In its desire to maintain stability and its own interests, the same armed forces that refused to fire on protesters in February now appear willing to look the other way, or worse, as anti-Christian sectarianism turns violent
Riot police stand guard beside a car destroyed in Sunday night's clashes between Coptic Christians and soldiers in Cairo / Reuters
As Egypt's generals wrapped up their defiant presentation deflecting any and all responsibility for the killings of at least 26 people during a largely Coptic Christian demonstration on Sunday night, many Egyptians' initial bewilderment and fear had hardened into anger and foreboding. The Egyptian military's brutal attacks on the protesters represented a broader trend of limited tolerance for public displays of dissent and protest. But the attack was also distinctive for its sectarian overtones and its scale. Sunday night's killings in front of Cairo's radio and television building, commonly known as Maspero, were not simply a military attack on protest, but an episode in which the security forces sought to harness sectarian animus to bolster their crackdown and inoculate their actions. It's puzzling why the military leadership would choose to escalate at this moment. Whatever its intention, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), the post-Mubarak body currently leading the country, has endangered the country's social fabric and risked unloosing civil strife.
The SCAF has been increasingly acting to quiet dissent, previously using the military to disperse protest by force, and now seeking political acquiescence through repressive, albeit calibrated, measures. Crackdowns appear to have targeted only those whom the SCAF might consider to be vulnerable and without a significant social support base -- in other words, people whose injury or death wouldn't provoke a wider popular backlash. In the mind of the military, then, repressing a largely Coptic protest would come at little social cost.
The armed forces are broadly reflective of Egyptian society. While the institution is not segregated, Christian advancement within the ranks is often limited by hierarchical discrimination. Although there is some degree of self-selectivity involved, the paucity of Copts within the upper ranks of the military reflects their withdrawal from the public sphere. It's part of a longstanding and deleterious change in how Christians participate in Egyptian society. The few high-ranking Christian officers -- such as Coptic war hero General Fouad Aziz Ghali, who played a key leadership role in the October 1973 war against Israel -- are exceptions to the rule. Egypt's Christians are excluded from leadership positions in key organs of the state -- including the one that now plays an increasingly prominent role in their country's future, the SCAF.
Egyptian society is divided and its communal bonds have deteriorated, a trend that has left broad segments of the Egyptian population desensitized to the plight of the country's Christians. It's unlikely that the Egyptian army acted out of hatred toward Christians -- even now, it's not in their character. But credible video evidence and eyewitness testimony from the Maspero crackdown show security forces standing by while vigilante groups attacked their Christian countrymen for no apparent reason other than malice. It certainly looks like outright collusion and cooperation, although we can't be sure without an independent non-military investigation (something the military is, of course, not permitting). Some troops were captured on video reveling in their assault on the Copts. Institutional self-interest is driving military decision-making, it seems, even at the risk of undermining national unity.
State television and official media, in their incendiary coverage of the events, didn't come off any better than the military. One presenter called for honorable citizens to take to the streets to defend the armed forces against a Christian attack. State television sensationalized the events by neglecting to mention the protester casualties while announcing outlandish figures for military casualties. At this stage, the exact number of troops killed -- if there were any -- has become a state secret. The exact nature of interaction between the SCAF and the Ministry of Information (which runs state media) is opaque, but the latter certainly appears to have become an outlet for the former to cultivate popular support. Whether by directive or force of habit, state media has been repeating nationalistic tropes -- trumpeting SCAF chief Mohammed Hussein Tantawi as a great leader, for example -- in its obsequious coverage of the SCAF.
Under the SCAF's few months of rule, the culture of impunity has continued and flourished when it comes to sectarian crimes. During the Mubarak era, the criminal justice system was often used selectively or manipulatively in response to anti-Christian attacks, exploiting Egypt's sectarian tensions for Mubarak's benefit. It was used as a political tool to deepen Coptic dependence on the state. Since Mubarak fell on February 11 the new leadership has appeared largely indifferent to sectarian incidents. This has triggered widespread concern and outrage among Copts as well as their many sympathizers, and further undermined the concept of what it means to be an Egyptian citizen. While the SCAF has supposedly prioritized law and order and stability, the machinery of the state has not been brought to bear against the perpetrators of sectarian violence, further eroding conceptions of citizenship.
Egypt's most coherent political force, the Muslim Brotherhood, has also responded to the rising sectarian violence with self-interest. After the attack, the group issued a statement that diverted responsibility from the armed forces while partially blaming Copts for the timing of their protest: "All the Egyptian people have grievances and legitimate demands, not only our Christian brothers. Certainly, this is not the right time to claim them." The Muslim Brotherhood, it seems, is too worried about how it will fare in the tenuous political transition to stand up forcefully for their Coptic fellow citizens.
Perhaps the most damning behavior has come after Sunday's violence, with the SCAF refusing to admit error even as the sectarian ripples continue to spread. Instead, it has sought to preserve the perceived legitimacy of the armed forces among much of the Egyptian people, who are still grateful for the military's refusal to fire on protesters during the January and February protests. While the SCAF is genuinely concerned about the country's stability, it has come to understand that stability as primarily a function of its own standing within society. Whether as a means to avoid conflict or further their own agenda -- though they seem to see these two things as synonymous -- the SCAF has appeared willing to indulge and coddle the forces of intolerance, even at the risk of precipitating broad-based communal conflict.
The First Lady took to the stage at the Democratic National Convention, and united a divided hall.
Most convention speeches are forgotten almost before they’re finished. But tonight in Philadelphia, Michelle Obama delivered a speech that will be replayed, quoted, and anthologized for years. It was as pure a piece of political oratory as this campaign has offered, and instantly entered the pantheon of great convention speeches.
Obama stepped out onto a stage in front of a divided party, including delegates who had booed almost every mention of the presumptive nominee. And she delivered a speech that united the hall, bringing it to its feet.
She did it, moreover, her own way—forming a striking contrast with the night’s other speakers. She did it without shouting at the crowd. Without overtly slamming Republicans. Without turning explicitly negative. Her speech was laden with sharp barbs, but she delivered them calmly, sometimes wryly, biting her lower lip, hitting her cadence. It was a masterful performance.
When something goes wrong, I start with blunder, confusion, and miscalculation as the likely explanations. Planned-out wrongdoing is harder to pull off, more likely to backfire, and thus less probable.
But it is getting more difficult to dismiss the apparent Russian role in the DNC hack as blunder and confusion rather than plan.
“Real-world” authorities, from the former U.S. Ambassador to Russia to FBI sources to international security experts, say that the forensic evidence indicates the Russians. No independent authority strongly suggests otherwise. (Update the veteran reporters Shane Harris and Nancy Youssef cite evidence that the original hacker was “an agent of the Russian government.”)
The timing and precision of the leaks, on the day before the Democratic convention and on a topic intended to maximize divisions at that convention, is unlikely to be pure coincidence. If it were coincidence, why exactly now, with evidence drawn from hacks over previous months? Why mail only from the DNC, among all the organizations that have doubtless been hacked?
The foreign country most enthusiastic about Trump’s rise appears to be Russia, which would also be the foreign country most benefited by his policy changes, from his sowing doubts about NATO and the EU to his weakening of the RNC platform language about Ukraine.
For the party elders, day one of the convention was about scolding the left back together.
Against a restive backdrop, the party’s top lieutenants were forced into the role of prime time peacemakers, tasked with encouraging Democratic unity in a party that has only lately acquiesced to tenuous detente. They did so through a combination of alarmist truth telling—borne from the reality of a Trump-Clinton matchup that has lately gotten tighter—and cold-water scolding about party division—driven equally by frustration and exhaustion.
The pressures of national academic standards have pushed character education out of the classroom.
A few months ago, I presented the following scenario to my junior English students: Your boyfriend or girlfriend has committed a felony, during which other people were badly harmed. Should you or should you not turn him or her into the police?
The class immediately erupted with commentary. It was obvious, they said, that loyalty was paramount—not a single student said they’d “snitch.” They were unequivocally unconcerned about who was harmed in this hypothetical scenario. This troubled me.
This discussion was part of an introduction to an essay assignment about whether Americans should pay more for ethically produced food. We continued discussing other dilemmas, and the kids were more engaged that they’d been in weeks, grappling with big questions about values, character, and right versus wrong as I attempted to expand their thinking about who and what is affected—and why it matters—by their caloric choices.
The Democratic chairwoman had few supporters—but clung to her post for years, abetted by the indifference of the White House.
PHILADELPHIA—As Debbie Wasserman Schultz made her unceremonious exit as chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, what was most remarkable was what you didn’t hear: practically anybody coming to her defense.
The Florida congresswoman did not go quietly. She reportedly resisted stepping down, and blamed subordinates for the content of the leaked emails that were released Friday, which clearly showed the committee’s posture of neutrality in the Democratic primary to have been a hollow pretense, just as Bernie Sanders and his supporters long contended. She finally relinquished the convention gavel only after receiving three days of strong-arming, a ceremonial position in the Clinton campaign, and a raucous round of boos at a convention breakfast.
Why Donald Trump’s recent comments on the alliance caused such an uproar
Donald Trump shocked foreign-policy professionals and observers when he remarked to The New York Times that if he were president, the United States might not come to the defense of an attacked NATO ally that hadn’t fulfilled its “obligation to make payments.” The remark broke with decades of bipartisan commitment to the alliance and, as Jeffrey Goldberg wrote in The Atlantic, aligned well with the interests of Russia, whose ambitions NATO was founded largely to contain. One Republican in Congress openly wondered whether his party’s nominee could be “seemingly so pro-Russia” because of “connections and contracts and things from the past or whatever.”
It’s not unlike Trump to make shocking statements. But these ones stokedparticularalarm, not least among America’s allies, about the candidate’s suitability for the United States presidency. So what’s the big deal? What does NATO actually do?
Stock-market crashes, terrorist attacks, and the dark side of “newsworthy” stories
Man bites dog. It is one of the oldest cliches in journalism, an acknowledgement of the idea that ordinary events are not newsworthy, whereas oddities, like a puppy-nibbling adult, deserve disproportionate coverage.
The rule is straightforward, but its implications are subtle. If journalists are encouraged to report extreme events, they guide both elite and public attitudes, leading many people, including experts, to feel like extreme events are more common than they actually are. By reporting on only the radically novel, the press can feed a popular illusion that the world is more terrible than it actually is.
Take finance, for example. Professional investors are fretting about the possibility of a massive stock-market crash, on par with 1987’s Black Monday. The statistical odds that such an event will occur within the next six months are about 1-in-60, according to historical data from 1929 to 1988. But when surveys between 1989 and 2015 asked investors to estimate the odds of such a crash in the coming months, the typical response was 1-in-10.
A 30-step review of the mayhem in Philadelphia, and what Clinton’s convention says about the future of the American political system.
Hillary Clinton, her advisers, and their allies at the Democratic National Committee watched Donald Trump’s nominating convention in Cleveland with smug satisfaction.
Team Trump had insulted Ohio’s governor, approved a Melania Trump speech that plagiarized Michelle Obama, lied about the plagiarism, and allowed Ted Cruz to expose party divisions in a prime-time speech.
“Hey @Reince,” Democratic National Committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz tweeted GOP chairman Reince Priebus. “I’m in Cleveland if you need another chair to keep your convention in order.”
Schultz reflected the Democratic establishment’s false sense of security. Headed to their convention in Philadelphia, Democrats felt more united than Republicans, better organized, and less vulnerable to the long-term disruption of a populist insurgency.
All hell broke loose.
WikiLeaks released 20,000 emails stolen from DNC computers, proof of the worst-kept secret in Democratic politics: The party worked against socialist-populist Bernie Sanders to ease Hillary Clinton’s path to the nomination. The FBI said it would investigate whether Russia hacked the DNC to influence the U.S. election.
All hell broke loose.
“Lock her up!” chanted Democratic activists in the streets of Philadelphia. These Sanders supporters carried signs and wore T-shirts that called for Clinton’s indictment, channeling those GOP delegates in Cleveland who drew rebukes for defying old rules of political decorum.
Schultz cut a deal with the Clinton team to resign, effective upon the conclusion of the convention. She planned to open and close the gathering with remarks lauding her leadership.
All hell broke loose.
Addressing delegates from her home state of Florida, Shultz chastised an unruly crowd carrying signs reading “Division!” and “EMAILS.” She said, “We know that the voices in this room that are standing up and being disruptive, we know that is not the Florida we know.”
“Shame! Shame! Shame!” crowd members chanted. Schultz scurried out of the room.
Sanders himself tried to prevent a show of disunity on the convention floor, pleading with his supporters to back Clinton. Having promised his followers “a revolution,” he now fed them bitter pragmatism. “Brothers and sisters,” Sanders said, “this is the real world that we live in.”
All hell broke loose.
While the streets filled with a sweaty mass of angry Sanders supporters—mostly young and white and disconnected from the political system—the Clinton team told Shultz she couldn’t address the convention.
Sanders sent his supporters a text message, urging them not to protest on the convention floor.
All hell broke loose.
As the convention came to order, hundreds of Democrats protested outside. “No, no, DNC—we won’t vote for Hillary!”
Inside, Cynthia Hale mentioned Clinton’s name during the opening prayer. Some delegates booed, others chanted for Sanders.
There would be more protests.
Eventually, Clinton likely will regain control of her convention. Like in Cleveland, the desire to defeat a hated enemy will overcome internal differences. The blues will line up against the reds, Wall Street will support both teams, Clinton will win in November, and the status quo will declare victory over change. Populist unrest will broaden and intensify.
Or Trump will win. He won’t keep his promises, because he never does. He won’t make America any greater than it already is. He might make it worse. The status quo will declare victory over change. Populist unrest will broaden and intensify.
Whether it’s Clinton or Trump, historians will note how a billionaire celebrity took over the GOP with an anti-trade, anti-immigration nativism, setting fire to the political playbook that guided campaigns for the last half of the 20th century and the first decade of the 21st.
Today will be long remembered, too. Sanders couldn’t calm the churning of his supporters and, as in a mutiny aboard a pirate ship, the deckhands have seized control from the captain.
This could be the start of something big inside the Democratic Party. What if, for instance, Sanders’s coalition banded together with Black Lives Matters to create Tea Party-like takeover of the Democratic Party?
People have witnessed disruption in the retail, entertainment, and financial industries—in virtually every institution except for government and politics. In an era of choice and technological efficiency, the American voter is given a binary choice and gridlocked government.
Most Americans want something better than what the Democratic-Republican duopoly crams down their throats.
They’re mad as hell and, as evidenced in Cleveland and Philadelphia, they’re just starting to realize how powerful they are. They don’t need to take it anymore.
Physicists can’t agree on whether the flow of future to past is real or a mental construct.
Einstein once described his friend Michele Besso as “the best sounding board in Europe” for scientific ideas. They attended university together in Zurich; later they were colleagues at the patent office in Bern. When Besso died in the spring of 1955, Einstein—knowing that his own time was also running out—wrote a now-famous letter to Besso’s family. “Now he has departed this strange world a little ahead of me,” Einstein wrote of his friend’s passing. “That signifies nothing. For us believing physicists, the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.”
Einstein’s statement was not merely an attempt at consolation. Many physicists argue that Einstein’s position is implied by the two pillars of modern physics: Einstein’s masterpiece, the general theory of relativity, and the Standard Model of particle physics. The laws that underlie these theories are time-symmetric—that is, the physics they describe is the same, regardless of whether the variable called “time” increases or decreases. Moreover, they say nothing at all about the point we call “now”—a special moment (or so it appears) for us, but seemingly undefined when we talk about the universe at large. The resulting timeless cosmos is sometimes called a “block universe”—a static block of space-time in which any flow of time, or passage through it, must presumably be a mental construct or other illusion.