Interview with a Muslim Sister

AFP interviews Makarem Al Deiri, one of the only two female candidates the Muslim Brotherhood is fielding in next month's parliamentary elections:
The only woman candidate backed by Egypt's influential Muslim Brotherhood, the 55-year-old mother of seven insists there is no point arguing for sexual equality, as such a demand "goes against nature".
"Women are men's partners at all levels, but their main role is to be good mothers who look after their children," Deiri said in Nasr City, the middle-class constituency in north-eastern Cairo where she is standing for election.
"Would women be happy if men were to stay home to look after the children while they worked outside?" she asks rhetorically.
"We believe that domestic chores are not less [than other types of work] and we oppose battling against men's superiority to women."
The widow of the late Muslim Brotherhood leader Ibrahim Sharaf, who was jailed from 1965 to 1974, Deiri is standing against a male candidate from the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) -- Mustafa al-Sallab, a millionaire businessman in the ceramic industry.
One wonders why she is bothering to run rather than stay home to take care of her children or grandchildren. In fact, considering that she has a PhD in literature and is a professor at Al Azhar University, she must be a terrible mother. While I don't think it's necessarily fair or representative to zero in on her attitudes to women as AFP has in this article (I'm sure she has opinions on a lot of other issues), it's good to see some highlighting of attitudes that the Brothers tend to obfuscate when dealing with the international press. Or, in other words, that they have the sophistication of a turnip when it comes to interpreting the role of women in society, even when it flies in the face of common sense and their members' own experience. What are they, wahhabis?
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Economist on Fisk

Rather good review on Robert Fisk's new book in this week's Economist:
Mr Fisk is a gifted writer and an accomplished storyteller, so those who have not read him before will enjoy the famous correspondent's colourful narrative. Mr Fisk tries to tell the story of the Middle East, but he does not flinch from telling the story of Mr Fisk. So here is not only a record of what he has seen and reported since 1976 in Afghanistan, Lebanon, Iraq, Iran, Algeria and many other dusty and violent places, but also a tale of how he got the lead, wangled the flight, bribed the guard and brought home the scoop. The Times offered Mr Fisk the Middle East when he was only 29, and his love affair with the region and the glamorous profession of being a foreign correspondent finds expression on every page.
The Economist's editorial line, which is largely pro-Israel and neo-conservative (and, increasingly, rather defensive about it), does not prevent it from giving Fisk a thumbs-up despite a few caveats.
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Nepal = Egypt?

You have to start worrying when Egypt becomes a byword for fake elections: Indiadaily.com - Nepal on its way to become Egypt? Seven major parties including Nepali Congress Party will join the boycott of April 2007 parliamentary elections:
Nepal still is dragging its foot on bringing multi-party democracy back. The King is stubborn and there are signs that he and his regime is trying to bring a puppet parliament in session that will follow his orders like that of Mubarak of Egypt. Constitutional multi-party democracy can be a joke if the supreme person controls the election. In that way Nepal and Egypt will have perfect similarity.
From an Indian newspaper.
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Interview with Saudi King Abdullah

As I was watching Seinfeld on the Saudi channel MBC4 last night, the show got interrupted to bring news that King Abdullah had given his first TV interview as king to the American channel ABC. The transcript is here. I can't say I find anything remarkable about the platitudes contained inside it, but found this part interesting:
WALTERS: Let's talk about Iran ... Iran has become more powerful as a result of the turmoil in Iraq. Do you see that as a concern for Saudi Arabia?
ABDULLAH: The questioner is often times more knowledgeable than the questionee.
WALTERS: (Laughs) So, you are not worried about Iran becoming more powerful?
ABDULLAH: Iran is a friendly country. Iran is a Muslim country. We hope that Iran will not become an obstacle to peace and security in Iraq. This is what we hope for and this is what we believe the Iraqi people hope for.
ABDULLAH: The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, like other countries in the region, rejects the acquisition of nuclear weapons by anyone, especially nuclear weapons in the Middle East region. We hope that such weapons will be banned or eliminated from the region by every country in the region
It's interesting wording that's indicative of the rapprochement between Saudi and Iran for the last few years--a tense thawing as what is happening next door in Iraq has long-term implications for the sectarian divide in Saudi Arabia, hence Abdullah's insistence that:
We believe that all Iraq is one country in which all Iraqis live in peace and justice. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia until today has not interfered in Iraq's affairs. We have not done so because we don't want to open ourselves up to charges or accusations that we are ... that we have a hand in the disintegration of ... of Iraq.
I thought this part was rather funny too:
WALTERS: In this country, however, you cannot practice a religion other than Islam publicly, although there are 5 million foreigners in this country.
ABDULLAH: Public worship is not allowed -- you are correct -- because Saudi Arabia, as you know, is the birthplace of Islam. To allow the construction of places of worship other than Islamic ones in Saudi Arabia it would be like asking the Vatican to build a mosque inside of it. However, people in Saudi Arabia are free to practice their faith in the privacy of their homes.
Obviously Abdallah was fairly well briefed before the interview, and indeed probably got written questions first. It's a pity they couldn't send someone more informed about Saudi Arabia to do it instead of Walters.
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Notes on Kanaan's death

A few quick notes from a busy day: Nick Blanford, one of the best Beirut-based foreign correspondents, give his two cents here, and concludes:
"I have just been talking to a very prominent Damascus analyst, who predicts that Kanaan will be blamed for the Hariri assassination. "This would lift the international pressure off the Syrian regime, and avoid the risk that Kanaan might launch a coup backed by the US and take over the presidency."
Blanford also has a story here, in which he gives this handy clarifications over the radio interview Kanaan gave a few hours before his death:
On Tuesday night, the New TV channel broadcast allegations that General Kanaan had admitted to Mr Mehlis that he had amassed millions of dollars during his “reign in Lebanon�. “Premier Hariri had at the time given me a $10 million cheque,� New TV quoted General Kanaan as saying in his testimony to the UN investigators. “We were making money from Premier Hariri so how could we possibly kill him and close the flow of his riches?� Yesterday morning General Kanaan spoke to the Voice of Lebanon radio station to reject the allegations aired the previous evening.
Robert Fisk has the usual "I, Robert Fisk, knew Ghazi Kanaan" article, but you have to pay for it. L'Orient Le Jour starts its piece on Kanaan today with some rather amusing phrasing: "Did he commit suicide? Was he forced to commit suicide? Was he 'suicided'?" The article's author, Michel Georgiou, then continues to mock the Syrian official position on Kanaan's death:
Some in Damascus have described, with obvious bad faith that at times is close to burlesque, a man "eaten by anxiety on the future of Lebanon." Perhaps instead they should blame Kanaan's "suicide" on fear of the avian flu, which, having already reached Turkey, is knocking at Syria's door.
Georgiou then goes to examine the possibility of Kanaan having spilt the beans to the Mehlis enquiry, and his suicide being a way out of the Hariri scandal for the Syrian regime who can then blame him.
Ghazi Kanaan may have become the perfect example of a scapegoat--the ideal suspect since he can no longer defend himself--by which the Syrian regime hopes to buy its salvation in the 14 February affair, or at least remain in purgatory. But does the sacrifice of one man suffice to absolve an entire regime?
There is a lot of analysis and reporting taking place on this issue, but not much that is bringing actually new information. Le Monde's article today adds a little bit more:
D'autres font état de divergences au sein de l'appareil de pouvoir syrien, dont Ghazi Kanaan devait, entre autres personnalités, faire les frais : il devait être écarté du ministère pour un poste "protocolairement plus important" , mais qui est en fait une voie de garage, rapporte un diplomate. I Translation: Others speak of schism at the heart of the Syrian regime, which Ghazi Kanaan among others were to bear the brunt of: he was to be moved out of the ministry in favor of a "by protocol, more important" post that was in fact a kick upstairs, according to a diplomat.
Josh of Syria Comment says:
One good reporter I heard from today said they are "hearing Kanaan was tried in-camera and executed." I have to wonder, though, that if Kanaan knew it was coming, why did they let him give out his "final statement" to Voice of Lebanon? Anyway, he has a lot more on this.
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Al Qaeda letter released

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence has just released a letter from Ayman Al Zawahri to Abu Musab Al Zarqawi, It makes for fascinating reading, because, in no particular order:
  • It suggests that Al Qaeda in Iraq keep in mind international Muslim public opinion when planning attack;
  • Specifically advises to refrain from civilian attacks on Shia Iraqis because other Muslims, even non-Shia, will not understand them (even though they are quite justified to Al Zawahri and a confrontation with the Shia will happen "sooner or later anyway");
  • It extensively refers to Al Qaeda's experience in Afghanistan, notably with regards to the collapse of the Taliban regime, to warn Zarqawi about the importance of sectarian and tribal relations--in other words, broad-based support;
  • Meditates on the potential emergence of a embryonic caliphate in the Sunni parts of Iraq after an American withdrawal, which it predicts will come soon, but reiterates his view that such a caliphate's true heart is Egypt and the Levant ("a bird whose wings are Egypt and Syria and whose heart is Palestine");
  • Of interest to Egypt-watchers, Zawahri talks about an article or book he wrote called "The Muslim Brotherhood in 60 Years: The Bitter Harvest" in which he warns about the "dangerous trend" of appeasement within the Brotherhood.
All this is from a quick glance at the letter, which I'll try to read more in depth later. I'm not sure how credible the letter is (or whether it's been acknowledged as authentic or denied) but if it's real it's a fascinating look inside the mind of Al Qaeda's leading strategist.
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Syrian Interior Minister commits suicide

All the Arabic news channels are now breaking with news that Ghazi Kanaan, Syria's Interior Minister, shot himself in his office earlier today. I'm not sure where the original story comes from, but one can safely assume that this is coming from the Syrian government. Kanaan was at the center of the probe into Rafik Hariri's assassination and more recently had been linked to major corruption scandals. He ran the Lebanon file for a long time, was a business associate of Hariri's, and was also one of the most powerful members of the Syrian regime. His death is going to be what the Arabic press is going talking for a long time... I'll be following this story on Josh Landis' Syria Comment, of course, and a few stories are beginning to pop up across the web. More later. (And here is a Kanaan bio from an anti-Syrian Lebanese site) Update 1: Here is a round up from Terrorism Unveiled with a few interesting links, Josh Landis weighs in, and there is some speculation going around the Lebanese blogosphere (which is, as you'd expect, both jubilant and worried) that the statement Kanaan made this morning to radio--which he said would be "his last"--might have been made at gunpoint. I don't follow Syria closely enough to be able to give any prediction of what will happen next, but I would say that this is pushing the regime closer to collapse. The message this sends out, if you believe the theory that Kanaan could have been an acceptable (to the West and domestic constituencies) coup leader against the Asads, is dual-edged. On the one hand it says "don't mess with us" and on the other it says "we're scared." Interesting times... Update 2: L'Orient Le Jour has a full transcript of Kanaan's statement this morning to the "Voice of Lebanon" radio station, in French:
Voici le texte de la « dernière déclaration » faite par Kanaan à la La Voix du Liban, avant de se donner la mort dans son bureau. « Je vous appelle pour donner une déclaration à propos de ce qui a été diffusé mardi sur la NTV, qui n'a cessé de diffuser des mensonges et de tromper l'opinion publique notamment en ce qui concerne ce qui s'est passé lors de ma rencontre avec la Commission d'enquête de l'Onu (sur le meurtre de Rafic Hariri) et l'aide de la Syrie pour parvenir à la vérité, car la Syrie a intérêt à ce que la vérité apparaisse ». « En ce qui concerne mon témoignage, la lumière a été faite sur la période au cours de laquelle j'ai servi au Liban (1982-2002) et j'ai parlé de tout ce que l'on m'a demandé et avec objectivité ». « En conclusion, j'affirme que ce qui a été diffusé par la NTV est dénué de tout fondement et monté de toutes pièces car j'ai une copie du témoignage devant la Commission qui rend possible le rejet de ces mensonges et répond à ces accusations mensongères ». « L'objectif (de ces mensonges) est de nous faire du mal ainsi qu'au président Rafic Hariri, car ni lui ni nous, ne nous comportons de cette façon. Je me demande si les motivations de cette chaîne sont dictées par sa haine de Hariri que tout le monde connaît ou que quelqu'un leur a fourni le poison et ils sont tombés dans le panneau ». « Cette chaîne a perdu la crédibilité dont elle jouissait". « Notre relation avec les frères au Liban était empreinte d'amitié et de respect mutuel et j'ai servi avec honneur et dignité les intérêts du Liban. Je laisse au peuple libanais le soin de prononcer son verdict. Notre action a permis de réunifier le Liban alors que cette unité, qui était compromise, aurait été impossible sans la Syrie ». « Si nous profitions autant de Rafic Hariri, je ne comprends pas comment nous l'aurions tué ». « Je vous demande de faire parvenir ce texte également à la LBC, la NBN, la Future TV. C'est la dernière déclaration que je pourrais donner », a-t-il conclu.
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Jazeera hires Frost

Apparently Al Jazeera has hired David Frost, the veteran British broadcaster, as part of its top line-up. I find that rather unfortunate. Breakfast with Frost was a dreadfully boring current affairs show and Frost is way past his sell-by date. This sounds like an attempt to inject British patrician authority into the channel rather than any real skilled interviewer or investigation journalists. Someone younger would have been better--respectability is not something you can just buy.
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Training the terrorists

Sigh:
The US and British militaries have suspended their training programs for Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Georgia, Ukraine and Azerbaijan after more than 800 troops from these countries deserted, and many reportedly joined militant groups, such as al-Qaeda and Chechen rebel forces.
According to intelligence sources quoted in the media, the deserters escaped with weapons, including M-16s, rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs), communications equipment, night vision goggles and other ordnance items
. Via Agonist.
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American attitudes to democratization

According to a poll, many Americans believe their country should not encourage democratization in the Middle East. The poll, by the Knowledge Networks for the Program on International Policy Attitudes and the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations, has the following answers when asked "Do you think the US should or should not put greater pressure on countries in the Middle East like Saudi Arabia and Egypt to become more democratic?
AllRep.Dem.Ind.
Should39%51%32%29%
Should not51%43%62%45%
No answer11%6%6%26%


Here is the link to the full survey [PDF], which includes some specific questions on Egypt and other interesting stuff. I'm not sure how to interpret this and whether there's been a big change on this question in the last few years, but I do find it surprising that the "should nots" are that high with both parties when this was meant to define the second Bush term and most American opinion-makers have been harping on and on about since 9/11. I'm sure for the Democrats the answer will be partly motivated opposition to the administration in general, but I do wonder where this might mean that the mess in Iraq may have dampened American appetites for democracy-building in the medium term. If so, Bush and his team may have set back American "Wilsonians" for years because they embraced the idea of democratization but implemented it badly. The next US president, whether Republican or Democrat, could make moving away from democratization rhetoric one of their first foreign policy priorities, if only for domestic reasons. Anyone better informed than I am on US politics has any thoughts on this?
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Saudi blocks Blogger

RSF says:
Reporters Without Borders today called on the Internet Services Unit (ISU), the agency that manages Web filtering in Saudi Arabia, to explain why the weblog creation and hosting service blogger.com has been made inaccessible since 3 October, preventing Saudi bloggers from updating their blogs.
“Saudi Arabia is one of the countries that censors the Internet the most, but blog services had not until now been affected by the ISU’s filters,” the press freedom organisation said. “The complete blocking of blogger.com, which is one of the biggest blog tools on the market, is extremely worrying. Only China had so far used such an extreme measure to censor the Internet.”
My favorite Saudi blog, Saudi Jeans, seems fine but its domain name is blogspot.com. Blogger.com is where the sites are maintained from, and I see no updates on the site since 3 October. Try proxify.com, guys.
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CEDEJ blogs

Vincent Battesti, a French anthropologist who just left Cairo after over three years studying green spaces and gardens here, is keeping a blog of his journey from Cairo to Istanbul on the CEDEJ's blog. It's also worth checking out the CEDEJ site overall--it's full of interesting research information, articles, publications etc... And throughout Ramadan they're having a documentary night every Sunday. All of this is in French, of course.
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New ICG report on Egypt

The International Crisis Group has a new report out on Egypt, the first one that looks at the general political situation in a while. It's pretty much essential reading for anyone who is interesting in contemporary Egyptian politics or even the wider question of Arab reform. Whereas their first report on Egypt concentrated on political reform in the context of the Iraq war, and the second was about the role the Muslim Brotherhood should play in Egyptian politics (they want it brought into the mainstream), this one focuses on the much more short-term issue of what to do about the upcoming parliamentary elections. It is dismissive--perhaps too dismissive--of the import of the amendment to Article 76 of the constitution and calls the reform that has been achieved so far "a false start." But perhaps the most surprising element is how critical it is of the opposition, both legal and illegal (i.e. the parties and Kifaya and the Brothers). What I like most about the report is how concisely it gives a narrative of the events of the past eight months, ranging from excitement about Mubarak's constitutional reform announcement, to disappointment with the NDP's implementation of it, to consternation with Mubarak's July announcement that further serious reforms will follow if he is elected. Some people might prefer if the story had started elsewhere--such as the 12 December 2004 Kifaya rally that marked the first shot of the anti-Mubarak movement. Indeed, the report on the whole is dismissive of the idea that internal pressure had anything to do with Mubarak's February announcement, attributing it to US pressure instead. This can be debated, especially if we consider the lack of clear information about Egypt-US relations before that period. But even if I see the counterpoint, I tend to agree with the ICG's interpretation. Having established this narrative of events, the ICG then identifies reforming parliament as the most important task ahead. (I have an article on this aspect coming in the next edition of Cairo, which will be on the newsstands on Thursday and online on Saturday.) This, the report says, is a job that falls to the opposition, which needs to get its act together make reform happen.
It should be possible for the main opposition parties to form an electoral block on the basis of an agreed set of proposals for democratic reform and to seek the support of the electorate for these demands in the parliamentary elections. A multi-party block (kutla) is a familiar tactic in contemporary Arab politics, and there is no good reason for the Egyptian opposition parties to resist this. A unified opposition campaign with these objectives and politically competent leadership could make an impression on the wider population that none of the opposition parties and reform movements on their own have been able to do. The initiative could transform the condition of the opposition as a whole, enable it to overcome its debilitating divisions and become collectively a significant player in the reform process.
If something of this sort does not happen in time for this year's parliamentary elections, it will be five years before another chance presents itself, and the opposition parties will have condemned themselves to impotence and irrelevance. In light of the severe limitations of the extra-parliamentary reform movements, such a failure by the main opposition parties would confirm the impotence of the opposition as a whole and confront onlookers with the reality that President Mubarak with his new agenda is the only horse running.
The focus, then, seems to be on the legal opposition. There are currently negotiations between these parties to form a coalition, but it doesn't look promising. Today's Al Masri Al Youm carried a story about how the Tagammu and Nasserist parties are trying to prevent Al Ghad from joining a national coalition. This would presumably drive Al Ghad to Kifaya, if they'll have him, which is doubtful considering Ayman Nour has little cred with the Kifaya crowd (perhaps with good reason, since Nour appropriated some of Kifaya's energy and slogans but rarely supported it on the streets.) Meanwhile, outside the legal opposition, the Muslim Brotherhood was reported by Nahdet Masr today to have sunk a proposal for an alliance with the Tagammu. It could still join forces with its old partner Al Wafd (with which the Brotherhood had an alliance in the 1980s), or perhaps go it alone. Kifaya, for its part, is reportedly preparing to back a slate of independent candidates. The bottom line: the kind of coalition described in the ICG report may just amount to wishful thinking. Another thing caught my attention: the recommendation that Kifaya
Reaffirm that the movement is not a political party, is not in competition with any existing political party and will not itself contest elections, and refrain from personal attacks on office-holders at any level.
That last clause--essentially that Kifaya stop being anti-Mubarak movement--seems to me that it would empty it of its meaning. What it is asking for is that Kifaya drop its core message, no to Mubarak and no to Gamal. I could not disagree more: that Kifaya has taken that message to the streets is one of the best thing that has happened in Egyptian politics in a long, long time. But I suppose that the reasoning behind this that criticism alone is not very productive, which is true enough. That being said, lately Kifaya has moved towards other issues such as corruption and unemployment. I would also say that, if we imagine Kifaya in a symbiotic role with the legal opposition, it is rather savvy to have Kifaya do most of the criticism and the parties are the ones that should step in with the solutions (in this they are failing, as the report notes). But I don't think that Kifaya was ever meant to be a political party, even if sometimes it blurs the line in its statements. One related little aside: read footnote 76, which deals with the "military intervention to remove Mubarak" scenario.
Abdelhalim Qandil, editor of Al-'arabi, told Crisis Group that a social explosion could not be ruled out, and in this event an army intervention would be a strong possibility; he argued, however, that the army would not be able, or seek, to rule, as in Nasser's day, but would clean house and establish a new political framework, inclusive of all major forces (including the Muslim Brothers) based on more, not less, political liberty, Crisis Group interview, Cairo, 20 April 2005. It is not only Nasserists who, at least intermittently, look to the army to resolve matters in this way; a similar conception was outlined by Hisham Kassem, the strongly liberal and Western-oriented publisher of Al-Masry al-Youm, Crisis Group interview, Cairo, 3 March 2005.
Some interesting thoughts there which goes to the root of the above problem: whether Mubarak should be the opposition's focus. In my own opinion, Mubarak is the core problem that needs to be dealt with before other problems (such as parliament or the judiciary) can be resolved. ICG says the opposition should focus on more general reform of institutions and the regime. It dismisses army intervention and a variant of the "Turkish scenario." I think this needs to be considered, since only by addressing the Hosni question now can you prevent having to deal with a Gamal question later. That is a legitimate fear that may be worth encouraging the chaos that would accompany a military coup. Of course, international think tanks don't usually go around making recommendations for coups. One final thought: there is a bit of a chicken-and-egg dilemma in the report's suggestion that parliamentary reform is essential: for it to happen, you need a better opposition, but for that, you need a better parliament. Considering that the NDP controls all the cards at the moment, I don't see it happening even if the opposition miraculously gets its act together over the next month. And this comes to my biggest peeve with regards to the report: the fact that it dismisses the usefulness of foreign pressure in general and foreign election monitors in particular. After all, while it recognizes the importance of US pressure in early 2005, why should it no longer be important in late 2005? If the US is serious about achieving even limited reform, it needs to keep the pressure on. Domestic monitors inside polling stations will probably not prevent the kind of strong-arm tactics we saw in the 2000 parliamentary elections, when security forces prevented voters from entering them and arrested opposition campaigners (particularly Islamists). That happened when there were judges inside the polling stations, but they had no clout to do anything about it. I suspect that foreign electoral monitors from respected international institutions would make all this much more difficult for the regime to do and get away with it. All in all, this is an excellent report that provides much food for thought whether one agrees with all, some or none of its conclusions. Read it now if you're interested in Egypt.
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Deviation to Pakistan

Rather wonderful editorializing in today's Washington Post:
Gen. Musharraf claims to champion a "moderate Islam" that respects the rights of women. But when Mukhtar Mai, a victim of a gang rape whose attackers have not been punished, tried to visit the United States earlier this year, the president barred her from leaving the country. In an interview with The Post last month, he claimed that he had relented. But then he said this: "You must understand the environment in Pakistan. This has become a money-making concern. A lot of people say if you want to go abroad and get a visa for Canada or citizenship and be a millionaire, get yourself raped." This statement was, as Pakistani activists and the Canadian government soon pointed out, an outrageous lie. There is only one known case of a rape victim moving to Canada, a doctor who was assaulted by a military officer. A far more common outcome for rape victims is to be ostracized by their communities or jailed.
When Gen. Musharraf's statement provoked an uproar, he responded with another lie: He claimed that he had never made it. In fact, a recording of him speaking is available on The Post's Web site, washingtonpost.com. His words are quite clear. "These are not my words, and I would go to the extent of saying I am not so silly and stupid to make comments of this sort," the general said. Well, yes, he is.
Ouch! Wish I saw this type of thing more often about the Arab world. P.S. I think there is little doubt that if there was a contest for the world's greatest insensitive jerk, Musharraf would be the insensitive jerk to rule them all.
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Al Wasat decision postponed

Once again, the administrative court has postponed issuing a verdict on whether Al Wasat, a moderate Islamist party founded by former members of the Muslim Brotherhood that also contains a few Christians, should be able to form a legal political party. The most immediate impact of this decision is that since the court will not convene again until 3 December, the party will not be able to compete in the upcoming parliamentary elections. Al Wasat members may choose, of course, to run as independents. For more background on this, see this Cairo article and previous posts on Arabist.net such as this and this.
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