Iran election endorsing nuclear deal–maybe: Mark on the radio

It looks like moderates are sweeping Tehran’s 30 seats in the Iranian parliament. That’s an indication that the forces that favor the nuclear deal with the West, led by President Rouhani, are going to win a resounding endorsement. But not so fast.

As I discussed a few minutes ago with host P.J. Maloney on KQV Radio in Pittsburgh–it’s only a few years since the government stole an election from reformers and handed a victory to crazy hardliner President Ahmadinejad, setting off riots in the streets.

If the current trend holds, though, it’s a sign that the people and their leaders want to change directions. What we in the West need to understand is that it will take time. Iranians will continue to say disgusting things about the US, Israel and the West, and they will continue to do things we reject, like financing extremists–but we need to look at the trend, and encourage the change toward integration into the world’s economy.

What happens if we don’t? There’s a precedent.

In 1993, Israel and the Palestinians began signing partial peace accords to put an end to their conflict. The idea was to make peace in stages as confidence and trust were built. But practically the day after the agreements were signed, the Palestinians began complaining about perceived Israeli violations of the accords, and Israel did likewise. The trust and confidence never developed, and the process failed–the Palestinians rejected two offers of a viable state. Read about the second one here.

The lesson? Let’s turn down the temperature and the rhetoric, and especially the fear tactics, and give this agreement with Iran a chance to work. The election shows that many Iranians appear to want that. We should, too.

Obama got some ‘splaining to do on Libya

If you got that reference from “I Love Lucy,” you just gave your age away 😉

I’m baffled over why the US isn’t explaining why it isn’t bombing the new ISIS capital in Libya, Sirte. It’s pretty clear to me, and I discuss it here with host P.J. Maloney on KQV Radio in Pittsburgh, along with analyzing the latest cease-fire proposal for Syria and the dismal future there even if the fighting ends.

And here’s  the place to thank P.J., Bob Bartolomeo and KQV for this weekly look  at the Middle East. We started it when I was in Cairo 2011-2013, and we’ve kept it going once a week from Tel Aviv. There is precious little in-depth reporting about the Mideast in US media today, and I’m grateful to you guys for the opportunity to add some perspective.

US intel on ISIS fight was polished up–new charges

“The cancer was within the senior level of the intelligence command,” one defense official told The Daily Beast. The pushback by the analysts has been described as a “revolt.”

Those are strong words written by my friend, ace Pentagon correspondent Nancy Youssef, who has uncovered another set of complaints that intelligence reports about the effectiveness of the US fight against ISIS, especially airstrikes, were doctored to fit administration contentions of positive results.

She takes pains to emphasize that the investigation is still in progress, and no conclusions have been drawn. But news from the front indicates that airstrikes in Iraq, and especially in Syria, are not making a major impact on ISIS. They are no substitute for popular resistance against the extremists and effective military action my threatened regimes.

And if that’s not enough to worry about, here are Nancy’s last two paragraphs:

“…in Syria, Russian strikes are helping forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad reclaim territory in the city of Aleppo. Should that city fall squarely to the regime, Syria would devolve into a war largely between the regime and ISIS, leaving the Western world with no good outcomes for the fate of that state.

Were that to happen, unvarnished analysis on ISIS and the state of the war would be more important than ever.”

Women’s face cover banned in Cairo hospitals

Egypt niqab

Women at Cairo University protesting the niqab ban there

How the pendulum swings…three years ago, the Muslim Brotherhood was running the Egyptian government after being swept into power in presidential and parliamentary elections. Now the pro-military government of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi jails Muslim Brotherhood members and supporters at will–and here’s the latest: Cairo’s main teaching hospital and its branches have banned women staffers from wearing the niqab at work. That’s the full-face Islamic covering that leaves only a slit for the eyes.

Will there be protests? Probably. Will they fill Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo and force a change? Not likely. Media, especially Western media, tend to concentrate their coverage on the small number of  liberal critics of the heavy-handed government, and here, too, in this Egypt  Independent article, you can see some of that–but the vast majority of Egypt’s people are either fed up with years of turmoil and want some stability, even at the expense of some freedoms they never really had in the first place–or they’re afraid to protest. Or both.
El-Sisi will be able to do pretty much whatever he wants as long as he moves Egypt’s economy along in the right direction. He’s trying to reform subsidies, and he’s reaching out for economic alliances to China, Russia and others, but the scope of Egypt’s economic crisis is so huge that the outcome is still uncertain–especially since he also has to pay attention to the jihadi threat based in the Sinai, spilling over more and more frequently into Egypt proper.

Syria cease-fire? Not even–Mark on the radio

A cease-fire negotiated in Geneva by the US, Russia and some Syria parties is set to go into effect this weekend. A few minutes ago I discussed this on KQV Radio with host P.J. Maloney in Pittsburgh, which is suffering through a severe winter cold wave. It’s less than a cease-fire, and it doesn’t include two of the major players–but even so, it’s the best chance so far to take a small step toward ending a co0nflict that has resulted in millions of refugees and almost unimaginable suffering..

Media bias is a world view–Mark on TV

Media bias goes far beyond the skewed headline here and there. As I told my old friend Yaron London, one of Israel’s leading journalists and Renaissance people on Channel 10 TV a few minutes ago in Hebrew, over the past three decades I’ve watched journalists pick IMG_1733sides in conflicts instead of reporting and analyzing without preferences. They tend to favor the weak side. That certainly applies to Israel and the Palestinians–but I found similar distortions in reporting while I was in Egypt 2011-2013 covering Arab Spring.

A personal note–it was great catching up with Yaron, whom I’ve known for more than 40 years. I gave him an autographed copy of my book, “Broken Spring”–and he said he thinks he read parts of it and might even have it at home already. Yaron is 76 and going strong…we might be the last of the Mohicans when it comes to old-time journalism around here.

And even if you don’t understand the Hebrew–you might enjoy listening to a couple of old-fashioned radio voices…

Mark on TV tonight–media bias? you bet

I’ll be on an evening news and talk program on Israel TV’s Channel 10 this evening after 6 pm Israel time (1600 GMT), talking about bias in Mideast reporting. The news peg of this is a session of an Israeli parliamentary subcommittee yesterday, in which the chairman of the Foreign Press Association was invited to explain why headlines like this famous one on CBS happen, mentioning Palestinian casualties but not the death of a young Israeli policewoman. Predictably, the FPA and its chairman got up on their hind legs and barked, charging that the invitation was intimidation and comparing Israel to Russia, Saudi Arabia and Turkey instead of the democracy it claims to be.The FPA statement of outrage, issued before the session, has 12 points–one of the longest the FPA has issued.

What nonsense. Imagine having an opportunity to explain how the profession works to actual policymakers. Why would anyone complain about that? Why? Because Israel is automatically the bad guy here.

Media bias comes long before headlines are written. It starts with the need for modern journalists to take sides in conflicts, and they inevitably favor what they perceive to be the weak side. That’s the Palestinians in this case. So it’s easy for some headline writer in New York to throw one out there about Israel killing three Palestinians. The explanation is–this was at the beginning of the incident, before it was known that one of the targeted policewomen was killed.

Explanation–but no excuse. The headline, even at the beginning, could have read, “Israeli police kill three Palestinian attackers.” The fact that it didn’t read that way reflects that underlying bias I mentioned above–favoring the side perceived to be weak. It didn’t occur to the headline writer to cover the possibility that the story might develop in that way–despite the fact that such stories almost always develop that way. Israeli police don’t just kill three Palestinians for sport. That perception is what’s missing.

So this is a much more serious issue than a headline here and there. I’ll try to explain it on TV. The program is in Hebrew, and the interviewer will be Yaron London, a fellow old-timer. I met Yaron in 1973, when he was just back from covering the UN for Israel Radio and gave a course on radio reporting. When he saw my resume, he said, “You should be teaching this course, not taking it.” Never mind–I had been in Israel just a year then, and the course gave me intensive training in professional lingo in Hebrew. Worth every minute, and a pleasure to meet Yaron. He’s a top-notch broadcaster with a wide education. I’m looking forward to the exchange tonight.

Putting the refugee/terror issue in perspective

Here are the facts, in a short Foreign Policy article: Refugees from the Mideast are no


Friday prayers on my Cairo street

more likely than the rest of the population to engage in terrorism, and many of the refugees are themselves fleeing ISIS atrocities.

This applies to other areas, not just Europe. It’s about the reach and scope of Islamophobia. That term itself is partly erroneous–it means “fear of Islam.” Certainly there’s a fear element, but there are larger hate and ignorance elements.

As one who lived under the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, I can say with confidence that most Muslims there are peaceful and friendly–and until the Egyptian military ousted the democratically elected Muslim Brotherhood president, the movement there was largely nonviolent. Even now, calling the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist group, as the regime does  to justify its jailing of thousands of members, is a stretch. Its incompetent one-year rule turned most of the Egyptian people against the Brotherhood–though not against Islam, emphasizing once again that the two are not the same thing.

We here in the Middle East should be leading the way toward a more nuanced understanding of the Muslim threat, countering the perception that all Muslims fit into a single category, and that category is terrorist. But because of the wave of Palestinian attacks against Israelis, all carried out by Muslims, it’s asking a lot of Israelis to pick up that banner now.

Let’s hope saner times lie ahead, for everyone’s sake.

Huge victory for liberal Jews in Israel–Mark on the radio

The Israeli government’s decision to set aside a part of the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem for egalitarian prayer is a historic victory for pluralism in the Jewish state. Pluralism refers to the concept that there is more than one way to be a Jew. That should be obvious, but it’s far from obvious in Israel. Here, as I discuss with host P.J. Maloney on KQV Radio in Pittsburgh, Orthodox Jews have a stranglehold on Jewish life, including marriage, divorce and conversion. The Western Wall decision doesn’t change all that, but it’s a step. It should also give heart to American Jews, who often feel alienated by Orthodox-dominated Jewish practice in Israel.

Keep listening here for a quick discussion of the latest US idea for fighting ISIS–in Libya. It’s not that simple, folks.