Thus, it is with growing dismay that I read news of the latest spending plans being discussed by members of the Bush administration and their advisers for how best to influence Muslims and attitudes in the Muslim world. Congress is being asked for an additional $75 million to ''support democracy" in Iran, and unnamed State Department officials are saying it will be used to ''improve radio broadcasts, begin satellite broadcasts, and include money for scholarships for Iranian students to come to the United States." Nowhere is VOA mentioned. News of this request comes only one day after I learned of the latest announcement by Bush-appointed officials that VOA will have to discontinue its worldwide English broadcasts, which have been on the air 24 hours a day without interruption since 1942. Millions of people have learned to speak English by listening to VOA. It even broadcast a formal ''English 900" language training program to China in the 1970s that was the most widely listened-to single program in the country, outstripping all the government sponsored broadcasts. During the ''solidarity strikes" against the communist government in Poland in the 1980s, surveys showed 85 percent daily listenership to VOA for more than nine months.I remember growing up in Morocco we would listen to Radio Montecarlo, which was especially good as reporting on the Lebanese civil war. Often these foreign stations are the only means for people to get reliable information, and they build up their reputation over time. The BBC and VOA did so -- whereas Al Hurra has probably already lost its own reputation.
And then I suddenly realized, there was no way weren’t going to hit that car. It’s that moment in every traffic accident, that you know there is no avoiding the collision, and you brace yourself.
Mind you, I wasn’t actually all that worried, we were in a heavily armored humvee and the rickety white and orange taxi stuck in front of us didn’t look particularly impressive.
Our convoy had come barreling through the intersection the way most US military convoys do, sirens blaring for everyone to get out of the way, except that two cars tried to race across first and then somehow got into each other’s way.
The soldier in the gun turret yelled, worked the siren and then threw noisy stun grenades to get their attention. And then we slammed into the taxi.
CAIRO (Reuters) - The son of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, ruling party politician Gamal Mubarak, will get engaged on Friday to the daughter of a prominent building contractor, the state-owned newspaper al-Ahram said on Sunday. Gamal, 42, is the assistant secretary general of Mubarak's National Democratic Party (NDP) and the head of the policies section. The opposition says the NDP is preparing him to succeed his father but Gamal says he has no presidential ambitions. Al-Ahram said his fiancee is the daughter of contractor Mahmoud Yahya el-Gammal. The independent newspaper Al Masry Al Yom named her as Khadiga, born in 1982 and a graduate of the American University in Cairo, where Gamal studied in the 1980s. Asked in a recent interview when he planned to get married, Gamal said he would do so when he met the right person. Gamal Mubarak's office had no immediate comment on the reports.Remember you heard it here first. Incidentally we've learned recently that Gamal acolyte Muhammad Kamal, the spokesman and electoral architect of the NDP, recently got engaged. Maybe it will be a double wedding.
THERE were so many reasons not to kill Atwar Bahjat. She was half Sunni, half Shia, a woman, an Iraqi, 30 years old, a native of Samarra and a renowned journalist for the Dubai-based al-Arabiya news channel. Yet kill her they did. They shot her to death on a dusty road six miles north of her home town as she reported on the bomb that wrecked Samarra’s sacred Shia shrine on Wednesday. She died with two colleagues — early victims in a frenzy of revenge killings that has dragged Iraq to the brink of civil war. Being half Shia was not enough to save her. For three years the fragile truce between Iraq’s once-dominant Sunni minority and long-oppressed Shia majority had held in the face of suicide bombs in market places, car bombs outside police stations and corpses found in ditches. That truce is now at breaking point. Across Baghdad and other cities Shia death squads have been tracking down and butchering Sunnis. Scores of Sunni mosques have been attacked, some of their Imams killed or abducted. The curfew has been extended, and all police and army leave cancelled. By last night the death toll was nearing 200, and Sunni politicians ended talks on forming a new government with the Shia alliance. The Iraq whose outline was that of Atwar Bahjat’s trademark gold pendant was at risk of sundering.She is the 11th employee of Al Arabiya to die since the invasion of Iraq, which begs the question of what they're doing in terms of security there.
Even as the traditional, state-backed papers try to liven up coverage to compete, the upstart dailies still stand out. One day this week, for example, al Ahram, the largest and most venerable of the old-guard papers, ran front-page items on a soccer match, a new government hot line for bird-flu cases, Mubarak meeting with his Cabinet, and Mubarak's wife announcing the theme of her annual motherhood conference. Al Misri al Youm, by contrast, ran a front page full of local news about a political party in disarray, judges fighting for more independence, Islamists suggesting donations to the cash-strapped Palestinian militant group Hamas, and an exclusive investigation into corruption at the agriculture ministry. The price? About 17 cents a copy.The really important thing that Al Masri Al Youm has done is set the agenda for domestic politics, much like an important story in the NYT or WaPo might in the US. With its single-minded obsession in covering all domestic issues, both in the regime and in the opposition, it has become the must-read of the political class. (I remember an Israeli diplomat assuring me that its page three is a daily requirement if you have to follow local politics.) It has also made the state press' continuing chronicle of presidential minutia even more ridiculous. I would add this anecdote from my recent MERIP piece as an illustration of how crucial Al Masri Al Youm's existence was to the way the parliamentary elections were perceived:
Although independent newspapers, particularly al-Masri al-Yawm, were reporting daily on violations ignored by the state media, it was one account that finally blew the lid off the official story. In its November 24 edition, al-Masri al-Yawm carried a front-page article by Noha al-Zeiny, a legal officer who supervised the Damanhour election. Zeiny told of the many procedural and other violations carried out by the NDP and security forces. According to Hisham Kassem, the newspaper’s publisher, her article had to be reprinted for three consecutive days because issues were selling out so quickly. The paper subsequently increased its print run and received many letters by other whistleblowers wanting to give their testimony. The article also prompted a statement, signed by 120 judges, attesting that the violations described by Zeiny were common in other constituencies. Although the third-round runoff on December 8, during which at least eight people were reported killed in altercations with security forces, would prove that a climate of violence and intimidation had taken over the elections, Zeiny’s whistleblower article was the tipping point in public opinion. Magdi Mehanna, the liberal columnist in al-Masri al-Yawm, concluded that “whatever the result of the parliamentary elections, it is now clear that the violence and bias of the security forces have seriously dampened political reform in Egypt.”Prior to Al Masri Al Youm, this would have been picked up by one of the weeklies -- probably the Nasserist Al Arabi, which comes out on Sundays. That means as many as six days might elapse between an event and the time it is reported, a crucial difference if you consider that outrage has its own limited political life-cycle. My former boss Hisham Kassem deserves the accolade he gets in Hannah's article. But it's also worth mentioning the late, lamented Cairo Times, which in many ways was an English-language precursor of Al Masri Al Youm. By the way, Al Masri Al Youm's website is currently on a trial run. It's not certain yet whether it will give full access -- that might challenge copy sales -- but it is sure to be a boon to bloggers and Egypt-watchers abroad when it launches. Correction: Actually it looks like it's already online, at least partially, here.
Naveh noted that at least 80 percent of Jordan's citizens are Palestinian and said that, due to regional threats including Hamas' rise to power, King Abdullah is liable to be the last Hashemite monarch to lead the kingdom. He also warned of the creation of an "Islamist axis" that could topple the regime. These comments, which Naveh made during a lecture in Jerusalem, caused fury in Amman, and Jordan threatened to reduce official ties with Israel. An official in Jordan's embassy in Israel, Omar A-Nadif, said Wednesday that the Jordanian government expects "appropriate measures" to be taken against Naveh. He warned that failing to do so could harm Israel-Jordanian ties.Today, it was the deputy chief of staff of the Israeli army, who made dire predictions, this time about Egypt. According to Israeli Army Radio, Moshe Kaplinsky told a group of businessmen that "An uncertain situation in Syria is obvious, but even in Egypt we are beginning to see all kinds of first signs of a possible destabilization of the once-solid Mubarak regime." I have no reason to believe that these are just the professional assessments of two senior officers -- not necessarily the hopes or analysis of Israeli intelligence. But knowing that these are issues which are being discussed at that level in the Israeli security establishment is interesting, for two reasons: first, Israeli security assessments have a pretty good track record of accuracy, and second, it raises the question of at what point will Israel decide to intervene, directly or indirectly, to preserve regimes with which it has a long working relationship. Or to put it another way, to what extent is Israel worried about the prospects for Islamists in its neighboring states?
QUESTION: Just before you came, you said no FTA, you pushed for more reform and called for turning down Hamas. What's in it for us? SECRETARY RICE: Well, in fact, on the FTA, we will continue to talk about the FTA. The timing's not right just now, but we want to have an FTA with Egypt because we believe that it will make a difference to economic reform and ultimately to the economy here in Egypt. FTAs are a good thing and we will continue to discuss them. QUESTION: Of course. SECRETARY RICE: The United States and Egypt share a common vision of a Middle East that is at peace, a common vision that Egypt has sacrificed greatly for when Anwar Sadat decided to make peace. He led the world in peace and, of course, paid for it with his life. And now we have a situation in which we can, I think, have peace between the Palestinians and Israelis, but in which we need the new government of the Palestinian territories to be one that accepts the responsibilities of peace, that accepts the requirements of peace, that accepts that on behalf of the Palestinian people there will have to be cooperation with Israel. That means that there has to be a recognition of Israel's right to exist. So I think this is a common vision that we and Egypt share. QUESTION: When will this timing of the FTA, in your opinion, be correct? SECRETARY RICE: Well, I can't predict, but I think that we will continue to discuss it. We've had very good discussions with Egypt about economic reform issues. We've had progress on qualified industrial zones that Egypt has participated in in the region and so our economic relationship is moving forward. At some point, we'll return to negotiation of the FTA. QUESTION: We hope to see that absolutely. Why are you excluding Israel from efforts to keep the Middle East free from weapons of mass destruction? SECRETARY RICE: Well, we certainly hope that one day there is going to be a Middle East in which no one needs to contemplate a weapon of mass destruction. It will take a Middle East that is more democratic, a Middle East in which -- QUESTION: So it's all depending on democracy first? SECRETARY RICE: Well, I think it's the issue of a Middle East where everyone feels that their security concerns can be met is one that is going to be helped very much by a more democratic future. But let me say that we are working very hard with Egypt on issues of nonproliferation. Egypt took, I think, a courageous decision in the IAEA to support the international consensus -- by the way, a consensus that included India and Russia and China -- that Iran's case should be referred to the Security Council. QUESTION: I see. You said your trip would be to continue to push for political reform. American calls for democracy have unwittingly brought unprecedented support for the Muslim Brotherhood, but you're not happy with the Muslim Brotherhood in power. Is this some kind of designer's democracy then, Dr. Rice? SECRETARY RICE: No. The United States is going to stand for the principle of democracy. It stands for the principle that people have a right to choose those who are going to govern them. Sometimes there will be outcomes that we don't like, but we can't have a policy that says you can only vote if you vote in a way that the United States prefers. We will stand for the principle. Now, once people are elected to power, they have a responsibility then to those who elected them to rule democratically, not to rule by fiat or not to rule undemocratically. They also have a responsibility to give up and to renounce violence and terrorism, because you can't on the one hand be in the political process and on the other hand continue to pursue violence. QUESTION: Excessive meddling has brought the Shiites in Iraq to power. Their neighboring Iranians are Shia. The Sunnis are compromised. America's trusted Arab allies are Sunnis. There's a brewing civil war in Iraq. What have you done?Madam Secretary, what have you done? It gets better (the phrase "Egyptian coolies" pops up) -- worth reading entirely.
So far, such calculations look about right. The election-quashing prompted only a tepid statement from Ms. Rice's spokesman, who said the administration opposed the postponement of elections "as a matter of principle" but added, in an echo of the administration's critics, that "democracy is not only about elections." In his State of the Union speech last month Mr. Bush said something different: "Elections are vital, but they are only the beginning." Egypt, he added, "should open paths of peaceful opposition that will reduce the appeal of radicalism." Is this what he had in mind?Not quite my take, but close.
So this is what happens after 40 years of NATO membership. The US partnership and its nuclear umbrella are ripped to shreds in this film --one you'll never see in North America but it is showing in all cinemas in Turkey.
Breaking every box office record in the history of the country, the film is about a Turkish avenger who punishes the US military for the humiliating arrest and expulsion of a small Turkish contingent discovered near Sulaymaniyeh in spring 2003. The filmmakers spare no outrage to the audience, showing the US military engaged in defiling mosques, bombing wedding feasts and running a brisk organ trade out of Abu Ghraib prison.
If this film is any indication, the Turkey-Israeli axis is about to crumble. We shouldn't be surprised that Turkey has invited Hamas leaders to Ankara. A tip of the hat to blogger Au fil de BosphoreI'm not sure about his political conclusions, but there is a bit in the original French-language blogpost that seems to indicate these anti-US sentiments are pretty commonplace:
This movie reminds me a book that was a bestseller last year. Metal Storm was about a world war between Turkey and the US that was sparked by an incident in... Iraq. It sold 400,000 copies, or twice as many as the Da Vinci Code.Don't make a Turk angry. Update: Here's another movie critical of US policy -- this time it's Gitmo.
But my main purpose in writing concems the operational conclusions drawn from these meetings. If we get ourselves into a position where we are stating as a matter of principle the importance of "engaging political Islam" we will run into specific difficulties in particular countries, including this one. Seen from here we will do better to position ourselves country by country as required to advance our overall reform objectives. The general principles should be ones of universal application (democracy, freedom of expression, respect for human rights etc). My second point is that it would not be sensible to instruct EU Heads of Mission across the Arab world during our Presidency to initiate discussion of contacts with Islamists. The fact of the discussion would in itself be a signal. Whether such a discussion was likely to be useful might vary from post to post. But we need to recognise the porosity of the 25. Once a paper or subject is launched among Heads of Mission, certainly in this post, it will be in the hands of our hosts within the hour (cf recent experience in relation to the ENP Action Plan). We will then be running to put out brush fires out with Aboul Gheit to the exclusion of real business. The collective response of my colleagues might well be that we should have no truck with the Brothers. But I would be labelled - as I am to a certain extent already - as agitating in the other direction. Discussion is more likely to be useful in informal fora, G8 Ambassadors here have recently compared notes on contacts with Islamists at our instigation. I attach the relevant paragraph from the record. Underlying all of this - here at least - is a question about what the real possibilities for forward movement on political reform are at the moment. and how signalling greater readiness to talk to the Muslim Brothers would impact that. The Brothers are the regime's red line. Mubarak has it is true been dragged over other red lines. But this one is existential, not just for the leadership but for the class from which they are drawn and for the vision of society to which they subscribe. They can be encouraged to accommodation on it (see for example my record of my meeting with Governor Mahgoub in Alexandria over the weekend). But we need to judge the message very carefully. Pressing for legalisation of the Brothers as a political party, or dealing with them ourselves directly (as opposed to seeing their MPAs or sympathisers like Fahmy Howeidi, to whom I introduced Kim Howells), will panic the horses. In my judgement it would seriously impede our ability to influence them on other aspects of political reform - more transparent elections, access to the media, freedom of assembly for opposition candidates etc. I am not starry eyed about the commitment of the regime here to political reform. The old guard - Safwat Sherif, Kamal al Shazli and their like - continue to try to cook things in a thoroughly unscrupulous way. Abuses are manifold, and will be repeated any number of times in the coming months. But the stated vision of the regime - democratic choice, freedom of expression, a stronger secular opposition - is respectable. They wrap themselves in the banner of "no religion in politics". Many oppositionists including in Kifaya take the same line. As the US Chargé here says that is not so very far from the basis of his constitution, and the Americans for the moment seem disinclined to challenge this particular red line. You will have seen from our reporting that Condoleezza Rice went out of her way during her visit here to deny the existence of US contacts with the Muslim Brothers - "we respect Egyptian law" - though she was very firm about transparent elections, freedom of assembly, human rights abuses etc. I think real advances in political liberalization are possible in Egypt this autumn. We are much further forward than I expected at the beginning of the year. They key – even more important than the presidential elections – will be those for the People’s Assembly, in which independents including MBs and opposition figures may well do much better than in the past. I would not be surprised if that in turn led to a realignment of parties and the emergence of new ones, though not – I am pretty sure – an overtly Islamist one. The road that takes us there may well be bumpy, and will certainly include a good deal more pressure from the Muslim Brothers on the streets. If their activity is repressed aggressively we will need to respond: I very much agree with Frances that we should not confine our demarches on human rights to liberal or secular victims of abuse: we have been too silent here on this score in the recent past. But I am not keen actually to encourage the Brothers – as a chance remarks from Condoleeza Rice earlier in the year encouraged the first round of demonstrations by them. In short I think we need to avoid restricting our freedom of manoeuvre by enunciating general principles about engagement with Islamists, and give ourselves room to handle the issue flexibly on a country by country basis. We will continue to look for opportunities to talk to Islamists here. But we will pick the context carefully and not put other interests at risk. If the issue is one of knowing more about bodies like the Muslim Brothers, there are other ways of doing so besides group engagement.That was the state of the debate in mid-2005. The more recent letter, from the Arab/Israel and North Africa Group of the Foreign Office, seems to set the new policy of engaging "at the working level" with the MB, and encourage both EU countries and the US to do the same, but still urges caution. Yet, someone at the Foreign Office obviously wanted to derail that policy by releasing the documents to the press. It will be interesting to see what, if any, fallout there will be.
The British government has a terrible dilemma. Should it refuse to deal with radical Islamic movements altogether, and so risk alienating large parts of the Muslim world, or should it make overtures towards the leaders of these movements and face down accusations that it is appeasing Islamofascists? The New Statesman can reveal that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has opted for the latter course, and has decided on a policy of engagement with what it calls "political Islam". To this end, it proposes to develop "working-level contacts" in Egypt with one of the Middle East's most militant groups, the Muslim Brotherhood, which is banned in many countries in the region and considered a terrorist organisation by the United States. A leaked memo to the Middle East minister Kim Howells, dated 17 January and obtained by this magazine, shows that the government is preparing to open lines of communication with the Brotherhood, seen by many as the chief inspiration behind much modern Islamic extremism. The memo from the FCO's Arab/Israel and North Africa Group recommends increasing "the frequency of working-level contacts with Muslim Brotherhood parliamentarians (who do not advocate violence), particularly those who are members of parliamentary committees". In a week when the government has argued again for a statutory offence of "glorifying terrorism" it may seem contradictory for it to pursue links with a group that openly supports the violent struggle of Hamas in Israel. The leaked document recognises how sensitive this is likely to be, especially with the Egyptian government of Hosni Mubarak: "The presentation of any change in the way we deal with the Muslim Brotherhood will have to be carefully handled, in order to safeguard our bilateral relations with Egypt. The Egyptian government perceive the Muslim Brotherhood to be the political face of a terrorist organisation."The article, by the way, is called "Talking to terrorists." Alarmist tones aside, the article -- if what it claims is true -- is actually useful in that it shows a) a change in British policy and b) the internal debate taking place in the Foreign Office:
The NS understands that the latest leaks of Foreign Office documents reflect growing discomfort among officials with the government's new direction. Although the memo urging engagement with Islamists is said to have the backing of "Egypt" (meaning the British embassy there), a further leak shows that Sir Derek Plumbly, the British ambassador to Egypt and one of this country's most senior diplomats, is far from convinced. Plumbly, a former head of the Foreign Office's Middle East and North Africa desk wrote to John Sawers, the political director at the FCO, about his concerns on 23 June last year. Pressing for legalisation of the Brotherhood would be likely to "scare the horses" in Egypt, Plumbly wrote. He poured scorn on the idea that engagement by the British government would be likely to affect the future direction of the movement: "I suspect that there will be relatively few contexts in which we are able significantly to influence the Islamists' agenda." Plumbly's letter includes a stark warning: "I also detect a tendency for us to be drawn towards engagement for its own sake; to confuse 'engaging with the Islamic world' with 'engaging with Islamism'; and to play down the very real downsides for us in terms of the Islamists' likely foreign and social policies, should they actually achieve power in countries such as Egypt."That last point is almost certainly true. The rise of Islamist parties means less pliable governments in the Arab world -- ones that might not so easily hand over big oil, arms or construction contracts, follow Western policies on the international and regional levels, or collaborate in covert rendition and torture programs. And of course they might be just as despotic as the regimes they replace -- Iran and Sudan sure aren't a great example of what happens when Islamists are in power. But this is why engaging Islamists and persuading them to compete in a democratic system (and ensuring these systems remain democratic) is a better solution than ignoring them. The full leaked documents can be found here. They also state that:
The US are reviewing their position on contacts with the MB, having previously refused any contact. Their line is likely to continue to be that they will operate within Egyptian law.Seems in keeping with what journalists know is taking place, although I believe the US did have informal contacts with the MB in the early 1990s. The documents are really worth reading if you're interested in this issue, particularly the first and third one. I am sure the Egyptian press is going to have a field day with this. It seems like someone in the Foreign Office is pretty intent on sabotaging the move to talk to Islamists.
When we ran our article on the Danish cartoons, it was all about how the Prophet should be honored, with quotations from famous people about what an important figure he was, and a news story on Yemeni protests. We reprinted the cartoons but blacked them out. Unfortunately by an innocent mistake in the production process, a thumbnail of the cartoons appeared on the front page—only 1.5cm [0.6 of an inch] by 2cm [0.8 of an inch], you could hardly read it. But then one of the directors of [the newspaper] al-Akhbar al Yawn approached the Yemen Observer owners to blackmail us—that unless we paid them they would raise a stink. We refused, and they collected signatures on a petition that they presented to the prosecutor. Theirs is a newspaper that lives by blackmail, everybody knows that. But the government responded by revoking our license to publish and putting me in jail.So blackmail and corruption, twined with the irrational furore over the cartoons, could earn this man anything up to a life sentence. Pathetic.