Links for January 31st

Links from my account for January 31st:

It had to happen

Well, I have held out forever, but this morning I finally did it…I joined Facebook.

I had to, after reading yet another article (in the New York Times Magazine) about the way social networking software is sweeping across the Middle East. 

The story focuses on the April 6 Facebook group that was established last year to plan a general anti-government strike, and currently has about 70,000 members. While this is clearly an interesting development, the article’s title–“Revolution: Facebook Style”–promises more than it can deliver: last April, despite the Facebook mobilization, there was no strike to speak of. (Meanwhile, like almost all US media coverage, the piece barely discusses the numerous labour protests that have been going on in the country for years, and that did culminate, on that day, in anti-government rioting in the city of Mahalla.)

I enjoyed the article because of the lively portraits of the online activists and of “Facebook Girl” Esraa Rashid, and some of the details about their relationships and disagreements. 

That said, I wonder why they don’t send someone who speaks and reads Arabic to do a story of this kind, since the #1 thing it requires is hours and hours of reading posts and comments online, getting a sense of the tone and scope of discussions. I for one would have liked it if the piece had quoted the online-discussions more.

Links for January 29th

Links from my account for January 29th:

Links for January 28th

Links from my account for January 28th:

CBS’ 60 Minutes on Palestine

This has been much talked about in the last few days, and I have just caught up with it and watched it. The incredible, unprecedented thing about this documentary is that it takes the time to examine the living conditions of Palestinians, the nasty mindedness of the settler movement and Israel’s policy of supporting it. All of this is public knowledge for those who care to look for it, the big deal here is that for those who don’t care, just turned on the TV, are ill-informed, a US broadcaster has just shown a straight-up account of the occupation of Palestine that is not automatically followed by a “Israel says this, Palestinians say that” idiocy or a reaffirmation of “Israel’s right to defend itself.” So yes, it’s a big deal.

Watch on the CBS website (can be difficult with low-speed internet), or YouTube (part 1, part 2) and then take the time to thanks CBS for having given the settlement issue a fair hearing.

Links for January 28th

Links from my account for January 28th:

Obama’s TV appearance

A very few quick notes on Obama’s appearance on Arabiya TV:

– Very good on the Obama team to have made this move, which was necessary, so quickly.
– It repairs some, but only some, of the damage caused by his silence on Gaza.
– The choice of Arabiya was most probably a decision to appeal to the Saudis, have Obama underline the importance of their Arab Initiative which has been snubbed by Israel and the US under Bush.
– Nonetheless Arabiya is problematic – this is the channel dubbed Hibriya (The Hebrew One) because of its coverage of the Gaza crisis and that generally defends the views of Riyadh, Cairo and other problematic US allies. This confirms that Obama will not, like Bush since 2006, go against Egypt and Saudi on domestic issues and there won’t be a rethink of the US relationship with these. But if you thought that would happen, you’re stupid.
– Should Obama have gone to Jazeera instead? Perhaps not, for both domestic reasons (the criticism he would expose himself to, even if unwarranted) and because there are genuine US complaints about Jazeera. But at some later point, he should go to Jazeera – especially if it is to pitch a major conflict resolution initiative in the region. At the end of the day, despite its bias, Arabiya is the number two pan-Arab stations. (In many countries, like the rest of the world, Arabs actually watch their national TV stations most.)
– Obama’s next move should be to disband al-Hurra. It’s a useless waste of money.
– Obama’s line that the US should “start by listening” will be taken (along with the phone calls) with enormous pleasure by Egyptian diplomats, among others, who felt that the advice of Arab allies was ignored under Bush.
– I am also disturbed at why an American president would say Israel’s security is “paramount” – as in more important than anything? Why should it be? Why not say it’s a “red line” in the grand old style of Arab leaders?
– What this says (as much as this kind of interview can say anything deep) is that the Obama approach compared to Bush, for now, is more active and tough on Iran, same on Israel but more involved on peace process, Forward Agenda for Freedom is dropped because conflict resolution and managing Iran is more important, and greater attention to communication issues.

The professional analysis is of course at Marc Lynch’s blog, here and here. Juan Cole has the interview and transcript. Update: Another take here.

Regarding the issue of Hillary Clinton’s “Israel’s right to defend itself” comment, I think the US should stop using this formulation. Why not instead say, “did Hamas expect Israel to do nothing as it launched rockets?” Obviously I’d like to see some serious concern, repeatedly voiced, for the IDF’s behavior in Gaza and the disproportionality of the conflict.