Gaza beach deaths

Jumping back in to the blogging game from Gaza... Rumors have it Palestinian factions will announce agreement tonight, but for now with regards to the beach deaths, Hossam mentioned Saturday's Guardian report. In fact all three British tabloids, Guardian, Telegraph and her majesty's Times took the Israeli army's account to task on Friday and Saturday, but it was the Times that had the more damning account, including an internal UN radio call contradicting the crucial Israeli timeline of events:
Israel says that its land artillery batteries fired six shells at northern Gaza between 4.30pm and 4.48pm that afternoon, and that it can account for all but one, which was fired at 4.30pm. However, its investigation said that that shell was aimed too far away to have killed the Palestinians.The investigation relies heavily on timing. It cites surveillance footage of the beach showing that it was quiet between 4.54 and 4.57pm, and film of ambulances apparently arriving at the scene at 5.15.
It says that the incident must therefore have happened between 4.57 and 5.10pm — at least nine minutes after it says it stopped firing land artillery. But The Times has established that at 4.43pm the UN received a radio call from one of its officials in northern Gaza that said: “At 16.33hrs IDF artillery shelling has started again targeting the northern area, two artillery shells so far. One of the shells fell down at the coast west of the evacuated old Dugit settlement, some casualties among the people spending their day at the . . . � Transmissions could be picked up by anyone with a scanner, which are widely available in Gaza.
The UN in Gaza has confirmed the Times report is accurate. The Times report also pointed out that the Israeli inquiry totally failed to mention two shells that were fired from an offshore gunboat around the time of the deaths. The shell that killed the beachgoers wasn't from a gunboat, according to an ex-Pentagon analyst now working for Human Rights Watch, so it's perhaps a moot point, but for skeptics, it might cast doubt on just how forthcoming the army was in its internal inquiry. Israel's response is apparently that their report did include mention of those shells, but that they were not included in the executive summary, or press statement about the report. Only problem is that the inquiry itself hasn't been made available to the public. And whereas the Guardian and Telegraph are regarded here as radical lefty, anti-Israel bully pulpits, the Times has a slightly more balanced reputation among Israelis. As one right-leaning Israeli analyst said: "The Guardian and the Independent are so profoundly anti-Israeli, who cares what they say. London Times is different. It's not automatically anti Israeli." The Times report comes in addition of course to the investigation by Human Rights Watch's Marc Garlasco, an ex-Pentagon battlefield damage analyst who said the blast was undoubtedly a 155mm shell "most likely" fired onto the beach by Israeli guns. On the flip side is this report in the German daily SuedDeutsche, which says the video of the orphaned 10 year old screaming over her decimated family was staged. This was the same claim made by some after the Mohammad al Dura shooting in 2000.
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Egyptian blogger arrested

I just received this Email:
Abdolkarim Nabil Seliman [aka: Kareem Amer] is a 21 year-old Egyptian student of law at the Azhar University, Damanhour Campus, a women's-rights activist and a correspondent for Copts United. In addition to writing at Civic Dialogue, he also publishes at a blog he maintains.
On Wednesday 26 October 2005, Egyptian State Security took Abdolkarim from his home, and confiscated hard copies of his writings. He is now on his way to an unknown detention. Three Egyptian bloggers visited Abdolkarim's family. The family attributed the state security raid to his writings, although it was not clear if his blogging is directly related. According to his brother, Abdolkarim's relations with Islamist Fundamentalists in his neighborhood of Moharram Bek, Alexandria, are tense. It is possible that the fundamentalists have filed a security complaint that led to his detention
This arrest no doubt comes in the context of the recent sectarian riots between Copts and Muslims in Alexandria. This blogger is Muslim and a student at Al Azhar. In recent weeks his blog has been devoted to events in Alexandria and has included several rather scathing attacks on those Muslims who had rallied against the controversial play. State Security likely arrested him as a precautionary move. Someone like Kareem Amer does not fit the mold, and this always makes state security nervous. Amer wasn't arrested because of what he was writing. He was arrested because of who he is. Had he been a Copt railing against Muslim extremism it would never have caught state security's attention. But because he's Muslim and an Azhari, he is more dangerous. Amer was arrested because state security doesn't want to have to deal with the fall out if some radical decides to stab him for his inflammatory writings. A similar case would be the case of Metwallif Ibrahim Saleh, a bearded Salafi who has been in prison for nearly three years, because of his reformist writings on Islam. Saleh had written that it is okay for Muslim women to marry non-Muslims and that the Koran does not sanction death for Muslims who convert to other religions. There are dozens of writers in Egypt saying the same thing, so why has Saleh been singled out? Because he's a Salafi fundamentalist, and they're not supposed to make such arguments. Here's ex-state security chief Fouad Allam on the Saleh case, but I think it is equally applicable in the case of the arrested Egyptian blogger:
State security has nothing against moderate, tolerant Islam, explained fomer head Fouad Allam. “Their logic is that writings like this, about Muslim women marrying non-Muslims, and about changing religions, is very dangerous because of the huge impact of Islamic extremist ideologies,� he said. “It could produce a problem and impact the security situation.�
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Election Polls

Here's a roundup of a few internet polls on the Egyptian presidential elections: Shebab Misr (2264 responses): Ayman Nour -63%; Hosni Mubarak - 21%; Nomaan Gomaa - 12% Egyptian Referendum (1591 responses): Hosni Mubarak - 39.66%; Ayman Nour - 28.16%; Nomaan Gomaa - 15.78%; Boycotting - 10.56% From Al Waai Al Misri (2706 responses): Ayman Nour - 31%; Hosni Mubarak - 11%; Nomaan Gomaa - 11%; Boycotting - 37% The Coptic run Watani Newspaper (233 responses): Hosni Mubarak - 45%; Ayman Nour - 34%; Nomaan Goma - 17% Al Jazeera Poll (32,197 responses): Do you think the candidates in the Egyptian presidential elections have an equal chance in the election campaigns? Yes - 6.9%; No - 93.1% I'm not exaclty sure what conclusions you can draw from these most unscientific samples. They seem to confirm that the race is indeed between Ayman Nour and Hosni Mubarak, and that the Wafd's Nomaan Gomaa is a distant third. That being said, most people expect Nomaan Gomaa to place second in the elections after all is said and done, simply because the government won't want Ayman Nour to be the alternative to Mubarak. The polls above in which Nour is beating Mubarak, Al Waai Al Masry and Shebab Misr, are opposition Web sites, and one would expect that most of the people who read them would be inclined to oppose Mubarak. I don't know much about the Egyptian Referendum Web site, but at first glance it appears to be fairly non-partisan. Though the Watani poll includes a small sample, the strong showing for Mubarak in it is perhaps a reflection of the Pope's pro-Mubarak stance.
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Campaign promises

Mubarak's campaign promises in his campaign kickoff event last night at Al Azhar Park: -Constitutional amendments that enshrine the liberites of the citizen, reinvigorate political parties, develop the institutional framework of our policies and the decision making process, and place restrictions on executive authority. -Amendments to enhance parliament’s oversight, allowing it to hold the government accountable, empowering it to be involved in the budget process. -Reforms to guarantee fair representation of women in parliament. -Adopting an electoral system that guarantees the greatest chance for multi-party representation. -Revising the Judicial Authority Law to reinforce the judiciary’s independence. -Decentralize decision making, giving more authority to local government. -Legislation to guarantee all citizens the right to basic due process and a fair and speedy trial. -An anti-terror law to replace the emergency law. -Revise system of administrative detention to reinforce the rule of law. -Legislation that will guarantee citizens’ rights to the free flow of information. -Further enhance the performance of public newspapers. -Create over 4 million job opportunities in the next six years, through the largest investment program Egypt has ever witnessed. -Increase availability of micro financing. -Empower private sector to build 1000 factories in the next six years, and to provide 250,000 job opportunities. -Reclaim one million feddans of desert land, thus providing an additional 70,000 jobs. -Increase hotel capacity, creating an additional 200,000 jobs. -Extend health insurance coverage to every citizen. -3,500 new schools over next six years. -80,000 government subsidized new homes per year. -Provide squatter settlements water, electricity, sewage, and access to schools. -Establish private mass transportation companies to develop road networks in Upper and Lower Egypt. -Ease traffic in the capital by completing third metro line. -Raise wage of low-income civil servants by 100%. -Increase remaining civil servants’ wages by 75%. -Guaranteed job contracts, health insurance, and social security to those working in the informal sector. -Raise pensions. -Child care for working mothers.
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Confronting political apathy

An interesting new movement launched last night called Shayfeenkum-- We're watching you. The movement's 12 founders, and reported 250 members to date, will provide an avenue for citizens to report any human rights violations, electoral mishaps, and other problems to the media and government ministries. Anybody can file a complaint through the groups slick Web site. Visitors to the Web site can write an account of what they witnessed, and then click off the boxes of those government ministries and Egyptian newspapers that they want their report sent to. It's being billed as an attempt to reinvigorate Egyptians' interest in politics, and an attempt to counter the lack of credible election monitors in the upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections. Egyptians much lamented political apathy was the focus of a series of studies reported in the Nasserist party weekly Al Arabi this week. Of the 5100 Egyptian youth polled in one of the studies, only 12% belonged to a political party. A Ministry of Youth poll reported that 57% of youth don't follow politics. While youth apathy is a problem in nearly every country, the most telling and I should think worrisome statistic came from a study by the Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies. It claimed that 92% of youth are afraid of getting involved in politics. The same study reported that 92% see no point in political participation. 80% don't know the meaning of a political party.
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Campaign kick off review

So Egypt’s presidential campaign officially begins today. The three candidates that people will be watching, Ayman Nour from Hizb al Ghad, Nomaan Gomaa from the Wafd, and of course Mubarak, are each holding kickoff press conferences today. Mubarak will deliver a live television address on Dream TV tonight at 8 pm. Dream, by the way, ran two page ads for the speech in some of today’s newspapers. I opened up Al Misry Al Yom today and was thrown for an instant when I saw a huge full page picture of Mubarak. Had my favorite newspaper sold out? No, it was the Dream TV ad. Ayman Nour has gone to the Muslim Brotherhood seeking their endorsement of his candidacy. It seems unlikely that he’s going to get it. Rumors are swirling that the Brotherhood will support Mubarak. Nahdat Misr earlier this week did a full page spread on the opposition’s secret deals with the regime. Though it was largely speculative, the article concluded that the Brotherhood was most guilty of concluding such pacts with the regime, followed by the Tegammu Party and the Wafd. The Wafd’s Nomaan Gomaa has agreed to run in the elections, perhaps to spite Ayman Nour, but also presumably in exchange for a better showing in the upcoming parliament. Baheyya has some keen insight on why Gomaa's candidacy is a boon to Mubarak. Talk of Brotherhood collusion with the regime has been circulating for a while now. Remember the fateful demonstration in front of the lawyers syndicate on July 20, when the Brotherhood got upset about the left’s anti-regime chants. See Issandr's sage analysis for more. The Brotherhood, rumors have it, has agreed to support Mubarak. In exchange, the government would stop harassing and arresting its members, and would reconsider legalizing the party, in addition to allowing the Brotherhood to win 50 seats in the coming parliamentary elections. Or so Nahdat Misr is claiming. Brotherhood activist, Ali Abd al Fatah, responded to the rumors on Nahdat Misr’s op-ed pages:
I can say that the Brotherhood will not ally itself with the regime against the people. Because the Brotherhood’s success depends on the people’s support for them in the syndicates and protests. So the Brotherhood will not become part of the regime by forming an alliance with it, and they will not neglect the feelings of the people which reject the continuation of the deteriorating political and economic situation, and they will not abandon the national consensus, because they are patriots and patriotism is a part of [Islamic] faith.
The Brotherhood’s opponents would like nothing more than to see "Egypt's most popular opposition force" side with Mubarak, thus stripping the organization of credibility, but it doesn’t seem likely. More sober analysts seem to think the Brotherhood will boycott the presidential elections all together. But one has to wonder why they are holding out on publicizing their intentions. Ayman Nour’s decision to appeal to the Brotherhood for support has been portrayed by Al Misry Al Yom as a response to Pope Shenouda’s announcement of support for Mubarak in the name of all Copts. Shenouda’s pledge of loyalty prompted one Coptic priest to break ranks and join forces with the Ghad Party, for which he was suspended from the church for six weeks. Police reportedly intervened earlier this week to break up a demonstration by Coptic youth protesting the suspension outside a church in Giza. Magdy Mihana writes in Al Misry Al Yom:
With what right do religious men have the right to advise the people on their national and political choices?... Church leaders’ decision to turn to the media represents a violation of the tenets of the Christian religion… We find ourselves confronting something positive because it exposes the hypocritical face of the church, because, while the great church leaders are content to partake in political activities, they order the suspension of a church priest when he practices his right as a citizen to support the position of one of the opposition parties.
A new daily paper has hit Egyptian newsstands. Roz al Yussuf, the liberal government weekly that once represented the pinnacle of Egyptian journalism, but has since become little more than government propagandist drivel, began publishing a daily newspaper this week. In their first issue last Moday they attacked Kefaya, accusing it of having foreigners among its rolls. The accusation was based on the fact that foreigners are involved with the Socialist Studies Center, whose leader, Kamal Khalil, is a member of Kifaya. Kifaya promptly responded on its Web site. And the Roz al Yussuf daily responded with a second front page article in today’s paper, accusing Kifaya of lying, and claiming it had the tapes to prove it.
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No Comment

I've spent my day immersed in the Arab blogosphere. A lot of good reading out there. Here one gem I came across, pretty much the funniest thing I've ever read. I got it from the Dubai blogger Secret Dubai Diary, who by the way was temporarily shut down recently for publishing a Gilbert & Sullivan spoof critical of the UAE government. From the Khaleej Times:
The Dubai General prosecution is investigating a case filed by a UAE national businessman, Rashid M, against his wife who he accuses of adultery. The wife in turn has filed a counter claim against the husband accusing him of adultery.
The wife had travelled to visit her family outside Dubai and spent two days with them. When she returned to her villa in the Al Yanabee area in Dubai she heard voices in her bedroom; she opened the door and was shocked to see her husband making love to his Moroccan secretary. She did not take any action as the Moroccan woman ran away and her husband put on his clothes. Instead she called her Pakistani driver to her bedroom and asked him to strip and forced him to make love to her. In the middle of the session she called her husband to come up to the bedroom.
The husband was ostensibly reviled and physically assaulted the wife and attempted to kill the driver who fled from the scene. Now both husband and wife have filed complaints against each other and asked the general prosecution to prove who has been wronged.
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Egypt and Algeria at odds

It appears the Algerians aren't too happy about what they see as Mubarak's latest political stunt, the Egyptian leader's call for an Arab Summit in Sharm al Sheikh to show solidarity against terrorism. The Khaleej Times reports:
A high-level Algerian source said his country was not keen on attending the summit, adding that Algeria was upset on the way the summit was hurriedly organised. He pointed out that the summit was for ‘local consumption’ and seeks to serve the Egyptian agenda as the presidential election in that country gets closer. The source, who requested anonymity, said Algeria would not accept to be summoned to an Arab summit just to serve the local election campaign of an Arab country.
At a time when Mubarak's greatest achievement, seven years of terror free stability, is under fire, the Sharm al Sheikh summit is sure to generate lots of media attention, focusing on Mubarak as a bold leader leading the region against terrorism. And hosting the summit in Sharm al Sheikh, in addition to sending the message that Sharm is bouncing back, will provide a much needed boost to the resort's economy, which will also benefit Mubarak politically. So no doubt there is political capital to be gained domestically here. Sort of like Bush's landing on the aircraft carrier, or his speech before both houses of congress after 9/11. Then again, Arab leaders have been coming under fire, rightly so in many cases, for not taking a strong enough stand against Islamic extremism. It seems that anti-terror summits such as those planned for Sharm shouldn't be discouraged, especially by Algeria, which has its own distinguished history of Islamic militancy. And if this is true, are we to understand that Bouteflika is against the reelection of Mubarak?
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Cairo Magazine banned again

The 20th issue of Cairo Magazine has been banned by Egyptian censors. It is the third issue to be banned in the magazine's short history. Censors said that the offending passage came in the article about last Saturday's demonstrations titled "Anti-Mubarak protesters violently beaten by police." The offending line was this quote from one demonstrator:
"Down with the rule of the dog Mubarak."
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Cairo court report: Legalize Al Wasat Party

It looks like Hizb Al Wasat, the centrist Islamic political party, may be on its way to legitimacy. A report commissioned by the Cairo administrative courts gave a hearty endorsement to the party. The court will issue a final ruling on the party in October. Hizb Al Wasat has been rejected by the parties committee three times. If the court rules in Al Wasat's favor, and overturns the decision of the parties committee, there should be little to stop it from becoming a full fledged party. The establishment of Hizb Al Wasat as a legal political party could provide a less menacing (from the regime's perspective that is) alternative to the Muslim Brotherhood, and a political outlet for the Islamic current in Egypt. It would establish a dual track for Islamists, akin to that found in Morocco, where the Justice and Development Party is allowed to participate legally, while the more popular Justice and Charity Organization remains banned. Legalizing Al Wasat, it seems, would also lessen the increasing sentiment, both within Egypt and abroad, that the regime's ongoing repression of the Brotherhood is without justification. See, the recently announced alliance between the Muslim Brotherhood and long reticent secular elements of the Egyptian opposition. Also See this pointed question posed to Condi Rice at a press conference in Saudi Arabia on June 20:
When you were asked today at the Cairo address about the Muslim Brotherhood, your response was also that the United States will not engage with this group. Yet, the Muslim Brotherhood has, for a generation now, renounced terrorism and, in fact, last year issued an 11-page statement of principles in which it embraced parliamentary democracy, free elections and even universal suffrage. So how can you reconcile the refusal to engage at all with this group with the reasoning that you give for not engaging with, say, Hamas -- Hamas and Hezbollah?
Or this comment by Bush when asked about Hezbollah: "I like the idea of people running for office. It's a positive effect when you run for office." Or this comment by Condi Rice: "I don't mean to underestimate the impact of radical Islamists having a say in the political process, but remember that the political process also has an effect on those who run in it."
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Kefaya's 1st demo in a month

The Abdeen demo was the first Kefaya sponsored rally in a month. After declining turnouts at recent demos, as Issandr pointed out in his post on the Imbaba demo, last Thursday's protest saw improved turnout and a more charged atmosphere. The demo was bigger than past demos (Al Misry Al Yom generously estimated turnout at 800 people), and more confrontational. Why? First, the focus of the demonstration was unemployment, a galvanizing issue for the millions of unemployed youth in Egypt. Second, Kefaya reportedly succeeded in bussing in demonstrators from over 20 governorates. And third, perhaps, is the historical significance of Abdeen Square, the site of numerous nationalist demonstrations in the first half of the 20th century. Penned in by police in front of the Daoud Engineering and Trading Co. in Abdeen Square, protestors charged security forces, broke through their cordons on a number of occasions, and even climbed atop security forces, like a crowd surfer at a punk rock show. I saw four protestors and one police officer pulled out of the melee unconscious, presumably from heat exhaustion. Another demonstrator had his leg cut open after falling onto a metal fence meant to protect a flower bed. Both the fence and the flowers were crushed by demonstrators and police. Demonstrators hoisted a dwarf in a wheelchair above the crowd. He held a sign reading “Freedom Now! Change Now!� Later the wheelchair-bound dwarf would lead a charge of angry demonstrators into a wall of security. As things seemed to be spiraling out of control, the head of Cairo security, Nabil Ezzaby, appeared. He paced back and forth on the outskirts of the demo, worry beads in one hand, a cel phone in the other, barking orders at police to alternately box the protestors in, or open up and give them space. Splinter groups of protestors, recognizing Ezzaby, soon singled him out with a handful of ad-libbed chants. “Down with Nabil Ezzaby� instead of the customary “Down with Hosni Mubarak.� The personal affront seemed to get to him at one point. Ezzaby stopped in his tracks, doubled back to the protestor, and asked him, “Why? Why?� Striking at all these demos is the presence of Copts, leftists, and religious types. Famed socialist Kamal Khalil will lead a chant followed by a veiled woman, followed by Coptic Kefaya leader Hani Anan. Standing apart from the masses at Thursday’s demo, was a bearded angry sheikh, the sort of person you’d expect to be heralding the apocalypse in downtown San Francisco. When Ezzaby passed by him, he screamed, “You’re a dog, you just follow orders. If they tell you to beat people, you beat people.�
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Nour trial development

I just received this SMS from Hizb Al Ghad.
One of the state witnesses has reversed his testimony saying that police obtained his earlier confession that was used against Nour under pressure. This proves the fabricated nature of Ayman Nour case and the regime intentions of framing hiim to prevent him from challenging NDP power monopoly.
For those of you unfamiliar with the details, on trial with Nour are five or six others who have confessed their guilt, and are testifying that they forged documents at Nour's behest. Nour claims never to have even met them. I couldn't go to the trial today. But we should be getting word about what transpired shortly.
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NDP leaders criticize state television

In addition to the article referred to by Issandr about the death of an Al Ghad supporter during the trial of Ayman Nour, Al Misry Al Yom has a story today that reports that NDP leaders have begun calling for state television to cover and broadcast the oppostion's anti-Mubarak demonstrations. Ex-minister of youth Ali Eddin Hilal and Mamdouh Al-Baltagi, current minister of youth, both went on the record. Said Hilal: "There is no value in hiding such news after the independent press and the satellites deal with all such happenings in detail." It's just one more testament to the impact that Al Jazeera has had and is continuing to have. Here's Abu Aardvark commenting on an AP article on the same subject from early June. Here's a bit from an article I wrote in April about the impact of satellites on the Egyptian elections.
Al Jazeera may have a more indirect impact as well. There is increasing pressure on state media to reform, as its credibility sinks to all time lows, and viewers increasingly turn to channels such as Al Jazeera for their news. State television was slammed by critics when it failed to cover the April 17 suicide bombing near Al Azhar. A subsequent headline in Al Masry Al Youm read "Egyptian television watched the Al Azhar incident on Al Jazeera." Al Jazeera reported the bombing first at 6:30 pm and was quick to provide analysis and commentary. State television failed to provide coverage of the bombing until 9 p.m., and then they simply rebroadcast MBC's coverage of the incident. Why the delay and the failure to cover the event? According to Al Masry Al Youm, state television's authoritarian news director had his mobile phone turned off and thus couldn't authorize the broadcast. A week later, Osama al-Ghazali Harb, editor in chief of the Al Ahram-owned quarterly journal Al Siyasa Al Dawliyya (International Policy), wrote in Al Ahram Weekly that the state media relies on one of three strategies towards covering unfavorable news: completely ignoring the event, downplaying its importance, or attacking members of the opposition.
"This strategy only serves to highlight the fact that large swathes of the official media continue to live in the 1950s, a proud example of the very worst in state-controlled, dictatorial media even as dictatorships and the absolute state are on the wane," al-Ghazali Harb wrote.
Today's Al Misry article also printed a rebuttal from the news director for Egyptian state television in which he pointed out that state television had indeed covered the anti-police violence protests in front of the Interior Ministry a few weeks ago, and also covered the Ayman Nour trial. I have been gone for the past month, so I can't vouch for either of those claims.
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Second bombing in three weeks

UPDATE: Al Arabiya and Al Jazeera reporting now that there were two bombings that killed three and injured eight. The second bombing was near Sayida Aisha, a working class Egyptian neighborhood about 15 minutes by car from the site of the first bombing. Al Jazeera is interviewing somebody now saying that it was carried out by two veiled women wearing the niqab and that they fired on a tour bus. Nothing about the second attack (bombing or shooting) is really clear yet. Also, watch to see whether these two still wanted from the Khan al-Khalili bombing are implicated in this latest attack (attacks). ------ The second bombing in three weeks in Cairo, this time into a bus station under the Abd al-Monem Riad Bridge near the Egyptian Museum, perhaps 100 meters from the entrance to the museum and Cairo's central Midan Tahrir. The AP has the most info so far. Four injured and one killed. The four injured were two Israelis, a Russian, and an Italian. There are conflicting reports about whether the one fatality was the bomber himself or whether the bomb was thrown from the bridge above. Al Jazeera reports that the bomb was similar to the one used in the Khan al-Khalili bombing, a crude device packed with nails. The immediate Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya coverage has focused on the fact that this bombing indicates the return of organized violence to the country. Al Jazeera spoke of "a new generation of fundamentalists with no connections to the groups of the past like al Gamaa al Islamiya and Islamic Jihad." Hassan Nafaa, the political science professor from Caior University called this "a new wave of violence." Following the Taba bombings and the Khan al-Khalili bombing the concensus had been that these were isolated acts. Here's a Reuters timeline that says what we all know, but nicely illustrates how different the past six months have been when compared with the past six years: Sept. 18, 1997 -- Gunmen kill nine German tourists and their Egyptian bus driver in a shooting and firebomb attack outside the Egyptian Museum in Cairo's Tahrir Square. Six Germans wounded. Nov. 17 -- Attackers with guns and swords kill 58 tourists and four Egyptians at an ancient temple near the southern tourist town of Luxor. Six gunmen and three police also die in the violence. Oct. 7, 2004 - A series of bombings at the Taba Hilton hotel on Egypt's border with Israel, and two beaches further south, kill 34 people. April 7, 2005 - A probable suicide bomb attack in a bazaar in medieval Cairo, popular with tourists, kills an American man, a French man and woman and the suspected bomber. April 30, 2005 - Suicide bomber injures foreign tourists near Cairo's landmark Egyptian Museum, home to national treasures dating from the time of the pharoahs. Interesting side note: Egyptian television appears to have registered the harsh criticisms leveled at it following the Taba bombings and the Khan al-Khalili bombing. This time around they were quick to get on the story. Al Arabiya had the Egyptian Museum bomb story first, a little before 4 p.m. Al Jazeera, whose Cairo office is 25 meters from the site of the bombing, was minutes later at about 4:05 p.m. Egyptian state television followed within minutes, interrupting its regularly scheduled programming and broadcasting a continuous live feed from the site of the bombing. As far as the pictures were concerned, Egyptian television actually has the best so far. Remember that after the Khan al-Khalili bombing state television was slammed for reporting the story nearly two hours later, and then when it finally did report it, it only scrolled a one-line blurb across the screen. When they finally ran pictures nearly four hours after the incident, they simply rebroadcasted MBC's coverage. Al Misry Al Yom reported that the reason for the embarassing delay was that the station's authoritarian news manager, Tharwat Mekki, had his mobile phone turned off and thus couldn't authorize coverage. The debacle prompted Osama al-Ghazali Harb, editor in chief of Al Siyasa Al Dowlia, to write in the Al Ahram Weekly that, "The real cause for alarm is that the official media, be it the press, radio or television, has shown itself largely incapable of absorbing these new developments [more free debate in Egyptian society] and continues to address its audience in an outdated language fundamentally at odds with the logic of political development."
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WSJ on US democracy $ in Egypt

Here is an interesting article by Neil King, the diplomatic writer for the Wall Street Journal, about the US State Department's Middle East Partnership Initiative and implementation of the program in Egypt. Titled "Democracy Drive By America Meets Reality in Egypt," it includes some interesting details about the push and pull that occurred on Capitol Hill, and between the US and Egyptian governments, over the distribution of MEPI money in Egypt. I've included a good portion of it below. I've also included a link to it, which should work for seven days.
One result was that a large share of the MEPI program's grants initially went to governments that didn't resist the effort. Nearly two-thirds of the $103 million spent through mid-2004 went to projects that directly benefited Arab government agencies or helped train existing government officials, a Brookings Institution study last fall found. It said the U.S. spent $6 million to modernize Morocco's trade ministry, for instance, and $2.3 million to improve regulatory systems in nations such as Oman and Saudi Arabia. The program was often "subsidizing Arab governments' attempts to build a kinder, gentler autocracy," the study asserted.
Washington at first didn't intend to apply the program in Egypt, since that country was already such a big recipient of American aid. For Egypt, instead of putting MEPI to work, the State Department just told USAID to place more emphasis on matters related to how government functions. What resulted was a new six-year spending plan that aimed to put 16% of Egypt's annual aid packages into governance work, up from 11%.
The projects -- heavy on judicial reform, media training and women's empowerment -- weren't designed to stir up much dust. And by longstanding agreement, all would have pre-approval of the Mubarak government.
But two U.S. senators pushed the administration, in October 2003, to become more active in trying to seed democratic change in Egypt. Democrat Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Republican Mitch McConnell of Kentucky proposed giving $2 million to Egypt's Ibn Khaldun Center, founded by sociologist Saad Eddin Ibrahim, who holds U.S. citizenship. The Mubarak government had ransacked the center in 2000 and arrested its founder. He then spent nearly three years in jail on charges of defaming the state and taking money illegally from European donors, before being acquitted.
To drive their point home, the senators wanted money for the center to come straight from the $575 million in U.S. economic aid that Egypt was set to receive in fiscal 2004. This would help show "that an important front in the war on terrorism includes the pursuit of freedom, democratic institutions, the rule of law and human rights in countries throughout the Middle East," Sen. McConnell said in a Senate speech.
Egypt's government protested strenuously. It appealed to the U.S. embassy in Cairo, and its diplomats in Washington descended on the State Department and Capitol Hill. Egypt said the senators' move would undermine a decades-long precedent under which aid was funneled through the Cairo government.
The State Department took Egypt's side and sought to dilute offending language in the bill, according to Senate staff aides. After weeks of squabbling, Congress and the administration reached a compromise: The U.S. would give about $1 million to pro-democracy Egyptian groups, including the Ibn Khaldun Center, but only a small portion would come from the preexisting aid program.
Sens. Leahy and McConnell later tried to tie Egypt's future aid to progress on political reform. Egypt again raised a fuss, the State Department again took its side, and the provision vanished.
Still, the senators' push forced a shift in the Washington-Cairo aid discussion. U.S. diplomats in Cairo sat down with Egyptian officials in late 2003 for the first of more than a dozen meetings to hash out the details of how a revamped U.S. aid strategy would work. "They were very difficult discussions," says Marwan Badr, from Egypt's Ministry of International Cooperation. He says his side laid down several stipulations, which the U.S. ultimately accepted: that all activities funded by U.S. grants must be legal; that Cairo must be notified of any grants in advance; and that the U.S. would give money only to groups registered with the Egyptian government.
Agreeing to the last point was no small concession. Egyptian law lets the state monitor all activities of registered groups. It can shut down any that run afoul of government wishes.
Mr. Badr says Egypt put up a fuss simply because of "the principle: You are taking money from our bilateral program and giving it to someone else."
By last fall, the U.S. embassy in Cairo was looking for groups to apply for pro-democracy grants. It phoned some potential recipients, word spread, and nearly 30 groups came forward, with proposed projects. By February, the embassy had picked six to fund.
The State Department originally wanted Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to award the grants in an outdoor ceremony during her visit to Cairo in early March. But in an unusually provocative U.S. move, she ended up canceling the trip -- to protest Egypt's jailing of an opposition party chief.
The U.S. then held the signing deep inside its diplomatic compound. Ambassador David Welch stepped softly in announcing the grants. "This is entirely consistent with Egyptian law, and the Egypt government is fully informed of all aspects of it," he said.
The announcement caused a ruckus nonetheless, in large part because about $400,000 was going to the Ibn Khaldun Center, long a major irritant to the Mubarak government.
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Al Araby: Mubarak responsible for bombing

Al Araby's page 1 top of the fold screaming red headline today read: "President Mubarak is politically responsible for the return of terrorism." Here is a translation of much of the accompanying article written by the paper's editor-in-chief Abdallah al-Senawy.
Among the stranger theories that have been circulating in some sectors of public opinion is that which blames the terrorist operation at Al Azhar on some state agencies in order to justify the extension of the Emergency Law and justify a strike against the Islamic movements. The notion is almost surreal, closer to a farce. But it is an expression of the growing and dangerous credibility gap between the angry streets and the ruling authorities.
Since the opposition political forces have all gone about denouncing the use of violence and have questioned its goals and motives, what happened at Al Azhar may deepen the crisis in Egypt. The ruling regime may make political use of the terrorist operation which killed foreign tourists to justify dragging its feet towards political reform. It may try to convince the United States to ease up on the pressure, because matters may get out of hand, which would harm the interests of all parties. Washington, however, for its part, may see this operation as evidence that closing all political and social channels of participation breeds terrorism. This is what necessarily means applying stronger pressure to force the Egyptian regime towards rapid political reforms.
The angry forces in the Egyptian street, from its perspective, may look at the dangerous development (the bombing) and consider it evidence of the inability of the Emergency Law to protect Egypt’s security, and may conclude that the slow pace of political and constitutional reform lead to congestion in the streets which allowed violence to return to Egypt. Thus the regime of Hosni Mubarak bares the responsibility for terror’s return to Egypt. The parties to the controversy have staked out their positions and the equation will only become more complex and sensitive. This may lead to chaos with a smell of blood in the air. This here is the entire danger which the ruling regime alone, bares responsibility for, because there is no alternative to total political reform.
Al Senawy mentions the conspiracy theory about the security services being behind what happened at Al Azhar. I had gingerly alluded to the idea in my post following the bombing. Abu Aaardvark put it much more bluntly in his post on the bombing. Joining Al Araby in pointing the finger of blame at the government was Al Misry Al Yom's Magdy Al Mihana in today's paper:
We have previously mentioned that an individual or a limited number of people were responsible for what happened. But we haven’t previously mentioned the political and security atmosphere Egypt is living in these days—and in which occurred this terrorist act. This atmosphere is present on both the level of political activity, which has witnessed a palpable stifling despite ongoing sessions of what they call a national dialog between the parties, and on the level of security itself.
My fear and the fear of many is that an increase in the acuteness of this political and security suppression will lead to more of these terrorist attacks, attacks for which the state and the security apparatus bare the responsibility— because the state holds the key positions of power, and thus holds the keys to reducing or increasing this acute suppression.
Fearing that Thursday's bombing will be used by the government to curtail democratic reforms, the opposition has decided to go on the offensive, alleging that the lack of democratic reforms is responsible for what happened. It seems to me a clever strategy, that will play well both at home and abroad. It will jive nicely with the post-9/11 conventional wisdom in the US and elsewhere, that oppression breeds terrorism. It is essentially a preemptive strike by the opposition against a possible US retreat on pressuring the Egyptian regime. Much of what I have been reading lately indicates a growing acceptance of US pressure among the opposition. Ibrahim Eissa's two most recent columns in Al Dostor spring immediately to mind, but even reading Abdallah Al Senawy in Al Araby, the tone seems different to me whenever he's talking about US meddling in Egypt. And this opposition strategy seems to be directed abroad as much as internally. Al Araby also ran a short interview with an Egyptian judge, talking about discontent with the pace of reform among some Egyptian judges, especially the younger ones. It raised the possibility of a judicial boycott of the elections. A judicial boycott would mean judges would refuse to perform their role as overseers of the electoral process. The interviewed judge, Ahmed Mekki, is vice president of the Court of Cassation. He further added that he hopes that the newly created oversight committee, a part of the new constitutional amendment, will not be composed of judges working in the Ministry of Justice. The composition of this election oversight committee, which will make many of the key decision concerning the presidential elections, will be one of the hotly debated items between the opposition and the NDP. According to what I've heard and read, the NDP would like to see the committee composed of three judges and four independent public figures. The opposition is insisting that the all seven members be judges. In the words of Abdel Ghafar Shokar, one of the Tegammu Party leaders, "Because our past experience is that the people who say they are independent are not independent. They are people who say they are indpendent but they are not, they are allies of the NDP." Other signs of a growing opposition campaign.
LONDON, April 4 (Reuters) - Egyptian activists have formed an opposition group in exile in Europe seeking to remove President Hosni Mubarak from office by mobilising public support and international pressure, a spokesman said on Monday.
Ahmed Saber, spokesman for the Save Egypt Front, said the group would coordinate with opposition factions inside Egypt, including the Kefaya (Enough) Movement and the suspended Labour Party.
"We will organise protests outside Egyptian embassies in Europe and the United States, and will mobilise the public through a satellite television channel," said Saber, an academic who runs a financial advising firm in London.
"The (Mubarak) regime has left us with no other choice by refusing a peaceful solution," he told Reuters. Asked if this meant calling for a popular revolt, he said: "Yes. Egypt is not less than a country like Ukraine."
An opposition-run satellite station based in Europe and broadcast in Egypt could make an interesting addition to the dismal Egyptian broadcast media. Muhammad Farid Hassanein, at the helm of the Save Egypt Front, said the station will be up and running by this Fall, in time for the presidential elections. Al Araby reported today that Saber, an economics professor at the University of London who left Egypt 17 years ago, is an ex-member of the National Democratic Party. Hassanein was one of the first people to declare their intentions to challenge Mubarak for the presidency. His vocal calls for increased US pressure on Egypt, and his recent travels to Israel, however, have scared many people away from his movement-- both among Egyptians abroad and among the opposition inside Egypt. The Kefaya movement has denied publicly in recent days any coordination between the two groups.
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State Department: Arabs outnumber Jews in Israel/Palestine

This may have been widely commented on already, but if it has, I haven't seen it. In any case, while looking for population figures for the West Bank and Gaza, I came across this US State Department human rights report for 2004. It was released on February 28, 2005. Here are the population figures it gives for Israel and Palestine:
The country's (Israel) population is approximately 6.8 million, including 5.2 million Jews, 1.3 million Arabs, and some 290,000 other minorities.
The population of the Gaza Strip was approximately 1.4 million, of the West Bank (excluding East Jerusalem) approximately 2.4 million, and of East Jerusalem approximately 414,518, including 177,333 Israelis.
By my calculations: 1.3 + 2.4 + 1.4 + .41 - .18 = 5.33 million Arabs. As compared with 5.2 million Jews. This is of course the sort of doomsday scenario for Israeli democracy that numerous people have warned of. I always heard that this demographic shift would occur in 2010. Guess not. UPDATE: Just found something else on this. The Electronic Intifada has this article from March 1, 2005.
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Premature explosion?

An article posted to the Kefaya movement Web site claims to have a picture of the bomber. The accompanying article reports that the bomb probably went off prematurely. If true that should answer all the questions as to why he'd have set it off in the Muski, a somewhat less tourist oriented area.
A security source said that the bomb exploded while attached to the terrorists body, mutilating him before he could detonate it.
First signs of the investigation of the Cairo Bazaar bomb are that the bomb was secured to the body of the bomber and went off prematurely.
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Group claims responsibility for bombing

Al Arabiya is reporting that an unknown Islamic group has claimed responsibility for yesterday's attack on its Web site. The group calls itself "كتائب العز الاسلامية بارض النيل", or something akin in English to "The Islamic Pride Brigades in the Land of the Nile." Al Arabiya reports that the group said that one of its members carried out the bombing and described it as a suicide attack protesting what they describe as the oppression of the government of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and the American policies in the region. Al Arabiya said it could not varify the accuracy of the claim.
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The Khan al-Khalili bombing

This from Reuters:
"It's a very unsophisticated type of device, typical of acts planned and executed by one individual," [Tourism Minister Ahmed] el-Maghrabi said, quoting a cabinet report on the attack. Three U.S. citizens, four Egyptians and two French people are still in hospital, Maghrabi said. One of the French casualties is in critical condition, but "all the rest are either in good or stable condition," he added.
The Egyptian government is quick to emphasize that the bombing appears to be the work of an individual. The immediate response to the stabbing of kissing Hungarian tourists 10 days ago was also the work of a man that security officials "described as unemployed and suffering from severe depression." Same story with the Taba bombing. "Two of the defendants" (the third is still at large) "did not belong to any terrorist group, [prosecutor-general Mahir] Abd al-Wahid said." As long as no credible group claims responsibility I suppose there is no reason to doubt their word. More from the Reuters story:
A political analyst said recent attacks in Egypt appearedto be against foreigners rather than the tourism industry,which Islamist militants targeted in Egypt in the 1990s.
"What happened today was against foreigners and not against tourism. It's very close to what happened in Saudi Arabia, inKuwait and in Qatar," said Dia Rashwan, referring to otherattacks in recent months attributed to Islamist militants.
I had to think for a minute about the difference between targetting tourism and targetting foreigners. If you're targetting tourism you're targetting the Egyptian regime. In other words the intent is to cripple the tourism industry and deprive the government of much needed foreign currency. If you're targetting foreigners you're targetting Western regimes. You're killing Americans to send a message to America, not to send a message to the Egyptian regime. It's a fine line if you ask me. Attacking tourists in Khan al-Khalili seems like an attack on tourism just as much as it is an attack on foreigners. I imagine the Egyptian government would be somewhat more comfortable with yesterday's bombing being classified as an attack on foreigners, as opposed to an attack on tourism, because in that case it's not the target of the hostility. Secondly, it reinforces that what's happening is not a revival of the insurrection of the 1990s-- which targetted primarily the Egyptian regime (tourists were targetted only as a mean of hitting the regime) and was not the work of angry, depressed, crazed individuals, but rather the coordinated efforts of an organization. As for Dia Rashwan, his is a name you'll see lots more if these bombings continue. He's the Al Ahram Center's resident expert on Islamic movements and one of perhaps four frequently quoted Egyptian experts on the subject (the other three being ex-Gamaa Islamiya lawyer Montasser Al Zayat, Al Hayat's Cairo bureau chief Muhammad Salah, and AUC professor Emad Shahin). Radwan is a kindly old man, but I think he lost a lot of credibility after the Taba bombings when he was quoted on Al Jazeera and in several western newspapers, and even published a column, claiming that there was no question that Israel was responsible for the bombings. Also, if we follow Rashwan's logic for the Taba bombings that, the entity with the most to gain is the responsible party, then I should think Rashwan would be making some rather indelicate accusations in coming days. The Muslim Brotherhood denounced the bombings in a statement and had this to say:
This act should not distract our attentions from completing our march of development and it should not be a reason to suspend our society's movement towards realizing its goals and its demands for freedom, democracy and justice.
Finally, notice the discrepancy between the Associated Press background to the bombing and Reuters' background: Associated Press:
The attack in the Egyptian capital follows a long period of calm since security forces suppressed Islamic militants who in the 1990s carried out bombings and shootings against tourists in their campaign to bring down the government.
The last significant attack on tourists in Cairo was in 1997, a year when another 62 were killed in another attack in Luxor.
Reuters:
There was no immediate indication of the motive for the attack, the latest in a series against tourists in Egypt, a close ally of the United States.
So which was it? Did the attack follow a long period of calm or was it the latest in a series?
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