Silvio's alibi

"I swear, Hosni, breasts like this..."

You knew there was a price to be paid for counting Silvio Berlusconi as one of your friends in Europe:

A scandal over Silvio Berlusconi's relationship with a teenage Moroccan girl took on legal and political overtones today when a senior police officer confirmed that the Italian prime minister's office had intervened on her behalf when she was detained on suspicion of theft, claiming she was the granddaughter of the Egyptian president.

And it only gets better:

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Natsios on Sudan, and Egypt

Andrew Natsios, a Bush administration Darfur envoy, gave a talk at Georgetown recently in which he approaches the referendum and its ramifications from a series of different angles, from Sudan's regionalism, to the factionalism in its security and military forces, and the possible collapse of the North if/when the South secede (or even worse, the return of Hassan al-Turabi). Among the many side claims he makes was picked up by this site:

Andrew Natsios, former US envoy to Sudan, disclosed that Egyptians pilots took part in attacks in Darfur during the war there. He made this remark at a symposium organized by Georgetown University in Washington, DC on Tuesday. Natsios was referring to the Sudanese government’s problems in getting some of its own forces to fight in the war that began in 2003.

Natsios said: “Four Darfuri officers would not man their planes during the bombing attacks. You know most of the bombing was not done by the Sudanese air force, by Sudanese officers -- did you know that in Darfur?  They were Egyptian officers and officers who were mercenaries from other Arab countries, they hired to bring them in.  Because the Sudanese officers, many of them were from Darfur who were aircraft pilots. And they wouldn’t fight. They would not man the planes.”

Before I started asking who trains Egyptian air force officers again, I thought it best to confirm the ambiguity in the statement: is it Egyptian nationals acting privately or actual Air Force pilots who took part in the bombing? I contacted Natsios and he assured me that mercenaries were involved, not the Egyptian government. And most of the pilots used in the 2003 operation that caused mass death and displacement of Darfuris were in fact Russian mercenaries.

Here is the bit of his lecture where Natsios talks about this, as an aside to the fragmentation inside the Sudanese military:

Natsios quote

At another point he also mentions a South African security firm was hired to devise security plans for Khartoum, including a network of tunnels and underground arms depot in case the SPLA tries to take the city, which he thinks is plausible because of low morale among the Sudanese army.

The whole thing is well worth listening to.

Inshallah, the clothing company

This guy in New York has started his own apparel line on a Muslim theme. He's called it Inshallah.

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

Free Bahrain's Ali Abdulemam

Blogger Ali Abdulemam was arrested over a month ago and has been held in solitary detention ever since. His trial is today, but the charges against him are unknown. There is an active campaign in his favor, which produced the above video. Abdulemam's arrest is part of a wider crackdown on civil society that has taken place in recent weeks, with many arrested and held illegally and fears that they may be subjected to torture.

Update: Here's an AP report from the trial.

Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

Another political fine against Morocco's independent press

Update: I've made a mistake here — this is from 2009, not a recent conviction. It doesn't take away from the outrageous nature of the original fine, but sorry about the mistake. I'll be more careful next time.

This is really scandalous, when you think about it: a publisher takes a competitor to court for being "unpatriotic" by reporting on a crime involving a relative of the king's. From CPJ:

On Monday, a court in Casablanca sentenced Managing Editor Ali Anouzla and Publishing Director Jamal Boudouma of the independent daily Al-Jarida al-Oula to two-month suspended jail terms each and a fine of 200,000 dirhams (US$24,190) for "defamation" and "insulting the judiciary," according to local news reports. Anouzla said his lawyer will appeal the ruling as soon as he receives a copy of the decision.

The lawsuit, the second in less than three months in regard to the same article, was filed by Khalil Hachemi Idrissi, publishing director of the daily French-language newspaper Aujourd'hui Le Maroc in January. Idrissi filed a previous lawsuit against Anouzla in September 2008, after the newspaper reported on an incident in which Hassan al-Yaqoubi, the spouse of King Muhammad VI's aunt, had shot and injured a traffic policeman who had stopped him.

They keep drilling in the message: don't even think of writing about the royal family, among other things Morocco's biggest economic actor.

Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

When Davos meets Marrakech

The picture below has been making the rounds of the Moroccan Twittosphere [link].

[Thanks, Weddady.]

Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

Did the PA kill the Goldstone report?

Asks Jared Malsin in FP:

GAZA--Israeli soldiers shot a mentally ill Palestinian man in the leg when he ventured near the Erez crossing, in the northern Gaza Strip on Tuesday. Last Wednesday, a 65-year-old man was shot in the neck in the same area. A week earlier the soldiers shot a 17-year-old, who entered the 300 to 500 meter "buffer zone" in northern Gaza to collect construction scrap which he hoped to sell for a few dollars. Human rights groups say there is a direct link between these daily shootings and the international community's failure to hold Israel accountable for past violations, especially during its 2008-2009 offensive on Gaza, which left more than 1,300 Palestinians dead, most of them noncombatants. Fourteen Israelis also died. "The attacks [are] still going on, and the Israelis are taking the same stance as during Cast Lead. They're failing to distinguish between civilian and military targets," said Mahmoud Abu Rahma, of the Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights in Gaza.

Last month, under US and Israeli pressure, the Palestinian Authority (PA), once again delayed the process of accountability. This came at a September 29 vote at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, in which the PA backed a resolution to give Israel and Hamas officials in Gaza six more months to investigate crimes documented in Richard Goldstone's UN Fact Finding Mission report. According to Palestinian and international human rights groups, the Palestinian Authority has decided that the Goldstone report must remain in Geneva, away from the relatively more powerful UN bodies in New York. This is a position identical to that of the US State Department, which wants to keep pressure off Israel during the newly re-launched political negotiations.

On the contrary, the PA should be increasing pressure during negotiations. But Abbas is a good boy: he does what he's told.

Also, do bookmark Malsin's blog on Palestine.

Links 27 October 2010

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

New Blog: Steven Cook at CFR

Veteran Egypt (and Turkey and Algeria) watcher Steven Cook, an expert on things military and much else, has a new blog at the Council of Foreign Relations website. Steven, who wrote a masterful comparison of the military regimes in those three countries in Ruling But Not Governing, is currently working on a book on Egypt-US relations since the 1950s, which should come out next year.

In his latest post, written from Ankara, he writes about whether Turkey needs the carrot of EU membership to carry out democratic change anymore. It's something I've been thinking about a lot right now, having come to see Turkey as a democracy (despite remaining problems about its treatment of minorities and some laws left over from the military dictatorship era). And in fact, the recent constitutional changes were carried out at a time when the EU connection is getting weaker.

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Column: On Wikileaks

My new column at al-Masri al-Youm looks at the way the Wikileaks revelation has been received and wonders if we've become desensitized about war and war crimes. Is Abu Ghraib the new normal?

Also, columnist colleague Ahmed al-Sawi looks at the need for an Arab Wikileaks.

Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

Links 26 October 2010

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

Pic of the day

From Arabian Babbler, on Twitter:

Brass Balls. Made in #Palestinehttp://twitpic.com/30xzcy

Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

Are Arabs, on average, getting poorer?

The Daily Star - Lebanon's stresses are also the region's:

World Bank data shows that per capita Gross Domestic Product (at constant 2000 prices) for the entire Arab world actually declined from an average of $2,671 for the decade of the 1980s to $2,556 this decade (going even lower to $2035 for the decade of the 1990s in between). In other words, in the last 30 years, the average income or personal wealth of Arabs on average has been simultaneously low, dropping and erratic. For every BMW and Mercedes car you see in Arab capitals there are 50 families you do not see that cannot provide their children with sufficient nutrition, school supplies or heat in winter.

Rami Khouri, presenting five points about the Arab predicament. This one requires further verification but is quite striking. I'd like to see a chart not of average income but of the rate of income growth over the 1950-2010 period, to see whether the acceleration (or deceleration) of the rate of growth of average household income. Of course it might be more meaningful to do this per country than for the whole region.

Update: See this chart and the long comment by Non-Arab Arab below.

 

Data from World Bank

 

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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

Links for 25 October 2010

  • A good point on Egypt's lack of transparency, with the caveat that things are much better today than they were even five years ago.
  • "We are investing everywhere. Even your Harrods, we took it..."
  • What part of "settler state" does Doug Feith not get?
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    Cantor: Take Israel out of foreign aid

    Before you get too excited by that headline:

    WASHINGTON (JTA) -- A Republican Congress would seek to remove funding for Israel from the foreign operations budget, a GOP leader said.

    U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor, the Republican whip and the only Jewish Republican in the House of Representatives, told JTA that a GOP-led House would seek to defund nations that do not share U.S. interests, even if it meant rejecting the president's foreign operations budget.

    Cantor, of Virginia, said he wants to protect funding for Israel should that situation arise.

    "Part of the dilemma is that Israel has been put in the overall foreign aid looping," he said when asked about the increasing tendency of Republicans in recent years to vote against foreign operations appropriations. "I'm hoping we can see some kind of separation in terms of tax dollars going to Israel."

    Cantor's statement was a sign that the Republican leadership was ready to defer to the party's right wing on this matter. Some on the GOP right have suggested including Israel aid in the defense budget, and a number of Tea Party-backed candidates have said they would vote against what is known in Congress as "foreign ops."

    The bottom line: Eric Cantor wants Israel to be treated as something else than what it is, i.e. a foreign state. And he's concerned that wacky Republican views on foreign policy should not affect the endless supply of money and weapons to the single state that has contributed more problems to US foreign policy than any other. But I think Cantor, and a worryingly high number of US congresspeople, would put Israeli aid of pretty much anything else in the budget, including American children going to school, never mind some poor African state receiving foreign aid.

    Links for 22-24 October 2010

    Comment

    Issandr El Amrani

    Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

    Terrorism in Europe

    Some illuminating statistics via Juan Cole:

    "A Europol report on terrorist attacks in Europe in 2009 [pdf] says that out of hundreds of terrorist attacks iin Europe in 2009, most were the work of ethnic separatists. About 40 were carried out by members of the extreme left. A handful by the European far right. See also this analysis.

    One terrorist attack was carried out in 2009 in all Europe by persons of Muslim heritage (I do not say ‘by a Muslim’ because terrorism is forbidden in Islamic law).

    That is right. Out of hundreds. Exactly one."

    Incidentally, not to nitpick on this one, but I find it rather risky to say that terrorism is forbidden by Islamic law. Someone will always be able to find a legal justification for terrorism, which also depends on how terrorism is defined. No religion can confidently exclude such legalistic perversions of original intent.

    6 Comments

    Issandr El Amrani

    Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.

    Netanyahu's millionaires

    Netanyahu's 'list of millionaires' - Ynetnews:

    The Israelis marked by Netanyahu on the list did not donate to his primaries campaign. Those who agreed to donate are mainly American citizens, and few British and French people, including extreme rightists and people who got in trouble with the law.

    According to estimates, 98% of the funds donated to Netanyahu came from abroad.

    So basically, it was mostly Americans who got Netanyahu elected. Do check out Bibi's handwritten list of potential donors.

    Issandr El Amrani

    Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.