IMF on Egypt

Here's what the IMF said after a recent visit to Egypt [bold mine]:
"Job creation is the paramount challenge facing the Egyptian authorities today. Indeed, the ongoing reforms are aimed at laying the ground for sustained private sector-led investment and growth. The next phase of reforms would need to reduce the constraints on private sector activity arising from weaknesses in financial intermediation, absorption of a large share of national savings by the public sector, and bureaucratic barriers to business development. Implementing these reforms will require building a strong political and social consensus. At the same time, the timing is appropriate, given the unique combination of favorable economic conditions, the strong reform momentum, and growing investor confidence. "The IMF team views fiscal policy as the key to maintaining macroeconomic stability. The budget deficit and public debt in Egypt--while still manageable--are relatively high, and cannot be sustained at current levels without compromising Egypt's economic potential. The recent tax reforms were an important development, and need to be complemented by an ambitious and credible medium-term fiscal consolidation strategy that puts public debt as a share of GDP on a firmly declining path. Toward this end, the authorities agreed with the team on the need for a comprehensive expenditure reduction program, aimed at rationalizing the size of government, increasing the productivity of expenditure, and improving the targeting of pro-poor spending. Meanwhile, the team welcomes the authorities' structural reform efforts aimed at streamlining cash management.
There's more there for a quick snapshot of the Egyptian economy. In many ways, it is true there have been improvements in the management of the economy and an increase in the business confidence. But, on the social and political level (as reflected in what the papers say and my impression of the feeling on the street) the Nazif government is failing. It has not convinced Egyptians that it has a vision for the country's future, is seen as a government of technocrats and cronyism, and there is considerable alarm about the rise of the "businessmen ministers" such as Minister of Transport Muhammad Mansour or Minister of Housing Ahmad Maghrabi. Even if you want to give the Nazif government the benefit of the doubt, I suspect for that many Egyptians the problem is that they're hearing a lot of neo-liberal technocratic prattle but little that is reassuring about new jobs, their pensions, social welfare, etc. Any economic reform effort is also hurt, of course, by the lingering political crisis caused by the rise of an anti-Mubarak movement and the uncertainty over his succession. This means that, no matter how good for the country IMF-led reform might be (a controversial point in itself), the regime is not selling idea to the general population.
Read More

The birth-rate threat

Israeli professor Ilan Pappe has a terribly disturbing essay in the London Review of Books about Israel's "demographic problem." Here's an excerpt, describing Israeli enforcement of a law that bans Israelis from passing on citizenship to Palestinians they marry (a law so blatantly racist it's unbelievable).
In the dead of night on 24 January this year, an elite unit of the border police seized the Israeli Palestinian village of Jaljulya. The troops burst into houses, dragging out 36 women and eventually deporting eight of them. The women were ordered to go to their old homes in the West Bank. Some had been married for years to Palestinians in Jaljulya, some were pregnant, many had children, but the soldiers were demonstrating to the Israeli public that when a demographic problem becomes a danger, the state will act swiftly and without hesitation. One Palestinian member of the Knesset protested, but the action was backed by the government, the courts and the media.

The rest of the essay has interesting, depressing points about just how democratic Israel is, and how the Arab-Israeli birth rate may eventually become a "danger" so imminent it will justify all actions.

Read More

The crescent and the cross

Issandr and I were both up in Alex the day before yesterday, looking into the stabbing attacks that took place there on Friday, and the sectarian riots that followed. You can read my article about it here . One thing that didn't really make it into the story and that I find interesting is the way these sectarian tensions are tinged and perhaps exacerbated by global trends. The war on terror, the occupation of Iraq, make Muslims feel their religions is under attack; while the fact that some Christians are pro-American gives weight to theories that they are a "fifth column." Meanwhile, the Coptic community watches satellite TV shows and goes to web sites from outside Egypt that are very negative about Islam; they have contacts with expatriate and US evangelical groups, who make a habit of demonizing Islam, to help them put pressure on the Egyptian governments for greater rights. But when an American group talks about Coptic rights, most Egyptians view it as a conspiracy, foreign meddling, and again, a disturbing sign of disloyalty on the part of Copts. It's a big complicated vicious circle. Meanwhile, you have a generation of young Copts who are increasingly militant about their religion, and tired of feeling like second class citizens. They tattoo the cross on their hand and they put out magazines with names like "The Theban Legion"--a reference to a Christian legion (of Egyptian Copts) that was martyred around 300 AD by the Emperoro Maximinian for refusing to recounce their faith. I've always found that, despite the fact that Copts do suffer from discrimination, the Coptic church provides poor leadership on these issues, focusing on threats to increase its own influence. We talked to a priest in Alex who, the day after the attacks, told his congregations: "Don't be afraid. If they kill us, we will all go to heaven." Giving people a martyr complex doesn't help them.
Read More

Discretion guide for American tourists

This Telegraph piece is really weird. I don't think American tourists as more obnoxious than any other tourists (an inherently annoying species). In fact I would put the French first (they complain all the time):
Loud and brash, in gawdy garb and baseball caps, more than three million of them flock to our shores every year. Shuffling between tourist sites or preparing to negotiate a business deal, they bemoan the failings of the world outside the United States. The reputation of the "Ugly American" abroad is not, however, just some cruel stereotype, but - according to the American government itself - worryingly accurate. Now, the State Department in Washington has joined forces with American industry to plan an image make-over by issuing guides for Americans travelling overseas on how to behave.
The recommendations include "If you talk politics, talk - don't argue. (Steer clear of arguments about American politics, even if someone is attacking US politicians or policies. Agree to disagree.)" and "Save the lectures for your kids. (Whatever your subject of discussion, let it be a discussion not a lecture. Justified or not, the US is seen as imposing its will on the world.)" The whole thing seems like a rather sad statement about American insecurity about the way the US is perceived. American tourists -- just be yourselves (OK, maybe talk a little more slowly and less loudly). And vote for a better president next time. Before 9/11 I use to tell taxi drivers, who always ask, that I'm Belgian (it just seemed easier). My mother is, but I'm not -- in fact I only carry a US passport. Since the late unpleasantness, I almost always say that I'm American, or Moroccan-American. It's OK to be American -- people won't kill you, although sometimes they'll bore you to tears with their opinion on George W. Bush.
Read More

Ayman and Jacques

Below the jump is a translation of a letter from Ayman Nour on his treatment at Tura prison. I reproduce it on the context of tomorrow's visit by Jacques Chirac to Cairo, which Human Rights Watch says would be the perfect opportunity to bring up the Nour case and other human rights issues. More generally, it's really rather disappointing that France, which has a traditional leadership role in the Arab world, hasn't made more public noise about political reform. I'm no fan of the Bush administration and its policy in the region, but I do think it has done one thing right, even if it might be for the wrong reasons, in putting Arab reform on its diplomatic agenda. It'd be nice for Europeans to do the same (not just the European parliament, which everybody ignores), and they might even be more successful in pushing reform than Americans.
Call from Ayman Nour to All Human Rights Organizations To: Human Rights Organizations From: Dr. Ayman Nour, prisoner at the Tura Mazara'a General Prison I would like to inform you that I have been subject to serious violations of my human and Constitutional rights prescribed in articles 47, 42, 57, 68, 45, 63 and 66. Moreover, the Prisons' Authority has violated article 184 of the Constitution, articles 2 and 81 of the Prisons' Law and articles 61 and 64 of the Prisons' Regulations as follows: 1. I was prevented from writing, a violation of the Constitutional right to expression guaranteed to all citizens (article 47 of the Constitution). 2. My papers and correspondence were confiscated without justification or grounds in violations to article 36 of the Constitution. 3. My articles were confiscated on the ground that they criticize the ruling party and Zakariya Azmy, a violation of the Constitution's description of the Police Authority in article 184. 4. Hisham Fuad, deputy of the prison warden, filed administrative report number 40, 41 dated 6 April 2006 where he falsely claimed that I had suicide intentions. This claim may represent a possibility that I will be made to seem like I have committed suicide or receive threats against my life (a violation of my Constitutional right to life). 5. AIDS, tuberculosis and scabies patients were placed next door to my room at the prison hospital. The same nurses, tools, soldiers and doctors are assigned to the two rooms. There are also mosquitoes which risks spreading the infections. 6. The claims I have written with the intention of submitting them to the Administrative Judiciary were confiscated in a violation to the right to litigation (article 68 of the Constitution). 7. My right to exchange correspondence with my lawyers and family is restricted in a violation of article 81 of the Prison's Regulations. 8. Complaints I had written to the South Cairo Prosecution were confiscated thus depriving me of my natural right to address the authorities (article 63 of the Constitution). 9. I was deprived of the right to visits and correspondence in a violation of article 64 of the Prisons' Regulations. 10. Iron cuffs were placed on my wrists in a violation of article 2 of the Prisons' Law. Also, my Constitutional right to physical safety in accordance with article 42 of the Constitution was breached. For all of the above reasons, I am urgently requesting the following: 1. Sending an inspection committee –supported by permission from Public Prosecution- to the prison. 2. Notify all those concerned with human rights, the media and the Prosecutor General. 3. Demand a return of my confiscated papers, my Constitutional right to writing and expression, as well as allowing visits. 4. Demand the questioning of those responsible of the violations committed against me and threatening my physical safety and life, as well as calling upon all those concerned to stand in the face of this cruel attack which jeopardizes my life. Dr. Ayman Abdel-Aziz Nour Monday, 17 April 2006 General Tura Mazaraa Prison, South Cairo
Read More

Two versions of Fawaz Turki

Fawaz Turki, a columnist for the Saudi-owned Arab News, has written an account for the Washington Post of how he was fired earlier this month because he wrote something negative about Indonesia and East Timor. The circumstances in which he lost his job are regrettable but hardly surprising coming from Saudi Arabia. I hope he gets a new, better job fast. But let us now turn to how we can interpret this and Turki's career. Do you believe Aqoul:
Fawaz Turki, the best English-language author of Palestinian origin (sorry, Eddie Said fans), has been fired by Arab News, a Saudi-based English language newspaper. His account is here. The earlier column that he believes broke the camel's back (assuming that's a permissible figure of speech on a MENA subject) is here, relating Indonesian repression in East Timor. The author feels his Saudi publishers or their patrons or their government couldn't handle criticism or even mention of the abuses of a fellow Muslim state.
Or the Angry Arab?
I don't believe anything that Turki says, on anything. I would even have to check if Turki says that the sky is blue. I lived in DC for years, and never crossed path with him, or I did but did not want to meet him, ever. I never bring up people's personal lives on this blog, and not even for political figures. But Turki is not a credible person period.
The funny thing is that they both in their posts quote the same passage from one of Turki's columns (I am quoting the longer excerpt from Aqoul) to make the opposite point:
Democracy may be a political system, but it is also a social ethos. How responsive can a country be to such an ethos when its people have, for generations, existed with an ethic of fear -- fear of originality, fear of innovation, fear of spontaneity, fear of life itself -- and have had instilled in them the need to accept orthodoxy, dependence and submission? . . . .The Arab world today, sadly, remains a collection of disparate entities ruled for the most part by authoritarian regimes that rely on coercion, violence and terror to rule, and that demand from their citizens submission, obedience and conformity. And that includes those citizens who call themselves "journalists," to whom, by now, responsibility to truth and logic has become irrelevant.
For Matthew Hogan at Aqoul, this is proof that Turki is a critical writer. For As'ad AbuKhalil at the Angry Arab, it is proof that Turki is opportunistically cribbing from the neo-con agenda because he sense the prevailing political wind shifting. I don't follow Turki's columns, have no idea what he's written in the past (I studiously avoid ever reading Arab News), but just from that excerpt -- full of generalizations and idées reçues -- I tend to agree more with the Angry Arab. Indeed, his post has some interesting stuff about his experience writing for the Saudi media. I hate to say this as a regular contributor to Rupert Murdoch-owned publications, but someone with real spine won't be found writing about sensitive Arab/Muslim affairs in the Saudi media. The generalizations and pontifications quoted above aren't very helpful -- it would be much more effective to write a report about, say, what a typical Saudi school teaches children. I also don't particularly appreciate this passage of Turki's column in the WaPo:
What Arabs, including those masquerading as their newspaper editors, have yet to learn is that a free press, a truly free press, is a moral imperative in society. Subvert it, and you subvert the public's sacrosanct right to know and a newspaper's traditional role to expose. If the Western democracies work better than many others, it is because to them the concept of accountability, expected from the head of state on down, is a crucial function of their national ideology. What Arabs have yet to learn, in addition to that, is that newspapers are not published to advance the political preferences of proprietors, or the commentary of subservient analysts who turn a blind eye to the abuse of power by political leaders running their failed states.
This is the kind of lazy writing that is responsible for so much misperception of Arab in the West. How about saying instead that governments, not people, routinely censor newspapers? How about pointing out all those Arabs who are making a difference in the press by establishing courageous, independent publications like Al Destour and Al Masri Al Youm in Egypt; Tel Quel, Le Journal Hebdo and Al Sahifa in Morocco; cartoonists like Dilem and the publications that host him like Liberté in Algeria, Al Ghad in Jordan, the bloggers of Syria and Iraq who print online what they can't on paper, and countless others? It is these people, and not the Fawaz Turkis and Mona Al Tahawys of this world, that deserve our admiration. They're not all progressive secular humanists with fashionable hairdos, granted, but who says they have to be?
Read More

Getting Along (10)

April 16, 2006

Iraq is a flat country. No, mean really flat. Even the topographically challenged Nile valley comes across as lumpy compared to the pancake flat perfection of Iraq's landscape.

I took a chopper up north the other day, stopped by Tikrit, home of the big guy, and then moved on to Kirkuk the next day. The countryside below me was stunning for its flatness and aridity.

No wonder the Sunnis are so scared about the north and south splitting off-those areas have water and oil--the Sunni center of the country (from what little I've observed from the chopper flightpaths) has, um, some severely moisture-challenged farmland.
Read More

Videos of police abuse in Imbaba police station

Seattle Pharaoh writes:
A friend of mine sent me an email with the links below. Someone shot these clips with a mobile phone inside the Imbaba police station in Cairo.
Of course this is minor abuse compared to the torture and killing that takes place, but this is caught on tape. Update: Just to clarify for readers not familiar with it, the act of slapping someone on the neck seen in the videos is seen as humiliating in Egypt.
Read More

Eyewitness in Alexandria

Alexandrian blogger Jar Al Qamar was at the scene of Friday's multiple stabbing and wrote an account of what he saw, which has gotten a lot of attention in the Arabic-language Egyptian blogosphere. The Skeptic has a translation. It's reproduced after the jump.
Yesterday we were a minority, and today I am a minority. Yesterday, [Alexandrian blogger] Solo and I were the only Muslims in a crowd of dozens of friends. We would would laugh from our hearts, share cigarettes, split the bill after dinner, and walk in the streets of Ibrahamiya and Sporting with Imad, Gamaloon, and Mark. Mark made a joke about the way you write the name of the Protestant church in Ibrahamiya. Then he told us about this man who would never stop referring to anyone he met as “our third brother.� We laughed so hard it hurt. We said goodbye to them, then I said goodbye to Solo. I decided not to go home straight away. On my way to the seaside, I passed a church next a mosque. I was amazed at how tall the mosque had become, as if it were in competition with the church. When I returned from the Corniche, I was astonished for the thousandth time by the drawing of a snake curling around an apple, biting it from the opposite direction. One day I had told my friend Socrates about this drawing and she explained it to me. I remembered two friends who worked 24 hours a day in the church hospital. I used to love how quiet Khalil Hamada Street was, dozing peacefully in the heart of Alexandria. I crossed the street and walked about 50 meters to my home. I burrowed under the covers and went to sleep. My mother woke me up the next morning. I rose grudgingly, washed my face, got dressed, and went off to pray the Friday prayers. I make a habit of doing this only because I meet my friends there once a week. I always pray in the Al-Shahid mosque. My great friend owns the Naggar Laundry across the street from the mosque. I’d stopped going to pray in the Shaq al-Medina Mosque ever since they got a sheikh whose sermons–irritatingly–never seemed to end. As the prayers ended, I heard shouting and angry babble coming from the length and breadth of the street. I crossed the square toward two buildings side by side: the Al-Qadisine Church and the Al-Sharq al-Medina mosque. As far as the eye could see, people were gathered and a number of women were screaming. Then things became clear: A youth had stabbed a man who was waiting for his family outside the church after the morning Friday service. Lots of people said that he was wearing a ragged white t-shirt and track pants and carrying a large knife. This he had plunged into the man’s stomach, shouting “There is no god but God.� The trail of blood led from the church door to the steps of the Mar Marcus hospital attached to the church. He also attacked two young men who tried to stop him. One of them was taken to intensive care. They say the other is seriously injured. I know the sweet old security soldier who’s always found living in his small wooden hut next to the two buildings, reading his Quran. “He was in league with the killer and didn’t lift his weapon to stop him. Rather, he threatened anyone who tried to stop the killer and told them to let him go, so they did.� This is the story every Christian I met at the scene told me. I heard it from the wife of the victim’s brother, who stood there screaming until she fainted. Even the fruit-sellers, who were waiting until the end of the service to sell their goods, said the same thing. What is certain is that the killer took refuge in flight. As for where he had come from, some said he had been seen coming out of the mosque. Others said he arrived and left by car. The official story, at least as the government told it early on, was that the young man was a noted criminal and was mentally unstable. Unfortunately, the story of mental derangement did nothing to assuage people’s anger this time. The main reason was that people started getting news that the same thing had happened in a number of churches in Alexandria at the same time. In his laughable announcement, the governor [of Alexandria] confirmed that there was only one criminal, a young man who worked in a supermarket, involved. He wounded two people in Al-Hadra, then made his way to Sidi Bishr to kill one man and wound two more (you have to go more than halfway across town to get from one neighborhood to the other). At times like this, people don’t like to be lied to or told silly stories. And so it’s only natural that the once sleepy street of Khalil Hamada is now afflicted with bigotry and hatred. In the twinkling of an eye, Central Security trucks appeared and closed off the street from all directions. The chief complaint was about Security’s statement, which contradicted tens of eyewitness reports and the blood of the victim himself. A senior figure in the NDP called Mohamed as-Saadani (of course)started talking about national unity, Egypt, and the usual bullshit. The crowd stopped him short, shouting “Persecuted! Persecuted!� He tried to calm them, saying, “The government is investigating the matter.� “The government? Tell the government I say ‘hello.’ What has the government ever done for us? Al-Kosha, Qarqas, and Muharram Bik [sites of previous sectarian violence in Egypt]. Where was the government then?� The bystanders cheered. A youth raised an old, white-haired man on to his shoulders so he could face as-Saadani. He looked like he was a man of the church. He shouted at As-Saadani, “I’ve been teaching for 30 years now. I’m not happy with what’s in the curriculum. I have to calm the students down and stop them from being angry while I myself am not happy with it. And I know that they’re not happy with it. What’s happening here is wrong. The time of the martyrs has come again. We’re like dogs in this country.� The people applauded vigorously. They seemed to have a lot of respect for the man. As-Saadani having lost control of the situation, left. A number of thoughts hit me, and I was beset by contradictory feelings: religious anger, anger at the government, anger at the passivity of its leaders, and anger at the privileging of one group over another. The anger of the crowd reminded me of a similar anger I’d seen among Kifaya protesters, with the exception of the religious element. Some were demanding that the governor come forward. Others demanded that the Interior Minister himself should come forward. A woman told me of her frustration at the lack of justice: “If only they’d just get hold of him, and we knew that he’d be held to account, then I could relax.� Their numbers increased, and so did their rage. One man didn’t like what another had said about calming down and controlling himself so he and his friends started beating him up. A man called “Engineer Samir� arrived, who seemed to be very popular. He asked them to be calm so they wouldn’t lose their rights. Then he warned them against paying heed to the voice of Satan. A woman interrupted him, shouting, “It’s you and your type who’ll ruin us all!� Someone else backed up what she said: “It’s our passivity that’s going to ruin us!� Samir failed to make any headway. I started hearing calls for everyone to sit down. People refused. Then a man shouted, “Who ever loves Jesus, sit!� Some sat down and some ignored him. One of the bystanders screamed, pointing toward the mosque: “لو حد منهم قالهم حاجه بسمعوله .. احنا مالناش امر على بعض ؟؟ اهوه ده اللي مضيعنا� I couldn’t help but be astonished by the logic that both sides in this seemed to be using. I caught some of what the man next to me was saying: “Your enemy is the enemy of your religion. Everyone knows that.� We all sat down and I felt a powerful sense of brotherhood with those who were sitting next to me. Two of them put their hands on my shoulder and patted me supportively. I man asked what my name was, and I said Mina, Mina Ibrahim. It’s the name of one of my friends. I suddenly realized I was the only Muslim in the circle and that I was sitting the midst of an angry group who were attacking anyone who asked them to keep calm. So what do you think they would have done if they had found an enemy in the midst of their ranks. Perhaps I should have gone, but something compelled me to stay and follow the events to their conclusion. As if fate were conspiring to terrify me, one of them suddenly shouted, “There are Muslims in your midst!� I surreptitiously pulled down my rolled-up sleeves to hide the fact that I didn’t have a cross tattooed on my arm like everyone else around me did. For the first time, I felt as though I was a minority in a group that wouldn’t accept me on principle. I forced myself to talk to the man next to me to give the appearance of normality. Suddenly I saw Ibram, an old friend of mine. We were together at school and we took part in lots of activities together at university. He’s my neighbor, and his father owns one of the biggest gold dealerships in the area. Ibram was carrying a gilt wooden cross and shouting at the top his voice, “Kyrie Eleison.� I never imagined Ibram amongst people like this. He was always one of the gentlest people I knew and one of the most respectful of others. So now I have a problem. On my right is someone who’s calling on people to uncover the Muslims hidden amongst them, and on my left is Ibram, who’s leading a group of his friends in a chant. He was riding on one of his friends shoulders. He knows me well. Any indication from him about my true identity would make me a dead man. As luck would have it, at that moment, one of the bishops came out with a priest who was a member of the local Coptic Council. People saw them and fell completely silent. I seized my chance and left the circle and stood by one of the walls of the church. I watched the bishop as he talked with people and called for calm and civilized behavior. He spoke vehemently. “Don’t forget yourselves! If you really love the church and the people who pray there, then don’t strike in the street, strike inside the church.� I have no experience of how Coptic churches work, but the calm and respect that descended on the street the moment these men appeared left me totally unprepared for the crowd’s response. The minute the father had finished speaking to the demonstrators, I was astonished to hear accusations of betrayal and treason fill the air. People were shouting that the man was an agent of the government, and that he was selling the blood of the martyr and their rights cheaply, that it was people like him who were putting the Copts of Egypt through these troubled times. The authority of the bishop seemed terribly weak. Even when he tried to read out a prayer, “Deliver us, Lord,� only a very few repeated the words with him. The rest started screaming insults against him and against those who collaborated with the government and Muslims to persecute Copts. Now banners tied to wooden polls were brought of the church, with “No to persecution of the Copts� written on them in English and Arabic. Drawn underneath these words, in the blood of the victim that still covered the church floor, was a small cross. They started carrying each other on their shoulders and shouting together, “Kyrie Eleison, Kyrie Eleison! Hosni Mubarak, O pilot, Coptic security is up in flames! Hosni Mubarak, where are you? State Security is between us and you! The age of martyrs has returned again!� As I leaned against the wall of the church, I heard people talking. A hysterical woman screamed, “It’s a religion of bloodletting. We don’t kill or do anything. They’re all criminals.� Another lady shouted “Our God will take revenge on them. They die on the pilgrimage and die in the sea.� I heard someone else say, “This country is ours, they’re the newcomers. We have to practice our religion in secret, while they’re just for show.� A middle-aged man said, “They’re the police, they’re all a gang together. What are we meant to do.� The first woman spoke of the weakness and the stupidity of the Quran and things like that. “If only they could explain just one verse. Just find us one Muslim who could tell us that he’s satisfied and understands the rubbish they fill their ears with day and night.� Men shouted for them to ring the church bells, and a woman said to her daughter, “Yeah, just as they do to us day and night [with the call to prayer].� Her neighbor asked her about the nearby mosque, and asked what would the Muslims who couldn’t pray their afternoon and evening prayers do. “Well, let it closed, then.� I could almost cry. I’m not embarrassed to say that here. This religious bigotry was torture. Seeing Ibram shouting about burning the mosque hurt me deeply. Seeing a woman hit a small Muslim boy, the son of one of the neighboring bawabs, hurt me deeply. “Get out of here, you son of a dog!� she told him. “You’ve destroyed it and now you’re coming to sit on the ruins. [a proverb].� On the pavement opposite the church, police colonels were sitting and sipping tea and fizzy water. One of them opened the door of the mosque. The incensed the demonstrators. A group of security troops surrounded the door. Suddenly, Hussein Abd al-Ghani, the Al-Jazeera correspondent, turned up. People rushed toward him in terrifying numbers. He backed off and security interposed themselves between him and the crowd. People calmed down when they were satisfied Al-Jazeera’s cameras were filming everything: the shouts, the banners, and the numbers. I heard a man talking on the phone asking that all the Christians from Al-Hadra, Al-Falming, and Abu Qir return to their churches because the media had turned up in Sidi Bishr. Abd al-Ghani returned with his cameraman and tried to enter the church, but the crowd stopped him from entering. “No Muslim is getting in here,� some shouted, before the church custodians succeeded in getting him in by force. The demonstrators got even angrier and carried on shouting. As they were trying to prevent Abd al-Ghani from entering the church, the demonstrators failed to notice that the police were going to the mosque and taking off their shoes. They ordered the iman to perform the afternoon prayers. After 100 soldiers had lined up outside the mosque, the imam began the call to prayer and everyone turned around. A sudden silence descended, the silence that precedes the storm. The demonstrators started singing hymns to compete with the call to prayer. It was a terrifying situation… At any moment I feared the mosque could come under attack from Molotov cocktails or even gunshots. But the demonstrators just raised their voices until their throats burned. They tired to stop people from performing their prayers. Some of them asked the church custodians to ring the bells, but the church workers refused. Some tried to lay in wait for those praying inside the mosque, but Security lay in wait for them. I suddenly felt weak and wanted to leave. Before I collapsed from exhaustion, I found an American journalist trying unsuccessfully to make herself understood. I offered to translate. And while the American lady was asking a young Coptic man about his views, I heard dozens of sick views about how the Muslims were planning to corrupt the joy of Christians this coming Christmas, other theories about Mossad and its role, and a third theory about Mubarak and his vested interests in causing civil strife. Magdi Girgis, an accountant, insisted that the American journalist write the truth for the world. She must understand, he said, that Pope Shenouda didn’t want to let people know that there was a persecution going on to prevent a real explosion. More than once he said, “We don’t want America to intervene like in Iraq, we just want a fair deal, this is our country after all, and we’re far more worried about it than they are.� I translated the slogans and the chants for her and then I immediately went to the nearest Internet cafe, where I am sitting now, writing what happened. I still don’t know how it all ended. As I’ve been sitting here, I received the pictures that you see above [he’s inserted some photos from BBC Arabic of the murdered man]. Everything I’ve written here hasn’t been edited or looked over. It’s just impressions of what I saw and I record of what I heard. I might fill you in later on the details, or I might not. A final word: This country is far more beset by meanness, racism, and hatred than I’d imagined. Of course I understand the Copts’ response. But just because a criminal comes from one religion doesn’t mean you should criminalize all his coreligionists. All this does is foster resentment, persecution, and bigotry—and more importantly, charges of betrayal. As one of the demonstrators hysterically told me: “For more than 1,400 years we’ve been treated like shit. It’s enough. We’ve had enough of burying our heads in the sand like ostriches.� And to Mark: There’s no brotherhood in this country, not a third brother, not a second brother, not a tenth brother. Nothing.
Read More

Mubarak's non-apology

It's come after several protests in Iraq, the cancellation of flights between Cairo and Baghdad, and Iraqi boycott of an Arab League meeting:
"My remarks about Shiites dealt with their religious loyalties and sympathies, without putting into question the patriotism of Shiites in Iraq or any other country," Mubarak said in an interview Saturday in the official daily Akhbar al-Youm.
Thanks, Hosni.
Read More

Merit wins publisher's prize

Congratulations to Mohammed Hashem, owner of the Merit publishing house, for winning the Association of American Publishers' Jeri Laber International Freedom to Publish Award. Merit is now the leading independent publisher of fiction in Egypt, bringing much new talent to the scene as well as translation of English works to Arabic. Recent hits includen Taht Khatt Al Faqr (Below the poverty line), Ahmed Al Aidi's An Takoun Abbas Al Abd (Being Abbad Al Abd), Amru Afia's The Edge of Seduction, Hussein Abdel Alim's Puzzle, Sherif Younis Al Zahf Al Muqaddas (The Sacred Mob), as well as the first Arabic translation of Chuch Palahniuk's Fight Club. Update: Meanwhile, the government arrests five Islamist publishers who were printing material against the upcoming renewal of the emergency law.
Read More

How ethnic cleansing works, part II

The Economist tends to be fairly pro-Israel, but this article provides a good a well-sourced overview of how Ehud Olmert's disengagement plan, local Jerusalem policies and economics, and the wall amount to one thing: near-total Jewish takeover of the city and the gradual squeezing out of non-Jews.
Yet Jerusalem is still essentially two cities—not just in population and economic ties, but also in municipal policy. In a recent book (“Discrimination in the Heart of the Holy City”, International Peace and Co-operation Centre, Jerusalem, 2006), Meir Margalit, an Israeli peace activist and former city councillor, has detailed the differences. Arab Jerusalemites, now about 33% of the city's residents, get just 12% of its welfare budget, even though their poverty rate is more than double that of Jewish residents. They get 15% of the education budget, 8% of engineering services, just 1.2% of the culture and art, and so on. Overall, their share of the services' budget is under 12%, meaning a four-to-one difference in spending per person between Jews and Palestinians. In countless other things, from the number of garbage containers on the streets to the employment rates at city hall, there is a massive disparity in favour of the city's Jews.
Also see previous post.
Read More

Knife attacks in Alex churches

There's been another sectarian attack in Alexandria:
CAIRO, Egypt (AP) - Three knife-wielding assailants stabbed worshippers in simultaneous attacks during Friday Mass at three Coptic churches in the northern Mediterranean city of Alexandria, killing one person and wounding more than a dozen others, police officials said. The attackers fled, and police cordoned off the churches and set up checkpoints in an effort to find them. One worshipper was killed and at least two others were in serious condition, a police official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press. Initial police reports said a total of 17 people were injured. Hundreds of Christians gathered in angry protest outside the churches. Witnesses said clashes erupted between Christians and Muslims in the Sidi Bishr neighbourhood, the site of Saints Church, where 10 people were reported wounded in the knife attack. Police said three people were wounded at the nearby Mar Girgis (St. George) Church, and four attacked at a church in Abu Qir, a few kilometres to the east. The attack comes on what is Good Friday to many of the world's Christians. However, Egypt's Coptic Christians - and other followers of the Greek Orthodox church - celebrate the holiday a week later.
These are starting to happen more and more often and this one may be a continuation of the clashes late last year in Alexandria. Between these attacks, the inability of the government to enforce new regulations that make it easier to build and repair churches, and mounting Coptic activism (as evidenced by numerous conferences in the US and in Europe in the past few months), the sectarian issue is coming slowly but surely to the fore. I was told by a reliable source a few days ago that Michael Mounir, a leading US-based Coptic activist, was in Cairo for meetings with senior officials recently. These included -- secretly -- Director of General Intelligence Omar Suleiman and President Hosni Mubarak. Mubarak reportedly suggested to Mounir that he should act with the regime, not against it, and grumbled a few things about making further reforms. I can imagine the conservation -- "be reasonable, I gave you Christmas" -- and I hardly expect Mubarak to have more sophisticated views on Copts than he has on Shias. Speaking of which, a friend of mine was meant to catch a Baghdad-Cairo plane today. But it was cancelled, as are all future Cairo-Baghdad liaisons. Guess why? Update: Longer, updated wire story suggests it wasn't three simultaneous attacks but three attacks by the same man.:
Earlier, police officials said three men had been arrested in four simultaneous church assaults, one of them foiled by police. They said 17 people were wounded, and one later died. There was no immediate explanation for the discrepancies between the reports. In the past, the government has tried to play down incidents that can be perceived as sectarian in nature so as not to inflame tensions between the Coptic minority and Muslim majority. "This morning, a citizen attacked three worshippers inside the Mar Girgis Church in al-Hadhra with a knife and then fled and went into the Saints Church, where he attacked three other worshippers and again fled," the ministry statement said. While he was trying to enter a third church, he was stopped and arrested by police, the statement said. It said one of the worshippers died of his wounds. The semiofficial Middle East News Agency identified the victim as Nushi Atta Girgis, 78. Abdel-Raziq "suffers from psychological disturbances," the Interior Ministry said. About 600 angry Copts, mostly young men, gathered to protest the attacks in the Sidi Bishr neighborhood, outside Saints Church. The area was ringed by about 200 riot police, and truckloads more were nearby. "Stop the persecution of Copts in Egypt," read one banner. Coptic Christians, who account for about 10 percent of Egypt's 72 million people, complain of discrimination in getting jobs, particularly in senior levels of government. They generally live in harmony with the Muslim majority, although violence flares occasionally. "Hosni Mubarak, where are you? State security is between us and you!" some chanted. Nearby, bloodstains could be seen on the top step of the church. Government and church officials were trying to restore calm. "We are trying to calm the situation after many of our youth started protesting," said Father Augustinos, who heads the church where the attack was foiled. "We are telling them to calm down. It doesn't do any good for the country to make protests. We want to live in peace and tranquility but these are people who had their family members killed or wounded. We are doing our best."
Read More

Enemy at the Gates

I've been following this for a while, but had gone to sleep while the rebels poured out of Darfur and made it all the way across Chad to the capital N'Djamena. This is huge:
Heavy fighting has subsided in Chad's capital after breaking out at dawn, between government troops and rebels trying to overthrow the president. A BBC correspondent in N'Djamena said gunfire and shelling began at dawn and lasted for some two hours. Speaking on the radio, President Idriss Deby said government forces had destroyed a small rebel column that attempted to enter the capital. He said that government troops were in "complete control" of N'Djamena. Only sporadic gunfire could be heard around the capital following his announcement.
Read More