Friday, April 24, 2015

Ottoman Sources on Armenian Genocide

The mass killings of Armenians during World War I constitute a genocide.  There is no way around this unless one asserts that to qualify as a genocide an event must be like the Holocaust, in which case there is only one genocide.  If we use the main text of international law, however, then we need only have "intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group," by which means the Armenian Genocide counts, as does the earlier Herero Genocide, the Rwandan Genocide, and several others.

A book which should remove all doubt on this matter is Taner Akcam's The Young Turks' Crime Against Humanity, which performs the service of demonstrating to any reasonable satisfaction that a genocide was committed using entirely Ottoman accounts, including from Turkish archives which have become much more open over the last decade.  Although there have been several waves of cleansing, detritus revealing what happened still remains, especially in some of the provincial archives which were less thoroughly vetted.

To follow one thread Akcam puts together, the records of the Ottoman Parliament show that one MP who briefly served in the Cabinet told of a two-track method of giving orders regarding the Armenians, where deportation orders would be officially circulated, followed by specially delivered orders, often oral, to liquidate the deported populations.  There is ample evidence the second types of orders were given.  Two provincial governors offered a refusal to implement secret orders as their reason for resigning.  Several others insisted on having the orders in writing so that they could use them if they were ever called to account.

Many Ottoman government documents discussing Armenian deportations clearly lapse into expectations that the deportees will actually die, as with a reference to the fact their children are "soon to be orphans."  In one cable to a governor, Talaat Pasha, who as interior minister was responsible for implementing the genocide wrote, "The Armenian question in the eastern provinces has been resolved.  There is no need to sully the nation and the government's honor with further atrocities."  This clearly indicates an awareness that atrocities had been committed.  There are also orders not to kill members of other Christian groups because they are not Armenians, which suggests the orders would have been different if they were.

In carrying out the genocide, the Young Turk government was implementing a "Five to Ten Percent Policy" according to which no region of Anatolia should have more than that percentage of Christians.  As nationalist movements broke up the Ottoman state during the 1800's, the new Balkan states became avowedly Christian, and began the outbursts of ethnic cleansing that would continue until the end of the 20th century.  Although thanks to the Sochi Olympics the Circassian Genocide in 1860's Russia is the best known, hundreds of thousands of Muslims were killed or driven out of the Balkans, as well, during the half century before World War I.

A characteristic of nationalism is an emphasis on cultural homogeneity, and so the Young Turks' were concerned in part to make Anatolia as homogenous as possible.  Muslims, it was thought, could be Turkified, and so they were, with forced Turkification the policy toward the Kurds even under the Turkish Republic.  Christians, however, were seen as a minority population which would always be set apart by religion, and so would also pose a risk of fracturing what remained of the state.  This was the reason the Young Turks' began their own ethnic cleansing campaign to reduce the population to their desired percentage.  Some populations, notably the Greeks, could simple be pushed into another state.  There was no Armenian state, however, and so annihilation became what was variously referred to as a "fundamental and permanent solution" or one that was "comprehensive and absolute."

There was much suffering among all ethnic groups of the declining Ottoman Empire, and still is today as its former territories continue to see a loss of once rich diversity.  The Armenian Genocide, however, was unique in the region, beyond an ethnic cleansing, and apparently an atrocity even to the man who supervised it.

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Monday, April 20, 2015

A Blind Chessmaster in Damascus

In her book Disability in the Ottoman Arab World, Sara Scalenghe mentions the visit of the blind Hammad al-Basri to Damascus in 1529:
He was known for his skills as a chess player, skills of such repute that the most celebrated players of Syria, Egypt, and the Hijaz traveled to Damascus to compete with him.  Al-Basri not only defeated them all but also inspired awe with his ability to play five opponents on five different chessboards simultaneously.  Some skeptics doubted his blindness, a suspicion that al-Basri would assuage by covering his eyes before each game.  Understandably, such feats gained him great fame and, eventually, the honor of playing in the presence of the sultan in Istanbul.
I suspect that this was not the first time Damascus hosted a blind chess players, as for centuries the Middle East has had a tradition of the blind achieving great intellectual heights.

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Thursday, April 16, 2015

Saudis and the Brotherhood

The Economist notes Saudi Arabia's lessening hostility toward the Muslim Brotherhood and situates it in a shifting geopolitical context:
The shift was evident as early as the king’s funeral, at which Abdullah’s successor, Salman, welcomed Rashid Ghannouchi, the Brotherhood’s main ally in Tunisia. Then in February the Saudi foreign minister, Saud bin Faisal, said: “We do not have a problem with the Muslim Brotherhood. Our problem is with a small group affiliated to this organisation.”
This more conciliatory tone reflects the attitude of King Salman. But it is also prompted by a foreign policy that now sees Shia Iran, not the weakened Brotherhood, as the kingdom’s gravest threat, to be countered with Sunni unity. This is most evident in Yemen, where the Saudis have assembled a broad coalition of Sunni countries—from Qatar and Turkey, which support the Brotherhood, to Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, which vehemently oppose it—to fight the Zaydi Shia Houthi rebels. Iran has provided Sunni states with a common enemy and an excuse to put aside their differences, at least for now.
Winning the contest against Iran in Yemen and Syria may depend on Saudi Arabia and its allies working more closely with Islamists. The Brotherhood is prominent in Syria’s exiled opposition, which gets help from the Gulf. The Houthis recently arrested dozens of leaders of Islah, Yemen’s branch of the Brotherhood, after accusing the Saudis of calling them into battle.

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Tuesday, April 14, 2015

An Alawite Lost Generation

Ruth Sherlock reports on the heavy losses suffered by the Alawites, Bashar al-Assad's support base in Syria:
In a series of exclusive interviews, Alawites from the coastal province of Latakia, the sect's heartland, have told the Telegraph of how they are now trapped between jihadists who consider them apostates, and a remote and corrupt regime that told them the war would be easy to win...
The scale of the sect's losses is staggering: with a population of around two million, a tenth of Syria's population, the Alawites boast perhaps 250,000 men of fighting age. Today as many as one third are dead, local residents and Western diplomats say. 
Many Alawite villages nestled in the hills of their ancestral Latakia province are all but devoid of young men. The women dress only in mourning black. 
"Every day there at least 30 men returned from the front lines in coffins," said Ammar, who spoke to the Telegraph using a pseudonym to protect himself and his family. 
"In the beginning of the war their deaths were celebrated with big funerals. Now they are quietly dumped in the back of pick-up trucks." 


Sunday, April 05, 2015

Former Ba'athists in ISIS

Today people are talking about Liz Sly's Washington Post article on the role of former Iraqi Ba'athists within ISIS:
Even with the influx of thousands of foreign fighters, almost all of the leaders of the Islamic State are former Iraqi officers, including the members of its shadowy military and security committees, and the majority of its emirs and princes, according to Iraqis, Syrians and analysts who study the group.
They have brought to the organization the military expertise and some of the agendas of the former Baathists, as well as the smuggling networks developed to avoid sanctions in the 1990s and which now facilitate the Islamic State’s illicit oil trading...
The public profile of the foreign jihadists frequently obscures the Islamic State’s roots in the bloody recent history of Iraq, its brutal excesses as much a symptom as a cause of the country’s woes...
Under the leadership of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the Islamic State’s self-proclaimed caliph, the former officers became more than relevant. They were instrumental in the group’s rebirth from the defeats inflicted on insurgents by the U.S. military, which is now back in Iraq bombing many of the same men it had already fought twice before. 
The entire article is worth reading, and highlights elements of continuity between Iraq before and after Saddam Hussein which are too often overshadowed by the dramatic changes at the top. (I previously discussed some of these here.)  Although Ba'athist ideology was secular, the actual Ba'ath parties were more institutions by which entrenched regimes maintained power, and so Iraq's freely adopted a form of internally aggressive salafism during the 1990's.  From there, it was an easy shift into the salafi-laced anti-American insurgency and ultimately ISIS today.  I suspect this is some of what is covered in Amatzia Baram's recent book Saddam Husayn and Islam, which I have not read.

This does not mean that ISIS is simply the reconstituted Ba'ath or Sunni insurgency from ten years ago.  The organization has at times and in places distanced itself quite strongly from elements of Ba'athism and Saddam Hussein's regime.  Nonetheless, it is recruiting from the disaffected Sunni heartland of Iraq which was the Ba'athists' social base, and which has lots of former military and intelligence men whose training allows them to take over key positions in the organization.

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Saturday, April 04, 2015

MLB 2015 Predictions

Here are my predictions for the upcoming major league baseball season, which is also the post which I hope marks my long-delayed return to regular blogging.

NL East

New York

Forget the injury questions on offense, because the Nationals certainly have enough to win the division given their pitching staff.  On the next two teams, my head says Miami has the more reliable and balanced offense, but I have a feeling about the Mets this year, and think they will compete for a wild card.  Philadelphia's best players will be gone by August, putting them well behind a Braves team whose starters will be the reason to watch them this year.

NL Central

St. Louis
Pittsburgh (Wild Card)

St. Louis and Pittsburgh are clearly a cut above everyone else here, and I'm picking the Cardinals because I think they can beat the Pirates at the trade deadline.  Chicago will be improved, but the back of their rotation still has problems.  That is also the problem with Milwaukee and Cincinnati.  The latter's window has closed, and will probably sink into last after being a seller at the trade deadline.

NL West

Los Angeles
San Diego (Wild Card)
San Francisco

Everyone knows the reasons Los Angeles is the best here.  I've wondered if San Diego might actually be the Marlins of a few years ago, when a big off-season turned into a fire sale which led to their current strengths.  However, I do like the Padres more than the rest of the division, and in fact find the division as a whole so weak that I'm picking said Padres to rack up the wins to earn the second wild card.  The Giants can get quality from Matt Cain, but apart from that have too many weaknesses compared to last year's second wild card team to get back this year.Colorado and Arizona both have good offenses, but the pitching is to terrible they will rank among the bottom teams in the league.

AL East

New York (Wild Card)
Tampa Bay

This was my toughest call, but people forget the Blue Jays were first for much of last summer, and I see their offseason as providing necessary fortification.  If Tanaka and Pineda can combine for 350 innings and someone else in the rotation steps up to replace Hiroki Kuroda, then the Yankees will be better, but that's a lot of ifs.  Still, there's at least wild card talent there.  Baltimore's success has depended in part on winning one-run games, which will be much harder with a weaker bullpen.  Boston's problem isn't just the lack of an ace, but the fact that the starters they did pick up shouldn't be better than #4's on an elite team, and several will have to perform above expectations.  Tampa Bay's offense will be depressing.

AL Central

Kansas City

I'm picking a changing of the guard in this division.  Cleveland needs another starter, but has enough on the field to contend.  Detroit's pitching staff could easily implode, but should hold together well enough given their offense.  Chicago seems very hit-and-miss to me, sporting some very good additions but with deep question marks, as well.  Everyone worries about Bumgarner's innings from last year, but not those of the Kansas City bullpen that was a key to their success.  Minnesota still has lots of rebuilding in progress.

AL West

Los Angeles (Wild Card)

Although Nelson Cruz will have to conquer Safeco Field, Seattle is a solid team, with such veteran additions complementing what I predict will be breakout years by young players like James Paxton and Mike Zunino.  I'm less sold on Los Angeles, which last year ran away from the division when the rest of the teams simple collapsed.  People forget how good Texas can be, and even though Houston will be a better team than a year ago, they may not win more games given others' improvements, and so finish behind Oakland.


Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Kulanu Message

Tal Schneider pays some much-needed attention to Moshe Kahlon's Kulanu party, which has an excellent chance to sit in the next government whoever forms it:
Earlier this week, I (Tal) attended a Kahlon campaign rally in Hadera, which a city in which this former Likudnik has deep roots.  It was interesting, especially to see him surrounded by close friends and family.  His sister spoke, his mother and two of his brother’s sat in the audience. The crowd numbered in the hundreds but even in this moment of almost-intimacy, it was clear the campaign is aiming far beyond the home crowd. Not enough has been written about this interesting candidate but he is emerging as the biggest challenge the Likud has seen in a long while.  He repeatedly declares himself to be the true heir of Menachem Begin.  He says that the Likud has lost all compassion. His message is getting out there.
Kahlon is focusing on the socio-economic status of his public, and he delves into their overdrawn bank accounts , the taxes they pay, the mortgages, the health care system, that is in strain, gaps in education, the dearth of public transportation for the poor. In short, he is sitting down with them and making himself part of the discussion.  His stated goal is to be named Israel’s next Finance Minister of Israel, and even with the 10 or so seats his party is now showing in the polls, it looks like he has a chance.
Schneider reports that as Likud sinks in the polls, it is the two centrist parties, Kulanu and Yair Lapid's Yesh Atid, that are benefiting.


Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Tawadros and Sisi

Johannes Makar takes a look at Coptic Pope Tawadros II's embrace of the Sisi regime in Egypt:
On Christmas Eve Mass on January 6, 2015—when President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi became the first Egyptian president to attend a church on the Coptic holy day—the congregation erupted in applause. The Egyptian Pope Tawadros II, who took office in November 2012, expressed his steadfast support for Sisi and called on his adherents to back the regime. Other prominent clerics, such as Father Makary Younan, even claimed Sisi had been “sent from heaven.” But despite the church leadership’s conservative leanings, not all Copts support the Pope’s partisan leanings. The Pope’s lack of neutrality and support for the regime may even be limiting the church’s ability to protect the rights of the Coptic community.
The Coptic papacy has dominated the community’s political activism since the 1950s—after Nasser’s de facto dissolution of the al-Maglis al-Milli, a powerful council of Coptic laymen—but papal hegemony has not bettered the community’s lot. Discrimination against Copts is deeply embedded in Egyptian society, not only among radical Islamists (as state media frequently mentions), but among governmental and military ranks as well. Successive governments have maintained, for instance, strict policies on the construction of new churches or maintenance of existing ones. Among other things, the president’s authorization is required in order to repair basic items such as a church’s toilet. Christians were promised after Morsi’s ouster in July 2013 that the government would remove “all barriers to building churches,” signaling a long-awaited breakthrough, but the issue remains unresolved.
Tawadros supported Sisi's coup against the Muslim Brotherhood, and there was definitely a cost to the Coptic community in the wave of anti-Christian Islamist violence which followed.  At the level of policy towards Christians, there is actually very little to differentiate Mubarak and Sisi from Morsi's government.  While there are Copts who oppose the pope's stance, however:
Many Christians back the Pope out of suspicion of secular institutions such as al-Maglis al-Milli and their fear that opposition would further marginalize the community, which is already heavily underrepresented in the national decision-making process. But if persistent discrimination against Copts is to be addressed, the papacy will sooner or later have to embrace an active Coptic civil society and their demands for reform. In such a scenario, the Pope would step back from his worldly powers and grant Copts an active and critical political role by encouraging Egyptian youth to vigorously participate in society and claim equal citizenship. Otherwise Copts as a whole risk being viewed as steadfast supporters of the Sisi government.


Saturday, February 07, 2015

Dating in Iran

The Economist reports:
At a loss to explain why most youngsters are delaying marriage or altogether shunning the idea of a happy union, Iran’s government is taking action. In Hamedan province, a senior ayatollah recently warned unmarried public workers to find a spouse within a year or risk losing their jobs. A gentler approach, announced in January, is the launch of a matchmaker website which, the government hopes, could lead to as many as 100,000 marriages...
In any case, under-30s, who make up 55% of Iran’s population of 77m, seem far more interested in brief flings than marriage. Hence some 300 “immoral” Western-style dating websites have sprung up of late. Unable to close them all down, the state’s moral guardians have decided to turn matchmaker instead...
Rather than let their parents or the government arrange their future, many adolescents find inventive ways of meeting. One of the most common is dor-dor (“turn, turn” in Farsi) where telephone numbers are exchanged out of the windows of cars in the street—about as public as flirting can get in Iran. Facebook, although blocked by government censors, is also popular among those who have the illegal software to get around internet controls. So too are house parties.
We should probably see this as Iran's moves to limit contraception and promote fertility treatments. Increasing women's education and economic autonomy leads to lower fertility rates, which sharply limits population growth and could lead to the population even shrinking unless made up for by immigration.


Saturday, January 31, 2015

Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood Now

Mostafa Hashem describes shifts in the Muslim  Brotherhood organization under Sisi:
After about a year of internal conflicts, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt has finally begun a comprehensive restructuring process. For the first time, the group is empowering its youth to lead the organization. This shift in approach reflects the former leadership’s realization that it has failed to adapt to domestic politics and Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s crackdown since the ouster of Mohamed Morsi in July 2013.
The Muslim Brotherhood, in response to the crackdown, has conceded to the will of active youth members and others who support an escalation with the Sisi government. The shift came after Brotherhood youth finally refused to work with the group’s secretary-general, Mahmoud Hussein, who had sidelined them during Morsi’s administration...The Muslim Brotherhood’s old guard worried that a major loss of youth supporters would sink the Muslim Brotherhood as both an ideology and an organization.
In response to these difficult circumstances and increasing pressure from the youth, the group’s leadership has restructured the organization based on internal elections that lasted two months—as they took place not just in Egypt but also Qatar, Turkey, Malaysia, and Sudan—and ended at the beginning of January. The most important changes to date were a shift toward decentralization, a focus on preaching and charity work, and the election of a new “committee to manage crisis and mobilization." 
This is in contrast with the organization under Nasser, where the prison leadership under Hassan al-Hudaybi kept control of the organization and worked to limit the influence of its more confrontational elements, as represented by Sayyid Qutb.  Two things are different this time.  One is the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood came to power democratically, but was overthrown.  This fulfulled the "Algeria paradigm," in which many Islamists believed other powers in society would not allow them to rule even if they came to power through a fair process.  The fact the Muslim Brotherhood in power acted in a high-handed majoritarian manner, taking their narrow election win as a mandate to implement a broadly Islamist agenda, does not factor into this.

This second factor, is the article mentions this, is the rise of Islamic State.  Although its ideology is much more radical than the Muslim Brotherhood has historically been, the fact it has succeeded in establishing a state through force of arms does make the military option more attractive to Islamists in general.  As the Muslim Brotherhood embraces confrontation in the wake of the 2013 coup, we can unfortunately expect consistent low-level MB violence in Egypt for the foreseeable future.


Saturday, January 24, 2015

Sudairis Ascendant

With the accession of King Salman in Saudi Arabia, former Deputy Crown Prince Muqrin has been confirmed as moving up to crown prince.  King Salman has also appointed a new deputy crown prince, Muhammad b. Nayef.  Middle East Eye sees this as part of a generalized enhancement of the power of the Sudairi Seven princely lines:
"King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud is now the ruler of Saudi Arabia, and has moved swiftly to appoint his son, 34-year-old Mohammed bin Salman, as Defence Minister and head of the Royal Court.

The newly-anointed monarch promoted Muqrin bin Abdulaziz to Crown Prince, now first in line to the throne, from being deputy, and appointed 55-year-old Interior Minister Mohammed bin Nayef as the second heir.

The new appointments herald a new era in Saudi monarchical politics, marked by the resurgence of the “Sudairi Seven,” a powerful alliance of sons of King Abdulaziz named after their mother Hassa bint Ahmad al-Sudairi.

The late Abdullah – whose mother was from the Shammar Bedouin tribe – was not one of the seven Sudairi brothers, and the first indications suggest that his men are being pushed out of power.

Abdullah’s son Mutaib – who is minister of the National Guard – has been overlooked to become deputy Crown Prince in favour of Mohammed bin Nayef.

His former head of the Royal Court, Khalid al-Tuwijri, has been replaced by the young Mohammed bin Salman.

This has been reported as having immediately undermined Abdullah’s legacy and affirmed the renewed power of the Sudairi alliance."
Muqrin's position of deputy crown prince existed at least in part as a safety net due to the poor health of the crown prince candidates.  There was no guarantee that it would continue into the new reign. That it has suggests that Muhammad b. Nayef really is the preferred heir, and Salman and his allies want to make sure want to make sure he is in line and can start accumulating the tools of informal power.

At the same time, however, Muqrin is crown prince, and not one of the Sudairi Seven.  As Salman's reign unfolds, we could see him removed as crown prince in favor of Muhammad.  Alternately, he could reign, but leave Muhammad in place as his own heir.  Muqrin being able to replace Muhammad as heir with one of his own sons seems less likely.  The longer Salman reigns, the more probable the first option becomes.
King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud is now the ruler of Saudi Arabia, and has moved swiftly to appoint his son, 34-year-old Mohammed bin Salman, as Defence Minister and head of the Royal Court. - See more at:
King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud is now the ruler of Saudi Arabia, and has moved swiftly to appoint his son, 34-year-old Mohammed bin Salman, as Defence Minister and head of the Royal Court. - See more at:
King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud is now the ruler of Saudi Arabia, and has moved swiftly to appoint his son, 34-year-old Mohammed bin Salman, as Defence Minister and head of the Royal Court. - See more at:
King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud is now the ruler of Saudi Arabia, and has moved swiftly to appoint his son, 34-year-old Mohammed bin Salman, as Defence Minister and head of the Royal Court. - See more at:


Thursday, January 22, 2015

Saudi Succession

Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah b. Abd al-Aziz has died, and his half-brother Salman is now the Crown Prince.  The Washington Post explains why the situation is touchy:
The monarch, believed to be 90, was succeeded by his brother, Crown Prince Salman, according to state television. That put the region’s most important Sunni power and America’s closest Arab ally in the hands of a 79-year-old who is reportedly in poor health and suffering from dementia...
While observers in Riyadh widely predicted a smooth transition to Salman, his poor health means his rule could be relatively short. Should there be a power struggle to succeed him, it could leave a vacuum in the Middle East at a critical time. Saudi Arabia is a key member of the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State and a major ally of the government that just fell in neighboring Yemen...
In an apparent bid to preempt quarrels about succession — and also secure the line for his own favored branch of the family — Abdullah last year took the unprecedented step of anointing a deputy heir, Prince Muqrin, 71, his youngest brother...
(In choosing Muqrin's successor) the Saudi royal family would face a far more complicated puzzle about who would succeed Muqrin, but it would almost certainly be a prince from the next generation, the grandchildren of Abdulaziz. Hundreds of princes belong to that generation.
One possibility for Salman is simply passing over him due to ill health and having Muqrin assume the throne right away.  There is precedent for this in the Gulf, as in 2006 Kuwait's Emir Sa'ad was removed on similar grounds after a reign of only nine days. In Saudi Arabia, however, there is experience of a king who reigns while another rules, as Abdullah himself held the reigns of power for an incapacitated King Fahd for years.

As far as the succession issue, as I've said before, the interests of dynastic preservation would lead towards establish some sort of principle of succession to limit the number of candidates beyond simply Abd al-Aziz b. Saud's grandsons.  The most obvious such principle would be to, in practice if not in theory, ensure that succession passes to a son of one of the Sudairi Seven, the sons Abd al-Aziz b. Saud had with Hassa bt. Ahmad, chief of the Sudairi clan in the early 20th century.  However, neither Abdullah nor Muqrin belongs to that faction, and it may not be possible for them to push forward against the influence of those two.  Promoting Sudairi Seven interests, of course, could be a reason to keep the Sudairi Salman on the throne.

In the introduction to her textbook on Chinese history called The Open Empire, Valerie Hansen describes a dynasty as a convenient fiction that legitimizes the rule of behind-the-scenes factions.  The Saudi dynasty is no one's fig leaf, but there are factions within the family itself, especially among those with no realistic chance at the throne or an important ministry themselves.  These negotiations are going on behind the scenes more intensely right now than they have for some time, for only Salman's fragile health stands between the House of Saud and the need to decisively move on the generational succession decision they have avoided for years.


American and Israeli Partisanship

American commentators have focused mostly on John Boehner's invitation to Benjamin Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress as an attempt to counter the Obama administration's Iran policy, outsourcing the role of chief hawkish spokesperson to Israel's prime minister.  Israelis, however, see it in the context of Israel's election campaign:
From the Israeli point of view, there is no way to look at the extraordinary invitation House Speaker John Boehner extended to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address both houses of Congress and not see an act of crass intervention in Israel’s electoral process...
The situation is so weird that it still remains to be seen whether Israel’s elections overseer will permit local TV stations to broadcast the speech live, as it falls pretty clearly into the rubric of free and unaccounted for campaign publicity. And another question? What will Barack Obama do with this unwanted visitor in town? Ignore him? Find an event in LA?
It’ll be interesting to watch Yitzhak Herzog in the coming days. For now, he has maintained  a civil, polite attitude towards Netanayhu, and, it goes without saying, towards all American officialdom. But John Boehner’s act goes way beyond the normal purview of a party leader in a friendly country. Its an act of hostile defiance aimed very personally at the man who could– yes, he might– be Israel’s next prime minister and its an act of overt partisanship at what Boehner must have known is an incredibly delicate moment. It really is an outrage, and its a test of Herzog’s new leadership persona.
One can view this as a significant  step towards a U.S.-Israel relationship in which political parties in one country are closely allied with a counterpart in the other.  Netanyahu began this, making known his preference for Republicans in Washington and all but openly campaigning for Romney in 2012.  The Israeli ambassador to the U.S. whom he appointed, Ron Derner, is both his own chief political guru and a man who has worked for Republican campaigns.  Sheldon Adelson also stands out as a significant funding source for both the Likud Party in Israel and the GOP.

Does this mean that if Herzog become prime minister, he will openly side with Democrats in U.S. political disputes?  The United States, of course, has done this sort of thing before.  The first President Bush was quite open about hurting Yitzhak Shamir in the campaign in which he fell from power.  However, the relationship has generally been between two nation-states independent of each other's internal politics.  This move by Boehner, coming on the heels of Netanyahu's 2012 involvement, threatens to create a new paradigm of Republicans allying with Likud against the Democrats and Labor.

If that happens, of course, it could finally weaken the politically articulated idea that the U.S. has to support whatever an Israeli government does.

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Thursday, January 15, 2015

Saudi Arabia-Iraq Barrier

A number of years ago, Saudi Arabia built a border fence with Yemen in an attempt to keep out migrant workers from that country.  Now they are building one on their border with Iraq to defend against ISIS infiltration:
Saudi Arabia has been constructing a 600-mile East-West barrier on its Northern Border with Iraq since September.
The main function of the barrier will be keeping out ISIS militants, who have stated that among their goals is an eventual takeover of the Muslim holy cities of Mecca and Medina, both of which lie deep inside Saudi territory, according to United Press International.
This past week, a commander and two guards on the Saudi-Iraq border were killed during an attack by Islamic State militants, the first direct ground assault by the group on the border...
The Saudi "Great Wall" as it's being dubbed by some media outlets, will be a fence and ditch barrier that features soft sand embankments that is designed to slow down infiltrators on foot and are too step to drive a tired-vehicle up, according to the Telegraph of London. It will have 40 watchtowers and seven command and control centers complete with radar that can detect aircraft and vehicles as far away as 22 miles as well as day and night camera installations. 
The barrier system will have five layers of fencing, complete with razor wire and underground motion sensors that trigger a silent alarm. The 600-mile structure will be patrolled by border guards and 240 rapid response vehicles. The Saudis sent 30,000 soldiers to patrol the border in July 2014 after ISIS forces swept into western Iraq and Iraqi guards on the Saudi border fled.

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Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Modern Middle Eastern History Syllabus

Here, sans bureaucratic sections, is my Spring 2015 syllabus for "History of the Modern Middle East."

HIS 344: The Modern Middle East
208 Dauphin Humanities Center, MWF 9:00 a.m.
Dr. Brian J. Ulrich

Office: 201 Dauphin Humanities Center, ex. 1736
Office Hours: 11 – 11:50 a.m. MWF, 2-4:00 p.m. W

Required Texts:

The Middle East in Modern World History, Ernest Tucker
The Modern Middle East and North Africa: A History in Documents, Julia Clancy-Smith and Charles Smith
The Israel-Palestine Conflict: Contested Histories, Neil Caplan
For Better, For Worse: The Marriage Crisis that Made Modern Egypt, Hanan Kholoussy

Course Overview:

This course will cover the history of the Middle East from the 18th century to the present.  It is divided into two sections.  The first half will deal with the region during a long 19th century characterized by rapid transformations analogous to those found elsewhere in the world with the shift from an agrarian to an industrial social and economic order.  In particular, we will emphasize the rising significance of Europe for the Middle East, the forms of colonialism found in the Middle East and North Africa, developments within Middle Eastern society and culture, and the articulation of new political concepts and ideologies which have continuing importance in the region.  At the end of this section of the course, students will have an appreciation for events and developments which loom large in the Middle Eastern historical memory, an understanding of key concepts, an appreciation for the ways in which aspects of the region often described as “traditional” or even “medieval” are in fact part of the modern world, and a sound basis for comparing Middle Eastern developments in this period with those in other regions.

The second half of the course will focus on the important developments in the region during the 20th century, including but not limited to those conflicts which frequently make the headlines in American media.  Important subthemes include the role of foreign powers in the region’s politics and the continuing transformation of society and culture within the Middle East.  In furtherance of Shippensburg’s integrated history curriculum, we will also highlight the ways in which different constructed historical narratives figure into the region’s conflicts, with a special focus on the Arab-Israeli conflict.  At the end of this section of the course, students will be conversant with Arab, Iranian and Turkish nationalism, the Arab-Israeli conflict, political Islam, and the political economy of the region.


Quizzes and Paragraphs: 10%
Participation: 10%
Photo Interpretation Essay: 10%
Hanan Kholoussy Essay: 12.5%
Research Paper: 15%
Midterm Exam: 20%
Final Exam: 22.5%

Schedule of Readings and Major Assignments

January 21 – Course Intro
January 23 – Tucker, 17-25 (Islam and Middle Eastern history)

January 26 – Tucker, 41-5; Sam White, The Climate of Rebellion in the Early Modern Ottoman Empire (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), pp.137-9, 174-9, 222-5, 247-8, 275, 291-7. (For this books’ pages in EBL navigation bar at top, add 24) (Ottoman Decline)
January 28 – Dina Rizk Khoury, “The Ottoman centre versus provincial power-holders: an analysis of the historiography,” The Cambridge History of Turkey, Vol. III, ed. Suriya N. Faroqhi (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), pp. 135-56. (18th century Ottoman Empire)
January 30 – Tucker, 54-67 (Selim III – Auspicious Incident)

February 2 – Clancy-Smith and Smith, 65-70; Judith Tucker, “Decline of the Family Economy in Mid-Nineteenth Century Egypt,” Arab Studies Quarterly 1 (1979): 245-71 (Mehmet Ali)
February 4 – Tucker, 71-86; Clancy-Smith and Smith, 70-4 (Tanzimat Era)
February 6 – Clancy-Smith and Clancy, pp. 44-8; Haim Gerber, “The Ottoman Land Law of 1858 and Its Consequences,” The Social Origins of the Modern Middle East (Boulder, Colorado: Lynne Rienner: 1987), 67-90. (Tanzimat Era)

February 9 – Tucker, 104-7; Kemal Karpat, “The New Middle Classes and the Naksbandia,” The Politicization of Islam: Reconstructing Identity, State, Faith, and Community in the Late Ottoman State (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), pp. 89-116 (Islamic reformism)
February 11 – Clancy-Smith and Smith, 57-9, 76-7; Laurence Louer, “The Formation of a Central Religious Authority,” Transnational Shia Politics: Religious and Political Networks in the Gulf (New York: Columbia University Press, 2008), pp. 69-82. (Shi’ism)
February 13 – Tucker, 91-5; Clancy-Smith and Smith, 29-43 (colonialism)

February 16 – Ehud Toledano, “Social and economic change in the ‘long nineteenth century,’” Cambridge History of Egypt, Vol. II, ed. M.W. Daly (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), pp. 252-84. (Late 19th century Egypt)
February 18 – Tucker, 99-104; Kemal Karpat, The Politicization of Islam, pp. 145-54, 185-8 AbdulHamid II)
February 20 – Tucker, 67-9, 87-9, 95-6 (19th-century Iran)

February 23 – Tucker, 107-9, 112-24; Clancy-Smith and Smith, 77-84 (Constitutions) (Photo Interpretation Essay Due)
February 25 – Tucker, 128-43; Clancy-Smith and Smith, 109-13; 60 Minutes on Armenian Genocide (World War I and Armenian Genocide)
February 27 – Exam ID Section

March 2 – Exam Essay Section
March 4 – Tucker, 162-6, 243-9, 364-5; Clancy-Smith and Smith, 157-61 (Modern Turkey)
March 6 - Ervand Abrahamian, “The Iron First of Reza Shah,” A History of Modern Iran (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), pp. 63-96. (Reza Shah)


March 16 – Tucker, 144-59; Clancy-Smith and Smith, 113-8, 120-30, 134-5 (New Order)
March 18 – Caplan, 1-55 (Arab-Israeli Conflict intro)
March 20 – Tucker, 175-8; Kholoussy, 1-22; Clancy-Smith and Smith, 166-8, 170-3 (Arab world interwar period: Egypt)

March 23 – Tucker, 184-8; Kholoussy, 23-75 (Arab world interwar period: Syria and Lebanon)
March 25 – Tucker, 181-4; Kholoussy, 77-127 (Arab world interwar period: Iraq and Jordan) (Hanan Kholoussy Essay due)
March 27 – Caplan, 56-100 (Mandatory Palestine)

March 30 – Tucker, 190-200; Clancy-Smith and Smith, 194-7; Orit Bashkin, New Babylonians: A History of Jews in Modern Iraq (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2012), pp. 112-25 (World War II)
April 1 – Tucker, 202-11; Caplan, 101-30; Clancy-Smith and Smith, 207-9 (1948)
April 3 – Tucker, 213-29; Caplan, 131-43; Clancy-Smith and Smith, 211-2 (Pan-Arabism)

April 6 – Albert Hourani, “The Algerian War,” A History of the Arab Peoples, (Cambridge: Belknap, 1991), pp. 369-72; Clancy-Smith and Smith, 216-24 (Post-French North Africa)
April 8 – Tucker, 249-56; Ervand Abrahamian, The Coup: 1953, the CIA, and the Roots of Modern U.S.-Iranian Relations (New York: New Press, 2013), pp. 205-26 (Mossadeq and Muhammad Reza Pahlavi)
April 10 – Tucker, 231-41; Caplan, 143-77 (1967 and after)

April 13 – Tucker, 258-70, 282-5; OPEC reading TBA (oil and 1973)
April 15 – James Gelvin, The Modern Middle East: A History, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), pp. 290-9; Clancy-Smith and Smith, 233-5; Barbara Zollner, The Muslim Brotherhood: Hasan al-Hudaybi and Ideology (New York: Routledge, 2009), pp. 106-29  (Infitah and Islamism)
April 17 – Tucker, 272-82, 309-15; Caplan, 178-94 (Camp David and Lebanon)

April 20 – Tucker, 287-303, 323-7 (“Long” 1980’s)
April 22 – Tucker, 327-35, 350-5; Caplan, 195-210 (Intifada and Peace Process)
April 24 – Caplan, pp. 221-67 (Philosophical Discussion)

April 27 – Michael Axworthy, “Iran Since the Revolution: Islamic Revival, War and Confrontation,” A History of Iran: Empire of the Mind (New York: Basic Books, 2008), pp. 259-81. (Research Paper Due)
April 29 – Tucker, 337-41, 346-50; Nir Rosen, Aftermath: Following the Bloodshed of America’s Wars in the Muslim World (New York: Nation Books, 2010), pp. TBA (Post-9/11 Wars)
May 1 – Clancy-Smith and Smith, 292-8; Reflections on the Arab Uprisings, essays by Vickie Langohr, Quinn Mecham, David Siddhartha Patel, Curtis Ryan, and Mark Tessler (Arab Spring and Aftermath)

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