The son of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and a group of close associates have moved into key political positions that put the younger man in line to succeed his aging father at a time when the government has taken steps to block opposition rivals from challenging the heir apparent. Last month, Gamal Mubarak rose in the hierarchy of the governing National Democratic Party, whose grass-roots organization underpins his father's rule. He was named one of three NDP deputy secretaries general, and 20 of his associates took other high-ranking posts in the party. Mubarak had served as head of the party's policies committee, which helped fashion economic reforms. Mubarak and his backers displaced some, but not all, of the veteran NDP activists known collectively as the old guard. Political observers saw in the move a gradual shift toward putting the NDP at the service of the president's son. "Who can deny this is anything but a vehicle for succession?" said Hala Mustafa, an analyst at the government-financed al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies. With the opposition on the defensive, there seems to be nothing blocking Mubarak's path to the presidency. "I don't see anyone who can stop him," said Joshua Stracher, a researcher at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland who studies the Arab Middle East.The least the Post could have done is get his name spelt right. Ah, we miss him. As for Hala Mustafa, I hear she just quit the NDP right after Osama Ghazali Al Harb did. Now you have the defections of two prominent liberal intellectual types. Josh has for a long time now been inclined to think that all the evidence points to a Gamal Mubarak takeover, especially if you look at Egypt's institutions (notably the NDP) and the role he plays in them. After all, Gamal is the logical candidate for the NDP should Hosni step down or disappear. This makes sense. Yet I've always been Gamal-skeptic for three reasons: a) he does not seem to have the intellectual, political or charismatic caliber to take over (which doesn't mean he won't), b) he is risky choice to secure the Mubarak legacy and protect the interests that have backed and benefited from the Mubarak era, c) there is an instinctive rejection of the idea of inheritance of power among so many Egyptians, including in the highest ranks of the military, that his takeover would be doomed to be fragile and contested. Although power is relatively concentrated in the current regime, this is because Hosni Mubarak has been at the helm for 25 years. A new president, even from the same family, is bound to be less powerful (see Bashar Al Assad in Syria). The interests that back the regime, however, are much more diffuse and open to courtship. Why would a majority of these interests or the islands of power that exists in the military, security services, the business world and elsewhere take the risk of an inherently problematic successor? I see it as much more likely that whoever comes in is a consensus figure whose first action is to renege on the Mubarak years, promise reform and perhaps even call for a type of truth-and-reconciliation commission that we've seen elsewhere.
According to a report in the independent Egyptian weekly Roz Al-Yusouf, Egyptian MP Ragab Hilal Hamida, from the Muslim Brotherhood, said during a parliamentary session discussing the Inter-Arab Agreement on Combating Terrorism, that the Koran encourages terrorism, and that he supports the activities of Osama bin Laden, Ayman Al-Zawahiri, and Abu Mus'ab Al-Zarqawi. The report also stated that another MP from the Muslim Brotherhood, Sheikh Ahmad 'Askar, supported Hamida's statements, and that MPs from the governing National Democratic Party (NDP) did not denounce them, but instead joked with Ragab.I can't verify what Ahmad 'Askar said from here, but I can say one thing: Ragab Hamida is not a Muslim Brother. He is... wait for it... from Al Ghad. Not Ayman Nour's Al Ghad, but the rebel Al Ghad that led the party to split. Prior to that, he was in the erstwhile liberal Ahrar party, where he also caused a leadership crisis that led to the party being frozen by the Higher Parties Committee. In other words, he is a known troublemaker who has made a career out of being an extremely crass populist and a man who can make himself useful to the regime when needed. In a previous life, he has said in the past, he was a member of the Gamaa Islamiya, the violent half-fundie group half-mafia that terrorized Upper Egypt during the 1980s and early 1990s. But he may just be boasting, because he's the type of guy who thinks people will think the better of him if he had been in the Gamaa Islamiya. In the MEMRI article, Hamida mentions other organizations but he might be changing the story every time, so who knows. No one seriously thinks he had any role of consequence in any terrorist group or fundamentalist movement. In other words, Hamida is a total opportunist and I would very much doubt that the Brotherhood would have anything to do with him, or endorse his proposal on backing Bin Laden at a time when it is not only trying rather cleverly to show its moderate side, but having public war of words with Ayman Zawahri! I may be wrong on that one, but the joviality that MEMRI mentions in its intro probably has more to do with the general boisterousness (and inconsequence) of the People's Assembly than anything else. So what does that make of MEMRI's scoop? Basically, "slimy politician-for-hire says something silly." Funnily enough, that silly thing will be useful to do some amalgamation and say Hamida is an Islamist (I doubt any real Islamist would touch him with a ten-foot pole; those people tend to have integrity even if they are fanatics), or that he is a Muslim Brother. Count on it to be picked up in Washington, since MEMRI does an excellent job of promoting its material to key columnists and decision-makers, and why not, eventually be recycled in an Egyptian paper (a sad state of affairs, but the reflection of the poor state of local media and the reach of globalized outlets), and then make the rounds at the Gezira Club among the Francophiles who long for the days of King Farouq (I can hear them already: "C'est une honte!" etc...) Arabist readers will remember that I flagged Hameida in December of last year after he proposed banning alcohol. That was just after the new parliament convened, and he chose to conveniently set the tone of a large Islamist minority (that does not include him) but asking for what everyone expects Islamists to ask, but that they never do!
Yet despite having accumulated a foreign-exchange hoard worth $45 billion on annual oil sales now running at $20 billion, Libya has much the same drab, shambolic air as when diplomatic isolation, trade sanctions and centrally planned socialism prevailed. With 5.7m people, it has just one world-class hotel and only 20 cashpoint machines. No road signs, even in Arabic, show the way to Leptis Magna, a ruined Roman seaport that is but one of many ancient sites whose scale and magnificence point to a past more glorious than the present. “I met a guy who spent 15 years abroad, and he said he recognised the same potholes as when he left,” chuckles a Tripoli taxi driver, snarled in one of the rubbish-strewn capital's daily jams.
The Arab Republic of Egypt, with a population of approximately 72 million, has been governed by the National Democratic Party (NDP) since the party's establishment in 1978. The NDP, which continued to dominate national politics by maintaining an overriding majority in the popularly elected People's Assembly and the partially elected Shura (Consultative) Council, derives its governing authority from the 1971 constitution and subsequent amendments. Executive authority resides with the president of the republic and the cabinet. On September 7, President Hosni Mubarak won a fifth 6-year term, with 88 percent of the vote, in the country's first multi-candidate presidential election, a landmark event that was otherwise marred by low voter turnout and charges of fraud. The November and December parliamentary elections witnessed significant opposition gains but were marred by violence, low turnout, fraud, and vote rigging. The civilian authorities generally maintained effective control of the security forces, which committed numerous, serious human rights abuses. The government's respect for human rights remained poor, and serious abuses continued in many areas. The following human rights problems were reported: • limitations on the right of citizens to change their government • existence of the state of emergency, in place almost continuously since 1967 • torture and abuse of prisoners and detainees, including deaths in custody • poor conditions in prisons and detention centers • impunity • arbitrary, sometimes mass, arrest and detention, including prolonged pretrial detention • executive influence on the judiciary • denial of fair public trial and lack of due process • political prisoners • restrictions on civil liberties--freedoms of speech, press, assembly, and association; some restrictions on freedom of religion • corruption and lack of transparencyNuff said. The pages for other countries in the region are here. The Israel page has the fantastic line "There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings," proving once more that when it comes to the Jewish state reality need not apply. A country with an official assassination policy in a territory it illegally occupies (and hence has moral responsibility over) is given a clean slate. But then again, the same State Dept. that issues this report helps Arab countries build detention centers to which it offshores torture. I'm reading the Morocco page with interest on this one, funny it doesn't mention anything about the new Temara facility.
On 3 March, rights activists confirmed reports that the Egypt-based www.masreyat.org, which features discussions of political reform and social issues, suddenly became inaccessible. According to Eid, it is one of 18 existing Egypt-based websites featuring articles critical of the government's slow pace of reform and human rights record. Eid said that the site was closed down by TE Data, the internet arm of the largely state-owned fixed-line provider, Telecom Egypt. Nevertheless, masreyat.com remains accessible through proxy servers, he said.Yet another sign that the Cairo Spring is steaming ahead...
"He will remain, so long as he's able, capable and so on. But if he finds that there is another group of people, another person, who are willing to carry the torch, I have the feeling that he would welcome it," Baz said. "It's not clear yet who can take over. Nobody can say, and definitely the president and his family are not thinking about succession. They don't think of Gamal taking over and he does not give himself more rights than other Egyptians," he added.As I am in the camp of those who don't believe that that Gamal is the next president this does not surprise me. I do think that Gamal wants the job (or wanted it at some point). But the more important thing is that it highlights that the regime still has no public succession plan and probably no private one either.
Among the new charges against Nour: calling Mubarak "ineffective" and "a loser" during a political rally last fall, beating a police officer with a stick on Election Day and putting up a statue to an Egyptian composer, something prosecutors said is an offense against Islam. "I admit I called Mubarak a loser," Nour said wryly. "But beating a police officer? It never happened." Nour shrugged off the charge regarding the statue as "harassment."The article is worth reading as a whole for how Nour is being treated (his cell and food constantly searched for mobile SIM chips) and how these new charges are being brought, in one theory, to prevent Nour's wife Gameela Ismail from attending a conference in Washington, DC. The regime was off-balance for much of 2005. Now, with no (meaningful) elections for another few years, it has regained its footing and is tightening the grip. Over the weekend at least 12 Muslim Brothers, including a member of the Guidance Council, were arrested under the ludicrous charge of "trying to revive the banned organization's activities." The regional conjuncture could not be more helpful for Mubarak to get away, figuratively and probably literally, with murder.
MI5 was warned that Jewish terrorists planned to assassinate members of Clement Attlee's postwar Labour government and feared that Menachem Begin, then leader of the extremist Irgun resistance group and a future prime minister of Israel, had tried to trick it by having cosmetic surgery to disguise his identity, files released yesterday disclose.
The files include a telegram dated February 12 1946 from Palestine saying that a reliable source claimed the Stern gang were "training members to go to England to assassinate members of His Majesty's Government, especially Mr Bevin [British foreign minister Ernest Bevin]". The Stern gang, in common with Irgun, were fighting against the British mandate of Palestine and murdered Britain's Minister Resident in the Middle East, Lord Moyne, in Cairo in 1944. A memo from the Officer Administering the Government of Palestine to the Secretary of State for the Colonies the following day warned: "The Stern Group have decided to assassinate both the High Commissioner and the General Officer Commanding. In addition, a number of CID officers are to be assassinated as well as police officers and any high government officials who are thought to be anti-semitic." In 1946 Irgun blew up the King David hotel in Jerusalem, and attacked the British embassy in Rome. A year later MI5 received a report about a rumour that Begin had "undergone a plastic facial operation and that his appearance is totally different from that displayed on police photographs". In 1948 Begin founded the Herut party, which later became Likud, and he was appointed prime minister in 1977. He was awarded the Nobel peace prize with Egypt's President Sadat after agreeing to withdraw Israeli forces from the Sinai peninsula and return it to Egypt.Fascinating. There's a bunch more of these documents that exist and that either have not yet been declassified or haven't been found by expert researchers. Considering that Britain controlled a big chunk of the region back then, it would be nice to see more of them. I remember getting access in 2002 to documents showing British embassy in Cairo memos about the Free Officers, right after when the coup took place. They seemed to think that Nasser was a Muslim Brother and were annoyed with the support the US embassy was giving him...
Mahmudi replaces former premier Shukri Ghanem, who had held the post since 2003. Ghanem is no longer part of the cabinet but will head the state-owned Libya National Oil Company, television said. The announcement came as Libya's cabinet underwent a significant reorganisation with the creation of seven new ministries. A General People's Congress, or parliament, source had earlier told AFP that four new posts were to be named, but did not elaborate on why the reshuffle in the oil-and-gas rich North African country was taking place. The new ministries include agriculture, transportation, higher education, health, housing, social affairs, and industry and electricity which replaces the former energy ministry.So what, before they didn't have ministries for these things? Incidentally, this story says the shuffle suggests reform will slow down. And the French have sold a nuclear reactor to the Libyans.
SPACE.com -- Huge Crater Found in Egypt: Scientists have discovered a huge crater in the Saharan desert, the largest one ever found there. The crater is about 19 miles (31 kilometers) wide, more than twice as big as the next largest Saharan crater known. It utterly dwarfs Meteor Crater in Arizona, which is about three-fourths of a mile (1.2 kilometers) in diameter. In fact, the newfound crater, in Egypt, was likely carved by a space rock that was itself roughly 0.75 miles wide in an event that would have been quite a shock, destroying everything for hundreds of miles. For comparison, the Chicxulub crater left by a dinosaur-killing asteroid 65 million years ago is estimated to be 100 to 150 miles (160 to 240 kilometers) wide. The crater was discovered in satellite images by Boston University researchers Farouk El-Baz and Eman Ghoneim.Hard to believe they only found it now.
The outlines of a future Iraq are emerging: a nation where power is scattered among clerics turned warlords; control over schools, hospitals, railroads and roads is divided along sectarian lines; graft and corruption subvert good governance; and foreign powers exert influence only over a weak central government. The bleak prospects have serious implications for the U.S. Washington wants to tone down its overt political influence in Baghdad and decrease the number of U.S. troops precisely at a time when the fledgling Iraqi government has shown itself incapable of maintaining political or military control. "This is something that's been leaning in this direction for some time, and the mosque incident has accelerated the process," said Edward S. Walker, a former assistant secretary of State for Near East affairs. "What we're talking about is people looking out for their own. I don't think it can be turned around." Doomsayers long have warned that Iraq was turning into a failed state like Somalia or Taliban-run Afghanistan, a regional black hole. It's far too early to write Iraq off as a quagmire, analysts say, but the threat of contagious and continuous instability — like in Lebanon — looms.Then again, some are worried about the Iraqification of Lebanon these days... [Meant to post this a while back, forgot.]
Keshev: You mentioned Arafat. Keshev published a report on the Israeli media's coverage of Arafat. How do you view the Israeli media's treatment of him? DR: Both during his lifetime and after his death, Arafat has been regarded as the devil. I once wrote that the problem is that when he was alive, he was called a terrorist. Today Abu Mazen is called weak. In either case, there is no one to talk with. But what is interesting is that they do not want to talk. Clearly, talking means making concessions. Otherwise, what is there to talk about? About annexing territory? Building settlements? You have to talk about making concessions. Keshev: Clearly, there are political interests. But what is the media's role? DR: Overall, in these aspects the media serves the establishment almost entirely. Today, I am concerned that the massive campaign portraying Abu Mazen as weak has a purpose. When you write something that coincides with the administration's position, it immediately gains new momentum, like the portrayal of Arafat as a terrorist. It's hard to say how this trend began. Part of it is the quality of the Israeli intelligence agencies. At one time I was a kind of source, providing information about what happens there. Today, there has been a huge change in the balance of powers between journalists and the Israeli intelligence agencies. The Israeli intelligence system that deals with the territories employs thousands of people. Electronic means enable them to hear, see and bomb. How can I, by talking with someone and reading the papers, compete with these people? Keshev: But we have also seen disagreement and contradictory theories within the security establishment. DR: Correct. I believe they are drowning in a sea of information that is difficult to manage, that's true. And that's why my ability to make judgments is still valid. Keshev: What about the structural issue – the journalist's role and interests vs. those of the military man, the military perspective vs. a more civilian perspective – in your view, are they on the same level? DR: In my view, every person, whether intelligence agent, soldier or journalist – must first of all be a decent human being, faithful to the basic values of human dignity. I am less inclined to view it as a function of interests. I have broader considerations on all these issues. Keshev: Nonetheless, when Chief of Intelligence Ze'ev Farkash estimated for the government that "Arafat will either live or die", the ministers were astonished by this lack of knowledge. Until then, in all of the years of the second intifada, government ministers and the media never publicly doubted the capabilities of Israeli Intelligence. Amos Gilad's approach, which maintained that we know that Arafat planned everything, controlled everything and was responsible for all the events, predominated. DR: Correct. And the media collaborated with that. Keshev: So from your point of view, is the security/political establishment's narrative compatible with the media's narrative? Has the media been able to present its own independent premise? DR: No. In most cases, after all is said and done, the media follows the establishment. You mentioned the Arafat example. In my personal estimation, based on several findings and testimonies, we poisoned Arafat. Writing that today seems like an exercise in futility: 'those Arabs, with their imagination, and their conspiracy theories, etc.'. It is so opposed to our narrative and so identified with theirs, that I can't put that in. I think that's true for today's media in general: it's careful not to target sacred cows. In the end, all the systems adopt an approach held by part or most of the establishment.That certainly does not only apply to the Israeli media.
Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns, a State Department Arabist and a critic of Israel, has emerged as the leading foreign policy official in the Bush administration. Mr. Burns has by default become the most powerful figure in the State Department and responsible for day-to-day management of U.S. foreign policy. Officials said Mr. Burns was authorized by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in late 2005 to become the leading foreign policy administrator amid a sharp decline in support for President Bush. "Nick Burns has everything Condi doesn't have—a firm sense of purpose, a political fighter and an Arab expert," an official said. "What Burns doesn't share with Condi is the president's agenda." Officials said Ms. Rice has been preoccupied with recruiting domestic support for the Bush administration. They said she has spent much of her time at the White House advising the president and often serving as a buffer to senior members of the administration. As a result, Mr. Burns, formally No. 3 in the State Department, has become the de facto director of U.S. foreign policy. Officials said his access to the president has sharply increased over the last four months and Mr. Burns has become a leading adviser to Mr. Bush on Europe and the Middle East.Aside from the ominous tones about Burns being an "Arabist" (ooooh!) and a "critic of Israel" (boooo!) I was most amused by this:
"Condi has very little interest in the Middle East and regards her meetings with some leaders in the area with disdain," an official said. "In contrast, Burns relishes his contacts with Arab leaders." Mr. Burns has also encouraged Mr. Bush to increase pressure on Israel in an effort to win Arab support for U.S. policy in the Middle East. Officials said the undersecretary has also helped reduce the president's ardor to enact regime change in Iran and Syria. The ascent of Mr. Burns has come at the expense of the National Security Council, officials said. They said Deputy National Security Advisor Elliot Abrams has lost virtually all of his influence over U.S. policy. Mr. Abrams, who has been linked to the Bush family, has been an ardent supporter of Middle East democracy and Israel. He has urged an aggressive U.S. policy against Iran. "The major theme that runs through briefings given by Burns is that virtually every conflict in the Middle East is either caused or exacerbated by the Arab-Israeli conflict," the official said. "Not surprisingly, the message to the president is that U.S. support for Israel causes problems for the administration."Sounds like someone close to Abrams (perhaps one of the vilest of all Bush appointees) is trying to stir trouble for Burns. According to the gossip here in Cairo, Rice's problem is not with the leaders she meets, but rather the "civil society" figures she tries to meet. Among the crowd chosen during her last visit was someone who should not have been there and spent the Secretary's valuable time expressing general platitudes and trying to appeal to Rice's born-again Christian side. The other guests were not amused. That being said, the meeting with Mubarak was not meant to be that easy-going either...