday’s all-so-important Somali election is in real trouble because monitors can no longer go there (or more accurately, come back). Great hopes for Libya’s national coalition collapse. Egypt sends jetboats to threaten Ethiopia’s new dam on The Nile, Eritrea makes a new alliance with Saudia Arabia to destabilize Ethiopia. The Ivory Coast is challenged by new internal military struggles.

It’s all new and hard to unweave, and it’s all related to Trump.

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Not Surprising

Not Surprising

metroTourists have been slaughtered in Egypt for a long time. It’s crazy the way the media paints Metrojet as something new.

In fact as tourist numbers increased in Egypt in the last 30 years so did terrorist killings: The period of greatest growth in Egyptian tourism, 2006-2008, also saw the largest number of tourists killed and attacked, nearly 500.

We retrieve memories of terrorism very selectively, often for political reasons. No one should be surprised by the terrorist bombing last week in Sharm el-Sheik.

Below is a quick summary hardly exhaustive. My point is that terrorism is a way of life for all of us, now, and it has been for some time.

Traveling on a vacation to an exotic destination is today similar to taking your kids on an interstate road trip. You do everything in your power to be safe, but you know that the statistics are chilling and that it’s possible that through no fault whatever of your own, tragedy can strike.

But you also know that the statistics are in your favor … as they are in Egypt, or London or Kenya or New York, and that road trip’s value to you and your family outweighs the risk.

The more exotic or unusual the adventure, usually that means the greater the risk. But I believe without this desire to travel to the far corners of the world, we’re doomed to a worse future than terrorism can create, one that secularizes the world and makes it even riper for even more terrorism.

All this doesn’t mean that the Sharm el-Sheik tragedy isn’t worthy of news, or isn’t shocking. But let’s keep it in context. Egypt is in the center of the Muslim/Christian – Democracy/Autocracy conflict, today. It’s horrible what happened, but it’s not surprising.

And if you haven’t visited Egypt yet, you must!

* * *
egyptattacksvstouristsTerrorism in Egypt has been happening for millennia. Many of us believe in the current era the attack that began a continued escalation of terrorism against tourists was on on April 18, 1974, when 100 rebels stormed a military college trying to assassinate President Anwar Sadat.

Sadat’s overtures to Israel and ultimate peace treaty galvanized Muslim militants. They’ve never stopped protesting that in Egypt. Virtually every year since has seen violent attacks on tourists.

The Luxor Massacre took place on November 17, 1997, in front of the famous Hatshepsut temple. Six terrorists disguised as security forces simply gunned down the tourists as they filed from their bus.

The fact that the horrible Luxor Massacre was followed by years of increasing tourist growth to Egypt means either that quite a few tourists understand the risks and consider them worth taking, or that they don’t care.

I think it’s the former.

It was in the period of 2004 – 2006 that the numbers of tourist deaths and injuries really escalated, and it was not because of any any single large events like the Luxor Massacre, but rather numerous tourist killings at places like a tea house in Cairo or a beach on the Sinai. Yet this period in particular was the beginning of the fastest growth in tourism Egypt has ever seen.

Egypt No-Go

Egypt No-Go

Four-wheel drive cars cross the Egyptian western desert and the Bahariya Oasis, southwest of CairoLast week EWT promoted an Egyptian trip. The killing of a tour group by Egyptian security forces Sunday mandates that we now withdraw that offer.

Tourists deaths, kidnappings and violent injuries are way down in Egypt compared to the “good ole days.” A decade ago 12-15 million people annually visited Egypt and about 250 were killed or violently injured each year.

Many of these were horrible terrorist attacks but no one seemed to care or report about it.

Last year ten million people visited Egypt and less than 20 were killed, kidnapped or violently injured.

Sometimes, though, the numbers don’t speak for themselves.

The attack occurred about 220 miles southwest of Cairo in the Western Desert near an oasis called Bahariya (in some reports, shortened to “Bahyira.”) This is an adventure tourism area popular with backpacking tourists.

The Wall Street Journal reported that four tourist vehicles “clearly marked” with “tourists luggage on roof racks” had stopped for a lunch break.

The Journal further reported that there were 21 people in the convoy, including 14 Mexicans, an American, four Egyptian drivers, an Egyptian guide and a police officer along to guarantee that “The convoy was on the route agreed upon with the authorities.”

London’s Guardian newspaper also reported that the group had permits in their passports which were displayed on Facebook.

Al-Jazeera said helicopter gunships fired on the convoy.

It seems clear to me the Egyptian military made a mistake and that the government is now trying to cover for it.

ISIS and offshoot rebel groups are active in the Egyptian deserts, especially after the catastrophe in Libya and the current Cairo crackdown on Muslim extremists.

Ten years ago in the literal carnage that occurred to tourists in Egypt in its heyday, when everyone was going to Egypt carefree and seemingly unconcerned with the mass political killings of tourists that were regularly occurring, it was the bad guys against the tourists.

Now the problem is we won’t know who the bad guy is.

ISIS, for sure, and one way of avoiding them is to not go into the desert. Most tourists should know this.

But now what about the Egyptian government itself? So paranoid that it presumes any four-wheel drive vehicle is an insurgent?

The uncertainty and reactionary paranoia of the Egyptian government radically alters the prospect of tourism in the country. Remember, it’s not just the facts, it’s how people perceive the facts.

And I for one perceive Egypt at the moment like an over zealous fanatic with too much caffeine holding weapons that are far too dangerous for protecting me.

From Baltimore to Joburg

From Baltimore to Joburg

balt2joburgCivil violence in Baltimore, Beijing, Nairobi, Cairo and Johannesburg reflects societies coming apart.

One thing is certain: “We will bring order. We will bring calm. We will bring peace,” the (black) Baltimore mayor vowed last night as national guard troops entered her city.

Then, one of two things happens afterwards: a more democratic Tunisia, South Africa and Kenya; or a more autocratic China and Egypt.

Civil violence is quite distinct from war. It happens from within. Brothers are pitted against brothers. In the beginning new ideas link across disparate social communities. That’s the case today when we find Baltimore mayor, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, saying things that her opponents consider collaborative with the protestors.

It’s the reason that the World Court indicted the current President of Kenya for fomenting crimes against humanity. It’s the reason Hosni Mubarak lingers in a jail guarded by the men he brought to power.

Civil violence reveals fissures and inconsistencies in social systems that are difficult to reconcile .. even by its leaders. It’s about human rights violations, not border disputes. Groups like ISIS will use civil violence to then start geopolitical warfare, but in the beginning it’s an internal conflict not an external one.

It often devolves into whether “the end justifies the means.” But it’s rarely so clear, much murkier: Is it fair that Uhuru Kenyatta paid youth under-the-table to fight a rival tribe in order to preserve his beneficence that now seems to be very positive in Kenya?

Peace at all costs?

Yes, so far anyway, eventually that’s human history. For the champions of human rights who fight in the streets, it’s a battle against the clock. They have limited time to bend society to their ideas until they’re crushed.

Civil violence is growing around the world, just as it did many times previously in human history. The hours on the clock are growing longer.

We’re entering a period of enlightened conflict, perhaps because of videos transmitted in nanoseconds by watches.

“Thank God for cell phone videos because the truth will come out,” the lawyer for the Freddie Gray family said last night.

Unlike in the past, more of us see and hear the same thing. The media can’t distort it as easily as in the past.

In this new and more volatile world, those of us in privileged situations should take stock:

“The infidels have so much to lose, they can be afraid of even losing their happiness! We,” he said, lifting his eyes to the sky as his mind’s eyes pulsated with a black sun, “We have nothing, so we fear no loss.”

That short excerpt is from my book, Chasm Gorge. It’s the world’s greatest terrorist explaining why he fights to the death.

The difference between those who have less and those who have more will not last in the new world. How much must be given away by us privileged is being determined by the battles being fought right now, from Baltimore to Johannesburg.

There’s no question a redistribution will occur. The question is how will it occur? Democratically or ruthlessly?

The Season Change… Again

The Season Change… Again

bokoharamleaderThis week’s aggressive attacks against Islamic extremists by Egypt, Jordan and now Nigeria is a significant turning point in the wars against ISIS and Boko Haram.

That’s not to say it’s a significant turning point in the “War against Terror.” But we’ll never get to figuring that one out until we start dealing in realities and admitting that the current western mission against ISIS and Boko Haram appears to be working.

It’s now been a day or more since countries in the region of Islamic terror have begun to fight back, and the response from the terrorists indicates they’re worried.

I believe the many seemingly disconnected events that happened this week in Africa and the Levant indicate that Islamic terrorists for the first time believe they are losing.

Al-Jazeera reported this morning that the Taliban and America are exploring “peace talks” in Qatar. The Taliban has had an office in Qatar for several years, and there have been other rumored meetings with America to no avail.

But in light of the much more extreme ISIS and affiliates, the Taliban now seems like Switzerland, very much worth talking to – or through – in times of travail.

Egypt bombed Libya, and Jordan bombed Syria and Iraq, to retaliate against ISIS’ beheadings of their nationals. In Nigeria a new offensive by the army claims to have killed hundreds of terrorists and reclaimed villages that had long been under Boko Haram’s control.

For so long Obama and other sane minds have explained that the war against Islamic extremists in the Levant will only improve when the countries in those regions actually pick up the fight.

Normally Boko Haram and ISIS would never the twain meet. The raw racism that exists between Arabs and Africans is something westerners can’t understand. It exceeds the antipathy of tribalism within Arabs (mostly Sunni versus Shiia) and Africans with their multitude of different ethnic groups.

If things weren’t going badly for radical Islamists as a whole, there would be no collaboration between the African Boko Haram and Arab ISIS. Yet that is exactly what is suggested today.

In a video released by Boko Haram vowing to disrupt the Nigerian election, the Boko Haram leader shows himself for the first time. That together with the professionalism of the production has all the markings of ISIS propaganda.

Recently the two groups released photos of each other’s flags and praised each other’s fighting. That’s hardly collaboration, but even if it’s a stretch to conclude anything more than empathy among villains that’s a significant change.

Almost exactly two years ago a similar new fight was happening in Mali. That represented the last hurrah of al-Qaeda. I predicted as such, and I think that is now what is happening to ISIS and Boko Haram.

Obama/Hollande’s strategy of chasing terrorists and wearing them down works, especially when countries in the area actually begin fighting.

As with al-Qaeda and al-Shabaab, they never disappear altogether and they fracture into new thugs, but they lose their original power and focus.

I’m not suggesting that’s enough, and I’ve often written how short-sighted this strategy is:

ISIS emerged from the fracturing of the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Boko Haram emerged from the defeat of certain Tuaregs and other Islamic groups. So theoretically we’ll spend eternity squashing one group that emerges in the pyre of the previous.

Yet call a spade a spade, folks. The single greatest threat today to the specific if questionable mission to defeat ISIS and Boko Haram is to deny they are being defeated, that the mission is succeeding.

So the single greatest threat is ourselves, those of us who thrive on the need to be threatened: The McCains and Grahams, the Righties and Fox News who can’t see beyond their nose and believe they’re threatened from all sides until the room is nuked.

It’s exactly what the terrorists want. It is, in fact, their only hope: turning America into the quintessential suicide bomber.

Fight of the Hyaenas

Fight of the Hyaenas

fightofthehyaenasEgypt’s bombing yesterday is proof positive that we have to get completely out of the current fight before something horrible happens.

The Egyptian president’s decision yesterday to bomb ISIS targets in Libya is a massive escalation of the current conflict. It turns it almost into something closer to the conflict in Ukraine, where tanks and SAM missiles replace swords and horses.

King Abdullah of Jordan sends a half dozen planes daily towards Syria, and now President El-Sisi is poised to send in tens of thousands of soldiers.

Egypt’s bombing was not just revenge for the ISIS beheading of 21 Egyptians several days ago. El-Sisi is just using that as a pretense.

It was not the actual beheadings that aroused El-Sisi’s attention as much as the backdrop: the Mediterranean Sea. ISIS was announcing that it had emerged from the southern deserts of Libya where it has been maneuvering to coalesce radical Islamists for more than a year.

ISIS wanted the world and especially el-Sisi to know that it is not a dumb desert phenomenon. There is little use in controlling an oil field if you can’t get the oil to port. ISIS beheadings made it to the port.

Neither was this a surprise to el-Sisi. He has been an ardent supporter of anti-Islamists in Libya, especially for General Khalifa Haftar. Haftar is an old and duplicitous face in Libyan politics who el-Sisi dusted off of the old generals’ shelf to become his proxy in Libya last year.

But despite Haftar’s several announced and only one partially successful coup against the powerless Libyan Islamic parliament, the old fighter suffered several military loses to ISIS in the last several months.

“Let those near and far know that the Egyptians have a shield that protects and preserves the security of the country, and a sword that eradicates terrorism,” the Egyptian military said.

El-Sisi is no Mother Theresa. Egypt today suffers a repression not unlike during the days of Mubarak. So whether El-Sisi’s action in Libya is good or bad or moral or immoral it’s the fact that many of us have been shouting to Americans for years:

It’s not our war. It’s theirs.

And if “they” take it up, then we can debate the sides we’d like to support, and I hope that will restrain any involvement we deem worthy because…

… there is no good side. ISIS is bad. El-Sisi in Egypt isn’t particularly good. King Abdul in Jordan isn’t your model of democracy and King Salman of Saudi Arabia stones adulterers and tears the skin off bloggers.

Al Qaeda is a grumpy old if still dangerous demon. Iraq has fallen completely apart as Sunnis and Shiias fight even within Baghdad. Afghanistan is ready to implode.

And not one of these – not all of these allied could bring the battle back to the Twin Towers. Don’t let the terrorists play on these latent fears. Not even they truly believe their religious hyperbole. America is a symbolic punching bag for all struggles, because we have nothing left to conquer than our self.

The fight in the Mideast is now distinctly, definitively not ours.

How many westerners have been beheaded? How many Egyptians?

I learned long ago as a guide in Africa that you don’t go into a hyaena fight, no matter how good the pictures might be.

Water Wars

Water Wars

waterwarsIt was inevitable. Africa is coming to blows over water. It’s no joke that it could mean war.

Nine African countries depend upon The Nile. All of them are water deprived and all of them except Egypt are subject to devastating droughts. Only Egypt – which rarely experiences rain at any time – has matured without climate catastrophes.

But Egypt is the greatest user of the Nile waters, and the last of the nine countries on the chain from Lake Victoria and the headwaters of the Blue Nile. During colonial times Egypt was much more developed than the other nine countries, and Britain was the colonial master of them all.

So Britain produced a mid 1950s treaty that gave Egypt veto power over any of the other nine countries when deciding collectively how to use the Nile water.

Times have changed.

Fresh water is as precious a commodity among these countries as oil. In 1999 the nine countries agreed that parceling out the waters of the Nile was the most important issue among them. They formed the Nile Basin Initiative, and since the formation, nothing at all has happened except bitter name calling.

Meanwhile, parts of the shoreline of Lake Victoria have receded more than 150 feet, and the depth of the lake has dropped by nearly 30 feet.

To manage their increasingly vital resource, more than 25 dams are currently planned for different parts of the Nile. The largest dam in the world is currently being built in Ethiopia, and Egypt is furious with Ethiopia for building it.

Egypt depends upon a strong flow of water along the Nile to irrigate its enormous agricultural industry. There is every indication the Grand Renaissance Dam alone will deplete this flow.

“Egypt sees its Nile water share as a matter of national security,” strategic analyst Ahmed Abdel Halim explained. “To Ethiopia, the new dam is a source of national pride, and essential to its economic future.”

A year ago Egypt’s president Morsi said “all options are on the table” including “military responses to Ethiopia.”

Yesterday Kenya’s Natural Resource Cabinet Secretary ended another failed Nile Basin Initiative meeting. It failed principally because Egypt would not officially attend, although its ambassador to Kenya did show his face.

Nine of the countries less Egypt have agreed on an initiative agreement, but Egypt is balking. According to the 1999 accord, only 6 of the 9 countries need ratify the agreement for it to take effect. But Egypt is considered critical.

“That is the only way we can do this peacefully. Otherwise… we are going to be at war because of water,” Prof Judi Wakhungu, the Environment, Water and Natural Resources Cabinet Secretary told Kenya’s main newspaper yesterday after the meeting broke up.

Egypt without enough Nile water would be brought to its knees. It seems to me that much more powerful than the 1950s colonial shelf treaty is the fact that Egypt’s very existence for more than 7,000 years has depended upon The Nile. That’s quite a few grandfathers to be claused in.

I doubt there will actually be war, but not because Egypt doesn’t have the resolve if the waters stop flowing. Rather, I think Ethiopia is sensible enough to realize that turning off the spigot will cause war, so it won’t.

But there are many who disagree. Ethiopia is something of a maverick state, always has been. As the Grand Renaissance Dam starts to rise, the country’s leaders may also start basking in their increasing level of power.

Something To Hide?

Something To Hide?

fergusonmarikanaLike few other American news stories the Ferguson unrest is widely reported in the African media. Analysts and reporters alike are essentially claiming that America is “like the pot calling the kettle black.”

It’s hard to dispute. But the killing of Michael Brown will ultimately be judged excessive use of police force, and in my opinion, the policeman will go to jail.

That’s where much of the African perspective fails. Jumping on this event before it plays out allows African analysts to presume we won’t reach the justice in this catastrophe that I think we will.

As is much more often the case in Africa than America.

Nevertheless, the Africans have a valid pinger right now.

The loudest criticism comes from the dictators:

“The changes of story are a maddening example of police obfuscation, racial bias in policing and how television news in particular often undercuts the stories with images that exacerbate racial stereotypes,” writes an American resident Zimbabwean for its mouth-piece newspaper, The Herald.

The day the incident occurred in Ferguson, The Herald and many other newspapers in Africa quickly reported the UN’s interdiction of the police force there:

“The US Government that hypocritically accuses Zimbabwe of alleged human rights abuses has come under fire from the United Nations over the wanton shooting of an 18-year old black man in Missouri that prompted widespread demonstrations.”

This, of course, is hypocrisy on hypocrisy as Zimbabwe is right now about the cruelest society with regards to free speech that exists. But that’s the incredible destruction of hypocrisy: it can be used so easily to support both its ends.

The other great suppressor of democracy, Egypt, was almost as vocal.

Cairo’s newspaper, Aswat Masriya, said that the Ferguson police response has “led to questioning whether the incident reflects a larger trend of local police excesses” in America.

Egypt’s crackdown on dissidents since the end of the Arab Spring has been incredibly tough. “Police excesses” hardly begin to truly report the brutality.

(By the way, the U.S. State Department in its unending attempt to befriend Egypt again, immediately said it “respected” Egypt’s criticism. That, too, was reported in Egypt.)

But dispense with all this hyperbole, however momentarily nonhyperbolic it may be, and there are some very thoughtful and I think valid criticisms coming out of Africa.

“When the overwhelmingly white police department in Ferguson … some of whom are Israeli trained, responded … they brought in equipment first used in the Iraq war,” writes one of my heroes of analysis in Africa, Richard Pithouse, a professor at Rhodes University in South Africa.

Pithouse is echoing many of us Americans who believe local police departments have been militarized, an almost inevitable aftermath of winding down imperial wars abroad.

Pithouse quickly picked up on valid analogies between Ferguson and Gaza, for example:

“Unsurprisingly people in Gaza started sending advice to people in Ferguson via twitter about how to deal with stun grenades, tear gas and all the rest.”

“Just as the same water cannons are used in Gaza, Port-au-Prince and Ferguson, as well as the shack lands of Brazil and South Africa, so too are the same ideological operations repeated,” Pithouse concludes.

His astute analysis repeats what many contemporary historians believe, that immoral colonialism when abandoned abroad will circle around and eventually be applied at home. In other words, the ideology once adopted is impossible to discard.

So when the colony is set free, the colonial power will sic on itself.

I agree with Pithouse, and I think Ferguson is an excellent example. But I’m more optimistic than him. I believe we can learn from, rather than be imprisoned by these historical paradigms.

South Africa recently released an official report on police brutality at the Marikana mine two years ago that was considerably more horrific than Ferguson, today.

Pithouse acknowledges this and bemoans the response of his own government to its own admissions. I think America in this case might do better.

That, of course, remains to be seen.

Real World Blues

Real World Blues

obamasummitThe largest ever gathering of African leaders starts today in Washington at the invitation of President Obama. A year ago this would have been unthinkable.

A year ago Obama would not have arranged this summit; his advisors would have considered it bad politics. But Obama is no longer playing to the vicious racism that has stymied him from Day One.

A year ago President Uhuru Kenyatta would not have been invited: he remains on trial for crimes against humanity at the World Court (ICC). Kenyatta arrived in Washington for the summit yesterday. His court case has faltered and Kenya has prospered.

The guest list at the White House is filled with despots and authoritarians including Equatorial Guinea’s Obiang and Uganda’s Museveni. But with a little help from the White House, their most serious critics are also being heard.

A year ago the Heads of the African Union (AU) states would have rejected a meeting that included a parallel gathering of their most intense critics. The White House encouraged this activist gathering, but also deftly declined to participate and that seems to have satisfied the African Mighty. That’s a diplomatic dosey doe of the most successful sort.

Times are changing, Obama is changing, and I think America is recalibrating. No African leader embodies these changes better than Egypt’s President el-Sisi.

The White House did not invite el-Sisi, yet in my estimation whatever immoralities or crimes he’s committed in his coup against the legitimately elected Muslim Brotherhood Mursi as president last year pale in comparison to Obiang’s or Museveni’s reigns of terror.

But the White House was following a careful script. El-Sisi had been ousted from the AU. Obiang and Museveni remain in good standing with the AU, whether they should or not.

When el-Sisi was reinstated several months ago, the White House then issued an invitation and El-Sisi immediately declined, but with diplomatic nicety sent his Prime Minister and closest confidant, Ibrahim Mehleb.

The only other heads of state not invited have all been ousted by the AU: Zimbabwe, Sudan, Eritrea and the Central African Republic.

America’s recalibration is good and bad. Obama’s administration is reembracing the old diplomat Henry Kissinger’s realpolitik: In contemporary terms you don’t cheer change at the expense of certain stability.

The Arab Spring has proved mostly a failure. In the long view of multiple decades or centuries it may have inched human rights forward, but today human rights in places like Egypt and Morocco and Kenya is more suppressed than before the Arab Spring.

What has improved is social stability and economic growth, and that is the stuff that realpolitik responds to.

America’s obsession with freedom and democracy is very good … for America. But perhaps not right now for Africa, and that’s the paradigm manifest in today’s African summit.

In the last decade, American investment and trade with Africa which had been supreme, has fallen below that of Europe’s and China’s. “The summit agenda is heavily focused on business and trade,” the Guardian’s Washington correspondent says.

China may worry Obama more than any African despot. The Guardian continues:

“China’s trade with Africa rose to $200bn last year – largely made up of Beijing’s imports of oil and minerals, and export of electronics and textiles – more than double the US… Twenty years ago trade between China and Africa was just $6bn.”

The “U.S. Summit Seeks to Play Catch-Up in Africa,” the Washington bureau chief of IPS says.

Egypt is essentially stable, today. So is Kenya. One is governed by a military authority, the other by a man indicted by the ICC for crimes against humanity.

But both countries are essential to U.S. security. Egypt’s current moderating role in the ongoing conflicts in the Mideast, and Kenya’s occupation of Somalia, represent irreplaceable components of American security.

The real world is not always a pretty one.

Bad Choice

Bad Choice

noDemocracyReplacing the dictatorship of the proletariat with dictatorship of the middle class might not be quite the answer. Take Egypt, Ukraine, Thailand, Venezuela … or Nashville.

Egypt was at the beginning of the Arab Spring. The revolution evolved into one of the most amazing democratic movements the world has ever seen, and what’s more, the country somehow managed to pull off a truly free democratic election even with an electorate that included many illiterates.

We didn’t like how it came out.

Nor did Egypt’s middle class, the driving force for the revolution, so they went to the streets again, jailed the freely elected president in true Robespierre fashion, then installed some strong man they liked better.

Well, hey, Richard Daley wasn’t all that democratic, either, right? But now Egypt is putting on trial journalists who were doing nothing except what I’ve just done in the few paragraphs above.

And while we’re exploring the depth of irony, consider this amusing digression:

I’m trying to lower my cable bill. So I actually made a long journey from our home in the woods to the city to speak face-to-face with a sales representative at their office. I had a list of 7 channels my wife and I want. (Rots of rock, right?)

The smartly attired sales representative nicely nodded to each of my written requests, throwing in another 80 or 90 other channels necessary for available packages, until she got to “Aljazeera.”

Aljazeera in my estimation covers Africa better and more fairly than any other world news outlet, including the New York Times.

She asked me to wait, went into the back office and returned with her boss who told me they don’t carry terrorist channels.

It’s Aljazeera journalists who are on trial today in Egypt.

So all this doesn’t feel really good to me. I actually would like to visit Egypt, again. And I really would like to watch Aljazeera.

Senator Tim Kane representing the wholesomeness of American democracy and the paradigm of a liberal supporting a strong man is in Cairo, today, to deliver a couple billion dollars in aid with strings.

Egypt “must balance steps towards democracy with the fight against terrorism” Kane explained, as the newest and remarkably still unstable U.S. position.

In Thailand, Venezuela and of course Ukraine, the middle class is taking control. Last week in Nashville, the middle class squashed workers trying to unionize a car plant.

(Funded by a distant upper class, by the way, and with a charge led by the state’s Senator, the very well paid middle class Volkswagon plant workers in Nashville voted against themselves and defeated a proposal to unionize, even after receiving the blessing of the car company that actually hoped they would have.)

What this shows is that democracy can create a bad outcome. And that bad outcome usually is when individuals are somehow influenced to vote against their own better interests.

That can be through religious hysteria, as in Egypt; it can be through blackmail, as in the Ukraine accepting Russia’s oil aid; it can be through deep and lasting ethnicism, as in Thailand; and it can be simply by propagating a good lie, as in Nashville.

By the way, one of the great advancements in the English language of the last several centuries was coming up with a single word for the phrase, “propagating a lie.”

Propaganda.

Democracy has become too vulnerable to propaganda. And what Egypt shows is that even when democracy is reversed to achieve a better human rights environment, for example, it just can’t seem to go in the right direction.

Is there something better?

#4 : Winter in Africa

#4 : Winter in Africa

arabwinter.13TOP4The great revolutions that toppled dictators and promised democracy that rang throughout Africa are all but dead. Winter has arrived.

The end of the “Arab Spring” is my #4 story for 2013 in Africa.

(Look sideways at the similar current outbreaks in Thailand and Cambodia and it seems their future is similarly doomed.)

What happened?

I’m more sure of the reasons that didn’t contribute to the failure, then completely understanding the failure itself. The reason the Arab Spring didn’t succeed is not as NPR’s continually inept Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reported Friday on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Quist-Arcton’s simplistic notion that a “lack of leadership” explains why the Arab Spring became Winter, or because institutions have been so poorly formed, is wrong.

It’s the same simplistic analysis proffered by such beacons of intellectualism as Fox News.

And this analysis concerns me greatly, because implicit is that the original movements towards democracy, as modeled after us, were undeniably correct and failed not because of some fundamental problem in theory, but in practice.

That’s simply not correct. The elections in Egypt, Tunisia and earlier, Kenya, were in most regards more transparent and fair than in many places in the U.S. The transitions that ceded power to those who had won were as smooth as our own.

Contrary to Quist-Arcton’s central point, the leadership that took over was decisive and bold. While it’s true there was a threat in Egypt of renewing an executive power dictatorship, it had not yet happened. During the short time Morsi ruled, there was more positive transformation in Egypt’s poorer areas than ever before albeit at the expense of the more vocal middle class.

And that’s problematic policy. But it is not a “failure of leadership” or of “institutions.”

I still believe in the ballot box and democracy, but clearly it didn’t work in Africa. In trying to explain Egypt’s remission into dictatorship at the time it happened, I published a favorite cartoon of mine where a student replies to a teacher’s question, “What is democracy?”

“Democracy,” the student quickly explains, “is the freedom to elect our own dictators.”

We need add that the implementation of those dictators’ policies came through powerful government institutions that were working very well.

Tunisia and Kenya are unique examples in the Egyptian mode, but both have slipped into old ways where like Egypt it seems only heavy-handed authority can achieve enough social stability to do anything. And then, if the authority is beneficent, good happens. If not, bad happens.

We’ve learned two very precious lessons over the last few years in Africa’s experiment with democracy:

1. Democracy can be used to end itself.
2. The start of democracy (the “revolutions”) is never democratic.

Morsi may indeed have been trying to dismantle Egyptian democracy completely, yet he was the most freely elected Egyptian leader ever. And the movement that gave rise to his ascension – the Tahrir Square uprising – was nevertheless a minority of Egyptians. They were notable for being only on the fringe of violent overthrow, but their toppling Mubarak was hardly democratic.

Hardly a few weeks after Egypt’s experiment in democracy failed, the remaining holdouts for hopeful change in places like Mali, Zimbabwe, Rwanda and Ethiopia crumpled away.

Africa is today less democratic, more autocratic; less transparent, more deceptive; and far less promising than five years ago. It has tried and failed with democracy.

Singularly important for ourselves and all functioning democracies was that we and our political brothers refused to sanction that undemocratic removal of democratic regimes.

Intellectuals throughout the western world condemned Obama and other leaders for failing to punish those who ended the experiments in democracy.

Because, I suspect, a leader knows when a leader isn’t. Our leader is just too afraid to level with us.

My eulogy for the Arab Spring was published last month. But my sense that the problem wasn’t democracy, but rather capitalism, I explained months before the military deposed Morsi.

It was in May or even earlier that things around the continent began to look shaky. And the tremors were economic at the time, not political.

The failure of any political system is generally measured by its economy. The economies of Africa under the new democracies were capitalist structured, many virtually built by America and its allies. They didn’t work.

Arguments that it was just bad timing, that these political revolutions came at the end of a world recession and would have succeeded in good economic times disregard the fact that places like Kenya were seeing 7 and 8% GDP growth. So this is not a true presumption.

I know no more than the simple fact that capitalism did not deliver the promise held in democracy. Economists will now have to explain.

Clearly, winter has arrived not because of simplistic notions about the poor implementation of a treasured form of government, but because of flaws either in that system to work capitalism, or in capitalism itself.

Dēmos Gravitas In Spades

Dēmos Gravitas In Spades

USEgyptCARfailing democracyThe trial of deposed Egyptian president Morsi, the bloodbath looming in the Central African Republic (CAR) and the new tribulations of Pennsylvania Congressman Shuster are all linked by the power and failure of democracy.

I’m not giving up on democracy, yet. But it needs some work. Here are the facts:

EGYPT
If ever there was a “Show Trial” in our lifetime it began today in Egypt, where the deposed president Mohamed Morsi is charged with murder. He and his co-defendants were defiant, shouting until their voices were hoarse. The trial, which carries the death penalty, next convenes on January 8.

CAR
The country of 5 million in the middle of Africa will likely soon be the world’s next site of major genocide. NPR, the BBC and others interviewing UN staff in the country report today that genocide is imminent.

PENNSYLVANIA
Seven term Congressman and committee chair, Bill Shuster, a man about as conservative as you can get, faces a credible challenge from a Pennsylvania T-Party right-winger for having voted to end the government shutdown.

My take on the three ongoing events:

EGYPT: I’m glad Morsi was deposed by the military. He was destroying everything progressive in Egyptian society, defying the constitution including the judiciary, and essentially wrecking vengeance on a society for the long oppressed Muslim Brotherhood of which he was an important leader.

He had not yet quite started “rounding up the Christians” as former military leaders including Mubarak did to Muslims like himself, but he moved modern Egyptian society radically backwards, away from representative governance towards a dictatorship of Muslims that was polarizing society and aggravating the Christian/Muslim cleavage in society.

There was no mechanism in Egypt to get rid of a bad president, and that is the mantra used by progressives in Egypt today to justify the military coup. The irony, of course, is that had there been such a mechanism, Morsi would have prevailed over it since the fairly elected majority of the country and their elected representatives would never have voted to convict.

From far away, though, I feel the generals are going too far. They do not seem to believe that any compromise with the Muslim Brotherhood is possible, and that bodes very badly for the future of Egyptian stability.

CAR: What is happening, today, and going to happen in far worse measure very soon in the CAR is a failure of global institutions precisely because global institutions can’t navigate well the growing enmity between Christians and Muslims.

Note with great importance that in such a deep part of Africa, “Muslim/Christian” is actually a misnomer for any conflict. The ethnic divides, which are at the root of the conflict, existed long before Islam was born and perhaps before Christianity was born.

And as in Rwanda, all these various ethnic groups have lived together and intermarried and even shared languages for generations.

The Banda, Hausa, Fulfulde, Runga and similar ethnic groups in the north of the country, consider themselves “Muslim” especially in the current conflict. This is true even though practicing Muslims of the sort that pray regularly towards Mecca are rare. Many of these tribe were pretty undeveloped, remote jungle villages.

Almost all the rest of the ethnic groups are “Christian,” and they roughly occupy the south of the country and represent about two-thirds of the overall population including the only legitimate city and capital of Bangui. But they have no military support. The French long ago abandoned them.

The Muslims have no state support, either. But as the Obama/Holande alliance to crush al-Qaeda and its affiliates in Africa succeeds, the CAR is where the last guns, missile launchers, grenades and IUDs get dumped, and they are being dumped by fugitive Muslims on those in the CAR who call themselves native Muslims. So the one side is armed, and the other isn’t.

And the way it looks right now, nobody really cares. It seems the general consensus in the world is to just let everyone in the CAR destroy themselves. The UN Special Representative on Genocide said over the weekend, “We are seeing armed groups killing people under the guise of their religion…and decisively I will not exclude the possibility of a genocide occurring.”

PENNSYLVANIA:
Rep. Bill Shuster, like the father before him, represents a very rural part of southern Pennsylvania. Like so many other nonurban areas in America, it has not done well over my lifetime.

Median income has fallen, traditional life ways like independent farming have declined, even health statistics are worse than they were. In a nutshell, a father can no longer presume anything except that his children will be worse off than he was.

The reason for this is clear to me: a redistribution of wealth to the top of the pyramid. A cluster of power at the top oppresses those below with feudal outcomes like Walmart and phony mortgages followed by foreclosures.

But armed with money, the forces in power manipulate these folks to such a degree that they work constantly against their own self-interest. The most poignant example is how school referendum after school referendum is defeated.

Education is compromised to the point that no one in southern rural Pennsylvania has a clue as to why they’re more miserable than their folks. So…

… they blame the government. Add a pinch of “it couldn’t get worse than it already is” and a rather healthy American dose of revolution, and why not just close the government down?

All three of these examples are outcomes of failed democracy. Because all three situations are the result of democratic institutions paving their paths.

Egypt is clear. It was truly a fair and free election that brought Morsi to power.

In the CAR, which suffered ethnic conflict short of genocide for centuries, ethnic conflict is now oiled by the democratic processes of the west that permit if not encourage the sale of arms, by the “democratic choice” of Presidents Obama and Hollande to allow the CAR to be the “fire that burns out,” and the democratic (if highly filibustered) UN Security Council that has decided this spot on the world isn’t worth saving.

And in Pennsylvania it is people manifesting power in such a way that it returns to oppress them.

In each case, the value of self-determination turns against itself and democracy ends up destroying itself. Self-interest is compromised not for the betterment of the whole, but to destroy self-interest.

As I said, I’m not abandoning democracy. But someone with a really good stethoscope needs to take a look at it.

Must Be Something Better

Must Be Something Better

APTOPIX Mideast EgyptThe western world is in denial about Egypt as pundits and politicians alike desperately try to boost the failing image of democracy. It’s time to throw in the towel.

President Obama’s remarks this morning fall short of what I, the New York Times and Washington Post among hordes of others believe should be done: cut off aid. We all hope Obama’s dances of concession and moderation work better with Egypt than with Congress.

Remarkably, the facts are pretty well understood by everyone. Politico has summarized them best.

(1) The Arab Awakening was mostly brave, progressive movements started by intellectuals who believed authoritarian regimes (which had essentially nurtured their own development) were no longer needed and were, in fact, inhibiting better economic growth and social progress.

(2) The success of the Egyptian awakening enfranchised millions previously suppressed.

(3) A truly democratic election in Egypt brought extremists to power. The Egyptian election removed power from secularists and gave it to non-secularists.

(4) Almost a year into the new regime and the original revolutionaries began to experience similar repression to what those now in power had experienced for decades previously.

(5) The original revolutionaries demonstrated through really remarkably large peaceful protests that they wanted to replace the current regime.

(6) The Egyptian Army, equally educated, privileged and intellectualized as the original revolutionaries, agreed and staged a coup.

Democracy by the ballot died in Egypt.

Today is cleanup of hundreds killed and thousands more hurt. Tomorrow, prayer day, could be worse.

So … if the ballot box doesn’t work, use guns? The Egyptian army has a lot more guns than any other faction in Egypt, so ergo, the Egyptian army runs the country.

What if the Egyptian army supported the salafists? Like the Iranian army supports the ayatollahs? Would this globalize the situation sufficiently, so that someone with more guns, like NATO, could prevail?

What is an acceptable justification for undoing the workings of democracy? Promotion of “Human Rights”?

Yes, but who defines these rights? Who determines the limits of eminent domain, conscription, voter registration, and all sorts of other civic responsibilities?

What we are being forced to understand is that there is no such practical thing as democracy. Africa – Egypt in particular – has revealed that to the world.

A wonderfully thoughtful Lebanese explains it best:

Democracy is a goal that will never be attained. Eyad Abu Shakra explains that the times “requires us to be both realistic and honest.”

“Honest” that we don’t care the regime came to power legitmately; it must be replaced. “Realistic” that democracy caused this mess in the first place.

His understandings of so-called democracy will shake western politicians to their core, and so they should: There’s no quick trick to best government and democracy is no better a way than communism or authoritarianism. There’s much fallacious in the concept of democracy:

“History is rife with examples of authoritarian regimes that … came to government through the ballot box. In the U.S., four presidents have been able to enter the White House despite securing less overall votes than their electoral opponents.”

No society – not even the U.S. – operates anything near real democracy. While illiteracy undermines most democratic initiatives in Africa, money does in the U.S.

Shakra believes the Egyptian example is the best example in history to prove how bad democracy can be. In the first round of elections Morsi received less than a quarter of the votes. But by the rules of democracy he was cast in a second round contest with an opponent equally unpopular.

It was an election for most Egyptians of “the lesser of two evils.”

How often have we heard that? Does that kind of situation lead to best government? Of course not. Does it at least give us adequate government? Apparently not in Egypt.

Or throughout the entire Levant, according to Shakra, which “is inclined to intolerance, extremism, exclusion, and trading accusations of apostasy.”

Shakra fails, though, when he cites “true democracy” (which I don’t believe possible), “as incompatible with extremism” which is perhaps true enough.

It’s all summed up, Shakra explains, with Winston Churchill’s witticism:

“The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.”

Great. Democracy isn’t very good.

Now, what? Might democracy itself be the “lesser of other evil” forms of government? Not in Egypt. Or in Russia. Or in a superpower that devastated the Middle East with a ten-year war, powered by the democratic convictions of its population and leaders that there were WMD.

There must be something better.

Revealing Egypt

Revealing Egypt

fearitselfThere’s a side to Barack Obama few ever notice. It may be the same side, the same expression of every President since our revolution, but it troubles me gravely in today’s modern, interconnected world.

It’s the obsession with defense.

I’ve written often about how incredibly militaristic Obama is in Africa, as we pursue the War on Terror. Now a study just getting notice but completed nearly two weeks ago by the University of California-Berkeley charges the Obama administration with direct involvement in toppling the Egyptian government of President Morsi.

“… a review of dozens of US federal government documents shows Washington has quietly funded senior Egyptian opposition figures who called for toppling of the country’s now-deposed president Mohamed Morsi,” the study which was published in AlJazeera reveals.

So you see the difficulty: I didn’t support Mohamed Morsi and his undemocratic if authoritarian rule. Ergo, rid the anti-democrat with anti-democratic initiatives?

There is a time in every young and emerging great politician’s career when “example” is held higher than “force”:

“To overcome extremism, we must also be vigilant in upholding the values our troops defend – because there is no force in the world more powerful than the example of America,” young Obama once intoned to America.

Either the questionable if immoral foreign policies of America have now become part of the “values our troops defend” or young Obama has strayed far from his founding principles.

Yes, the Obama Administration’s who-knows-if-they’re-legal policies have calmed today’s troubled waters a little bit. And that’s the point. America’s covert funding of anti-Morsi forces violated Egyptian law and may have violated U.S. law as well.

It would hardly be the first time one country violated another country’s law in the arena of global power. More to that point in a minute.

But violating U.S. law may have become little more than a past time of American administrations obsessed with “security” and “defense.” In my own life time we have everything as pitifully irrelevant as the invasion of Granada to earth-shattering wars in Vietnam and Iraq, and now to the wholesale disregard of human rights in the Administration’s interpretation of the Patriot Act.

You see the intellectual difficulty. What if we are more safe? Who cares about the moral costs?

“The State Department’s programme, dubbed by US officials as a “democracy assistance” initiative, is part of a wider Obama administration effort to try to stop the retreat of pro-Washington secularists,” writes Emad Mekay, the brilliant young Berkeley student who authored the article.

Read the whole article to learn the fascinating and intricate details, almost as clever and carefully orchestrated as spying during the Cold War. And I have nothing against spying or pursuing foreign policy cleverly.

But times have changed.

There is no Cold War. China and America, the world’s two greatest protagonists are so incredibly dependent upon one another that “live-and-let-live” has been reduced to “self preservation.”

All that’s left, really, is the War on Terror. It’s a high-tech version of Bobby Kennedy’s destruction of the mob. There’s nothing illegitimate about it, and more to the point, there’s nothing overly American about it.

The War on Terror actually came a bit later to America than to Britain, Germany, Japan and a host of other countries. We may have been the site of the greatest single terrorist event, but I for one believe that was because of a bumbling administration who failed to see simple warning signs.

It was a failure of that one administration, not a failure of policy.

The blurry edge of legality, particularly in a global perspective, gives enormous latitude to those in power to fiddle with morality.

Obama’s gone too far.

What does Egypt Mean?

What does Egypt Mean?

Cartoon reducted from original at chrislittleton.com
Cartoon reducted from original at chrislittleton.com
Karl Marx proclaimed a successful revolution was the dictatorship of the proletariat. As of today, the Egyptian revolution is the dictatorship of the middle class.

If ever there had been a truly democratic election in Africa – even including South Africa – it was the election of Mohamed Morsi as president of Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood had trained in western institutions and democracy for years. And they won.

They won because the common Egyptian, the Egyptian of the lower classes, the less educated, the less likely to be employed, the more likely to have been oppressed or even tortured, had the vote. And they voted for the one thing that they had maintained through generations of oppression: their religion.

What’s specially ironic and intellectually stinging is that they were a movement of conservative Islam whose level of violence was low. That isn’t to say it didn’t exist (the horrible murders by the recently appointed Governor of Luxor stands as the example), but compared to Hezbollah, Hamas or the Joker fringes of al-Qaeda, they were choir boys.

Many contend that it was the old dictator, Mubarak, who made them so, crushing them when they misbehaved and rewarding them ever so slightly when they towed the line.

And like African movements across the continent, from the opposition in Zimbabwe to the thrice failed people’s movement in Kenya, they displayed generational patience unfathomable to us in the west. Learning the ropes, so the speak. Patiently waiting to achieve a democratic victory.

But .. All for naught.

The most cogent argument still founded on democracy being used by the supporters of the Egyptian coup is that the Egyptian constitution under Morsi had no feature to allow for impeachment, and that the mass demonstrations of the last several weeks against Morsi were sufficient to constitute impeachment.

Weak.

The second most cogent argument was that while Morsi was elected democratically, he has systematically dismantled government institutions based on democracy and was crafting a dictatorship for himself.

In my opinion this is true. He packed the legislature and tried to emasculate the judiciary, without any constitutional or legislative authority. He started muffling all opposition media. He kept interrupting the otherwise routine schedule of upcoming elections.

In other words, like every dictator before him, he was using democracy to end it.

But what is disingenuous by the opposition is to claim this while suggesting they aren’t now doing the same thing.

The middle class has at least for the moment come to power. This elicits great sympathy from us, because we are the middle class in America. But they did not come to power democratically. And they won’t stay in power democratically. If they remain in power, it will be through a dictatorship of the middle class.

General Sisi and his underlings have indicated there will be new “democratic elections” by the end of the year, and yet another referendum on a yet another “democratic” constitution.

But no sane person believes that Morsi or the Muslin Brotherhood will have much hope of being integrated into this process. They will be excluded.

And the regime will claim they are excluded “because they aren’t democratic.”

We’ve now created the most distinguished non sequitur of democracy: We’ve proved that democracy doesn’t exist.

In America it doesn’t exist because money and other non-issue components drive elections, giving a distinct advantage to the rich. Democracy is supposed to be a debate of ideas, not bank accounts. Yet we see how quickly this gets muddled in America if a democatically achieved idea condones the advantage of money and other non-issue but controlling mechanisms like seniority and filibuster.

So democracy in America disadvantages the poor and weak. Advantage, upper classes. Same as Egypt. And by the way, the mechanism is the same:

In America so-called “democracy” may not be exclusively defined by money, but money is a principal definer. In Egypt democracy is now clearly defined by the military, and for the moment at least, the military and Egyptian middle class are allied.

And what begets the Egyptian military?

About a billion dollars annually from the U.S.

In today’s world, money is power and reigns, whether in the U.S. or Egypt. Those of us in the relative comfort of the middle class are OK with this, because we are rich enough.

But the poor and weak are not OK with this.

In Karl Marx’s time the “proletariat” was the poor and weak but undeniably the largest segment of society. As it remains today in Egypt. But in America today the “middle class” is the largest segment of society.

And in the globally connected world America has now if not imposed at least facilitated the middle class dictatorship in Egypt. Not directly, of course, because we are fooled by our own ideas. But by the very nature of capitalism, by the means by which we defend our own middle class, so must Egypt become.

This paradigm has but a single peaceful and morally correct outcome: that everyone become Middle Class. To the extent America, or Egypt, or Kenya or South Africa – or China – moves rapidly in this direction, there will be peace. To the extent societies don’t move rapidly enough in this direction, or reverse it, there will be war.

All hail the Middle Class. Long Live the Middle Class.

But don’t be hoodwinked by democracy.