Reconsilation: France and Algeria

Posted: February 2, 2015 in Discussion

Video  —  Posted: January 28, 2015 in Videos to Watch

Video  —  Posted: January 27, 2015 in Videos to Watch

Europe Rediscovers Nationalism


In his latest novel, French writer Michel Houellebecq presents a controversial situation: The year is 2022, and France has become an Islamicized country where universities have to teach the Koran, women have to wear the veil and polygamy is legal. The book, which created a stir in France, went on sale Jan. 7. That day, a group of terrorists killed 12 people at the headquarters of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.

Also on Jan. 7, German Chancellor Angela Merkel met British Prime Minister David Cameron in London. Although the formal reason for the meeting was to discuss the upcoming G-7 summit, the two leaders also discussed Cameron’s proposals to limit migration in Europe. Finally, a much less publicized event took place in Germany that day: A group of politicians from the Euroskeptic Alternative for Germany party met with members of Pegida, the anti-Islam protest group that has staged large protests in Dresden and minor protests in other German cities.

The date of these four episodes is only a coincidence, but the issues involved are not. A growing number of Europeans believe that people from other cultures are threatening their national identities and livelihoods. The emergence of Germany’s Pegida movement, which opposes the “Islamization” of Germany, the terrorist attack in Paris and the recent attacks against mosques in Sweden put the focus on Muslims. But the Europeans’ fear and mistrust of “foreigners” is a much broader phenomenon that goes beyond the issue of Islam-related violence. What is actually happening is that Europe is rediscovering nationalism.

The Limits of European Integration

Europe traditionally has been a cradle for nationalism. From the romantic nationalism of the 19th century to the totalitarianism of the 20th century, Europeans have long defined themselves by a strong sentiment of national belonging, often linked to language, ethnicity and religion, and distrust of foreigners. The love for the place you were born, the trust of the people who surround you, and the fear of what strangers could do to you and your community is a basic human feeling. But in Europe, nationalism is particularly notable for the sheer scale of death and destruction it historically has brought to the Continent.

Conscious of the dangers of nationalism, after World War II Europeans sought to weaken the nation-state and progressively replace it with the European Union, a grouping of supranational institutions that, over time, were meant to create a supranational European identity. The idea worked for some time, especially at the economic level, where institutions quickly achieved integration. But over the past few years, several changes in Europe have exposed the limits of the project.

The first is the economic crisis. To a large extent, prosperity was the glue holding the European Union together. During good times, when most people have a job and children are convinced that they will have a better life than their parents, the idea of giving up national sovereignty to supranational institutions is easier to accept. But prosperity is no longer a certainty, and many in Europe are beginning to have second thoughts about the benefits of the European project. The economic decline is also leading to a crisis of representation; a growing number of citizens no longer feel represented by mainstream political parties, unions and other traditional institutions.

The second element is immigration. The economic crisis is affecting the Continent unevenly; countries in northern Europe generally are faring better than those in the south. In addition, the European Union’s enlargement in the mid 2000s opened the door for immigration from countries in the former Communist bloc. As a result, countries such as Germany, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands are dealing with immigration from southern and eastern EU countries.

Moreover, Europe’s economic crisis coincides with a deepening of the chronic instability in the Middle East and the Levant. This instability has led to a refugee crisis in Europe as hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers arrive in Europe every year, most of whom are Muslims.

In times of economic hardship, people tend to look for simple answers to complex problems, and “foreigners” are usually the easiest target. It is not a coincidence that the Pegida protests emerged in Saxony — one of the German states with the lowest rates of immigration but with some of the highest rates of unemployment. Ethnically and linguistically cohesive areas tend to be less tolerant of people with a different cultural background.

The third issue is integration. Most European governments operate under the idea that immigration could help the European Union mitigate the effects of their shrinking, aging populations. But many countries struggle to fully integrate the newly arrived. Encountering obstacles such as rigid citizenship laws and pervasive cultural barriers, many foreigners find it hard to feel at home in their new countries of residence. In some cases, this situation continues for generations.

Youth unemployment, lack of opportunities and social discrimination were some of the triggers of the French riots of 2005. A decade later, nothing much has changed in France in terms of integration, while the economic crisis has compounded some of the country’s structural problems, and Islamist groups such as the Islamic State are successfully using social networks to attract Western European youth.

European nationals returning home after receiving training in the Middle East perpetrated many of the recent terrorist attacks in Europe. Since the outbreak of civil war in Syria, more than 550 Islamists reportedly have left Germany to travel to the region. Slightly more than half of them held German citizenship. French media recently reported that some 400 French nationals are fighting in Syria. There is a vicious cycle of young men and women who feel disenfranchised and discriminated against turning to violence — which only fuels anti-immigration and anti-Islam rhetoric.

Political Systems Under Duress

Western European governments are under considerable stress. They have to deal with immigration from less-developed EU nations while trying to assimilate the asylum seekers that arrive from the Mediterranean. Simultaneously, they face the emergence of anti-immigration parties (from the National Front in France to the U.K. Independence Party in the United Kingdom) and recurring terrorist attacks by nationals who received training in the Middle East. Many Western European countries have to deal with these problems alongside stagnating economies and pervasively high unemployment. The combination of economic malaise and resistance to immigration is seriously challenging the cohesion of the European Union.

National and regional governments are questioning the Schengen agreement, which eliminates border controls among most EU member states. In recent months, a debate erupted when the government of the German state of Bavaria accused the Italian government of allowing asylum seekers (who, according to EU norms, should have remained in Italy) to leave the country and request asylum somewhere else in the bloc. Rome demanded more solidarity among EU members in the reception of refugees. From Bavaria’s point of view, the Schengen agreement should be suspended. From Italy’s point of view, the European Union cannot force its coastal nations to bear the sole responsibility of housing the asylum seekers.

The Schengen pact also faces criticism from groups arguing that insufficient internal border controls makes it easier for terrorists to move within the European Union after they enter the bloc. Moreover, some countries have been accused of applying weaker border controls than others. In recent months EU members have discussed ways to improve information sharing across the Continent, but regardless of better cooperation in this area, it is impossible to follow every single potential threat.

Even outside the Schengen agreement, the principle of the free movement of people — one of the founding pillars of the European Union — is under question. Partly because of pressure from the U.K. Independence Party and partly because of its own ideology, the British government flirted with the idea of introducing “emergency brakes” on EU immigration. Germany quickly dismissed the idea, and London eventually abandoned it. But the fact that a moderate government in a core EU country is making these proposals reflects the extent to which the debate over migration in the European Union is no longer at the ideological fringes of the political spectrum.

After decades of post-war supranationalism, the Europeans are once again discussing their national identities. The French tried to start a discussion in 2009, when then-President Nicolas Sarkozy launched a public debate on “what it means to be French” — an exercise that degenerated quickly into a discussion of the role of Muslims in the country. The Pegida protests led to similar debates in Germany, a country that for historical reasons feels extremely uncomfortable with the topic but also considers generational change to be breaking old taboos. Pegida-inspired demonstrations will take place in Austria in February, potentially leading to controversy there as well. These debates will not go away in Europe and will force the Europeans to deal with difficult questions that have remained dormant for decades.

At the core of these problems is growing resistance to globalization, understood as the free movement of goods, services and, most important, people. From the Italian shoemaker who cannot compete with cheap Chinese imports to the British factory worker who believes that Polish immigrants are threatening his job, many Europeans believe globalization is a menace to their way of life. The fact that the European Union was built on many of the principles of globalization explains why the bloc is becoming increasingly fragmented and why the promise of a “United States of Europe” probably will never be achieved.

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Why we shouldn’t fear the Muslim Brotherhood

Why we shouldn't fear the Muslim Brotherhood

If you were watching Fox on Monday, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Egypt was on the verge of being taken over by a pack of terrorists. Anchor Steve Doocy characterized the Muslim Brotherhood this morning as “the godfather of al-Qaida.”

 And several potential Republican presidential hopefuls have cited worries about the Muslim Brotherhood as a reason for the United States to continue to support the authoritarian regime of Hosni Mubarak.

To get some hard facts and context about the controversial Islamic movement, we spoke with Nathan Brown, a political science professor at George Washington University and director of its Institute for Middle East Studies, who has written extensively on the Muslim Brotherhood. What follows is a transcript of our conversation, edited for length and clarity.

Can you give a rundown of the history of the group and where it came from?

The group was founded in 1928. It was a broad movement aiming at increasing religious knowledge among Egyptians, doing good works, and making society more Islamic. It gradually got more and more into politics. It was suppressed in the late 1940s and it never really fully regained legal status after that. In the 1940s, they did form sort of a paramilitary wing to combat the British troops who were still in Egypt and volunteer for the war over the creation of Israel in 1948.

Then in the 1950s and 1960s, when the Gamal Nasser regime tried to crush them, some members of the Brotherhood developed ideas that essentially legitimated armed rebellion against the government. Some leaders were executed and so on. In the 1970s, they were allowed to reemerge, but they were never given legal status. Since that time they’ve disavowed violence. They’ve said that they’re willing to work within the rules of the game, that they’re a reform movement, not a revolutionary one. They have found a variety of ways to run candidates for parliament and to take an active role in Egyptian public life.

What role do they play day-to-day?

Their formal title is “the Society of Muslim Brothers”; it is not “the Muslim Brotherhood political party” or anything like that. They claim they have got a broad reform agenda — social, religious, political, educational and so on. Over the past decade they made real strides in the political realm. In the 2005 elections, they got one-fifth of the seats in parliament. After that point, the regime came down on them hard — arrested some top leaders, tried to close down businesses that were associated with Brotherhood supporters, arrested an awful lot of the foot soldiers in the movement, and so on. The organization reacted by saying, “We have to take care of our organization first. We’re in this for the long haul, we think in terms of decades and generations, not in terms of political maneuvering for the next elections.”

So they basically scaled back a little bit of their political movement, and the architects of their political campaign found themselves less influential within the movement. What that means is, the movement right now is led by people who are very cautious and are really trying to preserve the organization. They are probably less skilled in politics like making alliances and speaking to the press. When the current strikes started, therefore, they really reacted in a little bit of a hesitating manner.

I’ve seen several people describe the Brotherhood and their agenda as “radical” — referring to the religious aspects. Would you describe them as radical?

Well, they certainly take their Islam seriously. But in many ways this is a very conservative movement. The current general guide is a professor of veterinary medicine. He’s a shy guy. These are not fire-breathing radicals at the top of the organization. And whenever somebody talks a little bit too violently and impatiently, they are told either to calm down or to leave the movement.

Their agenda is to make Egypt better. And their conception of what’s good and bad has a religious basis. So that means increasing religious observance, religious knowledge. It also means probably drawing more heavily on the Islamic legal heritage for Egypt’s laws. They don’t want to necessarily completely convert Egypt into a traditional Islamic legal system. But if the parliaments going to pass a law, they want it to be consistent with Islamic law.

A lot of their program is just standard reform stuff — independence of the judiciary, the end of corruption, protecting the environment. Especially when they got more political over the last 10 years or so, what they really began to push was a very general reform language that takes Islamic coloration in some areas. But an awful lot of it is consistent with other reform programs coming from reformists all over the political spectrum.

Somebody said on Fox News today that the Muslim Brotherhood is the “godfather of al-Qaida.” Is there any relationship there, historically or in the present?

You shouldn’t be watching Fox to learn about the Muslim Brotherhood is the lesson from that. Here’s what I would say: The concerns about the Muslim Brotherhood’s relationship to political violence is not based on hallucinations — it is there. In the 1950s and ’60s the Brotherhood did develop this strain of thought that said, the existing government is not Islamic and therefore some kind of armed clash is inevitable. That strain has basically been repudiated by the Brotherhood. In fact, al-Qaida openly and consistently attacks the Brotherhood as having sold out.

What happened was that the sort of ideas that were gestating in the more radical streams of the Brotherhood, those ideas essentially spawned some more radical groups. And they began attacking Arab governments, like the Egyptian government and Algeria, in the 1970s and 1980s. The Brotherhood wanted nothing to do with them. But in a sense you could see there is a common genealogy there.

When those attempts failed in the 1980s and 1990s to overthrow existing Arab governments, the current leaders of al-Qaida — people like Ayman al-Zawahiri, who is Egyptian, and Osama bin Laden, who is Saudi — said: “We’re making a mistake. We’re attacking the Egyptian government, the Saudi government, and the Algerian government. But let’s go to the source, the government that is really backing them, and that’s the United States.”

But in its present form, the Brotherhood is not advocating political violence?

They specifically and repeatedly repudiate it. They have in the last couple days thrown in their lot with this uprising. But as far as they’re concerned, it’s a peaceful uprising, not a violent one.

Is it known how big the Brotherhood is?

Not really, because it’s not a legal organization. The do have some firm sense of membership. If you join the Brotherhood, you are expected to attend regular meetings, go to discussion groups, that sort of thing. My guess is that it’s probably much smaller than people think. But it does have a little bit of the cachet of being people who are seen as public-spirited and good, moral and upstanding. They would appeal to a much wider spectrum of Egyptian public opinion than their narrow membership base would suggest. In a total free election, they might get between 20 and 40 percent of the vote.

Is it an all male organization?

No, they do have female groups within the organization. The leadership is pretty much all male.

Let’s say at some point there’s a new government in Egypt in which the Brotherhood has a voice. How would they change the foreign policy of Egypt on Israel or relations with the U.S.?

They’re clearly suspicious of the United States, and you’ll hear some anti-American slogans from them — but no more so than from any other place in the Egyptian political spectrum. They don’t stand out there, and there are probably more anti-American people in the committee of opposition leaders.

With regard to Israel it’s a little bit different. Israel is unpopular in Egypt. And the Brotherhood since the 1930s has a very strong history of backing the Palestinian cause. They are critics of the Camp David accords and the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty. Those are all popular stands. That said, no one in Egypt wants a war with Israel right now. So the Brotherhood tries to finesse this by saying, ‘This treaty really needs to be put up for a referendum.” If they were in the government, I think they would be in an embarrassing position. This is an international treaty that was ratified — are you willing to abide by the state of Egypt’s international treaty obligations or not?

If it was a broad-based coalition government in which the majority clearly favored maintaining the current peace treaty, I think the Brotherhood would say: “We don’t like this, we’re not in favor it. But we’re willing to accept the results of a legitimate political process.” That’s my guess.

Is the Brotherhood something that should be a source of fear in the way it’s being talked about by many people?

We’ve got a big headache in Egypt. The regime in its current form is toast. Our regional policy has been based on a very close working relationship with the Egyptian government since 1974, so we’ve got fundamental rethinking to do. The Brotherhood is part of that headache. It’s not the biggest part. Is there cause for concern? Yes. Is there cause for fearful reaction? Absolutely not.

What Does the Muslim Brotherhood Want?

American conservatives have gone so far off the rails about the apocalyptic danger of the Muslim Brotherhood taking over in Egypt that it’s tempting for liberals to go too far in the other direction. So when I read Robert Dreyfuss’s piece about the Brotherhood today, I was all ready to criticize him for whitewashing some of the Brotherhood’s less savory aspects. But he didn’t. After a brief but extremely cogent summary of the Brotherhood’s history, he sums up with this:

By the 1990s, despite the off-again, on-again repression by Mubarak’s regime, the Brotherhood had completed what many observers say was a transformation. Step by step, its leadership renounced its violent past, engaged in politics, and tried to reinvent itself as a collection of community organizers who operated clinics and food banks, building a network of Islamic banks and companies….Nathan Brown, a political science professor at George Washington University and an expert on political Islam, is optimistic that the Brotherhood has evolved from its fundamentalist roots: “Their agenda is to make Egypt better,” he told Salonrecently….”They don’t want to necessarily completely convert Egypt into a traditional Islamic legal system. But if the Parliament’s going to pass a law, they want it to be consistent with Islamic law.”

….But it’s also fair to ask if Brown’s interpretation is too charitable. In 2007, the Brotherhood released a draft political program that included several very troubling proposals, including the idea that Egypt’s government be overseen by an unelected council of Islamic scholars who would measure the country’s laws against the Koran and sharia to make sure governance would “conform to Islamic law.” Since then, various Muslim Brotherhood officials have also made conflicting statements about anything from the role of women to the treatment of non-Muslim minorities.

In the end, there’s no getting around the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood is, if not an anachronism, a profoundly reactionary force. Its views on marriage, the family, homosexuality, and the like are distasteful to most Western minds and many Egyptian ones. And it harbors a strong current of overt anti-Semitism, along with a penchant for conspiracy theories. Despite Egypt’s drift toward a more conservative Islamic outlook since the 1970s—which paralleled similar trends across the Muslim world—the Egyptian people, especially the middle class, may in the end not be receptive to the Brotherhood’s message.

The whole piece is really very good, and well worth a few minutes of your time if you want to understand a bit more about the Brotherhood than you get from the headlines — both good and bad. The truth is that it’s hard to say how influential the group is likely to be in post-Mubarak Egypt, and it’s also genuinely hard to know exactly what direction they’ll pursue. But as Dreyfuss says, there are a couple of things we can say: “It is not Al Qaeda or the Taliban. It is a conservative, even ultra-orthodox Islamist group, but it’s irresponsible to compare it to the terrorist groups and armed insurgencies that have preoccupied American foreign policy since 2001….[But] it is certain to infuse the country with a stronger strain of anti-American and anti-Israel politics….It’s also likely to align Egypt more closely with other Islamist groups in the Arab world, especially Hamas.”

But either way, it can hardly be ignored.

King Farouk’s fabulous wealth

Farouk getting into his Mercedes Benz 540K, a wedding gift from Adolf Hitler, circa 1938

The latest in Al Arabiya’s series on the colorful reign of Egypt’s King Farouk examines his famous wealth and property – including his alleged massive collection of pornography – as revealed through the monarch’s long-forgotten memoirs.

“I suppose that the greatest moment in the life of any revolutionary is when he walks through the royal palaces of the freshly deposed monarch and begins to finger his former master’s possessions,” wrote King Farouk after his July 1952 overthrow.

Farouk, who in his long-forgotten memoirs claimed that the Muslim Brotherhood – rather than solely the Free Officer’s movement – were behind his overthrow, wrote that he would have liked to have been present when his possessions were on display to the world.

“I admit that I would have enjoyed watching those prudish, clerkly sect-leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood as they drifted through my rooms like elderly ladies on a cook’s tour, pulling open drawers, prying into cupboards and wardrobes, and gaping like country bumpkins at the number of the king’s clean shirts,” he wrote.

By his own admission, Farouk was not lacking in possessions. Items of particular interest included watches, stamps and coins. His collection of coins – containing 8,500 pieces – was possibly the finest in the world.

The Free Officer-led government auctioned off most of his possessions in 1954.

Burdens of royalty

Farouk seemed to draw strength from these rare items.

At times, when the burdens of royal duty seemed overwhelming, poring over his collection “kept me from nervous exhaustion,” he wrote.

Luxury cars were another of Farouk’s interests, possibly cultivated when his father Fuad gave him an Austin 7 when he was just 11 years old. To while away the long hours of his childhood, the heir would spend hours driving his cars through the palace gardens.

In addition to a rare Mercedes Benz 540K that Adolf Hitler gave to Farouk in 1938 as a wedding gift, his collection also included Rolls Royces and Bentleys.

Cars belonging to the king and palace officials were always colored red so they would not get stopped by police, said Philip Mansel, a historian and author of “Levant: Splendour and catastrophe on the Mediterranean.”

Farouk “certainly liked driving himself around very fast, a sign of his slight childishness,” Mansel told Al Arabiya News.


Farouk’s taste in grand, baroque-style palace furniture – often known mockingly as “Louis-Farouk,” in reference to its Versailles-level of ornamentation – has had an unlikely legacy today.

Possibly due to his influence, “enter any middle class Egyptian home and you are likely to be received in a ‘salon’ crammed full of gilded, heavily ornate copies of classic French furniture,” the Financial Times reported in 2009.

The image of a lone king vainly amassing a vast hoard of treasure is not completely fair, historians say.

 “Both he and his father and other members of the dynasty were tremendous collectors. They filled palaces,” said Mansel.

A lot of royal wealth had been consistently collected since the dynasty had sovereign power in Egypt since 1811, said Mahmoud Sabit, the son of Farouk’s cousin Adel Sabit.

“A lot of what we’re talking about is the accumulation of wealth since that date… To suggest that he was the one who collected and was therefore avaricious is pushing it a bit,” Sabit told Al Arabiya News.

It has long been alleged that Farouk’s collections also included a vast supply of pornography, rumored to be the world’s largest.

As Farouk was supposed to have told Hollywood insider Scotty Bowers, “I’ve got warehouses full of the stuff, so much that I’ll never be able to look at all of it.”

However, historians say there is little concrete evidence of such a collection, beyond classical nude artwork.

Naughty watch

Farouk’s artwork was “nothing terribly offensive,” said Roger Owen, a history professor at Harvard University.

One of the items included an intricate watch. “There was a watch on display, in which some scene of copulation took place, on the hour,” said Owen.

The rumor of the supposed porn collection being the world’s largest is also difficult to quantify, said historian Arthur Goldschmidt Jr.

“How could you prove that something like that was or wasn’t the world’s largest collection?” asked Goldschmidt, author of “A concise history of the Middle East.”

He added: “We really don’t have access to the kind of documentation [on a possible porn collection] that would pass muster in a court of law.”

Farouk himself claimed that some of the alleged pornographic materials were planted in his palace, such as the pistol and “album of semi-nude photographs” found under his pillow.

“Upon this strange assortment I was supposed to sleep each night!” he wrote.

Additionally, the film projector in his bedroom – with which the king was “showing objectionable photos to himself,” as Farouk quoted the allegations – was actually for the viewing of family videos.

“Like many other Royal Families, we have taken great pleasure in our movie-camera records of great occasions,” he wrote.

Murky money

As well as spurious evidence of his pornography collection, his financial situation in exile remains unclear.

 While on the Italian island of Capri, his first place of residence after leaving Egypt, Farouk told reporters: “I would have you remember that any man who has considerably less than he has been accustomed to having feels he is a poor man.”

While king, Farouk was supposed to have stored money in Swiss banks for himself and his children.

“Certainly, the princesses [Farouk’s three daughters] had accounts put away on their behalf in Switzerland. As I understand it, the Swiss government refused to pay them out,” said Sabit. “What they got was practically nothing.”

In the final years of his life, newspapers reported that the ex-king lived in a modest two-bedroom apartment in Rome.

On his death in 1965 at the age of 45 – after a dinner of oysters and lamb at a French restaurant in Rome, characteristically in the company of a young lady – it was reported that Farouk had just $155 in his pockets.