Hiatus Interruptus

I was traveling much of last week, then recovering from jet lag over the weekend, and at the same time quite busy finishing off various projects. Hence the conspicuous absence of new posts in the last ten days. Unfortunately, two days ago my DSL went kaput and it will take a few more days to solve the problem, since it involves migrating to a new ISP. And on top of it all, the hosting service for this site has informed me of some problem with the software that runs this blog, notably affecting the RSS feed, which could cause end-users problems. I am going to resume blogging (and tell you what I was doing last week) shortly, but until I get my DSL back I am back to dial-up, which means much more limited usage of the various services I use to get online and prioritizing of work-related stuff and getting the site fixed. Everything takes five times longer on dial-up. Of course, just as this happens I am informed that The Arabist has been nominated for a Best of the Blogs - English award. Thank you to whoever nominated me, it's really quite something to be running against wonderful major blogs such as TPM Muckraker, The Consumerist or MAKE ZINE. I have been running this blog for nearly five years now, and it's been a great experiment. Contributors have come and gone, as has my ability to keep posting regularly despite some good political and professional reasons to stop altogether. Most recently, a change of jobs meant I had to negotiate to keep it running, and the price to pay was taking my name off ( for good reasons.) In the meantime the creation of the sub-blogs 3Arabawy and Hatshepsut has added variety to the content we offer, and Hossam and Eman (who are behind those efforts) are part and parcel of what got the site nominated. So if you want to give a little something back, head over to the Best of the Blogs site and vote for us -- there are 16 days left to do so. I'm not hoping for much against that kind of competition, but let's show them a fight. THE BOBs
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Egypt and China - a win-win situation?

German scholar Thomas Demmelhuber recently presented an interesting paper on Egyptian-Chinese economic relationships at the German Orientalists Day in Freiburg, Germany. These are the main points:
The rise of Egyptian-Chinese economic relations needs to be seen in the context of the Nazif cabinet which took office in 2004 and tries to orientate the Egyptian economy towards foreign trade. But it is also a political manoever, a message to the established partners EU/US. However, the reality does not live up to the bullish statements made by economy minister Rashid and others on the potential of Egyptian-Chinese trade. Up until early 2006, China was only the 29th largest foreign investor in Egypt. Now a few committees and investment zones were created, and Chinese investment as well as mutual trade is likely to grow.
Personnally, I don't see a lot of trade potential for Egyptian companies here, other than production joint-ventures in Egypt, which could serve Chinese companies well to re-export to Europe and Africa, while creating desperately needed jobs for Egyptians. Other then that, Egypt will remain a market for cheap Chinese products (I guess nowadays few products under LE20 are sold in Misr which are not 'Made in China') which is smuggled into the country via the Gulf (much of Dubai's rise is down to smuggling). I heard from European diplomats that most of current Egyptian-Chinese trade takes place outside statistics, and I'd love to know how much Chinese companies are truly selling in Egypt (and elsewhere in the Middle East).
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Salah on the permanent black cloud in US-Egypt relations

Al Hayat's Muhammad Salah uses Cairo's seasonal "black cloud" of pollution as a metaphor for Egypt-US relations. There are some interesting ideas there about mutual blackmail, notably over Hamas -- which Cairo has visibly warmed up to recently -- and the Muslim Brotherhood.
The conviction even prevails among Egyptians that US reform plans have evaporated and that the pressure the White House can exercise to achieve political and economic reforms in Middle East countries, headed by Egypt, are no longer operative and are unlikely to take place in the future. However, Cairo believes that the Americans are using some domestic Egyptian issues to blackmail the country's foreign policies and direct them on a path that satisfies Washington, as is the case with issues such as Palestine, Iraq, Sudan and Iran. Although Rice's visit to the region, which included Egypt, focused on the fall conference on peace and trying to reach a joint Israeli-Palestinian document that doesn't face Arab opposition, in addition to the request from Arab parties, including Egypt, to alleviate its criticism of the conference and try to make it a success, a "black cloud" continues to darken the sky of US-Egyptian relations and it will be hard to hide it. Adding to this is the official Egyptian sentiment about the conference and criticisms by officials, with President Hosni Mubarak at their head; the president was surprised at the lack of a clear agenda for such a meeting. If the Americans were busy preparing for the conference, the secretary of state avoided getting into a debate that might anger the Egyptians. She didn't raise the issue of Ayman Nour or the demands of the opposition, but this did not prevent her from expressing her rejection of joint Egyptian-Sudanese efforts to arrange a dialogue in Cairo between Fatah and Hamas, to treat the deteriorating situation in Gaza and achieve a reconciliation among Palestinians. Thus, another black cloud arrived to cover the skies of the visit and what took place during it. The Americans, who have rejected and continue to reject any dialogue with Hamas or on the movement's future role, have equated their position on Islamist Palestinians with Cairo's position on Egyptian Islamists. They believed that Cairo, which rejects any dialogue with the Muslim Brotherhood, is asking the Americans to accept Hamas as a partner in rule over Palestine. Meanwhile, Egypt sees this link as further American blackmail and an absence of a realistic vision of conditions on the ground in Palestine. Thus, Rice visited Egypt and left, but it appears that the black cloud remains.
Like an old married couple, (unevenly) co-dependent and set in their ways, two countries plod ahead in policies based on the denial of reality.
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Rural Egypt's Return to the Ancien Regime

Middle East Online has a translation of a Monde Diplomatique article I'd previously linked to on the reversal of agrarian reform in Egypt. This excerpt deals with the new law passed in the 1990s that has led to many farmers losing land and helped former landlords regain land they had been forced to sell under Nasser:
The 1992 law changed farmers’ lives profoundly. Average rent values have risen 10-fold, and now represent between a third and a half of gross annual income. Perhaps three-quarters of the farmers renting in 1996 have given up because of debts. Farmers have had to indebt themselves to pay rent, and households sell jewels and livestock, reducing expenditure (less meat in the diet, fewer children at school). As the number of very small holdings has declined, those over 10 feddans (4.2 hectares) have improved in number and surface area. It is clear that inequalities in the distribution of agricultural land are again rising, despite the advances between 1952 and 1980 and the relative immobility thereafter. Over the past 10 years there have been social explosions over land in the governorate of al-Minufiyya, where Kamshish lies. They are the result of manoeuvres by former landowners and have been ignored by the media. Dispossessed families used the new legislation to recover their previous holdings, or obtain more attractive parcels. There have been violent clashes between farmers and the police or hired agents working for these families. Villagers have been intimidated, illegally imprisoned (and tortured), or summarily tried and heavily sentenced. The Land Centre for Human Rights considers that between 2001 and 2004 there were 171 deaths, 945 injuries and 1,642 arrests.
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Alaa al-Aswani in Le Monde

Readers may be interested in reading this profile of Egyptian novelist Alaa al-Aswani from last week's Le Mondes des Livres, accompanied by a review of the recently launched French edition of his last novel, Chicago. We had mentioned Chicago when it came out earlier this year, while Baheyya had reviewed it. Click on the image below to download the PDF. Lemonde Aswani Update: More al-Aswani goodness over at Fustat.
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Audio: Classic VOA interviews

The US Embassy recently produced a CD of old interviews from the Voice of America Arabic service archives. (VOA Arabic was canceled a while ago, to be replaced by the much-criticized, pop-heavy Radio Sawa). The interviews -- of major Egyptian writers, artists, singers such as Naguib Mahfouz, Mohamed Abdel Wahab and Tahia Carioca -- are also available online. I haven’t had a chance to hear more than the opening minutes of the Mahfouz interview, but I look forward to furthering my Mahfouz obsession by listening to the whole thing soon. In general, it’s nice to see the US Embassy support a cultural initiative like this.
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Audio: Eissa at Journalists' Syndicate

I’ve been wanting to put up for a while this audio file of Ibrahim Eissa’s speech at the massive press conference at the Journalists’ Syndicate on September 14th. Here is one (poorly) translated excerpt.

“We succeeded in saving the soul of this umma, which seemed about to die in the hospital of President Mubarak, and which has spent 25 years in the Emergency Room. Here she is [the umma], waking up from her coma, thanks to reforming judges, thanks to the Kifaya movement, thanks to Ayman Nour, thanks to the Muslim Brothehood, thanks to the opposition parties, thanks to liberal and socialist forces—and thanks to the independent press. The independent press, which has raised its voice as the conscience of Egypt, and has presented a model in the last few years of how to lower the president from the throne of a god-like pharaoh, and make him a human, elected president to whom we are capable of saying: no, no and again no.�

 Eissa ends the speech by saying what an distinction it is to be considered the regime’s “number one opponent� and “the journalist that the president of the republic wants to jail,� and gives a warm personal thanks to the President for this honour.

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The axis of evil cookbook

9780863566318From the blurb:
When they're not actively attempting to develop weapons of mass destruction, 'Axis of Evil' countries such as Iraq, Iran and North Korea are busy enjoying their region's finest dishes. And their 'Axis of Somewhat Evil' cohorts, such as Cuba and Syria, are at it too. With over one hundred recipes, from soups and salads to meat dishes and desserts, this unique cookbook includes snapshots of each country as well as profiles of famous leaders. Regional recipes appear alongside dictators' favourite dishes - from Kim Jong-Il's ruthless appetite for shark fin soup to Saddam's celebrated rack of fresh roasted gazelle. Full of cultural anecdotes, political insight and delectable recipes, "The Axis of Evil Cookbook" is an intriguing and forbidden treat.
Right now available at Amazon.co.uk, but not the US site yet.
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ICG on "Hizbollah and the Lebanese Crisis"

International Crisis Group - Hizbollah and the Lebanese Crisis:
Looking back over the past ten months, Lebanese can feel somewhat relieved. The massive demonstrations in December 2006, followed by a general strike and clashes between pro- and anti-government forces with strong sectarian overtones, as well as a series of assassinations and car bombs, brought the nation perilously close to breakdown. State institutions are virtually paralysed; the government barely governs; the economic crisis is deepening; mediation efforts have failed; political murders continue; and militias, anticipating possible renewed conflict, are rearming. Still, fearful of the consequences of their own actions, leaders of virtually every shade took a welcome step back. An important explanation lies in Hizbollah’s realisation that its efforts to bring down the government carried dangerous consequences. Facing calls for its disarmament and denunciations of its (allegedly foreign-inspired) adventurism in triggering the July 2006 war, the movement concluded that the government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and its backers were hostile actors intent on cutting it down to size and further aligning Lebanon with the West. As a result, it carried the fight squarely on the domestic scene, removing Shiite ministers, taking to the streets and pushing for the government’s ouster. This resort to street politics was risky and ultimately self-defeating. At almost every social level, Shiite support for Hizbollah has solidified, a result of both the movement’s longstanding efforts to consolidate its hold over the community and a highly polarised post-war environment. Former Shiite adversaries are, for the time being, silencing their differences, viewing the movement’s weapons as their best defence in an environment where Shiites feel besieged from both within and without. But while the movement demonstrated its mobilisation capacity and enjoyed support from an important segment of the Christian community, its use of an essentially Shiite base to bring down a Sunni-dominated government reinforced sectarian loyalties. Sunnis and many Christians were alarmed at Hizbollah’s might and ability unilaterally to trigger a devastating confrontation; they increasingly saw it as a Shiite not national movement and as advancing an Iranian or Syrian not Lebanese agenda. In short, while the movement sought to highlight the conflict’s political stakes, the street battles quickly morphed into confessional ones, forcing Hizbollah into a sectarian straitjacket and threatening to distract it from its primary objectives.
Some interesting stuff about the Aoun-Hizbullah relationship coming to a head over the presidential elections towards the end.
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Recent funny YouTube videos

Below are some anti-Mubarak activist videos, some quite funny. The very last one is the best, to the tune of the theme song from a movie (I forget its name) about a young man who saves to be able to marry only to have his money taken and the girl he wanted married off to someone else. He sings this song as he arrives at her wedding, describing what was done to him by her family and asking for his money back. Altogether, it packs quite an emotional punch and has hilarious adaptations of cinema posters lampooning regime figures. Of course this site in no way endorses their content!
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Links for 10/10/07

A fragrant potpourri handpicked from the internets: Regarding the last item, you may be interested to follow the GWU controversy over the poster below (put up by anti-'Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week' activists) over at the Angry Arab. Also since our friend Abu Aardvark is at GWU, he may have more info (once he recovers from his Ikhwan marathon). 19T489Nj
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The Israelis do not want peace

How else would one explain the following? Israel seizes Arab land near Jerusalem:
JERUSALEM (AFP) - Israel has ordered the confiscation of Arab land outside east Jerusalem, the army and Palestinian officials said on Tuesday, reviving fears that the occupied West Bank could be split in two. Hassan Abed Rabbo at the Palestinian local government ministry said the late September order covers 110 hectares (272 acres) in four Palestinian villages between east Jerusalem and the Jewish settlement of Maale Adumim. The land could create a bloc of settlements incorporating Maale Adumim and nearby Mishor Adumim and Kedar, he said, and "prevent Palestinian territorial continuity" between the West Bank and Jordan Valley.
Most Israelis say no to sharing Jerusalem:
JERUSALEM (AFP) - Most Israelis oppose sharing Jerusalem with the Palestinians as part of a final peace deal, an opinion poll said on Tuesday after an Israeli minister sparked uproar by suggesting the idea. Asked whether Israel should agree to "any sort of compromise on Jerusalem" as part of a final deal to end the decades-old Middle East conflict, 63 percent said no, according to the survey in the mass-selling Yediot Aharonot. Sixty-eight percent oppose transferring Arab neighbourhoods in occupied east Jerusalem to Palestinian control and 61 percent said Israel alone should have sovereignty over the holy places in the Old City, revered by the world's three leading monotheistic religions.
But then again this has been obvious for a while.
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Zoellick, the World Bank and the Arab world

The WSJ is running an interview with Robert Zoellick, the new president of the World Bank,in which Zoellick's idea of increasing the Bank's focus on the Arab world is explored, albeit briefly. The impression I get from the interview excerpts below is that Zoellick is very much informed by his experience as US Trade Representative in the Bush administration, which coincided with the launch of a Middle East Free Trade Area and US policy of aiming at bilateral FTAs that would eventually create a super-FTA between the Middle East and the US. While the Europeans have been aiming at something similar for a while to encourage both EU-Arab world trade and inter-Arab trade, much attention was given to the new US policy because it was implicitly and explicitly tied to other Bush administration aims, notably the "Forward Agenda for Freedom" and its desire to cultivate "moderate" regimes with a commitment to economic liberalization. For those who followed the US-Egypt trade relationship in the last few years, it was notorious that Zoellick was often exasperated with his Egyptian counterparts and dealt very brashly with them. Eventually, one of his successes was pushing for a QIZ agreement with Egypt and Israel (arguably something that Egypt needed to do anyway to protect its garment and textile industry, but that is another argument.) He also cultivated that part of the Egyptian regime that was willing to carry out economic reforms, and helped them to some extent face off more conservative elements. One then wonders, then, whether Zoellick might not pursue, even more strongly than his disgraced predecessor Paul Wolfowitz, aggressive promotion of neo-liberal economic policies and tie them to political reform issues. Considering the debates that have taken place in the World Bank in the past decade (Wolfensohn, Stiglitz, Sachs etc.) one might be tempted as this trend as going to the bad old ways of the 1990s, with a pro-Israel element to boot. Not that, mind you, Zoellick is wrong to say that the Bank should play a role in boosting social peace by promoting job creation and so forth. But one wonders what strings will be attached.
WSJ: You're interested in putting together an initiative aimed at the Arab world. Tell us why? Mr. Zoellick: This is a set of countries [that have] probably been underserved by the bank, and so what I'm trying to identify how can we work with some of these governments and the private sector to create additional opportunity and development. I think you have a changed approach among a number of these governments, that they're trying to pursue economic reforms to create opportunity, create jobs, but -- critically important -- also meet social development needs. If you look at Egypt, one of the challenges will be, can people create jobs and opportunity and have a sense that the government is meeting social needs? [If not], others will try to meet those needs, as you have seen elsewhere in the Arab world. WSJ: Does your work as U.S. trade representative inform your ideas? Mr. Zoellick: The U.S. Congress had created something called QIZs, qualified industrial zones, which Jordan used to great effect. What they permitted was duty-free access to the United States for goods produced in these zones. But the country had to work out with Israel a certain percentage of Israeli investment, and that was to be negotiated by the countries. Egypt had held off, and so one of the last things I did [as U.S. trade representative] in 2004 was to participate in an event in Cairo with [Israel's Ehud] Olmert, who was then the trade minister, and [Rashid Mohamed] Rashid, who was commerce minister, to create a number of these QIZs. What stuck in my mind is that as I was leaving for the airport, there were reports of two demonstrations. One was of about 300 intellectuals that were protesting Egypt's doing an agreement with Israel. The other was thousands of workers who were protesting that there weren't more QIZs, because they wanted the jobs. It's a good example of how economic development is not only necessary to drive jobs, but fits into hope and better relations as well.
Also from the article that accompanied the interview:
Mr. Zoellick says he plans to focus more on the Arab world and encourage the kinds of reformers he met when negotiating free-trade pacts with Oman, Bahrain and Morocco and pushing for stronger trade ties among Egypt, Israel and Jordan. Boosting employment is a huge challenge in the Middle East, where the birth rate is high and economic growth isn't. Mr. Zoellick believes that focusing on labor-intensive export industries, like textiles, could help. His theory: The bank can help "create societal cohesion by giving people the chance to have opportunity and development." To come up with specifics, Mr. Zoellick has consulted his onetime economics professor at Swarthmore, Howard Pack, now at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School. Mr. Pack says trade liberalization won't work unless other changes are made too, including building better ports and roads and making customs systems less corrupt. Education and social mores are critical, too. When Asian nations in the 1970s and 1980s jumped into textiles and manufacturing, they began with workers trained in manufacturing and women willing to work outside the home. That is often not the case in Arab nations.
One thing about Zoellick is that he was always one of the best elements (in terms of talent and ability to get things done) of the Bush administration, and appears to be a much more skilled, and tougher, operator than Wolfowitz. So this kind of initiative could really have legs, for better or worse.
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Links for 10/8/07

A mixed grill of hyperlinked morsels: From the last item, Suzanne Mubarak's reflections on the Egyptian press:
The media loves to attack the government and the cabinet. As far as the media is concerned, no Egyptian government has ever come that has done any good. Governments have only destroyed. Haram. Walahee haram, mish kedda. These people work 24 hours a day. They don’t even get a day holiday. And if they come to Alexandria for the day? The headlines declare “The Government Went on Vacation!” Haram alayhom. Even if they go to Alexandria to relax, so what? They’re still working around the clock. I really feel sorry for these people. Really. I’m an insider, I see how they work, and they make huge sacrifices of their time, then they get no credit? Who benefits from these stories? It’s not for Egypt’s benefit. And then they attack foreign investment. Without foreign investment, Egyptian investment, Arab investment, how are we going to proceed?
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Reflections on Egypt's press

Two pieces about Egypt's current press clampdown are worth reading in light of yesterday's press strike. Egypt: September of discontent by Amira Howeidy puts the pressure on the press in the current political context:
The problem now is that the authorities seem convinced that the private press, especially al Dostour, has more power than the state media machine in influencing public opinion. Otherwise, why would it drag its editor to court every few months in cases that always relate to the president? And why did the official news agency report plans to try him before an emergency court? The authorities later reversed that decision and referred him to a criminal court on 1 October under tight security measures, which adjourned the case to 24 October. Officially, Eissa’s crime is reporting on nation-wide rumours on the president’s health, or even death, in August. And in many ways what we’re witnessing is a crackdown on the independent press and an attempt to muzzle freedom of expression. This is why 18 independent newspapers have agreed not to publish on 7 October in protest. But this isn’t solely about curbing freedom of expression. A quick glance at the bigger picture shows an insecure and aged regime battling for survival through a series of procedures that include silencing the press. If Eissa and his colleagues who face prison sentences end up in jail, they shouldn’t be viewed as only victims of a press massacre, but of a police state consolidating its position.
Meanwhile, I'd missed this long post over at Baheyya on The Death of Deference, which analyzes the press from a lot of angles. She recognizes that two personalities, more than anyone else, were responsible for the new oppositional tone of the independent press;
The two editors who more than any of their peers have created and promoted the contemporary adversarial model of Egyptian journalism are Abdel Halim Qandil and Ibrahim Eissa (though I must also recall the pioneering role of Magdi and Adil Hussein in the early 1990s). Both are consciously engaged in a systematic project of accusing, belittling, and criticising public officials, from the most hapless minister to the most powerful public official, the normally untouchable president. In light of the weakness of parliament and the fragmentation of citizen watchdog groups, both see journalism as a useful tool to extract a modicum of responsiveness from an unaccountable, unchecked imperial presidency. And both aspire to make a profound impact on the wider political culture, replacing existing norms of deference and decorum when addressing the powerful with a style marked by irreverence, profound scepticism, and a blunt, salty style. But though they’re fellow travellers in many ways, Eissa and Qandil come from very different backgrounds and are motivated by different impulses.
I would add to that (Baheyya briefly mentions it too) the remarkable supplanting of al-Ahram, the traditional newspaper of record, by al-Masri al-Youm. Now, however, we need another al-Masri al-Youm style newspaper to give it some competition lest it rests on its laurels. That may come soon, because from a professional standpoint things are starting to move in the Egyptian press. A few nights ago I had dinner with a publisher whose newspaper will see light sometime next year; he spoke of creating a "convergence newsroom" with the print edition of the newspaper more organically linked to its web presence. There is yet an Egyptian newspaper who website acts as a forum in the way the al-Arabiya comments section do. The web may still have limited reach, but it can add another layer to the dialogue between readers and newspapermen that has taken place in recent years -- at least while emerging media moguls wait for the day when they can unleash their ferocious journalists onto the terrestrial TV and radio waves.
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Fikr Gedid at Arabist.net

Having used yesterday's hugely successful press strike (22 newspapers did not come out, tons of blogs) to overhaul the design, welcome to the new Arabist.net: now in a great-tasting, sweet-smelling, 100% organic new flavor. Hopefully this is the beginning of the introduction of new features to the site (more within a few weeks), but aside from the general look and feel the two (for now!) sub-sites have been given more prominence on the front page. You can always see the latest headlines at 3arabawy and Hatshepsut in the first sidebar, as well as my del.icio.us links for stuff I don't have time to blog about. The far-right sidebar also contains the latest comment activity to make it easier to follow the arguments, while individual post pages display in the middle sidebar any related posts to the one you're reading. Another change you'll notice is that the Google ads are back, with a disclaimer. For most of the time I've been running this site I have not had any or many ads, but considering the effort that goes into it I can no longer justify not having it generate some income. At a later point, I may also add a tip box. The Arabist.net family, all put together, generates a considerable amount of web traffic for a Middle East based blog and we want to leverage that. One final thing is that my name no longer appears on posts or elsewhere on the blog. I have had to do this for professional reasons, and the alternative would have been shutting down the blog. Although many longtime readers know very well who I am, for now my posts must remain anonymous -- it's a bit weird but necessary. Please let me know if you have problems with the new design -- it should work in modern browsers such as Firefox, but older ones could have difficulties with it. There will be a few more small changes in the week ahead and all remaining bugs are squashed. P.S. The picture: out with the old fuul cart picture, in with this scene of Sharia Fouad (today's 26th July) from E.P. Jacobs Le mystere de la grande pyramide.
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