The long Saudization of Egypt

Arsenal Bolt: Quick updates on the news stories we’re following.

Saudi Arabia: On the Inside Track in EgyptHow extremism migrated from Saudi Arabia to Egypt. By Patrycja Sasnal for The Globalist:

In the 1950s, Egypt was a secular, revolutionary, modernist republic, where moderate Hanafi and Shafi’i religious jurisprudence prevailed. In contrast, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was an Islamic, anti-revolutionary, conservative kingdom with the domination of the socially most oppressive of all established Islamic currents: Hanbali-Wahhabi school.
When Nasser started persecuting the Muslim Brotherhood in 1953, the Saudis gave thousands of these Brothers safe haven in their country.

These young Islamists lived a powerful dream as they literally built Saudi Arabia’s educational and media systems from scratch. They arrived initially with a moderate brand of Islamism, but on “fertile” Saudi soil they gradually radicalized and expanded their visions and goals.

The second and truly mass flow of Egyptian migrants to Saudi Arabia started in 1974, right after the oil crisis and subsequent rise of oil prices. […] Based on available data it is safe to estimate that at least 10-20 million Egyptians have worked and lived in Saudi Arabia in the past 40 years, possibly accounting for a quarter of the Egyptian population.

Even if these millions were initially welcome in the Kingdom thanks to their linguistic, cultural and religious compatibility with the locals, they were soon exposed to diametrically different working conditions than in Egypt.

There was complete separation of male and female workplaces, formal and factual subjugation to a Saudi patron and an extremely conservative social space. There also was obligatory prayer and Friday sermons delivered by Wahhabi imams. There was no mixing of the sexes in the streets, when visiting friends or at schools – as well as obligatory full body cover for women.
Instead of rejecting Saudi Arabia’s cultural model, the majority of returning Egyptians, after years working there, adopted it. There were three main reasons for that:
1. The obvious economic strength of the Saudi model (attributed to its religiosity)
2. An aspirational view among labor migrants toward their Saudi patrons)
3. The formative social role of mass migrant returnees, who become motors of development once back in their homeland.

The conservative returnees literally “made” the Egyptian economy of today – both its good parts and all its deep-seated problems.
Nor has this process of supplanting the rich cultural traditions of Egypt with the imported, narrow ideologies of Saudi Arabia ended. A million or more migrant workers have yet to return.

Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabis have officially supported hardline Egyptian Salafism – which generally opposes all non-theocratic absolutist forms of government – for at least a century. Personal and financial ties between Egypt’s Salafists leaders, thinkers and organizations and Saudi Arabia are plentiful and longstanding.

This relationship expanded after the 2011 revolution, as the Salafists vied against Islamic democrats for influence over young minds.

Read the full article.

Previously from AFD on these topics:

“Women in Egypt want their basic human rights back”
“Further adventures in Egyptian pseudo-secularism”
“4 reasons the US doesn’t need Saudi Arabia anymore”

The pluralism of the real caliphates

Arsenal Bolt: Quick updates on the news stories we’re following.


“IS: Neither Islamic nor state, but is it a caliphate?” Mamoon Alabbasi for Middle East Eye — Observers argue that IS is neither Islamic nor a state, but what legacy would it have as a ‘caliphate’ compared to some of its predecessors?

“There are other aspects of the caliphate throughout the history of Islam that are worth noting – aspects that fly in the face of IS’s declared war on anyone who does not share their particular interpretation of the faith,” said Lyons, who is also currently working on a revisionist history of the Muslim world.

“Chief among these was the remarkable ethnic, linguistic and religious pluralism that characterised the institution for much of its early history, a fruitful mixing of cultures and traditions which made the Islamic empire of the late medieval period the leading world centre of science, philosophy and culture,” he added.

In some eras during the history of that caliphate, the treatment of minorities and the promotion of education particularly stood out in stark contrast to IS’s inflammatory rhetoric to anything that originates from what they perceive as outsiders.

“Under the Abbasid caliphs, who made Baghdad their capital in 762 CE, the Islamic empire greedily absorbed learning from disparate traditions and cultures – Jewish, Hindu, Zoroastrian, Syriac Christians and pagan – as a matter of state-sanctioned intellectual policy,” said Lyons.

“Abbasid scholars then went on to new heights in philosophy, medicine, mathematics, astronomy and other sciences, achieving breakthroughs that later laid the foundation for Europe’s own scientific and intellectual development,” he added.

Read the rest.

Only more fighter jets can calm Gulf state nerves now

Arsenal Bolt: Quick updates on the news stories we’re following.

“The Iran Deal: Just Another Sales Opportunity” – The Globalist
The Gulf countries are lusting for more U.S. military hardware. Washington’s influence peddlers love that. By Stephan Richter:

[…] the deal has actually turned into a major business opportunity for him and his firm. “Take the Gulf states, for example,” he said.

“They are obviously very nervous about the U.S. government doing a deal with Iran, which they consider their arch enemy – not least because of the Shiite connection. Same for the Saudis. And that’s a good thing.

“Why then worry about what’s in it for Iran or not? While these Gulf nations complain about the deal very publicly and very loudly, all this translates into in the real world is an ardent desire on the part of these countries to buy even more arms from the United States. What’s not to like about that?”

Obviously, the man’s “consulting” firm was operating as an eager facilitator for such transactions. Those deals all translated into very nice sales commissions, which would boost his and other senior managers’ annual salaries big time.


A Royal Saudi Air Force F-15 Eagle fighter aircraft, May 1992, Operation Desert Shield. (Credit: U.S. Department of Defense / TECH. SGT. H. H. DEFFNER)

A Royal Saudi Air Force F-15 Eagle fighter aircraft, May 1992, Operation Desert Shield. (Credit: U.S. Department of Defense / TECH. SGT. H. H. DEFFNER)

FT: “Syria rebels sceptical about Turkey’s plan to tackle IS”

Arsenal Bolt: Quick updates on the news stories we’re following.


“Syria rebels sceptical about Turkey’s plan to tackle IS” – Financial Times wire via the Irish Times:

“The talk of a buffer zone surprised us – we have heard nothing like that,” said Munthir Sallal, a rebel official co-ordinating with the coalition who said rebel commanders met Turkish officials in Ankara yesterday.
An opposition activist close to the US confirmed plans for increased Turkish participation with the coalition, which began dispatching the first rebel units it trained and armed earlier this month.

The coalition has also been training activists from opposition councils in areas seized by IS to ensure a smooth transition to civilian rule.

But opposition members say they have been repeatedly promised by Turkey and the US that operations were imminent, and are sceptical.

Previously from AFD on this topic:

“Mapping the projected Turkish occupation zone in Syria”
“U.S. agrees to clear a ‘safe zone’ in northern Syria”

Kurdish House Mafia

Arsenal Bolt: Quick updates on the news stories we’re following.

Another consequence of the unregulated and politically destabilizing flood of weapons to Kurdish militants is that allegedly low-grade (i.e. infrastructural) ethnic cleansing is being conducted by some Iraqi Kurdish forces in evacuated areas (areas previously Arabized by Saddam Hussein, of course, but still a war crime).

The evidence, aid workers and residents say, is in the destroyed, empty villages scattered along the front line between Erbil and Mosul and the dusty flats south of Kirkuk.

“These houses are all being destroyed after the conflict,” said another aid worker who works across Iraqi Kurdistan, speaking anonymously so as not to anger the Kurdistan Regional Government and lose access.

The destruction in some villages appears to go beyond simple collateral damage. On a trip to the front line in the area of al-Gweir, 35 miles southwest of Erbil, it looked as though an impossible wind had blown through, yanking house after house down on one side. The fields and gardens that had fed these mostly Arab villages were charred and black.

Heavy fighting has devastated much of northern Iraq, but humanitarian workers, who have seen dozens of these villages, describe consistent and curious patterns of destruction: scorched fields and empty, burnt-out houses stripped down to the wiring. No livestock, no machinery, no curtains, crockery, or any other detritus of daily life that fleeing people typically leave.

“They want to change these villages demographically,” said a Kirkuk-based aid worker. “If they burn and destroy these villages, people won’t come back. And they want the Arabs to go elsewhere.”

Read the rest of the in-depth and in-person investigation.

A map of greater Iraqi Kurdistan including Kurdish Regional Government territory, some militia-held territories captured in the war against ISIS, and territories historically Kurdish before "Arabization" policies.

A map of greater Iraqi Kurdistan including Kurdish Regional Government territory, some militia-held territories captured in the war against ISIS (only as of August 2014), and territories historically Kurdish before “Arabization” policies.

The Globalist: “Turkey and Iran: The Best of Frenemies”

Arsenal Bolt: Quick updates on the news stories we’re following.


Merve Tahiroglu and Behnam Ben Taleblu explain how Turkey and Iran, in a tradition dating to the Ottoman and Persian Empires, both cooperate with each other and compete for Middle Eastern influence.

“Turkey and Iran: The Best of Frenemies” – The Globalist:

Thus, the nuance of their relationship is best captured by the term “frenemy.” In the nation-state context, frenemy connotes a multi-dimensional and fluid association, rather than a fixed one.

While seemingly a paradoxical concept, frenemies are able to straddle the gray area between adversity and alliance. Such nations can concurrently castigate and embrace one another other. The ties between Tehran and Ankara are among the best examples of this tendency.

As the two non-Arab powers of the Muslim Middle East, Turkey and Iran offer rival visions for the region’s order. These diverging viewpoints are first and foremost informed by the biographies of the men at the helm of each state. More broadly, they stem from the political experiences of each country in the post-colonial era.

Read the rest.

NYT: “Afghan Security Forces Struggle Just to Maintain Stalemate”

Arsenal Bolt: Quick updates on the news stories we’re following.


“Afghan Security Forces Struggle Just to Maintain Stalemate” – The New York Times

And after a casualty rate last year that the previous American commander called unsustainable, the numbers this year are even worse: up more than 50 percent compared with the first six months of 2014. About 4,100 Afghan soldiers and police officers have been killed and about 7,800 wounded, according to statistics provided by an official with the American-led coalition here.
Home visits were banned after many soldiers began deserting, and in recent months in Musa Qala and a neighboring district, there have been several cases of soldiers’ shooting themselves in the hope that they would be evacuated, said Lieutenant Javed, who spoke on the condition that he be identified only by his first name.
Ahmad, a battlefield medic in Musa Qala who would only give his first name, said that he and his colleagues treated arm and leg wounds on the front lines, but that “when the soldiers got wounded on chest, head and abdomen, we cannot treat them or stop bleeding.”

Periodically cut off by the Taliban, the soldiers have not always been able to evacuate casualties out of the district.

(From my previous reading, U.S. airborne medical evacuation coverage — which used to extend across nearly the whole country — was one of the last things keeping the Afghan Army in the fight. Without that, they’re up a creek without a paddle whenever someone takes a serious wound on the battlefield.)

Previously from Arsenal For Democracy on this Topic:

“The US seems pretty optimistic about Afghanistan’s army” – January 5, 2015
“Army of the Imagination?” – December 30, 2009