Osama's latest

I did a piece on the latest Bin Laden video yesterday (I'll add the link later, right now it's not working, but you can find it on th VOA website). The Al Jazeera transcript of the video is here . People I talked to in the Arab world mentioned that the fact Osama clearly took responsiblity for the attack would be a blow to the conspiracy thoeories about the Mossad or the CIA having staged 9/11. They also stressed a few points about the video: 1. The tone: how Bin Laden avoids military symbols and violent threats and takes a calm, persuasive tone. 2. The suggestion that the battle between Al Qaeda and the West, rather than an inherent and eternal conflict, is a policy-driven one, and can be eneded, resolved, if certain conditions are met. 3. The specific references to US political developments (he references the Florida recount,the Patriot Act), and his critique of President Bush to the American people. The LA Times has an interesting piece (via www.talkingpointsmemo.com) that ties these observations together and suggests that bin Laden is trying to transform himself from international terrorist to Muslim statesman. This kind of analysis is worth pursuing; there are a lot of questions about what bin Laden was hoping to accomplish with this message... Personally, I find it fascinating and surreal that he is basically debating President Bush across the world this way, even incorporating some of Bush's favorite terms ("freedom") into his own statement.
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Middle Easterners for Bush

Abu Aardvark notes that there is some support after all for Bush in the region:
Man, Lee Smith was really on to something with that whole "many Arabs like Bush" thing. Newsweek reports that "Randa Fahmy Hudome, who just this month signed a $1.4 million contract to represent the Libyan government, served as a behind-the-scenes 'media consultant' helping to prepare this week's press release praising Bush's record in promoting 'human rights, democracy and self-determination' in the Middle East."
So, along with al Qaeda and Saudi diplomats, Bush is evidently favored by unrepentant dictator Moammar Qadaffi.
Notice a trend here?
Doesn't this bother any of the dwindling number of 'liberal hawks' who support Bush because of his supposed commitment to transforming the Middle East?
Don't forget that Bush is also supported by Iran's supreme national security council, as we had noted here. And take a look at this Brian Whitaker article on Bush support in the Middle East.
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Freedom House on Egyptian women

Abu Aardvark mentioned this study on women in Egypt [PDF] a few days ago. While he highlighted the bit about how the study finds no one reads, listens or watches US-sponsored Arabic media (no big surprises there) I found the next finding more telling:
Women’s political rights: a hollow equality. Women have equal rights to vote and participate in political debates, most Egyptians say. Exercising these rights does not matter, because they see political rights as meaningless in Egypt’s current political system. Many Egyptians see formal politics as an elite game and view debates among political leaders as irrelevant to their lives and concerns. Few Egyptians say that they have ever voted in elections. Reasons cited for not participating in formal politics include not seeing a direct impact on their lives, perceptions of electoral fraud and cheating, and bureaucratic inefficiencies making it difficult to obtain voter identification cards.
Frankly, this does not only to apply to women, but to roughly everywhere in Egypt. In my district in central Cairo, which have hundreds of thousands of highly educated Egyptians living in it, less than 5000 people voted in the 2000 parliamentary elections. The apathy will continue as long as politicians do not offer real practical alternatives. The other notable finding was:
Concerns about shortcomings in Egypt’s schools. The general public in Egypt sees education as the most important right for women, but they worry that Egypt’s public schools are not up to the task. Several Egyptians issue harsh critiques of the current education system, saying that teachers are poorly trained and schools are ill equipped. Many complain about having to pay teachers for private lessons so their children can pass exams, a payment that several view as bribery for a basic entitlement.
Until about two years ago, money assigned to education under the USAID program in Egypt was shrinking fast and scheduled to be re-assigned elsewhere altogether. The biggest item on the budget was for the commodity import program, which essentially provides support to banks lending money to importers buying American goods. The Bush administration has somewhat slowed down the shift away from education, which was good, but this is by no means safe for the future. Interfering in another country's education system is a controversial thing to do, of course, but USAID and other organization should be able to do their utmost to support serious educational reform. That would offer an opportunity for some real reform as well as fulfill a laudable US policy objective towards the Arab world. The responsibility for the state of education in Egypt of course lies with the government, but this is one area where we should not be afraid to offer our help, even if it is at the expense of American exports.
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HRW on Gaza and Morocco

Two important reports have been issued recently by Human Rights Watch. One is quite timely in light of yesterday's vote in the Israeli Knesset to pull out of Gaza is about Mass Home Demolitions in the Gaza Strip:
Over the past four years, the Israeli military has demolished over 2,500 Palestinian houses in the occupied Gaza Strip. Nearly two-thirds of these homes were in Rafah, a densely populated refugee camp and city at the southern end of the Gaza Strip on the border with Egypt. Sixteen thousand people — more than ten percent of Rafah’s population — have lost their homes, most of them refugees, many of whom were dispossessed for a second or third time.
As satellite images in this report show, most of the destruction in Rafah occurred along the Israeli-controlled border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt.  During regular nighttime raids and with little or no warning, Israeli forces used armored Caterpillar D9 bulldozers to raze blocks of homes at the edge of the camp, incrementally expanding a “buffer zone” that is currently up to three hundred meters wide.  The pattern of destruction strongly suggests that Israeli forces demolished homes wholesale, regardless of whether they posed a specific threat, in violation of international law.  In most of the cases Human Rights Watch found the destruction was carried out in the absence of military necessity.
HRW reports on Israel/Palestine are always extremely well researched because of the political sensitivity of the issues they address. This one includes some very revealing satellite imagery of Gaza that shows the extent of destruction that took place. What's important about the report is that it highlights that
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s plan to “disengage” from the Gaza Strip holds little hope of relief to the residents of Rafah.  Under the plan, the IDF will maintain its fortifications and patrols on the Rafah border indefinitely.  The plan explicitly envisions the possibility of further demolitions to widen the buffer zone on the basis of vague “security considerations” that, as this report demonstrates, should not require a buffer zone of the kind that currently exists, let alone further mass demolitions.
The second report is about the crackdown on suspected Islamists that followed the May 16 2003 Casablanca bombings, which were a setback for due process and human rights in a country that was just beginning extensive reforms under the new king. But the report also notes some positive developments for Morocco, notably in the form of an "Equity and Reconciliation Commission" that is the first in the Arab world to be set up to look at past abuses. Still, the commission's power is limited.
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Dirty Islamists

This story about Algeria's Harkat Al-Islah Islamist party brought a smile... Algerian Islamists Rattled by Sexual Scandals, Resignation of Leaders
Scandals surrounding the party broke out earlier this week when a member of the leadership, who must remain anonymous for legal reasons, filed a lawsuit claiming that his wife had been “sexually assaulted” by Sadiq Sulayemah, another party leader.
The plaintiff has accused the party’s leadership of trying to cover up the incident along with other instances of “illegitimate sexual activity” at the highest levels.
Sulayemah, a well-known poet, and a life-long friend of Jaballah, has denied the charge, explaining his presence in the plaintiff’s house as an accident.
Party sources said yesterday that the poet had met Jaballah and “confessed to his sins” and asked for pardon. Jaballah is reported to have asked the poet to keep the incident a secret so as not to harm the party.
“It is hard to know what happened at the house,” says Abdul-Ghafour Saadi, the party’s deputy leader. “There were no witnesses to see what our comrade and the lady did.”
Sulayemah has published an ode lampooning unnamed party leaders for their obsessions with adultery and sexual deviation. The scandals come as a blow to a party that has built its platform on the claim that the Algerian society has become corrupted by Western influence.
Last year the party presented a bill to make Algeria alcohol-free by banning the sale of drinks in public places. The bill failed to get enough support for inclusion in the parliamentary agenda. The party has also campaigned to make polygamy legal again, and opposed reforms presented by President Bouteflika to improve the condition of women.
Nothing reassures me more than corrupt (morally or otherwise) Islamist politicians. It's the holier-than-thou ones I'm afraid of.
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Hizb Al Ghad granted license

Hizb Al Ghad (the Party of Tomorrow), was approved a few hours ago by the Higher Political Parties Committee (HPPC) of the Egyptian Shura Council, the upper house of parliament. The HPPC has, for the past two decades, routinely denied new parties licenses on the spurious grounds that they did not bring anything new to the political scene, one of the requirements for founding a party in Egypt. The Hizb Al Ghad people are of course ecstatic, and we are waiting to see if more parties were granted licenses. Remember yesterday I posted that there were rumors this was going to happen. Well, for one party at least it did. I don't want to go into the details of the case right now, but it is likely that the decision came a) from high up, i.e. Mubarak, and b) to avoid the embarrassment of having the administrative court rule in favor of Hizb Al Ghad and overturning the HPPC's decision. Note that the key decision-maker at that level is Safwat Al Sherif, the former Minister of Information and current head of the Shura Council and secretary-general of the ruling National Democratic Party. As you might guess, he's no fan of new parties. The bottom line: a good first step, but one that probably would have come anyway through the judicial system. Will be more excited if Karamah and Al Wasat, for instance, get through and if currently frozen parties (such as the rather nasty left-Islamist Labor party and the ridiculous Ahrar party) are unfrozen.
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Bits and pieces

A few things that I picked up around the web but I have nothing special to say about:
  • A fun story from the October 1854 issue of Harper's called The Oriental Merchant. Rummage around the site and there are some great 19th century orientalist stories.
  • Mona Baker's site, which leads with an important appeal to defend Columbia University Assistant Professor Joseph Massad, who is coming under attack by the usual suspects for having opinions of his own.
  • Shebab Misr (the youth of Egypt, in Arabic) is a subversive but relatively apolitical online magazine that prints what's usually not available in the print publications. A worthy project.
  • We've mentioned Al Hurra a few times here in the past few weeks, but Abu Aardvark has a bit more with rumors of impending shake-ups. Also check out his links covering protests over human rights activist Abd al Hadi al Khawaja's arrest, which we've covered before. Update:
  • He's also right that Chan'ad Bahraini is a must-read on Bahrain and this affair in particular.
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    Petition against Mubarak

    Egypt's pro-democracy movement is gathering some steam:
    More than 650 people - Islamists, Communists and 30 lawmakers - signed a petition in the name of The Popular Campaign for Reforms, to try to amend Egypt's constitution to limit a president to two terms.
    The petition, a copy of which was faxed to The Associated Press, called the system of one-man rule in Egypt "an obstacle to all opportunities for reform and progress."
    The left and the Islamists have taken some time to get together and find common ground, but at least they finally have. The group that's still missing, though, is precisely the one Western powers would most like to see succeed the military regime: the "liberal" businessmen who have been nurtured for years as a rising force in Egyptian politics and are now -- to a certain extent -- represented by Gamal Mubarak and his cronies. Update: Abu Aardvark offers his own analysis, and a conversation I had with one of the activists who signed the petition suggest that the Islamists are not really on board: although they sent a representative to sign the petition, yesterday the Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood denied any knowledge of the petition, effectively dissociating himself but maintaining a certain level of ambiguity. At the end of the day, the petition itself is not that significant if there isn't a follow-up to make it a more general opposition to a another Mubarak term. The petitioners gathered under the banner "Enough" when they held their gathering, that feeling now has to be communicated to others who have also had enough.
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    New parties rumor

    There has been a rumor going around Cairo that President Mubarak has decided to grant the Hizb Al Ghad (Party of Tomorrow) and Karamah (Dignity) party licenses, and that this will be carried out within a couple of days. Now, I don't take too much stock in rumors, especially as, at least in the case of Hizb Al Ghad, there is a case pending in the administrative court. (Read Ursula's post from last month for more info.) Karamah, an older party founded by ex-Nasserist MP Hamdeen Sabahi -- one of the most honest men in Egyptian politics and a respected younger leftist leader -- has quite a different background that Hizb Al Ghad. It has ties with the revolutionary socialists, the underground leftist movement that has been one of the main forces behind street protests against the Iraq war and the occupation of Palestine, as well as with Egypt's growing anti-globalization movement. Karamah is motivated by ideas of social justice, while Hizb Al Ghad's central issue is constitutional reform. The first has grassroots support among intellectuals and left-wing activists, as well as some poor areas, while the second's main strength is the personality of its leaders, maverick MP Ayman Nour and former MP Mona Makram Ebeid. Many of the regime's fiercest critics nevertheless take pride in the independence of the judiciary (I am more pessimistic on this myself), and if Mubarak can decide overnight to make the court decide in Hizb Al Ghad's favor (it seems they have a solid case anyhow), while it will be good for that party it won't say much for the judiciary. But it'll be interesting to see what happens, and I guess we'll know by the end of the week if the rumors are true. Update: Just to clarify things, the Hizb Al Ghad ruling by the administrative court which could grant it party status is scheduled to come tomorrow. This is what probably started the rumors. Regarding Karamah, it has already been denied several times by the Higher Political Parties committee, as has Al Wasat, a centrist party mostly led by former Muslim Brothers.
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    American legitimacy

    Robert W. Tucker and David C. Hendrickson take Robert Kagan and others to task in The Sources of American Legitimacy, an article why the Iraq war and the Bush doctrine of ignoring international law, the international community and the United Nations has imperiled the US. They take aim, notably, at Kagan's argument that
    "Contrary to much mythologizing on both sides of the Atlantic these days, the foundations of U.S. legitimacy during the Cold War had little to do with the fact that the United States helped create the UN or faithfully abided by the precepts of international law laid out in the organization's charter."
    Kagan's recent book, Of Paradise and Power, which argued that Americans were from Mars and Europeans from Venus and would never agree on foreign policy in general and military intervention in particular. It was the most articulate argument against what Donald Rumsfeld called "Old Europe" by one of the brightest neo-con thinkers. Tucker and Hendrickson's answer to it is timely and well-argued, without all the wishy-washiness of terms such as "soft power." They are particulary good when making the argument that the pre-emptive wars envisaged under the Bush doctrine are not only illegal, but dangerous and unrealistic:
    Such illegal uses of force are in fact unnecessary for U.S. security and actually imperil it. The Iraq war clearly illustrates both points: not only did containment and deterrence offer a perfectly workable method of dealing with Saddam's Iraq, but the consequences of the U.S. occupation have also made Americans much more insecure. Those consequences include daily attacks on American soldiers, the inflammation of opinion in the Muslim world (encouraging new recruits for al Qaeda), and the possibility of further wars arising from the potential disintegration of the Iraqi state.
    The baleful results of the Iraq war are also relevant to the dangers posed by the acquisition of nuclear weapons by North Korea or Iran, two instances in which preventive war is often urged. As with Iraq, "preventive" attacks would be remedies worse than the disease and could mean catastrophic war in both regions. U.S. threats of "regime change" also undermine the more reasonable policy of dissuading either state from acquiring such weapons through measures short of war-that is, through a mixture of negative sanctions and positive inducements. The prospects of a grand bargain with either Pyongyang or Tehran would be enhanced were Washington to abandon its not-so-secret wish to bring about the downfall of these regimes.
    Good reading if you follow these policy debates.
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    TV agit-prop

    The Washington Times on Al Manar and Znet on Al Hurra: they could be talking about the same thing. There has been a spate of stories on Al Hurra recently, none of them particularly enlightening. A few weeks ago I met one of their reporters who was coming through Cairo. That person told me that the atmosphere at Al Hurra was unbearable: most of the staff are Lebanese Maronites who come from the MBC channel in Lebanon, which was closed by the authorities for being critical of Syria. Many of them come from Aounist backgrounds, after General Michel Aoun who was one of the main and bloodiest warlords during the Lebanese civil war. Apparently they have decided to take revenge and now devote a considerable portion of their time to attacking Syria, while other areas of the Arab world -- North Africa for instance -- are ignored. They also have a tendency to promote Arab and Arab-American reporters who have a history in Arab Christian activist movements, not only Maronite but Coptic too. More than one presenter of talk shows has also reportedly shown a slight obsession with minority-related issues: for instance a 90-minute interview with If all this is true -- and it has been confirmed elsewhere so I think it is -- no wonder no one has confidence in this channel.
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    Two quick TV stories

    As anyone who has lived in the Arab world during Ramadan knows, this is the time of the year when new TV series come out and families crowd around their TV set from sunset to the late evening, watching the latest on offer from Egypt, the Gulf and elsewhere. In Egypt, for instance, the big hit show so far is Abbas Al Abiad fil Youm Al Aswad (literally, Abbas the White in Dark Days), a story of mistaken identities in the context of the Gulf War (the 1991 one), which is quite good from what I've seen so far. But the big TV event came before Ramadan, on the eve of the Taba bombings, when Egyptian TV viewers found their 10 national channels bereft of news about the bombings and continuing normal programming even as Al Jazeera provided continuous coverage of events. Tarek Atia -- who, as well as writing for Al Ahram Weekly, runs one of the first blog-like Egyptian sites, cairolive.com -- reported on what happened on the small screen:
    "I couldn't believe what I was seeing," said Hossam El- Garahi, a stock exchange analyst. Having learned of the incident from the satellite channel, Al-Arabiya, El-Garahi kept flipping back to Egyptian TV, determined to find out more about what was going on in Taba. "All the channels had the regular stuff going on -- a play here, a video clip there -- it was like this thing wasn't happening in Egypt."
    Millions of other people couldn't believe their eyes as they watched their TV screens late Thursday night. It wasn't just the horrific images emerging from Taba that astounded them, but the seeming oblivion to those events being demonstrated by their local channels.
    On channel 1, a play continued without interruption. On channel 2, a video clip. Channel 3 was airing an interview, as was channel 4, and so on.
    Finally, said a flustered and angry El-Garahi, a news ticker appeared that indicated that an explosion, which might have been caused by a gas leak, had occurred in Taba. "That useless ticker remained unchanged for the next several hours," he said.
    Viewers hungry for information relied more on channels like Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya (or CNN, as in El-Garahi's case) that were basically blanketing their coverage with news from Taba, albeit with an annoying lack of new details. In fact, most of that first coverage was basically a continuous reel of an Israeli ambulance leaving the scene, and a wounded blond woman on a stretcher.
    The other interesting story about TV comes from Jordan, with state TV there pulling a new serial about Afghanistan after threats from Islamists that they would take revenge if it showed the Taliban in a bad light. The same show has also apparently been pulled from Qatar, where it was produced.
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    Hostages in Iraq

    AP did a tally of foreigners taken hostage in Iraq. Sobering.

    A Look at Foreigners Taken Hostage in Iraq
    By The Associated Press Insurgents in Iraq have kidnapped more than 150 foreigners: HELD HOSTAGE: _Margaret Hassan, director of CARE international in Iraq and a citizen of Britain, Ireland and Iraq. Abducted Oct. 19. A videotape issued Oct. 22 shows her pleading for Britain to withdraw troops from Iraq. _Two Lebanese electrical workers, Marwan Ibrahim Kassar and Mohammed Jawdat Hussein. A video broadcast Sept. 30 shows masked men holding them at gunpoint. Islamic Army in Iraq claims responsibility. _Christian Chesnot, 37, and George Malbrunot, 41, French journalists. Disappeared Aug. 20. Islamic Army in Iraq claims responsibility. _Aban Elias, 41, Iraqi-American. Seized May 3 by Islamic Rage Brigade. HOSTAGES KILLED: _Three Macedonian contractors, Dalibor Lazarevski, Zoran Nastovski and Dragan Markovic abducted Aug. 21; Macedonian government confirms their deaths Oct. 22. _Ramazan Elbu, a Turkish driver. A video posted Oct. 14 on the Web site of the Ansar al-Sunnah Army shows his beheading. _Maher Kemal, a Turkish contractor. Internet posting Oct. 11 shows his beheading. A statement says he was captured by the Ansar al-Sunnah Army. _British engineer Kenneth Bigley, 62. Kidnapped Sept. 16 with two American co-workers for Gulf Services Co. A video issued in the name of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi threatens their lives unless the U.S. frees all Iraqi women in custody. The Americans are slain first; Bigley's killing is confirmed Oct. 10. _Unidentified Turkish hostage. Al-Jazeera reports slaying Oct. 4 and says it received claim in video from Salafist Brigades of Abu Bakr Al-Sidiq. _Jack Hensley, 48, a civil engineer from Marietta, Ga. Seized Sept. 16; an Internet message posted Sept. 21 reports his killing by al-Zarqawi's followers. _Eugene "Jack" Armstrong, 52, formerly of Hillsdale, Mich. Kidnapped Sept. 16; video made public Sept. 20 shows his beheading by al-Zarqawi. _Akar Besir, a Turkish driver. Body found Sept. 21. _Durmus Kumdereli, Turkish truck driver. Beheaded in video made public Sept. 13 but digitally dated Aug. 17. Video posted on a Web site known for carrying statements from Tawhid and Jihad. _Twelve Nepalese construction workers. One beheaded and 11 shot in the head in a video posted on the Internet Aug. 31. Killings claimed by Ansar al-Sunnah Army. _Enzo Baldoni, Italian journalist. Reported killed Aug. 26; Islamic Army in Iraq had threatened his life. _Murat Yuce of Turkey. Shot dead in video made public Aug. 2 by followers of al-Zarqawi. _Raja Azad, 49, engineer, and Sajad Naeem, 29, driver, both Pakistani. Slain July 28. The Islamic Army in Iraq said they were killed because Pakistan considering sending troops to Iraq. _Georgi Lazov, 30, and Ivaylo Kepov, 32, Bulgarian truck drivers. Al-Zarqawi's followers suspected of decapitating both men. _Kim Sun-il, 33, South Korea (news - web sites) translator. Beheaded June 22 by al-Zarqawi's group. _Hussein Ali Alyan, 26, Lebanese construction worker. Found shot to death June 12. Lebanon says killers sought ransom. _Fabrizio Quattrocchi, 35, Italian security guard. Killed April 14. Unknown group, the Green Battalion, claimed responsibility. _Nicholas Berg, 26, businessman from West Chester, Pa. Kidnapped in April and beheaded by al-Zarqawi's group. FREED OR ESCAPED: _35 Turks, 15 Jordanians, 13 Lebanese, nine Egyptians, five Japanese, five Chinese, three Kenyans, three Czechs, five Italians, three Indians, two Americans, two Poles, two Indonesians, two Canadians, two Russians, a Filipino, an Australian, a Briton, an Iranian, a Pakistani, a Somali, a Frenchman, a Syrian-Canadian, and an Arab Christian from Jerusalem. MISSING: _U.S. Army Spc. Keith M. Maupin, 20, of Batavia, Ohio, William Bradley of Chesterfield, N.H., and Timothy Bell of Mobile, Ala. Disappeared April 9 after attack on a fuel convoy. Arab television reported June 29 that Maupin had been killed; he is listed as missing by the U.S. military.
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    If only

    Charles Krauthammer, neo-con editorialist extraordinaire, does his part for the Bush re-election campaign today in Sacrificing Israel, a piece that I suppose is meant to scare supporters of Israel into voting for Kerry. This is his premise:
    Think about it: What do the Europeans and the Arab states endlessly rail about in the Middle East? What (outside of Iraq) is the area of most friction with U.S. policy? What single issue most isolates America from the overwhelming majority of countries at the United Nations?
    The answer is obvious: Israel.
    In what currency, therefore, would we pay the rest of the world in exchange for their support in places such as Iraq? The answer is obvious: giving in to them on Israel.
    No Democrat will say that openly. But anyone familiar with the code words of Middle East diplomacy can read between the lines.
    Krauthammer then does some deconstruction of Kerry's foreign policy, including his plans to re-energize the Middle East peace process. So when America will "re-engage" with the peace process, according to Krauthammer this really means turning your back on Israel, embracing Yasser Arafat and encouraging Palestinian terrorism. The entire argument is of course ridiculous, especially when you consider that the two candidates basically have no difference on Middle East policy and that Kerry has done everything to please American supporters of Israel. (See Kerry Tries to Out-Sharon Bush by Ron Chepesiuk and Bush and Kerry Dance to the Tune of Ariel Sharon by Simon Tisdall for some examples.) Incidentally, the Krauthammer piece may be part of a coordinated campaign by pro-Israeli right-wingers to discredit Kerry: take a look at this ridiculous editorial by Zev Chafets accusing Kerry of faking tears while visiting the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum in Israel. Chafets relies on base manipulation of the Holocaust to spread the idea that anyone who doesn't fully support Ariel Sharon wants to see Israel destroyed. Take a look at the depths to which he goes:
    But the threat facing Israel now isn't primarily military. Countries, including many Kerry prizes as members of "the international community," are waging diplomatic war aimed at turning the Jewish state into a pariah. This is not a threat you can discern from the cockpit of a jet fighter, but it is real enough. And its desired effect is on display at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.
    In a time of jihad, an American president who doesn't see that - and feel it - is a dangerous friend to have.
    Joseph Lieberman has also raised the issue that Kerry is not taking a strong enough stance in Israel, particularly with the important Jewish population in Florida -- the fourth largest outside of Israel. If only it were true that Kerry wanted to re-engage in the peace process and apply pressure on the Israelis to finally get out of the Occupied Territories that they've held for 37 years. The truth is Kerry's Middle East policy is uninspiring at best and as criminally negligent as Bush's at worst. The only hope is that a Kerry administration, at least, may not have neo-con Likudniks in positions of influence.
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    Makram Ebeid's Op-ed

    Mona Makram Ebeid, a former Egyptian MP turned leading opposition figure, had penned a new editorial for the Daily Star. She reviews the unwillingness of her country's ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) to move ahead with even limited political decompression. It's all worthwhile, but I am a big taken aback by the following paragraph:
    Among those who expressed their most vociferous criticism were individuals seeking to establish new political parties. During its 23-year existence, the governmental Parties Committee has systematically refused all requests submitted to it (except one) to legalize parties. All other legalized parties since 1990 owe their existence to the State Council, which though bounded by a restrictive law, has tended to interpret it more broadly than the Parties Committee, which remains a mere puppet in the hands of the executive branch. Most significantly, one party, Hizb al-Ghad (The Party of Tomorrow), whose guiding principles are liberty, democracy and respect for fundamental freedoms and the rule of law, has watched its appeal to be licensed, which it lodged with the State Council, adjourned for the third time. The irony is that the adjournment coincided with the ringing call by the NDP to widen political participation!
    The part that's highlighted above about the Hizb Al-Ghad struck me because at no point does Makram Ebeid tell us that she is a leader of that party, and nor does her biographical information at the bottom of the editorial. I'm all for attacking the NDP, but the Daily Star should know better than to provide her a platform for her own political propaganda without saying who she is. Indeed, that might be a better way to promote her party.
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    A Diamond in the Rough

    Go read A Diamond in the Rough, a front-page LA Times story by my friend Ashraf Khalil, who is taking a break from Iraq in Cairo before he goes back in two weeks. It's a wonderful little gem. This is the kind of story is what foreign editors love these days, especially if it comes from the Middle East. As one of my own editors once told me, with so much bad news and full pages dedicated to covering the bloodshed in Iraq, a little levity is a good thing. This also often extends to outside the war zones, so that in the rest of the Middle East, stories on "serious" issues like political reform or economic crisis will be less popular than ones of belly dancers or archeological trivia. With so much sad news coming out from this part of the world, foreign pages of newspapers need something to lighten up.
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    The Secret in the CIA's Back Pocket

    I've always thought that one of the most astonishing about the way the Bush administration handled 9/11 is that no one was held to account. Not the people who didn't get the warnings to the president, not the White House for ignoring that warning if it did get to it, not the Air Force personnel that failed to scramble in time to intercept the third plane, not the CIA for having lousy intelligence -- nothing. And even the 9/11 Commission eschews assigning blame to specific institutions or people. Apparently, the CIA has been working on its own report on 9/11 which does assign blame and treats some people pretty harshly. But, as Robert Scheer reports on Alternet, we're not about to see it before the elections:
    According to the intelligence official, who spoke to me on condition of anonymity, release of the report, which represents an exhaustive 17- month investigation by an 11-member team within the agency, has been "stalled." First by acting CIA Director John McLaughlin and now by Porter J. Goss, the former Republican House member (and chairman of the Intelligence Committee) who recently was appointed CIA chief by President Bush.
    The official stressed that the report was more blunt and more specific than the earlier bipartisan reports produced by the Bush-appointed Sept. 11 commission and Congress.
    "What all the other reports on 9/11 did not do is point the finger at individuals, and give the how and what of their responsibility. This report does that," said the intelligence official. "The report found very senior-level officials responsible."
    Let's hope those senior-level officials will lose their jobs on November 2.
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