UNSC says maalesh, no WMDs in Iraq

Monumental balls:
UNITED NATIONS, June 29 -- The U.N. Security Council voted 14 to 0 Friday to immediately shut down the U.N. weapons-inspection unit for Iraq, drawing to a close 16 years of international scrutiny of Iraq's nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programs. The action ended more than four years of political deadlock between the United States and Russia over the fate of the inspection effort. Russia abstained, citing U.S. and British refusal to permit the inspectors to provide a final report confirming Iraq's disarmament. The resolution -- sponsored by the United States and Britain -- offers no formal judgment on the status of Iraq's weapons program. Instead, it refers to the findings of a CIA inspection team that concluded in 2004 that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. "These efforts have demonstrated that the current government of Iraq does not possess weapons of mass destruction or delivery systems," Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said after the vote. Khalilzad, the former U.S. ambassador to Iraq, had made a personal pledge to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki before leaving Baghdad to shutter the U.N. weapons programs. Iraq's U.N. ambassador, Hamid al-Bayati, hailed the decision, saying an "appalling chapter in Iraq's modern history" has been closed. He said he welcomed the council's decision to return about $63 million in Iraqi oil proceeds -- which have been used to fund the inspections program -- to Iraq.
It's not like I'm advocating Chapter VII action against the United States for invading Iraq on false pretexts, but how about at least letting the UN admit there were no WMDs in Iraq?
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'The Source' found dead

Ashraf Marwan, maybe the most colorful person of London's Arab community, has died under unclear circumstances. Some believe him to be 'The Source' which tipped off Mossad prior to the 1973 war - others say he acted as a double agent misleading the Israelis. From The Times:
Mr Marwan’s death will send shockwaves across the Middle East and among some of Britain’s wealthiest people. His associates included Adnan Khashoggi, the arms dealer, Ken Bates, the football club chairman, the Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi and the late Tiny Rowland. If found to be murder, his death will carry echoes of last year’s assassination of Alexander Litvinenko, the former KGB agent.
In any case, he was close to Nasser and Sadat and must have made his fortune thanks to the connections he developed during that time, in particular when he overlooked the businesses of the Egyptian military in the 1970.
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Plug: "With/Without"

Withwithout Cover 2 A little over a month ago, With/Without: Spatial products, Practices and Politics in the Middle East, a collection of essays about contemporary Arab urban issues, was released at the Dubai International Design Forum. Published by Middle Eastern cultural magazine Bidoun and the Forum's organizer, Moutamarat, it has contributions from writers across the Arab world, including two writers who contribute to Arabist.net: Issandr El Amrani on Cairo's al-Azhar Park and Ursula Lindsey on The Yacoubian Building. And tons of other fine people too, such as the great Moroccan photographer Yto Barrada, Director of the Iraqi National Archive Saad Bashir Eskander, renowned Dutch po-mo architect Rem Koolhaas and Lebanese historian Fawwaz Trabulsi to list only a few of the contributors who wrote the 14 essays on themes such as suburbia, shopping malls, public parks, street life, universities, or skycrapers. I've just received my copy (which had been intercepted by the Egyptian Postal Service and inspected at length for subversive material, apparently) and it's a handsomely designed volume, printed on archival paper with lovely photography. Where can I acquire this gem of a book, I hear you say? Well, although distribution deals are still underway, you can start by visiting the Bidoun site for ordering info or read the press release after the jump. Press release: WITH/WITHOUT Spatial Products, Practices and Politics in the Middle East Edited by Shumon Basar, Antonia Carver and Markus Miessen Featuring: Mauricio Guillen, Yto Barrada & Simona Schneider, Brian Ackley, Issandr El Amrani, Pelin Tan, Richard Allenby-Pratt & Celia Peterson, Kevin Mitchell, Hugh Macleod, Deena Chalabi, Dr Saad Bashir Eskander, Rem Koolhaas, Kai Friese, Ursula Lindsey, Senan Abdelqader, Clare Davies, Stephan Trüby, Markus Miessen, Shumon Basar, Erandi de Silva, Antonia Carver, L.E.FT, Nader Vossoughian, Keller Easterling, Lara Almarcegui, Philipp Misselwitz, Susanne Schuricht, Armin Linke, George Katodrytis, Fawwaz Traboulsi Designed by Jana Allerding, 9714 A Bidoun Book published by Bidoun and Moutamarat As Dubai builds unprecedented realms of new newness, other parts of the Middle East grapple with physical and symbolic histories. Relics come up against re-invention and revolution. Micro-mutations in Middle Eastern politics or economics are part of our shared ‘local’ news around the globe. With/Without is an anthology that casts an eye across the broader swathes of the Middle East today. Featuring an archival design, this hardback book is essential reading for anyone interested in the social makeup, design and architecture of Middle Eastern cities. Each of the fourteen chapters takes an obvious architectural or institutional typology (the museum, the villa, the street, the skyscraper, etcetera) and illustrates it with essays, interviews, and documentary photographs. Subjects range from the redevelopment of Martyr’s Square in Beirut; gated communities in Istanbul; Dubai’s mall culture; bridge building in Mecca; and the creation of a new Iraqi flag in the post-Saddam era. The underlying question in all of these inquiries is: how do spaces and territories form fundamental ideas about individuals, communities, and worlds? Co-published by Bidoun and Moutamarat, With/Without is edited by London-based architects/critics Shumon Basar and Markus Miessen, with Bidoun editor Antonia Carver, and designed by the award-winning Dubai agency 9714.
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Bush Plans Envoy To Islamic Nations

Bush Plans Envoy To Islamic Nations:
President Bush announced plans yesterday to appoint an envoy to an organization of Islamic nations with the intention of improving the battered image of the United States in the Muslim world. Speaking at the rededication of the half-century-old Islamic Center in Washington, Bush said the new U.S. representative to the 57-nation Organization of the Islamic Conference "will listen to and learn from the representatives from Muslim states and will share with them America's views and values." "This is an opportunity for Americans to demonstrate to Muslim communities our interest in respectful dialogue and continued friendship," said Bush, who has not yet named anyone to the job.
Appoint Irshad Manji. I doubledare you.
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A request

If any reader would have the time and kindness to scan and send me (issandr -AT - arabist.net) Christopher Hitchens' essay on Tunisia in the latest issue of Vanity Fair, I would be eternally grateful. The column was discussed briefly here:
Hitchens makes a case for the Tunisian dictatorship. The country is, after all, a relatively healthy place for women and an inhospitable place for Islamists. On a weak base, it features a relatively thriving economy. It has the great merit, Hitchens points out, of not being Algeria, let alone Libya. Points taken, if not being the rest of Africa is a compliment. I'm not competent to know all of what Hitchens fails to observe, but the following lines of his caught me up short: "you can say for Tunisia that people do not lower their voices or look over their shoulders (another thing that has made me nervous in my timne) before discussing" the dictator, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.
It sounds outrageous, but I would like to see it before commenting myself.
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Guardian, others: Blair to be UN envoy to ME

It's nearly confirmed:
Tony Blair has landed a major diplomatic job as the international Middle East peace envoy, responsible for preparing the Palestinians for negotiations with Israel. His role, to be announced today, will be largely to work with the Palestinians over security, economy and governance. Working from an office in Jerusalem, and possibly another in the West Bank, Mr Blair will become the special representative for the Middle East quartet of UN, EU, US and Russia. The announcement comes on the eve of his departure from Downing Street tomorrow and is privately welcomed by Gordon Brown. The arrangement, which has been under preparation for weeks, is due to be agreed at a meeting of the quartet today.
His job is to "prepare" the Palestinians? Further details:
It was being stressed last night that Mr Blair's role - in the short term at least - would not be to act as a mediator between the Palestinians and the Israelis, or to become a negotiator for the road map to peace. He might, however, be responsible for trying to persuade the Palestinians to accept the conditions for ending the international boycott of Hamas.
I like this conceit in the piece that he would have more success and be in a less antagonistic position with the Bush administration than previous envoys -- such as James Wolfensohn or Alvaro de Soto. Because it would be an illusion that Blair or anyone else would be able to go against the White House, and what it really means is that he sees more eye-to-eye with the Bushies than his predecessors. Which is not A Good Thing.
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Algeria attacks Mother of the World

How dare they?
Amine Azaoui outrages Egypt on Monday, June 25 @ 13:40:53 CDT The head of the National library , M Amine Zaoui sparked a wave of controversy after his statement to one the Egyptian daily newspapers “Al Watani al yaoum” in which he reconsidered the idea of “Egypt, mother of the world” and the wagon of the Arab world. M Zaoui went on, in his critics by declaring that the Egyptian cultural week in the event “Algiers , capital of Arab cultures” was the worst one so far. He added that “Egypt was no longer the hub of the Arab culture and that the Egyptian men of culture have no cause to defend, besides, the Arab language in Egypt is clumsy”. These declarations, outraged many Egyptian literary men , among them the poet, Mohamed Ibrahim Aboussena , who replied to Amine Azaoui in these words” Egypt is still the mainstream , and Amine Azaoui has just to look at the reality”. As to the Egyptian philosopher, Mahmoud Amine Al Alam, this one declared in response to Azaoui’s statement” Egypt is leading the Arab world in terms of plurality, and the fact of belittling this reality is a lie.”
So troublesome, these Algerians... when they're not complaining about Egypt's stranglehold over the Arab League (they are the only other country that seems to take the Arab League seriously) they try to belittle it. La h'shouma.
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Let's not forget Lebanon

Two essential pieces on Lebanon appeared in the last few weeks. The first, a review piece by Max Rodenbeck in the NYRB, looks at the last two-three years and draws a convincing portrait of what happened. Considering how confusing Lebanon's politics are, that's quite a feat. Plus Max gets the way I react to Lebanese food (esp. when consumed with copious amounts of arak, as it must be) exactly right:
Yet it is true that while Lebanon whets appetites with its gorgeous landscapes, clement weather, energetic people, and wonderful food, trying to consume too much of it tends to bring on heartburn. Just ask the Ottoman Turks, the imperialist French, the US Marine Corps, the Palestinians, the Israelis, the Syrians, or any number of Lebanese would-be overlords. The country's infernally complex ingredients seem chemically incapable of melding into a digestible dish.
The second piece, by Jim Quilty for MERIP, focuses on the recent confrontation between the Lebanese army and an Islamist group operating out of the Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp near Tripoli:
If Lebanese politicians on both sides of the government-opposition divide have emphasized support for the army over empathy for human suffering in the camps, their rhetoric betrays the marginality of the refugee community. It also reflects the centrality of the Lebanese army in the ongoing contest over the future direction of state policy. At the end of the day, it is entirely likely that the Palestinians in Lebanon will be three-time losers in this bloody episode: enduring the humanitarian crisis that grows out of it, shouldering the burden of containing it and suffering a backlash in Lebanese political opinion for being seen as somehow responsible for it. The anti-Palestinian feeling in Lebanon is all the more bitterly ironic since so few of the radical Sunni Islamists battling the Lebanese army in Nahr al-Barid are themselves Palestinian.
Another key paragraph, on whether March 14 is financing Salafist-Jihadists groups (as famously but unconvincingly alleged by Seymour Hersh), is this one:
Whether or not the Hariris and their Saudi supporters have a soft spot for salafis is not the point. Rather, it is the culture of cooptation that has marked the Lebanese government’s approach to the challenges confronting the country since the Syrian withdrawal. Rafiq al-Hariri deployed his financial resources to great effect during his political career, but his purchase of loyalties was embedded in the Syrian occupation’s security regime. With the Syrians gone, and with Sunnis set against their Shi‘i countrymen -- and with them the specter of Hizballah, the militants who stopped the Israeli army, Lebanese find the line between purchased loyalties and militant outsourcing a fuzzy one.
Although Quilty, like Rodenbeck, highlights the fact that some Syrian support for Fatah al-Islam operatives was probably necessary, he does not satisfactorily answer the various conspiracy theories about its origin -- except to say that whatever help they may have secured, the members of the group appear to be genuinely nasty Jihadists, not just hired guns. Read it all for the nitty-gritty detail of Palestinian camp politics.
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Azimi on US democracy-promotion in Iran

Negar Azimi has a long piece on US democracy promotion efforts in Iran called Hard Realities of Soft Power. It includes reference to US policymaking, the misguided attacks on VOA Persian (widely considered to be an excellent service, both as a radio station and a program that increases esteem for the US in Iranian eyes) -- something similar happened with VOA Arabic as discussed several times in this blog), the arrests of activists who have links to the US, the debate over the "kiss of death" theory of American democracy-promotion, and more.
Many Iranians have grown paranoid about anything vaguely linked to the West. Conference and workshop attendance, travel and even e-mail and phone contact with foreign entities is suspect. In the last three months, at least three prominent NGOs have been shut down indefinitely. Kayhan, the semiofficial newspaper, editorializes almost daily about an elaborate network conspiring to topple the regime. Called “khaneh ankaboot,” or “the spider nest,” the network is reportedly bankrolled by the $75 million and includes everyone from George Soros to George W. Bush to Francis Fukuyama to dissident Iranians of all shades. In this vision, the network gets its “orders” from the Americans. It is particularly telling, perhaps, that some of the most outspoken critics of the Iranian government have been among the most outspoken critics of the democracy fund. Activists from the journalist Emadeddin Baghi to the Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi to the former political prisoner Akbar Ganji have all said thanks but no thanks. Ganji has refused three personal invitations to meet with Bush. A member of a U.S.-based institution that has received State Department financing and who works with Iranians told me that the Iranians had expressly asked not to have their cause mentioned in presidential speeches. “The propaganda campaign surrounding the launch of this campaign has meant that many of our partners are simply too afraid to work with us anymore,” she told me on condition of anonymity. “It’s had a chilling effect.”
One thing that strikes me among the many issues raised in Negar's piece is that one does not get the impression that the "believers" among the democracy promotion crowd have really done a "lessons learned" from policy Iraq. Or that there is much of plan beyond providing $75 million to whoever will take it. Anyway, the debate over democracy promotion apparently continues -- for more lofty-minded types, here is Francis Fukuyama's latest position on the issue. Read it quick before he changes his mind.
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The "Fatah never fought" theory

Some interesting discussions of the "Fatah never thought" theory, in preparation for a later post: Conflict Blotter:
Fatah never fought. Gaza was essentially handed over to Hamas. Soldier after soldier said they felt betrayed and abandoned by their leadership. There was a seemingly willful lack of decision making by the senior most political leadership. Up and down the Gaza Strip from the first moments of fighting, the military leadership disintegrated while the political leadership remained eerily silent. Ousted Fatah loyalists in Gaza widely suspect a political decision was made early on in Ramallah to surrender the Gaza Strip to Hamas in order to extricate Abbas, Israel and the US from the seeming intractable pickle they were facing as infighting spiraled, living conditions worsened, and the peace process seemed hopelessly stuck. With the Palestinian territories now split, the US, Israel and Abbas suddenly have way forward, without compromising to Hamas.
The Economist:
Why did Hamas go for broke this time? And why was its victory so quick and total? Mouin Rabbani, a Jordan-based analyst with the International Crisis Group, a lobby in Brussels, thinks the combination of economic boycott, domestic discontent, criticism from radical groups abroad, the growing threat from Fatah and splits within Hamas itself meant that people who used to think time was on their side began to think it was working against them. Fatah, meanwhile, seemed unprepared. Some of its top people in Gaza were away, Mr Dahlan among them. Mr Abbas, sitting in the West Bank, did not declare a state of emergency until Hamas militants were ransacking his Gaza home. Mid-level Fatah officers complained bitterly about lack of leadership. “We had orders not to fire except in self-defence,” says one, whom Israel allowed to flee to the West Bank. Now he sits in the lobby of Ramallah's smartest hotel, nervously smoking with his fellow fugitives and endlessly repeating stories of Hamas's brutality. Indeed, some Fatah officers suspect their leaders' apathy was deliberate. Letting Hamas win Gaza has a certain logic to Fatah. No sooner had Mr Abbas sworn in a new government under Salam Fayyad, a former World Bank official well-liked in the West, than America, the European Union and Canada lifted their 15-month-old boycott, and Israel said it would consider releasing frozen PA tax revenues, removing some of the internal checkpoints that stifle the West Bank's economy, and holding more meaningful talks with Mr Abbas. Thus, runs the theory, Mr Abbas will reap the praise for a better life in the West Bank, while Gazans' well-being will be at the mercy of a now-isolated Hamas. So it was all planned, was it? Qaddoura Fares, one of Fatah's younger leaders in Ramallah, lets out a short, dry laugh. “If only!” More likely, agrees Diana Buttu, a former adviser to Mr Abbas, the famously diffident Palestinian president wanted to avoid a showdown, and simply did not expect Hamas to go so far.
The Observer, in an interview with Hamas military commander Abu Obieda:
Despite his months of planning for such a war, Abu Obieda was surprised by the speed of the victory: 'I expected it to take one month. That is what we planned for and trained for. But then at the beginning, all the Fatah commanders escaped their compounds in ambulances and left for Egypt. They left their men to die. Who could do that?' At one battle, for a security compound - where his men later found weapons, ammunition and food that would survive a three-month siege - he listened on a radio to Fatah fighters on nearby rooftops begging their commanders for more ammunition that never came. 'They all had left,' Abu Obieda said. 'The Fatah fighters are brave but would you fight for a commander who left you alone to die for his war?'
McClatchy:
In five days of fighting, Fatah never put up a real fight. The question is why not. In interviews with McClatchy Newspapers during and after the fighting, Fatah foot soldiers said they felt abandoned as they realized that there'd be no counterattack, not even a last-ditch defense. Some of them thought incompetent political leaders had done them in. But this land has long been fertile soil for conspiracy theories, and others wondered whether Abbas had deliberately ceded the Gaza Strip to Hamas in an attempt to isolate the radical Islamic group and consolidate his power in the much larger West Bank. "There was total frustration and disappointment," said one Abbas security officer who was among the last to abandon the presidential compound on Thursday night, June 14, and asked to be identified only as A.R. because of fear of retaliation. "We felt like there was a conspiracy to hand over Gaza to Hamas." Whether it was conspiracy or collapse, Fatah's downfall in Gaza has created an unexpected opportunity for Israel, the United States and others to re-establish full relations with Abbas and the pro-Western emergency cabinet he's installed to replace the elected, Hamas-dominated Palestinian government.
Got any more?
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The Quranists

I haven't had time lately to look into the arrests of several members of a "Quranist" group -- people who reject the hadith and present a reformist practice of Islam based entirely on the Quran -- but as well as being a blatant violation of freedom of belief, there seems to be several other overlapping elements here. One is that at least one of the Quranists, Amr Tharwat, is involved in the pro-democracy NGO Ibn Khaldun Center, run by the prominent Egyptian-American liberal Saad Eddin Ibrahim. Tharwat was involved in election monitoring. The other is that the arrests could be a response to the Quranists' mockery of al-Azhar recent fatwas about urine-drinkling and adult breastfeeding, which cause a furore here last month and put the august institution on the defensive. By al-Azhar's Sunni standards, the Quranists' beliefs are highly unorthodox if not downright sacrilegious (I don't know enough about the Quranists to be sure). So what we are seeing here is yet another form of the state Islamism that has become rampant in Egypt since the 1970s. Who needs to worry about the Muslim Brotherhood when you already have bigots in power? I've pasted some statements about this case below, with links to the Quranists' website. Statement from the Ibn Khaldun Center: June 7th, 2007 On Wednesday May 30th, Amr Tharwat an Ibn Khaldun employee, was arrested by Egyptian State Security at his families' residence in Matereya. Mr. Tharwat was the major organizer of the recent Shura Election monitoring as well as the Ibn Khaldun public opinion polling that was carried out earlier this year. In addition to Mr. Tharwat, the Egyptian authorities arrested four other people staying at the house of Dr. Ahmed Sobhy (Adellatif Mohamed Saied, Ahmed Dahmash, Abdelhamed Abdelrahman, Ahmed El Sayed, Amr Tharwat) and confiscated files, books, and computers that were found on the premises. Those arrested were originally taken to the Shubra El Khima police station, but in the seven days since their arrest nothing has been heard regarding there whereabouts or the nature of the charges filed against them. Several human rights organizations as well as the team of lawyers working on this case have made repeated requests to the Egyptian government regarding this issue and have received no response until now. Some speculate that the group was arrested due to their involvement in the religious "Quranic" movement which stresses the importance of the Quran over the Sunna and Hadith. A website was recently constructed for the movement which has gained notoriety for criticizing fatwas issued by Al Azhar authorities. The Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies strongly condemns the arrest of Egyptian citizens for peacefully exercising their rights of free expression. We call upon local as well as international civil society organizations to help convince the Egyptian authorities to immediately disclose the location of those arrested and to allow them access to legal representation. Dr. Saad Eddin Ibrahim - ICDS Chairman These are links that either include information on the Quranic movement or on the case of Amr Tharwat and his family: http://www.ahl-alquran.com/English/show_news.php?main_id=324 http://www.ahl-alquran.com/arabic/show_news.php?main_id=325 http://www.ahl-alquran.com/arabic/show_news.php?main_id=320 http://ara.today.reuters.com/news/newsArticle.aspx?type=topNews&storyID=2007-05-31T212301Z_01_EGO164601_RTRIDST_0_OEGTP-EGY-ARREST-MN6.XML&archived=False http://www.almasry-alyoum.com/article.aspx?ArticleID=63126 http://www.ahl-alquran.com/English/show_news.php?main_id=324 http://www.ahl-alquran.com/arabic/show_news.php?main_id=320 http://www.ahl-alquran.com/arabic/show_news.php?main_id=325 Letter from HRW to Ministry of Interior: Gen. Habib Ibrahim Habib al-`Adli Interior Minister, Arab Republic of Egypt Al-Shaikh Rihan Street Cairo, Egypt 11641 June 18, 2007 Your Excellency, Human Rights Watch is writing to request information about the whereabouts of `Amr Tharwat, `Abd al-Latif Muhammad Said, Ahmad Dahmash, `Abd al-Hamid `Abd al-Rahman, and his brother, Ayman `Abd al-Rahman, and to inquire about any charges State Security prosecutors have brought against them. Tharwat is an employee of the Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies. According to the Ibn Khaldun Center, the other men are his relatives. We are concerned that all the men, who were last reported to have been taken into police custody, are victims of enforced disappearances. According to information from the Al-Andalus Center for Tolerance and Nonviolence Studies, State Security officers arrested Said, Dahmash, and `Abd al-Rahman in a predawn raid on May 29. Shortly before dawn two nights later, State Security officers arrested Tharwat and his relative Ahmad al-Sayid and confiscated files, books, and computers from the apartment. They quickly released Ahmad al-Sayid, but have reportedly called him in for questioning several times since. State Security officers detained Ayman `Abd al-Rahman on June 17. According to the Ibn Khaldun Center, Tharwat and the others were initially taken to a State Security facility in Shubra al-Khima, but no official acknowledgement of their detention has been given, nor has any information about their whereabouts. Lawyers for the detainees and human rights organizations inquiring about Tharwat's whereabouts, including in a complaint to the Public Prosecutors office (registered as Case Number 9191/2007) alleging illegal arrest and enforced disappearance, have received no response from any authority to date. Tharwat helped organize civil-society groups' efforts to monitor the June 11 elections for the Shura Council. He also participated in the Ibn Khaldun Center's public opinion polling earlier this year. All the men except al-Sayid reportedly adhere to the "Quranist" school of thought. Human Rights Watch is concerned that the men's detention might be related to any of these activities or to their religious opinions. Your Excellency, the International Committee of the Red Cross has said that "No matter how legitimate the reasons for a person's detention, no one has the right to keep that person's fate or whereabouts secret or to deny that he or she is being detained. This practice runs counter to the basic tenets of international humanitarian law and human rights law." Article 41 of the Egyptian constitution affirms that "no person may be arrested, inspected, detained or have his freedom restricted in any way or be prevented from free movement except by an order necessitated by investigations and the preservation of public security." Your Excellency, Human Rights Watch calls upon you to ensure that Egypt's international legal obligations are followed and that no instances of enforced disappearance are allowed to take place and that the detention and whereabouts of Tharwat and the other men listed is immediately acknowledged. Furthermore, if security forces have evidence that Tharwat or the other men listed, have committed a crime, Human Rights Watch calls upon you to ensure that in accordance with international law they are allowed visits from their lawyers and other due process rights, including a trial before an independent, impartial court. If not, Human Rights Watch urges you to release them immediately. Thank you for your attention to this important matter. Sincerely, Sarah-Leah Whitson Executive Director Middle East and North Africa Division
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ZOA still wants to hold PA funding

The Zionist Organization of America did not get the memo:
ZOA says Abbas is not a moderate, and wants his Fatah Party to reform its charter to remove what ZOA says are articles calling for Israel's destruction. The Palestine Liberation Organization, where Fatah predominates, has already had such articles removed from its charter. Earlier this week, a pro-Israel dovish group, Brit Tzedek v'Shalom, lobbied lawmakers to fund Abbas' Palestinian Authority.
But the "doves" did. And do check out the ZOA press release with the quotes from American lawmakers attacking Fatah, calling for the US embassy to be moved to Jerusalem, calls for "repudiating the 'right of return'" etc.
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Jim Crow tourism

The Sinai peninsula--sight of Egypt's booming Red sea tourism, of presidential palaces and international conferences, of disenfranchised Bedouin tribes, arms and drugs smuggling, and several terrorist bombings--is a weird place. (Scott Anderson pointed this out in an excellent article in Vanity Fair a while back.) Driving to a beach in Sinai last weekend, I ran the usual gamut of road-blocks and nosy police officials. I also saw something (to me, at least) new. At a gas station and road stop near the Suez Canal, I went in to use the restrooms. But I was shooed away from the WC inside--where Egyptians were going--and directed next door, where a large, gleaming building was labelled, in large gold letters, "Tourist toilets" ("Hamamaat El-Siaaha"). These toilets cost 1 pound (the Egyptian toilets cost 50 piastres) and were spotless, furbished with large gilded mirros, faux-jewelled hangers and plentiful toilet paper. Next to the signs for "women" and "men" there were also two technicolor portraits of Western movie stars, mounted in oval frames. I didn't recognize the male actor, but the patroness of the women's tourist bathrooms was none other than Charlize Theron. Anyway, I'm all for clean new bathrooms but there is something deeply disturbing about the level of enforced segregation between Egyptians and foreigners that seems to be spreading across the tourism industry. An argument can be made for making foreigners pay a higher fee at the Egyptian museum or at the pyramids. But what argument can be made for having a two-tiered system in which foreigners and Egyptians are actually banned from using each other's facilities?
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CIA to release decades of classified files

The WaPo reports:
The CIA will declassify hundreds of pages of long-secret records detailing some of the intelligence agency's worst illegal abuses -- the so-called "family jewels" documenting a quarter-century of overseas assassination attempts, domestic spying, kidnapping and infiltration of leftist groups from the 1950s to the 1970s, CIA Director Michael V. Hayden said yesterday. The documents, to be publicly released next week, also include accounts of break-ins and theft, the agency's opening of private mail to and from China and the Soviet Union, wiretaps and surveillance of journalists, and a series of "unwitting" tests on U.S. civilians, including the use of drugs. "Most of it is unflattering, but it is CIA's history," Hayden said in a speech to a conference of foreign policy historians. The documents have been sought for decades by historians, journalists and conspiracy theorists and have been the subject of many fruitless Freedom of Information Act requests.
Hopefully there'll be tons of information on the Middle East. Some things I'd like to see:
  • Details of CIA involvement in the coup against Mussadeq
  • CIA contacts with Saddam Hussein in Cairo in the late 1960s
  • CIA covert action against the Nasser regime
  • CIA covert action in support of Morocco's Hassan II in the 1970s
  • Whether there's any truth to the weird conspiracies you hear about the CIA and the Church of Scientology in the 1970s in the Middle East, and other bizarre stories
  • CIA information about the Israeli nuclear program in the 1960s (long alleged to have been repressed)
  • CIA intelligence on Saudi and other Arab royals
Now that would be fun.
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Egypt bans smoking (partially)

ClopesEgypt Passes National Anti-Smoking Law:
Smoking will now be prohibited in health and educational organizations, youth centers, legislative associations and all governmental authorities and clubs. A fine between 1,000 EGP ($175 USD) and 50,000 EGP ($9,000 USD) was also added to the new law for violations of the new tobacco law. According to a report by the Health Committee, Egyptians smoke roughly 19 million cigarettes each year, spending around 3 billion EGP ($520 million USD). It added that smokers in the country increase by six to nine percent every year as compared to only one percent in the West.
Yeah right -- civil servants and MPs are going to stop smoking in public buildings. I'd like to see how this will be inforced, particularly with such high fines.
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US considering engaging Muslim Brothers?

The rabidly Zionist, MEMRI outlet, New York Sun has an interesting piece by Eli Lake, a reporter formerly based in Cairo who knows the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, about how the State Dept. and other US agencies are considering engaging with the MB. Robert Leiken, who recently wrote a Foreign Affairs piece advocating engagement (see posts on that here and here), participated in the findings.
Today the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research will host a meeting with other representatives of the intelligence community to discuss opening more formal channels to the brothers. Earlier this year, the National Intelligence Council received a paper it had commissioned on the history of the Muslim Brotherhood by a scholar at the Nixon Center, Robert Leiken, who is invited to the State Department meeting today to present the case for engagement. On April 7, congressional leaders such as Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the Democratic whip, attended a reception where some representatives of the brothers were present. The reception was hosted at the residence in Cairo of the American ambassador to Egypt, Francis Ricciardone, a decision that indicates a change in policy. The National Security Council and State Department already meet indirectly with the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood through discussions with a new Syrian opposition group created in 2006 known as the National Salvation Front. Meanwhile, Iraq's vice president, Tariq al-Hashemi, is a leader of Iraq's chapter of the Muslim Brotherhood. His party, known as the Iraqi Islamic Party, has played a role in the Iraqi government since it was invited to join the Iraqi Governing Council in 2003. These developments, in light of Hamas's control of Gaza, suggest that President Bush — who has been careful to distinguish the war on terror from a war on Islam — has done more than any of his predecessors to accept the movement fighting for the merger of mosque and state in the Middle East.
I personally think Leiken has a tendency to put the various Muslim Brotherhoods in the same basket. Whatever the links between them, they are clearly separate entities with local leaderships and warrant different approaches from the US. For instance, from a practical standpoint the US is forced to deal with the MB in Iraq, and from a political one engaging the Syrian MB makes sense if one is pursuing a policy of regime change in Damascus, particularly as exile Syrian groups have relationships with the Syrian MB. In Egypt, the situation is quite different: engagement with the MB has been extremely cautious, restricted to parliamentarians and is subject to close scrutiny from a regime that is close to Washington. In Palestine, engagement with Hamas is left to countries like Egypt since dealing with Hamas directly would contravene every ideological tenet the Bush administration holds dear, and presumably anger their neocon friends. However, there are signs that the Egyptian MB can be useful: last week, reports emerged that Fatah's strongman in Gaza and US-Israeli tool Muhammad Dahlan (who is blamed even by his Egyptian intelligence handlers for starting the recent violence in Gaza) had sent out an emissary to MB Supreme Guide Muhammad Akef, asking him to reach out to Hamas. The Egyptian intelligence services have used Akef's good offices with Hamas for a while now, it seems, and despite the ongoing crackdown against the MB domestically, the regime realizes they can be useful (and perhaps the MB hopes to win some lenience in return), even if the MB's official support for the Hamas government clashes with Egypt's decision to only recognize the Fatah-backked Fayyad government in the West Bank (and Egypt's help in making sure Hamas leaders cannot leave Gaza and other forms of coordination of the blockade with the Israelis, even if some Israelis are unhappy.) It's also worthwhile noting that Hamas is making an attempt to get the US to engage directly with them -- note that Ismail Haniyeh's advisor Ahmed Youssef had op-eds in both the NYT and WaPo yesterday advocating engagement and defending Hamas' democratic credentials. Hamas has also been making noise about negotiating the release of of BBC journalist Alan Johnston (what were they waiting for, anyway?) In the context of this debate about engaging the various Muslim Brotherhoods, it's worth highlighting that Human Rights Watch has put up interviews of Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood detainees who were imprisoned and tortured by the Egyptian security services. It's a novel and unusual attempt by an establishment institution to put a human face on the MB, which tends not to make front-page news when its members are (routinely) arrested and mistreated. HRW is not only defending their human rights, but also the MB's freedom of association and expression, which is bound to make many in Cairo (and not just in government) unhappy. The full list of interviews is on the page linked above, but here's a YouTube version of the interview with Mahmoud Izzat, the Secretary-General of the MB, recalling the brutal 1965 wave of arrests, which was widely credited for radicalizing a part of the MB and creating the spinoff groups that would become Islamic Jihad, and ultimately join al-Qaeda.
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Salah on US aid to Egypt

Al Hayat's Muhammad Salah on Congress' threat to withhold military funding from Egypt:
Strikingly, there are many objections raised by Egyptian opposition forces against the use of aid as a pressure card on the Egyptian government. Moreover, Egyptian political parties and opposition forces vied for opposing the US president's statements and then the decision of the US House of Representatives Appropriations Committee on the US aid to Egypt. This seems logical. The prevailing feelings in the Egyptian street are always against American policies, which the majority of Egyptians believe to be against Arabs and Muslims. Opposition newspapers also adopt a theory based on the fact that the US demands for reform do not reflect principled attitudes, but are rather used when the Egyptian government refrains from meeting a particular demand.
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