Posts Tagged Egypt

35 years after the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty

This post first appeared as an article for Commentary on March 26.

Sadat, Begin, and Carter on White House Lawn

Today, March 26, marks the 35th anniversary of the signing of the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty, most famously evoked by the three-way handshake on the White House lawn that changed the Middle East. Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian president Anwar Sadat put war behind Israel and Egypt, and in so doing, ended the Israeli-Arab conflict. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict continues, and so too does the Israeli-Iranian struggle. But Israeli-Egyptian peace put an end to the destructive battlefield wars between Israel and Arab states, of the kind that erupted in 1948, 1956, 1967, and 1973. Since the famous handshake among Begin, Sadat, and Jimmy Carter, there has been no destructive battlefield war between Israel and a conventional Arab army. And Egypt and Israel now have been at peace longer than they were at war.

It has often been said of Begin and Sadat that the two men were like oil and water. “The two men were totally incompatible,” recalled Jimmy Carter, describing the Camp David negotiations that produced the treaty. “There was intense perturbation between them, shouting, banging on the tables, stalking out of the rooms. So for the next seven days, they never saw each other. And so we negotiated with them isolated from one another.”

Yet in a briefing paper prepared for the U.S. team prior to the Camp David, these sentences appear: “Both Begin and Sadat have evidenced similar personal and national objectives throughout their familiar transformation from underground fighter to political leader. Despite their often vituperative comments, each should be able to recognize the other as a politician basically capable of change, compromise, and commitment.” The idea that the similarities between Begin and Sadat made peace possible has been scanted in that interpretation of the negotiations that features Jimmy Carter as hero.

This is no surprise. No two leaders could have seemed more different, and it is almost too easy to enumerate the contrasts. For starters, Anwar Sadat came from a poor village in the Nile Delta, a place of almost immemorial permanence. Begin came from the crumbling world of East European Jewry, later erased from the earth. Sadat was an Axis sympathizer during the Second World War. Begin’s parents and brother were murdered by the Nazis. Sadat made a career of the military, and even died in a military uniform. Begin was a civilian through and through. Americans found Sadat to be alluring and easy-going, a gregarious man in a leisure suit. They regarded Begin as rigid and ideological; one American official remarked that, even at Camp David, Begin was always dressed “as though he were about to go to a funeral.” Sadat was an authoritarian dictator who sent his opponents to prison. Begin was a classic liberal with a firm commitment to democracy and the law. Etcetera.

But the similarities between the two are just as striking—perhaps even more so—and it may be precisely the personal parallels that brought them together at the crucial moment, and made the achievement of peace possible.

Marginal Men

One obvious similarity is the one to which the U.S. briefing paper alluded, in describing both as “underground fighters.” In fact, both entered politics through the back door, as conspirators who planned political violence and who were steeled by long stints in political prison.

Sadat, as a young revolutionary, immersed himself in conspiratorial plots, both against the British (who then controlled Egypt), as well as against Egyptian leaders he regarded as collaborators. As a result, he found himself in and out of prison. In 1945, the 27-year-old Sadat and his friends decided to assassinate the on-and-off prime minister of Egypt, Nahhas Pasha. Here is Sadat describing the decision to kill him:

When we were schoolboys we had gone out twice a day to have a look at Nahhas, cheering and applauding as he rode down to work and back. He had been a mythical hero—a peerless symbol of patriotism, self-sacrifice, and devotion. But then he lost everything and we came to regard him as a traitor. His disloyalty to Egypt and her people made his removal a national duty. We therefore decided to get rid of him.

The group staked out Nahhas’s motorcade; one of the members threw a grenade, but luckily for Nahhas, it missed his car. The group was quite disappointed; eager to assassinate someone, they decided to kill the former finance minister, Amin Osman Pasha. This succeeded, and while Sadat was not the triggerman, he was tried as part of the conspiracy and was acquitted only after a lengthy trial.

During eighteen months in the isolation of Cell 54, Sadat experienced his political epiphany. But what did he say about the deed that put him there? “The assassination of Amin Osman achieved its objective,” he wrote. “We had managed to mar the image of effective colonialism, with unprecedented decisiveness, in the eyes of the people.”

Menachem Begin had the more famous “underground” career. He was first sent off to prison during the Second World War by the Soviet secret police, the NKVD—an eight-month travail he recounted in his memoir White Nights. By then, he too had been initiated into a life of clandestine conspiracy—methods of operation he would bring with him to Palestine in the last days of the British mandate. There, at the age of 31, he would rise to leadership of an underground organization, the Irgun, which would be responsible for the 1946 bombing of the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, which killed 91 persons. (Begin would always claim that a telephone call had been placed to warn that the bombs had been planted.) In 1947, Begin ordered the retaliatory hanging of two kidnapped British sergeants. It was, he said, “the most difficult decision of my life,” and an act of “cruel revenge.” Begin managed to stay underground throughout this campaign, pursued by the British who never caught up with him.

Clandestine nationalist “underground” activity, involving violence against the British Empire and its collaborators, represented a clear parallel in the careers of Sadat and Begin. So, too, was their eclipse during their middle years, as the British Empire retreated from the Middle East and Egypt and Israel gained full independence. Both men spent many years on the political margins, overshadowed by charismatic leaders who had a stronger grip on the imaginations of their peoples.

Sadat was a member of the Free Officers conspiracy in 1952, and was part of the cabal of young officers who overthrew the monarchy. But after Nasser emerged decisively as the leader, Sadat came to be regarded as the most colorless man in the ruling clique. He was socially conservative, rather more religious than his colleagues, and seemingly a bit less sophisticated because of his rural origins. He spent eighteen years in the looming shadow of Nasser, and became his number two only in the year before Nasser’s death. No one could have guessed, during Nasser’s long-running high-wire act, that Sadat would succeed him. (Sadat’s deferential posture may have spared him being purged by Nasser, who never considered him a threat.) When Sadat became president, he was 52 years old—the same age as Nasser on his death.

Begin languished even longer on the margins. The Zionist revolution was credited to David Ben-Gurion, the man associated most directly with Israel’s war of independence and institution-building. The Revisionists led by Begin would always claim to have played a crucial role in Israel’s struggle for independence, by their acts of resistance—some would call them terror—against the British and the Arabs. But this was a disputed narrative—one put forward by Begin in his book The Revolt—and one that left the great majority of Israelis unmoved. The evidence for this was the performance of Begin’s political party in Israeli elections. Begin was a perpetual denizen of the opposition benches in the Israeli parliament. In a political landscape dominated by the Labor Party, he spent decade after decade delivering speeches and doing little else.

His opening only came after the 1973 war, launched by Sadat, which finally precipitated a crisis of confidence in the Labor Party leadership, and opened the door for Begin. (Here was a paradox: it was an decision of Sadat that cleared the way for Begin.) When Begin became prime minister in 1977, after leading his own party to defeat in eight election cycles, the world was astonished. He was 64 years old when he assumed the premiership.

Sadat and Begin thus spent decades in the shadow of men who effectively issued the declarations of independence of their countries. (Ben-Gurion actually declared Israel’s independence in 1948, and Nasser effectively declared Egypt’s independence by nationalizing the Suez Canal in 1956.) But neither of these giants had managed to bring peace to their peoples. Nasser drove Egypt to defeat in 1967, while Ben-Gurion, despite leading Israel to victories in 1948 and 1956, had been unable to translate military prowess into peace, and this was true of his Labor Party successors as well. They left unfinished legacies, which provided the openings for Sadat and Begin.

Who Dwell Alone

Begin and Sadat also shared a strongly pro-Western, anti-Soviet orientation. Begin had been thrown in prison by the Soviets, and although it was the struggle against the Nazis that formed him, his animosity toward the Soviet Union, while less in degree, was similar in kind. A champion of Jewish peoplehood first and foremost, he saw the Soviet Union as an oppressive regime of antisemitic evil—in contrast to many on the Israeli left at the time, who remembered the Soviet Union as the great ally of the Second World War, and who persisted in admiring its (supposedly) socialist values.

This aversion to the Soviets also held true of Sadat. During Nasser’s years, Egypt aligned itself squarely with the Soviet Union, which became Egypt’s major arms supplier, financier of the Aswan dam, and principal source of diplomatic backing. But Sadat never trusted the Soviets. He was certain they represented another form of colonialism, and that their policies were meant to keep Egypt subservient. He came to power as president in 1970, and already by 1972 he had expelled thousands of Soviet advisers, whom he regarded as agents of a foreign empire, no different than the British of an earlier era. It would be his desire to align Egypt with the West—and particularly the United States—which would set the stage for his decision to visit Jerusalem.

Both men also relied heavily on the technique of the strategic surprise. Sadat had attempted, through his first few years in power, to achieve the return of the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt through back-channel diplomacy. He ultimately concluded that what had been taken by force could only be restored by force. That led him to the bold decision to launch war against Israel in October 1973, in cooperation with Syria. His war goals were limited: to compel Israel to come to the table and force the United States to take Egypt seriously as its potential Arab partner. The war produced just enough military success to be portrayed to the Egyptian people as a victory, so that Sadat could claim to have achieved the battlefield triumph that had eluded Nasser. But to translate his (limited) military achievement into something more, there had to be a political move of comparable audacity. This would come in the form of his surprise decision to violate all the norms of Arab political conduct, and pay a visit to Israel where he appeared in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, and made a famous speech of reconciliation.

Begin also was given to the audacious act. Three of them marked his premiership. First, there was the decision to withdraw from all of Sinai, involving the demolition of Yamit, a large Jewish settlement there. It was the first time Israel had ever dismantled a settlement, and it came as a shock, especially to his admirers. Second, there was his decision in 1981 to bomb Iraq’s nuclear reactor—a complete surprise to the world, driven by an inner conviction that he was acting to save Israel. This was followed by his decision to invade Lebanon—a move intended by Begin to complement the peace with Egypt, in remaking Israel’s strategic environment. (If it did so, it was for the worse.) Begin, like Sadat, could also surprise both friends and adversaries with bold moves.

Both men were also driven by an almost isolationist nationalism. Nasser had placed Egypt squarely in the Arab circle: Egypt was to lead the Arab world, and the Egyptians were first and foremost Arabs. In 1958, he even briefly subsumed Egypt in something called the United Arab Republic, which joined Egypt and Syria in a single polity. Sadat, in contrast, extricated Egypt from its Arab commitments. He regarded it as a civilization unto itself, so weighty that it could stand aloof and alone. Yes, it would engage in alliances and relationships with other Arab states, but Sadat was determined to put Egypt first, even if that meant that other Arabs might shun it.

Begin proceeded from a similar set of assumptions. The Jews were alone in the world, they were a people unto themselves, and they had been repudiated by East and West, even in those lands where they had been first emancipated. Begin did not regard this as tragedy, but as destiny. The Jews were destined to dwell alone, and he accepted the fact with equanimity. Here too there would be alliances and relationships, but Israel did not belong to any larger club, and ultimately it could rely only upon itself. This set the stage for the bilateral agreement between two leaders seeking to isolate their peoples from the threats around them. (It also meant that the peace itself, as much as it was intended to reconcile Egypt and Israel, was also bound to isolate them from one another.)

The two men also had a shared concept of the territorial limits of peoplehood. For Sadat, Egyptian territory was sacred, and the Sinai Peninsula was part of Egyptian territory. The commitment to the Palestinians, in contrast, was vague—diminished, in no small measure, by Egypt’s overall withdrawal from the Arab world. For Begin, the West Bank was sacred—not occupied territory, but Judea and Samaria, Israel’s patrimony. Yet the Sinai was foreign land. Had Begin been driven only by security considerations, he might have resisted withdrawal from the valuable strategic buffer represented by the Sinai. (Some of his advisers thought he should.) But his precise sense of where the Jewish homeland began and ended made possible an agreement based on a total Israeli withdrawal from Sinai.

Triumph and Tragedy

The saga of Camp David and the Israeli-Egyptian peace has been told many times (and, currently, in a play running at Arena Stage in Washington). That Jimmy Carter faced a formidable challenge in bringing Sadat and Begin to an agreement is indisputable. Begin himself, in remarks that immediately followed negotiations, said that the Camp David conference “should be renamed the Jimmy Carter conference.”

But the parallels in the lives of Sadat and Begin may have worked, in ways subtle but strong, in favor of an agreement. Here were two men forged by prison and violence into believers in their own destiny, but who had been written off politically for decades. By the time they came to power, they were in a hurry to achieve something that would transcend the legacies of their celebrated predecessors. Here were two men who believed that their peoples were fated to struggle alone, but who were prepared to go to extraordinary lengths to cement relations with the United States, in the interests of their peoples but also in order to shut the Soviet Union out of the Middle East. Here were two men who did not shy from the bold gamble, and who actually saw a greater risk in inaction. And above all, here were two men possessed not only by a strong sense of peoplehood, but of its geography, which they conceived in ways that left no overlapping territorial claims.

There is one more parallel. Both men finished their lives tragically. Sadat was assassinated in 1981 on the reviewing stand during the annual celebration of Egypt’s October 6, 1973 military offensive. While world leaders attended his funeral, the Egyptian crowds stayed home and so too did Arab leaders. He died in splendid (personal) isolation, mirroring that which he brought upon Egypt. Begin also died in isolation—one he had imposed on himself after he resigned the premiership in 1983, in the wake of the Lebanon war. In the decade between his resignation and his death, in 1992, he went into seclusion. He was buried, as he wished to be, not among Israel’s leaders on Mount Herzl, but on the Mount of Olives, and not in a state funeral, but in a simple Jewish ceremony.

For many Egyptians, Sadat’s achievement in war was tainted by an ill-conceived peace. For many Israelis, Begin’s achievement in peace was tainted by an ill-conceived war. The two men who, with Jimmy Carter, shared the world’s stage on March 26, 1979, to thundering accolades, departed this earth to mixed reviews.

But the peace treaty signed 35 years ago today has turned out to be the most durable feature of the Middle Eastern landscape, and the bedrock on which the stability of the region rests. Two “incompatible” men forged it—perhaps because, ultimately, they were so much alike.

Addresses by Begin and Sadat at the White House State Dinner on March 26, 1979.

Go here to discuss this post via Facebook.

    , , ,

    Worst-case scenario in Egypt

    A Muslim Brother, Muhammad Morsi, has entered Egypt’s presidential palace and taken his seat in the chair once occupied by Nasser, Sadat, and Mubarak. This is a stunning development—a slow-motion Islamic revolution that few envisioned back in January 2011, when the crowds filled Tahrir Square.

    The experts systematically underestimated the Muslim Brotherhood for a simple reason: they saw the revolution as they wanted it to be, not as it was. The distorted optic of the Tahrir stage seduced and misled them. But it was even more than that: the Muslim Brotherhood itself conducted a campaign of deliberate deception. They claimed they wouldn’t try to dominate the parliament, that they wouldn’t run candidates for every seat—and then they did. They said they wouldn’t run a presidential candidate of their own—and then they did. The credulous believed these reassurances—they seemed so rational and pragmatic. Marc Lynch, an estimable expert on these matters, actually chided the Brotherhood when it defied his analysis of its best interests and nominated a presidential candidate. It was, in his words, a “strategic blunder.”

    In fact, it was a strategic master-stroke. From the beginning of the revolution, the Muslim Brotherhood has understood that the fluid situation created by the fall of Mubarak won’t last forever, and that now is the time to seize every possible position they can, before alternatives take form. They want power, they crave power, and they won’t let it slip through their fingers by sitting out even a single contest. At the end of the day, all of the arguments for holding back have fallen by the wayside. They’re going for broke.

    And have no doubt about the Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood seeks to restore Egypt to the glory it once knew, by implementing Islamic social and legal norms. The translation of Islamic ideology into practice is the point of holding political power. The Brotherhood might not be able to effect an exact translation—that would be difficult—but a translation of ideology into practice it will be. This worries secular Egyptians, the international community, and Israel. At this early stage, many will say that such worries are overblown, that the Brotherhood will adapt and compromise. To consolidate power, it might. But at a later stage, many may regret having been so nonchalant.

    No one can stop Brotherhood. You say: what about the military chiefs? The military, at times, has appeared to be winning. The revolution got rid of Gamal Mubarak, Husni Mubarak’s son and presumed successor, and that suited the military fine. The parliamentary elections, won by Islamists, demolished the liberals by revealing their weakness. That suited the military fine.

    This left standing the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis. Everyone assumed that they wouldn’t dare put forth a candidate for the presidency. The new president was to have been a consensus personality above party politics—an ElBaradei or Amr Musa. It was the Brotherhood’s decision to run a presidential candidate that threw the military off-balance, and they have been scrambling ever since. The first Brotherhood candidate, the formidable deputy-guide Khayrat ash-Shater, was disqualified—he would have won a sweeping victory. His replacement, Muhammad Morsi, basically a stand-in, had less appeal, and against him, the unlikely Ahmad Shafik stood a chance. But it gradually became evident that even the stand-in might defeat Shafik, hence the drastic measures by the military chiefs, stripping the presidency of most of its powers even before the first ballot was counted.

    The military’s efforts to contain the Muslim Brotherhood, at this late date, can only buy limited time. The parliament has been dissolved, but it will have to be reconstituted, and then what? The rewriting of the constitution can be delayed, but the constitution will have to be written and approved by the legislature, and then what? And if the president isn’t to be the supreme commander of the Egyptian armed forces, then who will be? The simple truth is that Egypt isn’t going to revert to military rule—it’s too late, the polls show that a vast majority of Egyptians want a transition to civilian, constitutional rule. For the military, the question is, what are the terms of this transition? What will guarantee their economic enterprises? What will assure them that they won’t be prosecuted and purged? This is now the core of Egyptian domestic politics: the terms on which the military will exit. And with each passing day, the hand of the Muslim Brotherhood is strengthened in this negotiation, because it grows more legitimate and the generals grow less legitimate. There are those who think that the Muslim Brotherhood can still be outmaneuvered by gerrymandering the system. In the long term, it can’t. Egypt is headed toward populist Islamist rule, and it is just a matter of time before the Brotherhood checkmates its opponents.

    So how will the Muslim Brotherhood rule? It is the misfortune of the Muslim Brotherhood that, having waited more than 80 years for power, they have come to it at perhaps the lowest point in the modern history of Egypt. The country teeters on the edge of bankruptcy, the result of decades of bad decisions, corruption, and the absence of the rule of law. The Muslim Brotherhood is in a bind, because it has to deliver. For the masses of people who voted for the Muslim Brotherhood, the revolution wasn’t about democracy and freedom. It was about bread and social justice.

    The Brotherhood has a so-called “Renaissance” plan for the overhaul of the Egyptian economy. I won’t pretend to judge its feasibility. Could modernization of tax collection double or triple tax revenues? Can Egypt double the number of arriving tourists, even while contemplating limits on alcohol and bikinis? Can a renovation of the Suez Canal raise transit revenues from $6 billion a year to $100 billion? Can Egypt’s economy surpass the economies of Turkey and Malaysia within seven years? These are all claims made at various times by the economic thinkers of the Muslim Brotherhood, who trumpet Egypt’s supposed potential for self-sufficiency.

    If you think this is pie in the sky, then it isn’t difficult to imagine the “Plan B” of the Muslim Brotherhood. It is to find ways to raise the rent Egypt collects from the West and rich Arabs for its geopolitical position. Call it a shakedown, call it a bailout, it doesn’t matter. The message Egypt is sending is that it’s too big to fail, and that the world, and especially the United States, owes it. The deputy guide, Khayrat ash-Shater, put it directly: “We strongly advise the Americans and the Europeans to support Egypt during this critical period as compensation for the many years they supported a brutal dictatorship.” Egypt, which is one of the largest recipients of U.S. foreign aid, is thus owed compensation.

    A key part of this narrative is that Mubarak sold peace with Israel on the cheap. In Egypt it is believed that the $1.3 billion that Egypt receives a year in military aid, and hundreds of millions more in economic aid, are just a portion of what Egypt’s adherence to peace is worth. To get more, the plan of the Muslim Brotherhood is to persuade Washington that it can’t take Egypt for granted. The strategy will be to stimulate crises that will be amenable to resolution by the transfer of resources. No one can predict what those crises will look like. It’s hard to imagine that some of them won’t involve Israel.

    So the question the United States faces will be this: is Egypt indeed too big to fail? Is the United States now not only going to talk the Muslim Brotherhood—which it is already doing—but actively work to help it succeed? The question comes at a time when the United States has become frugal. And there is no superpower rivalry that Egypt can exploit. When John Foster Dulles informed Nasser in 1956 that the United States wouldn’t finance his great dam at Aswan, Nasser went to Moscow. Today there aren’t any alternatives to the United States.

    That being the case, the only way for Egypt to get the attention of Washington is to threaten to spin out of American orbit and into the opposing sphere of radical Islam. At no point will it be indisputable that the United States has “lost Egypt.” But at every point, Egypt’s loss will seem imminent. In that respect, the Muslim Brotherhood has already made its mark on history: from this day forward, Egypt can’t ever be taken for granted again.

    For future reference, Marc Lynch stands by his analysis:

     

      , , ,

      Shoddy and inaccurate?

      Juan Cole, the University of Michigan professor and blogger, fancies himself a fact-checker who uncovers hidden truths via the Arabic press. He attempted this most recently in a post entitled “Did the Muslim Brotherhood Threaten to Kill ‘All Jews’?”

      His target was a report from Cairo by the Israeli journalist Eldad Beck, written for the Israeli daily Yedi’ot Aharonot (Ynet). The English-language version of Beck’s report, referenced by Cole, carried this headline: “Cairo rally: One day we’ll kill all Jews.” It described a rally held on November 25 and organized in cooperation with the Muslim Brotherhood at Al Azhar Mosque in Cairo. The report included this line: “Time and again, a Koran quote vowing that ‘one day we shall kill all the Jews’ was uttered at the site.” Some newspapers and many blogs recycled Beck’s report.

      Cole sprang into action. First, he unearthed a short Arabic press report of the same event, “clearly written by a reporter on the scene,” and announced this discovery: “It does not say anything about the speakers or the crowd threatening to kill all Jews, and I don’t believe any such threat was made.” Cole then added that no Qur’anic verse speaks of killing the Jews: “The Qur’an doesn’t call for all Jews to be killed, and neither did the Muslim Brotherhood last Friday.” Beck, he declared, “clearly does not know what he is talking about”; his reporting of the rally was “shoddy and wholly inaccurate.” Cole capped his reprimand with an accusation: “If Beck had simply said that the Muslim Brotherhood crowds want Jerusalem back for Islamdom and evinced hostility toward Israelis, he would have been right. But his breathless exaggeration slides over into Islamophobia.”

      Cole thought he’d exposed a case of journalistic incompetence, but I wondered. Eldad Beck is a serious correspondent. He did a degree in Arabic and Islamic studies at the Sorbonne, and is renowned for traveling to Arab and Muslim countries on a European passport to report from places Israeli journalists dare not tread (e.g., Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan). Cole referenced Beck’s report in English, but it originally appeared in Hebrew, and I suspected the Hebrew original might be more precise. So I consulted it.

      It’s a more detailed report than the English translation of it. In the key passage, Beck wrote the following (my own translation from the Hebrew):

      Brotherhood speakers and their guests from “Palestine” called explicitly for a jihad to liberate all of Palestine. Again and again, the quote was referenced, according to which “the day will come and we will kill all the Jews until even the stones and trees will say to us: ‘a Jew hides behind us, kill him!’”

      So that’s it. Beck had heard speakers recite a well-known canonical hadith (a saying attributed to the Prophet Muhammad), about an event that will signal the imminence of Judgement Day. It goes like this (with only the slightest variations depending on the hadith collection):

      The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “The Hour will not come until the Muslims fight the Jews and kill them. When a Jew hides behind a rock or a tree, it will say, ‘O Muslim, O servant of Allah! There is a Jew behind me, come and kill him!’”

      Note that Beck didn’t attribute this “quote” to the Qur’an. That (erroneous) attribution was apparently introduced into the English translation by a Ynet translator. And Beck did label it a “quote.” Precisely.

      In the comments section of Cole’s post, someone actually did speculate that perhaps the “hiding Jew” hadith was recited at the rally. Cole dismissed this: “The Arabic accounts don’t report that one [hadith] chanted at al-Husayn [Square, i.e., Al Azhar].” Well, those accounts (actually, Cole linked to only one) are incomplete. At least two speakers at the Azhar rally recited the hadith.

      One was Abd al-Rahman al-Barr, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood Guidance Bureau. If you know Arabic, you can watch him recite it, at minute 8:10 of this clip filmed inside the mosque. (Clicking will take you right to the moment.)

      And he wasn’t the only one: Shaykh Muhammad Mukhtar al-Mahdi, professor at Al Azhar and head of the Islamic Law Society, did so too at minute 8:05 of this clip, also filmed inside the mosque. (Clicking will take you directly to that moment.)

      So Beck did hear the hadith recited at least twice, and he reported that fact.

      In response to that same reader who guessed at the “hiding Jew” hadith, Cole made another off-base rejoinder. “There are thousands of hadith,” he huffed in a comment on the comment. “Most Muslims don’t accept the weak or obscure ones.” Well, it’s true that there are thousands of hadiths, but Islamic scholarship has a methodology for determining the weak ones. The “hiding Jew” hadith is included in the most canonical hadith collections (Bukhari and Muslim) as sahih, “authentic,” and is classified as marfu’, “elevated”—a hadith traceable in an unbroken line back to the Prophet Muhammad. It’s rated triple-A. Nor is it obscure. In fact, it’s one of the most quoted Jew-related passages in the Islamic canon. It figures most notably in the Hamas covenant (art. 7), and you can watch the late Osama Bin Laden recite it too (min. 6:20).

      As to the substance, I suppose there is some difference between Muslim extremists vowing to “one day kill all Jews,” and their quoting an end-of-times prophecy that Muslims will one day kill the Jews with the help of rocks and trees that will betray the stragglers. I’m just not sure how much of a difference it is. In any case, though, the hadith predates the State of Israel by well over a millennium, so it certainly can’t be attributed to Israeli provocation. Those who invoke it—the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, Bin Laden—root their hatred of Israel in a much deeper stratum of Islamic animosity toward the Jews. Those who downplay that sort of Judeophobia just help to perpetuate it.

        , , ,

        October 1973: Panorama and myopia

        Another anniversary of the October 1973 Arab-Israeli war has passed. I’ve taken the occasion to experiment with a feature of the Flickr photo sharing site, allowing me to “curate” my own selection of photographs taken by others—in this instance, of the October war “panoramas” in Cairo and Damascus, which celebrate the Egyptian and Syrian “victories” over Israel. Click here.

        It’s often said that the myth of the October “victory” made accommodation with Israel thinkable, by erasing the stigma of the 1967 defeat from Egyptian and Syrian consciousness. But a much more persuasive case can be made that Israel’s turning the tide of the 1973 war finally compelled Arab acceptance of Israel. Israeli forces overwhelmed Arab armies on two fronts, even from the most disadvantaged opening position. The lesson was not lost on the leaderships of Egypt and Syria, and it underpins their avoidance of war with Israel in the decades since.

        In teaching the young only part of the story of 1973, these “panoramas” show much less than 360 degrees of the truth—and in some small way, erode the foundations of such peace as the Middle East enjoys. (They are also monuments to blind leader-worship, now challenged by the revolution in Egypt and the uprising in Syria.)

        I’ve selected the most interesting photographs of these two attractions, put them in my preferred order, given them my own introduction, and put each image in its context. Again, to visit the gallery, click here. (Download pdf to print here.)

          , , , , ,

          Egypt’s Royal Archives, 1922-1952

          Martin Kramer, “Egypt’s Royal Archives, 1922-1952,” American Research Center in Egypt Newsletter, no. 113, winter 1980, pp. 19-21.

          Students of Egypt’s thirty-year experience of constitutional monarchy have shared little in the discovery and exploration of Egyptian archives. Partly responsible is that brand of politics which fuses even the distant past with the present and has kept most of this century’s Egyptian state papers from public scrutiny. The study of Egyptian history from 1922 to 1952 is characterized by an enduring reliance upon published materials and the holdings of Great Britain’s Public Records Office.

          A recent departure from this restrictive records policy is the willingness of Egyptian authorities to open the royal archives of Kings Fu’ad and Faruq to visiting scholars. I can only venture a tentative account of this collection’s origins. In 1922, following the transformation of Egypt from protectorate to independent state under a constitutional monarch, the newly-formed diwan al-mal established a new repository for documents. The first few files were devoted to King Fu’ad and the metamorphosis of 1922; by the eve of the July 1952 revolution, the collection had grown to incorporate perhaps as many as 8,000 dossiers.

          With the overthrow of the monarchy, the royal archives were seized and put at the disposal of the Presidency of the Republic. It is telling that the republican regime chose to withhold the records of the discredited monarchy and avoid their transfer to the National Archives. Renamed Mahfuzat Ri’asat al-Jumhuriyya (Archives of the Presidency of the Republic), the collection was long housed at Qasr al-Qubbah; only recently were the documents moved to their present quarters at Qasr Abdin (Qasr al-Jumhuriyya). I was told that a handful of Egyptian historians make use of the collection here, but I did not meet any, and the royal archives are not mentioned in accounts of Cairene research facilities. If the current chief archivist’s memory is not to be faulted, I was the first non-Egyptian to seek and obtain a permit for research.

          Egypt’s royal collection is unrivaled as a primary source for the events of three transitional decades. It incorporates a variety of materials intended to alert the wary ruler to changing tides. The affairs of the royal family enjoyed priority at the diwan, reflected in the accumulation of much information on the political and economic fortunes of Egyptian royalty. But hardly less attention was paid to the activities of rivals: the major and minor political parties (the Wafd, Liberal Constitutionalists, Ikhwan, Misr al-Fatat, the Communists and others). Official appointments and the repeated rise and fall of governments were appraised; domestic intelligence provided numerous files on personalities (shakhsiyyat), both Egyptian and foreign, and on important families. Dossiers treated companies and trade unions; disorders, strikes, assassinations, trials and other singular episodes also warranted extensive investigation. Al-Azhar and Islamic affairs at home and abroad drew the regular attention of the diwan. Economic policy, finance, the development of transportation, industrial capacity, land ownership, and the Suez Canal were all the subjects of dossiers. So, too, were the mixed courts and minority communities (Coptic, Jewish and foreign), and provincial affairs were assessed in intelligence reports from the field. Here were filed the memoranda of the secret police (al-bulis al-makhsus) on a wide range of suspect political activities. In addition to the usual correspondence, reports and minutes, many files contain rare pamphlets, handbills and photographs. In sum, there are few aspects of domestic Egyptian affairs for which these archives do not represent an indispensible source.

          The significance of the collection does not end here. The Egyptian Foreign Ministry throughout this period forwarded to the royal diwan copies of most incoming and outgoing dispatches, and the archives shed light on every facet of Egyptian foreign policy. Relations with the European powers (particularly Great Britain, France, Germany and Italy) are the subject of several hundred files of diplomatic correspondence and secret reports. Treaty negotiations (especially with Great Britain) enjoy an obvious prominence. Also documented are Egypt’s relations with Middle Eastern states and peoples, and the creation and early activities of the Arab League. I cite but two files as examples of this material:

          File 1791: Taqarir al-sifara al-misriyya fi London (Memoranda of the Egyptian Embassy in London) subsumes at least 19 subfiles, some running into hundreds of pages.

          File 1291: al-mas’ala al-filastiniyya (the Palestine question) includes some 23 subfiles for the years 1937-1952, mostly dispatches from Egypt’s consul in Jerusalem and Egyptian representatives in Western and Arab capitals.

          A serviceable if rudimentary card index—handwritten in Arabic, alphabetical by topic—provides the key to these materials. All files are topical and many trace their subjects through several decades so that it is possible to follow protracted developments with relative ease. The beginnings of a system of cross-indexing can be discerned and a more comprehensive index is planned for the future. The director charged with supervision of this collection has authored one of the few Arabic works on the organization and management of archives, and Mahfuzat Ri’asat al-Jumhuriyya may be counted among Egypt’s best organized archival collections.

          The procedure for securing permission to use the royal archives was rather vexatious, as is the case with all major Egyptian collections. A personal letter was submitted to the ra’is diwan ra’is al-jumhuriyya; the letter’s text was drafted in consultation with the chief archivist, Mr. Abu’1-Futuh Hamid Awdah (office phone 911-189). It was my experience that one may see all related documents which predate the 1952 revolution, but if a research topic is rejected as unsuitable, the historian will not be permitted to consult any materials at all. To expand or alter one’s research topic in midstream, one must submit a new application.*

          Once admitted, the visiting historian will find a competent staff to assist in the selection and retrieval of files. One should not make excessive demands upon their time. The principal task of those employed here is the management of the Presidency’s current records, and they serve the historian as a favor rather than as a duty. Nor are there any facilities for researchers, and not so much as a table is set aside for reading. Perhaps facilities will be improved once historians begin to make use of the collection in some numbers. Those who do will be well rewarded, for no other source speaks to us from this past era with a comparable authority or intimacy.

          Martin Kramer
          Princeton University
          ARCE Fellow 1978-79

          *Subsequent to Martin Kramer’s entry into and use of these archives, two ARCE fellows failed to gain admittance despite persistent attempts. We are therefore now under the impression that the Egyptian authorities do not wish to encourage their use by historians —Ed.