Ph.D. candidate in Political Science at the University of Pennsylvania, living in Cairo and conducting research in Lebanon and Yemen. I work on the transformation of discourse within Islamist parties in the Lebanese and Yemeni parliaments. Generally speaking, I'm one of those people who think that words matter.It looks pretty interesting, and recent posts include topics such as press freedom in Yemen, Al Manar on Tantawi, Yemeni cleric Sheikh Al Zindani, and the Taif Accords and Lebanese electoral law. Interesting stuff. (P.S. For those of you who use newsreaders, Stacey's front page has no RSS link that I could find, so I used Firefox's auto-detect feature to find it. It's here.)
George W. Bush’s reëlection was not his only victory last fall. The President and his national-security advisers have consolidated contro over the military and intelligence communities’ strategic analyses and covert operations to a degree unmatched since the rise of the post-Secon World War national-security state. Bush has an aggressive and ambitious agenda for using that control—against the mullahs in Iran and agains targets in the ongoing war on terrorism—during his second term. The C.I.A. will continue to be downgraded, and the agency will increasingl serve, as one government consultant with close ties to the Pentagon put it, as “facilitators” of policy emanating from President Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney. This process is well under way.
Despite the deteriorating security situation in Iraq, the Bush Administration has not reconsidered its basic long-range policy goal in the Middle East: the establishment of democracy throughout the region. Bush’s reëlection is regarded within the Administration as evidence of America’s support for his decision to go to war. It has reaffirmed the position of the neoconservatives in the Pentagon’s civilian leadership who advocated the invasion, including Paul Wolfowitz, the Deputy Secretary of Defense, and Douglas Feith, the Under-secretary for Policy. According to a former high-level intelligence official, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld met with the Joint Chiefs of Staff shortly after the election and told them, in essence, that the naysayers had been heard and the American people did not accept their message. Rumsfeld added that America was committed to staying in Iraq and that there would be no second-guessing.
“This is a war against terrorism, and Iraq is just one campaign. The Bush Administration is looking at this as a huge war zone,” the former high-level intelligence official told me. “Next, we’re going to have the Iranian campaign. We’ve declared war and the bad guys, wherever they are, are the enemy. This is the last hurrah—we’ve got four years, and want to come out of this saying we won the war on terrorism.”The story in a gist: this show is being run by neocon Likudniks with unknown and unacknowledged degrees of Israeli logistical and operational support (and probably quite a lot of influence since Israeli intelligence tends to be quite important.) And then they say Arabs have a tendency to believe in wild conspiracy theories. Update: The Pentagon is now calling Hersh a conspiracy theorist -- take a look at the strongly-worded press release about his article. It's possible the guy could be wrong, but at this point I don't really believe a word they say. Remember Iraq's WMD? Another possibility is that some sources deliberately misled Hersh to discredit him -- I can't really remember such a strongly worded denial. Read a lot more about this at Praktike's. Also, on the Israel connection they say:
Arrangements Mr. Hersh alleges between Under Secretary Douglas Feith and Israel, government or non-government, do not exist. Here, Mr. Hersh is building on links created by the soft bigotry of some conspiracy theorists. This reflects poorly on Mr. Hersh and the New Yorker.Feith's fanatically pro-Israel attitude is pretty well documented (take a look at this book he co-authored with the "Society of Zionist Lawyers"), as is the Israeli connection of the Office of Special Plans with which he is involved. Update 2:A new development from The Guardian:
However, the Guardian has learned the Pentagon was recently contemplating the infiltration of members of the Iranian rebel group, Mujahedin-e-Khalq (MEK) over the Iraq-Iran border, to collect intelligence. The group, based at Camp Ashraf, near Baghdad, was under the protection of Saddam Hussein, and is under US guard while Washington decides on its strategy.
The MEK has been declared a terrorist group by the state department, but a former Farsi-speaking CIA officer said he had been asked by neo-conservatives in the Pentagon to travel to Iraq to oversee "MEK cross-border operations". He refused, and does not know if those operations have begun.
"They are bringing a lot of the old war-horses from the Reagan and Iran-contra days into a sort of kitchen cabinet outside the government to write up policy papers on Iran," the former officer said.
He said the policy discussion was being overseen by Douglas Feith, the under secretary of defence for policy who was one of the principal advocates of the Iraq war. The Pentagon did not return calls for comment on the issue yesterday. In the run-up to the Iraq invasion, Mr Feith's Office of Special Plans also used like-minded experts on contract from outside the government, to serve as consultants helping the Pentagon counter the more cautious positions of the state department and the CIA.
"They think in Iran you can just go in and hit the facilities and destabilise the government. They believe they can get rid of a few crazy mullahs and bring in the young guys who like Gap jeans, all the world's problems are solved. I think it's delusional," the former CIA officer said.They also say that Bush will make a major announcement on this issue in his inauguration speech.
Locusts and drought have obliterated agricultural production in Mauritania, leaving 400,000 people in urgent need of food aid, the UN food agency says.
Mauritania was the country worst hit by last year's locust invasion in West Africa - the most serious infestation in 15 years.
Some 60% of Mauritania's population will not have enough to eat this year, says the World Food Programme.
The WFP appealed for $31m to fund a two-year aid project.
Huge swarms devoured crops in all Mauritania's agricultural regions and invaded the capital, Nouakchott, three times, eating every green plant from the president's gardens to the main soccer pitch.
Insufficient rain compounded the situation.
Those in the south, where the infestation was worst, rely almost entirely on farming for income.
"Entire harvests, where the people have invested their money, time and toil for so long, are simply gone. We must act now," Sory Ouane said.
"The right assistance now for the people of Mauritania will go a long way - not only to save lives today but also to help people avoid falling into a cycle of food crises that could last for years to come."$31 million. Peanuts these days. Here's hoping that this issue will gain a high enough profile so that it is taken care of.
“I could put on an act for you and say I won’t stay. The world would rise up in protest and I would have messed everything up. I don’t like to play these con games... I am a man who’s serious in my work and I work from morning till I go to sleep every day,” he said.
But he also said: “Governing Egypt is not a picnic, not something easy... You have limited resources, high population growth and the requirements of the people. So the presidency of Egypt is not an easy business, and getting out of it isn’t easy. If it was up to me, I would like to relax. From the day I graduated as a young officer, as I say, it’s been hard work all along.”
Mubarak, 76, has been in power since 1981. “He who becomes president of Egypt, that’s the will of the people. (If) the people don’t want you, when you do whatever, it’s no use. And if the people want you, you won’t be able to leave,” he added.Come on, people of Egypt, give the poor man a break!
The exposure is limited, the competition is stiff and rumors of dismissals and even impending closure are mounting. The staff at the Egyptian broadcasting authority's Hebrew-language channel are worried.
"Our colleagues in the French and English department told the minister in charge that no one in Israel watches us. They think `we're stealing the show from them,' they wanted to swallow up the Hebrew broadcasting slot, to get our airtime," says one journalist at the state-run channel, Nile TV (called "Arutz Hanilus," in Hebrew).
The channel, which broadcasts two hours a day, features news reports about Israel and the Middle East, historical items about sites in the Arab world, newspaper surveys and commentary, and speeches by President Hosni Mubarak with excellent simultaneous translation into Hebrew.I can't say I have that much sympathy for Nile TV -- most of the programming is quite poor, the best thing on it are old Egyptian movies with subtitles, and otherwise a ragtag mix of chat shows and music videos. The Hebrew slot, which Hebrew-speakers usually make fun of because of the thick accents, is at prime time (6-8pm if I remember correctly), and tends to be propaganda-oriented. So I guess the same thing applies to Egyptians and Americans: if you can't do public diplomacy well, perhaps it's best if you don't do it at all.
El-Banna dismisses accusations that he is calling on the faithful to abandon the Sunnah, but insists that the orally transmitted traditions of the Prophet (PBUH) are less binding on Muslims than the Qurâ€™an itself.
â€œWe cannot deny the Sunnah, even though it has been proven that most of the sayings attributed to the Prophet (PBUH) have been made up, were narrated in other peopleâ€™s words or were transmitted inaccurately. This does not mean that there are no true sayings that set many Islamic fundamental principles; what it does mean is that itâ€™s high time to study the Sunnah in a different way,â€� El-Banna says.
â€œThe Qurâ€™an never goes into detail,â€� he continues. â€œIt talks about prayers and almsgiving and pilgrimage, but without specifying details. Does this mean the Qurâ€™an forgot to mention them? Of course not. Had the Qurâ€™an mentioned these details, they would have been eternally binding, which would have prevented the text from being compatible with different ages. In the meantime, we needed to know how to obey Godâ€™s commandments.
â€œFor example, when God commanded Muslims to pray, he let the Prophet (PBUH) show us how. The Sunnah, whether it refers to the Prophetâ€™s deeds or saying, is thus binding as long as it is compatible with progress. If it happens to be incompatible with the demands of any age, we must refer back to the Qurâ€™an.â€�
Gamal stressed that President Mubarak had not yet made a decision on whether to run for a new term, and that the party will not move on this matter until after the presidentâ€™s decision which he will announce at the appropriate time. [Gamal] stressed that it is the right of the voter to determine the result of the referendeum and the Parliamentary elections. And he stressed that it is not possible to jump into political reform without the participation of the society.
Aktham Naisse is a man who keeps faith in democratic values. Aktham Naisse embodies the soul of the democratic movement in Syria and has been involved in this struggle for over 30 years. He is one of the founding members of the Committees for the Defence of Democratic Liberties and Human Rights in Syria (CDDLHR), created in 1989, and the publication “Sawt al-Dimokratiyyah” (the voice of democracy). Many in the Arab world see this date as the start of the modern human rights movement in Syria. During all these years Aktham Naisse has written articles and courageously spoken out in national, regional and international forums. He was arrested six times for publicly demanding respect for human rights, he was held incommunicado and even tortured. He is currently not allowed to travel abroad. A trial against him will resume on 16 January 2005 and he risks 15 years prison.
The Chairman of the Jury of the MEA, Hans Thoolen, called Aktham “an extraordinary example of a man who has fought for fundamental rights in spite of constant harassment and threats”. He stated that "there was complete consensus among all eleven human rights organizations on the Jury that Aktham deserves the award for his long-standing struggle for the defence of human rights, at the risk of his own health and life”. The Jury also noted the fact that many Arab human rights organisations and the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network support Aktham in his work.Naisse is charged with spreading false information, forming an underground association with links to international human rights groups, opposing the ruling Baath party and "undermining the objectives of the Revolution: the Arab Unity, Liberty and Socialism." He has been in and out of a military hospital because of his treatment in jail, notably because he is not being given access to insulin to treat his diabetes. During the first week of his imprisonment he suffered from a cerebral stroke that has left the right side of his body paralyzed. He previously won the Ludovic Trarieux International Human Rights Prize, a Belgian award. There has only been one previous Arab recipient of the Martin Ennals Award, the Palestinian activist Eyad El Sarraj, in the 12 years since it was established. In other Syria news, UPI is reporting that the Bush administration is considering a strike on Iraqi insurgent camps in Syria. The story also contains some interesting analysis of both the situation inside the Syrian regime (depicting Bashar Al Assad as under increasing pressure from old guard hardliners) and the various parties within US intelligence circles.
Cairo - Egyptian television dramas will soon be subject to review by a panel of religious censors, sparking an outcry by authors who say the move is a threat to their creative freedom and livelihoods.
Information Minister Mamduh al-Beltagi told reporters that he wanted to ensure better quality Egyptian television series, which have been overtaken in popularity by Syrian productions in recent years.
He said that under the new rules, only shows that are "responsible" and "respect the values and traditions of Egyptian society" will be allowed to hit the airwaves.
"The media cannot be transformed into instruments to distill poison under the pretext of artistic licence," he said.
Certain programmes will now be presented to the clerics of Al-Azhar, the world's highest Sunni Islam authority, and the small but powerful Christian church before being broadcast, Beltagi said.
The minister has already axed a television miniseries called A Girl From Shubra, a tale of the relationship between a Christian woman and a Muslim man during the Egyptian struggle for independence in the 1940s.
The ban sparked a deluge of criticism from writers but Beltagi defended the move saying the programme "deals with relations between Christians and Muslims in a way that undermines national unity".There are going to be a lot of different interpretations of this. It could be, as the article seems to suggest, that the current sectarian tensions in Egypt are making the state adopt a more cautious take on TV programming, especially after the brouhaha that followed 'The Girl from Shubra'. It could be simply yet another control freak aspect of the regime. A lot of people will see the US behind this, especially after the scandal of 2002's
After a meeting held by Mr Allawi's campaign alliance in west Baghdad, reporters, most of whom were from the Arabic-language press, were invited upstairs where each was offered a "gift" of a $100 bill contained in an envelope.
Many of the journalists accepted the cash - about equivalent to half the starting monthly salary for a reporter at an Iraqi newspaper - and one jokingly recalled how Saddam Hussein's regime had also lavished perks on favoured reporters.
Giving gifts to journalists is common in many of the Middle East's authoritarian regimes, although reporters at the conference said the practice was not yet widespread in postwar Iraq.Seek comfort in that the US is trying to make Iraq in its image: the best democracy money can buy. Update: When I asked Steve what he did with his $100, he aptly responded "Why, I passed it on to my tribal retainers of course. That's what maintaining a patronage net is all about." And apparently a talking head on Al Jazeera called this "the first cheating of the campaign, as reported on the Financial Times" today.
If this election is like a wedding, it is a surreal, even pantomime, marriage, a show presented partly for distraction, but mostly to suit other interests and desires that do not coincide with the expected reasons -- and requirements -- of most elections or nuptials. Yesterday's polls were heavy on symbolism, hope and hype, and rather light on emotions as well as the crucial structures of governance and the sorts of powers one would expect a president to wield. But on this festive day, such doubts were brushed aside so that all could admire the handsome and suitable groom while placing unrealistic hopes on his shoulders.
Yesterday's elections did not choose a president so much as they formalized a rite of passage in the upper ranks of Fatah, passing the mantle of leadership of the Palestinian Authority (not the Palestinian people) from the late Yasser Arafat to Mahmoud Abbas, a.k.a., Abu Mazen.
The poll, this stilted, shotgun wedding, had a strange energy -- drained, anemic, and hesitant. Few seemed genuinely enthusiastic. The bride was not there, after all, and big issues and concerns were also missing. Universal human rights and international humanitarian law were not honored guests at this celebration. Inviting them might have elicited passions. Had that happened, Abu Mazen might have lost his title of "moderate candidate."
This description implies that the contender in yesterday's elections, Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, was a fiery and dangerous radical or an advocate of violence. He is neither. Rather, Barghouti is a medical doctor and a respected human rights activist who is highly regarded as an earnest, intelligent, hard-working man of integrity, someone who'd like to change the status quo, discuss the rudiments of a just society, widen political participation, and in general shake things up constructively.You can also read more on the low turnout in Haaretz and the Guardian. There was also a good piece in the Financial Times by Rashid Khalidi, which I can't find on their site but am reproducing here. His conclusion:
The US cannot just smile benevolently as Israel evacuates the tiny sliver of the occupied territories represented by the Gaza Strip and demand that Palestinians accept Mr Sharon's vision of the continued occupation and settlement of much of the West Bank. If this is where Mr Sharon and Mr Bush intend to try to take the Palestinians, this current bout of optimism will be short-lived. There is an opportunity, but seizing it would require a new approach by Israel and America. Failing such a shift, we can look forward to the final burial of the two-state solution and the establishment of permanent Israeli control within a single, conflict-ridden entity encompassing the entirety of the land between the Jordan and the Mediterranean.
As I went into the graveyard, the bodies of two young men were arriving. The faces were rotting. The ambulance driver lifted the bones of one of the hands; the skin had rotted away. "God is the greatest. What kind of times are we living through that we are holding the bones and hands of our brothers?"
Then he began cursing the National Guard, calling them even worse things than the Americans: "Those bastards, those sons of dogs." It wasn't the first time I had heard this. It was the National Guard the Americans used to search the houses; they were seen by the Fallujans as brutal stooges. Most of the volunteers for the National Guard are poor Shias from the south. They are jobless and desperate enough to volunteer for a job that makes them assassination targets. "National infidels", they were also called.
I counted the graves: there were 74. The two young men made it 76. The names on the headstones were written in chalk and some had been washed away. One read: "Here lies the heroic Tunisian martyr who died", but I didn't see any other evidence of the hundreds of foreign fighters that the US had said were using Falluja as their headquarters. People told me there were some Yemenis and Saudis, some volunteers from Tunisia and Egypt, but most of the fighters were Fallujan. The US military say they have hundreds of bodies frozen in a potato chip factory 5km south of the city, but nobody has been allowed to go there in the past two months, including the Red Crescent.He concludes:
The US military destroyed Falluja, but simply spread the fighters out around the country. They also increased the chance of civil war in Iraq by using their new national guard of Shias to suppress Sunnis. Once, when a foreign journalist, an Irish guy, asked me whether I was Shia or Sunni - the way the Irish do because they have that thing about the IRA - I said I was Sushi. My father is Sunni and my mother is Shia. I never cared about these things. Now, after Falluja, it matters.
Egyptian reformers have demanded that, like Palestinians, they too should have a chance to choose their leader from a host of candidates.
Egyptian President Husni Mubarak, who has won four presidential terms in referendums where he is the only candidate, earlier congratulated new Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas, who beat six other candidates.
"The Palestinian people chose their president," said Husain Abd al-Raziq, spokesman for the Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights (EOHR). "I think the Egyptian people are not naive, and are capable of choosing from among many candidates."
He was speaking at a news conference called to announce that the EOHR would work with six other human rights organisations and four opposition parties in a campaign to change the country's three-decades-old constitution.As I've said before the Palestinian elections are hardly an example of free elections considering the pressure put on certain candidates not to run and the real threat that if the "wrong" candidate was elected he risked being given the same treatment that Arafat was given. Moreover, the voter turnout has been widely exaggerated by most media. I was bed-ridden with a rather painful muscle-spasm yesterday, but CNN and the BBC were waxing lyrical about historic democratic elections and so on. I thought those were meant to have taken place in 1995. But at least Abbas only won by a little over 62% of votes, which is more reasonable than the 95-99% you see in some countries. In the meantime, Iraqi expats in Cairo are setting up a voluntary polling center for the upcoming Iraqi elections after Egyptian officials refused to help them out.
Unfair to Revenants
From Yisrael Medad
Virginia Tilley (LRB, 6 November 2003) wrote of 'settlers in "Judea and Samaria" who are indeed gun-toting religious zealots (mostly from the US)'. In the same article, she also presumed that Ariel Sharon would not support the dismantling of Jewish communities in the disputed territories.
As a resident of Shiloh, a Jewish community pejoratively called a 'settlement' populated by 'settlers', and a member of the communities' representative body, the Yesha Council, I can tell Tilley that the people here, and more properly they should be referred to as revenants, persons who have returned after a long hiatus to their ancestral homes, who number more than 250,000 (and more than 400,000 if eastern Jerusalem is included), are secular in the main. The number of Americans who live beyond the Green Line armistice demarcation boundary does not exceed 20 per cent of that population.
Unfair to Revenants
From Nicholas Blanton
Yisrael Medad asks that we call the Jewish settlers in the West Bank revenants, as befits 'persons who have returned after a long hiatus to their ancestral homes' (Letters, 6 May). I know just how he feels. My family lost everything in the North of England in 1070, when William the Conqueror ethnically cleansed the landowners, and it's been annoying us ever since. If Medad would meet me next Thursday in Barnard Castle, with a few hundred of his armed friends, we could finally see justice done. It's tough perhaps to the non-revenants, who've been there for only 934 years, but we won't charge them back rent and there are plenty of people who speak their language next door. I'm sure they'll adjust and find other places to live, among their own kind.
Shepherdstown, West VirginiaI think I also have a pretty strong claim to Moorish Spain, from where my ancestors were driven in 1492 by those brutish Franks.
The creation of a permanent institute for inter-religious and inter-cultural diplomacy will be announced next June in Fes, during the Sacred Music Festival, held every year in this Moroccan central town.
The announcement was made by Faouzi Skalli, president of the Fes festival, on the occasion of the first congress of "imams and rabbis for peace," wound up Thursday in the Belgian capital city.
The projected institute will develop inter-religious diplomacy through reflection and interpretation of sacred texts to contribute to find a way out to political conflicts, Skalli said. Religious chiefs have an important role in promoting awareness among their communities of the judeo-moslem heritage, Skalli said.This is an interesting development, especially since as far as I know there aren't many initiatives by religious leaders to resolve regional conflicts. Perhaps the most prominent is a program by the Church of England (it was started by the former Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, but I don't know if the current one has given it the same attention) to get Palestinian imams and Israeli rabbis to meet and discuss. I remember attending one such meeting in Cairo last year, meeting some interesting rabbis involved in politics such as Michael Melchior. The various religious leaders' argument was that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was essentially a religious one and that therefore the solution should be religious. I can't say I agree with that, but no wrong can come from better inter-religious relations. Looking at the Moroccan side of things, it's good that there will be a public institution based there that will look at these issues. I remember being shocked by the Pew Global Attitudes survey a couple of years ago that showed that over 90% of Moroccans has a negative impression of Jews. I think that this is particularly regrettable in a country with a historical Jewish minority that until the creation of Israel was relatively well-integrated. Morocco lost a lot from the mass immigration of Jews in the 1950s and 1960s: there are currently over 650,000 Moroccan Jews worldwide, mostly in North America, but less than two thousand in Morocco itself. The city of Fes itself -- generally considered one of the most religious in the country -- once had an important Jewish population and it is generally believed that there was a lot of inter-marriage (and the occasional campaign of forced conversion). This, according to lore, is why Fassis (people from Fes) are pale-skinned.
CAIRO (Reuters) - Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who has been in power since 1981, said he did not mind others seeking nomination for this year's presidential referendum but that the top job was tough and offered no private life.
Parliament has yet to choose the sole candidate allowed to run in the September referendum. But Mubarak is expected to be nominated again, despite reformers' calls for the government to amend the constitution and allow more than one candidate to run.
Three prominent intellectuals have announced their intention to run for the position in a symbolic challenge to Mubarak.
Asked about those seeking to run against him, 76-year-old Mubarak said: "Let them go ahead, this is good. Democracy is like this. I hope that 100 nominate (themselves). Why will I get angry? I won't get angry."My favorite part of this story is when Mubarak complains about how tough being a dictator is:
When asked about his job, Mubarak said: "Firstly, whoever sits in the chair of the president of Egypt, his health, time and nerves are ruined and he has no private life at all.
"If I want to go to one place or another, it's impossible, or walk in the street, it's impossible," he said, adding that he could not go to a restaurant or cinema.
"I stay surrounded by walls," he said, adding that even when he traveled abroad, he could not leave the hotel where he stayed because of security.
"It means the president of Egypt is a detainee," he said.Vintage Hosni.