Small change and a nosebleed

Smaller bits stolen from B&T:

dsquared: “If you look at really durable dictatorships they’re nearly always mass membership political parties.”

Russian TV: “

Assuming that everything on reality TV is fake seems to me less a product of Soviet cynicism and more robust common sense, butcalling your reality TV company “Potemkin Productions” is a nice touch

One sub-point of Paul Mason’s revolution-analysis tour de force: “

are we creating a complete disconnect between the values and language of the state and those of the educated young? Egypt is a classic example – if you hear the NDP officials there is a time-warped aspect to their language compared to that of young doctors and lawyers on the Square. But there are also examples in the UK: much of the political discourse – on both sides of the House of Commons – is treated by many young people as a barely intelligible “noise” – and this goes wider than just the protesters.

As Sudanese police lure activists to a fake ‘protest’, and arrest them: “

any calculation of the actual effect of social media on protest comes down to the question “how smart are the local cops?”

Zombies are workers, vampires are aristocrats, werewolves are yokels — what are the middle-class monsters? Answers: possessed people, doppelgangers.And:

Haunted houses might factor in there too – is there anything more fundamentally middle-class than the desire for home ownership even though it might eat you?

Censors to the left of them, censors to the right of them

This is a relevant point in terms of Western criticisms of Chinese censorship. The ultra-nationalists are being censored as much as the liberals, and when did you last hear an NGO earnestly complaining about that?

If you went to websites such as KDnet, you get the liberal viewpoints; if you went to websites such as WYZXSX, Strong Nation or Iron Blood, you get the ultra-nationalistic viewpoints.

Neither of these groups are actually supportive of the government. Tha Nationalist forums are hostile to what they perceive as westernization but also think that the CPC are a bunch of softies for not invading Taiwan right now. And like liberal or reformist opinion, nationalist expression is also liable to censorship.

Egypt arming Libyan rebels


Egypt’s military has begun shipping arms over the border to Libyan rebels with Washington’s knowledge, U.S. and Libyan rebel officials said.

The shipments—mostly small arms such as assault rifles and ammunition—appear to be the first confirmed case of an outside government arming the rebel fighters

Compare this to Robert Fisk’s piece from a fortnight ago,

the Americans have asked Saudi Arabia if it can supply weapons to the rebels in Benghazi. The Saudi Kingdom…has so far failed to respond to Washington’s highly classified request…

But the Saudis remain the only US Arab ally strategically placed and capable of furnishing weapons to the guerrillas of Libya.

I guess either the Saudi request got nowhere, or at least has only happened behind the scenes. Besides, whatever Fisk thinks, Egypt is obviously better placed to move weapons into the East of Libya

The WSJ also has some interesting comment on the various positions among Arab states:

Lebanon took a lead role drafting and circulating the draft of the resolution, which calls for “all necessary measures” to enforce a ban on flights over Libya. The United Arab Emirates and Qatar have taken the lead in offering to participate in enforcing a no-fly zone, according to U.N. diplomats.

Libyan rebel officials in Benghazi, meanwhile, have praised Qatar from the first days of the uprising, calling the small Gulf state their staunchest ally. Qatar has consistently pressed behind the scenes for tough and urgent international action behind the scenes, these officials said.

Qatari flags fly prominently in rebel-held Benghazi.

Where I’m at

Oh, hello LJ. You’re still my one true love, however much I abandon you for shinier, nastier and more superficial hangouts — it’s just that when I’m busy and stressed, I end up following the path of low resistance and quick feedback.

And it’s been a ridiculously busy few weeks. I’m feeling overwhelmed, overexcited, connected and useful, in a way I haven’t since 2003. I have a stack of projects and involvements, any one of which could justifiably expand to become a life-defining obsession. You could knock out the top three and I’d still have enough to usefully fill my days several times over.

So, telegraphically:

– At vodo, we’ve just released the first part of a


drama, launching itself at ideas of identity and pain and truth through a near-future setting. I’m in a slight bind over this: the people I’d most like to recommend this to are those who’ll be (justifiably) annoyed that e.g. the primary female character is a prostitute doing it for self-actualisation. But trust me: it’s worth it nonetheless.

– We’re also introducing in-browser streaming fed by bittorrent. Again, this is simultaneously exciting and hard to recommend. It’s potentially *very* significant, but the existing system isn’t entirely reliable.

– My interest in events in Egypt/Tunisia/Libya/Bahrain/Yemen is probably obvious to anybody connected to me on twitter or facebook. I’ve now found a useful conduit for that interest, in the form of the Egyptian-German Network for Changing Egypt. Rhey’re fficient, smart, driven by a desire to improve things rather than pose as radicals. They remind me a huge amount of CASI, probably still the project I’m still most proud of having been involved in. After two meetings we already have real progress on several fronts, and I’m thrilled to imagine how it could develop

[there are several more layers to go. But I’m writing this in a break from a phone call, and should get back to it. More later, or perhaps you’ll have to infer it from 140-char blobs of inanity]

Avoiding hate figures

It’s common to talk about dictators’ personality cults, but maybe that’s just because they don’t work?

The second [reason China won’t follow Egypt] is the lack of personality cults, and of criticism of the top leadership. China’s done a very, very good job of keeping the foibles of the top leaders out of the public eye, for the most part; gossip about the central leadership and their families is extremely restricted. Without a clear dictator, there’s a lack of focus for rage.

This is tedium as insulation against protest. China’s got it, Europe’s got it, so does the world business elite if you want to count that as a regime.

Egypt and the intellectuals

I’ve not found any English translation online — here’s part of the German version from the FAZ, via the Egyptian-German Network on Facebook:

Die Revolution geht weiter. Das Ringen zwischen den verschiedenen Strömungen ist jetzt auf seinem Höhepunkt. Die einen wollen den Fortbestand des Mubarak-Regimes, nur mit neuen Gesichtern. Die anderen wollen die Revolution, eine Revolution der blühenden Bäume, die sich mitten auf den Plätzen bewegen und ihren Duft überall verströmen.

Wo steht Amerika? Wo steht Europa? Das weiß keiner so genau. Wahrscheinlich unterstützen sie immer noch das Mubarak-Regime, allerdings mit einem großen Kulissenwechsel und mit kleinen, winzigen Schrittchen in Richtung Entwicklung. Heute mögen sie wohl gerade mit Spezialisten aus Hollywood verhandeln, die sich auf den Bau politischer Kulissen verstehen. Oder mit dem Regisseur des Spielfilms “Wag the Dog – Wenn der Schwanz mit dem Hund wedelt”.

Und hier setzt die Rolle des Intellektuellen ein. Er muss Licht werfen auf die Details und Entwicklungen der Konterrevolution. Der Kampf wird noch lange dauern. Aber diesmal wird er nicht überdeckt sein von einer Schicht aus Propaganda, mit der die Anführer versuchen, ihre Ziele hinterhältig durchzusetzen. Vielleicht wollen sie die Wildtaube töten, bevor sie aus dem Ei schlüpft. Vielleicht versuchen sie, die Wurzeln wieder festzusetzen, damit sie ihren Mund nicht noch einmal aufmachen. Aber was, so frage ich Sie, was machen sie mit dem Duft von Zitronen und Äpfeln und Freiheit?

Against the referendum

In Egypt, the protest movement is mainly calling for a no vote to Saturday’s referendum on constitutional amendments:

The upcoming referendum on the proposed amendments to the Egyptian constitution, scheduled March 19th, gives people a sense that the revolutionary process is reaching its end. The limited scope of the amendments, the majority dealing with electoral matters (such as presidential term limits, reduced length of the president’s term, judicial oversight of elections…), imply that the 11 men of the amendment drafting committee were not attempting to upend the existing order, but were attempting to establish a legal framework for the transition from Mubarak’s rule.

Yet, over the last few days, the legal community – including human rights lawyers, law professors and lawyers in general practice – has begun to coalesce around a consensus in favor of completely rewriting the constitution as the necessary next step in the political process. Many legal professionals believe that the amendments represent a dangerous step backward. As a result, many in the legal community have begun to organize a call for the referendum to be scrapped and/or for people to cast a “no” vote in protest to the entire process.

[not sure how representative this position is, but it’s one I’m running into a great deal online]

Spanish Bombs

At Arabist, Abu Ray has a powerful account of the view in Libya from the rebels’ side:

“It is just like the Spanish Civil War,” said Raoul, a Spanish TV journalist, “like Homage to Catalonia.” Benghazi in this scenario becomes civil war Barcelona, with an exuberant explosion of revolutionary thinking and fervor that is eventually crushed under the boot of the fascist armies after it turns out enthusiasm doesn’t beat out lots of equipment on the front.

Leigh, Assange, BAE and Saudi Arabia

The Telegraph reports a (not yet public) wikileaks cable) discussing the massive corruption in BAE’s Al-Yamamah arms deal to Saudi Arabia.

BAE has earned more than £40 billion from the deal, by selling military planes to Saudi Arabia. There’s long been strong evidence of corruption — but the SFO abandoned an inquiry into the deal, quite possibly under political pressure.

Now, via Wikileaks, we have more details both of the evidence, and on how the SFO were pressured to drop the case. The SFO had evidence that:

  • BAE paid £73 million to a Saudi prince who had “influence” over the Al-Yamamah defence contract and that there were “reasonable grounds” to believe another “very senior Saudi official” received payments;
  • The contractor was being covertly investigated by the SFO for carrying out a “potential fraud” against a government department;
  • BAE allegedly circumvented anti-bribery laws by making “substantial payments” to overseas agents employed by the Saudi government;
  • Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, then British ambassador in Riyadh and now a BAE Systems’ director, “had a profound effect” on the decision by Robert Wardle, then SFO director, to end the investigation.

There’s also some media politics going on here. The Guardian was long the most active newspaper following the Al-Yamamah deal. Much of their investigation was conducted by David Leigh, who also led the Guardian’s Wikileaks coverage, and is now publicly squabbling with Wikileaks’ Julian Assange.

So David Leigh has seen another newspaper get a scoop connecting two of his biggest investigations — surely the result of some kind of personal politics. It also makes me wonder whether the Guardian does have all the Wikileaks documents. Surely Al-Yamamah is one of the first things David Leigh would have looked for, once he got his hands on the cables?

Or perhaps I’m over-thinking this, and the Telegraph just happened to read the relevant cable before Leigh did.

Now North Koreans aren’t starving, are they becoming more rebellious?

In the Asia Times, an argument that North Korea’s greater prosperity could become a source of rebellion. Interesting, but not entirely convincing, argument:

People seldom rebel when their lives are desperate: they are too busy looking for food and basic necessities. Most revolutions happen in times of relative prosperity and are initiated by people who have time and energy to discuss social issues and to organize resistance….

There is little doubt that the North Korean elite welcome signs of economic growth, but paradoxically, this growth makes their situation less, not more, stable. North Koreans are now less stressed and have some time to think and talk

The converse argument, of course, is that when you’re literally starving you have nothing to lose, so may as well join a violent rebellion. But there’s a decent economic literature talking about the hunger trap of being too malnourished and insecure to engage in economic activity; the same arguments can presumably be transposed to political activity.

[via blood and treasure, whence also this (more explicitly fantastical) article imagining how North Korea could become a world empire]