Out of Egypt: My Four Years Working for a Foreign Government

Celebrations in Tahrir Square on February 11, 2011. Photo by Jonathan Rashad

Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men…” – Colossians 3:23 (NASB)

Since I began blogging in earnest, I have occasionally referred to the fact that I spent a period of time in the employ of a foreign government: the Egyptian government, to be specific. It was a fascinating epoch in many ways, and yet thoroughly uninteresting in others. Out of respect for my former employer (and here I mean specifically my first boss), I have said hardly anything about this period in public. However, enough time has elapsed that I now feel comfortable sharing some of my experiences.

In 2009, I completed my Master’s degree and began looking for a job that would pay the bills. I applied to numerous think tanks, congressional offices, and government departments. I even considered joining the CIA. What I did not expect was to see a job listing with the Egyptian Press Office in Washington, D.C., a kind of satellite campus of the Egyptian Ministry of Information. Although I had never been to Egypt and did not speak Arabic, I applied. Shockingly, they invited me to D.C. to interview.

I suspect that there were three things that won me the job: 1) I had a good knowledge of politics and media in the United States, which was what they sorely craved. 2) I demonstrated sensitivity toward their culture and religion. 3) The person who interviewed me had attended the same graduate school as myself.

So it was that on a snowy December day, my parents helped me move all my belongings into an apartment in northern Virginia, from which I would commute to my new position as Assistant to the Director of the Egyptian Press Office. Continue reading

Who is to Blame for the Rise of ISIS?

Territory controlled by ISIS as of this week (dark red), as well as the area they claim (light red). Wikipedia image by Spesh531

Territory controlled by ISIS as of this week (dark red), as well as the area they claim (light red). Wikipedia image by Spesh531

There are a lot of lessons that we can take from the alarming expansion of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Surely it is a parable, but what is the lesson to be learned? Never end a war without leaving a substantial American footprint behind? Never funnel weapons to a rag-tag coalition of revolutionaries whose motivations may well be dubious? Never trust an Arab government to be able to handle things on its own? Never elect a pussy to be president of the United States?

I can think of nothing more fundamentally human than the desire to cast blame when something goes wrong, to reach for the simple explanation to a complex problem, or to ignore the long view in favor of the emotions of the moment. Beyond that, we prefer to direct our focus inward rather than outward; in other words, we are far more adept at analyzing something according to our understanding of the world than we are at comprehending how another person’s understanding might cause them to act. Because we live our lives at an increasingly rapid pace, we fail to appreciate how deeply rooted humanity remains, both from a historical and cultural standpoint. Continue reading

Iran Needs More Babies

Iran's families are getting smaller. Flickr photo by Adam Jones

Iran’s families are getting smaller. Flickr photo by Adam Jones

 

There are some things in Iran that are not in short supply. You need natural gas? No problem. Looking for some pistachios? They have you covered. Is your floor looking rather unadorned? They can give you a carpet with few rivals. And when it comes to women’s clothing, well, black is the new black.

Unfortunately, there are some items that are less common in Iran, or at least not as plentiful as they would prefer. Airplane parts would be one of them. International trade would be another. Surely some (but likely not all) would prefer that the country had a few more nuclear weapons. However, these deficits may all prove easier to overcome than the one that Iran’s government is currently campaigning against: a lack of babies. Continue reading

The Egyptian Government Cures Aids!

 

On a related note, I have a bridge for sale on the East River in New York City. Act now while supplies last!

Of all the odd things to come out of Egypt, this has to be one of the oddest. When all the best researchers in the world – with their fancy laboratories, millions of dollars in funding, and network of scandalously expensive universities – failed to find a cure for AIDS after more than three decades of attempts, a hapless military regime in a country that has not led the world in scientific research since the Middle Ages has managed to succeed where all others have failed! Not only that, but they have also cured Hepatitis C at the same time!

In a press conference last Saturday, with Defense Minister (and presidential hopeful) Field Marshal Abdel Fattah El-Sisi (pronounced “see see”, not to be confused with the English word “sissy”) in attendance, the head of Egypt’s Cancer Treatment and Screening Center, Maj. Gen. Ibrahim Abdel-Atti, announced to the world the creation of the cleverly named Complete Cure Device (CCD). After all, why bother with fancy medical terminology when you can just call it exactly what it is? Continue reading

Iran’s Deal With The Devil

Iran and the United States finally reached an agreement regarding Iran’s nuclear program, but it seems this time the devil is in the details.

Over the weekend, the U.S., its allies, and Iran managed to work out a deal in which some of the international sanctions Iran has been experiencing will be lifted in exchange for certain reductions in Iran’s nuclear development.  This is a six-month agreement that the Obama administration hopes will lead to a more permanent solution after further talks take place.  I know what you’re thinking: “What an amazing diplomatic breakthrough!”  Well…

“Last night is not a historic agreement – it’s a historic mistake.  It’s not made the world a safer place…This agreement has made the world a much more dangerous place,” argued Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.  Ok, so we’ll put him down as “still on the fence”: not surprising, since Netanyahu has never gotten along that well with President Obama.  He probably is just upset that Barack (the U.S. president, not Netanyahu’s Israeli political rival, Ehud Barak) is going to get all the glory for this one, right? Continue reading

Trouble in the Kingdom: Saudi Criticisms of U.S. Policy

800px-Arrival_ceremony_welcoming_King_Faisal_of_Saudi_Arabia_05-27-1971, National Archives Robert L Nudsen

Former Saudi King Faisal is greeted by President Richard Nixon at the White House in 1971. The U.S.-Saudi relationship is one of long standing. National Archives photo by Robert L. Nudsen

With Syria in flames and Iran continuing its nuclear development, two Saudi princes have grabbed headlines criticizing Obama administration policies in the Middle East. What does this mean for the future of the bilateral relationship?

In the Middle East, events seem to shift as often as the Arabian sands. Rulers rise and fall, wars come and go, and firm alliances are often hard to achieve. Thus, the longstanding relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia has been one of the key driving forces in the region, an alliance based more on common interests than common ideals or ways of life.

The course of this relationship has not always run smooth. The presence of American troops and contractors on Saudi soil has been a source of consternation for those who frown on such things happening on holy Islamic land. The OPEC embargo in the 1970s revealed some distance between the two allies, while the Persian Gulf War opened the door for enhanced military cooperation in defense of the Kingdom and neighboring Kuwait. Another low was reached after the 9/11 terrorist attacks: 15 of the 19 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia. Continue reading

Obama Should Shake Rouhani’s Hand

Official Iranian government photo of President Hassan Rouhani

Official Iranian government photo of President Hassan Rouhani

Word on the street is that the White House is trying to decide whether or not to arrange a brief meeting between U.S. President Barack Obama and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on the sidelines of this week’s annual parade of world leaders at the UN General Assembly.  Such a tête-à-tête is common at large international gatherings, but not when the two countries in question are Iran and the United States.  When it comes to this bilateral relationship, a simple handshake would be enough to grab headlines around the world.

American politicians have avoided shaking hands with their Iranian counterparts since 1979, not out of some odd “germophobic” impulse, but due to the official severing of diplomatic relations. This break technically occurred in 1980, although the situation had taken an immediate turn for the worse with the 1979 Iranian Revolution and hostage taking at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran.  In the more than thirty years since that point, politicians in both countries have come and gone, but none have been able to satisfy the demands of the other side, and the icy relations have continued. Continue reading

The Many Wars of John Kerry

Pete Souza

White House photo by Pete Souza

John Kerry finds himself in a familiar position or two on the issue of Syria.

As the Obama administration continues to make its push for a military strike in Syria, a familiar face has emerged at the center of this global diplomatic effort: Secretary of State John Kerry, one-time Democratic presidential candidate, long-time U.S. Senator for Massachusetts, and part-time windsurfer.  No one has been logging more frequent flier miles or hours on camera than Kerry in this push to convince global allies and the American public that Assad’s misdeeds must be punished through military strength.

This is hardly the first time that Kerry has found himself at the center of the debate over a controversial war.  In fact, there are few people who could have been more ironic spokespersons for a Syrian assault than our current Secretary of State. Continue reading

The Russians are Coming

Victory_Day_Parade_2005-5

Photo courtesy of www.kremlin.ru

As President Obama spends the day at the G20 Summit in St. Petersburg, Russia, trying desperately not to get caught dissing Vladimir Putin on an open mic, it appears that the Russians are planning to send their own delegation in the opposite direction. Moscow is naturally quite interested in the current congressional debate over the possible use of military force in Syria.  The Atlantic has an article up today by Abby Ohlheiser that details reports of lobbying efforts by the Russians on Capitol Hill.

Russian president Vladimir Putin suggested a plan to directly lobby Congress was in the works on Monday, after meeting with Valentina Matvienko and Sergei Naryshkin, speakers for the upper and lower houses of Russian parliament. They apparently proposed the idea to Putin, arguing that they could work U.S. lawmakers towards a more “balanced” stance on Syria.  Continue reading

The Trouble with Swallowing Syria

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U.S. soldiers delivering non-lethal aid to the Syrian opposition. They may soon be asked to do more. (Department of Defense photo)

WARNING: This is not an article about Miley Cyrus’ performance at the VMAs on Sunday.  It is an analysis of a serious news story.  If you are looking for less serious news coverage, please feel free to check out any of America’s 24-hour cable news networks.

“Syria is not easy to swallow.”

This rather odd quote was made yesterday by Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem in regard to possible military action by Western nations against the Assad regime.  We can interpret it in a couple of different ways.  One would be to go for the most literal meaning: it is true that attempting to swallow all 71,479 square miles of Syria would not be easy.  In fact, if this is the meaning Mr. Moallem was going for, I would say he is a bit guilty of understating the issue. Continue reading