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January 29, 2011

De Ægypto
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 04:07 AM * 113 comments

It’s worth mentioning that I, like Scalzi, don’t know nearly enough about Egypt to blog intelligently about it. And I’m really not in a position to try to remedy that in realistic timescales.

I do have the resources to read intelligently about it. Mother Jones, Al-Jazeera and The Guardian are all doing good reporting with helpful background links.

My conclusions, such as they are: it’s a big country with a long and distinctive history. It’s neither Iran nor Tunisia. The fact that it borders Israel, and where it does so, affects everything visible and invisible about the situation. And a government with the same guy in power for 30 years is probably not hugely democratically accountable.

Closer to home, I think we’ve been supporting too damn many people who aren’t democratically accountable for us to keep preaching self-determination. I’d rather scrap the former rather than the latter. And I’m not enamored with the idea of governments shutting down the internet.

Comments on De Ægypto:
#1 ::: rgh ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2011, 05:05 AM:

Obama's comment seems a little contradictory:
"The United States will continue to stand up for the rights of the Egyptian people and work with their government."

#2 ::: Martin Wisse ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2011, 06:12 AM:

US (and to a lesser extent, EU) support for Mubarak, to the tune of iirc $1.5 billion dollars a year is the crucial difference between Tunesia and Egypt and what will crush the revolution if it can be crushed.

Though both the US and EU liked having Ben Ali in control of Tunesia and keeping it "stable" and aligned with our interests, keeping Mubarak in power is much more important, a cornerstone of US foreign policy in the Middle East. He's kept the peace with Israel and cooperated with their efforts to e.g. keep Gaza locked up, kept Lybia in check and is of course an important ally in the War on Terror. Not to mention the billions of dollars spent on military technology by Egypt, mostly bought in the US and Europe...

A genuinely democratic Egypt would be much more hostile to Israel, more sympathetic to the Palestinans and would collapse the blockage of Gaza, would not be as good a customer of Lockheed and Boeing, nor probably would want to cooperate with the US military so much as it does now.

If the revolution takes hold, it will be like Iran in 1979 -- and whether or not this means a further Islamic revolution as well is anybody's guess at the moment. But that must be what's worrying the White House, the idea that they'll lose their best ally in the Middle East and it might even turn into another Iran.

The best place to watch all this is Al Jazeera:

#3 ::: Martin Wisse ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2011, 06:22 AM:

And of course, if Egypt goes, can Algeria, Libya, Jordan, Yemen, Syria or Morocco be far behind? In the best case scenario 2011 might be the Middle East's 1989.

#4 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2011, 08:02 AM:

Don't forget the Suez Canal.

#5 ::: Jon Lennox ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2011, 08:24 AM:

rgh@1: I think the clause he's trying to imply there is "whatever that government may be."

Martin@3: I just hope it's 1989 Eastern European style, not Chinese style.

#6 ::: Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2011, 09:29 AM:

I, too, can say little in defence of the current Egyptian government. It's as corrupt, authoritarian and repressive as any. But I can tell you one Egyptian who's cursing the timing of the present tumult, however justified it might be - Zahi Hawass.

#7 ::: The Raven ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2011, 09:55 AM:

John Quiggin, over at Crooked Timber, offers a thoughtful piece on the geopolitics of the Egyptian revolution.

#8 ::: The Raven ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2011, 09:58 AM:

rgh, #1: "Obama's comment seems a little contradictory."

If the the forces of good and the forces of evil were to fight a war on Earth, I think Obama would try to negotiate a compromise between them.


#9 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2011, 10:19 AM:

Egypt--a country with a high population and high birthrate, extremely high unemployment for younger worker-age people, an entrenched corrupt government, a housing shortage (see "high birthrate"), and endemic corruption so bad that when housing starts to get built, often the buildings collapse while they're still under construction....

Most of the country is desert I think. The high fertility of history of the banks of the Nile departed with the advent of the Aswan dam, which provides electricity but which stopped the deposition of the silt which made the banks of the Nile fertile below where the dams is.

The damming of the Nile changed the flow profile of the Nile, to a much steadier flow of water without the bank flooding and without the flow dropping substantially during the year, as happened before the dam. The flow profile change caused areas which formerly were dry most of the year, to be humid instead, and increase damage and rot from the humidity in those areas where for millennia the environment was dry and the adaptations were to dryness....

#10 ::: Chris W. ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2011, 10:25 AM:

I don't blame Obama for hedging.

As someone who would love to see a Middle East filled with liberal, secular democracies, I'm not at all sure how to feel about events in Egypt. This is a rebellion against Mubarak's dictatorship, to be sure, but it's also potentially a rebellion against his conciliatory attitude toward Israel and his stubborn insistence on keeping Egypt a secular state.

If the result of this series of events is a democratic Egypt at peace with its neighbors, I will be the first to cheer. But if the result is an Iranian-style repressive regime dominated by Islamic extremists, we may all find ourselves pining for the days when Mubarak at least kept out of his citizens' bedrooms, closets and kitchens.

It looks like 2011 might be the Arab world's 1989, but it's far too early to tell whether that means simply replacing the autocrats with the theocrats.

#11 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2011, 10:30 AM:

And of course there's the Coptic problem.

#12 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2011, 10:54 AM:

What's been interesting has been the willingness of a large segment of the Muslim population to stand up as Egyptians and Arabs in solidarity with their Christian fellow-citizens against Islamist extremists. Also to stand up in defence of their national heritage against said extremists. This is a very positive sign. It isn't good for Mubarak.

I read yesterday a joke, which was also retailed on NPR this morning:

Obama calls Mubarak and says "Hosni, you need to write your farewell letter to the Egyptian people." Mubarak answers "Why? Where are they going?"

#13 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2011, 10:55 AM:

Another way of putting it, of course, is that Misr wants to end its misery.

#14 ::: rgh ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2011, 11:08 AM:

@ Chris W - This doesn't seem to be an anti-secular movement,any more than the Tunisian one was, and I can't see fundamentalism as the dividing line between supporters of the regime and opponents of Israel: note that the Saudi king has come out in favour of Mubarak. The propping up of the regime with billions of dollars of US aid may have helped fuel support for the Muslim Brotherhood, and I think you're going to have to live with the fact that Arab anger against Israel isn't some anti-democratic product of mad mullahs.
For further details follow the link at #7

Oh, and if you think that they stay out of people's closets, think again:

#15 ::: alex ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2011, 11:21 AM:

However 'well' this all goes, in the next few months, it is very hard to see a political outcome that does not result in some increased influence, over the next few years, for reactionary forces. Whether they are secular authoritarian reactionaries, or religious populist ones, we shall have to wait and see. It would be nice to think that there was an open, honest secular democracy waiting to emerge, but the experience of the last two decades stands against that.

Oh, wait, Egypt; sorry, I thought we were talking about the USA.

#16 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2011, 11:35 AM:

Egypt does not have a single culture, and it's got that enormous social issue of 16 - 25 year old for whom there are no jobs and therefore no social integration and buy-in to social stability in the existing system. It's exacerbated by dozens of qualified applicants for every requires-advanced-degree position, and corruption as regards who get considered and who the job goes to.
I suspect that if the Egyptian economy able to create/creating jobs at rates and with a distribution such that everyone looking for work could find a worthwhile job in their desired career area, Egypt would much more resemble "a nation of shopkeepers" and professionals, than a state like Saudi Arabia with its Islamic Law or Iran with a theocracy or Yemen or northern Sudan, etc.
But the 16 - 25 year olds don't have those career and aren't seeing opportunities in the present system, and that was what bred extremism the past 40+ years, and the government over that time being draconian about Islamic extremism. The religious extremists were providing social services for the indigent and poor the same way e.g. the Southern Baptists sent a mission to New York City after 9/11, as a combination of piety and outreach but with the main intent of securing loyal converts to further their takeover plans.... (The Southern Baptist Convention had had multiple webpages describing their mission to the World Trade Center are explaining how they were providing aid as bait to bring people into the mission and then start proselytizing--again, the true reason for their mission was not to provide aid, but to gain converts to further their goals of converting the entire world to comply with their credo and prescribed lifestyle. I think I may have provided links here long ago--which are probably long expired.0

Some of the extremists in Egypt who got dumped in jail and left there for years, over time claimed to have rethought their dogma and decided that violence and intolerance are wrong, instead of being proponents of violence and intolerance and showing their zeal by being in the front lines carrying out or planning atrocities.

#17 ::: Dena Shunra ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2011, 12:04 PM:

Martin @2 has most of the story - but not quite all of it. The aid from the U.S. is part of the Camp David accords. It is a prize for maintaining peace with Israel.

As things have gotten worse and worse in Palestine, it has gotten harder to sustain this. And by harder I mean, the tyranny of Mubarak has had to get worse to avoid dissent.

In terms of how he imposes his tyranny, it's like this: when Anwar Sadat was shot, Mubarak took over and imposed a temporary emergency, which included extreme power to arrest pretty much anyone that he didn't like under the general heading of "state security risk." The emergency powers have been in place from that point on.

Side note: the same mechanism is also used in neighboring Israel, where the emergency powers are under the 1945 Emergency Powers Act imposed by the British Mandate, and is mostly used to affect the Arab population (although I have had friends arrested & held incognito on charges that were too secret for them to hear even in court; in fact, too secret for their attorneys to hears. And you know what? They were found guilty. Of something, who knows what.)

Back to Egypt, though: 30 years of arbitrary law enforcement are coupled with increasing poverty, a huge population (about 80 million, much of which is very young - see wikipedia article about Egyptian Demographics for more details), and the legacy of colonialism have brought us to a time when people will rise up for liberty (it's not about the poverty, they say, again and again, everywhere I read reports from Egypt.)

The siege on Gaza and the "Cast Lead" bombing of the Gazan population has a particular sticking point, because Egyptian soldiers impose it on the Egyptian side (see $1.8 billion, above; Mubarak is basically a subcontractor for the U.S., and without that pay would have bread riots.) Egyptians tend to resent that a great deal, not being particularly anti-Gaza and not wanting to be a tool of oppression.

Anyhow, that's the undertone of Obama's threats about reconsidering funds to Egypt: those funds are there to protect Israel, as per Camp David accords. Object to Israel and go hungry.

Citations: I have not included links in this post; Wikipedia is sufficient to verify most of what I said, the people imprisoned with who-knows-what-charges is a story I'll happily tell in private, and the final paragraph is my interpretation.

#18 ::: Chris W. ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2011, 12:17 PM:

rgh @14:

I agree that I have seen no direct evidence that most Egyptians want an anti-secular theocracy. But I'm also pretty sure that many Iranians didn't want one in 1979. And I'm certain that the Russians who took to the street in 1917 or the Parisians in 1789 weren't protesting in favor of the Bolsheviks or the Jacobin reign of terror. It is the nature of revolutions that they tend to fall under the sway of small, but highly organized and disciplined groups with the willingness to seize power. I don't know who will guide this revolution after the dust settles, but there certainly are Egyptian groups that fit that description who I would consider worse, both for the freedom of the Egyptians and for global stability, than Mubarak.

Your point about the current treatment of LGBT folks is well taken, and it was callous and thoughtless of me to exclude them from my analysis. That said, I would still contend that a government which uses violence to police the desires of a minority of its citizens is preferable to one which does so for all of its citizens.

Re: Israel, I understand that Arab anger at Israel isn't some fringe ideology. And I agree that the current system, where the US basically bribes local autocrats into making nice with Israel against the wishes of their people, is unsustainable. But I also don't think that a powerful potential enemy on their southern border is likely to make Israel more eager to make concessions to the Palestinians. And the addition of a powerful local patron isn't going to make the Palestinians any more likely to make concessions to the Israelis.

So to sum up: the situation in the region now is pretty bad, but that doesn't mean this couldn't make it worse. I certainly hope it doesn't, but I fear it will. And for American policy makers, the only thing less appealing than sitting on the sidelines and mouthing platitudes is trying to pick sides and actually intervene in any way.

#19 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2011, 01:04 PM:

From what I've read, Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood has been very late to the demonstrations, caught nearly as flat-footed as Mubarak himself. It certainly did not take the lead on the street.

Also from what I've read, the MB and al-Qaeda are enemies. If that's true that worry can be put to the back of the fire for the moment.

I can only imagine the tone of discussions in Netanyehu's Cabinet in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem over the past couple of mornings.

#20 ::: chris ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2011, 01:28 PM:

note that the Saudi king has come out in favour of Mubarak

Hardly surprising; a king is just a dictator in a fancy hat. Both are opposed to genuine democracy in the region (as is the US, although it can't admit it openly; most of the people of the region feel too much solidarity with the Palestinian people to get on board with the US's extremely pro-Israel stance).

ISTM that the people who have been running the US's foreign policy for most of the last 30 years are more comfortable with a dictator they can bribe than with the unpredictability of democracy, especially when it's foreigners who are voting. But that's not something they *or* their successors want to say in public.

#21 ::: Raphael ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2011, 02:40 PM:

alex @15, lol.

I don't know much about the situation in Egypt, either, but I'd say in most revolutionary or potentially revolutionary situations, Douglas Muir's post on the Fistful of Euros about Iran, and uprisings in general, from 2009 is worth re-reading- it was fairly accurate as a prediction back then, and while Egypt is not Iran, his thoughts on what factors make governments stable or vulnerable sound fairly plausible, especially his claim that the two main questions are first, how much force the security forces are willing to use, and second, how much force the political leadership itself is willing to use.

#22 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2011, 03:10 PM:

Linkmeister @ 19:

There are reports that the Muslim Brotherhood has announced they will not take part in a new government in Egypt, but that they support the demonstrations and will support a democratically elected government. This strikes me as a very politically savvy move; on the one hand they remove a major objection that the US or the EU might make to a change in governments, and at the same time keep their name associated with the rebellion.

On the other hand I am vastly underwhelmed by Mubarak's choice of the head of the intelligence service as a deputy: no doubt the Western powers will love the idea, as it indicates a continued dedication to counter-terrorism and counter-islamism, but I can't believe that the people of Egypt will accept the choice as anything but "business as usual, arrests to follow".

And on the gripping hand, the military has yet to weigh in because the Chief of Staff and some of the generals were in DC when the demonstrations started, and only returned yesterday. They hold the balance of power; if they decide to pull back the troops that have been committed in Cairo, Suez, and elsewhere and back the demonstrators, Mubarak won't have a lot of options. If they decide to support Mubarak the ante will be raised considerably and it's unlikely that any sort of peaceful resolution will be possible.

The people who really shine in this situation are the reporters and crew of Al Jazeera, who've committed everyone they had available to the streets of Egyptian cities, especially Cairo (seven reporting crews, last I heard). AFAIK the Egyptian government hasn't attempted a cyberattack on their servers, but I wouldn't be surprised if they did because at this point much of the news about Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, and Jordan available outside the Arab world is coming from Al Jazeera.

#23 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2011, 03:20 PM:

chris @ 20:

ISTM that the people who have been running the US's foreign policy for most of the last 30 years are more comfortable with a dictator they can bribe than with the unpredictability of democracy, especially when it's foreigners who are voting. But that's not something they *or* their successors want to say in public.

I believe this has been SOP for US foreign policy since the end of WWII, so the last 65 years, at least1, along with a policy of deposing democratically elected leaders (e.g., Allende in Chile) who were not willing to support the economic policies of certain multinational corporations. Cast in terms of "Anti-communist is more important than pro-democracy" this may have had some minute amount of justification during the Cold War; in the years since 1989 it's been pure imperialism.

1. I think I could make a case for a similar sort of policy in treating WWII war criminals (except for the most egregious, or perhaps they were the most infamous) in both Germany and in Japan.

#24 ::: The Raven ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2011, 03:27 PM:

When there is talk about a secular government in Egypt, consider that, while the US Federal government is nominally secular, an atheist (or a Jew or a Muslim) would have a very hard time winning election to the Presidency or to most Senate seats. This bird would prefer not to see the USA demand of any country what it does not itself do.

The main opposition leader is Mohammed ElBaradei, a secular figure--there is no-one comparable to Ayatollah Khomeini, the exiled leader of the Iranian revolution. It does, however, seem to me likely that in a democratic Egypt the Muslim Brotherhood would become a legitimate political party (in Egypt parties are approved by the government), just as many European democracies have a "Christian" party.

#25 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2011, 03:40 PM:
So to sum up: the situation in the region now is pretty bad, but that doesn't mean this couldn't make it worse. I certainly hope it doesn't, but I fear it will. And for American policy makers, the only thing less appealing than sitting on the sidelines and mouthing platitudes is trying to pick sides and actually intervene in any way.

The situation has been getting steadily worse in the Middle East for the last 20 years, and the US has really done nothing in that time to make it any better; if anything, the essentially uncritical support of Israel's policies of settlement in Palestine, and the use of military force in Gaza and in Lebanon have made the situation worse. ISTM that trying to maintain the status quo from this point on is guaranteed to make the end result less palatable to the West, and probably provide less stability and freedom for the people of the region. But from a practical standpoint, it's probably unrealistic to expect the professional diplomats and policy-makers in the US government to suddenly reject policies that they have invested in and defended for so long.

#26 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2011, 03:45 PM:

Raven @ #24, yeah, but el-Baradei has been living in Vienna while working for the UN for many many years. His cred with the $2/day Egyptian may not be very high. I've heard from newstalkers that he's "respected but not known," which actually makes sense to me.

Bruce (StM) @ #22, I think you're right that the Army is key. If I were a leader of the MB I'd be counseling "let's lay low here and see how this plays out."

Installing a VP from the Intelligence service doesn't strike me as promising; I don't think Mubarak quite gets what he's facing here.

#27 ::: Chris W. ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2011, 04:05 PM:

Bruce (StM):

I can't tell whether you intended to agree or disagree with what you quoted.

I think you make a compelling argument that throwing American support behind Mubarak to quell the revolt would be a very bad idea in the long term. I also think overt support for the protesters has a high chance of backfiring, as other Middle Eastern autocrats see the U.S. as stabbing a friend in the back, while the protesters themselves see us trying to replace one American flunky with another.

Just because I'm not sanguine about the result of revolution doesn't mean I'm not also pretty certain that anything we try to do to preserve the status quo will only make things worse.

#28 ::: The Raven ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2011, 04:05 PM:

Another major opposition figure--who actually ran for president--is the imprisoned Ayman Nour, who has been injured in the uprising.

Juan Cole interview from Democracy Now. Democracy Now is doing some of the best American-friendly commentary on the events. How come this always comes from the DFHs?

Also, analysis of the Egyptian internet shutdown from Renesys. There is much concern about the economic impact on Egypt: their business week starts on Sunday. Most Europe-Asia internet traffic travels on cables which pass through Egypt, especially the traffic to the Gulf states. So far these are still operating, but this is a huge global economic concern.

#29 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2011, 06:19 PM:

Chris W. @ 27:

That was a little unclear, wasn't it? Let's try that again.

I agree that the situation is bad; I think it's been getting steadily worse for some time in part because the US has been unwilling to actually press for liberalization of the autocratic regimes that are its allies in the region. I think you're right that US officials don't like either of the options for supporting one side or the other, and would love to just stand on the sidelines and make conciliatory noises (which is basically what I think Clinton has been doing for the last few days). But, I believe that in the long term, supporting Mubarak to any degree now will have serious negative effects on the US' ability to influence events in the region, and will also cause us grief worldwide. In the short term it may be that helping to push Mubarak out may have negative consequences, but in the long term it will be better than either sitting on the sidelines or backing Mubarak.

The fence post is jammed up our butts and coming out our mouths; time we got off the fence and took a stand. The chances of the Middle East blowing up in the next few years are very high no matter what we do, but attempting to relieve some of the pressure by helping replace autocrats with something else has some chance of delaying that blowup and maybe making it less drastic.

#30 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2011, 06:45 PM:

And that will, maybe, improve the reputation of the US, which seems to have a really track record of talking about spreading democracy at the same time it supports non-democratic governments against their own people.

#31 ::: sara ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2011, 07:20 PM:

My impression is that ElBaradei began as the figurehead of the progressives at a time (as late as spring 2010) when political disaffection was still being articulated by educated, urban, liberal young people -- the kind who get pushed aside (if not targeted) during a violent popular revolution. There was some sporadic violence, but both disaffection and its suppression were still being covered by the English-speaking press in Egypt with a tone of bemusement: "Look! A revolution on Facebook!"

Then Mubarak discovered that he could just shut down the Internet, and all hell broke loose.

I wouldn't bet on ElBaradei's chances.

(skimpy personal credentials on Egyptian affairs: research on the Bibliotheca Alexandrina for a library course; the library is awesome, but it is closely associated with Mubarak and his wife, and I wouldn't be surprised if it was targeted.)

#32 ::: Chris W. ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2011, 08:41 PM:

BC (StM) @29:

But the U.S. has most definitely not been straddling that particular fence. Historically, we've been very much on Mubarak's side. Just sitting on the sidelines is actually a radically new concept compared to what America's been doing for the last 65 years. When it comes to conflicts between Middle Eastern autocrats and their people over the last 65 years the U.S. has always used one of two strategies:

1) Back the autocrat.

2) If the autocrat's position is untenable, or he starts doing things we don't like, find a new puppet to replace him.

We both agree that plan #1 is a really bad idea at this juncture. But any attempt to intervene or express support for the protesters in Egypt, no matter how well-intentioned, runs a very serious risk of being seen as simply another run of plan #2. I think that what the Arab world would most like to see here is for the U.S. to just butt out and let the Egyptians decide for themselves what sort of government they will have. That's the only way for America to really look like it actually cares about self-determination.

#33 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2011, 09:41 PM:

I would still contend that a government which uses violence to police the desires of a minority of its citizens is preferable to one which does so for all of its citizens.

Chris W, you must have friends in Omelas...

Sorry if that seems obscure, or if not obscure, harsh. But a government (including our own) which uses violence to police the desires of a minority of its citizens will not hesitate to use force against any individual citizen or number of them if it feels its ability to do so has been challenged.

I agree with your comments at 32. But there are no good choices here. In terms of realpolitik, we are f****ed whatever we do. That being the case, maybe Bruce Cohen and PJ Evans are right. Time to take a stand.

#34 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2011, 10:26 PM:

sara #31: Then Mubarak discovered that he could just shut down the Internet, and all hell broke loose.

With any luck, those results will discourage a repeat of that tactic. When you're an unpopular government, getting people out of their armchairs is a Dumb Idea.

#35 ::: DanR ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2011, 11:24 PM:

Israel is becoming increasingly like the Judenstrasses of old Germany -- geographically squeezed, branded by religion, and surrounded by hostile citizenry. As someone said already, subsidies cannot suppress culture; the Arabs have never accepted the Jewish state, and the shakeout of this thing might not be pretty. Some Jews (Ashkenazi, mostly) never fully accepted the Jewish state either, though we wanted to very desperately.

The way I see it, if the US wants to ensure long-term security for Israel, there is only one viable option - fund the construction of a new Temple in Cuba, and ferry everyone over.

An aside: The gun-control debate takes on a new twist. With Egypt replacing its police force in Cairo with armed troops, civilians are arming themselves against looters with knives and clubs. If a similar scenario occurred in the US (mass protests leading to the temporary crack-up of local police forces) wouldn't you want a weapon, so as to *defend* yourself and your family against protestors-come-thugs pillaging the streets with police-issue weapons? A shot or two could be enough to send the villains off to other, less prepared, victims. It sounds Wild West-ish, but really, how far-fetched is it?

#36 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2011, 11:38 PM:

Gizmodo on how Egypt turned off the internet. I don't think it would work as easily in this country.

#37 ::: Chris W. ::: (view all by) ::: January 29, 2011, 11:52 PM:

Lizzy L:

I can't decide whether or not to be offended, but then I've always had a slightly more complicated reading of that story. I've always read it to mean that we all live in Omelas one way or another, and that the only way not to participate in the sins of society is to not participate in society. Indeed, in that sense Omelas is more blameless than most societies, because at least it has the honesty to wear its sins publicly and force its citizens to own them.

But more to the point, have I said anything to make you believe I condone the treatment of gays, lesbians et al. in the Muslim world? that I see some sort of benefit in it? Or that I disagree that a state which polices the desires of the few contains the dangerous potential to inflict itself on the desires of all? Or that I considered the status quo as desirable in comparison to anything except a worst-case scenario?

Or to return to your metaphor, tear down the walls of Omelas if you like, but do not expect me to cheer if I suspect that the end result might be that they are rebuilt with the notable difference that a second cell is added to the deepest and darkest dungeon.

#38 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2011, 12:16 AM:

chris, #20: ISTM that the people who have been running the US's foreign policy for most of the last 30 years are more comfortable with a dictator they can bribe than with the unpredictability of democracy, especially when it's foreigners who are voting.

You're not wrong... for values of "more comfortable with" which extend to providing support to overthrow a democratically-elected government in Iran and reinstall the Shah, because he would be more likely to be favorable to U.S. oil interests.

Short-term thinking, no matter who was in office when it was done. And this sort of thing has happened over and over again, in the Middle East and Africa and Central and South America. All the yammering about how "they hate our freedom" is so much bullshit. They hate OUR HABIT OF FUCKING WITH THEIR LIVES for the sake of our own almighty dollar, and nobody with a brain can blame them.

DanR, #35: You may or may not have been speaking ironically, but IMO that's a damn good idea.

#39 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2011, 12:27 AM:

#18 Chris
Egyptians are -not- Arabs. Yes, they speak Arabic, but Egypt is a North African country, with some of the longest history in the world, they're not from nomadic shepherding traditions the culture's been farming on the bank of the Nile and fishing in the Nile and off the Nile delta again, since prehistoric times and has valued literacy millennia longer than there was written language in most of Europe....

Egypt had the opportunity to annex Gaza throughout most of the 20th century and refused to; Gaza's been a hotbed of trouble zone since no later than the time of the Roman Empire I think. When the peace accord returned sovereignty of the Sinai pennisular from Israel to Egypt, Egypt refused to have Gaza included....

Alexandria has a long cosmopolitan history, dating back to its founding by Alexander of Macedonia, and at various times in history was the scientific and literary center of western civilization, including in Greek and Roman times. Cairo's been a center of governance for over a thousand years, and there were thousand year old undisturbed archives (however chaotic..) there at the start of the 20th century.

I worked with people from Egypt over the years, including a couple Egyptian Army officers--Egypt has a lot of divides, most of the population is educated and and I suspects has a higher respect for education than most of the US public does (the US homeschool movement mostly seems to correspond to e.g. the madrass schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan, "education" which is really indoctrination into narrow-minded intolerant religious extremism and activism, rather than the concept of "liberal arts" education in terms of "what an educated person ought to know to be truly educated...." (as opposed to being a narrow-minded intolerant bigot abusive towards anyone and any ideas not included in a narrow curriculum intended to block the student from seeing or being interested in anything outside the straits, and intended to reject and attack other ideas and other ways of life, and impose the narrow teachings on everyone else.... Or to try to be more succinct, most of the US homeschool movement has the intent of producing Christian Dominionist, where the madrass schools produce jihadists. The share many of the same characteristics, including generally viewing gender as dividing the species into masters (male) and servants (female), workers with income (male) and house servants (female), the privileged (those of their credo) and the ignorant who require conversion or aren't worth treating as human....

#40 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2011, 12:43 AM:

DanR @ 35:

I have speculated on previous threads about an alternate history in which the Jewish state was established in Argentina1. Irony aside, there's no way I can see that the confrontation between Israel and the countries around it is going to be resolved peacefully given the actions of the ultra-religious conservatives who've been in charge of Israel's external policies. And the way it's going to be resolved militarily is likely to involve the use of nuclear weapons.

Chris W. @ 32:

You may be right that it's too late for anything that the US does to be taken as sincere or friendly by the people of Egypt or any of the other Middle Eastern countries for that matter. In any case, it seems very unlikely to me that the US government will be willing to change its policy in the immediate future; it's too committed to a world view that only secular autocratic governments can protect us from Islamist militants.

1. Why should Confederate revanchists and rich Nazis be the only ones to get asylum there?

#41 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2011, 01:19 AM:

Chris, I apologize -- your comment seriously hit a nerve, is all. No to all your questions.

#42 ::: Raphael ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2011, 04:13 AM:

I find it interesting that, not knowing much about Egypt, some commenters start talking about gay rights, gun control, and Israel- that is, three traditional major political issues in the US- instead.

#43 ::: Raphael ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2011, 04:20 AM:

Ok, that last comment was probably a bit too harshly worded. Sorry. I just think it might be inappropriate to make the discussion too centered on one or more of these topics.

#44 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2011, 04:49 AM:

Raphael @42 & 43:

Well, yes, it was too harshly worded, and the apology is much appreciated.

On the one hand, you have your finger on something that we're all far too prone to: casting the world in terms of our own problems. As someone living in the Netherlands, I can't even tell you how often the local customs here stand proxy for American politicians' views on drugs, or sex, or euthanasia, or race, or secularization.

On the other, I think that the rights of minorities (including gays, but also religious minorities), Israel, and the economy are relevant factors in this current situation. Even if they are also relevant to our problems outside of Egypt. (Guns, not so much.)

The real problem is not that we're talking about these things. The problem is that when we focus on them, we miss other factors, like the demographics of the country: it's a tremendously young place, but without any turnover in the power structures, all these twentysomethings don't see anyone addressing their problems. The instance I was reading about a couple of years ago was the lack of affordable housing so that engaged couples can marry and move in together.

And there will be other issues that never even made it onto the Beeb's human-interest pages.

Suggestions for how to do better?

#45 ::: Raphael ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2011, 05:10 AM:

"Suggestions for how to do better?"

Not at all sure about that. I think the subthread about the history of US foreign policy wrt dictators and how it relates to this is fairly good, though. And so is the link you just posted.

#46 ::: alex ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2011, 06:51 AM:

You could go to sites like:

or even is a different view from the 'regular' BBC, and closer to the ground 'abroad'.

If you really want to freak out and get a non-Western perspective, there's always

#47 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2011, 06:54 AM:

alex @46:

Indeed, you'll note that I linked to three very good sources in the original entry. But there's a real difference between boning up on something on teh intarweebs over a weekend and really knowing the subtleties and implications of the situation.

#48 ::: Raphael ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2011, 07:49 AM:

Speaking of Al Jazeera, looks like the Egyptian government has started to block them- both their signal's reception and their journalists' work- today morning. Some people are speculating that this might mean that they're preparing to do something really ugly, like massacrating the protestors. I hope these speculations are wrong, but unfortunately they sound plausible to me.

#49 ::: Raphael ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2011, 09:15 AM:

Al Jazeera's liveblog appears to be down, while their main site is still up ( agrees). Probably too much traffic. Last news had included tanks at Tahrir Square, fighter jets and helicopters over Kairo, and both shots fired into the air by soldiers and fraternisation between protestors and tank crews (in quick succession) in Tahrir Square.

#50 ::: Chris W. ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2011, 10:05 AM:


I had read lots of articles referring to Egypt as part of the "Arab World" and assumed that they considered themselves Arabs. Thank you for the correction, not least because it prompted me do a little research and learn more about the complicated relationship between Egyptian and Arab identity. (Turns out, "Are Egyptians Arabs?" is one of those questions where the answer is "depends on what you mean by 'Egyptians' 'Arabs' and 'are.'")

Watching the Al Jazeera live feed, looks like things are coming to a head in Tahrir square. That just leaves two questions:

Will Mubarak call the question by ordering the military to start shooting protesters?

If he does, will the military obey those orders?

If the answer to the second question is no, he's a dead man walking.

#51 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2011, 10:17 AM:

First off, I'm a bit puzzled as to why so many people think, here and elsewhere, that if Mubarak was toppled, Egypt would necessarily go the same way as Iran in 1979 (and people in various places were saying the same about Tunisia last week iirc).

It's almost as if someone were to say: 'Well, Sweden and Italy are both Christian countries, so you can probably judge what would happen in Italy if Berlusconi was assassinated from looking at what happened in Sweden after the assassination of Olof Palme.'

Secondly, as someone who lives in a State whose government is plausibly described as 'Islamist' I suspect that the term 'Islamist' (or 'political Islam') is a really unhelpful one here, for analytic purposes. (Imagine a similar use of the term 'political Christianity.' to cover all of , say, Germany's Christian Democrats, Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party and the wilder fringes of the American religious right.)

Thirdly, in thinking about the question of whether an authoritarian secularist dictatorship would be preferable to a government that had a religious basis along with more popular support, the sorts of things I'd want to know about would be along the following lines: are there strong, secular instutions outside Parliament? (for example, the courts? the army? ) How much popular suppport/respect do these institutions have? Do they have a tradition of intervening in politics and what have the results of such interventions been?

I'd imagine that the answers to these kinds of questions might be rather different from the answers that could have been given about Iran in 1979. Or at least, that if they are the same, it needs saying and showing, and not simply assuming.

#52 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2011, 10:58 AM:

prasegod barebones@51: In current usage as I understand it, "islamist" is a term that was invented specifically to characterize the radical fringe, so that it could be talked about separately from relatively secular governments in nations where most of the citizens are Muslims.

The Wikipedia article expounds this interpretation at greater length, with more references.

#53 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2011, 11:25 AM:


The problem is that depending on who is using the phrase, 'radical fringe' can extend from people who want to stone adulterers to people who think that, say, women who wear headscarves shouldn't be banned from doing so on university campuses.(Not an imaginary case.)

When I say that the country I live in has an Islamist government, I'm not saying that it's a majority Muslim. I'm saying the ruling party can be identified with a political tradition which, for example, the Army, a bastion of secularism, sometimes regards as a threat to secular traditions. To the extent of flexing its muscles to make its views known.

And yet - Turkey's not Iran. And neither of them are Egypt. 'Islamist' covers a lot of ground. Which is (one reason) why it's not a terribly useful category.

#54 ::: DanR ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2011, 11:27 AM:

Raphael @42,

I was going to try to draw a connection between the Egyptian revolution and abortion rights, but couldn't find the link...

It should be pretty obvious why Israel is being included in this conversation; the salient points were handled pretty well upwards in the thread.

My gun control comment came from imagining how it might feel to patrol your own neighborhood, as many people in Cairo are being forced to, in the absence of the police force.

Yes, the central issues here are clearly the populist uprising against Mubarak, the energizing of the Egyptian people, the censorship of Al-Jazeera, the tension in the streets, and the reaction of various world powers, but the reverberations of these protests are going to echo off of every one of our political preconeptions, and necessarily provide new -- and possibly enlightening -- reflections.

Lee @38,

Who was it that said irony was the wet-nurse of damn good ideas?

#55 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2011, 11:34 AM:

#39 ::: Paula Lieberman:

People home school for a wide variety of reasons, including religion-based isolation and abuse, special needs, escape from bullying, belief (sometimes justified) that the parents can teach a great deal better than the schools, isolation (think Alaska), and probably more that aren't coming to mind.

The only statistic I've heard is that half home school for religious reasons-- and not all of those are going to be the bad version, any more than all religious schools are destructive.

Do you have numbers about various sorts of home schooling?

#56 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2011, 11:43 AM:

DanR, Lee: What? Why on earth would you do that to Cuba, or any other previously-existing sovereign nation?

#57 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2011, 12:02 PM:

#55 Nancy

Anecdotal evidence from some years back--people I've known who were looking for homeschooling materials of or corresponding to textbooks and course outlines/materials were finding very little which was nonsectarian etc. I specifically said "most" because while there is other impetus for homeschooling than "my children are NOT going to be exposed to any ideas from outside Our Community Values and Ways!" the most enthusiastic and -pushy- home schooling -movement-as organized force, are educational straitjacketers who not content with censoring texts in Florida and California to their values, object to osmosis to their children from being in the same classrooms as children from other parts of society....

The homeschoolers doing it for reasons of physical isolation, frailty physically or emotionally on the part of the child, the child failing to thrive in school or refusing to study, are not organized movements objecting to the very idea of public nonsectarian education, there is a huge difference between narrowminded bigoted control freakdom and exceptions based on individual child conditions.

As for the madrass schools, they are a specific sort of institution, intended to limit the path that the attendees tread, and indoctrinate them into a narrow, pathological mindset. Somehow I doubt that that is the intent of the typical e.g. parochial school in the USA, and particularly not the ones which have student from a range of religions and branches of religion, attending them because the parents for example perceive them as more scholastically-serious or providing a level of discipline not available in local public school.

#58 ::: alex ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2011, 12:15 PM:

Here's an interesting page, esp. good on why the US involvement is so problematic:

#59 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2011, 01:07 PM:

However, the statistics are fishy to me--any survey which has a "pick one reason" methodology gives crap for results. And particularly, the response "another 38% said the primary reason they homeschool is because they don't like the school environment or the way teachers teach" often is tantamount to "the schools are not teaching the sectarian/philosophy view of the world we demand be taught" or "we don't want our children exposed to ideas we object to"... the example of a homeschooling family mentioned has "For the Sobrals is a for-profit Christan-based company that 'combines classical learning--grammar dialectic and rhetoric'--with a 'bibical worldview'"

#60 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2011, 01:31 PM:

Paula @59:
the response "another 38% said the primary reason they homeschool is because they don't like the school environment or the way teachers teach" often is tantamount to "the schools are not teaching the sectarian/philosophy view of the world we demand be taught" or "we don't want our children exposed to ideas we object to"

Or it means that the school isn't doing a good enough job of dealing with bullying, or is not providing the resources needed for a non-neurotypical kid. My mother homeschooled my brother, who has Asperger's Syndrome, for several years, because she didn't like the school environment or the way the teachers dealt with him, and it took that long to bang the school district into shape.

Or, in some cases, I bet it means the local school is teaching too much of "the controversy" and not enough straight-up science and history.

#61 ::: DanR ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2011, 01:47 PM:

TexAnne @56,

Sorry, I think the correct quote is, "Bad ideas are the illegitimate children of Irony."

Which might help to clear up the confusion re: the hypothetical Jewban Nation.

(Although the new exodus would do wonders for Havana's tourism... and wreak havoc on Miami Int'l airport.)

#62 ::: TexAnne ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2011, 02:32 PM:

DanR, 61: Ah, thanks. (Hey, that's one way to get rid of those ridiculous travel prohibitions.)

#63 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2011, 02:49 PM:

DanR@35, on moving Israel to Cuba, and Bruce Cohen, on an alternate history where it was moved to Argentina ...

Since this is a blog often discussing science fiction, I'll mention the coincidence of having just read "The Yiddish Policemen's Union", an alternate history in which the proposal to let the Jews settle in Alaska in 1940 had been accepted. Written in 2007, won the Hugo, Nebula, and Locus awards. (Also there's the coincidence of somebody posting commentary by Kragen Sitaker, an American living in Argentina.)

#64 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2011, 02:58 PM:

Bill Stewart @ 63... Reminds me of the son "Jacques Cartier" by Quebec's Robert Charlebois, which asked what if Canada's discoverer had sailed south instead of north, and goes on to talk about coconut trees along Montreal's Rue Sherbrooke.

Cartier, Cartier
O Jacques Cartier
Si t'avais navigué
A l'envers de l'hiver
Cartier, Cartier
Si t'avais navigué
Du côté de l'été
Aujourd'hui on aurait

Toute la rue Sherbrooke bordée de cocotiers
Avec perchés dessus des tas de perroquets
Et tout le Mont Royal couvert de bananiers
Avec des petits singes qui se balanceraient
Au bord du St-Laurent on pourrait se baigner
Tout nu en plein hiver et puis se faire bronzer

#65 ::: Janet Brennan Croft ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2011, 03:28 PM:

abi @60, Paula @59 -- if they'd asked me the question phrased that way, I'd have had to agree I didn't like the school environment and the way teachers taught as a reason for homeschooling. I found the public school environment in that small Tennessee town included too MUCH religion, over-regimentation, corporal punishment, and lack of not just resources but respect for academically gifted children. But yes, we were atypical of the homeschooling movement in general.

#66 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2011, 06:56 PM:

The term "islamist" IMO is important to this discussion because it is a major shibboleth in the US State Department discourse about Middle Eastern governments in general and Egypt in particular. I know very little about the external or internal politics of the Muslim Brotherhood, but the US has been using it as a bête noire when presenting its policy wrt governments which will maintain strong secular and "anti-islamist" positions. "Islamist" has been used at times by the US (subtly or not-so-subtly) as a synonym for "militant" or even "terrorist". Al Jazeera, whose reporting has had, again IMO, the strong appearance of careful and responsible reporting1 has reported statements made by the MB that sound both politically savvy and fairly moderate to me.

1. I don't say "objective" because I'm not sure that's even possible; but I do think they're trying hard to tell the truth as they see it, and they're on the ground and closer to the events than almost anyone else.

#67 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2011, 07:08 PM:

Al Jazeera's live blog is still reporting from Egypt, even though the Egyptian government has blocked their transmission from Nilesat, and has ordered them to close their Cairo office. They have committed to continue reporting despite the government's attempts to shut them down.

#68 ::: ddb ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2011, 09:54 PM:

Bruce Cohen@66: Very, very few actual organizations big enough and powerful enough to have any place in international news are not capable of, once, making one statement that "sound[s] both politically savvy and fairly moderate". So I am not nearly as impressed as you seem to be by the MB having been reported to have made one reasonable statement.

(I have no strong opinion of the MB myself; I just find your statement very weird, and I'm wondering if I'm misunderstanding it somehow.)

#69 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: January 30, 2011, 10:04 PM:

TexAnne, #56: I didn't say that I thought it should be done, and the point you raise is one of the reasons why. But I've thought for a long time that the only genuine, non-supernatural solution to the problems surrounding Israel would be to find the Jews a different, less-threatened place to call a homeland. If a deal could be brokered in which both Israel and Cuba accepted such a transfer, the convenience of the location to the US, and its isolation from the traditional enemies of the Jewish state, would be pluses. But that's not going to happen in this universe -- although it would make a very interesting AU tale!

Bruce C., #66: I had been under the impression that "Islamist" was more or less the same construction as "Christianist" (and both derived by extension from words like "racist" and "sexist"), and used for similar reasons: to make it clear that when talking about the batshit-crazy, we are not tarring all Christians or Muslims with that brush.

#70 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2011, 12:16 AM:

#60 abi, #65 Janet

That's why I typed "often is tantamount to..." -- the response is one of the noxious pieces of ambiguity which destroys information. "The schools aren't appropriate for our children" covers everything from from the parents are narrowminded bigots objecting to their children being exposed to influences the parents disapprove of to parents horrified at their children being bullied to the schools being unsuitable to teaching e.g. severely autistic children to the schools teaching to the lowest common denominator and shortchanging children above that level to the schools teaching to narrow-minded community standards.... The allowed responses and "pick one choice," again, are Garbage In, Garbage Out analytics.... where GIGO include the methodology being shit, too.

#71 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2011, 12:32 AM:

ddb @ 68:

I can think of a number of organizations whose statements are in the main or altogether unbelievable or extreme. All I was saying was that the only reason I have to associate the Moslem Brotherhood with extremism is the word of the Egyptian government and the US State Department, both of which I do have reason to distrust on this subject.

#72 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2011, 12:41 AM:

Lee @ #69, in that alternate universe: if one could somehow transport the Temple Mount to Cuba the migration might be more palatable. But then Jerusalem's Moslem population would be upset, since it's also the site of the Dome of the Rock. So they'd want to move too, which would mean the problem would migrate right along with the population.

Then the Cuban population would be upset since the West had dumped a 2,000-year-old argument on its doorstep. So it would all leap into boats and head north for Florida. Or perhaps commandeer Carnival Cruise Line ships and head for Jerusalem. I haven't worked that part out yet.

#73 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2011, 12:50 AM:

The Khazar kingdom and "the Pale of Settlement" did not, in the long term, serve as refuge for Jews.... and some of the Caribbean in the 16th century was a refuge for Jews....and there are cryptojews in the US southwest, who settled there hiding from the Inquisition....

Meanwhile, I don't remember who told me that there were Jews in Israel who'd grown up in Egypt who re-established busiess relationships with Egyptians after the peace accords signing between Egypt and Israel.

#74 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2011, 03:23 AM:

Paula @70:

Given the complexity of the situation, I wish you'd back off the sideswipes on homeschoolers. There are people who homeschool to keep their child within their narrow world; some of them are part of the activist homeschooling movement. There are others who homeschool for other reasons, and some of them are part of the activist homeschooling movement, too. As you yourself note, it's not easy to tell the two subsets apart.

Analogy: many conservative groups insist that women wear skirts and keep their hair long. Thing is, my hair hangs to my waist and I wear skirts pretty much all the time, because I like how they feel and look. So if you went off on a rant about how women with skirts and long hair are evidence of a misogynist popular culture, I'd feel like you were eliding my independent choices to bulk up your assumptions.

You make a big thing of not wanting to be lumped into a population that doesn't match you, where everyone is assumed to be taller, male, Protestant? My request would be that you cut down on the lumping back.

#75 ::: The Raven ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2011, 03:31 AM:

We have here a short history of the recent economic situation in Egypt, along with a comparison to the current US economic situation by Richard Eskow. If Eskow is correct--and this I do not know--a large part of the current pain of the Egyptian people is a result of tax-cutting, deficit reduction, and austerity program that was initiated in 2004.

Perhaps we had best start looking at Egypt as a harbinger of our own future.

#76 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2011, 03:36 AM:

Lee: the problematic aspect of, "Islamist/Muslimist" is that there is no way to know who means what by it.

Add the toxic rants, all to well broadcast, of the more reactionary/radical right on the subject (Park 51 is a case in point) who will point to any Muslim activity as being, "radical" and the word loses any useful restrictions.

It may even become counterproductive, as it can be used by those who don't see any non-"islamsist" Muslims in the world, to tar perfectly normal people as whackaloon extremists.

Who are then believed to be when the story is propagated to those who have no personal knowledge of the actual group, only that they have been so labeled.

#77 ::: alex ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2011, 06:45 AM:

Here's an unpleasant point of information:

84% of Egyptian Muslims questioned in a recent Pew Global poll supported the death penalty for apostasy.

Some of the other stats are less depressing but none are especially reassuring for future peace and tranquillity.

#78 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2011, 11:30 AM:

Lee #69:

I think it serves much the same point as "Christianist"--both a word meant to distinguish crazies and non-crazies, and also a word sometimes used to blur them together, depending on the intentions and needs of the speaker.

#79 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2011, 01:11 PM:

Alex @ 77

Interestingly enough, one of the 23% who doesn't (at least according to Wikipedia) is
Yusuf al-Qaradawi who seems to be regarded - at least by himself - as a spiritual inspiration to the Muslim Brotherhood.

#80 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2011, 02:30 PM:

albatross @78, by "Christianist", do you mean "Dominionist"?

#81 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2011, 03:06 PM:

I want to say a bit more about why I think Islamist isn't a useful term in this particular context.

Here are some facts about the current political/religious set-up in Egypt.

1. Article 2 of the constitution says that Egyptian law is based on Sharia.

2. It seems to be impossible for someone who is a Muslim to convert from Islam and have their conversion legally recognised.

3. Members of the Baha'i faith seem to be discriminated against in all sorts of ways (marriages can't be recognised; can't get ID papers etc)

4. People who are judged to be insufficiently religiously orthodox cane be involuntarily declared divorced by the courts.

I'm inclined to think that, given these facts, it would be quite possible for someone to portray the current regime in Egypt as an Islamist regime. I suspect that the only reason Mubarak doesn't get characterised in these terms is his attitude to Israel.

Now, maybe that's a good enough reason for the US to support him. But I think people who think so should be up front about the fact that that's what's at stake, rather than suggesting that support for Mubarak derives - or could derive - from a belief that governments should keep out of people's bedrooms and belief systems.

#82 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: January 31, 2011, 10:15 PM:


Of course, the basic problem here is that hardly anyone here knows enough to have an opinion. And while there are plenty of people working for the US government (particularly the State Dept.) who *do* know a lot about Egypt, I have little faith that our political leaders will be more interested in listening to them than in counting up votes and likely donations and worrying about media strategy. Which means that concerns about how this affects Israel are probably much more likely to shape out responses (and our media coverage) than the stuff that's important to Egyptians. This is the way of client states, right? We don't really care that much what's going on internally, we just want our man there to do what we tell him to do and to support our interests.

#83 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2011, 12:03 PM:

albatross @ 82

Of course, the basic problem ... is that hardly anyone here knows enough to have an opinion

Where's 'here' (in the context of this remark)?

#85 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2011, 04:58 PM:

Well, in Egypt, even the 8-year-olds have opinions about this....

#86 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2011, 05:50 PM:


I was thinking both of the Fluorosphere and of the American public, but the point applies much more strongly to the American public. I and my fellow Americans can broadly be convinced of all kinds of goofy stuff about foreign countries, because we don't know much. Most Americans never leave the country, very few speak a second language, and Americans tend to be poorly informed about the outside world. Mainstream US media is incredibly bad at covering international news. Political rhetoric here tends to just flat ignore reality about all kinds of international issues, since few voters know much. (A nice example: During one of the Obama/McCain debates, the candidates answered questions about whether, as president, they would be willing to order incursions into Pakistani territory to catch high-level Al Qaida targets. Neither the questioner nor either candidate made any mention of the widely-reported US incursions that, at that point, had already been going on and had been causing a lot of US-Pakistan tension.)

#87 ::: Constance ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2011, 06:52 PM:

None of which apply to me, which is why I get lambasted all the time, both within and without the sfnal communities.

It's really hard not to cry, when I always strive to provide good information -- and particularly so when members of my family say 'so what?' in response to my high value info.

Love, c.

#88 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2011, 01:23 PM:

#74 abi
-Are- there any -credible- studies with non-garbage data about homeschooling that disambiguate secular from religious/credo reasons for homeschooling?
I know a number of people who homeschooled for highly non-dogmatic reasons, including:
o severely autistic child or children
o child who refused to do/study for what he regarded as makework, the parents who worked at home were in a position to homeschool, admitted defeat as regards getting him to study in public school, and homeschooled him until he was willing to study in formal school
o dissatisfaction with quality and content of school curriculum as regards variety and depth of the material or perception that the child would learn more and faster homeschooled.

I tried doing some googling to see if there information I could consider credible about the distribution of homeschoolers and the philosophical bases of what caused them to homeschool in the aggregate but failed to find such information. The only impartial information is about textbook content and availability--that is, if there are dozens of texts particularized to particularly dogmatic attitudes, and hardly any which leave out heavy doses of religiosity for homeschooling, that's a metric indicating low availability/low demand for secular reasons for homeschooling.

There is also another factor which influences my perspective/perceptions, as I muse about it--if the offspring are in public schools, that exposes the parents indirectly to public scrunity regarding the health etc. of the children--theyre being seen by teachers and school officials and school healthworkers and children, and that can lead to investigations into the parents and their lifestyles. There were some particularly horrible cases uncovered of I surmise homeschoolers who were total religious whackoes who had babies and children they starved to death for perceived sinful or other offensive to them behaviors, in Massachusetts some years back.... if the children went to public school the abusive treatment of them would likely have been noticed and investigated, and the parents locked up and the children put into foster care....

That is not something I was CONSCIOUSLY thinking of when I was posting, but it's I think a definite influence on my pespective/perceptions regarding homeschooling, that the parents and the community they're in (the case above involved a like-minded community) are deliberately being insular and keeping public attention away to prevent investigation and intervention.

No, I am NOT accusing homeschoolers generally of that sort of thing--but it is I think a large factor amongst the insular communities types, that don't want contamination/intervention/social integration with outer Society upon their community.

I don't know what proportion of homeschoolers homeschool for call in insularity reasons--which include religious fanaticism of blocking "cultural contamination." I still suspect it is very high--because blocking input is one way of enforcing limited perspective and enforcing strict narrow values and reinforcing them.

#89 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2011, 01:39 PM:

The horrible cases community was so insular/secretive that it homebirthed and avoided registering births with birth certificates as I recall.

I found a relevant link:

#90 ::: eric ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2011, 05:29 PM:

Paula: Home Births? the horror. Any other of my communities not up to your standards?

As for home schoolers, on my island, there are 2 parent partnered public schools for the home schooling crowd with a total of around ~100 students. (two different districts, the one we're in it's about 3.5% of the students as a whole). I get the feeling that we see about half of the home schoolers here in some form or another. This is public school, so there's the usual prohibition on overt religion in the classroom.

I've done a lot of poking about for curricula, and like a lot of things, 90% is crap, or at least, not what I want to be using. But I've got high standards.

There's a good chunk of math that's very good, certainly far better than what we've got in the district. And it's really amusing to see the cultural assumptions in math books. There's one where every team sport is hockey. Singapore math mentions a bunch of fruits and vegetables, one of which I've ever encountered in person.

History/social stuff is pretty varied as well, we're actually going through a book that's clearly got a bias, but the while the religiosity is there, it's pretty easily skipped. On the other hand, they do cover peoples that never made it into my studies in school. There's a ton of good science out there, but we're piecing a bunch together and not following anything too closely. I'm looking forward to when $kid is older and I can have a series of science classes that are "things that go boom", and "things that go fizz", and "things that burn quite easily", and "embarassing stinky things".

#91 ::: DanR ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2011, 07:51 PM:

Eric @90:

I didn't read Paula's comment as being anti-homebirth. I think she was saying certain people have home births in order to keep their children off the grid. Which is a different issue completely.

#92 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2011, 12:40 AM:

#91 Dan


#93 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2011, 12:52 AM:

Paula @88:

I do not know if there are any credible studies on homeschooling. On the other hand, I'm not the one drawing conclusions from its existence, so I haven't put the time into trying to dig them out.

On the matter of textbooks, my mother simply used the same ones that the school district was using. If other parents who are homeschooling for non-dogmatic reasons are doing the same, they'd be invisible to any hypotheses based on specialist homeschooling texts.

I agree that there are probably parents who homeschool to isolate their children from a wider world they disapprove of, and that some of that isolation enables abuse. But it's back to my skirt-wearing analogy. Just because some people do a thing does not make its existence nefarious.

#94 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2011, 06:53 AM:

Looking at some of the "official" schooling, decided at US State level, the reported teaching standards are worrying. But at least outsiders can hear them reported, and mock.

#95 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2011, 10:17 AM:

re 93: Well, studies as it turns out are easy to find. Here's one from the US census published in Education Policy Analysis Archives. The part we are interested in starts at Table 5. Here's the money quote:

In summary, if there are two classes of home schoolers, they differ mostly in terms of the degree to which they express negative attitudes towards the schools available to them now. No simple division exists between religiously motivated and academically motivated parents.
I emphasize that this is the first study I checked. Here's another somewhat more recent report from the US Dept. of Education; a very quick check discloses that it is likely to give a similar breakout of reasons for homeschooling.

It should be noted that religious and other ideological reasons do figure prominently in these analyses. OTOH when the objection you raise, Paula, sounds too much like "I want to indoctrinate them our way instead of yours," it's easy for ideologically-motivated homeschoolers to feel justified in the choices they're making.

#96 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2011, 12:22 PM:

Word is that Bruce and Katherine Coville were in Egypt, but have made it out to Frankfurt, Germany.

#97 ::: Paula Lieberman ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2011, 12:40 PM:

#95 C.

Going to the link you provided, the government used the abominable "pick -one- response" methodology for "why are you homeschooling" which is garbage in, garbage out. To get -information- they should at least have had two questions, "select which of the following apply" and an "other-please specify" and "select the most important reason" PLUS a lines for people to elaborate on their response. But, not the researchers used a formulation which generate noise instead of information.

#98 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2011, 12:52 PM:

re 97: As far as Table 5 in the first link is concerned, that does not appear to be the case, as the percentages given add up to 214.2%. Nor does the text above the table state that the question was posed that particular way.

#99 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2011, 03:05 PM:

C. Wingate, #95: Note also that it is quite possible for different sets of parents to homeschool because they feel that their local school is (1) too religious or (2) not religious enough -- when it's the same school. You get a lot of this across the Southeast; in some cases, it's members of one Christian denomination complaining that their children are being indoctrinated by the tenets of a different one. The last notable "school prayer" case in Mississippi, for example, was brought by a Presbyterian family who objected to their kids being force-fed Southern Baptist doctrine in school.

#100 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2011, 10:28 AM:

It's really hard to work out how much isolation from the surrounding culture is helpful and possible. I can't see the best answer being zero, because a lot of US popular culture is a f--king sewer. But your kids are going to be exposed to a lot of it, and they'll get along better if they have seen it before.

But it's worth remembering that there really is a hell of a lot about US popular culture that is sick and broken. Trying to shelter your kids from some of that, trying to raise them in a healthier environment than the default, is not some kind of sign of an attempt at cult-like mind control. It's an attempt to let your kids grow up in a somewhat healthier world than what the sellers of profitable sewage would prefer to give them.

#101 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2011, 11:08 AM:

albatros @ 100... the sellers of profitable sewage

Comic-books did rot my brain.

#102 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2011, 12:00 PM:

albatross, #100: IMO the best solution to that is to talk with your kids about the ways in which what they're seeing is broken and unhealthy (and you're right, there's no acceptable way to completely keep them from seeing it). OTOH, that tactic does work best if you have a sense of proportion, and better arguments to muster than "it's the Work Of Satan, the Bible says so!"

#103 ::: Janet Brennan Croft ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2011, 03:32 PM:

I'm kind of past the point where I scoured the news and collected data on home schooling -- the kid is a senior in a mainstream flagship state college making straight A's, so I don't have that much reason to get all defensive anymore. But I think outcome statistics would be helpful for the big picture -- especially since a lot of homeschooling takes place off the radar, as every state has different regulations,* but colleges and universities keep very good records of the origin of their incoming students and how they do. Of the students identified as home schooled, how many do well and in what kinds of colleges? What percentage of home schooled kids go to college in the first place would be harder to determine.

*The Home School Legal Defense Association (a strongly religious organization in some ways but a good source for some types of information) has a run-down of state laws. For example, here in Oklahoma there is no regulation whatsoever. In Tennessee kids had to take a standardized test every two years to prove they were keeping up. In Pennsylvania, it was very highly regulated and I think you had to use the same textbooks as the local school district and submit monthly reports.

#104 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2011, 12:38 AM:

Somewhat OT, but perhaps still worth considering at this late date.

Here are a couple of facts about Egypt that I picked up from an article in the London Review of Books published about 6 months ago (and therefore perhaps less likely to have been pushing an agenda than something published more recently.)

1. The article in the constitution which says that the law should be based on sharia was added in 1981, by Anwar Sadat. (who was, ironically assassinated later that year by an Islamist). In other words, it's a relatively recent innovation, which Mubarak could have reversed, had he been so minded.

2. The Muslim Brotherhood has been around since the 1920's. It was originally a terrorist organisation, which renounced violence in the 1970s (when it became legal).

Just as a matter of interest, what sort of coverage are events in Libya getting in the US?

#105 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2011, 12:45 AM:

Coverage seems mostly to be sympathetic toward the anti-government forces.

#106 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2011, 01:17 AM:

PJ Evans @ 105: I guess I was wondering 'how much?' - compared to Egypt, for example, rather than 'what slant?'. (Though I think I'm pleased to hear about the direction of the coverage).

Part of the reason I'm asking is that - with one exception - friends seem to be sending far fewer media links about it than they did about Egypt through things like Facebook etc.

#107 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2011, 01:42 AM:

pgbb, #106: Well, right now most of my friends (Americans) are focusing pretty heavily on the mess in Wisconsin. I do see occasional bits of news about Libya come across, but much more about what's going on here at home.

And of course the TPers are all bent out of shape because they think their protest march should have been getting all the comparisons to Egypt. The fact that they're protesting in SUPPORT of tyranny seems to have escaped them.

#108 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: February 27, 2011, 03:11 PM:

Lee - ah, thanks, that makes sense. I was aware of the Wisconsin stuff, mostly because of Harry Brighouse's posts about it over on Crooked Timber; but I hadn't really realised it was being viewed as being of more than local significance.

I gather the Egyptians - or at least, some of them -
have their own views abouy which side of the fight they'd be on in Wisconsin.

#109 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: February 28, 2011, 07:42 PM:

praisegod barebones:

Someone in Egypt phoned in a delivery order for pizza to Ian's Pizza in Madison, to be delivered to the demonstrators. I think that's putting your money where their mouths are.

#110 ::: praisegod barebones ::: (view all by) ::: March 13, 2011, 05:02 PM:

I wasn't sure whether it was more appropriate to mention it here, or
here; but I'd be sorry if the fact that Gaddafi's son has - among other, worse misdemeanours -
a plagiarised PhD in political philosophy went entirely unremarked on Making Light.

#111 ::: Mary Aileen wonders if that's spam ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2011, 06:58 PM:

#111 is not entirely off the topic of the thread, but it's almost as incoherent as some of the recent spam probes.

#112 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2011, 07:03 PM:

I think it is just insane babbling. The link seems to be to an info page about the London riots.

#113 ::: James D. Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: August 09, 2011, 07:34 PM:

Cut-n-paste from another site from 2010. Spam.

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