Out of Town This Week

I'm taking a professional writing and publishing workshop this week that will occupy me for twelve hours a day, so blogging might be slow. We'll see how much energy I have left at the end of each day. Either way, I'll be back to normal next week.

The Next Syrian War

It has been obvious for some time now that if Bashar al-Assad is overthrown, the next big Syrian war will be fought between Al Qaeda and the Free Syrian Army. There’s no room for both. (There’s no room for anyone to co-exist peacefully with Al Qaeda.)

It made a certain amount of sense for them to wait until Assad is out of the way, but they might start fighting sooner than that.

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Syrian rebels said on Friday the assassination of one of their top commanders by al Qaeda-linked militants was tantamount to a declaration of war, opening a new front for the Western-backed fighters struggling against President Bashar al-Assad's forces.

Rivalries have been growing between the Free Syrian Army (FSA) and the Islamists, whose smaller but more effective forces control most of the rebel-held parts of northern Syria more than two years after pro-democracy protests became an uprising.

"We will not let them get away with it because they want to target us," a senior FSA commander said on condition of anonymity after members of the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant killed Kamal Hamami on Thursday.

"We are going to wipe the floor with them," he said.

Yesterday I wrote that nobody can really know anything about the future, but it's pretty unlikely that Al Qaeda will suddenly learn to play well with others.

Getting the Muslim Brotherhood Wrong

Everybody got the Muslim Brotherhood wrong, including me, and starting with the Egyptian people themselves.

The Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammad Morsi won Egypt’s first free and fair election for its head of state. Picking him seemed like a good idea at the time to the typical Egyptian voter, but clearly it wasn’t since Egypt just vomited him and his party up into everyone’s lap.

I figured that would happen eventually, but I’m still astonished that it happened so quickly.

Genuine political liberals are thin on the ground in Egypt, but they do exist. I know several. Some are my friends. Most of them were wrong about the Brotherhood, too. They were right, of course, when they warned the rest of us that the Brothers would transform Egypt into a theocratic dictatorship, but they were wrong when they estimated how much support the Brotherhood had. Hardly any expected the Islamists to win most of the votes, though that’s exactly what happened.

American liberals made a different mistake. Despite warnings from secular Egyptians and former Islamists, the idea that the Muslim Brotherhood is a moderate and democratic party became an article of faith here in the States, particularly among academics and journalists who should have known better. Even James Clapper—who, as the Director of National Intelligence, really should have known better—said the Muslim Brotherhood is “a largely secular organization.” Surely that ranks among the dumbest things ever said about the organization in all of its 85 years.

Look: the Muslim Brotherhood is not a mysterious new group that no one knows anything about. It was founded in 1928, for crying out loud, and its ideology has been documented exhaustively. Not for even five minutes has it been a democratic or moderate party. It has been struggling for theocracy since the day it was born, sometimes peaceably and sometimes by force. Every Sunni Islamist terrorist organization in the region is a spin-off of the Brotherhood or a spin-off of one of its spin-offs.  

Western liberals should have spent a lot more time listening to their Egyptian counterparts and no time at all swallowing the lies of faith-based gangsters with a Pharaonic complex. This whole business quite frankly baffles me. An American Christian equivalent of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood would be denounced as fascist by every Western-born liberal on earth. We’d hear no end of comparisons to the Spanish Inquisition, the Salem Witch Trials, General Franco’s Falangists, and the Crusades. And yet so many Westerners proved incapable of applying the same political analytical skills to Egypt that they use every day in the US and Europe. I’ll leave it to them to explain how that happened once they figure it out.

American conservatives always understood that the Muslim Brotherhood was bad news. Many also seemed to sense instinctively that the Muslim Brotherhood would win the election in Egypt. They were right on both counts.

But then the narrative among some parts of the American right went off the rails. Many argued that radical Islamists were bound to triumph everywhere in the Middle East since they had just triumphed in Egypt, as if nearly everyone who self-identifies as a Muslim yearns for political Islam as a matter of course. This point of view regularly appears in my comments section.

It didn’t seem to register that non-Islamists and anti-Islamists frequently do well in elections in Muslim countries, even in Arab countries and even in the wake of the Arab Spring. Tunisia’s Islamist party Ennahda won less than fifty percent of the vote and was forced into a coalition government with secular parties that block it routinely. Libya’s Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated party lost big. In Lebanon, secular parties have won most of the votes since the nation’s founding, and, except for the Israelis, the Lebanese have held more elections in the region than anyone else. 

More recently, the citizens of Mali cheered the French as liberators when they invaded and routed Al Qaeda in the north. Mali, by the way, is not even close to being a largely atheist nation like the nominally Muslim countries of the former communist bloc.

Islamist victories happen sometimes, but they aren’t inevitable. Karl Marx cobbled together psuedo-scientific arguments for why socialism was destined to triumph over capitalism. He claimed history was teleological, that its endpoint could be delayed but not forever resisted, but that’s not how it worked out for communism, nor is it working that way for radical Islam. The Muslim Brotherhood slogan “Islam is the solution” is but one point of view among many. Sometimes its adherents win and sometimes they lose, just like the proponents of ideas everywhere else.

I got a few things wrong, too. Like Egypt’s liberals and America’s conservatives, I understood all along that the Muslim Brotherhood was theocratic and authoritarian. But I did not think they would win. I knew they’d do well—Egypt is the most Islamicized place I’ve ever been, after all—but I assumed they’d have a hard time breaking fifty percent.

Not only did the Muslim Brotherhood win, a huge percentage of Egyptians who voted against them went for the Salafists, the ideological brethren of Osama bin Laden. Egypt turned out to be even more politically Islamicized than I realized, and I knew it was bad.

Yet in the long sweep of Egyptian history, it lasted about as long as a hiccup.

I think it’s safe to say everyone, regardless of their political orientation and what they got right and wrong a year ago, was surprised by how quickly Egypt rejected the Brotherhood. The United States government has sound reasons for not describing what happened as a military coup, but that’s what it was. The rest of us shouldn’t kid ourselves. Yet it’s clear that the coup was a popular one. Morsi ended up more hated than Hosni Mubarak, and he achieved that dubious honor in one year instead of in thirty.

That ought to make American liberals rethink the notion that the Brotherhood is democratic and moderate. And it ought to show American conservatives that Muslims are perfectly capable of rejecting political Islam whether or not they’re secular Jeffersonian democrats. The Muslim Brotherhood might recover somewhat if the next government fails as badly as Morsi’s, but then again it might not.

No one can predict the future anywhere in the world. It’s even harder in the Middle East than in other places. History doesn’t move in straight lines over there. Sometimes it goes in circles. Other times it veers off in wild directions. Keen observers can figure out what’s happening now, but when it comes to the future, nobody really knows anything.

Terrorizing the Terrorists

Somebody just detonated a car bomb in Beirut’s southern suburbs, Hezbollah’s de-facto capital. Fifty eight people were hurt. No one claimed credit.

One of the creepy things about Lebanon is that it’s not always obvious who is behind this sort of thing. It’s probably related to the Syrian war, but it might not be. 

From the Mouths of Babes

I’m afraid Walter Russell Mead is right when he says, “Egypt has none of the signs that would lead historians to think democracy is just around the corner. Mubarak was not Franco, and Egypt is not Spain.”

Democracy requires democrats, liberalism requires liberals, and Egypt doesn’t have many of either.

But Egypt has some! Take a look at this short video interview with a 12-year-old kid back in October. He’s startlingly sophisticated for someone so young, and he makes the adult person interviewing him sound like an ass.

I’ll have real hope for Egypt when its young people en masse rebel against their parents. It happens sometimes. And it needs to happen in Egypt.

Required Reading

NOW Lebanon columnist Michael Weiss is on fire. His entire piece, Between Sisi and Morsi, is magnificent, so go read it all.

Here is but a taste.

In a way, it’s hard not to sympathize with former anti-Mubarak agitators turned army nostalgics such as Mohammed Badr, now the de facto leader of the Tamarod (“rebellion”) movement to unseat Morsi. If his ideology weren’t a big enough problem on its own, Morsi’s tone-deaf incompetence surely was. Presented with a national complaint that exceeded in both size and scope the one that ousted his predecessor, Morsi has done everything to legitimate the opposition’s argument that, at a time of emergency, Egypt is being lorded over by an authoritarian nincompoop who thinks he’s got all the time in the world. (One way to make the word “coup” suddenly palatable again is to appoint a member of a terrorist group the provincial governor of the region where that group once perpetrated it worst terrorist attack.)

Morsi has indeed treated his opponents as if they simply do not exist, surely a reflex response of decades of having kept only the counsel of his fellow subscribers of a cult movement that seems to borrow from both Bolshevism and Heaven’s Gate. Even as half a dozen or so members of his own cabinet tendered their resignations, even as Brotherhood heavies were being seized and placed under house arrest, and even as Brotherhood HQ was being set alight, the president was neither seen nor heard from. When he finally took to the airwaves at midnight last night to reject Sisi’s ultimatum, Morsi affirmed that the price for his maintenance in power could be his own life – not realizing that this was a price many are eager to see paid.


President Obama has said recently, though only discovered belatedly, that democracy must not be confused with the mere holding of elections. Whatever happens from here, one lesson that should be learned from Egypt’s latest round of convulsions is the sentimental pieties and determinisms with which we continue to approach history require a serious rethink. The image of an ink-stained finger or an old man arriving at a polling station to participate in the first free election of his life are undeniably more captivating for viewers of CNN or Al Jazeera than the latest report from the International Monetary Fund or Human Rights Watch. And yet, because the more significant bricks-and-mortar work that goes into building a functioning state and safeguarding an independent civil society is so easily ignored, that work is usually the first victim of the aspiring tyrants of the ballot box. Critical journalists can thus be fired from their jobs, NGO workers can be put on trial for phantom conspiracies, women can be characterized as Adam’s rib, opposition leaders can be beaten or locked up – all in the name of a concept “democracy” that been fetishized to near meaninglessness. Put it this way: if the ruling party in a true democracy is shown to be running torture facilities out of the official residence of the chief executive, it will not take a new election to remove that party from power.

Read the whole thing at NOW Lebanon.

A Study in Contrasts

Two days after rampaging mobs sexually assaulted 91 women at demonstrations in Egypt, Libya is preparing to make rape during armed conflict a war crime.

A Prediction

Terrorism is coming to Egypt.

Armed Forces Control Egypt

Egypt's Mohamed Morsi is now officially overthrown by the military. Adly Mansour, the head of Egypt's Supreme Constitutional Court, is the new president.

Military commanders say they don't wish to govern, but they're clearly the real power in Egypt.

This, by the way, is why Iran's Revolutionary Guard was created after the Shah was overthrown in 1979. State armies everywhere in the Middle East are allergic to radical political Islam even though the armies are made up of Muslims.

Genuine liberals exist in the Middle East. In some places, such as in Egypt, they're a tiny minority. Seriously, don't kid yourself. The millions of people out in Cairo's streets are not all Jeffersonian democrats. Some of them are, but those crowds also include a motley collection of Nasserists, communists, socialists, anarchists, reactionaries, garden variety hooligans, and gang rapists.

In other countries, such as Lebanon, Tunisia, and Morocco, civil society institutions flourish and liberals are much more numerous.

In most of the region, however, this isn't their moment. The contest for power is still being waged between the regimes and the Islamists.

Egypt is right back where it started. I’m reminded of something Lebanese President Amine Gemayel said during the civil war in the 1980s. “Everyone is against everyone else, and it all keeps going around and around in circles without anyone ever winning or anything being accomplished.”

Here We Go

Egypt is No Place for Women

Every woman I know who has visited Egypt was sexually harrassed there over and over again. It’s relentless. It’s extremely aggressive and it never stops. Attractive women can't go outside for even five minutes.

And I’ve lost track of how many stories like this I’ve read lately.

A young female journalist was gang-raped during violent mass protests in Egypt on a night that saw 44 sickening attacks on women.

Five men attacked the 22-year-old Dutch woman in Tahrir Square, Cairo, leaving her in a “severe condition” and needing surgery.

[R]eports also claimed a grandmother and a seven-year-old child were sexually assaulted.


Last night Jeremy Bowen, the BBC’s Middle East editor, tweeted: “Sadly #tahrir revolutionary atmosphere of people behaving well with common purpose long gone. Sexual assault common. No cops in sight.”


Activist group Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment recorded 44 cases of sexual assaults and harassment against women on Sunday night alone - the highest number it has encountered since the group formed in November 2012.

My wife has traveled with me to Lebanon, Turkey, Tunisia, and Libya, and she visited Morocco with her parents when she was a teenager. She had to deal with a few minor incidents in Tunisia and Libya, but nothing worth writing about and nothing that would deter her from going back. (She was with me, though, which may have discouraged men from bothering her.) In Morocco she ran into a man who jokingly offered her father a dozen camels if he could marry her, and that was it. She had no trouble in Turkey or Lebanon. I don’t know any women who have trouble in Lebanon. Men there know how to behave.

I don’t know why Egypt is so much worse, but for whatever reason, it is. I will never take my wife there. Never. She would not go there anyway. She knows how bad it is, but a lot of women apparently don’t. That needs to change.

Bluffing in Cairo?

Most of us mortals, when trying to figure out what’s next for Egypt, would be no worse off analyzing goat entrails and tea leaves than reading the news. But take a look at what Egyptian-born scholar Samuel Tadros has to say. He thinks the army and the president are bluffing. Maybe!

Morsi has a bad hand. His performance in actual governance has been miserable and he has managed to alienate many of his initial supporters. After the high expectations of the revolution, he has failed to deliver. The protests against him are massive and larger than he expected, though not as large as his opponents may be dreaming. He recognizes that this is a make-or-break moment for him, but, more important, for his organization.

Morsi is not an independent player on the table; he represents and is guided by a larger entity, the Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood has waited for this moment for 80 plus years. It saw its future brighten unexpectedly with the fall of Mubarak only to find another danger awaiting it at the corner. It is obsessed with conspiracy theories and cannot see or interpret the world outside of it; it cannot allow this moment to slip from its hands. This is it: victory or death. The Brotherhood knows that in the event of a coup, no matter how hard it fights, the odds are not high for it. A prolonged civil war following in the footsteps of Algeria is not in its interests, and, contrary to expectations, the Brotherhood really isn’t a revolutionary movement. It accepted working in stages through the system for 80 years.

The Brotherhood has to act in the same manner the military is acting. It has to bluff. It knows the United States will not be enthusiastic about a coup and it knows the military is unsure of how much support the Brotherhood still has or what other Islamists might do. It has called for its supporters to demonstrate in the millions tomorrow and aims to show that Morsi still has a street backing him. It hopes that both the fear of the American reaction and the fear of clashing with Islamists will force the army to reconsider. It realizes it will have to give some concessions, but it does not want to share power in any serious manner.

Maybe there is some hope after all in Egypt. An actual balance of power may be in the making, not in constitutional articles but on the ground. All parties need to recognize that the country is larger than them and a bit of humility on their parts is badly needed.

There is, however, a perfect storm in the making here. Neither player has actually played poker before in his life. They may end up raising each other to the point of no return.

Egypt on the Brink

Extraordinary events are unfolding in Egypt.

Millions of people (millions!) surged into the streets of Cairo and demanded President Mohamed Morsi resign. Egyptian newspaper Al Masry Al Youm claims this was the biggest demonstration in thousands of years of Egyptian history.

Egyptian activist and blogger Sandmonkey posted the following on Twitter: “Dear World, pay attention: Muslims protesting in the millions against Islamism. This is Historic.”

It certainly is.

And the army is on side with the demonstrators. Commanders have given Morsi 48 hours to share power or be overthrown.

Meanwhile, protestors ransacked Muslim Brotherhood offices and a handful of people, including an American student named Andrew Pochter, were killed in clashes between Islamists and secularists.

I don’t have a clue where all this is heading. Not a clue. Just about anything could happen at this point.

It might all blow over. I’d be surprised if that happened, but I’m also surprised this is happening.

The army might actually remove Morsi from power. This is exactly how Hosni Mubarak was overthrown. Protesters took to the streets and demanded he be removed, and the army took care of it.

Political Islam may be in the process of being discredited in Egypt before our very eyes. Then again, the Salafists may win hearts and minds by saying the Muslim Brothers were too moderate, that the only solution to what ails Egypt is their stern and unyielding and total imposition of political Islam.

Egypt could revert to its age-old default condition and be ruled again by a military dictatorship.

Civilian technocrats might take over.

Morsi could purge the army again and impose a vicious police state of his own.

Egypt could cycle through a rapid series of new presidents like Argentina did some years back when its economy collapsed.

Egypt isn’t prone to communal civil war like Lebanon, Syria, Algeria, and Iraq, but there’s a first time for everything.

Maybe none of the above scenarios will come to pass, but all of them are possible.

If Morsi is replaced, the new president will not have an easier time governing Egypt even if he does everything right. Egypt’s economy, an emergency room case to begin with, is imploding. Half the population lives on less than two dollars a day because they have no education or skills. That’s not a problem that can be fixed any time soon. Tourists won’t return any time soon, and Egypt desperately needs tourist dollars and Euros.

Nor will Egypt’s authoritarian political culture instantly become Jeffersonian. That could eventually happen, but it’s not going to happen before Wednesday morning.

Whatever comes next, the misnamed “Arab Spring” appears to be moving to a new phase.

Lebanon's Israel Syndrome

The Tower, an outstanding new magazine about the Middle East edited by David Hazony, has just published one of my long essays. Here’s the first half.

Lebanon has a serious problem with Israel.

The country has technically been at war with its southern neighbor since the Jewish state declared independence in 1948. Israeli citizens are banned. Even foreigners are banned if they have Israeli stamps in their passports. Lebanese citizens aren’t allowed to have any communication of any kind with Israelis anywhere in the world. If citizens of the two countries meet, say, on a beach in Cyprus or in a bar in New York, the Lebanese risks prison just for saying hello. Israel doesn’t even exist on Lebanese maps.

At the same time, with the possible exception of Morocco, Lebanon is in important ways the least anti-Israel country in the Arab world. Indeed, decades ago many Israelis assumed it would be among the first Arab countries to sign a peace treaty with the Jewish state. It made sense at the time. With its enormous one-third Christian minority (it used to have an outright Christian majority), it’s the least Muslim and most religiously diverse of all the Arab countries. And since a huge number of its Christians insist they aren’t even Arabs, Lebanon might be the least Arab of the Arabic-speaking countries. Its capital, Beirut, has more in common with Tel Aviv than with any Arab city, including those in Lebanon itself. Put simply, Lebanon is just about the only Arab country where Israel can find natural allies.

Yet today it is widely assumed that Lebanon will be the last Arab country to make peace with Israel.

To understand this paradox, you have to try to understand Lebanon. To say Lebanon is a nation of contradictions is a cliché, but it’s a cliché because it is true. It is simultaneously Western and Eastern, Christian and Muslim, modern and feudal, democratic and illiberal, secular and sectarian, cosmopolitan and parochial, progressive and reactionary, tolerant and aggressively hateful. This is because there is more than one Lebanon.

Lebanon is divided roughly into Christian, Sunni, and Shia thirds, with a ten percent Druze population, as well. The Christians have had ties with the West for centuries. Most of the Shiites look to Iran for leadership and support. The Sunnis are generally aligned with the more liberal and moderate forces in the Arab world, as well as with the Saudis. Thanks to all of this, as well as Lebanon’s location between Israel and Syria, Lebanon tends to get sucked into regional conflicts.

And because Lebanon was (and to some extent still is) a vassal state of Syria, even discussing peace and normal relations with Israel can get you imprisoned or killed. That’s been the case since the middle of Lebanon’s civil war when international peacekeepers withdrew from Beirut, and Syria’s ruling Assad family came to dominate Lebanese politics.

Lebanon is a more-or-less free country that protects freedom of speech, but on the Israeli question, it is effectively a police state. Lebanese are afraid to talk to each other about it. They’ll talk to me, though, because I’m an outsider. They’re extremely careful, of course, and much of what they say is strictly in confidence, but once in a while someone will talk to me on-the-record, knowing perfectly well that I’m going to publish what they have to say.


I’ve been working in Lebanon on and off for eight years, and I’ve noticed that things have changed since the Syrian revolution broke out in 2011.

The red line on Israel isn’t as bright as it used to be. Except for the usual warmongering rhetoric from Hezbollah, I sense more moderation and sanity than I used to. It doesn’t surprise me. Peace between Israel and Lebanon is still a long way off, but the possibility is now at least conceivable, mainly because the end of Syrian tyrant Bashar al-Assad will be the beginning of the end for Hezbollah. And they’re the ones who enforce the red line on Israel.

This became clear to me when I had lunch with Mosbah Ahdab, a Sunni politician and former member of parliament from Tripoli, Lebanon’s second largest city.

“The post-Assad transition is going to be tough,” he said as we shared a bottle of wine in his living room, “because we have Hezbollah still around. But Hezbollah will be cut down to a more realistic size. They will still have their weapons, but they can’t continue provoking the tens of millions of people who live around here that they’ve been aggressive to all these years.”

Indeed, Hezbollah will be surrounded by enemies. With the Assad family out of power in Syria, Hezbollah will be left exposed as a Shia minority in a Sunni majority region. Their immediate neighbors are Jews, Christians, and Druze, none of whom have the time, patience, or tolerance for an Iranian proxy militia in the eastern Mediterranean.

“There will be the real possibility of development,” Ahdab said. “We could have train service all the way down to Cairo. It could be fantastic.”

Michael Young, the opinion page editor of Beirut’s Daily Star newspaper, once said that Lebanon is a place where what isn’t said matters just as much as what is. This was one of those times.

Look at a map: The only way a train can travel from Beirut to Cairo is by passing through Israel. Lebanon and Israel will need an open border and normal relations before something like that could even get started. Yet a former member of parliament—not a Christian, but a Sunni Muslim—is openly, if a little obliquely, discussing it.

But he can’t discuss it with the Israelis. He can’t talk about anything with Israelis or he’ll go to jail. And he isn’t happy about that at all.

“I was once invited to a European Union conference,” he told me. “There was an Israeli guy from the Web site bitterlemons.net sitting near me and trying to talk to me. There was a camera around and I couldn’t respond. When the session started he said to the president that he didn’t know why he was invited to a place where people from Arab countries are present and refuse to speak with him. When it was my turn to speak, I addressed the president. I said, the previous gentleman is totally right. It’s ridiculous to be unable to communicate, but the laws in my country forbid me from speaking to him. I’ll go to jail.”

I’ve heard lots of stories like this over the years from Lebanese and Israelis. Israelis are offended when they run into Lebanese people who refuse to acknowledge them, but Ahdab isn’t kidding when he says he’ll go to prison. He used to be part of the government, but he’s afraid of his own government’s laws. And if he had tried to change the law when he was in the parliament, he almost certainly would have been killed by Hezbollah or another of Syria’s allies.

I told Ahdab I think that law is insane.

“Absolutely,” he said.

But what if there’s a new regime in Damascus? What if, as he said, Hezbollah gets cut down to size?


Samy Gemayel, in a long-standing family tradition, serves as a member of the Lebanese parliament. He’s the son of former President Amine Gemayel and the nephew of Bashir Gemayel, who was Lebanon’s president-elect in 1982 before he was assassinated. Samy’s brother Pierre was an MP in 2006 when men wielding automatic pistols shot him to death through the windshield of his car.

The Gemayels founded the Kataeb Party, which had a militia best known as the Phalangists during the civil war of the 1970s and 1980s. It was a hard-right party back then, but like most parties in Lebanon (except for Hezbollah) it has mellowed with age. Today, the Kataeb has more in common with European social democratic parties than with its militant and ruthless old self.

I met Samy Gemayel in his office in the mountains above Beirut and asked what he thinks might change in Lebanon without the Assad regime next door, especially if it also means a chastened and weakened Hezbollah. And, I added, “will there be any possibility that people might at least start discussing a Lebanese-Israeli peace track with a new government in Syria? Nobody even talks about it now even though Israel and Syria have negotiated repeatedly.”

“It’s a syndrome of the Lebanese people,” he said. “For twenty years anyone who even opened his mouth and said we should think about having a peace treaty with Israel went to prison or was killed.”

That was because of the Syrians and Hezbollah.

“People are afraid,” he said. “It’s like someone who has been in prison for thirty years. When he gets out of prison, he’s afraid to walk on the street and talk to people. It’s the same for the Lebanese people. They haven’t gotten over this syndrome. Especially since Hezbollah is here to remind them.”

A peace treaty is a long way off, of course, and will certainly require the destruction or transformation of Hezbollah before it can happen. But the first step will be getting over this syndrome and dissolving the red line. And there may be a relatively simple way to accomplish it.

“What if,” I said to Gemayel, “people from Washington came here and said, ‘Hey, you need to talk to your neighbors.’ Would things change?”

“Yes, it can change,” he said.

And why shouldn’t it? The syndrome is simple. It’s based on fear, silence, and punishment. If the United States pressures Lebanon to negotiate with Israel, the Lebanese will at least be able to discuss the fact that they’re being pressured by the United States to negotiate with Israel. And those who think it’s a fine idea will be given international cover. Just as the red line was imposed from the outside, it can be erased from the outside.

Indeed, powerful Lebanese people are walking right up to the red line right now without pressure from outside.

“Remember,” Gemayel said, “when Hezbollah had indirect talks with Israel through the Germans? I went on TV. It was the first time someone talked about this. I said, ‘how come Hezbollah is allowed to talk to the Israelis indirectly through the Germans to get their prisoners back while the Lebanese state is not allowed to do indirect talks like Hezbollah to get back Shebaa Farms?’”

Hezbollah didn’t respond to that challenge. What could they possibly say?

The Gemayels and their party were allied with Israel during Lebanon’s civil war. Samy Gemayel’s uncle, Bashir, swore to vanquish Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian state-within-a-state in southern Lebanon, to throw out the Syrian army, and to sign a peace treaty with Jerusalem. Naturally the Israelis backed him to the hilt in 1982 when they invaded and he was elected president.

According to Thomas Friedman’s account in his book, From Beirut to Jerusalem, one of the last things Bashir Gemayel ever said was, “To all those who don’t like the idea of me as president, I say, they will get used to it.” A few moments later, he was blown to pieces by terrorists from the Syrian Social Nationalist Party.

Bashir’s brother Amine replaced him as president. Lebanon’s civil war raged on—it was only half-way through at that point. And the Kataeb’s alliance with Israel began to wane. Jerusalem’s peace partner was dead and replaced with his more cautious brother. Hezbollah was on the rise in the south—from which Arafat’s PLO had been evicted—and in the northern Bekaa Valley. The Assad regime’s military forces weren’t planning to leave Lebanon anytime soon. The Israeli dream of a friendly and terrorist-free Lebanon was premature and would have to be deferred for a generation at least.

I asked Samy Gemayel about his party’s former alliance with Israel, and I did it carefully. “You can answer me twice,” I said, “on the record and off the record. I can turn off my voice recorder because I want to know what you really think, but I also want to know what you would say publicly.”

“Let me be very clear,” he said, “and this is my answer publicly and non-publicly. We believe we had no choice back then but to have an alliance with Israel. I’ve said it on TV. And if we find ourselves in the same position today, we would do it again. I also said that on TV. We couldn’t do anything else. The Syrians were against us. The Palestinians were against us. The Lebanese Muslims were against us. The entire Arab world was against us. What were we supposed to do? Say, please kill us? We would take support from anywhere, and the only country that supported us at that time was Israel. We really don’t have anything to hide on this matter. And we believe that there should come a day when we negotiate with Israel on all pending and disputed issues in order to have permanent peace on our southern borders. We should end this. We should have stability.”

He went on. I thought he might be careful and cautious, that he’d rather discuss something else, but no, he walked right up to the red line and told me I could print all of it.

“There is no excuse,” he continued, “why Egypt is allowed to have a peace treaty with Israel while we cannot negotiate for an armistice. Why can Jordan have a peace treaty while we also cannot negotiate for an armistice? Even Syria, without a peace treaty, has had peaceful relations with Israel since 1974. Why can’t we? More, why can Hezbollah, a paramilitary group, negotiate with Israel twice through German mediators in 2004 and 2009 to release its prisoners, and the official Lebanese state is not allowed to?”

How many Lebanese people agree with Gemayel? Who knows? They aren’t really allowed to discuss it. There certainly aren’t any polls on this question, and they wouldn’t be reliable if there were.

When I asked how many people he sensed agreed with him, he put it this way: “We have to take into consideration that a lot of people were killed here by Israel. We have to be very careful when we talk about it because people died. But it’s the same for Syria. Syria also killed a significant number of Lebanese from 1976 onward; more than what Israel killed, it may be argued. So if you want to have this attitude toward Israel, why not have the same toward Syria? Syria has done more harm to Lebanon than Israel.”

There are two reasons it’s considered acceptable to be a Lebanese ally of Syria but not of Israel. First of all, Syria is a “brother” Arab country. And second, Syria conquered Lebanon, transformed its political system, and still has agents and proxies inside.

“We just want peace in this country,” Gemayel said. “We want to build this country that has been destroyed for the last forty years. And we can’t build this country as long as it is at war. We don’t want to be at war anymore. It’s as simple as that.”

Read the rest in The Tower magazine.

Luxor in Revolt

Egyptian President Mohamad Morsi is destroying the country with a toxic mix of ideology and incompetence, and the city of Luxor is now in open revolt after he appointed a terrorist as the governor.

MEDINAT HABU, Egypt — Muhammed Hassan vividly remembers the November day in 1997 when six Gama'a Islamiyya gunmen charged a 3,400-year-old mortuary temple in Luxor.

“My cousin was a guard and was sitting in the police kiosk, and they took their guns out of their jackets and killed him,” he recounts.

A temple custodian, Hassan hid as the Islamists slaughtered 58 foreign tourists and four Egyptians. He crept out 45 minutes later to find “a bloodbath … puddles of blood everywhere.”

Helping to remove the bodies, he saw “one woman holding her child … when they died, they were stuck together. That was the most difficult thing for me to see.”


In Luxor, protests erupted last week when Morsy named Adel Al Khayat, a leading Gama'a Islamiyya figure, as the local governor; Al Khayat withdrew when residents barred his office door and burned tires in the street.

Many here resented his connection to the group behind the 1997 massacre. Many believe his selection reflected an Islamist assault on tourism, near collapse since Egypt's 2011 revolution.

In the past, Hassan says, 20,000 tourists visited Luxor daily. “Now we are lucky to get 400, 500.” Only five of the normal 320 tourist cruise ships sail the Nile, according to guides.

Hassan calls out to a fellow guide, Adel Asad, to ask his opinion about the state of things. “Luxor is dead,” Asad yells back, and the ousted governor “is an idiot, like the president.”

That's a sentiment heard often here.

Within living memory, Egyptians have tried monarchy, Arab Nationalism, socialism, and military dictatorship. None of those government models worked, so now they’re trying Islamism.

It won’t work either. It will fail more spectacularly than even the others.

Egyptians might eventually see the virtues in political liberalism—a small minority of Egyptians already do—but it won’t likely become the dominant philosophy until it’s pushed by people who haven’t been born yet.


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