The Arab Winter: amateur hour in Cairo


BlaiseP is the pseudonym of a peripatetic software contractor whose worldly goods can fit into an elderly Isuzu Rodeo. Bitter and recondite, he favors the long view of life, the chords of Steely Dan and Umphrey's McGee, the writings of William Vollman and Thomas Pynchon, the taste of red ale and his own gumbo. Having escaped after serving seven years of a lifetime sentence to confinement in hotel rooms, he currently resides in the wilds of Eau Claire County and contemplates the intersection of mixed SRID geometries in PostGIS.

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74 Responses

  1. North says:

    It’s a mess alright. But maybe it’s a useful mess in some way? The only way any of the parties involved are going to learn how to be competant is by failing yes? The MB by overreaching and getting slapped down and the Liberals by being an impatient disorganized passle of bumbling fools. Perhaps in time they’ll figure it out?
    I dunno if I feel comfortable saying that Mubarak’s imposed stasis was better.Report

    • BlaiseP in reply to North says:

      MB have not been slapped down, not by a long shot. The MB are just now balling up their fists. The MB have waited too long and endured too much to allow anyone to tell them anything, least of all a collection of English-Speaking Innerleckshul Heathen Liberals. The MB connived with SCAF in the writing of that wretched constitution but SCAF will not permit the MB to impose the niqab on their own daughters.

      Mubarak was a disgusting old pharaoh, a great impediment to progress in the region, politically mummified long before his own death. He preserved the cold peace with Israel, playing for American military aid, here and there making some cosmetic concession. But inside the boiling pot of Egyptian politics, there was no stasis. Egyptians wanted rapprochement with Gaza and Mubarak hated Hamas as a mere offshoot of the MB.

      This is no useful mess: SCAF won’t allow another Mubarak to come to power. Mubarak was bad for business: he held the lid down on that boiling pot and it boiled over horribly.

      Now that MB has overplayed its hand, SCAF has emerged as the only institution capable of imposing any sort of stasis on this situation. The current mess is quite literally a tempest in a coffee pot: SCAF will allow this ruckus to go on for a while as Egypt blows off steam.Report

      • North in reply to BlaiseP says:

        Oh agreed, I meant that as a future hope not an assertion of what’s happening now.

        But yes your depressing prediction sounds all too plausible. The military sits back and burnishes their credibility while the liberals and the islamists bloody each other and rack the country to its foundations. Then, when the populace is exhausted, the military imposed order will be greeted as a panacea.Report

        • BlaiseP in reply to North says:

          Notice how SCAF has allowed the Sinai to become a hive of scum and villainy. This is not an accident. Kidnappings, arms smuggling, all manner of unseemly doings up there in those wastelands. How do you suppose all those rockets got into Gaza? After Mubarak, SCAF had to prove its necessity to the world at large, especially to the Americans, who have been funding the Egyptian military since the era of the Camp David accords. If that funding was ever imperilled, they wouldn’t get paid, you see.

          Egypt’s military puts up with an awful lot of nonsense. Seems they just captured one of the guys who attacked the American consulate in Benghazi. They’re proving their usefulness. SCAF, the power for good in the region. Just give them the power and don’t say too much about SCAF’s new powers of summary arrest (yes, that’s the new thing) or its secret trials or its connivance with all sorts of terrorism….

          Watch and see. Egypt is destined to become another Pakistan.Report

          • Damon in reply to BlaiseP says:

            “Watch and see. Egypt is destined to become another Pakistan.”

            And how much of this end result was due to our “help” I wonder…. I think we’ve stirred up a hornets nest in Lybia, Egypt, and now Syria. God only knows where or how this is going to end.Report

            • BlaiseP in reply to Damon says:

              There are two sides to this Helping business. I once spoke to an Iraqi man who said “Americans are schizophrenic: they destroy with one hand and build with the other.” Egypt cannot be ignored: the USA simply must talk to whoever is in power, be he a devil or a saint. The Egyptians I’ve spoken to hate us for this policy of dealing with the Devil We Know. We know they’re Devils and we deal with them anyway.

              The USA routinely hobnobbed with Mubarak right up to the last minute, then casually allowed him to fall from grace. Arabs, to a man, find this sort of policy horribly distasteful: even if Mubarak had been a Devil, we had said he was our friend. Thus American politicians are seen to be the worst sort of enemy, false friends.

              The USA shall make no headway where the Arab Spring bloomed, anywhere except Libya, for we are not seen as reliable allies. In Libya, we had stood firm against Qadhafy and when he was ousted, America was treated with more respect. KSA, Kuwait, Jordan, the Gulf States, they’re not democracies either. Iraq, hell, we’re genially despised there, too. We didn’t really know how to make reliable friends. Afghanistan is widely seen as proof positive of why nobody should ever trust Americans to assist in rebuilding a society.Report

              • Damon in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Well said!Report

              • amspirnational in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Blaise, if we were to have been regarded as reliable friends in the Middle East, we would, for example, have already forced Israel from the Occupied Territories before forcing Iraq from Kuwait.
                The man on the Arab-Muslim street understands the ruling class here better than the man on the American street.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to amspirnational says:

                There is no evicting Israel from the West Bank, not now at any rate, any more than the French can be evicted from Alsace. There’s no forcing these bastards to do anything. I despair of people who say the USA could have “fixed” this problem. It’s not our problem to fix and every time we’ve tried, it’s proven to be a Tar Baby.

                There’s a fundamental problem, an intrinsic problem unique to our republic: we replace our rulers on a fixed schedule. The dictators and juntas watch grimly as our presidents and secretaries of state come and go. Our ambassadors are appointed, not on the basis of competence or linguistic skills. These appointments are political plums, awarded to FOPs, Friends of POTUS.

                Furthermore, our defence industries all go to the IDEX and DSEI shows, ready and willing to sell arms to anyone with the money to pay for them. Our petroleum industry briskly bribes every two-bit dictator on the planet, our retail sector sets up the most appalling sweatshops through the good offices of the dictator’s nephews.

                The only paradigm which comes to mind is the Planck Body, a perfectly black sphere which absorbs every watt of energy which reaches it. At a certain point, it begins to re-radiate that energy in the infrared. The Political Planck Body re-radiates every dollar of aid transmitted to it into suitcases full of cash, headed for banks in Dubai.Report

              • amspirnational in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Granted that the problem will be “fixed” at the latest with the collapse of the Amer-Israel Empire, (nor have we tried to fix it) yet because the US is/was pivotal in creating and subsidizing the oppression for the past few decades it can be considered “our” problem. A wag once said that the US might be (have been) able to exercise imperial hegemony of a stable nature in the Mideast–but not with Israel as an “ally.”Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to amspirnational says:

                This isn’t going to be turned into a Bash Israel Fest. Furthermore, this isn’t going to be turned into a Bash America Fest, not here, anyway, with even less tolerance given to Bashing America.

                I’m sick of people taking sides in this fight. It’s complete bullshit. I take this stuff too seriously to take sides. For all this unctuous hand wringing and weeping over the Palestinians, nobody hates the Palestinians more than their fellow Arabs. Back when Saddam was in power, he brought in a bunch of Palestinian refugees and put them up in these big old Soviet style apartment blocks along the road from Baghdad Airport to downtown, what the American Marines would call Route Irish. They were his little pets, he loved ’em, they sang his praises and talked exactly like you do now about the Amer-Israeli Empire on Iraqi TV. Meanwhile, the Shiites were made to live in a nasty slum called Sadr City.

                Well, no sooner did Saddam leave town and the Americans arrived, the Shiites boiled out of Sadr City and evicted those Palestinians, murdering quite a few of them. The Shiites then set up sniper positions and took pot shots at the American vehicles coming down Route Irish.

                Every time I see someone singing your little song, all I can think of is Saddam’s Pet Palestinians, sitting up their in their fancy apartments, singing the same song. So put a sock in it, dude. America backed the formation of Israel and has put up with Israeli intransigence. But bad as Israel has been, which is pretty fucking terrible, it doesn’t hold a candle to what the Arabs have done to the Palestinians in places I know pretty well, in Lebanon and Iraq. And don’t sing that song around here any more or I’ll fucking blow out your comments. Am I making myself clear here?Report

              • amspirnational in reply to amspirnational says:

                The tone is, you don’t believe the Shias had a right to resist the American occupier, so you preface description of their resistance with the claim they evicted and murdered Palestinians first. But the logic of your sequence is that Sunnis are pro-Palestinian or more so than Shias who “hate” them which isn’t necessarily true since every Palestinian I know tells me Iran and Hezbollah have helped their cause in the recent past more than the Sunni governments combined. In fact one of my Palestinian-Lebanese Christian acquaintances much appreciates the Aoun-Hezbollah alliance in Lebanon and has never mentioned any significant
                Iraq Shia persecution of her people, but then you’re probably more expert than she in this area…

                And for all your objections to “taking sides” I don’t read anywhere
                an ethical or strategic argument which bolsters it and one with which I could agree and in fact have been politicking for since 1970. That is, a non-interventionist “GET OUT OF THE MIDEAST” policy only nearly advocated by the likes of Ron Paul and Pat Buchanan and to a somewhat lesser extent, Dennis Kucinich types on the left.

                Empire-bashing is most welcomed, since the Empire is the enemy of the Nation. Yeah. We fought the Brits on an anti-Empire principal.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to amspirnational says:

                Everyone in the Iraqi situation behaved disgracefully, Sunni, Shi’a, Kurds, but especially the Americans, who should have left Iraq after deposing Saddam Hussein. It’s so wonderful to find a pro-Saddam person in you. I feel like I’ve discovered a long-extinct bird or a trilobite.

                Saddam treated the Shi’a horribly and murdered their clerics but he found uses for them. Saddam was Ba’ath and Ba’ath means all the Arabs are supposed to think about their fellow Arabs, which does leave out a very significant part of the Middle East, the Kurds and Farsi and most especially Jews. The Ba’ath ran the Jews out of Baghdad where they had lived since the era of Babylon. But there were more Shi’a Ba’athis than Sunni. Saddam did create a national identity for Iraq by creating a culture of fear, of spies, of toadies and zealotry. If the Arabs have lapsed back into religious madness, they had helped foster that madness in Lebanon. Now Iraq is Lebanon writ large.

                Lebanese forbid the Palestinians from working in Lebanon, confining them to their camps. Hizb’allah keeps them in their camps. Syria keeps its Palestinians in their camps. Jordan does, too. The Egyptians don’t let Gazans into Egypt except under special circumstances. Who exactly is treating the Palestinians so well and singing their praises? That would be folks who like to see Palestinians doing the fighting and dying so they can sit there on their fat asses like Saddam Hussein and eat ma’amoul and piously wish for the death of Israelis.Report

              • amspirnational in reply to amspirnational says:

                Blaise doesn’t read very carefully evidently-or he (#13) considers opposition to American overthrow of Saddam based on false intelligence much of it provided by Israel


                to be “pro-Saddam.”
                As a matter of fact I consider Hussein’s greatest crime his unwarranted war against Iran, encouraged and assisted by the US government of course.
                As for the ejection of Jews from Iraq it was largely a reaction to Zionist expulsion and planned expulsion of Arabs from Palestine.
                The movement of Zionism purposely exacerbated and created “anti-semitism” in large areas of the world-see Lenni Brenner and others on that one.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to amspirnational says:

                Don’t condescend to me. Iraq’s Jews were persecuted long before the State of Israel was even established. Rashid Ali alGaylani was a Nazi.Report

              • amspirnational in reply to amspirnational says:

                Blaise, I suggest you read Israel Shahak.


                Of course Jews were persecuted before the onset of political Zionism. The rabbis in large part saw to that through their People Who Shall Dwell Alone teaching tendencies.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to amspirnational says:

                I suggest you read the Holy Qur’an.Report

              • Kolohe in reply to BlaiseP says:

                If a dead ambassador equals respect, I hate to see what disrepect looks like.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Kolohe says:

                Nonsense. The citizens of Benghazi rose up in a fury and ran the Ansar al-Sharia militias out of town immediately. They had huge rallies, carrying signs of support for the US, apologising for what happened. Try to keep up with current events, not just the Folx at Fox.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Kolohe says:

                I’ll stick with what the Libyans have to say about it, thankya thankya.Report

              • North in reply to Kolohe says:

                Gotta go with BP here. Libya still looks like the least bad of the bunch. There’s pretty hopeful potential there; our poor dead Ambassador notwithstanding (and the man, may he rest in peace, would be the very first in line to agree I suspect, he was emphatically pro-Libyan).Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to Kolohe says:

                I’m thinking through an article on the machinations behind the Libyan constitution. Lorianne Updike Toler has been doing yeoman’s (yeowoman’s?) work on the subject.Report

            • Kim in reply to Damon says:

              quite a bit. But one makes a very big mistake if one thinks that the only Americans “helping” are with the US government.Report

          • amspirnational in reply to BlaiseP says:

            You include any aid to, let us call it, “rejectionism” of Israeli theft and dispossession
            as “villainy.”Report

            • BlaiseP in reply to amspirnational says:

              Oh don’t get me started on how much money the USA has thrown down the rat holes of maintaining the Cold Peace between Israel and Egypt. I think it’s something like 70 billion USD since Camp David. I’m so sick of Israel’s continuing provocations and settlement building.

              Here’s my prediction: Obama will let Israel lie in its own hard bed for the next few years. Egypt’s pent-up anger at the maltreatment of the Palestinians is just now coming into the open: Obama has no interest in being the villain in this story any more. It’s like being a bad parent, coming in to rescue a monstrous little child every time he screws up. Let Israel solve its own problems.

              Let Israel conclude a peace with the Egyptians, if they can: that peace will not be concluded with that whiny little goat Morsi. Morsi has no mandate for peace. Beyond the MB, Morsi has no mandate at all. SCAF have their arm all the way up his ass and are now waggling his jaw. SCAF have opened the border at Gaza to Khaled Meshal, Israel’s worst nightmare. Maybe Israel thinks it can go on killing every Hamas leader as he pokes his head up. It’s just creating more shuhada martyrs and martyrs can only die once.

              Who’s Israel going to negotiate with now? Nobody, for at least a year, maybe more. Bibi can stew in his own juice for that long, that bulbous-headed maniac. He and Khaled Meshal deserve each other.Report

              • amspirnational in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Well, you know, if you consider folks like Dennis Ross impartial arbiters presiding over the wasted expenditures, I guess you could call it mistakenly wasted. Obama as “bad parent?” I believe years ago early on Abbas accused him on putting him out on a limb and cutting the branch off three times, (while nimbly kissing Bennie’s butt in the process.)Report

  2. GordonHide says:

    I always foresaw that the Islamists would be the ones to apparently profit from the Arab “spring”. They were the only organised group, particularly at the local level. But I always assumed that power would be a poison chalice for them as they could never provide prosperity. Still, from their point of view the population may become disillusioned with Islamism but it now looks likely they will blame the messenger rather than the message. Islam itself will not take a hit I think.

    So I agree with you that the future looks like military rule followed by progressive dysfunctionReport

    • M.A. in reply to GordonHide says:

      They’re really not that different from political parties here in the USA. The one vote, one man, one time mantra is how corrupting influences work.

      Over there, they do it by assuming “emergency powers” and sticking their religious book as a legal authority higher than a secular constitution. Over here, we have gerrymandered districting that has set it up so that today, less than 10% of congressional districts are competitive and even less than that on the state senatorial and representative levels.Report

      • BlaiseP in reply to M.A. says:

        The key to gaining Emergency Powers is to first create (or allow ) a bad enough state of affairs to be deemed an Emergency. It’s interesting to watch the interactions of ordinary Egyptians with the military: people stop by and take pictures of their little children standing with soldiers on main battle tanks. The Egyptian military is genuinely respected by the citizens.

        Here’s the thing: Egypt has never known democracy. They’ll have to work this out for themselves and it may take a generation to sort out. Neither the National Salvation Front (Liberals) or the MB (right-wing) have any experience in how these things are managed. The MB has been around longer and has grass-roots support. But the same was true of the Iraqi Shiites and they ended up bickering horribly among their own: all they had ever known was how to be an opposition party and endure jail time. Look at South Africa after apartheid: thank God Pik Botha and Mandela were able to work out some semblance of an orderly transition. Egypt has no such men of stature and vision. All the Liberals speak English and none of the hard-core Islamists do. That’s why Morsi’s the Islamists’ man: he cleans up real nice.Report

    • BlaiseP in reply to GordonHide says:

      There’s a story told by Hillary Clinton. She was watching a bunch of Egyptian dignitaries milling around back during her visit in July. The MB types were going around, pressing the flesh, making small talk, the sorts of gestures we have come to routinely expect from politicos. The Liberals were all standing around, awkwardly consorting with their own. She knew right there the MB would come to power in some fashion: they knew the arts of politicking where the Liberals did not.

      The Islamists could have taken a few steps back and gone into consultations with legal scholars. In the West, we base our legal foundations on Justinian, Magna Carta, Locke, Montesquieu and the rest of those good guys. Islam has no shortage of legal provenance: as-shari’a is not as evil as all that, considered abstractly. For centuries, as-shari’a adapted to the legal needs of thousands of tribes. Baghdad and Alexandria were once home to the largest populations of Jews in the world. Saladin was kindly disposed to Christians. The Ottomans made room for many religious sects: Mehmet II was a collector of scholars and ordered Christian doctrines translated into Turkish. Arguably, the Renaissance began in the courts of Mehmet II. When the Jews of Spain were evicted, they fled into Muslim lands. At the heart of as-shari’a is a doctrine of equality, al-umma. The first war crimes are established in Muslim law, in fact the distinction between civilians and soldiers is first made by Islam. The entire ethos of chivalry is borrowed from Islam.

      Islam is amazingly simple: it has almost no theology. Therefore, Islamic scholarship has been many things to many peoples over time. There’s no shame in resorting to as-shari’a as a basis for Egyptian law — if only the maniacs who currently preach jihaad had any concept of what they were talking about. Islam had a long tradition of legal scholarship called ijtihad, the Ottoman millet system contained solid mechanisms of jurisprudence for multi-confessional societies. Islamic scholarship has lapsed into a cretinous parody of itself.

      Perversely, only a return to the basic historical principles of Islam can possibly save Egypt, not the right-wing lunacy of the MB, to be sure: those guys are almost completely ignorant of the possibilities now laid before them. It will take another Saladin, (who was no Arab, but rather a Kurd) or a Mehmet II (a Turk) to strip away the ignorant encrustations of intolerance from what now passes for Islam.Report

      • James Hanley in reply to BlaiseP says:


      • GordonHide in reply to BlaiseP says:

        What “basic principles of Islam” do you refer to and why do you believe they will do the trick?
        As I see it the model worked in its day but would now fail to compete with more dynamic society structures that exist today.Report

        • BlaiseP in reply to GordonHide says:

          Let’s return to the basis of modern European law, Justinian’s Corpus Juris Civilis. It’s a blatantly Christian-centric body of law; you weren’t even protected by it if you weren’t a Christian. Yet it forms the core of what would become civil law in the West.

          Shari’a law makes a few fundamental points: the doctrine of al-ummah says no man is any better than any other. But as with Justinian with Christians, it now means all Muslims. See Qur’an 3:110. I don’t really like this translation much, the phrase ummah wahida translates into “unique nation”, not necessarily “best nation”. There are different words for “nation” in Arabic, but these days, it’s the word you’ll usually hear.

          Notice it’s not God who encourages right and forbids evil, it’s the ummah. The ummah believes in Allah (swt) and from thence the ummah derives its authority. The verse continues, the People of the Scriptures could have believed but were disobedient. That goes to the core of the matter for as-shari’a: it’s not God who punishes and rewards right and wrong. It’s society.

          Muhammad the Prophet drew up a constitution for Mecca which included Jews and Christians as part of his ummah. Primitive as that constitution was, the ummah was inclusive. These days, little Islamic kids sing a song called “Ummah Wahida” about how Muslims are One Nation but the scholars know what Muhammad the Prophet meant and blithely ignore it. Al-ummah is rather larger than just Muslims.

          A community or a nation or a society is nothing if people don’t believe in it. When our own American Constitution begins “We the People”, that’s our version of al-ummah. We encourage what’s right and prohibit what’s wrong, not on the basis of some Divine Right of Kings, but by confederation to something larger than ourselves.

          Shari’a demands scholarship: you don’t get to interpret the laws without a comprehensive curriculum of study. Islamic law is not for the faint of heart: it’s as demanding a process as any law school in the world and there are at least eight major schools of Islamic scholarship just among the Sunnis. The Shiites are even more rigorous but they get all wound up in allegiances to august personalities where the Sunnis do not.

          I really should write something more extensive on as-shari’a as a workable proposition for a modern constitutional framework. It’s a complex topic and I’d probably do better to consult with Islamic scholars were I to do so. But all the mendacious and hateful mischaracterisations of Islam and as-shari’a ought to be opposed by every thoughtful person. The Muslims were not idiots. They were good scholars and if Islam fell into darkness, it was not always so. Nor need it be in future.Report

          • GordonHide in reply to BlaiseP says:

            Well, that certainly shows you’ve done your homework. But it doesn’t really answer the question. Let me be more specific. Corruption is endemic in Egypt. How would your recommended return to a lost form of Islamic philosophy get it under control?Report

            • BlaiseP in reply to GordonHide says:

              By imposing external accountability on the corrupt. Bad as they are, Hamas is not corrupt but the PA is. The Taliban are not corrupt but the American-backed Karzai regime is corrupt. Is any of this coming into focus? Islamism is a reaction. It proposes a society governed by the rule of incorruptible law and not the rule of corruptible man. If we do not like as-shari’a, we might recognise its power in that context.Report

              • GordonHide in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Perhaps I’m obtuse but I don’t understand the mechanism for controlling corruption. Indeed I don’t see one at all.

                If I can recap on what happens in the West, (possibly more by luck than judgement):

                We have freedom of expression.
                We have the rule of law and equality under the law.
                Power in society is divided. Here are some of the major players:

                We have the executive government
                We have the legislative branch
                We have a professional civil service
                We have a largely independent judiciary
                We have the free press

                The result of all these things is it is always to someone’s advantage to blow the whistle on the other guy or keep him from trespassing outside his domain and freedom of expression enables us to do that. Thus is corruption kept within manageable bounds.

                You may not agree exactly with the details of this process but it is a process and one can see how it works in practise.

                Can you explain what external accountability is? What is incorruptible law and how did it get that way?Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to GordonHide says:

                Okay, in the immortal words of Hannibal Lecter, “you’re getting warm.”

                How do we achieve accountability? Via regulation, via someone who doesn’t have a direct stake in the outcome. Someone with legal training. Someone with some local gravitas and cred. Someone who doesn’t live high on the hog.

                If that makes any sense… the alim scholar has just such cred.Report

              • GordonHide in reply to BlaiseP says:

                This seems to me to assume there is a certain class of people who are a good deal less prone to corruption than everybody else and that they should be given the job of oversight. I think this is pissing into the wind of history. In the West, even the corrupt will blow the whistle on their fellows if it is to their personal advantage.

                I think it likely that Islamic societies degenerated to their current state precisely because they included no “automatic improvement” mechanisms which have free reign and which could overcome cultural inertia.Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to GordonHide says:

                I have assumed nothing of the sort. Accountability is the exact opposite of “automatic improvement”. If Islamic societies degenerated, they did so because their legal system stopped evolving. Brittle doctrine replaced flexible reason.Report

              • GordonHide in reply to GordonHide says:


                Well, we can agree that their legal system stopped evolving or at least that it did not evolve as quickly as needed.

                I’m sorry that I misunderstood the implications of your previous post. But, having straightened me out I still don’t see what motivates people to stem corruption in this set up?

                And indeed, assuming you could wave a magic wand and re-institute the conditions you admire along with a suitably wise leader, what’s to stop the whole thing deteriorating as it did to get us where we are?Report

              • BlaiseP in reply to GordonHide says:

                Imagine, if you will, a system akin to the constitution-less United Kingdom, with a strong set of parliamentary scholars. The Ottomans had a fine system called vilayet. If you’ll take a look down that link, you’ll see a scheme which devolves all the way to a village council, going all the way down to a qadi.

                The qadi system is a meritocracy. Islamic jurisprudence requires extensive qualifications. Alongside the qadi, a whole troop of scholar assistants are hard at work, exactly as we’d see in both major law firms and courts. But there were other legal authorities in the Ottoman world: Jews, at least four different sects of Greek Orthodox, quite a few different Christian sects — these were the millet districts. To qualify for millet status, they had to provide their own justice system and scholarship. Offences on each side were tried in the other’s court system. The Ottomans understood religious quarrels and cut them all off with this system. There was one weak point, they tended to lump too many sects of Islam into the same legal system. Sunni/Shia relations were never good, even under the Ottomans.

                The Ottoman system worked for six centuries. It never held its vilayets in very firm boundaries, they were always rearranging their empire. Basra, for example, was troublesome and independent enough to get its own vilayet and thus quasi-independence.

                The system would have to be modified for present times. But if it were implemented, in a rough approximation of the Ottoman system, justice would be local and corruption exposed on that basis. If the lines of government grow too long, bureaucrats are corrupted.Report

  3. Kim says:

    Mubarak knew there were no solutions.
    That is why he left.
    The great breadbasket of the middle east has fallen to ruin.

    Where there is no food, how can there be peace?Report

    • BlaiseP in reply to Kim says:

      There were solutions. Egypt could and should be a middle class society. It’s perfectly capable of feeding and housing its people. It should have been a leader in the region, at least as prosperous as Turkey. But Egypt could never get out from under its Strong Men. Mubarak and his cronies looted Egypt, allowed it to lapse into hideous corruption. It couldn’t even manage to control its cities, providing electricity and sewage and street plans. Cairo is, as I have said, become a vast collection of slums and ghettos. Wealth and poverty exist side by side: it simply did not have to be this way.Report

      • Kim in reply to BlaiseP says:

        that’s not what my numbers show. Look again?Report

        • BlaiseP in reply to Kim says:

          How well do you speak Arabic? Ever been to Egypt? Egypt and Turkey both have roughly 75-80 million people. Turkey has an average per-capita income of around 14,400 USD. Egypt has around 6,500 USD. There’s no excuse for Egypt’s poverty.

          Christ I’m so sick of your carrying-on about shit you don’t know anything about, Kim.Report

          • Kim in reply to BlaiseP says:

            My ears are bigger than my mouth.Report

            • BlaiseP in reply to Kim says:

              Egypt tolerates the formation of shantytowns like Manshiyat Nasr. Leaders who allow that sort of thing to develop don’t wipe their asses very well, either. It’s effing disgusting.Report

          • dexter in reply to BlaiseP says:

            Blaise, Is there any reason for poverty, other than pure greed, anywhere on this planet?Report

            • BlaiseP in reply to dexter says:

              Of course. To govern wisely in modern times, a nation needs a competent bureaucracy and a mechanism for attenuating corruption. It’s not all that hard: once you’ve introduced accountability into the equation, established reasonably impartial justice and trained the bureaucrats to deal with the larger issues such as city planning, education, roads, electrification, communications infrastructures and suchlike, poverty generally takes care of itself.

              It’s not just greed. It’s stupidity and ignorance.Report

      • Michael Cain in reply to BlaiseP says:

        It’s perfectly capable of feeding… its people.

        I’m having a problem with that. Egypt is the largest net wheat importer in the world, and fifth largest net corn importer — call it 400 pounds of net imported grain per person per year. The country’s status has gone from net oil exporter to net oil importer. The countries in the Upper Nile basin seem determined to take more water, leaving Egypt with less. Egypt’s population continues to grow. That’s a difficult combination to overcome.Report

        • BlaiseP in reply to Michael Cain says:

          Egypt and Sudan are pretty good friends, the best friends in the area. Egypt’s putting a lot of work into creating arable land in the Sudan. Of course, all that’s on hold just now what with Egypt in its current furore and Sudan’s bowels in an uproar. Still, I feel certain all the nations up and down the Nile will come to terms.Report

          • Michael Cain in reply to BlaiseP says:

            It is my understanding that the sides in this fight are Egypt and Sudan on one side (who together received the lion’s share of the Nile under a convention set up under British colonial rule) and the Nile headwaters countries on the other side (who got very little under the British accord). Seven of the Nile countries have signed up for a new governing arrangement (Nile Basin Initiative) with Egypt and Sudan staying out. Ethiopia has a hell of a dam already under construction (including significant Chinese funding) despite Egyptian opposition. And is moving to buy off Sudan with the promise of large amounts of cheap hydro power from the new dam. Ethopia has proposed more dams to support irrigation diversions for up to a million hectares (equal to about one-third of the arable land in Egypt).

            I agree that all parties would be better off with cooperative management of the river. Hell, given the massive evaporative losses from Lake Nasser behind the Aswan High Dam, Egypt itself would probably be better off storing “their” water in Ethiopia. But I don’t see it coming to pass.Report

            • BlaiseP in reply to Michael Cain says:

              If the Egyptians wanted more of the Nile, the first thing they could do is quit shitting in it. By the time the Nile reaches the Delta, it’s toxic waste. These dams will all come to a bad end: Aswan is silted up and the water has leached out into the sandstone.Report

  4. Jaybird says:

    For some unknown reason, I’m reminded of Nikki Sixx explaining why he lived the rock and roll lifestyle so unapologetically.

    “All my role models were dead by 27.”Report

    • BlaiseP in reply to Jaybird says:

      Well, that’s interesting. Most of my role models were dead by 27, too. Some of them went to Arlington Cemetery.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to BlaiseP says:

        I suspect that the only country that has anything close to a decent role model in the region *MIGHT* be Israel, but all of its role models have fallen out of fashion. Israel’s role models wouldn’t be particularly notable were it eighteen-something rather than twenty-something.

        The role models for the other countries seem to be even further back than that. They have the vocabulary of modernity and many of the tools of modernity but the cultures seem stuck in a pre-enlightenment mindset that uses the vocabulary with a moderate amount of skill but not the tools.

        We need to get some decent role models over there.Report

  5. DRS says:

    Henry Kissinger: What do you think of the impact of the French Revolution? Zhou Enlai: Too soon to tell.

    What’s your timeline, Blaise? Because I think we’re going to have to be more patient than we’re usually prepared to be. As you say, there’s a lot of work the Egyptians have to do – on their own – to overcome a lot of the past and much of the present. But they pushed back on Morsi’s efforts to circumvent the process last week, and more power to them.Report

    • BlaiseP in reply to DRS says:

      Hell, this revolution has already been coopted by the powers that be. Though the congruence isn’t exactly perfect, I believe the model here is a variant on post-USSR Turkey. Egypt has been through its Strong Man phase. Turkey’s always had its own Islamist contingent and the Turkish military has kept them pretty much in check. I strongly suspect the Turkish and Egyptian commands are in constant contact these days.

      Over time, Turkey has grown more tolerant of its own brand of Islamists. Turkey’s government does support its own sect of Sunni Islam and there’s a growing contingent of overtly religious people. Egypt is far more religious in many respects. And as with Turkey’s Armenian and Kurdish populations, there’s a good deal of discrimination going on within Egypt against the Copts and other minority religions.

      The merchants are the dog that hasn’t barked yet in Egypt. It’s a sizeable force in Egyptian politics and we haven’t heard anything from them as a political entity. They want political stability and I strongly suspect they wouldn’t mind a return to a benign military rule. Problem is, both the Egyptian bureaucrats and the military are mightily corrupt: if they have any sympathy for the Islamists, it’s on the basis of the corruption issues. The merchants are a big power base in Turkey. In six months, by my reckoning, we’ll have heard from the merchants. Then and only then will we hear the voice of reason in Egypt. To date, it’s been a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, etc. Signifying nothing.Report

  6. This is one of those posts where I’m much more interested in listening than commenting, but I did at least want to thank you for a really well-written and informative piece (and follow up comments). I feel smarter having read it.Report

  7. wardsmith says:

    But the Liberals, too stupid to stand upright, most of them, will continue to ape the West, demanding far too much, far too soon. They have no answers to Egypt’s fundamental problems. They can’t even ask the right questions.

    Unintended humor?Report

    • BlaiseP in reply to wardsmith says:

      Nope. Egypt’s Liberals are simply unable to grasp the obvious: they will not turn Cairo into Paris overnight. They haven’t gotten out there and done the needful: they haven’t organised the poor and the merchant class, they look down their noses at the rural people, they haven’t done anything but wave banners in Tahrir Square.

      Liberals in this country have learned how to organise. It’s the GOP mullahs who need to learn how to build grass roots organisations.Report

  8. Just Me says:

    Great post! I know you have been thinking about this topic for a while. It shows the thought you have put towards this piece.Report

  9. miguel cervantes says:

    Where to begin, SCAF is really running the show, no Morsy is running SCAF through El Assissi, personnel is policy, the whole point of the exercise is not to have an Ataturk or a Shah, that is the example of Ergonokon, why would you think the Salafi would want a constitutional assembly,
    legitimately established that doesn’t happen, Next, very few Shia Baathist, Alawi was one of the few exceptions, because the Baath as the Golden Square before them, was the Sunni minority’s vehicle for dispossessing the Shia and the Kurds, that’s why the ICP was predominantly Shia, (read Batatu)and the reason for the rise of the Da’Wa, (Baqr) and SCIRI (Hakim)Report

    • BlaiseP in reply to miguel cervantes says:

      SCAF doesn’t have to run the show: they have the tanks, the troops, the tear gas and the bullets. They’ve moved to separate the protesters which shows they’re not taking sides in this fight. SCAF don’t want to run the show. They would prefer to let this mess settle out without their intervention at all.

      And no, there won’t be another Shah. There might be an Ataturk, if ElBaradei comes out of this on top, which might very well happen. As for an Ergonokon within Egypt, it was all so much hysterical nonsense in Turkey and no such organisation exists within Egypt. The Egyptian generals have every interest in maintaining their status within Egyptian society and will do everything possible to preserve it.

      Egypt’s Sunni are led by barking idiots. All this talk of a Caliphate. The last few dozen Caliphs were useless appendages in the Ottoman world and when Ataturk did away with the position, nobody complained.

      Saddam had so many spies and toadies within the Shiites, not a child farted but what Saddam’s mukhabarat did not receive a full report. The Shiites of Iraq: never did one group of people so completely screw up the possibilities for peaceful reconciliation in Iraq. But that’s Shiyya for you, put three of them in a room and two will get in a fight.Report

  10. miguel cervantes says:

    Yes, we left after the first Gulf War, remember what happened next, the Shia and the Kurds were slaughtered, if anything recruited them to the ranks of the Revolutionary Guard that was it, It was the Special Republican Guards that carried out the Anfal campaign, with those ‘nonexistent’
    WMD’s one was concerned about, It was many of these same units, that made common cause with the Salafi elements typified by Zarqawi, ratlines from Syria, Ikwan from the South, in the same familiar pattern to the early 19th Century, and the 20s, after the British pullout.Report

  11. miguel cervantes says:

    You’re a funny guy, Blaise, what is the proper way to respond to 80 years of disposession from the whole political life, not to mention the professions, and the Ayatollah in the 15 years he lived in Najaf, which was concurrent with Saddam’s rise to power, never really agitated his associates , and they returned the favor.Report