Cairo

Danger Zone

Newt Gingrich has dumbly stirred a ruckus in saying that the Arabs of Palestine are an “invented people.” It did not increase his chances of winning the Republican presidential nomination: How many Jews actually vote in Republican primaries? (And many Christian Zionists are already for him on altogether non-Zionist grounds.) But it should not have caused such a furor in the first place.

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Spring Break

December 2 was supposed to be “Heroes of Mohamed Mahmoud Friday” in Cairo. The previous week, around 40 people had been killed by security forces while demonstrating in Tahrir Square, with the worst violence occurring on adjacent Mohamed Mahmoud Street. To memorialize the dead, Egypt’s youth activists had called for a million-man march, complete with parachute-sized Egyptian flags to convey their spirit and mock coffins to convey their sadness. Yet, for the second time in five days, the call for a million protesters to show up in Tahrir Square yielded just hundreds.

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Giza, Egypt—In this city’s lower-income neighborhood of Talbiya, situated just across the Nile from Cairo, women carry piles of pita on their heads through narrow, dirt-paved roads, squeezing past donkey-pulled carts. Amid the fuel fumes, and fly-swarmed food stands, there’s also a health clinic. It’s run by Hesham Abouel Nasr, a henna-bearded television preacher who also happens to be the local secretary-general for the Salafist—that is to say, Islamic fundamentalist—Nour Party.

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Fayoum, Egypt—The big story from Egypt’s parliamentary elections, the first round of which concluded on Tuesday, will likely be the Muslim Brotherhood’s impressive victory.

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Cairo—As expected, many things went wrong on the first day of Egypt’s first post-Mubarak parliamentary elections. Ballots arrived late at approximately 900 polling stations and, in a few cases, angry voters held judicial monitors hostage after their ballots failed to arrive. Meanwhile, candidates nationwide scrambled to correct their campaign literature when they found that their numerical ballot placements did not match the numberings that had been announced prior to the election.

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Forgive the corny metaphors. But it was not I who framed developments in the Arab world with the sequence of the seasons. Still, you need only glance at the papers to recognize that Arab Spring is now Arab Winter without really ever having passed through summer or fall. Spring is, as ever, a romantic memory.  As I write, Reuters reports from the Cairo morgue that 33 to 46 protestors were killed by the police since Saturday—and that nearly 1,300 were wounded and maimed.

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Cairo—Ali, a 34-year-old Cairo businessman who asked that his real name not be used, is weighing whether or not to circumcise his 12-year-old daughter. Female circumcision, or female genital mutilation (FGM), as it is also known, involves removing part or the entire clitoris. In more severe forms of the procedure, the labia minora is removed and the vaginal opening is stitched up.

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For over a quarter of a century Prime Minister Netanyahu had promised, boldly and unequivocally, both in writing and in speech, that he would never make any concessions to terrorists. Now, in one fell swoop, with the negotiated release of Gilad Shalit, all that is gone. The Prime Minister himself cast it as a momentous choice, an instance of decisive and historic leadership. But the reason Netanyahu that gave for his decision, namely that "circumstances had changed", betrays considerably more anxiety.

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For Israelis, this is the time of the return of the lie. Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas tells the UN General Assembly that Israel bears sole blame for the origins of the conflict, that Israel is the sole obstacle to resolving it, and that, in effect, the Jews have no connection to the land of Israel. And he receives a standing ovation.   This is also a time of inversion of expectations: Barack Obama, Israelis’ least favorite president, emerges as the defender of truth, while Bill Clinton, whom Israelis adored, joins the distorters.

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Only once before has a U.S. President applied overt diplomatic pressure on Palestinians the way President Obama did this week at the United Nations, as he pressured Palestine to rescind its request from the U.N. Security Council for immediate full membership status. Unfortunately, the precedent for this type of overt pressure is not particularly encouraging, neither for Israel, nor for the United States. It was in 2006 that President George W. Bush demanded that Hamas be allowed to participate in Palestinian general elections without it first having renounced the use of terrorism.

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