Sudan claims to have foiled coup, but arrests expose growing Islamist dissent

Last week, Sudanese security forces arrested the country’s ex-spymaster Salah Ghosh and at least a dozen other people, including high-ranking military officers, on charges of attempting a coup against President Omar al-Bashir. Little information has been made available regarding the alleged plotters, but according to AFP, state media also announced that “[t]his plot is led by some opposition party leaders.” 

The arrests came a few days after President Bashir returned from a “minor” operation in Saudi Arabia — one of the few places he can travel with fear of being turned over to the ICC to stand trial for war crimes — and oversaw the appointment of one of his main parliamentary boosters as secretary-general of the nation’s Islamic Movement organization, which Bashir and his cohorts created in 1999 after falling out with the cleric Hassan al-Turabi, who in the 1980s and 1990s led the Islamist organization that helped the current regime seize power. The new appointment was strongly criticized by al-Turabi, who is now the leader of the opposition calling for Bashir to step down, and has been described in Sudanese press commentaries as a defeat for “reformists,” since it further weds the organization to the president’s own political party, the NCP. Alex Thurston notes that the political battle at the Islamists’ national conference may not have been a precipitant for the arrest of the accused plotters and other individuals, According to Thurston, “[t]he combination of military defections and Islamist dissent (and of course there is overlap between military and Islamist ranks) poses a major problem for a regime that has relied on these constituencies as pillars of its support.”

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Arrests, demonstrations in Sudan will coincide with coup anniversary

Amnesty International reports that ahead of a new round of protests against the government in Khartoum, activist Magdi Aqasha, the head of Sharara (Youth for Change), was arrested on the pretext of causing a traffic accident. Sudanese security agents, who used the accident as a pretext to take him in before Friday’s demonstrations begun, were reportedly tailing Aqasha.

Additionally, internet users in Sudan reported that Zain Mobile, one of Sudan’s largest cell phone provides, went down for two hours early on Friday morning, though state-owned media and other private outlets were apparently not affected. Though Zain Sudan’s services are now functioning, the blackout – and the censure of the Arabic-language news outlet Hurriyat Sudan plus three independent dailies – unnerved Sudanese activists and reporters, who expect the next few days to see further crackdowns on demonstrators protesting government austerity measures. There are also rumors that classes at the University of Khartoum and other schools will again be suspended, as they were last winter, as a result of the protests.

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The protests in Sudan

A friend in Khartoum writes:

In case you missed it in the Egypt fray, things are heating up in Khartoum as well. Rumor has it they may shut down the internet tomorrow. Enjoy the coup, they might follow suit here.

The basic story is one that's been the horizon for a while. Reductions in oil income are forcing the government to cut off subsidies, which the opposition is now using to agitate against the regime. In early 2011 I thought Sudan was very vulnerable to an uprising, but while there were some protests at the time the Bashir regime repressed them quickly. Now they're back.

From Reuters:

(Reuters) - Anti-government protests erupted across Khartoum as Sudanese took to the streets after Friday prayers in the most widespread demonstrations yet against spending cuts unveiled this week.

The demonstrations, now in their sixth day, expanded beyond the core of student activists and spread into several neighborhoods that had been quiet.

The smell of teargas hung in the air and broken rocks covered streets as riot police and demonstrators faced off throughout the city, witnesses said. Demonstrators burned tires and security forces used batons to disperse them.

Large demonstrations have been relatively rare in Sudan, which avoided the "Arab Spring" protest movements which swept through neighboring Egypt and Libya. Security forces usually quickly disperse protests.

But government measures to cut spending to plug a budget gap - including the highly unpopular move of scaling back fuel subsidies - unleashed the protests.

The country has faced soaring inflation since South Sudan seceded a year ago - taking with it about three quarters of the country's oil production - and activists have been trying to use public frustration to build a movement to topple the government of President Omar Hassan al-Bashir.

Things are messy as ever down south too, which isn't helping.

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

The Two Sudans in Arbitration: Corruption, Militias, and China

Hergé’s caricatured arms dealer in The Broken Ear (1937) offers oil-hungry powers an unfortunate blueprint for influence building in the two Sudans. Credit: thinmanSouth Sudanese President Salva Kiir this week addressed a letterto dozens of “former and current senior government officials” pleading with them to return an estimated US$4b in “missing” government funds. The Globe and Mail reports that the US$4b reportedly stolen would add up to approximately 2 years’ worth of oil revenues for the country, which upon seceding from Sudan took about 75% of Khartoum’s oil reserves with it (amounting to some $5b worth of annual income, according to the Petroleum Economist trade publication). Some US$60m has reportedly been recovered, but continued mismanagement, graft and badly bid contracts (most notably, for food imports) means that additional funds still remain unaccounted for and may be unrecoverable.[1]

Despite the emotional plea from Kiir, in an unencouraging sign for transparency in South Sudan this past April, the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) Party that Kiir leads “voted against a bill seeking to make contracts and information about the young country’s oil industry more transparent by making it available to the public.”

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Sudan: SAS on Heglig & Abyei

If you're looking for info on Sudan, there's few better resources than the Small Arms Survey's Sudan Human Security Baseline Assessment reports. They have a new one on the conflict over Heglig, as well as a wider look at fighting in Abyei and the above map [PDF]. From the first one:

Most of the fighting has focused on Heglig, Sudan’s largest oil field, which produced 55,000 barrels a day; the income derived from this oil had become crucial to Sudan following South Sudan’s decision in January to suspend its oil production, depriving Sudan of fees from the oil’s transit through its territory. By many reckonings, Heglig is north of the 1956 historical border that is supposed to dictate the frontier between the two states. But many Southerners have long considered it part of the South. Heglig, which is known as Thou (or Panthou) in Dinka, was one of the territories depopulated by militias during the second civil war, when Sudan used paramilitary Popular Defence Forces (PDF) to clear southern residents from areas around oil-producing sites. For many Dinka at the border, accepting Sudan’s possession of these territories is tantamount to accepting the ethnic clearings of the 80s and 90s.

. . .

The prospects for negotiation are poor. SAF has said the Heglig attack nullifies Sudanese commitments made in Addis Ababa, and that there will be no further talks. Bashir has been even more bellicose, declaring that the current conflict will end either ‘in Juba or Khartoum’, i.e. with the destruction of one of the parties. Such statements are designed for internal consumption in Sudan, and do not reflect Sudan’s actual bargaining position. The fighting may in fact ease with the coming of the rainy season. The recent battles may be simply attempts by both sides to carve out positions on the ground before rains begin.

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

The Sudans on the brink of war and state collapse

While we've been fascinated with Egypt's bizarre presidential elections drama and other stories, I and many others have been oblivious to the serious worsening of the situation between the two Sudans. There are very few foreign reporters there — basically only the news agencies at most times — but considering the seriousness of the situation, the potential for many deaths, and the potential impact in East Africa and the Sahel this is worthy of attention. It's also surprising the issue is not getting more scrutiny at the UN.

Here's a quick rundown from published sources.

Omar al-Bashir is threatening to escale recent skirmishes with South Sudan into a full-scale war:

Sudan President Omar al-Bashir has said his main goal is now to "liberate" the people of South Sudan from its rulers following recent border clashes.

The former rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement has ruled South Sudan since it seceded from Sudan in July 2011.

President Bashir was addressing a rally at his party's headquarters.
Fighting between the two countries has now spread to another area, further adding to fears of all-out war.

This follows an earlier statement by the North's parliament calling the south an "enemy":

(Reuters) - Sudan's parliament branded South Sudan an "enemy" on Monday and called for a swift recapture of a disputed oil-producing region, as rising border tensions pushed the old civil war foes closer to another full-blown conflict.

South Sudan, which seceded from Sudan last July, seized the contested Heglig oilfield last Tuesday, prompting its northern neighbor to vow to recapture the area by "all means".

The oilfield is vital to Sudan's economy, producing about half of the 115,000 barrel-per-day output that remained in its control after South Sudan's secession.

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Meanwhile in the two Sudans

The post below, on the worsening relations between the two Sudans and the Northern regime's domestic worries, was contributed by Abdullah Ahmed. I had missed these alarming developments, which before the Arab uprisings would have been major news. 

While much attention is currently being focused on Egypt, there is much to learn from the current oil dispute between Sudan and its former territory, South Sudan. South Sudan’s oil shutoff reveals that it is not willing to bargain for permission to export oil.

With the other issues yet to be settled between the two governments, including final demarcation of the border, the SPLM-led South Sudanese government is taking the situation very seriously. The National Congress Party’s “take no prisoners” attitude in dealing with South Sudan’s government is strongly reflected in Omar al-Bashir’s actions and words. For example, the undersecretary of Sudan’s foreign ministry gave an interview just over a month ago in which he referred to the South Sudanese as “brothers” and the border issue between the two countries as a minor issue. Yet, Sudan’s actions have been much louder than the words of her paid employees, as the recent bombing of the Jau area on the border illustrates.

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What is really happening in Sudan's Nuba Mountains?

An early morning scene from Nuba Mountains, via Sudan Forum

The piece below, about the conflict brewing in Sudan's Nuba Mountains, had been contributed by Dan Morrison and Matthew LeRiche.

The ongoing fighting in the Nuba Mountains region of South Kordofan state is not just another chapter in Sudan’s seemingly-endless history of conflict. It is the most recent flashpoint for debate over a prevailing narrative that critics say reduces news from Sudan to a simplistic, even childish, contest of good versus evil. This conversation is made no less interesting by its clean predictability.

The dominant story line coming out of Southern Kordofan is, in its broad strokes, more than familiar. It goes like this: With the secession of South Sudan just weeks away, the Sudanese Armed Forces on June 5 went on the attack, seeking to crush both ethnic Nuba fighters of the southern-led Sudan People’s Liberation Army, a font of potential (and actual) armed opposition to the government in Khartoum, and supporters of the northern wing of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, who will form an important opposition party in Sudan now that the south has seceded.

If reports by actors including fleeing civilians, the United Nations, and foreign and local humanitarian workers are to be believed (and we think they are), Khartoum’s operation in Southern Kordofan has followed a well-worn pattern, including aerial bombardment of civilians, murder of citizens based political affiliation and race, and the ongoing denial of humanitarian aid to displaced persons. The Nuba Mountains in the 1990s were the scene of a bona-fide attempted genocide by the same government that today rules Sudan -- a true and actual attempt, driven by twisted financial and cultural imperatives on the part of Kharotum’s ruling class, to annihilate a people.

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Remember Sudan?

Lest we forget, before Tunisia grabbed all the attention with its unprecedented uprising, Sudan was going through the first phase of an unprecedented partition. Here's a report by Dan Morrison (whose book The Black Nile I reviewed a few months ago) for Slate on what transpired:

South Sudan's leaders have been outplayed by their wily northern counterparts on almost every level in the six years since a peace agreement ended generations of civil war here. In the first years of peace, southerners lost control of important ministries they'd been promised in the postwar government, of the governorships of key states, and, it is widely believed, of hundreds of millions of dollars in stolen oil profits.

Tribal violence, some of it spurred by President Omar al-Bashir's Islamist regime in Khartoum, killed nearly 1,000 people in the south last year and displaced more than 200,000. Corruption has flowered, depriving the people of this deeply impoverished region of basic health and other services.

Yesterday, none of that mattered.

Dan highlights the South now taking steps against Arabs in in territory, a story I have heard little about elsewhere:

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Natsios on Sudan, and Egypt

Andrew Natsios, a Bush administration Darfur envoy, gave a talk at Georgetown recently in which he approaches the referendum and its ramifications from a series of different angles, from Sudan's regionalism, to the factionalism in its security and military forces, and the possible collapse of the North if/when the South secede (or even worse, the return of Hassan al-Turabi). Among the many side claims he makes was picked up by this site:

Andrew Natsios, former US envoy to Sudan, disclosed that Egyptians pilots took part in attacks in Darfur during the war there. He made this remark at a symposium organized by Georgetown University in Washington, DC on Tuesday. Natsios was referring to the Sudanese government’s problems in getting some of its own forces to fight in the war that began in 2003.

Natsios said: “Four Darfuri officers would not man their planes during the bombing attacks. You know most of the bombing was not done by the Sudanese air force, by Sudanese officers -- did you know that in Darfur?  They were Egyptian officers and officers who were mercenaries from other Arab countries, they hired to bring them in.  Because the Sudanese officers, many of them were from Darfur who were aircraft pilots. And they wouldn’t fight. They would not man the planes.”

Before I started asking who trains Egyptian air force officers again, I thought it best to confirm the ambiguity in the statement: is it Egyptian nationals acting privately or actual Air Force pilots who took part in the bombing? I contacted Natsios and he assured me that mercenaries were involved, not the Egyptian government. And most of the pilots used in the 2003 operation that caused mass death and displacement of Darfuris were in fact Russian mercenaries.

Here is the bit of his lecture where Natsios talks about this, as an aside to the fragmentation inside the Sudanese military:

Natsios quote

At another point he also mentions a South African security firm was hired to devise security plans for Khartoum, including a network of tunnels and underground arms depot in case the SPLA tries to take the city, which he thinks is plausible because of low morale among the Sudanese army.

The whole thing is well worth listening to.

South Sudan's "Time To Vote" song

Not crazy about the song, but it certainly packs an emotional punch. And what a beautiful place.

Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

How Egypt sees Sudan's coming partition

From a new ICG report on Sudan and its neighbors:

Sudan is of utmost strategic importance for Egypt, which maintains a large presence in Khartoum, including a sizeable and active embassy that is often better informed about the host country’s dynamics than any other foreign presence. Cairo’s foreign ministry operates a department dedicated specifically to Sudan policy. It is one of only two such separate departments in the ministry and is reportedly a gateway to career advancement and prominent positions within the government. The intelligence bureau also plays a prominent role on Sudan policy and has the ear of the president.

. . .

 

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Sudan's elections

My friend Dan Morrison, spent some time reporting all across Sudan while researching his forthcoming book The Black Nile: One Man's Amazing Journey Through Peace and War on the World's Longest River. He offers this analysis of the elections taking place in Sudan. You can read more of his work at his personal site, www.danmorrison.net.

A Travesty, a Logistical Nightmare, Irrelevant, Democracy

Four ways of looking at Sudan’s  national elections

Sudan’s first multiparty elections in 24 years started yesterday in an atmosphere of anger, hope and confusion. The previous elections, in 1986, followed a people’s uprising that removed a military dictator. How times change. Today another military dictator – Field Marshal Omar Hassan al-Bashir, an indicted war criminal — is Sudan’s leading candidate for president.

Photo by Flickr user Fatma Naib

Befitting Africa’s biggest, and perhaps most complicated, country, there are several ways of looking at Sudan’s elections:

A Freaking Travesty

The fix is in.

Bashir’s National Congress Party, which took power in a 1989 military coup, has made campaigning all but impossible for opposition candidates in Sudan’s northern states. Political rallies have been squelched, activists jailed and Bashir’s party dominates the state-controlled airwaves. The vote in Darfur will be an electoral atrocity, according to the International Crisis Group; victims of the conflict have been ethnically cleansed from the voting rolls, while Arab tribes allied with Bashir have been over-counted. In light of this, all but one of Sudan’s major opposition parties has pulled out of the presidential and parliamentary elections, leaving the field to Bashir and his Islamist cadres (who, back in 1986, could only muster 10 percent of the vote).

But the rigged election isn’t solely the work of Bashir and his regime. The elections are a requirement of the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement, the landmark treaty that ended the 22-year civil war between the Arab-led north and Sudan’s black south. After a conflict in which more than 2 million southerners died, the rebels of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement won broad autonomy and a chance for the south to formally secede from Sudan after a referendum scheduled for January. Therein lies another part of the fix.

During my travels as a reporter in southern Sudan in 2006 and 2007, I couldn’t find a single southerner who didn’t favor secession. The SPLM is Sudan’s most powerful opposition party, but its leaders in Juba, the southern capital, are more than willing to sacrifice the democratic aspirations of northern Sudanese if that’s what it takes to ensure a smooth breakup of the country next year. (And why not? The top northern opposition leaders – former prime minister Sadig al-Mahdi and Hassan al-Turabi, the former parliament speaker and the evil genius behind the 1989 Islamist coup – each spent their time in government waging pitiless war against the south.)

So the SPLM has essentially made a deal to support the election results as legitimate in exchange for a promise that Bashir won’t try too hard to impede the 2011 southern referendum. This collusion became especially clear last week, when the SPLM’s candidates in the north decided they wouldn’t play a rigged game, and announced a boycott in all but two northern states. Instead of supporting the boycott, the SPLM’s southern-based leadership publicly chided its northern candidates and announced (despite all evidence) that they would in fact participate. They wanted an election that foreigners could endorse, and the SPLM’s northern pull-out hurt the chances of that.

Bashir is looking for these elections to lend him the international legitimacy he has long craved. But with the opposition on strike and reports of fraud already piling up, his  biggest and best hope is a clean chit from the election observers of the Carter Center and the European Union (no one takes the observers from the Arab League and the African Union very seriously). The Carter Center especially has a long and constructive history in Sudan, but it may be torn between its duty to call the election for what surely will be – a travesty – and a desire to smooth the south’s path to self-determination in 2011.

An endorsement from former U.S. president and 2002 Nobel peace laureate Jimmy Carter, no matter how qualified, will rehabilitate an international pariah and accused genocidaire. Bashir, through threats and insults, has all but dared the Carter Center to pull out of Sudan, but it hasn’t taken the bait, demonstrating clearly that the West needs the perception of a fair election just as much as the stick-waving field marshal does.

A Logistical Nightmare

A friend says: “You couldn’t run this election in Canada, much less in Sudan. That’s how complex it is.”

Every two years or so, I walk into one of New York City’s charmingly antiquated voting booths, flick a half-dozen mechanical switches, pull the big lever on the right — and then freak out: “Jesus! Did I just vote for the Socialist Workers Party?”

I wouldn’t stand a chance in Sudan.

In the north, voters are wrestling with separate paper ballots, denoting races for president, the national assembly, governor and state assembly. The state and national assembly votes will include candidates running to represent individual constituencies in a first-past-the-post race, party ballots for proportional representation, and ballots for seats reserved for women. Southerners, who are also voting for a regional president and other posts, have twelve separate ballots.

Many candidates remain confused by the system, unsure if they are running against specific opponents or running on a party list. For voters, the confusion is an order of magnitude greater. Two NGOs in the south recently ran mock elections, asking educated local staffers to fill out ballots as they would on election day. The average time required was 15 minutes. Literate southerners taken off the street for the experiment needed 25 minutes. Illiterate southerners (who make up 86 percent of the population), working with assistance, required an average 40 minutes each to complete their ballots. Indeed, Salva Kiir himself spent ten minutes completing his ballot.  

Hafiz Mohammed, the Sudan director for Justice Africa, has calculated that, with more than 16 million registered voters, 10,230 polling places and 33 hours of voting time stretched over three days, each Sudanese voter will have approximately one minute to cast his or her vote. After complaints of widespread chaos during the first day of voting, Sudan’s election commission on Monday afternoon announced it would extend the polling period by two days, to April 16. 

The bottom line, according to one political consultant in Sudan: “If you have something remotely like what happened in Afghanistan, it will be a great success.”

Irrelevant

The most powerful players in Sudan – Bashir and his NCP; the SPLM and its leader Salva Kiir; and the United States – are looking to 2011 and beyond. Their war games predicted an election clusterfuck and they’ve all made peace with it. It’s called realism.

That’s why President Obama’s special envoy to Sudan, retired general Scott Gration, has been so active in promoting what he and every grain of sand in the Nubian desert knows will be an illegitimate election. When Bashir tells a campaign rally, “Even America is becoming an NCP member. No one is against our will,” as he did in Blue Nile state on April 3, he’s talking about Obama’s man.

And he’s talking about us.

The West is willing to avert its eyes from the coming ugliness if it will help to midwife the south’s peaceful secession next year. That seems to be all the juice we have right now – enough to help the south, black and somewhat Christian, get finally free of its historical oppressors.

As for the Muslims in the north and their democratic aspirations, well, maybe next time.

Southerners see the election, however flawed, as a stepping-stone to an independent state. The northern opposition – rightly, bitterly – sees a deck stacked in part by Uncle Sam. One year from now, Bashir will dominate a geographically diminished Sudan while Salva Kiir similarly dominates an independent south. South Sudan will be another nominal African democracy, rich in oil and poor in everything else; the rump northern Sudan will remain an Arab autocracy, one finally open for business with the West.

Photo by Flickr user Fatma Naib.

Democracy

But and still.

You have to start somewhere and, at least in the south, things are starting. There is a genuine hunger among southerners to vote. They may not know exactly what (or, with the exception of bigwigs like Salva Kiir, who) they’re voting for, but they want to vote.

And in a genuine flicker of democracy, the SPLM leadership has been shaken by the emergence of strong independent candidates for governor in three states. At least one, and possibly even two, of those candidates are likely to defeat SPLM incumbents, providing a real lesson in nonviolent people power.

And that’s not a bad way to look at an election.

Dan Morrison is the author of The Black Nile, coming in August from Viking Penguin. 

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

Links for 10.08.09 to 10.09.09

‘Abuse’ of Islamic rule lands lawyer in court - The National Newspaper | About time someone stopped Nabih el Wahsh and his ridiculous hesba claims, but this needs to go further: a judicial ruling or new law should declare hesba unacceptable in courts.

Israel FM to tell U.S. envoy no peace deal possible | Lieberman always says what's on his mind.

Mideast sliding into 'darkness': Jordan king | Jordan's king does his Cassandra routine.

Sudan: SLM Warns US Envoy Not to Visit Darfur Areas Under Its Control Asharq Alawsat Newspaper (English) | "The Sudan Liberation Army Movement [SLM] led by Abdul-Wahid Nur who resides in France has warned US Envoy to Sudan Scott Gration not to visit the areas in Darfur that are under its control and where he is expected to hold a conference in the "Darbat" area in Murrah Mountain on 20 October."

Unjustifiable To Lose ‘Goldstone’ Asharq Alawsat Newspaper (English) | "It is not the time for point-scoring. Goldstone’s report marked the beginning of the international justice the Palestinian people need. The issue goes beyond political wrangling between Hamas and the PA, and also goes beyond the assumed price for slip ups. It is about responsibility for people’s lives."

‘The Times’ lets everyone off the hook on Goldstone | The NYT's continued hasbara on the Goldstone report.

BBC NEWS | Middle East | UN body to debate Gaza 'crimes' | Slated for 14 October.

Fatah seeks joint action with Hamas over Gaza report - Yahoo! News | About time.

ei: Abbas helps Israel bury its crimes in Gaza | Ali Abunimah: "Just when it seemed that the Ramallah Palestinian Authority (PA) and its leader Mahmoud Abbas could not sink any lower in their complicity with Israel's occupation of the West Bank and the murderous blockade of Gaza, Ramallah has dealt a further stunning blow to the Palestinian people."

“The Challenge of Moderation in Islam: Egypt’s Religious Institution Versus Extremism.” | POMED notes on speech by Egyptian Mufti Ali Gomaa.

Palestine on the brink: only a quick de-escalation can prevent an explosion | Israel Policy Forum | Hussein Ibish.

Abbas Cancels Israel War-Crimes Report, Boosting Hamas - Yahoo! News | It's over for Abbas, morally now and politically eventually.

Saudi, Syria agree to 'remove obstacles' to closer ties - Yahoo! News | They also called for a NUG to be formed in Lebanon.

Security Council to raise UN Gaza report next week - Yahoo! News | Libya move to push for discussion of Goldstone report moves ahead, despite Mahmoud Abbas's failure to push for it (and his subsequent reversal.)

All these Abdelazizes | New head of Western Sahara mission MINURSO is Egyptian.

Oren likens Goldstone to… Nazi threat | Israel Ambassador to US Michael Oren: Goldstone = Nazis = Nuclear Annihilation.

Agents arrest dozens for theft scheme in US, Egypt | Egyptian hackers engage in $2m phishing scam.

Pew Forum: Mapping the Global Muslim Population | Pew report says there are 1.57bn Muslims, analysis and breakdown through maps and more.

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Links for 07.21.09 to 07.22.09

جريدة الراية -مجرد سؤال .. ماذا تريد القاهرة من دارفور المنتدى | Qatari columnist complains "what does Egypt want from Darfur?", says Egypt is trying to start a separate track for negotiations even though Qatar's track working well. The Egyptians certainly hate seeing Qatar getting busy in their near-abroad. The List: The Middle East's Most Powerful Spooks | Foreign Policy | It's missing a few... will try to work on a complete list. Also not sure whether Assef Shakwat is still at the top of his game in Damascus. Facebook | Protest Facebook's categorisation of Israeli settlements as "Israel" | Tell Facebook to correct itself. From gods to garbage dwellers | GlobalPost | On Egypt's cats. Israeli funding angers filmmaker | "ENGLISH filmmaker Ken Loach has withdrawn his film Looking for Eric from the Melbourne International Film Festival because the festival receives funding from the Israeli Government."
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Links for 07.18.09 to 07.20.09

Gambling with peace: how US bingo dollars are funding Israeli settlements | World news | The Guardian | More Moskowitz. There should be an international financial blockade against any institution involved in the settlements. 'U.S. tells Israel to halt East Jerusalem building' - Haaretz - Israel News | More on Irving Moskowitz's settlement plans. Asma Al Assad: Syria's First Lady And All-Natural Beauty (SLIDESHOW) | HuffPo celebrates the beauty of Asma al-Assad. Never mind her hubby being a dictator and all... WaPo bows cravenly to pro-Israel lobby | WaPo publishes inaccurate "correction" on Gilo settlement. De “Freej” à “Hamdoon” : le dessin cartonne aux Emirats | On the spread of homegrown cartoon characters in the UAE. French agents kidnapped in Somalia | Security trainers were posing as journalists and staying at journalists' hotel — can't say I feel any sympathy for them. Publier ici votre bilan des dix de règne - Comme une bouteille jetée à la mer! | Larbi, one of the best Moroccan bloggers, is inviting readers to send in their assessment of the first 10 years of Muhammad VI's reign. Breaking the silence | Soldiers’ Testimonies from Operation Cast Lead, Gaza 2009 Al-Ahram Weekly | Egypt | Cementing the rift via dialogue | Update on Egypt-brokered Palestinian reconciliation talks after Ramallah meeting, takes the position that Fatah is sabotaging talks for electoral purposes. But does not acknowledge Egypt's acquiescence in this plan. The freegans' creed: waste not, want not | Environment | The Observer | Article on freeganism, i.e. eating free food that's been thrown away. Clearly only possible as a lifestyle in the first world. Somaliland's addict economy | GlobalPost | About Qat (also spelled Khat, the drug) in Somaliland. EGYPT: Poet accused of insulting Mubarak awaits final verdict | Babylon & Beyond | Los Angeles Times | Ridiculous. OpenStreetMap | Not bad alternative to Google Maps. For Cairo not bad, but Google is more detailed and in Arabic. Still, good effort that might improve, and does not lock us in to the G-Man. Revisiting Obama's Riyadh meeting | The Cable | So the idea that Obama came out empty-handed out of his pre-Cairo Speech meeting with Saudi King Abdullah is gaining ground. But it is ridiculous to imagine that Abdullah would pre-emptively agree to concessions before the Israelis have made even a single concession. Egyptian chronicles: Ahmed Rushdie-Barely-Speaks For The First Time | Very interesting post on former Egyptian minister of interior Ahmed Rushdie, described here as the only minister of the Mubarak era to have resigned and the only interior minister who was respected. (I don't know how true this is, but it's interesting!) International Crisis Group - 152 Sudan: Justice, Peace and the ICC | New ICG report on Sudan warns of laying off pressure on Khartoum over Darfur as focus shifts to the south and the CPA again. Among key recommendations to the ruling party is that Bashir should step down as soon as possible. US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman Talks to Asharq Al-Awsat | Sharq al-Awsat interview, mostly on Syria. The Obama administration sure loves Saudi media. Palestinians aim for massive pastry record Asharq Alawsat Newspaper (English) | I'm all for building the world's largest ball of twine or baking the biggest kunafa, but the reporting on this is over the top. Taboo Topics on Contemporary Foreign Policy Discourse | Stephen M. Walt | Excellent post on the Ten Commandments of foreign policy wonks. You could add plenty more, but I would add (as far as Egypt is concerned) "Thou shall greet yesterday's oppressor as today's reformer, or vice versa if appropriate." Walt makes so many good points it's hard to choose a favorite, although #9 is up there.
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The Bir Tawil Trapezoid


From the always excellent Strange Maps:

The Bir Tawil Triangle is a desert of sand and rocks on the border between Egypt and the Sudan. It is also officially the most undesired territory in the world. Bir Tawil is the only piece of land on Earth (*) that is not claimed by any country – least of all by its neighbours. For either of them to claim the Bir Tawil Triangle would be to relinquish their claim to the Hala’ib Triangle. And while Hala’ib is also mainly rock and sand, it is not only ten times larger than Bir Tawil, but also adjacent to the Red Sea - so rather more interesting.

[Thanks, Stefan]


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Sudan air strike may have killed 119

A new development in the Sudan airstrike story. A few days ago we highlighted to a piece that showed how confusing the various information on the subject is. Now the BBC is reporting that Sudan's minister of defense says the toll was much higher than originally reported:

An air raid in a Sudanese desert in January killed 119 people travelling in a people-smuggling convoy, the country's defence minister has said.

Abdul-Rahim Hussein told parliament that the attack was still under investigation, state media reported.

Fifty-six smugglers died as well as 63 people wanting to emigrate, he said.

Israel - battling Hamas in Gaza at the time of the attack - was suspected of being behind air raid, but has never explicitly confirmed any involvement.

. . .

In his report, Gen Hussein said there were up to 1,000 people in the convoy involved in "a smuggling process at the border with Egypt", Suna reported.

Among the convoy were people from Ethiopia and Somalia, the defence minister said.

It's hard to tell whether this is the truth or an attempt to make Israel (which presumably carried out the strike) look bad by blaming it for the deaths of migrant refugees. And it still does not tell us anything about this convoy and what it was smuggling, although the suggestion that over 1,000 people were there makes the secret cargo for Hamas theory look slightly weird. Update: Worth reading this analysis in conjunction with the above.
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Piecing together the Sudan airstrike story

Guy Gabriel at the Palestine Chronicle has done a review of the publicly available info on the alleged Sudan airstrikes of last January, a still unsolved mystery that we were very cautious in handling when it was first revealed. Here's a quick breakdown of what is supposed to have happened:
Piecing together information from various reports, this is a composite picture of what happened: The attackers were American, Israeli, or of unidentified origin, using perhaps gunships, F15s, F16s, or Hermes 450 drones and Eitan UAVs, taking off from Eritrea, Djibouti or possibly south of Tel Aviv. In January and/or February 2009, they attacked 1-2 convoys, consisting of 4-23 trucks, 1-3 times. The attacks left 39-800 dead (including some Iranian escorts or Revolutionary Guards), and there were between 0-50 survivors, which possibly included an Ethiopian mechanic. The attack left 18 craters, ranging in size from 160-430 metres (!). In addition, 0-1 ship[s] were sunk. The convoy[s] were smuggling either goods, people, G4s and Kalashnikovs, or 120 tonnes of arms and explosives, including anti-tank rockets and Fajir rockets with a 25-mile (40-kilometre) range and a 99-pound (45-kilogram) warhead.
Not exactly illuminating. He concludes:
It is quite possible that any one of these reports may be accurate, or perhaps none of them - or any combination of truth or falsehood in between. However, what is notable is that although we simply do not know the details of what happened, that has not stopped the story reaching the mainstream media with certainty that Israel's long arm stopped a conspiracy involving Iran, Hamas, and smuggled weapons bound for Gaza. Obscure or fringe sources were deemed passable in piecing together this story that in other situations would be rejected for being too unreliable. This was nearly the case here, relegated at first to blogs, but the significance of the ideal version of the story was too good to miss out on, and so graduated to mainstream Sunday newspapers and weekly news magazines.
Previous discussion of this on Arabist.net:
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Follow-up on Sudan air strike

About two weeks have elapsed, a bunch of fanciful reports have come out, but we still don't know much more about the airstrike in North Sudan that Israel, or possible the United States, allegedly carried out. As I wrote before, this story should be treated with extreme caution as, as it currently stands, it smacks of manipulation and disinformation. Gideon Levy at Haaretz, unlike most Israeli journalists who are happy to report what the Arab press has published or what Mossad is leaking them, comes right out and labels the story as propaganda:
Nobody knows for sure what was bombed, how much and why. Sudan, after all, is far away. But we can rely on our fine young men in the Mossad and air force to know what they're doing. We were right, it worked again. All our forces returned safely, leaving only dust and ashes from the dangerous convoy. The muttering of Sudan's government about innocent fishing boats that were bombed is irrelevant. Fishermen or terrorists, a la guerre comme a la guerre. The military commentators and the entire Israeli nation in their footsteps were beside themselves with admiration. The Israeli James Bond is still here. An army that hasn't fought against another army for decades finds its glory in such operations. So does the political leadership. What did Olmert say with a wink after the Sudan incident? "There is no place where Israel cannot operate." Hooray. With a quarter of that imagination and daring we could have achieved peace already, but let's not go into such trivia.
Also read the Economist's take, which focuses on the ties between Sudan and Iran but could have been more cautious about the claims surrounding the attack.
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