Nour trial development

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

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

A journalist from Al Masri Al Youm told me today that one of Ayman Nour's supporters that had turned up in the suffocating courtroom died today, presumably from the heat and commotion inside the courtroom. It sounds rather far-fetched and as far as I know not confirmed yet, but if true should be soon. I was not able to attend today's session but from what everyone tells me it was a nightmare.
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It's not an Arab country (though Arabs live there), but the Iranian election is big enough for comment. Moreover, the election of a hardliner to the presidency is sure to have an impact far beyond Iran's border on Arab Persian Gulf states. Ahmad Ahmedinejad's victory brings to an end 15 years of factional squabbling inside the Iranian regime. The leadership now controls all of the key institutions of state, and the reformers will have to regroup and plot outside the government, trying to build grassroots support. However, Ahmadinejad's policies may do more damage to the regime over the next five years than the previous 15 years of inaction. While forces allied to the Iranian regime such as the Pasdaran (Revolutionary Guard) and the Basij (a paramilitary volunteer militia) doubtless contributed to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's victory on 24 June, his win was largely due to the appeal of his anti-corruption and implicitly anti-clerical platform. Ahmadinejad comes from the Abadgaran movement (the Developers of Islamic Iran) that has sprung up in the past ten years in response to the rise of the reform movement and growing criticism of government incompetence. The Abadgaran believe that Iran's many problems - unemployment, a demographic bubble, slow economic growth, questions over the legitimacy of the regime - can be addressed using technocratic scientific methods. Many members of the Abadgaran have backgrounds in the Pasdaran or the Basij, and their political experience was shaped by the revolution and the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war - they now yearn for the ideological certainties of those years (one member of the movement I met in Tehran had a photograph of an Iranian soldier who had just been severly wounded on his wall as an inspiration). IranIraq The Abadgaran is a movement of laymen, though its members are personally loyal to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei as the heir to the Iranian Revolution and the personification of one of its central principles, velayet-e faqih (the Guardianship of the Jurisprudent). Clerics, such as Ahmadinejad's rival, Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, have been criticised over the past 25 years for their poor management of the economy and their corruption. The rise of the Abadgaran allows the clerical leadership to withdraw to more secure positions within the regime - the Leader's office, the Guardian Council and the Judiciary - while keeping the regime secure and strong in the hands of loyal lay experts. The Abadgaran present themselves as technocrats with the expertise to solve the country's problems. However, their record over the past few years has been poor, and they are likely to do more harm to the Islamic Republic in the long term than good. The Abadgaran took control of Tehran City Council in February 2003, and have been the leading faction in parliament since flawed elections in 2004. Among their first acts in parliament was to rewrite laws on foreign investment in order to throw out Turkish investors who had signed contracts to run Tehran's new airport and build a new mobile phone network. The airport contract was torn up on national security reasons (Turkey is friendly with Israel) after Pasdaran rolled onto the runway just after the new airport opened. The Turkish firm has withdrawn from Iran after its stake in the mobile JV was reduced to below 50%. Abadgaran members of parliament have also blocked other reform legislation from the outgoing Khatami government, as well as forcing the resignation of one of Khatami's ministers. The movement has also dipped fairly liberally into the oil fund, which is supposed to hold excess oil revenues, in order to distribute oil wealth directly to the people in the form of subsidies and cheap loans. Abadgaran policy under Ahmadinejad is likely to have a catastrophic effect on Iran's oil industry (which has still not fully recovered from war and revolution). Iran already consumes 1.5 million of its 4 million daily production of oil. It also spends around $3 billion a year on fuel imports. Continuing fuel subsidies will increase fuel consumption to the extent that Iran consumes more than half of its production. This would make it weak in OPEC, and seriously reduce its revenues, threatening an already weak economy. Observers have been predicting the end of the Islamic Republic for 25 years now, but economic suicide on the Abadgaran model could the policy that finally kills it. Still, Ahmadinejad and the Abadgaran offer an easily digestible economic and political populism that must have seemed particularly appealing on election day next to the other candidate, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. Hashemi Rafsanjani had already been president for eight years, presiding over a high-spending consumer boom in the early 1990s that eventually led to a virtual debt default by Iran. He was universally seen as corrupt and unprincipled; many reformers and moderates held their noses as they voted for him on 24 June... Ahmadinejad's win is sure to sharpen the confrontation between the US and Iran over nuclear issues, Iraq and Hizbullah, among other things. Ahmadinejad believes in a strong Iran; his leader, Ali Khamenei, is a shrewd observer of Iranian trends but knows little of the outside world. This combination of ignorance and resolve is exactly the sort of thing that will fuel the more aggressive members of the Bush administration as they consider Iran policy. It will also alienate potential friends such as the EU and Japan. In many ways, Ahmadinejad's victory serves the Bush administration right. The US once again showed its tin ear for all things Iranian two days before the election when it denounced the exercise as a sham (having endorsed equally, if differently suspect votes in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the Palestinian Territories earlier this year). The US proclamation was accompanied by the usual bluster, "the US stood by Iranians in support of freedom". This is exactly the sort of thing that gets all Iranians' backs up, and sends them to vote for people like Ahmadinejad. Now, the Iranians, the EU and the US has to deal with a bunch of people who long for the good old days revolution and the war. Good luck.
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Ayman Nor's Trial Begins....

AymanNor This afternoon, the judge in charge of Ayman Nor's forgery case postponed the hearing until Thursday morning. In the courtroom, the prosecution framed his case by asking for key documents such as his birth certificate, his PhD certificate, his Parliamentary membership papers, and his national identity card. Speculation is that they are going to build a case by showing that Ayman has a history of forging documents. Ayman's defense team offered a plea of not guilty. After a 50 minute recess, the judge announced the case would be postponed until Thursday after reading out a list of charges. __________________ Pictures from the courthouse today can be found here. __________________ This morning we made our way to Cairo South courthouse in near Bab al-Khlaq. We reached the courthouse at 830am. For some of us, this trip was deja vu. It was the same courthouse, courtroom, and judge (Adil Abd al-Salam Guma) that Saad Eddin Ibrahim had in his first trial in 2001 when he was tried for tarnishing Egypt's reputation abroad. But that is where the similarities between Saad and Ayman's cases end. __________________ Al-Ghad mobilized loads of its supporters (I am guess around 2000) inside and outside the courthouse. There were orange banners everywhere and people placed stickers that called for "Justice for Ayman" on the many pillars of the once (long ago) beautiful building. Other stickers read "al-Ghad says Kifaya" and "No to Oppression. No to Forgery (or trumped-up) Charges" We managed to make our way to the closed courtroom door. As the journalists and al-Ghad supporters waited impatiently, it became very crowed and hot. To add to the increasing number of people, there were a sizable contingent of al-Amn al-Markazi deployed to encircle everyone. The unit in charge of crowd control in the holding area (which became known as 'the Sauna') was the same unit (Basateen) as from the Lazoughly protest on Sunday. Around 10am, Ayman arrived and was taken to meet the building's head judges. What happened next remains confusing. Apparently, Ayman wanted to take between 50-100 defense lawyers into the courtroom with him. The judges refused. Ayman came out and addressed his supporters, who were throwing themselves through the security lines to get close to him at the top of the stairs. Ayman was completely inaudible, but the story (at the time) was that he was not going to go to the courtroom. Instead, he was going to file complaints with some ministry. The al-Ghad leadership were conducting interviews with the media and pointing out the injustice. Ayman reportedly called the process "a circus". Then, Ayman disappeared and rumors shot about that he had went to the courtroom through a side door. By this point - most of the journalist had split into several groups. Some were outside with the demos, others were inside with the demos, and the remainder were in the courtroom. It did not look like journalists were going be be allowed accessed early on. In fact, the entire day was extremely poor regarding information flows from the government. I went down and watched the indoor demos. There was some overlap with the Kifaya protests with slogans denouncing the Mubarak family and other top ministers. The most innovative chant had to be "Soldiers are oppressed in the military, eating lentils and dressed in rags." It was an attempt to sway the al-Amn al-Markazi conscripts. They get points for novelty but were unsuccessful in igniting a revolt. After tiring of the demo, I went with a group of journalists and tried to gain entry to the courtroom, which was sealed off by CSF. After several attempts, the head-officer let a bunch of us into the courtroom. Entering the room was odd. It was hot and quiet (compared to the noise outside). It was also packed with people. There had to have been 300 people in a court room that holds 100. The closer you got to the front, you hit a wall of bodies so tightly connected that many strangers shared sweat and body odor. Every time the door to the courtroom opened, you'd hear the protesters chanting anti-regime slogans. In an attempt to get a picture of Ayman in the cage, I tried to push to the front. It was not happening. So I waiting in the back until the proceedings recessed and then pushed with the other photographers hoping to get their one good shot. When I got to Ayman, he was smoking a cigar and pacing back and forth in the cage talking to the press. It was so noisy and hot, I could not hear what he was saying. When the trial restarted, I slipped outside to see those demos. They were small outside in the heat. I am guessing 25-people max. The overwhelming thing outside the courtroom was the security forces. There could of been upwards of 70-100 security trucks parked around the area. They seemed everywhere. There were easily 5000 soldiers in the rows and lines in front of the courthouse and down the streets. In fact, in pictures taken from the nearby Anwar hotel, the street was blocked off 1/2km in each direction from the courthouse's entrance. Al-Ghad brought numbers, but Cairo security brought more. Riding back to the island, many of us were tired and drained. The heat, disorganization, and general feeling of being uncomfortable all day had taken its toll. And, today is only the beginning. The trial resumes on Thursday.... ___________________ Saad Eddin Ibrahim's trial was a big deal when it started in 2001. Yet, anyone could show up 5-minutes before the proceedings began and enter without difficulty. True, the courtroom was warm (especially in the summer) but not sizzling because all the bodies trapped together liked sardines. Saad also never had a popular following show up at court like Ayman had today. I guess now we will see if all this support is sustainable.
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Stratfor's conspiracy theory

The Washington Times via UPI via Stratfor:
Fred Burton, vice president of counter-terrorism with Stratfor, an Austin, Texas-based outfit specializing in intelligence and counter-terrorism analysis, issued a report on June 22 describing the remotely detonated charge that killed George Hawi, the former Lebanese Communist Part chief, as "so sophisticated that few in the world could have done it."
The counter-terrorism expert believes that the "complex nature of the Hawi attack narrows down the list of culprits to a few." Among the countries possessing that level of expertise are the United States, Britain, France, Israel and Russia. "This type of technology is only available to government agencies," Burton told United Press International.
Burton, who spent 15 years in U.S. counter-terrorism, told UPI that the "surgical nature of the charge" and the skill set that went into these bombings are "not available for your average terrorist organization."
Apparently the same goes for Samir Kassir.
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Lazoughly Protest

Yesterday, a group of about 200 (Kifaya-ish types) gathered in Lazoughly Square to protest against torture in Egypt. The protest coincided with the International Day for Victims of Torture. The protest's site was highly symbolic. Held in a square named after Mohamad Ali's first interior minister, Lazoughly is where State Security and the Ministry of Interior are located. So the protesters demonstrated where a lot of torture is said to happen in Cairo. _________________________ Pictures of the latest Protest are available here. _________________________ The demo was scheduled to take place before a press syndicate function where groups would launch a declaration against torture. So the Demo started at 430pm (and it was hot!). Everyone gathered on a sidewalk under al-Gad restaurant in Lazoughly as al-Amn al-Markazi (CSF) closed in on them to confine their demo. Now, there were a lot of signs denouncing torture and detailing individual cases on poster boards. But there were no original slogans about torture. Instead, it turned into a anti-Mubarak (and anti-top regime figures) protest very quickly. With Kifaya leaders like Mohamad Abd al-Qaddos and Kamal Khalil leading chants, it resembled a Kifaya protest except with many of the younger faces recently new to street politics. Other than Abd al-Qaddos and Khallil, however, this looked by a protest by the women's group al-Sharaa Lina (the Street is Ours) and Youth for Change (The Y4C people did not like being called that - they prefer to be nameless and independent). Perhaps upset that the CSF was blocking the street or just a sign of the movement's building frustration that is loosely together on their anti-Mubarak message but different politically, the protesters tried to make a hole in the CSF line to take the streets. At first, they were successful. Then the barricades were brought for crowd control. As noted, it was hot and people started to faint, which led to more tension between the CSF and the demonstrators. Not contented to be on a small part of the street, the protesters began wrestling with CSF conscripts over the barricades. The yellow and black painted metal was lifted into the air in what seemed to resemble a dangerous game tug-of-war. It did not take long for the protesters to want to break the CSF's lines again. So push turned to shove, as they say. After the CSF boys came under pretty sustained pressure, some of them panicked and pulled their long truncheons. They began waving them more out of fear than anything. Their superiors had not given the order and so it looked undisciplined. A couple people received some hits to the head but no one was seriously injured while I was there. These types of scuffles flowed and ebbed. There would be tension and shoving for 20 minutes and then protesters spent 20 minutes recovering before having another go at the CSF. In one break, water arrived. Many of the protesters offered the CSF water which they all resolutely refused. __________________ I know that the CSF is the tool of repression but I sympathized with them during the protest. Most of them were scared of the protesters. They were all trying to look tough but underneath they were worried. The mistake was, I think, that the protesters wanted out of the security cordon and the CSF was ordered to hold the line. So when the shoving started, the CSF conscripts took it personally as pockets of them defended themselves and each other. This was not a case of the nasty regime employing its repressive apparatus arbitrarily although you can sure argue the fact they are there in the first place is the root of the problem, which is undeniable. ________________ I don't know where Kifaya is going but I feel it is splitting. The movement is disorganized during protests. While some protesters challenged the CSF, others led witty Anti-Mubarak chants. There is also a divide that runs along generational lines. What started out as an umbrella organization welcoming all trends is now several groups willing to cooperate on a strictly Anti-Mubarak platform only. Beyond that, I don't see much communication. The numbers in the demos are decreasing as summer pushes along and I have not seen Abd al-Halim Qandil, Geroge Ishaq, Hani Anani, or other top Kifaya brass since the Saad Zaghloul candle-light vigil where around 1000 people showed up. There is another outing on Wednesday. ___________ I received a call last night which said after the protest ended. A semi-march through downtown Cairo took place by a faction of the Lazoughly protesters. There were about fifty people chanting slogans en route to the Syndicate. There seems to have been more scuffles. I heard Alaa and Lelia Soueif were beaten by security (again). Alaa's group also had two cameras stolen by the plain-clothed police. I was not there so I cannot confirm this last development.
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More candidates for the presidency

I have a bizarre love for American small town newspaper articles. Anyone who regularly types "Egypt" in Google News will come across thee latest Little League results for New Egypt, NJ, which I never fail to read if only for their Capraesque take on American life. Today, it's Elk Grove Times of Illinois that reports on yet another candidate for the Egyptian presidency:
Even though he's running for president of Egypt, Hoffman Estates writer Aladdin Elaasar does not consider himself political.
"My life is an open book. I just like to talk about people's issues," Elaasar said. "If there is someone who can provide services better, then they should. It's not partisan, it's not religious, it's just about public service."
And public service, Elaasar says, is what Egypt desperately needs. The country suffers from high rates of poverty, inequality, illiteracy, human rights violations and unemployment. The country's infrastructure and public transportation are falling apart, and it's polluted.
"People say there is a black cloud over Cairo," Elaasar said. "The city of Cairo is literally choking."
It's interesting what the Egyptian expat community is doing, but meanwhile, back home there are more candidates coming out of the woodworks, including a nephew of Anwar Al Sadat. Looks like he has his uncle's sense of panache.
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Who wants to be an Egyptian Chalabi?

A friend recently sent me the most ridiculous article I have ever read. It appeared, of course, in the National Review, the conservative US magazine that serves as a publication of choice for the conservative movement's intellectual mercenaries. This one deserves a bit of background to explain to the uninitiated why it is so ridiculous and full of falsehoods. When I was starting out as a reporter for the Cairo Times in 2000, I became fixated with a man whose story, I believed, represented everything that went wrong with the Egyptian economy in the late 1990s. Rami Lakah was a businessman who had borrowed an enormous amount of money from Egyptian banks in the mid-1990s to expand his medical services empire and constitute a sizable private wealth. In the 2000 parliamentary elections, he ran and won in Cairo's Ezbekiah district. Lakah flirted with several parties, including the NDP, but no one wanted him. It was clear that he had run because he was unable to repay his debts and that he was only interested in parliamentary immunity. He probably spent more on his campaign than any other candidate, although there is a spending limit set at a measly LE10,000. A few years later, his parliamentary immunity was stripped because he had dual French-Egyptian nationality (officially) and because the NDP wanted the seat for its own candidate (the real reason). Around that time, he fled the country as he was being threatened with jail for defaulting on his debt. He moved to Paris, did some business there as well as London and Algiers--he seemed to be happy outside of Egypt, although rumors surfaced every now and then that he was negotiating with the regime about his debts and assets. To be fair, it is true that Lakah's construction and medical business was owed money by the government, which was very slow in paying in debts at the time. But the man's character is still notoriously flawed. And then a few days ago a friend sends me this incredible piece from Nina Shea that recasts Lakah as an Egyptian Chababi:
Brave leaders who are committed to individual civil and political freedoms exist within Egyptian society. Ramy Lakah can be added to the list of heroic Egyptian dissidents who include Saad Eddin Ibrahim and Ayman Nour — they are the Andrei Sakharovs, Vaclav Havels, and Natan Sharanskys of their day.
That's hilarious. It's true that Lakah was on the board of the Egyptian Organization of Human Rights, but he never was part of those who went out of their way to fight for human rights in Egypt. As for the other attributes she gives him, most are ridiculous. In her attempt to depict Lakah as a Christian leader (she has a long history of manipulating discrimination against Christians and formerly visited Egypt as a member of the US Commission on International Religious Freedom, a body stacked with Christian and Jewish fundamentalists like Shea and Elliott Abrams), she even makes the mistake of saying he is Coptic--he's actually Catholic. But that is the least of many mistakes and outright lies. The problem is, considering where it is coming from, these are dangerous lies. If Lakah was even a tenth of what Chalabi is, the problem would be different, but in this case either she is an idiot or Lakah paid her a fat sum to write what she did.
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Egypt's press barons

I promised a while back that I would discuss the ongoing rumors that Egypt's press barons--the chairmen-cum-editors-in-chief of the state-owned press groups--would soon be replaced. Although that rumor began shortly before the referendum (with some people thinking it was a way to pressure the barons to avoid all negative coverage of that day), it has since then retreated after the expected change did not take place, with most people saying it had been delayed for after the elections. Until, that is, last Saturday, when the head of the Akhbar Al Youm press group resigned in an editorial in his newspaper. You can read the details in my story for Cairo magazine, with sample reactions in the press. This was the biggest story in the Egyptian press alongside Condoleeza Rice's visit this week, and it's not about to go away. What almost all commentators hit upon is right: the state-owned press, including prestigious newspapers like Al Ahram, is sick. Decades of self-censorship, corruption, nepotism and sheer incompetence have taken their toll. The other interesting thing that has come out of this is that it is pitting the old press barons against the leadership of the NDP and more specifically the powerful former minister of information, Safwat Al Sherif. A lot of this hints at growing internal rifts within the regime among its various power centers, with key actors such as Sherif (who epitomizes the old style Egyptian apparatchik) battling for survival. It also sheds light for the first time on how these things work in practice, with journalists revealing for instance that these editors were summoned by the presidential chief of staff and told they would be going. Kremlinologists of the Egyptian regime would do well to follow this story.
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Yesterday's Demo in Shubra

sdvasdf Yesterday, The Hamla Sha'biya min Agl al-Tagheer (The Popular Campaign for Change) held a demonstration in the Rud al-Farag section of Shubra (Northern Cairo). ____________ PICTURES: Pictures of this protest are available here. ____________ For reasons beyond my control, I don't have much time to blog. So the quick highlights: My band of friends arrived in Duran Shubra (Metro Station: Rud al-Farag) about 15 minutes before the protesters came. There were security trucks packing away the metal barricades that are used to contain protesters into trucks and disappearing. Around 6pm, the protest began. It was strange that there was no police presence except for the helpless traffic cops. Anti-regime protesters (around 300) chanted passionately for about 20 minutes or so. Then, the decision was taken to march down Shubra Street. It was exciting and odd to be marching down the street listening to the chants as everyone half-peered ahead looking for al-Amn al-Dawla to show up. Instead, a group of Mubarak supporters (all men, about 150 of them) showed-up on the other sidewalk without signs, started their angry chants, and looked menacingly towards the Popular Campaign protesters. They were being rude. Beyond calling the anti-government demonstrators "traitors" and screaming about how they were not "real Egyptians", there were several other more foul chants not worthy of being recorded. Similarly, they were chanting against Ayman Nor. The anti-Nor slogans were anti-semitic. As with the last protest, the pro-Mubarak gang looked possessed. The anti-Mubarak protesters had the usual "Down with Mubarak" chants supplemented with the "ya Ashreen Geenah, Be'ulu Eh?" (Hey 20 LE, what are you saying? -implying the Mubarak supporters are paid to be there) and "Give Mubarak a visa and Take him with you Condi". It was interesting listening to what the people in Shubra were saying. Most were in shock and asked "Who are these people? They want to destroy the country". The absence of security, however, allowed anti-regime activists to mix and mingle with ordinary citizens and explain their anti-regime program. In the case of previous protests, there has been a pattern of keeping citizens passing-by separated from the demonstrators. Whether this strategy works or not remains to be seen. There were a couple times I thought we would see a fight but each time things were de-escalated quickly. In fact on the way back to the metro as the demo was finishing, Pro and Anti- Mubarak demonstrators returned together jawing back and forth. ________ At the post-protest festivities - many activists, academics, journalists, photographers, and observers debated the meaning of the lack of security. Three major theories surfaced as of last night. 1) It was "the Condi effect". The regime did not want to look bad in the aftermath of Condi's little democracy lecture and visit this week. (I don't buy this). 2) The regime thought that the people of Shubra and the pro-Mubarak gang would attack and beat the anti-Mubarak protesters so if the police were not there, the regime would not be blamed. (I don't buy this either - it seems like a major shift in security's modus operandi). 3) That having all that security around peaceful protesters just does not look good. It is 300 people and there are security trucks waiting in the wings should hell break loose. (This is one that appeals to my logic although I am not saying this is correct). One of the key young organizers laughingly explained that the unexpected lack of security was "like meeting a date and finding that the partner is a no show." ____________ Next week is a busy week in Egypt. Sunday - there is a demo against Torture in Lazoughly (where State Security has been accused of torturing people according to unverified complaints received by the National Council of Human Rights). Tuesday - Ayman Nor's has his preliminary hearing at the courts near Bab al-Khalq (or so Gamila Isamil told me last Sunday). Wednesday - Kifaya, the Hamla, Youth for Change, and the internet based group that argues it is independent and has no name take the touring demonstrations to Zayton near Masr al-Gadida. The Zayton site will be near a church to counterbalance the demo held at Sayida last week. But, as several of the organizers told me, this is a national movement that equally includes Muslims and Copts. __________ Stay posted!
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Protest against Torture on Sunday

lazoughly On Sunday, there is a protest at Midan Lazoghly - which is where State Security HQ are - to protest torture in Egypt. It coincides with the International Day for Victims of Torture. The advertisement says the protesters will bid farewell to Egypt's interior minister, General Habib al-Adly. The Kifaya offshoots (which seem to number dozens and growing) hold al-Adly responsible for the referendum violence last month. Yet, to the best of my knowledge, I have not heard al-Adly is going anywhere. The protest begins at 430pm and will last for an hour. It will be followed by a conference at the Journalist's Syndicate to make declarations against torture. ________ More today (hopefully) about yesterday's intersting protest in Shubra. Naturally, pictures will be included.
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Did Rice Meet with the Opposition?

Most of the papers, without getting to who said what, portrayed US Sec of State's visit with with Egyptian figures following her AUC speech as "meeting with opposition". This is an overblown characterization. First of all, in a conversation with someone in attendance, Rice was said to have done little talking and a lot of listening. Hence, given the fact that only one substantial opposition figure was there, the chances that he was drowned out among the "reformers" and "supporters" of the NDP is not a far fetched assertion. Who was the opposition? Ayman Nor was in attendance for Hizb al-Ghad (as was Hisham Kassem in an individual capacity but also with al-Ghad). Anyone Else? The rest of the figures present at the meeting were - if not overtly part of the ruling NDP - "independent" figures that maintain good, and in some cases, very deep contacts with the president's party. For example: Hossam Badrawi - who is often referred to as a "reformist" - is a close associate of Gamal Mubarak and the education head of the NDP's influential policies secretariat. He is a member of the National Council for Human Rights (NCHR). Mona Zulfiqar is a lawyer and noted for pressing the government to change the law to allow women the right to divorce. Her links to the NDP are strong. She also serves on Suzanne Mubarak's National Council for Women and the Boutros Boutros-Ghali headed NCHR. Monir Fahkry Abd al-Nor is a Wafdist MP but I have personally seen him in public roundtables praise his colleagues in the NDP while they return their admiration for this "great" opposition figure. Abd al-Nor, according to some, is the equivalent to a Colmes complement to Sean Hannity on Fox News. Abd al-Nor serves on the NCHR. Osama Ghazali Harb was also in attendance. Harb is the editor of al-Siyasa al-Dolwiya journal and works for al-Ahram Center for Strategic and Political Studies. He is an appointed member of the Shura, NDP policies secretariat member, and on the NCHR. Recently, Harb received some attention as the only NDP member in the Shura to vote against amending article 76 of the constitution. Yet, to label him opposition is a misnomer. Tasiyr Mondor is a professor of medicine at Azhar University. It is unclear if she is affiliated with the NDP or not. Does anyone know if she is on the NCHR? Bahey al-Din Hassan runs the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies. He also serves as an opposition member of the NCHR. While not an NDP member, and often critical, he is not an overt opponent of the government. ____________ This was not a meeting with the opposition. It was one opposition figure and a bunch of people closely connected to the hall of power. So it worked out well for everyone. The Egyptian government felt secure that the opposition was safely diluted by having its official and unofficial reps there. Meanwhile, the press could advertise on behalf of Rice and her democratizing mission that she did her part by meeting Ayman (without meeting those who are not looking so favorably on the US administration's grand regional design). Cynical? Perhaps but I am just one guy sitting behind a computer who wants to see a plan of action if Egypt's presidential and parliamentary elections don't turn out free and fair. There are lots of folks on the government's NCHR. Any guesses what that means?
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Youth For Change Update

Youth For Change - the younger and newer activists on the protest scene - have a little news. Sponsors of yesterday's demo against the Rice visit as well as last week's protest in Sayida, Y-4-C is reporting that those detained from their group by Egyptian authorities last week are being released. According to an email from a Y-4-C organizer, the names of the detained are:
Mamdouh Mohamed Makram - Asiut - member of the hamla (that is the popular campaign for change, as opposed to the popular movement for change). He was arrested while hanging banners that talk about freedom.
Mohammed Shafiq and Ahmed Said - Cairo - youth for change members arrested in the metro after distributing leaflets written in Colliqual Egyptian Arabic about the deteriorating state of health, education and lack of jobs (released on bail after being interrogated without laywers)
Mostafa Khalil - Mansoura - Kifaya member arrested for putting Kifaya stickers on the walls of his house that face the street.
Khadiga Mohamed Madkour - Kifaya member- was assaulted on the referendum protest and one of the women who pushed charges. I have no idea what was the reason/excuse for her arrest.
___________ In another email, the organizer writes:
I just recieved an email confirming the release of all Kifaya related detainees.
The prosecutor general called to personally check their release and informed someone in Mansoura that Kifaya stickers are free speech or something to that effect.
____________________ Also tomorrow in Shubra, the protests resume. Pictures and reports to follow. Shubra
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An Interpretation of Rice's Policy Speech at AUC

condi1 This afternoon US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, gave what the US Embassy in Cairo was touting as a "Major Policy Speech." Rice - who is on a five nation trip to the Middle East - came from Israel, the Palestinian Territories, and Jordan. She spent about 10 hours in Egypt. Reportedly, she met with president Mubarak at 7am in Sharm al-Shaykh before coming to Cairo. At 1pm, she delivered a 30 minute policy speech before conducting Q&A with the audience for 30 minutes before departing to the Sheraton Heliopolis. There, the secretary is scheduled to meet with opposition figures (including al-Ghad's Ayman Nor and Hisham Kassem) and NDP-connected folks (Such as Wafdist Monir Fakhry Abd al-Nor and Mona Zufilqar) before departing for Riyadh around 4pm (Egypt time). _________________ Reuters' story is already available for journalist account. More articles will follow tonight and tomorrow. Remarks and excerpts of the speech are available below. ________________ Although it was advertised as a major policy speech, there was not a whole lot that was new. Rice was introduced by Al-Ahram Center for Strategic and Political Studies scholar and publisher of al-Dimaqratiya journal, Dr. Hala Mustapha. Mustapha is a member of the Higher Policies Council, which is a 123-person subsidiary of the Gamal Mubarak headed NDP policies secretariat. The symbolism was striking. A young, professional Egyptian woman introduced Rice. The flip side of that symbolism is that she is a card-carrying member of the ruling party. Rice spoke about how the US government had supported dictatorships for 60 years to acquire stability in the region and that policy proved erroneous following 9/11. The policy shift was, then, the adoption of promoting democracy in the region. She said that people in the region were pining for democracy and although it was a long and difficult process, it had begun. She took the audience on a tour of the region discussing people's desire for democracy by sighting the elections in Iraq and Palestine. Insurgents in Iraq, who are attacking people, were described as "evil". Rice then spoke about how Jordan had began a process of decentralization and reform. She continued to note that municipal elections in Saudi are a beginning there. Syria was singled out as "a police state". Despite Syrians wanting change as she evidenced a recent document signed by 179 democratic activists in Damascus to allow the Damascus spring to (re-) bloom, she called on the Bathist regime to "embrace and trust its people". She also said that Syria needed to get with the regional program of change. After the run-down, she got to Egypt. Rice said the amendment of constitutional article 76 an encouraging step and that it unlocked the door for change. She then said that the US was pressing the Egyptian government to follow through. The ways the government could do this is to allow peaceful protesters (men and women) to express themselves, lift emergency law, and reassert judicial independence. Rice also, in a bit of an escalation, said that Egypt's fall elections for president and parliament should permit equal time for opposition figures to campaign and move about the country. She called for international monitors to be present for both elections and to have unrestricted access. Also, she noted that the Egyptian government must embrace the rule and accept the outcome of the elections. Following this, she got ideological about democracy in a fairly polarizing manner. Rice argued that democracy can never be imposed (only tyranny is). Democracy, she said, had to be a homegrown effort. She rejected claims that democracy leads to chaos by saying that inclusion lifts the fears of difference in a society. She refuted that democracy leads to a decline in social institutions and morals. Then, the speech got into the Greater Middle East Initiative phase as she noted that education and the participation of women are key for introducing democratic development. Then, in a manner that looked less preachy than directly lecturing, she talked about her personal experiences as an African-American woman growing up in the south around the time of the civil rights movement. ___________________ Condi2 In the Q&A portion of her appearance, there were several questions from an array of folks. Basically, there were a few journalists who asked about Egypt and the region. A second group of people that spoke about their personal projects and lives and how democracy rocked without a clear question. Then, there were the questions from the front six rows. These were reserved seating for mainly NDP middle-ranking figures. Their questions had nothing to do with Egypt. They, instead, talked about subjects such as Palestine and US-European cooperation towards the Middle East. The secretary was rather long-winded when answering those questions. Basically, the people that talked about themselves and the NDP characters were wasting Q&A time. A few journalists were randomly selected to ask questions (there was no vetting of questions as has been reported with other Rice trips such as the February trip to the Paris high-school). Whether those of us in attendance were vetted or not, I don't know. But I don't think so as I was not asked any questions about my political affinities. One reporter asked her if she spoke to the president about protesters being assaulted and if they were talking with the Muslim Brotherhood. She explained that the US government has spoken to the Egyptian authorities about the "sad" event of protesters being attacked. That was about it on that subject. Rice said that the US government has no contacts with the Brotherhood. She argued that they were engaged with civil society in deference to Egypt's legal framework but that "we have not engaged with the Muslim Brotherhood. And we won't." This seemed to contradict the secretary's portion of the speech which pointed out the democracy means that everyone is included. By using the technicality that she was basing Egyptian law as the policy anchor, this got around the issue of including the MB and its support base in Egypt. Another question got her to say that there is not a plan of action if Egypt's fall elections are not free and fair. Rather, the US government was concentrating on making elections free and fair from now and that they were saying what is expected. She reiterated that the constitutional amendment was a step in the right direction but that it must now be advanced to open the political system. She then said a couple days ago Egyptian FM, Ahmad Abul-Ghait, said that the elections would be free, fair, and transparent. Although she did not say as much, she seemed to take a contented but we will wait and see approach. As she was concluding, Rice drew on her own experience again. She said that people in the US used to say that African-Americans were not ready for or did not want democracy. She said that this was patronizing view in the extreme. A group of friends smirked as this is a frequent refrain spouted by government officials here about Egypt's citizens. I am sure that it was intentional but she did not overtly link it. There were reports this morning that Rice was going to give the Egyptian government a "bloody nose" today, but I am not so sure that was the result. Perhaps this can be a subject of debate in the Arabist's Comments section. Also, there should be more news following her meetings in Heliopolis. _______ SIDE NOTES: No opposition members or movements (read Ayman Nor or Kifaya) were mentioned by her in her speech or responses to questions. Apparently, it is diplomatic nicety not to mention opposition groups or figures when discussing friendly regimes in formal settings. Former US Ambassador to Cairo and current Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, David Welch, and Elliott Abrams, GW Bush's deputy national security adviser, were some of the top US officials in the audience. _____ And the Opposition not Meeting with Condi? The Kifaya offshoots - the Youth for Change (responsible for the Sayida Zaynib Demo last Wednesday) and Doctors for Change - held an hour long demonstration from 1-2pm at Dar al-Quda al-Uliya on Ramsis Street. The protest had two objectives: 1) To protest Rice's visit and 2) to show solidarity for detainees of the Youth for Change movement. According to those there, about 150 people participated. The central chant of the day was "Idee Mubarak Visa, wa Khudi ma'aki ya Condoleezza." Or for the non-Arabic speakers, "Give Mubarak a Visa and Take him with you Condoleezza." ________ Condi3 More later.....
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Condoleezza Rice's Remarks from her Cairo Speech at AUC

Remarks of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice At the American University of Cairo Monday, June 20, 2005 Thank you, Dr. Mustafa, for that kind introduction. I am honored to be here in the great and ancient city of Cairo. The United States values our strategic relationship and our strengthening economic ties with Egypt. And American presidents since Ronald Reagan have benefited from the wisdom and counsel of President Mubarak, whom I had the pleasure of meeting again today. The people of America and Egypt have always desired to visit one another and learn from one another. The highest ideals of our partnership are embodied here, at the American University of Cairo. This great center of learning has endured and thrived -- from the days when our friendship was stormy, to today, when it is strong. Throughout its history, Egypt has always led this region through its moments of greatest decision. In the early 19th century, it was the reform-minded dynasty of Muhammad Ali that distinguished Egypt from the Ottoman Empire and began to transform it into the region’s first modern nation. In the early 20th century, it was the forward-looking Wafd Party that rose in the aftermath of the First World War and established Cairo as the liberal heart of the “Arab Awakening.” And just three decades ago, it was Anwar Sadat who showed the way forward for the entire Middle East -- beginning difficult economic reforms and making peace with Israel. In these periods of historic decision, Egypt’s leadership was as visionary as it was essential for progress. In our own time, we are faced with equally momentous choices -- choices that will echo for generations to come. In this time of great decision, I have come to Cairo not to talk about the past, but to look to the future -- a future that Egyptians can lead and define. Ladies and Gentlemen: In our world today, a growing number of men and women are securing their liberty. And as these people gain the power to choose, they create democratic governments to protect their natural rights. We should all look to a future when every government respects the will of its citizens -- because the ideal of democracy is universal. For 60 years, the United States pursued stability at the expense of democracy in the Middle East -- and we achieved neither. Now, we are taking a different course. We are supporting the democratic aspirations of all people. As President Bush said in his Second Inaugural Address: “America will not impose our style of government on the unwilling. Our goal instead is to help others find their own voice, attain their own freedom, and make their own way.” We know these advances will not come easily, or all at once. We know that different societies will find forms of democracy that work for them. Our goals are idealistic. But our policies must be practical. And progress must be evident. When we talk about democracy, we are referring to governments that protect certain basic rights for all their citizens -- among these, the right to speak freely. The right to associate. The right to worship as you wish. The freedom to educate your children -- boys and girls. And freedom from the midnight knock of the secret police. Securing these rights is the hope of every citizen, and the duty of every government. In my own country, the progress of democracy has been long and difficult. And given our history, the United States has no cause for false pride and every reason for humility. America was founded by individuals who knew that all human beings -- and the governments they create -- are inherently imperfect. After all, the United States was born half free and half slave. And it was only in my lifetime that my government guaranteed the right to vote for all of its people. Nevertheless, the principles enshrined in our Constitution enable citizens of conviction to move us ever closer to the ideal of democracy. Here in the Middle East, the long hopeful process of democratic change is now beginning to unfold. Millions of people are demanding freedom for themselves and democracy for their countries. To these courageous men and women, I say today: All free nations will stand with you as you secure the blessings of your own liberty. I just came from Jordan, where I met with the King and Queen -- two leaders who have embraced reform for many years. Jordan’s education reforms are an example for the region. And the government is moving toward political reforms that will decentralize power and give Jordanians a greater stake in their future. In Iraq, millions of citizens are refusing to surrender to terror their dream of freedom and democracy. When Baghdad was first designed, over twelve-hundred years ago, it was conceived as the “Round City” -- a city in which no citizen would be closer to the center of justice than any other. Today -- after decades of murder, and tyranny, and injustice -- the citizens of Iraq are again reaching for the ideals of the Round City. Despite the violent attacks of evil men, ordinary Iraqis are displaying great personal courage and remarkable resolve. And every step of the way -- from regaining sovereignty, to holding elections, to now writing a constitution -- the people of Iraq are exceeding all expectations. The Palestinian people have also spoken. And their freely-elected government is working to seize the best opportunity in years to fulfill their historic dream of statehood. Courageous leaders, both Palestinians and Israelis, are dedicated to the cause of peace. And they are working to build shared trust. The Palestinian Authority will soon take control of Gaza -- a first step toward realizing the vision of two democratic states living side by side in peace and security. As the Palestinians fight terror, and the Israelis fulfill their responsibilities to help create the conditions for a viable state, the entire world -- especially Egypt and the United States -- will continue to offer its full support. In Lebanon, supporters of democracy are demanding independence from foreign masters. After the assassination of Rafiq Hariri, thousands of Lebanese citizens called for change. And when the murder of journalist Samir Qaseer reminded everyone of the reach and brutality of terror, the Lebanese people still were not afraid. They mourned their fellow patriot by uniting publicly with pens and pencils held aloft. It is not only the Lebanese people who desire freedom from Syria’s police state. The Syrian people themselves share that aspiration. One hundred and seventy-nine Syrian academics and human rights activists are calling upon their government to “let the Damascus spring flower, and let its flowers bloom.” Syria’s leaders should embrace this call -- and learn to trust their people. The case of Syria is especially serious, because as its neighbors embrace democracy or other political reforms, Syria is harboring or directly supporting groups committed to violence -- in Lebanon, in Israel, in Iraq, and in the Palestinian territories. It is time for Syria to make a strategic choice to join the progress all around it. In Iran, people are losing patience with an oppressive regime that denies them their liberty and their rights. The appearance of elections does not mask the organized cruelty of Iran’s theocratic state. The Iranian people are capable of liberty. They desire liberty. And they deserve liberty. The time has come for the unelected few to release their grip on the aspirations of the proud people of Iran. In Saudi Arabia, brave citizens are demanding accountable government. And some first steps toward openness have been taken with recent municipal elections. Yet many people still pay an unfair price for exercising their basic rights. Three individuals in particular are currently imprisoned for peacefully petitioning their government -- and this should not be a crime in any country. Here in Cairo, President Mubarak’s decision to amend his country’s constitution and hold multiparty elections is encouraging. President Mubarak has unlocked the door for change. But now, the Egyptian government must put its faith in its own people. We are all concerned for the future of Egypt’s reforms when peaceful supporters of democracy -- men and women -- are not free from violence. The day must come when the rule of law replaces emergency decrees -- and when the independent judiciary replaces arbitrary justice. The Egyptian government must fulfill the promise it has made to its people -- and to the entire world -- by giving its citizens the freedom to choose. Egypt’s elections, including the Parliamentary elections, must meet objective standards that define every free election. Opposition groups must be free to assemble, and participate, and speak to the media. Voting should occur without violence or intimidation. And international election monitors and observers must have unrestricted access to do their jobs. Those who would participate in elections, both supporters and opponents of the government, also have responsibilities. They must accept the rule of law, reject violence, respect the standards of free elections, and peacefully accept the results. Throughout the Middle East, the fear of free choices can no longer justify the denial of liberty. It is time to abandon the excuses that are made to avoid the hard work of democracy. There are those who say that democracy is being imposed. In fact, the opposite is true: Democracy is never imposed. It is tyranny that is imposed. People choose democracy freely. And successful reform is always homegrown. Just look around the world today. For the first time in history, more people are citizens of democracies than of any other form of government. This is the result of choice, not coercion. There are those who say that democracy leads to chaos, conflict, and terror. In fact, the opposite is true: Freedom and democracy are the only ideas powerful enough to overcome hatred, division, and violence. For people of diverse races and religions, the inclusive nature of democracy can lift the fear of difference that some believe is a license to kill. But people of goodwill must choose to embrace the challenge of listening, and debating, and cooperating with one another. For neighboring countries with turbulent histories, democracy can help to build trust and settle old disputes with dignity. But leaders of vision and character must commit themselves to the difficult work that nurtures the hope of peace. And for all citizens with grievances, democracy can be a path to lasting justice. But the democratic system cannot function if certain groups have one foot in the realm of politics and one foot in the camp of terror. There are those who say that democracy destroys social institutions and erodes moral standards. In fact, the opposite is true: The success of democracy depends on public character and private virtue. For democracy to thrive, free citizens must work every day to strengthen their families, to care for their neighbors, and to support their communities. There are those who say that long-term economic and social progress can be achieved without free minds and free markets. In fact, human potential and creativity are only fully released when governments trust their people’s decisions and invest in their people’s future. Education -- for men and for women -- transforms their dreams into reality and enables them to overcome poverty. There are those who say that democracy is for men alone. In fact, the opposite is true: Half a democracy is not a democracy. As one Muslim woman leader has said, “Society is like a bird. It has two wings. And a bird cannot fly if one wing is broken.” Across the Middle East, women are inspiring us all. In Kuwait, women protested to win their right to vote, carrying signs that declared: “Women are Kuwaitis, too.” Last month, Kuwait’s legislature voiced its agreement. In Saudi Arabia, the promise of dignity is awakening in some young women. During the recent municipal elections, I saw a father go to vote with his daughter. Rather than cast his vote himself, he gave it to his daughter, and she placed it in the ballot box. This small act of hope reveals one man’s dream for his daughter. And he is not alone. Ladies and Gentlemen: Across the Middle East today, millions of citizens are voicing their aspirations for liberty and democracy. These men and women are expanding boundaries in ways many thought impossible just one year ago. They are demonstrating that all great moral achievements begin with individuals who do not accept that the reality of today must also be the reality of tomorrow. There was a time, not long ago, when liberty was threatened by slavery. The moral worth of my ancestors, it was thought, should be valued by the demand of the market, not by the dignity of the soul. This practice was sustained through violence. But the crime of human slavery could not withstand the power of human liberty. What seemed impossible in one century became inevitable in the next. There was also a time, even more recently, when liberty was threatened by colonialism. It was believed that certain peoples required foreign masters to rule their lands and run their lives. Like slavery, this ideology of injustice was enforced through oppression. But when brave people demanded their rights, the truth that freedom is the destiny of every nation rang throughout the world. What seemed impossible in one decade became inevitable in the next. Today, liberty is threatened by undemocratic governments. Some believe this is a permanent fact of history. But, Ladies and Gentlemen, there are others who know better. These impatient patriots can be found in Baghdad and Beirut, in Riyadh and Ramallah, in Amman and Tehran and right here in Cairo. Together, they are defining a new standard of justice for our time -- a standard that is clear, and powerful, and inspiring: Liberty is the universal longing of every soul, and democracy is the ideal path for every nation. The day is coming when the promise of a fully free and democratic world, once thought impossible, will also seem inevitable. The people of Egypt should be at the forefront of this great journey, just as you have led this region through the great journeys of the past. A hopeful future is within reach of every Egyptian citizen -- and every man and woman in the Middle East. The choice is yours to make. But you are not alone. All free nations are your allies. So together, let us choose liberty and democracy -- for our nations, for our children, and for our future.
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Condoleezza Rice's Excerpts from Remarks at AUC

Excerpts from Remarks of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice At the American University of Cairo Monday, June 20, 2005 In this time of great decision, I have come to Cairo not to talk about the past, but to look to the future -- a future that Egyptians can lead and define. * * * We are supporting the democratic aspirations of all people. As President Bush said in his Second Inaugural Address: “America will not impose our style of government on the unwilling. Our goal instead is to help others find their own voice, attain their own freedom, and make their own way.” We know these advances will not come easily, or all at once. We know that different societies will find forms of democracy that work for them. * * * Throughout the Middle East, the fear of free choices can no longer justify the denial of liberty. It is time to abandon the excuses that are made to avoid the hard work of democracy. * * * There are those who say that democracy leads to chaos, conflict, and terror. In fact, the opposite is true: Freedom and democracy are the only ideas powerful enough to overcome hatred, division, and violence. For people of diverse races and religions, the inclusive nature of democracy can lift the fear of difference that some believe is a license to kill. But people of goodwill must choose to embrace the challenge of listening, and debating, and cooperating with one another. For neighboring countries with turbulent histories, democracy can help to build trust and settle old disputes with dignity. But leaders of vision and character must commit themselves to the difficult work that nurtures the hope of peace. And for all citizens with grievances, democracy can be a path to lasting justice. But the democratic system cannot function if certain groups have one foot in the realm of politics and one foot in the camp of terror. * * * There are those who say that democracy destroys social institutions and erodes moral standards. In fact, the opposite is true: The success of democracy depends on public character and private virtue. For democracy to thrive, free citizens must work every day to strengthen their families, to care for their neighbors, and to support their communities.
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Signs...Everywhere then Nowhere in Someplaces

This week there are several small stories, including by AFP, about all the Pro-Mubarak signs coming down around Cairo. The Sand Monkey wrote a post on 15 June where he ridiculed the whole process by saying, "So Mommy Dearest Condi is coming to visit, and we all have to behave ourselves huh?". Perhaps it is just a coincidence but the signs came down on the 12th/13th of June shortly after FM Ahmad Abul-Ghait announced that US Secretary of State Condi Rice would be visiting Egypt on June 20th. This triggered the speculation that the signs are disappearing so as not to underscore to Rice that Egypt's electoral season is a sham. For Egyptians, government-supporters decorate the city with signs of the president that clearly transmit messages that "we all know who is firmly in charge" and "who will be elected come September". To their American patron, they take the signs down so as to give the appearance that reform and competition characterize the ongoing electoral process. It makes everything look all the more pathetic and crafty. If the signs reappear quickly after Rice departs Monday night then it will be a confirmation that the theory was right. Mubarak Poster The most imposing of the signs was this wooden monstrosity. There was a copy on the corner of Ramsis St. between the Lawyers and Journalist syndicates. There was also a copy of it in Tahrir square that appeared on the day of the referendum vote. A second Tahrir copy appeared shortly after to emphasize the point. This particular sign was said to be 3 meters tall, but it looked to between 6-to-7 meters tall. In addition to its size, the head of the president would light up with blinking multi-colored bulbs at night. After being out a bit this week, a trend is detectable. All the major pro-Mubarak signs are gone from the major thoroughfares and city squares but are still up in places like Imabab's Midan Kit-Kat and Sayida Zaynib. I am guessing Rice will not be passing through through areas if the news reports and speculation is correct. So, really, what is happening is the signs are (temporarily?) coming down in selective areas. _________ The Interpretation: One of the large Mubarak signs in Tahrir was attracting more attention that its identical siblings around town. It was placed in front of the famous Ali Baba cafe. When one looked at it from the street, you see Mubarak waving in front of the cafe with the words "Ali Baba" in English and Arabic. Now, it did not take long for some witty Cairene to grab onto the symbolism. You see, according to their version, Mubarak's hand is really a preventative gesture to keep people away from the cave of his forty thieves of ministers and connected cronies. As the joke circulated, the sign remained. ______ The Story: I cannot risk ending this post without detailing the story behind the photo above. I was on my way to meet up with friends near Cilantro (AUC). I was a little early so I hopped out of the cab and moved to the square's center to capture the shot. As I stood in the center of Tahrir's roundabout, I snapped a few shots off of the large wooden Mubarak sign. A traffic officer approached me and told me that it was "forbidden to photograph". I explained that I had never heard such a thing in touristic place like Midan Tahrir. He informed me that this was the way things were and if I wanted to I could speak to his boss. I responded that I very much would like to. So he escorted me to one of those smallish sun-shading shelters where the highest officer in charge hangs out. He was a fat man who had a mouthful of sunflower seeds that he unintentionally spit all over when he spoke. He asked me what the problem was. I said I had taken a picture and the officer said it was forbidden. He looked perplexed and said, "what did you take a picture of?" I relied, "the sign of the president". He looked over and said, "yeah, he's right. You are not allowed to take a picture of that." I asked, "Why?" He responded, "because that is the way it is." Sensing that no law breaking going on, I asked, "So there is a law that says this....that one cannot take pictures of the president." He said, "Yes." I came back at him, "I don't believe you." Then, realizing that he was debating a persistent foreigner over a trivial matter, he looked at me and said, "look, you can take pictures of the president, we just don't like people taking pictures of that one.""Why that one?" I asked. He looked and said plainly, "because that is not a nice picture of him (al-suwar di mish helwa)." I respectfully disagreed and thanked him for his time. Then I bid the officer a courteous farewell, which he returned smilingly.
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