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Sunday, November 29, 2009




Doing Business in the Middle East: Tel Aviv vs Cairo

Two anti-worlds from the Economist's "Doing business in" Guide...

Tel Aviv



Cairo

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Friday, November 27, 2009



Reagan at Brandenburg Gate. June 12, 1987




The Wall

Fouad Ajami is wondering whether the peoples of Islam will "tear down their walls as the people of Central and Eastern Europe tore down theirs".

NOVEMBER 9, 2009, 7:32 P.M. ET

. . .

. . .

Once again, there arises the question in our midst of whether political freedom, broadly conceived, can and ought to be taken to distant lands. In the George W. Bush years, American power and diplomacy gave voice to a belief in freedom's possibilities. A different sentiment animates American practice today.

For the peoples of Islam, the question can be squarely put: Will they tear down their walls in the manner in which the people of Central and Eastern Europe tore down theirs? The people of Islam are thus sorely tested. They will have to show their own fidelity to liberty. Strangers with big guns and ample means can ride into their midst with the best of intentions and skills, but it is their own world, their own civilization, that is now in history's scales.

Source: Wall Street Journal

My own take on the Arab Wall can be found in a discussion here. Together with this post and the comments section of another one, it should be a pretty accurate account of my current views on diversity and immigration, the link between democracy and development, successful binational states and other, I would call them, Ivory Tower fabrications.

Probably the most important passage in Ajami's very excellent article is this:

It wasn't always pretty, the emancipation of these captive nations. Communism always carried within its doctrine the stern warning that national chauvinisms would spring to the fore were its "internationalism" to give way. Yugoslavia bore out that message. What rose from its graveyard were pitiless nationalisms whose crimes are indelibly etched in our memories. Tito had indeed held together an impossible country. Nor were matters pretty in Romania, no velvet revolution in the twisted, dark tyranny of the Ceaucescus. The march to ballots and free markets was not always an attractive, or a straightforward, tale.

We should have it very clear (and Ajami would do well to reread the quote of his above): Throughout the Middle East the Arab Wall is holding together impossible countries.

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The Moslem Population in Israel

This post is an update to The True Convergence

Thanks Lirun for calling my attention to this article in Haaretz. It's based on a report released by the Central Bureau of Statistics. The Hebrew version of the report is here. For some reason the English version does not load itself. Some inaccuracies in the article. The article says:


According to the bureau's report, the Muslim community's growth rate dropped one percent in 2009 to 2.8 percent, down from 3.8 percent in 2008. However, the Muslim growth rate is still the highest among all groups in Israel, with the Druze population growing at 1.8 percent a year, Christian-Arabs at 1.3 percent and Jews at 1.6 percent a year.

The report is actually comparing 2008 and 2000.

Another one:

There are more than 225,000 Muslim families in the country, while in the south each family has an average of 6.9 children, and in the north 3.9 children per family.

This figure is also the highest in the country, while Jews have an average of Jews average 2.9 children per woman, Druse 2.5, Christians 2.1.

The report is actually comparing TFRs (total fertility rates) which can be roughly defined as a number of children young women entering childbearing age would have on average if the current fertility patterns remain unchanged. It's a bit fictional indicator that can have little resemblance to the average family size. It's used widely because, unlike crude birth rates and average family size, TFR is not influenced by population age structure and past demographic trends and so reflects the current state of fertility better than other demographic data. Never mind that the report does not say that Muslim families in the north have 3.9 children per family, but that the TFR for Muslim women in the area is now estimated at 3.0, the lowest Muslim TFR in Israel.

According to the CBS report, the Muslim TFR dropped from 4.7 to 3.8 between 2000 and 2008 compared to the Jewish TFR of 2.9 in 2008 (the Jewish TFR was actually edging up between 2000 and 2008), 2.5 for Druze and 2.1 for Christians. For some reason Haaretz omitted this piece of information which is probably the most important of them all.

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Thursday, November 26, 2009




If Mohammad does not go to Vietnam...

Last updated: November 26, 2009

November 5, 2009


This is a kind of "If Mohammad does not go to Vietnam, then Vietnam will come to Mohammad". The Saudis came under attack by Zaidi rebels from across the border. The Saudis reportedly evacuated several border towns and moved army units and special forces into northern Yemen.


November 26, 2009

Stratfor on the war In Saada:


. . . Iran is engaged in an escalating proxy battle with Saudi Arabia in the Saudi-Yemeni borderland, where Iran has been arming a Shiite Houthi rebellion to threaten Saudi Arabia’s underbelly. Iran appears to be using the naval assets to protect its supply lines to the Houthi rebels.

Though there is no shortage of weapons in Yemen, Iran has ensured that the Houthis remain well-stocked. STRATFOR sources have reported that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) are training Houthis on how to produce improvised explosive devices for use in their insurgent campaign against Saudi and Yemeni forces.

According to STRATFOR sources, the traditional supply route Iran uses to arm the Houthis starts at Asab Harbor on the Eritrean coast. IRGC officers buy and transport weapons in Somalia and Eritrea, and then load them onto ships at the harbor. The ships then cross the Red Sea northward to Salif on the Yemeni coast. From Salif, the supplies pass through Hajjah and Huth in northern Yemen before reaching Saada, where the Houthi rebels are concentrated.

This route, however, has become more problematic for the Iranians ever since Saudi naval forces deployed three warships along the Red Sea coast of northern Yemen on Nov. 12 to interdict the arms, though STRATFOR is still examining Saudi interdiction tactics and the quality of the intelligence used to identify arms shipments. This traditional route is still being used to transport light arms, but given the Saudi deployment, Iran has shifted to a longer route that also begins at Asab Harbor, but then snakes around the heel of the Arabian Peninsula in the Gulf of Aden before reaching Shaqra on the southern Yemeni coast. From Shaqra, the supplies go to Marib in central Yemen, on to Baraqish and finally reach the Saada Mountains. Throughout the supply chain, bribes are paid to various tribes to facilitate the arms shipments.


The IRGC also has been involved in ferrying Hezbollah fighters to Yemen to support the Houthi insurgency. A STRATFOR source claims that around 60 of Hezbollah’s fighters have died in the conflict thus far. Their corpses were sent by boat to Asab Harbor in Eritrea, from which the IRGC flies them to Damascus. From the Syrian capital, the bodies are transported by land to the fighters’ home villages for burial.

. . .


And this is a nice example of Iran's media glorifying military achievements of the al-Houthi insurgents.

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Saturday, November 21, 2009


Iran's population growth according to the World Bank




PS

This graph is an update to Flashdance RELOADED (Original Mix)

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Thursday, November 12, 2009




Dispelling Illusions

Last updated: November 12, 2009

November 9, 2009


My response to David 2000 on BloggersBase...

david

You are trying again to think for other people. This is a mistake. You may think that this is what the West should think. I can think that the West should think something else. But the views prevalent in the West and in particular in Europe are very different and not favorable to us.

The last war in Gaza was a tremendous PR disaster. What's left of our PR was destroyed by Lieberman and the Bibi vs Obama settlements row. The perception in the West is that it's us who are intransigent and slapped Obama in the face and not the Palestinians. The perception in the West is that we got a coalition government packed with religious hardliners and right wingers. We got a foreign minister who is virtually a persona non grata just about everywhere. Even when it comes to the US, Bibi prefers to go there in person or send Barak but to keep Lieberman at home.

The majority of Westerners, in particular in Europe, are not interested to go into details about the settlements natural growth or to hear that some parts of the West Bank will be part of Israel anyway. What they got from Bibi's quarreling with Obama over the settlements is that we are bent on settling the West Bank. The only plausible in the eyes of the Western public explanation of why we are in the West Bank is that this was imposed on us by the Arab hostility. Now we have undermined this argument by our own hands by defying Obama on the settlements growth. Once again, you may think that the Western public should be more sensitive to the nuances of our situation, and I may even agree with you, but the Western public will never be ready to go that far to understand our predicament here. Never mind, and lets be honest about it, we have more than enough people in the current coalition who think that we are in the West Bank not as a kind of preventive measure like stopping suicide bombers but because we are indeed intending to settle it.

Meanwhile the Palestinians are about to make a brilliant move by abandoning support for the two state solution and insisting instead on a binational state. This is the ultimate PR killer. There is nothing the Western public except fundamentalist Christians would love more than this. If the Palestinians are smart enough to formulate their position correctly, they will say that there is already a binational state and it cannot be split into two. The only thing that's missing is to abolish this apartheid and grant everybody equal rights.

And if this happens, then it's just a matter of time before the international consensus will be like: You seem to love this West Bank so much that you can't even stop settling it. No problem. Just be sure to provide citizenship to all counterparties involved and you can keep this piece of wasteland to yourselves. At this point even Bibi's oratory skills may fail to stop sanctions from being put in place. And that's the situation. Deal with it!

As to Jordan, nobody is going to order the king to commit suicide in the West Bank. How do you imagine this happening? That the US tells him: Go get your Vietnam in the West Bank or we'll punish you with sanctions?



November 12, 2009

Lessons from South Africa

Another post from BoggersBase. Highly recommended

. . .

Today, Israel (like White South Africa in the 80s) appears to be living under the illusion that she has all the time in the world. The illusion that with her economy, the IDF, support from the US and Diaspora communities, she has no need to set her borders, find- rather than just seek – peace, and come to an accommodation with the other inhabitants of Palestine. There are far too many dangerous illusions at work here. The illusion of brave little Israel, alone against the world. The illusion that we don’t need peace; that we can survive in a state of low-intensity conflict forever. The illusion that we only need one ally, and that we are free to thumb our noses at her views when they don’t suit us. The illusion that the only outpost of democracy in the region would never be abandoned. The illusion that we can’t be replaced as America’s most dependable ally in the region. The illusion that we contribute too much to the world to be cast aside. The illusion that we are right and the rest of the world is wrong. The illusion that we are protected by the lessons and guilt of the Holocaust. And, perhaps most dangerous of all, the illusion that the God of Israel would not allow her be destroyed again.

. . .

Source: Last days of Apartheid South Africa – Lessons for Israel


PS

I decided to rename this post into Dispelling Illusions.

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Sunday, November 8, 2009




What's dead is DEAD

The opposition in Iran was demonstrating again during the celebrations of the 1979 US embassy takeover with veteran hostage-takers often leading the protests. This fact can hardly surprise people who lived through the collapse of the former Soviet Union (such as the author of this blog) as opposition movements in Moscow and other big Russian cities were densely packed with people who while opposing the system would often remain loyal to communist ideals (It was different outside Russia where opposition was usually dominated by anti Russian nationalists).

In general, several misconceptions seem to be widespread among the Western public regarding the identity of the opposition. Even among the young generation many dissenters combine deep frustration and disillusionment with the current system, with a virulent hostility and mistrust towards the West. Another thing is that many in the opposition movement don't necessarily reject the idea of Islamic republic as such. Rather they tend to stress the democratic aspects of this concept.

When it comes to guessing what may happen in a not very probable case that the opposition gets the upper hand in the near future, it's important to keep in mind that what many in the opposition want is rather similar to "socialism with a human face" with which much of the anti Soviet opposition in Russia wanted to replace the Communist system. In the Soviet case this meant avoiding capitalism and preserving the so called social achievements of Communism such as free health care, education, equality and such stuff while injecting a massive doze of democracy and basic freedoms into the system. In the Iranian case the idea is about a more open and representative system that still somehow remains Islamic and does not become just another Western like parliamentarian democracy.

History, however, has its own ways of making itself and is a big fan of paradoxes and contradictions. Shortly after the failed anti Gorbachiov coup, amidst growing lawlessness and economic collapse, the Russian government had to remove price and other controls and leave the economy to disintegrate into a free market. With the best of its intentions, the Iranian opposition is very likely to end in the same way by collapsing the system which it only wants to restore to its original purpose by means of reforms.

One of the more curious findings that emerged from some polls carried out on the eave of the elections is that while majority of Iranians don't oppose the idea of having Supreme Leader in principle, they would like to have him directly elected and not nominated by the Guardian Council. This says a lot about what a huge part of this opposition should be about. There are several reasons, however, why the opposition is very likely to find its ambitions frustrated and surprisingly one of them may be the lack of cooperation on the part of the clergy. This one touches on another misconception widespread in the West, which is that Iran is a theocratic state. Iran may be a theocratic state, but through the 30 years of its existence it managed to imprison more Shia clerics than the secularly oriented Shah who preceded it. If anything, Iran is a theocratic state usurped by a fraction of the clergy and, as far as Ahmadinejad and his Revolutionary Guard comrades go, they are no great clerics at all. Even the Supreme Leader himself is claimed to be widely despised in Qom for his lack of impressive scholarly credentials.

Basically, the Islamic nature of the republic is supposed to be guaranteed through supervision and direct intervention by the clerics, led by the Supreme Leader under the concept known as Velayat e Faqih elaborated and applied by Khomeini. The only problem with this idea is that it seems to have become unpopular even among the leading Ayatollahs of the Shia world. Even the spiritual leader of Hezbollah, Mohammad Fadlallah, does not endorse it and in Iraq it's squarely out of question. In Iran itself large chunks of clergy appear to have reverted to political quietism eschewing politics. Besides a bunch of hard liners, Iran's Grand Ayatollahs were either silent during the latest mess or openly disproved of the state's treatment of protesters. In fact, in some quarters of the high Shia clergy political apathy and indifference appear now giving place to intense hostility towards the regime.

In case the opposition wins, it may try to relegate the Supreme Leader to the background by stripping his office of much of its current authority and making him elected through popular elections. But on one hand, there is little sense in keeping the Supreme Leader in office if for all practical purposes he becomes like Israeli presidents and wields only ceremonial power. Let alone that the Guardian Council and the office of the Supreme Leader have been thoroughly discredited by the actions of Khamenei and its members. On the other hand, it's very likely that the only clerics interested in taking such an offer would be from the conservative hardcore still rallying behind Khamenei widely detested and hated among the opposition's rank and file.

The last scenario is actually a very likely one. The prestige and authority of Iran's regime was left in shambles after the elections debacle and it's a safe bet that they were lost to the Iraqi branch. In Iraq the Grand Ayatollahs, including the most prominent of them all al-Sistani, have made it known right from the beginning that they prefer spiritual guidance from outside instead of direct involvement the style of Velayat e Faqih. Iraq's next elections may be won by coalitions of secular parties and al-Sistani does not appear troubled by this prospect in any way. In case the Iranian regime disintegrates, prominent clerics untainted by support for the crackdown on the opposition are very likely to reveal themselves as followers of al-Sistani and his Iraqi branch and refuse even ceremonial posts. Some may happen uninterested even in projecting spiritual and moral guidance from outside so deep is the disillusionment with political Islam created by Khomeinism among the Shia clergy.

In short, the opposition does not seem to be in possession of means to preserve the Islamic nature of the Republic and its "Islamic republic with a human face" is very likely to end up as just another republic. Meanwhile the scandal surrounding the elections has been increasingly transformed into one about the crackdown on the opposition. The decision to throw the Baseej into the mess has triggered cascading series of abuse, torture and allegations of other atrocities with the whole thing snowballing out of the regime's control. Until now the regime was wavering and unable to deliver a crushing blow to silence the dissent which is understandable given that Iran in 2009 is very different from Iran in 1979. One of the things that seem to be gone is the ability to execute people en mass. But this wavering and indecisiveness have actually exacerbated the crisis and turned into a never ending scandal deeply embarrassing and demoralizing for the regime.

This last point is an important one since contrary to another popular misconception Iran is no al-Kaida turned a state, but a revolutionary regime rather like the same old Soviet Union. Its ultimate purpose and raison d'être is to provide inspiration to masses across the Muslim World and keep exporting its revolution. Contrary to what many Israelis seem to think, Ahmadinejad's bravado aside, this is no suicidal self destructive entity eager to find itself annihilated or badly crippled in an exchange of nuclear strikes with Israel or the USA. From its very beginning the Revolution's goal was to create a utopian society which Khomeini envisioned as a kind of hybrid between Russian Communism and his rather unorthodox interpretation of the Shia Islam. Creating this new revolutionary society and exporting it to all corners of the Muslim World is what the ideology of this regime is about. It's not about self annihilation. But these days scenes of hundreds of thousands strong demonstrations crushed through application of brutal force are unpopular even in the Muslim world. With Iran's standing even in the Shia world hitting the floor in the wake of the post election turmoil and now digging even deeper into the ground, this revolutionary project seems to have suffered an irreversible setback.

As a matter of last resort, the Revolutionary Guard may try to stage a coup and such a possibility was indeed speculated about, by Stratfor by example. In fact, one Stratfor analyst was interpreting the post election mess as a struggle between the Islamic Revolution's old guard such as Rafsanjani and others and the new and more radical generation led by Ahmadinejad and his Guard colleagues. While this is not entirely untrue, it's missing one of the most outstanding features of this revolution. Revolutions are said to devour their children, but this revolution is so young that it's apparently attempting to devour both its children and its fathers. The opposition is actually driven by a peculiar alliance of the revolution's old guard and the young generation united against Ahmadinejad and his middle generation. But regardless of who wins in the short and medium run, the Revolution and its Republic are probably dead already. Neither the hardliners can resuscitate this revolution, nor the reformists can reform this Islamic republic. What's dead is dead.

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Wednesday, November 4, 2009




Blasted OPEN

Some people claim the energy crisis is OVER. In fact, they say that not only it's over, the crisis is not going to happen for at least a few next decades. We are going to be awash in natural gas and natural gas powered electricity. So we are also going to be awash in electric cars and cars running on gas. And of course the first thing that emerges in my mind when I hear such exciting news is: So what's about the Arabs? (And the Persians too)

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