Who will be the next pope?

Does anyone find it weird that Pope Shenouda III was scheduled to Germany this week for an emergency spinal cord operation -- the exact same pretext that Mubarak went to Germany last summer for? The pope's kidneys are also in bad shape, apparently, and he might be heading to the US for treatment. Nahdet Misr's leading article yesterday worries about his health and wonder who would replace him. Valid question -- the Coptic pope has been in power for longer than Mubarak himself (since 1971) and has played an overtly political role in Egypt, breaking with long-standing tradition by, for instance, endorsing Mubarak for re-election last September. That controversy also exists within the church, with a monastic tendency that tends to eschew temporal power that has been increasingly at odds -- and come under attack -- from Shenouda, notably embodied by the followers of Father Matta Al Miskeen and the monks of the monastery of Makarious. Needless to say, the election of a new pope should something happen to Shenouda would come at an interesting juncture in Egyptian politics, especially when Copts are increasingly disgruntled (and vocal) about the discrimination they endure. My friend Paul Schemm wrote an excellent article about the roots of this split in the church in the Cairo Times (Volume 6, Issue 39) a few years ago, I might post it at some point when I get back to Egypt.
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Released detainees debate reform on TV

As I'm blogging now, 3alaa is speaking on MBC, about the bloggers community in Egypt, human rights abuses, prospects for activism in Egypt, and his encounter with the Muslim Brothers youth in detention. Two released detainees are also to appear on Dream2 TV, Saturday 8pm (Cairo time), together with two Mubrak's National Democratic Party MPs. Kefaya activists Ahmad Salah and Nada al-Qassas are to debate political reform against Yehya Wahdan, the former State Security Colonel who became the MP for Bab el-She3reya district (formerly represented by Dr. Ayman Nour), and Dr. Sherin 3abdel 3aziz, Al-Waylee’s district MP. The talkshow host is Wael el-Ibrashi. دي حتبقى مجزرة
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Marx and Bin Laden

I came across an interesting article on Marxism and Terrorism. I recommend reading all of it. I couldn't help but drawing parallels between the behavior of some of the 1800s European anarchists (discussed by the author in the beginning of the article) and the current Islamist Takfiri groups, especially in their justification of civilian casualties with the no-one-is-innocent approach. If you don’t have time, then just scroll down to the section on “Today’s Islamist terrorists� that tackles Al-Qa3da and suicide bombings. The author argues there's nothing unique about Islamic cultures that would produce suicide bombers, providing a secular analysis to the phenomenon. Here are excerpts from that section: The media and much of the left would have us believe that today’s Islamist terrorists are qualitatively worse than any in the past. Even the Irish Republicans—whose very voices were banned from the airwaves just a dozen years ago—are now presented as rational compared to them. What dominates is the image of the suicide bomber as a crazed Islamic fanatic. But there is nothing specifically Islamist about the methods of the suicide bomb. The leading practitioners of suicide attacks as a weapon do not come from the Middle East, nor are they Muslims. They are the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, whose ideology is not religious but ‘Marxist-Leninist’ (though their cultural background is Hindu), and whose aim is the secular goal of national liberation. Robert Pape, who has closely analysed suicide attacks between 1980 and 2003, reckons they are responsible for the biggest single group of attacks—some 76 out of a total of 315. This is more than the number committed by the Palestinian group Hamas. And not all suicide bombers from ‘Islamic’ groups are Muslims. Hezbollah, which emerged in Lebanon in the 1980s, was the first modern movement to use the method (they forced US troops to withdraw after 241 Marines were killed in a single attack). Of the 41 suicide terrorists involved in attacks between 1982 and 1986, only three were Islamic fundamentalists. The rest were overwhelmingly Communists or socialists—and three were Christians! Suicide bombing campaigns may be couched in Islamic terms. That does not mean that religious fundamentalism explains their goals. Pape concludes from the data of his survey:
There is not the close connection between suicide terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism that many people think. Rather, what all suicide terrorist campaigns have in common is a specific secular and strategic goal—to compel democracies to withdraw forces from the terrorists’ national homeland. Religion is rarely the root cause, although it is often used as a tool by terrorist organisations in recruiting and in other efforts in service of the broader strategic objective.
This assessment is backed by an analysis of Al Qaida from another source. The organisation is usually taken as the epitome of Islamic fundamentalism—the group most bent on declaring a religious war on the West, against modernity and secularism. But the question that Stephen Holmes rightly raises is whether religious belief causes an action (such as the bombing of the twin towers) or whether the action may be motivated by another cause but be expressed in religious form:
Does Osama Bin Laden want to eject the United States from Saudi Arabia because its troops were desecrating sacred soil, or is he aggrieved, like any anti-colonialist or nationalist insurgent, that the United States is plundering his country’s national resources? Does Ayman al-Zawahiri, the physician who founded Egyptian Islamic Jihad and who is usually considered Bin Laden’s closest associate, want to overthrow Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak because the latter is an apostate or because he is a tyrant?
Difficult though it may be to disentangle the religious from the non-religious, Holmes’s conclusion about the nature of Al Qaida’s ‘war’ on the US is substantially the same at Pape’s:
The vast majority of Bin Laden’s public statements provide secular, not religious, rationales for 9/11. The principal purpose of the attack was to punish the ‘unjust and tyrannical America’. The casus belli he invokes over and over again is injustice not impiety. True, he occasionally remarks that the United States has declared war on god, but such statements would carry little conviction if not seconded by claims that the United States is tyrannising and exploiting Muslim people… Bin Laden almost never justifies terrorism against the West as a means for subordinating Western unbelievers to the true faith. Instead, he almost always justifies terrorism against the West as a form of legitimate self-defence.
In other words, the goal of Al Qaida is no different from other national liberation movements—to achieve independence by forcing the imperialist power to retreat. It may express itself in religious terms, but in essence it pursues the same aim as previous secular-nationalist movements in the Middle East—the defeat of US imperialism and its allies in the region. It is a mistake to think of the strategy of suicide bombing as betraying an irrationalism that derives from Islamic fundamentalism. There is a rationale for the adoption of this strategy that stems from the problem of defeating an enemy in conditions of extreme inequality of resources. The oppressor possesses a military might unimaginably greater than anything the oppressed have at their disposal. The oppressed cannot hope to inflict on the enemy the kind of material damage that will force the oppressor to back off. All they can hope to do is inflict psychological damage that comes from showing that the oppressed will stop at nothing—not even self-sacrifice—to terrorise the oppressor country. As Pape puts it, ‘Suicide terrorism attempts to inflict pain on the opposing society…and so induce the government to concede, or the population to revolt against the government’. This is a ‘strategy for weak actors’ who lack the ‘normal’ military means for fighting. Suicide bombing may be a dirty, inhumane way of fighting (because it targets civilians). However, it derives from not being able to compete with the violence that the oppressor can dish out supposedly ‘cleanly’ (through high-tech operations) but which is much more extensive and devastating than anything a suicide bomber can inflict. The hope, too, is that the preparedness to use one’s body as a self-sacrificial killing machine will inspire the oppressed to give their support to the struggle. It is a mistake to think that suicide bombers are psychologically driven by Islamic fanaticism. Rather, what motivates them to action is rage at material conditions of oppression and exploitation—which is then expressed by commitment to a religious outlook and way of behaving. Bombers are not some alien ‘other’—they are just like us, or rather just like anyone else who is moved to anger by inequality, poverty and injustice. This is what we know of the background of one of the 9/11 hijackers, Mohammed Atta:
The grievances he loudly and frequently articulated against the United States and the Muslim autocracies that the United States supports were almost entirely secular. Most of those who knew him before 1996 stress not Atta’s religious piety…but his implacable fury at the plight of the poor and the indifference of the rich… He was bitterly angry at the visible juxtaposition, in Cairo, of extravagant and frivolous luxury with mass squalor and hopelessness. Egypt’s elite, in particular, was hypocritical, he believed. They showed a ‘democratic face’ to the West, while displaying complete indifference to the misery of ordinary people at home. They had sold their country to the West for trinkets.
Just as Henry, the French bomber of the café at the Gare St Lazare more than a century ago, saw bourgeois women and children as ‘guilty’ by association, so there are people suffering from imperialism across the world (and not just Muslims) who see the ordinary inhabitants of the oppressor nation as equally ‘guilty’ by association with what ‘their’ nation is doing. This is a terrible inversion of the argument that says that because Bush and Blair were elected their actions in unleashing war are legitimate. The terrorist logic is that the population cannot be ‘innocent’ because they voted for Bush and Blair. This is the politics of despair. It is also the consequence of seeing the fight against injustice in non-class terms. It is the same logic that led sections of Irish Nationalists to see ordinary British people as part of the problem. David O’Connell, one of the militaristic leaders of the Republicans in the mid-1970s (before they were displaced by Gerry Adams and Martin McGuiness), argued after the Birmingham bombings:
For five years, the British government has been waging a campaign of terror…against the people of Ireland. What have we got from the British public? Total indifference. The British government and the British public must realise that they will suffer the consequences.
Apart from the lack of religious language, it is exactly the same argument that those who back Al Qaida resort to today. Socialist Worker’s comment at the time still applies:
This conclusion must be opposed by every socialist. It equates the rulers…with the people. Our whole argument rests upon the fact that society is divided into classes with opposed interests.
Just as applicable is this analysis of the politics of an organisation that embraces such a logic:
It is not, as the press and right wing politicians pretend, made up of bloodthirsty maniacs—after all, it is the right wing press and politicians who have always supported the bombing by British armed forces of innocent civilians anywhere in the world… The real point…is that its leaders see the real division in the world as that between nations, not between classes…like middle class politicians everywhere.
It is just such a logic that thinks only a tiny group of dedicated fighters can avenge the wrongs in society, that the mass of people is either corrupt or incapable of stirring into action—unless ‘exemplary’ action is taken by these dedicated fighters. And because this is the politics of despair, the greater the impotence of those caught in this spiral, the bigger the dream of destruction—the better to make an impact. Suicide bombings are not some barbaric throwback to pre-modernity. They are a horribly distorted response to the very real horrors of imperialism and capitalism. The scale and reach of some present-day attacks is greater than any terrorist organisation has been able to carry out in the past. But the devastation and death toll are is still on a massively smaller scale than that routinely inflicted by the armed forces of ‘civilised’ states. Never has a point made by Trotsky been more relevant. In criticising terrorist acts, he wrote, it was important not to side with ‘those bought and paid for moralists’ (Tony Blair and Jack Straw spring to mind) who ‘make solemn declarations about the “absolute value� of human life’. The Marxist tradition has never approved of terrorism as a method of social change, and sees it as a counterproductive strategy. But we cannot join in the condemnations that pour from the lips of politicians and from the media—despite enormous pressure to do so. We cannot begin to shape our critique of terrorism meaningfully unless we start with the horrors of imperialist violence and the Islamophobic racism directed at Muslims. We shall not be able to intervene in the movement to explain why young Muslims resort to such terrible tactics. Nor will be able to offer an alternative that can offer hope to those whose despair pushes them into the dead end of terrorism. (Full Article)
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Russia to open ports in Syria?

This kind of takes you back to history class, Russia's perennial search for a warm-water port, the Crimean War and all that:
In early June, the Russian newspaper Kommersant reported Moscow's decision to establish naval bases in the Syrian ports of Tartus and Latakia. The Russian Defense Ministry officially denied the report, even though more than one source confirmed it. As part of the plan, the port of Tartus would be transformed into a naval base for Russia's Black Sea Fleet when it is away from the Ukrainian port of Sevastopol. The Russian plan involves the installation of an air defense system with S-300PMU-2 Favorit ballistic missiles. The missiles have a range of 200 kilometers (124 miles), allow a larger warhead and are equipped with a better guidance system than the previous version. The air defense system would be operated by Russia for the defense of the Tartus base and would provide potential protection for a large part of Syria. Through these initiatives, it is clear that Russia wants to strengthen its position in the Middle East.
Read the rest here. This kind of thing highlights the slow sea-change in great power strength in the Middle East, away from the US and towards Russia and China. I won't play armchair geostrategist and talk about the ineluctable re-rise of the Russian bear (although, as an occasional reader of Russian international relations magazines, there's definitely something going on there). The article points out that this will be a double-edged sword for Syria:
The increase of Syrian strategic dependence on Russia will strengthen Moscow's political role in the region, even if Russian arms sales to Syria risk damaging the good relations built with Israel in recent years. Of course, stronger Russian influence in Syria could be used by Putin in a dual way. For example, if Russia needs to improve relations with Israel and the United States, it could possibly compel Syria to take a softer approach toward these countries. On the flip side, if Russia needs to increase pressure on these countries, it can use Syria as its arm for this purpose.
One thing it does not mention is that, should there be a Russia navy base on the Syrian coast, it will make Syria much more difficult to attack (and perhaps even make difficult the occasional Israeli overflight of Damascus?) It's yet one of the many clues that tell you Syria is not about to be invaded anytime soon. Will we be returning, if 20 years' time, to a great power game in the Middle East akin to the one that began in the 19th century and culminated in the 1920s and 1930s? US, EU and Russia sharing the Mediterranean, US trying to control an unstable Persian Gulf against a Iran-China alliance, China controlling Sudan and the horn of Africa, etc? I know Arabs are meant to have a great sense of hospitality, but sometimes you feel like you have all sorts of guests who just won't leave.
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Activism Calendar

TODAY, FRIDAY, JUNE 30 (CAIRO) The Muslim Brothers have called for a demo following the Friday prayers at Al-Azhar, to protest the Israeli invasion of Gaza, and the kidnapping of 64 Palestinians–including 21 elected Palestinian members of parliament and eight cabinet ministers–by Israeli occupation troops. SATURDAY, 1 JULY (CAIRO) -The Press Syndicate’s Council has called for a demo in front of the Shura Council (Egypt’s Upper House), 12 noon, to protest the new press law the government is planning to pass, which the syndicate says does not include any of the reviews and amendments it requested (repeating the same scenario as the new judicial authority law). -The national forces have called for a demo at the Press Syndicate, 7pm, in solidarity with the Palestinian resistance, followed by a conference, featuring Nizar Rayan, member of Hamas’ politburo in the Occupied Territories, Fathi Hammad, Palestinian Legislative Council member, and Palestinian leftist writer Abdel Qader Yassin. SUNDAY, JULY 2, (LONDON, UK) A group of young Egyptian professionals and students living in the UK are coming together in attempt to find answers to a troubling question… Egypt's Future: Bright or Bleak? Come and voice your opinion, 6 pm, Central London. If you're interested in participating and for the venue address please contact Inas Ismail on: inas_ismail-at-yahoo-dot-com, or +447811166700 MONDAY, JULY 3 (CAIRO) Kefaya and socialists are meeting with labor activists to strategize for the August national labor union elections, 7pm, at the Center for Socialist Studies.
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Gitmo military trials rejected by Supreme Court

The US supreme court directed a blow to Bush’s “war on terror,� ruling today against the administration’s plans to prosecute Gitmo detainees in military courts. Already, the US president is in terrible unease about the island’s gulag, which has been denounced by virtually all rights groups across the globe as well as well as America’s own allies. He expressed in Vienna this month his desire to close it down during a summit with EU states. Here's a Washington Post report, by William Branigin: Supreme Court Rejects Guantanamo War Crimes Trials In 5-3 Decision, Justices Rebuke Bush's Anti-Terror Policy Thursday, June 29, 2006; 10:44 AM The Supreme Court today delivered a stunning rebuke to the Bush administration over its plans to try Guantanamo detainees before military commissions, ruling that the commissions are unconstitutional. In a 5-3 decision, the court said the trials were not authorized under U.S. law or the Geneva Conventions. Justice John Paul Stevens wrote the opinion in the case, called Hamdan v. Rumsfeld. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. recused himself from the case. The ruling, which overturned a federal appeals court decision in which Roberts had participated, represented a defeat for President Bush, who had ordered military trials for detainees at the Guantanamo Bay naval base. About 450 detainees captured in the war on terrorism are currently held at the U.S. naval base in Cuba. The case of Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a 36-year-old Yemeni with links to al-Qaeda, was considered a key test of the judiciary's power during wartime and carried the potential to make a lasting impact on American law. It challenged the very legality of the military commissions established by President Bush to try terrorism suspects. The case raised core constitutional principles of separation of powers as well as fundamental issues of individual rights. Specifically, the questions concerned: -The power of Congress and the executive to strip the federal courts and the Supreme Court of jurisdiction. -The authority of the executive to lock up individuals under claims of wartime power, without benefit of traditional protections such as a jury trial, the right to cross-examine one's accusers and the right to judicial appeal. -The applicability of international treaties -- specifically the Geneva Conventions on the treatment of prisoners of war -- to the government's treatment of those it deems "enemy combatants." Hamdan was captured by Afghan militiamen in late November 2001 after the radical Islamic Taliban movement was driven from power in Afghanistan by U.S.-backed Afghan forces. He was subsequently turned over to U.S. authorities, who sent him to the U.S. detention facility at the Guantanamo Bay naval base in Cuba in 2002. He acknowledged that he had worked as a bodyguard and driver for Osama bin Laden, whom he met in Afghanistan in 1996. But he denied having any role in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks carried out by bin Laden's al-Qaeda network. On Nov. 13, 2001 -- the day the Afghan capital, Kabul, fell to U.S.-backed forces after five years of Taliban rule -- President Bush issued Military Order No. 1 declaring that military commissions would try foreign terrorist suspects for alleged war crimes and sentence them to punishments including death. The administration argued that the commissions were authorized by laws on military justice, by a congressional resolution passed on Sept. 14, 2001, and by the powers vested in the president as commander in chief under the U.S. Constitution. Hamdan later became one of the first 10 detainees at Guantanamo chosen to face military trials. He was charged in July 2004 with conspiracy to commit terrorism and war crimes while serving as a weapons courier and driver for bin Laden and other top al-Qaeda members. If convicted, he faced a maximum sentence of life in prison. Military prosecutors alleged that Hamdan delivered arms, ammunition and other supplies to al-Qaeda fighters, picked up weapons at Taliban warehouses and drove or accompanied bin Laden to appearances at al-Qaeda training camps and other events. During these appearances, bin Laden would give speeches encouraging followers to carry out suicide attacks and engage in holy war against Americans, the prosecution alleged. Specifically, prosecutors charged, Hamdan served as a driver in a convoy in which bin Laden fled potential U.S. reprisal attacks in Afghanistan at the time of the al-Qaeda bombings of two U.S. embassies in East Africa in 1998 and the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001. In addition, he allegedly received weapons training at al-Qaeda's Farouq training camp in southern Afghanistan on various occasions between 1996 and 2001. In April 2004, Hamdan, represented by Georgetown University law professor Neal K. Katyal, , filed a petition for habeas corpus, challenging the legality of his detention. While the petition was pending before the U.S. District Court in Washington, the government formally filed the conspiracy charges against him and set in motion his trial before a military commission. In August 2004, Hamdan appeared in a makeshift courtroom at Guantanamo as the U.S. military formally opened its first trial of an alleged al-Qaeda collaborator. His appearance, after nearly three years in detention, marked the first time that the United States had used military commissions to try war crimes suspects since World War II. Hamdan's military attorney promptly attacked the military commission process, calling it unfair, and challenged the qualifications of the presiding officer and several other members. In November 2004, the U.S. District Court granted Hamdan's habeas petition in part, ordering a halt to the military commission. The court ruled that Hamdan could not be tried by a military commission unless a competent tribunal determined that he was actually an "unlawful combatant" and not a prisoner of war under the 1949 Geneva Convention. Hamdan maintained that instead of facing a military commission under a presidential order, he should be tried by a court martial under the U.S. Code of Military Justice in accordance with the 1949 convention. That would afford him the same rights accorded to U.S. military personnel tried by courts martial, rather than the restrictions he would encounter in a military commission. Human rights groups have charged that the commissions' rules do not meet international standards for fair trials. The Bush administration appealed the District Court's ruling, and the Defense Department meanwhile gave Hamdan and other Guantanamo detainees hearings before a Combatant Status Review Tribunal. In Hamdan's case, the tribunal affirmed that he was an enemy combatant requiring continued detention. It said he was "either a member of or affiliated with al-Qaeda." In July 2005, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit overturned the District Court's decision, breathing new life into the military commissions. The appeals court said the Geneva Convention does not apply to al-Qaeda members and that the military commissions were authorized by Congress. The Supreme Court agreed in November last year to hear Hamdan's appeal of the ruling. Chief Justice Roberts, one of the judges who voted against Hamdan's appeal when he served on the appeals court, recused himself from the case. Congress entered the fray in December, passing the Detainee Treatment Act, which stripped federal courts of jurisdiction over Guantanamo detainees' habeas corpus petitions that were "pending on or after" the date of the law's enactment. The act also provided an alternative military process for reviewing the enemy combatant status of detainees and designated the D.C. Circuit appeals court as the sole venue for appeals of military commission verdicts. Arguing that the act implicitly accepts the legitimacy of the military commissions and that it disallows Hamdan's habeas petition, the administration asked the Supreme Court in January to dismiss the case. Administration lawyers said the proper time for Hamdan to file a constitutional challenge was after his trial before a military commission. Related article: Rights groups hail Guantanamo ruling More Resources: Topix.net Guantanamo Bay new Human Rights Watch Work on Counterterrorism
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Detailed critique of new judicial legislation

The Arab Center for the Independence of the Judiciary and the Legal Professional (lovingly known by its user-friendly acronym ACIJLP) has sent out its critique of Egypt's new judicial authority law approved by parliament on Monday, saying that while an improvement in some respects it is still lacking in 12 ways. These criticisms echo what the Judge's Club has been saying, i.e. that they are not satisfied and will continue their struggle for more independence. The question is of course in what way? There were talks of strikes previously, but it's hard to imagine the judges going out into the streets again. In other judicial news, a new president of the Cassation Court has been appointed to replace the pro-government Fathi Khalifa. His name is Mokbel Shaker, but I don't know anything about him. (Baheyya?) Update: A reader wrote in with some information on Shaker:
If you ask reformist judges and their supporters, they would certainly consider Muqbil Shakir a pro-regime figure. He's not the most vicious, but for that reason they might see him as a bit more formidable. They would certainly view him as emblematic of the regime's capture of the judiciary (and actually not just emblematic, but a critical figure on a very practical level as well). Of course, if you ask the pro-regime party in the judiciary--which used to dominate the Judges Club but got tossed out a few years ago--the reform party in the judiciary is not seeking reform at all but only al-Gazira TV cameras and Al-Misri al-Yom headlines. Who is right? Well, I think that both sides have some of truth on their side. Base motives are certainly involved. But I think this is not just about egos. The core issue is whether the Egyptian regime is an enemy of judicial independence or a supporter of it. While I incline more toward the analysis of the reformers on this question, I have to admit that it is a more complicated issue than may first appear; it depends a lot on your time horizon and your vantage point for comparison. I should add that there are some tactical differences as well--whether it is best to pressure quietly or confront publicly. Muqbil Shakir has been a key figure in this struggle--caught up in early efforts to press the regime hard back under Nasser and now a key figure in the more conciliatory approach. He was a young member of the Judges Club back in 1969 and was dismissed along with the other rebels at that time (in the infamous "massacre of the judiciary.") Like most of the dismissed judges, Shakir was rehired in the Sadat years. I don't know much about his career in the 1970s and 1980s, but he continued to be active in the Judges Club and was elected president of that body, I think in 1992. He served for much of the rest of the decade in that position, I think. He came to lead the faction in the Judges Club that was far more reluctant to confront the regime. Their basic attitude seemed to be that an overly confrontational policy would politicize the judiciary and that most of what they wanted could be achieved through quiet lobbying. And the Judges Club did get much better conditions for judges under his tenure. They do see the warts in the regime, but their point of comparison is past regimes and others in the region. And they point not only to better salaries but also to real improvements in judicial autonomy, mainly achieved in the 1980s. The reformers see this approach as far too cozy. For them, the institutional concessions of the 1980s are hardly enough and the material concessions of the 1990s came at a price--the judges were bought off. And the most critical would see Shakir as a man who helped negotiate the terms of this deal. (Note: the above was lengthened at the readers' request.)
The ACIJLP release follows below. Judicial geeks only.
ACIJLP's Comment on Egypt's Draft Judiciary Authority Law ACIJLP has been following the stages of issuing Egypt's Judiciary Authority Law amendments. This law is especially important because it organizes the work of judges who are in charge of taking the final decision concerning the lives, freedoms, rights, duties and property of citizens. As a result, there is a need for the Judiciary Authority to have complete power over all issue of a judiciary nature. The Judiciary Authority is also solely responsible for settling all matters related to its members, following the remarks of legal jurisprudents and judges. Consequently, the Arab Center for the Independence of the Judiciary and the Legal Profession (ACIJLP) expresses its comments on the Draft Judiciary Authority Law presented to Egypt's parliament at this time. ACIJLP believes that, although the law includes some positive points demanded by Egypt's judges and civil society institutions, there are many comments that should obtain complete consideration in order for the law to be in line with international criteria relevant to the independence of the Judiciary Authority, particularly the UN basic principles concerning the independence of the Judiciary Authority approved through the UN General Assembly decisions number 40/23 on 29 November 1985 an number 40/146 on 13 December 1985. The draft law did not address at all the text that includes objective criteria for selection and appointment in the Judiciary despite the issues raised about the failure of authorities in charge of appointment to adhere to the criteria of fairness and transparency to the point of litigation before the State Council demanding the cancellation of many appointments and the subsequent exclusion of many efficient judges and depriving Egyptian women from a constitutional right that guarantees her equality in occupying public positions. The Judiciary Authority law should include text stating that those selected to occupy judiciary positions should enjoy honesty, integrity and efficiency, in addition to having obtained suitable legal training or qualifications. There should be no discrimination between candidates to judiciary positions on the basis of gender, color, religion, political or other opinions, national or social origin, possessions, birth or position. The draft law did not mention the right of judges to freely establish or form associations or other organizations that can represent their interests, organize professional training and defend their judiciary independence, as well as their freedom to join such associations or organizations and the independence of the associations or organizations of any other than the Judiciary Authority. This is a widely acknowledged and enforced right in democratic systems. It is also a right prescribed by Article 9 of the UN basic principles concerning the independence of the Judiciary Authority. The draft law did not address some issues related to sound justice procedures and practices, an interest worthy of consideration, such as the enforcement of court rulings. Failure to enforce the rulings constitutes a violation to the independence of the Judiciary, breaches justice and renders court rulings worthless. The draft law also failed to find a legislative solution to such an issue, such as establishing a judiciary police subject to the Judiciary Authority to guarantee the enforcement and respect of court rulings. The draft law did not provide clear articles or text to address the position of public prosecution and its separation from the Executive Authority to be under the Judiciary Authority. The draft law did not point out any objective criteria in the selection of the prosecutor general. Public prosecution continues to combine the authorities of issuing charges and investigation when public prosecution should, as is the case in democratic systems and to guarantee the independence of the Judiciary Authority, be in charge of accusation as long as it is affiliated to the Executive Authority in which case it should leave investigation to the Judiciary Authority. It should only be authorized to perform both issuing charges and investigation in case it is affiliated to the Judiciary Authority represented in Supreme Judiciary Councils. The draft law lacked any objective principles that govern the distribution of work in courts, such as putting each court's general assembly in charge of this issue and preventing general assemblies from delegating decisions related to the assemblies to heads of courts. The draft law allows head of courts to assign specific judges to cases, which breaches the right of citizens to resort to their natural judges and casts doubt on the presence of unjustified interference with judiciary procedures. Article 14 of the UN basic principles concerning the independence of the Judiciary states that assigning judges to cases within the framework of the court to which they belong is an internal issue, the concern of judiciary administration. Although the draft law conditioned assigning the minister's assistant, his deputies and heads of primary courts to perform Judiciary inspection issues on the approval of the Supreme Judiciary Council, the draft law gave the Justice Minister the sole authority to interfere with issues that fall under the pure jurisdiction of the Judiciary Authority, such as the fact that judiciary inspection continues to be under the Justice Minister although judiciary inspection in Egypt's other judiciary bodies does not fall under the jurisdiction of the Justice Ministry. The draft law kept the system whereby judges are seconded to perform non-judiciary jobs –despite the large number of outstanding lawsuits and cases and the lack of qualified judges to try the existing cases. The draft law raised the period of seconding judges to non-judiciary jobs from three years in accordance with Article 64 of the current law to six years, although this system of seconding judges to entities affiliated to the Executive Authority breaches the independence of the Judiciary and contradicts with the judiciary principles that prohibit a person from acting as both adversary and judge. Article 66 of the draft law did not state a maximum period for seconding judges to jobs as first assistant to the minister, assistants to the minister for judiciary inspection and legislation, as well as to the minister's technical office and the judiciary inspection and legislation departments. Despite the increase in the period of seconding judges, the draft law lacked any predetermined objective principles that govern the issue, which may be used in actual cases as a means of threat or reward thus compromising the independence of the Judiciary. The draft law did not observe the rights of the Judiciary in matters of discipline, litigation over two degrees and the ability to challenge disciplinary decisions issued against judges before a higher court. Article 83m of the draft law only mentions the reasons allowing challenges before the Court of Cassation: if the challenged ruling contradicted the law, involved a faulty implementation or interpretation or if the ruling or procedures involved a fundamental fault that affected the ruling. Thus, the second degree court for judges is a legal court that does not address the litigated issue itself. Thus, litigation over two degree as stated in Article 83 of the draft law is void of content as the second degree court may not address the issue or consider it in a fair and public manner. Litigation in cases of disciplining judges remains a one degree process from the practical perspective. The text newly introduced to the draft law does not achieve a minimum guarantee for a fair trial. The draft law violates the right of judges to recruit the help of a lawyer, a constitutional right for all citizens, also prescribed in international instruments where there is a consensus over the need for suitable procedures to guide the speedy and urgent consideration of charges or complaints against a judge in his professional capacity. articles 85 and 106 of the draft law prohibit judges, once they challenge a disciplining decision or once a judge stands before a disciplinary court to recruit the help of a lawyer (…..to present a written defense or through a deputy who is a current or former member of the judiciary that does not hold a job or profession). The draft law eliminates the condition for judges to be nominated for the general assemblies of the Court of Cassation and the Cairo Court of Appeals to form the Supreme Judiciary Council. The draft law continues to consider seniority the basis for forming the Council, although this criteria is not taken into consideration when appointing the prosecutor general, heads of primary courts and the head of the Court of Cassation. ACIJLP recommends presenting the draft law to Egypt's judges to be guided by their opinion concerning the draft law regulating their profession, the provisions of which address them as they are the most capable –through practice and real life experience- to understand the minute details that support or disturb their independence. "When preparing the framework of their legislation and national practices, governments should observe and respect the basic principles for the independence of the Judiciary Authority. Governments should present such principles to judges, lawyers, members of the Legislative and Executive authorities and the public in general," according to the UN basic principles concerning the independence of the Judiciary Authority.
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Al Hayat interview with Bashar Assad

In which he discusses (with editor Ghassan Charbel and Damascus bureau chief Ibrahim Hamidi)Syria's relationship with Jordan, Egypt's negotiation of behalf of mini-Hariri, Arab fears of Iran's growing regional role, growing sectarianism in Lebanon, his willingness to deal with anyone in Lebanon (Aoun, mini-Hariri, Seniora, etc.) except Walid Jumblatt and maybe Jacques Chirac. Although the interview doesn't make earth-shattering revelations, Bashar handles it pretty well overall. This is part one, and in part two (not yet online) he apparently says there's a growing Al Qaeda presence in Lebanon.
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Yemeni newspaper's lawyer threatened

The lawyer of the Yemen Observer was threatened by extremists while he defended his client for publishing the Danish cartoons of Prophet Muhammad:
Two young bearded men threatened the defense lawyer of Yemen Observer in the court room that they would have killed him if they have power. Khalid Al-Anesi, who defends Mohammed Al-Asaadi, editor-in-chief of the Yemen Observer, in the south east of the capital, was alerted minutes before the death threat by a close friend, as he described him. Abdullah Al-Farza’e, who was introduced later as an Imam of a mosque, attended the hearings on purpose which is just to alert Al-Anesi of plans to attack him by young radicals. “Al-Farza’e heard about the plan and moved to the court to warn me,” Al-Anesi said. “I trust him.” The two young men, who failed to escape from the court, are detained for investigation. They came with a large group of long-bearded people who fill the small courtroom, where the judge looks into the case filed by the general prosecutor for press and publication against Yemen Observer and its editor for republishing fragments of the Danish cartoons with a huge X over them last February.
The trial against the Yemen Observer was brought by individuals who thought the paper was attacking the prophet, even though it had only published pictures of the cartoons covered up and alongside a critical article.
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CPJ on the state of Saudi media

The Committee to Protect Journalists has issued a rare report on the state of the Saudi press:
Although newspapers are privately owned, the state exerts tremendous influence over what is reported. The government approves the appointments of editors-in-chief, a process that journalists say is done behind closed doors with the oversight of Prince Nayef bin Abdel Aziz, the powerful interior minister. In practice, though not by law, newspapers require the financial or political backing of a member of the royal family. Unlike in other parts of the region, “opposition journalism” simply doesn’t exist in Saudi Arabia. While some columnists have criticized low-level ministers, news coverage is typically devoid of anything reflecting negatively on the royal family, high-ranking officials, and the country’s religious clerics and institutions. Top editors and most journalists view themselves as defenders of the ruling Al-Saud family, and government officials ensure allegiance by applying behind-the-scenes pressure—issuing directions on sensitive stories, banning coverage of certain topics, and taking punitive actions against journalists. Over the past decade, CPJ research shows, dozens of editors, writers, academics, and other media critics have been suspended, dismissed from their jobs, or banned from appearing in the Saudi press. The actions came by government order, the intervention of religious leaders, or at the initiative of editors. Other journalists have faced detention, questioning by security authorities, and travel bans.
The report goes on to describe how writers get blacklisted, the flux and reflux of censorship, the intervention of religious authorities, and more. This type of information is rare because, while easier than before, investigative reporting is still quite tough in Sadist Arabia. Via Tatteh Aardvark, who has a summary of the report's findings.
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The story behind Rose Al Youssef

Praktike points out that Rose Al Youssef, a recently started pro-government daily, is trying to tarnish Kifaya leader George Ishak's reputation by alleging he met with Israelis during a conference last April.
Al-Masry Al-Youm reported yesterday on Ishaq's denial that he met with Israelis at the Fourth Assembly of the World Movement for Democracy in Istanbul in April, a charge made by state paper (and emerging tool of Gamal Mubarak) Rosa al-Yousef. Even worse than (gasp) being in the same huge event as "the enemy," Ishaq attended an event funded by foreigners.
I'd like to expand a little bit on Rose Al Youssef's role on the Egyptian media scene since it launched less than a year ago. Rose Al Youssef was originally a magazine started in the 1930s by the actress, socialite and general sensation Rose Al Youssef, a woman of Syrian origin. At the time, it was le nec plus ultra of Egyptian publishing and retained its progressive reputation for a long time thereafter -- even after it was nationalized. In particular, it pioneered the art of the caricature in the Arab world. There's an excellent short documentary about Rose Al Youssef (the woman and the magazine) by Mohamed Kamel El-Kalioub that came out a few years ago, I recommend it if you can get a hold of it. (Here's a review.) In the Mubarak era, while remaining in some ways a quality magazine (in the current Egyptian context anyway), Rose Al Youssef substantially declined. It is unshamedly pro-regime and seems to specialize in tarnishing regime opponents with the familiar charges of working for foreign powers and attacking Islamists, especially the Muslim Brotherhood. It also offers a substantial platform, for state publications, to Copts and secular Muslims who use it mostly to make pro-regime secularism. Ironically, Rose Al Youssef's grandson Mohammed Abdel Qudous is a well-known Muslim Brother and Kifaya supporter! The Rose Al Youssef mentioned above, however, is a daily newspaper that grew out of the magazine largely as a reaction to the emergence of independent dailies such as Al Masri Al Youm and Nahdet Misr in the last two years. Over that period, the clique around Gamal Mubarak saw the need for a daily newspaper that would be under its control -- the old state dailies, Al Ahram, Al Akhbar and Al Gomhouriya, were not so malleable and have links to the "old guard." That daily should have originally been Nahdet Misr, which is financed by media mogul Emad Adib. But Nahdet Misr realized it would fail completely (as a business and a publication) if it simply towed the Gamal line, and has since in part evolved from "the Mayo of the Geel Gedid," as a friend once put it, into something somewhat more independent, but not quite. (Mayo is the official publication of the ruling NDP; Geel Gedid means "new generation" and is a term applied to the Gamal clique in the NDP.) Nahdet Misr is now an occasionally interesting newspaper, especially on NDP inner struggles, but is not really a mouthpiece for the party's leadership anymore -- even if it is not as independent as Al Masri Al Youm. Enter Rose Al Youssef the daily newspaper. The story going around Egyptian journalistic circles is that it was personally financed by Ahmed Ezz, the powerful steel magnate that has emerged as one of Gamal Mubarak's key acolytes. Ezz gave LE10 million of his money to Abdallah Kamal, an editor at Rose Al Youssef the magazine, to start the paper. (Rumor has it Kamal pocketed one of those millions.) Kamal has since penned slavish editorials about Gamal, attacking his opponents and praising or defending him and his friends (including Ezz, who is frequently accused of monopolistic practices in the steel industry) at every turn. Of course, nearly no one reads it, but the Gamalists have staked their place in the emerging new media scene. One imagines that their sophistication is equal to that of their mouthpiece.
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Ten years ago: the Abu Salim massacre

HRW, which has recently gotten unprecedented access into Libya, is calling for full disclosure on the 1996 massacre that took place at the Abu Salim prison:
In the summer of 1996, stories began to filter out of Libya about a mass killing in Tripoli’s Abu Salim prison. The details remained scarce, and the government initially denied that an incident had taken place. Libyan groups outside the country said up to 1,200 prisoners had died.

In 2001 and 2002, Libyan authorities began to inform some families with a relative in Abu Salim that their family-member had died, although they did not provide the body or details on the cause of death. In April 2004 Libyan leader Mu`ammar al-Qadhafi publicly acknowledged that killings had taken place in Abu Salim, and said that prisoners’ families have the right to know what took place.

Read the rest for an account of HRW's investigation and links to Libyan opposition groups.
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Miles on Jazeera, AJI

Hugh Miles, who wrote a book on Al Jazeera, has a "Think Again" piece in Foreign Policy debunking various myths about the channel. Nothing much new in it, but it's a good overview of the facts many get wrong. One interesting issue is about Al Jazeera International, the English-language channel that should launch later this year. Hugh says:
The network’s coverage will “follow the sun” throughout the day, airing from Kuala Lumpur for 4 hours, Doha for 11 hours, London for 5, and Washington for the remaining 4.
I believe that's a different schedule than originally intended, since AJI wanted to split its airtime evenly between its various headquarters. I've been hearing through the grapevine that there's trouble brewing at AJI's top management, with the Emir of Qatar intervening personally to make sure Doha has more airtime. Apparently it hadn't been made clear to him that the idea was to split airtime between each region, and now, a few months before they're supposed to launch, AJI has to look for extra staff in Doha to be able to handle a 12-hour or longer shift. He is reportedly very intent on boosting Qatar's image through AJI and wants Doha to dominate. Well, it's his money... On the upside, if you're looking for a job in the Gulf, AJI is still hiring! The entire episode does make you wonder about Nigel Parsons' management of the whole thing, though. Incidentally, I had a piece about AJI in the recent issue of TBS, looking at how it's perceived in the States and the still unsolved mystery of what it's "soul" will be like -- CNN or the original Arabic channel.
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The accidental Zionist

The Nation has a long look at the unusual Zionist that is Vladimir Jabotinsky. Some interesting stuff in there, such as Jabotinsky uncanny honesty to Arabs that the Zionist intended to carve out a state of their own from mandate Palestine, or contradictory positions on "transfer," and the self-doubt that seems to be lacking on his contemporary followers.
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NYT on Algeria

Unfortunate beginning to this NYT story on Algeria:
ALGIERS — In the 1990's, Algeria was the Iraq of the Arab world, ripping out its own heart in a bloodbath that pitted a rising Islamist movement against military death squads, killing more than 100,000 people. It was a model of hell on earth.
Er... in the 1990s, Iraq was the Iraq of the Arab world. Anyway, it's good that the august newspaper of record is bringing attention to the problems with the general amnesty the Algerian government has granted (it would have been ever better if they mentioned that discussing the identity of the perpetrators of the civil war's crimes is now illegal), but isn't it a little bit late? The charter for national reconciliation, as the Algerian government calls its attempt to bury the past, went through in February. At the time I quoted Le Monde:
The text adopted by the government puts them [security personnel] beyond the reach of legal pursuits, even if infractions have been committed. They have “shown proof of patriotism,” and “no lawsuit can be made, individually or collectively,” against them. “Any denunciation or complaint regarding [security personnel] will not be accepted,” the documents adds, while adding that “any declaration, written or otherwise, using or instrumentalizing the wounds of national tragedy to attack national institutions, weaken the state, damage the honor its agents… or to sully the image of Algeria internationally” will be sanctioned.
The lack of coverage of the Maghreb in major US newspapers is really quite astounding.
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Reader survey: Google's Israel ads

For a while now, I've been somewhat uneasy about the presence of pro-Israel ads on this site. I don't choose them, the near-sentient megacomputer at Google does. (In the future, it will send a robot back in time to kill me.) While I don't think many of this site's readers want to send flowers to Israel or pizzas to IDF soldiers, I keep receiving emails complaining about this and that ad. I've even gotten in touch with Google minions and asked if there's any way to filter these ads. They said that basically no -- although the adsense program does allow you to specifically filter certain ad sites, but you have to know the site URL to block it. While I think that surely the technology to run keyword filters can't be that difficult for a company like Google, I'm more or less stuck with it. It's not like I make much money from the ads anyway (although it covers hosting and a little more) -- especially compared to the money I lose by blogging rather than working -- so I could just take down the ads. Or someone can suggest a better ad service than Google's. My question to readers is, how much do you really care? My feeling about it is that a pro-Israel ad on this site amounts to a waste of money for the advertisers -- money that they won't be spending on perpetuating the occupation of Palestine. So I'm inclined to just ignore the ads, much as I do on any other website. I've adopted this reasoning the hard way: a few years ago, I was a regular reader and occasional contributor to Eric Alterman's blog, Altercation. I once emailed Alterman about the conservative ads that appeared on his blog (for instance plugging Ann Coulter's new book) and he tersely answered in a one-line email:
Grow up. They're wasting their money.
He later explained why exactly this was a waste in a post. I think he is right. If you really care about this, leave a comment and let me know what you think.
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How to pass your exams in Egypt

Brian Whitaker posted on the Guardian's blog an article on Alaa Farag Megahed, the high school student who failed her exam because of a composition she wrote critical of Bush.
How to pass your exams in Egypt Brian Whitaker, June 27, 2006 11:13 AM "Blessed with abundant supplies of water, fertile soil and a flourishing tourism sector, Egypt has fewer economic problems than most countries in the Middle East. Under the wise leadership of President Hosni Mubarak, its prosperity has increased beyond all expectation ..." Yes, I know, it's rubbish. But if you're an Egyptian student and happen to get an exam question on the economic problems facing your country, this would probably be a good way to start. I mean, you do want to pass, don't you? According to several reports in the Arabic media, 15-year-old Alaa Farag Megahed, from a girls' secondary school in the Nile delta, got it all wrong. The examiner marking the papers didn't like her essay and passed it to his boss, who passed it to the ministry of education. (Full article)
Also, the Arab Press Freedom Watch issued statement calling for a "stand against the killing of free thinking in Egyptian schools."
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Demonstrators call for release of detainees

Around 300 activists demonstrated Tuesday evening in front of the press syndicate, calling for the release of pro-democracy detainees. The demonstrators included several of the recently released detainees, who showed up dressed in the white prison costumes they wore in Tora. The scene was beautiful. Released activists who haven't seen one another since they got out of prison were hugging, and in tears. Others were recalling their prison stories, and exchanging jokes and laughters. Veteran socialist Kamal Khalil, and his colleagues Wael Khalil and Ibrahim el-Sahary got the lionshare of hugs and kisses. They led the demonstrators, in chants against Mubarak, and against State Security police. Central Security Forces surrounded the syndicate. The usual support brigades of baton-wielding plainclothes thugs were also present, together with few officers from State Security's CounterCommunism's Bureau. However, no hassels were witnessed, and one could get into the syndicate easily. The one-hour protest was followed by a conference, organized by the Liberties' Committee. Several released detainees took the poduim, and shared their experiences with their supporters. Kamal Khalil denounced any talks between the opposition and Mubarak's National Democratic Party, called for the release of Dr. Ayman Nour, Sharqawi, Sha3er, and the 700+ Muslim Brothers detainees. Kamal also condemned the US support for Mubarak and Israel, affirming that the movement for change in Egypt sees its democracy cause to be organically linked to other regional causes, most importantly Palestine and Iraq. Kamal also expressed his sorrow for the loss of his mentors and colleagues, Ahmad Nabil el-Hilaly, Youssef Darwish and Ahmad 3abdallah Rozza, who passed away while he was in prison. "Rest in peace," he said to his lost comrades. "I want to assure Hilaly the socialist movement has been revived. The Communists in Egypt are only getting stronger day by day. You taught us a lot, and we will not fail you." I went out later with 3alaa, Manal, and Malek to a friend's place where we were supposed to party. Unfortunately, after two hours of laughters, singing and dancing, we were showered with SMSs about the Israeli invasion of Gaza. We lost the mood for partying, and decided to go home and follow Al-Jazeera. Israeli tanks, as I write now, are rolling into north and south of the strip. Israeli F-16s have bombed two bridges in Gaza's central zone. Gaza is now in darkness as Israeli jets shelled the only electric power station Gaza has. I tried calling a good friend of mine who lives there, but couldn't get through to his cellular. My thoughts go out to him and all the Palestinians in Gaza...
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