Al-Qa3da's media matrix

I came across an interesting AP report on Al-Qa3da’s As-Sahab media productions. We can never know for sure if the interviewed cameraman indeed met Dr. Ayman el-Zawahiri, as he alleges. After all, you would think those guys are under constant monitoring, by Pakistani and US intelligence services, and Zawahiri’s hideout could have been found a long time ago then. Still, I think the report enlightens us a bit about how this secret media matrix works. Cameraman Sheds Light on al-Qaida Videos By KATHY GANNON The Associated Press Sunday, June 25, 2006 PESHAWAR, Pakistan -- The bitter winter winds were howling through the Afghan mountains when, cameraman Qari Mohammed Yusuf says, a courier brought a summons from al-Qaida's No. 2: "The emir wants to send a message." The emir, meaning prince or commander, was Osama bin Laden's deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri. He wanted to send a message to the world that he had safely survived a U.S. attempt to kill him. So Yusuf, following the courier's directions, says he travelled to al-Zawahri's Afghan hide-out last January and shot the tape that would become another contribution to al-Qaida's PR in the propaganda battles that are a critical component of its terror campaign. Al-Zawahri was wearing crisp white robes and turban. "Everything was ready," the cameraman, a dark-skinned man in his mid-30s with a long, scruffy beard, recalled in an interview with The Associated Press. "There was just myself and the emir," said Yusuf. "I used a small Sony camera. It lasted just half an hour. They chose the place. They fix it and then they just say to me to come, and my job is only to record it. These are their rules, and no one asks any questions." The video aired on Al-Jazeera, the Arabic TV network, on Jan. 30, less than three weeks after the U.S. airstrike on a building just across the border in eastern Pakistan that targeted al-Zawahri but instead killed 13 villagers. Pakistan said four al-Qaida militants were also killed in the attack, but their identities were never proven. In the video, a combative al-Zawahri taunted President Bush: "Bush, do you know where I am? I am in the midst of the Muslim masses, enjoying what Allah has bestowed upon me of their support, hospitality, protection and participation in waging jihad against you until we defeat you." Yusuf, an Afghan, said he is one of a half-dozen cameramen used by al-Zawahri, depending on who is physically closest at the time. Most are Arabs, and not all are known to each other, he said. From their mountain hide-outs in Afghanistan or Pakistan's remote tribal regions, bin Laden and al-Zawahri provide raw material that become sophisticated multimedia presentations to encourage supporters, recruit fighters, raise money and threaten the West. Their sophistication and quality contradict Bush administration claims that bin Laden presides over a debilitated organization, says Bruce Hoffman, counterterrorism expert and director of the Rand Corporation's Washington office. "The active communications and active recruitment is proof positive of their resilience and the fact that they are not on the run," Hoffman said. "Even though we are given an image here in the United States of them on the retreat, an image of a movement that has been weakened, in fact that is not true and their ability to communicate is almost the oxygen with which they can breathe." "The mini-cam and the editing suite have become essential weapons of terror, as the gun and bomb, and just as routinely used." For the past five years or so, al-Qaida has used its own media production company, As-Sahab, Arabic for cloud, listed as producer on al-Qaida videos or compact discs. Ahmad Zaidan, Al-Jazeera correspondent in Islamabad, the Pakistani capital, said couriers have delivered to him two messages from bin Laden and two from al-Zawahri _ but none since November 2004. He said Internet access now allows al-Qaida to post its messages directly on a militant Web site or send them electronically to a TV network. In another advance, the messages now use graphics sequences and English translations. "The al-Qaida media machine is astonishingly effective and it has definitely gone into a major upswing over the last nine months or so," said Evan Kohlmann, an international terrorism consultant. "The sophistication is also quite compelling." As of Friday, As-Sahab had released 10 videos in June, including three from al-Zawahri _ its highest monthly production level ever, according to IntelCenter, an Alexandria, Va.-based contractor that provides counterterrorism intelligence services to the U.S. government. So far this year, it has released 33 videos, IntelCenter said Friday. Yusuf said As-Sahab puts together its videos in a minivan that was turned into a mobile studio by al-Qaida technicians and blends easily into Pakistani traffic. The courier network often draws on ties that hark back decades to the 1980s Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and the Pakistan-based Islamic insurgency it provoked. If more complex editing and mixing are needed, couriers may take the video to Peshawar or Lahore, where, Kohlmann noted, al-Qaida's electronic signals can also better mix into the urban airwaves. The final product is posted online, and distributed in bazaars. "We make the movie on a small cassette, which we shift to the computer and edit," Yusuf said. "We make it into a CD or a cassette and then we take it from place to place. We do the editing, but we do not use the satellite where we film. The cassettes are sent to the city area to special places and we give them to these people." The distribution network appears to have no chain of command. Distribution falls to a variety of hands, including members of Pakistan's best-organized religious party, Jamaat-e-Islami, which once had close links with Afghanistan's outlawed Hezb-e-Islami party and its leader, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Also involved are loyalists of a second Hezb-e-Islami faction, led by Yunus Khalis, who welcomed bin Laden to Afghanistan from Sudan in 1996. "They pass the discs from one person to another person," said a Jamaat-e-Islami member who gave his name only as Abdullah and said he had a personal library of hundreds of As-Sahab, Taliban and other militant CDs, some of which he shared with the AP. "I have gotten mine from friends of mine from jihad days," he said, referring to the Soviet invasion. The AP's meeting with Yusuf came after a month of seeking contact with al-Qaida's production company through Hezb-e-Islami members, particularly in Afghanistan's northeastern Kunar province, where the U.S. military targets al-Qaida, Taliban and Hezb-e-Islami insurgents. Shrouded in secrecy, the meeting took place in northwest Pakistan in a car that drove for miles along dusty roads, weaving among rickshaws, horse-drawn carts and trucks. Yusuf wore a cream-colored shalwar kameez, the region's traditional dress of long shirt and baggy pants. It was not possible to verify Yusuf's account of the al-Zawahri taping, but Jamal Mutalab Beg, the police chief of Afghanistan's Kunduz province until this month, confirmed many of the details that Yusuf gave about his family and his life. Zaidan, the Al-Jazeera correspondent, identified Yusuf as an occasional Taliban spokesman. Beg said Yusuf "was not a small person with the Taliban." He said police believe he came to Afghanistan's Baghlan province last year to carry out sabotage against the Afghan government but was unsuccessful and returned to the Pakistani border regions. Yusuf said all four of his brothers died waging a jihad, giving him impeccable credentials for al-Qaida membership. He said two of them were attached to al-Zawahri and one was a key Taliban liaison with militants from neighboring Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. He said his association with al-Zawahri goes back seven years. "Because of my brothers, he had trust in me. This is why I explain to you who I am so you understand why he trusts me. He knows I am loyal. I love him," Yusuf said of al-Zawahri. He seemed nervous about talking to a Westerner and was careful not to reveal details, such as where the al-Zawahri tape was shot, lest it provide clues to the al-Qaida's lieutenant's whereabouts. He refused to be photographed. As-Sahab videos emanate only from Afghanistan, Zaidan said. The footage has included attacks on U.S. soldiers and messages from terrorist leaders. Absent so far are beheadings or other executions, the grisly trademark of tapes produced by the late Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's group, al-Qaida in Iraq. Associated Press writer Amir Shah in Kabul, Afghanistan, contributed to this report.
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Somalia's new leader

The NYT profiles Hassan Dahir Aweys, the new head of Somalia's Islamic Courts movement. Aweys comes across as a more hardline leader than the Islamic Courts' previous spokesman, Sharif Ahmed, and is on US terrorist lists. One of the emerging stories about Somalia's new leaders -- other than the risk of "Talibanizing" a country that, like Afghanistan, is already is dire straits -- is that it could cause further instability in in Ethiopia and Eritrea, notably over illegal arms trade:
In fact, some analysts said that the appointment of Mr. Aweys might prove a good thing by bringing his hard-line views into the open. Sharif Ahmed, the movement's former leader, considered more of a moderate in his views toward secular government, remains head of a newly formed executive committee that will handle day-to-day affairs, officials said. "Engagement is still the answer," said Mr. Raffaelli, who has urged his government and others following developments in Somalia not to respond precipitously to the elevation of Mr. Aweys. "To say a so-called bad guy is in charge will only serve to reinforce the extremists. This movement continues to have moderate voices." Mr. Aweys's backers are known to be well armed, and his ascendance is seen as connected to a regional struggle in the Horn of Africa. A May 2006 report by a United Nations panel of experts studying violations to the arms embargo in Somalia said Mr. Aweys's militant group still had operations in the country and had received numerous arms shipments from Eritrea, which analysts say is trying to destabilize its avowed enemy, Ethiopia. Mr. Aweys has clashed in the past with Ethiopia. His militia was soundly defeated by the Ethiopian Army in the early 1990's. Ethiopian officials have made it clear in recent months that they do not intend to allow any government that threatens stability in their country to emerge in Somalia.
It'd be interesting to see where the arms come from -- I would guess Egypt or Israel. Also, PINR discusses the Arab League's role in the ceasefire recently signed between the Islamic Courts and the warlords:
The fluid and unstable situation was transformed by a bold diplomatic initiative of the Arab League (A.L.) led by Sudan, which succeeded in bringing the I.C.U. and the T.F.G. together in talks in Khartoum that resulted in a cease-fire agreement on June 22 in which the two sides granted recognition to one another and promised to meet again on July 17 to begin work on a power-sharing deal. Much to its displeasure, the A.L. had been sidelined in early external efforts to adapt to the I.C.U.'s ascent. In particular, the Washington-led Contact Group (C.G.), composed of European states and Tanzania, had not even granted the A.L. the observer status that it had given to the United Nations and the African Union (A.U.). Arranging an agreement between the I.C.U. and T.F.G. represented a diplomatic coup for the A.L. and for Khartoum, which assumed the role of honest brokers, crowding out the other external players, particularly Washington and Addis Ababa. The June 22 agreement does not portend an immediate stabilization of Somalia's chaotic politics. On June 25, the I.C.U. reorganized itself into a more institutionalized governing structure -- the Somali Supreme Islamic Courts Council (I.C.C.) -- and named as its leader hard-line cleric Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys who had previously repeatedly rejected the legitimacy of the T.F.G. and announced his aim of making Somalia an Islamic state governed by Shari'a law. The I.C.C. declared its intention of honoring the June 22 agreement, but the victory of Aweys' fundamentalist faction over the moderates within the I.C.U. threw into doubt the possibility of successful negotiations. At the present moment, the essential feature of Somalia's political situation is fluidity. The cease-fire deal is a problematic attempt to dam up the political tides and canalize them into regularized flows, but its success is far from certain; the players are not yet positioned in a stable power configuration because they have yet to test themselves against each other and, more importantly, because they have not yet figured out how to put their interests into action through operative policies that forge firm alliances. The players are not sure what they want in terms of what they believe they actually can get, so a general climate of mutual uncertainty, often laced with severe distrust, makes it impossible for them to determine what the others will do, creating a tentativeness punctuated by bold initiatives -- the prescription for fluidity.
The article goes on to describe the central role of Sudan, which currently has the presidency of the Arab League, to sealing the deal. Two things stand out about this: that the League and the Sudanese government can actually contribute positively to anything at all, and that it was all done in the name of countering foreign influence. As PINR argues, this "Khartoum process" is now the only game in town for a diplomatic resolution to the Somali crisis. Who would have thought...
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Mauritania's constitutional referendum

Mauritania -- yes, the poor, backward, drought-stricken, desert state of Mauritania -- has voted for constitutional amendments in a national referendum that imposes term limits on the presidency. Early results on the 25 June referendum indicate that Mauritanians approved by 97% the reform, with at least 76% of eligible voters casting their votes. The reforms they voted on included limiting presidential terms to two five-year terms and preventing the president from holding on to his post if older than 75. While the former reform, while not a first, is rare enough in the region (and in places like Tunisia, Ben Ali amended the constitution to remove term limits), the latter is the first time anywhere, as far as I know, that age limits have been placed on a president. If this rule was applied, neither Egypt nor France would be able to hold on to their current presidents! Explaining his motives for the referendum, the leader of the junta that staged a coup in August 2005, Ely Ould Mohammed Vall, said:
If the president remains in power for 18, 20 or 30 years and plans to pass his position on to his son or another person of his choice, this would be personal power and a way of ruling that does not take into account the interest of the country or its citizens.
He's not going to be popular at the next Arab League meeting. There are also further precautions in the constitution: presidential candidates must pledge that he will not back any revision to the constitution that would change the provisions on presidential terms. The constitution's article 99 also states that no constitutional amendment of presidential terms can be made at all. Naturally, all of this can be changed by a despot who comes along later. But Mauritanians did suffer under Maaouya Ould Taya, the ousted leader who ruled from 1984 to 2005. Perhaps they've learned the hard way that these rules are valuable. If it works out, they'll be putting to shame Arab autocrats and giving new legitimacy to palace coups -- as I remember Egyptian columnist Fahmi Howeidy predicting last August. Jonathan Edelstein over at the Head Heeb is less sanguine about the referendum and points out that the constitution still remains strongly presidential, with the president having considerable power over the prime minister and the cabinet. While I agree with him on that point, I still think the insistence on term limits is quite a step forward. Now we'll have to see how parliamentary elections this Fall and presidential elections next Spring will be carried out.
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Court forces US to grant visa to Ramadan

A judge has forced the US to grant Tariq Ramadan -- who was barred from entering the US last year -- a visa after the ACLU and others brought a lawsuit. Whether you like Ramadan and his crypto-Islamist beliefs or not, this is a good thing on principle, for as the judge in the case explained:
while the Executive may exclude an alien for almost any reason, it cannot do so solely because the Executive disagrees with the content of the alien’s speech and therefore wants to prevent the alien from sharing this speech with a willing American audience.
Via Moorishgirl.
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Journalist sentenced to one year in prison for "insulting" Mubarak

Ibrahim 3eissa, the popular liberal editor of Al-Dostour, has been sentenced today to one year in prison, for "insulting" the president in an article he published April last year, that included a copy of a lawsuit filed by an Egyptian lawyer against President Hosni Mubarak and his family. The court sentenced also another Al-Dostour reporter, Sahar Zaki, to a year in prison, together with Sa3eed Mohamed Abdallah Suleiman the lawyer who filed the original lawsuit quoted by Al-Dostour's article. Three other reporters were released on a LE10,000 bail, pending their appeal. The article, published 5 April 2005, Issue 55, included accusations by the lawyer against Hosni Mubarak, Suzan Mubarak, and Gamal Mubarak of "waisting the country's resources" by "selling the public sector for a cheap price, ... squandering foreign aid." Suleiman demanded, in his lawsuit, that the president "returns LE500 billion to the treasury." He also accused the president of turning the "Arab Republic of Egypt into a monarchy" and "replacing the constitution with State Security rule." Mubarak has usually been a favorite target for criticism on the weekly tabloid's frontpage. There will be a press conference in the evening at Al-Dostour's office, 7pm, 29 Tanta St., 3agouza. UPDATE: CPJ has issued a statement denouncing the court verdict. EGYPT: Editor, reporter for weekly are sentenced to jail New York, June 26, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists deplores today’s decision by an Egyptian court to sentence two journalists to a year in prison for publishing a report critical of President Hosni Mubarak, his family, and other top officials. The court in Al-Warrak, north of Giza, sentenced Ibrahim Eissa, editor of the independent weekly Al-Dustour, and Sahar Zaki, a reporter for the paper, to a year in prison for insulting Mubarak, the newspaper said in a statement today. The journalists, who were not present for the verdict, are free on bail of 10,000 Egyptian pounds pending appeal. The case against Eissa and Zaki stems from an April 5, 2005, news item that reported efforts by an Egyptian lawyer to take Mubarak and his family to court on allegations of corruption, including the alleged misuse of foreign aid. The lawyer, Said Abdullah, was also sentenced today to a year in jail. Over all, Al-Dustour has been a persistently harsh critic of Mubarak and his government. Two years ago, Mubarak pledged to eliminate prison penalties against journalists for what they publish. The promise remains unfulfilled, and Egyptian journalists continue to be brought before criminal courts and sentenced to jail because of their criticism of government officials and other influential figures. In 2006 alone, CPJ has documented the cases of at least two other journalists sentenced to jail terms on defamation charges. “Taken together with President Mubarak’s empty promise, the continuing prosecutions of outspoken journalists demonstrate this government’s hostility toward independent journalism,� CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “We call on Egypt to put an end to the egregious practice of prosecuting journalists for their work.� UPDATE: Human Rights Watch blasted the court ruling in a statement.
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Anti-Torture demo

Around 20 activists held a silent protest today, from noon to 1pm, in front of the Sayyeda Zeinab Police station in Cairo, marking the International Day Against Torture. The silent protest was arranged through the word of mouth for security concerns. Anti-torture activists wanted to "surprise" the police, fearing a ban. There were Lawyers and activists, from Kefaya, the Egyptian Association Against Torture, and the Arabic Human Rights Information Network. Central Security Forces did not show up, and the usual friendly faces of State Security's CounterCommunism Bureau officers could not be seen There were just police officers from the police station, plain clothes security, as activists stood silently carrying banners denouncing torture. It seemed like the security was in no mood for cracking down, especially when the demo was small. Citizens passing by in the busy Sayyeda Zeinab square were usually asked by the police to stay away, whenever they approached the demonstrators or stopped to read the signs. But there wasn't the usual violence and thuggery. Three veiled teenagers stopped for few seconds in front of a banner, with a picture of a detainee stepped over by an officer's boot. One asked, "Is this Iraq?" The other replied, "No it's Egypt!" The third remained silent, as the first said after another quick look at the banner, "Hmhmhmm, it looks like Iraq wallahi." Another man in his 50s stopped in front of the protestors, skimmed through the signs, then nodded his head, saying "God bless you. God bless you." He kept on repeating that, as he circled around the protestors for a minute. The most interesting quote from a passer by I heard was: "You won't achieve anything," shouted a veiled woman, wearing sunglasses, with her two little daughters around her. "You should leave now before they arrest you. They hit the judges. Don't you think they'll hit you too?" A plain clothes security officer approached the protestors around 12:40, asking them to leave saying "you do not have a license for this demo." Activists 3aida Seif al-Dawla, Magda Adly, Laila Soueif, and Gamal 3eid got into a discussion with the officer, arguing his interior ministry never gives those licenses to anybody, and asserting their right to stand silently and peacefully. The discussion went on for five minutes, and the officer did not seem in a confrontationalist mood. He decided to let it go, after the activists told him their one-hour protest was coming to an end in 15 mins, and that there were "no need for further scandals." And indeed, the whole thing was over by 1pm. I took a cab to Zamalek, where I was supposed to have coffee with 3alaa and few other friends. The cab drove through Lazoughli Sq, where the Interior Ministry's compound (that includes State Security HQ) is located. Last year, the anti-torture demo was held for the first time in that square. I couldn't believe it then, as I attended the event to report on it. If that had happened in 1990s, or anytime till 2004, it would have been a suicide. No street demos were allowed, let alone one in Lazoughli! The demo today was away from Lazoughli, but still in the street. It's up to you to determine whether today's demo's location signifies "retreat," since no one dared to be close to Lazoughli, or a "progression" when you compare the situation to the 1990s? Here’s a dpa report by my friend Jano Charbel. Good story, except I think there were no more than 20 activists present. Egyptian human rights activists commemorate the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture by staging demonstration in front of Cairo police station Cairo (dpa) – Around 50 lawyers and human rights activists staged a silent demonstration in front of Cairo's al-Sayyeda Zeinab Police Station on Monday in commemoration of the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture – which is commemorated on June 26 of each year. The demonstration was organized by the Egyptian Association Against Torture, an umbrella human rights grouping comprising four local human rights organizations along with independent rights activists. Around a dozen members of the left-leaning opposition umbrella movement, Kifaya/Enough, were also in attendance. The Association chose to hold its demonstration at the al-Sayyeda Zeinab Police Station as it has a notorious record for torture and cruel and degrading treatment of suspects. Tens of human rights activists held up banners and posters reading "torture is a crime against which we will not keep silent" and "torture is a systematic and routine procedure in Egyptian police stations." Other activists held up drawings, sketches, and photographs of torture techniques commonly utilized in Egyptian prisons and police stations. Lawyer Gamal Eid, the Director of the regional Arab Network for Human Rights Information – one of the four constituent organizations under the Egyptian Association Against Torture - told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa that "we could have staged this demonstration in front of any Egyptian police station since torture and physical abuse are conducted in nearly every police station throughout the country." Eid added "we chose al-Sayyed Zeinab Police Station, however, as it is one of the most notorious torture centers in Cairo." He went on to say that "we had staged a demonstration on June 26, 2005 in front of Cairo's Lazoghli State Security Headquarters as torture takes place on a daily basis in this fortress." "We also held other demonstrations, that did not coincide with the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, on occasions when blatant acts of torture were perpetrated." "One demonstration was staged in front of the infamous Gaber Ibn Hayan State Security Headquarters in Giza earlier this year due to its dreadful record of human rights violations," said Eid. "Another demonstration was held on June 1, in front of the Qasr el-Nile Police Station in downtown Cairo following the May 25 th arrest of Kifaya activist Mohammad el-Sharqawi who was beaten, physically tortured, and sexually abused on the same day at this police station." Eid added "we human rights lawyers and activists are attempting to expose the violations of the Egyptian government – especially the ministry of interior – as the authorities are doing nothing to curtail the perpetration of torture in detention centers and police stations." "Egypt had ratified a number of international human rights instruments relating to torture, yet has failed to implement them. The Egyptian government ratified the International Convention Against Torture nearly 20 years ago yet it does not uphold the rights stipulated within this convention, nor does it even respect its own domestic laws prohibiting torture." During today's demonstration around twenty officers from the al-Sayyeda Police Station and state security officers monitored the events from the sidewalk facing the demonstrators. No arrests were made, although one officer unsuccessfully attempted to persuade the protestors to disperse. Ahmad el-Droubi, a Kifaya youth activist recently released from prison, told dpa, "this was the first clandestine surprise demonstration to be held this year." He indicated that the organizers chose not to publicly announce this event as all demonstrations have been banned since the renewal and re-imposition of the emergency law on April 29. El-Droubi added "we did not announce the staging of this demonstration, except to a few trusted journalists, because if state security forces had known about it before hand it would have been forcefully dispersed and we wouldn't have a chance to get our message across." The International Day in Support of Victims of Torture is commemorated each year on June 26 as the UN's International Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment came into force on this day in 1987. There are a total of 141 state parties to this international convention. The Egyptian government ratified the convention on June 25, 1986 and has entered no reservations on any of the provisions contained within the convention. UPDATE: Nora Younis posted some photos of today's demo. And here are more pix, by 3amr 3abdallah of Al-Masri Al-Youm.
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Activism Calendar

MONDAY, 26 JUNE The Egyptian Association Against Torture is organizing a conference, from 6pm to 9pm, at the Press Syndicate, to mark the International Day Against Torture. At 7pm, the Society of Sheikh Imam’s Fans will hold a music memorial for the legendary people’s singer, also at the Press syndicate. Meanwhile, Kefaya, Socialists, Workers for Change and labor union activists will meet at 7pm in the Center for Socialist Studies, to discuss strategy and tactics for the coming national labor unions elections, scheduled 20 August. The meeting will be open for the press. The center is located at 7 Morad St., in Giza. The center’s director, Kamal Khalil, and other recently released detainees will be attending the discussion. TUESDAY, 18 JULY The Center for Socialist Studies is organizing a lecture, 7pm, titled, The Palestinian Divisions: New pressures on Hamas. Speakers include: Dr. Hassan Naf3a, Political Science prof at Cairo University, together with one of the center’s members. TUESDAY 25 JULY The Center for Socialist Studies is organizing a discussion on, The Ya3qoubian Building… An insight into Mubarak’s Egypt. Participants will include, Judge Noha el-Zeini, the novel’s author 3alaa el-Aswani, and Khaled el-Sawi, movie star and member of Artists for Change.
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After the Pharaoh

Newsweek published a story on the post-Mubarak scenarios... After the Pharaoh Who, or what, will replace Hosni Mubarak? Some say democracy, others chaos. It's the question all Egyptians are now asking. No one has an answer. By Christopher Dickey July 3-10, 2006 issue - During his recent weeks in prison, one of Egypt's best-known bloggers, Alaa Abdel Fateh, had a terrible fantasy. What would happen to him if Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, 78, the man he loves to hate, passed away while Abdel Fateh was in the slammer? "I'm sure millions are actively praying for his sudden death," he wrote in one of several postings that were smuggled out. "Normally I'd be happy. But now that I'm in jail it's a scary thought." His nightmare scenario? That it would take months for order to be established, with who knows what result. The 24-year-old blogger wrote from the four- by six-meter cell he shared with five other prisoners: "Most likely no one but our immediate family will remember us until it is over. In my mind most people will continue living their lives normally. The huge bureaucracy will chug along, but all security organs will be paralyzed. No officer will wake up the next day and head for his post. Which means [the] prison will be abandoned." What might follow, he dared not imagine. The irony of Egypt today is that many people, even those who detest Mubarak, share Abdel Fateh's misgivings about a future without the man who has been their ruler, their protector and some would say their jailer for almost 25 years. No matter how much they want to be rid of him, they cannot imagine, quite, who will be in charge and how order will be maintained. Will they be liberated? Or locked down even tighter than they were before? Will power pass from the father to the son, the suave 42-year-old Gamal Mubarak, as many expect? Or to the military? Or to the Islamists? Or will the country descend into chaos as all the contenders compete? The stability of the region, and what's left of the fragile U.S. policy there, depends on an orderly transition. But so much political dust has gathered in Egypt that, once it's kicked up, years could pass before it settles. Just last summer, a contagious excitement about democratic change was sweeping the Middle East, encouraged and sometimes inspired by Bush administration policies and rhetoric. There had been a massive turnout for Iraq's first elections, then huge protests that drove Syria's troops out of Lebanon. In Egypt, Mubarak decided to allow opposition candidates to run against him for the first time in presidential elections. But since then, the Iraqi quagmire has deepened. Lebanese politicians now live in terror after a long string of assassinations. Mubarak's leading opponent in last year's vote, Ayman Nour, languishes in prison with no further chance of appeal; Egyptian parliamentary elections were cut short and the results shamelessly rejiggered to limit the gains of the Muslim Brotherhood; new municipal elections have been postponed. Judges who rebelled at being forced to endorse the parliamentary fraud were prosecuted, reprimanded or reined in. The opposition has not been silenced, but fear hangs heavy in the air. At the slightest hint of street protest, cohorts of riot police seal off whole sections of Cairo. Hired thugs with police protection are let loose on the dissidents. Mahmoud Hamza, a judge who tried to film one such crackdown in April, was left with internal bleeding and a broken arm. "I believe I am under surveillance and my phone is tapped," he says, adding that his cell phone was taken and the calls on it traced. Hundreds have been arrested. Most are members of the Muslim Brotherhood, which is outlawed but also tolerated as a useful political enemy by a government that wants the threat of Islamism to be the only alternative. The Brothers are now the second largest party in Parliament, with 20 percent of the seats. For many in egypt, last year's dreams, this year's bare-knuckled beatings, and the coming years' growing uncertainties resemble the magical realism of Colombian novelist Gabriel García Márquez, whose works are popular throughout the Middle East. In his "Autumn of the Patriarch," a decaying dictator has an "irrepressible passion to endure," but dies just the same. So now for Cairenes. "You feel like you are walking in its pages," says Ibrahim Issa, an outspoken columnist in the daily Al Dustour. "There is a political culture of uncertainty." Ghada Shahbender, an English teacher who cofounded the dissident Web site Shayfeen.com last year, worries about who, or what, might replace Mubarak. "If there is 'divine intervention'," she asks, employing a euphemism for the dictator's death, "what can we fall back on? Will it be the military? The judicial system? Or chaos?" Searching for a road map to the post-Hosni Mubarak future, intellectuals and businessmen in Cairo are talking about models that might guide Egypt's course. As they mull over the China model, the Turkey model, the Algeria model, the Mexico model and so on, they sometimes sound like blind men trying to describe an elephant, each touching some separate part and coming up with a wildly different picture of the beast as a whole. Yet, from each description one learns something significant about the elephant—about Egypt and about the whole notion of democratic experiments in the Middle East. "The Chinese model," for example, is shorthand for a system in which the government remains strongly authoritarian while opening up its economy and profiting from free markets. With a little well-polished discourse about a "process" of political reform, this is essentially the design put forward by Gamal Mubarak, who now heads up the politburo of his father's National Democratic Party. The reformist cabinet he helped install two years ago has won praise from the international financial community, and the numbers look good. The economy is growing at almost 6 percent a year. Foreign investment has tripled to $6 billion in three years. Tourist facilities have improved. A recent conference of the World Economic Forum in Sharm el-Sheikh was a showcase for Egyptian modernity and efficiency. But there's a major problem with the Chinese analogy: Egypt is not China. On the one hand—and this is good—even with the crackdowns in Cairo, the Egyptians allow more freedom of speech than Beijing. On the other hand, while Egypt may be a big market in the Arab world, it's puny compared with the powerhouses of the East. The United States and Europe are not going to excuse Egypt's political repression, as they basically do China's, because of the potential to make enormous riches in the world's biggest market. In fact, there's a joke, repeated often in Cairo's financial circles, about Mubarak chatting with Chinese President Hu Jintao before a state visit to Beijing. Hu asks him how many people he has. Mubarak replies: "70 million." "Ah, well, then," says Hu. "Bring them along!" The bitter truth for Egyptians is that the world economy has not discovered any pressing need for what they have to offer. "In America there are Chinese goods everywhere you look," says Issa. "Do you see any Egyptian goods?" Many members of the Egyptian elite hope (indeed, some pray) that the military will be the great stabilizing force in Egyptian life if politics takes a sharp turn toward Islamism or chaos after Hosni Mubarak dies—especially if Gamal tries, and fails, to succeed him. "Gamal is weak, he has no credentials," says Hisham Kassem, editor of the independent daily Al Masri al Yom. "A civilian cannot run Egypt right now." The military analogy many people talk about is Turkey, where the uniformed services form what's been called "the deep state," the bedrock of stability. But there are problems with this model, too. For starters, even if you accept such a role for the brass, Turkey's generals are wedded to a secular ideology, while the Egyptian military has no central idea to hold it together. (There are also concerns that the ranks may have been penetrated by Islamists like the ones who killed Mubarak's predecessor, Anwar Sadat, during a parade in October 1981.) Moreover, the jealous rule of Hosni Mubarak, an Air Force general, has badly weakened the officer corps. There is no known equivalent of Pakistan's Gen. Pervez Musharraf ready or able to step forward, and almost any Egyptian general who starts to look popular finds himself retired to a governorship, or worse. Field Marshal Abdul Halim Abu Ghazala, who saved the regime 20 years ago by rolling tanks into the streets to stop a mutiny by the riot police (yes, the riot police, who burned several hotels near the pyramids), has spent most of his time since then under what some of his friends describe as virtual (if comfortable) house arrest. In the Algerian precedent, political liberalization was embraced by a would-be reformer at the top in the early 1990s, then crushed by the generals when Islamists scored massive victories at the polls. The civil war that followed cost hundreds of thousands of lives: not a very happy prospect for Egypt, but not a completely implausible one, either. As in Algeria, the military and security leadership might try to keep a low profile, pushing various civilians to the foreground. In Algeria during the worst fighting, people wouldn't even name top generals. They referred to them collectively as "le pouvoir," the power. A few people make analogies between Egypt's developing party dictatorship, based as it is less on ideology than on patronage, and the long-running rule of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) in Mexico. From the 1930s to the 1990s, all Mexican political life, such as it was, took place within the party. Any external threat, like the far left in the 1960s, was quite literally slaughtered. But one saving grace of the Mexican system was the commitment to one and only one term for any given president. That kept the political dynamic inside the party, at least, from becoming fatally rigid. Egypt has no such provision. Far from it. Ultimately, of course, Egypt is Egypt, where the model of the pharaohs' dynastic rule goes back 5,000 years. The machine is getting ready to put Gamal in power if Hosni can ever be persuaded to give up his throne. Yet Gamal, like most young pharaohs, has been guarded by the palace priests for so long that he may have very little idea how the Egyptian people live or act or think. His entourage is a nomenklatura of consumerism, comfortable in and with the West, but deeply unpopular on the street. His National Democratic Party (NDP) is a tired machine bereft of ideas that bases its power on thuggish coercion and shameless patronage. A party ought to have structured cadres, training, discipline, loyalty and a good feel for the grass roots, says American researcher Joshua Stacher: "The NDP is as legal as it gets, and the Muslim Brotherhood is about as illegal as it gets, but the NDP has none of these things and the Muslim Brothers have all these things." While Gamal Mubarak continues to cultivate his image in the West as a business-friendly leader, the opposition forces are discovering and cultivating each other—in prison. Soon after the long-haired, leftist Alaa Abdel Fateh was released on June 22 he told NEWSWEEK that he'd developed a great rapport with his fellow inmates, the Muslim Brothers. "It was a really incredible thing for me—the solidarity we experienced," he said. "We were all arrested together supporting the same cause." No longer willing—or able—to depend on Hosni Mubarak's irrepressible passion to endure, Egyptians are, by design and default, shaping their own model for the future. Whatever that may turn out to be. With Stephen Glain and Vivian Salama in Cairo
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Chain of hatred

I previously posted on the blog a letter from a former Islamist detainee, narrating the torture he went through in prison, during our 1990s Dirty War. I was going through my inbox today, and came across a good article from last September by my friend Sara Khorshid, who writes for Islam Online, and other media outlets. Sara's report demonstrates clearly, how the regime’s abuses are breeding the next generation of terrorists. Chain of hatred By Sara Khorshid Middle East Times Published September 15, 2005 A police officer summed up the situation very clearly to political detainee Abdel Moneim Mohammed, who has spent 13 years in the custody of the Egyptian interior ministry: "We can't release you [regardless of whether you are innocent or guilty]. After spending years in prison, you hate us - and setting you free will be a great risk." The statement that was probably made by a low-ranking officer, with no authority to keep or release a detainee, is still worth pondering. Charged with endorsing violence, Mohammed was arrested by the State Security body in 1993, leaving behind a wife and a months-old baby daughter. He signed a "repentance declaration" in detention and was consequently transferred to Wadi Al Natron II prison, also known as the "repenters' prison". His wife, who insists that her husband is innocent, has filed many complaints over the years and has had tens of release verdicts issued by courts. But Mohammed remains in detention. His case is by no means unique. Egypt has more than 15,000 political detainees, according to the Human Rights Center for the Assistance of Prisoners (HRCAP). Release verdicts are issued by courts but are rejected by the interior minister. Authorized by the Emergency Law - in place since 1981 - the minister issues new detention warrants, prolonging the prisoners' time behind bars and their families' time in agony. "Sixteen years. I have been fighting for 16 years," says Sayeda Hassan, mother of Ahmed Abdel Azim, who is currently held in Abu Zaabal prison. "I first struggled for a five-minute visit in prison, then a quarter of an hour, then half an hour." Hassan's husband died after spending 10 years without seeing their imprisoned son, being too sick to visit Abdel Azim in prison. "The problem is that the regime deals with political detainees merely as security files, overlooking the huge psychological, economic and social problems that they and their families suffer from," says director of HRCAP Mohammed Zarei. The result is catastrophic at all levels. "You have an angry bulk [of detainees and their families] resentful of the regime, who have endured suffering since the 1980s and the 1990s," explains Ahmed Seif Al Islam, executive director of Hisham Mubarak Law Center (HMLC). "Their rage against the regime," explains journalist and analyst Mohammed Gamal Arafa, "makes them see corruption in everything, from the subordinate policeman to the highest-ranking government officer". Detainees usually end up fired from their jobs and undergoing economic and social problems, "which affects their sense of national belonging; they first complain that their country doesn't help them or offer them anything, then they start complaining that it doesn't represent them, and, hence, they seize to acknowledge the regime that has caused their problems," Arafa says. "Therefore, they seek to escape, either externally by emigrating from the country or internally by adopting violence," Arafa adds. Unfortunately, the solution is by no means simple. "It can cost lives," says Abdel Rahim Ali, an expert on Islamist groups. For the government to release one prisoner it "has to be sure that he has totally rejected the [violent] ideas that he previously had", he adds. Detainees' families ask, "What about those who were wrongly arrested? Those who never had violent ideas in the first place?" "They want them to repent for something they never did," says Hassan. Hani Abdel Aal was being pressured to "repent": "I went to visit him in prison and police officers kept me waiting for hours," says his 65-year-old mother, Umm Hani, who comes from Egypt's rural governorate of Sharkiya. "I heard police officers tell Hani, 'Your mom is an aging woman and we pity her, so don't keep her waiting. Sign the repentance declaration.' When I could finally talk to him from behind bars I urged him, 'Sign what they want you to sign, son, if this will help,'" she says with tears. "What shall I repent from, mom? From praying or from reading Koran," Abdel Aal answered. "Repentance will be an implicit confession that they committed a crime [or endorsed violence]; they never did," Hassan insists. "Repentance is not the issue," argues Nabila, the wife of Abdel Moneim Ibrahim. "My husband signed the repentance declaration years ago and he was moved to Wadi Al Natron II, the repenters' prison; yet, he is still detained." Beyond proclaiming repentance from endorsing the violent ideas of Islamist groups, one prisoner announced his conversion to Christianity, in the hope that this would finally get him released. Hassan tells his story, as it was passed on to her by her son, a fellow prisoner of the "Christian convert": "He drew a Cross on the prison's wall and told them, 'I am Christian, if Islam is your problem. Release me'." "Others have started to smoke inside prison to prove to police officers that they are moderate Muslims so that they can get released," Hassan laments. Still the police officers will not release them. The Egyptian interior ministry adopts certain criteria for releasing political detainees, as stated in the 2004/5 annual report of the National Council for Human Rights (NCHR): "[The Ministry releases] prisoners whose critical health conditions make it difficult for the prison's administration, or the hospitals affiliated with it, to handle the prisoners' health, in which case the prisoner is released only on the condition that the ministry ensures he rejects extremist beliefs and ideas, which are harmful to the country's security." Seif Al Islam of the HLMC comments on this criterion, "It's clear that the ministry's goal is to keep people in political detention until they start dying ... This policy has been adopted since 1981." Other criteria stated by the ministry - and written in the NCHR's report - include the issuance of judicial verdicts ordering the prisoners' release and making certain that they pose no security danger. "'Security danger' is a flexible term," says Mamdouh Ismail, a lawyer for Islamist detainees. "Anyone can be classified as dangerous in one way or another." What's the definition of danger then? "Danger should be determined by facts and evidence that a certain person is planning to commit violence," Ismail answers, "but this is not the case with the Egyptian interior ministry, which randomly arrested religious people by the thousands, in the 1990s, on the grounds of mere [suspicion] that violent ideas might just occur to them". Zarei of the HRCAP points out that, "some detainees do endorse dangerous ideas and others have acquired dangerous ideas in detention, but many are innocent people who were wrongly arrested. "These people are not our enemies," Zarei asserts. And for sure, the regime's current policy toward them "has proved it's not the most effective one to combat terror", says Islam. The solution, Zarei believes, is to acknowledge the multi-dimensional problems that political detention causes to detainees and their families, and work hard toward solving them: "A high-ranking committee comprising representatives of different ministries and governmental bodies should be formed, then it should set up a comprehensive rehabilitation program to deal with all political detainees and their families and solve their problems." Additionally, there should be more political openness so that people can voice their opinions in a peaceful way, says Abdel Rahim Ali, the expert on Islamist groups. The Egyptian interior ministry has refrained from revealing the official number of political detainees in the country, says the NCHR's report. The ministry provides the following explanation: "The ministry faces a great difficulty in determining the number of political detainees in prisons and security camps because the number differs from time to time due to frequent omissions and additions." One detainee's wife speaks of her four-year-old son who wants to grow up and become a policeman, then create a "big prison to keep all those who arrested [his] dad". Another boy, the son of detainee Yahya Abdullah, vows to his mother, "I will buy a gun and kill the policeman who is keeping my dad in custody." A new generation of political detainees' children: Watch them grow.
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Lebanon's Al Akhbar newspaper

I saw in one of Angry Arab's recent posts from Lebanon that he was given a tour -- by Joseph Samaha no less -- of the new Al Akhbar offices there. He said he was pleased by what he saw. Al Akhbar is a new project headed by Samaha -- former editor of As Safir and generally considered one of the best, or at least most-read, editorialists in Lebanon -- that is getting talked about in Arab journalistic circles even here as far as Morocco. I've had a few conversations about it recently (nothing more than gossip really) because people are wondering what it's going to be like. Some see it as an answer the media behemoth of Hariri Inc., headed by the likes of Al Mustaqbal. (Incidentally, I spent a few days last month with two senior journalists from Al Mustaqbal's weekly cultural supplement, Nawafez, who were very nice indeed and rather ashamed of the daily they're attached to. They're under a lot of pressure to toe the line, they said, but are being kept afloat by the fact that Al Mustaqbal's sales more than triple when Nawafez is bundled -- on Fridays, I think. But haven't read it myself.) Anyway, several months ago the main rumor about Sahama's Al Akhbar was that it was being funded by Hizbullah or Iran as part of the emerging sectarianism/political games in Lebanon. In other words, that Hizbullah wanted its own quality daily to counter the Haririst media but didn't want it to be as crude a propaganda outlet as Al Manar and co. That all sounded rather unlikely to me, and more recently I've heard an alternative explanation. In this scenario, Al Akhbar is being funded by Qatar and constitutes a new development in the Qatari-Saudi media wars that started with Al Jazeera. This also sounds rather odd to me, but whether it's true or not the idea is interesting. What would a growing Qatari-Saudi media war look like if it reached major newspapers not only in Beirut, but also in London? What if there was a Qatari-funded competitor, with more or less the same editorial range as Al Jazeera, to go against Al Hayat and As Sharq Al Awsat? And why would Qatar actually do this? These are interesting questions -- as is the question of who is funding Al Akhbar. Any ideas?
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Brothers and Comrades

Back to blogging freely, 3alaa posted something interesting yesterday on his blog, recalling his “release� experience in el-3omraniya police station, and more importantly, he sent strong message of solidarity to the Muslim Brothers’ detainees. 3alaa, the staunch secularist, bumped into the MB youth who were picked up during a summer beach trip in Marsa Matrouh. 3alaa speaks about how the misery of detention unites everyone, and how the brothers and the comrades became friends. 3alaa’s impression of the Brothers youth was that 'they where from this new breed of islamists that reads blogs, watches al jazeera, sings sha3by songs, talks about intense love stories and chants "down Mubarak". and being young most of them did not have any experience with prison before.' Interesting, coz it’s that same caliber of youth who are pushing the Islamist group towards moderation, and coordination with other secular forces. And it was them who pushed the MB's leadership to join in the street protests after Kefaya presented both a daring model for breaking political taboos and, at the same time, a pressure on the group to take a stronger stand towards the regime, lest losing the base cadres who are eager for more confrontationalist stand vis a vis the government's continuous crackdowns. More raproachment is expected, and needed, between Islamists and leftists, in such a critical stage.
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High school student fails exam for criticizing Bush

Remember when George Bush highlighted reforming education in the region, as a way of fighting “terror,� giving young Arabs a chance for a bright future and bla bla bla bla bla? Well, it seems to be working. A high school student in a Nile Delta province failed her Arabic language exam two weeks ago for criticizing the US in a composition piece! Yes, I’m not joking wallahi. Al-Wafd initially ran the story on Thursday, then the Qatari Al-Raya, and other media outlets picked it up. Alaa Farag Megahed, a student at the Sherbeen Modern Girls School, was taking her Arabic exam, when she was asked to write an essay on the “economic problems facing Egypt.� It seems the girl wrote an essay, critical of Bush, and discussed the support given to corrupt dictators without much concern for their people's needs. As soon as her teacher at the “Control Room� (where exam papers are graded) read her essay, he went directly to his boss, who took her paper to the ministry of education branch in Dakahliya. The undersecretary for education, together with other ministry officials, sent for the girl, from her home, and brought her to the ministry for interrogation. Her father was not allowed into the room, according to press reports, where Alaa was interrogated by three ministry and governorate officials, who accused her of belonging to a “secret organization.� Alaa could not understand half of the questions they asked. She was clueless, in tears. The ministry officials decided in the end to fail her in the exam, and ban her from taking the second term final exams!!! The world is sure a safer place now, without terrorists like Alaa in our schools... Alhamdolillah!
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Google Egypt

So it's official, Google has arrived in Egypt. I guess that explains why whenever I type www.google.com, I get automatically diverted to www.google.com.eg with the default search language switched to Arabic. Anyhow, you are still given the option of clicking on a link that will take you to google.com proper. I tried google-ing anti-Mubarak websites on the Egyptian google, and they still came out in the search results with no filter. So I guess we didn't get the same bad deal the poor Chinese got.
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Activists prepare for labor elections battle

Kefaya, Socialists, Workers for Change and labor union activists will meet Monday, 26 June, 7pm at the Center for Socialist Studies, to discuss strategy and tactics for the coming national labor unions elections, scheduled 20 August. The meeting will be open for the press. The center is located at 7 Morad St., in Giza. The center's director, Kamal Khalil, and other recently released detainees will be attending the discussion. Millions of Egyptian workers are to elect on 20 August their representatives for the unions' pyramid-like structure. Just to explain briefly: At the bottom, there are el-Legan el-Masna3eya (Factories' Committees). Those voted into the committees get the chance to run for el-Niqabbat el-3amma (General Unions). Then members of the General Unions form the leadership of the trade unions' body, al-Itihad el-3am li-Niqabat 3ommal Masr (The General Federation of Egyptian Trade Unions). Both the Muslim Brothers and Mubarak's National Democratic Party (NDP) are planning a big electoral battle. The Brothers historically never enjoyed influence in labor unions (not to mention their notortious 1940s mass strike-breaking), but it seems this time they are determined to enter a new arena after they were denied competition in the local municipal councils elections. It's hard for the NDP to let go of its control over the highest two levels of the unions' echelon: The General Unions, and the General Federation, which tend to include probably the worst elements of union bureaucracts (Non-NDP activists can still make their way, though, to the General Unions, but not the federation which forms the tip of the union bureaucracy's pyramid-like structure.) The regime depends strongly on the union bureaucracy for mobilization. Those buses that were shipping in the "NDP supporters" to electoral posts last November to rig the vote in the provinces, were carrying no ones but poor public sector workers, mobilized by the union bureaucrats, who are closely affiliated with the NDP. The "mass demos" that the NDP mobilizes, whether to cheer the president's visit to some town, or to protest the Iraq war in the Cairo staduim in February 2003, where also mobilized by the unions. In the past, the General Federation played a crucial role in mobilizing (together with the Arab Socialist Union, the NDP's grand daddy) mass pro-Nasser demos following the 1967 defeat, and in countering the January 1977 "Bread Intifada"... providing the successive military regimes with an arm inside the working class, and with a vital tool for pro-government street mobilization. If there is, as many believe in Egypt, a family power succession scheme in brewing, then our elite cannot afford letting go of these labor unions, in order to ensure no troubles happen in the factories or the industrial centers. Still, the Factories Committees and (to some extent) the General Unions are good playing grounds for socialists and anti-NDP activists, since the Factory Committee, is lowest-ranking entity on the labor unions hierarchy, and tends to be more independent than the leadership of the General Federation and the General Unions. The Factories' Committees are also more inclined to reflect the workers' mood in times of crises, and led on several occasions unlicensed strikes. The left is preparing candidates who will run in these elections. Candidates from the radical left will run in some factories. Independent anti-privatization activists are expected to receive the support of the left if they run against the NDP in factories where the radical left is not pitching candidates. There is still a debate,however, within the left over the stand towards the Muslim Brothers' candidates, taken into consideration the group’s leadership does not oppose the privatization scheme, but rather suggests slight reforms to it, embracing free market economics. It seems there are two conflicting views among the leftist factions now: One, sees the Brothers as a "regressive force," when it comes to working class issues; arguing for countercampaigning, or at least refraining from supporting the MB candidates wherever they run. But, the second favors to handle the Brothers case by case, i.e., giving selective support for some Brotherhood candidates (in factories where the left isn't running) who are ready to run on an anti-privatization program (there isn't a consensus in the MB over privatization, but the group's leaders have made clear statements in support of a "non-corrupt" privatization. There are however MB members opposed to privatization, and they come mainly from lower middle class backgrounds) realizing well that the Brothers are expected to get a good share of anti-NDP protest votes.
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Zawahiri hails Zarqawi in new video

Al-Jazeera broadcasted Friday night a new video by Dr. Ayman el-Zawahiri, the deputy head of Al-Qa3da, where he acknowledged Zarqawi's death, and hailed him as a "martyr." The Doha-based Satellite channel had aired a video by Zawahiri, only a day before, where he denounced the "massacre" by US troops against Afghan civilians last month, suggesting that the tape was filmed sometime after the traffic accident that involved US army troops that killed Afghans, sparking riots and more deaths on May 29.
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The (Anti-)Palestinian Authority

Professor Joseph Massad wrote an interesting opinion piece in Al-Ahram Weekly, on the social groups--produced by the 1990s Oslo “peace process�--that have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo in Palestine, and work hard to undermine the current democratically elected Hamas government. He draws parallels between Hamas' current position with that of Chile's Salvador Allende in 1973. Massad highlights five main classes that the architects of Oslo created to ensure that the "process" survives are: - A political class, divided between those elected to serve the Oslo process, whether to the Legislative Council or the executive branch (essentially the position of president of the Palestinian Authority), and those who are appointed to serve those who are elected, whether in the ministries, or in the presidential office. - A policing class, numbering in the tens of thousands, whose function is to defend the Oslo process against all Palestinians who try to undermine it. It is divided into a number of security and intelligence bodies competing with one another, all vying to prove that they are most adept at neutralising any threat to the Oslo process. Under Arafat's authority, members of this class inaugurated their services by shooting and killing 14 Palestinians they deemed enemies of the "process" in Gaza in 1994 -- an achievement that earned them the initial respect of the Americans and the Israelis who insisted that the policing class should use more repression than it had to be most effective. - A bureaucratic class attached to the political class and the policing class and that constitutes an administrative body of tens of thousands who execute the orders of those elected and appointed to serve the "process". - An NGO class: another bureaucratic and technical class whose finances fully depend on their serving the Oslo process and ensuring its success through planning and services. - A business class composed of expatriate Palestinian businessmen as well as local businessmen -- including especially members of the political, policing and bureaucratic classes -- whose income is derived from financial investment in the Oslo process and from profit-making deals that the Palestinian Authority (PA) can make possible. (Read full op-ed)
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The politics of hypocrisy, Part II

The regime's sponsors in Washington are still debating the sweet $1.7 billion of US tax-payers money, given in the form of economic and military aid to Mubarak. Here are excerpts from the US House of Representatives' International Relations subcommittee hearing on Wednesday... Jon Alterman reiterated his position, of continuing the aid without cutting a dime, coz it’s ineffectual, and because Egypt is just too valuable in the war on terror, maintaining peace with Israel, bla bla bla bla bla. Alterman of course said the US should still lobby Mubarak to democratize, without saying how. First he puts forward “several reasons� for he why was “not persuaded that any amount of U.S. pressure can fundamentally change the Egyptian government’s actions.� I am not gonna waiste your time with those “several reasons,� since you can read the full testimony here. I’ll just skip to the last two of the "several reasons," which Alterman should have just saved our time and put them in the beginning, as they sum up the vision of Mubarak’s supporters in DC. In addition, it would be hard to impose strict conditionality credibly, for two reasons. First, there is just so much that the United States asks Egypt for on Arab-Israeli issues, counterterrorism, military transport through the Suez Canal, and so on, that American diplomats are unlikely to sacrifice near term needs for uncertain long-term reward. Second, the Muslim Brotherhood’s success in recent elections, combined with Hamas’ victory in the Palestinian Authority, will lead many in the United States to question just how quickly we want democracy to take hold in such a vital ally. None of this is to say that the United States government should not speak out on issues of freedom and political participation. This administration has done so clearly, and I believe it has had a positive effect, albeit a limited one. They should continue to do so. Overall, I believe U.S. officials are more effective indicating their seriousness to the Egyptian government than they are at inspiring the Egyptian people. As friends of Egypt with shared interests, we should not shirk from telling our friends when they are harming our interests, as well as their own, and we should not be complicit in abuses that they commit. As for Michele Dunne, the editor of Arab Reform Bulletin, she suggested conditioning the aid. (Dunne's full testimony) How exactly should the United States employ its influence in Egypt to encourage constructive change? The United States has a wide range of tools at its disposal, from policy decisions about senior official visits to and from Egypt, military relations, and trade relations, to the military and economic assistance packages. It might well be necessary to condition military or economic assistance on political reforms at some juncture, although it will be difficult to carry off successfully. At this moment, when Egypt will soon be facing a leadership transition, what the United States should be doing is conveying the message in private that it is time to reach a broad new understanding within which to renew the relationship, an understanding that includes the political reforms demanded by the Egyptian people Mr. Raffi Vartian, of the Leadership Council for Human Rights (I have no clue what this group is), delved into issues of civil liberties, democracy, Ayman Nour, and the situation of Copts, Baha’is, Bedouins. (Vartian's full testimony) When officials from the State Department testified before this Subcommittee last month, they strongly advised against any reduction in the annual funding package for Egypt. It was important, they noted, to maintain our close and strategically important relationship with Egypt. The Leadership Council for Human Rights is not suggesting that the U.S. reduce its aid to Egypt, but it is critical to thoroughly examine the way these funds have been allocated. As noted in today’s testimony, the vast majority of Egyptian people are in many instances no better off today then they were 30 years ago. Where has US assistance gone? Is the primary return on the American people’s investment of some $60 billion the denial of basic freedoms and desperate poverty? There needs to be a frank and open conversation with the Egyptian government about its systemic problems (poverty, poor health care, inadequate education and corruption) and their predictable consequences (lack of basic freedoms and institutionalized discrimination). This should take place in a forum and manner that is open and transparent to the American and Egyptian people. The last 30 years of U.S. aid to Egypt has not benefited the Egyptian people. The next 30 must. The Leadership Council for Human Rights humbly suggest the following: • That members of this Subcommittee should demand immediate release and complete amnesty for Ayman Nour; • That members of this Subcommittee should demand visitation and access to Ayman Nour as long as he remains a prisoner, as the Egyptian government has failed to allow parliamentarians from any country to meet with him. Mr. Nour suffers from serious health problems including diabetes, and his physical health must be ensured; • That an Ombudsman, mandated by Congress, should be stationed in Egypt to investigate where U.S. foreign aid goes and what impact it has on the Egyptian people; • That aid funds should be redistributed, with military and economic assistance levels flipped. The Egyptian government has enough tanks and guns. The Egyptian people need better access to education and healthcare; • That the U.S. government should demand accountability for the development of civic society programs, helping to alleviate the triggers for the problems that Egypt faces. By building the civic society of Egypt through improved health care, education and infrastructure, Egypt will make significant progress in the years to come; • That a center for the promotion of democracy and civil society, based on the model of the Ibn Khaldun Center in Cairo, but with a greater focus on grassroots development, should be opened in Alexandria to support the efforts of the courageous activists in that city. It should be a place where any person can come to learn more about tolerance, understanding and ways to work together to build a stronger Egypt from the ground up; • That the Egyptian government must be encouraged to invest more resources, time and long term strategic thought to basic health care and education. The ever widening gap between the haves and have nots is a serious threat to the long-term stability of the Egyptian society and the Middle East in general. (Also see: The politics of hypocrisy, Part I)
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