Friday, February 25

Libya: Regarding CNN's attempt to take over the job of the U.S. Dept. of State and Mike Huckabee's attempt to score against President Obama

CNN and Huckabee are not the only offenders but those two happened to catch me on a bad day last night.

The final straw was when I heard Huckabee say that Obama needed to take action to stop genocide in Libya. He covered his ass later in the same conversation by saying "what could be heading toward genocide." But Huckabee knows very well that genocide is grounds for U.N. forces and even individual nations to invade a country.

Right now the U.S. government and scores of other governments are desperately working to evacuate their nation's citizens from Libya, and scores of humanitarian agencies are desperately working to bring critical medical and food supplies into Libya. So this is not the time for CNN or any other U.S. news organization to attempt to manipulate the American public into pressuring President Obama to order U.S. military action against Libya's government.

Nor is it the time for Huckabee or any other American politician to use the crisis in Libya to score against Obama's administration -- or the previous administration, for that matter.

As for CNN's machinations -- I've been on the fence about whether to call them out for their coverage of the Egyptian protests. I got off the fence last night while I watched Anderson Cooper make another terrified Libyan citizen into a Queen for Day contestant, with the Grand Prize for the biggest sob story being U.S. Marines wading ashore.

More follows, if not this evening, I'll have the next post up by Saturday morning.

For now, CNN and the American political industry need to stand down and let the U.S. government do its job. Later there will be plenty of time to criticize how the job was done.

Thursday, February 24

A little more about the threat to Libya's oil wells

I added an update to yesterday's post, which featured John Batchelor's mention that Gadhafi had threatened, among other things, to order the oil wells in his country set on fire. Here's the update:

Reporting last night for NBC television news from Tobruk (which is under the control of the rebels), veteran MENA reporter and NBC Chief Foreign Correspondent Richard Engel (who speaks fluent Arabic) said he'd heard that Libyan soldiers who'd defected were guarding the oil wells. Of course that's a very vague report but it comports with a more detailed one provided yesterday at a Filipino website, Manila Bulletin Online. The Bulletin report was put together from AP and AFP wire service reports; I'll skip to the part about oil facilities:
[...] Protesters claim to control a string of cities, from the Egyptian border in the east – where guards at the crossing fled – to the city of Ajdabiya, about 450 miles (725 kilometers) farther west along the Mediterranean coast, said Tawfiq al-Shahbi, a protest organizer in the eastern city of Tobruk.

Ajdabiya is a key city near the oil fields of central and eastern Libya. Protesters and local tribesmen were protecting several of the fields and facilities around the city, said one resident, Ahmed al-Zawi.

Residents are also guarding one of Libya's main oil export ports, Zuweita, and the pipelines feeding into it, he said. The pipelines are off and several tankers that had been waiting in the port to load left empty, said al-Zawi, who said he visited Zuweita on Tuesday morning. [...]
So I think it stands to reason that at least in the region under the control of the rebels, soldiers have defected in large numbers and are probably guarding or helping to guard the oil wells there. As to whether the rebels will be able to maintain control of the region remains to be seen.

Wednesday, February 23

John Batchelor's latest analysis of Libya crisis: financial markets haven't yet priced in worst of worst-case scenarios for Arab revolt

UPDATE January 24 2:00 AM ET
Reporting last night for NBC television news from Tobruk (which is under the control of the rebels), veteran MENA reporter and NBC Chief Foreign Correspondent Richard Engel (who speaks fluent Arabic) said he'd heard that Libyan soldiers who'd defected were guarding the oil wells. Of course that's a very vague report but it comports with a more detailed one provided yesterday at a Filipino website, Manila Bulletin Online. The Bulletin report was put together from AP and AFP wire service reports; I'll skip to the part about oil facilities:
[...] Protesters claim to control a string of cities, from the Egyptian border in the east – where guards at the crossing fled – to the city of Ajdabiya, about 450 miles (725 kilometers) farther west along the Mediterranean coast, said Tawfiq al-Shahbi, a protest organizer in the eastern city of Tobruk.

Ajdabiya is a key city near the oil fields of central and eastern Libya. Protesters and local tribesmen were protecting several of the fields and facilities around the city, said one resident, Ahmed al-Zawi.

Residents are also guarding one of Libya's main oil export ports, Zuweita, and the pipelines feeding into it, he said. The pipelines are off and several tankers that had been waiting in the port to load left empty, said al-Zawi, who said he visited Zuweita on Tuesday morning. [...]
So I think it stands to reason that at least in the region under the control of the rebels, soldiers have defected in large numbers and thus, are probably guarding or helping to guard the wells, at least in that region. As to whether they'll be able to maintain control of the region is another question.

VOA report on the latest developments in Libya.

See John Batchelor Show website for all the links John provides in the following summary of his Tuesday radio show's discussion of the Libya situation and the al Jazeera video he mentions:
Burn the Wells
By John Batchelor on February 23, 2011 2:37 AM

Spoke Joseph Brusuelas [Bloomberg LLP chief economist], David Kotok [Cumberland Advisors], Pat Lang [Sic Semper Tyrannis blog; former DIA], Larry Johnson [No Quarter blog; former CIA and State], re the threats by Muammar Gaddafi that he will wreck his country and murder Libyans and burn the wells.

The critical detail is what the Libyan anarchy does to the markets. Kotok is very bearish on the markets and said he was longer on cash than at anytime since September 2008, and he wished he had more of the energy sector. Kotok believes oil is a one-way trade to $120 on Brent crude, and it can go much higher.

Pat Lang listened to Gaddafi's speech in Arabic and says that it was even crazier than the English version. We also spoke of the sudden return of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia to Riyadh from Morocco [where he was recuperating from health problems] at least nine months early. Trouble in the kingdom, with a protest movement planned for after prayers on Friday.

Pat Lang says the Saudis will crush the Bahrain opposition. At evening's end Joe Brusuelas mentioned that he was surprised and spooked about how bearish Kotok is, how grim and certain of worse he found Lang and Johnson. The market has not priced in the worst-case scenario of the Arab revolt.

The worst of worst cases is that Gaddafi survives, and the EU is forced to make deals with a monster.

See the bottom video, from Al Jazeera, of the screams of horror of women watching Gaddafi goons wandering the streets with clubs.
See here for the podcasts of all the show's segments, and here for the schedule for the show, which provides a synopsis of each segment.

Tuesday, February 22


According to Fox News Cable about a half hour ago: al Jazeera has reported that Libya's Interior Minister has defected and called for the army "to join the people." It seems many in the army have already joined the people, but the people might need more than Libya's army on their side because of the crack security brigades Gadhafi commands, which are better trained and better equipped than the army. Right now it looks inevitable that he'll be driven from power but the brigades can kill a great many Libyans before he throws in the towel or is bumped off. From Lauren Frayer's report for AOL News at 11:53 AM ET today, which weighs claims that Gadhafi is using mercenaries and discusses the brigades:
[...] Another reason Gadhafi may have opted to use foreign mercenaries against his people is because he understands his army's weaknesses -- precisely because he created them.

The last time Libya's armed forces fought any major war was in 1987 in Chad. Thousands of Libyans were killed, and the conflict taught Gadhafi an important lesson: that his armed forces might not be up to snuff. After that he established separate security brigades to protect his regime, apart from the regular army. They're elite paramilitary forces, smaller in number than the Libyan army, but thought to be fiercely loyal to Gadhafi.

The infamously paranoid Libyan leader has also long feared a military coup -- the same type that brought him to power in 1969. So he has intentionally kept his own army understaffed and under-equipped, according to Charles Gurdon, a Libya expert who runs Menas Associates, a political risk consultancy in London.

"They did not have modern weapons and they didn't even have ammunition for a number of years," Gurdon told AOL News. "On the other hand, there are security brigades designed to fight against the army if necessary, and to protect the regime."

Ruthless and devoutly loyal to Gadhafi, it's those security brigades that Gurdon believes are attacking unarmed protesters in Libya's main squares, perhaps with the help of [foreign mercernaries]. Most of the Libyan leader's sons have their own security brigades as well.

Gadhafi's reliance on such brigades shows he may have anticipated the army's switching sides -- as was the case in Egypt earlier this month -- and thus lined up a tougher, more loyal force even years in advance. Guron said he has received reports of Libyan soldiers being executed by members of the security brigades.

"Some members of the army have been killed for not fighting, and they were killed by people within the security brigades, because they disobeyed orders to attack protesters," he said. [...]

Wednesday, February 16

Notes on the Egypt post

Coffee house in Cairo, "the city that never sleeps"

From Ten Great Reasons to Visit Cairo:
Forget New York, Cairo literally never sleeps. Few other cities in the world have delivery services 24/7: it's completely normal to have pizzas, drinks and even movies delivered or to go for a shawerma snack at My Queen as late as four in the morning. Pharmacies deliver no matter what time of day, and there's always a doctor that will make house calls. With summer nights long and hot, it is entirely common to see families filling up the parks at midnight or eating in restaurants until the wee hours of the morning. Even the city's nightlife lasts until the early hours of the mornings: bars, nightclubs and shisha places really only pick up just before midnight, and cabarets usually open around 1AM, keeping the heart of Egypt beating around the clock.
I decided not to wait until the weekend to add links to the post; they're now added. I also wrote several paragraphs that expand on my discussion in the first published version of the post. And I added a "Notes" section at the end, which I think readers new to Egypt's situation will find helpful.

I want to thank the writers at American Digest, A Tangled Web, and Jaded Haven who highlighted the Egypt post at their blogs, and Marina and other readers who mentioned it at other websites, and everyone who commented. Thanks too to "Grammar Guy" for reminding me about the difference between staunch and stanch.

And finally, thanks to AP's Cairo Bureau Chief, Hamza Hendawi, whose January 19 report on Gamal Mubarak set me in the right direction at the start (see the Egypt post) and acted as a guidewire through the thick fog that reporting by several news organizations cast over the Egyptian mass protests.

I don't know whether I'll be blogging again on Egypt anytime soon; the region is not my regular 'beat.' The takeaway for me, after weeks of focusing my attention on the country, is that the Egyptian military's old guard got their wish -- they got rid of Gamal Mubarak and the Gamalists. But the old guard can't guide Egypt in this complex era; they don't know how. The Gamalists do know how. The vast majority of Egyptians who turned out for the protests aren't aware of this, and don't know they were used to defend Egypt's ancien regime from the reformers who realized it had to be dismantled -- slowly, but dismantled nonetheless.

My heart wants to believe that despite everything the protests heralded a new and better day for Egypt. My head tells me the new day is a false dawn.

As to whether I can see a midpoint between those extremes -- oh yeah: half a million Chinese entrepreneurs descending on Cairo and asking, 'So. You sit up all night chattering in coffee houses. What time you get up and go to work?'

And when they hear the answer you can trust the Chinese to reply in unison, 'It is hot at night in China too! We have no air-conditioning at night in China too! But we are not lazy little pashas like you!'

That might do the trick but I don't know if God likes the Egyptians quite that much. I fear that in the wake of the protests what they'll get instead of irritating Chinese is half a million humanitarian aid workers and human rights activists from the West clucking over them and asking, 'Where does it hurt?'

Monday, February 14

Now that the Gamalists have been toppled, how does Egypt's old guard plan to stanch the country's brain drain? Cut to the sound of chirping crickets.

February 17 updates to this post are at the end, after the "Notes" section

"All politics is local" -- Tip O'Neill

Photo: Gamal Mubarak (left) serving as a human shield during the Coptic Christmas Eve Mass on January 6, 2011 at Abassiya Cathedral in Cairo, six days after the bombing of a Christian church in Alexandria

Failure to consider the possibility of a people's revolution in Egypt has been cited by many as a catastrophic U.S. intelligence failure. The latest to jump on the bandwagon is Niall Ferguson, professor of history and business administration at Harvard, senior research fellow at Jesus College at Oxford University and the Hoover Institution. In his debut as a columnist for Newsweek he smacked down Obama's handling of the Egyptian crisis and got off this salvo:
I can think of no more damning indictment of the [Obama] administration's strategic thinking than this: It never once considered a scenario in which Mubarak faced a popular revolt.
I don't like defending the Obama administration but there's actually a very good reason Obama's advisors and U.S. intelligence agencies never considered such a scenario: they didn't believe pigs could fly.

Only in a world where pigs fly can there be a popular revolt in Egypt -- a point that was underscored in a classified State Department cable leaked by Wikileaks late last year. The gist of the cable is that President Obama had gotten it into his head to organize a stealth putsch against Hosni Mubarak by using the best organized of Egypt's pro-democracy groups, the April 6 Youth Movement, which had been formed in 2008 and had an estimated 70,000 members during that year.

The cable disabused Obama of his fantasy by describing what had happened to the movement's leaders. They'd been jailed in 2009, which meant the rest of the group had been driven so far underground they'd had to content themselves with sniping at Mubarak's regime from the pages of Facebook and Twitter.

When an organization advertises its activities on social media websites it will be stuffed full of spies for the government. So I don't think Egypt's military had to wait on Wikileaks to learn that the Obama administration had confused itself with covert operatives.

But what's important about the cable, in the context of the coup, is that the Sixers had been driven underground. So how is it, then, that some leaders of this movement had no problem showing their faces to a CNN cameraman on or before January 29th when CNN aired the footage?

And how is it they weren't concerned about telling CNN reporter Nic Robertson, who was accompanying the cameraman, that they were coordinating with the military and police to set up and neighborhood patrols around all of Egypt to flummox the gangs of looters who'd piggybacked on the protests?

Nic was blindfolded or otherwise prevented from knowing the location of the meeting he attended. But that was theater in light of the cell leader's contention that they were working with the military and police, and given the cell's casualness about appearing bare-faced to a CNN camera in a country that has one of the best security agencies in the world.

Yet as word had spread about the Wikileaks cable (see the link I provided, which is to the (U.K.) Telegraph's report on the cable) and its suggestion that Obama had wanted to depose Hosni, the military and the Sixers must have found themselves in a pickle because the protests weren't backed by the U.S. government, and any suggestion they were would have put the protests in the worst light.

By every measure, including President Barack Obama's repeated foot-in-mouth response to the protests, the Obama administration, including State, was taken off guard by the protests and the large number in attendance. So the way I read it, I think it's possible the Sixer leaders and their actual backers felt they had no choice but to reveal a little about their close cooperation with each other and thus, CNN got a scoop.

As to the best-organized civilian group in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood, everyone in the movement who was wacky enough to attempt a major public protest against the Mubarak regime was either executed, in jail, or driven out of Egypt by the secret police.

I add that anyone who thinks it was Hosni Mubarak or even the Egyptian military who called for the creation of the country's dreaded secret police is ignorant of history. It was the Egyptian people who rose up and demanded a powerful secret police organization. This was after a large group of European tourists was slaughtered -- and I mean slaughtered in the way sheep are butchered -- at a major tourist site in Egypt. The terrorist attack was so gruesome that it threatened to destroy Egypt's tourism industry, which was propping up the country's economy.

All that is another way of saying that only if you believe in flying pigs do you believe that the April 6 Youth Movement organized the protests on January 25 without the express permission and backing of Egypt's military.

Ditto for all the other youth groups that the Sixers corralled to help with the protests.

Ditto for the Muslim Brotherhood, which refrained from joining the protests until they were assured they wouldn't be jailed or worse for their participation. The only authority they would have trusted to provide the assurance would have been a high level in the military.

That means there was no people's revolution; there was a military-orchestrated coup disguised as a people's revolution.

Hamza Hendawi, chief of the Associated Press bureau in Cairo, who emerged during the protests as one of the most authoritative sources for news on Egypt's crisis, has not -- to this date -- jumped in with both feet as I have, above. He has to wait on his sources whereas I'm free to connect dots taken from very diverse data sets. But on February 9, in an AP report titled Analysis: Egypt military in power grab amid unrest, which The Washington Post snapped up, Hendawi stuck a toe in the water:
[...] The military, already the country's most powerful institution, has taken advantage of the unrest to solidify its authority, using a combination of force and public relations to deliver what amounts to a soft coup in a country where it is widely viewed as the ultimate guarantor of national interests. [...]
Two days later, in another of his reports for AP that WaPo published, he stuck a foot in the water:
Analysis: Military coup was behind Mubarak's exit: [...] Egypt's 18-day uprising produced a military coup that crept into being over many days - its seeds planted early in the crisis by Mubarak himself.

The telltale signs of a coup in the making began to surface soon after Mubarak ordered the army out on the streets to restore order after days of deadly clashes between protesters and security forces in Cairo and much of the rest of the Arab nation.

"This is in fact the military taking over power," said political analyst Diaa Rashwan after Mubarak stepped down and left the reins of power to the armed forces. "It is direct involvement by the military in authority and to make Mubarak look like he has given up power."
The military was clearly torn between its loyalty to the regime and the millions of protesters. Mubarak is one of their own, a former air force commander and a hero of the 1973 Arab-Israeli war.

But as the president continued to defy the growing crowds and cling to power, the Egyptian army moved more definitively toward seizing control for the first time in some 60 years. [...]
Ah, but while Hosni was one of their own, Gamal was not, and while the old guard in the military would have been torn between supporting Hosni's regime and the millions of protestors, it would have faced no such dilemma about ousting Gamal and the Gamalists from power. It's on that strong peg that my analysis hangs.

Now why did the highest echelon of Egypt's military want to stage out a coup? I interject that I suspect the coup was modeled not on the Tunisia protests but on the stealth coup that Thaksin Shinawatra and his backers in Thailand's military and Cambodia's regime attempted last year in Thailand, in which he placed the country's rural poor (the 'Red Shirts') in the role of Useful Idiot.

The coup failed in part because the expert on guerrilla and insurgency warfare tasked with making the coup look like peaceful protestors defending themselves with homemade weapons against the military's harassment had a huge ego. His ego was so huge he couldn't resist coming out of hiding to boast about his brilliance to a gaggle of Western reporters, where he was picked off by a police or military sniper.

The answer is that the coup was directed not at Hosni Mubarak but at his youngest of two sons, Gamal, and at Gamalists -- the Egyptians who backed Gamal's economic reforms and plans to transit Egypt to a genuine democracy.

Under Gamal's leadership and with his father's backing, and within the short space of a decade, the Gamalists became the first force in modern Egypt that threatened to act as a counterweight to the Egyptian military's power and even pose a serious challenge to its control of the country's affairs.

That much power vested in civilians was unheard of in Egypt, and viewed with rising concern within the military's old guard. It was also a unique situation, and somewhat of an artificial one in that no civilian in Egypt, other than a son of the country's president, could have be able to gather a civilian force strong enough to pose a challenge to the military. That's not understood by observers who charge that Hosni kept blocking other politicians with any kind of following from running against him. He blocked them because he couldn't protect them as well as he could protect his son.

More to the point he blocked them because the military is the only universally liked force in the country; no civilian candidate for president who threatened to rock the military's boat had a ghost of a chance to be elected -- even in fair election. For that reason it's misleading to speak of the military's rule as a dictatorship even though technically that's what it is. The dictators are loved by the people.

(The same situation exists in Pakistan, although the military there has seen its image slightly tarnished during the past two years.) And when a civilian politician in Egypt did attract a large number of fans. he could mysteriously find himself with more troubles than he could shake a stick at. Let me show you how jealously Egypt's military guards its popularity. From Michele Dunn's 2008 analysis of the political currents in Egypt:
[...] The parliamentary elections were one of several political developments in 2000 that began to wake Egyptians from the political slumber into which they had fallen during the previous decade of regressive laws and repression (which were part and parcel of a campaign against domestic Islamic terrorism).

As the elderly Mubarak started his third decade in office, Egyptians began to speculate privately about when he would leave the scene and who would replace him. Mubarak’s second son, Gamal, a banker by training, had returned to Egypt after several years in London and was mobilizing support from the country’s business elite to address the problems of the young.

Then Saad Eddin Ibrahim, a sociologist and civil society activist, dared to mention publicly the possibility that Gamal would succeed his father, mocking the gumlukia (a hybrid of the Arabic words for “republic” and “monarchy”) that Egypt seemed destined to become.

For his indiscretion, Ibrahim and the entire staff of his research center found themselves in prison in late June 2000, accused of “harming the reputation of the country by spreading false information”, embezzling funds and other charges. (They were eventually cleared of all charges in 2003 after several trials and many months in prison.)

The example set by Ibrahim’s arrest was sobering, but the cat was nonetheless out of the bag. Gamal Mubarak began to build his career more openly. [...]
More openly, yes, but with both father and son from then on taking exquisite pains not to project that Gamal would be Egypt's next president.

The only other conceivable potential challenger to the military from the ranks of civilians, which would be a Muslim cleric, wouldn't have lived long enough or been able to stay in the country or out of jail long enough to raise a following that could challenge let alone overthrow the military's rule.

So while it's unpleasant to contemplate, considering the way things were in the country around the turn of the century the only way Egypt could start to move from a military rule to a democractic one was through undemocratic tactics that kept Gamal's power intact. If you ask whether this means Hosni was playing a dangerous game -- only Russian Roulette was more dangerous. One false step and both father and son, and Hosni's other son as well, would be taken down.

However comma it's not possible to move forward while standing still, so little by little the Gamalists had been working small alterations that together amounted to big ones. One example is that in 2003 Hosni declared the date of the Coptic Christmas a national holiday in Egypt. It was the only national holiday to recognize Christianity but you can imagine how that went over in several Muslim quarters. And yet the holiday was a milestone on the road to the liberal democracy that the Gamalists envisioned for Egypt.

I'll pass lightly over the next part of the story, which is heavy on economics and development issues. But in brief the Gamalists believed they could carry off the surest progress under the watchful eyes of the military's old guard by making their most radical alterations in the area of economic policy, and by leaving those social issues so dear to the hearts of Americans to a time when the society was more 'developed.'

So they were working pretty much from the same development theory that China's leaders adopted, and which is also boilerplate Worldbankia theory; i.e., if enough citizens have a job and food, medical care and potable water, and are literate enough, all this will somehow translate to a love for democratic institutions.

Worldbankia theory is full of holes, but given that all second- and third-world countries are most accurately termed provinces in the Worldbankia civilization, that's the way of doing things in Worldbankia, and so the Gamalists were being traditionalists by sticking to the way. They were also being good Worlbankites by implementing free-market neoliberal economic/ development theories, which were still in fashion at the Bank and IMF; these would be the same theories that are the bane of anti-globalists, labor unions, and Leftist politicians.

The trouble started when despite the twin blows of the steep global economic and food crisis in 2008, the Gamalists were able to continue attracting foreign investors and pull enough rabbits out of the hat to keep their economic reforms on track. In his February 13 overview of Egypt's economic outlook before and after the protests, the (U.K.) Telegraph's Diplomatic Editor, Praveen Swami, stated flatly that Gamal:
[...] had incensed the military by pushing forward with an unpopular sell-off of public sector industries, viewed as a threat by the military.
Yet there had been a great deal of unpopular selling off; no sooner had Hosni appointed Ahmed Nazif, a Gamal protege, to the post of prime minister in 2004 than Nazif closed down 17 public sectors -- in the first year alone of his term.

The sell-offs were seen as a threat by the Leftists and the workers in those sectors who lost their jobs in government but I don't think that put the military over the top because what they lost from the public sector they could make up for with deals they cut with foreign investors who were setting up business in the country.

No; it was the attitude that did it. As with that Thai genius the Gamalists fell prey to the Puffy Head syndrome. They overestimated their intellectual brilliance and power. So they began displaying open contempt for the old guard in Egypt's military and for Omar Suleiman, who's a powerful defender of the old guard.

The Gamalists had been throwing their weight around so much after they gained control of the 'ruling' National Democratic Party (NDP) that by last summer Hosni Mubarak could no longer protect them. Contrary to the myth that was promoted during the Egyptian protests, Hosni is not a dictator. He's a company man who kept his position as a figurehead for so many years because he had enough common sense to always keep his head lower than the Egyptian military's top ranks and work tirelessly for the military's interests.

The rest of the story is easier to follow if you know that since the middle of the last decade Gamal was known as Egypt's "parallel president." That wasn't strictly true; Gamal only controlled aspects of the government -- the ones connected with the economy. With the rest, Gamal had followed his father's lead; during the years he worked his way to prominence in the NDP he was careful not to confront the old guard. This translated in part to making sure his economic reforms left the military's business interests and land holdings intact.

Gamal contented himself with slowly building a support base in the military. The support, combined with his father's backing, should have been enough to protect him from being toppled from power. But after the November elections last year, which saw the Gamalists go so over the top with vote rigging that it rattled all of Egypt, the small division that been growing in the Gamalist ranks suddenly widened.

As near as I can make out the division seems to have pitted the Gamalist tycoons, who wanted to press full steam ahead with economic reforms, against the Gamalist social reformers, who argued that the economic reforms were running into massive opposition because they weren't matched by political- and civil-rights reforms.

I don't know where Gamal stood in this argument and it could be that he'd found himself boxed in by the two sides. If he'd had more support outside the NDP he might have gotten the public to see his reasoning about the necessity to stay the course with his economic reforms, even though they caused pain to Egyptians who depended on the public sector for employment.

On the other hand Egypt's poor are not given to plowing through 400-page policy papers about land reclamation for industry in Greater Cairo and the complexities of battling human capital flight or 'brain drain' as it's called in the vernacular.

Yet when Peter Mandelson of Britain's House of Lords wrote the Financial Times on February 2 to defend Gamal's economic reforms he knew what he was talking about; that's because of the years he'd served as Britain's representative on the EU Trade Commission. Although his letter didn't mention the issue of Egypt's brain drain it's the country's number one problem and surely Mandelson knows Gamal is well aware of that.

The only way to slow the rate of brain drain is by hewing to economic reforms that Gamal and his circle of economists and financiers had designed. But the poor can't subsist on policy papers. Only if Gamal was willing to slow the pace of economic reform and introduce programs dear to the hearts of Egypt's Leftists could he hope to receive support from large numbers of Egyptians.

By August there were clear indications he'd come to acknowledge all that and was attempting to launch a huge welfare program to benefit Egypt's jobless college graduates and the country's poorest. But given the Gamalist faction's growing open conflict with the old guard, word of his attempt to woo the general public would have only further alarmed the anti-Gamalists in the military.

In any event, by January 19 the Cairo bureau of the Associated Press was picking up the sound of war drums coming from the military's camp. In a report published on that date AP noted that the military's withdrawal of their support for Gamal was now "more fact than speculation." (No byline on the report but it's virtually certain Hendawi wrote it or at least vetted it.) That suggests whatever support Gamal had picked up over the years within the military had collapsed.

A week later the mass protests were launched in Tahrir Square.

Although Gamal and his supporters in the NDP didn't turn in their resignations until February 5, it was all over on the night of January 28, when under cover of peaceful protests an armed assault was launched on the NDP headquarters in Tahrir Square; the offices were looted (read 'computers and file cabinets removed') then set on fire.

So, that's the story of the Egyptian People's Revolution; the bare bones of the story. Now we arrive at the door marked THE REALLY BAD NEWS

Samia Nakhoul, the Reuters Middle East News Editor, skirted huge chunks of reality in her tribute to the peacefulness of Egypt's revolution:
[Hosni] Mubarak pushed economic liberalization policies that drew crony capitalists into the bosom of the administration but left tens of millions of Egyptians below the poverty line. As the middle class was emaciated, the rich opted for gated communities in the desert around Cairo. The poor got poorer in the slum belts.
First of all, the only middle class to speak of that Egypt had prior to the Gamalists' reforms was a creation of the country's vast bureaucracies. But the bureaucracies were unable to stanch the unprecedented brain drain that hit Egypt. So it was not Hosni Mubarak's policies that decimated the middle class.

Secondly, it wasn't until Egypt's government could generate something approaching a healthy private sector, which could pay salaries high enough to dissuade educated Egyptians from leaving the country, and promote gated communities and other perks to rival ones that the Gulf oil kingdoms dangle in front of skilled labor in 'developing' countries, that Egypt had a chance to survive the brain drain onslaught.

As to whether the introduction of political and press freedoms in a post-Mubarak era might somehow stanch the brain drain -- this ignores the grim realities fueling Egypt's human capital flight. Even if Egypt transformed into a liberal democracy tomorrow this would have no significant impact on the rate of human capital flight simply because of geography.

Egypt's brain drain is not like the ones occurring in the 1970s because during that earlier era the Arab Gulf nations were just oil wealth fueling a construction boom. But by the end the 1990s the Gulf nations were in active competition with the Western world for foreign direct investment (FDI) and were diversifying like mad into businesses that weren't dependent on oil.

Cash rich, the governments of the Gulf nations sucked human capital out of the surrounding region to bring it to work in burgeoning financial and high-tech industries, education, and research and development facilities.

Egyptian businesses, many connected with the country's huge public sector, couldn't hope to match the salaries and promotion opportunities offered by the oil kingdoms. And yet, without large reserves of prized natural resources to exploit Egypt's brain drain, if unchecked, meant the society was facing doom.

There has been much talk about Egypt's 'youth bulge.' But a preponderance of young citizens can be ridden out, political reforms can be instituted and poverty can be alleviated. Yet all that depends on having enough intelligent, creative, and educated people to administer a democracy and build up enough industry to pay decent salaries to large numbers of citizens.

Brain drain can't be ridden out. And yet brain drain, if unchecked, is the absolute worst fate that befall a nation absent the drying of its water supplies. It sets up a vicious cycle spiraling ever more rapidly downward, of the kind seen in Pakistan.

Abigail Paris's 2008 report on brain drain's global impact cited IMF data that Iran had the highest incidence of the phenomenon among the countries it measured but Paris added that in Egypt, "human capital may even be one of the biggest exports."

Yes -- but the true horror of the situation can only be appreciated by noting the pattern of remittances to Egypt, which account for an estimated one quarter of household income for families that receive the money from relatives working outside Egypt. From Bikya Masr staff report:
(CAIRO - January 20, 2011) Remittances coming from Egyptians abroad increased to more than US $9.75 billion during fiscal year 2009-2010, an increase of 39 percent over the year before, Egypt`s official news agency, MENA, quoted a statement by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Remittances come third after oil and tourism as a source of national income, Assistant Foreign Minister Mohamed Abdel Hakam said during a conference discussing the role of the transfers in domestic development.

Abdel Hakam added that according to the statistics of the Ministry of Labor and Immigration, the number of Egyptians working abroad ranges between six to seven million, 70 percent of whom live in the Gulf States. The other 30 percent are divided among the U.S., Europe, Canada, and Australia.

Hakam explained that the largest sum of transfers came from Egyptians living in the U.S., who sent $22 billion, followed by $1.5 billion from Kuwait, and $1 billion from Saudi Arabia.
In other words, although the majority of Egyptians who work abroad do so in the Gulf oil kingdoms, the remittance sums they return to their families in Egypt are paltry in comparison to the amounts sent by Egyptians working outside the Gulf region. I don't know whether the ministry also breaks down the numbers according to skilled vs unskilled labor but no matter which the statistics are juggled human capital flight from Egypt to the Gulf region adds up to a triple whammy.

Yet the country was just on the cusp of a huge turnaround when the Gamalists were driven from power! The turnaround was due to a situation that no one could have predicted even three years ago: because of the economic downturn in the United States and Western Europe, investors from the oil kingdoms were looking to diversify their investments out of those regions. And guess where many of them wanted to plunk their money and develop 'offshore' businesses, given the foreign investment- and business-friendly climate the Gamalists had created!

Talk about serendipity! If the cards fall right Egypt will be looking at more jobs than their educated class can fill, which will return Egyptian expats to the country in drovem, thus solving the brain-drain problem!

There is a catch, however: more land needs to be opened up in regions in Egypt that can support industry. The need does not sit well with Egypt's military, which controls large tracts of prime real estate, and which is probably Egypt's largest single employer if only anyone outside the highest level of the military knew the exact size of the military, but which anyhow has at least one family connection in virtually every household in Egypt.

Photo: Lefteris Pitarakis for Associated Press


(Given the sensitivity of this post's topic I want to stress that just because I pull quotes from a report doesn't mean I agree with its conclusions or the author's interpretation of data.)

"Almost everything related to the Egyptian military is a black box. The number of people serving, their salaries, the military's land holdings, its budget -- none of that information is in the public record. Joshua Stacher, a political science professor at Kent State University who studies the Egyptian military, estimates that the military controls somewhere from 33 percent to 45 percent of the Egyptian economy, but there's no way to know for sure."

-- From Egypt's Command Economy, MENA-region veteran reporter and Cairo resident Sarah A. Topol's December 2010 investigative report on Egyptian military's business enterprises, which shines more light inside the black box than any other report I'm aware of written for the public to date

"All males between ages 18 and 30 must serve one to three years [in Egypt's military], as the CIA World Factbook notes, meaning almost every family in Egypt has some personal connection to the military."

-- From January 30, 2011 CNN report, Experts: Egypt's fate rests in hands of popular, powerful military

"The Nazif government, first appointed in 2004, has implemented a rigorous economic liberal reform program to transition Egypt to a market economy and stimulate direct foreign investment. Toward this end the government privatized a record number of 17 public sector enterprises in its first year alone. Despite Nazif's promise to alleviate unemployment caused by these sweeping reforms, his policies have prompted massive labor strikes throughout the last few years. Nazif has incorporated a growing number of business elites into his cabinet since becoming Prime Minister in 2004, boosting the younger generation of NDP [National Democratic Party] to positions of power."

-- From Carnegie Endowment's June 2010 profile of Egypt's then-Prime Minister, Ahmed Nazif

"Egypt's Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif opens Sunday the Egyptian-Chinese Investment forum, which aims to enhancing economic cooperation between both countries. The Chinese Ambassador in Cairo said Friday that the Chinese trade Minister will attend the event along with up to 100 businessmen and investors. He said Minister of Foreign Trade and Industry Rasheed M. Rasheed and Supply Minister Hassan Khedr will also attend the conference."

-- December 2004

More from Praveen Swami's report:
[...] it remains unclear how fast Egypt will be able to recover from the economic disruption, and its long-term prospects are even less secure.

Investment bank Credit Agricole has estimated that the each day of unrest cost Egypt $310 million. Panicked foreign investors are also estimated to have withdrawn up to £700 million a day during the crisis. Tourism, which makes up 11% of GDP and accounts for 10% of jobs, has been particularly hard hit.

Late last year, a Reuters survey of analysts had predicted that Egypt's GDP would grow at around 5.4%, which would have made it the most dynamic economy in the Arab world after Qatar. Now, experts are saying, GDP growth will likely hover around 2 %.

Egypt had one of the best-performing economies in the Middle East before last month's crisis erupted. Its GDP grew at a robust average of over 7% from 2006 to 2008. Despite the global economic crisis, it registered 4.7% growth in 2009 and 5.3% in 2010 – some of the highest rates of growth in the world.

Last year, the World Bank said Egypt's economic performance had "improved outcomes and living standards of the vast majority of the population."

Most economists believe Egypt's military will continue with past economic policies. Tim Ash, an emerging markets expert at RBS, noted that "the establishment are still around." "Their real agenda is no change until September," he said.

But some experts are warning that Egypt's interim military government could now stall or reverse moves to sell off inefficient public sector enterprises and cut subsidies, on the grounds that these could fuel discontent.

Rashid Khalidi, a scholar at Columbia University, said he expected a "return to some aspect of state-led development so the part of the economy that is controlled by the military may well be reinforced for some time."

Egypt's military is the largest single institutional actor in the economy, running factories which produce everything from bread to bottled water, construction and consumer electronics. [...]
Regarding Tim Ash's observation, all the leading proponents of free-market reforms were purged from the cabinet by Hosni Mubarak as his first move in response to the protestors' demands, and the entire leadership of the National Democratic Party had to resign.

The party leadership and sacked cabinet members such Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif and Finance Minister Youssef Boutros Ghali (who was replaced with a labor activist), were the strongest defenders of the economic reforms including extensive efforts to bring foreign investment to Egypt. So if by "establishment" Ash means neoliberals, they may still be around but as it stands now they've been removed from power.

UPDATE February 17 1:00 PM Eastern Time

I've just read STRATFOR chief George Friedman's February 14 analysis of the Egyptian protests (Egypt: The Distance Between Enthusiasm and Reality).

His view comports in some ways with mine but also with Hamza Hendawi's analysis (see below). Friedman thinks the Egyptian military staged a coup, as I do, and that the real target was Gamal Mubarak; again, I agree.

But in line with Hendawi's reports Friedman thinks the coup was an ad hoc affair; i.e., he concludes the military simply took advantage of the large protests to pull off a soft coup. Here I disagree and I'll use Friedman's own observations to shore my argument. I detail the argument in the writing below. But in brief, my study of the data led me to conclude that the 'Police Day' protests launched in Tahrir Square on January 25 were orchestrated by the Egyptian military high command using pro-democracy 'youth' groups to provide cover for a coup that aimed at ejecting Gamal from his position as Egypt's 'parallel president' and routing the Gamalists from power in the National Democratic Party (NDP).

Friedman states that the Egyptian military's 'old guard' was adamantly against Gamal becoming Egypt's next president and that the old guard believed Hosni was going to install Gamal as president in the election this fall.

Okay; so by that reasoning is Friedman saying that the old guard was willing to twiddle its thumbs and wait for the inevitable to happen? Even though it was widely known that the Gamalists wanted to break the military's stranglehold on Egypt's economy?

From everything in the public record about the old guard, I don't think those generals are the thumb-twiddling types -- especially not when their business interests are under serious threat.

So while I defer to Friedman on many issues because his intelligence network at STRATFOR can do excellent work, in this instance I respectfully suggest that he go back to the drawing board and rethink.

There is evidence to suggest that neither Hosni nor Gamal intended that he become president -- at least not in 2011 -- and that Hosni planned to stay on as president. But in August of last year at least one faction in the NDP made an obvious attempt to push Gamal for president in 2011. I think that was the final straw for the old guard.

In any case, from the old guard's viewpoint it was moot as to whether Gamal actually intended to run for president. By the summer of last year they had clear evidence that the Gamalists were working against them, and that the Gamalists had gotten so confident of their power they were no longer bothering to put on a show of deferring to the old guard.

That would have been enough to galvanize the old guard to use every means available to bring down Gamal Mubarak and his closest associates before the 2011 election got underway. I believe they accomplished their mission within three days of the protests, on the night of January 28.

As for the runaway protests that followed, the old guard would have seen those, and Hosni's downfall, as collateral damage that they were capable of containing.

UPDATE February 17 - 2:33 PM Eastern time

It was brought to my attention that this post was discussed at the (U.K.) Guardian Talk Page under one of the message board topics.

One participant in the discussion clearly implied I'd stated that Gamal had been forced to flee to London. I never made any such statement in the post; I didn't even came to close to implying that Gamal had fled. And just to keep the record straight, Christiane Amanpour ran into Gamal while she was interviewing his father at the palace during the protests. Gamal has never left his father's side.

An actual criticism from the Talk page is that I'd stated the April 6 Youth Movement had been driven underground. The critic wrote that the movement hadn't been driven underground. That is worth addressing in some detail.

If one thinks of 'underground' as say, the Hungarian Resistance during the Soviet occupation, I suppose one could say the movement hadn't been driven underground by the wave of arrests of Sixer leaders in early 2010.

But if participants at the Guardian talk page want some idea of how hard it was for the Sixers to function openly even before the arrests, they should check out a credible account of what the Sixers encountered when they tried to help organize the strike that the group was formed to support. The account was provided by Stanford historian Joel Beinin (H/T law professor Stephen F. Diamond):
“There’s a lot of confusion about that event. I was actually there on the spot. The strike didn’t happen. What happened was the textile workers of Mahalla al-Kubra -- there are about 22,000 of them; it’s the largest single enterprise in Egypt -- were running a campaign to raise the national monthly minimum wage to 1,200 Egyptian pounds a month. That campaign is still in place.

And they called for a general strike of workers on April 6, 2008, to support that demand. The security forces occupied their factory for three days before April 6th. Using a combination of coercion and cooptation, they made sure that the strike didn’t happen. Instead, what happened was a more or less spontaneous demonstration of mainly women and children protesting in the main square of Mahalla al-Kubra about the high price of food and especially subsidized bread, which is the key consumption item for a great majority of Egyptians. The protest was greeted with a hail of rocks by uniformed security people, just as we have seen in the days after January 25th in Tahrir Square. But there was no actual strike in Mahalla al-Kubra. ...
Again, that was what the Sixers faced before the arrests. So I think it's hair-splitting to argue that they weren't driven underground; they were rendered ineffective in 2009, which is as much saying they were driven underground.

Yet somehow, as I pointed out in the post below, the Sixers were able to openly organize the Police Day protests -- and were working with the military and police during the protests. Again, see the post below.

Now, on the chance that my critics at the Guardian Talk page nitpicked because they were insulted by my attempt at trench humor and saw it as a cheap shot, I'll revise the sentence in which I wrote that the Obama administration was dissuaded from its attempt to play MI6. I'll substitute 'covert operatives' for MI6.

That exhausts my efforts for today at cross-Pond diplomacy.



Although I've given no indication of this on my blog, since January 28 I've focused considerable attention on the Egyptian protests. My interest heightened even more when I noted what I considered to be instructive parallels between Egypt's situation and Pakistan's.

I wrote an initial analysis of the Egyptian situation on January 31 but shelved it while I dug deeper into the background to the protests. By yesterday I'd collected enough pieces of the puzzle to develop an analysis that I thought would hold up, no matter how much additional data came to light. However, I want to squeeze in enough time today to review the writing once more before I post it to this blog, which I estimate will be between 2 and 4 PM Eastern time.

Regards to all,

Saturday, February 12

Just when we'd learned to spell to 'Bárdarbunga'

Further to my February 9 post, Just when we'd learned to spell 'Eyjafjallajokull', and which opened with a quote from the (U.K.) Daily Mail that "Scientists in Iceland are warning that another volcano on the island looks set to erupt, threatening to spew-out a blanket of dust that would dwarf last year's eruption" -- the scientist quoted in the report was a little put out by what he said was a botched translation of his words. From IceNews February 10:
Iceland volcano professor hits back at eruption scare stories

The Icelandic geophysicist, Professor Pall Einarsson, whose words have caused something of an international volcano scare, says he is dumbfounded by how much his message has changed in translation. Pall Einarsson was interviewed by Icelandic broadcaster RUV in Icelandic about a series of earthquakes in the highlands.The interview was then translated and used by Britain’s Daily Telegraph, among others. Since then the message has morphed out of all recognition, Einarsson says.

“It is really strange how this news came into existence. I wasn’t even warning of a likely eruption at Bardarbunga [in the interview],” he told IceNews. “The things I emphasised in my interview with RUV’s Bjorn Malmqvist were that the earthquakes at Bardarbunga and Kistufell last week are not unusual, there are often movements there, and sometimes much bigger than this.

“In the long-term, we can see an increase in earthquake intensity at Bardarbunga. But it is still a lot less than between 1974 and 1996.

“And finally that Bardarbunga is an active volcano and could of course prove dangerous, which is why there is always reason to monitor it closely; which is why we do,” Einarsson explains.
Okay but does that mean this part of the interview the Mail reported on was also lost in translation?
Mr Einarsson told the country's national TV station 'RC:v' that a low number of seismometer measuring devices in the area is making it more difficult to determine the scale and likely outcome of the current shifts.

But he said there was 'every reason to worry' as the sustained earthquake tremors to the north-east of the remote volcano range are the strongest recorded in recent times and there was 'no doubt' the lava was rising.

The geologist complained that the lack of coverage from measuring devices means he cannot accurately detect the depth and exact location of the increased number of localised earth movements. ...
Or does that mean Iceland's government is ticked off that he complained to a TV station about not having enough equipment to monitor what's potentially a very dangerous volcano?

Anyoo, let's make sure this man has all the seismometers he needs plus spares. I think that's the takeaway point with the secondary one being that we should check in with IceNews every week or so.

Wednesday, February 9

Just when we'd learned to spell 'Eyjafjallajokull'

See my followup post, Just when we'd learned to spell to 'Bárdarbunga', which discusses the complaint of the scientist (mentioned in this post) that his comments weren't translated properly.
February 9, (U.K.) Daily Mail
Scientists in Iceland are warning that another volcano on the island looks set to erupt, threatening to spew-out a blanket of dust that would dwarf last year's eruption.

Geologists detected the high risk of a new eruption after noticing an increased swarm of earthquakes around the island's second largest volcano Bárdarbunga.

Pall Einarsson, a professor of geophysics at the University of Iceland, says the area around Bárdarbunga is showing signs of increased activity, which provides 'good reason to worry'.
The last recorded eruption of Bárdarbunga was in 1910, although vulcanologists believe its last major eruption occurred in 1477 when it produced a huge plume of ash and pumice and the largest known lava flow during the past 10,000 years on Earth. It is the second largest volcano on Iceland and is directly above the mantle of molten rock.
As to the chances of the thing blowing, well, they don't have enough equipment in that area to get a clear picture:
Mr Einarsson told the country's national TV station 'RC:v' that a low number of seismometer measuring devices in the area is making it more difficult to determine the scale and likely outcome of the current shifts.

But he said there was 'every reason to worry' as the sustained earthquake tremors to the north-east of the remote volcano range are the strongest recorded in recent times and there was 'no doubt' the lava was rising.

The geologist complained that the lack of coverage from measuring devices means he cannot accurately detect the depth and exact location of the increased number of localised earth movements.

'This is the most active areas of the country if we look at the whole country together,' he told Icelandic TV News.

'There is no doubt that lava there is slowly growing, and the seismicity of the last few days is a sign of it.
Eyjafjallajokul eruption last May

Friday, February 4

And now a word from Malaysia

Placards outside U.S. embassy in Kuala Lumpur today; Reuters photo

Thursday, February 3

Um, maybe Pew should ask Egyptians what they mean by democracy

From Canada's Globe and Mail:
Egyptians reject radical Islamists, but want Islam to play a large role in politics and think democracy is the best political system, according to poll data collected in Muslim countries last year. The sample group of 1,000 was surveyed in face-to-face interviews in April and May of last year for the U.S.-based Pew Research Center. These results give an idea of Egyptian public opinion before the current protests there broke out.
The question, from the below replies to the poll, is what an Egyptian democracy would look like:

59%: Say democracy is preferable to any other form of government

95%: Say it’s good that Islam plays a large role in politics

85%: Say Islam’s influence on politics is good

48%: Say Islam currently plays a large role in Egyptian politics

54%: Believe men and women should be segregated in the workplace

82%: Believe adulterers should be stoned

84%: Believe apostates from Islam should face the death penalty

77%: Believe thieves should be flogged or have their hands cut off

See the report for more replies.

Mexicans in northern Chihuahua state flee cold, snow

Hace frío aquí!

Mexicans Flee Snow, Cold to Shelters
Coldest weather in 60 years brrr-ies Chihuahua
By Mary Papenfuss, Newser Staff
Posted Feb 3, 2011 1:59 AM CST

(Newser) – The weather continued to astound yesterday as frigid temperatures and snow forced scores of Mexicans in Chihuahua to community shelters. The area was hit by blackouts, and local airports, businesses and schools were shut in the coldest weather in 60 years. It's part of the same storm system that has slammed nearly half the US population in 30 states with snow, sleet or cold, notes CNN. The Arctic front dumped nearly 2 feet of snow in some regions, with wind-chill temperatures plunging well below zero, even in Texas.
Say, I thought last year was supposed to be The Year of the Storm. We were lucky here in Washington -- a little freezing rain and that was it. Temperature got over 50 degrees yesterday by the afternoon. But just the thought of Chihuahua under snow makes me shiver.

Tuesday, February 1

How Beer Saved the World, Part 2: Now cometh the essayist.

Yesterday I sent Baron Bodissey at Gates of Vienna my post on the Discovery Network's hour-long documentary, "How Beer Saved the World." He replied that sometime back Fjordman had written about beer.

I thought, 'Now there's a combination: Fjordman and beer.'

I imagined an essay that tied a decline in beer drinking in Europe to a scheme involving Multiculturalists, the EU Parliament and immigrant Muslim clerics to keep white Europeans in a perpetually defeatist mood. So like a fool I asked Baron to send me what Fjordman had written about beer. Here was the reply:
History of Beer — Part 1

History of Beer — Part 2

History of Beer — Part 3

History of Beer — Part 4

History of Beer — Part 5

History of Beer — Part 6
It was then I remembered that in addition to his fame as a social critic Fjordman is also known for his very long essays.

But on dipping into the first installment, published in August 2009, I was hooked. Fjordman deployed his formidable skills as a writer and researcher and drew from an array of authoritative sources to create a discourse on beer's role in world history that is fully as engaging as the Discovery Network's offering.

Yet while the cinematic medium did a superlative job of quickly conveying that beer making, beer drinking, and the quests to improve and preserve beer were crucial to the survival and advance of civilization, the essayist's art allowed for forays into linguistics, anthropology, trade, inventions and advances in science that the documentary could only touch upon.

So while I still have no idea whether beer drinking is on the decline in Europe Fjordman's essay is an inspiring meditation on human ingenuity and ancient cultures as diverse as the Chinese, Incan and Bantu -- diverse excepting their love of the fermented beverage we call beer.

Fjordman recounts that in ancient times the Andeans were so fond of the stuff "that being forced to drink water was a form of punishment.” The sentiment was echoed by a tenth-century English abbot who averred that his choice in drink was "beer if I have it and otherwise water."

Bravo, Fjordman! Three cheers for the essayists! Bottoms up!