HRW: Deadly protest dispersals in Egypt a crime against humanity

Human Rights Watch -- whose senior members were prevented from entering the country yesterday -- has just released a report arguing that the dispersals of pro-Morsi protests in Egypt last summer (the most deadly of which, in the Rabaa El Adawiya Square, may have killed over 1,000 people) amount to crimes against humanity. This because they involved the premeditated (government officials openly discussed how many thousands of protesters they expected to be killed)  use of widescale violence against civilians. You can read the full report -- which calls for the indictment of the Minister of Interior and of President Sisi -- here

Questions around HRW's world report

Yesterday HRW released it's latest world report, with much emphasis on the Arab spring and a call on the international community to strengthen its support for democratic transitions. It was launched in Cairo, and I was at the press conference and asked the question in the clip above about Egypt. With so many observers of the Egyptian scene talking about some kind of deal between the new parliament (esp. the Muslim Brothers) and the military, I thought it was worth talking about. HRW's Ken Roth doesn't like the idea, seeing it as a bad start to a democracy.

I also asked about what the West can do, a major theme of Roth's, including about aid conditionality, which I've been a big believer in for years (and indeed the more radical notion of "no reform, no aid of any kind.")

[Thanks DS for making the footage available.]

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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 Dec.10.09 to Dec.12.09

Daily News Egypt - Editorial: The Illusive Metal Barrier | On Egypt's denial that a wall is being built.

BBC News - Egypt starts building steel wall on Gaza Strip border | Video report has some more details, but the whole thing is rather hazy.

Israel National Survey | Survery of Israeli attitudes on various topics.

Libya still jailing dissenters: Human Rights Watch | New HRW report.

'Egypt is one of the freest states in the entire Arab world' - The Irish Times - Sat, Dec 12, 2009 | Ismail Serageldin engages in apologia.

Palestinian leader speaks from prison - CNN.com | Interview with Marwan Barghouti.

Swiss Man Builds Minaret to Protest Ban - WaryaTV | Good for him.

Israel court: Deported Palestinian student can't return - CNN.com | Everyday misery from Gaza blockade.

ENVIRONMENT: Darkness at Noon Clouds Cairo Skies - IPS ipsnews.net | On the black cloud - which I thought was not as bad this year.

The Language of Food | Ceviche and Fish & Chips | Fascinating on the Persian and Arab origin of escabeche, ceviche, and fish and chips.

The Language of Food | Ceviche and Fish & Chips | Fascinating on the Persian and Arab origin of escabeche, ceviche, and fish and chips.

‘Sultan wants children to be God-fearing’ | The ridiculousness of the al-Sauds.

No real "freeze" on settlement: Israeli minister - Yahoo! News | No kidding: "JERUSALEM (Reuters) – The population of Jewish settlements in the West Bank could grow by 10,000 in the coming year despite a declared "freeze" on Israeli building in the occupied territory, an Israeli Cabinet minister has said."

On Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Lobby: A response to Peter Beinart | Walt on Obama's Afphan policy and the lobby.

Middle East Report 253 contents: Apartheid and Beyond | New issue.

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Links for 11.19.09 to 11.24.09

Middle East Report 253: Beyond Compare by Julie Peteet | On the similarities of the Israeli occupation to Apartheid, its differences, and a call for a new advocacy strategy. ✪ Newsweek Reporter's Ordeal in Iran | Newsweek International | Newsweek.com | Maziar Bahari's story. ✪ The sixth war - The National Newspaper | Greg Johnsen on the Huthi-Saudi-Yemeni war(s), and their socio-political underpinnings. ✪ Daily News Egypt - Shalit Release Imminent, Claim Egyptian And Israeli Press | Heard that before - who will be the spoiler for prisoner exchanges now? ✪ Morocco: Endangered 'Model'? | Human Rights Watch | HRW's Eric Goldstein on Morocco's slide to more and more rights abuses. ✪ MEI - Middle East International | Another new issue. ✪ Saudi Arabia goes to war | Mai Yamani | On Riyadh's attack on Huthis marks the first solo military venture for the Saudi army. ✪ Hey, preacher – leave those kids alone | Ariane Sherine | Comment is free | guardian.co.uk | I'm a rabid atheist and even I think this goes too far. People can choose sooner or later anyway, parents have rights over their kids. But of course religious schools should get no state funding. ✪ Syria's crusade for tourism | Travel | The Guardian | Damascus wants to double the number of tourists that visit it. Quick, get there before the country is ruined... ✪ Homeland Security Today - preparedness and security news - Obama Dilutes Power of Top Intel Officer; Elevates DCI | Interesting piece on failed attempts to restructure US intelligence community, caused by fight between CIA and DNI. ✪ International Journal of Žižek Studies | It would be funny if this was satire, but it's not. ✪ Interview / Reporter Helen Thomas criticizes Obama's Mideast peace efforts - Haaretz | "I don't think they are working very hard for peace." ✪ Will Turkey benefit from Ergenekon? - Le Monde diplomatique | Remnants of Turkey's deep state and Cold War networks. ✪ Le Figaro - La lutte des princes saoudiens pour succéder au roi Abdallah | As Sarkozy visits, creepy old geezer princes fight for kingdom. ✪ Little behind Obama's tough Mideast talk: analysts - Yahoo! News | In foreign as in domestic policy, Obama has no balls.
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Links for 10.21.09

'Just World News' with Helena Cobban: Nozette: Pollard, 2.0? | On the latest Israeli spy scandal in the US. ✪ "friday-lunch-club": Netanyahu refuses Kouchner's request to see Gaza's destruction ... | Gaza? What Gaza? ✪ To Earn HIs Nobel Prize, Obama Will Need a "Plan B" | Stephen M. Walt | "If I were President Obama (now there's a scary thought!), I'd ask some smart people on my foreign policy team to start thinking hard about "Plan B." What's Plan B? It's the strategy that he's going to need when it becomes clear that his initial foreign policy initiatives didn't work." ✪ ذاكرة مصر المعاصرة - الصحافة | Alexandria Library's online collection of historical Egyptian newspapers, including the first issue of al-Ahram (which was founded, it must be reluctantly noted, by Lebanese.) ✪ News Analysis - Painful Mideast Truth - Force Trumps Diplomacy - NYTimes.com | Painful Media Truth: For NYT, bias always trumps journalism. Look at the language used in this piece: Palestinian violence is "very bloody" and Israel carries out "military action." Israel's plans to attack Iran are considered as legitimate. And there is a mixing of terrorism and the attacks on Israel's "legitimacy" -- i.e. the legitimacy of its landgrabs, occupations and militarism. Pure hasbara. ✪ Israel, US start major joint air defence drill - Yahoo! News |
The exercise will test the Arrow (Hetz) system, the THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defence), the ship-based Aegis Ballistic Missile Defence System, as well as Patriot and Hawk anti-aircraft systems, media said. It will simulate the firing of long-range missiles from Israel's foes Iran, Syria and Lebanon, and towards the end it will include a "live" missile interception, reports said.
Matthew Yglesias » Bernstein on Human Rights Watch | A good retort to the latest silly attack on HRW (by one of its former chairman) "or having the temerity to hold Israel to the same standards of international humanitarian law to which it holds every other country." But this just points to the problem of bias in the higher echelons of HRW - among former and current staffers. ✪ Almasry Alyoum | No Fly Zone | Nice story looking at the recent airport detentions of various kinds of activists. ✪ Almasry Alyoum | Pope Shenouda: "I Support Gamal Mubarak" | What a nasty little man, and what disservice he does to his flock. I hope Copts flee the Orthodox Church en masse over this. ✪ Arab states consider joint counter-terror police unit | "Arabpol." Oh Lord Have Mercy. ✪ Egyptcarpoolers | A carpooling connecting website for Cairo. ✪ Saddam Interview | Transcripts of interviews with Saddam Hussein during his captivity in 2004.
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On HRW's Marc Garlasco

The Guardian has picked up a story making the rounds in Israel about HRW's military researcher:

Tension between the Israeli government and Human Rights Watch, the international body that has been critical of the Israeli military's tactics in Gaza, has intensified over revelations that one of the watchdog's investigators is a collector of Nazi memorabilia. Marc Garlasco, a former Pentagon intelligence officer, has reported for Human Rights Watch on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the two Israeli wars in Lebanon and Gaza. He is described as the watchdog's senior military expert. It has now emerged that he is also an avid collector of German and American wartime memorabilia, including awards badges handed out to soldiers working in the anti-aircraft Flak units. He is the author of a 430-page book on the Flak badges of the Wehrmarcht, and a regular contributor to two internet bulletin boards used by military collectors under his moniker Flak 88.
One may discuss the worthiness of military memorabilia, but I very much doubt this has anything to do with Garlasco's personal politics. I've known quite a few ex-soldiers and war journalists with obsession for military gear over the years, and most would not hurt a fly, never mind being admirers of the Nazis. Hundreds of people get into the geeky hobby of collecting medals, guns, and other memorabilia. That Nazi stuff is particularly prized is hardly surprising considering how glamorized they've become in movies since WW2 (the aesthetics, not the politics). My own grandfather, who fought (for the US) from the Normandy landings to the liberation of the concentration camps in Germany and the race to Berlin, kept a few trophies from SS officers. A few years ago I remember he gave my father a SS knife. While it looks cool, it's not displayed in the house (especially since so many people in the family suffered so much during the war, were fighting the Nazis, etc.) Anyway, the point of all this is to say while it appears clear from the above-linked article that Garlasco is not a Nazi sympathizer or some kind of right-wing militia man, I do know the following about him. I knew many reporters who covered the Gaza War that said, time and time again and separately, that Garlasco was an essential source of information on the hostilities. If you remember, international media were not allowed into Gaza from the Israeli side (and not until towards the end of the war from the Egyptian side) and many reporters gathered on a hill near the territory to observe the bombing campaign. It was also there that Israel's PR people would brief journalists. Garlasco spent much time there, using his military expertise to provide instant assessments of the types of weapons being used by the Israelis. He could immediately recognized the smoke patterns of some bombs as white phosphorus, becoming a key source in the now-confirmed used this weapon, which should not be used in populated areas. This is just one example of how someone with Garlasco's background can be incredibly useful to counter-act the propaganda of the IDF. It seems that some Israelis are aware of this fact, and are now trying to paint his hobby as some kind of evidence of anti-Semitism and Nazi-worship. Typical tactics from the people who have put HRW under tremendous pressure because of its reporting on war crimes during Israel's Operation Cast Lead.

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Links for 07.20.09 to 07.21.09

Iran's Mir Hosein Mousavi: Out of his shell | The Economist | What Moussavi's been up to. The Arabs' view of Iran: Mixed feelings | The Economist | On Arabs' view of the recent political turmoil in Iran. Honour killings in Syria: The law changes. Will attitudes? | The Economist | Bashar al-Assad timidly moves against honor crimes. The "Swiftboating" of Human Rights Watch (Prospects for Peace) | A good piece on the lobby's attack on HRW. Wait, Bibi-- Palestinians can't go buy property in West Jerusalem | Bibi claims that Palestinians are free to buy property in West Jerusalem, so why not let Jews buy in East Jerusalem... except of course it's a lie, you can't buy in WJ if you're not Jewish. Not too mention, of course, under international law any Israeli-owned property in East Jerusalem is an illegal settlement. Daily News Egypt - Full Article | The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Index of Democracy 2008 | Egypt, Jordan Morocco start at 118. [PDF] Islamists Today: Mubarak Regime and Brotherhood: Zero-Sum Game | Khalil al-Anani has a very strong column on the ongoing MB-regime war - but perhaps he goes too far by comparing the arrest of Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh to the execution of Sayyid Qutb! Not do I really believe the regime wants to eradicate the MB, but Khalil's expression "to turn it into an antique suitable for the Egyptian Museum" may have some truth to it. The regime's dilemma is, how do you make the MB irrelevant?
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Human Spin Watch

Rather confused reactions from HRW on the Obama speech: HRW's reaction to the Obama speech at 11:15pm Cairo time on June 4 (comment below - after the long excerpts):
US/Egypt: Obama Dodged Rights Issue Generalities Failed to Send Tough Message on Mideast Repression (Cairo, June 4, 2009) – President Barack Obama’s speech on June 4, 2009 failed to advance the promotion of human rights in the Muslim world, Human Rights Watch said today. In a much-anticipated address, Obama spoke bluntly about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but kept to generalities when it came to the pressing need for human rights and democratic reforms in the region. “If Obama wanted to tackle the issues that cause Muslim ill-will toward the US, he should have taken on the region’s repressive regimes, many of them US-backed, including his hosts,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Egypt and others will interpret his bland generalities as a signal they have nothing to fear from their friends in Washington.” Speaking before 2,500 invited guests at Cairo University, Obama addressed democracy as a major source of tension between the United States and Islam around the world. His choice of Cairo for this much-anticipated speech was controversial because of Egypt’s record of stifling the opposition, holding tainted elections, and imprisoning dissidents. Obama said that all people yearn for “the rule of law and administration of justice,” but did not criticize the state of emergency that has undermined respect for human rights in Egypt, Algeria, and Syria, among other countries. President Hosni Mubarak in 2008 renewed the Emergency Law, in force since 1981, which allows authorities to suppress demonstrations, detain opponents arbitrarily, and try them in special security courts that do not meet international fair trial standards. On freedom of expression, Obama spoke of the importance of the “ability to speak your mind” but missed the opportunity to criticize the imprisonment of dissidents, journalists, and bloggers in Egypt and elsewhere. On torture, Obama spoke only in the context of post 9/11 practices by the United States, noting that the United States has “unequivocally prohibited” its use. But he failed to speak of the practice of torture in the Middle East and of US complicity in the renditions to countries where torture is systemic, including Egypt, or of the need for measures to bring accountability for such practices. Coming four years after then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s pro-democracy speech in Cairo, which some contend helped to widen space for democratic activism in Egypt, Obama’s comments on democracy had been eagerly awaited. In that speech, Rice said that in Egypt “peaceful supporters of democracy – men and women – are not free from violence,” and that “the day must come when the rule of law replaces emergency decrees – and when the independent judiciary replaces arbitrary justice.” In contrast, Obama’s argument that “governments that protect these rights are ultimately more stable, successful, and secure,” and his reiteration that “you must maintain your power through consent, not coercion,” will not make the Egyptian government or any others in the region feel particularly uncomfortable. “Obama failed to address the dire state of human rights in the region and the past US practice of ‘rendering’ persons to countries like Egypt for torture,” said Whitson. “His Cairo speech brings us no new beginning in terms of promoting human rights.”
HRW's follow-up message 50 minutes later:
Dear all, Apologies, but please do not use the news release headlined “US/Egypt: Obama Dodged Rights Issue,” which was sent in error at 4:15 p.m. EDT. We will send a corrected version shortly.
HRW's final release over three hours after that:
Obama Mid-East Speech Supports Rights, Democracy But US Needs Stronger Message for Repressive Regional Allies (Cairo, June 4, 2009) – President Barack Obama’s much-anticipated June 4, 2009, speech to the Muslim world avoided confronting authoritarian governments directly, but sent a welcome message that Washington would not let the prospect of empowering Islamist parties deter it from supporting democracy in the region, Human Rights Watch said today. Speaking before 2,500 invited guests at Cairo University, Obama said the issue of democracy and human rights was a major source of tension between the United States and Islam around the world, in part because of the Bush administration’s use of democratic rhetoric to justify the war in Iraq. He pledged, however, that the United States would continue to support human rights and democratic principles in the region. “For the US to regain credibility, it will have to follow through even when voters in the Middle East elect governments Washington doesn’t like,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “If Obama wants to tackle the issues that cause Muslim ill-will toward the United States, he should take on the region’s repressive regimes, many of them US-backed – including his hosts.” Obama’s choice of Cairo for the speech was controversial because of Egypt’s record of stifling the opposition, holding tainted elections, and imprisoning dissidents. Obama said that all people yearn for “the rule of law and the equal administration of justice,” adding, “Those are not just American ideas, they are human rights, and that is why we will support them everywhere.” Obama stressed that the US would “respect the right of all peaceful and law-abiding voices to be heard around the world, even if we disagree with them” and “welcome all elected, peaceful governments – provided they govern with respect for all their people,” an apparent reference to Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood. However, Obama missed an important opportunity to criticize the state of emergency that has undermined respect for human rights in Egypt, Algeria, and Syria, among other countries. President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt in 2008 renewed the Emergency Law, in force since 1981, which allows authorities to suppress demonstrations, detain opponents arbitrarily, and try them in special security courts that do not meet international fair trial standards. On freedom of expression, Obama rightly spoke of the importance of the “ability to speak your mind,” but failed to criticize the imprisonment of dissidents, journalists, and bloggers in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia and elsewhere. Obama spoke about torture in the context of post-9/11 practices by the United States, noting that his administration has “unequivocally prohibited” its use. “Obama told his Middle Eastern audience that the US has ended torture, but it would have been better had he also urged governments of the region, including Egypt’s, to do the same,” Whitson said. Acknowledging the suffering of both Israeli and Palestinian people, Obama pressed both sides to take steps to end their conflict. He said the US did not support “continued Israeli settlements” in the Occupied Territories, and urged Hamas to stop the use of violence. Obama implicitly called on Israel to end its blockade of Gaza, noting “the continuing humanitarian crisis in Gaza does not serve Israel’s security.” But Obama did not mention the upcoming UN Human Rights Council mission, led by Judge Richard Goldstone, to investigate abuses by both sides in the recent conflict in Gaza. Human Rights Watch said Obama should have used this opportunity to push Israel to cooperate with the international investigation. “Obama’s made a start in restoring America’s image in the Middle East, affirming US support for human rights principles,” said Whitson. “He’s laid out general principles, but now he needs to be more specific about what Washington expects from its authoritarian allies – that they free political prisoners, end torture, allow a free press and tolerate genuine political opposition.”
It's not that the final release is that bad, although the initial one was better as far as HRW's remit -- human rights -- are concerned. But the initial one had a lot more info about the problematic nature of having Egypt, a serial abuser, as host and also raises the bilateral issue of rendition, an ongoing program Obama did not cancel. Basically the first release was an Egypt-focused one, centered on the relegation of democracy and human rights to a distant concern for the Obama administration. The final release tones down that criticism and adds, rightly, that Obama should have called on Israel to comply with the Goldstone Enquiry and highlighted the most recent massive abuse of human rights in the region, Israel's Operation Cast Lead. Worth noting the initial release had nothing on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I wonder what brought about the change of mind. Both releases make valid points, I wish they had made both the points about Egypt and the relegation of human rights promotion in Obama's foreign policy as well as his need to take a stronger stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict after Gaza. (Although I do think the point in the final press release about the US sending the signal that will not shirk from empowering Islamists by respecting their democratic elections is wrong -- after all, if this was so Hamas would be recognized as the legitimate government of Palestine.)
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