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.
Also notable about this brazen show of might is that the missiles traveled through two countries, Iran and Iraq, before hitting their 11 targets in Syria. This means that both countries either gave their permission or simply didn’t confront Putin about the use of their airspace on his birthday.
It leaves people bed-bound and drives some to suicide, but there's little research money devoted to the disease. Now, change is coming, thanks to the patients themselves.
This past July, Brian Vastag, a former science reporter, placed an op-ed with his former employer, the Washington Post. It was an open letter to the National Institutes of Health director Francis Collins, a man Vastag had formerly used as a source on his beat.
“I’ve been felled by the most forlorn of orphan illnesses,” Vastag wrote. “At 43, my productive life may well be over.”
There was no cure for his disease, known by some as chronic fatigue syndrome, Vastag wrote, and little NIH funding available to search for one. Would Collins step up and change that?
“As the leader of our nation’s medical research enterprise, you have a decision to make,” he wrote. “Do you want the NIH to be part of these solutions, or will the nation’s medical research agency continue to be part of the problem?”
What will happen to digital collections of books, movies, and music when the tech giants fall?
When you purchase a movie from Amazon Instant Video, you’re not buying it, exactly. It’s more like renting indefinitely.
This distinction matters if your notion of “buying” is that you pay for something once and then you get to keep that thing for as long as you want. Increasingly, in the world of digital goods, a purchasing transaction isn’t that simple.
There are two key differences between buying media in a physical format versus a digital one. First, there’s the technical aspect: Maintaining long-term access to a file requires a hard copy of it—that means, for example, downloading a film, not just streaming from a third party’s server. The second distinction is a bit more complicated, and it has to do with how the law has shaped digital rights in the past 15 years. It helps to think about the experience of a person giving up CDs and using iTunes for music purchases instead.
A new report details a black market in nuclear materials.
On Wednesday, the Associated Press published a horrifying report about criminal networks in the former Soviet Union trying to sell “radioactive material to Middle Eastern extremists.” At the center of these cases, of which the AP learned of four in the past five years, was a “thriving black market in nuclear materials” in a “tiny and impoverished Eastern European country”: Moldova.
It’s a new iteration of an old problem with a familiar geography. The breakup of the Soviet Union left a superpower’s worth of nuclear weapons scattered across several countries without a superpower’s capacity to keep track of them. When Harvard’s Graham Allison flagged this problem in 1996, he wrote that the collapse of Russia’s “command-and-control society” left nothing secure. To wit:
The presumptive successor to John Boehner abruptly ended his bid after determining he could not get the support he needed from conservatives.
Behind Kevin McCarthy’s stunning decision Thursday to end his bid for speaker lay a simple calculation: Even if he could scrape together the 218 votes he needed to win the formal House election later this month, he would begin his term a crippled leader unable to unite a party that he said was “deeply divided.”
The majority leader and presumed successor to John Boehner had been widely expected to win the House GOP’s secret-ballot nomination on Thursday. All he needed was a simple majority of the 247-member caucus, and he easily had the votes over long-shot challengers Jason Chaffetz of Utah or Daniel Webster of Florida, who won the endorsement of the renegade House Freedom Caucus. But even if he’d won on Thursday, McCarthy knew he was still short of the threshold he needed on the floor, knowing that Democrats would vote as a bloc against him.
Somewhere in Europe, a man who goes by the name “Mikro” spends his days and nights targeting Islamic State supporters on Twitter.
In August 2014, a Twitter account affiliated with Anonymous, the hacker-crusader collective, declared “full-scale cyber war” against ISIS: “Welcome to Operation Ice #ISIS, where #Anonymous will do it’s [sic] part in combating #ISIS’s influence in social media and shut them down.”
In July, I traveled to a gloomy European capital city to meet one of the “cyber warriors” behind this operation. Online, he goes by the pseudonym Mikro. He is vigilant, bordering on paranoid, about hiding his actual identity, on account of all the death threats he has received. But a few months after I initiated a relationship with him on Twitter, Mikro allowed me to visit him in the apartment he shares with his girlfriend and two Rottweilers. He works alone from his chaotic living room, using an old, battered computer—not the state-of-the-art setup I had envisaged. On an average day, he told me, he spends up to 16 hours fixed to his sofa. He starts around noon, just after he wakes up, and works late into the night and early morning.
Why Americans tend more and more to want inexperienced presidential candidates
The presidency, it’s often said, is a job for which everyone arrives unprepared. But just how unprepared is unprepared enough?
Political handicappers weigh presidential candidates’ partisanship, ideology, money, endorsements, consultants, and, of course, experience. Yet they too rarely consider an element of growing importance to voters: freshness. Increasingly, American voters view being qualified for the presidency as a disqualification.
In 2003, I announced in National Journal the 14-Year Rule. The rule was actually discovered by a presidential speechwriter named John McConnell, but because his job required him to keep his name out of print, I graciously stepped up to take credit. It is well known that to be elected president, you pretty much have to have been a governor or a U.S. senator. What McConnell had figured out was this: No one gets elected president who needs longer than 14 years to get from his or her first gubernatorial or Senate victory to either the presidency or the vice presidency.* Surprised, I scoured the history books and found that the rule works astonishingly well going back to the early 20th century, when the modern era of presidential electioneering began.
American politicians are now eager to disown a failed criminal-justice system that’s left the U.S. with the largest incarcerated population in the world. But they've failed to reckon with history. Fifty years after Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s report “The Negro Family” tragically helped create this system, it's time to reclaim his original intent.
By his own lights, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, ambassador, senator, sociologist, and itinerant American intellectual, was the product of a broken home and a pathological family. He was born in 1927 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, but raised mostly in New York City. When Moynihan was 10 years old, his father, John, left the family, plunging it into poverty. Moynihan’s mother, Margaret, remarried, had another child, divorced, moved to Indiana to stay with relatives, then returned to New York, where she worked as a nurse. Moynihan’s childhood—a tangle of poverty, remarriage, relocation, and single motherhood—contrasted starkly with the idyllic American family life he would later extol.
In the name of emotional well-being, college students are increasingly demanding protection from words and ideas they don’t like. Here’s why that’s disastrous for education—and mental health.
Something strange is happening at America’s colleges and universities. A movement is arising, undirected and driven largely by students, to scrub campuses clean of words, ideas, and subjects that might cause discomfort or give offense. Last December, Jeannie Suk wrote in an online article for The New Yorker about law students asking her fellow professors at Harvard not to teach rape law—or, in one case, even use the word violate (as in “that violates the law”) lest it cause students distress. In February, Laura Kipnis, a professor at Northwestern University, wrote an essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education describing a new campus politics of sexual paranoia—and was then subjected to a long investigation after students who were offended by the article and by a tweet she’d sent filed Title IX complaints against her. In June, a professor protecting himself with a pseudonym wrote an essay for Vox describing how gingerly he now has to teach. “I’m a Liberal Professor, and My Liberal Students Terrify Me,” the headline said. A number of popular comedians, including Chris Rock, have stopped performing on college campuses (see Caitlin Flanagan’s article in this month’s issue). Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Maher have publicly condemned the oversensitivity of college students, saying too many of them can’t take a joke.
Forget the Common Core, Finland’s youngsters are in charge of determining what happens in the classroom.
“The changes to kindergarten make me sick,” a veteran teacher in Arkansas recently admitted to me. “Think about what you did in first grade—that’s what my 5-year-old babies are expected to do.”
The difference between first grade and kindergarten may not seem like much, but what I remember about my first-grade experience in the mid-90s doesn’t match the kindergarten she described in her email: three and a half hours of daily literacy instruction, an hour and a half of daily math instruction, 20 minutes of daily “physical activity time” (officially banned from being called “recess”) and two 56-question standardized tests in literacy and math—on the fourth week of school.
That American friend—who teaches 20 students without an aide—has fought to integrate 30 minutes of “station time” into the literacy block, which includes “blocks, science, magnetic letters, play dough with letter stamps to practice words, books, and storytelling.” But the most controversial area of her classroom isn’t the blocks nor the stamps: Rather, it’s the “house station with dolls and toy food”—items her district tried to remove last year. The implication was clear: There’s no time for play in kindergarten anymore.