Hillary Clinton represents her people

The ravages of BB addiction.

I was initially surprised to see this story:

The US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will hold talks with the UAE over the ongoing BlackBerry dispute.

The United Arab Emirates has said it intends to prevent the phones sending e-mails, accessing the internet, and delivering instant messages.

Authorities are unhappy that they are unable to monitor such encrypted communications via the handsets.

Mrs Clinton said authorities had to balance "legitimate security concerns" with "right of free use and access".

"We are taking time to consult and analyse the full the range of interests and issues at stake, because we know that there is a legitimate security concern," Mrs Clinton said.

"But there is also a legitimate right of free use and access.

"So I think we will be pursuing both technical and expert discussions as we go forward," she added.

Why on earth would the Secretary of State of the United States of America, who surely has a busy agenda, spend her time talking to the UAE about their Blackberry ban? RIM, the makers of Blackberry, are Canadian, so it's not like she's representing American business interests (indeed, she should be pushing American iPhones on Emiratis instead.) It's not really a freedom of speech issue, since Emiratis can have access to other brands of phones that provide similar technology.

Then it hit me: Clinton is representing her real tribe, that secret cabal that runs the government, Washington Crackberry addicts. And the State Dept., which issues Blackberries (why aren't they buying American?!) to its employees partly because they come with all sorts of security options, also must have its thumb-typing protected. Anyone who's been to DC can relate that people there have the unnerving ability to pretend to be having a conversation with you while never taking their eyes off their tiny BB screens. It is one of the many charms of that wondrous city.

Rami Khouri on Rodham-Clinton

Rami Khouri — whom I consider one the most thoughtful and analytically incisive Arab commentators around — gives Hillary Clinton a well-deserved putdown. Here's his very articulate take:

Two Clinton statements during her Gulf trip this week were particularly revealing of why Washington continues to fail in its missions in our region. The first was her expression of concern that Iran is turning into a military dictatorship: “We see that the government of Iran, the supreme leader, the president, the Parliament, is being supplanted, and that Iran is moving toward a military dictatorship,” Clinton said.

Half a century of American foreign policy flatly contradicts this sentiment (which is why Clinton heard soft chuckles and a few muffled guffaws as she spoke). The US has adored military dictatorships in the Arab world, and has long supported states dominated by the shadowy world of intelligence services. This became even more obvious after the attacks of September 11, 2001, when Washington intensified cooperation with Arab intelligence services in the fight against Al-Qaeda and other terror groups. 

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SourceForge and Clinton's internet freedom speech

A few days ago Hillary Clinton made a major speech about internet freedom. She said:

On their own, new technologies do not take sides in the struggle for freedom and progress, but the United States does. We stand for a single internet where all of humanity has equal access to knowledge and ideas. And we recognize that the world’s information infrastructure will become what we and others make of it. Now, this challenge may be new, but our responsibility to help ensure the free exchange of ideas goes back to the birth of our republic. The words of the First Amendment to our Constitution are carved in 50 tons of Tennessee marble on the front of this building. And every generation of Americans has worked to protect the values etched in that stone. 

One step towards that would be to fix the various impediments the US puts on accessing data, including from Middle Eastern countries. Take SourceForge, one of the most important repositories of open-source software in the world, where developers collaborate on building all sorts of tools, including the kind that might facilitate evading internet censorship. It turns out that since early this month it's been blocked in various countries including Iran, Syria, Sudan as well as other places upon which Washington has imposed sanctions. 

Arab Crunch has a post by Abdelrahman Iblidi, a Syrian programmer, criticizing the legislation that forces SourceForge to ban users from these countries and others (Cuba, North Korea.) Syrian developers have had similar problems before with Google Code and other US-hosted sites. This example of internet censorship is particularly grating because open-source technology has often provided solutions to go around internet censorship and protect user privacy, such as Tor

[I was alerted to this issue thanks to a tweet by one of the Egyptian blogosphere's leading open-source advocate, Alaa].

Links for 11.07.09 to 11.09.09

Israeli Asks Abbas Not to Step Down - NYTimes.com | What a weird headline: the Israeli in question is the president of Israel, Shimon Peres (aka Skeletor, Evil Lord of Destruction). Not that knowing this makes the whole thing any less weird, although it is telling to see how much the Israelis like Abbas.

Fatah al-Islam Connected to Israeli Elements- Lebanese Security Source Asharq Alawsat Newspaper (English) | Really: Fatah al-Islam, connected to the Palestinians, the Syrians, the Americans, the Saudis and now the Israelis. I am beginning to wonder whether it even exists.

The Dark Side of the Bright Side -- In These Times | I love Barbara Ehrenreich's books.

The Associated Press: Islamic critics blast Beyonce on eve of Egypt show | Muslim Brothers attack "nudity concert".

23 CIA Officers Convicted in Italy, in Abstentia | For extraordinary rendition of Egyptian man.

Middle East Bloggers: The Street Leads Online - Reports - Committee to Protect Journalists | CPJ report on bloggers in MENA, especially the rising use of emprisonment against them: "Individual bloggers face enormous threats; the medium as a whole faces significant challenges. Increasingly, governments are creating new laws to regulate the Internet and amending old ones to encompass online expression. Already authorities are exploiting the isolated nature of bloggers and the lack of institutional protections for online journalists. As the Iranian regime exhibited this year, governments are willing to take severe measures when they perceive a threat to their power."

Holiday sales could launch e-book readers as mass-market must-haves | If you're interested in ebooks, this is a pretty good piece on the state of the industry. Has anyone tried Kindle downloading in Egypt? Is it restricted?

Japanese contractors owed billions by Dubai firms - The National Newspaper | Dubai is a bad debtor.

Waq al-Waq: The Big Question for Saudi Arabia | Who runs Saudi Arabia's Yemen policy?

Obama's Failure in the Middle East | Stephen M. Walt | KA-POW: "I never thought I'd write the following words, but is it possible that Obama's handling of the I-P peace process might actually end up being worse than George Bush's?"

Berman’s Response to Goldstone on House Gaza War-Crimes Resolution « The Washington Independent | The assholes who run Congress reply to Goldstone.

Report: Mossad hacked Syrian computer to uncover nuke site - Haaretz - Israel News | Basic snooping software found super-classified info? Either this is not true or the Syrians are mega-stupid. But since the allegation is that Syria had a secret nuclear research facility, I'll lean towards the former - this was all bullshit from the beginning.

ATTACKERMAN » Somewhere, Khaled Meshal Is Laughing | Obama messed up doubly with Goldstone as well as backing down on settlements. What's a Palestinian leader (any of them outside Hamas) to do?

Lebanese opposition agrees to govt line-up: Hezbollah

(AFP) | Cabinet crisis over?

Clinton has 'productive meeting' with Egypt on Mideast peace process - washingtonpost.com | Hosni Mubarak loves nothing more than being made to feel important. Clinton's entire trip to Cairo is about this: "Clinton attributed the apparent softening in Egypt's position as a response to her personal diplomacy, conducted over visits to four capitals in the region over the past five days. "I thought it was a very productive meeting," she told reporters traveling with her after the news conference, adding that it "shows the value of consultation and listening and sharing ideas and hearing the other side and putting forward your views and explaining.""

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Clinton Meets With Egyptian Foreign Minister, Democracy Activist

Clinton Meets With Egyptian Foreign Minister, Democracy Activist
Who was the activist? "Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will be meeting today with Egypt’s foreign minister. In the afternoon, she will meet with a democracy activist at the State Department. A spokesman for the department was not aware of the activist’s identity or the agenda for the meeting."
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Hillary Clinton in Lebanon

So Hillary Clinton made a surprise visit to Lebanon, where she called for elections to be free and fair, and without external interference. I hate to venture into the minefield of Lebanese politics, but it strikes me that elections there are relatively free, in the sense that the state does not rig them, dispatch police to prevent people from voting, or engage in campaigns of intimidation against opposition candidates. This is not the issue in Lebanon since after all there is barely a state there. (With the caveat, of course, that Syria still runs campaigns of destabilization against those politicians that oppose its lingering influence. But this is a wider problem, not per se an electoral issue.) The problem with Lebanon's electoral system lies more in that it is organized on sectarian lines (as the whole political system is), involves rampant vote-buying, and generally offers little in the way of surprise since the parties and confessional groups have an interest in coming to some sort of consensus on their outcome. Indeed, although seats are distributed by confession, some kind of cross-confessional alliance is needed to win individual seats (i.e. candidates have to reach beyond their community), which creates the shifting alliances of the Lebanese political system. So in the context of what's expected to be a narrow victory for Hizbullah and its allies that will return the same kind of national unity government that already exists, Clinton's statements is more of a partisan cry of support for March 14 and a signal to March 8 that the US is watching. But let's not turn this into an issue of elections being fair or unfair, especially in an electoral system designed to reproduce, give or take, the status-quo of the Taif Accords. Everyone knows what the system is - friend of Hillary Clinton or not. Now, ignore everything said above and go read much more informed people blogging about the Lebanese elections here. He (or she) says there are only 18 seats (out of 128) that are really up for grabs, the rest being evenly divided between March 8 and March 14. Personally, if I could vote, I'd go for these guys:
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The Green Party: "Because the Earth is not confessional." In the meantime, the Lebanese economy enjoyed 9% growth last year. P.S. Also read this on the video circulating showing Walid Jumblatt disparaging his March 14 partners and urging reconciliation with Shias, which Michael Young thinks may signal a future change of sides for the Druze weathervane.
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