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  • Bolsonaro’s Brazil | LRB
    Read this masterful piece by Perry Anderson even if you know nothing about Brazil, it has insights about weak democracies and clientelist systems that are universal

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The French website Mediapart has an interesting scoop by Arthur Herbert about the crash of a Rafale jet just as French President Emmanuel Macron was visiting Egypt. According to the report, the crash took place on 28 January, on the day that Macron met with Egyptian President Abdelfattah al-Sisi: they were discussing some €1.5bn’s worth of contracts being negotiated and Macron let Sisi know that he would bring up human rights concerns in a speech later that day, a rare mention of the topic ever since, under Macron and his predecessor François Hollande, France became one of Egypt’s top cheerleaders in the EU. A Rafale jet piloted by Major Mohtadi al-Shazli – one of the first Egyptian pilots trained to use the Rafale after their initial purchase in 2017 said to be involved in the May 2017 raid on Derna in eastern Libya – crashed for unknown reasons.

No one wants to discuss the crash, particularly as Egypt is negotiating the purchase additional Rafales, which at over €100m a piece (24 were bought in 2015, most probably with at least some UAE or Saudi co-funding or guarantee, more are scheduled despite the Egyptian Air Force already having a considerable fleet of other modern fighters, especially American F-16s) are the subject of controversy since the country has faced a major economic downturn in recent years and Sisi has massively increased spending both on defense procurement (especially with France and Germany) and prestige projects such as the widening of the Suez Canal. Until a few years ago France struggled to sell the Rafale, and Egypt’s purchase was a major coup – should a technical problem be at fault, it could cause problems for future contracts. Egypt appears to have tried to cover the story, and even spread rumors that the jet in question was a Chinese K-8E Karakorum rather than a Rafale, and most French officials are refusing to comment.

Mediapart (which is among the fiercest critic of Macron’s presidency from the left) is highlighting both the commercial fallout and Macron’s apparent discomfiture at a press event in Cairo, just after he learned about the crash:

Lundi 28 janvier 2019. Il est peu après 13 heures. Au Caire, Emmanuel Macron en visite d’État en Égypte, sort d’un entretien avec son homologue Abdel Fattah al-Sissi. C’est une visite compliquée : alors que l’Élysée avait annoncé la signature d’une avalanche de contrats pour près d’un milliard d’euros, plusieurs ne seront finalement pas signés ou contre toute attente transformés en simples protocoles d’accord.

Le chef d’État français a aussi prévenu : si un an et demi auparavant il avait donné un blanc-seing au président égyptien en affirmant ne « pas vouloir donner de leçons », cette fois à la conférence de presse qui est sur le point de se tenir, il évoquera ouvertement les violations des droits fondamentaux qui ont cours en Égypte.

L’ambiance est pénible. Dans la grande salle à dorures du palais présidentiel, une quarantaine de journalistes sont en train de s’installer. Derrière les grandes portes en bois marquetées, quelques secondes avant de se présenter devant la presse, une autre mauvaise nouvelle est glissée à l’oreille du président français : un Rafale vient d’être perdu.

Peu de temps avant, à 100 km au nord-ouest du Caire, sur la base aérienne militaire de Gabal al-Basur, le Rafale EM02-9352 des forces armées égyptiennes vient de s’écraser. Sous les yeux d’une équipe de formateurs et d’experts de Dassault Aviation, l’appareil flambant neuf, livré le 4 avril 2017 à l’Égypte a piqué du nez avant de se fracasser au sol.

À son bord, le major Mohtady al-Shazly, un pilote de l’armée de l’air égyptienne, connu sous le matricule « Cobra », était l’une des toutes premières recrues entraînées en France pour piloter les Rafale fraîchement acquis par les Égyptiens.

Originaire du village d’al-Atarsha, dans la localité d’al-Bagourg au nord du pays, l’homme de 32 ans, père de deux enfants, a été enterré le soir même en présence du gouverneur de Menoufyia. Lors des funérailles et sur les réseaux sociaux, l’homme est porté en « martyr ». On lui attribue notamment les bombardements égyptiens contre l’organisation de l’État islamique à Derna en Libye en mai 2017. Une opération menée après l’attaque qui avait tué vingt-huit fidèles coptes près d’al-Minya.

Contactés quelques heures après l’accident, les responsables de Dassault Aviation étaient injoignables. Au même moment, Éric Trappier, dirigeant de l’entreprise qui construit les Rafale, était dans la délégation qui accompagnait le président français au Caire. En dehors du petit cercle directement touché par la nouvelle, les officiels et les directeurs d’entreprise faisant partie du voyage n’ont pas été tenus informés, a confié l’un d’eux.

Devant un parterre de Français expatriés au Caire et d’Égyptiens francophones conviés à une réception tenue par le président français le soir même, à la tribune, lorsqu’il s’exprime devant le public, Emmanuel Macron tente de ne rien laisser percevoir. Dans l’assistance, on remarque néanmoins « un discours brouillon, comme s’il avait été mal préparé ». « On aurait dit qu’il venait juste de se prendre un gros scud dans la tête », ironise innocemment un invité.

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Having not posted links since last August (it’s been a very busy few months), I am now resuming more regular linking. Look for them once a week or so - in the batch below, the more recent ones are on top, the rest may date back several weeks or even months.

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Lovely piece by Lindsey Hilsum for the Financial Times, who has written a biography of the journalist Marie Colvin, recently immortalized on film, that does not hide her personal turmoil:

I wrote at length about Marie’s problems with alcohol. Although she was professionally successful, had a supportive network of close friends and a life she enjoyed in London, she was often unhappy and at times despairing. Her last boyfriend, Richard Flaye, told me that sometimes when he stroked her, he would feel tiny, sharp pieces of shrapnel accumulated over a lifetime working their way out of her skin. It was as if her body was trying to rid itself of all the horror she had experienced.

That, then, is the danger of the myth of Marie. What bothers me is not that she went too far to get the story but that she was careless with herself, both her body and her mind. Her story is not just exemplary, but also cautionary. These days, editors are far more aware of the dangers of PTSD, but young journalists, often freelance, determined to make their name, may still underestimate the toll the life may take on them. Not all war correspondents are traumatised or injured, but many find it hard to maintain stable relationships. Marie’s private life was a war zone, just like the conflicts she covered — there was nothing glamorous about her suffering.

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Amro Ali, writing on his blog (and originally in al-Sharq):

Following the 2011 Arab uprisings and its innumerable tragic outcomes, Berlin was strategically and politically ripe to emerge as an exile capital. For some time now, there has been a growing and conscious Arab intellectual community, the political dimensions of which to fully crystalize is what I wish to further explore.

When the storm of history breaks out a tectonic political crisis, from revolutions to wars to outright persecution, then a designated city will consequently serve as the gravitational center and refuge for intellectual exiles. This is, for example, what New York was for post-1930s Jewish intellectuals fleeing Europe, and what Paris became for Latin American intellectuals fleeing their country’s dictatorships in the 1970s and 1980s.

Against those historical precedents, the Arab intellectual community in Berlin needs to understand itself better, moving away from an auto-pilot arrangement, and become actively engaged with political questions that face it. In effect, there is a dire necessity for this community to acquire a name, shape, form and a mandate of sorts. With a vigorous eye to a possible long-term outcome, this may include a school of thought, a political philosophy or even an ideational movement – all cross-fertilized through a deeper engagement with the Arab world.

This is certainly not about beckoning revolutions and uprisings, nor to relapse into the stale talk of institutional reforms. If anything, there needs to be a move away from these tired tropes of transformation – away from quantifiable power dynamics that do not address matters that go deeper, into the existential level that shores up the transnational Arab sphere. This is the very area where the stream of human life animates a language of awareness and the recurring initiative helps to expand the spaces of dignity for fellow beings. Yet, this area is currently ravaged in a torrent of moral misery and spiritual crisis.

Having travelled to Berlin multiple times in the last few years, and knowing quite a few Arab exiles there and the wider German community that often hosts them – think-tanks, stiftungs, universities, etc. – I am struck by the emergence of the city as a genuine hub for quite varied Arab intellectual activity and political activism. For Egyptians in particular (Amro is Egyptian), it has been a sometimes difficult host: the Egyptian embassy is unusually active in following the diaspora community, sending its goons to disrupt gatherings, defend the Sisi regime at conferences, and I’ve heard reports of harassment of certain activists there.

Angela Merkel’s government has been usually craven (for Germany, that is, which unlike say France or Italy has tended to defend human rights more consistently in the past and have fewer economic interests in the Arab world) in pandering to the Sisi regime, staging state visits and at the EU level refraining from much criticism. Part of this is driven early bets Sisi made on German business, including very lucrative contracts for Siemens and for the German defense industry, but also by Merkel’s need to watch her right flank after her (admirable) intake of mostly Syrian migrants in 2015: she has sought to present Egypt as a partner in countering migration flows across the Mediterranean, although one might be skeptical about Egypt’s minor role in the migration crisis of the last few years and its ability to contribute.

But it has been welcoming to a wide array of people escaping their home countries, and Berlin has become a hub of sorts: as Amro argues, it is less politically tendentious, easier to access, and cheaper than other major Western cities with large pre-2011 Arab communities. It also more diverse and is a city that has, due to its peculiar history and relatively cheap rents, been welcoming to artists, students and bohemian life more generally. Amro’s essay is as much about the particular of appeal of Berlin as a city, rather than Germany, as it is about the condition of Arab exiles in the ongoing current great Arab exodus (perhaps not seen as region-wide as it is today since the 1970s) . An interesting essay that meanders through the history of the city, the status of exile, and the role of intellectuals in political activism; well worth reading.

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Daniel Levy – who was involved in Oslo negotiations on the Israeli side in the late 1990s – the 25th anniversary of the Oslo Accords, in Foreign Policy:

What is presented today as the peace process is in fact little more than a tag-team bullying effort by the powerful parties—Israel and the United States—against the stateless Palestinians.

He adds:

Yet the alternative path still exists. It harks back to the simple and universal formula of demonstrating to the powerful and inflexible party—Israel—that the occupation and the new realities that have been created (settlements, displacement, closures, discrimination) will not continue to be cost-free.

That will require the kind of popular and nonviolent mobilization in Palestinian society that has proved largely elusive for the last quarter century, alongside some combination of externally imposed sanctions, diplomatic pressure, and legal accountability—all of which Israel has invested heavily in averting.

Only when Palestinians regain some leverage as they did during the First Intifada will Israel begin to rediscover the need to seek common ground and what it means to think in terms of win-win scenarios rather than zero-sum equations.

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Diana Buttu, a former legal advisor to the PLO since the Oslo years, in Haaretz:

I am often asked why the negotiations process failed. It is easy to point to the rise of right-wing Israeli governments, poor leadership or weak or uninterested U.S. presidents. But the real reason for failure lie beyond these factors.

It is because the parties should not have started negotiating in the first place. To demand that Palestinians - living under Israeli military rule - negotiate with their occupier and oppressor is akin to demanding that a hostage negotiate with their hostage taker. It is repugnant that the world demands that Palestinians negotiate their freedom, while Israel continues to steal Palestinian land. Instead, Israel should have faced sanctions for continuing to deny Palestinians their freedom while building illegal settlements.

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Wonderful long read in the Guardian by Nathan Thrall – a really good exploration of how BDS emerged and how Israel and its supporters are seeking to counter it, including in ways that are deeply dangerous to freedom of speech. Here's a sample but set aside some time to read the whole thing:

The Ministry of Strategic Affairs has outsourced much of its anti-BDS activity in foreign countries, helping to establish and finance front groups and partner organisations, in an attempt to minimise the appearance of Israeli interference in the domestic politics of its allies in Europe and the US. Kuper said that anti-BDS groups were now “sprouting like mushrooms after the rain”. He and a number of other former intelligence and security officials are members of one of them, Kella Shlomo, described as a “PR commando unit” that will work with and receive tens of millions of dollars from the Ministry of Strategic Affairs. In 2016, Israel’s embassy in London sent a cable to Jerusalem complaining that the strategic affairs ministry was endangering British Jewish organisations, most of which are registered as charities and forbidden from political activity: “‘operating’ Jewish organisations directly from Jerusalem … is liable to be dangerous” and “could encounter opposition from the organisations themselves, given their legal status; Britain isn’t the US!” Last year, al-Jazeera aired undercover recordings of an Israeli official working out of the London embassy, who described being asked by the Ministry of Strategic Affairs to help establish a “private company” in the UK that would work for the Israeli government and in liaison with pro-Israel groups like Aipac.

To Israeli liberals, the gravest threat from BDS is that it has induced in their government a reaction so reckless and overreaching that it resembles a sort of auto-immune disease, in which the battle against BDS also damages the rights of ordinary citizens and the organs of democracy. Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs has utilised the intelligence services to surveil and attack delegitimisers of Israel. It called to establish a blacklist of Israeli organisations and citizens who support the nonviolent boycott campaign, created a “tarnishing unit” to besmirch the reputations of boycott supporters, and placed paid articles in the Israeli press. Leftwing Israeli Jews have been summoned for interrogation or stopped at the border by agents of the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security agency, who described themselves as officers working against delegitimisation. Israel has banned 20 organisations from entry for their political opinions, including the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker group that won a Nobel peace prize for helping Holocaust refugees and that now supports self-determination for Israelis and Palestinians while also endorsing BDS.

Last year, the Israeli intelligence minister, Yisrael Katz, called publicly for “targeted civil assassinations” of activists such as the BDS co-founder Omar Barghouti, a permanent resident of Israel. Barghouti was also threatened by Israel’s minister of public security and strategic affairs: “Soon any activist who uses their influence to delegitimise the only Jewish state in the world will know they will pay a price for it … We will soon be hearing more of our friend Barghouti.” Not long after, Barghouti was prevented from exiting the country, and last year Israeli authorities searched his home and arrested him for tax evasion.

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Now that the summer holidays are over, time to get rid of the backlog of links for the last few weeks:

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Wonderful long read in the Guardian by Nathan Thrall – a really good exploration of how BDS emerged and how Israel and its supporters are seeking to counter it, including in ways that are deeply dangerous to freedom of speech. Here's a sample but set aside some time to read the whole thing:

The Ministry of Strategic Affairs has outsourced much of its anti-BDS activity in foreign countries, helping to establish and finance front groups and partner organisations, in an attempt to minimise the appearance of Israeli interference in the domestic politics of its allies in Europe and the US. Kuper said that anti-BDS groups were now “sprouting like mushrooms after the rain”. He and a number of other former intelligence and security officials are members of one of them, Kella Shlomo, described as a “PR commando unit” that will work with and receive tens of millions of dollars from the Ministry of Strategic Affairs. In 2016, Israel’s embassy in London sent a cable to Jerusalem complaining that the strategic affairs ministry was endangering British Jewish organisations, most of which are registered as charities and forbidden from political activity: “‘operating’ Jewish organisations directly from Jerusalem … is liable to be dangerous” and “could encounter opposition from the organisations themselves, given their legal status; Britain isn’t the US!” Last year, al-Jazeera aired undercover recordings of an Israeli official working out of the London embassy, who described being asked by the Ministry of Strategic Affairs to help establish a “private company” in the UK that would work for the Israeli government and in liaison with pro-Israel groups like Aipac.

To Israeli liberals, the gravest threat from BDS is that it has induced in their government a reaction so reckless and overreaching that it resembles a sort of auto-immune disease, in which the battle against BDS also damages the rights of ordinary citizens and the organs of democracy. Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs has utilised the intelligence services to surveil and attack delegitimisers of Israel. It called to establish a blacklist of Israeli organisations and citizens who support the nonviolent boycott campaign, created a “tarnishing unit” to besmirch the reputations of boycott supporters, and placed paid articles in the Israeli press. Leftwing Israeli Jews have been summoned for interrogation or stopped at the border by agents of the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security agency, who described themselves as officers working against delegitimisation. Israel has banned 20 organisations from entry for their political opinions, including the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker group that won a Nobel peace prize for helping Holocaust refugees and that now supports self-determination for Israelis and Palestinians while also endorsing BDS.

Last year, the Israeli intelligence minister, Yisrael Katz, called publicly for “targeted civil assassinations” of activists such as the BDS co-founder Omar Barghouti, a permanent resident of Israel. Barghouti was also threatened by Israel’s minister of public security and strategic affairs: “Soon any activist who uses their influence to delegitimise the only Jewish state in the world will know they will pay a price for it … We will soon be hearing more of our friend Barghouti.” Not long after, Barghouti was prevented from exiting the country, and last year Israeli authorities searched his home and arrested him for tax evasion.

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