Renowned philosopher to head Kifaya movement

A few days ago, Kifaya announced that George Ishaq, its general coordinator for the last two year, will be stepping down. His replacement is Abdel Wahab al-Messiri, a renowned philosopher best-known for his Encyclopedia of Jews, Judaism and Zionism -- the most comprehensive and serious study of these issues in Arabic. When I first read about this a couple of days ago in the Daily Star, I couldn't believe it. Al-Messiri is a heavy caliber academic known, among other things, for being a critic of Arab anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial (although there is some controversy on his views on the Holocaust and Zionism, since he is an anti-Zionist, but I am not familiar with the arguments - update). He has lectured widely in the West, notably the US. This would suggest a major change in Kifaya's direction is possible. I spoke to al-Messiri briefly a few minutes ago -- he confirmed the appointment but declined to give me an interview before Kifaya drafts its new policy next week. (Watch this space.) I haven't been reading a lot of Arabic newspapers for the past week so it's quite possible I missed coverage in Arabic, but the Daily Star and other English-language outlets have not really grasped the potential significance of al-Messiri's appointment. Last month, Kifaya, a rag-tag collection of socialist, Nasserist, anti-globalisation and human rights activists, held a protest on to celebrate its two-year anniversary. As per usual, a small number of demonstrators were pinned down to the Press Syndicate building, outnumbered by Central Security Forces by at least five to one. The protest was a far cry from the founding outing of Kifaya, on 12 December 2004, which marked the birth of the first overtly anti-Mubarak non-violent movement. Although that protest was even smaller, it was groundbreaking in that it was Egypt’s first movement that overtly campaigned against President Hosni Mubarak’s re-election and against the prospect of an inheritance of power scenario for his son Gamal. Over the next year, Kifaya jolted the Egyptian political class out of its complacency and pushed back the margins for political activity. Its message, that Egyptians had enough (“kifaya” in Arabic) of poor governance and one-man rule, reverberated across the country and was partly embraced by Egypt’s traditionally cautious opposition, including the Muslim Brotherhood and liberal parties such as al-Ghad. Fast forward two years later and Kifaya seems to be heading nowhere. Its primary goal, preventing Mubarak’s re-election, has clearly failed and Gamal Mubarak’s ascendancy continues. Kifaya never reached enough critical mass to become a genuine popular movement, with the same activist faces seen at most protests. It has tried to widen its campaign to include social issues such as rising prices, unemployment and poverty, but to no avail. Neither political party nor underground revolutionary movement, Kifaya has stagnated. In early December, Egyptian newspapers reported that at least seven senior figures in the movement quit over what they say is the dominance of Kifaya by a few personalities. While this will have a negative impact on its organisational efforts, core Kifaya members are frequently members of several groups and may redirect their efforts towards other activities, such as supporting activists or taking an interest in opposition party politics, since several left-wing parties are expected to undergo a change of leadership early next year. Another alternative is the establishment of new specialized institutions, such as the “Union of the Unemployed” created in mid-December, that campaign on specific issues. It will be interesting to see what al-Messiri's leadership brings to Kifaya. Also read: a 1999 profile of al-Messiri by Fayza Hassan.
Read More

al-Masri al-Youm's recent coverage

I noted a while back that my friend/former boss Hisham Kassem had left his position as executive publisher of al-Masri al-Youm, the independent daily newspaper he launched in 2004 and that went on to become the premier source of reporting in Egypt. Many people have asked me if it has had any impact on al-Masri al-Youm's editorial line. I have not noticed anything special, except that these days it seems al-Masri seems to run a front-page article about a stories on Egypt that appear in foreign media nearly every day. Today's it's a negative FT report that touches on the Gamal/succession issue. Before that there was an Economist article, and before that a Carnegie Endowment report (and there have been others I can't remember.) What's the bloody point? Al-Masri does a great service by doing original reporting. Who cares what other publications are saying? Why is it worth prominent placement? I hope this isn't an indicator of a loss of quality.
Read More

Uri Avnery: Israel poisoned Arafat

More signs that Arafat was murdered by Israel with US collusion. I wonder if the UN will ask for an international investigation like it did over Rafiq Hariri's assassination in Lebanon.
If Arafat were still alive Israel should take no comfort from inter-Arab conflicts. Peace depends on Palestinian unity Uri Avnery Wednesday January 31, 2007 The Guardian 'If Arafat were alive..." One hears this phrase increasingly often in conversations with Palestinians, and also with Israelis and foreigners. "If Arafat were alive, what's happening now in Gaza wouldn't be happening..." "If Arafat were alive, we would have somebody to talk with..." "If Arafat were alive, Islamic fundamentalism would not have won among the Palestinians and would have lost some force in the neighbouring countries!" In the meantime, the unanswered questions come up again: how did Yasser Arafat die? Was he murdered? On the way back from Arafat's funeral in 2004, I ran into Jamal Zahalka, a member of the Israeli Knesset. I asked him if he believed that Arafat was murdered. Zahalka, a doctor of pharmacology, answered "Yes!" without hesitation. That was my feeling too. But a hunch is not proof. It is only a product of intuition, common sense and experience. Recently we got a kind of confirmation. Just before he died last month, Uri Dan, Ariel Sharon's loyal mouthpiece for almost 50 years, published a book in France. It includes a report of a conversation Sharon told him about, with President Bush. Sharon asked for permission to kill Arafat and Bush gave it to him, with the proviso that it must be done undetectably. When Dan asked Sharon whether it had been carried out, Sharon answered: "It's better not to talk about that." Dan took this as confirmation.
The rest of the piece is about how Israelis should not be gloating over the fighting in the Occupied Territories.
Read More

Sawiris enters satellite TV market

Naguib Sawiris, Egypt's top billionaire and around the 64th richest man in the world, has carried out something he has long been talking about and launched a satellite TV company. From a business briefing I receive:
Mr. Naguib Sawiris announced the launch of a new satellite TV channel with a paid-in capital of USD17 million. The company seeks growth within the regional media production market, and plans to expand its ownership through an IPO once it starts to achieve reasonable profitability.
The FT had done a story on this in May 2006 where Sawiris explained he had political reasons for doing this too:
The head of the Cairo-based Orascom Telecom Holdings, the region’s largest mobile telephone operator, is already majority-owner in two satellite television stations, Melody music and Melody films. He is now starting a third entertainment channel dedicated to young audiences and has applied for a licence to launch a 24-hour satellite news channel for Egypt’s domestic market. ADVERTISEMENT Mr Sawiris is also expecting gradually to turn an Iraqi terrestrial general channel he owns into a broader regional satellite news channel to one day compete with the popular Qatar-based al-Jazeera and Saudi-owned al-Arabiya. The foray into satellite media, a field that, outside al-Jazeera, has been largely dominated by Saudis – Prince Waleed bin Talal, the high-profile international financier, has been building his own satellite media empire – appears to be driven by business as much as political motives. An outspoken secular businessman, with wealth estimated by Forbes Magazine at $2.6bn (€2bn, £1.4bn), Mr Sawiris wants to win the hearts of Arab youth by promoting a more liberal Arab society. “When I started Orascom I started a regional activity, and I believe I can replicate the story in media,” he said, on the sidelines of a World Economic Forum conference in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh. “Here [in the Middle East], most stations are family-owned, royal-owned or government-owned.” The only hope for the region, he said, was a change in education to combat religious fundamentalism and extremism: “There is terrorism because they [young people] have nothing to look forward to.”
While his opinion is laudable, I don't think watching more episodes of Friends is exactly the kind of character-building activity that lures young people away from terrorism. Hopefully, though, it'll be better than the UAE/Saudi dominated entertainment channels.
Read More

New ICG report on Sinai

I haven't had time to read it yet, but the ICG has just published a very interesting-looking report on Egypt's Sinai question in light of the three bombings that have taken place there in the past three years and the subsequent indiscriminate crackdown on the Bedouin population:
Thus, beneath the terrorism problem is a more serious and enduring “Sinai question” which the political class has yet to address. Doing so will not be easy. Since this question is partly rooted in wider Middle East crises, above all the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a definitive solution depends on their resolution. But the solution also requires the full integration and participation of Sinai’s populations in national political life, which means it is also dependent on significant political reforms in the country as a whole, which are not at present on the horizon. While a comprehensive solution of the Sinai question cannot be expected soon, the government can and should alter a development strategy that is deeply discriminatory and largely ineffective at meeting local needs. A new, properly funded plan, produced in consultation with credible local representatives and involving all elements of the population in implementation, could transform attitudes to the state by addressing Sinai’s grievances.
Read More

US judge okays lawsuit against terrorists' bank

A question to any lawyer types out there: does the decision below set a precedent for any victim of terrorism to sue financial institutions whose clients were involved in those acts of terrorism? Would it apply to other types of violence, including state violence?
A Federal Court Judge in Brooklyn on Tuesday approved a lawsuit filed by victims of terror against the Arab Bank for alleged business links with terrorist organizations. Judge Nina Gershon accepted the feasibility of the joint claim filed by 1,600 people living in Israel, the U.S. and other countries who were hurt in terrorist attacks orchestrated by some of the bank's clients. In their lawsuit, complainants claimed the Arab Bank's Manhattan branch was used to channel funds to Hamas and other Palestinian militants.
Read More

Former CPA official sentenced for fraud

What a scumbag:
WASHINGTON (AFP) - A former American official with the US-led occupation authority in Iraq was sentenced Monday to nine years in prison and forced to forfeit 3.6 million dollars for his role in defrauding the authority. Robert Stein, 52, pleaded guilty in February 2006 to charges of bribery, money laundering and conspiracy in relation to a plot to defraud the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) which took over running Iraq after the 2003 US-led invasion. Stein, who was arrested in the United States in November 2005 in the case, also pleaded guilty to illegal possession of machine guns in the case heard in the US district court in Washington DC. The case involved a scheme during 2003-2005 involving several US army and reserve officers and Romania-based US businessman Philip Bloom to rig CPA bids worth 8.6 million dollars in Bloom's favor. Bloom in turn gave the government officials cash, cars, jewelry, computers, airline tickets, liquor and jobs, according to the Department of Justice. Stein, a CPA comptroller and funding officer for the CPA's south central region in al-Hillah, Iraq, stole two million dollars in US currency during the scheme to give to Bloom to launder through foreign accounts to pay off the others, the Justice Department said in a statement.
Read More

Where the American dead in Iraq come from

From TomDispatch:
Just over 3,000 Americans have died in Iraq. If the U.S. population is 300 million, then that's just 0.001% of it. Add into this the fact that the American dead come disproportionately from the most forgotten, least attended to parts of our country, from places that often have lost their job bases; consider that many of them were under or unemployed as well as undereducated, that they generally come from struggling, low-income, low-skills areas. Given that we have an all-volunteer military (so that not even the threat of a draft touches other young Americans), you could certainly say that the President's war in Iraq -- and its harm -- has been disproportionately felt. If you live in a rural area, you are simply far more likely to know a casualty of the war than in most major metropolitan areas of the country. No wonder it's been easy for so many Americans to ignore such a catastrophic war until relatively recently. This might, in a sense, be considered part of a long-term White House strategy, finally faltering, of essentially fighting two significant wars abroad while demobilizing the population at home. When, for instance, soon after the 9/11 attacks the President urged Americans to go to Disney World or, in December 2006, to go "shopping more" to help the economy, he meant it. We were to go on with our normal lives, untouched by his war.
Read More

Not so friendly

When the New York Times covers an incident where three Palestinian students get beat up by footballers at a Quaker college, it uses a lot of quotation marks because it can't take the event too seriously (e.g. "hate crime." "ugly incident") and makes the whole story about "hippies vs. athletes."
While some students praise Ms. Hamlin as trying to create a safe atmosphere for minority students to voice their concerns after the beatings, others, including friends of several athletes on campus, accuse her and some students of fostering a divisive, fearful atmosphere. “It’s just driving a wedge between us,” said Emily Bradford, 20, a third-year anthropology, sociology and forensic science major from Hillsborough. “That’s not what Guilford is all about. That’s not what community is all about.” Even the most ardent activists say the incident has led to a lot of stereotyping and name-calling. “I have a friend who’s a footballer,” said Casey Thomas, 18, a freshman from Queens. “He wasn’t even here that weekend, but he said someone came up and just cursed him out — lectured him.”
Poor footballers.
Read More

Handy factbox on Sunni/Shia divide

Click "more" for a nice breakdown of Sunni and Shia populations across the region, by Reuters. I do think they made a mistake in saying the worldwide population of Muslims will "double by 2010." Surely we don't breed that fast. FACTBOX-Sunni/Shi'ite divide Reuters 30.01.07 | 08h12 Jan 30 (Reuters) - Most Shi'ite Muslims across the Middle East mark on Tuesday the climax of the Ashura religious festival, which has been politicised by sectarian violence in Iraq and Lebanon. In Kerbala, 70 km (40 miles) north of Najaf, up to 1.5 millions pilgrims gathered to mark Ashura -- the death in battle of Mohammad's grandson in 680, which confirmed the split in Islam between rival claimants to the Prophet's succession. Here are details of comparative numbers of Sunnis and Shi'ite believers. * OVERALL VIEW: -- The majority of the world's 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide (projected almost to double by 2010) follow the Sunni branch of Islam with 10-15 percent following the Shi'ite branch. -- Shi'ite populations constitute a majority in Iran, Iraq, Bahrain and Azerbaijan. -- There are also significant Shi'ite populations in Afghanistan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Yemen. MIDDLE EAST/CENTRAL ASIAN COUNTRIES: AFGHANISTAN: Population: At least 30 million: Muslims make up 99 percent of the population (80 percent Sunni, 19 percent Shi'ite). AZERBAIJAN: Population: 8 million: Islam is the main religion of whom around 90 percent are Shi'ite. There are small Orthodox Russian and Orthodox Armenian minorities. IRAN: Population: 70 million. The Shi'ite sect of Islam predominates (89 percent), with some Sunni Muslims (9 percent). There are also Baha'i, Christian, Jewish and Zoroastrian minorities. IRAQ: Population: 26 million: Although Shi'ites are the minority sect of Islam, they form some 60 percent of Iraq's population and have dominated the government following the U.S.-led invasion of 2003. KUWAIT: Population: 2.7 million of whom around 1 million are actually Kuwaitis. In Kuwait sectarian difference is less a politically charged issue, since Shi'ites -- who form one third of the 1 million -- occupy an affluent place in society. LEBANON: Population: 4.2 million: Muslims make up just over 65 percent of the population, slightly over half of whom are Shi'ites (33 percent). Sunni Muslims make up 27 percent. There is a large Christian population. SAUDI ARABIA: Population: 24 million including around 7 million foreign workers. Most Saudi citizens belong to the austere Wahhabi branch of Sunni Islam (around 90 percent). A sizeable Shi'ite Muslim minority (10 percent) lives mainly in the large oil-producing Eastern Province. SYRIA: Population: 19.5 million: Mainly Sunni Muslim (74 percent) and also (16 percent) Alawites, Shi'ite and Ismailis. There are minority Christian denominations. TURKEY: Population: 73 million: mainly Muslim (80 percent Sunni and 20 percent Shi'ite, including the non-orthodox Alevi). There is a very small Christian minority. YEMEN: Population: 19 million: Sunni Muslims make up most of Yemen's population while Shi'ite Muslims account for about 15 percent of the population. Sources: Reuters/Reuters Alertnet ( of Congress/Congressional Research Service.
Read More

South Africa moves towards Israel boycott

Great news from a country whose majority suffered greatly from Israeli support for apartheid:
JOHANNESBURG, Jan 26 (IPS) - A call from a South African trade unionist for national supermarket chains to stop importing avocado from Israel could ultimately lead to the banning of all imports from the Jewish state, if unions and human rights activists have their way. Katishi Masemola, secretary general of the Food and Allied Workers' Union (FAWU), told South Africa's supermarket chains earlier this week that Israel produces avocado under "slave-type conditions". He says the International Labour Organisation (ILO) forbids the use of child labour which, he claims, Israel is employing on avocado farms.
I don't think the necessity of a worldwide Israeli boycott has ever been as clear as it is today, especially as the parallels with between Israel's current apartheid regime and the white regime in South Africa become more well-known.
Read More

How the world works

How does this:
Israel May Have Violated Arms Pact, U.S. Says By DAVID S. CLOUD and GREG MYRE Published: January 28, 2007 WASHINGTON, Jan 27 — The Bush administration will inform Congress on Monday that Israel may have violated agreements with the United States when it fired American-supplied cluster munitions into southern Lebanon during its fight with Hezbollah last summer, the State Department said Saturday. The finding, though preliminary, has prompted a contentious debate within the administration over whether the United States should penalize Israel for its use of cluster munitions against towns and villages where Hezbollah had placed its rocket launchers.
Square with this:
Israel to purchase U.S.-made smart bomb kits for $100 million JERUSALEM: The Israeli air force has decided to buy smart munitions kits from the Seattle-based Boeing aerospace company for an estimated $100 million (€77 million), Israeli defense officials said Monday.
Read More

Europe is ours

Ours, I tell you! Dirka dirka Muhammad Jihad! Muahahahahahahaha!!!!
Islam could soon be the dominant force in a Europe which, in the name of political correctness, has abdicated the battle for cultural and religious control, Prof. Bernard Lewis, the world-renowned Middle Eastern and Islamic scholar, said on Sunday. The Muslims "seem to be about to take over Europe," Lewis said at a special briefing with the editorial staff of The Jerusalem Post. Asked what this meant for the continent's Jews, he responded, "The outlook for the Jewish communities of Europe is dim." Soon, he warned, the only pertinent question regarding Europe's future would be, "Will it be an Islamized Europe or Europeanized Islam?" The growing sway of Islam in Europe was of particular concern given the rising support within the Islamic world for extremist and terrorist movements, said Lewis.
I wonder if this prediction will be as accurate as Lewis' last one. Read more for Bernie's take on the Persian threat. When will some kind soul put him out of his misery?
Read More

Baheyya on new books

Don't miss Baheyya's reviews of new books at this year's Cairo International Book Fair: Sonallah Ibrahim's "Sneaking," Khaled al-Khamissi's "Taxi" (which I got a chance to take a look at the other day) and of course Alaa al-Aswani's "Chicago," which we mentioned earlier here. I haven't gone to the fair yet this year, but I really recommend it to anyone, even if you don't read Arabic. I am particularly interested in the latest in religious books and anything that might explain the recent increase of munaqabat (women wearing the full-face veil) in Cairo.
Read More

Rodenbeck on Oren

Max Rodenbeck reviews Michael Oren's "Power, Faith, and Fantasy: America in the Middle East: 1776 to the Present," finding it full of interesting anecdotes and well-researched but subtly biased in favor of both Israel and "America’s self-image as an innocent among Middle Eastern sharks." Some readers may remember that Oren, who holds Israeli citizenship and has served in the Israeli military, has been the subject of some controversy in US academic circles not only for being pro-Israel but also its vocal defender in the public arena. His previous book, "Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East," was lambasted by Norman Finkelstein for its apologetics.
Read More

Harpers on the new Baghdad CIA chief

The CIA station chief in Baghdad is a man who championed the rendition of Islamists to Egypt and other countries for torture, says Harpers:
Given the desperate situation in Iraq, whoever runs the CIA's Baghdad station will need to be an extraordinary manager who can marshal the agency's forces and work closely with the U.S. armed forces. Unfortunately, several sources have informed me that the man the CIA is preparing to dispatch to fill the position is widely criticized within the agency and seen as ill-fitted to the role. Furthermore, the new station chief is said to be closely identified with detainee abuses, especially those involving “renditions”—the practice by which terrorist suspects are covertly delivered to foreign intelligence agencies to be interrogated.
Read the rest for details.
Read More

Pfaff argues for "non-interventionism"

"Isolationist" is a term used derisively in American foreign policy circles, but one with which I increasingly identify. Non-Americans increasingly feel that way too: leave us the hell alone, America, they say. William Pfaff explores this argument in this NYRB piece:
It seems scarcely imaginable that the present administration could shift course away from the interventionist military and political policies of recent decades, let alone its own highly aggressive version of them since 2001, unless it were forced to do so by (eminently possible) disaster in the Middle East. Whether a new administration in two years' time might change direction seems the relevant question. Yet little sign exists of a challenge in American foreign policy debates to the principles and assumptions of an international interventionism motivated by belief in a special national mission. The country might find itself with a new administration in 2009 which provides a less abrasive and more courteous version of the American pursuit of world hegemony, but one still condemned by the inherent impossibility of success. The intellectual and material commitments made during the past half-century of American military, bureaucratic, and intellectual investment in global interventionism will be hard to reverse. The Washington political class remains largely convinced that the United States supplies the essential structure of international security, and that a withdrawal of American forces from their expanding network of overseas military bases, or disengagement from present American interventions into the affairs of many dozens of countries, would destabilize the international system and produce unacceptable consequences for American security. Why this should be so is rarely explained.
The rest of the article posits a non-interventionist policy I wish could be embraced -- and it took the Bush administration to make me realize that.
Read More

The Maadi stabber

Those of you who live in Egypt will know that over the past week there has been much brouhaha over a series of stabbings in the well-heeled neighborhood of Maadi, land of expats, embassy housing and fine pork products. The press has been having a field day with this, as it has over past "serial killer" affairs, and Rose al-Youssef has taken to accusing the Muslim Brotherhood of being behind the mysterious stabbings -- because lately, for Rose al-Youssef, anything bad happening in Egypt is the fault of the MB. Amidst all this hand-wringing, a courageous reader of the Egyptian Gazette has suggested a solution to snare the evildoer. It was published in Thursday's paper (right next to a column where Tarek Heggy surpasses himself in pomposity by listing every Islamic thinker he has heard about), and proves yet again that the Gazette is essential reading for crime-fighters. Maadistabber
Read More