Khouri on Arab security services and foreign policy

A very cautiously written, but important column by Rami Khouri: When Arab security chiefs conduct foreign policy
Two intriguing meetings took place this past week in the Arab world. In Egypt, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met with the intelligence services directors of four Arab states - Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Just days later, Arab heads of state met in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, for their annual Arab League summit. Which of the two meetings was more significant and signaled the tone, content, and direction of Arab state policies? Was this a natural interplay between three separate factors - United States foreign policy, Arab security systems, and Arab leaderships? Or did the three converge into a single trend, where US foreign policy blended with Arab security policy?  The Arab summit was a routine event that reissued a historic, but five-year-old peace offer to Israel. Rice's meeting with the intelligence chiefs was a novelty that deserves more scrutiny, for both its current meaning and for its future implications.  Whatever the nature of Rice's meeting with the Arab intelligence chiefs, it seems like the sort of noteworthy development that Arab governments should explain to their own Arab citizens. As the Iraq situation shows with gruesome daily regularity, security is a core imperative for Arab citizens and their states. Citizens need to know that they can leave their homes in the morning and have a good chance of returning alive at night. States, societies, and governments need to know that theirs are orderly, secure, stable communities that can aspire to achieving their full potential and even some prosperity.
Security is not a dirty word, and Arab security systems need not remain a secret and forbidden world of shadows and whispers. Arab security agencies have important, legitimate roles to play. The modern Arab states have all pursued domestic policies that place security and regime survival before any other value. Most Arab citizens who live in safe, stable societies appreciate that fact. A few Arab states that have allowed security agencies to abuse their roles have been transformed into grotesque police states, to the discomfort and disdain of most of their citizens, and the world. A new set of questions arises, though, if some of these states now consider giving security agencies a role in foreign policy in addition to their established role in domestic governance. The wider context in which this may be happening is pertinent. Rice's latest visit to the region included her quest for "moderate Sunni Arabs" who would join the United States and Israel in their face-off against Iran and its Arab allies, alongside her meeting to foster bonding between the US State Department and Arab security establishments. Arab citizens in whose name and for whose interests this is happening deserve to be informed about the full implications of what is going on. This is especially true if we are witnessing a confluence between the largely Israeli-defined Middle East foreign policy of the US and some Arab security agencies. Security agencies play a central role in Arab public policy, and are moving into foreign policy duties. Egyptian foreign policy relations with the Palestinians and Saudi links with Washington, for example, are both being handled today primarily by top security personnel, rather than Foreign Ministry officials. 
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MB op-ed defends Kareem Amer

An intriguing op-ed by a young Muslim Brother:
Egypt's Two-Faced Regime: Not Secular, Not Islamic, Authoritarian There is an increasing realization amongst Egypt's opposition political factions that the regime has no ideology to defend, least of all a secular one. The regime's crackdowns on the Muslim Brotherhood are not part of a sincere attempt to uphold "secularist" values, such as democracy, pluralism and civil rights. They are simply measures to quash political opponents. In fact, these so-called "secularist" values are embraced by the Muslim Brotherhood. The regime was not sincerely upholding Islamist values when it sentenced Amer to prison for attacking Islam. As an Islamist, I am of course against the hate speech and the anti-Islamic sentiments Amer expressed in his blog. But I am also against his imprisonment, which I'm sure is politically motivated, merely because he harshly criticized the president. If attacking Islam is a "punishable crime" in the regime's eyes, why wasn't the minister of culture prosecuted when he attacked al-Azhar and Islamic Shariah, just as Amer did? If the constitution's second article stipulates that Islamic Shariah is the main source of legislation, then why does the regime ban any political activity based on a religious ideology? The answer, again, is simple: The regime has monopolized religion.
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Abu Omar, Sharqawy on torture at Cairo Conference

There's been some very interesting developments at the 5th Cairo Conference against Imperialism and Zionism. Hossam reports that it held an anti-torture forum featuring Abu Omar, the Alexandria imam kidnapped in Italy by the CIA in 2003:
Abu Omar–the Alexandrian cleric kidnapped 2003 by the CIA in Milan and rendered to Egypt where he was brutally tortured–showed up today at the Press Syndicate, defying the travel ban imposed on him by State Security as a condition for his release. Abu Omar took part in the Anti-Torture Forum, chaired by leftist activist Dr. Aida Seif el-Dawla, where he presented his testimony about his torture odyssey from Milan to Cairo, via Germany. “I was severely tortured by the Mukhabarrat and State Security,” Abu Omar said. “I was electrocuted for months, till my whole body turned black.”
Another speaker was Mohammed Sharqawi, the Cairo-based activist who was arrested, tortured and sodomized by police last year and whose ordeal was taped and ended up YouTube. Sharqawi has for the first time publicly named one of his tormentors. Hossam has the list of names of officers, as well as pictures, and the activists want to use the conference to launch a campaign to get them prosecuted. Which goes to show to those commenters who derided the conference's far-left tone: these activists may be too politically radical for your taste, they may be flirting with Islamists with very different ideas than their own (Mahdi Akef, the Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brothers, was a guest and spoke about the US military-industrial complex, no less) but at least this they're doing something. One can't quite say the same thing for many centrist liberals (I count myself among the latter).
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Golia: Referendum blues

Maria Golia, author of Cairo: City of Sand, sent me her latest Daily Star column: Referendum Blues Egypt’s ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) should be congratulated for its expeditious handling of the March 26th referendum. Well-scripted, timed, and executed, it also fulfilled the public’s expectations. Everyone knew the yes-no vote would favor the institution of 34 constitutional amendments drafted by the state. They knew it so well that only an estimated ten percent of registered voters, the bulk of which are, in all probability, employed either by the state or NDP backers, bothered going to the polls. While the usual accusations of fraud have been leveled, they are as empty as the voting boxes. Since the opposition, including the Muslim Brothers, encouraged their constituencies to boycott the polls, they have little grounds for calling foul. Had they participated, they might have more legitimately contested the results. Granted, the state ensured that there was no time to rally. Yet, if notoriously bungling administrators could mobilize a nationwide election in a few weeks, the Muslim Brothers, feared by the regime for their widespread popularity, could surely have gotten the word around. It may be that in the current depressed atmosphere, even the Brothers figured they would make at best, a poor showing. Then too, there is the justifiable fear of arrest for challenging the state. Another opportunity has meanwhile been lost. Most Egyptians say, with a rueful laugh, that their opinion doesn’t matter, that the outcome would have anyway been fixed, that they are too busy trying to put food on the table to take time out for futile exercises. Nevertheless, the government has afforded them a valuable lesson in democracy, Egyptian-style, i.e. you had your chance, such as it was, to say ‘no’ and you blew it. So don’t come crying to us. On the eve of the referendum, another of the ruling party’s tutoring sessions took place as a few dozen protestors tried to assemble and march the two blocks between Tahrir and Talaat Harb Squares. Along the way they were harassed and several were arrested. Those that made it to Talaat Harb were outnumbered twenty to one, surrounded and pressed against the mirrored windows of the Air France office on the square. There is a very tall, sad-faced, plainclothes cop who oversees these gatherings. When politely but fervently requested to let the few demonstrators, including women and journalists, out of the tortuously packed circle, he gestured with one hand: wait. When asked again, ten minutes later (while women bleated, ‘let us out’, and someone struck up the ‘down with Hosni Mubarak’ chant before either losing or being deprived of his breath), the tall man motioned calmly again to wait. It became clear that the police were training these young people, these very few brave ones, accustoming them to the idea that they are vastly outnumbered, showing them how being roughed up, much less going to jail, is not fun and probably not worth it. Yes, there were slaps, kicks and punches thrown in the melee, but the prevailing police tactic in these situations consists of encircling protestors and tightening the circle, piling people on top of one another, suffocating them, exemplifying the notion that there is no space for them in Egypt, no air for them to breathe unless they tow the line. It is likely that the tall sad-faced man felt he was going easy on the protestors; he had all the air of a disappointed father. Likewise, when President Mubarak defends the constitutional amendments, saying ‘the security and stability of Egypt and the safety of its citizens are a red line which I have not allowed and will not allow anyone to cross’, he no doubt speaks what he considers a beneficent truth. Egypt has in fact remained admirably quiet despite economic hardship and regional turmoil; you might even say dead quiet. The ruling party, which sees itself as Egypt’s benefactor, cannot grasp that by denying civil rights it has condemned people to lives of painfully slow attrition, where each day brings fresh loss, of possibilities and self-esteem. In precisely the same way, America’s Bush regime, blinded by wealth and privilege, serves but a few in the name of democracy. When Condoleezza Rice offered her pallid criticism of Egypt’s constitutional referendum, Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit retorted, ‘Only the Egyptian people have the right to say their views…[this] is our country’. But whose country was he referring to, if not the ruling party’s? Which views can be fully expressed, if not theirs? The first article of Egypt’s new constitution now reads that ‘the Arab Republic of Egypt adopts a democratic system based on citizenship.’ But what does it mean to be a citizen, what are the rights and responsibilities attached to that title, aside from obedience and mediocrity? Several articles of the constitution related to personal freedoms have been overridden by article 179, which is meant to replace the Emergency Law, and grants the executive branch a free hand in dealing with whoever it perceives as terrorists. These articles (41,44,45), demanding warrants for arrests and surveillance, were added to the constitution under Sadat, an era known, ironically, for its tapped phones and opened mail. The constitution is hardly sacred writ in Egypt, where actions speak louder than words. Indeed, the new amendments merely formalize existing conditions. Similarly, while much opposition to the constitutional amendments centered on the notion that they facilitate Gamal Mubarak’s succession, it hardly matters. Whoever Egypt’s next president happens to be, he will be cast in a familiar authoritarian mould. Unless the space for alternative leadership is not only opened but creatively encouraged, it will not magically appear, and the NDP is presently incapable of rising to such a challenge. One of Cairo’s polling stations is located in an old villa that has been used as a school since the Officer’s Revolution, a splendid building with graceful proportions. Traces of fine Egyptian craftsmanship are still evident in the woodwork, tiling and stained glass, despite a half-century’s accumulated grime and general gratuitous decay. When asked to whom the villa once belonged, the NDP apparatchik-in-charge, perhaps embarrassed that he did not know, said sorry, but he had strict instructions not to answer any questions. ‘What matters’, he said with a hint of menace, ‘is that now it is a school’.
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Ezbat Abu Gamal

Hagg Abu GamalUmm GamalGamal Bey

The royal family: His Excellency Abu Gamal, Umm Gamal and the Little Bey Abu Gamal's village, a little rural paradise nestling in the Egyptian countryside, governed and guided by village headman Mohammed Hosni (Al-Hagg Abu Gamal) and ably assisted by Al-Hagg Fathi Shurour and Kamal Al-Shatamouni (Fathi Evils and Kamal They-abused-me... ho ho). Things are hotting up in the village as it lurches into the new millenium: there's much talk of -- "praise be to the Prophet... wossit called again?"-- Jamotratiya and other fiendishly modern ideas such as his latest wheeze, a new constitution. All he wants is a little gratitude. The "Little Bey" Gamal has been helping the great man get to grips with his Lab Tonb and the age of the Kumbuyutur (after a few trifling misunderstandings: the Hagg now realizes "Blog" isn't a rude word), while Umm Gamal, First Lady of the Village, has been ear-bashing him about ladies' rights. It's tough at the top but the Hagg isn't the type to give up: he'll see it through. I spat coffee all over my keyboard when I first read this blog. It's more than just satire: it's a perfectly imagined and realized comic universe. Sorry for not providing more translation of the content but at risk of sounding like an Arabic snob (God rot them) much of the genius lies in the language. Anyway, I've pasted some of it below so you can get an idea. Reminds me of Muhammed Mustajab's characters for those who know his stuff: violent, pompous, dishonest, idle rural types... it's super. Whoever's behind this has surely got a book in them. Here's a peek at the new constitution... but do go and look at the rest of it:

مادة أولى: عزبة أبو جمال عزبة مستقلة عن أيتها ناحية أو ك�ر أو قرية أو عزبة تانية �ى المجاورة دى مادة تانية: البلد ببهايمها بغيطانها بناسها هى الكل مادة تالته: الحاج أبو جمال هو الكل �ى الكل مادة رابعة: أم جمال ست الكل مادة خامسة: جمال هو اللى هايورث الكل مادة سته: عزبة أبو جمال عضو �اعل �ى اتحاد العزب ودخلت خلاص الال�ية الجديدة وعصر التطور مادة سبعة: قضاء عزبة أبو جمال قضاء مستقل، يعنى اللى متخانق مع حد �ى حاجة يجى لابو جمال وهو يجيب له حقه من غير ما يقل واللى يحاول كده ولا كده يشو� له سكه تانية يبقى عليه العوض مادة تامنه: أرض الناحية القبلية بحالها حيازة تخص الحاج ابو جمال أما الناحية البحرية �هى ملك لاهل القرية وشريكهم اللى هو المحروس جمال بيه مادة تاسعة: محرم تربية أو أكل الارانب عشان الواد جمال بيه بيقر� منها ويثتسنى من ذلك لو حد جاياله الارانب �ى زيارة من قرايبه عشان عيب لما نبهدل الضيو� بس حسك عينك يا ضي� تكررها تانى مادة عاشرة: التعليم هو عماد العزبة وكل واحد لازمن على الاقل ياخد الابتدائية زى المحروس جمال بيه واهم حاجة جودة التعليم والتطوير، يعنى نبقى جميعا طور الله �ى برسيمة مش احسن م الجهل يا بلد مادة حادى عشرة: حقوق المواطن هى الحقوق اللى يقررها الحاج واللى عليه حاجة يروح برضه يد�عها للحاج مادة ثانية عشرة: البلد زى ال�ل نضي�ة وكويسه وبتحا�ظ على مواردها وبتبنى الزرايب بالخرسانة المسلحة عشان البهايم متنسرقش مادة ثالثه عشرة: اهل البلد احرار ابا عن جد وكلهم بيحبوا الحاج وبيخدموه بعيونهم ويشيلوا بلغته �وق روسهم هو والمحروس والست الكبيرة مادة اربعة عشرة: احلى حاجة �ى البلد دى جدعنة ناسها واللى عنده حاجة بيدى اللى معندوش والحاج برضه هو اللى �وق يعنى اللى طابخة طابخة كويسة ومعزمتش ع الحاج تبقى مطلقة من جوزها ومحرمه عليه دنيا واخرة مادة خمسة عشرة: الدستور ده هدية م الحاج لاهل البلد عشان يحسوا بانهم شعب نضي� متطور ساكن مع الناس بتوع الال�ية الجديدة وبينا�س

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Rice's show: Is it comedy or horror?

The Daily Star - Opinion Articles - Rice's show: Is it comedy or horror?:
The most galling thing about Rice's and Washington's approach is its fundamental dishonesty. The Bush administration spent its first six years avoiding any serious engagement in the Arab-Israeli conflict, or decisively siding with the Israelis on most key contested points, like refugees, security or settlements. Now - with little time left for Rice, President George W. Bush on the ropes, his administration in tatters, America's army in trouble in Iraq, Washington's credibility shattered in the region and around the world, and the Middle East slipping into greater strife and dislocation - we are asked to believe that she will dedicate her remaining time in office to securing the establishment of a Palestinian state. Does Rice take us in the Arab world for robotic idiots - simply another generation of hapless Arabs who have no options and must go along docilely with every American-Israeli initiative, no matter how insulting, insincere or desperate it may be? This initiative is all three. The Rice approach is not serious because she does not prod Arabs and Israelis simultaneously to comply with the rule of law and United Nations resolutions. Instead, in her hasty and insincere diplomatic fishing expedition she casts her net wide in an attempt to catch enough "moderate Sunni Arabs" to play by American-Israeli rules. This is a direct consequence of two trends in the region for which the US must share much blame: the invasion and collapse of Iraq into sectarian strife that has started to spread throughout the region; and the persistence of pro-Israeli American policies for some four decades now, which have ultimately contributed to the birth of massive Arab Islamist movements that oppose Israel, side with Iran, and defy the US.
In other Arab summit related news, Qadhafi has apparently declared that Libya is an African state again and not concerned with Arab affairs.
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After sorting out some technical problems (and coping with traffic much higher then expected), is now on air! The internet youth radio aims to promote tolerance in Egyptian society, by discussing topics such as human rights, women issues, education and others. Good luck with that, of course, but at the very minimum the site produces badly needed local content to get more Egyptians online. is run by the Egyptian NGO Al Andalus Institute for Tolerance and Anti-Violence Studies, founded by friend Ahmed Samih. Listen in!
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BBC: Lancet study on Iraq credible, advised top UK government scientist

I've been skeptical myself about the incredibly high figures for mortality in Iraq since the invasion quoted by the Lancet study -- they are after all several times higher than other sources -- but the BBC has obtained (through a freedom of information request) a formerly confidential report from the UK's top government scientist who said the methodology used in the Lancet article is credible:
The British government was advised against publicly criticising a report estimating that 655,000 Iraqis had died due to the war, the BBC has learnt. Iraqi Health Ministry figures put the toll at less than 10% of the total in the survey, published in the Lancet. But the Ministry of Defence's chief scientific adviser said the survey's methods were "close to best practice" and the study design was "robust". Another expert agreed the method was "tried and tested". The Iraq government asks the country's hospitals to report the number of victims of terrorism or military action. Critics say the system was not started until well after the invasion and requires over-pressed hospital staff not only to report daily, but also to distinguish between victims of terrorism and of crime. The Lancet medical journal published its peer-reviewed survey last October. It was conducted by the John Hopkins School of Public Health and compared mortality rates before and after the invasion by surveying 47 randomly chosen areas across 16 provinces in Iraq. The researchers spoke to nearly 1,850 families, comprising more than 12,800 people. In nearly 92% of cases family members produced death certificates to support their answers. The survey estimated that 601,000 deaths were the result of violence, mostly gunfire. Shortly after the publication of the survey in October last year Tony Blair's official spokesperson said the Lancet's figure was not anywhere near accurate. He said the survey had used an extrapolation technique, from a relatively small sample from an area of Iraq that was not representative of the country as a whole. President Bush said: "I don't consider it a credible report." But a memo by the MoD's Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir Roy Anderson, on 13 October, states: "The study design is robust and employs methods that are regarded as close to "best practice" in this area, given the difficulties of data collection and verification in the present circumstances in Iraq."
While this is not necessarily conclusive about the Lancet study, it is pretty damning about the mendacity of Tony Blair's cabinet. But then again we knew that already. Here is another BBC analysis, dated October 2006, that looks at the competing estimates of Iraqi deaths.
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Mubarak wants military appeals court

The plot thickens:
Egypt's president wants military appeals court
Wed 28 Mar 2007, 12:41 GMT

CAIRO (Reuters) - Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has proposed a law to set up an appeals court for suspects tried before military tribunals, known for their tough and swift verdicts, a cabinet statement said on Wednesday.

Mubarak has sent the draft bill to both houses of parliament, dominated by his ruling National Democratic Party. Under the present law, only the president can reverse verdicts of a military court.

"This will provide more guarantees for those transferred to the military judiciary," the statement said. It did not say how judges will be selected for the new court.
Could this be a response to the criticisms about Article 179? If so, it's a pretty limited one.
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looking in

Interesting to be on the outside looking back into Egypt at the moment. BBC is still airing that great Egypt tourism ad—the one with the scantily clad babes emerging from the pristine sea and the romantic (I suspect CGI) shots of Cairo, while at the same time the news is of another rigged referendum and more of the usual quasi-anonymous violence. A bit depressing to hear that the demonstrations of discontent have been relatively minor. Looks like the vast majority are going to lay back and take it. Supine, apathetic, depoliticized and broke, they still deserve better than the steadily darkening political horizon promises to bring them. Gamal Mubarak’s smug little press conferences and earnest evocations of "reform" and "progress" may have the same reality value as ever (about as much as that tourism ad) but are somehow harder to laugh off when you’re in a country where the words have coinage. Yesterday I went for a haircut and the hairdresser asked me if Egypt is dangerous. I gave her my standard answer: the only people you have to be afraid of in Egypt are the police. I thought for a moment of trying a new answer. Something about that shifty grasping little shit with his wheedling lickspittle sycophancy to Big Dick Cheney, his bully’s sense of when to put the boot in, his receding hairline and blonde beard, his pilot’s license and his polyester clad demo-breakers. But that would have take taken longer than the haircut.
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White House statement on referendum

The strongest statement thus far?
Statement on Egyptian Referendum Vote Yesterday Egypt concluded a popular referendum on a package of amendments to its constitution. While the approval of these amendments is a question for the Egyptian people to decide, it is evident that the vast majority of Egyptians did not choose to participate. Many voices in Egypt have criticized the abbreviated process which led up to this referendum, and have criticized the amendments themselves as a missed opportunity to advance reform and a step backwards. We also took note of significant discrepancies between the estimates of voter turnout provided by the Government and by both Egyptian and foreign media and observers. As the Middle East moves toward greater openness and pluralism, we hope that Egypt will take a leading role as it does on many other regional issues. Secretary Rice was recently in Egypt and discussed political reform with senior Egyptian officials. We will continue to raise these issues at the highest levels in an effort to help the Government of Egypt fulfill the aspirations of the Egyptian people for democracy and meet the standards of openness, transparency, and reform the Government has set for itself.
But, as always, no consequences.
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On security services

The June 2006 of the Arab Reform Bulletin contained an excellent short essay by Amr Hamzawy urging for a closer look at the role of security services as a barrier to democratic change in the Arab world. I have been working on similar issues myself and think his point is highly relevant to explaining, for instance, why the amendment to Article 179 of the recent Egyptian constitutional amendment essentially constitutionalizes the Emergency Law. The infiltration of parties and state administrations by security types, especially, deserves a closer look. More on this (much) later, but here's Hamzawy: Arab States: Security Services and the Crisis of Democratic Change Amr Hamzawy The lack of democratic breakthroughs worthy of mention in Arab countries has spurred debate about barriers to change. Much of this debate has focused on economic, social, and cultural factors, or on the fragility of political forces demanding democracy. The debate would be incomplete, however, without a discussion of the means by which the authoritarian Arab regimes control their societies, namely the critical roles performed by security services with their quasi-military (police and interior ministries) and intelligence (internal and external) components. First, the security services restrict opposition political mobilization with a mixture of preemptive and repressive practices. Opposition groups often cannot hold mass meetings or demonstrations and get their supporters to polling places, and are prohibited from legitimate gains by falsified electoral results. The degree of oppression, and whether it is constant or episodic, varies from Syria to Egypt to Morocco. In any case, the result of the security services' oppressive role is the continuation of ruling regimes, many of which lack popular support, and a culture of fear and aversion to political participation amongst citizens. Second, a cursory glance at the Arab regimes reveals the hegemony of the security services over the executive authority. This phenomenon is not limited to modern republics, founded by militaries that view the security apparatus as an extension of the regular army, but also extends to monarchies. While the unchecked hegemony of the security services in Saudi Arabia and Libya results from the almost complete absence of a political apparatus, in Egypt, Tunisia, and Yemen the same phenomenon can be explained by the relative weakness of the ruling parties in the face of the organizational efficiency of the police and intelligence agencies. Moreover, the proliferation of emergency laws and special tribunals frees the hand of the security apparatus from judicial restraints in dealing with domestic political matters. Recent experiences in Egypt—the regime's reliance on security brutality against voters in order to salvage the 2005 elections in the face of Muslim Brotherhood gains, and the vicious manner in which the security services dealt with liberal opposition figure Ayman Nour—illustrate the phenomenon. Because Arab regimes lack effective political tools for exerting influence over society, even when claiming reformist intentions they often resort to their most effective weapon, oppression by security forces. Third, officials with security backgrounds are overrepresented among the Arab ruling elites in comparison to other groups such as technocrats, businessmen, and university professors. Although there are fewer ministers with security backgrounds than there used to be in many Arab countries (with the important exceptions of Syria and Algeria), their penetration is still clear. One need only look at the provinces of Morocco, the governorates of Egypt, or the Saudi local councils to witness their heavy presence. Even more insidious is the fact that security services have been able to exercise influence—in some cases veto power—over appointments to leadership positions in legislative or judicial institutions. This security veto creates a structural bias within the Arab elite to the benefit of those desiring to preserve the status quo and against reformist elements, even those essentially loyal to the regime but striving to reform its institutions. The mentality of the security apparatus fears nothing on this earth more than the call for change. The security veto, which represents a fundamental block to movement and renewal within the Arab elite, leaves Arab regimes either with a fragile band of true reformers with no real power, or with larger groups of phony reformers who advance in proportion to their adherence to the security mentality. Understanding this phenomenon can explain in large measure the schizophrenia of the Moroccan, Egyptian, and Jordanian political elites in recent years. There remains the question of whether the security services are themselves beset by the same crushing social and economic crises that beset the majority of Arabs, and whether they too are lured by the siren call of political Islam. Or are security services merely a blind instrument for autocratic control, perpetually removed from society itself? Outsiders can venture only a few modest observations, based on limited evidence, as security apparatuses are generally a black box. Despite differences between low- and high-ranking members, security personnel all enjoy higher pay and better services than other segments of society, and are thus protected from unemployment and poverty. In addition, despite recent stories of Saudi security personnel belonging to radical Islamist organizations and of the sympathy of some Egyptian officers for the Muslim Brotherhood, in both cases those involved were either killed or purged. Thus far, it seems that opposition inroads are extremely limited and that security apparatuses continue to serve as an effective tool for the authoritarian control of society. Amr Hamzawy is a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. This article was translated from Arabic by Kevin Burnham.
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Final Schedule: 5th Cairo Anti-War Conference and 3rd Cairo Social Forum جدول الندوات واللقاءات بمؤتمر القاهرة الخامس والمنتدى الإجتماعي الثالث

The final schedule for the Conference and Forum meetings is now available in Arabic and English. Click on the poster below to download it... Time table of the Cairo Conference I'll be speaking in two meetings. The first is on the fight against police torture in Egypt... Sorry, some last-minute rearrangements... I won't be speaking at the anti-torture forum. Blogojournalist and friend Abdel Moneim will be kindly replacing me. Cairo 3rd Social Forum Raise your Voices against Torture Activists against Torture Friday 30th of March 2007 3.30 – 6.00 pm Press Syndicate – 3rd floor Slide show: Victims and Tormentors Interventions by activists against torture Testimonies by survivors and their families Join us with testimonies and recommendations for an international movement against torture منتدى مناهضة التعذيب And the other one on "Citizen Journalism," scheduled Saturday, 6pm, at the Press Sydicate 4th floor, Room 5.. I'll be speaking on the Egyptian blogosphere, part of the following forum: "Young Journalists: State Oppression and Violation of Economic Rights, Saturday from 3.30-5.30 pm, The Press Syndicate's 4th floor, Room 4 Blogs and political change in Egypt The conference should be a golden opportunity for us ya shabab to exchange experiences with international and local activists. I hope to see as many of you there. Click on the cartoon below to download the invitation and a background on the conference in Arabic, English, and French... Invitation to the 5th Cairo Conference & 3rd Cairo Social Forum
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Late last night, friends and I engaged in post-referendum relaxation by watching "300," the film about the epic battle between Sparta and the Persian Empire. While the fight scenes are admittedly cool, the movie as a whole is a rather ridiculous fascist ode to Western supremacy against the barbarian hordes. I am sure that a lot of LGF readers must be incredibly excited about the parallels with W's crusade against the evildoing Muslimers. I'm a Frank Miller fan, but this film neither innovates visually (it's really a combination of Miller's dark ink drawings as showcased in Sin City with the cartoonish bloodletting and fighting styles of Kill Bill and epic martial antics of the Lord of the Rings trilogy) nor artistically (all "acting" is done by shouting as loud one can while retaining a steely gaze and taut abs). So all you have left is basically what will be interpreted by many to be a propaganda film for the war on terror, although it's probably more telling of frat-house mentality. That has been picked up by today's Persians -- as the New Yorker's review notes:
In Tehran, after pirated copies hit the streets there a few weeks ago, the movie was quickly denounced by an Iranian government spokesman as an act of “psychological warfare” that was intended to prepare Americans for an invasion of the country. “American cultural officials thought they could get mental satisfaction by plundering Iran’s historic past and insulting this civilization,” he said. The complaint was echoed by President Ahmadinejad, who said, “They are trying to tamper with history . . . by making Iran’s image look savage,” and a Time correspondent reported that many Iranians assumed that the movie was produced by an American government conspiracy. It is perhaps unfair to expect the Iranians to develop a sense of humor about American pop culture. They may also have trouble understanding that commercial American movies are ordered up not by “cultural officials” but by studio officials. The film is, of course, less an act of psychological warfare than an act of capitalism. It was called into being not by a hunger for war but by the desire to exploit a market—professional-wrestling and X-treme Fighting saturnalias play into the movie’s atmosphere. Everyone screams at everyone, and specialized Persian warriors wearing masks and other freakish regalia turn up to do battle. Pop has always drawn energy from the lower floors of respectability; this movie, in which fan-boy cultism reaches new levels of goofy chaos and sexual confusion, draws energy from the subbasement. Still, the Iranians have a point: though first planned years ago, “300” is a political fable that uneasily engages the current moment. An all-volunteer expeditionary force of Spartans ventures forth, the warriors sacrificing themselves to stop the invading hordes from killing their wives and children, which may be an allusion to the Bush Administration’s get-them-in-Iraq-before-they-hit-us-here rationale. The Spartans also fight, as a lofty narration informs us, “against mysticism and tyranny.” Against mysticism? How many ancient armies went to their deaths with that as their battle song? And how many men have died, as the Spartans do, to defend “reason”? A whiff of contemporary disdain for the East—what the late Edward Said called “Orientalism”—arises from the mayhem: “300” turns into a dawn-of-democracy epic in which violence is marshalled to protect the future of Western civilization. Made in a time of frustration, when Americans are fighting a war that they can neither win nor abandon, “300” and “Shooter” feel like the products of a culture slowly and painfully going mad.
Luckily American popular cinema is a very, very varied thing. As a counterpoint to 300's glorification of Western superiority, there's some good-natured self-parody in Mike Judge's Idiocracy, when an average American of today wakes up 500 years into the future and finds that everyone is incredibly stupid and speaks a mixture of frat-boy wooos and valley girl slang. The joke is not just that this is the way Western consumerist culture is headed, but that it's not that far off now anyway. An Occidentalist argument? Perhaps, but then again one gets the feeling that the characters of Idiocracy are the kind of people that 300 is intended for.
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Amendments passed at 75.9% "yes" votes, 27.1 participation

Surprise, surprise: the amendments passed, officials say.
CAIRO, March 27 (Xinhua) -- Egyptian Justice Minister Mamdouh Mohieddin Marai announced on Tuesday that 75.9 percent of voters in Monday's national referendum said yes to constitutional amendments, the official news agency MENA reported. Marai said the turnout reached 27.1 percent, which meant that some 9.6 million of Egypt's 35.4 million eligible Egyptian voters went out and made a vote on Monday's public referendum.
The opposition and monitoring NGOs are skeptical, saying it couldn't have been more than 10% of voters at most. Low turnout for Egypt referendum: al-Jazeera
Anas al-Fiqi, Egypt's information minister, said turnout on Monday stood between 23 and 27 per cent, according to early estimates. The independent Committee for Democracy Support, which deployed 300 observers, said overall turnout was no more than three per cent by 5pm (15:00 GMT).
More stories are coming out on this, casting doubt on participation and highlighting apathy -- AP, LA Times, WaPo. In other news, a friend was given a voting ballot by a taxi driver last night. The driver was furious that he had gotten it as payment for a half-hour cab ride -- presumably with a NDP or election official actually the friend just confirmed that it was given by a police officer. In a voting station near the Pyramids, another friend reported that NDP activists were only letting in people who said they would vote "yes" -- just some of the many usual stories of electoral fraud we've come across yesterday.
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HRW on arrests of anti-referendum protesters

Full thing after the jump. Egypt: Don’t Enshrine Emergency Rule in Constitution Protesters, Journalists Assaulted on Eve of Referendum (Cairo, March 26, 2007) – Proposed constitutional amendments approved by the Egyptian parliament on March 21 effectively remove basic protections against violations of Egyptians’ rights to privacy, individual freedom, security of person and home and due process, Human Rights Watch said today. Parliament overwhelmingly approved amendments to 34 articles of the constitution on Tuesday in a vote that closely followed party lines. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak scheduled a referendum on the amendments for today, weeks ahead of the expected date. Opposition parties and the Muslim Brotherhood said they would boycott the referendum. Last night, security forces arrested at least 13 activists on their way to a protest against the proposed amendments. Eyewitnesses and victims told Human Rights Watch that plainclothes officers supported by riot police surrounded two groups of activists and bloggers in downtown Cairo at around 7 p.m. The plainclothes officers kicked and punched activists, assaulted a number of female protesters, and confiscated memory cards from three foreign photojournalists’ digital cameras. Two of the 13 were subsequently released, but the authorities have not provided any information on where the remaining activists are being detained. A spokesman for the opposition al-Ghad (Tomorrow) Party today told Human Rights Watch that security forces surrounded their offices in Cairo, Alexandria, Kafr al-Shaikh, Buhaira and Port Said last night, and that authorities had detained six Ghad Party members. Activists were protesting proposed changes to article 179 of the constitution that would have the effect of removing constitutional safeguards requiring the government to obtain judicial warrants before searching a citizen’s home, correspondence, telephone calls, and other communications, when the government deems activity being investigated is terrorist-related. In such cases the president would also be allowed to send cases to special “exceptional” courts or military tribunals, whose decisions may not be appealed, instead of the regular courts, thereby jeopardizing individuals’ fair trial rights. The amendments would also mean security forces would be authorized to exercise powers of arrest that could lead to arbitrary, and potentially indefinite, detentions. “No referendum can legitimize these constitutional amendments, or bring them in compliance with Egypt’s international obligations,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The right of Egyptians to be protected from arbitrary searches and seizures and the right to appeal judgments are basic human rights that the government can’t legislate away.” While Egypt has a right and a responsibility to protect its citizens from violence and to prevent terrorist attacks, the Egyptian government has a decades-long record of abusing human rights in the name of combating terrorism, and of referring politically sensitive trials to exceptional courts. Human Rights Watch said the amendments to article 179 were particularly troubling in light of the overly broad definitions of terrorism in Egyptian law. For example, article 86(bis) of the Penal Code, part of antiterrorism legislation adopted in 1992, makes it an offence for any person to belong to, or possess and distribute publications of any group that calls for suspension of the constitution or laws or is considered to be “impairing the national unity or social peace.” Egypt’s Emergency Law, in place without interruption since 1981, already suspends important constitutional protections of fundamental rights, but President Mubarak has repeatedly pledged to abolish the Emergency Law and to replace certain provisions with antiterrorism legislation. The proposed amendments to article 179 would allow this antiterrorism legislation to bypass constitutional guarantees of the rights to privacy and to due process. “Shifting the exceptional powers that the Emergency Law grants the Executive into the constitution won’t make them more legitimate under international law,” said Whitson. “The proposed amendments to article 179 of Egypt’s constitution would eviscerate President Mubarak’s promises to repeal the Emergency Law.” Several provisions of the constitution guarantee the right to freedom from arbitrary search and seizure and the privacy of the home and private communications. Article 41 of the constitution affirms: Individual freedom is a natural right not subject to violation except in cases of flagrante delicto. 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. This order shall be given by the competent judge or the Public Prosecution in accordance with the provisions of the law. Article 44 of the Egyptian constitution states that, “homes shall have their sanctity and they may not be entered or inspected except by a causal judicial warrant as prescribed by the law.” Article 45 states: The law shall protect the inviolability of the private life of citizens. Correspondence, wires, telephone calls and other means of communication shall have their own sanctity and their secrecy shall be guaranteed. They may not be confiscated or monitored except by a causal judicial warrant and for a definite period and according to the provisions of the law. Proposed amendments to article 179 of the constitution would effectively waive these guarantees in cases the government designates as terrorism-related, and could grant security forces unfettered authority to detain persons, search homes and monitor communications without a judicial warrant. They would further allow the president to refer any suspect to any court of his choosing, including exceptional or military courts. As a state party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Egypt ratified in 1982, Egypt is obligated to ensure that everyone has the right to liberty and security of person. Article 9 states that, “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention. No one shall be deprived of his liberty except on such grounds and in accordance with such procedure as are established by law.” As a party to the ICCPR, Egypt also has a legal obligation to ensure that, “no one shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence” (article 17). The changes proposed by the amendments to article 179 of the Egyptian constitution violate both these obligations. “Egyptian law enforcement officials have all the tools they need to combat the threat of terrorism without altering the constitution to undermine Egyptians’ basic rights to protection of their home, privacy, liberty, security and a fair trial,” Whitson said. “President Mubarak should propose new amendments that explicitly safeguard Egyptians’ fundamental rights.” According to lawyers from the Hisham Mubarak Center, the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, and the Nadim Center for Victims of Violence, among those detained on March 25 in Cairo were: 1. Omar al-Hadi (blogger) 2. Muhammad Gamal (blogger) 3. Ahmad Drubi (environmental consultant) 4. Malik Mustafa (released hours later) 5. Karim al-Sha`ir (blogger) 6. Omar Mustafa (blogger) 7. Muhammad `Abd al-Qadir (communications employee) 8. Midhat Shakir (released hours later) 9. Adham al-Safati (film director) 10. Muhammad Rashid 11. Khalid Mustafa 12. Ahmad Samir (student) 13. Mohsin Hashim (political activist) 14. Jano Charbel (Lebanese journalist, briefly detained)
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