Barghouti decides to back Abbas after all

Oh well, that didn't last very long:
"After a meeting of four hours, during which we debated this issue, Marwan Barghouti sends this message to the Palestinian people and its fighters ... He calls on the members of the movement to support the movement's candidate, Mahmoud Abbas," Fares said.
After the announcement, Barghouti's daughter Ruba, 15, began weeping. "He is putting his confidence in the sellouts," she cried.
So I guess the question is, what exactly they promise him in exchange for his support?
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Barghouti running for presidency

Now things get interesting:
RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) - Firebrand uprising leader Marwan Barghouthi has decided to run for Palestinian president from his Israeli jail cell, an official of his Fatah faction said on Thursday.
The candidacy could throw the Jan. 9 election wide open and pose a dramatic challenge to current front-runner Mahmoud Abbas, a former prime minister now caught in the glare of the charismatic Barghouthi's popular appeal with Palestinians.
Barghouthi's behind-bars bid to succeed the Yasser Arafat (news - web sites) as president also raised the specter of a split in the late leader's historic Fatah movement, which went ahead and endorsed Abbas as its candidate despite Barghouti's challenge.
"He has decided to run for president," the Fatah official, who said he had spoken with Barghouthi's lawyer, told Reuters. "An official announcement will be made within 24 hours."
But Fatah ruled out running Barghouthi on its ticket by approving the candidacy of Abbas, 69, three days after a Fatah panel nominated him in a race that has also drawn several lesser-known figures.
It's truly unfortunate that Barghouti can't do this from outside of jail. It'd be nice to have a new generation of Palestinian leaders rather than Arafat's old Tunisian crowd. But I also wonder if this will divide the Fatah vote to the benefit of other factions, unless it's just a ploy for Barghouti's group to gain more influence among PLO elders. Here is the New York Times' take on it, too:
Palestinian officials said Thursday night that Mr. Barghouti, upset with the vague role Mr. Abbas has offered him in a future Palestinian government, apparently wanted to run. But some Palestinians close to Mr. Barghouti say the Palestinians do not need an incarcerated president, that Fatah must remain united and that his time will come if he makes peace with Mr. Abbas.
Mr. Barghouti could run as an independent, but his candidacy would probably split Fatah. Until his name appears on the ballot, some Palestinians suggest, Mr. Barghouti may simply be reminding Fatah that his supporters, especially young militants, need to be heard and that the intifada should not be halted without Israeli concessions.
One Palestinian official said that Fatah had secured Israeli permission to send Qadura Fares, a minister without portfolio, to Mr. Barghouti to learn his intentions.
They also report that Moshe Katsav, Israel's president, has said he would consider a pardon for Barghouti. Note that Katsav also recently said that Israel should stop building its "security fence" if Palestinians stop terrorist attacks.
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Bush meets Sharansky

I hate to imagine what kind of case this guy makes for democracy:
Those looking for clues about President Bush's second-term policy for the Middle East might be interested to know that, nine days after his reelection victory, the president summoned to the White House an Israeli politician so hawkish that he has accused Ariel Sharon of being soft on the Palestinians.
Bush met for more than an hour on Nov. 11 with Natan Sharansky, the former Soviet dissident now known as a far-right member of the Israeli cabinet. Joined by Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr., incoming national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley and administration Mideast specialist Elliot Abrams, Bush told Sharansky that he was reading the Israeli's new book, "The Case for Democracy," and wanted to know more. Sharansky, with co-author Ron Dermer, had a separate meeting with Condoleezza Rice, later chosen by Bush to be the next secretary of state.
So as well as surrounding himself with people like Danielle Pletka, Condoleeza Rice, Elliott Abrams and Stephen Hadley, Bush also want to meet Israeli politicians that are on the right of Ariel Sharon. Considering who was around, I don't think this was about convincing him to become more moderate. Mind you, Sharansky may have been the most moderate person there.
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American Jews for Peace

This group of people have apparently placed a full-page ad in today's New York Times. They been doing that for nearly three years now in several major American papers, and should be commended for their public stance. It would be great if a similar organization would enable all Americans, no matter their ethnic backgrounds, to place ads in key media calling for peace in Israel and Palestine.
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MEMRI vs. Cole

Juan Cole, of the foremost Middle East blog juancole.com has been threatened with a lawsuit by MEMRI, the infamous "media research" think tank that seems to find most of its time misrepresenting the Arabic press by picking out the worst articles and calling them representative. Read the original post and Cole's follow up -- they reveal more about what kind of organization MEMRI is than anything he's written in the past. This whole incident is going to backfire on MEMRI and help expose it as the fraud that it is, especially as other major blogs are likely to be on his side. (And yes, you can sue me too, MEMRI, if you care to.) Update: As I thought, this is backfiring on MEMRI: look at all the attention that it's getting, as well as the calls for investigations into exactly how MEMRI operates in these posts [1, 2] on juancole.com. Of particular interest would be investigating MEMRI's Jerusalem offices, for which Cole prints the address. Jerusalamite bloggers might want to look into it.
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Sharm wrap-up

The conference on Iraq in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, is over. Yesterday was a flurry of press conferences, with everybody finally wanting to talk, and with several interesting things being said. For some of the offiicial highlights, you can check out my story for VOA. Basically, the final statement was identical to the draft, with the countries at the conference expressing their support for Iraq and for the electoral process there (the date for the election has now been set as January 30). There was a call for neighboring countries to control borders and to prevent terrorists and weapons and funding from passing. There was a call for a conference in Iraq to include all Iraqi groups, even ones that oppose the US presence and the interim government, as long as they don’t engage in violent action. And there the statement that the US-led forces’ mandate is “not open-ended�--not quite the wtihdrawal date that France and many Arab countries wanted, but a step in that direction. Various forms of economic and logistical support were promised, although there was a notable absence of commitment to send troops to be part of the so-called UN Protection Force (to protect UN election advisors and monitors). All in all, although it’s unclear whether violence will really be under control in time for the elections, I think the conference was a real boost for the Iraqi interim government. As the French Foreign Minister said, the elections in January are “difficult, and possible.� One thing I noticed was that the Arab media at the conference was focused on entirely different issues from the Western media. They asked again and again about Fallujah, and were quite confrontational with the Iraqi officials. While the Iraqi officials insist on the (ridiculous) claim that “no� civilians have been killed, the Arab media has leaped to the conclusions that thousands have, and Falluja has become shorthand for “atrocity.� It would be good to actually get to the bottom of this. One thing I don’t understand is why humanitarian agencies weren’t allowed into the city when they wanted to go there. What I find disturbing is the way both the Western and the Arab media approaches Iraq not as a real place lived in by a real people but as a symbolic battlefield in which to inscribe different ideas of terrorism, colonialism, democratization, Western interference, Islamic extremism, good and evil. Everything that happens there gets reconfigured on each side to match its own ideological grid. The Arab media, with its anti-Americanism and pan-Arabism, has painted itself into a corner where it is almost rooting for more chaos and instability in Iraq rather than peaceful elections and transition. However much you may be dissatisfied or suspicous of the interim governments, this is a bankrupt position. (Western media that doesn’t make the distinction between armed resistance against an occupying army and terrorism against civilians--in the Occupied Territories and in Iraq--is just as blinkered). I also caught the press conference of the very dour Iranian Foreign Minister Kharrazi. The Iranians were super organized. They took everyone’s name and employer down and called on them in order (it was funny to hear the names of major US news institutions slowly pronounced as if for the first time). They staid for exactly half an hour. Kharrazi said Iran would continue its suspension of uranium enrichment as long at felt it was getting somewhere with the negotiations. He also said Iran would not deal directly with the US being there was no “mutual respect� between the two countries. He called the claims that Iran has been making nuclear warheads “nonsense.� And he said he and Colin Powell, who sat at the same table at a dinner the night before, talked about “nothing.�
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Takfir in Morocco

There is an interesting if rather confused piece about takfir movements in Morocco in this month's English edition of Le Monde Diplomatique. It's interesting because these movements have drawn little attention in Morocco, since they were born in Egypt in the 1970s and for the most part have not had a very public role elsewhere. They also show the multi-faceted nature of Islamic fundamentalism, with so many factions and different offshoots that it reminds me of the "People's Front of Judea/Judean People's Front/Popular Front of Judea" skit in Monty Python's Life of Brian. However, I found the article rather confused because while the headline, "Morocco: slums breed jihad" would lead one to suspect that the argument is that poverty breeds terrorism, most of the article is devoted to explaining the beliefs of the takfiris and the networks they've created. This is an old dispute when we talk about Islamist terrorism: is the idea in itself violent or is it conditions of living that inspire violence? While the answer is probably a mixture of both, I tend towards the first option. It may be popular to point to the Arab world as have failed its development and try to explain violence as the result of "arrested development", but in many cases the key advocates of violence were not particularly poor: think of Muhammad Atta, son of a comfortably middle class engineer, Ayman Zawahri, scion of a prominent family of doctors and theologians, or even Osama Bin Laden, heir to a vast fortune and playboy millionaire until he found his calling. (At the same time, think of Abu Musab Al Zarqawi and his origins in Jordanian slums.) In other words, poverty breeds conditions when idle young men who see limited horizons in front of them may be tempted by a radical ideology. But the ideology has to be there in the first place. And here it's important to distinguish between the many different types of Islamism, some reformist, some conservative, some democratic, some autocratic, some progressive, others backwards. For those who don't know what takfir is, here is a long explanation from the article:
The bomb blast at the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Taba last month confirmed that the cause of global jihad is no longer confined to peripheral areas such as Afghanistan, Chechnya or former Yugoslavia. It is now striking at the heart of the Arab Muslim world, with Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Morocco directly in the firing line.
The bomb attacks in Casablanca on 16 May 2003 revealed the existence of a new form of fundamentalism - takfir. Takfirists are no longer content to fight the United States or the "Zionist entity"; they brand Muslim leaders, and all their direct or indirect supporters, as infidels (kafir) and condemn them as apostates. They preach political violence as a means of forcing states to return "to the laws of God and the society of the Prophet of original Islam". Their aim is not only to overturn unpopular and corrupt regimes but to cleanse the existing political order.
The movement Takfir wal-Hijra emerged in the 1970s after a split in Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood; it has inspired one of the main ideologies of violence in the Muslim world, especially since the early 1990s. It is sometimes referred to as "Takfiri Salafism" and it constitutes a clear break with other Islamist movements that are prepared to engage if necessary in legal political activity aimed at establishing an Islamic state through the ballot box.
The importance that Takfirist doctrine has assumed for armed groups reflects a deep gulf between this extreme fringe of Islamism and countries that are themselves rooted in traditional Islam. In Morocco, where the king is regarded as a descendant of the Prophet, we are witnessing a shift in the boundary between jihadists and their targets within Muslim society. A few weeks before the attacks of May 2003 fundamentalist groups issued a declaration of apostasy against the Moroccan state and Moroccan society and distributed it in mosques in slum districts of Casablanca.
A Salafist activist spoke of Mohamed Fizazi, 57, a primary school teacher, the Moroccan Takfirists’ "theoretician", who was sentenced to 30 years’ imprisonment in August 2003. He said: "Fizazi was found guilty of pronouncing the Muslim profession of faith [There is no God but God, and Muhammad is his prophet] differently from others." This comment demonstrates how the Takfirists’ relationship with Islam has changed and how other Muslims are now considered heretics.
An inquiry conducted after the Casablanca attacks (like the investigation into the Madrid bombings of 11 March 2004 in Spain) revealed that most Takfirist groups originate in the shanty towns and disintegrating districts of Casablanca, Meknes, Fez and Tangiers. It also showed that extremist groups have a solid, active local base and are not just dormant cells waiting to respond to commands from al-Qaida, even if Osama bin Laden’s network has played a major role in providing logistic support and formulating strategy.
Figures for 2002, when more than 166 civilians were assassinated, suggest the extent of Takfirist violence in Morocco. But mass media have taken care not to publicise them and do not much cover the violence, which usually happens in the poor districts. The autonomous activities of local gangleaders - self-proclaimed "emirs" such as Fikri in Douar Sekouila on the outskirts of Casablanca and Rebaa, a militia leader in the Meknes suburbs, and some dozen others heading local groups - show they act on their own initiative and not always on instructions from somewhere in Afghanistan.
The Takfirists are part of a new generation of Islamic fundamentalists from Morocco’s urban slums. Their strongholds are what locals call al-karyan, the disused quarries in industrial zones left to decay after independence in 1956. The shanty towns that have mushroomed there in the past 20-30 years are home to uprooted landless peasants, victims of a rural exodus. Most Takfirists, like the suicide bombers of 16 May, are karyanis, from a class of social outcasts living in the shanty towns.
All of which reminds me of a good friend of mine who was walking down the street of a poor quarter of Cairo with a Muslim Brotherhood activist. A man with a long black beard dressed in traditional robes -- the marks of the ultra-pious -- walks by them and throws a dirty look at the Muslim Brotherhood activist. "He's a member of takfir wa al hijra," the Brother says. Then he added, with an air of contempt, "extremist!" The point is that there is a real effort that can be done to curb extremism by closing down the sources of funding for the real extremists (mostly Saudi Arabia) while engaging other Islamists in a political dialogue even if some of their ideas are distasteful (as they are to me). In most Arab countries, this is not being done. P.S. At the risk of contradicting what I said above, I'm also pasting an article I wrote a few months after the 16 May 2003 bombings in Casablanca that looks at the slums from which most of the bombers came on the day of a local election. Click "more" below to see the story. Morocco torn between security and democracy Issandr El Amrani in Rabat and Casablanca
Five months after the 16 May Casablanca bombings that took over 40 lives -- the first Islamist terror attacks in the country -- Moroccans find themselves at a critical juncture on the road to democratization.
One the one hand, many are eager to continue the democratization process started towards the end of the reign of King Hassan II and that was given a boost by King Muhammad VI when he ascended upon the throne. Feisty opposition newspapers and new political parties flourished.
But the transition period was short-lived. Soon after the September 11 attacks on America, security forces began to regain their influence as the kingdom’s traditional elite -- the makhzen -- began to worry that Al Qaeda’s ideas may spread to Morocco too. By the time the 16 May attacks took place, democratization was put on hold.
Some of the educated, Westernized middle class began to think that the democratization process was flawed because it allowed too much freedom for Islamists to operate, including, for the first time, the right for moderates to create their own “Justice and Development” party, the PJD, which is now the third largest party in parliament.
“The king wanted his democracy so much,” lamented one pharmacist in Rabat. “But now he can’t, not with these Islamists.
This reaction is not untypical among Moroccans, for whom the 16 May attacks shattered the conceit that Morocco was protected from the violent politics of neighboring Algeria, which has been hostage to a bloody civil war between the ruling military junta and Islamists for the past decade.
The change in mindset has even been given a name, “l’apres seize mai” -- the post-16 May era. Many people here have even began to refer to the date much like Americans say 9/11, as a symbol of a critical watershed.
Hence, the heavy-handed approach the security forces have taken after the attacks, cracking down on the entire Islamist movement and arrested 1046 persons -- many more than could have plausibly been involved with the attacks -- was met with public approval. A blind eye was turned to the obvious flaws with the lightning trials of those who were arrested, during which judges ignored defendants’ claims that they were tortured to sign confessions.
The crackdown by the security services is seen by others as a wrong-headed approach, though, focusing on repressing dissent rather than dealing with its roots -- the country’s chronic social problems.
In Sidi Moumen, the suburb of Casablanca where the 16 May bombers lived, it’s easy to see what may have led them to embrace radical ideas. There, an entire shantytown sprawls out on top of a garbage heap. Cattle live in the same rickety shacks as people and graze on the garbage, eating rotting vegetable peel and other organic refuse. Electricity is pirated from nearby power lines, and there is no running water, only one central public fountain.
“They said after 16 May that they would improve things for us,” said Muhammad, a local carpenter. “But the only thing that they’ve done is build streetlights, and the only reason they did that is so they could better watch us.”
On 12 September, the residents of Sidi Moumen, like the rest of the country voted in for local council elections. But apathy in this neighborhood was rife, with many people saying they would not bother to vote, as “it wouldn’t make any difference anyway.”
Even among those who voted, there was disapointment that the PJD did not present itself in the constituency, where it is very popular. Although it came third in parliamentary elections in 2002, the PJD only presented itself in 20% of constituencies in last week’s local elections under pressure from the authorities.
Soufiane, a 19-year-old student from Sidi Moumen, voted for the first time in the recent elections. Dressed in traditional white robes and wearing the embroided white hat favored by the pious, he said he wished he could have voted for the PJD. The other parties, he said, had never done anything for Sidi Moumen.
“We don’t have cybercafes, we don’t have a youth center,” he complained. “The only options [for young people] are drugs or fanaticism.”
The king and his government have made dealing with unsanitary housing, unemployment and education priorities. But critics say change is coming too slow, with the rise of extremism representing a ticking time bomb.
“How can we hope to win this the war against the cancer of terrorism while only relying on methods that disregard the law?” wrote Abou Bakr Jamai, the editor of the weekly Le Journal, Morocco’s most critical newspaper. “Equality, respect for the law and democracy are the ingredients that strengthen a society. It’s by injecting these medecines that we can rid ourselves of the tumors of terrorism.”
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Islam and the internet

Islam Online, the Sheikh Youssef Al Qaradawi-backed website that often has a surprisingly good content, ran an article on a recent talk on Islam and the internet. One interesting tidbit:
Amongst the top 150 most popular Arab Web sites, there are 50 religious ones. Arabs seem to have a vivid interest in religion. This number is not matched by any other country or region in the world, including the US, where religion plays an important role in many aspects of society.
The article's author, Tarek Ghanem, concludes:
The Internet seems to prove itself as another ground for the individualistic and modernist “My Islam” to stand against the authentic “traditional Islam”.
There was also a similar article a few months ago.
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Child malnutrition doubles in Iraq

I find the following incredible, if only because it comes after more than a decade of sanctions that have killed at least several 100,000s of Iraqi children because of malnutrition and other ailments:
BAGHDAD -- Acute malnutrition among young children in Iraq has nearly doubled since the United States led an invasion of the country 20 months ago, according to surveys by the United Nations, aid agencies and the interim Iraqi government.
After the rate of acute malnutrition among children younger than 5 steadily declined to 4 percent two years ago, it shot up to 7.7 percent this year, according to a study conducted by Iraq's Health Ministry in cooperation with Norway's Institute for Applied International Studies and the U.N. Development Program. The new figure translates to roughly 400,000 Iraqi children suffering from "wasting," a condition characterized by chronic diarrhea and dangerous deficiencies of protein.
"These figures clearly indicate the downward trend," said Alexander Malyavin, a child health specialist with the UNICEF mission to Iraq.
The surveys suggest the silent human cost being paid across a country convulsed by instability and mismanagement. While attacks by insurgents have grown more violent and more frequent, deteriorating basic services take lives that many Iraqis said they had expected to improve under American stewardship.
Iraq's child malnutrition rate now roughly equals that of Burundi, a central African nation torn by more than a decade of war. It is far higher than rates in Uganda and Haiti.
A staggering statistic.
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Al Hubris

A little excerpt from an interesting story on a meeting of Arab satellite TV broadcasters:
Mouafac Harb, director of news at the US government-funded al-Hurra TV, said it was a myth that pan-Arab TV channels were free and independent.
"Pan-Arab media are mouthpieces of Arab governments... they are all linked, money-wise, to one or other Arab state," he argued.
But Abdallah Schleifer, director of the Adham Centre for TV Journalism in Cairo, countered that relying on state funding did not need to impinge on the independence of pan-Arab channels.
The real test of editorial independence lay in whether the stations could act as a force to watch over their own governments and criticise them when necessary, delegates suggested.
And Egyptian broadcaster Mohamed Gohar joked that in Egypt "we have a full democracy - in criticising Bush and Sharon."
Mr Harb said that when it came to deciding whether to screen footage of captives filmed by kidnappers, Arabic satellite channels had to ask themselves: "Are we being used by terrorists?"
It is not only the Arabic stations that show such images But leading satellite channels al-Arabiya and al-Jazeera both insisted that editorial value was their first consideration with footage of hostages and killings.
In tapes from Osama Bin Ladin, for instance, "we have to avoid the rhetoric and take what's of news value", said Salah Negm of UAE-based channel Al-Arabiya.
Al-Jazeera's Ahmad Sheikh denied the Qatar-based channel was helping "to create the myth of Bin Ladin".
"Any news of Osama Bin Ladin is always covered in a news context - and we are not unique in reporting Bin Ladin's pronouncements," Mr Sheikh argued.
I find it hilarious that Al Hurra, a TV station specifically and explicitly founded to be a propaganda tool for the US in the Arab world, is giving morality lessons to the likes of Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya, which for all their faults have done more for free speech in the Arab world in the past decade than anything or anyone else. They have certainly done more than a third-rate station run by Maronite nuts like Al Hurra.
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Qaddumi sure Arafat was poisoned

Why is this idiot saying this:
BEIRUT (AFP) - Faruq Qaddumi, who succeeded Yasser Arafat as head of the mainstream Palestinian Fatah movement, reaffirmed his belief that the Palestinian leader had been poisoned.
"He died due to poison. All the treatments and medical examinations have ruled out all the illnesses that you could think of, like leukaemia or the loss of immunity," he said in the Lebanese capital.
"Why had all the blood platelets continued to disintegrate? There is no other reason," he told reporters at a news conference with Lebanese foreign minister Mahmoud Hammoud.
Especially when we know what disease he had and that it reduces platelet counts. By the way, if there are any medical doctors out there who understand this stuff, it'd be nice to have an plain English translation of what "Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation" is why it's "controversial."
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Arab troops in Iraq

Following Ursula's recent post from the Sharm Al Sheikh conference -- and her revelation that Iraq may publicly accuse neighboring countries of aiding the insurgents -- I'd like to add a little informed speculation about another possible outcome. I read Middle Eastern news pretty thoroughly on a daily basis, and there is an important item that's been unreported in the mainstream press. In fact, I only found out about it last week from the British satirical magazine Private Eye, the best publication available in print in my opinion and the only one I subscribe to. While a lot of Private Eye is humor, they do an excellent watch of British politics and media and also have regular coverage on the murky connections between diplomacy, finance, arms trading and such. In this month's issue they have a short article about an offer made to President Bush in July by Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah to offer Arab peacekeeping troops from several countries, but only on the condition that they be under the command of the UN rather than US. Bush refused. Considering the developments since the summer, that it is becoming increasingly clear that another 40-50,000 troops are needed to control the uprising, that Poland could get out of Iraq soon (following Hungary) and that France and Germany still seem against the idea of sending troops, he may have to change his mind. The Saudi offer story has recently been confirmed by an Arab source, who said it might come back on the table. One last thought: if Arab countries do send troops (and perhaps other Muslim countries like Pakistan), they will try to exact a high price for their collaboration. Specifically, they will expect at the very least less pressure on democratization.
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Medical report vague about cause of Arafat's death

Nasser Al Qidwa, Yassser Arafat's nephew, is not being very clear about what he found out from the medical report:
After receiving the medical report on his uncle's death, Qidwa said there was still no clear cause of death and the poisoning theory could not be ruled out definitively, even though there was no clear evidence of it.
"I have not had the time to study the report and obviously I am not competent because I am not a doctor," he said Monday.
"But two central points remain. There is no clear diagnosis of the reason for the death, and second the toxicological tests were made and no known poison was found."
Qidwa, who is also the Palestinian representative at the United Nations (news - web sites), was expected to deliver the 558-page report to a Palestinian ministerial committee which is looking into the causes of Arafat's death on November 11.
"A question mark remains for us because of the lack of a diagnosis," Qidwa said. Asked about poisoning, he went on: "I am not excluding this but not asserting it either. There is no proof."
This is the mystery that simply won't go away. I think the poison theory, which was always dubious, can be dismissed since the tests found nothing, but it's really rather surprising that a 558-page report delivers no clear picture of what happened. More likely, he's not telling. One more thing:
Last week doctors who treated Arafat at a French military hospital outside Paris were quoted in the authoritative daily Le Monde saying he died of a blood clotting disorder called disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC).
If that's what caused the death, then there is a cause. So why is Qidwa saying it's inconclusive?
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Locust fatwa

If you need another proof of why putting faith in fatwas is stupid:
Faced with an invasion of locusts, the highest Islamic religious institution in Egypt has reportedly issued an edict allowing people to eat locusts.
The independent al-Masri al-Yawm newspaper said al-Azhar Institute has decreed it is permitted by religion to eat the red desert locusts that have invaded the country during the past week.
It said al-Azhar has urged all Egyptians to "hunt the locusts and eat them to combat the crisis."
The newspaper quoted Abdul Hamid al-Atrash, the head of the Fatwa Commission in al-Azhar, as saying eating the locusts would "contribute actively in wiping them out, instead of the fear that has consumed the hearts of millions of people."
Al-Atrash said insects that feed off plants are deemed pure for human consumption.
Come to think of it, this might not be true. But it sounds just plausible enough considering the drivel that's been spouted by Al Azhar sheikhs lately.
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More on Safire

Salon's Eric Boehlert has a good wrap-up of William Safire's history of agit-prop, including a long section on Safire's Likudist leanings:
Safire admitted to going easy and "pulling his punches" in a 1987 column about his old friend Bill Casey and the major role he played in Iran-Contra during the Reagan administration. (Safire ran Casey's unsuccessful congressional campaign in New York in 1966.) Back in 1981, when Casey was director of the CIA, Safire allegedly called up Casey and urged him to allow Israel to have access to restricted satellite imagery. Casey caved, but was rebuffed by Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger.
Safire denied the charge he lobbied the CIA on Israel's behalf, but he's a fervent and unapologetic apologist for Israel, in particular for its right-wing Likud Party. "He's been substantially to the right of the mainstream of the American Jewish community," notes Juan Cole, professor of history at the University of Michigan. In a 1992 Playboy interview he revived a favorite dream of the Israeli right, the idea that Palestinians would somehow leave the West Bank and move to Jordan. "I consider myself pro-Palestinian," Safire said. "I'd like to see them have a state. I think the state they should have is Jordan, which is mainly Palestinian." Safire said that only King Hussein of Jordan stood in the way: "I think he's an obstacle to peace." Hussein was "an obstacle" because he had renounced all claim to the West Bank in 1988, leaving the so-called "Jordanian option" irredeemably dead -- although not in Safire's eyes or that of the Israeli right.
Safire's passionate commitment to Israel has led to some serious reporting gaffes. As Alterman notes in "Sound and Fury," when Israelis destroyed Iraq's nuclear plant in 1981, Safire quoted "Baghdad's official newspaper," which allegedly insisted the targeted reactor was to be used against "the Zionist enemy." In fact, the quote was manufactured by the Israeli Foreign Ministry. And in 1991 when a group of Israelis were murdered in Egypt, Safire wrote that the PLO "condoned last week's slaughter," when the Times itself had documented several instances that week of the PLO denouncing the attack.
More recently, Safire's column has doubled as an open forum for Israel's far-right Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. As the Israeli paper Haaretz noted this year, "Safire has an open phone line to Sharon and tends to interview him by giving him an open platform with virtually no interference."
"One of Safire's major accomplishments was to rehabilitate Sharon in the American political discourse after he was sent into the political wilderness," says Cole. Sharon was disgraced after Israel's Lebanese Christian Phalange allies methodically massacred hundreds of Palestinian civilians, including women and children, in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps, following Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon -- an invasion masterminded by Sharon. An Israeli commission of inquiry found Sharon indirectly responsible for the slaughter and he was removed as defense minister.
Safire's devotion to Israel may be one reason he turned on the first President Bush, who earned the wrath of Safire, Israel and the powerful pro-Israel lobby by threatening to hold up $10 billion in loan guarantees if Israel did not stop building settlements in the occupied territories. During a 1991 press conference Bush the elder famously complained he was just "one little guy" battling the "powerful political forces" of the Jewish lobby in Washington, D.C.
Whatever his reasons, Safire all but declared war on Bush in 1992, hyping the now-forgotten "Iraqgate" -- "the first global political scandal," as he breathlessly proclaimed it. Safire, along with ABC News' "Nightline" and other journalists, charged that the Bush administration had secretly and illegally plotted to arm Iraq and then orchestrated a coverup. Safire dubbed it "an election year Watergate," insisting, "Never before in the history of the Republic, in my opinion, has the nation's chief law enforcement officer been in such flagrant and sustained violation of the law." In a column titled "Is the Fix In?" Safire charged that President Clinton and Al Gore -- who had made much of the Iraqgate charges during the campaign but stopped raising them after assuming office -- had been paid off to shut up. "George Bush privately assured Bill Clinton that he would not criticize the new President during the first year of his term. ... Mr. Bush has kept his word," Safire wrote. "In what may be an unspoken quid pro quo, the Clinton Administration has moved to quash any revelations about Bush's Iraqgate scandal. ... No wonder we hear not a peep of criticism about Clinton from Bush; the former President and his men are being well-protected by Clinton's appointees in Justice."
Iraqgate vanished when a Clinton administration investigation found no evidence that the elder Bush had armed Saddam Hussein. (Of course, if you believe Safire was right and the fix was in, this doesn't prove anything.) Writing in the American Lawyer two years later, Stuart Taylor methodically outlined how Safire's reckless charges were completely bogus: "False. All of it." (The Pulitzer Prize committee saved itself a repeat of the Lance embarrassment by not awarding Safire a prize for Iraqgate, even though there was industry speculation in 1992 that he might win.)
Safire admitted to going easy and "pulling his punches" in a 1987 column about his old friend Bill Casey and the major role he played in Iran-Contra during the Reagan administration. (Safire ran Casey's unsuccessful congressional campaign in New York in 1966.) Back in 1981, when Casey was director of the CIA, Safire allegedly called up Casey and urged him to allow Israel to have access to restricted satellite imagery. Casey caved, but was rebuffed by Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger.
Safire denied the charge he lobbied the CIA on Israel's behalf, but he's a fervent and unapologetic apologist for Israel, in particular for its right-wing Likud Party. "He's been substantially to the right of the mainstream of the American Jewish community," notes Juan Cole, professor of history at the University of Michigan. In a 1992 Playboy interview he revived a favorite dream of the Israeli right, the idea that Palestinians would somehow leave the West Bank and move to Jordan. "I consider myself pro-Palestinian," Safire said. "I'd like to see them have a state. I think the state they should have is Jordan, which is mainly Palestinian." Safire said that only King Hussein of Jordan stood in the way: "I think he's an obstacle to peace." Hussein was "an obstacle" because he had renounced all claim to the West Bank in 1988, leaving the so-called "Jordanian option" irredeemably dead -- although not in Safire's eyes or that of the Israeli right.
Safire's passionate commitment to Israel has led to some serious reporting gaffes. As Alterman notes in "Sound and Fury," when Israelis destroyed Iraq's nuclear plant in 1981, Safire quoted "Baghdad's official newspaper," which allegedly insisted the targeted reactor was to be used against "the Zionist enemy." In fact, the quote was manufactured by the Israeli Foreign Ministry. And in 1991 when a group of Israelis were murdered in Egypt, Safire wrote that the PLO "condoned last week's slaughter," when the Times itself had documented several instances that week of the PLO denouncing the attack.
More recently, Safire's column has doubled as an open forum for Israel's far-right Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. As the Israeli paper Haaretz noted this year, "Safire has an open phone line to Sharon and tends to interview him by giving him an open platform with virtually no interference."
"One of Safire's major accomplishments was to rehabilitate Sharon in the American political discourse after he was sent into the political wilderness," says Cole. Sharon was disgraced after Israel's Lebanese Christian Phalange allies methodically massacred hundreds of Palestinian civilians, including women and children, in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps, following Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon -- an invasion masterminded by Sharon. An Israeli commission of inquiry found Sharon indirectly responsible for the slaughter and he was removed as defense minister.
Safire's devotion to Israel may be one reason he turned on the first President Bush, who earned the wrath of Safire, Israel and the powerful pro-Israel lobby by threatening to hold up $10 billion in loan guarantees if Israel did not stop building settlements in the occupied territories. During a 1991 press conference Bush the elder famously complained he was just "one little guy" battling the "powerful political forces" of the Jewish lobby in Washington, D.C.
Whatever his reasons, Safire all but declared war on Bush in 1992, hyping the now-forgotten "Iraqgate" -- "the first global political scandal," as he breathlessly proclaimed it. Safire, along with ABC News' "Nightline" and other journalists, charged that the Bush administration had secretly and illegally plotted to arm Iraq and then orchestrated a coverup. Safire dubbed it "an election year Watergate," insisting, "Never before in the history of the Republic, in my opinion, has the nation's chief law enforcement officer been in such flagrant and sustained violation of the law." In a column titled "Is the Fix In?" Safire charged that President Clinton and Al Gore -- who had made much of the Iraqgate charges during the campaign but stopped raising them after assuming office -- had been paid off to shut up. "George Bush privately assured Bill Clinton that he would not criticize the new President during the first year of his term. ... Mr. Bush has kept his word," Safire wrote. "In what may be an unspoken quid pro quo, the Clinton Administration has moved to quash any revelations about Bush's Iraqgate scandal. ... No wonder we hear not a peep of criticism about Clinton from Bush; the former President and his men are being well-protected by Clinton's appointees in Justice."
Iraqgate vanished when a Clinton administration investigation found no evidence that the elder Bush had armed Saddam Hussein. (Of course, if you believe Safire was right and the fix was in, this doesn't prove anything.) Writing in the American Lawyer two years later, Stuart Taylor methodically outlined how Safire's reckless charges were completely bogus: "False. All of it." (The Pulitzer Prize committee saved itself a repeat of the Lance embarrassment by not awarding Safire a prize for Iraqgate, even though there was industry speculation in 1992 that he might win.)
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Iraq Conference in Egypt

It's 1 am so I'm not sure this post will be too coherent. I'm covering the conference on Iraq in the Red Coast town of Sharm El Sheikh in Egypt. The conference is being attended by all of Iraq's neighbors (Syria, Jordan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Turkey) as well as by the US, France, Germany, the UK, the Arab League, the UN, the EU and many more. The aim of the conference is a little vague (more on that later) but in general it's a show of support for the upcoming elections, for the interim government, and for the future stability of the country. Today there was the meeting between Iraq and neighboring countries. As of writing this, I know nothing about it from the participants themselves, as they gave no comment on entering or exiting, the talks were not televised, and there was no press conference. There was massive security and journalists were kept miles away. The Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs said that the discussion had focused on elections and security, and that was that. Typical Middle Eastern lack of transparency perhaps. But there may be a further reason that everyone was so tight-lipped. I talked to a high-ranking Iraqi official in Baghdad tonight, and he told me the Iraqi delegation was planning on presenting evidence at the meeting of the "interference" of other countries in its affairs--of how they (he wouldn't name names, but we are talking Iran and Syria at least obviously) have directly funded and supported terrorist groups in Iraq and how they are home to a great number of rich and disgruntled Baathist elite with links to the insurgency. Oh to have have a fly on the wall at these talks.. In general covering this sort of event is exhausting and really frustrating. A lot of the press spends a lot of its time staking out hotel lobbies (the delegations are spread out over many of the luxurious summer resort hotels here) and hounding passing officials into giving snippets of comment. There was a really funny scene today when the Syrian Foreign Minister became the center of a camera scrum but refused to talk. His handlers on all sides tried to hustle him along, but they took him the opposite way of where he needed to go, and he and his entourage ended up bounding around the courtyard of a hotel like a ping-pong for a while, journalists in hot pursuit. At one point he even accidentally ended up on a dead-end raised catwalk--we all thought he was going to make a statement, but he was just lost. Finally they piled into the obligatory go-cart and took off. The Iraqi officials were really busy of course and hard to get ahold of but I have to say that they are the most engaging to talk to, in general. They actually say things. The Iraqi deputy foreign minister denied that any civilians had died in Fallujah. He also said the new January 30 election date is realistic, and that Iraqis will participate "because this will determine the future of the country." And he claimed Kuwait had agree to forgive Iraq 80% of its debt (just like the Paris Club just did). That would be a lot of money, and would put pressure on Saudi Arabia to do so as well, but I was unable to get Kuwaiti officials to confirm this. Other than the interesting confrontation between Iraq and its neighbors, there are of course the well-established tension between France and the US. France (and other countries) would like there to be a set withdrawal date for US troops. The US doesn't want to make that commitment. More on this tomorrow after press conferences from Bernier and Powell. In general, as I started out saying, it's unclear what practical steps or actions are going to come out of this to aid Iraq. They''ll issue a nice statement at the end, but then what? The underlying problem--that European countries are unwilling to send forces to help with the aftermath of a war they opposed, and Arab countries are afraid a stable Iraq will be a base for further US military interventions in the region--haven't gone away.
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Saad Eddin Ibrahim wants to contest presidency

Saad Eddin Ibrahim Saad Eddin Ibrahim, the Egyptian-American activist who spent well over a year in jail between 2000 and 2003 before a case against him was dismissed by Egypt's highest appellate court, is backing an unlikely amendment to the Egyptian constitution that would allow multiple candidates to be selected:
"If given the chance, I personally want to run (for president) to break the barrier of fear and intimidation," Ibrahim told The Associated Press. "Not that I have real hopes of success, but I want to show my fellow Egyptians that nothing should be a political taboo."
Under the current constitution, a presidential candidate is selected by the People's Assembly, Egypt's parliament, and then the public votes either "yes" or "no" in a referendum. In the current political climate where the ruling National Democratic Party controls over 80% of seats, this means that there can only be NDP candidates and that no one is likely to be selected to run against Hosni Mubarak, who's been president for nearly 24 years. As the story explains, it is unlikely that this amendment, which is backed by 650 activists who signed a petition requesting it, will pass. There have been rumors that the NDP was considering accepting it to run a lame duck NDP candidate against the president to make a show that it is democratic. But surely they thought better of it considering that a) it would look ridiculous, b) it might create an expectation of debates, or at least different platforms, between candidates and c) they are unlikely to encourage the idea that there could ever be anyone better than Mubarak to lead the country. The truth is the current system -- outside of the immediate political conjecture -- should be replaced by direct elections of the president, as you find in most countries that at least pretend to be democracies. (Strangely, that doesn't technically include the US, since the presidential elections there are indirect. In fact, technically the "electors" are meeting on 13 December to elect the next US president. But that's another story.) After all if parliament retains control of what candidates can present themselves, there can never be a chance for underdogs to enter the political limelight (think Nader, Buchanan, Perot in the US.) Direct presidential elections would give the existing parties as well as movements like the Muslim Brotherhood a chance to campaign in a way they really never have before, and would crystallize symbolically the idea that there could be a president who is not from the ruling party, or indeed who is not from the ruling military junta. Aside from this, the elections that are coming up in fall of 2005 are going to be very important. After 24 years of Mubarak it is time for him to resign, even if you're of the opinion he's done a good job. Otherwise we're going to see the Bourguibasation of Egypt at a time when the country is in dire need of young blood, a new direction and effective leadership. At this point, no matter about how you feel about Mubarak, it should be clear that it's time for a fresh start -- even if it's still not democratic or another army general. Time is running out.
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