Ilan Pappe on boycotting Israel

There have been some interesting debates recently on whether the university boycott of Israel would be productive or not. Although I am generally in favor of boycotting Israel on the same grounds as I would have supported boycotting South Africa during Apartheid, an intellectual boycott poses more complicated problems than merely not buying Israeli wine or technology. Ilan Pappe, noted Israeli scholar from the university of Haifa, has an article in the Guardian urging both types:
I appeal to you today to be part of a historical movement and moment that may bring an end to more than a century of colonisation, occupation and dispossession of Palestinians. I appeal to you as an Israeli Jew, who for years wished, and looked, for other ways to bring an end to the evil perpetrated against the Palestinians in the occupied territories, inside Israel and in the refugee camps. I devoted all my adult life, with others, creating a substantial peace movement inside Israel, in which, so we hoped, academia will play a leading role. But after 37 years of endless brutal and callous oppression of the people of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and after 57 years of colonisation and dispossession of the Palestinians as a whole, I think this hope is unrealistic and other means have to be looked at to end a conflict that endangers peace in the world at large.
I'm not convinced about the inherent value of this type of intellectual boycott -- university professors are the type of opinion-makers one might want to engage rather than isolate. But I applaud his call for a more general trade boycott of Israel. This brings me to the debate over normalization in the Arab world, in which some Arabs and most Westerners (and particularly American opinion-makers like Thomas Friedman) have slammed the knee-jerk anti-normalization stance of the Arab left (the story of playwright Ali Salem in Egypt is a notable example.) In a democratic Egypt, for example, would widespread anti-normalization feelings trump the advantages of staying on the good side of Washington and incentives like QIZ agreement signed in December? To take it to another level, should a democratic government cancel the Camp David agreement -- wildly unpopular when it was signed -- at the risk of losing aid and a facing military attack? Or is this anti-normalization stance completely exaggerated by the intellectual class, which we might deduce from last December's protests by Ismailiya textile workers when they learned the QIZ agreement would not apply to them? Anti-normalization would be a great platform for a populist politician in an open political contest. To put it in another way: what impact a boycott of Israel, which at most only has the chance of being a consumer issue rather than a government one in most countries, have on the actual policies and politics of Arab states than have engaged Israel like Egypt and Jordan?
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Netanyahu has Arab cooks locked up while dining

Who wouldn't want to kill this guy?
Arab staff locked in kitchen
By Inigo Gilmore
The Daily Telegraph
21 April 2005
A VISIT to a Jerusalem restaurant by former Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu provoked a furious reaction from the chef after security officials locked several Arab staff in the kitchens as the politician's party dined. Mamdouh Abu Kalabin said that Mr Netanyahu, finance minister in Ariel Sharon's government, sent security staff to the Mul Hahar an hour before his arrival.
They scrutinised the identity cards of the restaurant's five Arab employees, led them to the kitchen, and locked the door. "I was insulted." the furious chef told the Yediot Ahronoth newspaper yesterday. "Had I wanted to kill Netanyahu, I could have put something in the food."
An official from Mr Netanyahu's office said they regretted any offence caused.
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Hitchens on Saad Eddin

Christopher Hitchens has a column in Slate in which he discusses a recent conference he attended in Qatar. One paragraph leapt out at me. "Saad Eddin Ibrahim, the founder of the Ibn Khaldun Center in Cairo, is the moral and intellectual hero of the Egyptian civil society movement. His long imprisonment, trial, and eventual vindication—for the crime of monitoring Egypt's "elections" and of trying to take objective opinion polls—was in some ways the catalyst for the developments that are now occurring in his country." I can think of no one who would disagree more strongly with this than the Egyptian civil society movement itself. I don't want to bash Saad, he went through a lot and is a good and dedicated scholar--but I've had enough of this gross Western misrepresentation of his relevancy on the Egyptian scene.
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Baheyya and the judges

Baheyya: Egypt Analysis and Whimsy is a fantastic English-Language Egyptian blog I'm sad not to have discovered earlier. She has a caustic tongue an I'm already terrified to become its next target. I shall watch my step. I am outside of Egypt right now (in Istanbul, the most beautiful city in the world, period) and will be for the next two weeks. But I've been following with a lot of interest the latest development on Egyptian judges demanding full independence in monitoring the elections. I think it's not only a courageous move, but also an excellent way to provide serious election monitoring by Egyptians rather than foreigners or foreign-funded organizations, which is a problem not only for the government but also for a lot of other people too. (I'm not saying NGOs such as the Ibn Khaldoun Center would be biased, but only that their findings would easily be spun as so.) This story has had quite a lot of coverage, notably in the Financial Times and a more detailed story in Cairo, among others. But Baheyya adds a little bit of on one of the personalities leading the judges:
Importantly, elected head of the Cairo-based Judges Club Zakariyya Abdel Aziz attended the Alexandria meeting and said, "I am committed to executing all that comes out of this meeting." Judge Hossam al-Ghiryani said, "The beginning of any political reform must go through a strong independent judge. We want a truly independent judiciary through which we can protect freedoms and human rights, and the first of these rights is one's right not to have one's will falsified through rigged elections."
These brave judges had caused quite a stir several weeks ago, prompting The Supreme Council for the Judiciary to issue a statement on 12 April denying that judges were "in revolution" and affirming their "distance from working in politics." Judge Hossam al-Ghiryani in particular deserves special mention. He was the judge who issued the Cassation Court report invalidating the 2000 election results in al-Zeitoun, which is none other than Zakariya Azmi's district, and Azmi of course is Hosni Mubarak's chief of staff and point man in parliament. Needless to say, such a report was highly embarrassing to Mubarak and Azmi, and unbelievably gutsy on the part of Ghiryani. To the regime's rescue, in March 2004 the thoroughly tamed Supreme Constitutional Court issued a binding interpretation of the long-running dispute over who gets defined as a judge, with the effect of upholding Zeitoun's election results and overruling Ghiryani's verdict.
And she asks an important question:
The upcoming May meeting of the judges in Cairo promises to echo the significance of the March 1968 meeting of the Judges Club. That historic meeting of course produced the famous declaration that the 1967 war was a result of domestic repression and absence of rule of law. For their efforts, leading judges who authored and signed the statement got sacked by Nasser in the "massacre of the judiciary" (madhbahat al-qada') in August 1968. Egyptian judges are part of the regime yet have always been nettlesome wild cards. Where do they fit in the caricatured conceptions of the regime as the president and his men?
I've never thought in the past, when judges were hailed as a bastion of independence, that they were that independent from the regime, not only because of their dependence on it (notably the bureaucracy of the ministry of justice and the way promotions are handled), but rather as a part of the regime's sphere that had a larger degree of independence from its core than most. One question that comes to mind is, to what degree are the judges being opportunistic and seizing the current more open environment (created by activists completely outside the regime) to make their demands? After all, I don't remember them making such a fuss before the last elections.
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Australian Radio Interview

Shameless plug of the week..... Last night Wael Nawara, the Assistant to al-Ghad party's president Ayman Nor, and I participated in an interview about Egyptian reform by Alan Saunders on Australia's ABC's Saturday Breakfast program. We discussed Mubarak's announcement of amending Article 76 of the constitution, which will theoretically facilitate multi-candidacy, direct presidential elections. Also, we discussed Egypt's Islamists, the National Human Rights Council's Report, the NDP, and predictions on a post-Mubarak era. To listen to the interview, go to ABC's Saturday Breakfast page. Where it says Listen Real Media or Windows Media, choose the 7.10am option depending on how you stream. The program is 49:59 minutes long. If you fast forward to around 32:30, the interview begins shortly after and lasts for about 10 minutes. If you have some time, listen in.
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Kifaya Blog

From a link provided by the always informative Abu Aardvark, a relatively new Egyptian blog is noted. Baheyya is an Egyptian female, who is well-read on Egyptian domestic affairs. It comments in areas that carry special reference to the Kifaya movement. Being a member of the Egyptian Movement for Change, Baheyya is not afraid to go after Western commentators or prominent Egyptian figures that frequently comment in the Egyptian and Western media. She also has a comprehensive links to the Egyptian Blogosphere and other Kifaya blogs, which are primarly in Arabic. Do take a look. The analysis is not always in agreement with non-Kifaya types, but this blog is an important window for those interested in Egypt's developing opposition movements.
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Crisis Group's Syria-Lebanon Report

For those readers of ours that have more than a passing interest in the developments in Lebanon and Syria since Hariri's assassination, Crisis Group published a lengthly 40-page (before appendixes) report on 12 April entitled "Syria After Lebanon, Lebanon After Syria". Specifically, the report examines the complicated US-French-Lebanese-Syrian relationship before and after Hariri's murder, the extension of Lahoud's presidency, the Lebanese opposition, and explanations for the political logic at work in Damascus. It is, as has come to be expected, well-researched and a bastion of unbiased objectivity concerning a politicized topic whose discussion has been anything but. Its long and thoroughly detailed but an executive summery is available for those less committed but still wanting to read its recommendations. Happy Reading!
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NCHR 1st Annual Report Released (Sort of)

Reports abound this morning on the internet by such organizations as Middle East Online, al-Jazeera, and IslamOnline that detail the release of the first annual report by Egypt's 15-month old National Council on Human Rights (NCHR). The commonality among today's stories is that the report is shocking because the NCHR cites that torture takes place in Egypt. Doubly shocking to these media outlets, the NCHR also is calling for the end of Emergency Law (in place since October 1981, but really since 1967 - the only period that EL has not governed Egypt since 1967 is the 6-month period that Sadat was both PM & President). So after much flack and criticism by independent Egyptian and English-language newspapers, not too mention practically every activist working in the human rights field, the NCHR has delivered. Or has it? Well, before everyone gets excited by the NCHR's criticism of the government, lets look at the record. In regards to viewing the NCHR as a state funded body that turned around and bit the hand that feeds it, consider the fact that the government was supposed to allocate 3-million LE (about 500,000USD) for the council's operations. It received only one-million and was forced to rely on foreign funding. According to one council member, the Danes and the Dutch were the most generous donors. So it was underfunded by its own government in a country where NGOs receiving foreign funding is a big no-no. Secondly, the NCHR was promised offices which were never supplied by the government. Instead, the NCHR conducts its business from the ruling NDP's downtown headquarters. This does not exactly scream independence and the symbolism is not lost to anyone concerned with HR in Egypt. This brings us to the report's criticism of torture being employed in Egypt. While no doubt the media was quick to run with this, it should be noted that the Egyptian government more or less acknowledges that it uses torture anyways. Families and victims of torture (not many, but a small minority) have been compensated by courts over being tortured by the police in the recent past. So, in effect, the state knows it uses torture - not that it has ever convicted someone who tortured someone else though. This is not too mention that all human rights group domestically (Nadim Center, EOHR, Hisham Mubarak Legal Center, and LAND to name a few) and internationally (HRW, AI, US State Dept) have been writing for years that torture is systematic and a chronic staple of most police barracks throughout the country. So for the NCHR to point out this fact out is merely stating the obvious. This is not a some incredible revelation that indicates that 'more' freedom is on the march in Egypt this week. Indeed, had the NCHR not pointed out that torture is employed in Egypt, it would of sapped the credibility credit that some critics think has already long run-out. The second point of interest is that the NCHR called for the government to end the state of Emergency that has existed continuously for a quarter of a century. Well, not to take the wind out of the NCHR's sails but an incident needs to be recalled from this time last year. In April 2004, when Mubarak was hanging with Shrub in Crawford, Boutros Boutros-Ghali -aka BB-G- (yeah, the former UN S-G and president of the NCHR) said the NCHR was going to motion the government to repeal EL. Speculation increased when interior minister, Habib al-Adli, said he would not be opposed to such a measure. At a crucial meeting in late April 2004, the NCHR voted its conscious on the issue. Not only did the council NOT support calling for the end of emergency law, they vetoed discussion of potentially voting on approaching the government to repeal the EL. The vote was 24-3 in favor of NOT discussing the issue (Only Hafiz Abu Sa`ada, Bahey al-Din Hassan, and Hoda Sadaf voted in favor). At the time, BB-G argued that the NCHR had not formulated its final stance on EL while V-P Kamal Abul Magd was unreachable for comment. So in a weird way, we have been down this road once. A serious disconnect exists between the NCHR's words and deeds. While it speaks boldly on occasion, it rarely acts in a complementary fashion. Consider the fact that the NCHR has failed to comment on the detention of 2,400 residents of northern Sinai governate's al-`Arish and al-Shaykh al-Zuwaid following the Taba bombing last October. Joe Stork (Washington Director of MENA operations for HRW) mentioned at a Cairo press conference in February 2005 that he had met with BB-G and had been informed that the NCHR prefers to handle such incidents "quietly" when approaching the government. Additionally, there is some controversy over the release of the NCHR's report. The NCHR was scheduled to meet on 12 April 2005 to discuss the final report as well as adopt it before sending it to the president and parliament. With Bahey al-Din Hassan traveling (one of the opposition figures on the council), V-P Abul Magd called a meeting on short notice on 5 April where the report was adopted without discussion and sent to the president. Bahey al-Din Hassan said to me on 7 April that he had neither seen the report nor know of its contents. He felt that there was some funny business surrounding the manner the report was passed. He said he heard that the report would not be made public for some weeks, if not months. I also spoke to Hafiz Abu Sa`ada (on 9 April) who told me that al-`Arish was discussed in the report and that it would be public after the president and parliament had a chance to review the NCHR's recommendations. Surprisingly then the Reuters managed to get a copy of the report on April 10th. How did they do this, you ask? They called and asked for a copy and were given one. Before we start hailing the NCHR, let us remember that the only power it has is to make recommendations and request cooperation between ministries/agencies. Should the government ignore its recommendations or various ministries refuse/forget to cooperate, the NCHR has not legal recourse to call on them to account. So yeah, the reports out. Is it worth the paper it is written on?...we'll see. Does this mean that anyone is listening?...not likely, they don't have to. The shock is not what was the report said - it is that the press is covering it from such an angle, which makes the NCHR look unexpectedly more independent than it really is.
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WSJ on US democracy $ in Egypt

Here is an interesting article by Neil King, the diplomatic writer for the Wall Street Journal, about the US State Department's Middle East Partnership Initiative and implementation of the program in Egypt. Titled "Democracy Drive By America Meets Reality in Egypt," it includes some interesting details about the push and pull that occurred on Capitol Hill, and between the US and Egyptian governments, over the distribution of MEPI money in Egypt. I've included a good portion of it below. I've also included a link to it, which should work for seven days.
One result was that a large share of the MEPI program's grants initially went to governments that didn't resist the effort. Nearly two-thirds of the $103 million spent through mid-2004 went to projects that directly benefited Arab government agencies or helped train existing government officials, a Brookings Institution study last fall found. It said the U.S. spent $6 million to modernize Morocco's trade ministry, for instance, and $2.3 million to improve regulatory systems in nations such as Oman and Saudi Arabia. The program was often "subsidizing Arab governments' attempts to build a kinder, gentler autocracy," the study asserted.
Washington at first didn't intend to apply the program in Egypt, since that country was already such a big recipient of American aid. For Egypt, instead of putting MEPI to work, the State Department just told USAID to place more emphasis on matters related to how government functions. What resulted was a new six-year spending plan that aimed to put 16% of Egypt's annual aid packages into governance work, up from 11%.
The projects -- heavy on judicial reform, media training and women's empowerment -- weren't designed to stir up much dust. And by longstanding agreement, all would have pre-approval of the Mubarak government.
But two U.S. senators pushed the administration, in October 2003, to become more active in trying to seed democratic change in Egypt. Democrat Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Republican Mitch McConnell of Kentucky proposed giving $2 million to Egypt's Ibn Khaldun Center, founded by sociologist Saad Eddin Ibrahim, who holds U.S. citizenship. The Mubarak government had ransacked the center in 2000 and arrested its founder. He then spent nearly three years in jail on charges of defaming the state and taking money illegally from European donors, before being acquitted.
To drive their point home, the senators wanted money for the center to come straight from the $575 million in U.S. economic aid that Egypt was set to receive in fiscal 2004. This would help show "that an important front in the war on terrorism includes the pursuit of freedom, democratic institutions, the rule of law and human rights in countries throughout the Middle East," Sen. McConnell said in a Senate speech.
Egypt's government protested strenuously. It appealed to the U.S. embassy in Cairo, and its diplomats in Washington descended on the State Department and Capitol Hill. Egypt said the senators' move would undermine a decades-long precedent under which aid was funneled through the Cairo government.
The State Department took Egypt's side and sought to dilute offending language in the bill, according to Senate staff aides. After weeks of squabbling, Congress and the administration reached a compromise: The U.S. would give about $1 million to pro-democracy Egyptian groups, including the Ibn Khaldun Center, but only a small portion would come from the preexisting aid program.
Sens. Leahy and McConnell later tried to tie Egypt's future aid to progress on political reform. Egypt again raised a fuss, the State Department again took its side, and the provision vanished.
Still, the senators' push forced a shift in the Washington-Cairo aid discussion. U.S. diplomats in Cairo sat down with Egyptian officials in late 2003 for the first of more than a dozen meetings to hash out the details of how a revamped U.S. aid strategy would work. "They were very difficult discussions," says Marwan Badr, from Egypt's Ministry of International Cooperation. He says his side laid down several stipulations, which the U.S. ultimately accepted: that all activities funded by U.S. grants must be legal; that Cairo must be notified of any grants in advance; and that the U.S. would give money only to groups registered with the Egyptian government.
Agreeing to the last point was no small concession. Egyptian law lets the state monitor all activities of registered groups. It can shut down any that run afoul of government wishes.
Mr. Badr says Egypt put up a fuss simply because of "the principle: You are taking money from our bilateral program and giving it to someone else."
By last fall, the U.S. embassy in Cairo was looking for groups to apply for pro-democracy grants. It phoned some potential recipients, word spread, and nearly 30 groups came forward, with proposed projects. By February, the embassy had picked six to fund.
The State Department originally wanted Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to award the grants in an outdoor ceremony during her visit to Cairo in early March. But in an unusually provocative U.S. move, she ended up canceling the trip -- to protest Egypt's jailing of an opposition party chief.
The U.S. then held the signing deep inside its diplomatic compound. Ambassador David Welch stepped softly in announcing the grants. "This is entirely consistent with Egyptian law, and the Egypt government is fully informed of all aspects of it," he said.
The announcement caused a ruckus nonetheless, in large part because about $400,000 was going to the Ibn Khaldun Center, long a major irritant to the Mubarak government.
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Al Araby: Mubarak responsible for bombing

Al Araby's page 1 top of the fold screaming red headline today read: "President Mubarak is politically responsible for the return of terrorism." Here is a translation of much of the accompanying article written by the paper's editor-in-chief Abdallah al-Senawy.
Among the stranger theories that have been circulating in some sectors of public opinion is that which blames the terrorist operation at Al Azhar on some state agencies in order to justify the extension of the Emergency Law and justify a strike against the Islamic movements. The notion is almost surreal, closer to a farce. But it is an expression of the growing and dangerous credibility gap between the angry streets and the ruling authorities.
Since the opposition political forces have all gone about denouncing the use of violence and have questioned its goals and motives, what happened at Al Azhar may deepen the crisis in Egypt. The ruling regime may make political use of the terrorist operation which killed foreign tourists to justify dragging its feet towards political reform. It may try to convince the United States to ease up on the pressure, because matters may get out of hand, which would harm the interests of all parties. Washington, however, for its part, may see this operation as evidence that closing all political and social channels of participation breeds terrorism. This is what necessarily means applying stronger pressure to force the Egyptian regime towards rapid political reforms.
The angry forces in the Egyptian street, from its perspective, may look at the dangerous development (the bombing) and consider it evidence of the inability of the Emergency Law to protect Egypt’s security, and may conclude that the slow pace of political and constitutional reform lead to congestion in the streets which allowed violence to return to Egypt. Thus the regime of Hosni Mubarak bares the responsibility for terror’s return to Egypt. The parties to the controversy have staked out their positions and the equation will only become more complex and sensitive. This may lead to chaos with a smell of blood in the air. This here is the entire danger which the ruling regime alone, bares responsibility for, because there is no alternative to total political reform.
Al Senawy mentions the conspiracy theory about the security services being behind what happened at Al Azhar. I had gingerly alluded to the idea in my post following the bombing. Abu Aaardvark put it much more bluntly in his post on the bombing. Joining Al Araby in pointing the finger of blame at the government was Al Misry Al Yom's Magdy Al Mihana in today's paper:
We have previously mentioned that an individual or a limited number of people were responsible for what happened. But we haven’t previously mentioned the political and security atmosphere Egypt is living in these days—and in which occurred this terrorist act. This atmosphere is present on both the level of political activity, which has witnessed a palpable stifling despite ongoing sessions of what they call a national dialog between the parties, and on the level of security itself.
My fear and the fear of many is that an increase in the acuteness of this political and security suppression will lead to more of these terrorist attacks, attacks for which the state and the security apparatus bare the responsibility— because the state holds the key positions of power, and thus holds the keys to reducing or increasing this acute suppression.
Fearing that Thursday's bombing will be used by the government to curtail democratic reforms, the opposition has decided to go on the offensive, alleging that the lack of democratic reforms is responsible for what happened. It seems to me a clever strategy, that will play well both at home and abroad. It will jive nicely with the post-9/11 conventional wisdom in the US and elsewhere, that oppression breeds terrorism. It is essentially a preemptive strike by the opposition against a possible US retreat on pressuring the Egyptian regime. Much of what I have been reading lately indicates a growing acceptance of US pressure among the opposition. Ibrahim Eissa's two most recent columns in Al Dostor spring immediately to mind, but even reading Abdallah Al Senawy in Al Araby, the tone seems different to me whenever he's talking about US meddling in Egypt. And this opposition strategy seems to be directed abroad as much as internally. Al Araby also ran a short interview with an Egyptian judge, talking about discontent with the pace of reform among some Egyptian judges, especially the younger ones. It raised the possibility of a judicial boycott of the elections. A judicial boycott would mean judges would refuse to perform their role as overseers of the electoral process. The interviewed judge, Ahmed Mekki, is vice president of the Court of Cassation. He further added that he hopes that the newly created oversight committee, a part of the new constitutional amendment, will not be composed of judges working in the Ministry of Justice. The composition of this election oversight committee, which will make many of the key decision concerning the presidential elections, will be one of the hotly debated items between the opposition and the NDP. According to what I've heard and read, the NDP would like to see the committee composed of three judges and four independent public figures. The opposition is insisting that the all seven members be judges. In the words of Abdel Ghafar Shokar, one of the Tegammu Party leaders, "Because our past experience is that the people who say they are independent are not independent. They are people who say they are indpendent but they are not, they are allies of the NDP." Other signs of a growing opposition campaign.
LONDON, April 4 (Reuters) - Egyptian activists have formed an opposition group in exile in Europe seeking to remove President Hosni Mubarak from office by mobilising public support and international pressure, a spokesman said on Monday.
Ahmed Saber, spokesman for the Save Egypt Front, said the group would coordinate with opposition factions inside Egypt, including the Kefaya (Enough) Movement and the suspended Labour Party.
"We will organise protests outside Egyptian embassies in Europe and the United States, and will mobilise the public through a satellite television channel," said Saber, an academic who runs a financial advising firm in London.
"The (Mubarak) regime has left us with no other choice by refusing a peaceful solution," he told Reuters. Asked if this meant calling for a popular revolt, he said: "Yes. Egypt is not less than a country like Ukraine."
An opposition-run satellite station based in Europe and broadcast in Egypt could make an interesting addition to the dismal Egyptian broadcast media. Muhammad Farid Hassanein, at the helm of the Save Egypt Front, said the station will be up and running by this Fall, in time for the presidential elections. Al Araby reported today that Saber, an economics professor at the University of London who left Egypt 17 years ago, is an ex-member of the National Democratic Party. Hassanein was one of the first people to declare their intentions to challenge Mubarak for the presidency. His vocal calls for increased US pressure on Egypt, and his recent travels to Israel, however, have scared many people away from his movement-- both among Egyptians abroad and among the opposition inside Egypt. The Kefaya movement has denied publicly in recent days any coordination between the two groups.
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The Nasr City arrests

In the comments to the post below about the bombing in Islamic Cairo, Praktike asked whether there could be any links to the recent spate of arrests in Nasr City. I had meant to post about those earlier but have been overwhelmed with work, so here it is now. (Here is a Human Rights Watch statement about the arrests for the background.) On Monday, I received an email from a good friend who works as a journalist and has also been active in left-wing movements in Egypt (he's also been arrested a few times, once as we were coming out of a McDonald's on Tahrir Square.) This is the message he sent to journalists and friends:
Dear all,
State Security has picked up two of my cousins today by 4am, together with an unknown number of religious students in my neighborhood, Nasr City.
 
A group of four State Security agents, led by Lt. Col. Hisham Tawfiq, went to their house by dawn, searched the house, room by room, and confiscated papers and their computer.
Their mother was told it was a "standard security procedure," and that the boys would be back in two hours. They haven't come back home yet, however, by the time I'm writing you this email.
 
My cousins, Abul-Fotouh Tahsin, 21, and Tahsin Tahsin, 23, are both students who largely refrain from politics. The first is a member of Tabligh wal Daawa, which is an apolitical religious preaching network.
I understood from their mother that they used to pray in a local mosque, whose imam, Sheikh Hani was picked up few days ago, apparently after a Friday seremon.
A Tablighi member, who asked not to mention his name, told me State Security picked up around nine suspects in Nasr City over the past three days. He stressed, however, the detainees were not members of the Tabligh, and that they were just "religious, with beards." "They usually detain them for a couple of days, interrogate them, and ask them to 'behave themselves,'" he said.
I tried to get the names of those who were picked up from this Tablighi preacher, but he told me "everyone is afraid, and families think they may get in trouble if they speak."
State Security has been embaring on a campaign against any voices of dissent recently in Egypt. The campaign is targeting Liberals, leftists, Muslim Brothers, and now they are turning even on the apolitical religious forces.
 
Please spread the word around about what's happening, and forward this to all your human rights contacts.
As you can see, my friend has an interesting family: a left-winger himself, he has cousins who are Islamists. Ironically although he's been in trouble several times for participating in demos, his apolitical but devout cousins now face a much more serious ordeal than he ever did. This latest crackdown seems centered around Nasr City, and there is special significance in this if you know the political geography of Cairo. Nasr City is a modern neighborhood outside of the city center that has grown since the 1960s to be quite large. It is a relatively prosperous neighborhood, generally middle and upper-middle class. Historically, a lot of the families who built or bought homes there had a military background; land in the area was made available cheaply for the officer class. This is not to say that everyone there is military, but rather that the type of people who live there are more likely than most to have relatives in the officer corps. This is significant because, if we consider the events that have taken place in Georgia, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan, and to a lesser extent Lebanon, a key component of the success of the reformist movements there has been that the military was unwilling to go against protesters. In Egypt, it has always seemed to me that the military was firmly on Mubarak's side, and would act to squash an uprising, in the unlikely event that it would take place, even if the Central Security forces (the first line of defense) refuses to. In Lebanon, for instance, the more independent (and much less powerful) army was reportedly told to go against the opposition demos on their first day by President Emile Lahoud but refused to do so. Which all leads me to wonder whether, at a time when Mubarak is coming under direct attack from domestic opponents and stiff (if indirect) criticism by the US, the army's key sponsor, the regime is getting concerned with any opposition to the re-election of Mubarak for another five year term. This is all rather speculative of course, but in April 2001 (during the largest pro-Palestinian demos of the second intifada at the time of the incursion into Jenin) and March 2003 (during the large anti-Iraq war protests) there were rumors of thwarted coups. The most detailed one was in 2001, when there were reports of some 100 mid-level officers being retired and paid off to leave the service. Neither of these were ever confirmed by reliable sources (they both started, I believe, on Islamist websites), but I think that the fact they were going around is significant in itself. If there is some dissent with the military about whether Mubarak should remain, or whether they'd like Omar Suleiman (who comes from the civilian security services) or someone else (presumably a military officer), these Nasr City arrests could be part of a closer monitoring of military people and their extended families. Again, pure speculation and conjecture, but it's worth thinking about.
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State Department: Arabs outnumber Jews in Israel/Palestine

This may have been widely commented on already, but if it has, I haven't seen it. In any case, while looking for population figures for the West Bank and Gaza, I came across this US State Department human rights report for 2004. It was released on February 28, 2005. Here are the population figures it gives for Israel and Palestine:
The country's (Israel) population is approximately 6.8 million, including 5.2 million Jews, 1.3 million Arabs, and some 290,000 other minorities.
The population of the Gaza Strip was approximately 1.4 million, of the West Bank (excluding East Jerusalem) approximately 2.4 million, and of East Jerusalem approximately 414,518, including 177,333 Israelis.
By my calculations: 1.3 + 2.4 + 1.4 + .41 - .18 = 5.33 million Arabs. As compared with 5.2 million Jews. This is of course the sort of doomsday scenario for Israeli democracy that numerous people have warned of. I always heard that this demographic shift would occur in 2010. Guess not. UPDATE: Just found something else on this. The Electronic Intifada has this article from March 1, 2005.
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Ibrahim in The Forward

For the past few months, Saad Eddin Ibrahim has been penning op-eds in the international press denouncing the Mubarak regime and the crackdown against reformists, and even risen to the defense of Ayman Nour, a man with whom he probably shares little in common. The latest -- and I believe most strongly worded -- offensive is in The Forward, the quality New York-based Jewish magazine:
A better indicator of the president's views on political reform is last week's arrest of about 100 demonstrators from the banned Muslim Brotherhood. The detentions, coming a day after 84 Brotherhood members were picked up by police across the country, is a reminder of Mubarak's long-standing strategy of scare politics. Islamic militants, he has warned in both words and deeds, are always ready to take over power.
Every six months to a year, he makes a move sure to focus world attention on the Brotherhood's presence in Egypt. It plays into his strategy of "either me or the Islamists." In the battle between autocrats and theocrats, Mubarak has shown, time and again, there's no room for democrats.
Ibrahim is currently in the US, as a visiting fellow to the Woodrow Wilson International Center, apparently writing his memoirs. Even though he may not be popular figure in Egypt (largely because of the defamation campaign against him when he was being tried) I think his efforts do help keep international, and more importantly American, awareness about Egypt up. I do wonder, though, whether he's going to get slammed locally for writing in a Jewish publication. It may be unfair -- The Forward has a decent record of progressive stances on the Palestinian cause and other issues -- but then again so are many things in life and politics.
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Premature explosion?

An article posted to the Kefaya movement Web site claims to have a picture of the bomber. The accompanying article reports that the bomb probably went off prematurely. If true that should answer all the questions as to why he'd have set it off in the Muski, a somewhat less tourist oriented area.
A security source said that the bomb exploded while attached to the terrorists body, mutilating him before he could detonate it.
First signs of the investigation of the Cairo Bazaar bomb are that the bomb was secured to the body of the bomber and went off prematurely.
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Group claims responsibility for bombing

Al Arabiya is reporting that an unknown Islamic group has claimed responsibility for yesterday's attack on its Web site. The group calls itself "كتائب العز الاسلامية بارض النيل", or something akin in English to "The Islamic Pride Brigades in the Land of the Nile." Al Arabiya reports that the group said that one of its members carried out the bombing and described it as a suicide attack protesting what they describe as the oppression of the government of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and the American policies in the region. Al Arabiya said it could not varify the accuracy of the claim.
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The Khan al-Khalili bombing

This from Reuters:
"It's a very unsophisticated type of device, typical of acts planned and executed by one individual," [Tourism Minister Ahmed] el-Maghrabi said, quoting a cabinet report on the attack. Three U.S. citizens, four Egyptians and two French people are still in hospital, Maghrabi said. One of the French casualties is in critical condition, but "all the rest are either in good or stable condition," he added.
The Egyptian government is quick to emphasize that the bombing appears to be the work of an individual. The immediate response to the stabbing of kissing Hungarian tourists 10 days ago was also the work of a man that security officials "described as unemployed and suffering from severe depression." Same story with the Taba bombing. "Two of the defendants" (the third is still at large) "did not belong to any terrorist group, [prosecutor-general Mahir] Abd al-Wahid said." As long as no credible group claims responsibility I suppose there is no reason to doubt their word. More from the Reuters story:
A political analyst said recent attacks in Egypt appearedto be against foreigners rather than the tourism industry,which Islamist militants targeted in Egypt in the 1990s.
"What happened today was against foreigners and not against tourism. It's very close to what happened in Saudi Arabia, inKuwait and in Qatar," said Dia Rashwan, referring to otherattacks in recent months attributed to Islamist militants.
I had to think for a minute about the difference between targetting tourism and targetting foreigners. If you're targetting tourism you're targetting the Egyptian regime. In other words the intent is to cripple the tourism industry and deprive the government of much needed foreign currency. If you're targetting foreigners you're targetting Western regimes. You're killing Americans to send a message to America, not to send a message to the Egyptian regime. It's a fine line if you ask me. Attacking tourists in Khan al-Khalili seems like an attack on tourism just as much as it is an attack on foreigners. I imagine the Egyptian government would be somewhat more comfortable with yesterday's bombing being classified as an attack on foreigners, as opposed to an attack on tourism, because in that case it's not the target of the hostility. Secondly, it reinforces that what's happening is not a revival of the insurrection of the 1990s-- which targetted primarily the Egyptian regime (tourists were targetted only as a mean of hitting the regime) and was not the work of angry, depressed, crazed individuals, but rather the coordinated efforts of an organization. As for Dia Rashwan, his is a name you'll see lots more if these bombings continue. He's the Al Ahram Center's resident expert on Islamic movements and one of perhaps four frequently quoted Egyptian experts on the subject (the other three being ex-Gamaa Islamiya lawyer Montasser Al Zayat, Al Hayat's Cairo bureau chief Muhammad Salah, and AUC professor Emad Shahin). Radwan is a kindly old man, but I think he lost a lot of credibility after the Taba bombings when he was quoted on Al Jazeera and in several western newspapers, and even published a column, claiming that there was no question that Israel was responsible for the bombings. Also, if we follow Rashwan's logic for the Taba bombings that, the entity with the most to gain is the responsible party, then I should think Rashwan would be making some rather indelicate accusations in coming days. The Muslim Brotherhood denounced the bombings in a statement and had this to say:
This act should not distract our attentions from completing our march of development and it should not be a reason to suspend our society's movement towards realizing its goals and its demands for freedom, democracy and justice.
Finally, notice the discrepancy between the Associated Press background to the bombing and Reuters' background: Associated Press:
The attack in the Egyptian capital follows a long period of calm since security forces suppressed Islamic militants who in the 1990s carried out bombings and shootings against tourists in their campaign to bring down the government.
The last significant attack on tourists in Cairo was in 1997, a year when another 62 were killed in another attack in Luxor.
Reuters:
There was no immediate indication of the motive for the attack, the latest in a series against tourists in Egypt, a close ally of the United States.
So which was it? Did the attack follow a long period of calm or was it the latest in a series?
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Al-Jazeera Tour

I have been traveling a lot lately, which is not amenable to finishing the thesis. So I am not sure I am back to the blog on a more regular basis as there is someone in the UK looking for my chapters. But I wanted to share a recent experience. I had the opportunity to go to Doha for the Fifth Annual forum for Democracy and Free Trade. It was my first trip to Doha and the place is fascinating and different than other Gulf countries I have visited. Living in Egypt, one tends to forget that some of the region's governments are into developing longer-term projects and having dialogues in which the government and society don't necessarily miss one another. It is as alien as it is refreshing. One thing I got from my Doha trip was that even though it is a small country, its dreams are enormous and this could translate into positive future developments. You get a sense that the region's future is in some ways being pushed by Qatar rather than the more traditionally viewed countries. Not that the conference does not deserve some space, but probably more interesting to the Arabist readers was a trip to al-Jazeera. I made arrangements through a friend and was taken to the media compound in Doha. After getting through security, I was driven to al-Jazeera's building. Being fairly Egyptian, I was on my best behavior not to call it "al-Gazeera" as so many of my friends do (although I am sured I slipped one or twice). The thing that strikes you is how small of an operation al-Jazeera is. It is essentially a largish room with loads of news readers and analysts gathering news off the net and wires. There are two small annexes off to the right and left - one with the control rooms and the other annex is offices for the the graphics and management departments. The day I went it seemed most of the conference participants were there. Having to do your job while dodging flocks of tourists must be annoying but the Jazeera staff seems very adept at getting things done in the midst of those watching. On the wall there are posters that state al-Jazeera's Code of Ethics in Arabic and English. Also, there is a poster with Tariq Ayub's picture - seemingly on the morning he was killed in Baghdad. The poster declares that he will not be forgotten and that he is al-Jazeera's martyr. I ran into a friend that works for al-Jazeera. She took me into her office and we chatted about the false leak that Qatar was looking to unload the network that appeared in the NYT. Also, we spoke about how if al-Jazeera has to choose between advertising and dumbing down their news or losing money through lack of advertisement dollars, it will choose the latter. My friend's office is in the new wing of al-Jazeera. Since al-Jazeera has added economic and sport channels and the documentary and english services are slated to launch within the year, space had to be added. Yet, one gets the feeling that the size now was more appropriate when it was just an Arabic news channel. Space, then, is disproportionate to these new additions. By the time we emerged from the office, the tourists were gone. I was asked if I wanted to go into the Control Room. I was taken in at the top of the hour and watched how producers select and manage prospective stories. It was there that I also saw a familiar face. The producer working was Samir Khader from "Control Room" documentary fame. Feeling like I knew him, I introduced myself and explained "I have never met a movie star." He laughed easily and said "Wait until Hollywood calls then I can retire". I asked him how many hours he works. He said on a typical day it is around 10. But naturally being in a medium dependent on events, it is always subject to change. He had worked 7 hours on 9/11 when images and news broke form NYC and Washington at 345pm (Doha Time). He stayed with it and did not go home until 5am the next morning. The US war against war also meant long hours. He claims that he did not go home or leave the Jazeera building for the first four days after the war started. Like everyone at al-Jazeera, Samir did not seem bothered that I was milling around. After another brief chat with my friend, I snapped some shots and decided to head out. Al-Jazeera is a small building for such a massive operation. The staff is friendly and accommodating. It would be interesting to compare a reception at CNN in Atlanta. I am guessing I probably would not be allowed in the Control Room. Being an al-Jazeera watcher, it was an interesting to see how it all is put together. Living in the Arab world is about a lot of things and our blog primarily tends to be political and event driven, so I hope our readers don't mind reading about some of the more equally interesting but less dramatic experiences that we get to have. Selected pictures can be viewed here. And to clear this up for all my friends and relatives asking about t-shirts and coffee mugs. No, al-Jazeera does not sell them.
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Arab Human Development Report is out

You can find it here. They've decided to make people pay ($10) for the English PDF version, but there a few details in the press kit. I'm hoping to get hold of a hardcopy tomorrow, so more on this later. A random quote from the press release:
The “Black Hole” State
Throughout the region, the concentration of power in the hands of the executive—be it a monarchy, military dictatorship, or a civilian president elected without competition—has created a kind of political “black hole” at the centre of Arab political life, the authors say.
“The modern Arab state, in the political sense, runs close to this astronomical model, whereby the Executive apparatus resembles a ‘black hole,’ which converts its surrounding social environment into a setting in which nothing moves and from which nothing escapes,” they write.
The executive authority at the centre of these “black hole states” prevents the judiciary from safeguarding the rights of the citizenry, the authors say. “Where there is conflict between a political regime unfettered by legal controls and the judiciary, whose independence is upheld in the constitution and law, the Arab regime swiftly sweeps aside the independence of the judiciary without any hesitation,” says the Report.
By the way, it came out under the UNDP after all, although something called the Gulf Research Center is handling distribution. You may remember we covered news earlier this year that the US, Israel and Egypt tried to squash the report at length.
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Ahmed Zaki obit

Readers may have noticed the large amount of comments on last week's post about the death of the Egyptian actor Ahmed Zaki. The comments were quite touching and are telling of the esteem that many Egyptians had for Zaki. Cairo magazine has this report on the funeral, which was attended by thousands (including, it is rumored, Alaa and Gamal Mubarak) and an obituary.
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