Here's your reading list, Mr. President

With one sentence, the New York Times raised dozens of Middle East pundits' hopes that their words were reaching the most powerful man in the world.  "At night in the family residence...Mr. Obama often surfs the blogs of experts on Arab affairs or regional news sites to get a local flavor for events," read Mark Landler's account of how the Obama administration will attempt to use the killing of Osama bin Laden to recast the U.S. relationship with the Arab world.

Well, Mr. President, we have some late-night reading suggestions for you. First, of course, there's Marc Lynch and the Middle East Channel - Foreign Policy's own contribution to the fast-changing world of politics in the Arab world. But there's also an entire community of Middle East bloggers who obsessively follow and comment on developments in their countries, and throughout the region.

Caveat emptor: Many of these authors will take you outside the comfort zone of the Washington policy debate. What's more, if you tried to gather them all in one room, you'd be virtually guaranteed a fight. But these blogs will also give you a more realistic sense of the political conversation in the Arab world. Don't stay up too late - you have a full-time job, after all.

Broader Middle East

Brian Whitaker

The Arabist

The Angry Arab News Service



Rantings of a Sandmonkey

Sarah Carr's Inanities

Zeinobia's Egyptian Chronicles



Joshua Landis's Syria Comment

Syria News Wire

The Damascus Bureau



CJ Chivers's The Gun

Enough Gaddafi

Alive in Libya


Persian Gulf

Crossroads Arabia

Tom Finn

Jeb Boone

American Bedu



Qifa Nabki

Across the Bay

Friday Lunch Club

Beirut Spring



Iraq and Gulf Analysis

Musings on Iraq


North Africa

Laila Lalami

Maghreb Blog

The Moor Next Door




Istanbul Calling

Kamil Pasha


Marble columns for sale, slightly used

If you've got a spare billion or so dollars lying around, and have ever dreamed of owning or operating a mid-size Mediterranean lottery system -- let's just say you may want to circle May 16 on your calendar.

That's when the Greek parliament, troubled by loads of sovereign debt and a stalled economy, is set to pass a radical new financial program, complete with an itemized list of state assets to be sold off at cut-rate prices. It's an audacious fire-sale, one that hopes to raise at least 15 billion euros over the next three years, and some 50 billion euros by 2015 - enough to get a new line of credit to pay off some of its existing creditors. The real goal is to prove to the country's European neighbors that it is making a good-faith effort to get its books in order -- the better to entice better terms on the next EU loan.

Of course, the Greek government is aware that even mass privatization doesn't amount to a long-term solution for the troubled country: The IMF estimates that even if the privatization plans proceed according to the most optimistic scenario (which is a very optimistic scenario), that would only reduce the country's debt to 134 percent of GDP  -- hardly enough to alter the country's junk-bond status.

But, that shouldn't deter anyone from attending Greece's state auction after combing his couch cushions for stray billion dollar bank notes. Indeed, there's plenty on offer.

If real estate's your thing, you might consider purchasing newly-available government land near the Rio-Antirio bridge near the port city of Patras; or a stretch on the island of Rhodes that the government hopes can be turned into a golf course. The government is also looking for buyers for the stadiums it built for the 2004 Olympics -- arenas that have since gone unused.

But most of the assets come in the way of state-held companies. The national electricity and sewage utilities are up for sale, as is the Greek railway, its postal service, its sole racetrack and horse-racing corporation, and the national lottery system. There are also a number of airports, ports, and marinas up for grabs, as well as the state nickel mining industry, and something called the "Hellenic Football Prognostics Organization". A more comprehensive list can be found here.

In the abstract, the Greek public supports the privatization plans, with 74% of the country saying that the measures are "probably" necessary. But the question is how Greeks will respond when the measures begin to affect them personally. There, the signs are less auspicious. Locals have already vowed to block efforts by the Qatari government to build a new financial district on the site of an abandoned airport on the outskirts of Athens; the mayor says he wants to open a public park instead.