The Patrimony

In politics, everything is relatives

Category: Relatives in IR

Developments in Sierra Leone, and the quote of the day

by fpman

You may remember that towards the end of February, as we have reported here, Sierra Leone’s Vice-President Samuel Sam-Sumana voluntarily went into quarantine for twenty-one days after one of his bodyguards died of Ebola. Now it seems that there may have been more to the decision than mere precaution, or at the very least the consequences are proving more complex.

There is apparently a power struggle in the background. VP Sam-Sumana was expelled last week from the ruling All People’s Congress Party for allegedly “orchestrating political violence,” and also for supposedly untrue statements about himself. He faces the prospect of impeachment in the near future. A superficial look at the affair seems to suggest that what is happening at the moment is that his political opponents are happy to use his isolation in quarantine against him, trying to unseat him.

It is not unprecedented for epidemics to have far-reaching political implications as this whole book may make clear:

And so, in conclusion, here is a somewhat random example from the above book of the many power struggles throughout history that were affected by epidemics, from page 46, for a broader perspective — our quote of the day:

“In northern Italy, the Duke of Mantua and his only son succumbed to smallpox in December 1612. Abruptly ending the male line of succession of the Gonzaga family, this led directly to the War of the Mantuan Succession between Austria and France.”

A small correction may be due here: the male line of succession did not completely end in 1612 but given that Francesco IV Gonzaga (the son of Vincenzo I Gonzaga) did not have a male heir, his brother Ferdinando I had to take over from him. The problems, and the war of succession, came when eventually Ferdinando I and the third brother, Vincenzo II died without a son, too.

The point that epidemics and political instability make for an explosive combination should not be lost, though.

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Certain interactions repeat themselves

by fpman

Here is a very interesting piece in the NY Post (“My ISIS boyfriend”), looking at the story of a French woman who delved real deep into some research on radicalisation in France and the ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) phenomenon. As the lady reveals through her own fascinating experience:

“This is why girls go there,” said Erelle. “It’s the dream of a good life. They are persuaded that it’s a paradise and that they don’t have any future in Britain or France and they won’t find good husbands and can never be good Muslims surrounded by infidels. Bilel told Melodie she could have a beautiful life, a big apartment and lots of children.”

These considerations are important to understand. It is equally important to understand that this is nothing new.

Take this book as an example: “The Convert,” by Deborah Baker.

It is the story of Margaret Marcus, a Jewish-American girl from New York who suffered from some major vulnerabilities for some time in her life and eventually chose to convert, seeking a solution to all her troubles, and went to Pakistan. She was invited there by Abul A’la Maududi (1903-1979), an Islamist scholar-politician who was the founder there of the Jamaat-e-Islami party. One of the most influential Islamist thinkers in the early development of modern political Islam.

Margaret went to Pakistan in 1961. Maududi, happy that in distant America someone chose Islam (it was more of a big deal at the time), accepted her into his house, and attempted to find a husband for her.

The story is in fact quite complicated from hereon and I would not like to shoot it down with a cheap summary — let me point out that Margaret Marcus went on to live as Maryam Jameelah in her new life. The story of her conversion (a version of it) is widely known in the Islamic world.

Now guess what… one of the arguments that tempted Margaret-Maryam to foreign land was that as a Muslim convert she would not find decent existence (in both a spiritual and a material sense) and a good husband if she stayed in non-Muslim land.

Given that these interactions, which apparently show a durable pattern, nowadays gain strategic significance in the context of the Islamic State, perhaps it is time to pay more attention to the excellent book mentioned above.

Ayatollahs, Khameneis, Khomeinis

by fpman

Given the recent health problems of Iran’s supreme ayatollah, Ali Khamenei, there is speculation about who would follow in case someone needs to replace him.

Here is a great overview of some of the possible candidates, including Mojtaba Khamenei, who is Ali Khamenei’s hardliner son, and Hassan Khomeini, the late ayatollah Khomeini’s grandson who has reformist leanings.

Neither dynastic-like succession, nor a radical or a reformist choice for successor is anything sure yet, it is worth adding.

Of helpmeets and dirt-throwers

by fpman

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s wife Sara Netanyahu is to some extent at the center of the upcoming Israeli legislative elections these days. She hit the deadlines having recently spoken on the phone with Monique Ben Melekh, wife of the former mayor of Sderot, Eli Moyal — in this conversation she made a series of passionate remarks about her husband and to her unpleasant surprise Monique Ben Melekh apparently recorded the conversation. Theirs is a relationship of tension, mostly because Monique’s husband Eli Moyal is a critic of some of Netanyahu’s policies.

Sara Netanyahu’s rant comparative assessment of the two husbands is as follows:

“(….) he (Netanyahu) behaves with rare political wisdom, speaks with leaders all the time! Binyamin Netanyahu’s experience, his wisdom, his education! [He has] extensive education, university degrees. He also reads books, understands the economy, security, policy, he knows how to speak with leaders of the world! Where is your man? He doesn’t even reach the ankles of my husband, what, did Eli Moyal ever speak once with leaders of the world?!”

The good wife’s intention in this case was, in her words, to be a true “helpmeet” to her husband, something she sees as a “great responsibility” in a world where her husband is facing, on behalf of “the free world,” Iran and the Islamic State. In fact she sees her husband effectively as the leader of the free world. She says:

“He is one of the most veteran leaders in the world. In the United States they say that if he had been born in the US, he’d have been elected president there.”

In politics, of course, consequences weigh more than intentions. The leaking of the recorded conversation’s transcript (parts of it, with possibly worse to follow) comes at a time when allegations of the Netanyahu family’s former housekeeper about Sara Netanyahu’s allegedly bad temper are already making some waves around her. Opponents have thus found a way to turn her efforts against her husband on the eve of the upcoming elections.

In an interview with the Jerusalem Post (a form of damage limitation) she reflects on the housekeeper’s allegations, too.

“It’s the idea that some people earn their livelihood by throwing dirt on other people, their reputations – and not just anyone, but someone who you worked for, who was by your side. If you’re unhappy at work, why not just leave? Why do you have to spit into the well you drank from? What kind of person does something like that? I can’t help thinking of the BBC drama Downton Abbey, with its upstairs/downstairs intrigue, scheming staff and the bubbling cauldron of endless gossip.”

We shall see if such witty comments help her help husband.

Contagion

by fpman

This was waiting to happen. The Ebola epidemic which has not actually ended even though Western media these days is hardly paying attention to it (approaching 10,000 dead and 25,000 total infected) is within one step of reaching members of the political leadership in one of the countries hardest struck by the outbreak, in Sierra Leone. One of Vice President Samuel Sam-Sumana’s bodyguards recently died of the disease and the VP is now in quarantine for 21 days, along with his staff.

The R0 value for the current epidemic is still around 2. That means: infection is passed on, on average, to around two persons in one’s environment.

An encounter

by fpman

Uruguay’s socialist president, José Mujica, although the experience of his government tells us he may not be a true master of politics, is, no doubt, mostly “a truly wonderful guy” at the present. He added this UN speech to the legacy of humanity and is also known (and loved by many) for the old VW Beetle he still likes to drive around in.

MujicaMujica, the Beetle and el perro del presidente: Cute power (photo: Ivan Franco, EPA)

What makes him news here at this point is that he recently extended his usual warm-hearted welcome to his country’s guests from the Guantanamo detention facility — people whom Uruguay offered refuge once the United States was no longer interested in keeping them “at bay.”

He is, in the wake of this visit, apparently not altogether happy with what the former detainees are doing — for example, that they reportedly turned down certain job offers and are not interested in starting to work.

He therefore summed up what he thought about them in the following way:

“If these people were humble people of the desert, poor people, they’d surely be stronger and more primitive, but they’re not. Through their hands, features and family histories, it seems to me that they’re middle class.”

Mujica is the kind of guy to whom one can forgive many things. Let’s face it — even with the best of intentions the guy has just made a very prejudiced statement about “Arabs from the desert,” even if he was looking to express how reality deviated from his expectations (prejudices) on the occasion. The reason why this can nevertheless be taken as a benign statement from him is that he, the child of very poor immigrant (Basque and Italian) parents, was mostly looking to discover his own very broadly understood “kin” in the former detainees. His prejudice was the opposite of rejection.

Tampa, the center of the universe

by fpman

At the time of elections in the US it is easy to see that Tampa and its environs are at the center of the universe. Candidates come and go. Florida is a crucial swing state, with a demographic profile that makes it an interesting testing ground of political messages even regardless of this.

And then there is CENTCOM, too. The US military’s Central Command.

CENTCOM

That may be just too much to keep cool about as the case of Jill Kelley, the prominent Tampa “socialite” (at the same time a medical researcher, too) may show.

I have been following her case related to the Petraeus affair which, as you may remember, led to the firing of the Director of the CIA in 2012. General Petraeus’ lover-biographer Paula Broadwell sent some angry messages (“broadsides,” sigh) to Kelley, out of jealousy, from an email account jointly run by her and Petraeus, and this led to the scandal that eventually cost the general his job.

I thought this was pretty embarrassing. One just didn’t expect Petraeus to end his career in this way. When I learned that many others from the top brass at CENTCOM similarly sought the favours of Kelley by actively socializing with her, I thought that was a new level of embarrassing.

But then…

I am not sure what to make of it now that I know that cheap email flattery such as

“I wish that we could clone a couple thousand of you, but the land is likely not ready for that big an impact”

can get people to make you “Honorary Ambassador of Central Command.”

I need to re-adjust to the reality of this somehow.

That’s it for today, I have to go compose some emails.

The Wine, Whisky and Song Society

by fpman

Pakistan is one of those countries where there is a limited set of dominant political families as such — a subject which we will surely return to one day.

For now, let this brief look at Sidi Mohammad Muzzafar Mustafa Khan suffice. Mr. Khan is a relatively non-political member of a pretty significant political family (the Bhutto family). He is a nephew of the late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and a cousin of the late Benazir Bhutto, both former Prime Ministers of Pakistan, both eventually killed in Pakistan’s internal political struggles — one hanged by the Army, the other assassinated.

Mr. Khan is already contemplating a legacy-building great undertaking to leave his mark on this world in a different way. A significant member of the United Kingdom’s Pakistani diaspora, he is also the owner of nightclubs and hotels in the UK (and had a son grow up beside Benazir for the latter thought his managerial duties and the nature thereof would not permit him to be the best father). He has lived a playboy life or did a very good job of creating the semblance of that and is now interested in passing on the torch to 252 single men carefully selected through a methodical vetting process; young males whom he hopes to socialize into gentlemanhood. This would be his Wine, Whisky and Song Society. Mr. Khan is taking steps to provide for adequate female company, too, of course. And his plan is to throw some great parties in the near future on his luxury yacht and in other convenient venues.

His summary of his personal reasons for all his noble efforts just begs to be quoted here:

“The main reason I’m doing this is I’ll have 250 pallbearers at my funeral and they’ll say ‘this man taught us how to live’. My dear cousin Benazir had a million people at hers so I’ll still be some way behind.”

“Was Nick Clegg’s aunt a Soviet spy?”

by fpman

Betteridge’s law of headlines says “Any headline which ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no.”

An important qualification to this clever adage could be: “except when it comes to espionage.”

So when Guy Walters for the Daily Mail is asking the question in the title above, it cannot be answered with a definitive no.

Moura Budberg (born as Maria Ignatievna Zakrevskaya-Benckendorff-Budberg) surely had a long and interesting life (along with the equally long and interesting name) and it’s summed up well in the above article. Maura/Maria was very actively socializing throughout her life and this brought her into the company of mostly very interesting people. Or, as Walters puts it, we find her in “compromising” company with some “regularity” as we follow her story. From sci-fi writer H.G. Wells to actual Soviet spy Guy Burgess she was close to a lot of noteworthy members of the chattering (and gin-drinking) classes.

This probably doesn’t have too much significance as far as her “great-great-nephew,” Nick Clegg (UK Deputy PM and leader of Britain’s Liberal Democrats) is concerned — unless it suddenly makes his person more interesting to you through a kind of positive halo effect.

Moura_bookNick Clegg may not be the best reason to get this book on Moura Budberg, by Nina Berberova

The Cocaine International

by fpman

Interesting news from Albania.

Former Albanian Communist leader Enver Hoxha’s nephew, Ermal Hoxha, was arrested yesterday during a police raid on a cocaine laboratory in the village of Xibrake, south of the Albanian capital Tirana. Over a 100 kg of cocaine and four tons of additive materials were seized, and two Colombian citizens were also netted in the operation, preceded by a joint investigation of German and Albanian police.

The cocaine originates “from Cuba,” it is reported, although given the presence of Colombians one would think otherwise. Cuba may certainly have served as a transit point along the substance’s route to Europe, on its way towards Germany, though.

Drug cartels began making airdrops of cocaine along Cuba’s shores, for pickup by speedboats headed to Florida, a very long time ago. These drops have also proved sufficient to serve a good part of what domestic market there is for the substance in Cuba. It is small wonder if eventually some Cuban officials got involved and if participation in long-distance trade is a result in what is thus a more permissive environment for related transactions (with officials closing their eyes or actively joining).

If there truly is a link to Cuba in this particular case, a Hoxha’s involvement may possibly be further sign of this trend.

Even though both were Communist countries, Albania and Cuba did not have an entirely convenient link between each other during Communist times. Cuba was backed by the Soviets whom Albanians turned away from (in the post-Stalin period, for a mix of ideological and geopolitical reasons). Cuba and Albania did maintain ties, however, and people from one side may have known people from the other in the past in their case. Which means there may be some ideologically grounded fraternity (or at least the memory thereof) between them. And it also means that some of the people that these people knew in their own respective countries may now know each other, too — and may conspire, although this is purely speculation of course.

Hoxha_StalinRemember Stalin? The late Enver Hoxha at his desk, Stalin’s portrait hanging above his head