Why I doubt Syrian Involvement

Now this is just speculation....I don't know anymore than anyone else. But I wanted to clarify my thoughts. Although this debate is looking very ploralized with some name-calling happening on some of the other blogs, I am not trying to offend anyone. Just because I don't think it is Syria does not mean I think it was Lebanese, Palestinian, Israeli, or anyone else. I simply don't know who committed this crime. Here's my nonsense: It seems inconceivable to me that Syria would conduct such an operation given the unsettling air that continues to follow UN Res 1559 (and the latest threats in Bush's speeches and Condi's rhetoric). Syria has consistently tried to build bridges with the US and offer peace initiatives towards the Israelis since 9/11. All they received in return is insults, misrepresentative, military attacks, sanctions (SALSA) and UN security council resolutions against it. Hariri was never anti-Syrian although obviously not in the pocket of the Syrian's (like other Lebanese politicians). He and Damascus seemed to always have very pragmatic relations of mutual benefit. Hariri was instrumental with his contacts in Saudi, the Gulf, and France when Bashar was being groomed pre-2000. I took Bashar's quick appearance and statements as those characterized by a surprised and disorganized response than anything more calculated. Hariri rebuilt Beirut and Syria was a key economic partner in this project. Hariri was a compromiser. The Syrians are not going to assassinate him over speculation that he was going to openly go opposition. Besides such a bold, change in style seems an unlikely move politically in any arena. As one of my better connected contacts in Lebanon and Syria argued via email to me "Hariri never crossed the Syrians anyways....And he was very on the fence about the proposed pullout." That said - there are rumors circulating already. There is something about Hariri potentially allying with Jomblat in the upcoming May elections. That may be all the motive the Western press needs. Naturally the Western media are going to argue this all happened under Syrian occupation (or the mukhaberat's watch). So basically the Syrians did it or they knew about it or their presence created a climate that fosters such assassinations. Particularly the latter reflects the white house's view (via the McCellan briefing) and is a logic leap. The Bush admin has gone to great lengths to argue that 9/11 was not their fault - its was Clinton's - even though it happened on their watch. So that logic that it happened because of Syrian occupation is ideological and unrepresentative. Syria would have not conducted such a risky operation or tacitly let it happen in the hopes of showing that their Lebanese presence is still required. Syrian occupation of Lebanon is unlike the other two occupations in the region. It is more rooted in politics and economics and less on the military. Perhaps, I will be proven wrong. If that ends up being the case, fine, I can admit when I am mistakenly analyzing something. But I am not going to rush to the western press's conclusions that Syria's invisible hand is responsible until I am shown some sort of link.
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Organization claims Hariri assassination

An organization calling itself Nusra wa Jihad fi Bilad Al Sham ("God-given aid" and Jihad in the Land of Sham, i.e. Syria, Lebanon and Palestine or what is sometimes called "Greater Syria") has claimed credit for the assassination of Rafik Hariri, Al Jazeera just reported. It seems it is previously unknown, but could be linked to Al Qaeda. In a sense, this would be a better outcome (for Lebanon's stability) than Syria or a Christian or Shia group being behind it. But it's too early to tell what this organization exactly is or what its aims are. They also showed a short video clip with a young bearded fundie talking about the motives behind the assassination. He said that they targeted Hariri because of his relationship with the Saudis. Update: Having digested this information over dinner, I think the tape Al Jazeera showed should be viewed with some suspicion. After all, how likely is it an Al Qaeda afiliated organization organized a 350-kilo car bomb to make a point about Hariri's Saudi connections? One interesting theory that I've heard (just a theory, mind you, no facts) is that Shias might be behind this, inspired by the example of Iraq, where the Shia majority has finally elected a majority Shia government. Worth keeping in mind, especially when you think that Hizbullah is also allied with Syria. (I should note now that Hizbullah has already condemned the murder.) Anyway, this one is likely to keep us guessing for some time.
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Lebanon's Hariri assassinated

Hariri car convoy was attacked Former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was killed today in a huge bomb blast. Nine others were killed, and over a hundred were wounded. Hariri, a Sunni Muslim, was perhaps the single biggest businessman in Lebanon, with most of his money coming from Saudi Arabia (he worked closely with the royal family and acquired Saudi citizenship.) He was also, to a certain extent, a reformist and an opponent of the re-election of President Emile Lahoud, who managed to force him out by securing Syrian support for another mandate (one that they had to amend the constitution to make possible.) This is obviously a huge deal and the sign of a worrying trend in Lebanon. Over the past few months I'd noticed that the old warlords, notably General Michel Aoun, several members of the Gemayel clan and Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, were making more and more statements. People from Lebanon were telling me, in worried tones, that the situation was starting to look like the tensions in 1975 just before the civil war started (it ended in 1992, and Lebanon has only begun to recover and is still burdened with enormous foreign debt.) I note that the Daily Star, Lebanon's leading English-language publication, has no more than an AFP story so far. (They were down a few minutes ago.) They may have more later on, although they are generally politically cautious on Lebanon. The big question is going to be whodunnit, and what consequences will there be for internal stability and inter-confessional relations. If this is a move by Maronites to prevent Hariri from securing help from outside Lebanon to regain the prime ministership, things could become very ugly. And in any case, it will deliver a blow to the country economically, as Hariri's businesses account for a lot of activity.
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More WaPo on Egypt

Washington Post columnist Jackson Diehl has another scorching piece on Egypt and the Nour affair. He offers these little tidbits about the forthcoming trip by Foreign Minister Aboul Gheit and National Security head Omar Suleiman to Washington:
Some officials tell me that the Egyptians will get a cool, if not cold, reception in Washington and will be told that the jailing of Nour and his deputy, Moussa Mustafa, is unacceptable. Bush, one source said, is "furious" about the arrests. A U.S. diplomatic letter has been drafted, but not yet dispatched, to other members of the Group of Eight industrial nations; it describes Mubarak's political crackdown in harsh terms and suggests that G-8 participation in an early March meeting in Egypt with the Arab League should be reconsidered.
One official I spoke to pointed out that Condoleezza Rice is due to pay her first visit as secretary of state to the Arab Middle East for the Arab League meeting. If Nour is not freed, the official predicted, Rice may cancel the trip: "She is not going to sit there like a potted plant while the Egyptians do this." But Rice hasn't addressed the issue, and there is no consensus inside the administration on such a tough response. Predictably, the U.S. Embassy in Cairo is urging caution; it argues that an overly aggressive U.S. reaction would play into the hands of Egyptian "hard-liners." Such limp logic, of course, is exactly what the chief hard-liner -- Mubarak -- is counting on.
Whatever comes of the Nour affair, the State Department has launched a committee to review policy toward Egypt. That will give democracy advocates at State and the White House a platform for arguing that relations with Cairo should be fundamentally shifted in the coming year. They can count on support in Congress, where key Republicans, such as Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, have grown increasingly impatient with Mubarak's refusal to liberalize.
It's only now that the State Dept. reviews its Egypt policy? Also, why the snide "predictably" about the reaction of the embassy in Cairo? Incidentally, it's worth noting that David Welch, the highly unpopular High Commissioner ambassador to Egypt, has just been appointed to replace William Burns as Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs.
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We suggest fact-checking

Haaretz is generally pretty good, but the first paragraph of an opinion piece by Uri Benziman, "History suggests restraint," is rather problematic:
From President Anwar Sadat's perspective, Israel's invasion of Lebanon in June 1982 was a major provocation. Shortly after Egypt had sent an ambassador to Tel Aviv, Israel violated a sister Arab state's sovereignty and put Cairo in an embarrassing situation. Nonetheless, Sadat refrained from retaliating sharply.
Perhaps his restraint was helped by the fact that he had been shot dead nine months beforehand.
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Answering AA with Issandr & Charles's notes

This statement in the NYT is actually the take in the Egyptian Arabic press (with the exception of al-Misri al-Youm, likely al-Arabi). I think the Atn-Gen made this same point that Nor's case is not a "political case" at a press conference last Wed (it was in the Thursday papers, al-Wafd and Ahram at least). They did this with Saad too, but things were different and he has a constituency in Amrika from which pressure could be placed on the political establishment. Remember in Summer 02, Bush implicitly linked aid to Egypt with political reform (which was viewed and understood at the time to be Saad's case). As for the Weekly coverage, I agree with Issandr's take, but thought the coverage pushed or was eager to show that clear divisions are present and party implosion is a distinct possibility (even if it the divisions are understood regime-inspired). It seemed like they exaggerated this. I found the Makram Ebeid interview to be a bit confusing. I suppose there were sections that were sympathetic but overall I thought it framed her (and al-Ghad) as clearly subservient to the President, forced to adopt the NDP agenda and timetable which she refused to answer, and although technically in charge, Ebied seemed uncertain of where this is going. She definitely is neither the force nor has the political acumen that Nor has. Given this is the case, the party could just be left to hang in the balance to avoid and complicate any criticism as the regime hides behind this it is not a "political" case argument. The interesting thing for me is that three-years ago the US could intervene on behalf of Saad and get the situation more or less sorted. There is no indication that this will work again. The US is simply distrusted too much here and its influence can automatically be employed as interference. Soft-power options just keep diminishing. ________ This diminishing soft-power will continue to be a problem (and therefore unlikely helpful in Nor's case): Something else to consider is in the Khaled Dawoud article, "Sticks and carrots," that discusses Bush's SOTU address. There is a nice bit where some discourse analysis is done to portray the state of US-Egyptian relations. A bit much for those not into details and as far as accuracy, I don't know. But definitely different than anything I have seen. The key passage: Dan Bartlett, counsellor to the president, denied that Bush's reference to Egypt and Saudi Arabia in his speech indicated a change in policy, and asserted that both countries continued to be "close allies and countries we've worked with very cooperatively in the past." Bartlett told Al-Ahram Weekly that the US president has been "very consistent" in calling, both publicly and privately, for "a constructive dialogue about the issue of human rights and liberty and democracy with the leaders in the Middle East." He recalled how the US president made nearly the same appeal to the Egyptian government two years ago in a speech he delivered at National Endowment for Democracy. In fact, there was a difference of one word only in the reference Bush made in his State of the Union speech to Egypt compared to his previous statement. Two years ago, Bush said that Egypt "should show the way towards democracy in the Middle East", while in his address last week, the US president used a relatively milder language, saying Egypt "can now show the way towards democracy in the Middle East". In diplomatic language, one State Department official told the Weekly, "saying Egypt can 'now' instead of 'should' show the way towards democracy was more refined and reflected the friendly relations between the two countries." At a time when Egypt is heavily involved in reviving peace talks between Israel and Palestinians, and with the US giving priority to restoring stability in Iraq, most US observers did not believe Washington would jeopardise its relations with Cairo or Riyadh. But, according to the same State Department official, "respect of human rights and democracy will become a common theme in discussions between the two countries." ________________________________ Pretty glaring contradiction....perhaps some independent consultative policy bodies in the US will be able to suggest a different course of action....
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Egypt responds to NY Times

Here's the response to the NY Times editorial from the press counselor of the Egypt Mission to the UN.
Ayman Nour, an opposition party leader, enjoys all privileges as a longtime member of Parliament, including immunity from arrest. He is entitled to his own opinions and is free to discuss his political beliefs. But Parliament lifted this immunity upon request of the attorney general when Mr. Nour was charged with forging signatures on petitions that secured legal status for his party, Tomorrow's Party.
A distinction must be made between detaining an Egyptian citizen for committing a crime and voicing his opposition with the government.
Like any citizen, Mr. Nour must be tried under the judicial process; if found innocent, he will be released.
Freedom of speech is enjoyed by every Egyptian citizen. One is not arrested because of his political convictions.
Magdi R. Shaker, Press Counselor Mission of Egypt to the U.N., New York, Feb. 7, 2005
(thanks Lindsay)
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Answering Abu Aardvark

Abu Aardvark asked over the weekend some of those who post on this site two questions: "do you have any comments on the Al Ahram Weekly reporting?  And, how has the Arabic language Egyptian press (not just the state-owned media, but the tabloids) been covering these stories?" Here is my response. Regarding the Weekly's coverage, what you have to understand is that although it is a state-owned newspaper it has a large margin of independence and is mostly staffed by leftists (the editor, Hani Shukrallah, has a portrait of Karl Marx in his office) who are broadly sympathetic to the reform movement. But these are quite a different type of leftist than the run-of-the-mill trade unionists. These are mostly middle and upper class people, whose commitment is more ideological than anything else. Amira Howeidy is one of their best reporter, and seems quite ideologically different from her father, Fahmi Howeidy, a highly respected Islamist-leaning columnist in the daily Al Ahram. I'm not very familiar with Mona Nahhas. But their articles seem to me fairly sympathetic -- if not overtly pro-Al Ghad, especially the interview with Ebeid. As for raising the kiss of death issue, it is a crucial one, as we'll see when discussing the Arabic press coverage of the Al Ghad affair. I think the editorial team of the Weekly is fairly representative of conventional Egyptian thinking on America: they know all to well that America has been a problem, not a source of help when it comes to domestic freedoms in Egypt. Most of the staff is also very dedicated to the Palestinian cause (and very much against the occupation of Iraq) and this also informs their opinions on the kiss of death issue. They are probably right -- let's face it, America is a dirty word here, for both good and bad reasons. As far Arabic-language press coverage, the state-owned dailies (Al Ahram, Al Akhbar, Al Gomhouriya) initially reported the Nour arrest in the crime pages -- a kind of pointed insult suggesting that the matter was criminal rather than political. Among the independent press, Al Masri Al Youm has had the best and most prominent coverage -- its executive editor is a senior member of the party, after all, and there are sympathisers on staff. The weeklies were predictably bad, with my favorite being Sawt Al Umma multi-page feature on "Ayman Nour's plan to seize power" and how he wanted to imitate Ukraine's orange revolution (the Al Ghad color is orange, you see.) It also talked about Nour's suspicious wealth, and distastefully, reported that Nour was feeling suicidal, which some people have interpreted as a thinly veiled threat. The curious thing is that the big pundits, so far, have chosen to focus mostly on Sharm Al Sheikh and the generalities of the movement for constitutional reform. (Ahram head honcho Ibrahim Nafie came out in favor of reform, "but not just yet.") Apart from a few publications, the trend seems to generally be a little hostile to Nour, although I think still not as hostile as the treatment Saad Eddin Ibrahim received a few years ago.
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FT on Al Ghad

The Weekend Financial Times has a long essay on Egyptian reform and the Al Ghad party in particular by Mark Leonard. It provides a nice relatively in-depth background of the situation, with profiles of Ayman Nour and his wife as well as Al Ghad president Mona Makram Ebeid and the party's foreign policy advisor, my former boss Hisham Kassem. A good read, which concludes with the very same idea we have been arguing on this site:
Rumours abound as to why he was arrested now and what the long-term consequences will be. Some note that the NDP was starting a process of dialogue with the opposition on the day of his arrest and Nur had cheekily suggested that Mubarak should represent the NDP as the other parties would be represented by their leaders. Others claim that Nur had been too outspoken at a meeting with Madeleine Albright, former US secretary of state, the week before. Many think that the arrest is an attempt to discredit the party, foment divisions among its leaders, and maybe even stop it from contesting the elections while Nur is investigated. By arresting Nur, Mubarak has thrown down a gauntlet to Bush a week after his inauguration speech. And through provocative diplomacy he has alienated the Europeans by refusing to recognise a delegation representing the EU presidency that came to express concern. Now we will see if the project for political reform in the Middle East is real or rhetorical.
Mubarak continues to trade on Egypt’s strategic significance to manage the pressure for change. By being constructive on the Iraq issues at the Sharm al-Sheikh summit this week and promising to help with Israeli disengagement from Gaza, he is buying time for his regime. A senior European diplomat concedes: “Democracy poses a double conundrum for the west. Do you want the Islamists in power with their policies on gender, pluralism, etc? Do you want to threaten Egypt’s policy towards Israel, Iraq, etc?” The big test will come next month when the British government, as president of the G8, and the Arab League are due to host a joint summit on democracy and reform - in Cairo of all places. If the summit goes ahead with the situation unresolved, what hope there was for democracy in the Arab world will be languishing with Nur in his cell.
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Saad Eddin Ibrahim in WaPo, Max Boot in LAT

Saad Eddin Ibrahim has an editorial in the Washington Post today asking President Mubarak some tough questions about the Ayman Nour arrest and the delaying of political liberalization:
Why does the Mubarak regime continue to resort to these heavy-handed tactics against its peaceful opposition? Here is an attempted answer. Over nearly a quarter of a century, it has perfected the art of scare politics, at home and abroad. Those in Mubarak's regime argue that if he allowed democratization to proceed unchecked, with fair and honest elections, Islamists would undoubtedly take over.
None of his Western listeners ever answer this argument with some very pertinent questions: What, Mr. Mubarak, have you done to preserve the popularity of non-Islamist forces in the country? What has your regime done with more than $100 billion in foreign aid and remittances from Egyptians working abroad? Why has Egypt's ranking during your rule steadily worsened on every development index -- from that of the U.N. Development Program to the World Bank to Freedom House? And why does Egypt now rank with Russia, Syria and Nigeria among the most corrupt countries in the world?
Isn't it these dismal failings that feed popular discontent and contribute to the Islamists' growing numbers? And isn't it Mubarak's repression of secular civil forces that has kept the field empty for the Islamists in Egypt, where there are now more than 100,000 mosques where they can freely preach their message -- but only a handful of registered political parties and human rights groups?
Recently, as calls for political liberalization mounted from pro-democracy activists such as Ayman Nour and from the Group of Eight initiative for the Middle East, Mubarak has geared up his propaganda machine. The newspapers and newscasters now repeat endlessly the argument that economic reform and a settlement of the Palestinian question must take precedence -- as if a choice has to be made between these things and a genuinely democratic government for Egypt. (Lately Mubarak has added Iraq to this priority policy list.)
The free and fair elections in Iraq and Palestine, which would have to be regarded as premature by this standard -- both countries are, after all, under military occupation -- must have come as something of an embarrassment to Mubarak.
At the end of the article, he notes his disapointment with the feeble reaction of the Bush administration to the Nour arrest and writes:
What we have so far from George W. Bush is fine language in his inaugural and State of the Union speeches. That message was loud and clear. The credibility of the messenger is what is still in doubt.
This is clearly a call to the Bush administration to get tougher on Egypt, something they might be reluctant to do in light of Egypt's current involvement in the Gaza withdrawal and the peace process. Ibrahim is in Washington at the moment, writing his prison memoirs at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. I'm sure that while he's there he'll be having some interesting meetings. Speaking of the Council of Foreign Relations, neo-con thinker Max Boot had a piece in the Los Angeles Times a few days ago on Egypt. This is what he suggests:
Strong words alone will not dislodge an entrenched dictator like Hosni Mubarak. Obviously we're not going to send the 3rd Infantry Division to achieve regime change in Cairo. How, then, is Bush going to back up his demand for democracy? Here's a modest proposal: Reduce or eliminate altogether the $2-billion annual U.S. subsidy to Egypt unless there's real economic and political progress.
It's worth noting that this is quite a different take on things that his Council of Foreign Relations colleague Steven Cook, who suggested that giving more money is the answer. Abu Aardvark had a debate about this a few days ago, to which I'll add more soon.
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The ongoing Omar vs. Gamal Debate

In the 8 February LA Times, friend and journalist Hossam Hamalawy published an interesting article on the "other" often-rumored presidential successor to Egypt's Hosni Mubarak, Mukhaberat head Omar Sulayman. The article is a nice background piece for the uninitiated. The substanital contribution comes at the end of the piece where al-Misri al-Youm manager, Hisham Kassem, and Gamal Mubarak political advisor, Mohamad Kimal speculate on Sulayman's chances for Egypt's succession chances. Kassem argues - "You can say today Omar Suleiman is the most prominent military figure with his influence and closeness to the president," and "Still, no one can guess who will succeed Mubarak to power. But it is not going to be a civilian." Conversely Kimal states, "Is Omar Suleiman powerful? Yes he is. Does he have a strong say in politics? Yes, But any talk about Omar Suleiman drafting domestic policy or competing for power is pure exaggeration and fiction." The latter statement is the clearest stance I have heard a member of the influential NDP's Policies Secretariat make re the situation ___________ This should re-fan the flames of this ongoing debate.
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Friedman's insanity

In Thomas Friedman's offering today, he tells us good things are happening in Iraq. If this does not fill-up your daily intake of insanity, read on as Tom descends into a full-fledged 'wait and see' approach in what can only be described as a bridge too far. As he argues, "Egypt and Syrian-occupied Lebanon both have elections this year. Watch how the progressives and those demanding representative government are empowered in their struggle against the one-man rulers in Egypt and Syria - if the Iraqi experiment succeeds." Tommy, the Iraqi project is failing, the elections in Lebanon and Egypt will witness interference (in Egypt they already have), and this business about empowerment against one-man rule is just obscure. I think it is time to dip into the NYT travel account and take a trip through the region. I suggest Tommy go to Saudi first to watch the staggered nationwide elections . As Praktike notes, Crown Prince Abdullah has declared Saudi a democracy now. Its scary when Wonderland starts making sense in comparison to one's reality. I hereby declare every country a democracy. Now can please we move the debate on further.
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Tomorrow (the Party) is Never Coming

As an addition and in reference to Issandr's post below, the government's latest assault on al-Ghad's paper is only the half of it. _________________ So why is the paper closed. Ahram printing refuses to print it because the party's newspaper papers are not in order. Exerpts from Reuters story on al-Jazeera [Ayman Nor's Asst. Wail] Nawara said a party official had signed, under pressure and without authorisation from the party, a letter to the Supreme Press Council, which controls the Egyptian press, asking for the editor-in-chief to be changed. Changes in editors require the approval of the council, which is controlled by the ruling National Democratic Party. Nur's wife and party colleague, Gamila Ismail, added: "The Supreme Press Council told us that we are missing some routine paperwork, which is not true." Nawara said the authorities disapproved of Al-Ghad editor Ibrahim Issa because of his record for candour. "The government wants to shut us up, and control all our actions because Ghad is not like other parties which simply obey every order they take," Nawara added. _________________________________________ Then adding injury to insult, al-Ghad VP, Mousa Mostafa was arrested in Cairo airport on his return on Tuesday night. Exerpts again coming from a Reuters Story: 1) "The authorities will not answer questions about the reason for the arrest," Nawara told Reuters. 2) Police arrested Mostafa on his arrival at Cairo airport after a trip to Dubai, Paris and London, Nawara said. He had left Egypt before Nour's detention on January 29. The authorities were not immediately available for comment about Mostafa's case 3) The Egyptian prosecutor general said on Wednesday the charge against Nour was a criminal matter and not political. Nour has denied the allegations against him and said he was the victim of a trap. _________________ Based on these latest developing incidents, I think it is fair to say that some suggested theories for Nor's arrest can be disregarded now. For example, this is definitely bigger than a former Sec of State and the Council of Foreign Relations meeting with Nor a few weeks ago. Also, this is much bigger than the NDP doing a favor for the Wafd's Noman Goma (an enemy of Nor's). The arrests and crackdown on Hizb al-Ghad have more to do with the fact that it was being seen by the NDP as having potential for a semi-autonomous party. Although it would never rival the only party that counts in Egypt, al-Ghad's inability to play the role of co-opted wet sponge as the other legal parties such as the Tugama and al-Wafd led to their downfall. Now you could charge that the Nasserist did not either. But the Nasserist cannot win seats in parliament either. The idea that al-Ghad might actually attract a bloc and was not playing by the NDP's rules meant it had to be destroyed. It was perceived as a threat even though I don't think it was. Basically, it is important to focus on Nor and the party's debate regarding the National Dialogue and Nor's insistence that the consition be amended while the other parties backed off from this demand. Was their perceived popularity combined with their non-complilant stance enough to launch this attack, which the government spinning as unrelated events? Although a-Ghad has some well-know, previously independent members to join, Nor's arrest is a big blow. Now with the newspaper getting hung up like so many before it, what left will likely smolder. I am betting we will see the party's Sec-Gen Mona Makram-Ebied back off if the party's fortunes look like they are not going to reverse. Even if al-Ghad does eventually emerge from the ashes, it will only be a shadow of its previously perceived potential to mobilize and attract a popular base that could provide an alternative. ____________________________________ This may come off as a bit of a vain self-plug, but.... I wrote an academic article about opposition parties in Egypt back in 2002, I shopped it around a bit before the British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies reviewed it and accepted it. It came out in November 2004 (over 2 years after I had written it). At the time, al-Ghad had just been licensed so my argument was looking pretty dodgy. Not that I am happy about it, but it looks like some of the cases I looked at including the Labor, Nasserist, the Liberals (al-Ahrar) parties as well as the case of Ayman Nor post-al-Wafd may still apply as rules of the game. The article's citation is: Joshua Stacher, “Parties Over: The Demise of Egypt Opposition Parties,� British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies Vol. 31, Issue 2 (November 2004): 215-234. I don't have the finished, edited article. I have not even seen it yet. But it is out there if your interested in how opposition parties are viewed and handled in Masr.
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Al Ghad newspaper banned

This morning I went out to buy my papers, thinking I'd see the new mouthpiece of the Al Ghad party out there. The newspaper vendor hadn't heard of it. Bizarre, I thought -- the release had been widely announced for today. It turns out things happened differently -- as a press release I just received makes clear:
Lawyer Nassir Amin, Director of the Arab Center for the Independence of Judiciary and Legal Profession (ACIJLP), the spokesperson of Alliance for Democracy and Reform (ADR)expressed the concern of the alliance regarding the decision of the High Council of Press in February 8th 2005, Tuesday on not allowing the issuance and printing of Al-Ghad newspaper.
The Alliance’s spokesperson said that the concern of the Alliance is increasing as the decision comes at the same time of the investigations with the chairmen of Al-Ghad party and parliament member Dr. Aymn Nour . He afraid that this decision may show the real dimensions of the accusations against Dr. Nour. The Alliance’s spokesperson said that the allied institutions consider this decision contradicts with the statements of Mr. Safwat El Sherif, General Secretary of National Democratic Party and president of the Shoura Council, who assured that the investigations with Dr. Nour have no relation with Al-Ghad party and will not affect the existence of the party in the Egyptian political life.
The Alliance’s spokesperson said that this decision may lead the party and its newspaper to a series of judicial appeals and then to not implementing the sentence of the judiciary as happened with El Shab newspaper that issued by Al-Amal party and El-Dastour newspaper. He added that the two newspapers are not allowed to work although the judiciary issued many sentences allowing the issuance of the newspapers.
The Alliance’s spokesperson appeals to the President of the Republic to intervene to protect Al-Ghad party and to allow issuing the party’s newspaper. The Alliance’s spokesperson indicated the danger of the decision on the on-going dialogue between the National Democratic Party and opposition parties, and he explained the negative consequences of the decision on the endeavors to create openness in the political atmosphere in Egypt.
It looks like Al Ghad (party and paper) may be heading for the political freezer, like Al Shaab (the Labor Party mouthpiece) did a few years ago. Which makes you wonder why they allowed the party to be created in the first place.
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The biggest non-surprise of Sharm

In a sign of further diplomatic encroachment and normalization, Egypt will be sending its Amb. back to Tel Aviv soon. This, despite the fact the regime reserves and employs the right to negatively play the normalization card with ordinary Egyptians who travel to Israel. The resending of the Egyptian Amb. simply confirms what many of us expected back in late November, early December. This should draw a close to any further democratization talk from Washington for a little while while Ayman Nor and other political activists sit in prison. Bush urged Egypt to “show the way toward democracy in the Middle East� in the SOTU last week. Bushie is happily ignorant as democratization seems to mean being friends with Israel, not actually democratizing. Ummm...friends with Israel, unrepentant authoritarianism - what a novel concept.
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Hosni of Borg

"It is futile."
President Hosni Mubarak on the opposition's call for constitutional reform.
"We are the Borg. You will be assimilated. Your biological and technological distinctiveness will be added to our own. Resistance is futile."
The Borg, in Star Trek The Next Generation.
"My election manifesto has been announced and exists and is applied every day, for I'm not new to the scene and my acts are my manifesto."
President Hosni Mubarak on his campaign program.
"I will continue, aboard this ship, to speak for the Borg. While they continue, without further diversion, to Sector 001, where they will force your unconditional surrender."
Locutus of Borg.
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Opinion round-up

  • Reuters Cairo bureau chief Jonathan Wright on the many reasons Mubarak has for hosting the Sharm Al Sheikh summit.
  • Newsweek's Christopher Dickey on the Pharaoh's long shadow. Pretty poor.
  • Arm Hamzawy on Arab opinion-makers and the chasm that separate them from the public
  • Hussein Fattah has a primer on Arab media. Note the absence of radio stations -- this in a region where Radio Montecarlo, the BBC World Service and even Voice of America were once the number one trusted source of information.
  • Al Hayat has two pieces on the meaning of the Sharm Al Sheikh summit: a positive one by and a negative one by Abdulwahab Badrakhan.
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    A columnist's warning to Mubarak

    Here are some pickings from a pretty gutsy column by Al Misry Al Yom columnist Magy Mahana. It ran on Sunday. Could Mahana be the next Abdel Halim Qandil?
    Will the constitution with its flaws remain governing us for more years to come, with no changes allowed to approach it. And will any call to change it be described as futile as President Mubarak said. Or is changing the constitution possible as the policies secretariat said after President Mubarak’s statement? Or is it as Ibrahim Nafaa wrote in Al Ahram two days ago when he said “Changing the constitution is present, but it is not the end of the road.�
    A nice summary of the mixed signals coming down from on high.
    The difference between the word futile, which President Mubarak used, and the word present which Ibrhaim Nafaa used, is big. So is changing the constitution futile or present? It is known that the editor in chief of a Al Ahram does not interpret the text, and that the text here is the word of the President, which remains an eminent decree with respect to any editor in chief for a state-owned newspaper. Maybe Ibrahim Nafaa wanted to lessen the impact of the word futile on a shocked public opinion.
    When Mahana talks about "interpret the text" (yigtahad al naS) he uses the verb for ijtihad, which generally refers to interpretation of the Koran. The not so subtle implication is that the word of Mubarak is akin to the word of God. But here is where it gets good:
    All those following the political scene in past weeks and months observed the tendency of the authorities and its apparatuses to escalate the situation, leaning towards using force to eliminate the differences with the opposition. This reminds some of September 5, 1981, which culminated with the president of the state himself becoming a victim after he lost the compass of leadership. The late President Anwar Al Asadat thought that the security emergency would be guaranteed by realizing the stability that he desired, and by ridding himself of the annoyances of the opposition, if only temporarily. But the cost was high and he lost his life on the anniversary of the great victory.
    Increasing self confidence sometimes leads people to make fatal mistakes, and prevents them from seeing the true magnitude of things. So they behave as if they alone decide who comes and goes from power without considering other forces in society and abroad.
    This is almost a threat. At the least it is a dark warning. Continue on this path Mr. President and suffer a similar fate to that of your predecessor. The September 5, 1981 event Mahana refers to is Sadat's sudden imprisonment of virtually every opposition figure in Egypt, be they left, right or center. He was assassinated a month later.
    ...If this state of confusion and fog in the street continues, like that which is present at the pinnacle of power and at the level of the political decision makers, how will we exit from this dilemma? By defining a clear means for the rotation of power and by changing the constitution, and it remains unknown if this is a possibility that is “futile� or “present?�
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    Middle East truce?

    I guess we'll know for sure tomorrow, but here is the hot off the press news:
    Israeli and Palestinian leaders have agreed a truce to end more than four years of fighting, both sides confirmed today.
    Negotiators from both sides finalised the agreement during last-minute preparations for tomorrow's summit meeting between the Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, and the Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.
    "The most important thing at the summit will be a mutual declaration of cessation of violence against each other," said Saeb Erekat, a Palestinian negotiator. An Israeli government official, speaking to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity, confirmed the agreement, adding that the deal would also include an end to Palestinian incitement.
    So have Hamas and Islamic Jihad really agreed to a final hudna? If so, for how long? And will this mean the Israelis will refrain from bulldozing houses, confiscating land and other measures?
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