Rather to my surprise, I felt sad this morning that I was not in London to watch the royal wedding. By the time I turned on the TV at 6.30am Washington time, the vows had already been taken. I got the Archbishop’s homily, the singing of Jerusalem (always a highlight) and the carriage ride back to Buckingham Palace. I chose to watch the coverage on Fox, but it is difficult to discern conservative bias in the coverage of British royalty. The funniest bit of commentary was when a baffled American studio guest asked to have the concept of a Royal “tea towel” explained to him. Well, it was explained, British people don’t have washing machines – so tea towels are particularly important to them, since all dishes are dried by hand. Read more
Sitting in the departure lounge at Heathrow, waiting for my flight to Washington yesterday, I noticed a familiar figure – David Miliband. It was strange to see a man I’d known as foreign secretary as just a normal traveller – passport in hand, clad in jeans and a white shirt. Once we arrived in Washington, I vaguely expected someone from protocol to sweep Miliband away. But no – he queued up to be finger-printed at immigration with the rest of us. Read more
The announcement that General David Petraeus is going to run the CIA is interesting for lots of reasons. Some political pundits reckon that it is a clever way for President Obama to sideline a potential rivalry for the presidency. It is also a sign of the increasingly militarised nature of the CIA. By tradition the Agency is headed by a civilian. But in recent years, it has taken the lead in running the lethal drone strikes, targetting al-Qaeda and other militants based inside Pakistan. The CIA also has its own paramilitaries and special forces who were very much in evidence in the initial invasion of Afghanistan.
I think the biggest concern about Petraeus must be whether he will be capable of making impartial intelligence judgements about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq – given that he played such a big role in designing the strategies there. Read more
I have had lots of responses to my piece for the newspaper yesterday, arguing that liberals in Egypt are losing ground to Islamists. One common response, is – “Yes, but what would the Muslim Brothers actually do once in power?” Good question, and one I should have addressed more directly in the article itself. Read more
All sorts of contending forces rub shoulders in Egypt these days. Last week, I found myself in the lobby of a Cairo hotel, chatting to a square-bearded, pot-bellied, fundamentalist preacher who is eager to see all women in Egypt wear the niqab – the all-encompassing veil that leaves only a slit for the eyes. Just behind him, French tourists ambled around in bathing suits. Then the hotel crooner began belting out “My Way”. I suggested we move to a quieter spot and the preacher agreed, pointing out that, as a Salafi, he objected to all forms of music – and not just Frank Sinatra. Read more
This morning’s papers in Cairo contain the news that – “The Cairo Emergency Court has ordered the removal of the names of ousted president Hosni Mubarak and his wife Suzanne Mubarak from all squares, streets and institutions nationwide.” This will be a big job, affecting hundreds of schools, streets and public buildings across Egypt – including a major metro station here in Cairo. Read more
If you find the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt confusing, I suspect that is entirely intentional. The Brotherhood is now the largest organised political force in Egypt, but it currently operates from ramshackle offices in a Cairo suburb. It has sweeping ambitions and a grand vision for the entire Middle East. But it has promised not to seek a majority of seats in the coming parliamentary elections in Egypt or to run a candidate for president.
Essam el-Erian, the brotherhood’s spokesman, embodies the contradiction. He is smiling and welcoming to foreign visitors and he speaks about conciliation and pluralism in Egypt. But get him on international affairs and something much darker and angrier emerges. The Obama administration may hope that it gained credit by urging President Mubarak to step down. But not in the eyes of El-Erian. He insists that America is actively working to overturn the Egyptian revolution and adds – “The Americans always lie. They say one thing and do the opposite.” Read more
What do the following stories have in common?
1. France has started to block trains from Italy to intercept illegal migrants from North Africa.
2. A Eurosceptic party has made big gains in the Finnish general election.
3. Political squabbling in Portugal is raising doubt about the country’s ability to negotiate a bail-out.
4. There are growing demands in Greece for the country to default on its debts.
Answer: These are all symptoms of the same problem. The political understandings that underpin the EU are beginning to unravel. Read more
In this week’s podcast: Anger in the eurozone after Portugal requests bail-out; Ivory Coast’s president is captured; and, potential civil unrest in India following a telecoms scandal. Read more
In Las Vegas they call the really big gamblers – the ones whose fortunes can make or break a casino – the “whales”. For the European Union, Italy is the whale – the country whose economy and debts are so large that the fate of the single currency and the EU itself hang on its future. Read more