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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Another man killed by torture

While looking for more info about today's bombing, I saw this item:
CAIRO, April 30 (Reuters) - The cousin of an Egyptian man wanted in connection with a bombing in Cairo this month has died in police custody, police sources said on Saturday.
Mohamed Suleiman Youssef, 40, was the cousin of Ashraf Said Youssef, identified by the Interior Ministry as the fugitive who recruited the bomber who killed two French people, an American man and himself in a Cairo bazaar on April 7.
The police sources, who asked not to be named, said police sent the man's body back to his village north of Cairo for burial. The man was a primary school teacher in the north Cairo suburb of Shubra al-Khaima, where the bomber also lived.
Friends of the man went to the village to pay condolences to his family but found no one at home, one friend said. Two of the dead man's brothers are also in custody, he added.
The circumstances of Youssef's death were unclear and a spokesman at the Interior Ministry said he had no information about the case.
And then they wonder why there are more bombings...
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Another bombing in Cairo

CAIRO, Egypt - A bomb was thrown from a bridge in Cairo to the street below, killing an Arab man and injuring four foreigners, police said.
Remains of a body, covered with newspapers, were seen beneath the bridge a few minutes after the 3:15 p.m. (7:15 a.m. ET) explosion was heard through downtown Cairo. The blast happened on a road adjacent to a public bus station down the street from the Egyptian Museum.
Reuters reports it might be a suicide bomber, but with these things the first reports are always very hazy.
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Kifaya's Latest Outing

Yesterday, along most every other journalist I know, I attended the latest Kifaya protest. Pictures I took can be found here. Another first-hand account of yesterday's demo is from Manal & Alaa's blog. The protest was scheduled to be held at Egypt's Supreme Court (Dar al-Qada' al-Uliya) off of Ramsis street, downtown (Perhaps, a symbolic reference to the ongoing judges' protest against the state). I met a gang of reporters at 11am for a coffee and chat. Even though the protest was not due to start until 1pm, it is good to get there early incase traffic gets cut off. We arrived at the Court around 1245pm. There were more security than at the last protest I covered in February. We tried to cross the street to enter the barricade to get pictures and whatnot. We were not warmly greeted. One person I was with, who was a protest organizer at University, was recognized immediately. Upper security officers came over calling him by name. When he explained his protesting days were over and he was a reporter for the international press, they backed-down but were adamant that we were not getting into the security cordon. While they were not being rude, security was being very aggressive in how they worded things. Security was much more aggressive at the Court than they had been at Cairo U. They moved all the press to the other side of the street. It is not a big deal for all the photographers with long zoom lenses but a bit annoying we were all boxed off together. When everyone was settled, a large green security truck used to carry al-Amn al-Markazi (Central Security Forces - CSF) conscripts was moved to block the press's view. The press shuffled down the street and the truck moved when everyone settled to block the view again. The press corp was pissed at such a move - the security officers just smiled. One photographer went around the corner and said that plain-clothes officers were putting potential demonstrators in taxis and getting rid of them. Phone calls were made and the Kifaya people were moving the protest to the Journalist syndicate (about 200 meters away). We headed off there. The street was locked down with (at least) a thousand CSF, Mukhaberat (Sec Services), some Generals, security trucks and a water cannon. Also, the head of Cairo security Nabil al-Ezabi was present and walking around flanked by about 10 uniformed officers with notepads. One journalist approached him for a comment. He remarked that he was "only there to protect the safety of the those expressing their opinions." So we filed onto the steps of the protest. I would guess there were maybe 300 protesters (there was also about 30 journalists which is considerable given the protester's numbers). It was - as before - a who's who of the Kifaya movement in Cairo. Other sympathizers of the movement were there such as MP Hamdeen al-Sabahy (former Nasserist, head of the proposed al-Karama party project) and former MB Abu `Ala Madi (head of the proposed al-Wasat party project). Yet, they have been at such protests before. The new face to me was Egyptian Novelist Sonallah Ibrahim. He is a famous writer who in the Fall 2003 refused a literary cash prize and award for his work. He refused because the Egyptian government was the award's sponsor. He said he could not accept such a prize from a government so utterly un-democratic (or something like that). On a lighter note, Kermit the frog also made an appearance. The significance of this, however, is unknowable. I spent most of the day taking pictures and talking to different Kifaya people. Some of the slogans are getting better and much more personal. For example (keep in mind these rhyme in Arabic):
Freedom, Freedom where are you? Mubarak is between me and you. (in this one, they sometime insert Emergency - as in the laws- instead of Mubarak)
Hey Alaa Hey Alaa (president's son) tell your father the Egyptian people hate him
Hey Suzanne, Hey Suzanne (president's wife) ask the bey how much he sold the country for
Hey Gamal, Hey Gamal (other president's son) tell you daddy to ease up on the down-trodden people (al-Sh`ab al-Ghalban)
There were also the the usual calls "Asqut Mubarak" (down with Mubarak), Down with Bush, Down with Blair (in English) The other chants list the Kifaya demands: "Kifaya Mubarak, Kifaya new term, Kifaya inheritance, Kifaya emergency laws" - you get the idea. _________ Yesterday's protest was billed to be a nation-wide multi-city/governate protest. Initially, it was supposed to go off in 13 governates. This number was said to have increased to 15 at one point in the day. Arab government-leaning Al-`Arabiya said that it only went down in 7 governates. And AP and BBC have conflicting reports about how widespread the demos were. There is no way to be sure. Kifaya is a loosely organized structure - good for democracy, but bad for information. There were various reports at different times. Al-Jazeera was saying that 52 were arrested (high majority - like 98% were outside of Cairo). Then there was a report that 30 people were being detained in the Gamal Abdel Nasser Metro Station. My sense is that the demonstrations did not happen in all the governates the organizers suggested. For example, I was speaking to a Kifaya organizer from Monsura (in the Delta). His story was that at 230am the night before, security sieged his house awaking his wife and children -terrorizing the children. He receives a call from his wife. He speaks with the security officers and they order him to come in. He agrees. They detain him until 930am and then he is released, grabs all the Kifaya banners and whatnot. He darts down to Cairo. He notes that people were detained in the tube stations and then it was a miracle that he joined the demonstration. I asked him directly, "So are demos happening in Monsura?" He said, "Well, the people are scared". I asked again. He looking more uncertain says, "he did not think so." I also sat in on an interview with one of Kifaya's secretariat organizing members. He made some good points such as "the state is doing everything to prevent Kifaya from spreading throughout the country but by documenting it though arresting people everywhere, they prove we have a presence throughout the country." As he is finishing this quote, another person brings him a new note with the names of those arrested. I see there is Suez, Minya, Qena, and Alexandria. The protest was energetic in the beginning and then was a bit boring. Occasionally the CSF would prevent someone from entering the blocked street to join the protest and they would chant "Leave him be" but the rest of the time Kamal Khalil and Kamil Abu `Eta kept their rhymes and chants going. Eventually, it was decided that they were staying until all those detained were released. One reporter asked me, "Do you think they will release them?" I said, "No." It was warm outside and the CSF soldiers looked bored, hungry and thirsty. The demonstrators started to give them sweets and water since they were not getting it from their side. After about 4 hours, a group of us took the decision to leave. As we stood on the security side of the protest, Kamal Khalil suggested a choice would be put to public vote to determine Kifaya's next move. His suggestions were "We stay here until everyone is released" or " We leave now and come back the day after tomorrow". The steps broke out in chit-chat. One of the officers (not a conscript), responding to the latter choice said "the day after tomorrow is a day-off" (agaza). The vote was taken. The protesters voted in favor to stay the course. As soon as it was announced, you could feel the CSF conscripts and security officers frustratingly but collectively moan. It was almost like they saw what they were doing as a waste of time. Tired, Hungry, and ready to go - I left the scene with my friends. I don't know if they stayed or how long they stayed. There were scattered reports that detainees were being released. But this means little - you can always release someone and re-arrest them (a common practice here), say you have released someone when you have not, or release one person and arrest other activists. It is sort of a revolving door policy for arresting people. _________ In a country currently witnessing political problems in the urban centers and economic problems in the countryside and non-urban based factories, it would seem something has to give. Politically, the prospect of what would surely be perceived humiliating "inheritance of power" - be it to the president's son or a chosen successor - continues to empower Kifaya without necessarily increasing their numbers (in Cairo Demonstrations at least). Economically - the sons of former Bashas' are reclaiming their lands and kicking peasants off in places like Surad and Sarando (both Delta - by Tanta and Damahour). It is making a situation ripe for the discontented and marginalized to join the opposition against the regime. The question is....can they connect the two strands in to a bigger movement? Kifaya has been in the making for a long time. Beginning with the Palestinian intifada, empowered by the US's internationally illegal war in Iraq, and focused on Mubarak's every move - it seems that there are more cities signing up but the numbers don't seem to increase. ___________ The Kifaya organizing member I spoke with yesterday remained defiant. He spoke of his credentials as a protest leader since his university days. He said, "I have protested Nasser, Sadat, Mubarak, Israel. We are not going to stop now. We know that change is not going to come without pain or blood. But we have to lead the change. Everyday that the regime fails to change, it does more damage to the country's future than they can inflict on our protesters and the movement. Don't worry though....the world has tired of these repressive Arab regimes and change is coming. Change is definitely coming." With a brief thought of Fouad Ajami and George W. smiling in my head, I thanked him for his time. I watched all six-hours of the Mubarak interviews and I did not feel like I was listening to reality - or, at least, to a reality in which I pretend to live. Yet, speaking to the Kifaya people, I oddly get a similar feeling that I am not listening to reality. Sympathies aside, I feel like I live in a different reality where no struggle is taking place. Neither the regime nor the opposition present viable alternatives. Instead, Mubarak is for this and for that and Kifaya is against this and against that.....
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The Trilogy - Episode 3

The third installment, as reported previously, ended anti-climatically with Mubarak saying he has not decided if he was running for a fifth six-year presidential term. Mubarak said that the people should have their voice be heard. If they want him and his experiences to serve as a guide into the next part of Egyptian history then so it shall be. Or should we say, if he decides that he is running and the people want him, then it shall be. If not, then he has spent 56 years in the service of the state (1949-1975, Air-force, 1975-1981 VP, 1981-present as president) and is satisfied with all he has done. Yet there was some symbolism and statements on important issues. While these statements cannot be classified as a "surprise" (because he has made them before), they should be laid out. In the last segment of the interview with Amad al-Din Adib, about 85 minutes were devoted to the his service as VP, peace negotiations, the September 1981 arrests, the assassination of Sadat, the circumstances behind his coming to power, and oath of office. If this implies it was heavy on details and procedural matters, you are correct. Nevertheless, here were the highlights from this part: How peace negotiations with Israel would have been easier had Egypt only went after getting its land returned. Instead, the Egyptian side worked tirelessly on behalf of the Palestinians and their rights so it complicated the peace process. The Egyptian delegates spent the effort and hence peace was achieved with honor (without talking about what happened to the Palestinians). Adib, still tossing questions lightly, asked if he disagreed with Sadat's decision to arrest "opposition" figures in September 1981. He said he did not disagree with Sadat but more because Sadat was president. I don't think it would be a stretch to say that he insinuated he had moral objections about September 1981. Later in the interview they talk about Mubarak's first act as president, which was releasing the September 1981 detainees. The president said that Sadat had wanted to set up special committees of governmental figures to determine if these figures were guilty or not. Mubarak said that he advised Sadat to use the courts. One of my fellow watchers immediately chimed in, "Did he just say that he advised Sadat against taking extra-judicial measures against citizens?" It also was the first strong reference that Mubarak is a rule of law president. They spoke of Sadat's assassination on 6 October 1981. Mubarak had tried to convince Sadat not to hold the parade because he was worried that day. He said Sadat was a hero and did not deserve to be killed in such a manner. Adib asked about his family on that day. Mubarak recalled that they were in the crowd on the platform. So Suzanne, Alaa, and Gamal were present (away from the central leadership figures) but in the same place. The cut to footage that scanned the platform's crowd and stopped on a young Gamal Mubarak looking almost directly at the camera. They encircled his face with a red designator to really point out Gamal out. This was the first and only time we see anyone of his family in the footage that periodically cut away during the entire interview. How important is that I don't know but it seems symbolic. Adib and Mubarak spoke about his ascension to power. The latter spoke about PM Fouad Mohy al-Din explaining and pushing Mubarak to be the country's president. Mubarak recalled that the country was in danger and it was a big burden. He know he could shoulder the responsibility and was always confident. Ultimately, he decided to do it because "if I am in a position to save the country, I will." It spent some time with footage showing his taking the oath of office. Then the footage cut to a women warmingy shaking the the new president's hand. The caption read Dr. Nawal al-Saadawi, the Egyptian feminist. Al-Saadawi has recently declared her intent to run as an opposition presidential candidate to Mubarak. So, the message was 1) Women approved of his candidacy, 2) Nawal al-Saadawi was not always an opposition figure. Then the footage shot to a 50s-something Mohamad Hassanian Heikel (Abd al-Nasir's journalist and confident), who spoke that Mubarak was a great choice for president and Egypt was turning a new page. After he finished the quote, Heikel shot the camera an uncertain look like it was somehow a PR stunt rather than genuine support. ______________ The remainder of this episode dealt with his presidency (24 years in 35 minutes): Adib asked Mubarak if he had ever made a mistake as president. Mubarak said he was human and mistakes happen but he carried no embarrassment for decisions taken. He noted that if something wrong happened, he apologized but he takes decisions with the responsibility of the citizens in mind. The next section of the interview was about economic reform and the 1991 war against Iraq. He stressed as in the previous episode that he took parliament's consent before sending Egypt's sons into war against Iraq. There was talk about Egypt's debts being halved but my attention was waning. The next issue was the assassination attempt on Mubarak in Addis Ababa in 1995. He said he had taken the decision to take his own armored-plated car to Addis (which was not usual protocol). They were 200 meters for the airport when shots rang out. Mubarak noticed the problem and he (himself) ordered the car to get out of there. The Egyptian delegation continued their work at the meeting while he returned to Cairo. The interesting point about this is that existing accounts of the 1995 assassination attempt suggest that it was Omar Sulayman's suggestion to take an armored-car and also who made the quick decision to turn the car around. One written account that stressed Sulayman's instincts during the event can be found in Mubarak family friend Mary Anne Weaver's "Pharoahs-in-waiting" Atlantic Monthly, (October 2003). In the president's six-hour interview, Omar Sulayman's name is not mentioned once for those of you interested in "Gamal-Omar" debates. Mubarak and Adib moved on to economic and political reform. Mubarak stressed both projects started in the time of Sadat and he was just strengthening and deepening the course. Mubarak took credit for expanding press freedom and becoming more tolerant of "logical" criticism. He noted that political and economic reforms go hand in hand (which contradicts some of the talk coming out of the NDP's policies secretariat -headed by Gamal - which stresses economic before political reform). In this section Adib turned on Mubarak briefly asking him that people are poor and want dignity and that want to be able to buy the necessary essentials for their children and families (bread, shoes, education, etc.). Mubarak did not get impatient. He said that he was following developments and that he ensures that subsidies remain. He focused on the potential of Egypt and how Egyptians need to persist now for gains later. Adib, seemingly unhappy with the response, pressed him further. How would he feel as Honsi Mubarak, the Egyptian citizen (as opposed to president), he asked. Mubarak explained that as a citizen, he would demand things from the government but it is a bit unfair because as an ordinary citizen, he would not have the full picture. Mubarak then was asked about his presidency to which he responded that Egypt was in a tough place with difficult circumstance but that he was working to keep Egypt progressing. To tell you the truth, the economic reform part about taxes, privatization, and customs was a bit difficult and unclear to follow. __________ The remaining 15 minutes of the interview was one big question after another: He said in relation to freedom of expression that people can criticize the government but that opposition have to be credible because the Egyptian people are smart and disregard nonsensical criticism. He noted that he does not interfere with the the Prime Minister's work or the PM's cabinet. Mubarak noted that he basically has a big say on the appointment of the Foreign, Defense, and Interior ministers (but I am also guessing Justice even though he did not say it) but the PM chooses the rest of the selections. This is because the PM needs a team and he has full responsibility. The parliament naturally is important and helps in the process in government. Mubarak then argued that the role of the president is largely consultative. He was asked about the amendment of article 76 to allow multi-candidacy, direct presidential elections. Mubarak said this was to encourage Egyptians to give their voice and participate (this is also something the policies secretariat is big in pushing for rhetorically). I am not quite sure what happened but then I heard him say, "Look, there will be 2 candidates, it won't just be me." I did not know if I believed my ears. Later, I checked this with others watching elsewhere and they confirmed that they heard the same thing. Party Politics: Mubarak said that if the NDP is not the majority party in parliament that this was fine. He stressed though that without a majority party in parliament, the country would be in chaos. Coalition government are no good. So he does not care which party has the majority but it must be led by a majority party in parliament. Emergency Laws: He said that Emergency laws are better than if they repealed Emergency laws and replaced it with an Anti-Terrorism Law. The reasoning is because if they enact an Anti-Terrorism law it would be permanent while Emergency laws can be pulled. He then argued that Emergency laws should not be repealed because most of the world is facing the emergency threat of terrorism. US Pressure for Political Reform: Mubarak explicitly said that he has NEVER been approached at any time or place by any US government official (including State Dept?) in person or by written correspondence about politically reforming Egypt. Muslim Brotherhood: He cited the parties law (law 40/1977) that does not allow for parties to be formed on religious foundations. He pointed out that France, German, Australia, and Italy also have laws that prohibit religious parties. He then said that there are no restrictions on individuals. Egyptian citizens - MB or not - can join existing, legal parties in order to participate politically. ____________ The last five minutes deal with the future presidential race. Mubarak argued that he had three months off in his entire life and that since he became a 2nd Lt in the air-force, he has served in positions of leadership. Fifty-six years in the service and for the sake of Egypt. He said that he could accept not getting a high percentage win in a presidential election (i.e. 90+%). He said he did not care what the percentage is, as long as there are 2 or 3 candidates he would be happy. It was sort of awkward, did this mean he was running? It is hard to believe something this staged and edited could have put something out so clumsily. Adib then asked him the money question - "Are you running?" Mubarak noted correctly that the amendment is still in parliament and then there needs to be a referendum by the people accepting or rejecting parliament's suggested change. We have to see what the people want, he said. Adib pushed gently again. Mubarak said that he did not want to be hasty and he had not decided if he is running or not. He said if he runs he would tell the people of his achievements and what he plans to do in the next stage. Then he will wait to see what the people think. Adib, in one last fainthearted attempt, asked "so you have not decided if you are running yet?" Mubarak said "Not yet" _____________________ So that was it - six hours of waiting to arrive at a rather anti-climatic conclusion. I don't why Mubarak felt the need to do such a media spectacle. I also don't know to what extent this will reach and play in the homes and streets of Egypt. Sure, the opposition is going to rally and yell but what about those who don't say anything or act at all?. The opposition likes to say that they are Egypt's silent majority. Yet, this classification of a silent majority is more applicable to the non-opposition circles of supporters of the status quo - be they included in participation, getting benefits, or simply the worn-down apolitical trying to survive. _________ By-the-way, after a relatively short discussion at a cafe yesterday, a group of us decided that the trilogy's "surprise" was being taken into the special operations room on nights one and two. As there needed to be a post-review analysis of it, you can guess that some were not all that surprised. ________ Lastly, the Christian Science Monitor's Dan Murphy has an article in today's edition that reviews and examines the implications of the Mubarak TV Event.
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Mubarak propaganda & Kifaya

Pro-Mubarak banners have been spreading across the city for the last month at least. I have seen them in Garden City, near Abdeen Square, in Bab Sharia and in plenty of other arease. It seems like many local NDP officials are taking the initiative (oh wait they don't do that) and putting up "Nam Mubarak" messages. I think we can clearly expect an orchestrated campaign to "convince" Mubarak to run. As far as the Kifaya demo. I was there too (I did a radio piece for yesterday's The World program . I think we need to be honest about the extent of these events. It was probably 300 people tops, and many of them are very familiar faces from the activist circuit. That said, they are on to something: make a real grassroots movement, unconnected to parties, with a simple slogan and goal, and that can include all Egyptians. The most important development is obviously the spread outside of Cairo. People can demonstratre on the steps of the Journalists Syndicate for the next 20 years, I don't think the authorities would care, but coordinated demos across the country send and entirely different and more powerful message. This is what lead to the arrests, which the Kifaya people should actually take as a "compliment." If the government is arresting them, it means it sees them as a real threat.
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Word on the Street?

I still need to write up the summery of part three of the Mubarak Reality show, but according to these banners hanging downtown, some people are already expressing their wishes to (re?)-elect Mubarak. The banner reads "Yes...for the Man of Peace". banners I doubt this showed up this morning as a reaction to his interviews. Nevertheless, it is an example of the Mubarak posters which will surely decorate the capital in the coming months. _____ The reason for the delay on the summery is that I attended the latest Kifaya rally - held at the journalist syndicate in Cairo today. Its a long story about shifting venues, arrests, releases, dodging security, democracy, and more arrests in (at least) seven governates throughout Egypt today.
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Bahrain's webmasters told to register

Bahrain's Ministry of Information has decreed that webmasters in the country must apply for a license number that they will have to display on their sites. This applies not only for people who are technically webmasters (i.e. operate their own servers) but also people who host abroad. Failure to do so would result in prosecution under Bahrain's press laws. The ministry also said that websites should respect the country's decency and libel laws. From what I can tell, this would theoretically apply to bloggers, although I'm not sure it would apply to people using a service like Blogger or Typepad where it's fairly easy to remain anonymous. See Chanad and Mahmood for more. How long before other Arab countries catch up?
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The Trilogy - Episode 2

Control Room Chat In the Map Room Last night's second installment of "My Word for History" was more of the same. The good news was it was only 90 minutes (rather than 120). So there was some mercy on those of us watching. I am actually not as hacked off as others are watching the series. Naturally, parts are absurd and way over the top, but it is fascinating watching and listening to Mubarak's thoughts about himself. He exudes authority in a way that whoever succeeds him will unlikely be able to do. This is not because of not wanting to but simply because even now it feels out of touch. Mubarak is definitely old school and as far as I can tell with the new generation of leaders in most of the other Arab countries, it is like having a window in on another era that will one day disappear. Ah shucks, it is just the romantic in me. Adib was, again, pretty weak. He acts amazed when the president says anything and he loves to preface questions with little annoying bits such as "Your Excellency, I really hope you don't get upset at me but...". It would be fine if a real question came but it is usually like "How did you develop your kindhearted firmness?" So Adib is just lobbing them over the plate as Mubarak knocks them out of the park. So what were the revelations of last nights show? Well - for better or worse the interview again stayed firmly within the 1973 war for the first 70 minutes. They left the command center at one point and went to the map room. Even though Adib claimed "I am not going to understand because I am not a specialist on such things," he pressed on and listened more intently than I did. ____ Mubarak's claims last night: -He has the Egyptian landscape completely memorized from his days of flying jets over it. - Sadat was never the sole negotiator with the Americans. Hence, the military high command (Ismail, al-Shazly, Fahmy, Gamasy, and Mubarak) played a large role in talks with the US. "Without the military, it would have been an illogical" move to negotiate on one's own. Mubarak emphasized Sadat did not interfere with our military planning. He would listen and make a decision based off the military high command's analysis. -The armed forces are the shield of the country and no armies will ever have bases in Egypt despite occasionally coordinating maneuvers with foreign armies. -He kept referring to Egyptians as "my people" which rather text book from certain branches of social science theory. __________ Following all this, there was one question that Adib was able to ask that was relatively hard-ball. He said to Mubarak, "In America, George Bush has to interact with other branches of government that can 'balance' his power. Does any branch balance your power?" Intrigued, everyone watching in my flat sat at attention. Mubarak said that of course there are powers that check him. He then gave an explicit example about in 1990 when Iraq invaded Kuwait. He argued that there was a defense pact with other Arab governments but instead of acting unilaterally, he went to parliament to seek their consent (which they gave). Then he said, "MPs give me permission." _____ The remainder of the interview talked about his appointment as VP by Sadat in 1975. Mubarak explained that he harbored no political ambitions. But he thought potentially being an ambassador or envoy to a Western country would have been a nice change of pace from his hectic time in the military. He said all he had seen was wars and destruction and as the course of peace lined up, he thought a career change to something a little less demanding would be a pleasant. As fate had it, Sadat called him in for a three hour meeting where he informed Mubarak that he was appointing a VP from the October generation. Mubarak suggested all the other generals names, but Sadat brushed them aside in favor of him. When Sadat offered him, Mubarak claims he was in shock and surprised. He never expected to be appointed in his wildest dreams. He went home and told his wife who was also shocked. His sons, Alaa and Gamal, were not in favor. They did not want their father leaving the air force. He mulled it over and decided that although he felt he needed a change of speed that duty to the nation called. Against the wishes of his family, he began a new page in his life. Yet, his service in the military prepared him for his political life. As he explains, "Not anyone can be a leader. It needs training and not everyone who is trained can be a leader." Adib told him he was a leader and Mubarak said he is still shy when praised. It was an emotional moment. Mubarak argued that he was a very serious VP. He was always honest with Sadat and then talked extensively his mediation in Arab affairs. He spoke about brokering some land dispute between Algeria and Morocco. Now, my ignorance is on the table - I did not know anything about this but it happened. This episode concluded with some discussion of decision-making and how one must listen and ponder before taking a decision. __________________________ It ended and then programming shot to a gala celebrating Sinai Liberation day. As the song played the patriot tune "Today Egypt is in Festival" (Masr al-Yom fi -`eid) me and my fellow watchers looked at the TV waiting. One of my more astute friends looked up and said, "Right...Mubarak has been president of the Arab world's largest country for 24 years. We are three and a half hours into these interviews and he is yet to mention or be questioned on a single event that has occurred while he is president. What does that mean?" ___________________________ The advertisements on Egyptian TV plugging this series is interesting. It talks about how unprecedented this is and how a surprise is coming. The camera shoots to Adib who asks "Are you running for president?" and then it tells you to tune in. After the episode ended, we were hanging on my balcony and an informal consensus surfaced that one option we had not considered may actually be in the offering this evening. Adib: "Your Excellency, Are you running for president?" Mubarak: "I cannot answer that now. We have to see if the people wish it." ___ More Tomorrow
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The Trilogy - Episode 1

Last night President Mubarak sat down with the plump `Amad al-Din Adib for the first installment of three nights of interviews. Al-Ahram boasted yesterday that Adib would ask Mubarak 199 questions over the three days. Each night it is 2-hours and as these were produced earlier, there can be no wardrobe malfunctions. The interviews are broadcasting on Channel 1, Egyptian Satellite channel, and Nile TV (with a rough simultaneous translation). It is also being broadcast on Arabic Satellite stations (or so it was reported). Al-Ahram also said yesterday that the third day would have a surprise announcement. According to paper, the president will respond to a crucial question about whether he will present himself or not for another presidential term. Last night's episode began in office at the presidential palace in Heliopolis. After chatting for a bit, Mubarak and Adib left by Mercedes to the Air Force Central Command where the remainder of this installment took place. Now, it is difficult to take seriously. As I, my wife, and some journalist friends watched, there were many a jokes about Adib's contrasting appearance compared to the president's, the sycophancy, and spectacle of it all. For example, we were wondering if Adib would ask the president to slip out the back in order to grab a sandwich. The first installment dealt almost exclusively with the 1967 defeat, the October 1973 war, and Mubarak's appointment to VP under Sadat. Naturally, the role that Mubarak played in both 1967 and 1973 seemed a bit far fetched but whatever. That is for the historians to figure out. Some of the impressions noticed are that there were times that parallel dialogues take place. As Mubarak discussed the sheer frustration of the 1967 defeat, Adib asked if he ever thought of throwing in the towel. Mubarak, of course, rejected the notion. He explained how there are moments in life that are tough and that require perseverance in the face of insurmountable odds. His direct quote was something to the effect that "in tough moments, we must come together as one". As he responded, I felt like he was addressing Egyptians today in relation to the ongoing reform projects and rising costs of living rather than staying within the bounds of the question. This parallel narrative seemed like it was an important moment in the midst of the spectacle. Other trends that were evident: There was a lot of focus on Mubarak's military background. It was like they were intentionally justifying the necessity of a military general to be the next suited (rather than uniformed) president. There was a lot of emphasis placed on the discipline, hard work, courage, commitment and honor involved in the military ranks. Adib was keen to stress that the president was all of these things plus a real human being - firm but compassionate. Also, there was much emphasis placed on Mubarak's rise in the air force and society. He argued intently that he was a self-made man and that there was absolutely no wasta or connections that helped him get to where he is today. I am not in a position to refute such claims. But the interesting bit is the emphasis on this point. To this end there was some separation between him and the two previous presidents (I am not forgetting M. Nagiub but he was not really in the frame of reference). In this sense, there was an aura that the president seem to indicate that he owed nobody anything. Between the emphasis on the military, Mubarak's characteristics, and the coded conversations that could have been perceived as speaking directly to the people through his experiences, it was an interesting night. Interesting as opposed to entertaining. In the midst of all this, other questions remain. Is the opposition movements and pressure getting to him? Is that why he is doing these controlled interviews? Is this a campaign event? I don't know if there are definitive answers to these questions. They may not even be important. Rumors circulated in the lead-up to the interview (and actually probably are still circulating but I have been behind the computer all day so I am not hearing them). There was talk that the surprise is that Mubarak will appoint Omar Sulayman as the VP. The other rumor is that he stands down for this election and the party nominates a new candidate (in this line of thinking, the rumor implies his son Gamal would get the nomination). The third option is that nothing will change and Mubarak will announce his intention to run for a fifth-term. I don't know what is going to happen....but as the interview got deeper and deeper last night, I got the impression that the only person who has the qualities, experience, and qualifications to be the next Egyptian president is the person who currently occupies its chair. There are two more nights, stay tuned...
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Al-Ghad's Latest Plug

Al-Ghad's secretary-general Mona Makram Ebeid penned an opinion article in today's Daily Star. It is more of a plea that their party is a home-grown answer to political reforms, which she in her position as party S-G, sees as currently stifled under the current political regime. It presents al-Ghad as a unified and cohesive bunch. Yet, an article in this week's Cairo magazine suggest otherwise. According to this report, some prominent figures are defecting from the al-Ghad experiment. The defectors say it is because the leadership is breaking from the party's founding principles. This week's edition of al-Ghad newspaper sports 5 pictures of Ayman Nor on the first two pages inviting the question "is the party bigger than Ayman Nor's personality?" Makram Ebeid's piece in today's Daily Star does not answer this. Yet, another find has come to light. Mona Makram Ebeid's first article was published in the Christian Science Monitor on 12 May 1982 in which she argues for giving Mubarak a chance. Now, times change and people's thoughts develop - this is not the problem when situating Makram Ebeid. Everyone's got the right to change their mind. But people's written history contributes to where they are now making her early work ironic in today's setting. Below, the CSM article from 1982 is reproduced. ___________________________ from the May 12, 1982 CSM edition Mubarak is his own man By Mona Makram-Ebeid; Mona Makram-Ebeid, an Egyptian sociologist, is an - Now that President Mubarak's hundred days are over and Israel has withdrawn from Sinai, concern grows as to where he will take Egypt. Clarity about his political legacy from both Nasser and Sadat is vital to addressing this question. Leaders in Egypt epitomize an intersection of history, social structure, and personal biography. Both Nasser and Sadat had to deal with constants: an unacceptable military defeat and a revolutionary legacy. It was not so much Nasser's charisma but his message of national dignity which conferred upon him an Arab leadership he perhaps did not consciously seek. His appeal had resonance. However, in his last days he was aware that his revolution did not effect the institutional and intellectual transformations necessary to modernize Egypt. Sadat's vision of the future of Egypt took the following orientations: an open door policy, reincorporating Egypt into the world capitalist system, democratization, allowing a multiparty system, a rapprochement with the West premised on the perception that the turn from the USSR would be rewarded by the United States with a comprehensive settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict. It was not so much his goals but his style which aroused so many misgivings about his policies by opposition parties. President Mubarak has received a considerable inheritance of long-term policies and, with it, substantial opposition. However, he has proved to be a tough political fighter, establishing firm control over the extreme rightist groups led by the fundamentalists who challenged his rule. His bold moves stem from his knowledge that religious groups only emerge in particular social environments characterized by economic difficulties, moral and ideological confusion, and political instability. Evidence suggests that Mr. Mubarak is not intent on exercising continuous pressure but rather, in an effort to preempt the opposition's ''fiery'' appeals, determined not to repeat Sadat's mistakes. His reconciliation with the opposition parties underlines his commitment to democratization and has created a platform for political dissent. He is quietly moving to lessen Egypt's isolation abroad, reasserting the country's role as a non-aligned, third-world Arab state yet without abandoning peace with Israel and association with Washington - and all the while keeping his cool. Though committed to the conceptual framework of the peace process, he can look at the situation more pragmatically and seek to ''routinize'' it. He has repeatedly assured the US and Israel of Egypt's intention to continue with the peace process as an irreversible phenomenon. Among the President's major concerns are the task of reviving a desperate economy and injecting a sluggish bureaucracy with mission, purpose, and skill. That was the purpose of the roundtable conference which he initiated and in which the country's top economists participated. He is determined to address himself to the issues of social equity and development, thus offering a credible vision for the future which will eventually enlist the commitment of the educated youth, offer them channels for political energies other than the radical religious groups, and overcome the existing ''economic apartheid.'' His call for social justice and condemnation of corruption reflect his extreme sensitivity to the drastic effect on public opinion of apparent corruption in high circles. The new mood reinforced by Mr. Mubarak's reputation for integrity has radiated from the presidency into the lives of ordinary Egyptians. One can already sense a change of Egyptian public opinion away from the hard-line fundamentalists: universities have resumed their previous aspect, with cafeterias and movie houses reopening. For all their faults and achievements, the two men who have shaped events in Egypt's recent history have left legacies that will transcend their times: Nasser's Egypt lived a revolutionary movement but the defeat of 1967 ended that revolutionary wave. Sadat's diplomacy, although too extreme and too dramatic, forced the Arabs into an honest encounter with the problem of Israel. Significantly, President Mubarak has stated that he is ''neither Sadat nor Nasser.'' While inevitably taking off from the legacy of his predecessors, it is evident that he will set his own imprint and priorities. Egyptians have grown weary of governments experimenting with different ideologies and development. Today they are receptive to moderate reform and do not aspire to radical changes. The revolution has aged. President Mubarak is the first president to take over who is not a member of the revolution. Younger and more in tune with Egypt's needs in the '80s, he will help it devise a new social contract, a new sense of what it is dedicated to.
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New blog: Politique arabe de la France

Politique arabe de la France is a blog on, er, France's Arab world policy. In French of course. Rather wonky but useful to follow -- after all, the Us is not the only Western country whose Arab world policy matters. One item of note is an explanation of the significance of an open letter by Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah to "a French friend" -- i.e. Jacques Chirac -- in which, blogger Emmanuel believes, Nasrallah implies that a return of French influence in Lebanon would be welcomed by Hizbullah. An interesting exploration of how France might be convinced to let Hizbullah retain its weapons and gain more importance in Lebanese politics in exchange for influence.
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New blog: Amina Talhimet

If you read French and are interested in Morocco, take a look at Amina Talhimet's new blog. She's a journalist at the French left-of-center daily Liberation and already has a few interesting entries. Yesterday she reported that Morocco voted in favor of the abolition of capital punishment at the UN Human Rights Commission, and the day before she has a quite moving post on social inequity in Morocco. Here's a small excerpt:
A few days ago I met three cleaning ladies in one of the Kingdom's upscale hotels. Three young women, all of them graduates in law and younger than 30. It made me feel ashamed. Rarely has such a moment been so intense for me. For here are young women from some of the poorest background in the country that we made believe that studying and success at school and then university would then allow to have a better life, but the result is a social nightmare. Lucid? -- yes, I am. Morocco is a poor country, I am well aware of it... Especially because I know that in our country a quasi-feudal tradition is perpetuated that blocks social ascension for thousands of people because they do not bear the "right" name or come from the "proper" social background.
That applies to a lot of places in the Arab world, but it is something I see in Morocco more than most other countries. Good to see some quality Moroccan blogs out there.
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The Mubarak Interviews

A long dialogue/interview with President Hosni Mubarak, estimated at 7 hours, will be broadcast on Egyptian TV on Sunday, 24 April (according to an article from Islam-Online). Islam-Online reports that Sunday's interview is the longest with Mubarak since 1982 when the Sinai was liberated (also he was fresh in office). The broadcast will discuss the future of political and economic reform as well as present some "surprises". The article says this latest public relations stunt is intended to win over some public opinion.
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More on human rights report

More coverage that depicts the National Human Rights Council report as a whitewash: the Al Ahram Hebdo has article in which human rights NGOs criticize the report, and point out that only two of its 6 chapters directly address human rights issues (and they are the shortest)--the goal seems to be to bury the bad news in 400 pages of fluff (the first chapter reprints the international declaration of human rights, chapter 2 and 3 talk about the creation and workings of the council itself.) Worse, the complaints reprinted in the report are all prefaced with the verb to "claim"--so according to the Hebdo the report doesn't so much say torture is happening in Egypt as say certain people "claim" to have been tortured (it then also quote the Ministry of Interior as denying such claims). It also seems from some of the passages translated in the Hebdo that the report is padded with plenty of very conciliatory language (some of which was apparently inserted last minute by council vice-president Kamal Abul Magd). The report also says "This report has to be read in light of the special nature of the National Council on Human Rights. This nature makes it not at all a government organization as some believe, nor a civil society association." What it is it then?
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Al Azhar and the state

As Ursula pointed out, a new issue of Cairo is out, and as well as her story it has a quite interesting feature by Charles on Islamic reform and the whole "Islam and democracy" debate. It covers various issues, but to me the most important one was how the Egyptian state has appropriated Islam for its own political ends. I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that, in a way, the most powerful Islamist group in Egypt is the state:
The history of the past 50 years in Egypt, as seen by Al Qemani, is the history of the state forging its legitimacy through the exploitation of religion. The rule of Gamal Abdel Nasser, commonly portrayed as a relatively secular period in Egyptian history, was in fact “the golden age for the revival of Islam and its men,” according to Al Qemani.
Nasser, he points out, established the High Council for Islamic Affairs in 1960 and then the Islamic Research Council, a conservative bastion with Al Azhar, and gave it wide-ranging censorship powers. In addition, says Al Qemani, under Nasser the number of Azhari institutes in the governorates of Egypt grew from seven in 1952 to over 2,000 at the time of Nasser’s death.
That Sadat allowed the Brotherhood back into Egypt and allowed them to operate openly in the street and on university campuses to counter the Marxist left is well known. More recently, President Mubarak has given significantly expanded censorship power to Al Azhar.
The article ends with a quote from Gamal Al Banna, the grandfatherly brother of Muslim Brotherhood founder Hassan Al Banna, self-styled "liberal Islamist" and civil society activist (he sits on the board of the Ibn Khaldoun Center):
Al Banna, is blunt in his criticism of Al Azhar’s position, accusing the institution of stifling debate that might undermine its hold on power.
“From the perspective of their private position, Al Azhar doesn’t want reform and they strangle all who talk about Islam without being Azhari,” says Al Banna. “This is the powerful religious authority that enjoys the care of the state and the cooperation of the state. Reform cannot happen as long this traditional thought controls the Islamic world.”
The problem now is, as I see it, how to undo the instrumentalization of Al Azhar that has made it both an extension of the state (which is not its intended role in society) and the tool of traditional, non-political conservatives. Another question would be whether, considering its prestige, Egyptian Muslims would want it to recede from being an interventionist force in Egypt's moral life or not. After all, there are a legitimate grounds to moral censorship in any country, and many people may welcome that role. But how do you draw the line between legitimate censorship and excessive conservatism? The solution, I suspect, probably has to do with how Al Azhar functions as an institution and the type of leadership that it creates -- as well as having a government that doesn't keep trying to outdo conservatives outside the regime like the Muslim Brotherhood for political gain. Another issue that Charles' story raises is the shift in 20th century Islamic thinkerrs between relative liberals like Muhammad Abdou to conservatives like Rashid Reda and Hassan Al Banna. I was speaking about liberal Islamist political parties at a seminar a few weeks ago at the Dutch Institute in Cairo along with Paul Schemm, my old Cairo Times colleague and friend, and Hugh Roberts, the head of the International Crisis Group's North Africa project. (He's been the one writing the recent great overviews on political Islam.) Hugh had quite an elegant way of summing up why the really quite progressive early 20th century Islamist thought became more conservative. It goes something like this: in the aftermath of the First World War and the division of the Ottoman Empire's Arab provinces among Britain and France, progressive Islamist thought that was mostly focused on internal reform and catching up with the advances of the West was abandoned of anti-colonialist, nationalist Islamist thought mostly concerned with ending foreign occupation and dropped the progressive elements. That foreign occupation (or at times the perception thereof), in various guises, survives today in much of the Arab world, and 80 years later it has produced extremist xenophobic movements like Al Qaeda. Compare Abdou's comment when he visited Paris in the 1900s ("In France I see Islam without Muslims, whereas in Egypt I see Muslims without Islam") to Sayyid Qutb's writings when he visited the US in the 1950s ("Even the Western world realizes that Western civilization is unable to present any healthy values for the guidance of mankind. It knows that it does not possess anything which will satisfy its own conscience and justify its existence.”) Kind of says it all. Finally, do check out other articles this week in Cairo, including:
  • Stacey Philbrick of Al Hiwar on Yemen's journalists.
  • More on the judges by Ursula.
  • The press review, always a good read.
  • The latest on Al Ghad by the invaluable Magdi Samaan.
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    Last issue of Cairo

    This week's issue of Cairo is out and for those of who were interested in the National Human Rights Council report, there is an article I did with quotes from Bahaedding Hassan, Hafez Abu Saada and Kamal Abul Magd. (Many thanks to Josh who also gave me much useful information.) Please also check out Charles' piece on Islamic debate and reform--I haven't read it yet but am very much looking forward to it.
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