First Lady Laura Bush on Monday praised Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's controversial plan for elections this year, even though pro-democratic opposition groups say they would be prevented from participating.
"I would say that President Mubarak has taken a very bold step," the first lady told reporters after touring the famous ancient pyramids here. "You know that each step is a small step, that you can't be quick."
Laura Bush's comments amounted to a timely endorsement of Mubarak's plan to hold the first multi-candidate elections later this year. A referendum is scheduled for Wednesday on the new law, which would require challengers to the president to be high-ranking members of officially sanctioned parties and effectively disqualify independent candidates. Opposition groups, led by the large Muslim Brotherhood, say the election plan effectively blocks a serious challenge to Mubarak, who has ruled Egypt for 23 years and is widely expected to run and win this year. "I think it's a very wise and bold step," Laura Bush told reporters, when asked about complaints from opposition groups.
The U.S. first lady, who spent much of the day with Mubarak's wife, Suzan, pointed to the United States as an example of how free and open democracies do not appear overnight. "He is taking the first step to open up the elections and I think that's very, very important," she said. Critics say President Bush and the first lady should apply more pressure on Mubarak to open up the elections and allow international monitors to police the vote. Under Mubarak's plan, government-dominated committees will conduct the election monitoring.
Earlier, Laura Bush made a cameo on "Alam Simsim," the Egyptian version of "Sesame Street." The show, which the U.S. Agency for International Development provided $8.4 million to help create, is an extraordinarily popular learning show for children under the age of 8, reaching 99 percent of them in urban areas and slightly less in rural communities. The first lady appeared with a furry peach character named Khokha. "Reading in English, Arabic or any other language does expand our minds," she told the audience. A few hours later, she toured a school for girls from disadvantaged families.__________ Any wagers on a democratic Egypt before 2011 (Egypt's next scheduled presidential elections)?
The recent attacks raise a number of important questions. First and foremost, is a new phase of radical activity in Egypt emerging precisely because of repressive tactics? How might better tactics against terror be effective if the Egyptian government does not provide more transparency and accountability in its communications to the public? And, are there other means to employ, like promoting moderate Islam as an antidote to radical Islam as some academics and a recent Rand report have suggested?I think the article is rather flawed, as it's an overview of not only the attacks but the entire political atmosphere of the past six months. It would have been nice to have more details on the attacks and their perpetrators instead. Still, many still not dare ask that question (for the record, while I don't believe in a return to the kind of violence seen in the 1990s, I do believe there will be more attacks.) She concludes with the following, which is probably flawed:
Moreover the tentative re-emergence of radical Islam has once again propelled the forces of moderate Islam onto the spotlight. Indeed just days after the shootings and bombing, police clashed with pro-Brotherhood demonstrators in Fayyum, Mansura and Zagazig, and demonstrations were also held in Alexandria, the Delta and Cairo. The demonstrators were protesting parliamentary efforts to amend a constitutional reform to election procedures in which Mubarak's National Democratic Party might impose conditions that would limit the Brotherhood's efforts to obtain votes. They condemned the state-owned media, called for an end to emergency laws and for reform. The police claimed 400 arrests, while the Brotherhood said 1,546 of its members were detained. Four leaders, including al-Aryan, were subsequently rounded up.
Observers believe that the Brotherhood might secure up to 30% to 35% of parliamentary seats in a free and fair election. The key question is whether efforts by moderate Islamists to cash in on democratization efforts have any clear causal effect on the suppression of radical Islam, particularly if is now primarily motivated by events and dynamics beyond Egyptian borders. Conversely, some may argue that since moderate Islamists have established a presence in the Egyptian government and educational system, resulting attitudes and sensitivities enable the more hard-core and violent elements to escape censure and surveillance.The more "hardcore and violent elements" of an Islamist movement probably do not have serious levels of contact with the "moderates," and in fact would probably consider them sell-outs. Portraying Islamist groups as a continuum is dangerous, because it suggests that at the end of the day they are part of the same "political family." But Islamic Jihad is not the IRA to the Muslim Brotherhood's Sinn Fein.
A review of six prominent U.S. newspapers and the nation's two most popular newsmagazines during a recent six-month period found almost no pictures from the war zone of Americans killed in action. During that time, 559 Americans and Western allies died. The same publications ran 44 photos from Iraq to represent the thousands of Westerners wounded during that same time.
Many photographers and editors believe they are delivering Americans an incomplete portrait of the violence that has killed 1,797 U.S. service members and their Western allies and wounded 12,516 Americans.Worth mentioning in passing that, in my discussions with people who work there, it seems the situation in Iraq is veering towards those two taboo words that are also largely absent from Western reporting on the country: "civil" and "war." Al Ahram Weekly's Omayma Abdel Latif ponders that question.
"Police informed prosecutors on 11 May that their prisoner had become 'very agitated and deliberately hit his head on the wall of his cell', prompting his transfer to hospital."You know, it's not that I feel particularly sorry for him or anything, but in light of Egyptians security's record with prisoner welfare and unexpected, regrettable incidents, I'm a bit skeptical.
The Islamists, however, have learned from the mistakes of the past and now adopt a more democratic rhetoric and espouse nationalist goals. This evolution has been accentuated by the global war on terrorism, which has raised international pressure on the more radical groups, making political participation a necessary protection.
"Islamists have made strides. Most mainstream Islamists are talking about constitutional change and about accommodation with regimes," says Alistair Crooke, a former British intelligence officer and former security adviser to the European Union. "The most fundamental change is that Islamists don't say it's inconsistent to be Islamist and nationalist. So we now have a very potent mix of demands for popular reforms and nationalism. You can't offer an alternative programme against this."
Mr Crooke, now director of the UK-based Conflict Forum, has been advocating dialogue between western officials and some of the radical Islamist organisations. Last month, he took a group of Americans and Europeans, some of them ex-officials and intelligence officers, to Beirut to meet representatives from Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood and Hizbollah. "If you incite expectations of change and you demonise and delegitimise all protest movements that aren't secular and western, then don't be surprised if it all erupts in violence," he says.I point this out because Crooke is an interesting character and his Beirut initiative is, I suspect, part of what the Egyptian regime is scared of when it talks of contacts between Islamists and Western officials. But the article as a whole is worth reading while you can, before it becomes subscription-only.
Rather than trying--and failing--to persuade Muslims to support American policies in Iraq or Palestine, the report says that the United States should publicize its significant development aid to their lands, which, despite soaring aid budgets, is almost invisible to them. When focus group members learned of U.S. aid efforts--via media reports on tsunami relief in Indonesia or support for women's rights in Morocco--it significantly improved their attitudes toward the United States. "It makes a real difference to Muslims' views of America when they learn of U.S. aid in areas that matter to them," the report finds.
Among the report's recommendations:Focus on partnerships in support of local Muslim initiatives, without presenting the United States as the motor of change.
Agree to disagree on contentious issues involving other countries, such as Iraq or Israel and Palestine.
Engage local and regional media via press releases, interviews, Op-Eds, press conferences, and site visits.
Launch an advertising campaign on U.S. aid and support for reform in local and regional media, and acknowledge the U.S. government as the source.
Improve coverage of aid programs, particularly those concerning economic, education, and health aid, in U.S. government media.
Tap credible spokespeople who speak local languages, such as aid recipients, exchange program participants, local executives of U.S firms, and Americans from relevant diasporas.
Challenge stereotypes on U.S. foreign policy and alleged Jewish influence through non-governmental efforts, such as academic dialogues, videoconferences, and documentaries. This all sounds eerily reminiscent of Steven Cook's Foreign Affairs article, mentioned here before, on how the solution is giving Arab allies more money. Here's a quote from an early part of the report [pdf], written in the usual smug way suggesting that deep inside all Muslims really want to love America:
Perceptions matter: most Muslims do not hate America for “who we are” or “what we do.” This study shows that they are angry at what they perceive America to do. Many of the focus group members once admired America and regret that their feelings have soured. They do not hate America’s freedom and wealth; they envy them. They do not project repressed rage at their governments onto ours; their views of America have worsened while their attitudes toward their own rulers have improved and their societies have grown freer. It is more accurate to say they hate America for what the country has done, but it is most accurate to say they are hostile to American policies as they perceive them. They are angered by what they have heard about Iraq, the war on terror, Palestine, and post–September 11 American views of Muslims, filtered by largely hostile television stations and print media. They are ignorant of U.S. aid programs that address national priorities they hold dear, despite massive increases in such aid in recent years. Ironically, when asked what they want from America, they request respect and aid—things America can provide.Meanwhile, in the reality-based world, the New York Times leads with this:
Even as the young Afghan man was dying before them, his American jailers continued to torment him.
The prisoner, a slight, 22-year-old taxi driver known only as Dilawar, was hauled from his cell at the detention center in Bagram, Afghanistan, at around 2 a.m. to answer questions about a rocket attack on an American base. When he arrived in the interrogation room, an interpreter who was present said, his legs were bouncing uncontrollably in the plastic chair and his hands were numb. He had been chained by the wrists to the top of his cell for much of the previous four days.
Mr. Dilawar asked for a drink of water, and one of the two interrogators, Specialist Joshua R. Claus, 21, picked up a large plastic bottle. But first he punched a hole in the bottom, the interpreter said, so as the prisoner fumbled weakly with the cap, the water poured out over his orange prison scrubs. The soldier then grabbed the bottle back and began squirting the water forcefully into Mr. Dilawar's face.
"Come on, drink!" the interpreter said Specialist Claus had shouted, as the prisoner gagged on the spray. "Drink!"
At the interrogators' behest, a guard tried to force the young man to his knees. But his legs, which had been pummeled by guards for several days, could no longer bend. An interrogator told Mr. Dilawar that he could see a doctor after they finished with him. When he was finally sent back to his cell, though, the guards were instructed only to chain the prisoner back to the ceiling.
"Leave him up," one of the guards quoted Specialist Claus as saying.
Several hours passed before an emergency room doctor finally saw Mr. Dilawar. By then he was dead, his body beginning to stiffen. It would be many months before Army investigators learned a final horrific detail: Most of the interrogators had believed Mr. Dilawar was an innocent man who simply drove his taxi past the American base at the wrong time.Maybe those Afghan rioters will be soothed by an ad about all the good the US is doing them. Update: Media expert Abu Aardvark is also not impressed. And Praktike caught this early. Frankly, personally, I stick with my opinion that I don't really care about people from different parts of the world liking each other. This kind of report makes Americans seem like needy tyrants who can't stand it that they're not loved, from the Arab perspective at least. American foreign policy makers should not worry about being liked, they should worry about being respected. And that's not going to happen until the policies change, particularly towards Israel.
"It was a coincidence, but doubtless one many would find illuminating, that Walid Jumblatt was recently reading (and may still be) Rebecca West's 'The New Meaning of Treason.' For the prevalent view among many Christian voters today is that the Druze leader is a compulsive turncoat. A title he is far less likely to be caught with, however, is 'Great Expectations.'
Why is that? Because Jumblatt is the rare Lebanese politician who can pretend to national stature, but instead consistently prefers to creep back into the recesses of tribal chieftainship, content with controlling his 200,000-strong Druze community while ensuring that others give him just enough leverage so that he can escape political obliteration. Beyond that, Jumblatt's ambition falters, the oxygen becomes thinner; the man whose talents are unparalleled among the country's politicians turns into a shifting manipulator, someone who in a few jagged phrases can demolish the sympathy he spent months carefully building up."Read it all. Jumblatt had it coming with his recent weathervane moves.
I would cast Ahmed Chalabi as Lando Calrissian:
Star Wars Episode 3
Revenge of the Stiff
Plot Summary Script Synopsis Story
War! The Republic is crumbling under attacks by the ruthless Stiff Lord, Count Saddam. There are fools on both sides. Jello is everywhere.
In a super-astounding gigantic Saturday move, the fiendish droid leader, General Tariq Aziz, has swept into the Republic capital and captured Chancellor Frist, leader of the Galactic Senate.
As the Insurgent Droid Army attempts to flee the besieged capital with their worthless hostage, two Jedi Knights lead a misguided mission to rescue the kidnapped Chancellor.
EXT. ATMOSPHERE OF CORUSCANT - DAY
We see a huge space battle unfolding over the city planet of Coruscant. Republic venator class star destroyers trade fire with Insurgent war ships, in the distance we see the Invisible hand flag ship of the Trade federation and current location of COUNT Saddam the former Jedi master turned Stiff apprentice, as well as their prisoner SUPREME CHANCELLOR FRIST whose alter ego is the hard to find mastermind DARTH SIDIOUS.
As the space battle rages on two Jedi star fighters are deployed from one of the republic cruisers. They are piloted by our stalwart heroes George W. Skywalker and Obi-Colin. We see a long tracking shot where both fighters weave between enemy and friendly ships alike evading laser fire and engaging the many droid fighters which attack them. Clone ARC star fighters join the fray and the pilots trade battle chatter with the two jedi as they engage the tri-fighter's of the federation.
INT. BRIDGE OF THE INVISIBLE HAND - DAY
Saddam commands a bridge full of Nemoidian pilots as they watch the battle on a large view screen.
EXT. SPACE - DAY
Obi-Colin’s star fighter is attacked by enemy droids which attach themselves to his hull and use lasers to cutaway at it. Sadly R4 Grossberg, his trusted astromech droid, is destroyed.
George W., proving why he is known as the worst pilot in the galaxy executes a Rube Goldberg maneuver, in which he uses the wing of his star fighter to scrape the enemy droids off of Obi-Colin’s ship. Obi-Colin's ship is knocked perilously into the open hanger of the Invisible hand with George W. not far behind, as Obi-Colin curses him roundly.
INT. BRIDGE OF THE INVISIBLE HAND- DAY
Meanwhile, Saddam consults his fellow insurgents via hologram With him we see General Tariq Aziz for the first time, a menacing skeletal cyborg, who has killed many Jedi.
INT. BRIDGE OF THE INVISIBLE HAND – DAY
Saddam concludes the discussion with his co-conspirators as one of the Nemoidian Bridge officers makes him aware of the Jedi's presence on the ship he tells General Tariq Aziz to take care of them as the wily Count Saddam ascends to the 'general's quarters' to check on the captured Chancellor whom he may or may not be aware is also Darth Sidious.
INT. ELEVATOR LOBBY - DAY
Entering a new corridor, which leads to the bridge, Obi-Colin warns George W. to take Saddam alive, as he has information that might be valuable to the war effort.
INT. THE GENERAL'S QUARTERS - DAY
Frist is shackled to a large chair in the huge room. The two Jedi enter and engage Count Saddam in a rematch from their last encounter. At some point during the battle Obi-Colin is separated from George W., most likely he is engaged by General Tariq Aziz and battles the evil cyborg as George W. confronts Saddam alone.
Cardplayer. Scoundrel. You'll like him. That was Han Solo's hurried precis on his old pal, Lando Calrissian. While the description is accurate, it barely scratches the surface of this complicated rogue. Calrissian is at home in the shadowy reaches of the fringe, the underworld culture that permeates the galaxy. While he has rubbed elbows with hunters, mercs, outlaws and gangsters, Lando's main difference is that his elbows were covered by some of the most expensive and fashionable clothes this side of the Core. Lando has style and class; some would say in excess. He is a man of sophisticated tastes, and settles for nothing short of the best in his surroundings, his belongings, his look, and his female companionship.
The Mubarak regime has got itself into a mess. Instead of accepting that political reform is inevitable, embracing it wholeheartedly and then claiming the credit, it is resorting to half measures and belated sops to its critics that can only worsen its predicament in the long run.
Mubarak has dominated Egypt's political scene for almost 24 years. He is coming to the end of his fourth six-year term, but it should have been obvious that clinging on to power for a fifth term in a presidential "election" where he was the only candidate would not go smoothly: the world has moved on and that sort of thing is no longer acceptable, even in Egypt.
Under the rules parliament approved last week, there is apparently no risk at all of cheapening the nomination process because it is virtually impossible for anyone to stand as a candidate without the blessing of Mubarak's NDP. Since these intrinsically unfair rules involve a change to the constitution, voters will be asked to approve them later this month in a national referendum.
It is a preposterous choice: vote yes if you want phoney elections with more than one candidate; vote no if you want to keep the system as it is.The rest if fairly humdrum, and makes the odd choice of choosing Ibrahim Nafie as a representative Egyptian columnist. He is not. He is the editor-in-chief of Al Ahram, and as such one of the regime's top semi-official spokesmen -- not to mention that the job has made him a multi-millionaire, since he receives a commission on every advertisement in Al Ahram, the Egyptian newspaper of record. He's not exactly in a position to be critical.