The regime is especially wary of the Mahalla workers’ challenge to the leadership of the General Federation of Egyptian Trade Unions, because the federation is its primary means of mobilizing support in the street. The “National Democratic Party supporters” bussed to provincial polling places to stuff ballot boxes during the November 2005 parliamentary elections were mainly miserably paid public-sector workers, rounded up by NDP-affiliated union bureaucrats. Labor bosses also turn out the “spontaneous” cheering crowds who greet presidential visits to outlying towns and “mass demonstrations” like the regime-approved protest against the Iraq war in Cairo Stadium in February 2003. In the past, the General Federation (together with the Arab Socialist Union, the NDP’s predecessor) supplied the foot soldiers for the “mass” pro-Nasser gatherings following Egypt’s defeat in the 1967 war, and the “popular” rallies against the January 1977 “bread intifada.” In public meetings and private interviews, labor activists and strike leaders in the textile and railway sectors frequently mention the phrase “independent parallel national labor union.” Various leftist organizations are talking about building such a thing: the Trotskyist Revolutionary Socialists, the Nasserist Karama Party, the remnants of the Egyptian Communist Party, the People’s Socialist Party, the Center for Trade Union and Workers’ Rights, and the Workers’ Coordination Committee. (Nearly absent from these deliberations is the “legal left” Tagammu‘ Party.) As of yet, however, there are no concrete plans. The success of such endeavors will depend on whether industrial militancy is sustained, whether political activists can intervene in the strikes and whether workers can establish effective coordination among themselves. It will also depend on whether the Misr Spinning and Weaving workers indeed manage to withdraw from their government-dominated union. If they do score a victory against the union bureaucracy, other workers will be encouraged to emulate them. It is no secret that there is tremendous frustration with union leaders among the rank and file in the railways and other sectors. Because of the high price of oil and receipts from the sale of public-sector firms, the government has significant cash reserves and can afford to meet workers’ bread-and-butter demands. It has done so in the hopes that workers will return complacent to their jobs. But some workers, and it is not yet clear how many, have begun to connect their thin wallets with broader political and economic circumstances -- the entrenchment of autocracy, widespread government incompetence and corruption, the regime’s subservience to the United States and its inability to offer meaningful support for the Palestinian people or meaningful opposition to the war in Iraq, high unemployment and the painfully obvious gap between rich and poor. Many Egyptians have begun to speak openly about the need for real change. Public-sector workers are well-positioned to play a role if they can organize themselves on a national basis.Read the whole thing.
The administration's weakness has emboldened the aging autocrat. In late December he unveiled a series of constitutional amendments that purport to follow through on his 2005 promise but in fact do the opposite. Last Monday they were rubber-stamped by the parliament; the next day Mr. Mubarak abruptly announced that the referendum needed to ratify them would be held six days later. No one believes that tomorrow's vote will be free or fair, and opposition parties have announced a boycott. The package essentially will make the "emergency laws" that have underpinned Mr. Mubarak's regime a permanent part of Egypt's political order. One amendment would write into the constitution the authority of police to carry out arrests, search homes, conduct wiretaps and open mail without a warrant and would give the president the authority to order civilians tried by military courts, where they have limited rights. Other amendments would ban independent political candidates as well as parties based on religion, which would eliminate the Muslim Brotherhood from parliament. Only parties with parliamentary representation would be able to nominate presidential candidates; since the government has refused to register most opposition parties and rigged parliamentary elections, there would be no alternative to the ruling party's choice. The opposition and outside groups such as Amnesty International and Freedom House have rightly described the amendments as the greatest setback to freedom in Egypt in a quarter-century. Yet the Bush administration has barely reacted. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who is visiting Egypt this weekend, said Friday that "it's disappointing" that Egypt hasn't proved to be a leader of liberalization. But the State Department is downplaying the constitutional amendments. While acknowledging some "concerns," a spokesman said last week that "a process of political reform has begun in Egypt" and that "you have to put this in the wider context." Here's the wider context: The Bush administration used its considerable leverage over Egypt to force some initial steps toward democratic change two years ago. Then it slowly reversed itself and now has come full circle, once again embracing a corrupt autocracy. It's a shameful record, and one that Egyptians -- who, then as now, mostly despise their government -- won't quickly forget.Washington Times op-ed by Egyptian ambassador to US Nabil Fahmy: A more plural Egypt
Today, Egyptians will vote on the most far-reaching package of constitutional amendments since the adoption of Egypt's current constitution in 1971. This will constitute a defining moment in the course of our nation's history, an endeavor that will provide a greater clarity to Egypt's vision of itself and its framework of governance. . . . Egypt's reformers know well the backdrop to this effort. A system of single-district majority representation has favored individual candidates at the expense of political parties, and local issues over national politics. The result is the current bipolar standoff in parliament between the ruling party and the independents with only a minimal representation for the secular parties, many of which have enjoyed a long and rich tradition in Egypt's history. By moving toward some form of proportional representation system, as well as lowering the threshold for candidates from political parties to compete in presidential elections, the balance will be restored in favor of greater representation for political parties that will compete on the basis of national agendas that can address Egypt's many challenges. Taken together, these amendments will institutionalize a more plural and competitive political process in Egypt, while strengthening the system of checks and balances necessary for good governance. In short, it is a constitution that will chart a transition for Egypt's future, which is precisely why it is engendering such intense debate. Significant as it is, it is by no means the culmination of Egypt's reform. Needless to say, it is a process that will be confronted with obstacles and resistance, even setbacks. Yet because it realizes their aspirations for a more open, democratic polity, it is a course that Egyptians are determined to pursue.One interesting in the language coming out of Egyptian officials is this recognition that "there will be setbacks," that things are not perfect but it's a process that will eventually lead to democracy. Sounds remarkably like the Middle East peace process, in fact: the point is not getting there but staying in the process.
Cela m'avait échappé. Il ne me semble pas l'avoir lu dans les grands quotidiens et il a fallu une remarque en passant pour me lancer sur la piste des déclarations de Nicolas Sarkozy sur Al-Qaida. Seuls quelques blogs les ont reprises et quelques sites de journaux (Marianne) et nouvelobs.com). Voici comment ce dernier en parle : « Invité sur RMC lundi 26 février, Nicolas Sarkozy a été testé sur ses connaissances en matière de terrorisme international. Le journaliste de RMC, Jean-Jacques Bourdin, lui a demandé si les combattants d'Al-Qaïda étaient sunnites ou chiites. "Il est impossible d'y répondre (...) parce qu'Al-Qaïda, c'est une nébuleuse", a rétorqué Nicolas Sarkozy. A trois reprises, le ministre de l'Intérieur a refusé de répondre à la question. "On ne peut pas qualifier Al-Qaïda comme ça", a-t-il insisté. "Je vais d'ailleurs vous donner un exemple : le GSPC algérien a rejoint Al-Qaïda il y a quatre ans à peine. On ne peut pas réduire Al-Qaïda à un problème sunnites-chiites. Al-Qaïda, c'est une mouvance", a encore déclaré le candidat de l'UMP. Jean-Jacques Bourdin a toutefois tenu à lui faire remarquer que "tous les chefs d'Al-Qaïda sont des sunnites". "Nous demanderons à des spécialistes", a conclu le journaliste. ». Que le ministre de l'intérieur français, en charge de la lutte contre le terrorisme, soit aussi ignare pose un véritable problème : comment peut-il mener cette lutte s'il n'est pas capable de faire la différence entre les groupes chiites et sunnites ? de comprendre le fossé qui sépare, par exemple, Al-Qaida des groupes chiites, même les plus radicaux.
The opposition and outside groups such as Amnesty International and Freedom House have rightly described the amendments as the greatest setback to freedom in Egypt in a quarter-century. Yet the Bush administration has barely reacted. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who is visiting Egypt this weekend, said Friday that "it's disappointing" that Egypt hasn't proved to be a leader of liberalization. But the State Department is downplaying the constitutional amendments. While acknowledging some "concerns," a spokesman said last week that "a process of political reform has begun in Egypt" and that "you have to put this in the wider context." Here's the wider context: The Bush administration used its considerable leverage over Egypt to force some initial steps toward democratic change two years ago. Then it slowly reversed itself and now has come full circle, once again embracing a corrupt autocracy. It's a shameful record, and one that Egyptians -- who, then as now, mostly despise their government -- won't quickly forget.They also have a story about Rice's trip to Egypt and the Egyptian reaction to her mild criticism. Andrew Exum and Zack Snyder of WINEP call the US "a willing accomplice" of the Mubarak regime:
The United States is the only external power that can exert any meaningful pressure on Egypt, but, to do so, Washington must grasp the significance of these inherently antidemocratic amendments to the Egyptian constitution. Should the administration issue strong, forceful statements in opposition to such purported "reforms," it will help the cause of civil society groups across the Middle East. On the other hand, should it continue to maintain this indifference toward a fundamental assault on key political rights, it runs the risk of inviting Congress to weigh in on the issue. Most opposition parties in Egypt are not, it must be said, friendly to U.S. interests in the region. But they -- like the Egyptian government -- closely follow the statements that come out of Washington. So too do democracy activists in the region, and it is for them as much as anyone that the United States ought not allow this encroachment on political freedom to go unchallenged.Last week the Financial Times called Mubarak misguided and called for military aid to be leveraged:
The regression in Egypt, the Arab world's most populous country, is part of an attempt by despots across the region to regroup and consolidate their power. With the US giving up on the freedom agenda and reverting back to its old policy of backing autocratic regimes as long as it likes their foreign policy, the first stirrings of democracy witnessed two years ago are fading. But the US has leverage: it provides $1.3bn every year to Egypt's army, for example, the backbone of the regime. It should use this influence to end, rather than promote, repression. The European Union too should raise its voice, particularly after having recently agreed with Cairo an aid package ostensibly tied to political reforms. Western governments might be entertaining the fantasy that weakening Egypt's Islamists would open more space for secular parties to prosper. But Mr Mubarak's scorched earth record towards all dissent, secular or Islamist, shows he will brook no challenge. Not long ago his government's main target was the liberal al-Ghad party, whose leader ran against him for the presidency and now languishes in jail. Egypt's western friends should by now know that Mr Mubarak's moves are likely to backfire, radicalising the Islamists and boosting their popularity.If the opposition in this country is going to get serious, then it may be time for it to start a campaign for all US military aid to be converted to civilian aid. It's an approach that would find much support in the US Congress and would place Cairo in a position where it would have to refuse this aid or accept wherever USAID wants to spend it. Aside from democracy-promotion programs, there are plenty of work they could still do in infrastructure development, health and education. The question is whether the US military and US arms companies that sell to Egypt (one of the US' best customers) would be happy with that. But there would be a clear moral appeal to such a campaign, and it could focus attentions both in Egypt and the US as well as involve the last interest group the Mubarak regime wants to have involved in politics: the military.
Opening a relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood would signal to ruling regimes and opposition groups in the region that the United States is committed to promoting democracy -- not just to supporting those who are friendly to US interests. Democracy requires a broader commitment to political participation, inclusion, reform, moderation, transparency, accountability, and better governance. Furthering contacts with the Brotherhood would not constitute a drastic departure for American foreign policy. Despite the lack of a relationship now, American officials have had occasional contact with the Brotherhood in the past. American government officials last held talks with the organization in late 2001, under the current Bush presidency. Although the Egyptian government has occasionally expressed displeasure at such meetings, the American-Egyptian relationship has not suffered as a consequence. Egypt receives billions of dollars a year in aid from the United States, and Washington has a responsibility to meet with all of Egypt's relevant political organizations. After the Brotherhood's success in the 2005 parliamentary elections and the increasing popularity of other Islamist groups in the region, the United States needs to consider an open and frank dialogue with moderate, nonviolent Islamist groups. And there is no more important moderate Islamist group in the region than Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood.But I wonder: if the US were to engage the MB, what would they talk about?
German judge invokes Qur'an to deny abused wife a divorce A German judge who refused a Moroccan woman a fast-track divorce on the grounds that domestic violence was acceptable according to the Qur'an has been removed from the case following a nationwide outcry. The judge, Christa Datz-Winter, said the German woman of Moroccan descent would not be granted a divorce because she and her husband came from a "Moroccan cultural environment in which it is not uncommon for a man to exert a right of corporal punishment over his wife," according to a statement she wrote that was issued by a Frankfurt court. "That's what the claimant had to reckon with when she married the defendant." The 26-year-old mother of two had been repeatedly beaten and threatened with death by her husband. When the woman protested against the judge's decision, Ms Datz-Winter invoked the Qur'an to support her argument. In the court she read from verse 34 of Sura four of the Qur'an, An-Nisa (Women), in which men are told to hit their wives as a final stage in dealing with disobedience. The verse reads: "... as to those on whose part you fear desertion, admonish them and leave them alone in the sleeping places and beat them".That judge should lose her job. And incidentally, there is (as always) a wide range of interpretations and thinking about this part of the Quran. Update: NYT story on alternate interpretation, by which a rebellious woman should be spurned rather than beaten as usually interpreted.
March 20, 2007 James Woolsey Should Lose Security Clearance Booz Allen Vice President R. James Woolsey, former Director of Central Intelligence during the Clinton administration, still has his security clearance. Woolsey's advocacy of American Navy employee turned Israel spy Jonathan Pollard's release though raises questions about the propriety of his continuing to have access to the nation's secrets -- particularly those that cover activities in the Middle East.Could not agree more.
Japan Minister Raps "Blond" Diplomats in Mideast By REUTERS Filed at 8:22 a.m. ET TOKYO, March 22 (Reuters) - Blond, blue-eyed Westerners probably can't be as successful at Middle East diplomacy as Japanese with their ``yellow faces,'' Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso was quoted by media as saying on Wednesday. ``Japan is doing what Americans can't do,'' the Nikkei business daily quoted the gaffe-prone Aso as saying in a speech. ``Japanese are trusted. If (you have) blue eyes and blond hair, it's probably no good,'' he said. ``Luckily, we Japanese have yellow faces.''
The child slaves of Saudi Arabia On the wealthy streets of Jeddah, in Saudi Arabia, thousands of young child-beggars, undr the auspices of ruthless gangmasters, are simply trying to survive. Many hail from countries like Yemen which, despite bordering one of the Middle East's richest states, is a world away in terms of economic prosperity. These children are often sold by families who are either duped into believing their offspring will get a better life or sometimes simply threatened. Once in the country, they are likely to face beatings and are sometimes even mutilated as their Dickensian masters stoop to any low to try to improve the chances of them earning more money.It's on Monday 26 March at 21:00 UK time on BBC2. As if you won't be depressed enough if you're Egyptian on referendum day.
In a serious precedent that reveals the Egyptian regime’s tightening grip on freedom of expression against intellectuals, the security forces canceled a seminar held by Dr. Abdul Wahab Al Meseiri about “the analysis of jokes”. Attendants at Saqiet Abdul Moneim el-Sawi [a cultural center], Zamalek, were informed that a seminar on “classifying and analyzing jokes” by the noted intellectual Dr. Abdul Wahab Al Meseiri, the general coordinator of Kifaya Movement, scheduled on Sunday evening, was cancelled. The Saqiet officials said that the seminar was canceled because Dr. Abdul Wahab Al Meseiri felt ill; however, Dr. Al Meseiri, arrived suddenly and informed them that the state security phoned him on Saturday and told him that it, the state security service, canceled the seminar, but he insisted on coming so that every one knows that the reason for canceling the seminar isn’t his ill health but the state security police that controls every thing in Egypt.Incidentally, al-Messiri is a linguist and his seminar would not have been, in all likelihood, that political. But since he can't talk about jokes in public, I'll reproduce below one I received by email this morning:
Hosni Mubarak goes to a primary school to talk to the kids. After his talk he offers question time. One little boy puts up his hand and Mubarak asks, "what is your question, Ramy?" Ramy says, "I have 4 questions: First: Why have you been a president for 25 years? Second: Why don't you have a vice-president? Third: Why are your sons taking over the country economically and politically? Fourth: Why is Egypt in a miserable economic state and you're not doing anything about it?" Just at that moment, the bell rings for break. Mubarak informs the kids that they will continue after the break. When they resume Mubarak says, "OK, where were we? Oh! Thats right...question time. Who has a question?" A different little boy puts up his hand. Mubarak points him out and asks him what his name is. "Tamer," the boy says. "And what is your question, Tamer?" "I have six questions: First: Why have you been president for 25 years? Second: Why don't you have a vice-president? Third: Why are your sons taking over the country economically and politically?
Fourth: Why is Egypt in a miserable economic state and you're not doing anything about it? Fifth: Why did the bell ring 20 minutes early? SIXTH: WHAT HAVE YOU DONE WITH RAMY!!!????"