Links for November 29th

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Bayanouni: Syria "instrument" in Iran's hands

Interesting interview with the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood leader, suggesting Syria would abandon Iran alliance if the regime fell:
Ikhwanweb: Farouk Al-Sharaa described the Saudi role in the region as "paralyzed" while he backs Iran . How do you expect the balance of power in the region will be if a change happens and an interim government takes power in Syria ? What about the Iran-Syria coalition? will the interim government maintain this coalition or will it seek a coalition with neighbouring Arab countries?

Bayanouni: First: Farouk Al-Sharaa's statements reflect the regime"s confusion and isolation from its Arab context. It has become an instrument in the hand of the Iranian politics. The Iranian-Syrian coalition is not a coalition of peers. It is a coalition between a strong country that has its own project in the region with a weak regime that lacks legitimacy, does not have a popular basis and it doesn"t have any national project. Therefore, we warn against the ongoing policy of being controlled by the Iranian politics. As for our future outlook, we aren"t against forging coalitions with Islamic states, including Iran and others, as long as it is based on common interests, not like the current state. The coalition with Iran in Hafez Asad"s era had to a great extent kind of balance between Iran and Syria because of Hafez Asad"s personality and his political capabilities. At present, with Bashar Al-Asad"s weakness and lack of any political project, the Syrian political stance is unfortunately a part of the Iranian stance. In the future, a priority should be given to cooperation and coalitions with Islamic and Arab countries, coalitions which should be based on mutual interests, and not to be a part of strategies others.
[From Ali Sadruddin Bayanouni’s Interview with Ikhwanweb ]
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The teddy bear scandal

Needless to say, this is complete bull and an obvious and pathetic attempt by the barbaric Sudanese government to get another negotiating card as it heads into yet another round of talks on Darfur and the South. Memo to the Mufti of Egypt, Sheikh al-Azhar and the Muslim Brotherhood: now's the time to speak up against this kind of politicization of Islam that embarrasses us all.

Despite her colleagues insisting it was an innocent mistake, Sudan's deputy justice minister confirmed yesterday that a charge had been laid. "The investigation has been completed and the Briton Gillian was charged under article 125 of the penal code," said Abdel Daim Zamrawi, speaking to the official Sudan news agency in Khartoum. "The punishment for this is jail, a fine and lashes. It is up to the judge to determine the sentence."
Some analysts saw ulterior motives. There are tensions between Britain and Sudan over the conflict in Darfur. In a Guardian interview this month, President Omar al-Bashir expressed anger at the threat of UK sanctions against Sudan if peace talks failed.
Mudawi Ibrahim Adam, a prominent peace activist in Khartoum, said: "This was an opportunity for the government to distract people from the main issues in Sudan: the problems between the authorities in the north and south of the country, the conflict in Darfur and the question of letting in United Nations peacekeepers."
There were reports yesterday of pamphlets being circulated in Khartoum calling on people to protest against the teacher after Friday prayers. But many people seemed to take her side. Muhammad Kamal Aldeen Muhammad, a 20-year-old student, said it was clear that she had not intended to insult the prophet. "All she was doing was trying to help her students. The government is looking at this purely from an Islamic perspective."
[From British teacher charged with insulting Islam over teddy bear's name | Special reports | Guardian Unlimited]
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Links for November 28th

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The NYT and Annapolis

Reading the New York Times' editorials on Annapolis, full of praise for "moderates" and worrying about who shook whose hand, I am reminded of why I barely read that newspaper anymore. The reporting is occasionally good, such as the very nice long feature on radicalism in northern Morocco a few days ago, but when it comes to Israel just forget about it. This piece for instance quotes, aside (current) US officials, Martin Indyk, Dennis Ross and John Bolton. Never mind the jovial hamster and his bosses.

I mean, is there anything more to Annapolis than providing a mechanism for boosting Mahmoud Abbas while keeping the Palestinian Authority subservient to Israel and the US, thus isolating Hamas and preparing the ground for booting it out of Gaza? And in the meantime recreating the illusion of a peace process Palestinians will never credibly endorse while divided and many in the Israeli political establishment (and certainly the current ruling coalition) have no intention of ever finalizing? Or am I missing something? The NYT could celebrate that if it wanted to, but enough with the bullshit.

(Most links through Angry Arab.)

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Politics according to Ibn Khaldun

From Scott Horton's very erudite blog at Harpers:

Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn, Ibn Khaldūn Meets Sultan al-Narir, ink drawing (ca. 1650) "Politics is the ordering of the household or the city as they ought to be according to the requirements of ethics and wisdom so that the multitude could be made to follow a path leading to the protection and preservation of the species." – Abū Zayd ‘Abdu r-Rahman bin Muhammad bin Khaldūn (ابو زيد عبد الرحمن بن محمد بن خلدون), Muqaddimat (مقدّمة ابن خلدون) i, 62 (1377 CE)(M. Mahdi transl. 1957)
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Mitt Romney: no Muslims in my cabinet

Mitt Romney, who increasingly appears to be the likely Republican candidate for the 2008 US presidential elections, doesn't want Muslims in his cabinet. He has given at least two reasons, both outrageous:

TPM Election Central has learned that at a private fundraising lunchleon in Los Vegas three months ago, Romney said a second time he would probably not appoint a Muslim to his cabinet -- and on this occasion, he made other comments that one witness described as "racist."
The witness, Irma Aguirre, a former finance director of the Nevada Republican Party, paraphrased Romney as saying: "They're radical. There's no talking to them. There's no negotiating with them."
A second witness, a self-described local registered Republican named George Harris, confirmed her account.
The new accounts provided by the witnesses lend credence to the now-notorious account of a more recent private Romney event that appeared in the Christian Science Monitor yesterday that already caused an uproar. In that account, a Muslim businessman, Mansour Ijaz, claimed that Romney had said that based on the "numbers of American Muslims" in the country, "I cannot see that a cabinet position would be justified" for a muslim.

So basically he believes that all Muslims are radicals, and thinks minorities that don't meet a certain threshold should be barred from cabinet or other senior positions. The percentage figure for Muslims in America goes from 0.5% to 1% of the population.

Update: Scott Horton digs deeper into this issue.
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Chairman of Ghazl Mahalla sacked

Al-Ahram announced this morning that Mahmoud Gabali, the chairman of Mahalla for Spinning and Weaving, has been sacked and that workers would be given 135 days of pay. The decision, taken by the company's board, was based on accounting inconsistencies detected by the Central Auditing Agency, a government watchdog. Apparently the audit uncovered irregularities in inventory stock, large discounts given to local traders, and other possible signs of mismanagement or corruption.

The decision appears to meet most of the pay-related demands of the workers and has been greeted with joy by those who organized the biggest strikes in decades at the factory this year. It appears the government has finally shown sense and investigated the allegations made by the workers regarding the chairman of the company. This will no doubt encourage workers elsewhere to persevere with their own demands. I am certain that Hossam, who is traveling at the moment, will follow up with more details once he gets news from his labor activist contacts.

Update: Here is an English report.

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Links for November 26th

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Tahawy on Saudi Arabia treatment of women

I can't find it online, so I am republishing below this fine op-ed by Mona al-Tahawy where she makes the obvious yet crucial point that Saudi Arabia's medieval practices (only one manifestation of its backwards ideology) have been tolerated far too long:
Gender Apartheid by Mona Eltahawy NEW YORK -- Once upon a time, in a country called South Africa the color of your skin determined where you lived, what jobs you were allowed, and whether you could vote or not. Decent countries around the world fought the evil of racial apartheid by turning South Africa into a pariah state. They barred it from global events such as the Olympics. Businesses and universities boycotted South Africa, decimating its economy and adding to the isolation of the white-minority government, which finally repealed apartheid laws in 1991. Today in a country called Saudi Arabia it is gender rather than racial apartheid that is the evil but the international community watches quietly and does nothing. Saudi women cannot vote, cannot drive, cannot be treated in a hospital or travel without the written permission of a male guardian, cannot study the same things men do, and are barred from certain professions. Saudi women are denied many of the same rights that “Blacks” and “Coloreds” were denied in apartheid South Africa and yet the kingdom still belongs to the very same international community that kicked Pretoria out of its club.
She rightly points out that, aside from the oil reason, Saudi Arabia has been enabled by the collapse of any alternative ideology in the Arab world, with the Saudis having bought the silence (or enthusiastic support) of most other Arab regimes. As they say, RTWT.
To understand the heinous double standards at play, look no further than the case of a 19-year-old Saudi woman who was gang-raped last year. Despite being abducted and raped by seven men, a court in Saudi Arabia sentenced her to 90 lashes because she was in a car with an unrelated man before she was abducted. Saudi Arabia’s ultra-orthodox interpretation of Islamic law preaches a strict segregation of the sexes. The young woman had the temerity to appeal -- and publicize her story in the media. And so, earlier this month, the court increased her punishment to <i>200 lashes and six months in jail</i>. Her lawyer, a prominent human rights defender, was suspended and faces a disciplinary hearing. And the actual abductors and rapists? They got between two and nine years in jail. A rape conviction in the kingdom usually carries the death penalty, but the court said it did not impose it due to the "lack of witnesses" and the "absence of confessions.” Farida Deif, a researcher at Human Rights Watch women’s rights division, who interviewed the young woman and her lawyer extensively, told me that one of the rapists had filmed the assault with his mobile phone but the judges refused to allow the clip as evidence. Compare that to the use of such mobile phone footage to convict two police officers in Egypt on November 5, on charges of torturing and sodomizing a bus driver. A few governments here and there have condemned the Saudi court’s behavior but you can be sure that Saudi Arabia will be there at the next Olympics -- even though it bars women from the national team -- and the world will continue to fete the kingdom’s representatives without a word of chastisement. Just by agreeing to attend next week’s Israeli-Palestinian peace talks in Annapolis Saudi Arabia merited headline news. The easy explanation of the world’s apathy to the plight of Saudi women is that the kingdom sits on the world’s largest oil reserves. True. The more difficult explanation -- and the one that too many avoid -- is that the Saudis have succeeded in pulling a fast one on the world by claiming their religion is the reason they treat women so badly. I am a Muslim who is constantly wondering how it is that I worship the same God as the Saudis. Islam may have been born in Mecca -- in what is today Saudi Arabia -- but the warped interpretation of my religion prevalent in that country is like a perverse attempt to undo any good that Muslims believe was revealed in Prophet Mohammed’s message in 7th century Arabia. What kind of God would punish a woman for rape? That is a question that Muslims must ask of Saudi Arabia because unless it is we who challenge the determinedly anti-women teachings of Islam in Saudi Arabia, that kingdom will always get a free pass. It is easy to dismantle the Saudi clerical claim that it is Islam that justifies their outrageous treatment of girls and women. Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country, a place where women enjoy rights a Saudi woman could only dream of, where they recite the verses of the Quran on television for all to see and hear. In Saudi Arabia, a woman’s voice is considered sinful. Saudi Arabia’s neighbors -- Egypt, Syria, and the United Arab Emirates -- are all Muslim-majority countries: Women drive, vote, are judges, and hold ministerial portfolios. The international community must not forget the many brave Saudis such as the gang-rape victim, her lawyer, and the activists who continue to question this oppression by their government and clerics. Their courage deserves the same kind of support the world offered anti-apartheid activists in South Africa. Nor should the victims of Saudi atrocities be forgotten: In 2002, 15 schoolgirls died when officers of the morality police would not let them out of their burning school building -- and barred firefighters from saving them -- because the girls weren’t wearing the headscarve and the black cloak that all women must wear in public. How many more girls must die and women suffer rape before the international community names this gender apartheid and condemns it appropriately? Mona Eltahawy is an award-winning New York-based journalist and commentator, and an international lecturer on Arab and Muslim issues. Copyright ©2007 Mona Eltahawy / Agence Global
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Links for November 25th

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al-Hurra: reality check

I just got my satellite dish repaired and was surfing the channels. I came across Rob Satloff interviewing Dennis Ross about the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. So basically Satloff, head of the pro-Israel think tank WINEP, interviews Ross, former pro-Israel American diplomat who is spending his exile at... wait for it... WINEP. What channel was this? Al Hurra, where Satloff apparently has this show called "Dakhl Washington" (Inside Washington). Actually Satloff's Arabic surprised me, although the accent is grating. But who am I to talk? Anyway, apparently this is what I've been missing from not watching al-Hurra: Israeli tools. Satloff is basically a professional lobbyist, which actually makes him more bearable than Ross, who has been spreading his extremely skewed vision of Oslo / Camp David II for years, sabotaging reasonable US policy along the way, while pretending to some kind of statesman status (he is also advising both Obama and Clinton - another reason to vote Edwards if you're a Democrat. Update: apparently Ross also advises Edwards. Oh well.) Apparently, the other regular feature on al-Hurra is Iraqi Shia propaganda, or so they say. But really, everything that needs to be said about al-Hurra has already been said by Abu Aardvark.
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Links for November 24th

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Lalami: Beyond the Veil

Beyond the Veil:
When the French government invaded Algeria, in 1830, it started a vast campaign of military "pacification," which was quickly followed by the imposition of French laws deemed necessary for the civilizing mission to succeed. Women were crucial to that enterprise. In articles, stories and novels of the day, Algerian women were universally depicted as oppressed, and so in order for civilization truly to penetrate Algeria, the argument went, the women had to cast off their veils. General Bugeaud, who was charged with administering the territory in the 1840s, declared, "The Arabs elude us because they conceal their women from our gaze." Algerian men, meanwhile, were perceived to be sexual predators who could not control their urges unless their womenfolk were draped in veils. Colonization would solve this by bringing the light of European civilization to Arab males, who, after a few generations of French rule, would learn to control their urges. The governor-general of Algeria remarked in 1898 that "the Arab man's, the native Jew's and the Arab woman's physiology, as well as tolerance for pederasty, and typically oriental ways of procreating and relating to one another are so different from the European man's that it is necessary to take appropriate measures." As late as 1958, French wives of military officers, desperate to stop support for the FLN, which spearheaded the war of liberation against France, staged a symbolic "unveiling" of Algerian women at a pro-France rally in the capital of Algiers. Decades later, millions of French citizens with ancestral roots in North Africa are being told much the same thing: in order to be French, they must "integrate" by giving up that which makes them different--Islam. The religion, however, is not regarded as a set of beliefs that adherents can adjust to suit the demands of their everyday lives but rather as an innate and unbridgeable attribute. It is easy to see how racism can take hold in such a context. During the foulard controversies, it did not appear to matter that 95 percent of French Muslims do not attend mosque, that more than 80 percent of Muslim women in France do not wear the headscarf or even that the number of schoolgirls in headscarves has never been more than a few hundred. The racist notion of innate differences between French citizens of North African origin and those of European origin defined the debate. For instance, the Lévy sisters were sometimes referred to in the press as Alma and Lila Lévy-Omari, thus making their ancestral link to North Africa (on their mother's side) clearer to the reader.
Do read more of Leila Lalami's excellent review of The Politics of the Veil, but the point highlighted above as always struck me as extremely important. Unfortunately, French authorities -- notably Nicolas Sarkozy when he was minister of the interior -- have chosen to empower religious fundamentalists and depict them as representative of the Muslim community at large.
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Some thoughts on the YouTube ban

The Guardian's Brian Whitaker has highlighted YouTube's decision to block the Egypt torture videos page, which we recently covered. In his post Brian says points how this removes a crucial tool at the hands of bloggers to distribute and publicize cases of human rights abuses and build a campaign against Egypt's systematic use of torture. Reading the comments on the post, there is legitimate discussion that footage of gratuitous violence violates YouTube's terms of use and that it may not be the most appropriate place for these videos for other reasons (since most of its content is essentially funny home videos). Fair enough. Some people suggested that rights groups should be hosting the videos, which seems like a good idea (although it might limit their reach, since way more people visit than That's a good idea too, except that rights groups, even the big ones, don't really have the kind of technology necessary to handle traffic spikes and maintain video databases (which I assume means buying license rights to various software, codecs, etc.) So here's an idea: why not encourage YouTube, Google Video and others to provide their expertise to maintain servers for activists, separately from their commercial products if necessary? This would be a great vote of confidence in web companies, especially after the fiasco of Yahoo and Google selling out to China in recent years. Don't want their names on it? Fine. But they have technology and resources that have radically transformed the away activists can break news and mobilize international interest. So rather than sticking to just "don't be evil," how about some "be good"?
Read More links for November 23rd

Automatically posted links for November 23rd:

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