November 19, 2010
November 19, 2010
A Tale of Two Parties: Egypt’s entrenched regime will stop at nothing to stifle a liberal opposition movement
November 19, 2010
In June 2005, at the height of the Bush administration’s “Freedom Agenda,” U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice put her foot down. In a ringing speech at the American University in Cairo, Rice called on Egypt’s regime, as well as its counterparts in Saudi Arabia and Syria, to “make a strategic choice” and embrace democracy.
“For 60 years, my country, the United States, pursued stability at the expense of democracy in this region, here in the Middle East, and we achieved neither,” Rice said.
Just five months earlier, Egypt had arrested Ayman Nour, the country’s most promising liberal politician, for allegedly forging signatures on his party’s application papers. Nour’s real crime, it seems, was presenting a credible alternative to Gamal Mubarak, the president’s dashing young son, who is widely assumed to be in line for the throne when his 82-year-old father finally retires or kicks the bucket.
Nour was eventually convicted and sentenced to five years in prison, and largely forgotten. The parliamentary elections held later that year — far from being free and fair, as Rice had demanded — were marred by violence and widespread fraud. Now, as Egyptians gird themselves for yet another stolen election later this month, the incredible tale of Nour’s Ghad party serves as a potent reminder of the creative lengths President Hosni Mubarak’s regime will go to sideline its political opponents.
You see, there are now not one, but two Ghad parties. One, the remnants of Nour’s Ghad party, is not a legal entity. It is “boycotting” the elections, which it couldn’t contest anyway. And there’s a second Ghad party — a legal one with close ties to the regime — that will be running 31 candidates in districts nationwide. As a consequence, there is ample confusion among Egyptian voters and Washington analysts alike.
How did this happen? Egypt’s powerful State Security bureau does not generally explain its actions to the public. So the following story was reconstructed from dozens of interviews, over the course of this past summer, with members of both parties, as well as scores of outside analysts and political observers. What emerges is a fascinating case study of authoritarianism in the democratic age…
November 19, 2010
Prolific political reporter Robert Draper has a 7,720-word piece on Sarah Palin in this weekend’s New York Times magazine, which, as per tradition, was published in preview online today.
Much of the chatter already surrounding “The Palin Network”—enough with “The X Network” titles, please—has been about Palin’s surprising openness on the question of whether she’s running in 2012. Witness this news-making section opener:
“I am,” Sarah Palin told me the next day when I asked her if she was already weighing a run for president. “I’m engaged in the internal deliberations candidly, and having that discussion with my family, because my family is the most important consideration here.” Palin went on to say that there weren’t meaningful differences in policy among the field of G.O.P. hopefuls “but that in fact there’s more to the presidency than that” and that her decision would involve evaluating whether she could bring unique qualities to the table.But equally interesting—for us, at least—is, yet again, Palin’s press criticisms, which seem to dominate the article. Draper’s interviews with Palin and those who populate what he terms “Palin World” show a familiar disdain for the press; and his reporting and comments on some of the trouble he had doing it show just how far they are willing to go to evade the press they so disdain.
The criticisms fly fast and loose in the feature as Palin makes pat statements about her unfair treatment and addresses more specific controversies, such as her comments about Politico’s use of anonymous sources in some of its reporting on her. It’s a kind of grab bag of the criticisms you would expect—and have heard before—from Palin. Here’s a sampler:
Palin told me that because of the media’s unfairness toward her, “I fear for our democracy.” She cited a recent Anchorage Daily News article that commented on her casual manner of dress at a rally for Joe Miller, as well as a Politico headline that used the word “drama” for an item about Representative Michele Bachmann’s quest for a Republican leadership position. Palin viewed these references as sexist — but also, she said, as “distractions.”
Purposefully distracting, I asked, or just simplistic? “How can it be simplistic?” she scoffed. “They’re the elite,” she said sarcastically of news organizations. “They know much more than I know and other people like me! So, no. They know just what they’re doing.”And this from one her defenders:
One evening in late October, I sat in the Anchorage apartment of Palin’s onetime communications director Bill McAllister, watching old TV footage of his ex-boss during her campaign for governor in 2006. McAllister, a former reporter with the Anchorage NBC affiliate who worked for Palin in 2008 and 2009, wanted me to see with my own eyes the Sarah Palin he knew — bright and easygoing, exceedingly popular with the local press — before the national media had grossly mischaracterized her in a way he found “frustrating and maddening.”When the ghost of a certain Katie Couric interview rears its head, Palin is not afraid to show that she is well and truly over that line of questioning:
Palin became testy when I asked her about the books I heard she had been reading. “I’ve been reading since I was a little girl,” she snapped. “And my mom is standing 15 feet away from me, and I should put her on the phone with you right now so she can tell you. That’s what happens when you grow up in a house full of teachers — you read; and I always have. Just because — and,” she continued, though in a less blistering tone, “I don’t want to come across sounding caustic or annoyed by this issue: because of one roll-of-the-eye answer to a question I gave, I’m still dealing with this,” she said, referring to her interview with Katie Couric. “There’s nothing different today than there was in the last 43 years of my life since I first started reading. I continue to read all that I can get my hands on — and reading biographies of, yes, Thatcher for instance, and of course Reagan and the John Adams letters, and I’m just thinking of a couple that are on my bedside, I go back to C.S. Lewis for inspiration, there’s such a variety, because books have always been important in my life.” She went on: “I’m reading [the conservative radio host] Mark Levin’s book; I’ll get ahold of Glenn Beck’s new book — and now because I’m opening up,” she finished warily, “I’m afraid I’m going to get reporters saying, Oh, she only reads books by Glenn Beck.”
… Didn’t she think, for example, that the Republican kingmakers who were now supposedly scheming to kneecap her were mainly just concerned about how voters viewed her? “If that were the case, then they need to be courageous enough to put their names behind their criticisms,” she said, referring to anonymous quotations attacking her. “As I replied to Politico, these fellows want to be trusted to tend to our nation’s economic woes? They want to be trusted to take on the likes of Ahmadinejad, but they won’t take on a hockey mom from Wasilla? Until they do that, I dismiss them.”But we’ve heard all that before.
What sticks out in Draper’s report are details on the degree to which Palin and her staffers actively go around the mainstream media, and how they do it, and, the degree to which a lack of traditional organization plays a part. In some ways, Draper’s piece is a look into a two-pronged media strategy: first, paint the media as biased and ineffective, justifying why you avoid it and are likely to continue doing so; then, offer an object lesson in how to do just that.
November 19, 2010
On April 11, 1909, a group of 66 Jews gathered on some barren sand dunes north of the ancient port city of Jaffa for one of history’s most improbable real-estate lotteries. A watchmaker from Lodz, Akiva Weiss, passed around a tin can filled with numbered seashells designating plots on which the participants were expected to build houses. Many were immigrants from Eastern Europe who lived in Jaffa’s crowded, fetid Arab neighborhoods. They were lured to the lottery not only by the promise of garden cottages and sea breezes but also by the dream of national renewal—though the project’s strictly Zionist aspect had to be played down. After all, the land on which the Jews hoped to build was part of the Ottoman Empire. It would have been imprudent to incur the displeasure of the Turkish sultan, claimant for the Muslim caliphate and defender of Islam.
The prospectus for the housing development did, however, hint at its historic purpose. It declared that the new neighborhood by the Mediterranean Sea would eventually develop into the “first Hebrew city”—where, by hard work and enterprise, Jews could disprove the anti-Semitic stereotypes that depicted them as urban parasites. This was a controversial undertaking even among Jews living in Palestine. Many worried that the development would become just another vulnerable Jewish ghetto. According to a contemporary account, a Yiddish-speaking kibitzer stood by on the lottery morning, shouting out to his fellow Jews that they were “building on shifting sands.” The prospects became even unlikelier after World War I broke out and the Ottoman authorities evacuated the Jewish residents from the coastal area.
Yet less than 40 years later, David Ben-Gurion read out Israel’s declaration of independence at the Tel Aviv Museum on majestic, tree-lined Rothschild Boulevard, not far from the spot on the beach where the lottery drawing had taken place. Israel’s founding father could take the gamble of proclaiming independence in part because the first Hebrew city—its population expanded to more than 250,000—had become the economic and political bulwark of the nascent Jewish state. Tel Aviv would then serve as the military command center and arsenal for Israel’s yearlong war against five invading Arab armies.
Last year, the first Hebrew city celebrated its centenary. Celebrities and dignitaries from around the globe joined the festivities, often expressing admiration at Tel Aviv’s emergence as a dynamic world city. The foreign commentators noted Tel Aviv’s reputation as the “nonstop city” and recalled its designation by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site for its abundant Bauhaus architecture. Contrary to the skeptics, the neighborhood in the dunes did not become a ghetto: Tel Aviv is now the most affluent, tolerant, and culture-soaked city in the Middle East…