links for November 21st

Automatically posted links for November 21st:

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Yamli Search: Aywa Keda!

Yamli Search is very intriguing new search engine that transliterates Arabic written in the Latin alphabet into Arabic proper, and then runs that query through Google. It's really quite neat -- for instance if you type "ikhwan al muslimeen" it will search for "اخوان المسلمين". You have to try it out to see what I mean. The idea behind Yamli is that Arabic speakers often have to work without Arabic keyboards and are more used to English keyboards anyway. This is what they say in their press release:
The Arab world has one of the highest internet usage growth rates. Yet, access to and development of Arabic content has been difficult, mainly because of the complexity of typing Arabic. Although Arabic keyboards are available, the vast majority of Arabic-speaking Internet users are accustomed to an English keyboard. Users often resort to spelling Arabic words out phonetically using English characters, a process known as transliteration. Yamli allows users to convert these English characters into Arabic words. Co-founder Habib Haddad explains: “I would often experience frustration trying to find Arabic news on the web. Like millions of users, I could easily express my Arabic words using English letters, but I had difficulty typing them in Arabic. The need for a technology that efficiently converted those phonetic spellings into meaningful Arabic words seemed natural to me. It would have to be so seamless that users would be able to write Arabic text and forget they were using English characters. This is how Yamli was born.” Yamli’s patent-pending solution converts the user’s input into Arabic as he or she types. To maximize usability, Yamli accepts a variety of phonetic spellings and generates a list of suggested matches. Over time, Yamli will recognize popular patterns of spelling and word selection, increasing its accuracy.
I suspect that another reason is that with so many young elite Arabs educated in private, Western curricula school, many kids on the net don't actually master written Arabic that well. On the other hand, they do master the SMS Arabic where "3" is ع and "7" is ح. Some people will think this further erodes the quality of written Arabic, but hats off for innovation. And there's also a standalone editor that will do the same "translation" for you. It's a short step from that to translating transliterated Arabic into other languages altogether. [Thanks Iason]
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Total Falafel Awareness

FBI Mined Grocery Store Records to Find Iranian Terrorists:
Bay Area FBI agents wanting to find Iranian secret agents data-mined grocery store records in 2005 and 2006, hoping that tahini purchases would lead them to domestic terrorists, according to Congressional Quarterly's Jeff Stein. The head of the FBI's criminal investigations unit - Michael Mason - shut down the Total Falafel Awareness program, arguing it would be illegal to put someone on a terrorist watch list for simply sticking skewers into lamb, Stein reports.
Really this is getting ridiculous. Is that the best lead they can come up with? I also like the idea that would-be terrorist hiding in America are somehow exclusively eating their national foods. I bet Muhammad Atta and company ate tons of Twinkies, mexican food and loved the spicy chicken wings at Hooters.
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Science and the Islamic world

Science and the Islamic world, an essay by a Pakistani scientist on the decline of science in the Islamic world in my favorite magazine (not really), Physics Today:
In the Islamic world, opposition to science in the public arena takes additional forms. Antiscience materials have an immense presence on the internet, with thousands of elaborately designed Islamic websites, some with view counters running into the hundreds of thousands. A typical and frequently visited one has the following banner: "Recently discovered astounding scientific facts, accurately described in the Muslim Holy Book and by the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) 14 centuries ago." Here one will find that everything from quantum mechanics to black holes and genes was anticipated 1400 years ago. Science, in the view of fundamentalists, is principally seen as valuable for establishing yet more proofs of God, proving the truth of Islam and the Qur'an, and showing that modern science would have been impossible but for Muslim discoveries. Antiquity alone seems to matter. One gets the impression that history's clock broke down somewhere during the 14th century and that plans for repair are, at best, vague. In that all-too-prevalent view, science is not about critical thought and awareness, creative uncertainties, or ceaseless explorations. Missing are websites or discussion groups dealing with the philosophical implications from the Islamic point of view of the theory of relativity, quantum mechanics, chaos theory, superstrings, stem cells, and other contemporary science issues. Similarly, in the mass media of Muslim countries, discussions on "Islam and science" are common and welcomed only to the extent that belief in the status quo is reaffirmed rather than challenged. When the 2005 earthquake struck Pakistan, killing more than 90 000 people, no major scientist in the country publicly challenged the belief, freely propagated through the mass media, that the quake was God's punishment for sinful behavior. Mullahs ridiculed the notion that science could provide an explanation; they incited their followers into smashing television sets, which had provoked Allah's anger and hence the earthquake. As several class discussions showed, an overwhelming majority of my university's science students accepted various divine-wrath explanations.
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YouTube blocked in Morocco

Why is YouTube blocked in Morocco? I remember seeing some nice historical archive of Hassan II on there, but nothing too compromising on King Muhammad VI. That's the only political reason I could think of, as well the many critical videos on the Western Sahara. If YouTube is indeed being blocking by Morocco's main ISP, the very corrupt Maroc Telecom, for political reasons there are grounds to take things further. Maroc Telecom's main shareholder is the French mega-corporation Vivendi. Surely newly elected French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who made a big deal of supporting freedom and democracy in his victory speech, would be rather embarrassed to learn that a French company is collaborating in censorship? This is worth looking into. Update: It's unblocked.
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Guardian piece on Egyptian bloggers

I had this opinion piece on the Guardian's Comment is Free site about Arab and Egyptian bloggers and how they might face the ongoing security clampdown. Got so busy yesterday with work forgot to post it here! (Sorry for the slow posting these days...) I just wanted to note, if any Egyptian bloggers feel slighted by not being mentioned, I wanted to focus on a few cases and, as much as possible, ones that could be read by non-Arabic speakers. In any case, the comments on the piece are very interesting (well, aside from the ones about Israel.)
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Syrian Cyber-Dissident Arrested

Via Reporters sans frontières:
(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders has called for the immediate release of arrested human rights activist Ibrahim Zoro, who regularly posts material on foreign-based opposition websites. It noted that two other people were in prison in Syria for posting similar material. It said the state security service, whose agents arrested Zoro on 5 April 2007 in Damascus, were "as always, acting quite illegally" and his family had not been told why he was picked up or where he was being held. "It is more like a kidnapping than an arrest," the worldwide press freedom organisation said. Zoro, who belongs to Syria's Kurdish minority, was helping to organise a seminar called "The Philosophy of Lies." He has posted many articles in Arabic on websites such as the blog Tharway and Mengos. Zoro, 47, has already spent seven years in prison, from 1987 to 1994, for belonging to the Syrian Communist Party. He is a member of the Committee for the Defence of Democracy, Freedom and Human Rights in Syria. Journalist Muhened Abdulrahman and writer Habib Saleh are also in prison in Syria for posting material online.
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Online Censorship Suit

Hossam has linked to Judge Abd al-Fattah's lawsuit here. It's riddled with factual errors. More on that later. It's still not clear if this is going anywhere, but as commenters on Issandr's original post on the topic noted, we have early warning in this case, and we should take advantage of it. A list of the URLs the judge is asking the government to censor follows. Since a court has yet to rule on whether these are libelous, archiving them in Egypt may be risky. So people outside of Egypt who might be interested in hosting mirrors, here are the urls. They include the sites of some of the most prominent human rights organizations in Egypt: The Web site of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (hrinfo) The page of the Hisham Mubarak Center for Legal Aid, hosted on hrinfo's site Web site of the Nur Center The Web site of the Egyptian Inititative for Personal Rights A typo leads to a 404 page, but it's named in the suit. The correct URL for the Hisham Mubarak Center is named above. The Urban Center [lit. "Observatory"] for Human Rights The Egyptian Center for Justice and Law The page for the Nadim Center for Victims of Violence, hosted on hrinfo The Egyptian Association Against Torture A page from a blog concerned with human rights issues From Kifaya's Web site Blog that has campaigned for democracy, human rights, and respect for the environment Purportedly the Web site of the Ghad Party's newspaper. Incidentally, this URL was inaccessible from Egypt March 14 using the ISP LINKdotNET. The Egyptian Renaissance site The Good News company's site, named as the owner of The Egyptian Renaissance, above. Web site of the Nur Center Shmasan News Web site of the Iraqi News Agency Blog post Blog post Blog post The Egypt chapter of HRinfo's 2004 report on Internet censorship in the Middle East HRinfo report on April-May 2006 crackdown HRinfo report on Bahrain, Tunisia, and Egypt Blog Blog post
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Send Spiders

Did a little digging into Judge Abd al-Fattah Murad's lawsuit to get the government to censor 21 Web sites and blogs:
  1. Abd al-Fattah Murad will likely not be the judge in Abd al-Karim Sulaiman's appeal. This would too nice a present to the defense team, who are engaged in a separate legal dispute with the judge and so could clearly not get a fair trial from him. If Judge Abd al-Fattah is on the stand next session, we can all start believing the rumors that the government never wanted to imprison Kareem in the first place. Or we should all be very scared because the government will have dropped its last shred of shame.
  2. The only source for the suit's existence remains Egypt's finest, Rose al-Yusef. Lawyers have had no communication from the courts. A scanned copy of the Rose al-Yusef article is here. It's possible the lawsuit won't progress, and that this article (in a paper whose meager readership consists mostly of those who have a professional interest in trying to guess what Security is thinking) is another shot over the bow. [Update: AFP cites "a judicial source" and "sources" to confirm the story]
  3. His honor reportedly has very good wasta in the Interior Ministry—but less so in the Judge's Club. It's unclear whether he has the clout to get the government to change its current policy of not censoring the Internet.
Let's hope this one dies on the vine. In the meantime, reason enough to be vigilant and for techies abroad to start archiving sites. Release the spiders. And if anyone from the ICT or information ministries is reading, please read Nart Villeneuve's excellent discussion of the pitfalls of Internet censorship for governments. To these I would add economic ill effects. Egypt's perception as a friendly country for ICT investment, a perception the government has spent millions on fostering, rests in no small part on its policy with regard to online censorship, which is free... and costs nothing. All the Smart Villages, slick IT projects at the Alexandria Library, and UN-prize-winning Web sites will seem like so much expensive window dressing if the government starts censoring blogs, newspaper Web sites, and the Web sites of human rights organizations. Telecom Egypt is looking for a partner to modernize the country's Internet backbone, at a cost of US$1 billion. And let's face it, Egypt isn't China. China will become the largest broadband market in 2007, with 79 million broadband users. When Egypt launched a program to expand broadband access in 2004, it set itself an initial goal of 50,000 users. The difference in GDP is about US$2.13 trillion. Bad publicity ought to seem like more of a liability here. For the sake of the greater good, Judge Abd al-Fattah, and for the sake of the rights to impart and receive information, please drop this lawsuit. Your good reputation will be better served if you're known as the man who forgave an insult than if you're known as the man who censored the Internet. The same president whose honor you're so anxious to defend has himself spoken about the importance of ICT in "supporting national efforts toward more freedom, democracy, and respect of human rights." So, your honor, for the sake of the president and patriotism, for the sake of the next generation of honest, hardworking Egyptians from Aswan to Alexandria, and for the sake of your good reputation, please drop this lawsuit.
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URGENT: Lawsuit to be filed to block 21 Egyptian blogs

The head of the very same Court imprisoned blogger Kareem Soliman will be appealing to next week is launching a lawsuit to get 21 blogs and websites blocked in Egypt. Un-f#$%g-believable:
Rumors have been reaching me for days now, and I received confirmation only today from lawyer Gamal Eid, executive manager of Arabic Network for Human Rights Information. It seems that Judge Abdel Fattah Morad, head of Alexandria Appeal Court, has started a lawsuit against the government in Egypt’s Administrative Courts in order to block a number of Egyptian websites. The list, 21-websites-long, includes the blogs and sites that took part in the discussion around the book the Judge has written, and the wide plagiarism evident in the book copying HRInfo’s report on Internet Freedoms in the Arab World, and a how-to-blog guide written by blogger Bent Masreya. 
Of the 21 blogs and website, I was able so far to confirm Kifaya’s and HRInfo’s websites, in addition to the blogs of Bent Masreya, Yehia Megahed, and my own. The lawsuit is started by Abdel Fattah Mourad, one of Egypt’s most senior judges–and head of the Alexandria Appeal Court, where imprisoned blogger Abdul Kareem Nabil Soliman’s case is heard next week.
Follow this story as it develops at Arabawy, where the full email is posted. This is the most serious development against bloggers to take place in Egypt, and if a court rules in favor of the lawsuit it will not only be difficult to overturn but also encourage more lawyers to make a name for themselves by filing lawsuits against other sites. As Amr says:
What worries me, however, is that this is a judge whose ruling cannot be appealed. He can silence, imprison or execute people, and he oversees our elections. Once the blogs are found offensive by the court, then in light of the Egyptian’s regime reputation, it is automatic to prosecute the bloggers. This is an early warning.
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Bahraini blogger Mahmoud interrogated, sued for libel

Mahmoud is the "grandfather" of Bahraini bloggers and is now being sued by a minister for a critical comment he wrote on Mahmoud's Den. Read all about it here:
I was a guest of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) in Adliya this morning. I was called yesterday and asked - very politely - to present myself at the CID’s Anti-Economic Crimes Unit “for a chat and some tea” which I accepted with alacrity and with not a little trepidation. The fear; however, was unfounded. . . . Well, a public figure has taken umbrage with what I have written against him, and rather than contacting me to complain, or even entered a public comment refuting what I have written, he went through the legal route and lodged a case against me with the police, which is fully his right of course; however, that is not going to change the subjectivity of calling someone “stupid” or any other adjective used to describe someone or change the fact of his performance in the previous Shura council nor the fact that he has had business cases levied against him at some point of his life. I am rather disappointed with this situation of course and I am unsure what The Right Honourable Minister His Excellency Mr. Mansour bin Hassan bin Rajab, Esquire, is going to gain from this. This action to me is nothing more than trying to shut his critics up by force of law - if any of these cases actually go to court in the first place - waste the courts’ time and efforts as they do have much more important cases going through them that take years, or at best terrorise his critics into submitting to never criticising him again! Well, this ain’t gonna work with me! I criticise to better this country as a concerned citizen, and shall continue to do so regardless of these frivolous cases.
Good luck to him.
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Azimi on Egyptian bloggers

Our friend Negar Azimi has a a very nice, long piece in The Nation about Egyptian bloggers and the recent video torture scandals. It's all good stuff, but I'll highlight the part about our own Hossam:
But how threatening, we may wonder, can a handful of bloggers be--and how much of a threat could they be to the twenty-five-year-and-running rule of a leader like Mubarak? After all, many of them are simply tech-savvy twentysomethings recently out of university. And besides, how big a role can bloggers play in a country in which they number just over 3,000--a mere fraction of whom write political content? Hossam el-Hamalawy runs, a blog that has been central to documenting what he has dubbed Egypt's very own Videogate. "We're exploding," he tells me. "The government didn't see it coming, and it's creating a domino effect. You read bloggers in Tunisia, Yemen, Libya, and they take pride in the Egyptian gains. Once you get this far, there's no going back. You can't take the plug out." As recently as January 2005, there were only about thirty blogs in the country. "My dream is that one day there will be a blogger with a digital camera in every street in Egypt." Exploding or not, this sort of electronic activism defies facile definitions. No longer simply an upper- or middle-class phenomenon, blogging has become an outlet for expression among a broad spectrum of people. Some bloggers post exclusively from Internet cafes (those without PCs), some are without a university education, many are women. Today there is a blogger in every urban center in Egypt--from the stark Sinai Peninsula to Mansoura in the Nile Delta. Most write in Arabic. Recently one blogger went so far as to set up a site devoted to bringing attention to police brutalities taking place in the Sinai following bouts of terrorism (hundreds, even thousands of Bedouins have been disappeared by state security, often locked away and abused with impunity). Other blogs broach the sensitive subject of how the country's religious minorities are treated--particularly the Copts, who make up Egypt's Christian community. Blogs have also been a crucial space for engaging such uncomfortable topics as sexuality, race and beyond. Suddenly, the (improvised) Arabic word mudawena, signifying a blogger, has found its way into the lexicon.
Read it all. One small criticism: quoted stats about print media are not accurate, independent newspapers now play a much bigger role and state press figures are believed to be over-inflated. I don't think we should underestimate the importance of the feedback loop between the new dailies with websites such as al-Masri al-Youm and bloggers.
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Egyptian spy satellite

Egypt is about to launch a spy satellite:
Egypt will be able to spy on Israel from outer space if it successfully launches a new spy satellite Tuesday from Kazakhstan. The cameras on the EgyptSat 1 vehicle will be able to transmit photographs of objects four meters (13 feet) wide.
I guess they're trying to keep track of Rami Lakah. Updated since 15 Jan: Apparently the satellite will be used for remote sensing -- officially at least.
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How not to apply for a job in Dubai

A Canadian web designer gets rather racist when asking for a job:
From: Amir Saffar To: Mike Platts Sent: Friday, December 15, 2006 9:11 PM Subject: RE: hi again it’s very simple Mike. You are interested in my profile and i wanted to know how much you were able to pay. no response means: you either can’t pay that much, or you only hire indians and pakistanis who don’t ask for a good salary. but dude, i am neither indian or paki and i have never worked for less than 2000 usd/month. You got it now!? Amir
Read the whole exchange.
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